Back to Recipe Books
Back to Contents
Cooking with Patti LaBelle
Whenever I told people that I was going to be talking to Patti LaBelle, I got a "Tell Patti hello!" as though Ms. LaBelle was a long-lost friend. So it was not a surprise that, after speaking to her about her recently published cookbook, LABELLE CUISINE: RECIPES TO SING ABOUT, I was practically ready to call her my own best friend. As I passed along the many hellos, she said, "I truly am blessed. Today, on the street, a woman hugged me and held me in her prayers. People do such nice things for me. You just tell everyone hello for me." Reading through the cookbook, you get a deep sense of this intense connection to people both through cooking and song. In fact, reading through the book was almost as pleasurable as talking to this legendary songstress.
"What do you want readers (and cooks) to take away from your book?" I asked. "Honey, if you have eyes to see and hands that move you can cook," she replied. "A little added imagination will really let you fly." Then she added, "If they get my book, they will learn how to cook really well and very fast. And, everything will be delicious. These are all my tried and true favorites!"
Patti LaBelle is as much a legendary cook as singer. In fact, her recipe for Potato Salad is one of the most frequently downloaded selections on Oprah Winfrey's web site. In this, her first cookbook, the recipes are well seasoned with warm recollections of family, friends, and celebrities. Filled with love and heartwarming family stories, the book also comes alive with on-the-road tales of cooking for the Rolling Stones, supermarket shopping in full makeup and evening gown, and smoking up a Las Vegas hotel room making supper for Arsenio Hall. This truly is a cookbook of memories.
I asked Patti about those memories. "When I was little, I loved to be in the kitchen," she said. "I watched my father, who was the main cook in the family, both at home and in his restaurants. I watched my mama and my aunts. I was always hanging on to Daddy's pants or standing under the ladies' aprons. I watched and I learned and I stored everything way back in my mind." "Not so far back," I said as I thought of all the memories she had pulled together to write the cookbook.
Some of her memories are very poignant; but they all have a lesson. The passing of beloved family members is noted through meals shared or recipes created in their honor. In fact, her deceased sisters are very much a part of the book. "I think about them every day, and I just know that they are here with me to share my good fortune," she said. "They are smiling down on me, for sure." I can tell you that once you read her recipe for String Beans ā La Bella, you will have learned one of life's great lessons, as Patti and her late sister, Barbara, would attest.
I asked Patti if she had a favorite recipe in the book. "I just put my heart and soul into everything. I couldn't pick a favorite. Although, my stuffing is great and, of course, my potato salad is a sure winner. But, my recipes are just like my children; there are no favorites."
At the mention of children, Patti sang the praises of her five children who, she said, were wondering when she was going to get back into the kitchen. "With all this cookbook business and being on the road, they tell me they are starving," she said. "But, you know, I just haven't felt like cooking, and when you don't feel like cooking, nothing comes out right and it's not worth doing. Isn't that so? We've been eating takeout." I certainly appreciated her honesty, as there are many nights I don't feel like cooking, and I hate the guilt that accompanies what I think of as my laziness. Patti put it all in perspective.
On the nights when you don't feel like cooking, curl up with LABELLE CUISINE: RECIPES TO SING ABOUT, and the memories shared will inspire you back to the kitchen, where any one of Patti's recipes will warm your heart and your tummy. It's a wonderful cookbook. And remember, Patti says hello.
Recipes from LaBelle CuisinePatti's Potato Salad
Makes 8 to 12 servings
3 pounds red-skinned potatoes (20 potatoes), well scrubbed
6 large eggs, hard-cooked (see Note)
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 medium celery ribs, finely chopped
2 teaspoons celery seed
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the potatoes in a large pot and add enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tender, but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Be sure they are cooked! Pour out most of the water and place the pot in the sink. Run cold water over the potatoes for about 2 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Drain well.
Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl. Chop 4 hard-cooked eggs and add to the potatoes, along with the red onion, green pepper, and celery. Sprinkle with the celery seed. Gradually stir in the mayonnaise, mustard, and relish (wear rubber or plastic gloves and use your hands, if you wish), being careful not to smash the potatoes. Season well with salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a large serving bowl. Slice the 2 remaining hard-cooked eggs. Arrange the slices on top of the salad and sprinkle with paprika. Serve immediately, or cool, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours.
Note: I know that most people actually boil their eggs to hard-cook them, but if you overdo it, you can get that thin green line around the yolk that everyone just hates. Here's the foolproof professional way to hard-cook eggs that cuts down on the actual boiling time to avoid overcooking. Place the eggs in a saucepan just large enough to hold them in one layer. Fill with enough cold water to cover by one inch. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the stove and cover tightly. Let stand for 15 minutes. Pour out most of the water and place the pan in the sink. Let cold water run over the eggs for about 3 minutes. Crack and peel eggs while still warm.
Patti's Pointers: I use red-skinned potatoes because the slices retain their shape when the salad is tossed -- russets and Idaho potatoes will crumble. Remember: Always choose smooth, firm potatoes that have no bruises. Wash the potatoes just when you are ready to use them. Don't store the potatoes in the refrigerator because they will turn dark when you cook them. Be sure to cut off any greenish discoloration because it will have a bitter taste. For a potato salad with a kick, I sometimes spice this salad up with 2 seeded and minced jalapeņo peppers.
I make my stuffing on top of the stove in a skillet, not in the oven. It's just the way I prefer it -- you can use it to stuff your bird, if you like. This makes enough for a roasting chicken or small turkey, up to 12 pounds. If you want enough for a holiday-sized crowd, make a double batch, dividing the stuffing between two large skillets.
The stuffing is best if you add some chicken or turkey drippings from the roasting pan to the butter while cooking the vegetables. You can do this after the bird comes out of the oven -- a turkey should stand for about 30 minutes before carving, anyway -- or siphon off the drippings as they accumulate during roasting with a bulb baster.
I can't tell you how moist to make your dressing, so add enough broth to your liking. It shouldn't be soggy, but it shouldn't be dry, either. The kind of bread is up to you , too. I use a soft sandwich bread (like Wonder Bread), but you might like a firmer loaf (like Pepperidge Farm). If you wish, cut the bread into cubes and let it stand out overnight to dry out before using.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 sticks) butter, substituting some turkey or chicken drippings for an equal amount of butter, if desired
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium celery ribs, chopped
1 medium green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 jalapeņos, seeded and finely chopped, optional
3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley and 1 teaspoon dried oregano)
1 tablespoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 pound white sandwich bread, cut into pieces about 1/2 inch square
1-1/2 cups turkey or chicken broth, approximately Seasoned salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a deep, 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and jalapeņos, if using. Cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender, about 12 minutes. Add the oregano, poultry seasoning, and celery seed. Add the remaining 8 tablespoons butter and melt.
In a large bowl, toss the bread with 1 cup of the broth to lightly moisten the bread. Add to the skillet, mixing well, adding more broth to reach the desired moistness. Reduce the heat to very low and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the dressing is heated through, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Aunt Joshia Mae's Blackberry Doobie
Blackberries with dumplings -- that's all there is to a doobie. It shares a place in the dessert hall of fame with other fruit desserts with funny names like grunt, slump, and pandowdy. This is a good hot-weather dessert because you don't have to turn on the oven. You can use blueberries or a combination of berries but just don't use strawberries -- they get pale when cooked. You can also use frozen berries.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
4 pints fresh blackberries or blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup water
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2/3 cup milk
In a deep 12-inch skillet, toss the berries, sugar, water, and butter. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and cook until the juices thicken, about 1 minute.
Meanwhile, make the dumplings: In a medium bowl, mix the flour and sugar. Add the shortening. Using a fork or a pastry blender, cut the shortening into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Using a fork, stir in the milk. Using a scant tablespoon of dough for each dumpling, roll into 24 balls and place on a baking sheet.
Drop the dumplings into the simmering berries. Cover tightly and cook until the dumplings are cooked through, about 20 minutes. Serve hot, spooned into individual bowls.