For those who have not read the works of Grady Hendrix, let me give you a title to whet your appetite: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.
I know the title grabbed me alone. But this horrific ode to late 80’s/early 90’s southern suburbia kept me from putting the book down after cracking it open. Author of bestselling My Best Friend’s Exorcism (next week’s post) and the upcoming The Final Girls Support Group, Hendrix blends horror with humor. A common thread I’ve noticed is that his monsters are not nearly as scary as the aspects of society that enable them.
Click here to skip to the recipe for Grace’s Cheese Straws.
Click here to skip to the recipe for Re-Gifted Taco Casserole.
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
SBC’s Guide to Slaying Vampires follows housewife Patricia Campbell in an affluent white Charleston suburb known for its safe streets and Reagan-era southern hospitality. Overwhelmed with two kids, a mother-in-law with dementia, and a workplace-dwelling husband, Patricia finds solace in her weekly true-crime book club.
It is more than a book club, though. Slick, Grace, Kitty, and Maryellen become her best friends and support network. Their friendship comes to the ultimate test when faced with new neighbor James Harris. James is charismatic, handsome, and also a vampire. Trigger warning, there is absolutely invasive body horror involved in this story on multiple levels. However, to me, that’s not nearly as scary as the true monster in this book.
Hendrix highlights the problem with the patriarchy through James’s ease in manipulating it. He wins over the book club’s husbands with sports talk and financial opportunities. All the while, children from the black-dominated outskirts start disappearing or wasting away. Even with evidence, Patricia is gaslit and silenced.
It becomes clear that the picket fences and clean streets are only a facade for patriarchal society more concerned with the social order than safety. James may feed off people’s blood. But the rich white men of the Old Village feed off everyone they consider below them — even their own wives.
I don’t want to give too much more away but know this. This book is absolutely worth a read. All that heavy talk is making me hungry, though. Let’s slay some snacks, shall we?
I promised casserole, didn’t I? I know most folks tend to associate America with apple pie or burgers. For me, a child of midwesterners in multiple Army base suburbs, it was always casserole. I mean, it’s easy. You layer ingredients — mostly prepackaged, leftover, or canned, then bake or freeze it for later. With that, today’s recipe is inspired by the following scene from when Patricia welcomes James Harris to the neighborhood after his aunt dies:
Friends and relatives had dropped by the house all Friday and brought Patricia six bunches of flowers, two copies of Southern Living and one copy of Redbook, three casseroles (corn, taco, spinach), a pound of coffee, a bottle of wine, and two pies (Boston cream, peach). She decided regifting a casserole was appropriate, given the situation, so she took out the taco one to thaw.
Patricia wrote a quick note (So sorry for your loss, The Campbells) and taped it to the tin foil over the taco casserole, then walked down the warming streets to Ann Savage’s cottage, the freezing cold casserole held in front of her.
I mean, it’s already awkward since said aunt died after attacking her in what is thought to be a dementia rage fit. Why not smooth things over with a pyrex full of re-constituted leftovers?
Speaking of leftovers, I figured I’d incorporate some into the recipe. The book’s two other food items of note are Swedish meatballs served in a “boiled ketchup” sauce and cheese straws. So I decided to make the ground beef portion of this casserole into meatballs using saltines, then blend taco seasoning into the ketchup-based sauce.
My main mistake? Too much liquid and not letting the meat mixture chill before making it into meatballs. I ended up with mini-burger/sloppy joe bites, so I adjusted the recipe to make them a little sturdier. If you prefer the mix a little looser, skip chilling the meat before forming meatballs. The result tastes like tacos and sloppy joes — so basically the American 1990’s suburbs.
I then layered this mixture over cooked rice and refried beans before topping it with some chopped-up cheese straws. What are cheese straws? Think crispy cheddar crackers with a shortbread cookie consistency. They’re also highly addictive, and while you could buy them in the store, they’re harder to find the further you get from the Mason-Dixon line. That’s why I’ve also included a recipe for cheese straws. You’re welcome.
So whether you are reading true crime, slaying vampires, or smashing the patriarchy with your best friends, this taste of nostalgia is bound to please. And while I’m on my soapbox– get vaccinated, start a book club with other vaccinated folks, read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, and cook a casserole.
P.S. – Keep an eye out for next week’s post for fried ice cream inspired by Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism!
Sing for your Supper!
If you plan to cook the recipes off the site, keep scrolling. However, while access to recipes on the blog will always be free, I also have printable PDF recipe cards and thematic cook-along Spotify playlists as rewards for those who choose to support the blog.
The printable recipe cards and playlist for Grace’s Cheese Straws and Re-gifted Taco Casserole will be available as a $2 donor reward on my Ko-Fi page until the next post goes up.
You can instead join my Patreon community at the “Sing for your Supper” level ($1/month) for access to the playlists or the “It’s All in the Cards” level ($5/month) or higher for access to ALL of my blog recipe cards and playlists. Patrons of all reward tiers will even receive a welcome gift of my Lord of the Rings recipe cards and playlists from January 2019 to get you started.
Book Club Casserole
Re-gifted Taco Casserole
Equipment: Oven, 9″x13″ casserole dish, 12-inch skillet, and mixing bowl.
- 2 cups cooked rice
- 1 lb ground beef
- a packet of taco seasoning
- 1 cup crushed crackers
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup milk
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 2 Tb yellow mustard
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3/8 cup brown sugar
- 16 oz can refried beans
- 2 cups Mexican blend cheese
- 3/4 cup chopped cheese straws
- 1/2 sweet onion, minced
- shredded lettuce
- diced tomatoes
- sliced olives.
- Beat the egg in a mixing bowl, then add the beef, onion, and milk. Mix well, then blend in the crushed crackers one handful at a time. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before forming into 1-inch meatballs.
- While waiting for the meat to chill, coat the inside of the casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread the rice to cover the bottom of the dish. Then scoop and spread the refried beans on top.
- Blend the ketchup, mustard, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and taco seasoning in a separate container. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Then preheat a skillet over medium heat for 3 minutes.
- Add the meatballs to the hot pan, let them sit for a minute, then stir cook to brown all sides until cooked through. Drain the grease if there is any, then deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup of water.
- Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, then stir in the ketchup mixture. Cook until the sauce thickens, then transfer to the casserole dish. Spread the meatballs in an even layer and top with cheese.
- Bake the casserole for 12 minutes, then sprinkle the cheese straws over its surface. Return to the oven for another 7 minutes, then let cool at least 5 minutes before garnishing with lettuce, tomato, and olives.
Grace's Cheese Straws
Equipment: Oven, stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cheese grater (or food processor with a grater attachment), two baking sheets, spatula, cooling rack, fork, pizza cutter, and parchment paper.
- 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 and 1/2 tsp chili powder
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
- Grate the cheese with a grater or food processor with a grater attachment. Prep and measure your other ingredients.
- Add the butter, cheese, spices, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until fluffy — about 5 minutes.
- Gradually add the flour as the mixer runs — stopping intermittently to scrape down the sides with a spatula. Once added, continue to run the mixer until it turns from crumbs to a workable dough.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Divide the dough into eighths. Working with one portion at a time, roll the dough with your hands to form a 1-inch-thick log. Using a pizza cutter, cut 2-inch lengths and arrange them on the baking sheet.
- Flatten the pieces lengthwise with the back of a fork. Then bake each pan for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned.
- Let the cheese straws cool on the pans for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.