Sunday, August 16, 2015

Kate's Top Eight... Mississippi Foods

Dear Readers,

It has been quite some time since I have blogged.  Over 3 years, in fact.  Just today, though, I had an idea for a new series - Kate's Top Eight - in which I will periodically list the top 8 things in a specific category.  Living in Mississippi for the last 7(!) years has given me much fodder for the first post in this series, so let's dive right in to the deliciousness!


8. Collard Greens - I don't eat these often, but when I do, it is as part of a lunch plate, to be covered in more detail later in this post.  Collard greens in the South are not bland and flavorless, as they were in my New England youth (not that I ate them all that often in my youth either).  No, collard greens here are cooked to perfection and spiced with just the right touch of various kinds of pepper and vinegar.   There are as many ways to make greens as there are Southern cooks.  My favorite greens come from the gas station near my house. This recipe from Guy Fieri at Food Network looks pretty close.

7. Macaroni and Cheese - as a vegetable. I realize of course that mac & cheese is actually a complete protein composed of pasta and cheesy goodness.  Here, it is listed among the choices of vegetables on a lunch plate at most eateries.  And no, vegetables are not added.  Additionally, Southern "vegetable" mac and cheese tends to be VERY creamy, soft, cheesy, and rich.  It is most often made with mild cheddar, rather than sharp or more exotic cheeses.  I've made Trisha Yearwood's crockpot mac & cheese a couple of times.When you're in the mood for comfort food, it is perfection.

6. Monkey Bread - I had never tried this sweet confection until I moved here.  It makes an appearance at nearly every church potluck and community brunch.  It's sticky caramel pull-apart biscuit dough baked in a bundt pan.  You can make it from scratch, or you can use premade biscuit dough.  I've never made it, but I've tried both, and they are equally yummy.

5. Sweet Tea - This one is tough for me to admit, because I grew up on my gram's homemade mint iced tea.  Heaven in a glass, with just the right amount of sugar - way less than what's used in traditional Southern sweet tea.  The first time I tried Southern tea, it tasted like I was drinking syrup.  I quickly learned to ask for 1/2 unsweet, 1/2 sweet.  Or, go for the Arnold Palmer - 1/2 unsweet tea and 1/2 lemonade.  Over the years, though, I have grown accustomed to having my tea sweeter and sweeter.  Sure, that first cup is half and half, but for my refills, I go straight for the sweet.  I usually have some left so the sugar is somewhat diluted, but I do like it a bit sweeter than I used to.  I still occasionally make Gram's mint tea, but my last mint plant died.  I brought a new plant home from up North this past spring, and our new puppy ate it.  I will have to wait for my next visit to replenish my "brook mint" supply.  In the meantime, southern sweet tea is available in abundance.

4. Plate Lunches - also called "blue plates" or "meat and three."  In many Southern cafes and restaurants, you can order your choice of meat with two or three sides.  These delicious creations often include your sweet tea and a choice of roll or cornbread.  My favorite place for a plate lunch is the Fast Break gas station a couple of miles from my house.  Yes, a gas station.  Usually there is a choice of 2 or 3 meats - these can include baked or fried chicken, catfish, meat loaf, pulled pork, chicken fried steak, and any other number of succulent Southern fare.  Sides can include the aforementioned collard greens and mac & cheese, as well as baked beans, mashed potatoes (with gravy, if you wish), candied yams (YUM!), green beans, mixed vegetables, corn, lima beans, and whatever other offerings are available that day.  I usually get 2 meals out of one plate lunch.  Fried chicken is my favorite.  The cost?  About the same as a fast food meal, but SO much more satisfying!  My New England soul only feels a little guilty that it comes in a non-recyclable styrofoam container.  Don't tell the Town of Amherst!

3.5 - As I was editing this post prior to publishing, I realized that I had not included gas station fried chicken as a line item on this list.  That would be a grave omission.  The fried chicken at the Fast Break is unsurpassed in crispy, juicy, salty, Southern-fried goodness.  Pair it with their candied yams and collard greens and it's my favorite Southern lunch.  No contest.

3. Fried Green Tomatoes - Yes, please Idgie!  I made them once - I think I used this recipe but if not, this one is awfully close.  They are crunchy on the outside, tangy and juicy in the middle and just the perfect compliment to a pulled pork sandwich or a BBQ plate.  I prefer them to fries!

2. Barbecue - Where I grew up, barbecue was a verb.  It meant to cook outside on the grill.  Here, if someone says they're having a barbecue, or they're going for barbecue, it is synonymous with pulled pork.  Often, this is preceded by smoking a butt.  A Boston Butt, that is, also known as a pork shoulder.  In my town alone, I can choose from no less than three barbecue joints for my pulled pork, and it very well could be more.  Mississippi BBQ is smokey, saucy, spicy, and succulent.  Think ribs, without the  bones.  I haven't made my own BBQ because it's a lot less hassle to order from the Little Dooey, (where I can order a side of excellent fried green tomatoes!) often touted by the ESPN guys on College Gameday weekends.

1. Caramel Cake - My favorite!  It's another Southern delicacy that I have not attempted to make.  I
went to a ladies' fellowship where someone performed a demo of how she makes her famous caramel cake.  I even came home with a recipe, but it is so involved and requires a lot of time, equipment, and know-how that even after watching her do it, I'm reluctant to try.  It's not the cake part - it's a simple yellow sponge.  It's the frosting.  Cooked caramel frosting.  If you're a candy-maker, this might not be so intimidating to you but I've never made candy so I find it somewhat daunting.  Luckily, I have my choice of purveyors from whom I can purchase this most perfect of Southern confections.  It's what I request for my birthday every year now.

So there you have it.  Kate's top 8 Mississippi foods.  Did your favorite Southern delicacy make the list?  Tell me in the comments, and feel free to share your favorites!  Even better if you include recipes!

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