Joni Woolf: Breakfast from a southern chef

Published 11:52 am Monday, February 12, 2018

One of the fine cookbooks that Beth Alston has passed on to me is called “Field Peas to Foi Gras,” subtitled ‘Southern Recipes with a French Accent.’ Featuring the recipes of Mississippi native and Cordon Bleu-trained Jennifer Hill Booker, the book is a tantalizing merging of French and American South cooking. In the past, this column has featured her Smothered Rabbit recipe, as well as her Papa’s Holiday Eggnog. I have been reasonably successful with any of her recipes I’ve tried, so I am comfortable passing them on, even if I have not tried them yet. Today, we’re featuring some of her breakfast recipes — recipes and methods that exhibit some of the best of her French training while preserving her Mississippi roots. We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if we eat well at that meal, we can slack off during the remainder of the day (this is not our custom, unfortunately: most of us eat heavily in the evening). Maybe these recipes — and others like them — will encourage us to begin the day with a hearty meal and then curb our appetites as the day moves toward dark. You can’t go wrong with any of these.

Butter Roll
½ cup shortening, cold
2 cups self-rising flour
½ cup, plus 2 cups whole milk, divided
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
¼ cup, plus 2/3 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 vanilla bean, seeds removed and saved
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 x 8-inch ceramic baking dish. In a large bowl, use a pastry cutter or 2 knives to cut the shortening into the flour until it has the consistency of cornmeal. Stir in ½ cup milk. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and form it into a ball. Roll out the dough ball to a rectangle, about 7 x 10 inches, and spread ¼ cup butter on the dough. Fold the dough in half lengthwise and roll it out again into a rectangle shape. Spread the remaining ¼ cup butter on top and sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar and the cinnamon. Fold the dough in thirds by folding 1/3 the width of the dough on top and 1/3 the dough under the bottom of the rolled dough. The dough will now have three connected layers; one on top, one in the middle, one on the bottom. Place the folded dough into the baking dish and set aside. In a medium stainless steel saucepan over moderate heat, combine the whole milk, 2/3 cup sugar, the vanilla bean and vanilla seeds. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to gently bubble. Remove the vanilla bean and pour the sauce over the butter roll. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the roll turns lightly brown on top. Allow the butter roll to sit for a few minutes at room temperature. This will allow the roll to soak up more of the sauce. Spoon sauce from the baking dish over each serving.

Pan Fried ‘Taters’ and Spring Onions
3 tablespoons lard or bacon drippings (vegetable oil may be substituted)
6 medium potatoes, sliced into 1/8-inch rounds
3 large spring onions, thinly sliced, reserving the green tops as garnish
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
Heat the lard in a large cast-iron skillet over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and onions, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat with oil. Cover the skillet, reduce the heat to medium, and cook for 10 minutes without stirring. Remove the skillet lid and increase the heat to medium high. Add the bell pepper and garlic and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes and onions are browned. Chop the reserved spring onion greens. Stir in the paprika, remove from heat, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and sprinkle with green onions.

Chicken and Apple Sausage
½ tablespoon olive oil
1 medium green apple, cored and finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 ½ pounds ground chicken breasts and thighs
1 ½ teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
Heat the olive oil in a medium stainless steel saute pan over medium heat. Add the apples, onion and sage and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes, until the mixture is soft and lightly browned. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Place the ground chicken in a large bowl and season with additional salt and pepper. Stir in the poultry seasoning and paprika. Stir in the apple mixture until well combined. Form the sausage into 12 small patties. Heat a griddle pan or large cast-iron skillet over medium high heat and cook the patties for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

With a breakfast like this, you can eat like a pauper the rest of the day. You have just eaten like royalty.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at