Paula Deen's Kitchen Classics by Paula Deen
420 pages; No Photographs; Hard cover; $29.95 US, $42.00 CAN
Random House, New York, NY 2005
Reviewed by Tracy Pereira for Good Cooking, Inc. December 2006

Kitchen Classics is not your typical cookbook, as author Paula Deen mixes in a healthy helping of personal history among her recipes.

That mixture is apparent from the start, with the foreword, titled "Perfect Marriage," referring to her current 420-page work as a merger of her previous two books - "The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Book" and "The Lady & Sons, Too" - into one easy-to-read hardcover, but talking about her recent marriage as well. The black-and-white snapshots of her wedding in the opening section are the only photographs in the book.

What comes next makes this cookbook an interesting read. She begins by talking about her childhood growing up in Albany, Georgia, watching her grandmother cook, and goes on, throughout the rest of the book, to touch on the personal struggles she went through to get where she is today. It's rare to find a cookbook where the writer can enhance the work by talking candidly about her personal life, but for me, Ms. Deen manages to pull it off. Kitchen Classics is all about "real good' Southern cooking. The recipes are broken down into five general categories: Appetizers, Breads, Soups and Salads, Main Courses and Desserts.

I decided to make one meal from each of her books. The first recipe was Savannah Crab Cake, on page 48, and the second was a Banana Bread, which can be found on page 321. Both recipes were easy to follow and the results were delicious. Prior to reading this book, I had no idea who Ms. Deen was and I'm glad to have made her acquaintance. In her book, she notes: "It 's not the destination, but the journey..." As I approach the end of my course at Boston University with few connections in Boston but hopes of becoming a personal chef, I'm hoping to take inspiration from the story of how Ms. Deen began her own career with almost nothing but her faith and belief in herself.

Savannah Crab Cakes
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound crabmeat, picked free of shell
1/2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
3 green onions, finely chopped, with tops
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Flour for dusting
1/2 cup peanut oil

Mix all ingredients together except flour and peanut oil. Shape into patties and dust with flour. Panfry in hot peanut oil over medium heat until browned, for 4 to 5 minutes. Flip and panfry other side until golden brown.

Tartar Sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup chopped dill pickle
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon House Seasoning (1 cup salt, 1/4 cup black pepper, 1/4 cup garlic powder)

In a bowl, combine chopped onion, pickle, mayonnaise, and House Seasoning and mix well. Serve alongside crab cakes with lemon wedges.
Variation: Substitute 1/3 cup capers for 1/2 cup pickles and add a dash of cayenne pepper.

Banana Bread
Yields 1 loaf
No electric mixer needed here-just mix in a bowl by hand.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose four, sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 ripe bananas, mashed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and sugar; mix well. Add the salt, eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and bananas, and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes.