Monday, April 09, 2007

Little-Known Fact

I thought this was fantastic. Something I just learned...

The term "biscuit" comes from the French meaning "twice-cooked."

Bis - twice
Cuit - cook

The term also originally referred to any bread or pastry that are baked until dry and hard (a la biscotti) - but has evolved into the American morsel we love - full of solid fat, baking soda, and buttermilk.

That, my friend, is our heritage.

Pour THIS over your biscuits this time around:

Southern Oyster Gravy

4 oz. bacon lardons (or streaky bacon, coarsely chopped)
1/2 c. chopped leeks
1/2 t. garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
8 shucked oysters, drained and rinsed
Salt and Pepper, to taste

In a hot pan, drizzle 1 teaspoon olive oil and add the bacon lardons, cook until fat has been extracted and bacon is crispy.

Add leeks and garlic, and saute until the garlic is fragrant and the leeks are transparent.

Gently pour in heavy cream and add oysters.

Reduce until thick, about 1 minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour generously over fluffy, hot biscuits and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Grandma Food

Three seventy-something-year-old men break into a chorus of “Daddy’s Little Girl” as they cradle their vodka tonics in their hands reverently. In the pastel light of the retirement community-style living room, full of white-washed oak furniture and sea green carpet, the Master’s tournament glows on the television and murmurs in the background. A tan woman with squinty eyes and a brusque Long Island accent bastes a massive ham covered in dried fruit: apricots, pineapple, cherries, and – appropriately – prunes. The smell is almost as overwhelming as the rousing baritone coming from the trio; we are all laughing through our tears.

“Did you bring your Tupperware, Veronica?” Grandma asks. Our care package is already being planned, the remnants of the feast are already being packaged up in our minds eye, ready for the three-hour trip back to Tallahassee. There will be creamy peas and mushrooms, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, au gratin potatoes, slices of the massive ham, and an incredible sweet potato pie with golden raisins and spicy ginger (“I’ve never made it before. I hope it’s good,” Grandma says furtively of the delectably transcendental and utterly perfect pie).

The dinner begins with the pouring of wine, of course. White Zinfandel for the older ladies, Merlot for the rest of us. After appetizers, none of us are willing to wait very long. Along with the customary chips and salsa and crudit̩s, buttery crackers accompanied an unusual layering of cream cheese, cayenne pepper, apricot preserves, and sliced almonds. Unexpected, crunchy, creamy, sweet, and spicy. After that, our appetites are ready Рwe need Grandma Food.

We pass the bread around as the virtues of Jonathan Winters are extolled, John Travolta’s home is admired, and more wine is poured. We laugh, we pray for rain, we talk about Passover dinner, and the old times in New York. We pass the pie. We drink from our wine glasses with palm trees etched in the frosted glass. We talk about the Clintons, Obama, McCain, Edwards, and the Kennedys. We pontificate over Frangelico, Kahlua, and a three-layer sorbet bombe.

Grandma Food is always the same – comforting, homemade, unmarketable, and perfect. It always fits in the Tupperware. It always tastes the same when you heat it up. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are all Grandma Food holidays. After the egg hunt, we all sit down in at the lace-covered table and pray that allergy season will be over soon. But it’s Florida, and there will always be pollen. And there will always be Grandma Food.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Comfort Me With Collard Greens

There’s no denying it, residents of Tallahassee need comforting. Traffic is stagnant, weather is unpredictable, and exams are constantly looming ahead. It’s a good thing, then, that many of Tallahassee’s best restaurants offer comfort food to assuage our troubled souls. There are staples on every menu, from grits to greens, all singing the praises of the Southern grandma, cooking diligently over the stove and reminding us of happy times.

The term “comfort food” typically relates to any food that grants the eater a sense of security, contentment, and nostalgia. These foods are the ones we turn to in order to find respite from high-stress situations. Tallahassee’s local restaurants have taken the “comfort food” to new heights, as many of our upscale restaurants offer them in innovative ways. Southern comfort food can be broken down into three loosely-delineated categories: white food, fried food, and long-cooked food.

White foods continue to make appearances on menus all over the country, but in the South, they are special. Of course, the most regional of them are grits – coarsely ground corn kernels made into a kind of porridge – which have affectionately been given the acronym: Girls Raised In The South. Grits typically serve as a vehicle for cheese, butter, and cream, which are also white and therefore fall into the group. Also included are mashed potatoes, biscuits, creamed vegetables (including, but not limited to, spinach and corn), macaroni and cheese, and rice.

Nothing is more Southern, or more Tallahassee, than dipping a juicy chicken leg in a thick, viscous batter and deep-frying it until it is golden and crunchy on the outside and juicy and flavorful on the inside. The process of deep-frying is simple, the oil in the fryer repels the moisture in the food, and the oil heats the moisture in the food, steaming it from the outside in. Frying foods has been a Southern tradition for decades, and the distinctive flavor of the crunchy crust imbues us with a sense of home. Fried chicken and catfish reign king and queen of this category, along with their courtiers: fried green tomatoes, pork skins (“cracklins”), fried pickles, fried okra, and, of course, French fries.

Long-cooked foods are those that involved one or more ingredients and a significant cooking time. These foods are usually stewed, braised, or boiled, and end with concentrated flavors. An example of this is the traditional preparation of collard or mustard greens, which are cooked until completely tender, generally in conjunction with bacon. Other examples are stews (jambalaya and gumbo are included), chitlins, boiled peanuts, and beans.

These three categories are best found together, making the quintessential Southern meal. Try Mozaik’s Pecan Crusted Grouper, served with grits and collard greens, or Cypress’ Oysters and Biscuits appetizer for a comforting, but classy, dining experience.