A few minutes before Paula Deen arrived at The Record Kitchen on April 15, her publicist called my cellphone, setting the stage for the comedy that was about to ensue. "Do you have any fast food by you?"
Paula, her husband, Michael Groover, and the entourage that had been traveling with her from her book-signing in Riverdale, had skipped lunch. We offered to order some food, but we were assured that KFC or Taco Bell would be fine. And the idea of mixing and icing a cake on an empty stomach was too much to imagine.
Here's more from our quick visit with Paula and Co., along with more recipes from her memoir, "It Ain't Just About the Cookin' " (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
3:53: Paula and Co. arrive in their livery SUV while the nor'easter was pounding North Jersey. She snatched the umbrella from my hands and ran to the door. "Oh, my gosh," she said, apologizing "I took that right away!"
4:01: With Paula set to leave at 4:30, we wanted to get right to work on the banana nut delight cake, but she looked lonely behind the counter while Michael stood a few feet away. We invited him to participate, and our demonstration turned into a precious cooking lesson, with Paula reading the recipe from the book while he sifted and stirred.
4:05: "Seems like I remember this," Michael says with a touch of irony after Paula's instructions to add eggs to the cake batter. It's the cake he grew up with. The recipe was temporarily lost, so Paula recreated it from Michael's description for their wedding. A year later, they found the recipe, written in pencil on a card in his mother's recipe box.
4:09: Paula's agent, Barry Weiner of Park Ridge, walks into The Record Kitchen with two bags of White Castles. Lunch is served. Paula's verdict: Delicious, but they'd be "better with mustard; no ketchup" and "not as good as Krystals," referring to the southern burger chain.
4:18: Break's over, and Paula is beginning to frost the cake with the cream cheese icing she and Michael had mixed. We begin talking about how candid her book was, but she gets distracted by Michael sampling the icing from the bowl. "So many people have helped me in my journey and ... what was your question?" A minute later, she was sampling, too, eating icing directly off the knife.
4:23: Paula is asked whether she was concerned that some of her book's admissions -- her smoking, her relationship with a married man -- affected her public image. "You know, that was a concern," she said. "Anytime you put yourself out there, you can become a target ... but we have not heard one negative feedback, which has made me feel so, so good."
4:26: After the cake was frosted and Paula and Michael had finished smiling for the camera, I finally asked Paula a question that had nothing to do with her book or the cake. Why, I asked, are us Yankees so incapable of duplicating Southern food? “Down South, we put a lot of love in our pot when we’re cooking," she answered. "But I think the biggest thing is we’re not afraid of seasoning. We’re not afraid of that ham hock. We’re not afraid of that salt and pepper and butter.”
Mississippi mud cake
For the cake:
- 2 cups sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 stick unsalted butter
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup cocoa
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 bag miniature marshmallows
For the icing:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 3 tablespoons cocoa
- 6 tablespoons milk
- 1 1-pound box confectioner's sugar
- 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 13- by 9-inch baking pan.
Combine the sugar, salt, and flour in a large mixing bowl. Bring butter, oil, cocoa, and ¼ cup water to a boil in a saucepan. Add to the flour mixture.
Beat together the eggs, baking soda, buttermilk, and vanilla. Add to the chocolate mixture, mix well, and pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes.
While the cake is baking, make the icing by melting the butter in the cocoa and milk over low heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat. Stir in the confectioner's sugar. Slowly mix in the nuts and the vanilla. Take the cake from the oven, and when it cools a bit cover it with miniature marshmallows. Pour the warm icing over the cake and the marshmallows. Cool the cake before serving.
Biscuits and sawmill gravy
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup vegetable shortening
- 1 to 1 ¼ cups milk
- ¼ cup melted unsalted butter
- Sawmill gravy, recipe follows
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in the shortening with a fork until it looks like cornmeal. Add the milk, a little at a time, stirring constantly until well mixed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly two or three times. Roll out the dough with a floured rolling pin to ½-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch cutter. Place the biscuits in a greased iron skillet. Brush the biscuits with half the melted butter. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush the hot biscuits with the remaining butter.
Slit the biscuits in half and ladle sawmill gravy over the hot biscuits.
- 1 pound ground sausage
- 4 slices thick-cut bacon
- ½ medium onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 2 cups half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons butter
In a large skillet, combine the sausage, bacon, onion, and garlic. Cook over medium heat until the sausage is browned and crumbles. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the half-and-half.
Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened. Stir in the butter until well blended.
Servings: 6 to 12.