The art of Southern hospitality

By Chef Don Bingham

Just the mention of the phrase “Southern hospitality” brings a multitude of delightful thoughts and options. We Southerners do have our preferences and colorful traditions when it comes to entertaining! Food is usually the star of the show, and whether it is entertaining the family, friends, new neighbors, business associates, weddings or the arrival of a new baby, there is always a reason for celebrating! 

Photos by Mike Kemp

The second actor in this theatrical presentation would be the table around which our guests will converse. Where does one begin? This season of the year opens up the home and garden for wonderful hospitality! It’s a grand time to forego meeting in a restaurant and open your home, however modest, and celebrate life with food, fun and fellowship.

To entertain can be extravagant or simple—the spirit of the event is primary! As hosts, we are constantly changing things up, turning tables to different angles, mixing chairs, using dishes that have been collecting dust in the dish pantry, even moving a lamp or two and adjusting the light for the best ambiance, always trying to include an element of surprise for all attending. Making the event magical can be much more simple than you think. Starting with a clean, fresh, inviting canvas can be accomplished a day or two ahead, ensuring that all the preparations to follow have a clean and sparkling foundation.

Don and Nancy Bingham

Be as creative as your abilities afford, then reach out for hospitality-related magazine articles and friends for inspiration. Decide what lifts and inspires you and take a journey through the house and yard to collect the pieces of your entertaining venue right in your own home! What fun! Perhaps do short sessions or preparations, beginning several days ahead when you have reserved time to simply “think,” rather than throwing everything together and ending up spending too much time and resources because of poor planning. Save the freshly cut flowers and vegetables for the final touches to your table or buffet.

When today’s busy activities seem to crowd out those times of laughter and good food with our dearest of family and friends, may we take the opportunity of the new life during these spring days to encourage each other with some grand Southern hospitality!

Toasted Sesame Chicken Pasta

3 lbs. chicken tenders

16 ounces package fusilli pasta

2 bundles of asparagus

Spray a heavy pot with cooking spray. Place frozen chicken tenders in a pot; cover with a lid. Cook on medium heat for 10-12 minutes. Drain and shred chicken into chunks with a fork. Cover and set aside. Prepare Candied Pecans (recipe below), giving time to cool. Cook pasta al dente. Rinse asparagus and clip ends. Blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Cut into 2-inch chunks and set aside. Prepare Sesame Ginger Dressing (recipe below). In a large bowl, combine chicken, pasta and asparagus. Add Candied Pecans and toss with Sesame Ginger Dressing. Serve.

Candied Pecans

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups pecans

Preheat the oven to 375. Melt butter in a pot and add brown sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Fold in pecans and spread on a jelly roll pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool and break up into pieces. Set aside.

Sesame Ginger Dressing

4 Tbsp. sesame seeds

1/2 cup frozen orange juice concentrate

1 Tbsp. sesame oil

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp. lemon juice

2 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. coarse black pepper

In a small skillet on medium heat, toast sesame seeds for about 2 minutes or until golden brown. Set aside to cool. In a blender mix orange juice, sesame oil, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, garlic powder, ginger, salt and pepper. Puree. Pour dressing into a container; fold in toasted sesame seeds. Chill. Mix well before serving.

Poppy Seed Breadsticks

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Cut hot dog buns in half, making four long bread sticks. Line up on cookie sheet. Brush tops of bread sticks with butter; sprinkle with poppy seeds. Place in the oven and bake until golden and dried through (approximately 20 minutes).

Fudge Ecstasy Cookies

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

2 eggs

4 Tbsp. cocoa

1/2 cup sugar (mix together with cocoa)

2 1/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

12 ounces chocolate chips

Cream butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla together until fluffy. Add eggs, beat well. Stir in cocoa/sugar mixture. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually beat into creamed mixture. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoons full onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake a 375 for 9-10 minutes. Remove from the cookie sheet, cool slightly. Makes approximately 6 dozen. Do not overbake the cookies.

Don Bingham
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