We’ve admired her cooking on Top Chef, and on The Chew, but we love Nashville native Carla Hall for her delightful personality and killer bone structure as much as for her cornbread and collards. The model-turned-caterer-turned-television celebrity learned to cook from her grandmother, and shares her culinary secrets and tasty stories in her just-released book, Cooking With Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You.
We wanted to know more about this celeb who’s known for her cheery “hootie-hoo” greeting, so we sent a few questions her way.
What’s this “hootie hoo” all about? Well, “hootie hoo” is a two-part call that my husband and I do when we’re out, you know, and we’re looking for each other—one will say “hootie” and the other will say “hoo”.
CPA , runway model, Top Chef finalist, TV host. How’d you have such an extraordinary series of careers? For me it was the fear of not liking my job, and I thought that if I actually just keep going in the direction of my interests, I would find the place that I wanted to stay. There came a time very early on in my accounting career that I was like, ‘I don’t wanna do this,’ ran off to Paris and modeled.
How do you keep your amazing figure when you’re around food all day? Well, I am fortunate enough to have a fast metabolic rate, and I’ve learned to eat in moderation. I work out a couple times a week—I have a trainer, SusieQ, who turns every wonderful place that I like into a torture chamber! And I walk a lot and take the stairs.
What’s your favorite Southern indulgence? Macaroni and cheese and also peach cobbler with peach ice cream. I know that counts as three, but I can’t have the cobbler without the ice cream.
What was your first food job? Well, does Baskin-Robbins count? I actually worked there scooping ice cream and making sundaes.
Name a Southern chef who inspires you. Kevin Gillespie, who was on Top Chef. I love what he has done with Southern food. And she’s not a chef, but I absolutely love Shirley Corriher, author of CookWise and BakeWise.
What was your most memorable Southern meal? I would have to say one of the Sunday suppers at my grandmother’s house, when we had a ton of family over. I remember the country ham, the rolls, and coleslaw and chicken, desserts and sweet tea, and the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. It just struck me as I looked, I’m like ‘this is so good—this food is so good!’
What’s the first thing your grandmother taught you to cook? I have to say it was biscuits. I remember Granny’s battered little tin biscuit cutter, and her rolling pin. Granny told me how to shape the biscuits, to put out just enough flour…she was gentle, yet firm and very deliberate with her biscuits. And they were delicious.
Is there a dish you make that might just possibly be better than hers? I actually like my macaroni and cheese better than my grandmother’s. I like my collard greens, but if it had not been for her, I wouldn’t have even been able to cook this dish. I kind of started where she left off, and then took it up a few notches. They didn’t get avant-garde or out there, but I think, the cooking techniques that I have learned just made it a tad bit better-just a tad!
Here’s a sneak peek from the book, complete with a recipe for those famous greens.
No Southern meal is complete without greens. Traditionally, they’re simmered long and slow until melty and soft. I love ’em that way, but actually prefer a little bite to them—both in their mustardy flavor and hearty leafy texture.Growing up in the South, I learned that the greens were sometimes besides the point. The pot likker—the leftover cooking broth—is what really matters, at least as much as the greens themselves. Traditionally, salt pork simmers alongside the greens to flavor the likker. I use smoked turkey wings to get a broth that’s just as tasty but has even more complex gamey, savory flavors. Be sure to serve this with Skillet Cornbread for sopping. And save any leftover likker to make soup.
2 pounds smoked turkey wings
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
2 quarts water
2 pounds collard greens, rinsed and dried
2 pounds kale, rinsed and dried
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a large pot, combine the turkey, garlic, chile flakes, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, prepare the greens: Working in batches, hold the stems of the collards with one hand and the leaves with the other, folding up the leaves together like the wings on a butterfly. Pull the leaves down, leaving the stem clean. If the leaves are really large, cut them down the center. Stack a few leaves, then roll them like a cigar. Slice the roll into thin shreds. Repeat with the remaining collard leaves, then with the kale.
3. Add the sliced greens to the pot and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Remove the wings and let cool until you can handle them. Pull the meat from the wings, discard the bones, and return the meat to the pot. Serve hot.
Note: Recipe not tested by Southern Living Test Kitchen
Excerpted from COOKING WITH LOVE: Comfort Food That Hugs You by Carla Hall with Genevieve Ko (Published by Free Press).