Written by Paul Wolf | Photographed by Andrew Welch

Growing up in Abilene, Texas, between school and tennis practice, Hayden Jordan was baking.

“I didn’t grow up around bakers,” she said, “but it was something I was really drawn to.”

Her first recipe for peanut butter cookies – one cup of peanut butter, one cup of sugar and one egg — was foolproof.

“I remember making that in elementary school and feeling so proud,” she beamed.

As television food shows gained popularity, Jordan’s love of Ina Garten, “The Barefoot Contessa,” began.

Those were her high school years, when she also began making cookie cakes for friends’ birthdays, then for her sorority.

As an adult, Jordan said she fell in love with food in general.

She stumbled upon a 30-day Instagram cooking challenge.

“I got the inclination to try one myself and used (Joanna Gaines’) ‘The Magnolia Table’ cookbook,” she said. “I thought I should challenge myself, and I’ve always wanted to pick up photography, so it evolved.”

Her new blog, The Petite Southern Kitchen, has validated the feeling she could do more with food.

“I’ve never really told anyone outside my friends or husband,” she said, “but I’ve done a lot of dreaming over the past six months and feel this calling: my goal would be to be a Food Network star!”

Jordan said it is the right connections, sure, but passion and hard work could propel her into that universe.

“I’m planning to really grow the blog over the next year. I have some big goals so we’ll see,” a plan she said, “my best friends were surprised I hadn’t (pursued) sooner.”

A Fondren resident for the last three years, Jordan and husband Jaxon came here for his ENT residency at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“I never thought we would leave Texas, but we were blown away at the hospitality of the (ENT) program,” she said, recounting Jaxon’s interview dinner at the home of the program’s chair, Dr. Scott Stringer. “No other interview was like that.”

With the feeling of warm southern hospitality and proximity to their church, Fondren Church, the Jordan’s decision was confirmed when, in their first week in Mississippi, “every neighbor” brought dinner on different nights.

“(Fondren) was the perfect mix of small town, but amenities and stores and good restaurants. And we were looking for close-knit friends and family and we got that sense here,” she said.

Speaking of the food…

“A lot of it is very different from Texas,” Jordan noted. “A lot more seafood — crawfish and oysters. Then you find those classic southern dishes like pimento cheese everywhere you go. And caramel cake: I had never had that before! There are a lot of gems here as far as places to eat, too, like La Brioche.”

Hayden is active on Instagram with her blog at @petitesouthernkitchen (it’s how we discovered her, too), posting delectably tempting recipes and swoon-worthy photos every week.

“I’ve noticed Instagram stories are really popular,” she said. “I’ve asked myself, ‘What captures my attention?’”

Jordan said it’s important for people to see her kitchen isn’t always perfect.

“It gives them confidence in the kitchen so that they have these great recipes that draw people closer… where you can sit around the table and grow closer in your relationships.”

Make Jordan’s Creamy Lemon Bars:
Yields 12-16 servings
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes

1 box yellow cake mix
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 egg

3 cups sweetened condensed milk,
about 2.5 (14 ounce) cans
3 eggs yolks, room temperature
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice,
about 3-4 lemons
1/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Powdered sugar (garnish)

– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
– Place the yellow cake mix and melted butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed just until combined.
– Add the egg with the mixer on low for 1-2 minutes.
– Lightly pat the dough evenly on the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch pan lined with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on two sides. *The parchment paper will allow you to lift the bars out of the pan seamlessly.
– Bake the crust for exactly 10 minutes.
– Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and salt on medium speed for 4 minutes.
– Once the crust is done baking, remove from oven and VERY slowly pour the lemon filling over the hot crust. Try to pour it as evenly as possible. The crust will be soft since it has only baked for 10 minutes. If you need to even out the filling, use a small spatula to gently do so.
– Bake for 30 minutes and cool completely in the pan for about 1-2 hours.
– Refrigerate until the filling is firm, at least 2 hours & up to 2 days.
– Using the parchment paper overhang, lift the cake out of the pan onto a cutting board. With a very sharp knife, cut into 12-16 squares.
– Dust with powdered sugar.

Refrigerate up to four days.

Creamy Lemon Bars. Photographed by Andrew Welch