Blogs > Cooking from Scratch

Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Southern Comfort

The recipe contest has concluded and I am now in the process of testing the finalist’s recipes to determine a winner in each category. We received a lot of great recipes! I particularly enjoyed reading the various anecdotes that some contestants submitted with their recipes. It really does show that food & cooking can be so personal to so many people, and something we can share, despite our many differences.

As I was preparing for our Southern Brunch cooking class today, I was reminded of my grandma’s delicious dishes from The South. She made flakey biscuits, that she cut with a glass that she turned upside down (not one of our fancy pastry cutters that we use in Mirepoix). Her green beans were grown in her very own garden, and even though they were overcooked by any “chef’s” standard, but good lord, they were good. Calling it a “garden” seems an understatement. Grandpa & Grandma Nix used to farm almost every square inch of their lot in Farmington, which I’ve recalled in previous blog posts.

My mother recalls how my grandma would make fresh biscuits every morning, and she would often leave the house without one, which she now regrets! Who can remember a time when freshly baked biscuits were “the norm”? Apparently, they were such a staple in the Nichols household that skipping out on them was no big deal; after all, there would be a fresh batch tomorrow…

My mom and I often talk about my grandma Lela. It was impossible not to like her. Her ornery sister-in-law was probably about the only person who didn’t revel in her undeniable fabulousness, but, Aunt Adaline was known to be an unmitigated sourpuss, so, no one ever took her aloof attitude towards my grandma seriously.

She was gracious and had a quiet, regal dignity. Her personal energy exuded a sense of grandeur, but she was so humble and unassuming. She possessed a portion of kindness that could be described as nothing less than “other-worldly”. With such an emphasis on her peaceful demeanor, one might suspect that she was passive and weak. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Her life was no different than anyone else’s. She was met with many disappointments and heartbreaks, but her response is what separated her from everyone else. My mom describes her as “velvet covered steel”. When faced with crisis, grandma reacted with a calm and assured attitude, completely resolved that things would get better.

In the ten years since she passed, we refer to her lovingly and I can tell that my mom misses her dearly. I can tell that my mom holds herself to the same kinds of standards that Grandma Lela had, and she sometimes feels like she falls short, and will readily admit so.

The great thing about my mom is that she is a beautiful combination of her heavenly mother and her feisty father. She’s calm and sweet. I mean REALLY SWEET. Everyone who meets my mother loves her and has every reason to. Even when greeting my dogs at the door, she asks them politely if they would like to shake her hand. She is nothing less than completely adorable.

But before you think she’s a total push-over, watch out – there’s more velvet covered steel. My mother, when crossed, is a mama bear on the loose, ready to defend and scrap and snarl to protect those she loves. My mom is one of the best people I’ve ever known, and I will never live long enough to be as good as she is.

Ok, back to the food!

My Granny Nix used to make this gravy for her children, and my mother used to make it for me on Saturday mornings. I remember the little jam jar of bacon grease that my mom used to keep just for this special recipe. As an adult when I attended culinary school, I remember being very disappointed when our Breakfast Pantry class made Biscuits & Gravy and the gravy was made with flour, not cornmeal. I never knew how unique (and relatively unheard of) cornmeal gravy was. Enjoy!

Cornmeal Gravy

1 - 3Tb. bacon grease (use what you need)
2 1/4 cups milk (you might need an additional ¼ cup)
1/2 cup white cornmeal
Salt and Pepper, to taste


In a skillet, Add at least 1 Tb. of bacon grease and toast the cornmeal until golden brown. Wisk in the milk and boil. Make sure the gravy is thin enough too, because it will thicken slightly after it is cooked. Let boil for about 2 minutes (whisk it while it boils). Adjust the seasonings (you might like to add a pinch of cayenne, nutmeg or white pepper)