Serious Entertaining: Southern Comfort

Serious Entertaining

Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.


[Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

Though it might be spring already, there are still times when I'm in the mood for comfort food. That doesn't mean I want a heavy plate of food, just some simple, satisfying fare that seems imbued with the wisdom of the ages.

Southern cuisine definitely has this combination of history and soul. And no matter if you were born in Boston or Biloxi—making this menu will satisfy your belly and your mind.

Salad with Pimiento Cheese Toasts


I happen to love pimiento cheese, especially when I make it at home. The base combination of sharp cheddar cheese and mayo can be tweaked to your taste: I like the addition of pepper jack cheese and cayenne pepper.

Though it's common to simply serve pimiento cheese with crackers, I like transforming it into a proper first course by riffing off the French bistro classic, salad with warm goat cheese toasts. Mixed greens are tossed in a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, then topped with slices of warm baguette spread with pimiento cheese.

Get the Recipe: Salad With Pimiento Cheese Toasts »

Shrimp and Grits

For me, this is an ultimate comfort food—simple yet hearty. The grits are warm and gooey with Parmesan cheese and come together in a flash if you use the quick-cooking variety (it's ok to cheat sometimes). The shrimp are quickly sautéed in a bit of oil (don't overcook them!), then that flavorful oil leftover in the pan gets used to form the base of a simple sauce made with garlic and scallions, and thickened with a touch of roux. I like to stir it into the grits as I eat. Quickly wilted spinach adds a breath of freshness and makes this a complete main course.

Get the Recipe: Shrimp and Grits »

Sweet Potato Pie


Pumpkin pie may be tied to the holidays, but sweet potato pie is perfect year round. Canned sweet potatoes are cloyingly sweet, but luckily fresh sweet potatoes cook in a flash in the microwave and offer much better flavor (make sure to poke them with a skewer to prevent them from exploding). Once the potatoes are cooked, they come together into a light custard flavored with a little cinnamon and a touch of buttermilk, which adds a subtle tang. Whipped cream and ice cream are excellent accompaniments, if you feel like going the extra mile.

Get the Recipe: Sweet Potato Pie »