Family meals lead to good food, good conversation

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 1, 2007

As one of six children in his family, English teacher at John Essex High School Lorenzo McCants said it was natural for him to pick up the art of cooking.

Some of their favorite things to make, McCants said, were cookies, homemade doughnuts and fried sweet potatoes with brown sugar.

One of the first recipes McCants said he remembers baking with was a recipe from the back of a Down Cake Flour box, which he first used as a recipe for a layer cake and then later as a pound cake.

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When he was out on his own is when he began the tradition of making Sunday dinners for his friends and families, something he continues to do here in Demopolis. On a regular basis, McCants said his house is full of people enjoying food and good conversation.

McCants said he usually tries to do Sunday dinners twice a month, and on average will feed 10 to 15 people.

Another regular tradition is during the annual Christmas on the River celebration. McCants will fill his counters with sweets and invite friends over to take some of what they like. The idea came from his friends all requesting different cakes and specialties over the years.

Eventually, he said, he would make everybody&8217;s favorite and let them choose. His celebrations have also grown to include light dinners too, such as sandwiches, pasta salad, gumbo, soup and chili.

McCants said he is also responsible for cooking holiday dinners when he goes to visit his parents, Emma and Rev. Amos Powell, in Mobile for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Over the years, McCants said, he has become more conscious of healthier cooking for those in his family with health concerns such as people who are diabetic or who are trying to reduce their cholesterol with less salt in their diets. This hasn&8217;t changed the taste of his food, however.

In addition to cooking, McCants also has experience in gardening and growing his own vegetables. This year, he said, his garden suffered because of the drought, but he was still able to get tomatoes, okra, squash and cucumbers.

He said most of his vegetables go to making soup, one of his favorite things to make, especially for his older friends.

When it comes to recipes, McCants said he relies more on the method than any actual recipes.

If he does use recipes, or pre-bought mixes for cakes or anything else, McCants said he uses them merely as a base to make something even better.

Another one of his specialties is wedding cakes, which is a recent addition to his cooking arsenal. He was approached by one of his former students to do her wedding cake. It was also the first time he had worked with fondant.

When McCants isn&8217;t cooking for friends or working on a wedding cake with his sister Amy, he said he loves to watch the Food Network. His favorite television chef is Paula Dean.

Another Food Network favorite is watching the competitions, which feature themed cakes and also Bobby Flay&8217;s &8220;Throwdown.&8221;

McCants&8217; philosophy of food is much like his philosophy on life, &8220;I just enjoy it.&8221;

Diabetic-Friendly Banana Pudding

1 1.5 oz. package banana sugar-free instant pudding mix

1 1 oz. package vanilla sugar-free instant pudding mix

5 cups fat free milk

1 8 oz. container frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed

1 11 oz. package reduced fat vanilla wafers, about 45

7 medium-sized ripe bananas, sliced

Combine pudding mixes and prepare according to package directions, using 5 cups of milk and a wire whisk. Add sour cream and one-third of whipped topping to pudding; stir well. Line a 9×13 baking dish with vanilla wafers; reserve remaining wafers. Arrange bananas over wafers. Pour pudding mixture over bananas. Line edge of dish with wafers, reserving four wafers to crumble and sprinkle on top. Cover and chill. Sprinkle crumbled wafers over topping before serving.

7 Up Pound Cake

3 sticks butter

3 cups sugar

6 eggs

3 cups plain flour

3 teaspoons lemon flavor

1 cup 7 Up

Cream butter. Add sugar and cream together. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg. Add the flour and mix well. Add the lemon flavor and 7 Up. Pour batter into a well-greased 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 340 degrees for one hour to one hour and 15 minutes. Let cake cool in pan for about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and let cool completely before placing on a serving dish.

Cowboy Cookies

1 cup margarine

1 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 cups plain flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups oatmeal

1 teaspoon vanilla flavor

1 cup raisins

1 cup pecans

1 cup coconut

Mix margarine and sugars well. Beat in eggs. Stir in flour mixture. Add oatmeal, vanilla, raisins, pecans and coconut. Drop with tablespoon onto a well-greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes until light brown. Recipe makes five dozen cookies. Recipe doubles easily for large gatherings. Substitute chocolate chips for raisins, if desired.

Hospitality Pie

3 graham cracker pie crusts

2 cups coconut

1 stick butter or margarine

1 cup pecans

1 can sweetened condensed milk

16 ounces Cool Whip

8 ounces cream cheese

Melt butter or margarine in a large skillet. Add the coconut and pecans. Stir until coconut is browned. Set aside until cooled, several hours. In a large mixing bowl; beat the cream cheese until smooth. Blend in the sweetened condensed milk. Add the Cool Whip and two-thirds of the coconut mixture. Spoon the mixture into the three graham cracker crusts. Sprinkle remaining coconut mixture on top of each pie. Refrigerate until well set.

Kelli Wright is a staff writer for The Times. She can be reached by e-mail to

Editor&8217;s note: In the Aug. 18 edition of The Times the recipe for Lil&8217; Peter&8217;s Poundcake was misprinted. It should have read:

Lil Peter&8217;s Pound Cake

2 sticks of margarine

1 stick of butter

2 teaspoons lemon flavoring

3 teaspoons vanilla flavoring

3 cups sugar

5 eggs

4 cups flour

1 cup sweet milk

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Cream margarine, butter, flavorings and sugar until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time; beat until well mixed and fluffy. Add 1 cup flour and 1/3 cup milk; mix with spatula and continue to beat until well mixed.

Mix baking powder with remaining flour; add with remaining milk to batter. Pour into greased and floured steeple pan. Bake in 325 degree oven for one hour and 10 minutes.

Be sure cake is golden brown and is pulling away from pan before removing from oven. Cake is done when the cake tester comes out of the cake clean. Glaze or frost as desired. May also be put in to 3×9 inch layer pans.