xoFOOD: Three Southern Comfort Foods That Taste Like Home

For some reason, it never occurred to me that I could simply make all of my Southern favorites myself. These were always things that were made for me, as an act of love.

Sep 17, 2013 at 4:00pm | Leave a comment

I don’t know how I haven’t done any Southern food posts yet. Technically, I am Southern.
 
I mean, I lived in Los Angeles most of my life, but I was born in Mississippi and lived there until I was almost seven.
 
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Southern fashion of 1992

 
So yeah, technically “Southern.”
 
There are parts of the culture I love and parts of the culture I abhor, but I will always be an enthusiastic supporter of the food.
 
I don’t know if you know this about me, but I like food that wreaks havoc on my existence. I like rich, gluten-y, fried, cheesy, meaty, salty food. I like my food to be a challenge.
 
Mississippi has never failed me in this regard.
 
As a child, my FAVORITE thing about visiting my grandparents was going to church suppers. Every chicken was fried, every biscuit was buttered and no vegetable was un-casseroled.
 
THE PIES WERE THINGS OF UTTER BEAUTY.
 
And for some reason, my Sunday school teacher (Bubba) would always bring about 20 McDonald’s cheeseburgers. (He was a widower, and I don’t think he cooked oh god now I’m sad).
 
My other favorite thing about visiting my grandparents (besides the fact that their house was a place of unconditional love and stability in a somewhat unstable childhood) was the food they would make for me.
 
A lot of the vegetables were canned and a lot of condensed soup was used, but it was all delicious and the cornbread was always made from scratch and the tomatoes were always bought on the side of the road (sliced tomatoes were a suppertime mainstay).
 
Side-note: Some canned veggies are THE BEST; canned creamed corn is one of my favorite things in this world, it is almost like a pudding. 
 
But mainly what made all of this so special was the fact that it was the EXACT OPPOSITE of what my mom fed me in Los Angeles (Ezekiel Bread). It was something unique that I was only able to eat when I was visiting my grandparents in Mississippi.
 
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My grandparents back yard.

 
For some reason, it never occurred to me that I could simply make all of my Southern favorites myself. These were always things that were made for me, as an act of love.
 
Making them for myself seemed really self-indulgent. I could make them for others, sure, but my husband doesn't know what half of these things are and he’s still a little scarred from a buffet experience with a cherry pineapple salad. (He really didn't understand why it wasn't in the dessert section and I was like “because then where would we put the banana pudding, genius?”)
 
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I don't have a picture of my grandmother's kitchen, but here is an awesome pic of her laundry room!

 
ANYWAY. My family happens to be visiting and a very nice person gave me some venison sausage so  I basically HAD to make biscuits and sausage gravy.
 
But once the biscuits were made, I couldn't stop so I made chocolate gravy as well (which is usually a breakfast food, but can double as dessert). If this sounds borderline obscene to you, you are a sensible human, but trust me on this one, it is quite excellent.
 
It then became apparent that this could be a post so I thought “may as well include chess squares” and here we are.
 
Let’s start with the biscuits.
 
Most of the biscuits I had growing up were frozen. I’m not complaining; it’s just a fact. But as a result, I don’t  have a “family recipe” to share with you.
 
This is the one I used:
 
 
This is actually a pretty straight-forward recipe, but I’ll walk you through it anyway:
 
1. Preheat your oven to 450 but, unlike me, make sure your oven doesn’t have anything in it that will smoke and make your whole kitchen smell like burning.
 
2. Combine your dry ingredients. You can just whisk, you don’t need to sift.
 
3. Work your butter in. I use my hands because they are easier to clean than a pastry cutter and also I don’t own a pastry cutter. Just keep crumbling it up with your fingers until it looks like this:
 
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Crumbly.

 
4. Mix your egg and milk together and then pour it in. Mash that around with a fork until it seems like dough and then knead it for about half a minute.
 
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This is what dough looks like.

 
5. Roll it out with a wine bottle (this is KEY) to about ¾ of an inch (I rolled mine out waaaay too thin, so do as I say, not as I stupidly did).
 
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THESE ARE TOO THIN. MAKE THEM THICKER.

 
6. Cut them into biscuit shapes and bake until they are golden brown (about 13 minutes, in my oven).
 
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Not too shabby.

 
Now it’s time for sausage gravy.
 
As mentioned earlier, I used a venison sausage (it also contained pork because venison is too lean on its own) and it was glorious.
 
I used this extremely straight forward recipe, but I’m going to walk you through it anyway, because I like hearing myself type.
 
1. Brown your sausage. Just plop it in the pan (don’t use non-stick; it won’t brown as well) and break it up into little crumbles. Cook on medium heat until browned.
 
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Remove and set aside (it’s OK if you can’t get every little sausage crumble).
 
2. Decrease your heat a little and add half a stick of butter. Once that melts, add three tablespoons of flour and stir that around until it’s golden.
 
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Add your milk once your flour starts to brown a little.

 
3. Add the milk in. I can’t give you an exact amount; just pour a little in at a time, stirring continuously.  You will notice that when you are first adding milk, it will thicken quite rapidly, almost becoming a paste.
 
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It will go from this...

 
Each time it reaches this paste-like consistency, add more milk. Eventually, it will quit thickening as much, and you will have gravy.
 
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...to this. Gravy is hard to photograph.

 
I used almost an entire half gallon of whole milk. This would also be the time to add your hot sauce, seasonings (not too much salt because the sausage is quite salty), etc. I used some Tony Chachere’s.
 
4. Add the sausage back in, combine, and scoop over buttered biscuits.
 
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Dig in.

 
This brings us to CHOCOLATE GRAVY. 
 
For the uninitiated, chocolate gravy is a thick (gravy like) chocolate sauce that you put on biscuits.
 
This is how we do it:
 
1. Combine half a cup of cocoa powder with ¾ cups of sugar and three tablespoons of flour. Add a pinch of salt, too. Pour two cups of whole milk over that and stir until combined.
 
2. Heat until your mixture is the consistency of gravy (stirring ALL the while), remove from the heat, plunk in one or two tablespoons of butter and two teaspoons of vanilla.
 
3. Stir once more and serve over buttered biscuits.
 
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I repeat: This is BREAKFAST FOOD.

 
Y'all are most welcome.
 
But what about non-breakfast dessert?
 
Babies, I’m going to show you how to make chess squares, a very simple, very delicious gooey treat.
 
You will need:
  • One box of cake mix (butter is traditional, but I like chocolate)
  • One stick of butter (softened)
  • One egg (lightly beaten)
  • One 8 oz pakage of cream cheese (softened)
  • One lb of powder sugar
  • Three more eggs (lightly beaten)
 
1. Combine your mix, egg, and butter. Mush it all together with your hands. When it resembles a ball of mud, smoosh it in your 9x13 baking dish.
 
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It will be quite squidgy.

 
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A solid foundation.

 
2. Combine your remaining eggs, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Pour it on top of your crust.
 
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POUR THIS MIXTURE ON MEEEEEEEEEEE.

 
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Layered.

 
3. Bake at 350 for about half an hour, or until it looks like this:
 
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That crackly crust is the best part.

 
4. Stuff it in your face.
 
And THOSE, my dearests, are some of my favorite Southern treats. Like I said, I don't ususally make theses for myself, but I may have to start.
 
Claire would like to see pictures of any and all regional treats you make. Tweet them at her! @clairelizzie