Hello Dollies will satisfy the sweet tooth of any country music singer or fan. The recipe is included in the new cookbook 'Country Music's Greatest Eats' from Southern Living magazine.
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Hello Dollies will satisfy the sweet tooth of any country music singer or fan. The recipe is included in the new cookbook 'Country Music's Greatest Eats' from Southern Living magazine.

Country cooking: Genre offers more than music

By Michele Kayal
The Associated Press

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When the Zac Brown Band hits the road, its members take their instruments, amps and 54-foot custom food truck called “Cookie.”

“We’re Southern guys,” said Rusty Hamlin, traveling chef for the Grammy-winning band, whose 2008 hit “Chicken Fried” catapulted it to fame.

Before each show, Hamlin feeds up to 200 fans a gourmet Southern meal as they hang out with the band.

“Nothing makes us happier than getting to know people around a plate of food,” he said.

Country music and food – especially Southern food – long have been intertwined, with lyrics about sweet tea, pecan pie and whiskey joining references to mother, country and pickup trucks. But as country music and Southern food each move beyond their traditional bounds – Zac Brown Band sells out Boston’s Fenway Park, and Los Angeles has a fried chicken festival – they have spawned a new hybrid of cookbooks, cooking shows, food festivals and even restaurants that rapidly are becoming mainstream.

“Country music is huge, and it’s just gotten huger,” said Cynthia Sanz, editor of People Country, the celebrity magazine’s country music quarterly.

People has been publishing its country music edition for roughly a decade and recently added a country channel to its digital site.

“It’s always been connected to food. It’s more than just the music genre, it’s a lifestyle,” Sanz said.

Food has always been a staple of People’s coverage of country music, Sanz said, and a Facebook post of a popular star such as Tim McGraw making dumplings can get more than 4,000 “likes,” above average for the page.

Big-name national country stars such as Trisha Yearwood were among the first to succeed on the mainstream food front. Yearwood, a three-time Grammy Award winner, is the author of two best-selling cookbooks and the host of Food Network’s “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen,” which is entering its fifth season.

But today, even books featuring lesser-known country names are doing well. “Country Music’s Greatest Eats,” a collaboration of Southern Living magazine and Country Music Television, sold 11,000 copies in 12 minutes on shopping channel QVC, said the book’s publicist, Aimee Bianca. The book exhausted its initial 80,000 print run even before it reached stores May 6.

“If you think about music, but country music in particular, every single song has a story to tell,” said Hunter Lewis, executive editor at Southern Living. “We always say about Southern recipes that every recipe tells a story. It’s from somewhere, from someone, your mom, your grandmother taught you to do it. ... If you think about the way recipes are passed down and shared, and the way songs are written and passed down and shared, it’s a very natural intersection.”

 


Country stars also are pairing food and music in restaurants and festivals. Singer-songwriter Toby Keith owns a chain of restaurants named after his 2003 hit “I Love This Bar” that can be found in more than a dozen cities from Foxborough, Mass., to Oxnard, Calif. Chart-topping artist Dierks Bentley opened Whiskey Row in Scottsdale, Ariz., featuring craft beer, organic ingredients and a 360-degree stage for music acts.

Nashville, Tenn., will hold its second annual Music City Food and Wine Festival in September. Created by Grammy Award-winning artists Caleb and Nathan Followill of Kings of Leon and chef Jonathan Waxman, a pioneer of American regional cuisine, the festival features national and regional chefs and music.

“We wanted a closely curated festival that featured national chefs to draw attention, but it was about the town of Nashville and about the regional area,” Waxman said. “We’re talking Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia. ... That area of the world has just grown up culinary-wise.”

Waxman and others point to the upscaling of Southern food that has occurred as residents schooled in famous urban kitchens return to the area. Cities such as Nashville, Birmingham, Ala., Athens, Ga., and even small ones such as Kinston have welcomed home young chefs who win national acclaim by offering new twists on the foods of their youth. Nashville alone had three James Beard nominees in 2014, including Nate Appleman protege Tandy Wilson.

“People used to flock to Nashville for the Ryman,” Southern Living’s Lewis said about the theater known as the “Mother Church of Country Music.” “Now they’re flocking to Nashville to eat Tandy Wilson’s food.”

 


Many people close to the scene also credit the success of the food-country music pairing to the food itself and the stars who cook it. The food is unfussy, comfy, homey. A can or two of condensed soup is not unheard of. Such dishes hardly conjure the image of effete “foodies” that might otherwise repel this down-to-Earth audience. They also mirror the authentic image of the stars themselves.

“Most people identify with country artists as someone they can invite to dinner and sit down and have a meal with themselves,” said Amanda Phillips, vice president of Consumer Marketing at Country Music Television, which offers a food-and-a-movie format show. “There’s a familiarity and connection with the stars that’s really accessible. You think about a major pop star – Lady Gaga – there’s not that connection there.”

 


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MAIN DISH

My Favorite Lasagna

2 pounds ground beef

24-ounce jar pasta sauce

14-ounce jar pizza sauce

8-ounce container sour cream

8-ounce package cream cheese, softened

1/2 medium-size green bell pepper, chopped

4-ounce can chopped green chiles, drained

4-ounce can mushroom pieces and stems, drained

1 bunch green onions, chopped

8 dried precooked lasagna noodles

8-ounce package shredded cheddar cheese

8-ounce package shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Sliced green onions (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown beef in a large skillet 6 to 8 minutes or until meat crumbles and is no longer pink; drain. Stir sauces into meat.

Stir together sour cream and next 5 ingredients in a medium bowl.

Spoon 1 cup meat mixture into a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Arrange 4 noodles over sauce, top with 1 1/2 cups meat mixture, half of sour cream mixture, a third of cheddar cheese and a third of mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers, and top with remaining 1 1/2 cups meat mixture; cover tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and sprinkle evenly with remaining cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Bake 10 minutes more. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe from Southern Living’s “Country Music’s Greatest Eats” (Oxmoor House, May 2014)

 


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MAIN DISH

Breakfast Casserole

6 slices white bread, crusts removed and cubed

1-pound package mild ground pork sausage, cooked and drained (see cook’s note)

8 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded mild cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon table salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook’s note: This recipe was tested with Jimmy Dean Regular Premium Pork Sausage.

Place cubed bread in a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Crumble sausage over bread.

Combine eggs and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl, and pour over sausage. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.

Remove baking dish from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe from Southern Living’s “Country Music’s Greatest Eats” (Oxmoor House, May 2014)

 


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DESSERT

Hello Dollies

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 cup sweetened shredded coconut

1 cup toasted pecan halves

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place aluminum foil in an 8-inch square aluminum baking pan, allowing foil to extend over edges of pan. Melt butter in prepared pan.

Layer graham cracker crumbs and next 3 ingredients over butter. Pour condensed milk evenly over chocolate morsels.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until top is golden and edges are bubbly. Remove pan to a wire rack, and cool 15 minutes. Use foil to lift out of pan, and place on wire rack; cool completely (about 30 minutes). Peel off foil, and cut into 1.5-by-2-inch rectangles.

Yields 24 cookies.

Recipe from Southern Living’s “Country Music’s Greatest Eats” (Oxmoor House, May 2014)

 


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MAIN DISH

Pork Chops That Make You Crazy

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons paprika

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

3/4 teaspoon onion power

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

8 center-cut bone-in pork chops (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil, divided

Heat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a large, shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, paprika, black pepper, white pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, thyme and red pepper flakes. One at a time, dredge 4 of the pork chops through the flour mixture, coating both sides evenly and shaking off any excess. Set aside.

In a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until just smoking. Add the 4 coated chops and cook for 5 minutes, turning once. Reduce the heat to medium and cook another 2 minutes, turning once. Transfer the chops to an oven-safe plate and place in the oven to keep warm.

Repeat the dredging and cooking with the remaining chops, using the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Yields 8 servings.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living’s “Country Music’s Greatest Eats” (Oxmoor House, May 2014)