Sunday, February 28, 2010

Biscuit Binge

Sorry to my Queen's English-speaking friends, but, no, this does not mean that I have spent the last few days making batches of cookies, as we call them, having adopted the Dutch word for the sweet round treat. Instead, I'm talking about the three, yes three, sets that I made of yummy, soft pillowy-inside, crisp-outside round dollops of heaven that are made to be spread with butter and jam or dunked in gravy. I mean, when you have this outside of your window when you get up for work on Friday, there hardly seems to be a better use of a winter day.

Yes, those are actually icicles stuck on my window

For the record, I actually had to show up at work on Friday when this snowy mess was all taking place. This just made me more determined to continue on the comfort-food cooking quest that has taken over my inspiration for the blog for the past few months. I really think that we need to look into getting a new groundhog for next year, as this is getting a bit ridiculous. We might even have another storm next week. Is spring really around the corner?

The Kitchn should also take credit for this burst of baking fury. They've been posting about biscuits recently. Although I've put together lots of bready-type things, cakes, pies, and cookies, I've never really tackled the perfect biscuit recipe. I'm not really sure why, as I love them, and we didn't get to have them when I was growing up. They reminded my mother of a period in her life when they didn't have much to eat and she had to have them for lots of her meals.

I think that biscuits are also one of those things that seem difficult to make but aren't really hard to do. They sort of have a mythical aura and drive fear into the hearts of many an experienced baker that they might end up tough, flat and rock-hard. This time, however, I think that I might have found just the right recipe for me at Thibeault's Table.

With a little bit more effort than it takes to thwack a cardboard tube on the kitchen counter, you can make these yourself and have the awesome experience of pulling apart the steamy hot insides just begging to be smothered in whatever toppings you see fit. I tried several versions of this recipe, and can say that basically they are all good. I think I prefer the buttermilk and butter option for plain biscuits, which made them tall and fluffy.

Biscuits made with whole milk and butter

Biscuits made with buttermilk and butter

Biscuits made with buttermilk and butter with cheddar cheese and chives [before baking]

Biscuits made with buttermilk and butter with cheddar cheese and chives [after baking]

As you can see from the photos below, I also experimented with the way I incorporated the butter into the dry mixture. I found the method using the box grater to be too messy and fiddly for my tastes, preferring the tried-and-true cube-butter option that I've used since I first learned how to cook. In either case the trick is to have very cold (or frozen in the grating method) butter.

Using the box grater method grating frozen butter into small pieces for mixing into the flour

Using the cube method cutting the cold butter into small pieces for mixing into the flour

The other trick is to mix the liquid into the dry ingredients very gently and quickly so as not to handle it too much. In fact, if you listen carefully, you can even hear the baking powder react to the buttermilk. Then, slide the tray into the pre-heated oven, per the directions, and wait a few short minutes, just enough time to make the coffee and scramble the eggs, until the warm hug of a freshly-spliced-open biscuit reaches your plate.

Slathered with locally-made multi-berry jam

Oh, what the heck, it is the weekend, after all. I'll have one of the other batch, too!

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Southwestern Chicken-Tortilla Soup

Serious Eats asked this week what we're all cooking to keep us warm and cozy during this long winter spell. Soup is my number one go-to to during the colder months. What I like to do is to make a few batches of it when the inspiration hits and then to freeze it to have on hand. This was particularly helpful when I was sick a few months back and couldn't bring myself to cook for each meal.

So far, I've eaten my way through almost two batches of my favorite winter stand-by Winter Squash Soup with Gruyère Croutons, many bowls of Peter Gordon's Spicy Red Lentil, Coriander & Coconut Soup with Chicken Dumplings, and several hearty helpings of Tuscan Bean Stew. These dishes have definitely kept me going in sickness and in health this season. At the same time, I'm also always on the look out for new recipes to try to add to my collection.

Back when I was right out of college and working many long hours at a non-profit firm, I would sometimes stop by a local restaurant on my way home. I would order Southwestern Chicken-Tortilla Soup, which would take me away from the mundane life of a low-level administrator working in highly bureaucratic Washington, D.C. and into a warm, sunny world miles away. Over the years, I've pulled various versions of this recipe for my files, but I was never quite sure that I'd found the right one based upon my now-vague memories of it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Happy Pancake Day!

It's been a crazy-busy weekend in the foodie department with Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year's coming so close together. Not to make it more complicated, but I'd like to add another culinary celebration to the mix: Pancake Day. Today is Shrove Tuesday or, more familiarly Pancake Day, in many parts of the world that observe the season of Lent.

Originally intended as a way to cook up all the rich fatty things that were forbidden during the annual pre-Easter season of penance, making crêpes (or pancakes in the UK), was a way to use up these items in preparation for fasting from them. I really think that we in the U.S. need to adopt this holiday as well. When I lived in Europe, it also provided a great excuse to get together a group of friends for an enjoyable and delicious meal. [I did see that iHOP is having a day with this same name, but as it is a week out from today, that sort of defeats the point of the observance.]

I had tried to make Julia Child's recipe for these a while back, with mixed results, as I posted previously. For Christmas this year, my sister gave me another book of hers, by which she swears: The Way to Cook. I've been reading this, but haven't yet prepared anything from it. The two recipes one for sweet and one for regular crêpes seemed like a good way to dive right in.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Peanut-Butter Crisscrosses

A week ago, we had some folks in town from an overseas office, and there was a large brainstorming meeting. Normally, when we have a visit from one of our team members from abroad, we have a group pizza lunch followed by bakery-bought cupcakes. This time around, the guys wanted something else, so I decided to make Peanut-Butter Crisscrosses.

I haven't tried this recipe in a very long time. When it says that it makes almost five dozen cookies, it wasn't kidding, so I'm glad that I decided to bring them into the office for the rest of the staff to eat as well. In baking these again, I also discovered some interesting things about the science of cookie-making.

Sunday, February 07, 2010


It would be an understatement to say that it has been cold in the Northeast for the past few weeks. Frigid, bone-chilling, bloody freezing cold. The temperature has been so low on some days that I don't think that it could have snowed if it wanted to, although the major snowstorm missed us completely yesterday.

In that spirit, I decided to make lasagna. I never really think about doing this just for myself, but I really should. Left over lasagna is wonderful to have on hand. It is perfect for reheating for a quick weekday supper. It is also possible to make it in advance and to freeze it to cook mid-week. Add a side salad and some garlic bread (or deli-purchased garlic knots for the lazier set) accompanied by a glass of red wine, and you could almost be at dinner at your favorite red-checked tablecloth restaurant, Chianti bottle candleholder optional.

I must have also been inspired by what happened a month or so back. When I was in Virginia over the holidays, I asked my dad what he wanted me to make for dinner. I even offered to make him some dishes he could freeze to reheat whenever he got tired of eating his usual fare. What did he want? My mom's lasagna. So, I pulled out the recipe card from the file and started to get to work.

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