Southern Plate: Classic Comfort Food That Makes Everyone Feel Like Family

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Pros: very easy recipes; big, beautiful pictures; charming stories
Cons: lots of canned products; little depth of flavor
Reviewed by Sara Powell

Christy Jordan, like many new cookbook authors, originally claimed an audience on her blog about Southern cooking.  Espousing quick, comforting meals for families, she quickly gained a following that caught the eye of a publisher.  Now her recipes are available in book form, in addition to remaining a part of her blog.

The book itself is everything a good cookbook should be: big bright pictures, readable script, and handy enough to sit up on the kitchen counter without crashing to the floor.  The recipes are arranged in a semi-seasonal format, which is a little awkward when trying to locate beef dishes or vegetable sides, but the index is functional and makes up for some of the confusion.

Probably the most charming part of the book is the running commentary from Jordan about her Southern roots and the genesis of the various recipes, and this certainly gives the book a kind of homey Southern feel.  It's fun to see how she came up with some of the more unusual variations, like Tookie's Green Velvet Cake, which resulted from a family member who was allergic to red food coloring.  Jordan does a good job of pulling the reader into her kitchen and her Southern heritage.

The recipes in the book are mostly traditional Southern favorites, but I found that most of them use a lot of canned or pre-packaged items.  The Shoepeg Corn and Green Bean Casserole looked fabulous in the photos, but when I tasted it, I felt that the canned green beans and frozen corn was a significant drawback, especially for a cuisine that is so heavily based in fresh farm produce.  While not every recipe in the book calls for these convenience items, it seems strange that Jordan would use canned items in this recipe, but then instruct readers to make pudding from scratch in the next.

The Homemade Banana Pudding recipe, which Jordan says was the start of her blogging adventure, was traditional in style, but only amounted to vanilla pudding layered with bananas and vanilla wafers.  The actual banana flavor was almost absent, and I couldn't help but wish that some sort of banana flavoring had been added to the pudding as well.  This kind of one-note flavoring also seemed to be an issue with the other recipes that I tested.

Grandma Lucy's Pimento Cheese was a good rendition of a very simple Southern classic and would provide a good introduction for readers that are unfamiliar with the flavors of the South.  Jordan does a good job in this area, giving simple recipes for foods that Southerners have been eating for decades.  This kind of simplicity would certainly be a boon for harried mothers looking for easy foods to put on the dining room table, but more accomplished cooks would simply be seeing the same things that have been printed before.

Overall I think this cookbook would appeal to individuals with limited cooking experience and those desiring more time with their families instead of the kitchen.  The commentary from Jordan is quaint and homey, but the recipes are mostly bland and simple.  The canned ingredients, both produce and soup, make the dishes that much faster to get in the oven, but also leave the dishes with a lingering flavor of preservatives, which is antithesis to true Southern cooking.

Homemade Banana Pudding
1 box vanilla wafers
5 bananas
½ cup sugar or Splenda
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks (reserve the whites for the meringue)
2 cups milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Place a layer of vanilla wafers in the bottom of a medium bowl.  Slice a banana over the top.  Repeat two more times with another layer of wafers and the remaining bananas.
In a saucepan (or double boiler), combine the sugar, flour, salt, egg yolks, and milk.  Stir well with a wire whisk and place over medium-low heat.  Cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until thickened, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  Immediately pour over the wafers and bananas.  Let sit for 5 minutes or so to give the wafers time to absorb the pudding.  Top with meringue, if desired.
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