Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

We Who Are About to Fry....

...SALUTE you!

[*Spoon Biscuit updated added at end 6/25/08 by Austin Agrodolce]

I admitted it already, heresy that it may be. I saw okra in my CSA basket and knew immediately that I would be frying it up for dinner this week.This past Sunday a friend of mine at church spotted my grande-sized workhorse of a summer bag with relief as she handed over a full jar of the pickled squash she makes for her family and friends. She told me they often have it with a particular meal featuring ham and lima beans. She finds the slightly sweet character of the pickled squash just right against the saltiness of those dishes.This got me thinking. I had a large gorgeous tomato from my basket which would tolerate nothing more than slicing and serving with salt and pepper. I had okra I was ready to fry. I had the pickled squash and I had all those roasted carrots sitting around. I had purplehull peas from Poteet Texas in the refrigerator.Clearly it was time for a Southern Blowout of a dinner. I checked and made sure I had buttermilk on hand, got some peanut oil for the frying and a few small smoked pork chops for the meat slot on our wheel of southern deliciousness. I was set.

Our menu was as follows:
Grilled Smoked Pork Chops
Purplehull Peas
Fried Okra
Sliced Heritage Tomato
Savory Spoon Biscuits
Pickled Squash Relish
Sliced Texas Nectarines

I'd seen a great recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits on Serious Eats that I figured would work just fine with the slightly more savory roasted carrots. I processed the carrrots/onions/herbs all together and substituted them in for the cup of mashed sweet potato called for in the original recipe and came up with these Savory Spoon Biscuits instead.Next batch of these I will make more biscuits of a smaller size to keep them from spreading quite so much. As you can see in the photo to follow, after baking, the results look a little bit more like peanut butter cookies on steroids than biscuits.

I might try these out in a muffin pan the same way I make beer biscuits. Putting the dough into the tin holds them in a form that promotes the proper placement and ratio of melty butter to biscuit mass that I find essential. I have nothing against spoon bread. Nor am I against slathering the butter wherever it has to go. It just all eats a little neater when the biscuit shape is better preserved.The "Southern Fried Okra" recipe was good to go as written. This version states the buttermilk and cayenne are "optional" but I don't agree. There is something about the creamy tang of the buttermilk in tandem with the zip of cayenne in the breading that elevates this dish above "fried fill in the blank vegetable mass" to a legitimate reason to have and use okra precisely this way.

The quick fry in peanut oil just cooks the okra without destroying its flavor. The breading accentuates rather than overwhelming the okra underneath. I may roast in hell for frying that okra but I will defend it done this way with my last gasp even as I descend.

The basic fresh purplehull pea recipes were a no brainer really. Bits of bacon, onion in the rendered fat, add water to cover the fresh peas and cook until tender and most of the liquid is gone. I didn't even salt them.

By the way, using the Pederson Farms bacon is not only a salve to the conscience as they are kinder to their pigs than my kids claim I was to them (on a BAD day anyway. The absence of chemical preservatives gives you a sweeter clearer pork flavor at the end of a long simmer. The bacon was just available there underneath the purplehull pea taste, not muscling it aside or cloying in any way.

Finally the rest of the meal wasn't so much about cooking as it was marking and reheating the chops on the grill, and slicing up the tomato for our plates.

The largest challenge I faced last night was resisting eating everything in the kitchen immediately after it cooked. I "tested" those purplehull peas for doneness and the potential need for re-seasoning about 427 times. Same thing for the okra as it fried - "was this batch done just so?" and the tomato pieces- "Are these as good as they look?" "Ohhhh YES!".

By the time the plates hit the table if I was able to eat a somewhat dainty portion of everything it was only because I had been busily gobbling it all down in the kitchen for a good 18 minutes prior to dinner being announced as "served!". It was a very good thing I was only feeding two people last night. I would have been hard pressed to get three or four servings out of what I had left over after all my sampling.

At least we "only" had sliced nectarines for dessert. Ok, that I even offered anything for dessert was totally unnecessary. I can't defend that, I only report it. I saw, I bought, I sliced, we ate. Guilty as charged.

My husband and I were still smacking our lips over the Southern Blowout Dinner as we rolled out of bed this morning. We agreed we ought not eat that way regularly. We'd both weigh 300 pounds and have to shout (louder) at each other to be heard over the noise of our arteries slapping shut.Nonetheless, last night I felt I was channeling my mother in law Marcella and my beloved Aunt Dot, both of them superb Southern Style cooks with large garden plots at their disposal and an inclination to prepare a feast for each day's end dining experience, heat in the kitchen be damned.

Maybe it was those hours laboring in a sweltering kitchen that kept them from bulking up. I suppose eventually I'd develop the ability to fix all that food without wanting to eat so much of it immediately and personally.

If I had remained true to their form and hopped up last night as the last bite was finished to clean up the aftermath breading and frying and meal prep left in it's swath? I'd certainly have burned off far more calories than I did by falling back into my chair in a caloric coma, moaning a vague promise to my husband that I'd clean it all up "later".

I do not typically embrace the idea of waking up, trying to prepare coffee in the midst of a post-feast apocalyptic mess. Maybe it was the peanut oil talking last night, but I swear to you I heard a Vivien Leigh-like voice softly murmuring into my ear "fiddle dee dee - you can clean all that up tomorrow!". I felt virtuous just waddling the plates back into the kitchen.

Here's to you Marcella and Dot, Southern Cooks Extraordinaire! I don't know how you managed, planning and cooking and then cleaning up after such truly old Testament style feasts night after night. By the same token, I can't say how it was that our forebears survived past the age of 40 eating such epic meals, but they certainly didn't all get fat and they didn't all die young.

There must have been something about the very fresh food and the work that goes into raising it on your own that somehow balanced the bacon fat, the multitude of dishes, the omnipresent bread, butter, and fried offerings. And oh- this longer shot? That glimpse of a container beyond the biscuits was my one feeble stab at a "healthy alternative", offering a non-hydrogenated vegetable spread ("now with Flax oil!") instead of butter.

Tonight I am thinking we will have celery sticks and water for dinner. IF we ever get hungry again. At this point I can't imagine that ever happening.

The kitchen is finally cleaned up with the exception of a cooked on peanut oil slick that has somehow become one with the ceramic cooktop surface. I have made several passes with entry level chemicals at dissolving this unholy alliance without much success so far. I will move on towards "shock and awe" techniques later in the day when I feel a little stronger.

For now, with all remaining evidence of our dietary indiscretions safely in the dishwasher, it is time to think back on that amazing and wonderful meal. With only a short pause to wonder how it was that I seemed to need to use fully 4 different slotted spoons last night, I will hopefully move on to get out into our own garden and do some weeding.

I have the promise from my husband for two new areas to put into garden production next year. Just about enough room to plant some okra, say, and maybe some purplehull peas. Lawdy Miz Scarlett!

Spoon Biscuit Update: Today I tried another batch of the spoon biscuits only this go round I used a baking spray coated muffin tin, and after the biscuits were out of the tin I popped them on a baking sheet and let them sit in the still warm oven for a few minutes to help finish caramelizing the sides. Here are the results - I'll be back to amend this if there are resulting texture issues or if they taste anything but 4+ delicious!

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