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Friday, October 15, 2010

Hummingbird Cupcakes



A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law came to visit me in Seattle for the weekend.

Here’s a photo of us on the ferry from Seattle to Bremerton. I’m on the right, my SIL is on the left:



We had a blast doing all sorts of touristy things, including a visit to Trophy Cupcakes in Wallingford.

Due to a filling and scrumptious dinner earlier that evening, we decided to purchase one cupcake and split it between the two of us. We opted for a “Hummingbird Cupcake” with cream cheese frosting.

Hummingbird Cake is a banana-bread based cake with pineapple and coconut mixed in. I figured I could replicate it, so here are the results.

Hummingbird Cupcakes

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 large)
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup coconut flakes

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center. Line cupcake pan with paper liners; set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.

3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, vanilla, and sugar until combined, about 2 minutes.

4. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Beat at medium speed until mixture is pale yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

5. In a medium bowl, stir together banana, pineapple, walnuts, and coconut. Add to egg mixture, mixing until combined. Stir in flour mixture.

6. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 28 minutes.

7. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, room temperature
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and vanilla until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.

2. With mixer on medium speed, gradually add butter, beating until incorporated.

3. Reduce mixer speed to low. Gradually add sugar, beating until incorporated. Use immediately, or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature before using.

Makes 3 cups.

Notes
• I obviously didn’t frost my cupcakes. I opted for a dusting of powdered sugar instead. Yum.

• Cream cheese frosting would still be delicious, though.

• Next time I’ll add more pineapple. I think these cupcakes weren’t quite moist enough and the extra pineapple would’ve helped.







Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

A few weeks ago, I wanted to try my hand at some sort of traditional Scottish dish. I had reason to observe and celebrate Scottish heritage that day, and what better way to salute the Scots than in the kitchen.

Combing the internet for recipes that would not a) be incredibly difficult or time-consuming, and b) make my insides scream and lash out in abject protest (haggis, I’m looking at you), I came across several interesting dishes, but none of them spoke to me quite like Cock-a-Leekie soup.

It’s Autumn. I’ve pulled out my winter coat and came very close to wearing it today, as the air has a bite to it and the breeze here in Seattle is quite nippy. Well. If ever a people knew how to make it through the cold winter months, it’s the Scots. And if ever there was a dish to chase away the chill, it’s Cock-A-Leekie soup. Also, it’s fun to say. When your friends, family, or roommates ask what smells so wonderful simmering on the stove, you can reply with enthusiasm, “Cock-a-Leekie soup!” then watch as their faces transform into utter confusion.

This recipe has a quaint and ancient history. Evidently, when the widowed Mary Queen of Scots left France to claim the Scottish throne in 1561, she brought her cooks along with her. One of the dishes the Queen’s kitchen created was Coq au Leek. Over time and transformation with Scottish dialect, Coq au Leek became Cock-a-Leekie. (Coq au Vin is another traditional French soup. It means “rooster in wine” in French.) Most self-respecting Scots serve Cock-a-Leekie as an intro dish for Burns Night.

Onto the bigger conundrum: What, exactly, is Cock-a-Leekie soup? Cock-a-leekie soup is a Scottish soup dish! It’s made primarily of leeks, chicken, and chicken stock. The original 16th-century recipe added prunes during cooking, and traditionalists still garnish with a julienne of prunes. It’s been suggested that the reason for adding the prunes dates back to times when only boiling fowls were available and prunes were added to increase the nutritional value of the broth.

Amazingly, so few ingredients (chicken, leeks and prunes) can result in such a flavorful soup. I’ll admit I was hesitant to add the prunes, but wanting to stick to a traditional recipe, I added them in. And I was not disappointed.

I cobbled together a recipe based on all the other recipes I looked at. I knew I wanted to start with a roux for the base, and add some milk to make it a creamier stock. (Oh, oops. Roux is totally a French thing. Sorry Scotland. Hey, the Industrial Revolution was a good thing for you guys, wasn’t it? Quit yer whinin’.) I also knew I had some veggies in the fridge that needed to be used up, and because this was all new territory for me, the added celery and carrots gave it a traditional American feel that squelched my fears of the unknown. (Again. My apologies to Scotland. If Americanizing your dish gets your kilt in a twist, that’s your problem, not mine.)

I did not measure ingredients or pay much attention to amounts, so this recipe should be loosely interpreted. Sorry!

Cock-a-Leekie Soup

1. Melt about a tablespoon of butter in a pan. Slice up one leek and add it to the butter, stirring until soft.

2. For the roux, melt about 6 Tbsp butter over medium heat, then stir in 6 Tbsp flour (roux should always be a 1:1 ratio). Stir it all up until it gets all brown and bubbly. Mmmm.

3. Next, add in some cream or whole milk. I didn’t have either in the fridge, so I used 1%. I don’t necessarily recommend that, but it is what it is. Pour in about a 1 ½ cups, give or take. Stir that all together until it thickens up.

4. Add 32 oz of chicken broth and stir well.

5. Add the softened leeks.

6. Cut up two boneless, skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces and throw them in the pot.

7. Cut up 2 celery stalks and one medium-sized carrot and add it to the broth mixture.

8. Now boil the heck outta that mess, making sure you stir it around a lot.

9. When the chicken is cooked through and the veggies are soft, ladle it into a bowl.

10. Slice up 1-2 prunes into bit-sized chunks and add it to the soup.

11. Get a fuzzy blanket. Bonus points if it's plaid.

12. Wrap yourself up in it, and eat your soup.

13. Praise Scotland.

Cherry-Almond Bread with "Amaretto" Glaze



Once upon a time, I was tasked with bringing a breakfast treat to a potluck.

Thinking about my pantry, I remembered I had a large bag of dried cherries needing to be put to good use. I wondered if I could make some sort of fruity sweet bread using the dried cherries in lieu of raisins or other fruit. Then I thought about how well cherry and almonds go together, and voila! Cherry-Almond Bread was born.

I searched the internet and cobbled together a recipe based on a few separate sites. I liked the idea of using an Amaretto glaze, but since I don’t drink alcohol and really didn’t want to go buy a bottle for just one recipe, I chose to improvise.

I brought the bread to the potluck and one particular co-worker raved about it so much that next time around, I made an entire loaf and sent it home, just for her and her family.

Here’s the recipe:

Cherry-Almond Bread with “Amaretto” Glaze

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups dried cherries
1 cup chopped almonds

Glaze
2 cups powdered sugar
4 tbsp. almond extract
2 tbsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease 3 standard loaf pans, or 2 standard pans and 1 mini pan.

2. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add milk, sour cream, and vanilla; mix until blended.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture, cherries, and almonds to wet ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are absorbed.

4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in centers of breads comes out clean, 70 to 75 minutes for large loaves and 60 minutes for mini loaves.

5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar with almond and vanilla extract. Glaze should have consistency of thick maple syrup or corn syrup.

6. Let loaves cool in pans for 10 minutes, then remove and transfer to a cooling rack. Drizzle with “amaretto” glaze so that it coats the top and runs down the sides.

Notes:

• I found an amaretto glaze recipe that called for 2 cups powdered sugar and 6-7 tablespoons amaretto. I used almond extract instead, but because it’s kinda potent, I toned it down a bit with vanilla extract.

• Make sure to have your dry ingredients mixed ahead of time. Once the eggs, milk, vanilla and sour cream go into the mixture, the batter starts to get lumpy and weird. I worried that I’d somehow curdled it. I had to move fast and start adding the dry stuff right away to keep it from wigging out more.

• The cherries regained their moisture during the cooking process and rather than hard chewy cherry bits in the bread, you end up with nice succulent fruit with tons of flavor.

• I chopped half of the almonds up real fine, and the other half I left chopped coarsely. I liked the way it turned out – a bit of crunch, but not too much. You can also sprinkle a bit of slivered almonds over the top of the glazed loaves, if that floats your boat.

• This recipe makes a LOT. Two full regular-sized loaves and one mini loaf, or 3 regular loaves filled about 2/3 full. Oof!

Strawberry-Glazed Edamame with Bacon




Hello, world!

You may have noticed that Sweet & Saucy has been on a bit of a hiatus lately. There are several reasons for this:

• I started a new job in July and it has taken up a lot of my time and energy.

• The days are getting shorter and daylight is harder to come by. I like to take photos with good, natural light since my camera is just a simple point and shoot. Arriving home at 7pm or later during the week doesn’t allow for much natural light photography.

• Certain trolls keep posting Viagra marketing links in the comments section of my posts. This makes me never want to post again, because it annoys the heck out of me.

Needless to say, it’s hard for me to stay out of the kitchen much more than a week or two at a time. I’ve had fun cooking and experimenting over the last few months, but haven’t bothered to post because it does take time, patience, and natural light…all of which I seem to be running low on as of late. Regardless, this recipe is too good to keep to myself, so I thought I’d revisit the ol’ Frim Fram Sauce and give all my dear readers an update.

Strawberry-Glazed Edamame with Bacon

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting some friends, Todd and Austin, at my house. They had recently moved from Arizona to Seattle and stayed with me for a few days while they looked for a place to live and got settled into a new city.

One evening Todd cooked dinner and threw together the dish featured in this post. I was blown away at his ability to scan my cupboards and freezer, pull things out, dump random stuff into a pan, and wind up with results that make you want to die from the sheer amazingness of the flavors exploding in your mouth.

I was especially impressed with what he did with the package of frozen edamame he found in the back of my freezer. I love edamame, and cook with it frequently, as you may have noticed. If you hadn’t noticed, here’s a post where I sing edamame praises, and here’s a more recent post where I experimented with these wonderful magic soybeans.

Now, edamame straight out of the bag isn’t much to write home about. While still scrumptious, it isn’t all that exciting. So I’m always looking for ways to dress it up. Todd’s recipe did the trick. I have since made it 3 or 4 times for myself, once for my brother, who loved it so much he called me the next day for the recipe, and once for a potluck-style staff meeting brunch for my co-workers. Of course, it was a hit.

Thank you Todd for this wonderfully delicious and simple recipe. It’s a keeper!

Strawberry-Glazed Edamame with Bacon

1 16oz package frozen, shelled edamame
1-2 Tbsp. strawberry preserves
4-6 rashers of bacon, coarsely chopped
1 tsp. garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil edamame according to package instructions. In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crispy. Drain excess fat, reserving about a teaspoon of drippings. Add cooked edamame to skillet and stir to coat. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of strawberry preserves into the mixture and stir well to combine. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon garlic powder and a liberal amount of fresh ground black pepper.

Notes

• You can use any kind of preserves you’d like or have on hand. Apricot, apple, blueberry, orange, etc. I liked the sweet tanginess that the strawberry added to the dish. It complimented the bacon well and gave a certain depth to the flavors.

• If you’d like to further dress it up, I recommend sautéing finely chopped shallot or sweet onion with the bacon.

• You could also omit the garlic powder and use fresh minced garlic instead, sautéing with the bacon onion until soft.

• This is actually quite yummy with breakfast/brunch, or as a side dish with pasta or veggies.





Sunday, August 8, 2010

Glass Noodle Chicken Salad



This is a light - yet hearty - summer dish. Sorry the photos aren’t great quality; the camera settings were awry and dusk was approaching.

Glass Noodle Chicken Salad

Ingredients

1 package uncooked mung bean threads (cellophane noodles)
2 tbsp. rice vinegar
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 ½ tbsp. gluten-free soy sauce
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. red chili flakes
2 cups shredded skinless, boneless rotisserie chicken breast
1 cup cooked, shelled edamame
½ cup grated carrot
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup chopped cashews

Preparation

1. Cook noodles and edamame as per package directions.

2. Combine vinegar and next 4 ingredients. Stir well. Combine chicken, edamame, carrot, and cilantro, tossing well.

3. Drain and rinse noodles with cold water; drain well, squeezing to remove excess water. Snip noodles several times with kitchen shears. Combine noodles and chicken mixture, tossing well to combine. Drizzle noodle mixture with vinegar mixture; toss well to coat. Top with cashews.

Notes:
• This salad truly is better the next day. In fact, I’d recommend letting the noodles “marinate” in the sauce overnight, then throwing the chicken/veggies on top the next day to serve.

• The measurements are approximate. Play with the sauce so it fits your liking.

• You could use fish sauce instead of soy, granulated sugar instead of honey, peanuts instead of cashews, add different veggies (grated zucchini, sliced red or yellow pepper, radishes, etc.), or spice it up with chili paste.





Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sun-dried Tomato Scones



This is a ridiculously easy recipe. Throw a scone or two in with lunch for a snack, or serve with brunch. Mmm.

Sun-dried Tomato Scones

Ingredients

2 cups buttermilk baking mix
¼ cup shredded parmesan
1 ½ tsp dried basil
2/3 cup milk
½ cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
¼ cup chopped green onions

Preparation

Preheat oven to 450° Combine baking mix, cheese, and basil. Stir in milk, tomatoes, and onion. Carefully mix until moistened. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.

Notes:

• I originally made these to go with dinner, but they are also pretty good for breakfast. I had a leftover scone with some eggs and it was just perfect!



Strawberry Shortcake



One year I volunteered at the Bellevue Strawberry Festival. The strawberry goodness inspired me, and later that weekend I made strawberry shortcake.

These photos are old, but remind me of a very happy afternoon.

Strawberry Shortcake

Shortcake

2 cups All-Purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup cream + 3 Tablespoons

Whipped Cream

1 1/2 cups cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla

Strawberries

A couple pints of sliced strawberries, sprinkled with sugar.

Pre-heat oven to 350°

In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. Add in the butter, and combine with the flour until the dough becomes the consistency of a coarse meal. Add the almond extract and cream and mixing by hand for until the dry and wet ingredients are just combined. Be careful not to over mix. Place on a floured countertop and roll until 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Cut into circular pieces, about 2" in diameter (I used the round open end of a drinking glass, because I couldn’t find my biscuit cutter). Brush each piece with milk and top/garnish with a sprinkle of raw sugar. Place on a buttered baking sheet and bake in oven for 18-20 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

In another bowl, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla. Whip with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form.

Take a shortcake and remove the top. Place a dollop of whipped cream on the bottom layer and a spoonful of strawberries. Place the top of the shortcake back on, and top with another dollop of whipped cream and spoonful of strawberries. Serve.

Serves 8 – 12





Thai Beef Wraps



I’m on a quest to find/create healthy, yummy recipes that I can pack into a lunch.
I keep telling myself that I will get better about packing lunches to bring to work, but for whatever reason I always end up grabbing something from the cafeteria, heading home and making lunch there, or subsisting on whatever I can find in the bottom of my “snack drawer” at the office. It’s a bad habit and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to break it.

Last night I threw together a wrap for dinner. As I munched away I thought that maybe…just maybe…it might be a good recipe to use for on-the-go lunches. Hmm.

Thai Beef Wraps

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. honey
Tortillas
Lettuce
Thin-sliced deli roast beef
1 medium carrot, grated
Sesame seeds
Cilantro

Preparation

Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Place tortillas on a work surface; brush lightly with 2 teaspoons juice mixture. Arrange lettuce on each tortilla; top with beef. Combine carrots and cilantro; arrange carrot mixture over each serving. Sprinkle sesame seeds. Drizzle each serving with a little of the remaining juice mixture; roll up. Serve.

Notes:

• Feel free to use sugar in place of honey. I used honey because I preferred the consistency.

• Use up to 2 tsp. soy sauce, if you’d like. I’m not a fan of too much saltiness, so I used just 1 tsp. of low-sodium soy sauce. Your mileage may vary.

• Mint can be used in lieu of cilantro, or just omit altogether.

• You may want to cut up your carrots into matchsticks, but I find that tedious. I like to “grate” my carrots with a vegetable peeler. The carrot slices come out nice and thin and easier to pack into a tortilla. (I use this trick for salads, too…carrots are so heavy and always fall to the bottom of the bowl. If they’re sliced with the veggie peeler, I don’t have this problem.)

• This would be good with some finely chopped cashews or peanuts sprinkled inside. I didn’t have either on hand, so I went with the sesame seeds instead.

• I gobbled this down with a few potato chips and a plum. A serving of roasted veggies on the side or some veggie fried rice would also pair well.





Blueberry-Oatmeal Muffins



While visiting family at home, I made Blueberry-Oatmeal Muffins. They didn’t last more than about 2 days. My folks are both diabetic, so I reduced the brown sugar to ½ cup. No complaints!

Blueberry-Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients

1 2/3 cups quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups fat-free buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
2 large eggs
2 cups fresh blueberries
Cooking spray

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400°.

Place oats in a food processor; pulse 5 to 6 times until oats resemble coarse meal. Place in a large bowl.

Add flours and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to oats in bowl; stir well with a whisk. Make a well in center of mixture.

Combine buttermilk, oil, rind, and eggs in small bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

Gently fold blueberries into the batter.

Spoon batter into 16 muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center. Remove from pans immediately. Place on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

• If you opt to use frozen blueberries, toss with 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour before adding to the batter mixture. This will keep the juices sealed in and your muffin batter won’t turn purple.

• For a slightly sweeter muffin, sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top of the filled muffin cups before placing in the oven. I like to use Sucanat or Turbinado sugar, but regular ol’ granulated will work just fine.





Monday, July 26, 2010

Gluten-free Vegan Dark Chocolate Cupcakes



Sorry for the lack of updates to Sweet & Saucy lately. I recently started a new job and have been busy learning all sorts of new and exciting things, so cooking hasn’t been high on the priority list.

A new job means a new team of people to work with…and my new team seriously ROCKS! Everyone is sharp, fun, hard-working, and professional. I actually enjoy coming in to work these days. Hooray!

Two of my new co-workers, my boss and my office-mate, adhere to a gluten-free diet. When I first found out about their diet restrictions, I was a little intimidated because I’ve never cooked a gluten-free ANYTHING. Turns out it isn’t as difficult as I expected…the biggest hassle is buying the ingredients (which tend to be a bit spendy). Other than that, well, it’s easy peasy!

I decided to christen my gluten-free baking experience with a batch of chocolate cupcakes. And, for all you purists out there, it just so happens that these cupcake are vegan in addition to being gluten-free. Win win!

Gluten-free Dark Chocolate Cupcakes

2 cups brown rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup dark cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
½ teaspoon sea salt
⅔ cup grapeseed oil
1 ⅓ cups Sucanat sugar
2 cups non-dairy milk (rice milk or almond milk, I used almond)
4 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond flavoring

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper muffin cups.

In a medium-sized bowl whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking powder, xanthan gum, baking soda, and sea salt.

In a separate bowl whisk together the oil, sugar, milk, vanilla, and almond flavoring.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and whisk together until the batter thickens and is very smooth. (Batter will be thin at first, don’t worry….the flours are thirsty and soak up the liquid ingredients within a couple minutes).

Fill prepared muffin cups about ¾ full. Bake for about 25 minutes. Cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Agave Frosting

This frosting has the perfect amount of sweetness, and a rich chocolatey flavor. It is fluffy, yet smooth. The best word I can think of to describe this frosting is “silky”. I just wanted to run my hands through an entire vat of it!

For frosting a dozen cupcakes, make a ½ batch of this recipe.

2 cups organic palm shortening
¾ cup dark cocoa powder
¼ cup arrowroot powder
1 cup agave nectar
4 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon almond flavoring (optional)

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Spread or squirt onto cooled cupcakes



Notes:

• I adapted this recipe from a website that features gluten-free recipe ideas. I have since forgotten the website and can’t find it again despite oodles of Googling. If this is your recipe, let me know and I’ll give credit where credit is due!

• I was extremely skeptical of gluten-free cupcakes and worried that they tasted like…well...like something other than cupcakes. My co-workers said they tasted great, especially being gluten-free, so I guess I did something right!

• Sucanat sugar can be found at Whole Foods or any other natural market. It’s basically pure dried sugar cane juice. I’m guessing you could use Turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw) as well, but don’t quote me on that.

• Don’t try to cheat and use all brown rice flour and no tapioca flour. The tapioca flour is what gives these cupcakes a fluffy texture. Fluffiness is difficult to come by with gluten-free baking, so don’t skip that step.


• Xanthan gum is wicked expensive. Fortunately I was able to borrow a few tablespoons from my office mate instead of paying $12-$15 for a few ounces of the stuff.

• Did I mention how much I loved the frosting? It is soooo smooth!! I don’t think I’ll ever make frosting any other way ever again.

• You can use regular cocoa powder instead of the dark chocolate stuff. The only reason I did was because that was all they had on the shelf at Safeway.

• I made a full batch of the frosting because I knew it would be good on graham crackers, strawberries, other baked goods, or just licked straight from the spoon. Mmm!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Belated Father's Day Post: Biscuits and Gravy

Recently I visited my family in Spokane, WA and while I was there, I especially wanted to pamper my mom. Being the kind and loving daughter that I am, I offered to make a scrumptious breakfast for her, and suggested gingerbread pancakes with poached pears (a recipe I’ve been itching to make for over a year now). She said it sounded good, but wanted to think about it for a couple days. A few days later, I asked her again, “So, Mom. What would you like for breakfast tomorrow? Gingerbread pancakes? Huh? Huh? You know you want it!” Mom just got this guilty expression on her face, looked up at me, and said, “How about biscuits and gravy? Please?”

Biscuits. And gravy. Please. No.

Backstory: When I about 13, my mom enrolled me in some community school summer cooking class. I remember it was one of those short classes – 10am to noon for two Saturdays in a row or something like that. I was excited for it because it was held at the local junior high, and I was entering junior high in just a few short months. I could scope everything out! Figure out the lay of the land! Know my way around the buildings and find my classrooms without having to stress out on the first day of school! Yesss!

I hadn’t really thought much about the cooking aspect, as cooking really didn’t interest me at that time, but I figured I might learn something.

The first day of class, we learned how to make biscuits. I don’t remember much about that class, other than the fact that I spent every bathroom break walking the dark hallways, trying to memorize the different wings of the building, peeking into quiet classrooms, and wondering which locker would be mine.

Somehow, despite my short attention span and lack of interest in the task at hand, I left with a plate of warm biscuits. Handmade by me. My attitude was entirely lackadaisical – “Eh. Biscuits. Neat. I guess?”

Mom picked me up at the school, I showed her the biscuits, she said something along the lines of, “Really? Biscuits? I've never been able to make good biscuits.” I scoffed at her (in typical pre-teen fashion) assuming she was just saying that in an effort to “connect” with me (as most parents of difficult, self-absorbed pre-teens do), and we headed for home.

Halfway there, I asked, “Hey. Can we stop by Dad’s office? Maybe he’ll want to try these.” We made a quick U-turn and within 10 minutes we were pulling up to the square, brown brick building Dad spent most of his time in during the week.

I pranced in, past his secretary and into the back where he sat at his large walnut desk, and presented him with my plate of biscuits. “Look what I made today, Dad!”, I shouted. He looked up at me and smiled, then looked down at my plate of biscuits. His eyes lit up. His nose twitched. Drool started to pool at the corners of his mouth. His hand shot out in utter greed as he grabbed a still-warm biscuit from the top of the pile.

“Mmm,” he said through a mouthful of dough, “Your mom never makes biscuits.”

I looked at Mom, surprised. She shrugged as if to say, “See? Told ya.”

“Oooh!” Dad exclaimed after the first bite, “I know what would be perfect with this!” And with that, he got up from his office chair, went into the break room next door, and rummaged around in the refrigerator. He came back carrying a jar of strawberry jam.

“Yes,” he said, as he smeared big red globs of seedy jam across the remaining biscuit half, “yesssss.”

Well, needless to say, I left the plate of biscuits there for him to devour. The next morning, dad asked me, “Say. Do you know how to make sausage gravy?”

“No, dad. I don’t really know how to make anything,” I said.

“Oh, that’s not true! You know how to make biscuits! And I bet those biscuits would be soooo good with some gravy to go with them!”

So, Mom found a gravy recipe and made the gravy that morning while I made the biscuits.

And that was the birth of what ended up being a long, long string of biscuit breakfasts. From that summer Sunday morning when I was 13, all the way up until I left home to go to college, I probably averaged making biscuits and gravy roughly 3 times a month. Saturday or Sunday mornings were Biscuits ‘n’ Gravy mornings, and it seemed like every stinkin’ weekend Dad would ask me to make them.

It got to the point where I hated, and I mean HATED, biscuits and gravy. I hated kneading the dough, frying the sausage. The smell of the meal made my stomach turn and the taste even more so. Moving away from home was liberating…not because I was leaving the nest, but because I had finally broken free of slaving over the oven and stove every weekend, making a meal that I couldn’t seem to escape. Yet even after I moved out on my own, Dad ask me to make biscuits and gravy every time I came home for holidays or visits. Usually I’d protest a bit, but eventually concede and venture into the kitchen in search of the pastry cutter, complaining under my breath.

I can’t quite recall the last time I made biscuits and gravy for Dad, though I’m pretty sure we both knew it would be the last. Dad had become paralyzed and used a motorized wheelchair at that point, and I had moved back home to help care for him. He probably asked me to make biscuits and gravy, and I probably did, grudgingly. I probably knew I’d never make them for him again, as his health was rapidly deteriorating and he wasn’t in the mood to eat much anymore. I probably fed it to him myself, since he had limited use of his hands, and I probably wiped gravy off his chin. I probably cried in the kitchen afterwards as I was cleaning up, and I probably didn’t let him see my tears.

I hadn’t made biscuits and gravy since then (at least 8 years ago), until Mom requested them with just a hint of (totally warranted) apprehension in her voice. At first, I winced. Biscuits. And gravy. Nooooo!!! But then I thought….maybe, just maybe…I might enjoy it.

So here you go, dear readers. Biscuits and gravy. In memory of my father and all those years of biscuit breakfasts. I love you, Dad.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The first key to making good biscuits is to use a 50 year old cookbook:


This Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook belonged to my maternal grandmother, Marian. I never met her (she died when my mom was 17), but I’ve been told by many people that her and I are a LOT alike in the way we look, act, dress, etc., so using her cookbook always give me warm fuzzies.

The copyright is 1956. My mom inherited the cookbook in 1971 and has been using it since. I’ve been using it for approximately 15 years. It’s been a staple in our kitchen for forever. Only recently did I take the time to flip through some of the front pages of the book:



Can you get any more 50’s than this? “Domesticity is pleasing and cheery and restful! Cook and clean with a SMILE on your face!”


Hey! The Terrace Kitchen offers every known home-type convenience! Neat-o, Daddy-o!

I didn’t get a shot of it, but there’s another page that offers tips and advice, and one thing they suggest, I kid you not – “If you start to feel tired or overwhelmed, take a few moments and lie down on the floor with your arms above your head. Close your eyes and breathe deeply in and out for 5 minutes, then return to your housework.” Above this blurb is a picture of a woman in a dress, heels, and an apron, lying on the kitchen floor with her arms above her head, smiling. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, I didn’t spend too much time reading that junk, because I had biscuits to make. It seems as though the cookbook naturally falls open to page 83. Which is unsurprising, because it’s been opened to page 83 dozens and dozens of times over the years.

You can see little bits of crusty dried biscuit dough, splatters of shortening, and all other sorts of nameless grease and grunge smeared across the pages:




The biscuit recipe is pretty straightforward. What’s more, this cookbook offers several variations on the standard recipe. I typically made Southern biscuits or buttermilk biscuits growing up, and the last time I made them, I opted for the buttermilk.





Step 1: Preheat the oven to 450°.

Step 2: Sift together 2 cups flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1 tsp. salt, and ¼ tsp. baking soda.

Step 3: Cut in ¼ cup shortening.

When I was 16, I finally went out and bought a pastry cutter so I didn’t have to use a fork to cut in the shortening. Using it for the first time, I’m pretty sure I squealed with delight. Cutting in shortening had never been so easy! I left the stupid thing at home when I moved away, because I didn’t plan on doing much cooking, and certainly not any biscuits! I rummaged around my mom’s kitchen looking for it, but couldn’t find it, so I used a fork instead.


Step 4: Slowly stir in ¾ cup buttermilk.

Step 5: Look around for the rolling pin and cutting board to prepare for kneading and rolling out the dough.

Step 6: Find the blasted pastry cutter while searching for the rolling pin. Shake your fist and curse at it. Stupid pastry cutter!

Step 7: Work the dough into a big ol’ doughball.

Now is a good time to get the gravy started. It needs some time to thicken up, and when I was young, it took me several trial breakfasts to figure out the timing. I learned that if I start frying the sausage and let that cook while I’m rolling out the biscuit dough, stirring occasionally, it works out just perfect. I add the liquid as the biscuits go into the oven, and that gives the gravy about 10 minutes to bubble and thicken.

Step 8: Add about a ½ to 1 pound of sausage to a skillet over medium high heat.


Step 9: Season as desired. I usually add some pepper, garlic powder, and minced onion. A dash of cayenne or red chili flakes would be good too, but Mom has a sensitive stomach so I left the hotness out.

Step 10: Get out your rolling pin.

This is the rolling pin we use at my mom’s house. It’s older than the cookbook, and also belonged to my grandma Marian. As long as I can remember, it’s been missing a handle. I’m pretty sure Mom has never owned another rolling pin in her life. She admits that she should just go buy a new one, but I doubt she ever will.


Behold: The wear and tear of 1,000 biscuit breakfasts and just as many batches of cookies:





Step 11: Roll out the doughball to about ½ an inch thick.

Step 12: Cut the dough into biscuit-sized shapes. At one point I had a set of actual biscuit cutters – 3 different sizes – but I’m sure those are either long gone or packed away in storage somewhere. A standard cookie cutter will do, or, in my case, the mouth of a plastic cup.


Step 13: Continue cutting up the dough into biscuit shapes. Lightly knead together the scraps, roll it out again, and cut up more. At the very end, you’ll have a small little doughball that you can shape into a tiny mini biscuit. If you have a dad and brother like mine, they will fight/bet/sham/rock-paper-scissors/have a contest over who gets the mini biscuit. Every time. It's the coveted extra bonus biscuit.

This is what my mini biscuit looked like this time around:

Wait. Does that look like…? Could it be…? A biscuit-crack?

*zooms in*

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit, it does!!

Step 14: Lay out all the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet.

Step 15: Pop them in the oven and set the timer to 10ish minutes.

Step 16: Bring your attention back to the gravy. The sausage should be browned. If you lowered the heat while you rolled out the biscuits, be sure to set it back to medium high (I’ve made this mistake more than once). Add the liquid to the pan. (4-5 cups of milk with 6 or 7 tablespoons of flour whisked in.)

Step 17: Heat, stirring constantly (and I mean CONSTANTLY), until it begins to bubble. It’ll start to thicken up. Just be sure to keep stirring. If it looks like it’s getting too thick, add a bit more milk to thin it out.

Step 18: Remove biscuits from the oven.

Step 19: Remove gravy from stove, stir one final time, and sprinkle with paprika.


Step 20: Slice open a biscuit or two, smother them with gravy, and serve the whole mess to your mom with some sliced fresh cantaloupe and pears on the side (even though the out-of-season cantaloupe costs about 7 dollars, but that doesn’t matter because it’s her favorite and it’s her special day).

Step 21: Return to the kitchen, by yourself, and slice open another biscuit. Spread a bit of butter on it, then add a huge glob of strawberry jam.

This one’s for you, Dad.