Blog - biscuits and such
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Deluxe Mac & Cheese

I’m going to start this post by apologizing.  I have no process photos to offer.  This weekend was a hot mess.  Our building’s hot water heater broke Friday and so all weekend I was well… dirty.  And grumpy.  Sunday we were planning on going to Northern Virginia to meet our new niece Amelie and see her (always wonderful) big sister Meredith and their parents, Megan and John.  Because we were dirty (and unkempt) I scheduled haircuts in Takoma Park with our favorite hair stylist and planned on getting shampooed and trimmed on our way south.  Sunday morning was a whirlwind of cooking and baking for the new parents and their family- enchilada casserole, eggplant lasagna, crispy marshmallow bars, and this amazing bacon-laden mac and cheese.  Needless to say between the cooking and the inability to properly wash the dishes I was using, I didn’t take any pictures.  I’m sorry.

photo by John Turcotte

This is Amelie.  She’s adorable and sweet and makes very, very cute faces.  We absolutely love being Aunt and Uncle to her big sister and we can only imagine that Amelie will be as much of a delight as Meredith.  Welcome to the family, little one!

photo by John Turcotte

Deluxe Mac & Cheese

1 lb macaroni or shells

1 lb bacon

1 tbsp butter

3 shallots

3 cups porcini mushrooms

2 cloves garlic

1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese

1/2 cup gruyère cheese

3 cups milk

2 tbsp flour

1 cup heavy cream

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp salt

1/2 stick butter

Boil macaroni.  Set aside.  Cook bacon.  Set aside.  Slice shallots and mushrooms, mince garlic.

Remove all but 2 tbsp bacon grease from the pan.  Add 1 tbsp butter.  Add shallots and mushrooms to pan.  Cook over medium low heat until caramelized.  Remove.  Add mushrooms to the pan and, if necessary, a touch more butter.  While those are cooking, grate your cheese and chop your bacon.

Remove the mushrooms from the pan when browned.  Stir together mushrooms, shallots, garlic, and chopped bacon.

In a medium pot heat milk and cream.  Be careful that it doesn’t get too hot, the milk could curdle.  When it is hot, set aside.

In the same pot, melt 1/2 stick of butter.  Whisk in flour and continue whisking to prevent clumps.  Stir the milk mixture back in and add 3/4 of the grated cheese.  Stir until cheese has melted.  Remove from heat and add lemon juice, paprika, and salt.  Stir the bacon mixture into the pasta.  Place in a casserole dish.  Ladle the cream mixture over the pasta.  Stir once to make sure it is evenly coated.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

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Caramel Green Tomato Pie

This weekend was a bit of a whirlwind.  I took a trip down to Durham to see my family, take some photos, and show my friend Rachel the highlights of the south.  Partly because she wanted to and partly because I’m converting the north one Bojangles chicken biscuit at a time.

Left: American Tobacco Campus in Durham, Right: Downtown Durham

The trip came about because, as employees of a Jewish institution, Rachel and I had Thursday and Friday off for a holiday.  And as I had been asked to come down sometime in the fall to do some Pressed Magnolia photoshoots it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get away and enjoy the motherland.  We realized a few days before we set out that on Sunday, as we were driving back up north through Virginia, there would be a pie festival going on in Charlottesville.  It seemed too serendipitous so we decided not just to visit the festival, but to enter.

Left: Entrance to ATC, Right: My brother Reid

After deciding, on a whim, to compete in the pie festival the next step was to settle on what pie we would serve.  Starting with caramel apple pie (not exciting enough) we moved onto caramel fried green tomatoes, a smash hit dessert from last year.  The idea of fried tomatoes inside the pie didn’t sit well, so combined all of the ideas- a caramel green tomato pie with caramel fried green tomatoes on top.  And a graham cracker crust.

The process of making this pie was an… experience.  We got to Durham on Thursday and had pretty steady number of photoshoots from Thursday afternoon until Saturday night.  We were able to duck into the Durham Farmer’s Market Saturday morning (in between a shoot and a visit to the mall to have my glasses repaired- they fell apart, naturally) to pick up green tomatoes, but we weren’t able to make the pie until after dinner (a late, long dinner) that evening.  We finally got started on the pie around 11.  By 11.30 it had dawned on us that we were missing heavy cream, I had dropped a pie dish (with the graham cracker crust in it), and I was totally broken down by allergies, exhaustion, and maybe a few glasses of wine.  It was a comedy of errors, everything from the crust to the caramel went wrong.

Left: Building in Charlottesville, Right: Charlottesville Chalkboard Wall

We baked the pies Sunday morning and hit the road, making it to Charlottesville around 12.  We dropped our pie off and then loitered around the city until 3, when the festival started.  Right after we walked in I heard someone (not a judge) point at my pie, say “that one wasn’t good” and then walk away.  This launched me into a shame spiral, I was convinced we’d made a terrible mistake and that the pie was the worst thing ever made.  They announced the finalists (we didn’t make the cut) and we left, eager to both get back to Baltimore and escape the shame.

Left: A pie related book for a pie related weekend, Right: Downtown Charlottesville

Here is where I’m willing to admit I got a little hasty.  Fueled by someone else’s criticism I decided the pie was awful and spent the trip home trying to figure out ways to make it better.  About halfway home I received a tweet from one of the judges saying how much she had loved the pie.  Not ten minutes later a friend (also on twitter) directed me to the results page and, weirdly, congratulated me.  Turns out that my pie was both not the worst pie ever and also the judge’s select.  As in, while it didn’t place, I got a nod from the judges.  Which was good enough for me.  Lesson here: shame spirals are lame and you really shouldn’t bash somebody’s pie in a room that only has twenty people in it.  GEEZ.

Caramel Green Tomato Pie

(Ed note: This is the recipe as it was presented for the Cville Pie Fest judges.  If I were to make any changes, I would toss the tomatoes (sliced) in the juice of one lemon, to give it a bite.)

Caramel:

2 cups sugar

4 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla

1 cup heavy cream

Graham Cracker Crust:

10 graham crackers

1 stick of butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp allspice

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp nutmeg

Pie:

4 green tomatoes

To make the crust:

Begin by making the crust.  In a food processor blend the graham crackers until they’re crumbs.  Melt butter and mix together crackers, butter, sugar, and spices.  Use your hands to press the crust into the pie dish.  The crust should be 1/4″ thick.  Heat a 350 degree oven and bake the pies for 5 minutes.  Set aside.

To make the caramel:

In your heaviest pan combine sugar and water over medium heat.  Stir constantly as the sugar becomes liquid, then as the water evaporates out and it becomes solid, and finally as the sugar melts.  When the sugar is liquid and golden in color pour in the heavy cream.  Continue to stir constantly, though the caramel will bubble and steam.  Stir until smooth and then let cool.

Slice your tomatoes and toss them in lemon juice.  Put the first layer of tomatoes in the pie dishes, topping with caramel.  Continue to layer until the dish is full, finishing with caramel.  Sprinkle the top with some of the leftover graham cracker mixture.  Cover with tin foil and bake at 400 for 30 minutes.  Remove the tin foil and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Top with caramel fried green tomatoes.

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Pickled Okra

Okra is one of those vegetables that people feel passionately about.  Either they love it, with a dedicated, all consuming love, or they hate it.  Dan and I fall into opposite ends of the okra spectrum.  He doesn’t want it within ten feet of his plate (or at least no closer than my side of the couch) and I can’t get enough of it.  I want it fried, I want it stewed, and always (always) I wanted it pickled.  When I was growing up I used to love to settle into the the front porch with a good book and a jar of pickled okra.  Nothing made me happier than the crunchy outside, the spicy vinegary flavor, and the unexpected pop of the seeds beneath your teeth.  In my lifetime I have consumed an embarrassing amount of pickled okra, one jar at a time.  And I don’t regret a bite.

This year we grew okra in the back yard, which was a lot of fun.  About a month into the plant’s existence what looked like a seed pod (the part of the okra you eat) appeared on the plant.  Great news, except I had never seen a flower.  I consulted the interwebz and learned that the okra flower blooms for less than a day, so I just missed it.  Afterwards I always felt a little rush of excitement when I caught the okra flowering, like I was seeing something secret.  Because I’m a five year old, obviously.  And because growing plants is a magical experience.

This is a traditional pickled okra recipe, similar to what any of your southern grandmothers make or what I spent my childhood eating on the front porch.  Heavily vinegar based, like any pickle, and spicy, this is one of my favorite snacks.  And definitely my favorite way to eat okra.  In other news, this weekend I’ll be submitting a pie into the Cville Pie Fest in Charlottesville, VA.  It’s a pie that is brand spankin’ new and might fail really horribly.  In front of a lot of people.  Come by and watch the fun!

Pickled Okra

4 pounds of fresh okra

6 pint size canning jars with lids and bands

3 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar

3 1/2 cups water

6 tbsp red pepper flakes

12 cloves garlic

2 tbsp salt

6 tsps whole mustard seeds

6 tsps whole cumin seeds

1 jalapeño, sliced

Begin by sterilizing your jars.  About an hour before you want to can fill two large pots with water.  I recommend that you have some canning equipment, at the very least a large pot with a rack and a pair of tongs.  You’ll need a separate pot for sterilizing your jars and lids.  Bring both pots of water to a boil.  In one pot (the one without a lid) place your jars and the lids (not the screw bands).  Allow them to boil for at least 10 minutes, but keep them in the pot until right before you fill them.

In a non reactive sauce pan heat vinegar, water, and salt.

Clean the okra and cut off the stems.  In each sterilized jar, place two cloves of garlic, one slice of jalapeño, 1 tbsp red pepper flakes, 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1 tsp cumin seeds, and as much okra as you can pack in tightly.  Ladle vinegar mixture into each jar, leaving about 1/4″ headspace.  Wipe the rim down, place a clean lid on each jar, and screw band on tightly.  Process in your large pot (with rack) for 10 minutes.  Remove from water, give the band another squeeze, and allow to sit.  Once the jars have sealed (you’ll know if you can’t pop the lid up and down), set them in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks.  They will stay for up to a year.

**As with any preservation process, there are risks.  If you notice anything abnormal, discard the pickles immediately.  Botulism is no fun.**

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