My sister, Deana Sexton, provides great support when it comes to writing this weekly column. Eventually, my own recipes run dry, and she is always willing to send me her own recipes as well as some of my grandmothers and my mother to share.
As the oldest, Deana moved out of my parents’ house first, getting her own apartment and then her own home. My sister, Stephanie, and I were still living with my parents, and we spent at least a couple days a week hanging out at Deana’s. As usual, she would cook something she wanted us to try, and we would sit around laughing until it was time to go.
This isn’t much different than what we do now when we get together. Saturday night, after a long day of working to prepare my parents’ house for sale, we ended up at Deana’s gathered around the kitchen table, just like old times.
When my mother got sick, Deana took over the holiday meal preparations, most years taking off the entire week of Thanksgiving to prepare for that one meal. I don’t know if she realized how much we appreciated her efforts, but we all did. She kept our family traditions going even when Momma couldn’t, and that gave us all a little bit of normal while dealing with Momma’s debilitating illness.
This past Thanksgiving, our family went out to dinner. It was the most relaxing Thanksgiving I can remember. The stress of preparing the perfect meal and cleaning up after was gone, and we enjoyed the holiday despite it being the very first without our parents.
Deana is quite the pastry cook. I have never been good with making desserts, but Deana can whip up homemade candy and pies and cakes, just like my maternal grandmother. Deana can cook just about anything, but I think desserts are her niche.
For her birthday, Deana always asked my mother to make her apricot fried pies – my grandmother’s recipe.
6-7 ounces dried fruit
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
10 -15 flaky layers biscuits
Place dried fruit in a pot and add water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer until fruit is tender. Add other ingredients and mash together with a potato masher or fork. Set aside while dough is prepared. Roll each biscuit out on a floured surface into a five or six inch circle. Place two tablespoons of filling in each. Wet the edges and fold over, crimping with a fork. Cook in oil which has been heated on medium heat, until browned on both sides, turning as needed. Remove to paper towel lined plate.
Deana is never afraid to try a new recipe, and she often used my Daddy as her Guinea pig, but he never seemed to mind. And he loved anything sweet, something the entire family has in common. Add a little cream cheese and sugar, you have a perfect desert.
Sunrise Cherry Pie
8.25 ounce can crushed pineapple
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 can cherry pie filling
1 graham cracker pie crust
Drain pineapple well, reserving two tablespoons syrup. Combine softened cream cheese, vanilla, and reserved syrup. Mix well until blended.
Stir in ¼ cut pineapple and ½ cup pie filling. Gradually add sugar to the cream, beating until soft peaks form; fold into cream cheese mixture. Pour into crust.
Top with remaining pineapple around the outside edge and remaining cherry pie filling in the center. Chill until firm.
Here are a few of Deana’s savory dishes. The Hoppin’ John she makes every New Year’s Day as part of the Southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas.
15-Minute Beef Stroganoff
2 cups whipping cream or half & half
8 cups chicken broth
2 cups regular grits
1 16oz bag of frozen collard greens (mustard)
1 cup butter
2 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese (shredded)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup bacon- cooked and crumbled
Grease 13x9 baking dish. Bring cream, 6 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Stir in grits, and cook over medium heat until boiling. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Cook collard greens in 2 cups of chicken broth for 10 minutes, drain, blot dry with a paper towel. Add butter and cheese to grits, stir until melted. Mix in greens. Place in dish. Top with bacon. Bake at 350 until lightly brown on top. Approximately 30 minutes.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 - 15 ounce cans black-eyed peas, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup vegetable broth or water (Deana uses chicken stock)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup flat leafed parsley, minced
Shredded white cheddar
Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium. Add onion, red bell pepper, and garlic. Saute' until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in black-eyed peas, broth, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cook 10 more minutes. Stir in green onions and parsley. Serve on top of cooked rice and garnish with cheese. Add hot sauce.