Muscadine Focaccia | for the love of the south

Earlier this week, I woke with bated breath. This happens every so often during the year. The excitement revolves around the arrival of my favorite seasonal produce, especially crops that have a tendency of poking their head out without notice like a prairie dog and quickly disappearing.

With wild abandon, I fling open the windows of my loft and deeply inhale the warm, summer air. I barely run a comb through my blonde bob, throw on a white tee and denim shorts, and stumble into my black rubber boots. This is no time for vanity. I have been impatiently waiting for muscadines to arrive for a year. An entire year! Today is the day they arrive. I can feel it in my bones.

The light of day barely began creeping over the grounds of the Carnton Plantation. Sunbeams welcome me into the garden as I walk the pea gravel paths. Ruby tomatoes and ladyfinger okra pods thrive on their stalks. Sunflowers keep a watchful eye out as they tower above everything else in the garden. Chive flowers with their violet crowns sway in the breeze on their long, elegant stems.

Muscadines | for the love of the south

Keeping on task, I walk to the edge of the garden where I know there is an archway of muscadine vines. I stop in my tracks, pea gravel flying every which way. I spot the beauties dangling like deep, wine-hued baubles on a lady’s arm. I pluck a few muscadines off their vines and pop them into my mouth. The skin of a muscadine is thick, much thicker than that of a grape. The skin bursts and separates from the pale green flesh as I bite into it. The combination of tart, chewy coating and the sweet, squishy flesh is delightful. Using my teeth, I strategically fish out the seeds from the muscadine, which are neon green and the size of a sunflower kernel, and discard the seeds by the base of the vines. I sit on an iron bench in the garden, fully content with a pile of muscadines in my lap. Muscadine season is officially mine for the taking, and I’ll cherish it for as long as it lasts.

Muscadine Focaccia | for the love of the south

Muscadine Focaccia:

Makes 1, 10” focaccia

Note: Leave smaller muscadines (the size of a marble) whole and cut larger ones (the size of a cherry) in half and discard seeds. If you can’t find muscadines, substitute with a lovely grape like Concord.

306g all-purpose flour

8g sea salt

2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

1 cup warm water

2g active dry yeast

1 teaspoon light olive oil

1 cup muscadines (See Note)

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. In a small mixing bowl, combine water, yeast and olive oil. Make a well in the flour and pour the water and yeast mixture in the center of the flour. Knead until combined, about 3 minutes. Place a tea towel moistened with warm water over the bowl and allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. The warm water clinging to the tea towel will create a warm, moist environment for the dough to rise.

On a floured surface, knead the rested dough for 3 minutes. Place the dough on a heavily floured plate or baking sheet, sprinkle with more flour and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to slowly rise in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Whenever you are ready to make the focaccia, take the dough out of the fridge 30 minutes before shaping.

In a small bowl, combine muscadines and the remaining tablespoon of sugar.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface, and gently pull the dough into a 10” inch circle. Place the dough in a generously buttered 10” skillet. Cover the top of the dough with the muscadines (including any juice that has come out of the muscadines), pressing the fruit firmly into the dough. Cover with a warm, moistened tea towel, and allow the dough to prove once more for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400oF. Bake the focaccia until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving. This sweet focaccia is also lovely slathered in ricotta and drizzled with honey.








Basic Pizza Dough

As you may have already noticed, I’m kind of in love with pizza. Pizza was a memorable dish I grew up eating at my grandmother’s house during the summers, and I am a firm believer that one of the greatest characteristics of Southern comfort food is familiarity. Pizza has remained to be one of my most beloved and treasured meals.

Here are a few tips I have found helpful throughout my dough-making days, and I hope they encourage you to make your own!

  • You don’t need a food processor, Kitchen Aid or bread machine to make pizza dough. Although I love the texture and ease from a Kitchen Aid fitted with a dough hook attachment, I have made dough by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, kneaded it out on the counter with a little flour, and it turns out just fine (it just required a little more elbow grease!)
  • Pizza stones and paddles are completely fine to use when making pizza, but they are not necessary. I’ve used heavy duty rimmed baking sheets to make pizzas, and the crust still gets crunchy and charred (no preheating required for the baking sheet.) But if you do have a pizza stone, which I do and love, preheat the stone in a 500-degree oven for at least 45 minutes. Lay your dough onto a piece of foil or parchment paper, roll it out to your desired thickness and top it with the ingredients. Once the oven is preheated and the stone is hot, slide the pizza (parchment paper/foil and all) into the oven onto the stone. After 10-15 minutes, just slide it out of the oven and onto a cookie sheet for easy transport back to the counter.
  • Dough is sometimes temperamental when rising. So, to make sure I get consistent results, I preheat the oven to 200 degrees for 10 minutes, turn off the oven and let the dough rise, covered with a tea towel for 1 hour in the oven. This way, no matter if its chilly or scorching outside, my dough will always rise, worry-free.
  • Yes, you can freeze pizza dough. I usually make pizza dough one day a week and save it for quick dinners and lunches for the rest of the week. Whenever the dough has finished rising, cut the dough into 8 equal pieces (each piece is 1 serving), wrap each piece in cling wrap and stack the covered pieces of dough into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. The dough will stay good for 3 months. When ready to use just take out however many individual balls of dough that you may need and let them come to room temperature for 2-3 hours on the counter.
  • For all you visual learners, below is a collage of photos on how to make the basic pizza dough using a Kitchen Aid fitted with a dough hook attachment, but the full recipe for both this method and making dough by hand are also listed below.

Basic Pizza Dough Recipe: Adapted from Tyler Florence

Makes 8 Individual Pizza Rounds (Serves 8)

Note: If you aren’t one for breaking out the thermometer to check the water temperature for the dough, just put the very tip of your finger in the warm water, if it begins to burn after a few seconds, it’s too hot, but if it’s not warm to the touch, it’s not quite warm enough. You want to make sure you start off with the correct water temperature, or else the yeast will not bloom, and you will have to start over. No bueno.

2 cups of warm water (100-110oF)

2 packages of yeast

2 tablespoons of sugar

4 tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for greasing bowl

2 tablespoons of salt

6 cups of all-purpose, plus more for dusting

If mixing with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook: Combine water, yeast and sugar in the mixing bowl. Gently stir to dissolve the yeast. Let the yeast sit for 5-10 minutes (once the top of the mixture begins to get foamy from one side of the bowl to the other, I know it’s done.) On the lowest speed, turn on the mixer and add olive oil and salt. Slowly add in the flour (I usually add half the flour, let it incorporate slightly, then pour in the other half.)

Increase to medium speed and mix the dough until it begins to form a ball and wrap itself around the hook, this step should take about 2 minutes. With your thumb and index finger, squeeze the dough. If it’s too crumbly, add more warm water, and if it’s too wet, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Make sure the dough is smooth and elastic.

If making the dough by hand: Combine water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Gently stir to dissolve yeast. Let the yeast sit for 5-10 minutes (once the top of the mixture begins to get foamy from one side of the bowl to the other, I know it’s done.) With a wooden spoon, stir in olive oil and salt. Then, begin stirring in the flour. Once the dough is too stiff to stir with a spoon, knead the rest of the flour into the dough by hand. As you knead, squeeze the dough between your thumb and index finger. If the dough is too crumbly, add more warm water, and if it’s too wet, add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, this should take about 10 minutes.

For both methods: Form the dough into a ball and place into a large bowl coated with olive oil. Cover the dough with a tea towel to discourage a skin forming on the dough. Place in an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees and shut the oven off. Let the dough rise for 1 hour in the warm oven.

Once the dough has risen, punch down and cut into 8 equal-sized pieces (or cut the dough in half for 2 large pizzas, which serves 6-8 people total.) Use the dough immediately or freeze up to 3 months.

Let Them Eat King Cake

King Cake Iced

Growing up in Louisiana, Mardi Gras seemed like a magical time when adults dressed up in colorful costumes, parades filled every street, and leftover plastic beads and candies were evidence of the spectacles. Best of all, I was allowed to eat my weight in King Cake. To a five year old, King Cakes are like one gargantuan filled doughnut; deep-fried and drenched in icing so thick it would make my dentist pass out. There were many in depth conversations with peers on how the diminutive, plastic baby Jesus did not melt whilst being fried. The verdict was that the filling created a magical gooey force field around Jesus to protect him. That was enough to suffice my curiosity as it made complete sense.

As I now know, the cakes are baked, not fried and the plastic babies are inserted after the cake has baked and cooled… but I still like my childlike version better, and I am still convinced that the filling has magical powers. Ahem.

Here is my grownup version of King Cake, dough made by hand, meticulously braided and baked until beautifully golden brown, adorned with the traditional colors of Mardi Gras.

I also included step-by-step photos in the process of rolling out the dough, filling it and braiding it. I hope the photos help!

Recipe: Inspired by Smitten Kitchen

Makes 1 Braided King Cake


Combine ½ cup of brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside.


1 cup of warm water

1 package of dry yeast

2 tablespoons of sugar, divided

2 tablespoons of butter, melted, cooled, plus more for brushing

1 tablespoon of salt

3 cups of flour

1 egg, slightly beaten for egg wash

Combine water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a mixing bowl of a stand mixer for 5-10 minutes to bloom. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar, butter, and salt and mix on low with dough hook attachment for a few seconds. Add half of the flour and continue mixing for a few more seconds until the mixture begins to combine, and then add the rest of the flour. The dough will start to come together and stick to the dough hook attachment. Transfer the dough into a large, butter-greased bowl and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour to double in size (I usually place the bowl of dough into an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees and then shut off. It’s a warm place for the dough to rise on a cool day.)

King Cake Step 1

Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until thin and slightly rectangular. Lightly brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a 2-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle half of the filling onto the dough.

King Cake Step 2

Roll the dough up tightly, longwise, beginning with the side closest to you (this step is a lot like making homemade cinnamon rolls.) Once the dough is in one long, snake-like shape, begin rolling the dough out with your palms gently until the length reaches about 2 feet. Cut the dough in half and continue with the other half.

Once you have 4 equal pieces of rolled dough, place 2 pieces of dough side by side, and then place the remaining dough in a tic-tac-toe format. Take the pieces of dough that are coming from the underneath of the center and cross it with the piece of dough to the right of it.

King Cake Step 4

Then, take the pieces that are now on the underneath and cross them with the piece to the right of it.

King Cake Step 5

Continue until you run out of dough and tuck the remaining stragglers on the underbelly of the dough.

King Cake Step 6

Place dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, lightly brush with egg was and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees

Once the dough has risen, brush lightly with egg wash again and place in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until golden (if the bread browns too quickly, tent it with foil and let continue cooking.) Let cool while you prepare the icing (or if you don’t want to decorate the cake, EAT NOW!)

Baked King Cake


3 cups of powdered sugar

2 egg whites

1 teaspoon of lemon juice

Purple, green and yellow food coloring paste

In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk all ingredients together until the mixture becomes glossy and stiff, about 1-2 minutes.

Divide the icing into 4 equal amounts in 4 separate containers. In one container, place purple paste into the icing and stir to combine. The intensity of the icing really depends on your taste, so you can make the colors as rich or as subtle as you like by adding more or less of the coloring paste. Continue the same way with the green and yellow, making sure the last container is left white.

Carefully fill the colored icing into individual sandwich-sized Ziploc bags. Push all of the icing to one side of the bag and snip the tip off with scissors. Decorate the king cake anyway you wish (just make sure that you sneak the baby into the cake before you ice it, then you can cover up your tracks with the icing!) I usually start with white as a base, then purple, green and finish with a pop of yellow! Have fun with it!

Dough Deprivation

Holidays are the time for warm embraces, fireside escapes and something familiar to devour in quantities that you would normally be ashamed of. Unfortunately on this holiday, I am not traveling back home. No smoked turkey legs especially reserved for me, no macaroni and cheese casserole that clung together with the help of 2 pounds of cheese, and worst of all, no rolls. No rolls. No hot, buttery rolls… this is the first time in my life where I have to face the realization of those words. As the thought rolled around in my head of how to replicate Grandma’s recipe, I could not help but get caught up in the magic and memory of how it all happens.

Grandma set out her “bread-making bowl,” which was an old glass Pyrex slightly scratched at the bottom, bread flour, sugar, oil, yeast, water and salt. There was a silent role call as Grandma made sure that the cast of characters was present. Slowly pouring the warm water into the bowl, she added the yeast, oil and sugar. Letting it gurgle and billow for a few minutes, she then added the salt by measuring with the palm of her hand. Slowly, she added the flour by the scoopful, stirring in between each scoop, causing the flour to puff up like tiny clouds around the base of the bowl, creating a sheer, white film of evidence around the Pyrex. Once the dough was declared ready to rise, she popped the dough into the corner of the kitchen, covering the bowl with a white tea towel and folded the towel over and under the bowl as if she were tucking it into bed.

Honestly, I usually missed the rest of the steps because chatty cousins, or more likely, the dessert table easily distracted me. But, luckily, there was a clock that was built inside of me, a special timer that went off just in time for me to know that the rolls were making their début from the oven. There are many hard decisions to make in life. Scorching your mouth on hot, buttery dough just shouldn’t be a decision that one should be responsible for making. It’s a basic human right that should not be frowned upon.

So, here I sit in my kitchen, overwhelmed with flour and memories, attempting the recreate my grandmother’s rolls for holidays away from home (measurements included.) Something about this small gesture makes me feel closer to my family. I pray that you and your loved ones are together for the holidays, and if not, I pray that you can feel the warmth from their hearts and hugs through familiar, heartwarming holiday vittles.

“Distance means nothing when your kitchen smells like home.”-Luisa Weiss

Recipe: Makes 12 Large Rolls

2 packages of Rapid Rise Yeast

2 cups of warm water*

½ cup of sugar

1 stick of butter, melted, plus more for brushing

2 tablespoons of salt

6 cups of bread flour

*Note: The water should be warm to the touch, not lukewarm or hot, just warm like a perfect bath!

Combine water, yeast and sugar together in an electric mixer fitted with a hook attachment. Let the yeast start to bloom and froth for about 5-10 minutes. Add 1 stick of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of salt to the mixture. Mix to combine. Add 3 cups of flour to the mixture and combine on low for just a minute. Add the remaining flour and mix until the dough begins to form in a ball. Transfer the dough to a greased bowl and let sit for 1 hour in a warm spot (or until doubled in size.) Punch down the dough and divide into 12 equal pieces. Coating your hands with flour, form each piece into a ball and place into 2 greased pans (I used 2 8-inch cake pans.) Cover and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 3500

Uncover the rolls and brush the tops lightly with butter. Bake the rolls for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Once the rolls are out of the oven, brush with more butter and, with a fork, pick up the sides of the rolls for a few moments to allow the steam to escape (this ensures that your rolls with not get soggy!) Enjoy!

Southern Love+ Italian Cuisine= Pure Heaven

This dish combines my love for both Southern and Italian cuisine, and, not to mention, it was made by complete happenstance. I was making fried okra as a snack one day (don’t judge me) and I was prepping pizza dough for dinner as well. I glanced at my working station and saw fresh dough, heirloom tomatoes and fried okra. Could this really work? Allowing my curiosity to wonder, I rolled out the dough, laid fresh tomatoes on the surface and dotted handmade mozzarella underneath the orbs. I let the ingredients bubble for a few minutes in the oven and then threw the fried okra on the pizza. What a sensation! The creamy cheese contrasted with the crunchy okra while the tomatoes added a level of lightness and freshness that the dish craved. This pizza combines seasonal Southern ingredients with Italian tradition. Boun appetito, ya’ll!

Recipe: Makes 4 Individual Pizzas

4 Portions of Basic Pizza Dough

Pizza sauce (recipe below)

2 tomatoes, sliced into rounds

8 ounces of fresh mozzarella

1 serving of fried okra, cut at an angle (recipe below)

Fresh chopped basil and parsley, for garnish

Salt and pepper

Parmesan cheese, for serving

To make the pizza:

Preheat oven to 5000 with a pizza stone in the oven (Make sure that your oven is clean or else the fire department might be inviting themselves over for dinner). Let the stone preheat for at least 45 minutes in the oven.

On a piece of aluminum foil dusted with flour, roll out 1 portion of dough. Create a thin layer of sauce, place tomato rounds on the pizza and place small, marble-sized pieces of mozzarella underneath the tomatoes. Place in oven for 10 minutes. Scatter the fried okra pieces on top of the pizza and season with herbs, salt and pepper. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Pizza Sauce:

2 Tbs. of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, sliced

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

1 28 oz. can of whole San Marzano tomatoes, hand crushed

1 pinch of sugar

1 sprig of basil, leaves only

Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan on medium temperature, heat olive oil. Add sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds or just until golden. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add sugar. Bring to slight boil and let simmer for 30 minutes. Take off heat and add basil leaves. Set aside.

Fried Okra:

2 cups of okra, washed

2 cups of buttermilk

1 cup of cornmeal

¼ cup of all-purpose flour

1 pinch of cayenne

Vegetable oil (for frying)

Salt and pepper to taste

Place at least 2 inches of vegetable oil in a large skillet and allow the oil to reach 350o.

Pick through the okra, any okra smaller than the size of your pinky, leave whole. Cut any larger than the size of your pinky in half and at an angle. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk and okra. Let sit for at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the cornmeal mixture. Combine cornmeal, flour, cayenne, salt and pepper in a shallow dish. Stir ingredients together with a fork. Make sure that you put a good amount of seasoning in at this point, don’t be stingy. Drain the okra from the buttermilk and gently roll the okra in the cornmeal mixture. Shake off any excess breading. Carefully place the okra in the hot oil. Let the okra brown on both sides and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with more salt. Use immediately.

Homemade Biscuits

I’ve never confronted a biscuit that I didn’t like.  Biscuits were analogous with Saturday morning. The smell of chicory coffee and bread filled the air. I would watch the flat disks fluff up and brown in the oven.  Then the little biscuits socialized in a basket with a dishcloth on top to keep them warm. The communion basket was then set on the table along with peanut butter, butter, syrup and fig preserves. We would all partake of the offerings, and afterwards I would skip off happily with a tummy full of biscuits.


 Recipe: Adapted from Tyler Florence

Makes 12

 4 cups flour, sifted

1 Tbs. salt

1 Tbs. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1 cup cold shortening, kept cold in small pieces

1 ½ cups of buttermilk

Preheat the oven 3750

 Sift flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together. Add cold shortening to the mix. Use hands or cold forks to cut in the shortening into the flour mixture until crumbly texture. Create well and add buttermilk. Combine with hands until incorporated. Place onto a lightly floured surface. Fold over four or five times on the board. Spread the dough out until the dough is about 1 inch thick. Take a 3-inch cutter dusted with flour to shape biscuits. Place onto a cookie sheet. Brush with buttermilk. Bake in oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.



Banana Nut Bread

This recipe comes from a cookbook that lives in every kitchen of every woman I know in southeast Louisiana, Pirate’s Pantry. This near and dear book is a collection of recipes from men, women, family and friends all over the region. Bringing a dish to someone’s home and being able to share a recipe with others is part of the Southern tradition. One of the favored, dog-eared recipes in my little treasure chest is the banana nut bread. My grandpa would ask my grandma to make this moist cake to enjoy with coffee whenever we would come over. My grandpa and I share a passion for full-bodied, freshly brewed coffee, and this little cake is the perfect match for a strong cup of joe. I believe my grandpa hid exactly three bananas from my grandma just for this special occasion and magically revealed them to her whenever it was time for him to brew the coffee.

  Adapted from Pirate’s Pantry: Makes 1 Loaf

1 stick of butter, room temperature

1 ¾ cup of flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 pinch of salt

3 bananas, mashed well

Juice of ½ a lemon

1 cup of white sugar

½ cup of brown sugar

2 eggs

¼ cup of milk

½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped

1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 3750

Sift flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl.

Combine mashed bananas, lemon juice, pecans and vanilla in a separate bowl.

In a mixer, cream sugars and butter in a bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour and milk in small amounts, alternating, starting with flour and ending with flour. Add the banana and pecan mixture and stir to combine. Pour the mixture in a greased loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean. Cool for at least 15 minutes before inverting onto a cooling rack.

Have with coffee! It’s a must!



Cornbread was our traditional Sunday supper.  I can remember the smell of hot oil heating up in a skillet in the oven. That seasoned skillet was waiting patiently to be anointed with the humble, sunny cornbread batter that my paw-paw carefully mixed together.  My paw-paw’s cornbread was like an unsweetened corn cake. My mom would serve everyone his or her own wedge of bliss. The crunchy bottom of the cornbread was always mysteriously gone from my slice (which so happened to be my mom’s favorite part).  We filled our white bowls with the savory bread and christened it with milk and sugar.  At desperate moments to stay up and play cards, we snuck Community Coffee into our bowls.  Happiness and sunshine fit in-between my two hands on Sunday nights.

Inspired by Highlands Bar & Grill cornbread recipe. Yum!


¼ cup of bacon fat

¼ cup of melted butter

1 ¼ cup of buttermilk

½ cup of milk

½ cup of flour

1 tsp. salt

2 cups of cornbread mix

2 Tbsp. honey

1 egg, slightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 4500

Put the skillet in the oven when preheated

Mix 2 cups of cornbread mix, flour and salt in bowl. Then add buttermilk, milk, butter, honey and all but 2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Stir to combine. Add egg to batter.

Coat hot skillet with bacon fat and let sit in the oven for at least 5 minutes

Once the skillet it piping hot, add the golden batter and cook for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly on top. Enjoy!