01 October 2010

biscuit-y goodness

When I think 'biscuit', I think of Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, of light, fluffy, buttery, flaky, salty, warm, stupefyingly good, ode-worthy biscuits in the finest Southern tradition.

Their biscuits are the epitome of biscuity goodness. I've tried for years to come near that level of unbelieveable yumminess and textural delight, but to no avail. I mean, I've made some decent biscuits over the years, but nothing like the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen.

So I recently revisited this obsession, searching the interwebs high and low for the SBK recipe, and finally found something in a Daily Tar Heel article. 5 pounds of flour, 24 oz of butter (that's SIX sticks, in case you were wondering) and a gallon of buttermilk. Mix ingredients, bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Makes 45 biscuits. And that, literally, is all they wrote.

I was so close, I could almost taste it. (Ha! Groan.) So I experimented. First I broke the recipe down into quantities a normal person would use. This required math, but I stuck with it. Then I did several test runs.

I'm sure they were using self-rising flour, and probably one of the traditional southern varieties, at that. This explains the lack of leavening agent; one cup of self-rising flour equates to one cup of all-purpose flour plus 1 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1/8 tsp salt. The next time I use this recipe, I'm going to use 4 1/2 or 5 teaspoons of baking powder (at high altitude, you're supposed to reduce the baking powder by about 1/4 tsp per tsp).

I also turned to the magical interwebs for biscuit-making tips. One was to press straight down when cutting the biscuits out; twisting the cutter/glass evidently compresses the edges and hamper the biscuit's fluffiness. And the good lord knows we definitely do not want that.

Keep your butter as cold as possible when baking. Another traditional tip is to keep your flour cold. One food blogger went so far as to always keep flour in the freezer. I think I'll just put the dough in the fridge when it's resting or if I need to step away for a few to take care of the kiddo.

If you want to increase the biscuit's flakiness, form a rectangle with the dough, then fold it in on itself in thirds before you roll it out and cut it.

One more tip: a professional baker once told me, "Never bake angry." That also goes for stressed out or otherwise upset. Your emotions will come out in your dough. I've had this tip confirmed by other pro baker friends over the years. So get happy, then get baking, friends.

I'm not gonna lie to you: SBK's biscuits still reign supreme. But this recipe takes a pretty good shot at bringing biscuity goodness into your home. Enjoy.

UPDATE: September 9, 2014 - I just updated and retested this recipe, and it's um, pretty freaking amazing. (If I do say so.) Let me know any other tips or modifications you used in the comments - thanks! 

UPDATE PART 2: September 24, 2017 - Made a couple more adjustments to the recipe. These really needed a full tablespoon of salt. Trust me, it's worth it. 

Wanna-Be Sunrise Biscuits

4 c flour (18 oz, 510 grams)
1 Tbs salt
5 tsp baking powder (4 tsp at high altitude)
1 tsp baking soda (omit at high altitude)
10 T cold butter (unsalted)
1 3/4 c buttermilk
1 egg, beaten (for egg wash)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (425 high altitude). Butter a 9 x 13 baking sheet or lay down a piece of parchment paper on the tray and lightly butter the paper.

Briefly whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the butter into the flour mixture. The bits of butter should be no larger than peas by the time it's cut in. Make a well in the middle and pour in the buttermilk.

Use your hands to gently, lightly mix together; handle the dough as little as possible. It will be extremely wet and sticky; do not panic. Add a tiny bit of flour, but resist adding too much. The more flour, the denser your biscuits. Instead, form into a ball and let rest a few minutes, say 5-10; this allows the flour in the dough to absorb the liquids and make it less sticky. You'll be surprised at the difference. Add a tiny bit more flour if it's still tacking to your fingers a lot at this point, and let it rest a couple more minutes. If it's really limp and stretchy, put it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes so it holds its shape when cut.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface to between a half-inch and 1 inch thick, depending on how tall you like your biscuits. Use a 3 inch glass or biscuit cutters to cut rounds from the dough. (If you make them smaller, just decrease the baking time a bit.) Place the rounds on the buttered baking sheet (or freeze them in layers of wax paper to bake later). Brush the tops and sides with an egg mixed with 1 T water.

Bake for 15-20 minutes (add three or so minutes if baking frozen dough) until golden brown. Makes about 15 biscuits. Eat immediately for maximum bliss; once cooled, they will keep well in tightly sealed container for up to 48 hours (I mean, I'm guessing.) You can also freeze the baked biscuits, but I recommend reheating in the microwave with a damp paper towel to restore that essential biscuity moisture. 

08 June 2010

Desperate times call for a delicious lunch.

Wow. I'm typing this as I savor the results of a successful kitchen experiment, and watching the world's cutest baby insert her foot into her mouth with joy and aplomb. (If only foot-in-mouth stayed cute; ditto for chubby thighs.)

Anyway. We have total randomness in our cupboards, I have a day off and three days' worth of stuff to get done, and I somehow managed to throw together something I'd never even dreamed of before, but that turned out tasty, fast and easy to make. It's also pretty heart-healthy.

With a baby around, it's hard to find the time to cook elaborate meals, let alone blog about them. Honestly, I don't know how Deb does it, and does it so darn well.  But this really is the ideal protein fix for anyone who only has the time or energy to spend about 15 minutes max on lunch or dinner.

Tuna Couscous Salad

1 can tuna (6 oz)
1/3 c couscous (I use organic whole wheat)
1 and 2/3 c water (divided)
~1/4 c frozen peas
~1 tsp lemon juice, or more to taste
~1/8 tsp oregano
~1/8 tsp dill
~1/8 tsp smoked paprika
~2 1/2 T olive oil, divided (I use organic extra virgin)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Put 2/3 c water, about 1/2 T olive oil, and couscous in a pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cover, bring to a boil, remove from heat, let sit while you assemble the rest of the stuff (5 minutes).

While that's boiling/sitting, rinse the tuna, put it in a medium-sized bowl with the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, dill, smoked paprika, and garlic. Use a fork to stir it all together. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. 

By now your couscous should be ready. Use the fork to fluff it (just stir it up a little in the pot) before you scrape it all into the bowl. Rinse out the pot and put the other 1 c water and the 1/4 c peas in there. Cover, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let sit for 3-5 minutes. Drain and stir into the tuna couscous salad. Add fresh ground pepper, taste once more, make any last minute adjustments, and enjoy.

Serves 2, or one very hungry nursing mother. :)

23 April 2010

Brunchy Joy

Ever have an ingredient that you love so much, you just want to use it every day til it runs out? Me, too. Especially when it comes to fresh produce; we had asparagus in our meals four nights in a row last week. This week, I picked up two 2-pound bags of Klamath Pearl baby potatoes on sale at the health food store, and now when I'm not eating them, I'm dreaming up recipes for them.

This morning I was in a brunchy sort of mood. This happens to me fairly often, but today is grey and chilly and the baby and I snoozed much of the morning away together. It was 1:30 before I got around to eating my first meal, but I saw no reason to miss breakfast just because I'd had a lazy morning. Okay, really, I just wanted eggs. And potatoes. And hollandaise sauce, which I'd only tried to make once before and was a spectacular failure at the time.

The thing that's so scary about hollandaise sauce, to me, is that there are about 813 billion ways of making it, and everyone claims theirs is the classic, perfect, awesomest method. Even the ingredients, which I thought were pretty much de rigeur, vary from recipe to recipe; some use vinegar, others lemon juice, some use both. Some use water, some don't. Some use cayenne, others use paprika. How is a hollandaise novice supposed to know which is the right path?

19 March 2010

Two-Tone Couscous

Since we had a baby, time's been at a premium. I am given yet another reason to love couscous; it's definitely new-parent friendly with its quick cooking time. Lately, I've been eating whole wheat couscous, which I was delighted to find doesn't taste very different at all from regular couscous. More whole grains are always a good thing.

This recipe is really simple and fast, I'm guessing under 20 minutes although I wasn't watching the clock. Sadly, I don't have a picture of the finished product, largely because my camera ran out of juice after I took my 8 billionth baby photo. But this dish is pretty much all red and tan, which is why I called it two-tone couscous; you could throw spinach in there and have a nice thematically-colored holiday meal, if you wanted (Christmas couscous! wouldn't that make your season merry and bright?).

Okay, anyway, speaking of lack of sleep (we were, weren't we?), I'd better get this recipe written down before the baby wakes up again.

Two-Tone Couscous

1/2 c whole wheat couscous
3/4 c water
2 T olive oil, divided
~ 3/4 tsp oregano
~ 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large roasted red pepper, diced
1 can garbanzo beans
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
~ 1 tsp lemon juice
~ 1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste

Put the couscous, water and 1 T olive oil in a small pot, cover, and turn on high. As soon as steam starts coming out, remove from heat, stir once, and cover again. Let sit for at least 5 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 T olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and let cook for 3-5 minutes, until the garlic smells awesome. Add the roasted red pepper and oregano, stir, and let cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, garbanzo beans, lemon juice, and smoked paprika, stir and cover. Let simmer for ~10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, add pepper & salt, and adjust the other seasonings as desired.

Fluff the couscous with a fork and put in a serving bowl. Pour the sauce over the couscous. Top with cilantro.

Serves 2, unless one of you is breastfeeding, in which case it's all you.

15 March 2010

The bread o' the Irish

One of my favorite holidays of the year is fast approaching. Really, who doesn't love St. Patrick's Day? Let's drink some tasty stouts and listen to Celtic music. Sounds like a great plan to me.

In addition to some great beers and fast fiddlin', the rest of the world is lucky the Irish have shared another part of their culture: soda bread. I absolutely love Irish soda bread, especially when it's just out of the oven and you have some honey butter (or, separately, butter and honey) to put on it. So... tasty... *swoon*

I first posted this recipe way back in the summer of 2007, but thought I'd repost it in honor of the holiday. This recipe is adapted from the Moosewood Restaurant's Low-Fat Favorites cookbook and Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads.

Slainte!

Irish Soda Bread

1 1/2 c unbleached white flour
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 T packed brown sugar
4 T cold butter
1 egg
1 c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Lightly oil baking sheet. Mix dry ingredients. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or using two knives.

In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and pour the wet mixture into the well. Stir until evenly moist.

Turn onto lightly floured surface, kneading just a little. Mound on baking sheet into ~ 9" domed loaf. Lightly cut an X in the top with a sharp knife. Bake ~ 45 minutes.

29 October 2009

Wintertime Classics: Chowder & Bread


Technically, autumn lasts for nearly two more months. But since it's been snowy and below freezing here for the last two days, I'm going right ahead with the winter comfort foods.

The corn chowder is adapted from the world's greatest slow-cooker cookbook, Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow-Cooker. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Go buy it. Now. But if you'd rather go ahead & make some dinner, you can use this recipe.

This is the second time I've used the French bread recipe, which is adapted from one I found on allrecipes.com. You've gotta love that site, because any recipe that's four and a half stars after nearly 400 ratings is probably going to work out pretty well for you.

Unfortunately, the bread I baked last night turned out to be a little, how you say... dense. Excessively solid, if you will, especially for French bread. That's what I get for trying to bake while dealing with stress; a professional baker once told me your emotions always come out in your bread, and over the years he's been proved right every time. Kids, don't bake angry. Or sad and stressed, as in my case. Or if you do, expect the result to be less than perfect.

But, y'know, it still looked pretty, and it was still good to dip in the soup and eat. It just wasn't the awesome I was hoping for. Anyway. Enough of my bread woes.

I'm also going to include my oft-requested recipe for seafood chowder, which I made up using a a few keys from a base recipe on cooks.com, and can say with no modesty meets unanimously with rave reviews. This is a Carolina-style chowder, which is to say it's broth-based. It's still nice and creamy, while being lactose-free. The secret is to stir mashed potatoes into your broth. Oh yes. Mashed potatoes make everything better; what, you doubted? You don't really need bread with the seafood chowder; it's extremely hearty and filling. It has that key seafood chowder quality, so wisely noted by my brother, of a high seafood-to-chowder ratio.

A similar technique is used in the corn chowder, which is also lactose-free but still nice and chowdery. I like this recipe because it's simple and satisfying. Enjoy, and stay warm.

Slow-Cooked Corn Chowder

1 Tbs olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 c vegetable broth
1 large russet potato, peeled & diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
3 c frozen (or canned) corn
1/8 - 1/4 c flour
salt & pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, stir to coat with oil, cover and cook for about five minutes. Put the broth, potato, bell pepper, corn, salt and pepper in the slow cooker. When the onions are done, add those to the soup. Cook 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high.

Ladle most of the solids into a food processor, blender or food mill and puree; stir back into the soup. Add flour as needed to thicken the soup - start with less and keep stirring it in until the soup reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust the salt & pepper; garnish with fresh herbs like chives, if you want. Serve immediately, ideally with fresh-baked French bread. Serves 4.


Easy French Bread

Makes two loaves; if you don't want that much, it's easy to halve the recipe. You can make this with a hand mixer using dough hooks, if you don't have a stand mixer, but I think it'd be kind of a pain to make with any less equipment than that.

If you're trying to time this so it's fresh from the oven when the soup's ready, the bread takes about 3 hours.

~6 c flour (I recommend unbleached organic flour)
5 tsp (2 packets) yeast
2 tsp salt
2 c warm water (110-115 degrees F)
1 Tbs cornmeal
1 egg white, mixed with 1 Tbs water

Put 2 cups of the flour, the yeast and the salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the 2 cups of warm water (make sure it's pretty darn close to hot, if you don't have a kitchen thermometer) and stir with a wooden spoon. Put on the stand mixer with a dough hook and mix on low until well blended, about 2-3 minutes. Let rest for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the stand mixer and stir as much of the rest of the flour in as you can, using the wooden spoon. Your dough should be smooth and elastic.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead with your hands for a few minutes, adding in a little more flour as needed to deal with any sticky spots. Don't knead more than 5-7 minutes. Form into a ball and put in a large, oiled bowl (I use olive oil), turning once to coat. Cover the bowl with a thin kitchen towel and - if you're a fellow high-altitude dweller - place in the fridge to rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes. If you live below high altitude, place in a warm place to rise.

Turn the dough back out onto the lightly floured counter and divide it in half. Cover with a towel and let it rest for 10 minutes. (Dough is easily upset, okay? Give it a break.) If each half is not already roughly a 3D oval, make it so, and then roll it out til it's about 10-12 inches wide. You don't want the oval shape to be too pronounced, once it's rolled out, but you want tapered ends. (Now realizing I should have taken some pictures of the process, sorry.) Start with one of the long sides and roll it up, sealing the seam with water and by rolling it back and forth a few times. Tuck the ends under a little and make it look pretty, y'know, like a loaf of French bread is shaped. Grease a large baking sheet with a coating of butter and sprinkle the cornmeal over the sheet. Place your loaves on the sheet, mix up the egg white and water, and brush the mixture onto the loaves. Place the thin kitchen towel over the loaves and put it back in the fridge (or warm place, whatever your altitude) and let rise, about another 30-45 minutes or until roughly double.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Take a sharp knife and make 3-4 diagonal cuts in the tops of the loaves, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes, then pull from the oven and brush again with the egg-white mixture. When you put the loaves back in the oven, turn the pan around 180 degrees so they bake more evenly (unless you're blessed with a perfectly-heated oven, which I sincerely hope you appreciate and I totally don't even want to hear about). Bake for another 15-20 minutes until they test done (they'll sound hollow when you flick them on the underside of the loaf). If they're browning too quickly, just put a loose sheet of aluminum foil over them. Remove from oven & cool on a wire rack.

Voila les baguettes!


Ann's Fabulous Seafood Chowder

This makes a ton of chowder. Have a party of, say, 6-8 friends over. Everyone will love you.

4 c vegetable broth
2 8 oz bottles clam juice
4 Tbs olive oil
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced
between half and a whole bottle of Bac-o's (or the equivalent of another form of fake bacon or real bacon. I like Bac-o's, what can I say.)
2 medium-large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1-2 large carrots, diced
34-40+ oz seafood. I like to use 2 cans of baby clams, 2 cans of premium crab, 2 tins of smoked or regular oysters and a jar of lobster in water that I think is 12-16 oz (this latter is pricey, but oh, sooooo good). You could also throw in some canned salmon if you wanted. You can vary this up according to your preference & make it all about the clams, clams & crab, whatever floats your boat. (Ha! Boats! Chowder! ...Sigh.) The key is to make sure you have a whole lot of seafood, in whatever combination.
salt, pepper & cayenne to taste

Stovetop:
Using a medium pot, set the potatoes to steam or boil for 15-20 minutes. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium. Add the garlic, onion and carrots, stir to coat, cover and let cook for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent. Add the broth, clam juice, bacos, and seafood. Add salt, pepper & cayenne to taste. Bring to a low boil, then reduce to simmer and cover. When the potatoes are ready, mash them with about 1/2 T butter and stir them into the soup. Cover again; simmer for an hour total, until the carrots are soft and all the flavors are nicely blended. Taste and adjust salt & pepper as needed.

Slow-Cooker:
Using a medium pot, set the potatoes to steam or boil for 15-20 minutes. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and carrots, stir to coat, cover and let cook for 5-10 minutes, until the onions are translucent and the carrots are fairly tender.
In the meantime, put the broth, clam juice, bacos and seafood in the slow cooker. Add the garlic, onion & carrots when they're ready. Stir in the mashed potatoes. Add salt, pepper & cayenne to taste. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.

28 September 2009

Irished up, or my divine kitchen comedy

Some of my favorite times from childhood were spent listening to my grandpa sing Irish and American folksongs. Grandpa had the true Irish tenor, and a seemingly endless repertoire. Naturally we had our family favorites, one of which was a song we knew as "Clancy Lowered the Boom". It starts like this:

Oh, Clancy was a peaceful man, and you know what I mean -
the cops picked up the pieces, when Clancy left the scene...

Or in modern parlance, he opened a big ol' can o' whup-ass. The refrain began, "Whenever they got his Irish up, Clancy lowered the boom!" My family has always related well to this song. We're a pretty peaceable sort, but if you get our Irish up, you'd best be getting out of the way shortly thereafter or else prepare to feel the wrath.

In addition to our temper - and probably closely linked - we tend to have a generous (by which I mean excessive) streak of good old Irish stubbornness. I have often found, when taking on grand new baking or cooking experiments, that said stubbornness is possibly as valuable a kitchen amenity as, say, the fridge. Similarly taken for granted, and yet indispensable, it's always there when I need it. This was never more true than on a recent Sunday, when it seemed like a good idea to spend the day making apple butter and cinnamon swirl bread. I had no idea that I was embarking on a journey that would make Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy look like a day in the park.

I got up at 8 a.m., knowing that the slow-cooker apple butter recipe called for 10 hours of cooking time, followed by straining the concoction. "No problem!" I naively optimistically thought. "I can probably still be done by 7:30." On Saturday afternoon, I'd picked a bunch of apples from the two trees in our yard, feeling rather domestic-pioneer-y as I did so. I noticed there weren't many apples without souvenirs from bugs or birds, but figured it wouldn't be that hard to cut around them.