Southern holiday revival

Southern food, its indigenous ingredients and the agrarian approach many cooks below the Mason-Dixon Line take with cooking have resurfaced, wrapped in a love for preserving our Southern food heritage. The recession has caused Americans to embrace their regional roots, and no region has been more warmly received than the South.

We’re returning to the flavors and food customs we embraced decades ago but abandoned because we thought we didn’t have the time for them. From “Top Chef” to Bon Appétit, Southern cooks are proving that there’s more to the South’s kitchens than frying chicken and beating biscuits. And what better time to celebrate our sassy style than the holidays.

The best news is that we’ve updated: Today’s Southern cook is cutting the fat and reducing cooking times, combining classic French technique with indigenous ingredients and meticulous likes. Pickling is hot. So is making your own mayonnaise. Vegetables, fresh from the garden (preferably your own or your local community supported agriculture) is so now. Ditto sourcing local meats and cheeses. Bread baking is back, along with putting up your own jams and jellies.

It’s as if we’ve gone backward to move forward.

This holiday, you can prepare an easy Southern meal without spending the entire day in the kitchen. Follow these steps to a simple and satisfying modern Southern Christmas.

The menu for the big day:

Dried Cherry and Date- stuffed Pork Loin With Grain Mustard Sauce

Wilted Garlic Greens

Cranberry and Apple Sauté

Old-fashinoned Refrigerator Rolls

Coconut Cream Cake With Mascarpone Frosting

For the main dish, plan at least one day ahead to ready this roast. You’ll need to shop, then prepare the filling of cranberries, dates and nuts so that they can rest overnight in the rum. The day of your gathering, stuff, then truss your roast. It’s a small roast, so if you’re serving a crowd, you’ll need to buy more than one. With an early morning start, you should be able to finish by midday, not including overnight resting times and the cake, which can be made up to three days ahead. That leaves you plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your day.

Old-fashioned Refrigerator Rolls will warm your kitchen. Make a new memory this year by baking a batch — you’ll be surprised how easy they are. You’ll need to make the dough the day before, then let it rest in the refrigerator overnight. The day of your celebration, give the dough just an hour to rise after rolling and cutting the rolls. The wilted greens and apples with cranberries are a snap to put together. They can be made just 30 to 45 minutes before your meal begins.

Meridith Ford Goldman

Dried Cherry and Date-stuffed Pork Loin

Hands on: 30 minutes Total: 65 minutes, plus overnight maceration Serves: 4

This pork roast is moist and studded with the full flavor of dried cherries, dates and pecans that have been macerated in rum. Have your butcher butterfly your pork loin so that it’s easier to stuff. Trussing is easy, too. Just follow the steps, below.

½ cup dried cherries

½ cup chopped dates

¼ cup chopped pecans

8 ounces dark rum

1 (3-pound) pork tenderloin, butterflied for stuffing

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon minced rosemary

1 teaspoon minced thyme

½ teaspoon minced sage

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Place the cherries, dates and pecans in a small bowl and cover with the rum. Let the mixture sit, unrefrigerated, overnight.

Before roasting, stuff the pork loin with the macerated mixture, distributing evenly inside the slit of the roast. Close the roast and truss together:

1. Using all-cotton kitchen twine, make a slip knot with a large loop at the top of the roast. Pull tight.

2. Move down the roast about 1 inch, and make another slip knot. Pull tight.

3. Continue looping the string around the roast until the entire roast has been trussed. Tie the string off at the end tightly. Place the roast on the rack of a roasting pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter with the rosemary, thyme, sage, salt and pepper. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the roast generously with the butter mixture. Place the roast in the oven. Baste with the butter mixture every 10 minutes during roasting. Roast, uncovered, for 30 to 35 minutes (the center of your roast should register between 145 and 150 degrees on a meat thermometer).

For serving: Let the roast rest 10 minutes before slicing into medallions, then serve with Grain Mustard Sauce, if desired.

Per serving: 914 calories (percent of calories from fat, 46), 73 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 40 grams fat (19 grams saturated), 283 milligrams cholesterol, 177 milligrams sodium.

Grain Mustard Sauce

Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 15 minutes Serves: 4

This sauce offers a sharp contrast of flavor to the sweetness of the cherry, date and pecan stuffing in the pork roast. It’s simple and quick, and can be made just before serving so that it doesn’t have to be kept hot.

2 tablespoons pan drippings from the roast (butter can be substituted, if desired)

2 tablespoons grain mustard

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 cup dry red wine

¼ cup heavy cream

In a large sauté pan, heat the pan drippings, grain mustard, soy sauce and red wine on medium-high heat. Let the mixture simmer, lower the heat and reduce the mixture for about 5 to 7 minutes. When the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, add the cream to finish. Whisk constantly over low heat until combined.

Per serving: 155 calories (percent of calories from fat, 57), 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 12 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 36 milligrams cholesterol, 710 milligrams sodium.

Wilted Garlic Greens

Hands on: 15 minutes Total: 30 minutes Serves: 6

If you’re in the camp that thinks greens need all day to cook, you need a wake-up call. By combining different greens, this side dish takes no more than 30 minutes to put together.

½ cup (1 stick) butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped

3/4 bundle fresh, cleaned and chopped collard greens (about 2 cups chopped)

1 bundle cleaned and chopped Lacinato kale (about 3 cups chopped)

1 bundle Swiss chard (about 4 cups chopped)

Place butter in a large pot over medium heat. As the butter begins to melt, add the garlic and onion and cover the pot with a lid. Allow the mixture to “sweat” for about 3 minutes. Add the collards, kale and Swiss chard. Stir to incorporate. Cover; allow the greens to “sweat” and wilt for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 169 calories (percent of calories from fat, 79), 2 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 16 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 41 milligrams cholesterol, 225 milligrams sodium.

Old-fashioned Refrigerator Rolls

Hands on time: 45 minutes Total time: 45 minutes, plus overnight resting and 1 hour rising time Makes: 4 dozen

There’s nothing more Southern than pillowy white rolls, made with the soft winter wheat milled across the South. Think you don’t have time to make them? Think again. These rolls make it easy on you since they retard — rest — overnight in the fridge. Make the dough, cover, and let it rest. The day of your celebration, all you have to do is roll them out, cut them and wait for them to rise, then bake.

1¼ cups whole milk

¼ cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1½ packages (10½ grams) active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

2 eggs, lightly beaten

4 to 6 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsalted butter, melted

In a large sauce pan, combine milk, butter, sugar and salt and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Mix the yeast with ¼ cup warm water in a large bowl. Let the mixture rest until it begins to bubble.

Pour the cooled milk mixture into the yeast mixture. Stir in the eggs, then gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time, with a wooden spoon. The dough will be sticky. Wrap the dough in a large plastic bag, seal, and leave in the refrigerator overnight.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle about ½ inch in thickness. Cut the dough with a 2-inch biscuit cutter, fold pieces in half, then place in a buttered pan. Line the rolls in the pan with round side up, with each roll touching. Brush the tops with butter, cover with a warm cloth or parchment paper, then set aside in warm place to rise for 1 hour. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Per serving: 88 calories (percent of calories from fat, 43), 2 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 4 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 20 milligrams cholesterol, 7 milligrams sodium.

Cranberry and Apple Sauté

Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 25 minutes Serves: 6

What’s easier than throwing together a sauté of apples and cranberries? Prepare this at the last minute — just before your meal, so that the apples are warm and not overcooked.

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

4 firm, tart apples, cored and sliced

1 cup fresh cranberries

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

In a large sauté pan, heat butter over medium heat until it begins to melt. Increase the heat to high and add the apples, tossing for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add the cranberries, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Continue cooking until the apples are tender, but still firm. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 249 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), trace protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 12 grams fat (7 grams saturated), 31 milligrams cholesterol, 119 milligrams sodium.

Coconut Cream Cake With Mascarpone Frosting

Hands on: 45 minutes Total: 1 hour, 30 minutes Serves: 8 to 10

Nothing says Southern Christmas as much as a beautiful, white coconut cake. Update the classic with a cream filling and a tangy mascarpone frosting. You’ve proven your baking skills already with the refrigerator rolls. Make things simple by using a cake mix for this easy-to-put-together cake.

Make the cake mix according to the package directions and in three layers. Allow the cake layers to cool.

For the cream filling:

1½ cups whole milk

1 cup sweetened flaked coconut

1/3 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

4 large egg yolks

1 tablespoon rum, if desired

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

For the mascarpone frosting:

8 ounces mascarpone

4 ounces cream cheese

4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 box confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

About 2 cups sweetened flake coconut

To prepare the cream filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and coconut and heat over high heat until the milk begins to boil. Remove from heat and set the mixture aside to steep for about 10 minutes. Strain milk through a sieve (press the coconut to get out as much liquid as possible).

In a medium bowl, toss together the sugar and cornstarch. Add about 2 tablespoons of the cooled milk mixture and stir until the sugar and cornstarch dissolve and create a slurry. Whisk in yolks; set aside.

In large pot, heat the milk mixture over high heat until it boils. Remove from heat and whisk about ½ cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture. Add the yolk mixture back to the milk and return to medium heat, whisking constantly over medium-high heat until the mixture boils. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly, for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in the rum and butter. Cover immediately with plastic wrap, allowing the wrap to touch the surface of the custard. Set aside. The mixture can be made a day ahead and refrigerated.

To prepare the mascarpone: Using a mixer, whip together the mascarpone, cream cheese, butter and sugar until incorporated. Add the vanilla and continue whipping on medium high speed until light and fluffy.

To assemble the cake: Trim the crown of each layer with a large serrated knife so that they are uniform in size. Fill each layer with the coconut cream, then frost the cake with mascarpone frosting. Decorate the sides of the cake with the coconut. The cake freezes well.

Per serving: 1,107 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 13 grams protein, 132 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 62 grams fat (24 grams saturated), 279 milligrams cholesterol, 718 milligrams sodium.

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