Ham & Biscuits, Timeless Tradition

Biscuit recipes vary their ratios of fat and flour to milk, but they all aspire to fluffy perfection. Too moist and they won’t rise well, let alone sop up gravy. Too dry and they won’t taste good.

My boyfriend contends the best biscuits are made with lard. His grandmother kept her flour in one of those pull-down bins in the kitchen cabinet.

Byron relates her biscuits were really flaky and full of flavor. They were fairly big and nicely browned. She would take them to sell in her son’s drugstore in their small town in North Georgia. The town is still there, his uncle is still a pharmacist on the square, but Byron doesn’t have the recipe.

“She just did it. There’s no written recipe,” Byron said. “We’d open up the cupboard and there’d be tubs of lard.”

Look for biscuit recipes and you may find boastful claims. A lot of this comes down to personal taste. By comparison, I think I’ve heard it said that there are as many recipes for Pad Thai as there are Thai families.Copy of Charleston Receipts.

Despite what I’ve read about the supposedly ultimate Southern biscuits, you gotta allow for some variety. I am going to embark on a biscuit recipe exploration.

To start this journey, I consulted a classic cookbook: Charleston Receipts. My copy was my paternal grandmother’s and she dated it 1964. On that front page, she also marked certain recipes and their page numbers. From this, I deduce she is recommending the Chicken Tetrazzini casserole recipe. So, turns out Italian-inspired food has long been appreciated in the South.

Charleston Receipts has a couple of pages of biscuit recipes and I started with the first one. They baked at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. In the meantime, I started the country ham, which we picked up on our last trip to Georgia. The local supermarket sells $1 vacuum packs of sliced country ham, which means it is easy to bring home and so affordable!Country ham, eggs and biscuits.

To fry the slices, I heated a cast-iron skillet to medium high. Then I mixed equal parts water and Dr Pepper in a glass. Once the skillet is hot, pour the liquid in to just cover the bottom. Place the ham slices in and cook for about two-and-a-half minutes on each side. The liquid will burn off and the sugar from the soda will caramelize.

Finally, I cooked eggs over easy so the yolk was runny enough to be picked up by the biscuits. This was great. Next time, I plan to make a tomato gravy to go with the ham and biscuits. This is lieu of the sausage gravy that usually pairs with biscuits. For a tomato gravy, you cook up tomatoes and onions while you work on a roux. More on that later!

Healthy Eating and Holiday Trips

This is not an advice column for people looking to eat organic legumes, protein shakes and what-not during a vacation with family. This holiday weekend we are seeking some semblance of balance.

To be sure, that’s hard when family brings along a chef. Todd, a.k.a. Chef T., took a break from cooking at his restaurant to cook for us on his vacation. The first evening was Wild Game Night, the first dish being fried alligator bites with Buffalo sauce. When I say fried, I don’t mean excessively battered, crunchy food. These were lightly floured for a fluffy, dare I saw ethereal, sensation to the bite. The flavors danced in perfect syncopation.

Next, we enjoyed grill quail over a salad of greens and red pepper with a light olive oil-based dressing. There was some vinegar, but not too much.

Rib-Eye Steaks
Rib-Eye Steaks awaiting the grill.

But, wait, there’s more: Todd made rabbit sausage that was quite delicate and flavorful. (The next night it was served like a pate on a cheese plate.) The sausage did not have a casing. Instead, Todd poached the sausage wrapped in Saran wrap.

Oh, were we finished yet? Not at all! The final course was elk chops, grilled to perfection. OK, folks, we held off on dessert.

Thank goodness I did not eat too much because, after dinner, Mr. Higgins, a.k.a. The Sage Leopard, escaped and took off across the countryside on his own personal steeplechase, with me racing after him. Higgins is a cross between a Foxhound and Catahoula Leopard Dog and can run like the wind.

Remember that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the main character is running through backyards while the soundtrack plays a frenetic ska track from the English Beat? It was like that, except with a crazy hound zigzagging, followed by a crazed woman calling his name. We went from yard to yard in this small North Georgia town for what seemed like nearly a mile until he was stymied by a chain link fence.

I grabbed him and cradled his 40-pound frame against my torso with his paws over my shoulder. We made it to the highway (a two-lane road) and started back to the house. Did I mention it was hot and humid, and I that had consumed a lot of meat with red wine earlier in the night? This is not a good time for a jog.

A pickup truck was coming along and I heard it let up on the gas. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Byron behind the wheel coming to our rescue. Higgins was delighted to get in the truck. I sat down in relief and Byron remarked, had we been home in Texas, I might have gotten shot running into someone’s backyard. Let’s just say that was a sobering thought! Anyhoo.Moscow Mule

The next morning Leroy prepared his classic breakfast: grits, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and cantaloupe. We met up with Byron’s sister, brother-in-law and Chef T for lunch. Three people at the table opted for a salmon special and I ate a perfect Greek salad, bearing in mind so other major dinner was in the offing.

We browsed the shops around the square in Dahlonega. Then we opted to have a drink. I ordered a Moscow Mule, figuring this is healthiest version of a drink: ginger beer, vodka and lime over ice. Very refreshing.

The ride back to Cleveland was scenic and we took the dogs out for a long walk. Then, I fell asleep in a chair, no doubt a side effect of the vodka. Next thing I knew, it was time for another meal by Todd and Craig. They grilled beautifully marbled ribs eyes, served with lobster tail. The plated were filled out with twice-baked potatoes and green beans.

The lobster was dressed with Champagne butter. That certainly was perfect and were beyond sated. But, dessert was served: a Bourbon milkshake and Oreo bread pudding. The key is to share these desserts.

Dog on hotel bed.
The Sage Leopard lounges after a long day.

For breakfast on day three, we enjoyed oatmeal with fresh fruit: banana, pineapple, strawberries and blueberries. Back on track? Not quite. It’s the Fourth of July! It’s time for hot dogs and hamburgers! The key is to make sure you do eat fiber and fruit when you can and to get some exercise.

If you really want a good workout, The Sage Leopard would love to take you on a run!