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The Picnic Series

Growing up, we  went on a lot of picnics.  Before my parents got divorced, when we lived in Florida, we would take the boat out to what we called Elena’s Island.  I thought it was mine for the longest time, that we were the only people that knew about it.  It was a small island off the coast of Stuart that was lousy with mangroves whose roots provided the perfect fort.  We’d pull up and spend the day swimming, exploring, and eating.  It was my favorite place, my own magical getaway.  There were other picnic spots, too.  Because my mom’s family was in the northeast and my dad’s was in North Carolina we were always on the road visiting people.  We’d stop along the way and have family picnics in parks, eating my mom’s specialty subs.

Later, after the divorce, picnics were an easy way for my mom to entertain us.  Despite our life-long allegiance to UNC, the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham became an extension of our backyard.  Before their ban on climbing the trees (and probably the reason for the ban) we would spend hours in the branches of the magnolia trees, rolling down the giant hill, pretending we were characters from Anne of Green Gables under the weeping willow.  Okay, that last one was just me, my brothers had no interest in Anne or her bosom buddies.  During a time of intense family turmoil those carefree moments in the trees became what we all held on to.

My whole life, especially after my father remarried and there were eight of us to account for, we vacationed one of two ways.  We either headed to the coast and loaded up on a boat, eating fried chicken and salt and vinegar chips and chasing wild ponies, or we headed to the mountains, climbing our way as high as possible before eating lunch with our feet dangling off a cliff.

Picnics have always been a staple in our lives.   I’ve always loved picnicing.  Picnics were where I made my best memories, where I ate my best meals.  These days Dan and I love to picnic in the warm months, taking hikes or exploring a local park or botanical garden.  So much of my time is a whirlwind of technology, it’s great to get outside and enjoy a simple, relaxing meal in a beautiful setting.

Next month my mother and I will be featured in Southern Living magazine.  In the feature, mom and I are on a special mother’s day picnic, eating recipes I developed.  I am more than thrilled about this, it’s totally surreal and I can’t believe it’s happening.  To celebrate, and to lead up to it’s publication, I asked all the mothers in my family to send me their favorite picnic recipe with a story, photograph, or memory.  I was overwhelmed by the support and response, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

I read somewhere this winter that 2011 is the year of pie, picnics, Southern culture, DIY, vintage, and pork.  Which means, amazingly, this is my year.  These next few months, as I share the stories and photos from my family’s picnic adventures, I’d love to hear yours.

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Chocolate Pecan Pie

This week Dan’s company held a dessert-off.  The prize was steep, an iPad2.  We really wanted to win.  So I gave some instruction as Dan made chocolate pecan cup pies, that he served with his very own chocolate cherry stout.  It was a delicious combo.  We didn’t win, but Dan did learn how to make pie all on his own, which is something.

I filmed Dan making the pie and then he edited the video together. It was a combined effort, this video.

Chocolate Pecan Pie

1 stick of butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

3/4 cup corn syrup

1/4 tsp salt

3 eggs

1 1/2 cup chopped (or crushed) pecans

Pie crust  (recipe here)

1 cup mini chocolate chips

Melt butter and set aside to cool.  Beat eggs, then add sugar, syrup, and butter.  Whisk together.  Incorporate pecans.

Roll out dough and press it into a pie pan (or cupcake tins if you’re making cup-pies).  Sprinkle a handful of chocolate chips onto the dough.  Add a layer of the filling.  Sprinkle more chocolate chips and top with the remaining filling.

Bake at 350* for 30 minutes.  Let cool completely before serving.

 

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Citrus Tart with Blood Orange Curd

Happy Pi(e) Day!  I know you thought that, after a grueling National Pie Month in which all you lurking cake lovers were so over pie, you’d be back in the realm of sanity for a bit.  But today is March 14.  3.14.  The first three numbers of the mathematical constant Pi.   And to celebrate this mathematical constant that I could not explain to you if I tried my hardest, we eat pie.  Of course.

Yesterday I attended a Pi(e) Day Observed party at my friend Rachel’s house where there were over a dozen pies in a variety of sweet and savory flavors.  All delicious.  This year for Pi(e) Day I decided to contribute a tart, which is, I believe you can argue, a subset of pie.  And because the market has been bursting with blood oranges these past few weeks, I couldn’t resist the idea of a citrus tart.

To form the base of my tart I made a blood orange curd.  It was my first curd, and I was very nervous about it.  A curd is a combination of eggs, citrus, butter, and sugar.  It’s yogurt-like in consistency and can have a sweet or tart citrusy flavor.  And when it serves as the middle layer between crisp crust and sweet fruit, it is perfection.

When it comes to tarts the crust is baked by itself, which means that the use of some sort of pie weight (whether they be ceramic or metal balls or beans) is necessary.  Pie weights keep the pie crust from puffing up, allowing plenty of room for you to fill in with curds and layers of beautiful fruit.

I topped my curd with a layer of sliced oranges.  This was perfect at first but as soon as we got into the car to go to the party the movement of the car prompted the oranges to settle and get swallowed up by the curd.  Which didn’t impact the flavor but did make it slightly less pretty.  If I were to do it again I would do a secondary layer of oranges, I think.  Overall this tart was perfectly tart and very delicious.  It was a great way to celebrate Pi.

Finally, I wanted to share an anecdote.  One of the questions I get fairly regularly that is not on the FAQ page (but maybe should be) and one of the questions that Live Richly asked but that didn’t make it into the Q&A is how I came up with the name of the blog.  The honest answer is that I don’t remember.  I remember coming up with a handful of names and running them by my BFF Megan.  She picked the one she like the  most, which was Biscuits and Such.  Which, for the record, is the way I make 90% of my choices.  I don’t buy clothes without texting her a picture from the dressing room first.  I don’t submit interview answers without her seeing them first.  When I write these blog posts, I write them as though I am talking to her.  Which is (I hope) why people say that reading b&s is like talking to a good friend.  So I wanted to take a moment and shoutout to my homegirl, my best friend for so many years.  She’s the only person I’d ever wear leopard print for.

Citrus Tart with Blood Orange Curd

Curd:

1 cup blood orange juice

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup sugar

6 eggs, slightly beaten

1 stick butter

Pie Dough:

2 1/2 cups flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ginger

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 stick butter, cold

1/2 cup ice cold water

1 tsp lemon extract

Top with:

5 oranges

The night before you want to make your tart, begin making your curd.  Squeeze approximately 6 blood oranges and 2 lemons (1 1/2 cups total liquid) and strain.  Cube the butter.  Over low heat combine the juice, sugar, and eggs.  Stir constantly, adding the butter a few cubes at a time and allowing to melt before adding more.  Do not boil.  Stir until the curd thickens.  Strain again and chill.

To make your crust combine flour, sugar, salt, and ginger in a medium sized bowl.  Use your hands to work in vegetable shortening.  Cube the butter and work that in with your fingers as well.  Stir in extract and water, a little at a time, until the dough forms a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it’s 1/4″ thick.  Press into tart pan.  Cover with parchment paper (I used foil because I didn’t know better, parchment is superior in this instance because it allows the pie to breathe. Lesson learned) and fill with beans or rice.

Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.  Let cool.

Peel and segment your oranges.  Remove all excess peel and pith, cutting as necessary.  Slice each segment in half.

Remove the pie crust from the tart pan and fill with curd.  In a circular pattern gently place two layers of oranges into the pie.  Chill for 1 hour.  Serve.

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