Southern-style Dinner: inspired by a picture book

About two weeks ago, I was helping out in a first grade classroom with their independent reading time. One of the students read a book to me about a family reunion. Naturally, this picture book included the traditional family food for this reunion, including an aunt’s “famous” barbecue chicken, yummy salads, and decadent chocolate cake. Thus, a picture book inspired this past Wednesday’s dinner.

I have attempted homemade, crockpot, barbecue chicken before, and it was a complete disaster. I don’t remember if I failed to follow a recipe or tried to wing it, but either way it was a disaster. Therefore, I was a little wary this time. I searched several sites for a highly-rated spicy barbecue sauce, finally happening upon Food Network’s Melt-In-Your-Mouth Barbecued Ribs recipe, courtesy of Robin Miller. I used chicken legs instead of ribs, but the result was equally delicious and successful. I doubled the recipe so I would have some extra sauce for later, tweaked the amount of vinegar and spices to create a slightly sweeter and spicier sauce, and slow-cooked the chicken legs in oodles of this tasty sauce in the crockpot for about 8 hours. The result: tender chicken that literally fell off the bone when you plucked it from the crockpot, soaked in this perfectly-seasoned sauce.

My version of Robin Miller’s Barbecue Sauce:

  • 18 oz. tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • sprinkle of salt, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon cayenne pepper (or more, based on how on-fire you want your mouth to be)

Mix all the ingredients together, slather on the chicken legs in the crockpot, and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.

Finally, I set to work on the chocolate cake. I decided to try a different recipe than my last chocolate cake endeavor, settling upon my 2008 edition of Taste of Home’s Annual Recipes and Doris Jennings Fudgy Pudgy Cake. This cake is so moist and has the perfect amount of sweetness and chocolate. I used a different frosting than the glaze the recipe suggests, but here is the cake recipe:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine cocoa and hot water until smooth; cool. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; add to creamed mixture, alternating with buttermilk and cooled cocoa mixture. Stir in vanilla.
Pour into three greased and cocoa-dusted cake pans. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. (Tip: put an old cookie pan on the rack below the cakes, just in case they decide to overflow.) Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from cake pans to wire racks to cool completely.
Frost (outside and inbetween layers) with your favorite frosting.

I attempted to make homemade, old-fashioned buttercream frosting, but it was not a successful experience. I found a recipe on Food Network that uses a meringue base for the buttercream. I’m not sure if I failed to heat my sugar-water syrup to a high enough temperature (my lack of candy thermometer did not help) or if my meringue wasn’t right, but the frosting did not combine correctly. It tasted delicious, but the consistency was completely off; instead of a creamy, thick, pasty-in-a-good-way frosting, I ended up with a fluffy, light, somewhat frothy frosting. The cake still tasted very good overall, but I was disappointed that the buttercream did not turn out like I expected. Next time, I will try my mother-in-law’s tried and true buttercream frosting recipe. Maybe I should have tried that in the first place…but I learn from experience, so what can I say?

In addition to the chicken legs, we had an iceberg lettuce salad (not so nutritious, but tasty nonetheless), with shredded cheddar cheese, croutons, and some ranch dressing to top it off. The ranch dressing, in my opinion, goes particularly well with the barbecue sauce.

Overall, I judge that this meal was tasty, despite the frosting failure. My husband seemed to agree, so I deem this meal a fortuitous inspiration, compliments of a child’s storybook.

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