Cookbook review: 'The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook' and Sunday brunch

Wonderfully whimsical and simplistically Southern, 'The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook' is full of recipes that feel like they've been in the family awhile.

By , Contributor

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    Served with a side of bacon, and a fruit salad, this broccoli, onion, and cheese quiche from 'The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook' was a winner for Sunday brunch.
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Raised on "Southern Living" recipes, sweet tea, and homemade pie crust, my bar for Southern-inspired cookbooks is set high. The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook, written by novelist Sherryl Woods with assistance from chef Teddi Wohlford, lived up to my expectations.

The book is based on recipes mentioned, or highlighted in the "Sweet Magnolias" book series, by Ms. Woods. The cookbook references characters from the novels, and is organized by events or activities that feature in the books.

From appetizers to dinner recipes, the cookbook captures everything from a girls' night out on the town to the menu of the book's fictional Sullivan's Restaurant. The section titled "Mama Cruz's Recipe File," feels like the recipes an old family friend or a favorite aunt would lend you.

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Most of the recipes are straight-forward, made with simple ingredients. There are several go-to entries that would come in handy in most kitchens. There's a how-to for a dry corn muffin mix that can be made up ahead of time and stored for several months, a basic Hollandaise sauce, a simple salsa, and several quick recipes for smoothies and iced tea with only three or four ingredients and a few steps. 

There's a version of almost every dish you would want to see in a Southern cookbook; two options for macaroni and cheese, the requisite dozen biscuit and scone ideas, several recipes that incorporate grits, and a peanut butter pie that looks divine. 

But beyond the classic family favorites, the book is balanced with quirkier, more inspiring dishes such as Southern-style crab cakes from the brunch section, pork-stuffed tamales, Vadalia onion canapés, and cinnamon roll bread pudding topped with whipped vanilla bean creme.

I tried several recipes from the cookbook. First I made the three-cheese macaroni casserole, which I served with meatballs, and a salad for a weeknight meal. I've tried many macaroni and cheese recipes – from Martha Stewart's take, to the recipe that comes on the back of the box of pasta – and this one, quick to assemble and on the cheesier end of things, may be a contender for my all-time favorite. I also made the black bean chili recipe. A bit doubtful at first, I put my trust in Ms. Wohlford and the packet of El Paso chili seasoning called for in her recipe. In about 30 minutes I had a pot of perfectly seasoned, just spicy enough chili. I served it with a classic side from my Southern family – Jiffy corn muffins made from the box.

But for a true test of the book, I chose two recipes from one of the longest sections, invited a few friends over, and saw how "The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook" fared for Sunday brunch. I made crustless broccoli and three-cheese quiche, and cranberry-orange scones with orange glaze; I modified both slightly and prepared them partially ahead of time. Paired with a quick fruit salad, and a side of bacon, brunch was a success! And "The Sweet Magnolias Cookbook" has officially earned it's spot next to my "Southern Living" cookbooks.

Crustless broccoli and three-cheese quiche 

2 cups milk

4 large eggs, beaten

3/4 cup biscuit baking mix (such as Bisquick)

4 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 cups chopped, steamed crisp-tender broccoli

1 cup canned French-fried onions (optional, see instructions)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup grated Swiss cheese

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

 2. Grease a 10-inch quiche pan (or tart pan or deep pie pan)

3. In a large mixing bowl using an electric mixer on low speed, blend together the first five ingredients.

4. Stir in broccoli, French-fried onions, and the three grated cheeses. Transfer mixture to the prepared quiche pan. (Note: The French-fried onions struck me as a little too green-bean Christmas casserole-y, so I opted for about 1/2 a small onion, diced.)

5. Place in the center of the oven. Bake 45-50 minutes, until center is set and top is golden brown. (Note: My quiche baked for less time than the recipe called for, about 40 minutes. It rose a lot as it baked, but deflated a bit as it cooled.)

6. Remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes before serving. 

To prep the quiche ahead of time, I cooked the broccoli, chopped the onion, and measured out the cheeses. The next morning I made the egg and milk mixture quickly, and was ready to go.

Cranberry-orange scones with orange glaze

Makes 12 large scones 

Scones 

2-1/2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Grated zest of 2 oranges

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (which I never have, and sometimes use pumpkin pie spice as a poor substitute)

1/2 cup (one stick) cold cubed butter

3/4 cup pecan pieces (I substituted walnuts which I had on hand)

3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries (such as Craisons)

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1. Combine first 7 ingredients, whisk together to mix.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

3. Using a handheld pastry blender or food processor, cut in butter until the butter is the size of small peas. (Dicing the butter into small chunks first really is helpful.)

4. Stir in pecan pieces and cranberries. Make a well in the center of the dough.

5. Pour whipping cream into center of the well. Blend until dough comes together, but do not overmix. (I used a wooden spoon to stir everything together and my hands a bit at the end.) 

6. On a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half, and form each half into a 6-inch circle. (About a 1/2-inch thick.) Note: You can wrap the dough in Saran Wrap at this point, and refrigerate overnight. Cut each circle into 6 pie-shaped wedges (I used a pizza cutter for this). Place 2-inch apart on a greased or parchment-line baking sheet.

7. Bake 15-18 minutes until tops are golden brown and centers of scones test done. Prepare glaze while scones are baking. Note: It may just be my oven, but my scones were done in less than 15 minutes. Set your timer for 10 minutes, and monitor them closely.

8. Remove from oven, and transfer scones to a cooling rack.

Glaze

2 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (mine was not sifted)

Grated zest of 1 orange

2-3 tablespoons orange juice

Start with 1/2 cup of confectioner's sugar and orange zest in a small bowl. Add a few drops of orange juice at a time, and stir or whisk constantly to combine. Continue adding orange juice and confectioner's sugar until you have enough glaze, and it's quite thick. Adding the ingredients slowly will keep the glaze from getting lumpy. Do not use too much orange juice.

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