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Slow Cooked Winter Vegetables

vegetable medley

Last night we had the great pleasure of hosting new friends for dinner. Ryanna, her husband Nick, and their son are emblematic of the community we’ve found in Wilmington, and talking with them over dinner and wine was an absolute treat. Rye is the powerhouse behind the local food community Grub, where she aims, one workshop and consultation at a time, to help people find their way back to healthy, nourishing food. She and I see very eye to eye when it comes to seeking out full, real foods that come from plants and animals and avoiding foods that come from laboratories. It was one of those amazing conversations where I kept exclaiming “EXACTLY! I AGREE EXACTLY! Full fats ARE wonderful! Butter is NOT the enemy!” And that we also got to laugh about life, SciFi, family, and the South? I couldn’t have asked for a better dinner, I feel so lucky to have found them!  The more time we spend here the more we really do feel like Wilmington is exactly where we’re meant to be.

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I decided to make a dinner that showcased some of my favorite ingredients, so naturally, I served braised shortribs over creamy grits. I also wanted to add a roasted vegetables element to the meal, something that highlighted what is delicious and available this time of year, and also something that complimented the rather dreary dip back into winter weather we’ve been experiencing. I settled on collards, white sweet potato, cremini mushrooms, shallots, and some of Dan’s homemade bacon all cooked in a touch of butter. This kind of vegetable medley is a staple in my repertoire because it goes well with everything from braised meats to a fried egg, and can be made with whatever is available at the market. You could easily add beets, any kind of green, carrots, bok choy, and on and on. Thrown in the bowl along with the grits and the short rib and the vegetables brought all the warmth and earthy flavors I was hoping for along with a host of ingredients I feel great about serving to my guests.

vegetable medley 2 A note- I wanted to thank you for your patience as posting slowed a little here. Now that the marathon is over (hallelujah) and I don’t have 20 mile training runs to fit into my schedule I’m starting to feel like the world is my oyster once again. I’m so excited to dive into the projects we’ve got lined up for this spring and summer!

Slow Cooked Winter Vegetables

1/4- 1/2 stick butter

3 cloves garlic

2 shallots

1/4 lb bacon

1 sweet potato

1 bunch collards

2 dozen cremini mushrooms

Salt, pepper, cinnamon, chipotle, to taste

Large cast iron skillet or large frying pan

Slice your shallots, cube your bacon, and dice your garlic. Start half of the shallots and garlic in a pat of butter over medium-low heat. Slowly add in bacon, a few cubes at a time. Peel and cube sweet potato. Stir in to pan, along with spices, adding butter as needed to make sure nothing sticks. Cover (I use the lid from our stock pot which lays down directly on top of the veggies) and cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. This gives the potatoes a chance to cook through a bit. Chop the collards roughly and stir in, along with the remaining shallots (and probably a dab more butter). Cover again and let simmer.

In a separate pan start a bit of butter for the mushrooms. Clean and cube them and then saute in batches, transferring to the larger pan as they cook. This allows the mushrooms the opportunity to sweat a bit and cook with their requisite space.

Once everything is in the pan cook over low heat until the collards are tender, approximately another 15 minutes.

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Banana Almond Muffins

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I am a firm believer that it’s important to hide your crazy early on in relationships. It would never have worked if I’d introduced myself to Dan by saying “Hi my name is Elena I’m a hypochondriac with giant hair who is also fairly certain that there are sharks in the deep end of every pool.” No, that’s crazy. Instead I just showed him my compass (not a metaphor) and let him figure the rest out over time, hopefully at the same rate that he discovered that I was awesome. The crazy to awesome ratio must be maintained at a steady rate for the early stages of any relationship (romantic or otherwise) as a way of not scaring potential friends away. And while some things are easier to figure out than others (like big hair), other quirks unfold at their own pace. For instance, it wasn’t until we moved in together that Dan realized I had a habit of keeping brown bananas in my freezer.

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When I first started this blog I always had brown and black bananas in my freezer, the stray banana from a bunch that got too ripe to eat but could be saved for banana bread. And Dan thought that was insane. He couldn’t fathom why half our freezer needed to be filled with brown bananas, especially since my follow through was pretty terrible and I always put more bananas into the freezer than I took out for banana bread. Combine this with my penchant for savingwith soups and stews and stocks and our freezer became a black hole of squirreled away food. That I usually forgot about. I’ve long since stopped filling our freezer with bananas, and only partially because it drove Dan crazy. As I became more aware of the world around me (and my impact) my desire to eat a banana didn’t outweigh the environmental cost of getting them to my freezer door, so gradually our supply dwindled as I whipped up the final bunches of bread. Life moved onward, I filled our freezer door with other things that made Dan shake his head at me, and months or years would pass between each time I made banana bread.

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This week, however, I got sent home with a big bunch of brown bananas. They’d been forgotten about, left in a bag in the corner of a kitchen, and were in perfect condition for banana bread. I popped them right into the freezer and today I pulled out my banana bread recipe and got to it, thinking I’d have banana bread muffins for breakfast this week. When I looked at the recipe, however, a family recipe, I decided to make some tweaks to fit the way we choose to eat during the week. I substituted the two cups of sugar with 1/4 cup of honey, the buttermilk with Greek yogurt, cut down the amount of flour, used almonds instead of pecans (that’s what I had on hand), and added a few tablespoons of peanut butter. The end result was a perfect muffin to grab on my way to work– hearty, not too sweet, filling, and packed with whole foods that will keep me full all morning. They’re especially delicious split, toasted, and topped with nut butter and a drizzle of honey.

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the risks of photographing in the living room

Banana Almond Bread

6 ripe bananas, fresh or frozen

3 eggs

1 cup Greek yogurt

1/4 cup honey

2 cups bread flour

1 cup chopped almonds

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of salt

2 tbsp peanut butter

1/2 cup water

Peel and chop bananas. Combine in mixer with eggs, yogurt, honey, almonds, cinnamon, salt, peanut butter, baking soda, and water. Mix until completely combined, then add in flour, half a cup at a time. Heat oven to 400. Fill muffin tins (or bread pan) with batter and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until cooked through (check after 45 minutes).

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2/100: Nash County Sweet Potato Chess

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I’ve made no secret about the fact that chess pies are the greatest pies that exist. I mean sure, almost nothing beats a good apple pie and mountain pie is my special birthday treat, but as a category, chess pies rule. For one, they’re versatile. You can make anything from a Tarheel Pie to the Baltimore Bomb to a vinegar pie and they all fall into the same category. Like cousins in an incredibly tasty family. Secondly, they’re a dying art. Growing concern about sugar and fat consumption makes people vary wary of chess pies, meaning you don’t find them as often as you once could. To this I say- everything in moderation and long live the chess pie.

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This month, as an homage to National Pie Month and National Sweet Potato Month, and as the Nash County installation of Tasting North Carolina, I’d like to share the recipe for sweet potato chess pie. A light and soft pie, this chess is a delicate variation of a traditional sweet potato pie. With only one cup of mashed sweet potatoes, as opposed to four to six in a classic sweet potato pie, it has all of the sweet potato flavor with none of the density. And lest you think “sweet potatoes are for Thanksgiving!” I’ll assure you that I had no problem gobbling up my (much more than a sliver) slice last night, late February date on the calendar and all.

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I topped the pie with freshly shelled pecans that had been caramelized with butter, brown sugar, and spices. I’ll admit, the pecans on top and the cinnamon in the crust put this pie over the edge, from “pretty delicious” to “holy sugar high I’m going to eat this whole thing in one sitting.” I’m currently playing the “if I have just a sliver it doesn’t count” game, which, when you have about 100 “just a slivers,” quickly becomes girl you just ate a whole pie. Which is all to say, make this for company.

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I chose this pie as the recipe representing Nash county, which is located in the Northeastern part of the piedmont between Franklin, Wake, Edgecombe, and Wilson, because Nash county is the largest producer of sweet potatoes in North Carolina, and North Carolina is the largest sweet potato producing state in the country (and has been since the 1970s), accounting for 50% of the country’s sweet potatoes. So, if you decide to make this pie, chances are good you’re enjoying a NC sweet potato, probably even a Nash County gem. Nash County is named for the American Revolutionary War Brigadier General Francis Nash, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Germantown in 1777, the year Nash County was formed. Of Nash county’s many townships, I have the most personal connection to Rocky Mount, where a fair amount of Rosemond-side relatives reside. My most vibrant memory of Rocky Mount was a childhood Christmas visit where my brother Reid (maybe aged 5 or 6 at the time) recited the infamous Home Alone line “Merry Christmas, you filthy animal” to my Great Aunt Francis. She did not get the reference and my family still jokes about that moment and the horrified look on her face. Reid has always been good with impressions.

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I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for the generous outpouring of support and interest in Tasting North Carolina. Since I launched the project a few weeks ago I’ve received countless emails, phone calls, and letters about recipes from all over the state and inquiries about how this community can get involved. I am psyched to make all of these delicious foods and I thank you for trusting me with your stories and your recipes. One thing is overwhelmingly clear- North Carolinians love this place and we’re fiercely proud of our food culture. Thank you. I’m prouder than ever to call myself a North Carolinian.

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This post is part of the ongoing series, Tasting North Carolina. Read more about the project here.

Sweet Potato Chess

pie crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tbsp shortening

1 stick butter

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 cup cold water

filling:

1 cup mashed sweet potato (this was about 1/2 a medium size sweet potato. Either get a small sweet potato or do as I did and feed the other half to your pup)

5 eggs

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 stick butter, melted

1/2 cup cornmeal

topping:

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 tsp ginger

Dash of cinnamon

Start with your pie dough, about 2 hours before you plan on making your pie. Stir together sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Work in shortening with your hands. Cube butter and work that in until the consistency is like cornmeal or sand. Stir in water until a ball forms, then wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Peel and boil your sweet potatoes until soft. Combine in a mixer with remaining ingredients and blend until smooth and fluffy.

Heat your oven to 350 and press your pie dough into your pie pan. Pour in filling and bake for 40 minutes or until the top has browned. Let cool until solid.

Combine pecans, butter, and sugar in a skillet and cook over low heat until caramelized. Slather on top of the pie and give it all about an hour to settle. This pie is best served at room temperature.

 

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