Happy Tuesday, lovelies, and welcome to first installment of “All the Fixin’s,” our new series in which we each explore our Southern heritages by cooking our way through two books tailored to our Cajun and Appalachian roots. For this first chapter, we wanted to ease into things, and a recent Halloween movie night offered the perfect opportunity. We gathered our squad at Zelda’s abode for an evening of Jack Skellington and Kalabar, the Sanderson sisters and Wadsworth and Communism (always a red herring). And to suit the festive mood, we each picked recipes that fit the fall ambiance, and that looked easy enough to pull off even in our progressively more inebriated states.
We’ll be straight with you: Things did not go swimmingly. Blame the booze or the recipes or just plain bad kitchen juju, but neither of these dishes were what we’d call spectacular. But even though they both proved to be duds (Scout blames her lack of kitchen intuition more than the recipe, but more on that later), we’d still like to check this off as a successful first endeavor. Well begun is half done, as they say, and we are now well on our way on this cookbook journey.
We’ll start with Zelda. For her first recipe, she decided to stick to her strengths: namely, sweets and baking. From amid the jambalayas and gumbos, she plucked a recipe for Brown Sugar Cookies, which seemed both simple and seasonally spiced.
1 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons honey
2 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup coarsely ground pecans (As she does not own a nut grinder, Zelda’s method involved purchasing a bag of pecan pieces, placing them on the floor, and beating them vigorously with her rolling pin until they seemed to be more powder than chunks. However, she is open to other suggestions, and were she to do it again, she might opt for the food processor in hopes of more even results…)
2 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground allspice
In an electric mixer (if, like lucky Zelda, you have one — otherwise, a large bowl will do), combine the brown sugar, water, honey, and egg. Beat at high speed until mixed, about 10 seconds. Scrape the bowl well to ensure the ingredients are fully combined.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, pecans, cinnamon, baking soda, and allspice. Mix well to combine. Add your dry ingredients to the mixer and stir until mixed thoroughly.
Now at this point Chef Paul Prudhomme instructs you to “Drop batter by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet, about 1 ½ inches apart.” And for her first batch, that is exactly what Zelda did. The recipe prescribes baking at 375 for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned around the edges. At 8 minutes, Zelda removed her cookies, expected some well-spread gooey delights, and instead found hard lumps with burned, black bottoms. And while the worst fate that may befall a baker may be a soggy bottom, a burnt one is not much better.
Not one to be deterred (and with half a bowl of dough left to go), she persevered. For her second batch, she lined her pans with parchment paper. And instead of just scooped the dough out in teaspoonfuls, she smooshed each dough ball into a cookie-shaped patty. After 8 minutes, she removed them from the oven to much better results. The cookies resembled cookies more than rocks, and the bottoms were decidedly more tan than charcoal. Scout and the other members of the squad declared them delicious, and it is true that the spices were decidedly fall. But Zelda, to be perfectly honest, found them to be tough and lacking in flavor. A couple days in an air-tight container later, their resemblance to rocks has only increased. No offense to Paul Prudhomme, but she won’t be making these again. Perhaps she should have stuck to the savory chapters in his book (or tackled pralines, her favorite Cajun dessert, but she remains a bit intimidated by candy…and also doesn’t own a candy thermometer, yet).
As for Scout, it’s been well established that she is not the most proficient in the kitchen. So she wanted to start with something simple, with only three ingredients and basically one step…and she still managed to screw it up. To be fair, there were perhaps several mitigating factors: We had already eaten quite a lot and drunk a good amount of wine, and we were perhaps distracted by other events unfolding in the apartment (a dramatic re-staging of a scene from Parks and Rec in honor of Halloween). But still, all she had to do was fry some apples.
Ronni Lundy’s recipe for fried apples requires very little: 1 tablespoon bacon grease, four apples, and some type of sweetener, be it sorghum, maple syrup, or brown sugar. Zelda bought the apples, we had bacon with dinner, and we have yet to be in a Southern kitchen that doesn’t always have brown sugar on hand. Ingredients, managed.
Following the recipe, Scout poured the bacon grease into a skillet with a lid and put it on medium heat. Next, she cored the apples and cut them into slices approximately ⅛ inch thick. She tossed them in the pan with the bacon grease…and here’s where she probably went wrong. She didn’t quite trust that there was enough bacon grease to coat all the apples, so she added a little butter and let them sweat for 3 minutes before adding a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and cooking for a few more minutes.
Unfortunately, because of the added moisture from the butter, the apples grew soggy instead of crisp. She tried to salvage them in the oven, but they were beyond repair. Zelda and the squad gamely sampled a few bites and declared them to be “not terrible.” but definitely tasting more of bacon than of anything resembling fruit.
But all of these cooking posts, for Scout at least, are about learning, and she definitely learned a lot. In hindsight, she should have leaned into the brown sugar and out of the bacon grease. Less is more with the latter, and more is more with the former. With a little more foresight and a little more love (and slightly less wine), we could have had an excellent sweet and savory dessert. Scout looks forward to trying it again sometime.
So that’s the first step in our joint journey through our culinary roots. We lived, we learned, we ate. We’ll do it all again soon.