Southern food lightens up

ATST_Case_0709NAv4.inddSouthern Living Slim down South Cookbook by Carolyn O’Neil and Southern Living is the perfect cookbook for anyone who wants to indulge in the rich, sweet food the South is known for, without blowing those New Year’s resolutions. O’Neil takes southern traditions such as “meat and three veg” and modernizes it. Instead of fatback and three portions of soggy, cheesy veggies, O’Neil suggests roasted or baked meats with fresh, crisp vegetables. She offers old favourites that are lightened and brightened. Such recipes as Lemon Herb Madeleines, BBQ in a jar, and skillet fried chicken are mouthwatering versions of traditional favourites. 

The book also contains recipes and meal suggestions for every time of day as well as many different occasions. O’Neil also includes serving and entertaining suggestions. Another nice feature is the many interviews with Southern chefs. This is a wonderful book for anyone looking for creative ways to serve healthful food for family and friends. 

I had the chance to ask Carolyn a few questions about eating, cooking, and entertaining the “Slimmed Down Southern” way. Here is what she had to say:

DD: How do you define Southern cuisine? How does it differ from regular American cuisine?

CO: Southern food is so closely tied to our history and heritage and still reflects our close connection to the land. It’s comforting, wholesome, and generational. There is no other regional cuisine in America that is so defined as Southern food. Southerners have an emotional relationship with family recipes and it keeps our food alive and thriving.  

DD: What is your favourite dish for entertaining? 

CO: I always make grits when I have a party. They’re easy to feed a crowd, and are always a dose of comfort on everyone’s plate. I served my Peppered Pork Roast with Blue Cheese Grits for Christmas Eve last year and it was a huge hit. The roast can be made ahead and the grits are to-die-for.  

DD: What are your favourite tips for entertaining?

CO: Plan a menu that almost all can be done ahead of time. Make a timeline of what to cook when for the three days leading up to the party. Start the party with an empty dishwasher. Wait until the very last guest’s leaves before cleaning up. Don’t let your guests clean up. Relax and enjoy the guests. They’re at your house to spend time with you. Serve family style. It creates more conversation and community at the table. Offer a drink as the guests enter the door. Plan out the flow of the guests to prevent a clog of people in one part of the house.  

DD: Who was your greatest culinary influence and mentor?

CO: Nathalie Dupree was the first professional cook I worked with and remains to this day the greatest influence on my work. She taught me so much about being in the business and held my hand on the journey from her apprentice all the way to a colleague.

 DD: What recipe in this book do you make the most often? CO: I make Divine Pimiento Cheese at least once a week. I could live on it and be completely happy.

 DD: What is your favourite healthful Southern dish?

CO: Beets are packed with antioxidants and vitamins. I’ve never met one I didn’t like. I cook them all ways from pickled to roasted, but really love the Beets and Chevre Salad.