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In a Southern Kitchen....

Ingredients:

Butter, butter and more butter

Now, you may think a Southern girl will just toss a stick of butter into anything, and you'd be right... but there are some serious benefits to this glorious ingredient. You don't always need a whole stick (Bless my heart, I can't believe I said that), but a pat of butter in a sauce or gravy can add an intense richness of flavor. Saute vegetables in half butter and half olive oil with some chopped garlic and you're guaranteed a quick, yummy side dish for any meal.

Plus, all sweets require butter... so if you want yummy cookies, cakes and cupcakes, get ready to stock up on the butter.

Brown sugar

Sugar with molasses added really can't make anything taste bad, right? In vegetables, greens especially, brown sugar can cut the bitterness of cooked fresh vegetables and brighten up the flavor of canned vegetables.

Corn Meal, Self-rising Flour and Cake Flour

Obviously, you're going to have regular flour in your kitchen but you need these other standards for breading and baking. Corn meal is a standard for breading fish and making cornbread. Self-rising flour is used for most fried foods. And, cake flour is used for the sweeter recipes.

Ham hock, Bacon, Salt pork and Fat back

They sound weird, y'all, I know, but they make vegetables taste oh-so-much better! A ham hock is the joint between a pigs hoof and leg (essentially, the ankle). It's not meant to be eaten -- though it won't hurt you if you do -- but rather as a seasoner for beans, stews or slow-cooked soups. We all know what bacon is, and it's a good substitute for any of the afformentioned forms of pork fat if you don't have them on hand, but it's flavor is not as strong, and because it's a more tender cut of meat, it tends to cook down much faster than anything else. Salt pork is salt-cured and rather hard, it would likely be removed from whatever you're cooking before service and along with great flavor comes high sodium, so beware when salting pots that already have salt pork in them. Fatback is the raw and uncured version of salt pork. It is the fat trimmed off the back of pork, so there's very little meat (if any) in the cut. Fat back is typically used in the recipes that cook the longest, like collard greens. It releases its flavor over time without adding too much salt. I recommend keeping all of these products except the bacon in your freezer.

Fresh Parsley and Mint

Every plate needs something green on it. Parsley is best for the savory dishes, and mint is great for desserts and in iced tea.

Pecans, Peanuts, Almonds, Walnuts and any other nuts

Tossed in salads, baked into cookies or breads, or just to munch on, Southerners love their nuts. Some of my favorites are walnuts in chicken salad with red and green grapes, almonds sprinkled into a salad with grilled chicken and sliced strawberries, and the old faithful for any sporting event, boiled peanuts with just enough mustard and hot sauce.

Pie Crust

Learn how to make it or find your favorite frozen variety (I don't have an opinion, more power to ya either way) and keep it on hand in your freezer. Also, keep around some graham crackers (Nilla wafers will do in a pinch) to mash up, combine with some melted butter and make a quick crust for an icebox pie.

Something for an unexpected guest

Whether it's a homemade cookie, a glass of sweet tea, or a cup of coffee, you should always have something in your kitchen to offer a friend who's "just stopping by." A wonderful conversation can be held on the front porch with a cold glass of lemonade.

Tools:

Stand-up mixer

I'm sorry, I really can't make any sort of cake or bread without this fabulous invention. They're the only thing that frees up both of your hands to crack eggs, add ingredients and stir for you when you inevitably have to answer the telephone. Get one, ask Santa for one... do it, you won't regret it.

Food processor

What the stand-up mixer is to cakes and breads, the food processor is to pie crusts, dips, and sauces. You can't chop, break, knead or stir like this thing can, don't fool yourself. They sell them at Walmart and Target for like $20... again, get one.

Sharp Knives

This is not a southern thing, this is a kitchen thing. You're far more likely to cut yourself with a knife if it's not sharpened properly, not to mention, deteriorating knives can harbor bacteria which can turn into food born illnesses, so for yours and your family's health, you need sharp, well-maintained knives. And, while we're on the subject, glass cutting boards for meats and plastic for anything else. The wooden ones are for looks -- unless you're really willing to work hard at keeping them clean, and you can find that advice elsewhere.

Cast-iron Skillet

You really can't beat a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet for making fried chicken. My grandmother still uses the one from her mother's kitchen. You never "wash" a cast-iron skillet the way you would think. Real Simple offers great instructions for cleaning and seasoning a cast-iron skillet. Just remember, never put cold water on a hot skillet, and never set aside a dirty pan to soak.


Happy eating (and cooking), y'all!



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