A Meal in Memory of Grandma

housewife and cook

Food is more substance than just sustenance for me. For some people, cooking and eating are just necessary functions for life. For me, each meal’s preparation and consumption is an experience to relish and remember. Much credit for that goes to my maternal grandmother, Vember Christine Allred Quinn.

Grandma passed away on Oct. 20 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She still continued to enjoy some of her favorite foods until the final weeks and days of her amazing 88-year life, even though she hadn’t been able to think through the process of making a meal herself in years.

I deeply miss Grandma Vember’s cooking, along with so many other things that made her a beautiful person. Meals at her house, especially at times like Thanksgiving, meant I got to sit around the table with her, Grandpa, Mom and Dad to eat and talk. Each one of us always sat in the same place, and my seat was to Grandma’s left, also next to Mom.

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Grandma’s passing has had me thinking about the dishes and recipes of hers that I recall most fondly. So I’ve decided to put together a meal at Grandma’s house, and I’d like to invite you to join me for dinner. No reservation or transportation is necessary. Just continue reading and enjoy this simple yet special table of memories with me in the plates below. Here’s what’s on the menu.

FLANK STEAK: Grandma cooked the most flavorful, tender flank steak—and we just called it steak—I’ve ever consumed. My own is not nearly as tasty or chewable. Flank steak has a tendency to be tough in consistency. Not grandma’s. As I remember, hers had a light but very meaty quality to it, with a slightly soft, slightly crispy coating that had a hint of pepper in taste. This was my favorite main dish for grandma to prepare, and I’d still take a pan of flank steak now over any other more expensive cut of meat.

HOPPY TOAD BISCUITS: Perhaps my favorite food prepared by my grandmother was her biscuits. I can still picture the containers of ingredients in the bottom kitchen cabinet and her hands at work in the dough on the counter above. She’d nestle the biscuits close together and they’d join in the sided pan in the oven. When they hit the table, we’d break them apart, and they’d seemingly hop from the plate and into our mouths. They were small biscuits, shaped by the pan’s sides and their neighboring pieces of dough, with a slightly crisp outside and a soft but completely done middle. I’ve never eaten a biscuit like Grandma’s.

GREEN BEANS AND POTATOES: Some dishes are more about the memories attached than the unique recipe in which they originate. That’s how I feel about a pot of Grandma’s green beans and potatoes. In my mind, I can see the glass pot and lid that she always used for her green beans and potatoes. Neither the beans nor the potatoes were any sort of premium quality, and they weren’t seasoned in any creative way, to my knowledge. But the combination of a can of green beans and a can of whole potatoes introduced to me the realization that food can be both simple and fulfilling.

OLD DRY CAKE AND CHOCOLATE GRAVY: This is just a basic cake with butter, milk, eggs, sugar, flour and vanilla, but there’s nothing ordinary about its story in our family. Grandma made the cake once, before I’d ever tasted it myself, when Great Aunt Kathleen was eating with my grandparents and Mom. Grandpa asked her how she liked it, and Kathleen answered that it was a little dry. It’s since been known as the “Old Dry Cake.” Sometimes when she made it she’d cook a chocolate sauce (also known as chocolate gravy) and pour it over the hot cake, allowing it to run over and into the cake. I dare say you haven’t lived if you haven’t had chocolate gravy poured over “Old Dry Cake.”

If I could have Grandma make one meal right now, those dishes are exactly what I would request. They’re emblazoned on my heart, and their memories have influenced my interest in cooking and zeal for how I feed myself and my wife Molly. Thank you, Grandma. I think of you every time I step into the kitchen.

In Memory of Vember Christine Allred Quinn (Oct. 11, 1929-Oct. 20, 2017)

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Matthew’s Three-Ingredient Biscuits

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I’ve enjoyed some fantastic homemade biscuits in my life. With no disrespect to other great biscuit makers in my family, my grandma Vember’s were the best. It must have been the grandma love she handed her biscuits, affectionately known as “hoppy toad” biscuits, presumably because they were small and so good they quickly hopped off the pan.

Recently, I’ve had her biscuits on my mind, and I’ve come to realize I’ll never make — or likely eat anywhere — biscuits like hers again. But I’ve had this nagging hankering for delicious homemade biscuits, and I’ve been on the hunt for a simple recipe that satisfies the craving when it hits.

My wife Molly makes delicious homemade biscuits that go great with a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, jam spreads or a drizzle of honey. But Molly will tell you that I have one complaint about those biscuits, mostly when I’m the one cooking them: I don’t like using shortening, also known as lard. It has an oilyness to it that just “burns my biscuits.” I don’t enjoy working in it with my hands, and I don’t enjoy cleaning the measuring cup that contains it. So, I’ve been searching for an ingredient replacement, and I think I’ve found it.

No one recipe has delivered exactly what I’m looking for, so I can tell you that this specific recipe is probably out there in some form, but I’ve created my own version of it as a mashup of pieces from others. The only required ingredients: Flour, Milk and Butter. Be patient with these biscuits. You’ll have to try them several times to arrive at just the right combination for your taste and your oven. And when you do, I expect you’ll be quite pleased.

These biscuits offer light, flaky layers and a savory, buttery taste to boot. They make great biscuits for sandwiching toppings like bacon, sausage and eggs. They’re great with jelly. I even love eating them plain, and because of the butter included in the recipe, there’s little need for slathering extra butter when they come out of the oven. See what you think, and let me know if you like them as much as I’ve come to.

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Ingredients

2 Cups Self-Rising Flour

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (one stick, and it doesn’t actually have to be unsalted)

1/3 Cup Milk (you might have to test out this amount, depending on the consistency of your dough)

Yield: About 10 Biscuits

Directions

1. Cut your cold butter into cubes and toss them into your flour in a medium to large mixing bowl.

2. Use your hands, a pastry cutter or two forks to fold your butter into your flour.

3. Once your butter and flour are mixed, incorporate the milk slowly, until all three ingredients are blended well. You may need extra milk if your mixture is too dry, but you don’t want it to become too sticky either.

4. Form your dough into a large ball. Flour a flat surface and the outside of the ball.

5. Roll out your dough on the flat surface, then fold the dough over on itself and roll it out again. Repeat as many times as you like for more layers in your biscuit. You’ll see how many layers you want after your first time baking these biscuits. If you don’t want layers, roll out and don’t fold the dough.

6. Roll the dough to about an inch thick for thicker biscuits, or about a half inch for thinner biscuits.

7. Use a biscuit cutter or a circular cup to cut your biscuits. Flour the rim to keep from sticking. (You can also parcel out the dough in little balls and then flatten and form with your hands. I like a cutter to keep the biscuits more uniform in size.)

8. Place your biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet (You have butter in your biscuits to help with sticking).

9. (Optional) You can brush the tops of your biscuits with melted butter before putting them in the oven or midway through cooking for browner tops and an extra buttery flavor and texture.

10. Cook in a 450-degree oven for eight to 10 minutes, depending on the desired doneness.

More #FoodieScore Biscuits: Molly’s Three-Ingredient Biscuits

Foodie Travels: HenDough, Hendersonville, N.C.

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If you enjoy locally sourced food that’s served in creative ways at an affordable price inside a welcoming house (and who wouldn’t?!), then you’ll love HenDough, a phenomenal-yet-simple culinary experience in downtown Hendersonville.

We recently discovered HenDough—located inside a beautiful two-story house with bright, modern accents—during a visit to nearby Flat Rock to explore the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site. Just check out what we ordered for a weekend brunch:

Fried Chicken Biscuit

Bacon, Egg & Cheese Biscuit

Sweet Potato Salad with Bacon

Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

Nutella Crunch Donut

Lemon Blueberry Donut

16-Ounce Locally Roasted Coffee

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We enjoyed every part of our feast and, since we were so full, we actually took both donuts and half of each biscuit with us to enjoy later, as well as a second cup of coffee.

The biscuits were HUGE, buttery and wonderfully crumbly. The plump fried chicken was tender, perfectly breaded and had just the right amount of meat inside and crunch outside. The thick bacon crunched with a glorious seasoned flavor, paired with warm and filling egg and cheese.

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HenDough’s side options give you a tough choice. We went with our top two, and we loved the creative use of sweet potatoes in potato salad with crunchy bacon and a mustard-mayo-tasting sauce, as well as the rich and cheesy mac.

Dynamite Roasting coffee, from nearby Black Mountain, is featured at HenDough in a serve-yourself setup. On the day we visited, choices included HenDough, Ethiopian, Mexican and decaf blends, and you can add whole milk, half and half, syrup, sugar and other ingredients at the counter. Dynamite is just one of many local outfits that partner with HenDough, including farms, bakeries, creameries and more.

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This Foodie Travels find is definitely worth your time and money—each person can eat for about $10, as we did, even adding a doughnut to a biscuit and side. There’s a pretty good parking lot out back. And it’s in a great location to pair with a hike, downtown shopping or other adventure before or after you eat.

 

HenDough Chicken & Donuts

532 Kanuga Road, Hendersonville, N.C.