Blog - biscuits and such
southern food blog
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Southern Brisket

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Easily the best thing about living at the beach is that people are excited to come and visit you. And the best thing about having formerly worked at a Jewish cultural institution is that some of your friends have off holidays (hey Shemini Atzeret what) that the general population does not have off. Which all leads to my point, which is that this past week, for the beginning of Passover, our dear friends Rachael and Alex (and their golden doodle Wednesday) made the trip down to Wilmington.

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It’s no secret that I adore Rachael, and I think she’s found a wonderful partner in Alex. We had such an amazing time in the five days that they were here, taste testing pizzas, touring the Battleship North Carolina, taking the dogs to romp around Poplar Grove and Topsail Island, making chorizo, and, of course, cooking a special dinner for Passover. Now, there is not a Jewish bone in my body, but since I’m always up for a challenge I was excited when Rachael asked if we could make a traditional meal for the first night of Passover. The matzoh ball soup turned out perfectly (we got floaters!), and the matzoh bark we made was addictive (the whole tray was gone by lunch the next day), but the brisket was the star of the show. Instead of a classic Jewish brisket we decided to try a traditional Southern brisket. Rubbed with a sweet and spicy mix and smoked on the grill, the brisket was tender, richly flavored, and perfectly moist. And while we didn’t do a full seder it was lovely to have the opportunity to learn some of Rachael and Alex’s Passover traditions and share stories. After all, nothing is more beloved in our house than sharing food and spinning tales.

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This was also the perfect opportunity for me to test my new Thermapen, a wireless thermometer made by ThermoWorks (thanks guys!), which was exactly what we needed for this recipe because it’s fast, accurate, and compact. Brisket, like most tough cuts of meat, should be cooked low and slow with a final internal temperature of 195F. We cooked it over indirect heat on the grill for about 4 hours, checking the temperature every 45 minutes or so, until the temperature read approximately 195 in a few different places. Then we finished it off in a warm oven with caramelized onions, which allowed the juices to redistribute as the meat rested.

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All in all, it was an incredible visit. A well balanced blend of relaxation and playing tourist in our own city, we adored every bit of having them here. Kaylee, especially. I’ve never seen that puppy so exhausted.

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Southern Brisket

1 3-5 pound cut of brisket
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp sea salt
1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp chipotle
1/2 tbsp paprika
1/2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cayenne
Hickory chips
1 onion
1 pat butter

The night before you’d like to serve the brisket mix together all of your spices and rub them into the brisket, all sides. Place tightly in a plastic bag and let sit in the fridge overnight. Soak your hickory chips in water overnight.

Your brisket will need 4-5 hours to cook and then an additional hour of rest before you can serve it, so be sure to factor that in to your day.

Heat the grill to 250-300. If possible, you want the brisket to be over indirect heat, so a top rack is ideal. Place the drained hickory chips in a metal container on the bottom rack for added smokey flavor. Wrap the brisket loosely in tin foil and place on the grill.

Cook on 250-300 for 4 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 190-195. Check every 45 minutes or so.

In a large pan caramelize the onions in the butter. Add the brisket (and the juices!) to the pan and place in a warm oven to rest for an hour. Slice and serve!

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Slow Cooked Winter Vegetables

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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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