Buttermilk biscuits

I  am in the process of emptying my fridge before I go home to NY for Thanksgiving. I had some buttermilk and decided to make biscuits for breakfast. Biscuits are a food that I’ve battled before with success and failure. Biscuit dough can be fussy and the general rule of thumb is work quickly so that the butter stays cold and the dough is not overworked (which makes for flaky dough).

This morning I made “Mother’s Biscuits” from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads (1973). Having previous experience making biscuits I was suprised by Mother’s technique: “While it is considered heresy to handle biscuit dough needlessly, Mrs. Rawlings’s mother believed that to make a flaky layered biscuit one should roll out the dough, fold it over itself in 4 layers, roll out again to the thickness of a 1/2″, and cut with a 2″ cookie cutter.” Though I was skeptical I trusted in Mother’s wisdom with satisfying results; however, I used buttermilk in place of sweet milk.

 

Vanessa’s Biscuits:

(adapted from Mother’s Biscuits)

2 cups flour

4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter

1 cup buttermilk

Preparation: sift dry ingredients into large bowl. Add cold butter to dry ingredients using pastry cutter (or fork). Mixture should resemble coarse meal. Add buttermilk until combined. Roll dough out on clean, lightly floured surface. Follow Mother’s instruction and roll dough out four times into itself. Cut using whatever size glass you like- I used a wine glass. Gently re-shape scraps and cut again. Place on lightly greased and floured sheet pan. Bake at 450 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Eat for breakfast with with jam and eggs or make into shortcakes with fruit and whipped cream.

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Gingerbread and Candied Bacon

If you want people to love you this holiday season make them these things.

This spicy gingerbread has a bright flavor from the addition of lemon zest. If you have a microplane zester use it. If you have a spice grinder use it; this recipe truly benefits from the potency of freshly ground spices. I don’t have either of those tools and my gingerbread was delicious.

Candied bacon is salty, sweet, and sinful. It is also incredibly easy and popular. Eat it plain, put it in batters (waffles!!!), or sprinkle it over ice cream (coffee is excellent), soups (potato) or salads (iceburg wedge).

 

Gingerbread:

2 eggs

3/4 cup dark molasses

4-5 tsp ground ginger

pinch allspice, cinnamon, & black pepper

grated zest of one lemon

2 cups flour

6 tbsp melted butter

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp baking soda

Preparation: beat eggs until light and frothy. Add molasses and beat. Stir together brown sugar, spices, and lemon zest. Add to eggs. Lower speed and add 1/3 flour, then butter, then 1/3 flour. Stir together buttermilk, milk and baking soda. Add to batter. Add remaining flour and mix until blended. Pour batter into greased and floured 8″ square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (until gingerbread pulls from sides and toothpick comes out clean). Enjoy plain, with cream cheese frosting, or fruit preserves.

 

Candied bacon:

bacon

brown sugar

spices (I used cinnamon and chile powder)

Preparation:

Mix spices and brown sugar in a dish. Coat raw bacon thoroughly with the mixture. Line sheet pan with tin foil. Place lightly greased cooling rack on sheet pan. Set bacon on top of cooling rack. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. Check on your bacon frequently because it comes in different thicknesses and can burn quickly.

I forgot to take a picture of the finished bacon or save a piece for my roommates- oops!

Pizza dough

I like to make my own pizza dough. I have a KitchenAid and use a dough hook and rapid rise yeast. You can do it with a food processor or by hand. If you don’t feel like it or don’t have time buy it pre-made. Most grocery stores carry pizza dough; if not, go to the nearest pizza place and ask to buy some (this flatters them). Grilled pizza is my favorite but I don’t own a grill so I use an oven. If you have a grill: shape your dough, brush lightly with oil, grill one side, flip over, then add desired toppings.

I use Barbara Kingsolver’s pizza dough recipe. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle she talks about how relieved she is that her family makes pizza every Friday and no one has to think about what’s for dinner. My family ordered pizza in every Friday and so I feel bonded to this recipe.

For this batch I added dried fennel seeds to the dough (you can use any herb you like). I skipped the sauce and topped it with ricotta, anchovies, fennel fronds, garlic, crushed red pepper, oregano, and a drizzle of balsamic.

 

Pizza dough:

(adapted from Barbara Kingsolver’s recipe)

3 tsp yeast

1½ cups warm water

3 tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

4 1/2 cups white flour

tbsp dried fennel seeds

Preparation: dissolve the yeast into the warm water and add oil and salt to that mixture. Put flour and fennel seeds in mixer with dough hook attachment and add liquid ingredients while the machine is running. Mix until just combined. Let dough rise in lightly oiled bowl covered with a towel for 30 to 40 minutes.

Shape dough and place on lightly oiled baking sheet. Top with whatever. Bake in 450 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Easy elegance

My roommate and I cooked a simple dinner for dear friends. I made a parsley and almond pesto which took all of 5 minutes. Pesto is fun because you can combine any herb and nut for different flavors; it also keeps well covered with oil in the fridge or frozen. Please note that although I cook on a budget cheese is not something I skimp on. There is no substitute for real parmesan. Sorry.

I also had a jar of fig and bacon puree (made from leftovers) that I spooned into store-bought phyllo shells with a bit of ricotta. It looked fancy for a quick dinner made after work.

Parsley & almond pesto:

1 cup parsley

1/4 almonds

juice of 1/2 a lemon

hunk of good quality parmesan

olive oil

black pepper

canola oil

red pepper flakes

Preparation: blend in food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, use grated cheese and chop herbs and nuts finely. Add oil as needed. Use the canola if straight olive oil is too flavorful for your taste. I use about 3 parts olive oil to 1 part neutral oil. Taste and adjust. Serve over pasta.

Fig and bacon puree:

3 figs

3 slices bacon

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

a few tbsp olive oil

rosemary

pepper

Preparation: roughly chop figs and bacon and saute in pot. Add balsamic vinegar, spices, and reduce mixture over low flame. Add oil. Puree. If you don’t have a machine to puree for you then chop the pieces finely from the start. Store in fridge and use creatively or give as gift.

Chili with Cornbread

I grew up eating chili over yellow rice. When I started cooking for myself I realized that I don’t care for rice. I now eat my chili with corn bread. The recipe below is adapted from Mark Bittman’s corn bread recipe which is delicious. I cut back on the cornmeal because I ran out and substitutes molasses for white sugar because I felt like it. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet then a baking pan or muffin tin will work fine (just melt the grease or use oil). Feel free to add herbs, spices, chili peppers, bacon, etc.

As for the chili… it’s not a big deal. All you need is beans, tomatoes, and something spicy. Feel carnivorous? Add ground turkey.

 

Corn bread:

(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

2 tbsp bacon fat

1 1/4 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup flour

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

about 1 tbsp dark molasses

1 egg

Preparation: Heat fat in cast-iron skillet for a minute. Mix dry ingredients. Mix wet ingredients. Add wet to dry. Add batter to pre-heated fat in skillet. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.

 

Chipotle black been chili:

two (each) canned chipotles in adobo

half red onion

2 tbsp oil

can black beans

can diced tomatoes

1 clove garlic

pure chili powder

cumin

red pepper flakes

one whole dried mystery chili dad brought from Guatemala

salt & peppa

Preparation: Heat oil in pot. Add onion and cook until tender. Add garlic and spices, cook another minute. Add remaining ingredients. Serve over corn bread with diced raw onion, shredded cheese, more hot sauce, cold beer, whatever.