Eastern North Carolina Cheese Biscuits

Awwww… look. The shape was totally unplanned, but I do heart these biscuits.

I’ve been a bit nostalgic for one of the places I’ve called home lately. It started with a listing I ran across of Saveur Magazine’s Top 100. Biscuitville made the list! I love Biscuitville! I miss biscuits! We don’t really have Southern-style biscuits in Miami.

This led to a Facebook conversation with an old friend about the biscuits we loved from my college days in Eastern North Carolina. These biscuits were the bomb-diggety and almost ubiquitous on campus, as well as in little local gas stations and breakfast joints (the top examples for me being the The Wright Place on East Carolina University’s main campus and a little ghetto gas station on the outskirts of known town we used to frequent just for the biscuits and cheap cigarettes). This led the Facebook friend and I on an Internet-wide search for the perfect Eastern North Carolina biscuit, which in turn led to stumbling upon a fight that has been raging for ages on the subject on Chowhound. It seems no one can agree on a recipe, or even if the hyper-local biscuits even exist. They *do* exist. And apparently we aren’t the only ex-East Carolinians who remember them with fondness.

These are not Red Lobster-style cheddar biscuits, though (as legend has it) those hail from the Carolinas too. These biscuits are huge (bigger than your hand or cat head sized as some call it), have a nice dense crumb with slightly crispy outside from touching the sides of the pan and come with a thick layer of gooey cheddar-like orange melty cheese in the center. Not, I repeat, Not mixed in with the batter. Those are indeed some great biscuits, but not what I’m talking about here. You might ask, what’s the big freaking deal? They’re biscuits with cheese in the middle. Pop open a can of Pillsbury and be done with it. To which I’d retort, blasphemer! Those aren’t the same thing at. all. These, aside from dipped in nostalgia, are flaky yet toothsome, gooey from the cheese, almost greasy to the touch, and satisfying to the core. These are cheese biscuits that don’t even need a fried egg, country ham or bacon to be good. And that, my friends, is a feat in and of itself.

A note on cheese: Proponents of the biscuit gospel call for something called a “hoop cheese”. According to Wikipedia, hoop cheese is a firm dry cheese made from milk alone and is popular throughout the rural South. I can believe this, though the cheese I remember is more cheddar-like, so I found a nice stout cheddar to slice. What you’re looking for is a good melty cheese that can stand up to a buttermilk biscuit without becoming molten when heated. Something that would taste good wrapped on waxed paper after it has oozed out the side of your biscuit and solidified.

A note on lightness & flakiness: The original author of this recipe likes her biscuits a bit more flaky and light than I was looking for, so I kneaded my dough a bit more than she called for. I wanted a somewhat dense biscuit; if you, like my DH, want lighter biscuits, knead less.

Eastern North Carolina Cheese Biscuits
Adapted from thoroughly researched and vetted recipe for Appalacian Cat Head Biscuits

2 1/4 c. All Purpose flour
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
4 1/2 Tbsp. chilled unsalted butter
1 c. buttermilk
Stout cheddar-like cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Add the butter a piece at a time to the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter until you have a mixture the consistency of coarse cornmeal. Although I’m sure the writer of the original recipe would cringe, I very rarely bake, don’t own a pastry cutter, and no one in my life trusts me to dual-wield knives without losing a finger or two like the recipe called for alternately. So, I beat the crap out of the butter with a metal potato masher and hands that I periodically chilled in the freezer until the right consistency was reached. Whatever works.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the buttermilk. Gently scrape the sides of the bowl and fold the mixture until barely combined. Don’t mix it to death, just incorporate all the dry wispy bits of flour from the sides of the bowl. The dough will be lumpy, sticky in places and shaggy around the edges. This dough is not pretty and to the baking uninitiated like me, will look like it is not going to work. Pick the dough up and knead it carefully in the bowl, turning over with each pass, 3-5 times (I did 5, the original author stuck to 3), until almost all the mixture forms a cohesive mass. Don’t knead any more, or you will get hockey pucks.

To form the biscuits, pinch off a ball of dough about 2 1/2 inches around and form into a thick free-form patty. This recipe should yield 6 large biscuits. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Slice and serve with sturdy cheddar-like cheese, heating in the microwave until just-melted.

The Best Damn Grits I’ve Ever Tasted

These grits are good. Like jump-up-and-smack-yo-momma good. Better than the stone ground fancified grits at my favorite restaurant good. And the best part? I can have them any time I please. This is another comfort dish my DH has taken and made his own. Love it when he does that.

Chris’ Bomb-Ass Grits

2 cups milk (we use 2% Horizon Farms Organic)
2 cups water
1 cup yellow grits (we used Arrowhead Farms organic yellow corn grits)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
3 Tbsp. grated parmesan
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Pour the milk and water into a saucepan on medium-high. Cover & wait for the milk to boil. When it does, add the grits & salt and kick the heat down to medium. Stir constantly (yes, constantly means what you think it does) until the grits look like a thick soup, approximately 8 mins.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring only every 2-3 minutes until the grits thicken and fall nicely from the spoon, 7-8 minutes. You’re not looking for crazy thick here, just a nice thick but not concrete consistency.

When the grits reach that golden consistency, start stirring constantly for a little longer until they become creamy, fluffy & soft. Turn off the heat.

Add the parmesan, butter, pepper & red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Taste for salt and add if needed.

Serve with anything. We’ve had them with a great slow cooked ragout of mini bell peppers, onion and swiss chard and a plain topping of fire roasted tomatoes with kale.

To make the pepper & onion ragout:  slice 1 pint mini bell peppers into 1/4 inch thick rings, 2 cloves garlic and 2 small white onions into thin slices. Sautee, stirring frequently to avoid burning, over medium heat with 1 Tbsp. olive oil 20 mins. or until caramelized. Add 1 bunch chopped rainbow chard and 1/4 c. water and cook until chard wilts and water evaporates. Add 1 tsp. chipotle Tabasco sauce and sriracha (Chicken Sauce) to taste (for me, that’s a turn of the pan and a half). Salt & pepper to taste.

Serve over grits with thick batons of home made bacon.

If by some miracle you happen to have any leftovers, try this recipe inspired by Carla from Top Chef:

Fried Grit Fritters

Heat a medium pan on medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil.

Take roughly 1/4 cup of your now solidified grits and dump them on a plate. Carefully with either your hands or a spoon, smash and spread the grits out until they look like a free form pancake about 1/2 inch thick. It doesn’t matter if you have little cracks here and there; you’re looking for something that will more or less stay together in the pan.

Transfer carefully to the pan and fry until golden brown. Flip & repeat.

This treatment wakes the leftover grits up and gives them a pleasant, almost nutty taste.

Pickle Me Pink Salad

Wondering what to do with all the pickled beets you just made? Well so was I, so I whipped up a little light salad to use up some CSA veggies.

Pickle Me Pink Salad

Oh no she didn’t go there; that recipe title is terrible! Ok, so I’m a dork, so sue me ;p

1 c. bulgur wheat
3 cloves garlic
1/2 c. broken walnuts
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 grapefruit
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1 bunch spinach, washed & chopped
3 oz. goat cheese crumbles
3/4 c. sliced pickled beets
1/4 c. + 2 tsp. olive oil
Salt & pepper

Add bulgur to 2 1/2 c. boiling water, turn off the heat, slap on a lid and let sit for 30 mins.

In the meantime, slice garlic wafer thin and add to a pan on medium heat with 2 tsp. olive oil. Sautee until golden and crisp. Set aside and wipe the pan.

Put the pan back over medium heat and add walnuts. Toast in a dry pan until starting to color and smell sweet. Add maple syrup and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the syrup has evaporated. Remove immediately to a dish to cool fully.

In a large bowl, whisk together the juice of 1 grapefruit, dijon mustard and 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil. Salt & pepper to taste.

Add the bulgur (drain if it is a little wet), chopped spinach, goat cheese crumbles and sliced pickled beets to the dressing. Stir & serve.

Makes a nice healthy meal for 2, with enough left over for lunch the next day.

Pickled Beets: My Father Was Right

Much-reviled beets are one of the few foods on Earth I find truly repulsive. I think they taste exactly like musty dirt and generally want absolutely nothing to do with them. And then came my crusade to eat more seasonably and locally and my decision to join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) club. My CSA ships year-round organic vegetables that are sourced as locally as is possible/cost effective. Part of that commitment was bound to include trying new things. Enter the beets.

I remember as a kid thinking after the first taste made my taste buds want to retreat down my throat that beets must have been something you ate in the depression, because they were less hard than pebbles, and that anyone that still ate beets was a: ancient and had no taste left, or b: wanted to eat what they ate when they were little.

I’m fairly certain that an ancient person was the first to get me to try beets. Possibly my grandfather with Althziemers. Maybe it was only my father. I did think he was ancient, after all. (what can I say? I was a little kid. Being in your 30s was one and the same with being in your 60s or 80s to me at the time. Yeek!)

The first time I got beets, I was terrified. Beets, while a beautiful shade of claret, are gross. They taste like dirt. What the crap could I possibly do to them to make them edible?

I made pasta. My fresh beet pasta came out a beautiful shade of burgundy and I served it with a brown butter and poppyseed pan sauce, because everything is better with butter. And you know what? It worked. The beets were only slightly earthy; combined with the butter and some fresh shaved parmesan, they were great. And pretty.

I’m not scared of you any more, beets. You hear that? I’ve kicked your ass and lived to tell the tale.

Now I know, I can’t serve them in pasta every time I get them. I’ve also roasted and shredded them for beet and potato latkes, and they were great.

Every time I mention beets to my father and how I’m running out of the limited things I can do to disguise them, he tells me how great pickled beets are. I’m skeptical to say the least–sounds like some weird old people shit to me–I’m willing to try it for him. If for nothing else, but a reason to talk a little smack.

Pickled Beets
Adapted from Simple Recipes

5 beets (about 2 c.)
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub beets and cut into uniform sizes so they will cook evenly. Boil for 15-30 minutes depending upon how large your pieces are, until a fork slides easily into them.

Drain and rinse in cold water until cool enough to handle. use your fingers or a paring knife to slip the skins off. They should come off easily. Discard the peels and slice the beets 1/4 inch thick.

Whisk the rest of the ingredients together to form a vinaigrette. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Salt & pepper to taste.

Add beets to the bowl and stir to coat. Let sit at room temperature 15 minutes, stir again, and let sit 15 minutes more.

The verdict: Well, shit. These are actually pretty derned good. The first bite tasted a little like dirt in a not unpleasant way, and subsequent bites tasted sharp and sweet. I could even eat these in a salad without dying. So, dad, you were right ;p.

What to do with a box of vegetables: CSA box #3

2011 CSA Box 3

8 oz. local Florida strawberries

6 oz. blueberries

5 fair trade bananas

2 local Florida ruby pink grapefruit

2 small butternut squash

4 yellow onions

8 yukon gold potatoes

3 small heads broccoli

1 head cauliflower

3 medium and 2 small red beet roots

5 oz. bagged spring mix salad greens

2 hass avocados

3 roma tomatoes

1 bunch rainbow chard

How I Used My Share

  • One of the grapefruit supremed in a big salad with the spring mix, crisped bacon, shredded fontina cheese, half the container of blueberries and a handful of chopped sundried tomatoes with a grapefruit whole-grain mustard vinaigrette.
  • The other grapefruit with the avocados in a chicken and bulgur salad with fennel.
  • Four of the potatoes diced as hash browns as breakfast for dinner with home made bacon, leeks and eggs.
  • Cauliflower in a barley salad with almonds and capers.
  • Tomatoes roasted for a slow-roasted tomato jam.
  • Chard and half the onions in a barley and split pea soup.
  • The other half of the onions in a slow-cooked bacon jam.
  • Most of the fruit I ate out of hand.

I pickled the beets because I am desperately looking for more ways to make them not taste like dirt and my father tells me often they are the very best way to eat them. They are pickling as I am typing. I’m skeptical, but we shall see.

Left over: Butternut squash, four potatoes, broccoli

My Favorite Recipe From This Box

Eggs & Hash Browns With Fried Eggs and Leeks

My Favorite Recipe Not Shared Previously

Barley and Split Pea Soup with Chard
Adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine

This soup is light and healthy tasting while still being satisfying. I ate this for dinner and then again for 2 days for lunch, and it got better with each meal.

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 c. chopped onions
1 1/2 c. chopped carrots
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 tsp. cumin
10 c. chicken or vegetable broth (my favorite is Better Than Bouillon goo mixed with water)
2/3 c. pearl barley
14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes (I used San Marazano)
2/3 c. split peas
1 bunch Swiss Chard, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh dill (don’t skip this ingredient, it brought a great unexpected taste to the party)

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until the onions are golden brown and delicious, roughly 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Mix in the cumin and cook, stirring, until it releases its scent, about 1 minute. Add the broth and barley and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover the pot and simmer for 25 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes (with juice) and the split peas, cover, and simmer about 30 minutes until the barley and peas are tender.

Add the chard, cover, and simmer roughly 5 minutes until the chard is tender. Stir in the dill and season with salt & pepper to taste.

1 Year Ago

8 oz. local Florida strawberries
6 oz. blueberries
7 valencia oranges
1 kent mango
1 huge lime
5 jalapenos
2 heads garlic from Argentina
2 Haas avocados
1 bunch cilantro
2 huge local Florida roma tomatoes
2 jumbo red onions
scallions
2 ears local Florida bi-color corn
1 bunch local Florida lactino kale
1 head romaine lettuce
3 heads broccoli
2 large russet potatoes

What I made: Ginger Fried Rice, Thai Black Rice Salad, Cilantro Lime Rice, Stir-Fried Kale & Broccoli, Carnitas Tacos, Jalapeno Salsa, Broccoli & Chicken Stir-Fry, Lemon Smashed Potatoes

2011 CSA Box 1

2011 CSA Box 2