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Author knows what a good cook is

By Stephanie Williams Dean

Bless Your Spoon

A good cook’s someone who can get in the kitchen, toss things together, doesn’t have to have a recipe, but at the end of the day, can serve up a meal of good old southern cooking.

That’s how best-selling author, Nancy Naigle, describes a good cook.

So how does one define Southern cooking – in a few words, what sums it up?

“Rich, flavorful, and usually buttery or fried. And it’s always good – you always want a second helping.”

Nancy’s stay-at-home mom always had snacks of homemade potato chips or parfaits with their favorite fruits and nuts waiting for her and brother, Billy, when they got home from school.

The youngsters helped their mom in the kitchen as both were good helpers and creative. When teens, their mom returned to the workforce, and the brother-sister duo did all the cooking. Nancy shared a funny story about one occasion when her mom had to work late.

“Mom had bought all these fresh shrimp. I kept letting it cook and cook – they turned out horrible. You could have bounced them against the wall.”

Money was tight back then – and Nancy had just ruined a couple of pounds of shrimp, which was a big splurge for her family.

She participated in cookie swaps every year with the neighbors and, when older, continued the cookie swap tradition. “We did a ton of different cookie recipes.

“I’m a good cook, but I always say I’m a 50/50 baker. Half of what I bake is perfect, but I always allow for extra time for the other half of the time when treats don’t turn out, and I have to start over.”

But, that never takes one bit of the fun out of it, though, does it?

“I’ve been known to crumble up a cake and turn it into a trifle. It all goes back to creativity.”

Describing her baking much like painting a picture or a room, Nancy understands if you’re going to paint a room, whether you’re doing a faux, textured, or ragging job – you have to take it to the end. “In the middle, it’s going to be horrible. So, I have to keep going until it turns into something fabulous.”

Her dad wasn’t the one who inspired her as he didn’t cook or bake. Nancy described his cooking in one word, “Gumptious.” Gumptious was one of only two dishes her dad could make – crumbled up toast in a bowl, sprinkled with sugar with milk poured on top. “I have no idea where he came up with that name. Billy and I were guaranteed to have that dish if mom was out of the house.”

Nancy’s mom was her true inspiration. She cooked, sewed, and took care of the house. Taking care of the kids was her only job. She had a meal on the table every night that was made from scratch. “I was in junior high school before I ever got to eat a bag of Doritos. She made her own snacks and everything.”

But many of the recipes they enjoyed as little children, you don’t see around anymore.

“One thing Mom made was called Sunflower Surprise – kind of like mac and cheese with sunflower seeds. It was really creamy with yogurt in it. That was such a good recipe – and like comfort food for me.”

Nancy has several of her mom’s recipes and cooks from them. “She makes the best gravy, but mine never turns out just like hers.”

It never seems to, does it? Our attempts to reproduce the foods our mamma’s made us as kids don’t quite live up to our memory of them. Maybe it’s that special ingredient – a mother’s love.

Now that Nancy’s become a successful writer with many published books, her husband, Andrew, has taken over kitchen duty, and she’s okay with that. “He throws anything into the dish, and it turns out great. For me, now it’s just having the time to do it.”

With a schedule that requires discipline, Nancy writes until two or three in the morning, so she’s usually napping in the late afternoon. When she gets up, Andrew has dinner ready.

Having someone else do the cooking is a positive, but there’s an extra benefit.  When Nancy learned how to cook, she used lots of butter, fatback, cured ham, and all the flavorings that weren’t healthy. Referring to Andrew, she admitted, “He cooks healthier for us. If I’m making it, it’s not going to be the best thing for my diet – it’s going to be comfort food.”

The title of her book, “Life after Perfect,” was derived from personal experience. Nancy shared her former life and how life changed after moving to North Carolina. While living in Virginia, she and her former husband had their own little farm with chickens, pigs, cows, and a garden with a small orchard where they grew pear trees. With a self-sustaining lifestyle, having the ability to use everything they were growing became a challenge.

“On Thanksgiving, we had ham from the pigs, sweet potatoes that came from the garden, turkey, and pear cobblers. Those are the things I miss. They taste different after you’ve raised or grown the food yourself. It kind of ruins you forever.”

But, the couple’s life is already full. Nancy relishes time spent with Andrew and their son, Luke, who is 7 and learning to read. “Being part of that is huge. I love having him read to me.”

On any given day, you might see the family taking care of their three horses. Each one has their own ride – a Palomino for Nancy, a Quarter house for Andrew, and a big Bay that Luke rides.

The family travels quite a bit with Nancy’s book signing schedule, which takes them everywhere – their next trips being Daytona and Nashville. But they’re not all about work.

While planning a trip that’s just for fun, Nancy’s already working on her hat for the Kentucky Derby. More than anything else, Nancy finds cooking relaxing.

“I love it when I’m cooking lots of different things, or I have my mom and or girlfriend with me – I love to cook that way.”

One day, Nancy and her friend, Kelsey Browning, co-author of the Granny Series, spent a whole afternoon making homemade cauliflower-cheese soup. “It was just fun to be in the kitchen with a friend. I like to plan a day around the stove – that’s my preference, really.”

And the most recent thing Nancy’s cooked?

“Just this morning, I tried a new recipe, and it was a healthy one, which is something I never do. It was a banana-oatmeal bake and was delicious. A good way to start my morning – with ripe banana, oats, and protein powder.” A friend gave her the recipe.

And if I were to open her refrigerator door right now, Nancy describes what I’d find, saying, “Some leftover rotisserie chicken, eggs, sausage, and bacon, at least 14 kinds of cheeses, salad stuff, bottles of salad dressing- some with way too many calories – and oh yea, a pot of boiled cabbage.”

Nancy cooks her cabbage in boiling water with a little bit of sliced, lean meat dropped in – a spicy jalapeno sausage to give it some kick that’s both adds flavor and tastes delicious.

Remembering something else in her fridge, she added, “Oh, yes, I forgot – and a whole lot of BBQ sauce. My husband loves BBQ sauce. We have an outdoor kitchen and sink, so he’s forever cooking and grilling out there.”

Starting at Nations Bank, now Bank of America, in the field of information technology, Nancy moved from Virginia to Pfafftown in 2014 and then to Advance in 2017.

While the author began to write books around the year 2000, she didn’t get her first book published until 2011.

Since most of her books are set in North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia, it’s just a given that food takes a prominent role in her stories. “Just about all my books are food-centric – and have cooking and food in them, which is natural to any story that takes place in the south. Food is such a big part of southern life, and frankly, the aroma of good ol’ comfort food in a story just sets a mood, doesn’t it?”

One book, “Sweet Tea and Secrets,” has four recipes in the back. Some books have recipes in the back, while others have regular or oversized cards that come with the book. Often recipes are included in her newsletters. But every book is guaranteed to be a story with a focus on food even if the recipes aren’t in there.

“Every book has a famous recipe in the storyline. That’s because every southern family holds their recipes as tightly as they do their family – they keep them close.”

When her former mother-in-law passed, she left Nancy her recipe box, as the two loved cooking together. “I still have it even though the cards are all tattered and the tops broken off – I like it that way. It’s more special than jewelry.”

“Food is like a warm hug to me, so I think it makes everyone feel good.”

Nancy’s new book coming out in October, is called “Heartfelt Christmas Promise.” The hero in the story makes a chicken stew for a girl who’s new in town – and the pair are somewhat at odds with one another. The reader might guess how the story ends.

“What girl wouldn’t want a man who makes a good chicken stew – he’s definitely a keeper,” said Nancy.

Often writing to deadlines, Nancy knows when it’s time to hunker down and get her work done. Right now, she’s working on a new proposal while editing her new book.

Giving us a peek into a routine day in the life of a successful author, Nancy says she spends her morning on projects, plays a little bit in the afternoon, takes a late afternoon nap that’s followed by dinner together with family, and then works on her books at night.

At home, she has an office but prefers to write in the den while nestled comfortably in her favorite recliner. The room has six big windows that offer an expansive view of that outdoors that helps inspire her writing. “It’s quiet.  I never play music or TV and like it really quiet and cozy. There’s a fireplace in there.”

Nancy’s working on her third novelization for a Hallmark movie. “Christmas in Evergreen” and “Tidings of Joy” are her first two novelizations – writing a book from a movie. The initial two books are already out and on the shelves. She doesn’t get movie credits but gets credit for the novels. “They’ve asked me to turn their movies into novels. They send me a script and a movie, and I turn it into a 60-70,000 word novel.”

Her two novelizations have recipes that were selected by Hallmark and tested in their kitchen. Here’s the link to the delicious duo: https://www.hallmarkchannel.com/hallmark-publishing/vermont-christmas-card-cookies.

Nancy’s new book, “The Secret Ingredient,” will be the first Hallmark Publishing Original Novel that Hallmark’s made into a movie and premiers on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 9 p.m. The recipe that goes along with this book is an amazing Honey Almond Cake.You can get the recipe and watch the making of the cake on the Home & Family show at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pjx-hvyhPVU. To go to Nancy’s website to sign up for her newsletter and get more recipes, go to www.NancyNaigle.com.

Now dubbed, “the queen of all things sweet,” Nancy thinks she has the best job in the world – feeling blessed every morning she wakes up. Each time someone says they’ve read one of her books, Nancy knows she’s accomplished her goal.

“My goal was to write one book to help one lady through one bad day.”

TOMATO PIE

Deep dish pie crust

4-5 tomatoes, peeled and cut into slices

¼ cup chopped basil

½ cup chopped red onion

1 cup grated mozzarella

1 cup grated cheddar

¼ cup grated parmesan

1 cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the pie crust for ten minutes to keep the shell from becoming soggy. Remove the pie crust from the oven and set aside. Place the tomatoes in a colander in the sink in 1 layer. Sprinkle with salt, and allow to drain for 10 minutes, then blot with a paper towel. Layer drained tomato, basil, and onion in pie shell. Season with salt and pepper. Combine the grated cheeses and mayonnaise together. Spread mixture on top of the tomatoes and bake for 30 minutes or until lightly browned cheesy crust forms. Cut into slices and serve warm. (Recipe for Romance)

SHERIFF CALVIN’S MOOIN’ MARINADE

½ cup soy sauce

½ cup Worcestershire

½ cup oil

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

2 Tbsp. favorite BBQ Sauce

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. pepper

1 Tbsp. basil

Place steaks in a glass casserole dish. Combine all the ingredients in another bowl and mix well. Pour the mixture over the steaks. Cover refrigerate for 4-8 hours, no more than 24 hours. Let meat reach room temperature before cooking. Sheriff Calvin’s favorite BBQ sauce is Rudy’s from rudysbbq.com (Adams Grove Series)

PEARL’S SWEET TEA

3 family-sized tea bags or 10 regular-sized tea bags

Little less than 1 gallon of water.

1 ½ heaping cups of sugar

Boil a pot of water. (Be sure it’s less than a gallon of water because you’ll need to leave a little room for that cup and a half of sugar you’ll be adding! Once the water has come to a full boil, gently pour that right over your tea bags in the jug. Steep for 3–5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. Me? I like mine nice and dark, like a summer tan. I go for the whole 5 minutes. This is important. Stir in one direction. You don’t want to unstir it, now, do you? Remove the tea bags with a slotted spoon. Now, swish the sugar into the hot tea and stir until dissolved. Top off the jug with cold water or ice cubes. You’ll want to make this tea by the gallon. Glass jugs make all the difference, and I swear a good one with a spigot is the best way to go. Something about the way the tea splashes in the glass over the ice is just a little miracle all to itself. The secret is all in the steep, ya see. Like anything that’s worthwhile, you have to give it the time to mature, to marry up and merge to its full potential. Love is like that ya know. Anyway, all tea has a temperature point of perfection, and you really have to get that water boiling if you want to get it right. Chill on the top shelf of your fridge. The colder, the better. Here we go! Enjoy y’all! (Sweet Tea and Secrets)

GARRETT’S FAVORITE FRYPAN MEAT LOAF

1 lb. lean ground beef

2 eggs

2 slices sandwich bread, cubed

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 cup shredded, sharp cheddar cheese

1 pkg. beefy onion dry soup mix

Barbecue sauce to spread on top of the loaf

½ cup of all-purpose flour (enough to coat)

1 tsp. dried basil

Dash of thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil for frying

Mix first 6 ingredients in large bowl. Form into a ball and place in a bread loaf pan, leaving space around all sides. Push the side of your hand down the center of the meatloaf to create a long hollow, and pour a generous amount of barbecue sauce down that slot. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 50 minutes until the loaf is crusty on top and meat temperature reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer. When the meat loaf is done, let it cool, then place in refrigerator to chill and firm. Slice the meat loaf in thin slices. Dip in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, basil on both sides, then fry in the oil, forming a crispy coating and heat to serving temperature. (Sweet Tea and Secrets)

APPLE PIE IN A CUP

1 apple, peeled, sliced thinly

2 Tbsp. quick, instant oats

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. salted butter

¼ tsp cinnamon

Dash of salt

1 Tbsp. orange juice

Place the sliced apple in a large mug and microwave 60 seconds. Add remaining ingredients and stir. Microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, for 90 seconds.

JILL’S QUICKIE CHOPPED SLAW SALAD

1 pkg. crisp green salad

1 small tub of coleslaw (your favorite brand or homemade)

2 eggs hardboiled, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 cucumber, cubed

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Bacon bits

Croutons

Pepper to taste

Open bag of salad onto a cutting board and cross-cut into bite-sized pieces. Combine the rest of the ingredients. Mix well so that the coleslaw is well distributed. Top with bacon bits, croutons, and fresh ground pepper to taste. This quick and easy recipe always gets a lot of compliments. Keep the easy-as-pie steps and ingredients to yourself, and you’ll be known for this scrumptious salad, too. (Sweet Tea and Secrets)

MS. HUCKABY’S APPLESAUCE CAKE

½ cup salted butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

½ tsp. crushed cloves

½ tsp. of allspice

½ cup water

1 ½ cups applesauce

¾ cup chopped pecans

½ cup raisins

Place the raisins in a bowl of warm water and set them aside to let them plump. Cream butter and sugar. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Now, combine all the dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture alternately with splashes of the water. Stir in applesauce. Drain and dry the raisins, then dust the nuts and raisins with flour before adding them to your batter. Pour batter into a greased and floured Bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Let the cake cool completely then frost with Ms. Huckaby’s Quickie Glaze. (Adams Grove Series)

MS. HUCKABY’S QUICKIE GLAZE

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup of confectioner’s sugar

3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (or your favorite flavor)

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat as soon as the butter is melted. Add sugar, milk, and extract to the saucepan. Stir until smooth. This quick and easy glaze is perfect for your home-baked goodies or use it on store-bought cookies, cakes, or treats to make them extra special! Drizzle and Brag! (Adams Grove Series)

PEARL’S BLUE-RIBBON CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE

Butter Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour (refrigerated)

½ tsp. salt

½ cup cold, salted butter

6–8 tablespoons cold water

The trick is keeping the dough cold. Combine flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture becomes pebbly. Stir in enough water with a fork just until flour is moistened. Don’t overwork the mixture. Shape dough into a ball and flatten slightly. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Fold into quarters and place in a pie pan. Unfold, pressing dough firmly against the bottom and sides. Crimp edges. Prick the crust with a fork. Butter the bottom of a smaller cake pan, and set it inside the pie crust in your pie pan. Heat for 8–10 minutes in a 475-degree oven until lightly browned.

Filling

4 Hershey’s chocolate candy bars (1.55 oz. size)

2 tablespoons margarine

3 large brown eggs

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup corn syrup

1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 handfuls of pecan halves

1 handful of coconut (optional)

Tap of cinnamon and pinch of nutmeg

Put your butter crust in your favorite pie dish—Pearl was partial to ceramic pie plates.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a double boiler, melt only 3.5 of the chocolate bars and the 2 tablespoons of margarine. Stir until smooth. Let cool slightly while you eat that leftover half of a chocolate bar. Whisk eggs lightly in medium bowl. Add sugar, corn syrup, chocolate mixture, and vanilla; stir until well blended. Mix pecans into chocolate mixture and then combine with the egg mixture. Set pie shell on heavy-duty baking sheet and pour in filling. Sprinkle the coconut across the top. Bake 50–55 minutes. The crust will be golden, and a toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the center. Cool pie on wire rack to room temperature before cutting.

Serve with whipped topping and a few shavings from the last bit of the chocolate bar if you haven’t already eaten it.  Hugs. (Sweet Tea and Secrets)

SNICKERDOODLES

1 cup softened, salted butter

½ cup brown sugar

1 egg, plus 1 yolk

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp. cream of tartar

½ tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. allspice

¼ tsp. nutmeg

2 ¾ cup all-purpose flour

Cinnamon Sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon of allspice

Preheat oven to 325. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, and brown sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add in the egg, the extra yolk, vanilla, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, cinnamon, and allspice. Mix for 1 minute, scraping the sides as you go. Turn mixer to low and add in flour a little at a time, mixing until just combined.  Do not overmix. In a separate small bowl, make your Cinnamon Sugar by combining cinnamon, allspice, and sugar. Make dough balls about 2 tablespoons. Then roll each cookie dough ball into the cinnamon-sugar mixture until coated. Place on baking sheet about 2-inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, turning cookie sheet halfway through baking. Bake only until the edges are slightly golden, the middle may seem soft. If you want a crunchier version, then cook 1-2 minutes longer. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 3-4 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. This recipe makes about 18-24 cookies. (Christmas Angels)

MOVIE NIGHT CROCKPOT HOT COCOA

1 cup whole milk

1/4 cup unsweet cocoa powder

5 cups whole milk

14 oz. sweetened condensed milk

2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pour one cup of milk into bowl and warm in microwave. Add the unsweetened cocoa powder to the bowl and stir until dissolved. In a 4-quart (or larger) slow cooker, combine the milk-cocoa mixture and the rest of the ingredients. Give it a good stir. Cover and cook on low for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally until chocolate chips melt. Ladle into mugs. For a fun adult version, set up a hot chocolate bar with alcoholic mix-ins like Bailey’s Irish Cream, Peppermint Schnapps, Kahlua, Rumchata, or Mozart Chocolate Liquor or Amaretto. Serves 8. Depending on the size of your Crock-Pot, you should be able to double or triple this recipe. Optional Garnishes: Marshmallows, Candy Canes, Sprinkles, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Whipped Cream (G-Team Mystery Book Series)