Dr. Lauren Britt is one of those cooks who adds a pinch of this, and a dash of that, while creating delicious meals for family and friends.
It’s probably because she learned most of her cooking techniques standing beside her grandmother in the kitchen of her family’s farm in Luverne, Ala. She fondly recalled, “We were shipped off as slave labor every summer, and a lot of the things I cook, she taught me how.” In addition to helping with work on the farm, Lauren picked black berries and made black berry jam.
The little girl who used to cook with grandmother fulfilled her dream to become a doctor, and she now works with Lake OB/GYN Associates of Mid-Florida. Though medical school and training took her away from her beloved Southern roots, with her fried chicken, she was always able to bring some of home to wherever she lived.
“My grandmother was a phenomenal cook. My grandfather was in the air force, and they lived several different places, so she had a lot of flair to her cooking as well,” Lauren said. “I like Southern food, it’s back to my roots. I went to the University of Alabama for undergrad studies, attended West Virginia for medical school and trained in Toledo, Ohio, for my residency. I needed some good old soul food when I was so far away from home. It helped when I got homesick. I would make a whole bunch of fried chicken and have all my friends over to eat it because, otherwise, I would drown in chicken.”
Though her grandmother passed away this past Easter, her grandfather still lives on the farm. She readily admits, the little things touch her the most when it comes to her family.
“My mom always made oatmeal on Sundays with fresh bread. It was the steel-cut oats that you have to cook for an hour and a half for it to taste good,” Lauren shared. “You can truly taste the difference in that and the instant oatmeal.” That family meal is one of her favorite memories.
She also recalls some wonderful meals from family reunions held in an old school building not far from her grandparents’ home. Her grandfather attended school there from first grade through high school. “It has huge vaulted ceilings and the original wood floors. The appliances look like they were from the 50s, but still worked magically,” Lauren said. “The first time I had my husband meet my family, I took him to a family reunion. It was sink or swim for him.”
Andrew, Lauren’s husband, is from South Dakota. So, he not only was introduced to lots of new dishes, he experienced a brand new culture. “He loved the food and he loved the culture” of a family reunion, Southern style.
“My husband’s favorite food is Mexican Lasagna, which is easy to make. It has a lot of ingredients, but it’s easy. It has tortillas instead of the noodles, and you do a meat sauce with enchilada sauce as opposed to the red sauce,” Lauren said. “I don’t make my homemade enchilada sauce anymore since I have Hank, but it’s still good.” Hank is the couple’s son.
Lauren said “controlled chaos” is the best way to describe her cooking process. “I tend to make a lot when I’m cooking so I can freeze it, and then I can take it out and cook it when I need it.”
The biggest trick to use when cooking, according to Lauren’s grandmother, is “a big pan of soapy water.” She laughed and said, “The sink is half full of soapy water, and I just throw all the dishes in that and keep going. I taught my husband how to cook in medical school, and he is one of those that lets everything pile up as he goes. I told him at least he could put it in one spot to soak.”
She has already begun teaching the next generation of her family her grandmother’s cooking secrets. She keeps Hank, her 10-month-old son, close with a front sling and lets him help mix the foods she’s making. He recently got his first lesson in making homemade French toast. The Decatur, Ala., native hopes her son will enjoy cooking as much as she does.
Like most Southern cooks, Lauren says her cast-iron skillet is one of the essentials in her kitchen. She uses it for frying chicken, crisp bacon, and baking corn bread. “One of my favorite meals is fried chicken with my grandmother’s potato salad. I like chunky potato salad, and I make it with green onions, dill pickles, a little mustard, and lots of Duke’s mayonnaise. Duke’s is important. I love it. Then I put boiled eggs on top. The trick with potato salad is you basically cook the potatoes in sea water, so you don’t have to add salt after you cook them.”
Her grandmother’s recipes are among Lauren’s greatest treasures. “She didn’t really use a lot of cookbooks; the recipes were mostly just passed down. Again, it’s the little things that get you. I came across her cobbler recipe written in her handwriting, and I just burst into tears,” Lauren said. “She had beautiful handwriting. It was back when cursive writing was an art form, and everything wasn’t typed out like it is now.”
Since Lauren enjoys preparing lots of food, naturally, she loves hosting dinner parties. When Andrew’s family came down from South Dakota for a visit recently, the two of them prepared a famous meal from the Deep South.
“We had a low-country boil. It was the first one we’ve done down here where we can get everything fresh. We got the blue crab from Bubba’s (Bubba’s Crab and Seafood in Leesburg), and it was wonderful,” Lauren said. “You get so spoiled having fresh seafood. I really like sushi. We used to get it in Ohio, and it was good, but down here, it’s so much better. I don’t think I could go back.”
It’s obvious Lauren’s love of cooking comes from the heart, and it’s easy to picture the little girl in the farmhouse kitchen, learning a love of Southern cooking from her beloved grandmother.
Lauren’s Cooking Tips
• “We live in Palermo Park so we walk to the Farmer’s Market. I put puppy backpacks on our two Great Pyrenees, Waylon and Ollie, and they carry the produce home. Fresh is always better.”
• “You never go wrong with greens. I love collards.”
• “I never cook bacon in a microwave. I cook it my cast-iron skillet. You never go wrong with breakfast.”
• “I cook with butter. Margarine will never show up at my house.”
Perfect Peach Cobbler
6-7 medium ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced approx. 1/3 inch thick
1 c. self-rising flour
1 c. sugar
1 c. buttermilk
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
1 T. cornstarch
1 T. fresh lemon juice
¼ c. honey
• Peel peaches and cut into 1/3-inch slices. Place in bowl with 1 cup sugar and stir until combined.
• Let sit for an hour, stirring occasionally until sliced peaches release their juices, or can stir and leave in fridge overnight.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Add dash of cinnamon and nutmeg; stir in lemon juice and cornstarch.
• Melt butter in 9”x13” pan.
• In separate bowl combine flour, remaining sugar, milk (or buttermilk) vanilla, and dash of cinnamon. Mix well.
• Add peaches and juice to warm butter in pan. Pour flour mixture over peaches evenly. Drizzle honey over top and add sprinkle of cinnamon. Swirl with butter knife for design.
• Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Whole 4 lb. chicken cut into 8 pieces. I recommend using a Dutch oven instead of a sauté pan. Preheat oven to 400 degrees when ready to cook.
1¼ c. buttermilk
1 T. plus 1 tsp. salt
Dash of hot sauce
3 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 lb. chicken bone-in, skin on
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1¾ c. peanut oil
• Whisk 1 cup of buttermilk, salt, hot sauce, and a teaspoon of black pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and a pinch of cayenne together in a bowl.
• Add chicken pieces and turn to coat.
• Cover and refrigerate entire mixture for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
• Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
• Whisk flour, baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, and remaining black pepper, 3/4 tsp. garlic powder, 3/4 tsp. paprika, and cayenne together in large bowl.
• Add remaining ¼ c. buttermilk to flour mixture and combine with fingers until small clumps form.
• Take one piece of chicken at a time and dredge the chicken pieces in flour mixture, pressing mixture onto piece to form thick, even coating.
• Place on large platter.
• Heat 2 cups oil in an 11-inch Dutch oven over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. You can use a candy thermometer or heat approximately 5 minutes.
• Place chicken pieces in the pan, skin side down, and cook approximately 3-5 minutes until golden brown.
• Flip chicken pieces and cook on second side 2-4 minutes.
• Transfer chicken to wire rack on rimmed baking sheet.
• Place chicken in oven and bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken registers 160 degrees for breasts and 175 degrees for thighs and legs, approximately 15-20 minutes.
• Let chicken rest 5 minutes before serving.
Chunky Potato Salad
1 lb. red potatoes
Kosher dill pickles, cubed
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1 ½ c. Duke’s Mayonnaise (I think Duke’s is the best.)
1 squirt yellow mustard
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
• Mix all ingredients and let chill before serving.