What a treat I have for you today, dear readers. We are joined by Charleston-based food stylist, recipe developer, and author of The Duke’s Mayonnaise Cookbook, Ashley Strickland Freeman. You’ve likely seen her work in Southern Living, Garden & Gun, and on the Food Network. Her simple, flavorful dishes ranging from properly Southern to internationally touted provide kitchen inspiration in spades. I was first introduced to Ashley’s culinary talents six years ago at my sister-in-law’s baby shower (they are lifelong friends) where a chance encounter with a tray of fruit tarts left me weak in the knees.
I’ve since fed my fix for Ashley’s incredible cuisine by making several recipes from her most recent volume celebrating Duke’s, the South’s favorite staple. While I am a diehard mayonnaise fan, you don’t have to feel as passionately about this condiment to enjoy the sophisticated recipes that it enhances, from cakes to quiches. We’re sharing her elevated take on avocado toast as well as a fun Q&A to sharpen your prowess in the kitchen. Bon appétit!
How did you come up with the idea to develop a Duke’s Mayonnaise cookbook?
It’s always been a dream of mine to write my own cookbook. I was a cookbook editor at a big publishing company for a lot of years and wrote other peoples’ books, and then as a freelancer, I wrote two cookbooks as a ghostwriter. Even though I had the chops to write my own book, I didn’t have a large social media following (or a TV show)—things that publishers often require nowadays. So, my agent recommended that I partner with someone who did have a following or with a brand. I racked my brain for months but couldn’t come up with that perfect idea. That was until I opened my refrigerator one night and there, staring me in the face was a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise. I grew up eating Duke’s, and it’s such an amazing ingredient for so many recipes. After a little research, I discovered that no one had written a Duke’s Mayonnaise cookbook before. A light bulb went off—that was it!
What is it about Duke’s that makes any recipe, whether properly Southern or internationally touted, infinitely better?
Duke’s is so versatile because unlike other commercial mayonnaise, it doesn’t have any sugar in it. Sure, it’s great in chicken salad and deviled eggs, but I use it for so much more. For baking, it’s the secret for a moist, tender crumb; it serves as a tenderizer when used in marinades; it’s great as a binder for breading; it’s my secret for flaky pie crust; and it creates the perfect Maillard reaction to brown meat and give it an extra boost of flavor.
Do you prefer cooking or baking?
Cooking. I’m a “dump and stir” kinda girl. With baking, you have to measure everything and if something doesn’t turn out right, it takes hours to figure it out or make it again.
What has been your favorite food styling assignment (or setting)?
This one is tough. I’ve worked on so many great projects! Besides working with my awesome team in Savannah (who helped me with my book), I’d have to say working on Delicious Miss Brown for Food Network. I’ve been the food stylist for all four seasons, and it’s such a different environment than other shoots. The crew is wonderful, and Kardea is a gem. She is so fun to work with.
I’ve had my fair share of frazzled hostess moments in the kitchen trying to time everything just right for guests. What are some tips for making entertaining at home as seamless as possible?
Oh man, I’m right there with you. There have been so many times where guests are due to arrive in 10 minutes and I’m still in a grungy t-shirt, no make-up, and unwashed hair! Over the years, I’ve learned to do as much prep as I can the day before—chop vegetables, set the table, etc. I also try to remind myself that last minute plating (or cooking) is okay. Everyone tends to gather in the kitchen anyway, and there’s always usually at least one person looking for a way to help. It’s okay to ask for people to pitch in.
For the layperson at home who is trying to photograph a dinner or dessert they just made, what are some pro food styling tips that will make their creation look not only edible, but delicious?
Lighting is key! Overhead lighting is often too harsh, so try and find a window or anywhere that has natural light. Dishes and plates are also important—I choose serving pieces that are neutral and aren’t busy. If they do have pattern, it’s around the rim of the dish and has a small design.
When you’re not busy in the kitchen, what are some of your favorite Charleston spots for great meals (or takeout right now!)?
There are so many great restaurants in Charleston—I feel like I add a new one to the “gotta try it” list every week. Since the pandemic started, we’ve been doing takeout instead of eating inside restaurants, and there are some great options. Our family loves Asian food, so Restaurant Tu, Little Miss Ha, Bon Banh Mi, and Red Orchids are favorites. We also just moved to Johns Island last year and have been frequenting the amazing options nearby—Wild Olive, The Royal Tern, Crust, Micho Taco, and Fields’ Deli and Restaurant are our go-to’s.
Any tricks to expanding a toddler’s palate to include more adventurous foods or even just a few more greens?
We’ve worked really hard to make sure our son will eat most anything. We call a lot of things “nuggets” and make sure to have a “dip” of some sort—ketchup, honey mustard, or BBQ are always winners. He loves broccoli, lettuce, cucumbers, peas, and green beans, so we stick to those. For other vegetables or foods that he claims he doesn’t like, we put a little on his plate for him to try at least one bite of in hopes that he will grow to like them.
You’re having a dinner party, what recipes from The Duke’s Mayonnaise Cookbook are you whipping up?
I guess it depends on the party and the time of year, but my Deviled Eggs or Pimiento Cheese are almost always on the menu. They can be made ahead and are crowd pleasers. My Smoked Gouda, Cheddar, and Parmesan Mac ‘n’ Cheese is a fan favorite for adults and kids alike, so it makes an appearance often. For dessert, the Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake or Sticky Toffee Puddings are always impressive and a great way to end the meal.
Do you prefer a formal dining room setting or a casual al fresco ambience?
When the weather’s nice, I love al fresco. We moved into our dream home last September, and our back porch is the perfect spot for outdoor eating. I can’t wait to have people over in the near future.
Rapid Fire Favorites:
Candle-I love anything from Old Whaling Company. Their scents are amazing!
Hostess Gift –I love to personalize gifts as much as possible—linen hand towels, a cookbook, or a fun pair of earrings (I’m loving BR Design Co. right now!) are some of my favorite gifts.
Cocktail-Gin and Tonic
Travel Destination-This one is so tough! We LOVE to travel, and it’s what I’ve missed the most during the pandemic. My mother-in-law lives on Kauai, Hawaii so that’s a top spot. We like to travel to new places too—Greece and Japan are top on my bucket list. Hopefully we’ll be able to go to both in the next few years.
Avocado Toast with Smoked Salmon and Soft-Boiled Eggs from The Duke’s Mayonnaise Cookbook
Makes four servings. This breakfast toast combines two of my favorite things: creamy avocado and jammy soft-boiled eggs. Add salty smoked salmon and some fresh dill and you’ve got a wholesome breakfast to get your day started off right. I’m also a firm believer that bacon makes everything better, so serve with a few slices on the side to round out the meal. If you’re not a fan of soft-boiled eggs, feel free to fry or hard-boil them to your liking.
- 4 large eggs
- 8 slices bakery bread
- 7 tablespoons Duke’s mayonnaise, divided
- 3 large avocados, divided
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 (4-ounce) package sliced smoked salmon
- Fresh dill sprigs (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Place a medium bowl of ice and water next to the saucepan. Gently add the eggs to the boiling water with a slotted spoon and boil for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Drain the eggs and immediately plunge in the ice water.
- Brush one side of the bread slices with 4 tablespoons of the mayonnaise and place in a single layer, mayonnaise side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400F for 5 minutes, or until the bread is toasted.
- Pit, peel, and chop 2 avocados and place in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise, the dill, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mash the mixture with a fork to desired consistency. Pit, peel, and slice the remaining avocado.
- To serve, spread the avocado mash evenly onto the toasts. Peel the eggs and cut each in half. Top the toasts with avocado slices, smoked salmon, and egg halves. Garnish with dill sprigs if desired.
Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy of The Duke’s Mayonnaise Cookbook, I am an avid cookbook collector and can attest that this one is excellent. So far, I have made the blueberry streusel muffins, tarragon crab cakes, lemony herbed egg salad, marinated steak salad with creamy buttermilk-herb dressing, blackberry and peach crisp, and pimento cheese—all to rave reviews. For more recipes and inspiration, please follow Ashley on Instagram here. Thanks for reading along!