Judi Leib: Whisk in the Southern, Cooking Fearlessly and Pound Cake

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 7
May 31, 2023
Photo credit: shotbynave

“Be fearless in the kitchen,” Judi Leib, creator of the Whisk in the Southern blog, told the Journal. “If you can read a recipe you can cook.”

Leib got her love of cooking from the women in her family.

“My mom was a very good cook, but didn’t like to cook, and my godmother was a fabulous chef, and loved to cook and teach,” she said.

Leib has been cooking since the age of two.

“My mother will tell you that she came into the kitchen one morning, and there was a cast iron skillet with a dozen broken eggs in it,” Leib said. “She was screaming, ‘What are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘I’m making breakfast.’”

A trained chef, Leib has combined her mom’s Southern roots (her mother’s family is from Georgia) with her Southern California upbringing for her own delicious spin.

“Southern food has a reputation for maybe not being the healthiest,” she said. “But here we are in California with all this wonderful fresh fruit and produce.”

One way Leib meshes both “souths” is to turn a fried chicken recipe into a baked chicken. Leib marinates it with buttermilk and seasonings overnight. But instead of cooking it in oil, she puts it in the oven.

“I happen to love being from the South,” she said. “I love red velvet cake. I love pancakes. I think pound cakes are the greatest thing in the world, because they’re so easy and you can do so many things with them.”

Leib’s pound cake uses pineapple juice. “It doesn’t really taste pineapple-y, but there’s a freshness and a sweetness to it,” she said. Get her pound cake recipe below.

When asked to share some of the cooking secrets trained chefs know, Leib said you can simplify a fancy recipe or fancy up a simple one.

Leib recalls the encrusted Chilean sea bass with fresh herbs and lemon beurre blanc, served at a Bar Mitzvah many years ago.

There are a couple different ways you can recreate it without going to a lot of trouble.

“You could put some lemon slices over that Chilean sea bass, add butter, wrap it up in parchment paper and bake it,” she said. “Super easy.”

You could also take the fresh herbs, mix it into panko breadcrumbs and crust the sea bass before you cook it.

“There’s always a way to take a simple recipe and just notch it up a little bit,” she said.

A gadget Leib uses for almost everything is her rasp, aka microplane. It’s a thin, long, almost knife-looking grater, which she uses for lemon zest, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, chocolate, parmesan cheese, everything.

What else do trained chefs know?

“I tell people, read your recipe all the way through before you ever get started,” she said. “Make sure you have all of your ingredients and all of your equipment ready to go before you start a recipe.”

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe, and realizing you need more of an ingredient than you actually have.

When you take your time with recipes, it shows. For instance, if it says to knead the dough for challah for 8 to 10 minutes, then knead it for 8 to 10 minutes.

“I think patience really makes a big difference in food, if for no other reason, stress comes through in your recipes,” she said.

The difference between baking and cooking is that with cooking you have a lot more freedom to try new things or make corrections.

“IIf it’s too salty, add a potato,” she said. “If it’s too fat, add an acid.”

When you’re baking, there’s a lot less forgiveness. You need to be true to the recipe, but you can also do things like add chocolate chips to banana bread.

Remember …

“Everything just takes practice,” Leib said. “You need to be willing to make mistakes.”

Explore Whisk in the Southern.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Watch the interview:


Aunt Rosie’s Pound Cake

In Aunt Rosie’s pound cake recipe, she uses pineapple juice for the liquid. You don’t really taste the pineapple. You can use any other juice or buttermilk too.


1 10″ Tube Pan


1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups granulated white sugar

5 large eggs, at room temperature

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. kosher salt

5 Tbs. pineapple juice


  1. Preheat oven to 325°
  1. Cream together butter and sugar. You are looking for it to be light in color and fluffy.
  1. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  1. Whisk flour and salt together.
  1. Add flour, in thirds, alternating with pineapple juice. Always start and finish with your dry ingredients.
  1. Do not overmix. Just let the flour barely incorporate. Finish mixing with a spatula, by hand.
  1. Grease and flour a 10″ tube pan. Pour batter in and set on a baking sheet.
  1. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour.
  1. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Then invert and let fall naturally out of the pan.

Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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