My Nana was a food purist. Nana prepared all her meals with unsalted butter, olive oil, herbs, garlic, onions, and simply salt pepper for seasoning. With everything finished, she presented her dishes at the table with a hint of minced parsley scattered on top. Every part of the meal prep was coaxed along the way with a mid-grade bottle of white or red wine to enhance all the flavors in every stovetop pot or cooking vessel in the oven. The art of preparing Nana’s fresh finely-chopped herb selection included yielding a paring knife with a sharpening block nearby, always listening to Mozart on repeat.
Nana’s Collard Greens
For the holiday season, Nana reigned supreme in the kitchen. Christmas dinner was days in the making, including a thorough cleaning and seasoning of a turkey dressed with an abundance of fresh herbs mixed with butter coaxed underneath the turkey skin. There was always a pan of cornbread stuffing paired with sage, sausage, onions, garlic and chestnuts and you guessed it, more herbs. Side dishes included pigeon peas and rice made with coconut milk and grated coconut flesh. String beans garnished with pearl onions and baby carrots and hearty rutabaga and onions casserole.
Always at the helm of the meal, Nana served a very cold head of Iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced, and diced Roma tomatoes dressed with Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Heinz ketchup, salt, ground pepper and a hint of paprika. Each holiday meal was served with bottles of Kosher grape wine at the ready and of course sweet potato pie and more sweet potato pies.
And as a loving tribute to My Nana, it feels fitting to share her collard greens made with chile and coconut recipe here with you:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
6-8 cloves of finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon vegetable bouillon - even more to taste
1 tablespoon paprika
2 sprigs of thyme
1 teaspoon chile flakes
½ cup water
1 cup coconut milk
3 pounds collard greens
Fresh ground pepper to taste
In a wok, I saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent, followed by stirring in the paprika, thyme, and chile. I let these ingredients settle in with each other and then I then add the water, vegetable bouillon and coconut milk, letting everything simmer for 10 minutes.
I prep my collard greens while the liquid cooks, giving them a rough chop, and I always leave a good portion of the collard stems because it adds more texture to the dish. I put my cleaned and chopped greens into the wok with the liquid, cover it and let the whole thing cook for at least 35 minutes or until it is tender. I season generously to taste and what we have is Nana’s savory & creamy collard greens with a little spicy kick to enjoy!
Mom’s Rosemary Buttermilk Biscuits
As you can see Nana reigned supreme in the holiday meal courses with finesse and mightly held the throne—well except for the homemade biscuits. My mom, in my humble opinion, made an extraordinary pan of hot buttermilk biscuits. I believe that biscuits fresh from the oven elevated our annual holiday dinner. I mean delicious biscuits level up any meal—it makes everything else taste even better. Shhh, don't tell Nana I said so! In fact, I have never met a well made biscuit that I did not love!
This is where my Mom could occupy space in the holiday meal extravaganza: making a pretty darn good biscuit. It had a golden crown and when delicately opened you discovered layers of airy dough inside just begging for butter. Mom always made large sums of holiday biscuits and with the last piece that didn't quite add up to a full biscuit, she always made what we called a “Funny Biscuit.” The Funny Biscuit was a loved & coveted thing during our holiday meal—everyone wanted it. However, as far back as I can remember, only one person got “The Funny Biscuit” and her name is “Icky Bicky.” My sister Pia aka “Icky Bicky” was the only person to ever have the freaking thing! I asked my Mom as a child, teenager & full-fledged adult, why couldn't you just make two equally scrumptious Funny Biscuits for Christ sakes?
All jokes and childhood traumas aside, food has always been a staple & predictable form of a love language in my family. Whenever I bake, I have a desire to share. I love to see people with eyes rolling back in their head nodding blissfully & content around my Mom’s biscuits.
So from my family to yours, I share my Mom’s Rosemary Buttermilk Biscuits.
The Ingredients are:
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons rosemary finely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 cups buttermilk
1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a medium bowl add all the dry ingredients and whisk them together. Add the cold butter; using a pastry blender or (2) knives, cut the mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs.
2. Gently blend-in the fresh rosemary here.
3. Now add the buttermilk: incorporate by folding the buttermilk in until the mixture just comes together; the batter will be a little bit sticky. No worries, transfer the mixture to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently with the heel of your hand and then roll out the ball of dough into a square of 1-inch thickness. Fold the dough onto itself and turn ¼ clockwise. Remember to keep your surface and dough lightly floured. Roll out the dough, then fold over 2 or 3 times more - this is how you make the flaky layers.
4. Use a 2 ½ inch round biscuit cutter to cut biscuits, close as possible to minimize the scraps. ( Watch out for the Funny Biscuit Alert!)
5. Transfer to a baking sheet- bake for 18-20 minutes until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven. Cool on a rack and serve warm.
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