Heck Yeah Pies: Sugar Cookie Sandwiches with Chocolate Filling

You might not believe it with my penchant for free-form and fail-proof recipes, but I actually started my love affair with food wanting to be a pastry chef. A few of the church ladies in my hometown could make these beautiful cakes literally in their back yards, and that’s what I wanted to do.

This looks beautiful but it was probably a pain to make.
This looks beautiful but was probably a pain to make.

I realized over time though that baking and decorating at that level is a precise, complicated, and expensive procedure. That was not going to quite fit with my quirky, slapshod, crazy artist self. So I did what I do best and started finding shortcuts to these beautiful dishes.

The first truly Southern dessert I fell in love with was this red velvet Whoopie pie at a local chain bakery. Going in I wasn’t expecting much from a chain, but boy was I wrong. This dessert was more than I even could have expected. For those of you who don’t know, a Whoopie pie is two fluffy rounds somewhere between a cake and a cookie sandwiched around frosting. Combining cake and cookies seemed like a natural idea to me.

This is my home cooking take on a Whoopie pie. I call it a Heck Yeah pie since they aren’t really Whoopie pies, and “Heck yeah!” is the modern Southern “Whoopie!” It’s simple as you hopefully have come to expect from me, but it packs a sugary punch. It’s two sugar cookies topped with melted powdered sugar and sandwiching chocolate icing.

Here’s the recipe! Feel free to save it in your recipe Rolodex! Please comment or message me if you want a PDF version!

INGREDIENTS

  • Sugar cookie dough (I use store-bought, but you can make your own.)
  • Powdered sugar
  • Chocolate frosting

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the sugar cookies on a baking sheet.
  2. Sprinkle the cookies liberally with powdered sugar.
  3. Bake the cookies for the minimum time
    according to package or recipe directions. (This makes the cookies richer, chewier, and all together more delicious.)
  4. Once baked, take the cookies out of the oven and let them sit until hardened enough to work with.
  5. Make sandwiches with the frosting. Take one cookie and spread frosting on the bottom. Then top with another cookie with the bottom touching the frosting.
  6. Enjoy immediately or save on a plate topped with plastic wrap at room temperature.
These taste divine and couldn't be simpler to make.
These taste divine and couldn’t be simpler to make.

I hope you love these as much as I do!

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Music Missive: Maddie & Tae and “Start Here”

Every so often, I find an album or a song or an artist that I just can’t keep to myself. That’s when I’ll share them here in what I call the “Music Missives”.


I first heard these musicians when most everyone else did, when they burst onto the scene with their feminist country anthem “Girl in a Country Song”. With this song, Maddie Marlow and Taylor Dye, known to the world as Maddie & Tae, told us all that they were bringing a young, modern take to country music. This made me think that my friends and I might have a new act who we could relate to, one that stood for equality and love.

Maddie & Tae’s debut album Start Here didn’t disappoint. As writers, these women perfectly capture what it’s like to be a young adult these days.

They help us express the ambivalent feelings about growing up that we or at least I couldn’t on “The Downside of Growing Up” and understand the somewhat overwhelming possibilities of the future and chasing dreams on “Waitin’ on a Plane”. These singers are anything but somber though. Their vengeful “Sierra” and country-to-the-core “Shut Up and Fish” show that Maddie & Tae can make us laugh just as easily as they can make us cry.

Plus the music is excellent in its own right. Beyond the bro country influences used to make the satire of “Girl in a Country Song” work as well as it does, Start Here really owes much of its sound to 90’s artists such as Martina McBride and Faith Hill and folksy country like that of lablemate Taylor Swift’s early work. Strong and simple acoustic guitars, heartfelt steel bends, and tight harmonies, especially on anthematic tunes like “After the Storm Blows Through” and “Right Here, Right Now”, help make this album country at its finest.

My personal favorite on this album though is the girls’ current single “Fly”. All about chasing dreams and making it up as you learn and grow along, this song really speaks to this dreamer who decided to take a leap and follow his true passions for writing and food by writing a blog.


All in all, Maddie & Tae understand us, the young guns just trying to make it through, and Start Here tells our stories.

An Open Letter

Dear Freshmen,

I would have written this earlier, but everyone else was doing it, and to be honest, I can’t stand to do what everyone else does.

Consider this an open letter. I’m going to give you the best advice I have that you didn’t ask for but that I wish someone would have told me when I was getting started in college.

First things first. If you’re anything like me, your first few weeks of college have not been exactly what you were expecting. You’ve probably been to many less parties than you planned and watched way more Netflix than you intended to. I want you to know that you are not alone. I love pop culture, but the media does a fantastic job of creating a picture of college that no one can really meet up to, at least not and be healthy. If you partied as much and stayed up as late as the college kids you see on TV and in the movies, you would most likely turn into a dribbling, neurotic mess. College is an amazing phase of life but not for the reasons you might have thought. College is all about finding your passions, making friends, and becoming the best you can be. As long as you do your best and live every moment to the fullest, your college experience will be what you make it.

Secondly, even though it doesn’t feel like it all the time, there are people all around you who care about you and want the best for you. When I was a freshman, I didn’t talk to many people, so I felt very alone. Now that I’m actually part of the school though, I know that people from resident assistants to professors to campus leaders want you to succeed and be happy. It’s hard, but don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and reach out and ask for help. People will be there to catch you.

Finally, and this is my biggest belief, you will be okay. It may not be in a way that you expect, but you will find your way. If you had asked me four years ago what I would be doing today, I would have told you that I’d have dropped out of school and become a pop singer. Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be looking at graduate schools for higher education and cultivating a Southern lifestyle blog. I probably wouldn’t have said this because I didn’t know lifestyle blogging and working with college students professionally were things people did. But I realized thanks to encouragement from friends, family, and mentors, that we can all do whatever we want. We may not reach the ideal of success we’ve grown used to, but if we’re doing what we love and were made to do, we’re succeeding.

In short, please remember that you are loved. And valuable. And powerful. No one can do what you can do because no one else can be you. And starting college can be hard, but if you just keep going, you will be okay, and I’d bet even happy.

Your friend,
Jay

P.S. Here’s a song that moved me to tears when I heard it my freshman year. I hope it helps you.

Perfect-for-a-Party Popcorn Chicken

This last week has been bonkers! In a good way.

I’ve helped with throwing two parties in one week, one a small surprise birthday party for one of my close friends named Ben Fairchild and the other a big bash for the residents in the hall in which I serve as a resident assistant. Throwing parties is hard work y’all!

But these kind of events really show what I love about the South. Down here, we all want to be there for our loved ones whether that’s friends, co-workers, family, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a husband or wife, or even your friendly local veterinarian. At its best, the South is all about community.

Being the artsy, crafty guy in all my friend groups, it always seems that I end up either cooking for the party or leading it all together. Either way, being a broke college student, I usually need to entertain a good number of people for a small budget. It’s definitely a puzzle, but there’s no better feeling than seeing a group of people enjoying your work of love.

My two takes on one of my favorite foods, popcorn chicken!
My two takes on one of my favorite foods, popcorn chicken!

This is a dish I made for the resident party earlier this week. I call it Southern Party Popcorn Chicken, and it’s essentially popcorn chicken two ways. Basically, you cook pre-made popcorn chicken from the frozen foods section and then dress it up in its party clothes. I do mine two ways, a sweet and spicy Cajun and a simple and savory Italian, but you can dress them up in any way you want. Here’s my take and, as always in blog world, a download link!

INGREDIENTS

For the Sweet and Spicy Cajun Flavor

  • 1 bag of frozen popcorn chicken
  • Hot sauce (pref. Crystal)
  • Honey
  • Cajun seasoning

For the Simple and Savory Italian Flavor

  • 1 bag of frozen popcorn chicken
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic seasoning
  • Italian seasoning
  • Salt

INSTRUCTIONS

For the Sweet and Spicy Cajun Flavor

  1. Liberally season the frozen chicken with the cajun seasoning.
  2. Cook the chicken according to the bag directions until just under overcooked.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the hot sauce and honey in two parts honey to three parts hot sauce.
  4. Once the chicken is cooked, let it sit for just a minute to cool.
  5. Dump the chicken into the hot sauce-honey sauce and toss to coat. 6. Serve hot.

For the Simple and Savory Italian Flavor

  1. Lightly toss the frozen chicken in extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Season the frozen chicken with the garlic seasoning, Italian seasoning, and salt.
  3. Cook the chicken according to the bag directions until just under overcooked.
  4. Serve hot.

Feel free to download this recipe and save it in your recipe Rolodex!

Perfect-for-a-Party Popcorn Chicken

I hope you enjoy these party-pleasing dishes and that your next bash will be amazing and have a little Southern kick!

Songs of the South

My dream with this blog is to share the Southern suburban life I love with the world. From art to sports to obviously food, I truly believe that Southern suburbia is a special place with a people and a culture all its own.

I think it’d be super cool to listen to this playlist while reading this essay. I’ll explain it very shortly!

I grew up in a musical family, and I was a band kid for my junior and senior years of and a show choir kid from sixth grade to graduation. So you could say that music is huge in my life.

 

Of course, being an oddball, I never really connected to the music my peers did. I always found contemporary county a little too hillbilly-esque. I never rode “around on a big green tractor”. And I never really could relate to the party anthems on pop radio. Most of my “last Friday nights” were spent playing with my dogs and watching reality television.
My senior year show choir portrait!
My senior year show choir photo sesh! #AllTheSequins

 

So I started to find my own music. It was just on the outskirts of both pop and country. Starting with the first CD I ever bought, Dolly Parton’s Backwoods Barbie, I found music that I could relate to. This music gradually became the sound I connect to home.
This sound is what I want to share with you through this post. I’ve created a playlist of songs that sound like home to me and chosen some lyrics from them that make me smile especially big. I hope you love these tunes and maybe use them while you’re cooking Southern food wherever your kitchen may be.

 

“I often think about where I have been, where I am going, and that’s about when I think about home. I’ll never be lost as long as I know there’s a place like that I can go.”

 

This perfectly says why I’m so passionate about Southern suburbia. It’s my home, and it makes me happy.

 

“I’d rather ride in a Chevy truck than a Ferrari. Give me a cheeseburger. I ain’t eating no calamari.”

 

While I have eaten and do appreciate calamari, I’ll take a cheeseburger every day of the week.

 

“Just another Sunday in the South, wanna put on some Shenandoah and crank it loud. You and me go fishin’ in the dark, killing time with Restless Heart.”

 

My inspiration for this post actually came from this song. Music really does take us places.

 

“Thank God for hometowns and all the love that makes you go round. Thank God for the county lines that welcome you back in when you were dying to get out.”

 

After meeting so many people from so many different places in college, it seems to me that so much of who we are comes from where we grew up, and I’m thankful for growing up in Clinton, Mississippi.

 

“God bless the American housewife. How she does it all I’ll never know. She could use a miracle for sure, cleaning up the world for you and me.”

 

Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings sang that their heroes had always been cowboys. Well my heroes have always been American housewives, women who dedicate their lives to making good lives for others. My mom is obviously my number one hero but my aunts Kathryn Kucia, Penny Wilkinson, Joni Wilkinson, and Cindy Newman, and older friends Kim Pigott, Cindy Black, and Bae Waller, were the people I admired as a kid and even now. This may be my favorite song on this list.

 

“Isn’t that everything? I don’t need anything. It’s only the simple things I believe that matter most in life. I’m more than satisfied. All that I have is all I need.”

 

As long as I have food, music, books, family, and friends, I’m happy.

 

“Anywhere you hold my hand is Love Land.”

 

Life isn’t easy, and I’m sure I’ll tell you more about mine as we go on this journey together. But I believe that if you’re with the people you love, everything truly will be okay and life is beautiful.

 

“Oh it’s a magical thing when the sun is shining down on me, and this is such a beautiful place. Don’t want to miss a minute of today. It’s so magical.”

 

At this point, this one probably needs no explanation.

 

This is the street I live on!
This is the street I live on!

Jerry’s Mac and Cheese

My dad's kind of mac and cheese!
My dad’s kind of mac and cheese!

Like most Southerners, I learned how to cook by helping my mom in the kitchen. But my culinary education had a little something extra.

My dad actually had the biggest influence on my taste buds. A super successful lawyer, he doesn’t have much time to cook, but my dad, Jerry Kucia, has the best taste in food that I’ve ever encountered. He taught me how to appreciate great food and inspired me to get into the kitchen to try to make it myself. My dad’s favorite foods are extravagant, succulent, and infused with tons of spice. Good ole Jerry, or “G” as kids love to call him, is also Korean, so “tons of spice” really means tons of spice!

This macaroni and cheese is a traditional Southern mac and cheese but with a twist inspired by my dad’s rich, flavorful taste. Made creamy by three kinds of cheese, spicy by my dad’s favorite Tobasco sauce, and savory by bacon bits, this mac and cheese is like none you’ve tasted before!

Here’s the recipe and a download link!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 box mac and cheese (pref. Kraft)
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 2/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, plus some for topping
  • 1/2 cup bacon bits
  • 1/2 – 1 tablespoon hot sauce (pref. Tobasco)
  • Salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Prepare the macaroni and cheese according to package directions.
  3. Mix in the cottage cheese, 2/3 cup cheddar cheese, and bacon bits.
  4. Season the mixture with hot sauce, salt, and pepper, to taste.
  5. Pour the mixture into a baking dish.
  6. Top the dish liberally with sharp cheddar cheese.
  7. Bake the dish for 10 minutes or until the cheese topping begins to form a crust.
  8. Serve immediately.

Feel free to download this recipe and save it in your recipe Rolodex!

Jerry’s Mac and Cheese

I really hope you love this recipe as much as I do! Please let me know what you think in the reply partition below and be sure to let me know what classic Southern dish you’d like to see seasoned with Southernease next!

Who Am I?

What a strange question! And also a daunting one.

Profile Picture
“This is real. This is me. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be now.” #FlashbackLyric

How do you describe yourself in one essay?

I guess I would call myself an artist of Southern suburbia. My name is Jay Kucia, and since birth, I’ve lived in and loved the suburbs of the South. I know not many people are passionate about what good old Mellencamp described as the land of “little pink houses”, but for me, the suburbs are all about family and community and have such a rich cultural history.

The South is one of the most illustrious lands  in the world for the arts. Growing up in the birthplace of more than one style of design, music, and food, just to name a few, I couldn’t ask for a better home. I was a loner as a kid, but the arts gave me the ticket to my own deep-fried paradise.

My very favorite thing though is when Southern art meets suburban culture. That’s when great movies like Steel Magnolias, legendary music like Shania Twain and Rascal Flatts, and delicious foods from fried chicken and waffles to the all-American meatloaf bring families of all kinds together around the table.

This food is what I want to share with you.

Inspired by my giant hard-working old-school Southern family who have taught me to cook my culture with limited time and money, I am your guide to Southern convenience cooking. I believe that everyone should always be able to cook the world-famous food of the South and come together  around the table with friends and family to eat the goods.

I hope you’ll join me here on this blog as I share my Southern suburban life with you and especially every Monday as I teach you how to cook with Southernease.