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Make your next family picnic fork-optional. Images by Mimi Ritzen Crawford – Food and Prop Stylint by María del Mar Sacasa / ENNIS, Inc. – Recipes by María del Mar Sacasa The beauty of southern food is its delicious, finger-licking simplicity. There’s nothing more laid back than a smear of barbecue sauce on the chin and a frosty glass of sweet tea to wash it all down. Comfort food with a down-home twist has made its way on to menus across the country, from biscuits and gravy to fried chicken and waffles.

We New Englanders have a learning curve when it comes to true Southern fare, however. So says Pat Lee, whose family has owned the Horseshoe Grille property in North Reading for 85 years. He spent time in Houston and Kansas City before introducing his now-award-winning barbecue to the menu in 1991. “Our palates are starting to change,” Lee says. “We had to train our guests on Southern-style versus New England barbecue at first.”

The difference? Down South, meat is typically bathed in a dry rub and then smoked for hours, if not days, on end. The sauce is put on the meat after cooking is complete, unlike the traditional Yankee version that is boiled, sauced, and slow roasted. One thing we can all agree on is the bourbon; Lee has a solid collection of Kentucky whiskey to complement everything from his St. Louis ribs to fried chicken fingers drizzled with bourbon honey.

Over at The American BBQ (locations are in Beverly and Rowley), sauce is king. “We pull from a variety of sauce styles: North Carolina vinegar, chipotle, and yellow mustard, hot and mild,” says owner Steve Pierro, who also spent time down South, even securing one-of-a-kind home recipes from pitmasters before he opened his first location in 2002-a quaint log cabin in Rowley. His 500-pound smoker is a constant reminder of what makes barbecue authentic. Pierro’s passion for the pit is our pleasure, with handmade smoked sausage, cornbread, and beef brisket all worthy of abandoning our forks and asking for extra napkins.

Ease your way down South with this sweet and simple menu at your next backyard barbecue-no smoker needed. Just round up family and friends and holler, “Come and get it!” -Brandy Rand

HORSESHOE GRILLE MINT JULEP

10 mint leaves

1/2 oz. simple syrup

2 oz. bourbon

1/2 oz. rum

Soda water

Muddle mint leaves and simple syrup in the bottom of a rocks glass. Add crushed ice. Pour bourbon and rum over ice. Top with a splash of soda water. To make simple syrup, combine equal parts (1:1) sugar and water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer for several minutes while stirring until the sugar dissolves. Take off heat and cool to room temperature. horseshoe grille, 226 main st., north reading, 978-664-3591, horseshoegrille.com.

AMERICAN BBQ’S SWEET TEA

4 qts. boiling water

20 tea bags (Lipton or other black tea)

2 c. white sugar

1/4 tsp. baking soda

Pour water in a heatproof container and add tea bags; steep for 15 minutes. Lightly squeeze tea bags and remove from container. Add sugar and stir well until diluted. Add baking soda and stir. Chill until cold. The American BBQ, 950 Cummings Center, Beverly, 978-921-1212 and 5 Railroad Ave., Rowley, 978-948-2626; tabbq.com.

QUICK CINNAMON-SUGAR DOUGHNUTS: makes 16 doughnuts

Active time: 15 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Equipment: Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides, 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, 1 pair chopsticks, deep-fat thermometer

2 rolls store-bought biscuits

8 cups vegetable oil

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat oil in Dutch oven or large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat until temperature registers 350°F on deep-fat thermometer. (Oil should be 1- to 1 1/2 inches deep).

Pop biscuits out of packaging and separate, arranging them in single layer on cutting board. Punch out centers of biscuits with ½-inch round biscuit cutter to make doughnuts and doughnut holes.

Add half of the doughnuts and half of the doughnut holes and fry until the bottoms turn golden brown, 1 ½ to 3 minutes. Using chopsticks, turn the doughnuts and holes and fry for until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

Transfer doughnuts to a paper towel-lined plate and cool slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Combine sugar and cinnamon in large plate. Toss doughnuts in cinnamon sugar. Serve warm.

CRISPY FRIED CHICKEN: serves 4 to 6

8 c. peanut oil

1 whole chicken (3-4 lbs.), cut into 8 pieces

1.5 c. buttermilk

1.5tsp. table salt

1 tbsp. finely grated zest plus 1 tbsp. juice from 1 lemon

2 c. all-purpose flour

1.5 tsp. garlic powder

1.5 tsp. onion powder

1.5 tsp. sweet paprika

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Fresh rosemary sprigs, optional

1. Heat oil in Dutch oven or large skillet with tall sides to 350°F (oil should be 2 inches deep). 2. Combine buttermilk, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice in medium bowl. 3. Whisk together flour, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, pepper, thyme, and cayenne on large plate. 4. One piece at a time, dip chicken in buttermilk, then dredge in flour. Transfer flour-coated chicken pieces to a second large plate. 5. Arrange cooling rack on baking sheet. Cook chicken in two batches, turning occasionally with tongs, until crisp and deep golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and allow to rest 5 minutes prior to serving.

SCALLION_CHIVE MASHED POTATOES: serves 4 to 6

4 lbs. medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon gold, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tbsp. salt (additional to taste)

2 ticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter

8 scallions, root ends discarded, minced

1 c. heavy cream

1/2 c. chives, minced

1. Place potatoes in large pot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Add 1 tbsp. salt and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are fork-tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain potatoes in colander. 2. Melt butter in now-empty pot over medium heat. Add scallions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add cream and bring to simmer. Remove from heat. 3. Press potatoes through ricer into pot. Stir in chives and season with salt.  Serve.

BROWN SUGAR-ROASTED CARROTS: serves 4 to 6

3 lbs. medium carrots, peeled

1/4 c. olive oil

2 tbsp. packed dark brown sugar

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes

1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, plus

3 sprigs thyme

1. Arrange oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 450°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 2. Arrange carrots in single layer on prepared baking sheet. In small bowl, combine oil, sugar, salt, pepper, Aleppo pepper, and thyme leaves. Drizzle mixture and rub all over carrots, rearranging carrots in single layer. 3. Roast carrots, turning occasionally, until tender and golden, 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with thyme sprigs. Serve.

PIMENTO CHEESE SPREAD: serves 4 to 6

4 tbsp. mayonnaise

1 tbsp. finely grated yellow or white onion

2 tsp. dry mustard

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 c. (8 oz.) extra-sharp orange cheddar cheese, finely grated

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

2/3 c. jarred or canned piquillo peppers, drained and finely chopped

1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp. lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Hot sauce

1. Melt 2 tbsp. mayonnaise in small skillet over medium heat. Add onion, dry mustard, and cayenne and cook, stirring often, until onion is softened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes. 2. Add cheddar cheese, cream cheese, peppers, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tbsp. mayonnaise to bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Serve with toast points, crackers, or crudites. (For ease, pimento cheese may be made up to a week ahead and stored-keeping refrigerated-in a covered container. Bring the cheese spread to room temperature prior to using in this recipe or serving.)

FLUFFY BUTTERMILK BISCUITS: makes 6 biscuits

1.5 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface

1 tbsp. baking powder

1.5 c. cake flour

1 tbsp. granulated sugar

1.5 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter,chilled and cut crosswise into thin slices, plus 2 tbsp., melted

1.5 c. buttermilk, chilled

Honey (optional)

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 2. Whisk together all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda in large mixing bowl. Add chilled butter to bowl and, using two dinner knives, cut into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. (You can also toss butter slices in flour mixture and quickly press, one slice at a time, between thumb and forefinger, tossing with flour to evenly coat pieces.) Add buttermilk and stir with wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula just till combined. If mixture looks dry, add more buttermilk, 2 tsp. at a time, until dough is cohesive. 3. Lightly flour a clean, dry work surface. Turn dough out onto prepared surface and gently knead just until it comes together, no more than 4 times. Pat dough out into a 10-inch rectangle and fold into thirds. Repeat procedure two more times, then pat into a 1-inch thick circle. 4. Flour biscuit cutter and stamp out-don’t twist-6 biscuits. Arrange them about 1 inch apart on prepared baking sheet. 5. Bake biscuits until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer tray to cooling rack and brush with melted butter. Serve warm with honey and additional butter, if desired.

LEMON BLACKBERRY LAYER CAKE:  serves 10 to 12

Active time: 2 hours

Total time:  5 hours

Equipment: 2 9-inch round baking pans, parchment paper, food processor, electric mixer, 2 cooling racks, medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, cake stand or serving plate, serrated knife, offset spatula, pastry brush

Notes: I used Pepperidge Farm “Pirouettes,”- if you can’t find vanilla, substitute chocolate.

For the Lemon Cake

Baking spray

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons freshly grated zest and 1/4 cup juice from 3 lemons

2 1/4 cups cake flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup milk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

For the White Chocolate Icing

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon finely grated zest and 3/4 cup juice from 6 to 8 lemons

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups milk

10 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped or 10 ounces white chocolate chips

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces and at room temperature

For the Assembly

2 cups blackberry jam or preserves

55 vanilla rolled wafer cookies (See Notes)

10 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped or 10 ounces white chocolate chips

½ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening

2 teaspoons juice from 1 lemon

1/8 teaspoon salt

6 cups blackberries

For the Cake: Lightly coat two 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds and coat once again with baking spray. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

In food processor, pulse 1 1/2 cups sugar and lemon zest until no zest strands remain.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and baking soda together in medium bowl; reserve. Combine milk, lemon juice, and vanilla in glass measuring cup; reserve.

In large bowl, whip egg whites and salt with whisk attachment on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes longer. If you used the stand mixer bowl, transfer whites to separate bowl.

Beat butter and lemon sugar with paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with milk mixture.

Stir 1/3 of egg whites into batter until fully incorporated. With rubber spatula, fold in remaining egg whites. Divide batter equally between prepared pans.

Bake until tester inserted in center of cakes comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer cakes to cooling racks and cool 10 minutes in pans. Turn cakes out directly onto racks, peel off and discard parchment paper, then invert so tops are facing up. Cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the White Chocolate Icing:  Pulse sugar and lemon zest in food processor until no zest strands remain.

Bring lemon juice and lemon sugar to boil over medium-high heat in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup, 10 to 15 minutes.

Combine flour, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Whisk in milk until smooth. Strain mixture into medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a boil and thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in lemon mixture, white chocolate, and vanilla. Transfer mixture to large bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally, 1 to 2 hours. Alternatively, place bowl in ice bath and stir constantly until cooled, about 10 minutes.

Beat milk mixture on low speed with whisk attachment until combined. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, waiting for each piece to be incorporated prior to adding the next. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

To Assemble: With serrated knife, cut each cake in half. Arrange one cake layer on cake stand or serving plate. Stir blackberry jam to loosen, then, with offset spatula, spread 1 cup on cake. Press second cake layer on top and, with clean offset spatula, spread with about ¾ cup icing. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 cup blackberry jam and cake.

Ice top and sides of cake. Press cookies into sides of cake.

Bring cream and shortening to simmer in small saucepan or in bowl in microwave. Place chocolate in medium bowl. Add cream and stir until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and salt.

With a pastry brush, paint cookies with melted chocolate mixture. Once cookies are coated, repeat procedure until no chocolate remains.

Refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes to set. Top cake with blackberries. Serve.