Metropolitan Cooking Show Houston Recipes: Butternut Squash Soup and Caramel Apple Crostata

I had such a great time at the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show this past weekend in Houston! American Idol winner Taylor Hicks and I were together again for this event and it was so much fun... a little singing and a lot of cooking in the Celebrity Theater. It was an Alabama meets Texas weekend since The University of Alabama played Texas A & M that Saturday in College Station, Texas. I think half the state of Alabama was in Texas... I was actually escorted across the Texas state line by four Alabama Football team buses along with four Alabama State Trooper vehicles... quite a welcome to the Lone Star state. During the show, I made my favorite fall recipes: a yummy Caramel Apple Crostata and delicious Roasted Butternut Squash Soup. The recipes are posted below!


I was also asked to come up on stage and make a cocktail recipe with none other than Paula Deen. It was her first pulic appearance in months so it was pretty incredible to be there and be part of it. No matter what anyone says of Paula Deen, it is my humble opinion that she got a raw deal from the media and from the public who did not take the time to find out the facts before they reacted and convicted Paula in the press. She asked the public for forgiveness for her words; who does not deserve that? Paula Deen remains an icon, a true steel magnolia. Paula's life story is inspiring. She gives me hope for my own food career. If you watched Food Network Star, you know that her story has always been an inspiration to me. We chatted a bit and made her cousin Johnnie's sangria recipe. I was very honored and grateful to her for the opportunity. The recipe is below... perfect for a wedding shower, a girl's night party... light and delicious but it packs a punch!

Cousin Johnnie's White Sangria with Peaches Recipe from Paula Deen

2 cups diced ripe peaches

1 bottle dry white wine, chilled (I would use Sauvignon Blanc)

3/4 cup brandy

3/4 cup Grand Marnier

1 tablespoon sugar

1 bottle Ginger Ale, chilled

Put the wine, brandy, Grand Marnier and sugar in a pitcher. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Put 1-2 teaspoons peaches in stemmed wine glasses. Fill half full with the wine mixture. Top off each glass with a little ginger ale.


Category: Soup

Difficulty: Easy

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Depending on portion size, this serves about 8

2 (4-5 pounds) large butternut squash, halved and seeded
2 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
5-7 cups low-sodium chicken broth (depending on how thick you want the soup
¼ cup organic maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper

Dash cayenne pepper (I use a couple of big dashes but I suggest you do one, taste and then another if you want more heat)
½ cup heavy cream (more if you like, and I always like!)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425 F. Brush insides and outsides of squash halves with 1 T of oil and place, cut sides up, on a sheet pan or roasting pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from oven and cool to touch.

Heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large pot. Cook the onion until softened. Use a spoon to scoop out the squash from the peel and add to onion.  Stir in the first 4 cups of chicken broth a little at a time. Simmer, about 20 minutes, adding more chicken broth as necessary to keep the soup from becoming too thick.  Add the maple syrup, salt and both peppers. Whisk in the cream. Add parsley. If you like your soup with some texture, stop here.  I like this soup really smooth so I use an immersion blender to make it velvety before I add the heavy cream. Just before serving, stir in a tablespoon or two of butter. I find it makes the soup even more velvety and delicious.


Skill Level: Moderate

Category: Dessert

Prep Time: 20 minutes plus 1 hour chill time for the dough

Cook Time: 22-25 minutes

This may be my favorite recipe. You can’t believe how fast and easy you can make a pie; something I grew up eating after every meal. I have used just about everything inside of the crust but just make sure the dough is well chilled and the filling is not too juicy or it won’t hold together.



1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated or superfine sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 pound (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, diced

3 tablespoons ice water plus 1/2 teaspoon more,  if dough seems dry


11/2 pounds apples (3-4 large semi-tart apples work best)

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground  allspice

2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced into small pieces

Egg Wash

1 egg, beaten


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

For the pastry,place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with a steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine the dry ingredients. Add the butter, a little at a time, pulsing between additions until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube-stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into a round. Don’t over handle or over mix because your dough will be tough. Wrap the round with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When you are ready to make the crostata, flour the board and a rolling pin; roll the pastry into an 11-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Wrap it over the rolling pin and transfer it to a baking sheet.

For the filling, peel, core, and cut the apples. I like the look of slices- I usually slice a small apple into 8 slices. Put the apple into a bowl and toss with the lemon juice and the lemon zest. Next, add the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice. Add the cold butter. Mix all of the ingredients together until the apples are well coated. Turn the apples out onto the crust, leaving a 1 1/2-inch border all the way around.  Gently fold the border over the apples to enclose the dough, pleating it to make a circle. Finish with the egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar before baking.

Bake the crostata for 20 to 25 minutes, until the crust is golden and the apples are tender. Allow to cool slightly. Just before serving, drizzle with caramel sauce; you can make it or purchase.



nocoupons 1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions: Put the sugar in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over low heat until the sugar melts and turns a light golden brown color. Add the butter. Swirl the pan to incorporate the butter into the sugar. Watch carefully because it will burn. Bring to a boil until it becomes a light medium brown, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Sugar is very hot so be very careful. Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the cream and the vanilla. Return to low heat and simmer until the sauce is smooth and thick. Serve it warm, or add another 1/4 cup of heavy cream and serve room temperature.

Serves 5-6 depending on how large you cut the slices.


Fresh Strawberry Sorbet Recipe


I simply am in love with ice cream and frozen treats of any kind, especially in the summer when fruit is juicy and ripe. Strawberry sorbet is so easy and so  refreshing. Use this recipe to make sorbet with fresh berries of any kind. If you use raspberries or blueberries, exchange the lime juice for lemon juice. Happy spinning!

Skill Level: Easy

Category: Dessert

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: Chill at least 2 hours before spinning.


2 pounds fresh strawberries, sliced and hulled

1 ¼ cup sugar

¾ cup water

2 tablespoons lime juice

Scant pinch kosher salt


Prepare an ice bath in a large heat-proof bowl.

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Cool by stirring over the ice bath. Set aside.

Puree the fruit in a blender or use a juicer if you have one. Strain to remove any seeds or pulp. Add the lime juice. Mix with the cooled simple syrup. Chill for an hour or more before spinning according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Put in plastic container in freezer to set before serving.


Celebrate National Cheesecake Day with No Bake Lemon Cheesecake with Two Berry Sauce

In celebration of National Cheesecake Day, try this super simple and really delicious cheesecake that only takes 30 minutes start to finish! Lemon and blueberries go so well together. Add this crunchy caramel topping and this is a can't miss favorite for dinner parties or when you just have that craving for something sweet.


8 graham crackers

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup each blackberries and blueberries or you can use strawberries, raspberries- whatever

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons Chambord liqueur- optional

8 oz cream cheese, softened

1 cup whipping cream

½ cup sour cream

2 teaspoons lemon juice

½ teaspoon lemon zest

½ cup Confectioner’s sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

For the crust: Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Whirr the graham crackers in a food processor until they are crumbs. Put 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and 3 butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the pan so the sugar and butter melt together to make a caramel. Once it is melted and light golden brown, add the crumbled graham crackers and toss to coat. Remove from pan and spread on prepared pan. Set aside to cool.

For the sauce: Use the same pan. Add 1 cup blackberries and 1 cup blueberries. Sprinkle over 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Toss to coat. Cook over medium heat until the berries begin to break down and soften, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the pan from heat. Add Chambord. Stir together. Set aside to cool.

For the cheesecake: In a bowl, whip the whipping cream until stiff. Beat the cream cheese and sour cream with the Confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon zest. Beat until fluffy. Fold the whipping cream into the cream cheese mixture.

Line individual ramekins or a medium soufflé or round casserole with plastic wrap. 

Spoon the cheesecake into the ramekin and press it down to fill. Add a layer of the graham cracker crumbs on top. Wrap the sides of the plastic wrap over the top and chill for at least an hour.

To serve: sprinkle more graham crumbs on the plate. Remove the cheesecake from the ramekin and put it crumb side down onto the plate. Spoon over the berry sauce and garnish with a few more crumbs.



National Fried Chicken Day: Buttermilk Southern Fried Chicken Recipe

National Fried Chicken Day is July 6th! People usually associate Southern cooking with two things: BBQ and Fried Chicken. I probably need to get my passport revoked because I have not until today, put up a single blog post or recipe on fried chicken. Fried chicken is a lot like BBQ sauce or potato salad. Every Southern cook has their own version and usually, a couple of good stories to go with it. Here's mine...

My mom grew up in a children's home in Troy, Alabama during very hard times. The kids all had to have a job and my mom always preferred to be in the kitchen. Once a week there would be fried chicken and they would have to go out in the yard and catch the chicken, kill it, clean it and then help cook it. Ugh. Hard to imagine. Mom taught me how to cut up a whole chicken and her techniques for frying. Luckily, I never had to chase one down and well, you know. These days, I get the store to cut the chicken up for me but the rest of it is the same. The big secret is the buttermilk. Don't skip that step... makes the chicken so juicy and tender! Here is my mom's recipe...



1 whole chicken with skin, cut up (about 3 pounds)

2 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon kosher salt + 1 teaspoon

1 teaspoon black pepper + ½ teaspoon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon paprika

3 cups self rising flour

6-8 cups Canola oil for frying based on the size of your skillet or Dutch oven

Special equipment: Thermometer for frying and a meat thermometer

Put the chicken pieces in a large zip top bag. Pour the buttermilk over it and close. Toss to coat all of the chicken. Put the bag in a bowl and place it in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours to soak, turning the bag occasionally.

When you are ready to fry, fit a deep cast iron skillet or large Dutch oven with a thermometer. Pour in the oil about 1 ½ to 2’ deep. Over medium high heat, bring the oil up to 360 degrees. You want to try to keep the oil at 360 during frying process. It will drop as you put in the chicken but let it come back to 360 degrees before adding more.

Combine the 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, cayenne, and paprika. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and discard the buttermilk. Season the chicken liberally with the spice mixture on all sides.  

Put the flour plus 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a zip top bag. Take the chicken, one or two pieces at a time and put into the flour mixture. Shake well to coat. Lightly shake off excess. Put on the baking rack after you have coated each piece.

When the oil is up to temperature, use the tongs to carefully put the coated pieces of chicken into the hot oil. Do this in batches, taking care not to overcrowd or put too many pieces in the pan at one time. You will lower the oil temperature and the skin will not be crispy. Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally until the chicken is deep golden brown and delicious. Remove one piece of chicken and check the temperature with a meat thermometer at the thickest part of the breast or thigh but away from the bone. Chicken should be cooked to 165 degrees F. Drain on a rack covered with a brown paper bag. You may want to hit the hot chicken with a little salt. That’s how my mom did it. Hope you like it as much as I love remembering those days standing by the stove while she cooked it.



There are some dishes that just scream summer and potato salad is one of those. There is rarely a picnic or BBQ without it on the table. As a southerner, potato salad and deviled eggs are something you grow up eating and some of the very first dishes you learn to make. I always helped my mom make the potato salad... I can remember standing on the kitchen stool, peeling the potatoes or cracking he hard boiled eggs. She always told me that mayonnaise is the most important ingredient in potato salad and to this day, I find that to be correct. If you skimp on the mayo, the integrity of the dish changes drastically.

I typically make my mom's potato salad recipe with lots of yellow mustard and onion but here's a new spin on potato salad that I really like. This version tastes like a baked potato with sour cream, bacon and chives... try it as an alternative to your own version of potato salad. You'll love it!


1 pound red potatoes

3 tablespoons kosher salt plus 1 teaspoon

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1/4 cup sour cream

2 tablespoons fresh chives, minced, plus 1 teaspoon for garnish

10 bacon strips, cooked crisp and crumbled reserve some for garnish

Put the potatoes and 3 tablespoons salt in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10-12 minutes. Drain. Let cool slightly. Cut into halves or quarter if the potatoes are large.

In your serving bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, Dijon, sour cream, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper. 

Add the potatoes while they are still warm and toss well to coat. Try not to break up the potatoes too much. Add the bacon and chives, toss again and check seasoning. You may want a bit more sour cream because the warm potatoes will soak up most of the liquid. Add a bit more salt and pepper depending on your taste. Serve immediately or chill until serving time. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream plus the chives and bacon.