Tammy Algood knows busy parents don’t have much time to make their children’s meals. So after last year’s “Farm Fresh Southern Cooking: Straight From the Garden to Your Dinner Table,” the Nashville-based writer began planning a follow-up that parents could use as a resource, depending on how much time they had. “In a Snap! Tasty Southern Recipes You Can Make in 5, 10, 15, or 30 Minutes” was released in June, and despite the Southern focus, it’s not greasy meats and gravy. “Southern cooking has always centered around vegetables,” says Algood, 52. “Even though we tend to think of Southern cooking as a big huge platter of fried chicken, what people forget is that that was probably the only meat on the table and the table legs were really buckling from all of the vegetables that were surrounding that.”
Q. Chapters are organized by the time it takes to make these dishes. What’s the margin for error in those calculations?
A. The challenge of this cookbook was making absolutely sure that the timing on these were exact. I knew that I couldn’t really test these recipes myself because I’m a fast chopper and measurer and mixer because I do it every day. So my husband was the preparer while I sat with a timer for probably three-fourths of the recipes. And the reason I cut him off at three-fourths is because then he started getting much faster. It’s a great lesson in the more you do things, the faster you get at it. So when he started getting faster, I recruited my neighbor lady Thelma. The last thing that I wanted was for a busy mom to open up that cookbook and she’s got the 10 minutes to prepare this recipe and it took her 20. I knew that she would never pick up the cookbook again if that was her experience. Some of those recipes in the five-minute section can be done in three.
Q. How important was affordability?
A. I didn’t want recipes that demanded that you go to the supermarket to buy a certain ingredient to use in one recipe and then it sat on your shelf months later. I wanted things that were affordable because the moms I surveyed, most of them are really watching their food budgets. I really wanted to make sure that the things in there were, one, easy to be found, and two, very affordable.
Q. Do you have any suggestions for packing a lunchbox?
A. Kids love cheese. There’s a pecan pimiento cheese that was the recipe that received the highest marks when I kid-tested it, even though I had a lot of kids that didn’t think they liked pimiento cheese. I knew that if mom could make it and the kids would like it that moms and dads like pimiento cheese, too. So that’s the one that is my immediate go-to recipe because it is so easy and so delicious. That can be a spread, that can be on a sandwich, you can use it when you grill. Also, the carrot fries are so enormously healthy and so easy to make. Basically you can do this with anything, any vegetables that are coming in right now or that your kids particularly like. So if they’re not crazy about carrots, you can switch it to zucchini or summer squash, because the roasting technique is the same. I even did some fries with that same technique with small pods of okra and kids loved it. It’s crispy, it’s packable in a lunch box, and it’s more healthy than putting a bag of chips in there.
Q. What’s the easiest thing in the book for exhausted parents at the end of the day?
A. Another very highly rated kid-friendly thing is the tangy mustard dip. There’s a wonderfully quick recipe in there for a tangy mustard dip that can be used for anything. You could use it for carrots, pretzels, any kinds of chips. Not only is it easy but it tides them over and sometimes I think that if you can just get kids a little something healthy in their tummies for that five minutes, then you’ve got a little bit of an extra window there to get a good dinner ready for them.
Q. OK, now you’ve bought enough time to whip up one of the 30-minute recipes. What do you make?
A. An apple and cheese dinner pie. It is a beautiful recipe to make and it looks like it took a lot longer than it did. By changing up the cheese in that, you can get the tastebuds of just about any child. The apples add a nice, good, healthy crunch to it. Kids looked at that as kind of a dessert pizza even though I really didn’t intend for it to be that. I like that recipe done with blue cheese; that’s not a recipe that a lot of kids like. You can substitute a good cheddar cheese and it’s just as lovely and kid-friendly.