By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
Country music superstar Trisha Yearwood returns Thursday to the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall, a venue she describes as being one of her Top 10.
"It's one of the best places to sing. You can sit on that stage without a microphone," she said by phone from her home in Tulsa, Okla. "It's a classy joint."
But Yearwood has another reason for her Ruth Eckerd affection: The venue's chef, Sally Milano, once gave her a great sugar-free lemon meringue pie recipe.
One of the highest-selling female artists in country music history, Yearwood is also a New York Times bestselling cookbook author, having released Georgia Cooking in an Oklahoma Kitchen in 2008 and Home Cooking With Trisha Yearwood in 2010.
"It was a complete accident, honestly. I had moved up to Oklahoma and wanted to pare down to be with Garth (Brooks, her also-famous husband) and the girls. I was looking for other things to do and was approached about writing an autobiography. I wasn't interested, but I said, 'What about a cookbook?' It came out of something I really do. My mom and sister and I all cook."
After writing the two books, she said talk of a cooking show was an inevitable next step. She did six shows for the Food Network, and while the network was evaluating her, she was testing it out to see if it was fun. The learning curve was steep.
"My job is to make sure that what we're doing on camera gets explained and then we give the back story from our childhood. But then we need to go back and get 'pick up' (something filmed after the fact to augment footage already shot) and they're asking, 'Which hand did you have the butter in?'"
She must have guessed correctly on the butter, because Trisha's Southern Kitchen is now in its fourth season. She sees parallels between her singing career and her time in a test kitchen in front of the cameras.
"The best thing that I bring in my live show is that it's not scripted. It's more of a conversation with my audience. And that's what people like about the show — it's very real. There are mistakes and laughter."
To new cooks, she urges courage.
"My knife skills aren't much better now than when I started the show. But the thing that matters is not being afraid. A lot of people that come through the book-signing line are country music fans and they say they can't cook. I say, 'Look at this meatloaf recipe. It has four ingredients. You can't screw that up.' My biggest advice is to not be afraid."
At home, she tests out new recipes on Brooks, whose favorites, she says, are obvious (but even the not-so-good dishes get a polite "it's good" from him — clearly his mama raised him right). Yearwood points to her key lime cake (a recipe from a childhood friend named Angela) as perhaps an all-time favorite from her books, and she says Brooks' own taco pizza invention will appear in her next book. But aside from the opportunity to innovate, she cherishes her two cookbooks as a way to record family recipes that were never written down.
"Things like my grandma's cornbread dressing my mom had been making for so long. I told her the next time you make it you need to measure," she says of her mother, who has since passed away. "I'm so glad to have it. That's a part of what I love about it. I made my mom's brownies for the Super Bowl. They are good because they're not too sweet, but I also love them because they are her."
Laura Reiley can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.