The Twisted Soul Cookbook: Modern Soul Food with Global Flavors

“My cuisine has always been at the intersection of food and culture,” said Chef Deborah VanTrece, owner of the Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours in Atlanta, Georgia. “Having traveled the world as a flight attendant, I experienced how different cultures have their own versions of what we would call ‘soul food.’ My approach to cooking revolves around taking a modern, global approach to soul food, combined with the food I grew up eating with my family. THE TWISTED SOUL COOKBOOK will take you on a journey around the world right from your kitchen.”

Across chapters filled with vibrant photography, her book offers 100 recipes for dishes ranging from fresh salads and sides, generous entrees, exciting seafood, rich desserts, and brilliant as well as practical pantry staples to amplifying everyday cooking, including dressings, relishes, preserves, and sauces. An engaging teacher and storyteller, VanTrece shows home cooks the way to use techniques both simple and sophisticated to ensure a delicious outcome every time.


Chef Deborah VanTrece opened the acclaimed Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours in 2014, and since then, the award-winning soul food restaurant has appeared on numerous Best Of lists, including features in the New York Times, Bon Appetit, NPR, Eater, Essence, Thrillist, Buzzfeed, Kitchn, and Food & Wine, winning acclaim for her mastery of imported cooking techniques and delicious globally informed cuisine.

She is included in 2020’s Tasty Pride: Recipes and Stories from the Queer Food Community; this is her first cookbook.


Grandma Lue’s Spinach Rice

  • 3 cups cooked white rice, chilled
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ cup red bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 4 lbs fresh baby spinach, washed and trimmed
  • 1 cup chopped marinated artichokes
  • 12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously grease a deep casserole or 9 by 13-inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, stir together the cold rice and beaten eggs.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the celery, peppers, onions and spinach and cook, stirring occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the spinach is wilted.

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the artichokes, cream cheese, sour cream, Parmesan and garlic. Cool for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cream cheese has melted and all of the ingredients are well combined.

Add the spinach-cheese mixture to the rice. With a wooden spoon, stir in the black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and salt.

Spoon into prepared baking dish, and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Bacon-Praline Macaroni and Cheese

  • 6 cups elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained
  • 1 tbsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • 1 tbsp ground white pepper
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 3 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 cups milk, warmed
  • 6 oz cream cheese, diced
  • 12 oz. American cheese, diced
  • 3 large eggs
  • 8 oz applewood-smoked bacon (8 to 10 slices), cooked and crumbled

Praline topping:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped pecans or pecan pieces
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Transfer the cooked macaroni to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, stir together the seasoned salt, white pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. Sprinkle half of this seasoning mixture and 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese over the macaroni and toss to combine.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk for 3 to 5 minutes, until it makes a light roux. Reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the milk. Once all the milk is incorporated, cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, until the sauce reaches a simmer. Add the diced cream cheese and American cheese in batches, stirring until smooth. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of the remaining shredded cheddar cheese and turn off the heat. Add the remaining seasoning mixture and stir well. Quickly whisk in the eggs until they are incorporated.

Country Captain Chicken Stew

This classic dish shows the influence of the Indian spice trade throughout the ports of the old South,’ says VanTrece about her recipe for a dish that dates back centuries.

  • 1 (2 1/2- to 3-lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 2 tbsp duck fat or unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (3 to 4 medium)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 (13.5-oz can coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Peanut rice noodles:
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions
  • 1 (8.8-oz package rice noodles, cooked according to package directions, tossed in a little vegetable oil to prevent clumping, and chilled for 30 minutes
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 cup toasted peanuts, plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

In a large bowl, sprinkle the chicken pieces with the seasoned salt, onion powder, garlic powder and white pepper. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours to marinate.

In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat, melt the duck fat. When hot, add the chicken pieces and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Transfer to a platter and set aside.

Spring Pea, Bacon, and Radish Salad

“This dressing is so universally loved, it doesn’t need an explanation,” write VanTrece in the recipe’s introduction. “The extra herbs just add a notch to the flavor factor. It’s not only great for salads, you can use it atop salmon, fried green tomatoes, or as a dip for chicken wings.”

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen peas (thawed, if frozen), blanched and drained, then chilled
  • 6 slices applewood smoked bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, plus additional leaves for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and ground white pepper

In a large bowl, combine the peas, bacon, radishes, red onion, chopped fresh mint, and lemon zest, toss gently with the mayonnaise and honey. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with whole mint leaves. Serves 6.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 195 calories (percent of calories from fat, 54), 8 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 12 grams total fat (4 grams saturated), 19 milligrams cholesterol, 324 milligrams sodium.

Buttermilk Dressing

“This dressing is so universally loved, it doesn’t need an explanation,” writes VanTrece. “The extra herbs just add a notch to the flavor factor. It’s not only great for salads, you can use it atop salmon, fried green tomatoes, or as a dip for chicken wings.”

Buttermilk Dressing

  • 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • 1 teaspoon granulated onion
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

In a food processor, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion, and pepper and process until smooth. Pulse in the fresh parsley, oregano, thyme, and chives until just combined. The dressing should be creamy but with a pleasing texture from the herbs.

Makes about 4 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per tablespoon: 23 calories (percent of calories from fat, 70), trace protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 2 grams total fat (trace saturated fat), 3 milligrams cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium.

Aunt Lucille’s 7UP Pound Cake

About this recipe, VanTrece writes, “This is a pound cake, and the only cake I can ever remember my Aunt Lucille ever making. For me, it will always carry cherished memories of celebrations and good times. This is the kind of recipe that reminds you how good old-fashioned cakes were (and can be). Definitely use 7UP for this recipe because it has a high level of carbonation that helps the cake to rise, and gives it a brighter, fresher lemon-lime flavor than other sodas.”

For the pound cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups cake flour, sifted, divided
  • 3/4 cup 7UP, divided
  • For the 7UP glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons 7UP
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan with nonstick cooking spray (see note above).

In the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer, cream together the butter and granulated sugar for 5 to 7 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the lemon zest, lemon extract, and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Add the flour one-third at a time and mix on low speed, alternating with 1/4-cup portions of the 7UP, mixing well after each addition.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack and lift the pan off of the cake. Let the cake cool on the rack.

While the cake cools, make the glaze: In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners’ sugar, lemon juice, 7UP, and lime zest until smooth.

Using a 6-inch wooden skewer or toothpick, poke holes in the top of the cooled cake. Slowly spoon the glaze over the cake, letting it run into the holes and over the surface.

Set the cake aside for 10 minutes before serving to let the glaze absorb into the cake and give it a lightly lacquered finish.

The cake can be made well in advance, wrapped tightly in plastic, and frozen for up to 4 months. It will keep moist and can be pulled out to thaw several hours before serving. It’s great served alone or with ice cream or fresh fruit compote. Serves 12 to 16.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 12: 598 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 6 grams protein, 89 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 25 grams total fat (15 grams saturated), 138 milligrams cholesterol, 36 milligrams sodium.

All the above recipes and images are excerpted from The Twisted Soul Cookbook by Deborah VanTrece. Copyright © 2021 Deborah VanTrece. Photography by Noah Fecks. Published by Rizzoli. Reproduced by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved

Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes

Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Styling Torie Cox, Prop Styling Mindi Shapiro

          While most days I want something quick, easy and delicious to make, there are also times when I love to spend an afternoon cooking and when I do, I often turn to a cookbook I haven’t used before. This weekend it was Soul: A Chef’s Culinary Evolution in 150 Recipes by Todd Richards which won the IACP award for Best Cookbook in America of 2019. It is indeed a soul food cookbook, but the recipes are sophisticated, taking this type of cooking in a different direction than is traditional. Richard’s recipes are organized by ingredients such as corn, tomatoes, melons, stone fruit, berries and roots (as well as other categories such as eggs and poultry, pork and beef) make it easy to pair them with what’s in season.

          If you’re trying to save time in making any of the recipes below, go with pre-made pie crust for the Blueberry Fried Pies. I guess you can also cheat and buy some great fried chicken already made for the Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles, it avoids the mess of frying though you’ll miss out on Richard’s great tasting version. Or you can skip the fried chicken and just make sweet potato waffles which are delicious all by themselves. Though these recipes seem long, once you start cooking, I think you’ll find they really aren’t difficult, just a little more time consuming than throwing hamburgers and un-shucked corn on the grill.

Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Styling Anna Hampton, Prop Styling Thom Driver

          Richards, who was nominated twice for the James Beard Award as the Best Chef of the Southeast, competed on Iron Chef, is originally from Chicago. His culinary heritage stems from classic soul cooking.

“It then progressed forward,” he says.

His mom loved Chinese food and typically ordered yakamein—noodles, broth and pork bell with a soft-boiled egg and scallions. Because his dad was frugal, when they ordered take-out any leftovers in the kitchen had to be used as well. His recipe for Collard Green Ramen which is in the cookbook harkens back to when there were collard greens on the table along with the yakamein.

“It/s a dish I was eating when I was 5, 6 years old,” says. Richards. “The way that I interpreted it is a little bit different because of my background in cooking, but it’s the exact same dish I was eating as a kid.”

His Blueberry Fried Pie has similar roots. Chicago had a Hostess factory and what Richards describes as a “whole Hostess culture.”  He has a vivid memory of tearing the paper off their fried pies and so his recipe is, for him, like being a kid in Chicago again.

‘I interpret this recipe a little bit differently: Instead of cooking the blueberries to mush, you make the liquid and then you put the blueberries inside of it,” says Richards, who is the owner/chef of Richard’s Southern Fried in Atlanta, Georgia. “That way when you bite into the fried pie you get all this fresh blueberry flavor, one that’s not overly sweet. What I’ve done is taken my childhood memories and progressing them to fine-dining dishes.”

Photographer Greg DuPree, Prop Stylist Claire Spollen, Food Stylist Torie Cox

The following recipes are courtesy of Soul by Todd Richards (Oxmoor House, $35).

Blueberry Fried Pies with Meyer Lemon Glaze

Chef’s note: Leftover filling is great on pancakes, waffles, or ice cream. 

Makes about 20 pies

1 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3⁄4 cup (6 ounces) water

1⁄4 cup (2 ounces) dark rum

1 teaspoon orange zest (from 1 orange)

1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Pinch of kosher salt

1 thyme sprig

4 cups fresh blueberries (about 1 1⁄4 pounds)

Erika Council’s Piecrust (recipe below)

All-purpose flour, for dusting

1 large egg

4 cups (32 ounces) vegetable oil        

Meyer Lemon Glaze (recipe follows)

Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Add 1⁄2 cup of the water, and whisk until combined. Whisk in the rum, orange zest, vanilla bean paste, and salt. Add the thyme sprig. Cook over medium, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat, and fold in the blueberries. Let stand for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the thyme sprig.

Cut the piecrust in half. Refrigerate 1 portion until ready to use. Roll out remaining portion to 1⁄8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough into 10 circles with a 4 1⁄2-inch round cookie cutter, re-rolling scraps once. Repeat with remaining dough half.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each dough circle. Whisk together the egg and remaining 1⁄4 cup water. Brush the edges of the pies, and fold over so the edges meet. Press the edges together with a fork to seal. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, filling, and egg wash.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium to 375°F. Fry the pies until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook about 2 more minutes. Drain on paper towels, and let cool  20 minutes. Drizzle with Meyer Lemon Glaze.

Serve with: Ice cream, lemon sorbet

Meyer Lemon Glaze

1 cup (about 4 ounces) powdered sugar

2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

1 to 3 teaspoons heavy cream

Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice in a small bowl. Whisk in the heavy cream, 1 teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Makes 1⁄2 cup

Erika Council’s Piecrust

This basic piecrust is by Erika Council, a talented baker in Atlanta and founder of the blog Southern Soufflé, where she shares Southern Soul food recipes and her family’s legacy. Her grandmother is the legendary Mildred Council, owner of Mama Dip’s, a 40-year-old restaurant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. This piecrust recipe can be used for both sweet and savory pies.

Makes enough for 2 (9-inch) piecrusts

3 cups (about 12 3⁄4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

6 ounces (3⁄4 cup) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces

1⁄3 cup very cold vegetable shortening

6 to 8 tablespoons ice water

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse a few times until combined. Add the butter and shortening, and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas, 8 to 12 times.

With the processor running, drizzle 6 tablespoons of the ice water through the food chute, and process until the dough begins to form a ball. (Add up to 2 more tablespoons, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed, to reach desired consistency.)

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface, and shape into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

To use: Cut the dough in half. Roll each half into 1 1⁄8-inch-thick round on a well-floured surface.

Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles

This recipe is as American as apple pie. Yet most every culture has a version of it. I prefer to brine all birds before cooking for best flavor and texture. 

Serves 4

4 cups (32 ounces) water

1 cup (8 ounces) whole buttermilk

6 tablespoons kosher salt

2 tablespoons hot sauce

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons granulated garlic

2 teaspoons onion powder

1 1⁄2 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1 (4-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces

5 cups (40 ounces) vegetable oil

Seasoned Flour (recipe below)

Sweet Potato Waffles (recipe follows)

Maple syrup

Stir together 4 cups water, buttermilk, and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl; add the chicken pieces to the brine. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 28 hours.

Heat the oil in a deep cast-iron skillet over medium. Remove chicken from the brine, and let any excess liquid drip off; discard the brine.

Dredge chicken in Seasoned Flour to coat; add to the hot oil, 1 piece at a time. Cook, turning every few minutes, until golden and a meat thermometer registers 165°F. Drain on paper towels. Serve chicken on Sweet Potato Waffles with maple syrup.

Sweet Potato Waffles

Makes 4 (8-inch) round waffles.

1 medium-size sweet potato

1⁄4 teaspoon blended olive oil   

2 cups (about 8 1⁄2 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk

1⁄2 cup (4 ounces) whole buttermilk

3 ounces (about 1⁄3 cup) butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1⁄2 teaspoon maple extract

2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Rub the potato with the oil. Bake in the preheated oven until tender, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool for 20 minutes.

Preheat a Belgian waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions. Stir together the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Peel and mash the sweet potato and stir into the milk mixture. Stir milk mixture into the flour mixture. Pour about 1⁄2 cup of batter onto hot waffle iron and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions until golden brown.

Serve with: Egg dishes, green salads, braised vegetables   

Seasoned Flour

Every Soul and Southern kitchen has a good all-purpose seasoned flour to use for frying. This will keep for months in a cool, dry place or even longer in the freezer.

Makes about 2 1⁄4 cups

2 cups (about 8 1⁄2 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons kosher salt

1 1⁄2 tablespoons granulated onion

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl, and store in an airtight container.

Carla Hall’s “Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration”

This spring, just a day or so before she was in Benton Harbor doing her cooking demonstration at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores, both Carla Hall—and the world—learned her long-running show, ABC’s Daytime Emmy-winning lifestyle series The Chew was being canceled.

“I need a job,” she told the crowded roomful of people. “Does anyone know of a job for me?”

And  because she is so lovable, the entire audience sighed and I’m sure more than a few thought, what can I do to help Carla find another job.

Those concerned about what Carla was going to do next, quit worrying because this kitchen dynamo seems to be everywhere. Now the food contributor for GMA’s Day, the third hour of Good Morning America,  she just made an appearance at the prestigious Chicago Ideas joining others for a panel discussion titled “More than a Meal: Food as a Cultural Nexus “and her newest cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration with Genevieve Ko (Harper Wave 2018; $29.99) just hit the shelves this Monday, October 23.

Poured Caramel Cake
Photo credit Gabriele Stabile

“It’s so funny when The Chew ended everyone said what are you doing and now I say what am I not doing?” Hall tells me on the phone after apologizing profusely for being late to call due to a scheduling mix-up.

Describing the years she co-anchored, with Clinton Kelly and Michael Symon, The Chew as like wearing gold handcuffs, Hall says it was an amazing experience but the 39 weeks a year she spent filming didn’t leave time for much else.

“Freedom—it’s lovely,” says Hall who is .glad to have the time to explore her food journey in her book. It’s a melting pot of her heritage—ancestors from Nigeria and Portugal and Southern by birth–and career choices– eschewing her training as an accountant to become a fashion model in Paris and then getting into the food scene, graduating from L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, Maryland, opening a catering business in New York City and appearing on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars.” With her distinctive looks and intelligent dead-pan humor, she connects quickly with audiences whether in person or on screen, showcasing her ability to throw together a quick meal, her philosophy of cooking with love and accenting it all with her famous catch phrase, “Hootie Hoo,” success came quickly.

Yet at some point during her time in Europe and in New York, she found herself not only yearning for the soul food cooking of her grandmother, a hospital nutritionist, but also for a way to explain that type of cookery to others. She also, in her cookbook, strives  to differentiate both what she terms celebration and everyday types of southern cuisine.

“On the everyday side I have a recipe for sea island shrimp and grits which is usually really heavy with cream butter, maybe a ham and Tasso gravy and maybe cheese,” she says. “I stripped all of that out after talking to someone in the Carolina coast, making it very simple and on  the lighter side—the shrimp with some vegetables and some tomatoes.  On the celebration side I wanted to do the smothered chicken—everything goes in a pot, gravy is made with the sauce, the chicken falls off the bone—it’s like a dish my grandmother would make, it’s delicious.”

Of course in every chef’s kitchen there’s a failure here and there.

“I was doing ginger cake with lemon cream and the lemon cream just wasn’t good,” she says. She also worked exceptionally hard on her hot water cornbread recipe.

“I started off trying to change it because I remember doing it in Clinton Kelly competition and just two people picked me out of 10, the winner was a cheesy casserole,” she says with some disdain. “So I was thinking maybe I have to change it. I was cooking, cooking and then it was the day of the shooting for the book and I went back to the tried and true. That was an aha moment.”

Always creative—after all one of the first recipes she demonstrated on GMA’s Day was a wine can chicken—Hall says might be looking outside and see a tree turning brown and  think oh, how about a crust.

Spoonbread Dressing
Photo credit Gabriele Stabile

“Someone turned me on to these fruit and nut snacks from Trader Joes and I’m like that looks like a filling for a pastry, so took a pastry and put this round into it and cooked it,” she says. “One of the reasons I love to cook is I love process and cooking is a process.  I love puzzles which is why I liked accounting but of course if you get too creative in accounting you go to jail.”

Her book is the first step in educating others about soul food.

“I am so excited about the book. When I saw the first copy and I opened it up and cried. I smelled it,” says Hall. “When I talk to people abut soul food and people say oh soul food is having it’s having its moment and I think for me it’s always had this moment. It’s about a person’s culture. Writing it was a very personal journey, about my ancestry, about me trying to change people’s perspective but it was a journey I didn’t expect.”

The following recipes are from Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration

Carla’s Spoon Bread

¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 onion, finely chopped (1 cup)

1 celery stalk, finely diced (1/2 cup)

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 cups whole milk

1 cup water

1 tablespoon sugar

1 cup fine stone-ground yellow cornmeal

11 ounce can whole kernel corn, drained

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use 1 tablespoon of the butter to generously grease a 3-quart rectangular baking dish.

In a large saucepan melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes or until just tender. Add the poultry seasoning; cook and stir for 1 minute.

Add the milk, water, and sugar; bring to boiling. Continuously whisk the mixture while you pour in the cornmeal in a slow, steady stream. Cook, whisking constantly, for 5 minutes or until the cornmeal has absorbed all the liquid and is thick and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the corn and baking powder. Cool for 20 to 30 minutes or until lukewarm, stirring often to avoid clumping.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs for 5 to 7 minutes or until pale yellow and very foamy with no liquid remaining. Add beaten eggs, one-third at a time, to the cornmeal mixture, folding gently until incorporated. Spread evenly in the prepared dish.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown and set and top springs back when gently touched. Cool slightly before serving (spoon bread may fall during cooling).

Caribbean Smothered Chicken With Coconut, Lime and Chiles

4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

6 large sprigs thyme, plus fresh thyme leaves for serving

2 large onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 habanero chile, partially slit open

1 cup low-fat coconut milk

1/4 cup water

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lime, plus wedges for serving

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Season the chicken generously all over with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large, shallow Dutch oven or deep sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken to the pan, skin sides down. Sear for about 5 minutes, turning them over once, until browned on both sides and some of their fat has rendered. (They will not be cooked through.)

Push the thighs to one side of the pan, turning them skin sides up; add the thyme and onions to the other side of the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until they pick up some color.

Add the garlic, chile pepper and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then pour in the coconut milk and water. The browned skin on the thighs should remain above the level of liquid. Increase the heat to medium; once the liquid begins to boil, move the onion mixture around the chicken pieces, as needed. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or. until the chicken is cooked through. Discard the thyme sprigs.

Uncover and stir in the lime juice. Cook for about 5 minutes, then stir in the curry powder and lime zest. Scatter some thyme leaves on top.

Serve right away (with or without the chile pepper), with lime wedges.

Poured Caramel Cake

16-20 servings; makes one 9-by-13-inch cake

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, plus more for the pan

2 cups flour, plus more for the pan

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 large eggs, at room temperature

For the caramel:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 3/4 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

12 ounces evaporated milk

For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some butter and then flour to coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan or dish.

Combine the buttermilk and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.

Combine the 2 cups of flour, the sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer. Beat on low speed until well blended. Add the oil (low speed); once that is evenly distributed, add the butter a tablespoon at a time, beating until fully incorporated. The mixture will have the consistency of coarse sand.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl. On medium speed, gradually add the buttermilk mixture, beating to form a smooth batter.

Pour into the pan; bake (middle rack) for about 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; let the cake cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the caramel: Place the butter in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is half melted, add the sugar and salt. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is dark golden brown. It will look grainy and the fat will separate from the sugar, then come back together.

Remove from the heat.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at or by writing to Focus Department, The Herald-Palladium, P.O. Box 128, St. Joseph, MI 49085.