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Blackened Red Drum

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For the past five weeks I’ve been working on a big freelance project that  has utterly consumed me and everything around me. I’ve been eating (literally) sleeping and breathing this project, and while I’m so excited about it and enthusiastic about it I’m also overwhelmingly exhausted. Tired in that way I wasn’t sure tired existed. Tired in that way where I almost forgot my own birthday. That kind of tired.

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Last week was my birthday; 27. That makes 27 years on this earth, which feels like many, many years from where I’m standing.  I can’t complain, 26 was a good year, maybe the best one yet. We accomplished an amazing amount, I feel so much more settled and happy and centered than I did last year. We had a great birthday weekend– fireworks, a trip to Topsail with friends, a whole lot of cooking, drinks and bluegrass and cannolis with my mom. It was a good way to celebrate, and I’m excited for what’s to come.

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Most of what I’ve been cooking has been for the project, but I’ve managed to squeeze in a few recipes here and there that are just for us. On the way home from Carolina Beach on the 4th we picked up some local red drum and blackened it along with a medley of root vegetables I picked up from the farmer’s market. It was the perfect meal, light and fresh. All the reasons to love summer blackened with spices and served up on one plate.

blackened fish 1 Blackened Red Drum

4 red drum filets, skinned and deboned

1/2 stick butter, melted

blackening spices:

1 tsp chipotle

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix together spices. Heat a dry cast iron pan over a medium-high stove. Dredge filets first in butter, then in spices, making sure to coat well on both sides. Cook in hot skillet 2-3 minutes per side, until blackened and cooked through. Serve hot.

Tip: This was super incredibly smoky, so my advice would be to try it on the grill if you can.

Roasted Root Vegetables

1 bunch baby carrots (young carrots, not the cut adult carrots)

10-12 small red potatoes

1 tbsp fresh rosemary

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt & pepper

Halve potatoes. Clean carrots and cut off stems. Toss potatoes and carrots in olive oil with rosemary (minced), salt, and pepper. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

 

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Blueberry Ginger Lemonade

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Wilmington is known for many things. Its Civil War History, its incredible beaches, its thriving film industry, and its rich collection of fossils. Thanks to a perfect storm of sea level rise, hurricanes, and time treasure hunters flock to Wilmington to search the sand dunes and the sea floor.

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A lot of what is desirable and available are megalodon teeth, giant teeth belonging to prehistoric sharks that lived between 25 million and 1.5 million years ago. The predator megalodons would follow whales to shallow water and attack, shedding hundreds of thousands of teeth in the process (shark teeth break off like our fingernails break off and are constantly regrowing). These then-shallow waters now sit 25+ miles offshore in 90+ feet of water and every hurricane that blows through knocks a bunch of new teeth up for discovery.

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This is all to say that last year the Capt’n (Pappie) acquired some dive site locations for Wilmington megalodon ledges and is taking full advantage of our proximity to these ledges. He’ll be doing dives out of Wilmington throughout the summer, which means we’ll be seeing a lot more of him this summer than I have since I was 19. Which I’m pretty psyched about.

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One Saturday while he and my stepmom were here he offered to do a dinner cruise around Wrightsville Beach on his boat Tortuga, so we invited some friends to join us and headed out for a lovely night on the water. I made fried chicken, shrimp & grits, cole slaw, s’mores bars, and vodka blueberry lemonades. We (my stepmom and I- she is a great sous chef, by the way) also made a beautiful cobb salad but we left it at home. C’est la vie!
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We met our friends Angie and Kevin shortly after we moved and we’ve loved getting to know them. Angie is from Raleigh and we share a lot of favorite childhood memories in places like Jordon Lake and Shackleford Banks and Dan and Kevin share the displaced-Northerners outlook on life in the South, which makes for interesting conversations when we start talking culture. It also helps that Kaylee is obsessed with their dog Mink.

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We putted along, talking food and family and sharing stories. Dad cruised us past the yacht club where his parents lived and worked when he was born, which brought all new meaning to my favorite anecdote of my grandma’s. Apparently that summer when she was pregnant with my dad she’d have my grandpa dig a hole for her in the sand so she could tan her back (sunbathing was a favorite pastime of hers), garnering questions from friends about whether or not she was trying to “fry that baby to (her) backbone.” If I recall correctly he was born past his due-date, so maybe their questions had merit.

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(I know, the ponytail is epic right now)

One of the things that I was most excited about in this move back to North Carolina was getting to spend exponentially more time on the water. And while eventually we’d like to get a boat of our own (we need to get a 4 wheel drive  vehicle first, which will probably only happen once we have kids and officially outgrow our tiny hatchback) I’ll be taking full advantage of having Tortuga Charters docking in our neck of the woods.

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Blueberry Lemonade

Serves 6

Juice of 12 lemons

1 pint blueberries

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

2″ fresh ginger

Tonic

Vodka

Heat sugar, water, and ginger in a saucepan. Simmer until sugar has dissolved. Cool completely.

Muddle your blueberries in the bottom of each glass and top with 1oz simple syrup, 1 oz lemon juice, and 2 oz vodka. Mix well. Top off with tonic, adding more or less depending on how strong you’d like it. I made these in mason jars and stuck them (lids on!) in the cooler, which was the most fantastic way ever to bring mixed drinks on the boat. We’ll be doing this again when we picnic!

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Beignets

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Last month we traveled to New Orleans for my sister Lauren’s wedding. We’ve adored Bradley from the start and it was a joyous experience watching on as they took this big next step together. Even better was the opportunity to celebrate these two with our families in the city that they love so much.

 

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As I mentioned before the wedding we decided that the best way to make this trip affordable and also maximize forced family bonding was for us to carpool in a rented minivan with my brothers Reid and Ryan and Ryan’s girlfriend Erin. So the Saturday before the wedding Dan and I drove to Durham, picked up the boys and the van, and then drove to Charlotte for Erin. The original plan was to stay the night in Charlotte and then start the 10 hour drive to New Orleans early Sunday morning. But the nice/insane thing about younger brothers is that they’re up for things like pulling all nighters in a rental van driving through the rural South. Sure! We all said. Let’s drive all night! We’ll be getting there as the world wakes up, ready to eat po’ boys and live it up in New Orleans! Who needs sleep?

 

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Ryan, Erin, and Reid at the Friendship Oak. Sadly the only two pictures of Dan and I together the entire week were blurry. The sad cost of being behind the camera.

 

We made it safely with no hiccups (save that one victim of vehicular possumslaughter in the middle of Alabama somewhere at 2am) and arrived in New Orleans just in time for lunch with Lauren and Bradley (after a memorable stop in Gulfport to see the 500 year old Friendship Oak). After a sandwich and a nap we were ready for a crawfish boil with Bradley’s family to get our week started on the right foot. And while most of the week was a blur of wedding projects and parties, Sunday stands out as one of my favorite family days, ever. I loved that we had the opportunity to spend some quality time with Bradley’s family before the wedding, and it made my heart happy to see how much they’ve welcomed Lauren as one of their own.

 

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Dan and I photographed the wedding and its surrounding events, which was amazing and also insane. I loved being able to be there for their special moments, to help capture one of the most important days of their lives. And since I was also the Matron of Honor I had the rare opportunity to really throw myself into the wedding, to see it from the inside out. I relished being the sister of the bride, and since Genevieve is constantly threatening elopement this may be my one shot at the job. I like to think I did alright.

 

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Elena, Lauren, & Genevieve,  Bachelorette party

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One of the things I was most excited about in visiting New Orleans was the eating. You know me, I love to eat my way through every vacation, and this was no exception. We ate well. We ate a lot. We indulged. Mostly in beignets. Every day included at least a few iced cafe au laits and beignets a’plenty. From the famous Cafe du Monde to freshly fried dough in City Park we were not shy in our beignet consumption. In fact, some of us got very into it.

 

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Ryan enthusiastically coating himself in beignet powdered sugar, horrified child in the background.

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photo by Dan

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Inside the tornado of to-do lists we threw a bash of a bachelorette for Lauren in the Marigny (complete with lots of live music), hung out on some giant live oak trees, watched Ryan dig a hole with an old man, had the obligatory Bourbon Street experience (mine was at 9am on a run but Gen, Erin, and the boys did stay out until 6am one night), had take out daiquiris, explored the French market, played plenty of music on the back patio, cooked a big catfish dinner together as a family, and listened to Genevieve and Naoise say “only in America” about one gazillion times. Plus so much more I can’t even remember it all to list it. Did I mention the beignets?

 

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photo by Lauren’s bridesmaid, Caitlin. From left: Genevieve, James, Janet, Bradley, Lauren, Elena, Ryan, Reid, Dan.

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Cousins! From left: Mary, Elena, Lauren, Genevieve, Elizabeth. Photo by Dan

 

All in all, the wedding was perfect. There were moments when it seemed the world might end (as with all weddings), but I’m of the school of thought that quirks enhance the experience, so the more the merrier! At the end of the day Lauren and Bradley were married, the family had a raucous good time, and their love and happiness were infectious. Congratulations, Lauren & Bradley!

 

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We’ll definitely be back to New Orleans soon to visit (with a bit less on our figurative plate next time and more on our literal plate, I think), which already has me hungry. Until then, I’ll have to make do with beignets at home. These were simple to throw together and hit the spot. They absolutely satisfied the beignet craving that strikes every time I look through the wedding photos!

 

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Lauren & Bradley’s surprise second line exit from the reception, complete with a full brass band! For more pictures keep your eye on the Pressed Magnolia blog, they’re steadily rolling out!

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Beignets

 

1 tbsp dry active yeast

1/2 cup hot water

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 cups flour, plus more for kneading

Oil for frying (we tried it with coconut- fantastic results!)

Powdered sugar to top

 

Mix the yeast and the water together in a large bowl. Melt butter, milk, and cream together in a saucepan and then pour into the yeast mixture. Stir in sugar, eggs, vanilla, and half of the flour. Knead in the remaining flour and then knead for 5-7 minutes or until stiff and fully incorporated. Transfer to a plastic bag and chill 4-6 hours or overnight.

 

Heat oil in a deep skillet to 375F. Flour a working surface and roll the dough out until it’s about half an inch thick. Slice the dough into 3×3″ or 4×4″ pieces. Fry about 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly and then coat with sifted powdered sugar. Serve very hot and with an ice cold cafe au lait.

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