Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Auntie Em’s Cornbread Dressing

This is actually Granny’s/Grandma Ballard’s cornbread dressing, but I have Granny’s seal of approval ; ) I bet you will like it too! We had our annual Thanksgiving feast at our church last night and I made turkey and dressing with gravy (just a bit left), Auntie Em’s famous macaroni and cheese (nothing left), Grandma Ballard’s caramel pie (licked clean), and green beans (a bit left; who wants green beans when you have macaroni and cheese, and marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes lol!?)

Grandma's recipe for Cornbread dressing

I made a double batch of this dressing, except I neglected to read it ahead of time and and made only ONE double batch of Granny’s cornbread. It was still fine! Since I was cooking so much, I made it a 2-day affair. Granny fusses about making the cornbread the day ahead, but she liked it anyway!


1. Boil a hen in a large, heavy stockpot. Add salt and pepper, plus the skins and tops of your onions, garlic, and celery to flavor the broth. This will take a LONG TIME. After the water came to a boil, I turned down the heat and covered, cooked her for an hour and she was still tough. I probably could have cooked her another hour and the meat would have come off the bones a lot easier.

Be sure you get a HEN, not just a chicken. You get richer broth and your meat is firmer. Good for gumbo too!

I cut the root ends of the onion and celery off and tossed them; they just looked dirty. But I put all the rest of the scraps in the pot!

hen for boiling onion and celery

onion and celery scraps for stockpot Boiling hen in the stockpot

Here she is with everything ready to cook. I would have added garlic if I’d had any; I had to use garlic powder.

I just thought this was a funny picture. Reminded me of Achilles!

boiling hen

Here’s what she looks like after her swim: Let her cool, then pull off and chop the meat. You are going to put the little pieces in the dressing, and lay the breast slices on top. Strain the broth and put in a large container to use to moisten the dressing and make the gravy. Save the skin and bones for boiling, to get more good broth! Put them in a freezer bag and freeze them if you don’t want to do it now.

Boiled hen

Now for the bread– you can use regular, cheap, store-brand biscuits, or bigger, butter-flecked ones. I used the cheap-o ones this time. It should have been TWO double batches of cornbread, but I used just one. Minus a slice. (Somebody, whose initials are MX got to it!)

Granny's cornbread biscuits for dressing

Pull apart in 1-2 inch pieces and put in a jumbo ziplock bag or large covered bowl if you are making the day ahead. (Don’t tell Granny.)

Preparing cornbread dressing

Chop your onion and celery. I had a huge onion and it made almost 4 cups. I was very worried , fearing that it would be too much, but it was GOOD! And my 3 cups of chopped celery was the amount the recipe called for. (dumb luck) This time, instead of sautéing in a stick of butter, I used broth (DIET cornbread dressing!) and it worked out fine. Painless ways to cut calories are the way to go.

sautee celery and onion

Wait to combine everything until just before you are ready to cook it. First put the biscuit and cornbread pieces in a large pan. Add salt, pepper, sage, plus basil, rosemary, sage, and parsley. Start with a tablespoon or so of each, depending on your taste. Toss around to mix, then gently mix in chopped hen meat and chopped boiled eggs. Finally, add broth from the hen you boiled. Pour gently over the whole pan.  Start with 4-5 cups, and stir gently. All this “stir gently” is to make sure you don’t end up with cornbread dressing mush. And be careful to spread it around evenly but don’t smash it down.  Add enough broth to have just a bit standing in the bottom of the pan when you move the bread aside. I used almost 7 cups. Bake at 375 till browned, probably 30-45 minutes. During the last 10-15 minute you can add sliced meat in the top if you like.

toss biscuits and cornbread to mix egg slicer egg slicer

Ready to go! Recipe below. Gravy tomorrow!

Cornbread dressing

Not much was left!

empty pot luck

Auntie Em’s Grandma Ballard’s Hen and Dressing

1– 5 pound hen; boiled and deboned (True confessions: I’ve used canned chicken and broth before. Add some bouillon cubes and butter to make it richer.)

Bake and tear into 1″ pieces

  • 1 double recipe Granny’s cornbread
  • 2 cans biscuits


  • 1 cup butter or broth
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion (Auntie Em uses 1.5 to 2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cup chopped celery


  • 1 TBS salt and pepper
  • 1 TBS parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme*

2-3 boiled eggs, chopped

Mix all together and gently add 2-4 cups broth .

Bake at 375 for 25-40 minutes, till brown.

*SING while you add it lol!!! (I can never resist a musical pun!)

Auntie Em's holiday cooking Collage


Auntie Em’s Country Fried Chicken and Milk Gravy

Remember my sort-of once-a-month cooking? I sliced up some chicken breasts to make fried chicken strips, and man were they good!

I like to use a cast-iron skillet for a deep-fried food. It heats slowly, but holds the heat, which is important. A note about cast-iron: it likes lots of oil; otherwise it will start to rust. Back in the day, when people fried everything, their skillets kept a shiny black “seasoning” on them, and they were just about non-stick and would rinse clean. Nowdays, I’m more likely to sauté than fry, so I usually wipe it down with oil after each use. And don’t wash it with soap unless it really needs it. Just wipe it clean if that works- then try just water and a cloth- and as a last resort, use soap. ALWAYS dry immediately and completely, and wipe with oil if it’s not shiny black.

Before- see the dull spots?                                                 After I wiped with oil

20120824-183536.jpg           20120824-183603.jpg

So- on to the chicken.
1. Pour about 1/2 an inch of oil in your skillet. Turn heat to medium high. Use a thermometer because you know you’ll think it’s ready before it is! It needs to reach at least 360.
2. (You can do this step ahead of time.) Slice boneless, skinless chicken breasts in 1″ strips. Season to taste and cover with buttermilk. (I put them in a ziplock when I do it ahead- the strips were wonderfully tender and I don’t know if it was because they soaked in buttermilk a day, or if I just did a good job!)
3. Using a fork or tongs, unless you want a big mess on your fingers, lift each strip and let the excess buttermilk drip off- then roll them in flour till they’re covered.

4. Check your oil temperature.
4.a. Wait till it’s 360.
4.b. Wait till it’s 360. It will take a long time, especially using cast-iron!
5. When the oil reaches 360, CAREFULLY place the strips in the pan.Leave some room between the pieces; It’s better to do 2 batches than crowd them.

6. Watch it carefully- you can’t multi-task when deep-frying! Give it about 3-5 minutes, till it’s the color you like. I don’t like mine terribly crunchy.
7. Turn them over. Tongs are better than a fork.
8. Drain them on paper towels, and cover them with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel to keep them hot while you make….

1. Pour off all but a couple of tablespoons of the oil. (Think ahead for this- an old veggie can is good, or a glass cup. Don’t pour it in your trash because it’ll melt straight through!) (PS You ladies who are “of a certain age” like me, did you keep a can of oil on your stove to reuse when you fried things? Seems like I fried every night!)
2. Add about the same amount of flour and stir, stir, stir! This is tricky to get the right consistency. It needs to stay separated when you scrape the bottom, but begin to puddle back.


3. Add salt and pepper, and keep stirring. Let it cook 2-3 minutes and begin to brown. The little bits of flour left in from the chicken will get lovely crunchy brown. Let it get darker if you want brown gravy.


4. Add a little milk (or cream, or broth, depending on what you want) and stir, stir, stir!


Add some more till it’s the consistency you like.


Get it to the table fast! This gravy is excellent over mashed potatoes, the chicken, rice, toast, or even plain bread! Good gravy takes practice, so don’t give up it it’s too thick or too runny.


Auntie Em’s Once-a-Month Cooking, Sort of

You might have heard of the term “once a month cooking.” You plan out your menus for the month, compile your grocery list and shop, then in one day you prepare everything! You divvy it up in proper serving sizes and you are done for the month. I love the idea, and did it… once. Mr X helped me, and we had the crock pot, electric skillet, oven, and all the burners going on the stove! It took all day and we were exhausted. What I have found is that a modified version works better for me: I cook 2 or 3 times the amount I’ll need, then freeze the rest. This is also great if you have a food ministry– you get a call– you go to your freezer and have a pot roast or pound cake ready to go. It’s also especially handy for small households like ours. (That sounds so strange, after having all those kids!)

School is about to start (have you seen this poster?)  So I knew I’d better get busy.

Here’s what I started with:

I started out browning the stew meat (beef and pork) and the hamburger meat. 20120807-153254.jpg


My go-to cooking buddy 

While that was cooking, I put all but 2 big chicken breasts (5 lb package) in the crock pot with celery, a carrot, onion and garlic, and covered it with water, slapped the lid on and turned it to high. More of that later. After the stew meat browned, I added 2 packages of Lipton Beefy Onion mix, about 3 cups of water, stirred it up good and covered. You want to let it cook till it’s fork tender; probably about 2 hours. You can also do it in the crock pot all day. I added 2 more cups water after an hour. You can also add red wine  if you want.

To the hamburger meat, I added Taco seasoning and water, stirred it up and let it cook about 20 minutes just to get the flavor in good. While THAT was cooking, I trimmed and split the remaining chicken breasts, salted and peppered, put 2 pieces in a freezer bag for a grilled meal, and sliced the remaining 2 pieces in strips for fried chicken strips!

Try to cut them about 3/4′ thick, and all the same thickness.  

So now the taco meat is ready to be put up… any idea what this is?

20120807-153200.jpg                                                      How bout now?  20120807-153146.jpg

Okay, I’ll show you. It’s a baggie holder! I mostly use freezer bags, and this little gadget gives me an extra set of hands.  I had a 2.25 lb container of ground beef, and I divided it into 3 parts. It’ll be good for tacos, taco salad, nachos, burritoes, or taco soup. Be sure to let your food cool a bit before you put it in a plastic bag! A melted bag with too-hot liquid is no fun.

All I did with the pork chops was season them, then put the 4 chops into 2 separate bags. The 2 big sirloin steaks I cut in half (they will cook more evenly that way; they were thick and big!), seasoned, and put in 2 separate bags. This is the time to add marinade if you want to.

Then I put my attention back on the stew meat. After it gets really tender, I’ll take out some and call it beef tips. We’ll eat it over rice or mashed potatoes. The rest, I’ll add vegetables and call it stew. Add what you want- I did onion, celery, potatoes, and carrots. I’ll probably add canned or frozen green beans and/or corn when it comes time to eat! Just be sure to cut your veggies up bite sized and uniformly. I have always cooked it, then put it in the freezer. Sunshine plans to try putting everything (meat and vegetables) in freezer bags, then add liquid and put it in the crock pot. I’ll ask her to report on how that works.

It’s a good idea, when you have your cutting board out and you are in a cutting mood, to get your stew veggies ready- you can put them in a storage bag with liquid to keep them fresh.  You can also chop onions or celery for cooking and put them in a freezer bag- just get out what you need as you need it. With my good knives, I really Kind of enjoy chopping!


Do you peel your potatoes or not? I don’t mind the skins, and I’m lazy. So if they look okay, I don’t peel, but if I’ve let them get old and funky, I do.


These I peel.

These I don’t.

I’ll tell you how I make fried chicken and milk gravy if you want…


Auntie Em’s New Orleans Red Beans


Here at Auntie Em’s house we eat a lot of what Mr X calls “farm food.” It’s his favorite, and since it’s easy to cook, it fits in my schedule and lifestyle. We went to Nachtitoches, Mississippi in December and I bought their local Service League cookbook- I love to buy local cookbooks as souvenirs when we travel!

Here is one of my favorites (and I measured this time!):

1 small pkg red kidney beans20120807-124619.jpg

1 tsp salt and pepper (add more, or Tony Chachere to taste after they cook.)

1/4 c chopped onion

1/4 c chopped celery

1 large carrot, diced

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 bay leaves

1 hunk of tasso (That’s frozen tasso there- it looks bad, but tastes good! It’s a heavily seasoned pork, for cooking. I usually don’t use it up fast enough to keep fresh, so I freeze it and take it out as I need it.)

4-6 c water or broth (If you don’t have broth, add a bouillon cube or 2!)

Put in a large, heavy pan and add water or broth about 3 times the depth of the beans. (If you have 2″ of beans, add 4″ of water above the beans- make sense?) Bring to a boli, stir, cover, and let soak an  hour. Check on it periodically because you might need to add water during the soak time! 20120807-124611.jpg

Then add water if needed, and simmer for 2-3 hours. Check often and add water. They should be tender. If you want to make it over the top, slice up some link sausage and stir in before you serve, or serve it with a link! Put it over rice or Granny’s Cornbread.




Granny’s cornbread– Updated with Pictures!

One of the things you have to adjust to in marriage is the food you eat. My mother made cake-like cornbread, with yellow flour and sugar- MMMM. Put a little syrup over it and it’s like dessert! My mother-in-law has always made hers with white cornmeal and no sugar. It too is very good, and that’s what Mr. X likes, so that’s what I cook. I always make it to go with something else- my favorite is under beans -pinto beans or red beans, and soup of most any kind.

Granny’s cornbread

Plop a spoonful of bacon grease in a cold iron skillet. (as much as your think your arteries can stand) Put the skillet in the oven and preheat it to 400.

Mix 1 cup of white cornmeal, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp soda in a bowl.

Add 1 egg and 1 cup buttermilk, and stir it up.

Check your skillet- if the grease isn’t “shimmery” it’s not hot enough and your cornbread will stick. (If you’re not sure, you can drop a tiny drop of water in and it has to sizzle, but be careful that you don’t splash it on yourself.)

When your grease is hot, hot, hot, tilt it around to make sure the skillet is coated all around.

If you put in lots of grease, you can mix that in your batter too! Then pour the batter in. It will make a beautiful sizzling noise!

Bake about 15 minutes- more if you like it browner. Pop it out upside down on your plate, and if all goes well, it will come out beautiful and whole!



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