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UPSCALE DOWNHOME OLD- AMERICAN HELP FOR COOKS

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If you sneer at cooking with canned soups and packaged seasoning mixes, “Upscale Downhome” is not for you.  This regional American

But if you’re a busy mom carting kids around, juggling schedules, maybe working too, you will love this book. And so will anyone forced to get food on the table fast, figure what to take to a potluck and desperate for something easy to serve guests.

Rachel Hollis (at the top) fills her book with encouragement, like celebrate every day and entertain no matter how humble your living space. “I think that the dinner table is sacred. I think that’s something we’ve lost,” she said, when she came to Melissa’s Produce to sign books. “I never just cook dinner. It’s always a sort of event.”

This doesn’t mean getting pretentious. Hollis says to assemble bargain china from closeouts, the Goodwill, yard sales and the 99 Cent Store. In one of the photos in the book she’s wearing a shirt from Walmart that cost $1. “It’s one of my proudest purchases,” the caption says.

There’s no false pride in the book. Hollis praises a commercial frozen pot pie, then gives her own recipe for hamburger pot pie, made with store-bought crust and frozen vegetables. Hot dog taquitos require only three ingredients plus oil for frying. Here’s one of her tips, “When in doubt, add bacon.”

How is she qualified to write such a book? Experience. In 2004 Hollis founded a party planning company called Chic Events. Now she dispenses food and fashion advice on the Chic Site. Check there for recipes, 13 ways to style a scarf and a link to buying the book through Amazon.

“As soon as I could stand upright, I was cooking,” she said. The subtitle of the book is “family recipes, all gussied up,” meaning dishes from Hollis’s family. “When I start to miss them, I cook their food,” she said.

A mom with three kids, Hollis was asked to write the cookbook after the success of the Chic Site. It’s her first cookbook. Before, she wrote historical romances.

This is the plate I assembled at Melissa’s from a buffet of dishes that are in the book.

I ate three helpings of this spicy corn dip. The dips chapter “is maybe my favorite,” Hollis said. “If you don’t like dips, I don’t know if we can be friends.”

Along with dips, chapters cover snacks, casseroles, the slow cooker (which is the most popular category on the Chic Site), potluck and leftovers. Each recipe comes with step by step photos so that the outcome is no surprise.

This turkey chili is “the first thing I learned to cook as a newlywed,” she said. Lucky husband.

I ate two of these sticky ham and cheese sandwiches.

And two of these BLT bites.

And some of this fresh green bean salad.

Dessert was cookie pudding pie (refrigerated cookie dough, instant pudding, frozen whipped topping), layered in a Mason jar. Hollis loves presenting food in jars. It “makes things a million times cuter,” she said. Here, she is assembling the pudding.

The food in her book tends to be rich. “If you are on a diet, this is not the food for you,” Hollis said, surveying the buffet at Melissa’s.

That didn’t stop me from overeating the corn dip. Here is the recipe, which is one of the most popular on the Chic Site.

SPICY CORN DIP
From “Upscale Downhome” by Rachel Hollis

2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cups corn (frozen or fresh)
1 1/2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded pepper Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 large bunch scallions (green onions), chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 tablespoons hot sauce, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion, garlic, bell pepper and corn and saute over medium heat until the onion is soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese until well combined.

In a large bowl, mix the remaining cheeses, mayonnaise, cilantro, scallions, chipotle chiles, hot sauce, salt and pepper with the veggie and cream cheese mixture. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Pour into a baking dish and bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling.

Serve hot out of the oven with chips or chopped vegetables.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.


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