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How to Cook Like a Southerner: Classic Recipes from the South's Best Down-Home Cooks

How to Cook Like a Southerner: Classic Recipes from the South's Best Down-Home Cooks

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by Johnnie Gabriel

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Johnnie Gabriel knows a thing or two about cooking for Southerners. The author of two cookbooks, Cooking in the South and Second Helpings, does it every day at Gabriel’s, her restaurant and bakery in Marietta, Georgia.

In How to Cook Like a Southerner, Gabriel isn’t just sharing her recipes;


Johnnie Gabriel knows a thing or two about cooking for Southerners. The author of two cookbooks, Cooking in the South and Second Helpings, does it every day at Gabriel’s, her restaurant and bakery in Marietta, Georgia.

In How to Cook Like a Southerner, Gabriel isn’t just sharing her recipes; she’s taking her Southern expertise to the next level, offering step-by-step photos for 35 of the most iconic Southern dishes, curating and testing over one hundred recipes from some of the best and most gracious cooks in the South, and offering tips to help you dress up even the most basic recipes for special occasions.

The art and science of cooking has come a long way, creating a gadget for everything from zesting fruit to cutting paper-thin slices of vegetables, but creating delicious Southern food for your family and friends doesn’t require fancy gadgets and high-tech kitchen appliances. Johnnie Gabriel says all you need is a cutting board, a sharp knife, a rolling pin, and a seasoned cast iron skillet, just like her mama did. And because classic Southern dishes were created to use the meats and vegetables that were available in the region, the recipes in How to Cook Like a Southerner call for ingredients you can find at your local grocery store or farmers’ market. No speciality stores or online searches needed.

Making a homemade pie crust for the first time? Let Johnnie show you how. Do you wonder what the difference between a blond, peanut butter, and coffee roux is? How to Cook Like a Southerner will guide you through each level. Wanna learn the tricks Southern grandmothers use for creating the best fried chicken, cornbread, buttermilk biscuits, field peas with snaps, macaroni and cheese, fried green tomatoes, and country fried steak? They’re all here.

So stock up on cornmeal, buttermilk, and sugar and put on your favorite apron. It’s time to learn How to Cook Like a Southerner.

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How to Cook Like a Southerner

Classic Recipes from the South's Best Down-Home Cooks

By Johnnie Gabriel

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2014 Johnnie Gabriel Enterprises
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4016-0505-6


Breakfast and Brunch

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Quiche
Gabriel's Grits
Brunch Egg Casserole
Egg Strata
Breakfast at Puddin' Place
Crab Quiche
Sausage Milk Gravy
Blueberry Muffins
Cranberry Coffee Cake
Country Ham and Red-Eye Gravy

Southern Cuisine

Southerners have always loved their vegetables. We have such a long growing season here in the South there is usually an abundance of fresh food that can be pickled, canned, or frozen so we can enjoy our veggies in the winter. We are able to serve all year long one of our most popular meals at Gabriel's, our vegetable plate, cornbread or biscuit, and iced tea.

Of course, our traditional dishes are based on fruits and vegetables that are indigenous to our region as well as those that were introduced to this region from other continents. For instance, it was native Americans that convinced the early settlers that corn was worthy of eating. Without their knowledge of cultivating and catching of our natural resources, more of the early settlers would have starved than did. Hominy and grits, staples in a Southerner's diet, are made from corn. Seeds for collard greens, peas, okra, yams, watermelons, and the sesame seed were brought in from Africa. Latin Americans contributed limas, chocolate, white and sweet potatoes, and peppers.

In our early history wild game was abundant in the form of deer, rabbits, squirrels, birds, and ducks, as well as seafood along the coast, but the South's mild climate allowed for the cultivation of livestock and Southerners gravitated away from wild game. Pork, a staple meat in the Southern diet, was introduced by the Spanish when they brought herds of pigs on their expeditions.

Over the years, the amalgamation of foods and methods of cooking in the South has had delicious results, and Southern cuisine is still evolving. With changes in technology, the ability to procure foods from all regions with speed and preservation has expanded the Southern palate. The popularity of the Food Network and celebrity chefs like our own Paula Deen have helped to promote Southern cooking and introduce traditional dishes to other regions. Southern cuisine is both influencing and accepting of influence. Southerners love their food, and we have become very willing participants in the explosion of the culinary world.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Quiche

Goat cheese is one of my favorite flavors. Put it in this quiche with caramelized onions and it's a winner! Not an onion lover? Swap out the onion for ¾ cup halved, grape tomatoes.

1 (9-inch) deep-dish piecrust
3 large yellow onions
3 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
5 large eggs
10 ½ ounces whole milk
4 ounces goat cheese
1/8 teaspoon salt
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the piecrust in the pie pan. Place aluminum foil over the cold piecrust and cover the foil with a layer of dried beans to keep the crust from puffing up during baking. Bake the piecrust for 20 minutes. Remove the beans and foil and prick the crust.

While the piecrust is baking, peel and slice the onions in uniform thickness. In a skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the onions, stirring to coat, and sauté, initially stirring every 5 minutes until the onions start taking on a little color. Stir from the bottom every 2 to 3 minutes until the onions become a nice light golden color, but not dark and crisp. This can take 20 to 30 minutes if done properly, but will add a sweetness and enhance the flavor of the quiche. Once the onions are a nice golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and sprinkle the onions lightly with salt and pepper. Chop the onions, reserving ¾ cup for the quiche filling. Season the reserved onions with cayenne pepper and refrigerate.

Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs until they are blended. Whisk in the milk until it becomes a smooth mixture. Stir in the goat cheese, the ¾ cup caramelized onions, and the salt. Carefully pour the mixture into the hot crust.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the edges are set and the center jiggles slightly. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with parsley.

Makes 6 servings.

Gabriel's Grits

These grits are like candy to me. The only way I think they could be better is if I figured out how to make them chocolate flavored. We serve these at breakfast and with our shrimp as an entree.

2 ¼ level teaspoons salt
4 cups water
2 cups heavy cream
1 ¼ cups quick grits

Place the salt, water, and cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk in the grits. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, whisking constantly, for 5 to 7 minutes. Enjoy!

Makes 4 ¼ to 4 ½ cups.

Brunch Egg Casserole

My friend Sally Rhoden is one of the most generous, gregarious, and eager hostesses you will ever meet. I'm lucky to be invited often to meals she's prepared. Her family has its roots in Madison, Georgia. It doesn't get more Southern than that small, hospitable town. This recipe is in a family cookbook her daughter Jodi Rhoden put together when her brother married. Jodi is the author of Cake Ladies, which features Southern stories and recipes. She is a talented young cake lady herself, with a precious cake shop in Asheville, North Carolina, called Short Street Cakes.

2 cups classic-cut seasoned croutons
2 to 4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon prepared mustard
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
Dash of black pepper
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 1 ½ quart (8 x 8-inch) casserole dish.

Place the croutons and cheese in the bottom of the casserole dish and combine. In a medium bowl combine the eggs, milk, salt, mustard, onion powder, and pepper. Mix until blended and pour over the crouton mixture. Sprinkle the bacon over the egg mixture and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until eggs are set.

Makes 6 servings.

Notes: This dish can be assembled and refrigerated the day before baking. If you're serving a crowd, this recipe can easily be doubled. Just make sure you use a 9 x 13-inch dish.

Playing in the Kitchen: Substitute half of the Cheddar cheese with Swiss cheese.

Egg Strata

This is a recipe from my friend Sally Rhoden's family cookbook, Welcome Table. It's a standard during Christmas at the Rhoden house.

1 pound ground hot sausage
2 cups frozen hash browns
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
6 to 8 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup milk
Salt and black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with a nonstick spray.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage and brown. Remove the skillet from the heat and use a slotted spoon to remove the sausage. Drain well on paper towels. Transfer sausage to casserole dish.

Return the skillet to the heat and brown the hash browns in the sausage drippings, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Layer the hash browns over the sausage. Top with the shredded cheese.

In a medium bowl stir the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together and pour over the cheese, spearing with a fork at intervals to make sure the egg mixture soaks through.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Breakfast at Puddin' Place

Puddin' Place was the favorite place for the Rhoden family to stay in Oxford, Mississippi, when they visited their son Mitch attending the University of Mississippi. According to Emily Teddy, the mother of two young children, who tested this recipe for me, this is a good dish that children could help make. She says the children aren't the only ones who enjoyed eating them, though. She thought they tasted great and were quick, easy, and fun to make.

2 tablespoons butter, for greasing the
baking dish
½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 package large flaky layered refrigerator
Cinnamon sugar
2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼inch

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with 2 tablespoons of butter.

Separate the biscuits in 2 equal pieces horizontally. Dip the bottom halves in the melted butter, then in the cinnamon sugar. Place in the casserole dish in a single layer. Top the bottoms with an apple slice. Dip the biscuit tops in butter, then the cinnamon sugar, and place on top of the apple slices.

Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Crab Quiche

Thanks to my friend Lynda Ausburn for this goodie.

2 (9-inch) deep-dish piecrusts*
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ cup green onions
1 ½ cups half-and-half
3 large eggs
Salt and black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ cups canned backfin crabmeat
1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Generously prick with a fork the bottoms of piecrusts so they prebake properly and bake them for about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Preheat a small skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and the green onions and cook for up to 5 minutes. You just want to wilt the onions. Remove the skillet from the heat and allow the onions to cool a bit.

In a large bowl mix together the half-and-half, eggs, salt, pepper, and mustard.

Fold in the crab, cheese, and onions.

Pour the mixture into the piecrusts and cook for 45 minutes or until set.

Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Sausage Milk Gravy

We serve this gravy with our fresh biscuits at Gabriel's. When you're looking for a hearty breakfast to start the day, this is it. The gravy can be made ahead and reheated.

4 ounces pork sausage (we use a spicy,
organic chicken sausage patty)
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1/3 to ½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes**
3 to 4 heavy pinches salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

In a medium skillet over medium heat, cook the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces with the back of a spoon. Continue to brown and break up the sausage until it is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Set the meat aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Add the butter to the skillet and allow to melt. Whisk in the flour and continue to cook and stir until the mixture is pale yellow, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking constantly until it becomes thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in the red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Add the sausage back to the skillet. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 to 3 cups, enough to serve 6 to 10 biscuits.

Blueberry Muffins

These muffins are a breakfast and brunch favorite, and they are so easy to make.

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
½ cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12 standard-size muffin tins or 24 mini muffin tins.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, stirring to thoroughly distribute the ingredients.

Make a well in the center and add the egg, milk, and oil.

Stir until just combined.

Fold in the blueberries.

Distribute evenly among the muffin tins (about ¾ full)and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool briefly, then remove from the tins.

Makes 12 standard muffins or 24 mini muffins.

Playing in the Kitchen: Add 1 cup of grated apple to the batter to add a little moisture and softened the texture a bit. A great way to sneak fiber into the diet.

Cranberry Coffee Cake

From my friend Emily Teddy's recipe collection, this coffee cake should be enjoyed with friends and a cup of good coffee.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped pecans
1 (14-ounce) can whole cranberry sauce

1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
½ teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

To make the cake: In a large bowl cream the butter and sugar with a stand mixer until fluffy. Beat in the eggs and almond extract.

In a medium bowl sift to combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add to the egg mixture alternately with the sour cream. Add the chopped pecans.

Spread half of the batter into the tube pan. Spread the cranberry sauce over the batter. Top with the remaining batter.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool briefly, then remove from the pan.

To make the topping: In a small bowl whisk the butter, powdered sugar, water, and almond extract. Drizzle over the completely cooled cake.

Makes 12 to 14 servings.

Country Ham and Red-Eye Gravy

Have you ever received a country ham for a Christmas gift? Usually a real country ham comes in a cloth bag. Would you know how to cook it? My mother and grandmothers would have, but until I started asking friends and family for country ham recipes for this book, I can't say that I did. This recipe is a keeper. Serve it with eggs, spooned over grits, or with biscuits.

1 pound cured country ham, thinly
½ cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
¼ cup strong black coffee
¼ cup water
1/8 teaspoon sugar

Place the sliced country ham and the milk in a large zip-top bag and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to reduce the saltiness.

Remove the ham and wipe dry with paper towels.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.

Add the ham and cook briefly until the fat is cooked through and the ham has reached 160 degrees.

Remove the ham from the skillet and set aside on a warmed plate.

Mix the coffee, water, and sugar together in a small bowl and pour into the pan.

Cook for 3 to 5 minutes over medium heat while stirring to dislodge any drippings from the bottom of the pan.

Makes 4 servings.


These are a tradition for my friend Sally Rhoden's family. She loved them when she visited New Orleans, so she made sure her family and friends could enjoy them at home as well. In New Orleans, beignets are made with yeast and involve many steps. They are often served with café au lait, which is half strong coffee and half hot milk. You can easily make café au lait at home on a lazy Saturday morning while you're cooking this delicious quick version of beignets. What a special morning that will be!

Vegetable oil for frying
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup warm milk
Powdered sugar for serving

Pour the oil in a deep skillet to about 3 inches deep and heat on high until oil reaches 350 to 360 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt into a medium bowl. Add the butter, egg, and milk. Blend together with a whisk. Let the batter sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before dropping by spoonfuls into the hot oil (temperature is very important) to fry. When golden brown on the bottom (this will happen quickly, about 3 minutes, if the oil is the right temperature), turn to brown on the other side. When golden on both sides, remove and drain well on a warm plate lined with paper towels. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.


Excerpted from How to Cook Like a Southerner by Johnnie Gabriel. Copyright © 2014 Johnnie Gabriel Enterprises. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Johnnie Gabriel started baking cakes alongside her grandmother as a young girl in south Georgia. Today, Johnnie is known as Atlanta’s “Cake Lady” for her mouth-watering red velvet cupcakes, award-winning wedding cakes, and other delectable desserts. In 1996, Johnnie and Ed Gabriel expanded their successful dessert business into Gabriel’s Restaurant and Bakery, a popular restaurant serving homemade southern comfort food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.


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