Even though her family has its roots in Oklahoma, Rachel Hollis is clearly a SoCal gal. Her family, like many others, migrated to Southern California during the Dust Bowl (also known as the Dirty Thirties) when severe dust storms caused by deep plowing changed the environment to severe drought conditions on the prairies. Country downhome style of cooking and hospitality are part of Rachel’s DNA. When she was seventeen, she moved to Los Angeles to chase her dreams of being an actress (and marry Matt Damon). When she learned that carbohydrates could not be part of her diet, she changed gears, and met her husband (not Matt Damon). She loved planning parties and in January 2004, she launched her company, Chic Events. She started with weddings and party-planning on a budget and then became a high-end luxury event planner. She began collecting photos of décor, centerpieces, etc. from her events and started talking about them (she was blogging even though she didn’t know what blogging was). Her mom was her Number One and only fan. But as she progressed, the fans started to follow her journey and couldn’t believe that a mayo-based dip could be so popular. Her Chic Site became so popular that she shifted the focus of her company to solely keep up the site with content. Rachel is someone that you would love to have as a friend (and as long as you like bacon, “We can be friends!”) She has a great sense of humor, often poking fun at herself, which makes her even more loveable.
The great thing about Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up, Rachel includes photos of the recipe as it is being made. She, like many of us, see the final photo in the cookbook (or sometimes no photo at all) after following the directions but it just doesn’t seem to look like the cookbook. Rachel provides the photos so you can cross-check yourself as you are going through the steps. Easy peasy!!!
I’d like to give a big thank you to Melissa’s culinary team and Rachel who prepared the following dishes with the utmost care and expertise.
In the “Snacks” chapter, Sticky Ham ‘n’ Cheese is a recipe all mid-west grandmas, aunties, cousins, and moms say they invented. It is made with dinner rolls, mayonnaise, deli ham, Swiss cheese, poppy seeds, Dijon mustard, butter, onion powder, and Worcestershire sauce. The ham and cheese sliders are great for parties and are quick and easy to make. Everyone will love the salty ham paired with the nutty melted Swiss cheese. Rating: 4.5/5
BLT Bites is a recipe that came from her event planning days. It is made with white bread, olive oil, mayonnaise, pesto, iceberg lettuce, cherry tomatoes, and bacon. It is an easy grab-and-go bite providing salty, smoky, meaty flavors from the bacon, crisp lettuce, and sweet tomato and herbaceous flavor from the pesto. This is great as passed hors d'oeuvres for a party or even just on the buffet. Rating: 5/5
In the “Dips” chapter, Rachel shares her friend Patty Fallahee’s recipe, which is also on the Chic Site. I can see why this is still one of their most popular posts. It’s my favorite dish as well. It is made with butter, onion, garlic, red bell pepper, corn, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, mayonnaise, cilantro, scallions, chipotle, hot sauce, salt, and pepper. It has all the flavors and textures you want in a dip – salty, sweet, salty, smoky, cheesy, and herbaceous. You can serve this with chips, crudités, or even toasted bread slices. Rating: 5/5
In the “Slow Cooker” chapter, Turkey Chili is one of the first dishes Rachel mastered as a newlywed. It is made with olive oil, ground turkey, onion, garlic, garlic salt, chili powder, black pepper, tomatoes, red kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, tomato sauce, and green chiles. This is a great dish to make on a Sunday so it can be quickly reheated for the rest of the week. As Rachel says, “the flavor gets better with every passing day”. It is so true. The longer the spices and vegetables meld together, the richer the flavor becomes. I also love that she uses 3 different kinds of beans as they have different textures and flavors. For us Hawaiians, a pot of sticky rice is always at the ready when it comes to chili. Rating: 4.5/5
In the “Potluck” chapter, there is Fresh Green Bean Salad. Rachel loves bacon and ranch dressing. She makes it a healthy eat with some fresh green beans. It is made with green beans, salt, mayonnaise, buttermilk, buttermilk ranch mix, cherry tomatoes, corn, bacon, and black pepper. This salad definitely has a potluck or picnic way about it. The green beans have a crunchy texture and sweet flavor which pair nicely with the ranch dressing and salty, smoky bacon. The corn and tomatoes add their sweet and juicy flavor to the mix. I can also see this at the Thanksgiving table in place of the traditional green bean casserole. Rating: 5/5
In the “Somethin’ Sweet” chapter, Cookie Pudding Pie is a downhome “parfait” dessert. It is made with chocolate chip cookie dough, chocolate pudding, milk, cream cheese, powdered sugar, and whipped topping. Serving them in preserve jars just makes it that much sweeter! This is just a fun comfort food, feel good dessert. This would be great at a party yet elegant enough for a seated dinner with family and friends. Rating: 4.5/5
In the “Sips” chapter, Grandma’s Sweet Tea is Rachel’s Grandma Opal’s recipe. It is made with water, black tea, sugar, and ice. Rachel has renewed my love of sweet tea. I’ve tried it numerous times at different places and just could not finish it. I think the use of sugar versus honey made the difference in this recipe. I love this sweet tea!!! Rating: 5/5
Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up provides fun in the kitchen while wowing your guests, family, friends, and co-workers!
For more information:
Upscale Downhome: Family Recipes, All Gussied Up by Rachel Hollis
Available on Amazon
On the search for an ingredient that you can’t find in the store, check out Melissa’s Produce.
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