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Grammy’s Chicken Spezzatini & Molten Lava Cake

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One of the most unfortunate things about living in Florida was how far away we were from my mother’s side of the family.  My grandparents made frequent trips down to see us, but we still didn’t see them as much as I would have liked.  When we moved to North Carolina we were closer, but it wasn’t until I decided to go to school in Baltimore that I got the opportunity to see my grandparents on a regular basis.  They had, by that point, moved from New Jersey to the D.C. area, so I got to see them a few times a semester.

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I have really enjoyed reconnecting with my grandparents of an adult.  They’re both completely hilarious and adorable and a lot of fun to be around.  My grandmother, Marlene, is a little morsel of a woman, barely (if at all) reaching five feet, which means I have towered over her for at least ten years.  She can quite literally fill a conversation all by herself, which is why a phone call that starts with “I don’t have a lot of time to chat” usually ends an hour later with me completely filled in on the goings on of everyone in my family, plus some extras.

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As you can probably imagine, my grandmother is also an amazing chef.  One of my favorite “bits” that my grandparents do goes as follows.  We’ll be out at a restaurant, and my grandmother will be perusing the dessert menu and come across an item that she makes well.  She’ll exclaim “Molten lava cake!  I make an excellent molten lava cake!”  My grandfather, in turn, will huff, and respond “HA!  When was the last time you made a molten lava cake?  You never make ME molten lava cake.  You don’t even make me cookies!  Do you know what I would do for some cookies?”  I call it a bit because even though I’m pretty sure they do this to entertain me, I know Poppie probably wants some damn cookies.

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When I invited my grandmother to be a part of this mother’s day series, we decided that it would be fun if we cooked something together, as they only live half an hour away from us.  So this past weekend Dan & I drove to Gaithersburg and spent the afternoon cooking, drinking, and laughing with my grandparents.  My grandmother had a rough menu laid out when I got there, but we made a few decisions ad-lib, much to Poppie’s chagrin (he’s a planner).  We made Chicken Spezzatini a la Lieggis, Molten Lava Cake, and sangria.

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Chicken spezzatini is breaded chicken cooked with mushrooms and white wine.  It is served with fettucini or spaghetti that has been tossed in olive oil, butter, and parmesan.  We also had it with a side of fresh spinach tossed in garlic and olive oil, one of my favorites.  Molten lava cake is a dense chocolate cake baked in a ramekin, with a liquid (or molten) center.

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Our molten lava cake didn’t turn out quite the way we expected it to.  On account of the sangria, Grammy & I didn’t feel as compelled to follow the recipe as we usually would have, and so the center was not really molten at all.  I’ll take responsibility for over whisking, though I should really just blame Poppie & Dan for the heavy-handed sangria.  It was wonderful to spend the afternoon relaxing and cooking slowly, trying fruitlessly to refuse appetizers and then getting scolded for not eating enough dinner.  It was a wonderful meal and I loved every minute of it.

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Chicken Spezzatini
Source: Marlene Waldron

4 boneless and skinless chicken breasts (cut into slivers)

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 lemon

1 cup dry white wine

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup flour

1 cup chicken broth

2 tbsp melted butter

1 cup milk

Salt & pepper

Dip each piece of chicken in milk, and then dredge in flour.  Heat olive oil and butter in a pan and brown each piece of chicken, then set it aside.  Add mushrooms, garlic, and salt & pepper to the pan.  Add wine and lemon juice, and allow to reduce.

Pour in chicken broth and allow to reduce again.  Add chicken back into the pan, and let the whole mixture simmer for at least half an hour.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve along side fettucini.

Serves 4.

Molten Lava Cake

2 tsp melted butter, for glazing ramekins

1 cup chocolate chips

1 stick butter, room temperature

2 whole eggs, room temp

2 egg yolks, room temp

1/4 cup sugar

3 tbsp flour

1 tbsp cocoa powder

Begin by melting butter and chocolate together.  Set aside.

Whip eggs, yolks, and sugar with an electric mixer until a ribbon forms.

Combine flour and cocoa powder, and sift into egg mixture, half at a time.  Fold in melted chocolate and butter.

Brush each ramekin with melted butter, and pour mixture into ramekin.  Allow the ramekins to stand at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before baking.  Bake at 450 for 8 minutes.

Serves 4.

(Second to last photograph by Daniel C. Hoerr)

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Bobbie’s Smothered Pork Chops

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I’ve talked a lot about my grandmother, Barbara, on this site.  She, along with my mother, taught me a lot of what I know about cooking, and she taught me most of what I know about southern cooking.  After my parents divorced and we moved closer to her, I spent a lot of time with her as my parents were trying to get back on their feet.  I was fascinated with her stories, I loved eating her food, and she was an amazing stabilizer for me in a time when my world was going crazy.

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I asked my father to tell me what he thought his mother’s “favorite recipe” was.  I was thinking of doing mountain pie for her recipe, because that is my favorite thing that she cooked.  But, I decided to ask my father because well, he had 26 more years of experience with her than I did.  I guess, however, that the tendency to impose our own favorites on people who can no longer speak for themselves is human nature.  I have no idea what my grandmother would have said, but my father suggested that I make his favorite recipe of her’s, her smothered pork chops.  If you remember, I made my own version of this recipe a few months ago.  I loved it when my grandmother made it, and I love it when my father makes it, so I consider it to be a good choice.

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I didn’t read through the recipe again before I went grocery shopping, so I came home with green onions and a shallot where my father had said green pepper and onion.  The grocery store also only had boneless pork chops, so I had to make due with that.  Traditionally my grandmother served this with a side of white rice and spinach soaked in vinegar.  In my years away from home I have become much more partial to spinach tossed in olive oil and garlic, so I made that instead.  I made jasmine rice, and stirred in butter, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.  And boy was the whole thing delicious.

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Bobbie’s Smothered Pork Chops
Source: Ken Rosemond

2 pork chops

1 green onion

1 shallot

1 can diced tomatoes

2 garlic cloves

Salt & pepper

4 tbsp olive oil

4 cups fresh spinach

For this recipe, my father and grandmother always used a cast iron skillet, because it gives the pork a nice crispy skin.  And even though you end up simmering it all together, the starter skin is still important in the overall texture.

Begin by rubbing each side of your chop with garlic (1 clove, chopped) salt and pepper, and one tbsp olive oil.  Heat up your cast iron pan with another tbsp, and get them going.  You want to cook the chops for 5-7 minutes on each side, so while it’s cooking you can dice the shallots and green onion.

When the pork is done, add the onion, shallot, and tomato to the pan.  Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

About five minutes before you’re ready to eat, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil in a separate pan.  Chop the other clove of garlic and begin to sauté it.  A handful at a time, add your fresh spinach.  Use a pair of tongs to turn the spinach until it has all wilted.  Let it simmer in its juices for no more than a minute, and serve.

Serve with saffron or white rice.

Serves 2.

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Stuffed Red Peppers

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One of my favorite meals during the summer months are stuffed vegetables.  I love the flavors of the roasted vegetables, and it makes for a healthy, filling, whole meal.  A few of our favorite things to stuff are peppers, mushrooms, and tomatoes.  We’ve even stuffed the occasional jalapeño.

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There are certain flavors I like to include in my stuffed vegetables.  For one, I think that parsley always adds a nice freshness.  One thing I like about putting parsley in a stuffed vegetable is that it doesn’t really wilt as much as other herbs would.  For instance, if you put basil in a 400 degree oven, it’s brown within seconds.  Parsley holds its own in high temperatures, which means that the whole dish maintains a level of freshness, even after being roasted.

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I also really love using parmesan.  By nature, parmesan is a lot lower in fat and calories than other cheeses, and it’s not as heavy.  It adds a level of creaminess to the dish, but it doesn’t weigh it down.  For this particular recipe I used ground turkey, but I also like to stuff with sausage, particularly chicken sausage.  I really prefer to stuff with poultry, as red meat seems to be too much.  All in all, this is a delicious recipe, and I think you’ll find it a sweet warm weather dinner.

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Stuffed Red Peppers

1 cup ground turkey

1/2 cup parsley

1/4 cup grated parmesan plus 2 tbsp for sprinkling

1/2 onion

4 tbsp olive oil

2 bell peppers

2 garlic cloves

1 tbsp fresh rosemary

1/2 tbsp fresh oregano

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp butter

1 cup cooked jasmine rice

Heat half of your oil in a saute pan.  Begin to cook the turkey.  While the turkey is cooking, chop your onions, oregano, and rosemary.  When the turkey is mostly cooked, add in onions and herbs.  Continue to saute until the onions are tender.

In a medium size bowl, mix together the hot ingredients with the parsley, spices, cheese, butter, and rice.  The rice should be cooked prior to this step, and should be al dente, not mushy (so avoid a rice cooker).

Cut the tops off of your peppers and scoop out the seeds and the center pulp.  Stuff each pepper with the mixture, and place in a lightly greased baking pan.  If you want these to look a little fancy, you can place the top back on.  Sprinkle parmesan on top of the stuffing, and drizzle the remaining olive oil over both peppers.

Bake at 400 for 30 minutes.

Serves 2.

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