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Lake Cabin Cuisine

Aug 20 2012

by Nealey Dozier

Image via Cook’s Country

Southern Recipe Posted by Nealey Dozier.

I grew up spending many blissed-out summers on Alabama’s bucolic Lake Martin, back when a lake cabin meant an actual cabin: one that reeked of damp towels and White Rain conditioner, with an endless trail of ants marching quietly along the kitchen sink.

Over the years, “the lake” has come to mean many things. As a child, it represented flag cake, James Taylor’s greatest hits, and the Fourth of July. As a teenager it epitomized too-short short shorts, the sweet smell of baby oil, and a fresh catch of local boys gathered at nearby Chimney Rock. By college, however, the lake meant Miller Lite, beer bonging contests, and assembling the world’s largest human floatilla.

I returned home from a couples’ lake trip this past weekend with the realization of how much the times have actually changed. Sure there were still short shorts and plenty of beer, and yes, there was even a late-night booze cruise (sober driver required). But instead of being the carefree, world-at-my-fingertips girl of my youth, I had become the notorious over-packer and worrywart of the bunch. You know, the dreaded G-word. (A grownup, if you hadn’t guessed.)

***

Our group would be together for just one night, and my only assignment was to bring a vegetable side to accompany dinner. While the onions caramelized and the salted zucchini purged, I decided to bake up my signature chocolate chip cookies—you know, just a little sweet treat to have on hand. But I got ahead of myself and next thing you know there’s Dixie Caviar and Knorr spinach dip chilling in the fridge and a batch of corn soup warming on the stove. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was overdoing it?

I blushed with embarrassment as my fiancé, Walt, heaved the giant plastic food bin into our car, leaving minimal room for any remaining luggage. But it was when I later passed the box over to the host that I really hung my head in shame. (He must have thought I was smuggling a body!) Hey, it may have only been an overnight trip, but I have learned from experience that you can never over-prepare for a group of cocktailing Southern men.

We dropped our bags, cracked open a couple of cold ones, and quickly slipped into lake mode as if there was no tomorrow. The men bated hooks and quietly fished along the dock while the ladies gathered in the kitchen to gossip and assemble dinner. Our savvy hostess grilled two beautiful butterflied chickens while I roasted my vegetable gratin and tossed together a simple salad. We gracefully danced around each other—one setting the table, another pouring wine—like we’d all been doing this for years.

I shouted down to the water to announce supper but nobody budged. I called again, this time with less patience for their obvious cold shoulder. Walt cast another line into the water and I clenched up in frustration. When are they ever going to learn to get it while it’s hot? Despite their sluggishness, dinner was a loud and raucous success. With nary a child or puppy in sight, the wine flowed fast and the conversation faster. A dirty joke here and a double dare there, and we were just like a bunch of rowdy teenagers again.

After the table was cleared and dishes put away, it was time for a famous “Lake Sinclair Float.” We piled into the pontoon and cruised towards the dark and empty night. The water was still and the sky was clear, setting the perfect stage for the thousands of stars on brilliant display. Unfortunately the peaceful moment would not last: the loud splash of a man overboard drew our short attentions spans away. Not wanting to be left out of the fun, the rest of the guys followed suit, and pretty soon our boat was rocking from an earth-moving belly flop quake.

We made it back to the dock safely, only to continue the party into the wee hours of the morning. Bill Withers blared from the speakers, and we all sang along in perfectly imperfect harmony. Some eventually headed to bed (or passed out in their lounge chairs) but those of us still awake were deeply rewarded for our efforts. Hundreds of shooting stars began darting across the black sky; it was a meteor shower to end all meteor showers. And with that magical finale, we finally hauled our exhausted bodies to bed—but not before every last cookie crumb was devoured along the way.

It was an epic evening, like any good lake night spent with friends should be. We may have been a little worse for the wear come morning, but it was worth the headache in the end. And call me what you will, but that Southern instinct to over-plan and over-feed came in pretty handy. After a mind-blowing breakfast of champions (and a Bloody Mary to boot), the only thing to return in that big food box was a half-eaten tub of cream cheese. I’d consider that a job well done.

Wine-and-Herb Butterflied Chicken
Recipe source: Cook’s Country

This is perhaps the best grilled chicken I’ve eaten, and I can’t emphasize enough how simple yet flavorful it truly is. The recipe is completely hands off— just chill the bird in the marinade, pat dry, and grill low and slow to perfection.

2 
cups dry white wine
3
 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3
 tablespoons good quality olive oil
2
 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2
 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2
 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
4
 garlic cloves, minced
1
 teaspoon pepper
2
 tablespoons kosher salt
1 
(4-pound) whole chicken, butterflied

Add wine, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, thyme, brown sugar, garlic, and pepper into a blender and process until smooth. Remove 1/4 cup of the wine mixture and set aside for later. Add the salt to the remaining marinade and pulse to mix.

Prick the entire chicken with a fork or skewer. Place the chicken in a large zipper-lock bag along with salted marinade. Seal and turn to thoroughly coat. Place chicken in a large baking dish and refrigerate, breast side down, for 2 to 3 hours.

FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Turn ­secondary burner(s) to low and ­primary burner to medium. (Adjust primary burner as needed to maintain grill temperature between 350 and 375 degrees.)

Remove chicken from the bag and discard used marinade. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Thoroughly coat the cooking grates with oil. Place chicken, skin side down, over the cooler part of the grill, with legs closet to the hotter part of the grill. Cover and cook chicken until it is golden brown, and the thigh meat registers 160 degrees, about 50 to 65 minutes.

Brush the chicken with half of the reserved marinade. Flip chicken skin side up and transfer to the hotter part of the grill. Brush with remaining marinade. Cover and cook until breast meat registers 160 degrees and thigh meat registers 175 degrees, about 10 to 15 minutes more.

Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Tent loosely with aluminum foil and rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking. So she took to the kitchen and began re-creating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking, and eating, full-time. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.

Enjoy this southern recipe in this collection of our southern cuisine – let’s gather the best southern food ideas for The Southern Coterie cookbook.

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