My beautiful best friend, Jessica, and her man, Brent.
My mom says I’m the only person she knows who would blindly try out new recipes for my best friend’s bridal shower.
Mom also said I was the only person she knew who would attack her own wedding dress with scissors and a needle to make last-minute adjustments the week before the big day.
Apparently, I’ve got a thing for high-stakes wedding roulette. And the odds, so far, have been ever in my favor, as both my dress and the food for Jessica’s shower turned out pretty darn good.
My goal in altering my wedding dress was to pare down the extravagance. Originally, the gorgeous gown had boasted a glamorous, but cumbersome, cathedral train. Our wedding was much too informal for this fanciness, so I gathered up the dress and gauzy overlay, snipped off a boatload of extra fabric, and created my own permanent bustle to make the train a short sweep instead.
Not perfectly professional-looking, but pretty (and much easier to dance in).
Planning the food for Jessica was kind of the same. Her one request for the shower (not to mention for the wedding in the mountains this weekend) was a batch of my pimiento cheese, which she loves, so of course I had to oblige.
And once I knew I was making that Southern staple, the tone was set for the rest of the menu. My goal was to serve the kinds of things you’d expect to see at a rural Georgia wedding shower, but with some unexpected twists here and there. I didn’t want to be snooty or pretentious, so I tried to keep it simple.
The shower spread, in my lovely mother's lovely kitchen.
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French onion dip from scratch? But everyone knows that French onion dip is made with a tub of sour cream and a packet of Lipton’s soup mix!
The thing is, I don’t keep either of those things around my house…and I kind of wanted to tackle the challenge of creating this processed potluck party item using real ingredients. A web search provided several recipes to use as models, and my finished dip most closely followed this one from The Craving Chronicles.
Check out my mom's fancy-schmancy chip bowl! And my cute labels.
What’s in it:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 large onions, finely chopped (I used one yellow and one red)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt
- Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
- Add the onions, garlic, and salt, and cook until the onions are nice and golden brown.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
- Allow the onion mixture to cool.
- Stir the onion mixture into the Greek yogurt and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (I think keeping mine in the fridge overnight really helped the flavors mesh!)
- Serve with some thick, ridged potato chips (perfect for picking up chunky dip without breaking).
- Yield: about 2-1/2 to 3 cups
The verdict: Wow! I enjoy the sour cream + powdered Lipton variety, too, and this wasn’t quite the same (as at least one of Jessica’s family members pointed out), but the flavor was rich, salty, creamy, and tangy, just as I hoped it would be.
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Another made-from-a-mix store-bought staple is the sausage ball, traditionally made with breakfast sausage, Bisquik, and cheese. I had some yummy, spicy sausage in the freezer from Moonshine Meats, but Bisquik is another convenience item that I’m too stubborn to keep around. You can make your own Bisquik, but I ran out of flour after making the biscuits and the cake (recipes coming up shortly!). So, I decided to basically follow this recipe, but substitute cornmeal for the flour.
What’s in it:
- 1-1/4 cup cornmeal
- 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup butter or bacon/sausage grease (I had leftover sausage grease in the fridge, so that’s what I used)
- 1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
- 4 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar
- Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).
- Whisk together the cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
- Use a pastry blender, fork, or food processor to incorporate the butter/grease until your mixture looks coarse and kind of crumbly.
- Mix in the sausage and shredded cheddar. (You’ll probably need to use your fingers!)
- Pull off 1″ round balls of dough, roll between your palms, and place on the baking pan in a single layer.
- Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until your sausage balls are nicely browned.
- Yield: about 4 dozen
The verdict: These were super spicy, but delicious! I didn’t miss the Bisquik flavor at all and got a lot of compliments, especially from my mom and Jessica’s Granny Cilla. (And if Granny Cilla’s happy, everyone’s happy! ) You could easily cut down the spice by using mild or medium sausage instead of hot.
Bonus: Using cornmeal instead of flour made these almost taste like a hush puppy, one of my very favorite Southern sides.
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Now y’all know how much I love biscuits, right? Well, I knew that regular-sized biscuits wouldn’t be the right size for a finger-food afternoon shower, but I have a cute little 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter that I thought might make perfect bite-sized mini biscuits.
Aww, look at the little baby biscuits!
And when I found a biscuit recipe on Ezra Pound Cake that also included toasted pecans, I knew I had to make them. Of course, since I don’t keep sour cream around (which seems to be a common problem in this post), I made some substitutions.
What’s in it:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/3 cup toasted pecans
- 5 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (Sounds a lot like the beginning of the sausage balls, huh?)
- Put the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, brown sugar, and toasted pecans in the bowl of your food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.
- Add the butter and process until your mixture is coarse and crumbly. (Deja vu all over again….)
- Add the buttermilk and process just until your dough comes together.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat down to a 1/2″ thickness.
- Cut out with a biscuit cutter, a lightly floured drinking glass, or, in this case, a cute little cookie cutter.
- Arrange biscuits on your baking sheet. Sides touching if you want them soft around the edges, space between if you want crispier edges.
- Lightly press together dough scraps to cut the rest of your biscuits out.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are light golden brown.
- Serve with butter, jam, or cheese.
- Yield: about 3 dozen
The verdict: These little biscuits were adorable and tasty! I served them with FROG jam (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) at the shower, but Micah and I discovered the next morning that the leftovers were also delicious with butter (because, let’s face it, what isn’t delicious with butter?) and with pimiento cheese.
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Of course, a bridal shower isn’t complete without cake. And I really, truly thought about ordering a cake from one of Athens’ own excellent local bakeries. But, glutton for culinary punishment that I am, I decided I had to bake dessert from scratch instead. The recipe had four basic parts: yellow cake, strawberries, pastry cream, and whipped cream. On my way to the shower, I felt pretty confident that the cake would taste good…but I worried a lot about it falling apart. Fortunately, it managed to (mostly) stay together, at least until we cut into it.
See the spare tire around the middle? That's pastry cream and strawberries, just waiting to burst out the seams. A delicious disaster!
For the cake: I followed Crummb’s recipe for The Ultimate Butter Cake, which I doubled to make two 9-inch layers. I also substituted buttermilk for half of the milk in the recipe because I had some that needed using. The resulting cake was just as moist, buttery, and delicious as I hoped it would be!
For the berry filling: I washed, hulled, and sliced about 2 pints of fresh strawberries, sprinkled a little sugar on them, and let them sit for about 30-45 minutes. This got them nice and sweet and juicy.
For the pastry cream: I used a fantastic recipe from Sauce Boss, subbing extra vanilla extract for the balsamic vinegar and throwing in an extra egg yolk for added body.
For the icing: I made vanilla whipped cream by whipping 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract until it was nice and stiff.
All of the components can be made a day ahead, though you might have to re-whip your whipped cream if it sits too long, and you have to make sure you press some plastic wrap into your pastry cream or it’ll form a yucky skin on top.
- Make sure all of your finished components are cold! This will keep your pastry cream and whipped cream from running too much and making a drippy mess (which would taste fine, but won’t look too pretty).
- Start with one 9″ cake layer. Poke lots of holes in it with a fork or skewer. Why? You’ll see…
- Pipe a ring of pastry cream around the edge of the cake. This will help keep your strawberries from sliding out.
- Add a generous layer of the macerated strawberries, reserving a few for decorating the top of the cake. Pour all those yummy strawberry juices over the strawberries. The holes you poked a minute ago will soak up all this deliciousness quite nicely.
- Top the strawberries with a layer of pastry cream.
- Add your other cake layer and smooth a little more pastry cream around the seam, just to help hold things in a little better.
- Frost the cake with the whipped cream and decorate with more strawberries.
- Yield: one very tall, gooey, delicious cake!
The verdict: this cake took a lot of steps, but the finished product was both beautiful and tasty! The combination of the buttery cake, rich pastry cream, sweet strawberries, and fluffy whipped cream was pretty much perfect. The only downside was that once I started cutting the cake, it pretty well fell apart, mostly because my middle layer was too thick and slippery.
If When I make this cake again, I might split each layer into two (for a total of four layers) so that I can fill it with several thin layers of pastry cream and strawberries instead of one thick one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing!
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Jessica has been my best friend since 5th grade–it’ll be 21 years in August!–and I love her dearly. She was the maid of honor at my wedding back in 2009…
Eric, me, Micah, and Jessica
July 18, 2009
…and I feel so fortunate to be matron of honor at her wedding in just a few days!
Just like with my last-minute alterations, the menu I made for Jessica’s shower wasn’t quite perfect, and if I could do it over again, I might make a few minor changes. But while my cooking is far from professional, with plenty of technical imperfections, the most important thing to me was to pour my heart into making delicious food for someone I love.