Buttermilk Biscuits


You know that I always try to have a little backstory to go along with a recipe, because I think that it’s much more fun to find out why someone cooks or bakes something than just read a recipe, which you can do on any cooking site. A lot of times, though, I have no good tale after I try a recipe, but I really want to share it and so I wander around trying to fit the recipe into a story, any story, so I can write about it. I mean, I’m not crazy (or committed) enough to go do something just so I can post about it and give you a recipe, but I do have a backlog of tasty treats that are hanging out just waiting for the right moment.

This is not one of those moments. The true story is that I bought a quart of buttermilk (seriously, who needs a quart of buttermilk?) in order to make sweet potato muffins for a brunch. Since the recipe only calls for 1/3 cup of buttermilk I had a full container when I was done.  I was thrilled when the lemon poppyseed cake called for a cup; I thought I could at least put a dent in the quart. But it’s obvious that buttermilk regenerates, because I swear that the carton was as full as when I started (and I made three of those cakes).  So as the expiration date approached, I started thinking about what else I could do.  Biscuits were the first thing that popped into my mind, but I dismissed them because I’m not a fan.  The ones I’ve had have always been heavy and chewy and too buttermilky–the tang of buttermilk is overpowering to me.  But I couldn’t find any recipes other than cakes and pancakes, so biscuits won by default.

Having never eaten a biscuit that I actually liked, I had every intention of just making them, taking a few pictures and pawning them off on my coworkers.  What really ended up happening is that I was late for work, because I was standing in my kitchen eating biscuits dripping with butter and honey like it was my job.  I moved from the “I’ll pass” camp to the “you’ll pass over all the biscuits now if you know what’s good for you” camp in less time than it took for them to cool.  They were light and layered and had a bit of sweetness (even without the honey) that balanced out the tartness of the buttermilk.  Even the next day they were soft and had none of that chewiness that I think plagues other biscuits.  Of course, I wouldn’t really know how they hold up for too many days, because there weren’t any left after day two.  But, you know what was still hanging around? 1/2 a quart of buttermilk. I kid you not.

Buttermilk Biscuits, courtesy of The Homesick Texan (I think I originally found the recipe on epicurious, but think it’s better to link to her actual site)

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading (9 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste (I used just 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold (1 stick)
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half or buttermilk (I added a bit more to the dough, because it was a little dry as I was mixing)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and grease a baking sheet or cast-iron skillet.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Cut the stick of butter into pieces and work it into the flour mixture with your hands or pastry blender until it resembles pea-size crumbs. Add the half-and-half or buttermilk, mixing until the dough is a bit loose and sticky.

Pour the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute. Dough should be smooth and no longer wet. You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find it’s sticking. Make the dough into a ball and hit it with a rolling pin, turning it and folding it in half every few whacks. Do this for a couple of minutes (I actually just picked up the dough and threw it down over and over (fold over before throwing it down again).  Good tension release and upper arm workout).

Roll out the dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick, then fold it in half. Using a round biscuit cutter (you can use a glass or a cup if you don’t have a biscuit cutter–I used a measuring cup), cut out the biscuits from the folded dough. Place on a greased baking sheet or in a cast-iron skillet close together, about 1/8 of an inch apart (so they rise up not out), and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

NOTE: If you don’t want to roll and cut them out, after kneading and beating the dough you can drop the dough onto the baking sheet with a spoon. They’re not as symmetrical (dropped biscuits are also known as cat-head biscuits), but they’re no less delicious.

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Sweet Potato Muffins


 

I am, generally, an organized person.  It may not seem like it if you were to look at my desk, but I always know exactly where things are (likely because I’m an only child and there was no one around to move something once I put it somewhere), I rarely lose things and I can pretty much remember details of where I need to be without writing them down. I say all of this to tell you that I rarely do more than glance at information, because I rely (overly so) on my ability to absorb it quickly and remember it.  Fortunately for me, I show up where I’m supposed to be 9 times out of 10, so I’ve had little need to reconsider my methods.  But that 10th time? That 10th time will always be when it truly truly counts.  The biggest “slip up” I’ve made was when I was supposed to get sworn in to the Illinois bar.  Weeks prior to the swearing in, the bar people sent a letter listing where you needed to go based on where in Illinois you lived.  For Chicago, it was McCormick Place on XYZ day at 2:30pm. Done.  I alerted relatives and friends and threw the paper into a pile.  

The appointed day arrived and I put on my new lawyer suit and went into work.  I told the partners that I’d have to leave around 2pm and wouldn’t be coming back for the day since a celebration at a Cuban restaurant was to follow.  I vaguely wondered why none of my classmates were around that morning, but I realized that they were probably smart and took the whole day off for this big event.  2pm rolls around and I pull out the letter so I could get the name of the room where the swearing in was supposed to be held. And what do I see?  The Chicago ceremony had started at 11:30.  My heart skipped a beat as I realized that I had just missed getting sworn in and I had no idea what that meant (these bar people are no joke.  To even take the exam you have to jump through so many hoops that I figured that they’d punish me in some way for missing it).  Tears, frantic phone calls and a speeding taxi ride followed.  I arrived at McCormick Place to see the janitors sweeping up left over flower petals and locking the doors to the auditorium.  My well-wishers arrived to find me sitting on the floor crying with nothing to show for the day but that crumpled letter.  You’ll be happy to know that I was able to be sworn in by a judge a few weeks later, but, while I still believe in my abilities, few people trust me to tell them where they need to be and when any longer.

This story has nothing to do with food other than to lead into another example of how I get something in my head and completely think it’s right and there’s no need for me to double check or think about it again.  Basically, I ended up making sweet potato muffins when, up to the minute I was about to put the sweet potato in the microwave, I thought I was making pumpkin muffins.  A coworker had given me a recipe for–the way I remembered it–pumpkin muffins a few years ago and given the autumn weather, I thought they’d be a happy treat.  I could even see the picture of the muffins in my head from the printout she gave me, but couldn’t find the recipe online and she didn’t remember it (likely because we were searching for a completely different recipe).  I finally found it this weekend when I cleaned out a folder full of dashed cooking dreams, with magazine recipes dating back to 1996.  I glanced at the recipe to make sure I had the ingredients, made out my grocery list and crafted the story behind the muffins based on the pumpkin picking I did a few weekends ago.  It was not until I was washing off the potato last night that it occurred to me that I was actually making sweet potato muffins instead of pumpkin ones.  How’s that for the power of suggestion (or my ability to kid (delude?) myself)? Even though I bought sweet potatoes, I still had it in my mind that these were all about the pumpkin… At least my efforts weren’t totally lost and I actually had the sweet potato.  And! I was right about the picture, so my long term memory seems to be fully functioning.  I take comfort wherever I can get it.

Anyhoo. They’re super yummy and moist and the cinnamon sugar coating is a nice addition, although I suppose if you want to be super healthy about it, you could leave it off.  And, I also suppose you could substitute pumpkin if your mind’s set on it…

Warm Sweet Potato Muffins with Cinnamon Sugar Coating (courtesy of Cuisine at Home)

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Cinnamon Rolls


 

I’m a total morning person. If I have work to do, I’d much rather go to bed at 10pm and wake up at 4am than stay up late.  Obviously I was a lot of fun in college.  I think I was one of the few people who actually left parties to go to bed (plus my grandfather always said nothing good happens after midnight.  Now, we all know “good” things can happen after midnight, but when you think back on it the next morning, it’s unlikely to fall into any category that constitutes good for a grandfather.  I digress…).  This saved me from gaining the notorious Freshman Fifteen, because I was tucked in well before the late night pizzas were delivered.  Senior year, I instituted the 11:30pm rule in our house which meant that on a school night, no one was allowed to wake me up unless the house was on fire, I was on fire or someone had died.  Don’t you wish you’d lived with me?  The 11:30 rule has become the 10:30 rule since I now live in a CST timezone.  I’m really not kidding about this; I’ve actually had friends ask if they can break the 10:30 rule to call me (I usually say yes…).

I have no idea where I was going with this (I actually wrote that paragraph last night and then, guess what? I got sleepy, so I’m finishing it this morning and have no idea what I was going to say next.  True story.).  At any rate, I truly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons, but it’s rare that I have anything more than cereal.  I really want to be one of those people who wakes up and squeezes orange juice to go with my freshly made waffles and crisp bacon, but for all of my morning person-ness, this is likely never to happen.  Why would I do that when there are perfectly good brunch spots within walking distance? I’m all for reinventing the wheel recipe-wise, but not if it’s going to stand in the way of bacon, you know?

So I was all over making these cinnamon rolls because I was craving them and it was too cold and rainy to go outside just for baked goods, especially when I had a delicious recipe from The Chopping Block and all of the ingredients.  But, you know what? I should have braved the elements because these are so ridiculously time consuming that I didn’t even want them half way through.  Seriously. It took me an hour to make the dough, what with the cooling times and mixing and figuring out how many ounces are in 3-3/4 cups of flour (that last part has more to do with my math skills than the recipe).  At any rate, I decided to just let the dough rise overnight, because it was close to lunch time by the time I finished making it and I couldn’t be bothered.  Putting them together was another lengthy process and all I could think was thank goodness there was no one waiting for these because they would likely have given up on me and gone out to get the canned version that bakes in 10 minutes.

That said, they are as ridiculously tasty as they are ridiculously time consuming.  The dough is sweet and chewy and I created a little icing based on the bourbon bread pudding version that is lick your fingers worthy.  So, if you are a total morning person who wants to spend some quiet time kneading dough while everyone else sleeps, make these this weekend.  Otherwise, I’ll catch you at brunch.  I’ll be the girl in the back cozying up to a plate of bacon…

Cinnamon Rolls (courtesy of The Chopping Block)

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Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce


In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s May. MAY, people.  Although I’m incredibly grateful to have survived another Chicago winter (a mild one. Thanks, Mother Nature!), I can’t believe how fast time is going.  It seems like just yesterday I was whipping up red velvet cupcakes in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.  May is one of my fave months, mainly because there is no chance of snow (knock on wood), but also because it’s both Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday.  As someone who would seriously do crafts all day long if allowed and could easily spend a month’s salary at Michaels in an hour, you can imagine that as a kid, I loved that entire school days were spent making Mother’s Day presents.  One year we made jewelry boxes out of cigar boxes topped with macaroni sprayed gold (query the wisdom of having 6 year olds ask their parents to purchase a box of cigars for that project) and another time we made collages of our baby pictures (I’m sure my mother appreciated me cutting up family photos).

At some point in life, it stops being appropriate to make your mother a present and you actually have to save up your allowance and purchase something. Enter many bottles of 2nd rate perfumes and tangles of costume jewerly (to be stored in the jewelry box she’s saved all those years).  The thing is, no matter what you give your mom, she loves it–truly and honestly–because she loves you.  And that is why you will always see men in Walgreens the morning of Mother’s Day buying huge mylar balloons and Russell Stover candy. 

My mother, thank goodness, cannot stand the idea of Mother’s Day brunch, so we have been spared chaffing dishes and carving stations over the years.  We usually go out to dinner, but a few years ago I decided to cook.  Mom had gone to New Orleans and brought back a cookbook from the Gumbo Shop, so I decided to make a Louisiana dinner of gumbo and bread pudding.  Even though I’ve always loved cooking and baking, it wasn’t until recently that I actually had a bit of a clue on how things worked in the kitchen and how to interpret a recipe.  So when the gumbo recipe said that I needed to boil a whole chicken in order to make stock, it never occurred to me that I could buy chicken stock.  Or that I didn’t actually need to cut the French bread into 1 inch cubes; tearing it up into relatively even pieces would be quite all right.  I spent the entire day in the kitchen, stirring and cutting and sauteeing and rather than relaxing on Mother’s Day, my mom spent most of the day worrying that (i) I was going to set the entire kitchen on fire and (ii) that I was doing too much.  I think that she was equally grateful to sit down to dinner (likely at 9pm) as she was for all of my effort.  This was likely 6 or 7 years ago, and all these years later she still talks about how hard I worked that day.  Like she never went out above and beyond in the kitchen for me (she has).

I promise to write about the gumbo recipe soon (I bought chicken stock this past weekend), but I’m going to recommend you commit this bread pudding recipe to memory before Sunday and impress your mom (or aunt or mom-to-be or friend-who-is-like-a-mom or just someone you really love).  It is decadence on a plate and a tip of whiskey mixed with butter and sugar never hurt anyone.  I know a lot of folks have had bad (read: soggy) bread pudding experiences, but this version is more like a super moist cake.   When I did it for Mother’s Day, I made whipped cream instead of the sauce, but after making the sauce on Sunday, I pretty much plan on putting it on everything I ever bake again. So yeah, stick with the sauce.

I took my mom some of the bread pudding I made over the weekend and she said it was even better than the one I made all those years ago.  Of course, that got her started talking about how hard I worked that day and how she can’t believe that I spent the whole day in the kitchen making everything from scratch just for her.  But I, and everyone who has ever met my mom, knows that she is totally, completely, without a doubt, would do it again (and then some) in a heartbeat, worth it…

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce (from the Gumbo Shop Cookbook)

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Doughnut Holes


I’m always looking for new recipes to test and make part of my go-to list, which in reality means that I’m always finding recipes and filing them away and then making myself feel really guilty for not trying them.  This was bad enough years ago when Food Network only showed Emeril Live and Ming Tsai and when epicurious.com was just a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye and I had to clip recipes from magazines, but now with the explosion of all of these cooking shows (have you ever watched Cake Boss? I have a ridiculous crush on Buddy and his ability to make cakes in the shape of anything under the sun) and food websites, the countless recipes and ensuing guilt just about swallow me up. [insert deep dramatic sigh here]  I have about 200 recipes I’ve been meaning to try (this does not include all of the cookbooks I’ve used one or two times).

I watched Giada De Laurentiis make doughnuts sometime last winter, and I never had any occasion to try them until this weekend when I needed something tasty to take to a brunch with friends.  I’m not a huge doughnut fan, which is odd since fried dough + sugar = 20 kinds of happiness, but Giada just made them look so fun! and easy! and so super cute!  She used pre-made pizza dough to make doughnuts and doughnut holes and really, nothing could be simpler. 

I did a test run of the doughnut holes on Saturday and the hardest part was not eating the entire batch in one sitting.  The fact that they are incredibly easy came in handy on Sunday morning when I made the real deal after spending a bit too much time gallivanting on Saturday night and got home oh, 5 hours before I needed to get up and start rolling out dough.  

I ended up making powdered sugar and cinnamon sugar ones and they were soft and chewy hours after I made them (some reviews online said that they got hard after a few hours).  No one believed that I’d actually made them, which I think is a sign of success. So yeah! for me… Only 199 recipes to go…

Italian Doughnuts (I’m not actually sure why they’re considered Italian, other than they were made by an Italian person) courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

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Cornbread Stuffing


When I was a kid I had an irrational fear of three things: being kidnapped, quicksand and being poisoned.  The first two I blame on Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny cartoons (no, seriously.  Those dang kids in the Mystery Machine were always getting themselves in trouble and would wind up in some haunted mansion tied up and left to fend for themselves and some Warner Bros. character was always either setting a trap over quicksand or falling into a pit of it.  Where I thought I’d find a pit of quicksand in downtown Chicago was beside the point.  As is this lenghty parenthetical, I realize). 

The poisoning was a little more rational, or at least a little more understandable.  My family, coming from an island, always worried about food spoiling if left out too long.  They would also get packages of canned food items from Jamaica like ackee–which were hard to find in New York–and talk of botchulism swirled around my grandmother’s kitchen (unripened ackee can also kill you, so there was that added delight).  I barely understood what they were talking about, but I knew enough to be afraid that one bite of the wrong thing could spell the end of me (dramatic? Me? Never…).

Anytime a turkey was involved the question of whether to put the stuffing inside or bake it separately came up, because stuffing left in the cavity of the bird could spoil, and you guessed it, kill us all.   It was a great debate each year, because the stuffing was more moist if baked inside the turkey, and that, for some reason, seemed worth the risk.  I wasn’t taking any chances, though, so I never ate stuffing unless it was of the Stovetop variety.  I refused to taste it, and truth be told, the texture and mushy look of it (plus the addition of things like giblets) let me know I wasn’t missing anything.

I’m not sure when my boycott against stuffing ended, but a few years ago I found a recipe (in a magazine ad for chicken stock) that sounded too good to pass up.  And it is so delicious that I make extra and freeze it so I can have some on a random Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  The recipe is also super easy, especially if you cheat and use Jiffy cornbread mix instead of making your own.  It’s moist and not the least bit mushy (thanks to the bits of french bread) and since you bake it separately from the turkey, there is no risk of poisoning yourself or your family, which is always a good thing….  Happiest of Thanksgivings to you!

Cornbread Stuffing

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Total Hibernation Mode


I wish I could tell you that I’ve been doing all manner of exciting things over the last few weeks and that’s why I haven’t cooked, baked or done more than microwave dinner–let alone write a word about food–since it was technically winter.   I’ve been wanting to talk about the Moroccan cooking class I took a few weeks ago and the roof-top garden a friend has started and my search for dry butter so I can finally make croissants like they do in France, but in all honesty, it’s kind of hard to find the words to describe all those things when it’s so unrelentingly cold that you think your eyeballs might freeze and instead of using your oven for baking treats, it’s on solely to warm up the house.

I am hopeful that with the arrival of spring my need to cook and feed people will return, that my brain will thaw and that I’ll be inspired by fresh ingredients.  In the meantime, here are some pictures of things I’ve been meaning to tell you about, just to whet your appetite…

chocolate-chip-cookies2

Chocolate Chip Cookies

pumpkin-soup2

Pumpkin Soup

croissant1

Perfect Croissant Baguette

Glamour Bread


The summer before my senior year of college, I had a very random but well paid job where my main duty was to organize my boss’s office.  He was the legal counsel for the company and technically I was supposed to be learning something that would help me with law school applications, but I really spent my days reading books and magazines, making long distance phone calls and writing letters to my friends (ha! I’ve totally dated myself there. None of us had email at the time!).  I am not normally so irresponsible, especially when it comes to a job, but my boss was never there and after a week or two of trying to come up with projects, I’d get my filing done first thing in the morning and then enjoy my paid freedom.

 

For some odd reason, there were many years’ worth of Glamour magazines lying around (odd because my boss was a 45 year old man, but I’m not going to concern myself with that just now) which I would read cover to cover at my desk.  I turned 21 that summer, so of course I thought I was completely grown, knew everything and was just marking time until I would graduate and start on my adventurous, exciting, full of nothing but happiness and fun adult life.  Needless to say, the pages of Glamour, with their do’s and don’ts on everything from clothes to men to jobs became my bible.  I tore out page after page of what I should do and wear and say and eat and studied them with an intensity I maybe should have applied to my actual job.  I had spent my junior year in Paris, so the pressure was intense to return to college fashionable and worldly.

 

Each issue featured a recipe that a glamorous 20-something should master so that she could effortlessly whip up a little something in case a friend was sick or a gentleman caller showed up unannounced.  I tore out a lot of them, but I think the only one that I actually tried was for the herb-garlic focaccia.  I practiced it a couple of times over the summer and then took the recipe back to college where I would mix up the dough before class, come back during lunch to stretch and pull it into the baking pan and then bake it in time for dinner when we’d have a few friends over to drink cheap wine and talk about what life would be like after graduation. 

  

It’s a totally deceptive recipe, because it looks like you really worked hard on it, but is actually incredibly easy (which was probably the point of all of those recipes).  Once you get the basics down, you can add anything you want to it, varying the herbs or adding cheese or tomatoes.

 

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Even though things were not glamorous or fun for a very long time after college, I love that at some point I was innocent enough to believe that studying lists of the top 25 must haves and mastering a few recipes were the key to happiness.   Looking back, I think the fun was in the expectation of what lay ahead, that there would be places to wear all of the clothes I coveted and unexpected suitors who showed up at my door hungry.  Obviously it takes a bit more work than glossy magazines would lead you to think, but when you can cut into a warm slice of tasty bread that you made yourself in your own kitchen with good friends around you, it kind of seems worthwhile…

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Herb-Garlic Focaccia (this is the exact recipe from Glamour.  At the bottom are some tweaks)

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Procrastination Bread


I need to admit something right off: Procrastination and I have been having a torrid affair for years.  It’s not something I’m particularly proud of and I usually try to hide it as best I can by pretending to be a serious worker bee.  I’ve tried to call it off numerous times, but you know how these things go: you have the best of intentions, you’re even able to walk away for awhile, you distract yourself with other more suitable things.  And just when you think you’ve gotten back some control and self-respect, you find yourself doing things you wouldn’t admit to your best friend. 

I’d like to tell you that my affair only affects my work life, that for the things I love and care about–like cooking and baking–I’m totally on the ball, but I’d be lying.  As I walk home in the evenings, I dream of the healthy, soul-satisfying, yummy goodness that I will whip up in my kitchen that night.  I have it planned, I know exactly what is in my fridge and pantry and how long it will take before I am sitting at my table.  And then I get home, and before I can even make it to the kitchen, I’m all, “Oooh! a Law & Order marathon on TNT!” and yeah… you know how this story ends.

It shouldn’t suprise you, then, that I’m about to tell you about a recipe that has been circulating on the internet for two years.  No, really; it first appeared in the New York Times on November 8, 2006.  Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe is a dream come true for those of us under Procrastinator’s spell.   It is so super easy that even if you get distracted by something else and remember right before bed that you promised a loaf for a gathering the next day you can just throw the three main ingredients–water, yeast and flour–into a bowl, cover it and let the dough sit overnight (not that this has ever happened to me. I’m just saying…).  After a couple of brief rising times the next day, you pop it in the oven, set the timer and it’s ready to break open and be slathered in butter in 45 minutes.  No stirring, no mixing, just let it work by itself.  The secret is actually in the name: there’s no kneading, just a lot of resting of the dough.  That resting period binds everything together to create the texture the bread will have once it’s baked.  This is the same thing that would happen if you kneaded it by hand or with a mixer, but with a lot less effort–which will lead to a lot more time for other things–on your part.  

The best part?  You don’t need to admit that you waited until the last minute or got distracted by Law & Order while the dough did the hard work.  It’s all about keeping up appearances….

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