Summer Movie Night Dinner Party – Steel Magnolias

I rushed to answer the front door with my hair rolled up in curlers. My friend greeted me wearing white gloves, a straw hat and a bright dress with a petticoat. She graciously handed me a hostess gift, a miniature rose plant. I was actually ready for the party in my hair rollers because it was a Steel Magnolias theme party and I looked like I might just be sitting at Truvy’s beauty parlor. The movie was playing on the living room TV and all the guests knew all the lines.

The party welcome sign read, "if you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me," a line by Clairee in Steel Magnolias. The green hat resembles the one Drum wore while shooting birds before Shelby's wedding.
The party welcome sign read, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me,” a line by Clairee in Steel Magnolias. The green hat resembles the one Drum wore while shooting birds before Shelby’s wedding.

As for the food, we do have boudin in the freezer from a recent trip through Louisiana, but I am not a Cajun cook and felt I’m not ready for that challenge. Opting to stay in the South for the menu planning, I pulled out my copy of the Best of the Best from Georgia Cookbook. I came up with this game plan:

  • Chicken Savannah – breaded chicken breast baked with new potatoes, mushrooms and artichokes with a cream sauce

    Prepping the mushroom cream sauce for the Chicken Savannah
    Prepping the mushroom cream sauce for the Chicken Savannah.
  • Vidalia Sweet Onion Appetizer – chopped Vidalia onion dip baked in a pie dish with shredded Swiss cheese and a little mayonnaise. Baked until bubbly and served with Ritz crackers.
  • Watermelon Fire and Ice Salsa – this may just be better than tomato salsa. It was served with chili lime tortilla chips.
  • Buckhead Rice – casserole baked with cooked rice, egg, milk, Cheddar cheese, a package of frozen spinach, chopped onion, Worcestershire sauce, and dried marjoram, thyme and rosemary.

    Pull recipes from the same cookbook for a unified theme for a party menu
    Pull recipes from the same cookbook for a unified theme for a party menu.
  • Buttermilk Bowtie Pasta Salad – I actually forgot to serve this! I’ve previously paired it with burgers and love the black beans, bell peppers and cilantro in the buttermilk lime dressing.
  • The guests brought cornbread, a shrimp-avocado-tomato salad, cherry Bourbon and Coke, a fruit Chantilly cake, and a Hummingbird cake.

The cakes were my favorite food of the night. My friend baked the Southern Living Hummingbird Cake and the combination of pineapple and banana is perfect. I’m inspired to bake on of my own before too long. It looks similar to carrot cake but tastes oh so much better.

What's left of the cakes? Not much!
What’s left of the cakes? Not much!

The best part of the party was the company. One friend brought a neighbor, which is such a fun way to meet new people. Always suggest your guests bring a friend you don’t yet know. Someone asked about the hand-painted Magnolia House sign over the stove. We explained I made it to celebrate all the magnolia trees around the house. There are two huge ones in front, along with a tulip magnolia. Plus there is a little gem magnolia, a D.D. Blanchard magnolia and another tulip magnolia in the back. After the movie, we walked around the yard to show guests the trees and other plants.

The Sage Leopard, our dog Higgins, rests after the party on the seat where he favorite guest had sat
The Sage Leopard, our dog Higgins, rests after the party on the seat where he favorite guest had sat.

We had to wait until twilight when the sun is not as wilting as during a southeast Texas summer afternoon. The heat, in fact, inspired the whole idea of a movie watch party. Bring your guests over for a watch party to enjoy each other in the A/C, catch up and say movie lines together. If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

 

 

Southern Food Revival & Family Tradition

Southern food is now in vogue, with connoisseurs boasting of BBQ experiences and hipsters being well-versed in heritage this or that, but when it comes down to it, Southern cooking is about eating what you cultivate and using what you may have on hand. My boyfriend tells a story of how one of his grandmothers in North Georgia was given a groundhog and cooked it slow and low until it tasted better than roast beef. Years later, he tried to replicate that culinary experience and completely failed.

Collard greens greeting the pancetta before entering the slow cooker
Collard greens greeting the pancetta before entering the slow cooker

Thank goodness, because it might have been a deal-breaker if he had served me groundhog on an early date. By contrast, I grew up in New Jersey eating Italian food. Indeed, on an early date, I served my boyfriend ravioli in homemade tomato gravy with meatballs made according to my grandma’s recipe. Honestly, I had heard so much lore and praise of my boyfriend’s family cooking of real Southern food, I was too intimidated to try my hand at these traditions. After all, I was told my boyfriend’s grandmother made the best biscuits ever. I stuck with my knitting and kept cooking Italian food or experimenting with other cuisines. Last week, we visited his family in Georgia and our first stop was with a treasured cousin.

Creamed corn with yellow squash
Creamed corn with yellow squash

She prepared quite a spread: collard greens, creamed corn, lima beans, and, instead of ribs, a London broil. (The butcher recommended the beef when ribs weren’t available.) She also baked cracklings cornbread, which I hadn’t had before. My boyfriend was in seventh heaven. The two cousins spoke of their grandmother’s cooking and their family memories. He remarked that we (he and I) should start a Veggie Sunday, on which we would cook such vegetables for the week. I loved the idea of us cooking together. Upon our return to Texas, I bought all the ingredients to make Veggie Sunday happen. That morning, I woke up early, sipped coffee and mapped out the order of the recipes. My boyfriend announced which errands he planned to undertake. It dawned on me that I was going to cook all this Southern food. Thank goodness for the internet, and especially, Taste of the South Magazine, and The Southern Lady Cooks, for their creamed corn and lima bean recipes, respectively. For the cornbread, I skipped the cracklins and went with the basic recipe on the back of the cornmeal bag. But, this is no ordinary cornmeal. We bought it in Helen, Georgia, at a real grist mill. Thank you, Nora Mill Granary for the fantastic cornmeal and the recipe. This is the best cornbread I have ever had.

The best cornmeal ever... from North Georgia
The best cornmeal ever… from North Georgia

For the collard greens, I followed our Georgia hostess’ advice and put them in the slow cooker for more than four hours. To get them started, I cooked pancetta in a Dutch oven until crispy and then wilted the collard greens in the Dutch oven for a few minutes. (OK, OK, pancetta is Italian, but it is bacon.) For the meat, I marinated chicken breasts in the last of some truffle oil and Meyer lemon juice. My boyfriend pitched in by grilling the chicken to perfection. We pulled up to the table and looked at the spread before us: cornbread, chicken, creamed corn with squash, collard greens, lima beans with ham (also slow cooked) as well as a cucumber and radish salad and picked carrots. My boyfriend tasted everything and pronounced that it was outstanding. Veggie Sunday, Mission Accomplished.

Try it!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard