Posted tagged ‘southern cooking’

How to make the perfect cheese cake.

January 23, 2012

Who doesn’t love a really decadent cheese cake?  This one takes a while but if you do it right, you will receive from any one who eats it,what I consider the highest praise of all cooks, “unghhhhhh, this should be a sin.”

I prefer chocolate cheese cake, so I’m going to show you the chocolate modification.  If you want plain cheesecake, remove all chocolate from this recipe and follow all other directions.  If you make a plain cheese cake it can  be spiced up by adding strawberries, or blueberries, or peanut butter, or whatever it is you like to add to cheese cake.  Heck, eat it plain I’m sure it’s good that way too.  For this recipe I used a spring form pan.  If you don’t have one, I can’t guarantee that a regular pie pan will work.  I know for sure that it won’t give you the signature cheese cake look.   Let me know by commenting below if it worked for you.

Cheesecake Base:

  • 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs.  This is roughly 16 crumbled Graham Crackers about this size:
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa

Cheesecake filling

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 3 blocks cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks (Seperate eggs like this.)
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon cocoa dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

Drizzle sauce

  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon corn syrup


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. First we must make the base of the cheese cake.  To do this, process the graham crackers in a food processor.  If you do not have a food processor a blender will work.  Or, you can even crumble them by hand as long as they are made into fine crumbs.
  3. If you are using a food processor simply add the 1/2 stick butter and tablespoon of cocoa to the mix and process again until the product looks like this:

    If you are using a blender, or crumbling by hand, soften the butter and use a mixer to mix ingredients together until crumbs look wet and sticky.
  4. Press the crumbs onto the bottom an un-greased springform pan to make an even base.
  5. Put the pan with the graham cracker base into the freezer while you prepare the filling.
  6. Put a kettle or a pot with water on to boil, you will need it later.
  7. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese to soften it.
  8. Add sugar and corn starch, beat again to combine.
  9. Beat in the whole eggs and the yolks, and the sour cream.
  10. Finally add the cocoa dissolved in hot water (hot water comes from the boiling pot you set on the stove in step 5.) Leave the pot boiling you will need the rest of the water later.
  11. Beat until the batter is smooth.
  12. take the base out of the freezer, and wrap the spring form pan in in a layer of tin foil and a layer of plastic wrap.  This will protect the pan  from the water bath that it will be cooked in.
  13. Sit the spring form pan in a roasting pan and pour in the cheesecake filling.  Fill the roasting pan with the boiled water from step 5, so that it comes about half way up the sides of the spring form pan.
  14. Bake for 45 minutes or until the top of the cheesecake is set but the underneath should still be wobbly.
  15. Peel away the foil and plastic wrap and sit the cheesecake on a cooling rack.  Put in the refrigerator once it is no longer hot, leave to set, covered with plastic overnight.  Let it lose it’s chill before unspringing the cheese cake
  16. To make the chocolate sauce: melt the chocolate chips, cream and syrup.  when the the chocolate has nearly melted take off the heat and whisk to a smooth sauce.  Let it cool a little, and pour it over the cheesecake on it’s serving plate.

Why a hot water bath?

When I first made this recipe I wondered what the hot water bath did.  I asked someone I know who loves to cook and is also a science teacher.  He explained to me that, the water changes temperature around the cheese cake very slowly, which allows the cheese cake to cook more evenly.  This prevents cracking or browning on the bottom that might happen with a normal cake.

Enjoy the recipe.  Let me know how it turns out.


Puckett’s Grocery and Cafe

January 18, 2012

Recently I have noticed that most of my favorite restaurants are not five star restaurants where you will get rich and succulent foods.  Rather, they are small, side of the road places that I can afford to eat at regularly and might make the same food that my grandmother would cook for me if I were there on a visit.  Something I like about this style of restaurant is, I don’t have to behave.  For those of you who know me I enjoy myself everywhere I go.  I enjoy kidding with waitresses and telling jokes and stories while I enjoy my food.  At nice restaurants I feel highly constrained.  I know I must be on my best behavior and mind my manners or else my mother might swoop in from out of nowhere to give me an old fashioned switching.  In most of my favorite restaurants I feel at ease and almost like I’m home.

At Puckett’s, the minute I walked through the front door, I felt as if I had visited this particular restaurant a million times.  I caught myself looking for my favorite booth over in the corner.  I was surprised to find this general store atmosphere so faithfully recreated in downtown Franklin Tennessee.  When I say recreated, I really mean faithfully copied from the original.  I did not know this when I found this restaurant but there are actually three Puckett’s in the Nashville area.  The one in Leiper’s fork has been a working grocery store since the 195os.   The other two are recreations of the original.

If all of this were not enough to make me feel at home,the menu did the trick.  As soon as I looked at the menu I knew I had chosen the right place to eat lunch.  Right there on the page was one of my favorite comfort foods of all time, smoked bologna.  The best part, you could customize it.  I got mine with fried egg, bacon and grilled onions.

My only complaint with most general store/restaurant combos is that the menu size is usually very limited.  At Puckett’s it is very clear that the restaurant is the focus of this general store.  The menu is large and anyone can find something to suit their needs including a sizable dessert menu.  As a matter of fact the Franklin location is almost exclusively a restaurant, with a few sundries around the store such as a few canned goods and glass bottle beverages that can still be purchased.  Meanwhile, it is my understanding that the Leiper’s Fork location is still an operating general store complete with a gas station out front.

Overall I give Puckett’s a 5 out of 5 and have added it to my list of all time favorite restaurants.  I will be returning for more great atmosphere and great food.



Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Franklin Hot Plate

January 16, 2012

As a child we frequented a small cafe in my hometown of Centertown, Kentucky.  It was uniquely named “The Centertown Cafe.”  This cafe was special though.  Not for the food that was served, but because it was the only one in town.  Every person young or old came out to “the restaurant,” as it was colloquially known, to share stories, drink coffee and get a good meal.  When the owner passed away, the restaurant closed and left me looking for another such place.

Twenty years later I found it.  The Hot Plate in Franklin Kentucky is an un assuming restaurant, just a metal pole building with concrete floors.   as we pulled in the parking lot the first thing I noticed was how full it was, the first sign of a good place to eat.  When you walk in you notice racing memorabilia next to University of Kentucky posters and paintings, in my book a sure sign of a good place to eat.  White boards are hung around the room advertising the daily specials.  All of these things tell me it is the right place to be to hear a great lie and get a good meal.

My group tried a variety of items from the menu and no one had anything negative to say.  I had the fried chicken from the daily special.  I’ve had better fried chicken in my time but I also know I’ve had less healthy fried chicken, if you catch my drift.

The best part of the meal was dessert.  Several pies were ordered by our table and the consensus is that the chocolate pie was the best.  It had a tall meringue, which I personally found to be too much, but if you enjoy meringue this would be perfect for you.

The wait staff were extremely friendly, and even offered to put pie back for us since it was Sunday and pies were going fast.  The meal was well priced, my wife and I ate for less than fifteen dollars.

If you are looking for a fancy restaurant, with high class atmosphere and stellar food, this is not the right restaurant.  However, if you want a place to go and socialize and hear the local gossip while you get a good home style meal, I would go to the Hot Plate again any day.

4 out of 5 stars.


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Map Location is about 8 miles south of South Warren High School.

Hot Plate on Urbanspoon

Smokey Pig Barbeque

January 10, 2012

To say that I like this restaurant is an understatement;  I eat here at least once a week.  From the outside it looks very unassuming.  In fact I have had many friends tell me they wouldn’t want to eat there because it is so small and cramped.  But I defy you to drive by on a morning when they have the smoker rolling full speed without your mouth watering from the smell alone.

It is a small restaurant especially at lunch.  You will find every police officer in the county as well as anyone else who happens to be on lunch break near by.  I prefer to go in the afternoon, when it is less crowded.  However, by doing so there is a risk that they might have run out of some items, particularly the ribs. I also enjoy sitting in the back room where there is a quaint overlook of Barren River.

At the Smokey Pig they do things “the Monroe County Way.”  Which means that everything is dry smoked with very few seasonings.  All of the seasoning comes from the smoke itself and a vinegar based sprinkle added when you order.  The sprinkle is mildly spicy so if you like it hot, get it dipped.  If you don’t, ask them to lightly sprinkle it.  You can dial in just the right amount of flavor for you.

I have ate at the pig enough times to sample everything they have to offer.  My personal favorites are, the pork chop and the half chicken.  The pork shoulder is a huge hit as well, if you like shoulder.  I have only had the privilege to have had the ribs once because no matter how many they make, they always sell out.  So, if you know you are going and want ribs, call ahead to have some reserved.

Aside from the meat, this barbeque joint stands out from the rest because the sides are as good or better than the barbeque itself.  The Mashed potatoes are made fresh from new potatoes, the baked beans have just the right amount of flavor, and you can choose from mayo or vinegar slaw, both of which are excellent.  I also really enjoy the macaroni and cheese.

Overall I would give this restaurant 5 out of 5 stars.  The people are friendly the food is great and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.  Also everything is ready to go, so you can stop by and pick up a plate on the way home from work.  How much better can it get?


Smokey Pig Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Peach Cobbler and mistakes.

January 9, 2012

Sometimes in cooking, as in life, mistakes are made.  It doesn’t really matter how they happen.  What matters is, what are you going to do to fix them?

I was cooking this recipe with a few students.  I intentionally used a small recipe that would need to be doubled.  As a teacher, you should always teach more than one thing if possible, so I thought, “why not teach fractions while we are cooking?”   The idea was, we would double the recipe, then cook the recipe.  I did not take into account how confusing it would be for young minds to have two recipes laying around, mistake number one.   I also did not realize that my recipe used amounts not only in the ingredients section but in the directions section as well, mistake number two.

We got all of the fractions doubled and converted.  They were correct, I checked and double checked them, I’ve made that mistake before.  So we started cooking, the kids got confused and the next thing I know, 1/4 cup of cinnamon had been dumped into the recipe when there should only be 1/4 teaspoon, mistake number 3 and the most glaringly obvious of the day.  Remember how I said it’s not how they happen, but how you fix them that matters?  This is where that comes into play.

The student who made the mistake apologized profusely and admitted she wasn’t paying close enough attention.  I told her it was alright.   “Sometimes you learn more from the times you make mistakes than the times you get it right,” I explained, as we pondered what was next.  We could either give up, and scrap the recipe and all the work we had already done, or try to do something to save the recipe.

We decided to try to dig as much cinnamon as we could out.  Once again, just like life, sometimes once a thing is done it can not be undone.  There was way too much cinnamon in the recipe and no way to get around it except to bake it up and hope for the best.

When it came out of the oven, I nervously tried the first bite.  Much to my surprise it was delicious.  I had never had a peach cobbler with this much cinnamon.  It was enough to really make it’s presence known, more so than the original recipe, but not so much that it was over powering.  I guess the life lesson to take from this great cooking mistake, is that sometimes mistakes are made but it’s what you do to fix them.  This time, the end result turned out in a positive way.  However, we could have just as easily given up cooking for that day and not experienced this fortunate mistake.

Southern Peach Cobbler

Makes approximately 8 servings in a 9×12 casserole dish.


  • 1 can peaches drained
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (more if you are feeling adventurous.  I would guess there may have been as much as 2 tea spoons in the above story.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 tea spoon of corn starch
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter  chilled
  • 1/2 cup boiling water


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Grease a 9×12 casserole dish.
  2. In a large bowl combine peaches, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice and cornstarch stir together lightly.
  3. pour into 9×12 casserole dish.
  4. In another large bowl, combine flour white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.
  5. Blend in butter using a pastry blender until it looks almost like biscuit meal.
  6. Stir in water until just combined.
  7.  pour contents onto peaches push down into bottom layer lightly with a wooden spoon.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes.

Vegetable Soup and Corn Bread: A Cold Day’s Feast

January 2, 2012

For as long as I can remember on cold days like today, my dad would make vegetable soup and corn bread. Dad’s corn bread is famous around his circle of friends. Mine isn’t as good as his even though I make it exactly the same way. Funny how that works.

As for the vegetable soup it is not a family recipe. This is my version of the creamy vegetable soup served by the chefs at The Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge Tennessee; which if you’ve ever been, you know to be the world’s greatest soup.

First, we will tackle the easier of the two, the soup.  This recipe makes a half gallon of soup, or approximately 8 servings.


  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsps corn syrup
  • 6 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetables (more or less depending on taste)
  • 1 quart half and half
  • chopped parsley
  • 2 chicken breasts (not in original recipe)
  1. In a large pot melt butter on low heat.
  2. While butter is melting, use two small bowls to combine ingredients.
  3. In the first bowl add onion, garlic, and corn syrup.
  4. In the second bowl mix flour, white pepper, salt, chicken broth, and water.
  5. When butter is melted, add the first bowl to the mix turn up heat to medium and simmer but do not brown.
  6. Add the second bowl and the vegetables.  Continue stirring.
  7. Add half and half.  Simmer until thick, creamy and hot throughout.  Be careful not to bring to a boil, it will stick to the pan if it does.
  8. Cut chicken into chunks.  Brown in a separate pan and add to soup. (Optional ingredient)
  9. Garnish with Parsley and serve.

Now for the Cornbread.

You will find this recipe on the back of a Martha White cornmeal bag, but they do not tell you the finer points that I will explain here.


  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • Crisco shortening
  • 2 cups Self Rising Corn Meal (I prefer Martha White)
    1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
    2. Use a knife to put a small amount of Crisco in your skillets.  It should be enough to coat the skillet’s cooking surface.  When I did it it looked like this:
    3. Put the skillets into the oven to let the Crisco melt.
    4. Meanwhile mix all ingredients together in a bowl with a pouring nozzle, like a large measuring cup.
    5. When the skillets look like this:they are hot enough.  Notice, the shortening is liquified.  It is very hot.  You will need two oven mitts, one inside the other, to handle the skillets.
    6. Pour the corn meal mixture into the skillet places.  Remember it will rise and spread out, so don’t fill them completely up.
    7. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes or until they look like this:
    8. Switch oven to broil for three minutes, or until they are brown on top and look like this:
    9. Remove from oven once again using two oven mitts.  Corn bread should fall out easily.  If not use a fork to nudge it out.

A note on cornbread skillets: The secret to good cornbread lies in the skillet.  Some people use regular cast iron skillets.  I do not like these for 2 reasons.  First, they make the cornbread too thick and it is drier.  Second, since they are washed periodically the cornbread flavor is lost.  Which brings me to my next point, washing.  NEVER wash your cornbread skillets.  All you should do with them is cook corn bread, so after your are done wipe them out with a towel and store them.  This makes them seasoned for the next time.

If you have anymore questions about corn bread or the soup feel free to leave a comment below and I will answer to the best of my ability.  Happy cooking.