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Making Mudcakes

A Southern singer leaves the dirt roads behind to make sweet music — and damn good food — for fans and friends on both sides of the Atlantic.

  

ABOVE LEFT Singer-songwriter and TV personality Beverly Jo Scott, or BJ to her friends, jams with a few local musicians. Pictured clockwise from bottom left are Ben Jernigan, Lynn Oldshue, BJ, Sherry Neese, the homeowner Gina Jo Previto and her father Doug Previto, owner of Veet’s.

ABOVE RIGHT BJ shows off the bacon-wrapped pork loin that she served with a drizzle of rich chocolate coffee sauce.
 

How do you reconcile a life spent with one foot in the backwoods of south Alabama and the other on European TV? Beverly Jo Scott answers that question with a big bowl of gumbo. She calls gumbo “Southern history in a pot” but loves reinterpreting the age-old recipe when she visits new places and breaks bread with new friends.

BJ starts with a traditional roux, singing as she stirs, but then adds whatever seafood, meat and veggies are found in the local cuisine. She once made gumbo for 140 people in Brussels, Belgium, before getting on stage and performing. This Renaissance woman — singer, cook, judge on The Voice Belgique and larger-than-life character — has energy and love to go around.

Born in Washington County, BJ spent her formative years outside of Bay Minette. She saw her fair share of dusty back roads as a child and trained her voice at the Shiloh Baptist Church as part of a musical (if slightly dysfunctional) family. She saved S&H Green Stamps to buy her first guitar and tambourine. Before long, she quit high school and was living on the streets, but she adds, “As long as I had my guitar (pronounced GIT-ar) I had a job.”

She followed a friend to Europe, where she marveled at the architecture, food and culture. It was a writer’s dream, and she sang her poems on street corners and in pubs until a career blossomed.

BJ no doubt won over the European audience with her combination of raucous country fun and tender familiarity, giving you the feeling she was your aunt or maybe your mama’s best friend. Contestants on The Voice Belgique just call her “Mama Soul.” If the show is lagging, she says, they give her a shot or two of whiskey and turn her loose. “I’m not afraid to cuss, stir things up and tell the contestants what I really think.”

Even so, Mama Soul offers comfort and wisdom wherever she goes, and food is one way she does that. She even cued up a song from her 1995 album Mudcake with a recording of a transcontinental phone conversation between herself and her grandmother. Her grandmother explains what’s on the menu that Sunday and describes how she makes her chicken and dumplings before breaking into a little song. It’s a fitting reminder that music runs deep in BJ’s family tree. Food does, too.

“Daddy taught me how to make a three-course meal out of a boot string,” she laughs, adding, “He was a mostly absent father, but when he was around, it was ‘100 ways to cook with spam and a boiled egg,’ and he made it fun!” Her grandmother filled in the rest of the recipe cards with traditional country cooking in a house where everyone was welcome and the dinner table radiated Southern warmth.

On a recent trip home to visit her stateside grandkids, BJ pulled some musician buddies together for drinks and a casual family-style meal. The owners of Veet’s, a music venue on Royal Street, let BJ take over their kitchen while guests passed half a dozen guitars from hand to hand on the porch steps. The rustic menu mixed local, late-summer produce with modern flavors and techniques. The food was the perfect metaphor for how BJ has lived her entire life — solid country roots with a touch of European flair.

Midtown Mule

BJ pours this take on the Moscow Mule on hot afternoons entertaining and playing music with friends in Midtown Mobile. She replaces the alcohol with crushed raspberries or fresh raspberry syrup for the perfect mocktail. The strong ginger flavor is a nice change from often overly sweet mocktails.

1/4 cup vodka (BJ prefers Titos)
2 tablespoons Chambord Liqueur
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 basil leaves
1 bottle Reed’s Extra Strong Ginger Beer
dash of Angostura Bitters
lime slice for garnish

1. Fill a Copper Mule Mug or tumbler with ice. Add the vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice. Crush the basil leaves between your fingers to release the aromas and add to the glass. Top with ginger beer. Give the drink a quick stir and finish with a few drops of bitters and a lime slice. Makes 1 serving.

Chili Margarita Watermelon Salad 

BJ says this salad is a showstopper. Your guests will finish every bite and then drink the juice at the bottom of the bowl! Non-drinkers can replace the alcohol with fresh brewed green tea and a bit of fresh squeezed orange juice with some orange zest.

1 medium seedless watermelon
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped green or red onion
3/4 cup good quality tequila
3/4 cup agave syrup
juice from 3 limes
1/4 cup triple sec
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh red chili, or to taste

1. Cut the watermelon into bite-sized cubes and put in a large mixing bowl. Add the cilantro and onion and toss gently. Set aside.
2. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or cocktail shaker. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
3. Toss the melon with the sauce and place in the fridge to chill before serving. Serves 6.

Bacon-Crusted Pork Loin with Choco-Café Sauce

The crispy brown latticework of bacon makes a beautiful presentation at the table, and it keeps the loin extra moist during cooking. The rich sauce is to die for!

1 pork loin (5 - 6 pounds)
8 slices thick-cut bacon

1. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and allow it to come safely to a cool room temperature.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
3. Place roast in a pan with a roasting rack. Wrap the bacon slices evenly over the top of the roast, tucking in the edges. Roast in the preheated oven for 1 hour, basting with pan juices halfway through the cooking process to keep it moist and flavorful.
4. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Transfer to a warm platter, baste again with cooking juices and serve with the Choco-Café sauce on the side (see below). Serves 6 - 8.

Choco-Café Sauce

This sauce is rich and delicious, with only a subtle chocolate flavor.

1 1/2 cups very strong hot coffee (best quality)
6 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons agave syrup
6 tablespoons high quality dark cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Bring the coffee, balsamic vinegar and water to a low simmer over medium heat, but do not boil. Add the agave syrup and stir until dissolved. Gently whisk in the cocoa powder one spoonful at a time. Add sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste.
2. Simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens. Run your finger through the sauce on the back of the spoon. If the trace stays, it’s ready. It should be glossy and smooth.
3. Pour into a gravy bowl and serve tableside. It is perfect with slices of hot roast and your favorite vegetables. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Butternut Sweet Potato Mash

This rustic mash is full of healthy carotenes and has a creamy, rich texture. The slight sweetness of the vegetables is perfect with pork or chicken.

1 small butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into cubes
4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (or any finishing salt)
freshly ground pepper

1. Add vegetables to a large pot and cover with water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and cook until soft. Drain water and add butter. Loosely mash vegetables.
2. Place in a warmed serving dish and finish with a sprinkle of coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve warm. Serves 6.

 

 

Salade Mathilde

This recipe comes from one of BJ’s best friends, a Belgian winemaker who passed away. “She loved this salad, and I make it in her honor,” BJ says.

4 small yellow squash
2 small zucchini squash
3 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons robust extra virgin olive oil
sea salt, to taste
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 teaspoons whole pink peppercorns or freshly ground mixed pepper

1. Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, cut the squashes into thin ribbons. Place in a large bowl with the parsley. Add olive oil and conservatively salt to taste (the goat cheese will add extra saltiness). Toss the salad with your hands, separating the ribbons. Lay the salad out on a long platter.
2. In a small, dry nonstick pan, roast the sesame seeds over medium heat until golden and fragrant, just a few seconds. (Careful, they burn easily!) Remove from heat.
3. Top the salad with goat cheese, pink peppercorns or a few turns of the pepper mill and sesame seeds.
4. Serve lightly chilled. Finish with the toasted sesame seeds. Serves 6.

Caramelized Fresh Fig Trifle 

BJ loves this fast and easy dessert that is light but still decadent. It is the perfect fusion of her Southern roots and the cuisine of her adopted country Belgium, home of the Biscoff cookie.

4 tablespoons butter
2 pints fresh figs, washed and sliced in half
5 tablespoons local raw honey
32 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons agave syrup
1 package plain Biscoff cookies, broken into uneven crumbs
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1. Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add figs and saute for 2 minutes to render some liquid. Add  honey and saute a few minutes more until honey is thickened and the fruit lightly caramelized (like fig preserves). Remove from heat and set aside.
2. In a bowl, combine yogurt, cream cheese and agave syrup. Set aside.
3. In individual glasses or a clear trifle bowl, layer cookie crumbs, then yogurt mixture and then figs. Repeat until all the ingredients are used and the cups are full, ending with a layer of cream and some cookie crumbs to garnish.
4. Refrigerate until fully chilled, 1 hour or more. Top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds just before serving. Serves 8.

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