What happens when two budding Southern cooking show hosts attempt to be the Cooking Channel’s next big star? A food fight. In Mary Kay Andrews’ book, Deep Dish, Regina Foxton is the host of a Georgia public television food show called Fresh Start, focusing on fresh, healthier versions of classic Southern dishes. Tate Moody, is a regulation hottie who hosts Vittles, a kill-it-and-grill-it show on the Southern Outdoors Network. When a big-shot producer comes down to Atlanta to take a look at the on-site filming of both shows, he can’t decide which one he wants to sign on to his network. Instead of choosing for himself, he lets the viewers of the Cooking Channel decide by hosting the network’s first-ever Food Fight. Similar to the setup on shows like Top Chef or Chopped, Regina and Tate are sent to a remote island off the coast of Georgia to battle it out in a series of culinary challenges. As the two opponents move closer toward the prize of their own show on the Cooking Channel, they also grow closer to each other. All and all, Deep Dish is a book filled with food, humor and romance; the perfect combination of ingredients for a romantic foodie like myself. Let’s just say I devoured this book (and the descriptions of Tate Moody without his shirt on).
My favorite part of the book? Learning about Southern cuisine. Mary Kay Andrews goes to great lengths to carefully describe the ingredients and methods used by both chefs. At one point in the story, Regina and Tate are given a box of everyday pantry items from the average American home and asked to create a meal. The box contains Frosted Flakes, parts of a frying chicken, confectioner’s sugar, mayonnaise, and a whole slew of other boring and unrelated cooking items. While the “Tatester” fails miserably at the challenge, Regina dives deep into her childhood memories of cooking from her mother’s cookbooks. She whips up a feast of oven-fried cornflake chicken, tomato soup cake, and vinegar pie, amongst other classic Southern dishes.
While most people cringe at the thought of southern dishes like Snickers salad or Sprite cake, the people I know who were born and raised on these dishes swear by them. Which got me thinking: when have I ever tried making Southern food? With the help of a few recipes in the back of Deep Dish, I decided to make my own down-home, Southern feast.
First, I researched online to find a recipe for cornflake chicken. Surprisingly, (to me at least), lots of people use cornflakes with oven-fried chicken to replicate the crunchiness that results in deep-frying battered chicken. I decided to use this recipe for “Best Chicken Ever” after it received rave reviews from fellow cooks on www.allrecipes.com. First, I dipped my chicken pieces in sour cream (I used light sour cream and added cayenne pepper and hot sauce for kick). Then, I rolled my chicken in crushed cornflakes. A second dash of seasonings and a drizzle of butter, and I popped them in the oven.
Based on my research, it seems like many people use the cornflake oven-fried cooking method as a healthier alternative to deep-fried chicken. If you are trying replace the crispy, buttery hot goodness of a piece of deep fried chicken for dietary purposes or from a lack of a deep fryer, you will be sorely disappointed by cornflake chicken. While nothing was wrong with the taste of the final product, I spent the entire meal thinking about how much better a piece of authentic fried chicken would be than the impostor on the plate in front of me. If you must try cornflake chicken, don’t be shy with the use of cayenne powder and hot sauce to add heat to whatever wet ingredient you are washing the chicken in.
While collard greens would have been the ideal vegetable side dish for the chicken, I don’t care for them. I’ve tried them over and over again, hoping to taste a delicious version of greens, but I am left in disappointment (and a mouth full of salt and pork fat). I went for the healthier alternative of steamed green beans with a little garlic and butter.
Now for the grand finale of my Southern meal: Regina Foxton’s “Simply Sinful Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake,” as written in the back of Deep Dish. I can’t share the exact recipe with you because of copyright law. But I can tell you that yes, indeed, the recipe has a can of condensed tomato soup, along with conventional cake ingredients like flour, sugar, butter, and cocoa powder. Here is one of the public recipes for tomato soup cake that I found online.
With much hesitation and conflicting inner dialogue, (“you just put WHAT in that batter?!”), I got the cake made and put in the oven. The cake was easy to put together, and baked without incident. After the cake was cooled, I threw some of Martha Stewart’s cream cheese frosting on it, and dug in. It didn’t taste anything like tomato soup, but it didn’t make me want to “slap my momma“* either. It tasted like a run-of-the-mill devil’s food cake. That being said, my boyfriend claims the cake goes “PERFECTLY” with ice cream (was he just trying to be nice?).
After much research and attention to culinary detail, I feel like I’ve failed to produce a satisfying Southern meal. I don’t know what Regina Foxton and Tate Moody did to get all their Southern cooking know-how, but I am definitely in the dark. Maybe with the help of some serious Southern family recipes, a Fry Daddy, and a generous pour of SoCo, my next attempt at a Southern feast will be a success. Until then, I’ll be tearing my way through more of Mary Kay Andrews’ delicious stories.
*NOTE: No mommas were harmed in the making of this meal.