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Southern Girl Casserole

Hello world, what a bad little blogger I have been latley. I'd love to tell y'all I've been busy on some fab project or swamped at work but honestly I've been enjoying working normal 8 to 5 hours and getting to come home and watch tv and snuggle my dogs. Now that we've had all the winter finales it seems like a good time for the couch and I to take a break. 

I call this blog "In the South it's a Religion" but I realize there's a big part of southern culture I never touch on: the casserole. Oh my how us southerners love our casseroles, and casserole dishes of course. I have at least 10 casserole dishes and I couldn't imagine any self respecting southern cook with any less. You have to have a variety of sizes and at any point in time several will probably be at use - I have two in the dishwasher, one in the sink to go in the dishwasher, one in the fridge with leftovers, one at a potluck I wasn't feeling well enough to go to with Shaun and one in the oven as I type this. Of course, we don't eat casseroles every night, they're just great to cook a variety of things in. But with Thanksgiving upon us I thought I might share a favorite casserole that just so happens to be great for your leftover turkey: Poppy Seed Chicken. 

I first had poppy seed chicken when my mom was recovering from surgery and her friend Miss Sara brought it to us. Because southerners bring a casserole when things like that happen, and you always call your parent's friends Mr or Miss first name, even when you become a grown up you still do it. But anyway, it was omg good so I looked up the recepie and began making it myself. 

Start off by preheating the oven to 350. The first ingredient is 4 cups of cooked chicken, or turkey. Sometimes I just boil some frozen chicken Brest but today I used chicken pulled off the bone from last week's roast chicken. 

Mix in one can of cream of chicken soup

Canned soup is almost always an ingredient in a southern casserole recepie. Add 8oz of sourcream

I obviously used half this container. 

Add seasonings and poppy seeds

I actually left them out this time because a. I'm out and b. Shaun is job hunting and better safe than sorry on the whole poppyseed and positive drug screen fable. But usually you'd add a tablespoon. 

Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish. Here's another southern woman cooking habit: we reuse our grease. I know women who keep collect it every time they cook bacon. I just decided to use the same dish the chicken had cooked in

Look, it's practical, don't judge me! 

Add crushed up ritz crackers, another southern casserole staple, on top. 

I used about half the sleeve and then sprinkled on parsley. I don't think parsley adds any flavor but it just looks nice. 

Bake for 30 minutes and seve on top of the carb of your choice. Most people go with white rice, I like egg noodles

It's also a good idea to serve with a vegetable or two, not soaked in butter even though that is the southern way. My favorite with this one is broccoli or green beans. 

Casseroles are great because its a good way to use leftovers and turn them into something different and they keep really well, instead of being baked this one can be popped into the freezer for future consumption. A lot of other casseroles have the veggies mixed right in so they're also easy peasy meals. 

Happy leftover making y'all! 

Memphis Downtown Dining Week 2014

One of my favorite Memphis events is coming up: Downtown Dining Week! 

In Memphis we have this weird culture where people who live downtown or midtown complain about the suburbs being "all the way out East" and the suburbanites complain about going "all the way downtown". Mind you at non rush hour times these are 35 minute or less drives. Anyone from NY or Cali please take a moment to roll your eyes and say bitch, please! 

While the tasty locally owned establishment is an exception in the suburbs they dominate the food scene in downtown and midtown, which is why I personally beleive people afraid to cross over the 240 loop are really missing out. To provide an incentive to those who don't frequent downtown on the regular downtown dining week was created to give the downtown restaurants a chance to show off why they are "worth the drive". 

The rules: participating restaurants offer 3 course meals for $20.14, select parking garages offer $1 parking. Traditionally upscale places take reservations while more casual places either do not or do not require them. 

I have been participating for years but this will be my first year to go every single night; I'm excited! And since I have already made my reservations and y'all pose no threat to my enjoyment I don't mind sharing some recommendations with you. To me, DDW is a great time to check out places you might not ordinarily go to or don't go to frequently so unless the menu is amazing the casual restaurants where I could eat for $20 or less on a regular basis are out. 

Places I recommend considering are: 

Automatic Slims 
Chez Philippe
Felicia Suzanne's 
Itta Bena 
Majestic Grille 

Now I'm sure all of the participants are wonderful, but I have not tried them all or find some a casual place best visited at another time. 

Making reservations is key to being able to participate, but there's also a few things I think are helpful to keep in mind to keep the expectations realistic. 

1. The food options for DDW are limited, this helps the restaurants buy in bulk and mass produce. Expect the restaurants to be at full capacity and the food to come out faster than if you were dining at full price. If you're not buying drinks or additional items don't be a jerk holding a table for two hours. 

2. Understand that service might not be as attentive as a typical fine dining experience. One of the hallmarks that sets fine dining apart is a low server to table ratio - when a restaurant is packed and tables are being turned over quickly this ratio goes up. Excellent servers will still provide good service during this week but be understanding if your server seems a little overwhelmed, this is not their norm. 

4. Don't expect the regular menu, although most places will offer it should you choose to order off it. Some of the dishes offered on a regular basis require more time and attention when cooking or have pricey ingredients and just aren't practical to serve a crowd. Plus no one expects the restaurants to go bankrupt wowing the crowd this week. 

5. Do expect smaller portions. At some places you will feel stuffed, others fully satisfied and maybe one might have you getting some chicken nuggets on the way home. Nice restaurants typically have smaller portions than chains anyway. You are not getting a 12 oz steak as part of your 3 course $20 meal, sorry. 

6. Budget for beverages. Most places will offer a specialty cocktail for the evening, others will discount their wines. Some will charge full price hoping to make up the lower revenue on the food. Either way, a nice glass of something does add to the experience. Maybe don't drink every night, but pick one or two places to enjoy a cocktail. 

7. When in doubt, tip up. Nothing makes one look like they don't belong in a nice place more than tipping poorly. Please y'all, keep in mind that a table of two at most nice places will average a $100 tab, that's a $15 to $20 tip. Yes, table volume  and turnover is up during this week but if your server gives good service they deserve more than $6. You might experience a bad apple with a bad attitude and Im not saying you have to reward that behavior but most servers are still bringing their A game, remember this week is about the restaurants wanting you to come back at full price. I'm not saying you have to leave $20 but find a happy medium as service warrants. Budget as if every server is going to treat you like royalty. 

Most of all have fun, enjoy the wonderful ambience, a walk down Main Street and culinary delights. It's really cool that Memphis offers this annual opportunity so make the most of it!

Oh, and check out participating restaurants here:

Sunday Morning Popovers

One of my favorite weekend morning treats are popovers. Now I could drag myself to Paulette's but that involves grooming, nice clothes and spending money - sometimes a girl just wants carbs on her couch y'all. Good thing I grew up on popovers so I know how to make them, but I'll admit I can never get them as big as the pros - my lack of an actual popover pan probably has something to do with this. 

But making close enough popovers are pretty easy. It takes 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of flour and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. 

Start by preheating the oven to 450 and warm the pan with butter in the preheating oven. 

Lightly beat two eggs 

And slowly fold in the other ingredients. Popovers are rather persnickety and not overbearing the batter is a big key to the success. I recommend sifting in the flour so it doesn't clump and you won't have to stir the mixture as much. My batter looked like this: 

When the oven reached 450 I took out the hot pan to pour the batter in, room temp batter going into a hot pan in another persnickety key to success. I used a pan I had for fancy mini cakes because it resembles the deep shape of a popover pan, but growing up my mom always used a regular muffin pan. 

Fill each cup 1/2 to 2/3 full 

Bake for 20 minutes at 450, then lower to 350 and bake for an additional 15 minutes. 

Serve hot from the oven, I served with strawberry butter and chocolate gravy spread. This is also an excellent time to use yummy preserves. 

Share and enjoy! 

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