homepage logo

Fresh county cookin’

By Staff | Sep 1, 2017

-Photo by Lori Dunn, GRIT?Magazine Comfort foods vary widely depending upon the part of the country in which you’re located like the country chicken fried steak and the creamy bacon mac and cheese shown above.


GRIT Magazine

Comfort foods vary widely depending upon the part of the country in which you’re located. A family in the Midwest might cook up grilled grassfed beef burgers and thick-cut steak fries, while a plate of fried chicken and okra is more common in the South. All of these foods, though, have one thing in common: They are true comfort foods – that is, they evoke feelings of nostalgia and bring back memories of time spent with loved ones.

Beyond the simple nutrition of it, meals are, for many folks, a way to connect with family members and their heritage. Food stirs up memories of time spent with family, both past and present. By turning meals into quality time at the dinner table together, it becomes an opportunity to connect with not only each other, but also with the ingredients that nourish our bodies, rather than just fill them.

Think back to those summer days when the neighborhood hay-baling gang would gather at someone’s house at the end of a long, hot day. Plates were piled high with good food, and everyone was content to sit and talk after the meal was over, passing the evening hours. At some point, a deck of cards might appear, along with a few refreshing beverages.

What about Sunday afternoons, when the whole family would get together after church? Everyone would bring a delicious dish large enough to feed an army – hot, homemade rolls dripping with butter filled the bread basket, and Grandma’s famous pecan-cranberry gelatin salad in the shape of a fish was served for dessert.

No matter the recipe or dish, these comfort foods have an important place at the table. It is with these sentiments of having fun in the kitchen and creating good memories with family and friends that I created this menu.

Country chicken fried steak and gravy

Yields 8 servings.


1 cup whole milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

8 minute steaks or cube steaks

Coconut oil, for frying


1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more if needed

3 1/2 cups whole milk

1/2 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To make steaks:

In medium bowl, whisk together milk and eggs; set aside.

In shallow pan, combine flour, salt, paprika, cayenne, cumin, and black pepper, and whisk to blend.

Pat steaks dry with paper towel. One at a time, dredge steaks in flour mixture, and lightly shake off excess. Dip in egg mixture, coating both sides, then dip in flour mixture again, coating both sides thoroughly. Lightly shake off excess flour mixture, and place on clean plate. Repeat with remaining steaks.

Heat 1/2 inch oil in large, deep cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. (Test if oil is hot by dripping a few drops of water into the oil. If it sizzles quickly, it’s ready.) Using metal tongs, carefully place two to three steaks in pan, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until bottoms are brown. Flip with tongs, and cook other side for 3 to 5 minutes, or until steaks are cooked through and coating is golden. Transfer to cooling rack, which has been placed on cookie sheet, and keep warm in oven set at 200 degrees until ready to serve.

To make gravy:

Discard all but 1/4 cup drippings from skillet. Heat over medium heat until drippings are hot. Sprinkle flour over drippings, and whisk quickly to create a roux. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk. Season with salt and pepper.

Continue whisking and cooking for 8 to 10 minutes, or until gravy thickens. Remove from heat, and continue whisking for a few more minutes. If gravy is too thick, add a little additional milk, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve steak and gravy with mashed potatoes, if desired.

Fluffy dinner rolls

These classic dinner rolls are perfect for mopping up the last bit of gravy, or slathered with butter and honey. Yields about 2 dozen rolls.

5 cups all-purpose flour, divided

1/4 cup sugar

2 teaspoons coarse salt

5 teaspoons fast-acting yeast

1/2 cup lard

1/4 cup honey

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, melted, divided

1 1/2 cups warm water

Place 2 1/2 cups flour in large mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt, and yeast, and whisk to combine. Using fork or pastry blender, cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add remaining flour, and mix to combine. Set aside.

In small mixing bowl, combine honey, eggs, and 1/2 cup melted butter. Whisk lightly to blend.

Make well in center of flour mixture, and add egg mixture. Mix lightly. Add water, and mix well. Dough will be slightly sticky. Cover with tea towel and let rest in warm place for 30 minutes.

Turn dough onto well-floured work surface. Sprinkle additional flour on top of dough, and knead a few times. Using floured rolling pin, roll dough out to 1-inch thickness. Cut out rolls with 3-inch cookie cutter. Place in ungreased 9-by-13-inch pan, with edges of biscuits touching. Gather dough scraps, knead lightly, and roll out again to cut more rolls. Cut out as many rolls as you can each time to avoid over-kneading the dough. Cover with tea towel, and place in warm spot to rise for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake rolls for about 25 minutes, or until tops are light golden brown. Remove and cool slightly. Brush tops with remaining melted butter. Serve warm.

Classic collard greens

Yields 6 servings.

2 pounds collard greens, cleaned and deveined

6 strips thick-sliced bacon

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

3/4 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon hot sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

Stack collard greens, and slice all leaves into 1-inch strips. Set aside.

Slice bacon into 1-inch pieces, and fry in large stockpot over medium heat until crispy. Remove bacon from pot, and drain on plate lined with paper-towels.

Add onion to stockpot, and saute in drippings until softened. Add chicken stock, vinegar, maple syrup, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until heated through.

Add collard greens and bacon pieces to stockpot, and toss, using metal tongs, until leaves are well-coated.

Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Creamy bacon mac and cheese

This dish has a mild smokiness. Use a high-quality smoked bacon to intensify the flavor. Yields 8 servings.

10 tablespoons butter, divided

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1 box (16 ounces) small shell pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

5 cups whole milk

3 cups shredded Gouda cheese

1 1/2 cups shredded smoked Gouda cheese

12 slices bacon, diced and cooked crisp

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter 9-by-13-inch baking dish; set aside.

In medium bowl, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Add breadcrumbs, and mix well. Set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Strain, rinse with cool water, and drain completely. Transfer to large mixing bowl, and toss with olive oil. Set aside.

In large stockpot, melt remaining butter over medium heat. Add and saute onion until softened. Whisk in flour, paprika, cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly to keep milk from scalding, until smooth. Continue cooking over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken, about 5 minutes. Stir in cheeses until melted and smooth. Add pasta and bacon, and mix until just combined.

Pour mixture into prepared baking dish, and use spoon to spread evenly. Sprinkle buttered breadcrumbs over top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until edges are bubbly and breadcrumbs are golden. Cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Cheesy grits

This recipe is adapted from the website, cookscountry.com. I added a bit of turmeric to give it a deeper flavor and gorgeous color. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

1/2 cup sweet corn kernels, divided

3 1/2 cups water, divided

4 tablespoons butter, melted, divided

3 green onions, thinly sliced

Sliced jalapeno peppers, optional

1 cup whole milk

2 teaspoons hot sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup grits

1/2 teaspoon turmeric, optional

1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3/4 cup shredded smoked Gouda cheese

In bowl of food processor, puree 1/4 cup corn kernels with 2 to 3 tablespoons water until smooth. Set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add and lightly saute green onions and pepper slices, if using, for 2 minutes, or until softened. Whisk in remaining water, milk, and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Bring mixture to boil while continuously whisking. Stir in grits. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 15 minutes, or until mixture becomes thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Add pureed corn, remaining corn kernels, remaining butter, and turmeric, and mix well. Stir in cheeses until melted. Serve immediately.

Maple chess pie with apple topping

This creamy pie can be served warm or chilled. Yields 6 to 8 servings.


1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into pieces

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons cold water


1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons cornmeal

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup whole milk or cream

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 eggs, lightly beaten


1/2 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 apples, quartered and sliced thin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To make crust:

In medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. With fork or pastry blender, cut in cold butter until coarse crumbs form. Add vinegar and water, and stir to combine. Dough should start to bind and stick together when pressed. If it doesn’t, add a little additional water, a tablespoon at a time. Avoid working the dough too much.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cornmeal, flour, and salt. Add maple syrup, butter, milk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs, and mix thoroughly to combine.

Pour filling into cooled pie crust.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until center is set and top is brown and caramelized. Cool completely. Before removing sides of springform pan, run butter knife between pie and sides of pan to loosen.

To make topping:

Combine maple syrup, butter, cinnamon, and vanilla in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to simmer. Add sliced apples, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until apple slices are tender.

Top each slice of pie with spoonful of apple topping just before serving.

Excerpted from Grit, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from Grit, please visit www.grit.com, or call 866-803-7096. Copyright 2017 by Ogden Publications Inc.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page