Southern Comfort Dinner

There is a classic saying that warns about having “too many cooks in the kitchen.” The danger of combining too many hot-headed, do-it-my-way-or-no-way, food obsessed people in an overheated, confined space is an increases risk a big flare up. The likelihood of it being the food or the people is equal.

Yet, when you manage to bring people together who have a real passion for flavors and cooking, the results can also be amazing. This was my experience during a weekend cooking with one of the suitemates.

After living together for more than a month, one of my suitemates and I began bonding over our shared love of cooking. Both broke, over-worked college students, each of us views cooking as an emotional outlet, a medium for creative expression and satisfaction. In the midst of exchanging recipes and lamenting over the half-eaten box of cupcakes sitting on the dining table, we came up with the idea to spend Saturday evening preparing a meal for a simple dinner party.

Our initial plans for the evening were to invite a bunch of our friends and neighbors over for multi-dish meal. Deciding on the date Thursday night, we spent the next two days lingering over possible menu ideas. For my roommate, a southern girl at heart, her dishes of choice were easy: macaroni and cheese and shrimp and grits. What could I whip out of my repertoire that would accompany these two carbohydrate and cheese heavy dishes?

Initially I had every intention of preparing a risotto with fresh summer produce, but that went out the window when I heard about the macaroni and cheese. Considering the southern theme that our dinner seemed to be heading, I began thinking about what I could make that would complement, but not compete, with these dishes. Noticing the absence of a dessert on our menu, it became clear what I should make: the southern classic peach cobbler.

With a menu finally in place, the time came for shopping. Taking a page from Paula Deen’s playbook, we stocked our carts with the necessary ingredients: peaches, flour, shrimp, cheddar cheese, Monterrey jack cheese, Velveeta and, of course, butter. In the 100 plus degree heat, we trudged from the market to our apartment and set to work.

Despite the warnings about too many cooks in kitchen, my suitemate and I had no problems. Although there was a moment when we realized we did not have baking powder and what we thought was cheap butter was really a box of cheap vegetable oil spread, we responded with a quick trip to the deli/grocer next door to the apartment. As I prepped my peaches and cobbler dough, my suitemate boiled the pasta water and started gathering ingredients for her macaroni and grits.

After nearly two hours of cooking, nearly three sticks of butter and almost three pounds of cheese, our meal was complete. Yet despite the massive amount of food prepared, only the two of us sat down to eat it; apparently, those we invited had forgotten about our Saturday night invitation. Still our moods were high and our stomachs were hungry, so came the time to enjoy.

It is amazing how a meal requiring two-plus hours of effort can be over in mere minutes. With a darkened sky in the background, the two of us piled our plates with spoonfuls of gooey macaroni and cheese and shrimp and grits. The shrimp, sautéed in butter and garlic, were delectable, and the Southern grits reminded me of the bowls of polenta I ate in Italy.

The only word I can use to describe the macaroni and cheese, or should I say cheese with macaroni, is rich. Each time I took a forkful, I heard this “squish” noise, a subtle reminder about how much cheese, processed and unprocessed, made its way into the dish. While it is definitely not an every day, or even an every week, type of dish, it is one definitely worth the indulgence.

I worried that my first attempt at the cobbler would result in failure. Perhaps I underestimated myself because it came out wonderfully; no overflows or flare-ups in the oven, nothing blackened to a crisp. Left to cool while the macaroni cooked in the oven, the cobbler was still slightly warm when we dug our spoons in for a bite. The only thing that could have made the meal better would have been a plop of vanilla ice cream melting into the warm cobbler (though my arteries might have appreciated its absence).

By the end of the meal we had very full stomachs and way too much food leftover. But as Paula Deen says, “Bein’ rich is having leftovers. Good leftovers make yo’ tongue fly outta yo’ mouth and smack yo’ brains out.” I could not have said it better myself.

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