Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Best Biscuits

This post involves so many of my favorite things...  one of my all-time favorite restaurants, my favorite new cookbook, and my favorite meal...  brunch.  The biscuit recipe is adapted from one in the Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook, a gift from Derek's mom and my new favorite cookbook, especially for brunch options.  The Tupelo Honey Cafe is arguable the most famous and beloved restaurant in Asheville, NC and is one of our very favorites (well, Derek's ultimate favorite might be Salsa's).  Brunch is most definitely my favorite meal, full of all of breakfast's most decadent delights and brimming with excuses to drink a cocktail before noon (well, unless it's a Sunday because apparently that's against the law here).  Hats off to you mimosa and bloody Mary.  Pictured here is a biscuit dripping with my Crystalized Ginger and Champagne Jam, next to a veggie egg scramble much like the one here, but adapted to what's in season now for summer.  In the background, you can see a hint of the stem to the glass holding my mimosa, a great compliment to the champagne in this jam.  Aaah, brunch, you never disappoint.  
-2 c flour
-1 Tbsp baking powder
-1/4 tsp baking soda
-1 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
-2 Tbsp sour cream (or plain yogurt)
-3/4 c unsalted butter, frozen, plus some for brushing
-1/2-3/4 c plain yogurt

->Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Mix dry ingredients together.  Add sour cream and mix until incorporated.  Grate butter on largest size.  Mix into flour mixture with either a pastry blender or with forks until like small peas.  Add yogurt until mixture comes together into a moist dough ball.  Don't over mix.  Roll out on a floured surface to a one-inch thickness.  Cut biscuits with a 3-inch biscuit cutter or a similar-sized drinking glass.  
Place on a baking sheet and into the preheated oven on the top rack.  Bake until golden brown (about 20 minutes).  Remove from the oven, brush or rub with butter and then sprinkle with salt.  Put back in the oven about 5 more minutes.  Pull them out and enjoy with jam, honey, and/or butter.  

~*TIP:  I think a few things that make this recipe so easy and these biscuits so delicious are the grated frozen butter and the last-minute butter and salt addition.  I've never heard of doing either, but don't skip these steps!  They are what give you the most buttery, flaky, and flavorful biscuits.  Also, the original recipe calls for buttermilk, rather than yogurt, but I've made them with yogurt twice now (because that's what I had on hand), and I've had stellar results both times.  *~  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A tale of two figs...

Around this time of year, I have an eye out for a fig source.  I never knew fresh figs until I moved to North Carolina, where figs of all kinds are beginning to be grown profusely.  Growing up, the closest I ever came was a fig newton.  I have a feeling I'm not alone in that.  This year, I found a source for Black Mission Figs when one of my faculty offered to let me pick some off of his trees.  We worked out a deal, a large loaf of fresh-made zucchini bread + a promise of fig jam in the future in exchange for a couple gourmet beers and the motherload of fresh figs waiting to be picked.  Below are the results of that agreement...  two fig preserves recipes, both delicious, one Vanilla-Balsamic Fig Compote, and the other Crystallized Ginger and Champagne Jam.  
Step 1:  The prep...  For both recipes, the first thing I did was wash and quarter my figs, removing an stems still left on them.  I think if I do this again, I will chop them up a little more (maybe in eighths), since my figs were on the large side.  From here on, the tale of to figs will part ways.  
Step 2:  The jams...  Follow the instructions below on how to make each jam.  Note that both require chilling overnight, so this will be a two-day process.  Pick up with Step 3 to see instructions for canning.  

Vanilla-Balsamic Fig Compote

-2.5 lbs of figs, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
-1.75 lbs of sugar
-juice of 1 lemon
-1 vanilla bean, split (or about 1.5 tsp vanilla extract)
-1/4 c balsamic vinegar
-1/4 tsp (or more) freshly ground black pepper

->  Combine figs, sugar, lemon, and vanilla in a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic or non-reactive metal) and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but overnight is better.  

The next day, pour into a large pot and add the balsamic and pepper.  Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 5-10 minutes until the mixture thickens (see picture below and TIP at the end of this post).  Remove vanilla bean (if used) and proceed to canning instructions in Step 3.  
Crystallized Ginger and Champagne Jam

-5.5 lbs of figs, rinsed, stemmed, and chopped
-2.5 lbs of sugar
-1/2 c minced crystallized ginger
-zest of 2 lemons
-juice of 3 lemons
-1 1/2 c champagne 

->  Put figs into a large pot and add about a 1/2-inch of water.  Simmer figs for about 5 minutes and then give them a quick mash with a potato masher.  Simmer for 20-25 minutes more or until tender and translucent, stirring occasionally.  

Put half of the stewed figs through a food mill or into your food processor until smooth.  

Mix both stewed figs and processed figs with sugar, ginger (see pictured below), lemon juice, and lemon zest in a non-reactive bowl.  Store covered in the fridge for at least 6 hours, but preferably overnight.  

The next day, pour refrigerated mixture into a large pan and add champagne.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 40 minutes or until thickened (see TIP at the end of this post), stirring frequently and reducing the heat if needed to prevent the mixture from sticking.  Once thickened, proceed to canning instructions in Step 3.  
Step 3:  The canning...

->  At this point you are ready to can your jam(s)!  Pour the hot mixture into sterilized jars, leaving about a 1/4 inch of head space (as pictured below).  
Canning Note:  In order to sterilize your jars, you can wash them in HOT soapy water, put them in a boiling water bath, or pull them straight out of a hot, freshly run dishwasher.  For jams like this, I prefer 1/2-pint or even the smaller 4-oz jars, but pint jars will work too.  Anything bigger than that will mean having to use a whole lotta jam at once when it comes time to open it!  

Once the jars are filled, wipe any residue from the rim of the jars to ensure a good seal.  Put on prepared disks (soaked in boiling water) and screw on sterilized rings.  

Next, you can either put them in a boiling hot water bath for 10-12 minutes or using a pressure cooker at around 7 lbs pressure for 10 minutes.  See my awesome family heirloom pressure cooker below.  It's been canning for decades in my grandma's kitchen, but it came to live with me when she updated to a newer model.  

If using a pressure cooker, allow pressure to come down naturally.  Remove jars.  Allow to cool and then check for a good seal by making sure each lid is concave against the jar (not convex) and does not push down at all when you press it.  
~*TIP:  To test if your jams are "thickened," you can use the freezer test.  Keep a few metal teaspoons in the freezer.  When it comes time to test for thickness, pull one out, put a bit of jam on it, stick it back in the freezer for about 3 minutes, and pull it out.  Push the jam with your finger to see if it wrinkles and/or hold the spoon perpendicular to the floor and see if it runs off or drips slowly.  If your jam wrinkles and/or drips slowly, it's thickened.  If not, keep cooking it for a few more minutes and then try again.  However, how thick you want it may vary.  Sometimes I like mine a little runny with big chunks (more like compote than jam).  *~  

*If you have any concerns about whether you are canning correctly, please see USDA Guidelines here.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Who squashed my spaghetti? Salad

This is a great simple way to make use of one of my favorite, most interactive vegetables...  spaghetti squash.  Yes, that's right, for those of you who are not familiar, there is a delicious squash that looks a lot like angel hair spaghetti when you scrape it out of its shell (see the "noodles" in the picture below).  You can eat spaghetti squash any way you would other squashes (similar in flavor to acorn) or... anyway you would eat spaghetti.  Wild!  I know.  This dish really could be inspired by either, but ends up looking and tasting much like a pasta salad of sorts.  Check it out and feel free to change it up by adding whatever fresh veggies or pickled pantry delights you have around.    

-2 medium spaghetti squash
-olive oil
-juice and and zest of 1 1/2 lemons
-Parmesan cheese
-1 red pepper, chopped
-2 oz capers (1/2 a 4-oz jar)
-fresh herbs, chopped (I used chives, garlic chives, parsley, and basil)

->  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut your squashes in half and scrape out seeds.  Rub them with a little olive oil and then put them in the oven in a baking dish for about 20 minutes or until they are fork-tender.  Remove and allow to cool until you can handle them easily.  Use a fork to scrape out the "noodles," or squash strands; scraping "against the grain" works best.

Toss the squash with lemon juice and zest and then add as much Parmesan as you prefer (around 1/4 cup).  Add chopped peppers, capers, and fresh herbs.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.  You will have a lot of (pleasantly, I hope,) surprised dinner guests after they take their first bite...

Goaty Red Pepper Wontoli with Lemon

 Once upon a time there was a girl with a coupon for wonton wrappers.  She bought the wrappers thinking, "there are so many things I could create with these!".  The wrappers sat and sat in her fridge...  until one night, in a burst of creativity and a fury of roommate cooperation, the wonton wrappers were magically transformed into delicious ravioli!  Wontoli, if you will.  See the enchanted steps below if you want to know how to turn a pack of wrappers, some spicy leftovers, and some delicious creamy goat cheese into the something magical pictured below.  

-1 pack wonton wrappers (or about 12 wrappers per person)
-1 c roasted red pepper and sausage sauce (see recipe below)
-4 oz goat cheese
-olive oil
-zest of one lemon
-juice of 1 1/2 lemon
-Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper for serving.  

->Lay half of your wonton wrappers (like the ones below) out on a large flat, dry pan.  

Mix sauce and goat cheese together.  

Put a scoop (about 1.5 Tbsps)of this mixture in the center of each wonton wrapper on the tray.  Wet the tip of your finger and run it along the edges of the wonton wrapper.  Place a second wrapper on top, squeeze out any air pockets and pinch edges together, forming a ravioli.  

At this point, you can either bake the ravioli or boil them.  We boiled them, which worked fine, but I recommend only boiling them briefly (maybe 5 minutes) until they float to the top.  They will begin to get a little soggy fast.  

Next take them out of the boiling water and put them directly into a pan generously covered with olive oil and at medium to high heat.  Brown both sides and remove from pan.  

Toss with lemon juice and lemon zest.  Top with Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper at the table.  There you have your wontoli...  spicy, goaty, lemony, and magical!  

~*TIP:  You can either use some browned Italian sausage paired with some chopped roasted red peppers for the sauce required above or try out the sauce recipe below.  But be careful when roasting your own peppers!  I didn't realize I was working with as hot of a variety as I was, and I had "hands on fire" for a good hour after cleaning them of seeds and skins.*~

Roasted Red Pepper and Sausage Sauce
-roughly 15 Anaheim peppers
-2 Italian sausages
-1 large jar stewed tomatoes (32 oz)

->  Put peppers whole on a baking sheet and place under the broiler.  Allow to broil until they just start to blacken on one side.  Then take them out and flip the peppers, putting them back in for the reverse side to broil.  Allow to cool until cool enough to handle.

[NOTE:  At this point, it's important to know how spicy your peppers are.  Anaheims vary in heat considerably, and mine were much hotter than I anticipated.  If you have spicy peppers, you may want to wear gloves for the next step.  No amount of handwashing or slathering yourself down in yogurt (ok, so I was desperate) will save you from the "hands on fire" fate.]

->Pepper skins should just rub off at this point, so rub off skins and scoop out seeds and seed membrane.  You can either dispose of these or save the skins to fry up with your eggs the next morning.  That's what my friend's Italian grandparents do.  Roughly chop the skinned, seeded peppers.

Now, squeeze the Italian sausage from its casing and brown over medium heat.  Once brown, add chopped peppers and saute until mixed.  Add stewed tomatoes and simmer until reduced into a thick chunky sauce.  
Serve over pasta as is and/or use leftovers in the recipe above!  Be careful.  Depending on your peppers, this sauce could be pretty spicy!  

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ode to Boothby's Blonde

I wanted to take this time to honor my favorite garden producer of the summer...  my Boothby's Blonde cucumbers.  Early this summer, I dreamt of a beautiful cucumber trellis, made of interwoven bamboo, arching between two of my curbside beds.  Boothby's Blond did NOT disappoint.  Not only were they healthy, vibrant climbers even in the melting North Carolina summer heat, they were also my best producer of the summer garden so far!
Take note of it's thin yellow skin...  Unlike green cucumber varieties that are past their prime when they turn yellow, these are at their peak when they turn a bright lemony yellow.  The skin is also thin enough that there is no need to peel!  Unlike with some cucumbers, you won't be left chewing on woody skins and seeds.  One aspect that is a little strange to get used to and is not pictured here is that they also have small black spines, which makes for a wild contrast with their yellow skins.  Don't worry, they rub off easily!
Also note here their melon-like flesh...  These are crisp and juicy.  No need to scrape out the seeds.  You won't even notice them.  
A big thanks to Seed Savers Exchange, my source for Boothby's Blonde cucumber.  I'll definitely be saving these seeds and planting again next year.