When we were dreaming of the perfect issue to kick off the new year, the first two words that came to mind were “Southern Comforts.”
After the trainwreck that was 2020, everyone deserves a little comfort. And no one gets comfort quite like the South.
Cooking is about nourishing bodies and bringing people together around a table. But for anyone who has experienced a proper Southern spread, you know: Southern cooking about so much more than feeding one another. It’s about making the most with the least and transforming humble ingredients into something that feeds the spirit.
Think about your favorite Southern dishes. Your mind is probably dredging up a hearty bowl of chicken and dumplings, a spread of beer cheese and crackers, honey-drizzled cornbread with soup beans or collard greens, bourbon-drenched bread pudding, fried catfish with crunchy hushpuppies, boiling hot burgoo, steamin’ hot biscuits and a gallon of sweet tea. The thought of each dish is like a balm for the soul, soothing you
with the memory of a full belly and the glow of love.
We can’t help but think of the ways this past year changed our relationship with food. Like Southerners who came before us, we felt the call to stretch the ingredients in our pantries to ease our families through an uncertain time. Getting carryout was no longer a weeknight treat, but instead an important connection to our neighbors, a gift we gave and received from our community. A Thanksgiving without sweet potato pie, sweet potato casserole, and sweet potato rolls reminded us that every gathering around a table is something to cherish and celebrate.
As we head into 2021, let’s hold those lessons close to our hearts. Let’s remember our gratitude for the cooks in our homes and the food industry workers we visit around town. Let’s stay curious about what’s in our cabinets and available on grocery store shelves, finding new ways to create (and savor!) delicious bites. Let’s nourish our communities and share our favorite foods with everyone around us.
Let’s get cookin’!
Cut the bread into cubes. Spread in the bottom of a buttered 9x13 casserole.
Brown sausage over medium heat until cooked. Drain fat. Spread over bread. Top with cheese.
Combine half and half, dry mustard, salt, and eggs. Pour over cheese.
Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.
Bake the casserole at 350 degrees until set, about 50 minutes. Allow to set at least 10 minutes before serving.
Brown sausage until cooked and crumbled.
Unroll your crescent roll dough into a greased 9x13 baking dish. Press dough together over seams and holes.
Sprinkle sausage and cheese over the dough.
Bake, uncovered, 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
Mix dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk and sweet potato. Add eggs and vanilla, whisking until smooth.
Gently combine wet and dry ingredients.
Butter or oil your skillet or griddle. Ladle batter into skillet, forming pancakes of your desired size. Cook until bubbles form and the griddle side is golden. Flip and cook the other side until golden.
These are great with toasted, candied pecans, maple syrup, powdered sugar, or just plenty of butter.
Brown sausage over medium heat until cooked and crumbled.
Add flour. Cook until dissolved.
Stir in milk. Cook while whisking until gravy thickens. If it’s too thick, you can always add splashes of milk.
Season to taste. Serve over warm biscuits.
Can we let you in on a little secret?
Southerners like to act as if making biscuits is some Heaven-sent talent that they’re just born with. But the truth is, biscuits are a finicky creature! Getting the right lift and flakiness is a bit of an art, and not one you learn by sheer geography.
Add to that one more uncomfortable truth: everybody’s got a different mental picture of the ideal biscuit. Some like ‘em sky high and pillowy soft while others like a stout little buttery thing that’s all crunch. Buttermilk or no? Lard or shortening? Squares or rounds? It all comes down to preference. So while we can’t recommend one recipe as the end-all-be-all of Southern biscuits, we can tell you that the tips to achieving biscuit perfection are more or less universal.
Unless you’re in New England. Then the first tip for better biscuits is.. get the heck outta there.
Always use fresh baking powder. That can your momma had is as good as toast. Baking powder has an expiration date, and yes, that date actually matters. The leavening action fizzles out over time, especially with humidity. (Which brings us to the second part of this tip: store your baking powder as far away from your steamy stove as you can manage in your kitchen or pantry.)
Preheat the dang oven. Again, yes, this actually matters. Putting biscuits into a cold oven prevents the leavening from working its magic.
COLD. Cold butter. Cold buttermilk or milk. And handle those biscuits as little as possible to keep it all cold. Warmth causes the leavening to literally fizzle out. Cold is also the key to flakiness (this tip applies to pie crust, as well!)
Measure everything correctly. I know you think you’re measuring everything the right way, but odds are good you’re cutting out important steps. Google this topic and see what you’ve been getting wrong.
No sides. Don’t put your biscuits onto a sheet pan that has sides: they won’t bake as evenly.
Socially-distanced biscuits. If you want your biscuits to have browned sides, place them at least an inch apart. If you want them to reach higher, place them closer together (or touching if the recipe says so) and they’ll rise together.
One cut, one biscuit. Cut with confidence. Press your biscuit cutter, knife, or bench scraper straight down, then pull straight up: no twisting or jiggling. That is, if you’re cutting at all. Drop biscuits are welcome here too.
Freeze the extra dough. Make more than you want (is there such a thing?) and store the extras in the freezer in a zip-top bag for up to a month. Bake them from frozen and double the normal cook time (Write the cook time right on the bag, for your convenience.)
My biscuits are always... CRUMBLY. You may be measuring your flour or fats wrong. (I already told you to Google this!) You also may be using the wrong kind of fat: “diet” or “low-fat” fats are not acceptable substitutes here.
My biscuits are always... TOUGH. That’s probably overhandling. You’re probably kneading it like a loaf of bread or stirring too much, which is creating gluten.
My biscuits are always... DOUGHY. Unfortunately, ovens vary. If you’re pulling them when the crust is nice and golden, you may need to look into a different pan. Try an insulated baking pan, then cook a bit longer.
My biscuits are always... NOT FLUFFY. Your fat may not have been crumbled up enough. Look for coarse crumbs.
My biscuits are always... STUCK. Your dough might not have enough fat in it. Back to the problem with incorrect measuring! You can always just line the baking sheet with parchment paper.