Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Perfect Biscuit Search: Sweet Potato Biscuits

A few weekends ago we were given an incredible gift of 60 degree weather in south Mississippi in early September (WHAT?) and it was heavenly. So heavenly, in fact, that I felt the urge to made pumpkin things... and drink coffee all day and crunch leaves underneath my feet. 
I settled, however, for a picnic brunch with my family featuring venison sausage from our crazy generous friend John Mark and sweet potato biscuits (the often-overlooked yet most amazing autumn root vegetable). I've FINALLY unlocked the secret to flaky, fluffy biscuits, and the sweet potato just added a really lovely orange color to them, but I wouldn't say that they had an overwhelming sweet potato taste. Do they finally allow me to leave-off my search for the perfect biscuit? Well, no... but only because I love the quest. If I were less interested in testing out new recipes, then these would definitely be a contender. See what you think!

What you need:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 stick COLD (ideally frozen) unsalted butter
3/4 cup roasted sweet potato (chilled)
3/4 cup cold whole milk (also, I imagine buttermilk would be GREAT here, but I was at my parent's house and didn't have it on hand)
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt

What to do: 
Start by either a) baking or microwaving your sweet potatoes. If you're baking them, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and  prick your potatoes all around. Bake them for about 1 hour, or until they are soft and squishy. If you want to microwave them (for time's sake) prick them, put them in a shallow glass or plastic container, and put a tiny bit of water in the bottom. Microwave on high for about 15 minutes. 


Then, prepare your wet ingredients. You'll want to do this FAST, as the key to flaky biscuits is to mix in your wet ingredients as they are VERY COLD still. COLD. 
I keep my extra butter in the freezer, which is perfect for this as you can then use a sharp knife to chop up the butter, or --even better-- you can grate the butter into tiny, even pieces. I couldn't find the grater in my parent's house, so I had to chop. Also, measure out your milk. Put the milk AND the butter back into the refrigerator/freezer to keep it cold. Again, the secret to biscuit texture I've learned, is the mixing of the cold, wet ingredients with the dry ones.

Mix together your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda.)
Once the potato is cooked, peel it and mash it. You can also puree' it if you want a creamy, smooth biscuit texture. I wanted to see and taste the potato, so I left it a bit lumpy. Put it immediately into the freezer for about 15 minutes so as to cool it. 

Once you've got the sweet potato cooled, mix it into the milk. The milk will turn a lovely orange color. Then, I put this back into the fridge for a moment while I worked the butter into the dry ingredients.
Quickly, so as not to melt the butter too much, mix the butter into the dry ingredients. Because the butter is frozen, you'll want to use your hands to work the butter into the flour mixture, and you'll know you're done when what you've got is a bowl full of little round beads made of the flour and butter. At this point, pull out your milk mixture and pour it bit by bit into the flour/butter mixture. Knead it with your hands until the ball of dough comes together (but don't over mix as you'll toughen out the dough). Form the dough into a ball and in order to keep it from sticking to everything, flour your hands and the surface where you plan to roll it out.

Roll out the dough, and then use a biscuit cutter or glass to cut out your biscuits. I used my grandmother's cutter, which gives these lovely scalloped edges. Some were small (for Wagner), and some were large (for us).  Bake for about 15 minutes or until a browned.
Serve with honey butter for a truly excellent addition.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Delta State University on my mind: Roasted, spicy Okra

 For the past five years, I've spent at least 20 saturdays in Jobe Hall on Delta State University's campus... yesterday, someone murdered a professor of history in that very building, causing the entire campus to lock down, and wreaking havoc on the mental state of students, faculty, staff, and the entire Mississippi Delta (who all have friends and family who work or attend school there). I'm so sad to think about the senseless loss of at least two lives (maybe three) at the hands of the shooter, but also, proud of the resilience and strength of those associated with the campus. It's hard to go through a frightening event like that and not feel shaken, but I know all of the "fightinging okra" (the campus unofficial mascot) will bounce back.

It turns out that I made this recipe for roasted spicy okra over the weekend with a big bag that had been left on Boone's desk, so it just feels right to share it today after this week's events. I'd only ever had it stewed, gumboed, and fried, so I thought I'd try a new way. It turns out that like the Fighting Okra, real okra just gets a little crispy and more flavorful when  you turn up the heat.

Spicy Roasted Okra
Serves: 2 to 4 (Who am I kidding? This serves 2 greedy piglets in my family, but 4 if you can restrain yourself.)

What you need:
1lb or more of fresh okra (ideally the smaller and/or thinner ones. If you get to pick it out yourself, pick wisely and larger okra is tougher.)
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil OR some spray oil

What to do:
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees

Slice the Okra in half lengthwise, and then if you have large pieces, slice them again into fourths. Honestly, if you have large okra (think, adult-finger sized pieces) then this isn't really the cooking format that will work well for you. I recommend stewing or frying since those will tenderize the fruit. I found that this was DELICIOUS with the tiny pieces, but the larger ones just seemed a little too tough. Anyway, it's usually a good idea to try to select smaller pieces of okra whenever possible.
Lightly coat the okra with oil and sprinkle with a good heaping tablespoon of Tony Chachere's. Note: TC's can be too spicy and too salty for some. if you're salt-averse or have high blood pressure, check out this copycat recipe and cut down the salt.) Lay out your okra in a roasting or baking pan...make sure there's space around the okra so it can breathe. (ok, not really... that sounds pretentious, doesn't it. ick. But basically this helps the roasting happen evenly and is just good vegetable roasting practice, I've found).
 Roast for 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of your okra), tossing and flipping the okra every 5-8 minutes or so until it's brown and crispy but not burned. Because I had some larger pieces in here, I ended up cranking up the heat at the very end for 4 minutes to 500 degrees to really crisp those. It's not necessary, it turns out, but it made me feel better about those okras the size of my man's middle finger.
 Don't even bother to let it cool. (seriously! serve it hot! it looses crispiness once it's cooled.) and consider using a  sour-cream or greek yogurt-dill dipping sauce, btw. that would compliment the spicy, salty crispy okra PERFECTLY.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

How Sweet Eats Blueberry, Peach & Basil Crisp

I've told y'all about Cook Book Club, right? Getting together with the coolest, funnest gals in the Delta to cook and eat is really one of the most fun nights of my month. I was responsible for our dessert last time, and decided to take advantage of summer's bounty. First of all, crumbles with fruit are my favorite, secondly the addition of basil was genius and clever and wonderful. Plus, I had a TON of frozen blueberries from my aunt's farm last summer, and grabbed some fresh juicy peaches from the farmstand and went to town on this year's cookbook, Seriously Delish from the blogger over at How Sweet Eats. She has some pretty fun, (seriously, truly, not very health) recipes and I've enjoyed it. This time, though, I cheated and used her blog for my recipe. This one isn't really original, and y'all, rather than just re-write her directions, I'm sending you over there to see what she's about. ;) If you decide to make it, though, a few notes:

1) It needs at least 2x more crumble on top. AT LEAST.
2) Definitely double the basil. Otherwise it's not quite noticeable.
3) Actually, also consider using this recipe instead for the topping.
4) DO NOT EVEN CONSIDER serving crumble without ice cream. DO NOT.

But also, um, check out how mine turned out because it hit my sweetspot for sure.

My Baby's got Sauce... Ugandan Spinach, Chickpeas, Sweet Potatoes and G-nut sauce,

I can't tell you how many times I've made this amazing modified Ugandan recipe over the past nine years. I used to have a roommate whose boyfriend (now husband) would cook with us three nights a week. We'd trade off and make sure there was a hot, homecooked meal on the table. It was a genius plan, and since the BF was vegetarian and we lived in a village (popluation 500) in the middle of the Mississippi Delta, it was also kind of necesary if he was going to eat anything other than french fries or mushroom quesadillas.  Anyway, this recipe came out of his Best of Vegetarian Times cookbook, and it was AMAZING. Super filling, pretty healthy, and gorgeous. I can't believe it took me so long to share it with you since the basis of the recipe is sweet potatoes and the magic comes from a special peanut-sauce. 
And this brings me to something else...something we haven't discussed in a little while on the blog (though a lot in real life). Thanks to some articles (#1,#2, #3) floating around FB, I've been thinking about cultural appropriation a lot this week. Food Historian Michael Twitty has some pretty important things to say about it, and if you haven't read or heard his thoughts on the importance of giving respect and credit (and more importantly, actual compensation) to those women (and men) who played HUGE ENORMOUS roles in the creation of the rich, diverse, amalgam that is southern food today, then  you should. 
The truth is, southern food is my cultural heritage, too. I don't think that I can't appropriate something that is part of my own family and personal history, but if I'm not conscious, I can further strip recognition away from the enslaved black southerners whose heritage it is, as well. And that's not ok with me. There's already been too much taken.

Although my ancestors played some role in the creation and certainly, of the popularization of southern food, it's not solely theirs. Take sweet potatoes for instance... although a food native to America, they were made staples of southerners' diets because African enslaved cooks were familiar with yams (not the same plant, it turns out, but similar) and used them in their recipes.
So then, what to do? What I've been thinking though, is that AT LEAST I have to
 #1 Give credit where credit is due 
#2  KNOW something about the origins of the food I eat and cook (ESPECIALLY if I'm benefiting in some way by cooking or serving or photographing or sharing it)
#3 Frequently financially support institutions owned and operated by African American chefs, farmers, cooks, and restaurant owners so that they benefit MORE from the food legacy that their ancestors pioneered and weren't allowed to benefit from.

What else?

Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, Chickpeas with Ugandan G-nut Sauce
Serves 4

A Note:
Now, on to this delicious vegetarian bowl of goodness. As I mentioned above, it's Ugandan in origin as something like peanuts (or ground nuts, aka g-nuts) are often used as a sauce for fish, meat, and yams. The gnut sauce is TRULY delicious, and when mixed with the other ingredients, it's divine, and since peanuts have been important to the south since the Tuskeegee Institute and George Washington Carver determined they made a great cash crop (AND found 300 different things to do with them!) this recipe feels like a southern dish to me. It's not, but it's origin in Africa and the way Veg. Times modified it to include southern staples just feels right to me.  Also, get ready to dirty up A LOT of pots. There's really just no way around it. 
What You Need:
For The Dish
2 Medium to Large Sweet potatoes
1 can of chickpeas (drained)
5-10 oz of fresh spinach (washed)
 2 tsp. ground cumin
1 medium onion, minced 
 ¼ tsp. salt
For the Sauce
1/8 cup peanut butter (creamy)
1 cup broth (I used homemade vegetable broth, but if you aren't vegetarian, chicken stock will do)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (or pureed and reduced canned tomatoes if you're in a bind like me)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp. oil

What to Do:
Preheat your oven to 415 degrees and prick your potatoes with a fork. lay them on aluminum foil or in a skillet to bake them for an hour (you can also microwave them if you're in a hurry, but I prefer the sweetness of slow baking)

 Combine the broth, the peanut butter, the tomato paste, your lemon juice and garlic in a
pan, and simmer over low heat 1 to 2 minutes.

 While that's happening, heat your oil in large skillet over medium heat. Saute onion until it's translucent, then add chickpeas, and sauté a bit more. Stir in the spinach, reduce heat to low, and simmer 3 to 5 minutes, or until spinach is very wilted.
 Once that's done, and your potatoes are done baking, take the potatoes out of the oven and scoop out the flesh into a pot or bowl. Add the Cumin, salt, and pepper.
 Once you've finished ALL the three lovely, delicious pieces, layer the potatoes, spinach, and sauce in a shallow bowl and serve. You can garnish with some salty crushed peanuts.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A little ice cream adventure: Sweet Corn Ice Cream

Let me tell you about something wonderful and a little crazy. Last summer (i know...but i had a 6 month old baby. and a full-time job!) our friend John Mark-- who is btw, literally the nicest, most wonderful, most thoughtful guy in the whole Delta-- brought us a giant paper sack of sweet corn from his farm. He's also the friend who supplied us with a raised garden bed full of the best soil for growing things ON EARTH, but I digress.

After we'd eaten enough corn on the cobb to turn us yellow on the outside, I decided I should try something a little adventurous. I mean, I love making ice creams, and I had Jeni's ice cream at home cookbook full of savory flavors and creams mixed with alcohol and herbs, so why not attempt a sweet-corn version? Luckily, there were some recipes out there that I could draw on to get the sweet-corn flavor while I used my favorite custard base. Also, I made an AMAZING blueberry sauce for this (I mean, seriously, blueberries and sweet corn...what's MORE summer than that?) The recipe's not on this blog but if you want it, leave a comment. But back to the ice cream...

Sweet Corn Ice Cream
Makes 1-1.5 quarts

What you need:
4-5 ears of fresh corn on the cob (you need the cobs, too!)
2 cups heavy cream
2 cup white sugar (divided 1/2 cup +1 1/2 cups)
2 cups whole milk
6 egg yolks

What you do:
Ok, first thing's first... you need to briefly boil your corn... just a little to make sure it's cooked a bit. Once that's cooled a bit, you cut the corn off the cob and cut the cobs in half.

Now you're ready to make my very standard and most favorite plain custard base. Put the corn cobs in a saucepan (JUST the cobs, now.) You'll fill the pan with the milk, cream, and the 1/2 cup of sugar.  Then, warm the milk and cream in a saucepan until it steams but IS NOT boiling, stirring it pretty regularly. Just BARELY bring the mixture to a boil (but not quite should be steaming, then turn off the heat. Let this sit for 10 minutes or so, steeping (consider this your corn tea!)

While you wait, you'll need to separate your eggs into a small to medium bowl and mixing in the rest of the sugar to the yolks. Also, you'll want to use an immersion blender (how did I LIVE without this invention before?) or a regular food processor to puree' the corn kernels. You're going to add them in at the end, and you DO NOT WANT to chip a tooth on hard, whole frozen corn kernels, so this is an important step. Once that's done, set it aside for one of the last steps.
When the corn has steeped in the milk/sugar mixture, turn the heat back on and let the mixture simmer. Once it's warm again, Take a few quarter cups of the steaming milk and pour it slowly into the bowl with the sugar and eggs. This warms the egg yolks up slowly so they don't scramble. Then, I pour the sugar/yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Note: You're going to strain the corn kernels out in a bit, so don't worry about straining any scrambled egg out just yet.
  Now you can take out the corn cobs, and once that's done, you'll want to bring the temperature back up to almost boiling here (you don't want to curdle the milk but you DO want to cook the egg) stirring the whole time until it has thickened enough so it will coat the back of a spoon. Add in about 2/3 of the pureed corn kernels and put the corn custard into a plastic bag and let it cool for 30 minutes or so (I make an ice in a roasting pan bath like the one below.)

At this point, you'll  want to strain your mixture since you've got corn kernels and possibly cooked egg all up in there. (ick). I've got a really fine wire strainer, but cheesecloth works great, too. 
Throw your strained custard into your ice cream maker and follow the directions. Once you're ALMOST done (think: the custard is starting to firm up) toss in the last 1/4 of the pureed corn. This gives yoru ice cream a little texture, and keeps it from looking just like super yellow french vanilla. Serve! 
Now, just a note about this flavor. It tastes JUST LIKE sweet corn. I was crazy about it as this is one of my favorite things about summer, but some of my family found this a little weird. Again, I LOVED the heck out of it. But I also didn't want a whole lot of at once... a tiny bowl-full is about all I wanted. I found that the blueberry syrup gave it a more "desserty" feel, so you may want to try that too! :)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Tupelo Honey (upside down) Tomato Pie

We'd had a summer vacation planned to Holland and Belgium for several months (one of my bestest college friends was tying the knot!) but some family things got in the way of our trip. Instead, we took our little man to see his grandparents in NC and took a two-night trip to Asheville. We ended up brunching at Asheville's pretty amazing spot, Tupelo Honey (people say it put Asheville on the southern food map) and I pretty much wanted to inhale everything on the menu. When we got home, I thought I'd try to make one of the things I didn't get to eat while there...and it was worth it. so worth it, especially with my bumper crop of summer tomatoes. It's august, which means the tomatoes will be running dry soon, so if I were you I'd make it before it's too late and you have to wait until NEXT summer.... 

Tupelo Honey Tomato Pie
Makes 8 servings
Weight watchers points: 11 (eeek!)

What you Need:
One refrigerated pie crust (I have a toddler, folks. that means no time for fancy homemade dough)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup light hellman's mayonnaise
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 chopped green onions, white and green parts
1 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, sliced 1/2 –inch thick (ahhhhh.....)

What you do:
Mix up the cheeses, the panko, the herbs, and the mayo in a bowl (and resist the urge to just eat it with a spoon...) Now it's time to put this baby together.

Ok, so I did mine backwards (and if I'd flipped it over, it would have been pretty darn gorgeous looking, I can tell you). But Tupelo honey says to put the pie crust on the bottom of the pie pan, then add layers of juicy ripe tomatoes with the cheese/herb/mayo mixture. I STARTED with the tomatoes and the layers of creamy cheese mixture, then topped with the pie crust. WHY? well, I'm a rebel and wanted warm, brown and a bit crusty pie crust on top, that's why. Also, I didn't really read the instructions beyond the ingredients. ;)

So, either way, Roll out a 10-inch pie crust and place in a 9-inch pie pan OR set it aside to top your pie. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Put a bunch of the tomatoes in the pie pan (probably 1/3), covering the bottom. Spread one-third of the Parmesan cheese mixture on top of the tomatoes and repeat, making 2 more layers of tomatoes and cheese and ending with the cheese mixture.

Cut a few little slits in the top or use a pit bird to make sure you have some air (if you use the crust on top! Then Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top of the pie is bubbling or browned and serve while it's still warm. oh y'all. it is goooood.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In the absence of Blue Bell...Banana Pudding ice cream!

I LOVE Banana pudding. If you gave me the choice between plain old banana pudding and oh, I don't know, double chocolate whiskey bread pudding with caramel sauce, I'd choose the banana pudding every. d*mn. time. Even if it was just the cold jello-pudding version and not the warm homemade baked custard kind that my mama and grandmother always made... if it's on a menu (or the buffet), I'm going to eat it...  Which is why it's ALSO one of my mostest favoritest flavors of bluebell ice cream.
Which is ALSO why I've been more than a little heart broken that I haven't been able to lay my hands on Blue Bell since April.  So, I figured I needed to attempt my own batch of Banana Pudding ice cream just to, you know... tide me over.

Well y'all. This stuff is dynamite. heavenly. as good as the Blue Bell kind (if not a teeny bit better...but probably only because I made it with my own two hands and eggs from friends). If you find yourself in the same fix I'm in without Blue Bell..or you just want to knock the sock off of a guy or gal with an amazing homemade dessert, this is your recipe. for serious. Also, it's basically homemade banana pudding (the boiled custard kind) thrown into an ice cream freezer. What could be better than than?

Banana Pudding Ice Cream

What you need:
2-3 frozen bananas
2 cups heavy cream
2 cup white sugar (divided)
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
6 egg yolks
1-2 cups of tiny vanilla wafers

What you Do:
 I start by separating my eggs into a small to medium bowl and mixing in the sugar to the yolks. 
Then I warm the milk and cream in a saucepan until it steams but IS NOT boiling, stirring it pretty regularly. Then, I take a few quarter cups of the steaming milk and pour it slowly into the bowl with the sugar and eggs. This warms the egg yolks up slowly so they don't get all scrambly I add about 1 cup of milk/cream into the sugar/yolk mixture and then pour the sugar/yolk mixture back into the saucepan. (that's been taken off the heat)
Once you've combined the egg, sugar, cream, and milk, add in the vanilla and then return the saucepan to the heat. You'll want to bring the temperature back up to almost boiling here, but mostly just steaming, so as to cook the egg and NOT curdle the milk. While you're doing this, you'll need to be stirring the whole time until it has thickened enough so it will coat the back of a spoon.

 At this point, I cooled the custard base for about 45 minutes (read here to see how to use an ice bath) and then mashed up the banana and used an immersion blender to puree it into the custard. (so gorgeous. sooooo smooth).
Once you have a beautiful cool banana custard base, use your ice cream maker according to the directions to freeze it. Crush or break your nilla wafers into smaller pieces and once the base gets thick, toss them in so they mix in evenly. You don't want too many BIG pieces (although a chunk here and there can't hurt). thought about leaving banana chunks in the custard, or throwing in a couple of slices later on while it froze in the ice cream maker, but worried I'd chip a tooth on the cold, frozen banana pieces. But feel free to test out and let me know how it goes!)I like to put my finished product in the freezer for an hour or two to really let it set, then I'd serve it to everyone I know. Watch out Blue Bell... I may not need you after all. ;)