Category Archives: Southern

Bacon mac ’n’ cheese: $1.17/serving

Those who remember the bone marrow mac ’n’ cheese and the cheese-stuffed mac ’n’ cheese pie know I’m not shy about taking a perfectly reliable institution and making it…well…wrong. Or, at least, as much more wrong as a big pan of cheese, bread and pasta can possibly get. This version, I reckon to say, is probably even worse for you than the stuff that comes in the blue box, assuming you find artery-clogging fat and nitrates slightly below artificial “cheez” and preservatives on the acceptability scale. But it’s worth it, especially since “upscale comfort food” of this nature is in vogue now and can run you $7 or more for a wee little serving at a pretentious gastropub. For $7, you’ll have enough of this to eat for days. (Worried you’ll get tired of it? Don’t. I made this last week and would happily still be eating it today if we had it around.)

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Red beans and rice: 62 cents/serving

Because of red beans and rice’s highly desirable price-to-tastiness ratio, I’ve been experimenting with it for years, and let me tell you: Despite the seemingly simple lineup of ingredients, there are many, many opportunities for things to go wrong (slow cooker vs. stovetop, red beans vs. kidney beans, rice cooked in-pot vs. separate, ham hock, no ham hock, different kinds of sausage…). This recipe, in my opinion, is both the most authentic and the best-tasting. It eschews the slow-cooker; uses small red beans, which cook up creamier than kidney beans; includes ham hocks and sausage; and has the beans served over the rice, which is the only way I’ve ever seen it in Louisiana. Don’t be afraid to make up a double batch—it tastes better the longer it sits.

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Bacon jam: $1.69/jar

If you’re concerned about the presence of what’s essentially a novelty condiment in the $35-a-week plan, rest assured this was a host gift for my father-in-law’s Easter dinner, à la the jars of custom barbecue sauce I made for Christmas. I wanted something that was complementary to the meal being served (barbecued ribs) yet also unique and inexpensive, so I brought a couple jars of this “jam” along with a large homemade boule. I’ve made bacon jam before (Sur La Table sells it for $9.95 a jar, so it’s not that far out of left field), and while I wasn’t 100% happy with how it turned out this time, no one seemed to notice or care, so I’m recommending a couple of different methods here based on your personal limits of time and patience. It’s great on bread, peanut butter sandwiches, pizza, crostini, biscuits, a spoon…you get the idea.

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Chicken soup with lemon-pepper dumplings: $1.17/serving

It wasn’t until I really started cooking in earnest that I learned there are two kinds of dumplings: dropped dumplings and rolled dumplings. I had always assumed the big, fluffy dropped dumplings were “real” dumplings, until I noticed quite a few Southern cookbooks calling for dumplings that consisted of dough rolled out and cut like pasta. I’ve since decided I’m a fan of both styles, especially since the rolled kind are a boon for those too afraid or impatient to make proper pasta. Rolled too thick? Didn’t knead enough? Cut unevenly? Not a problem! They’re supposed to be rustic! This happens to be my favorite recipe for the rolled kind. It’s quick enough to make on a weeknight (especially a rainy, gloomy Portland weeknight), and just as homey and comforting as the dropped kind, in its own way.

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Biscuits and chicken gravy: 77 cents/serving

My brother used to live in North Carolina, and while I never got a chance to visit, my parents did, and were introduced to the phenomenon that is Mama Dip. During one particular visit they brought back for me an only-in-the-South brand of sausage gravy mix (by now I’ve forgotten which kind, of course) and a recipe for the buttermilk biscuits served at Mama Dip’s restaurant, which turned out to be, at that point, the best biscuits and gravy I’d ever had. I probably made those biscuits once a week for the next five years. I’ve fooled around with my own sausage-gravy variations, but this chicken version, which is not unlike pot-pie filling, might just take the cake. It’s hearty and comforting without making you feel like you just had a heart attack, and it’s not much more of a hassle to make than the sausage kind. I don’t think I’ve ever used a recipe for it, so please bear with my reconstruction. You will not be disappointed.

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