Sunday, January 12, 2014

Breakfast, for My Mom

I never enjoyed biscuits and gravy until my husband asked me to make them at home. I discovered that, with the right biscuits, I really like this classic family dish. I like it so much, I'm writing this down so people can steal the recipe at will (including my Mom, who asked for it).

I have been slightly snarky in my assessment of serving size, but there's a simple reason behind it. If my husband and I have this for breakfast, salad and lean meat is for dinner and there is no lunch - just fruit/nuts in the afternoon as a snack. It's about being smart when you have "comfort food," just like everything else. That lean chicken breast isn't a great choice for you if you're eating 18 of them in one sitting.

Buttermilk Biscuits (with buttermilk cheat)
makes 6 large biscuits

 2 cups flour + some for board
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (best cold or frozen)
1/2 tsp baking SODA
1 tbsp baking POWDER
1 cup buttermilk (or regular milk with 1 tsp of lemon juice added)

1. Preheat oven to 450F. Mix flour, baking powder and baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

2. Grate butter with a cheese grater (see notes). Mix with fork until butter is well incorporated.

3. Stir milk into dry ingredients with fork quickly.

4. Pat ingredients together (DO NOT OVERMIX).

5. Turn out onto board. Use glass to cut (see notes).

6. Place cut biscuits on parchment paper-covered baking sheet.

7. Bake at 405F for 12 minutes.

Sausage Gravy (adapted from Bob Evans)
serves 8 if you skimp on serving size (I usually get 6 servings out of this)

2 lbs sausage (see Notes)
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Brown sausage over medium heat. Drain excess fat (I use Jimmy Dean sausage; less than 2 tbsp. resulting grease, which is key for flavor in the gravy, so I don't drain it).

2. Stir in flour. Continue to stir until the flour coats all the sausage. This is the easiest way to avoid lumpy gravy, but you have to MAKE SURE the flour is incorporated completely.

3. Stir in milk slowly. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes. Serve hot.

Notes for Biscuits: A cheese grater? I know. But it works, and you don't have to spend forever cutting the butter down to size with a pastry cutter. I'm all about versatility! About cutting these guys... mine get pretty puffy in the oven, so I try to use large glasses to give them a large enough base - I use my husband's pint glasses. Nice wide circle!

Notes for Gravy: If you use regular, unspiced sausage, you can fake it. I've had success with this recipe with ground beef as well. I use sage, coriander, cumin, garlic and onion powder to get the taste of breakfast sausage, and red pepper flakes for the heat we prefer. If you'd rather buy it, Jimmy Dean HOT breakfast sausage is my go-to.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Black Beans & Rice with (or without) Ham, Cuban Style

It's been a while since I made it, but it was awesome and I wanted to post the recipe because, well, I'm a "sharer." I adapted this one quite a bit from a couple sources... and I think one of them cited Martha Stewart. In fairness, mine's probably a lot more assertive than Martha's. What can I say, garlic is good!
Black Beans & Rice with(or without) Ham, Cuban Style
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil (olive works too)
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), chopped
  • 38 ounces black beans, rinsed and drained (generally 2 cans)
  • 15 ounces chicken stock (scant 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs bacon ends, browned, chopped and rinsed ****
    1. Prepare rice according to package instructions.
    2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium. Add onion, garlic, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 6 to 8 minutes.
    3. Add beans, bacon ends, broth, vinegar, and oregano. Cook, mashing some beans with the back of a spoon, until thickened, 15 to 30 minutes. I prefer my final product less soupy, as well as tender black beans without them being complete goo. Feel free to stop at the consistancy you prefer. The great thing about the bacon ends in their tenacity - they keep their texture well. You can go for a couple hours on lower heat if you prefer, and the marriage of flavors is amazing without resulting in ham-glue-like pieces that once tasted of bacon.
    4. Add pepper. I don't normally add salt because the beans are generally packaged in it and this upsets me, and also the bacon ends add salt as well. I recommend a good rinsing on those. Seriously.
    5. Serve over rice (I stir mine in so I can do the dishes while the flavors marry and cool to a mouth-appropriate temperature). Cilantro may be used to garnish if you're into that kind of thing.
    **** This ingredient is, believe it or not, completely optional. You can include everything but this and have an amazing dish on your hands. I still say no salt because of the black beans, but that's me.

    Tuesday, December 4, 2012

    Surprise Lunch, Surprising Results

    Today I made a huge batch of steaming-hot food, and within half an hour only 1.75 quarts of the meal was remaining. Having reduced an audience to silenced skarfing? I would call this a success.

    My joy in the disappearance of this food is compounded by the knowledge that the meal I made was specifically for my husband, and vegetarian. No, the recipe cannot be strictly vegan, mainly because of the dairy, but the engineering-minded crews of vegans out there can find ways around dairy inclusions to create a vegan dish of similar character, I'm certain.

    So what was it, this magical meal? With no surprise whatsoever and a hint of amusement, I made something for the devout fans of beef stroganoff around me.

    Portabello Stroganoff with Chevre


    12 oz egg noodles
    5 portabellos mushrooms, cleaned, de-stemmed, sliced
    1 bundle green onions white section, trimmed, sliced
    1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    4 oz chevre
    8 oz creme fraiche
    14 oz vegetable stock
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    1/2 teaspoon black pepper (to taste), more for garnish optional

    1. Prepare noodles. Melt butter over medium-high heat. Raise heat to high and add mushrooms. Sprinkle with kosher salt and let the mushrooms cook until their juice exudes, 5 to 6 minutes. Add green onions and saute for 2-3 minutes.

    2. Add flour. Stir until encorporated. Lower heat to medium low. Stir to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Let simmer 10-12 minutes. Add black pepper, cheese and sour cream. Partially cover, allow to simmer 2-4 minutes until incorporated.

    3. Re-add noodles. Stir, let stand 5-10 minutes. Garnish and serve. Sauce will thicken upon cooling.

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    My Favorite Thanksgiving

    So every year, I think about the most hilarious Thanksgiving I ever had. Ever have one of those madcap holiday weekends where you thought everything was going to go exactly to plan, and nothing turns out the way you planned?

    My favorite Turkey Day memories will forever be with my two best friends from college, eating as each dish got done because time management wasn't our thing. Watching 2 people who didn't drink wine often guzzle down a bottle as we all attacked a tiramisu cheesecake was, without question, one of the best holidays ever. Also, it was the night I discovered an unabiding love for Bill Nighy in his most tentacled role to date - Davy Jones.

    So tonight, while work empties my house and I finish the million things I need to achieve before another sunrise, I recall a glass of ice wine while I drink my water, and feel the velvet deliciousness of tiramisu cheesecake from many years ago. My favorite tradition, from my house to yours. Happy Turkey Day.

    Tiramisu Cheesecake

    Original recipe makes 1 9-inch cheesecake


    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Place a pan of water on the bottom of oven.
    2. Crush the package of ladyfingers to fine crumbs. Mix the melted butter into the crumbs. Moisten with 2 tablespoons of the coffee liqueur. Press into an 8 or 9 inch springform pan.
    3. In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, mascarpone, and sugar until very smooth. Add 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur, and mix. Add the eggs and the flour; mix SLOWLY until just smooth. The consistency of the mascarpone can vary. If the cheesecake batter is too thick, add a little cream. Do not overmix at this point. Pour batter into crust.
    4. Place pan on middle rack of oven. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until just set. Open oven door, and turn off the heat. Leave cake to cool in oven for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, and let it finish cooling. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Right before serving, grate the semi-sweet chocolate overtop.

    Sunday, November 18, 2012

    Turkey-less Turkey Day Week

    Thanksgiving is upon the US. Recalling the shared meal of people hundreds of years ago, marking the gratitude of people transcending cultural as well as personal differences. The traditional meal often reflects regional as well as cultural backgrounds. A roasted, fried, or manipulated in some other way turkey is often considered crucial, although hams, chickens and occasionally monstrous creations (I'm looking at you, turducken), have become far more commonplace.

    This year, since my family is all over the country (and indeed the world, if you count the family I've adopted in my lifetime), I will be spending a bit of time with friends on Turkey Day while my husband works. However, we will be celebrating the day of thanks. Just not on Thursday.

    Friday has become our thanksgiving. Our menu is an exciting one - chicken andouille sausage, chicken breasts and some shrimp come together with humble spices and rice to create the exciting as well as unusual Cajun Paella. Our delicious dessert will be dutch peach pie, courtesy of the outstanding peaches my parents raised and sent to me, ready to be pied.

    Since I've had a few minutes to consider traditions I've been lucky enough to be party to, when celebrating Thanksgiving, I thought I would mention some of them.

    1. Junk In The Trunk - Inside the fowl of your choice, often a package of gooey bits (once thawed) hang out waiting for your attention. I've seen many choices with these pieces. Pate, served on the side... the most oft-seen incarnation is gravy-seasoner. I often wondered what my mother was doing, boiling these things in a gigantic pot the entire time the turkey was cooking. I now understand the need for stock in making gravy enough to satisfy all the potato-turkey-stuffing demands of a hungry crowd, in addition to whatever *else* your assembled masses will want to coat in the well-made tasty treat. Still, a turkey neck bubbling away on a kitchen range makes me raise an eyebrow. Can't help it.

    2. Cranberry-less cranberry sauce? - The battle raged in my family. cranberry sauce with or WITHOUT the cranberry pieces? I've heard debate and discussions aplenty. Compromises like homemade cranberry chutney and a cranberry-less holiday have always made me chuckle. My mother's approach of including both always made me giggle. At least no one complained that their contingent was left out. I also think Mom wanted to make sure she didn't run out of the red-gooey stuff before her open-faced turkey sandwich lust had been sated. My family is one turkey-loving group.

    3. Dessert - Ah, sacred territory. What tasty after-dinner treat will make an appearance here? Icebox cookies (which make me lose my mind), pumpkin pie (breakfast of champions), pecan pie (dinner for the next week) or the fabled, legendary Lawrence 7 pound cheesecake?! Just when you get excited, Mom pulls a 180 and does the chocolate covered pretezels/ fruit early. Obviously, I've gone far afield this year with my peach play, but my refusal to allow Tom The Turkey into my oven is probably causing a lot more head-scratching than my dessert choices.

    4. Side Dishes - The most varied choices I have ever seen are in the accompanying foods. Green bean casserole was never something I was familiar with when I was a kid. Candied yams, or sweet potatoes, was a demand of my sister's that I could never comprehend. My Theme this year was inspired by the year I spent with the Davila family at their thanksgiving table, a varied array of traditional American expectations and delicious additions including Victor's classic paella (I have been searching for that dish's equal and have yet to find it).

    So in short, there will be no waddle in the house this week. There will be much giving of thanks, as there always is here, and we'll do it over Cajun Paella and Dutch Peach Pie. My hope is that this week of celebration has everything to do with remembering the ones we love.

    Thursday, September 27, 2012

    A Reflection of Who I Am on Every Plate

    The eloquence of food never fails to move me. You can express so much with food! The offer of a glass of water, or beer/ wine, even the type of roll you pass around your table. Food is an everyday part of your biography. What kind of biography are you writing?

    I, for example, have some wonderful (homemade) chicken stock in the refrigerator right now. I could do so very many things with it. Soups, sauces, bases and bastings of shapes and dimensions heretofore unheard of in this kitchen could be created in the blink of an eye. In this particular instance, however, I believe there is a chicken and rice dish that has been repeatedly requested which will be elevated by the addition of my homemade stock.

    A casserole is classic Americana. Few have missed the Donna Reed look-a-likes with their oven mitts and creepy Stepford smiles, manicured hands protected as she retrieves from her harvest gold oven The Bright Red Dish, almost uniformly yellow-ish on top. While this is a part of my narrative, I assure you that the classic homemaker image has nothing to do with my veggie-and-quinoa filled one-dish delights.

    Tonight, for dinner, I will be making Bo Luk Lac. Vietnamese food is, far and away, some of the most fun in the world. I am certainly aware that some chefs, Anthony Bourdain amongst them, consider Vietnamese the epitome of fusion foods. Formerly French, with some US thrown in, and a lot owed to the last half-century of political shaping.... Vietnam has a lot to offer, from a culinary vantage point.

    Bo Luk Lac is one of my favorite dishes. The translation is actually, "Shaken Beef." Cubes of beef are shaken in a wok (or in my case a really big, high-sided pan), after marinating in such tasty treats as oyster as well as fish sauce! Rice, usually accompanied by sliced tomato and occasionally cucumbers, etc., wait for the main event to join them on the plate, creating for me a deceptively simplistic plate whose complex and nuanced flavors apparently turn me into William Faulkner.

    I sincerely hope that my food narrative is never boring. If I'm doing something 3 times a day, I am not the type of person to be happy doing it exactly the same way without fail. I embrace the history of the dishes I love to make. I also know that the choices I make with the knowledge I have is key in leading a healthy life. My casseroles are not what Donna Reed would recognize, and there will always be a place for Moroccan, Vietnamese, Peruvian dishes in my kitchen and on my palate. Have you been keeping your food journal? Look over it. What do your food choices come together to say? What's your food narrative?

    Friday, September 14, 2012

    A Change in Comfort

    Comfort food has its place. I do not mean to suggest that eating fried chicken because you miss Fluffy Joe who was your next door neighbor years ago is the best possible remedy for your pangs of missed swingset chats. There are many people in this world for whom the expression of emotion through food becomes a completely unhealthy expression.

    On the other hand, meals matter. I've written before about how Food Effects Mood. I've also written about how my conceptions of food change as my associations with food change. There was a time when my world could only be bettered by macaroni and cheese. My appreciation for mac-n-cheese continues to this day, but the idea of more than a half a cup of it at a time makes me nauseated. I have finally learned the lesson: good things should be measured as carefully as bad, and valued for their own merit, not as a bandaid to avoid what's wrong.

    Last night I made grilled ginger and white pepper chicken, with rice and sugar snap peas in a teriyaki sauce. I thinned down the teriyaki sauce from traditional to more of a lightened salad dressing consistency. Tasty, fresh, refreshing and rejuvenating. I was comforted that I had found tastes I enjoy, that did not make me feel worse after eating.

    I made food I am proud of, and that was far more satisfying than macaroni and cheese had ever been.