Saturday, January 30, 2010

Breakfast and Biscuits

Happy Saturday morning! As you may have noticed, I love making big breakfasts on the weekends. Usually its fluffy pancakes one morning, eggs the next. I think weekend breakfasts should be hearty and a little indulgent. Usually they end up being more like brunch for us, holding us over through Saturday errands and Sunday football. One of our favorite breakfasts - and one of the few meals my husband actually taught me how to cook perfectly - is egg sandwiches, preferably on a good buttermilk biscuit. But, I must admit, my biscuits usually come from the bakery section of the grocery store. For years, my mother and I have been searching for the perfect buttermilk biscuit recipe. But no matter what combination of flours, fats and techniques we've tried, we always ended up with dry, tough, hockey pucks. Until now! Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you...

The Best Buttermilk Biscuit Recipe

From who else but Martha Stewart? And surprisingly, this recipe is very easy. The key steps seem to be very cold fat, in this case a mixture of butter and vegetable shortening.

And well sifted dry ingredients.  This recipe uses all purpose flour and cake flour, which keeps the biscuits light and fluffy.

A good floured biscuit cutter is also important. You need to cut straight down the edges of the dough, so the biscuits will rise properly.

My mother and I both happened to give each other biscuit cutters for Christmas, so I was covered here.

Its amazing what a difference these little tweaks made. The biscuits were golden, flaky perfection. And way better than store bought.

Best Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 12

3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for work surface and biscuit cutter
1 cup cake flour
1 Tbl baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbl plus 1 tsp sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces plus 2 Tbl melted butter for brushing tops
1/2 cup non-hydrogenated, trans fat free vegetable shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

  • Preheat oven to 400º
  • Sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Sift again.
  • Using a pastry cutter or 2 forks, cut butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Make a well in center, and pour in buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon until dough just holds together.
  • Turn dough onto a well floured work surface, and need into itself 3 or 4 times. Pat dough into 1" disc. Using a well floured 3" biscuit cutter, cut round from dough. Place rounds 2" apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. Gather scraps, pat back into disc, and continue cutting rounds until all dough is used. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter.
  • Bake until puffed and golden brown, and 15 - 18 minutes. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days, or freeze.
The biscuits pulled apart easily to fill with a fried egg, Gruyere, and a perfect slice of tomato.

This is obviously a particularly indulgent breakfast that should be saved for the weekends. During the week, I prefer breakfasts that are filling but not too heavy, and packed with as many healthy ingredients as I can cram in to kick start my brain and body for my busy work days. My breakfasts also need to be portable and easily eaten at my desk. Green Monsters are perfect for this, a smoothie packed with kale, almond milk, banana and flax seeds. I also frequently include yogurt with fruit and granola or oatmeal cooked with banana and topped with yogurt, nuts and fruit in my routine. Oatmeal is a traditional breakfast cereal, but there are so many other grains out there that make a great morning meal. This week I made a big batch of breakfast quinoa, which I kept in the fridge at work and heated up a serving every morning. Quinoa is the highest protein grain out there, so it makes an ideal breakfast. And its delicious, nutty flavor pairs well with fruit and nuts. Just like oatmeal, you can experiment with a huge variety of mix-ins.

This recipe makes a week-long batch. To re-heat, I scoop a single serving into a bowl with sliced bananas, and pop in the microwave at work for 1 minute, 30 seconds. The bananas melt into the quinoa, making it sweeter and bulking it up a bit. I then top it with a little milk and some dried fruit. But thrown in whatever you like!

Breakfast Quinoa
makes 5 servings
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 tsp cinnamon
dash of nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbl sucanat, or honey or agave nectar to taste

  • Combine milk, water and quinoa in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer on low until liquid is mostly absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and sucanat. Enjoy warm or chill and reheat later.

And because I'm always thinking about my next meal, I'd also like to share with you my lunches this week - a Delicious and colorful Udon Soup with Mushroom Broth, Cabbage, and Yams.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Get it on the plate, girl

Chilly January weather calls for chili! While a traditional chili is usually based around ground beef, there are so many vegetarian variations you can make using different combinations of beans, vegetables, and grains. My latest version was inspired by this recipe in Food & Wine for Winter Vegetable Chili that uses hominy to bulk it up. I wondered why I had the Tori Amos song "Little Amsterdam" running through my head all day Monday, since its been years since I've listened to it. I realized as I was cooking it was because of this lyric:

"Little Amsterdam/In a Southern town/Hominy/get it on the plate, girl"

That's my job - get it on the plate! Hominy is corn that has been treated with lye, and you can buy it canned. This is also the base for corn tortillas, but the corn is finely ground after its treated to make a flour. The hominy in the can is whole, soft kernels.

This recipe is a delicious way to use seasonal vegetables. It came out a little spicy for my taste, but if you remove the seeds from the chipotles that would cut down the heat a lot. This recipe also makes a huge pot of chili! Derek has been eating it for lunch all week, but the leftovers will also freeze well.

Winter Vegetable Chili
liberally adapted from Food & Wine February, 2010
4 Tbls olive oil, divided
1 1/2 - 2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded
1 medium onion, chopped
3 - 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2" pieces
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" pieces
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2"pieces
1 Tbl chile powder
1 Tbl ground cumin
salt & pepper
2 Tbls unsweetened cocoa powder
1 x 28 oz. can peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 - 3 canned chipotle peppers (with or without seeds depending on heat preference), plus 2 Tbls adobo sauce
2 cups water
1 x 14 oz can hominy, drained
1 x 14 oz can red kidney beans, drianed
chopped cilantro and sour cream or greek yogurt for serving

Preheat oven to 400º

Toss butternut squash with 2 Tbls olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and roast in a baking pan until just tender and lightly browned, about 20 - 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 Tbls olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add red pepper, carrots, and sweet potato and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in chile powder, cumin, and cocoa powder and season with salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute more.

Meanwhile, puree tomatoes with juices, chipotles and adobo and water in blender until smooth. Add mixture to dutch oven along with hominy and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer over medium-low heat until thickened and vegetables are tender.

Serve topped with chopped cilantro and sour cream or greek yogurt.

I usually like to serve cornbread with chili, and this time decided to spice my cornbread up a bit. I got a madeline pan for Christmas, and since I don't make little tea cakes too often, I thought it would be the perfect vehicle for individual cornbread madelines. I also added some chopped green onion and chipotles for a little kick.

Green Onion Chipotle Cornbread Madelines
1 cup cornmeal (I like Bob's Red Mill course ground cornmeal)
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sucanat (or sugar)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
3 Tbls unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 green onions, chopped
3 chipotles in adobo, seeds and sauce scraped, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 400º

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a medium bowl. Add egg, milk and butter and stir until just combined. Stir in green onion and chipotles.

Fill a greased Madeline pan with batter, filling each cup not quite to the top. Or, fill a greased 9" square baking pan with batter. Bake for about 15 minutes, until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Watch carefully as these cook fast! Let cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely or slightly warm.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Now is the time of year when we all look towards change. We take a look at ourselves - inside and out, for better or worse - and think about what we would like to make better, make smaller, make firmer, make happier.  And we resolve to achieve those things before this time next year.  My resolution for this year is to try to be tidier in our tiny apartment, and not leave my crap all over the place.  Derek was very excited to hear this, although he has yet to see any results.  But I'm working on it.  

I'm also working on making up for the gluttony of the holiday season by returning my focus to healthful eating.  The 3 cookie a day habit I developed around Christmas must be kicked.  And the intake of vegetables and whole grains must be dialed up!  I'm back on my Green Monster kick, using my brand new shower-gift blender to make almond milk and liquify kale.  Its so much easier to get your healthy greens in when you have them at breakfast. It also helps when you can make delicious, healthy meals that don't taste like health food. That just taste delicious. That is this recipe, for a warm, comforting risotto made with hearty, heart-healthy barely and delicious roasted vegetables.

I used brussel sprouts and some beautiful orange, purple and white carrots because they were local, in season, and I can't get enough brussel sprouts.

You can easily use this base risotto recipe to create lots of different combinations, adding different vegetables and crumbling in cheeses to boost the flavor. Root vegetables and hearty greens are perfect for the winter and young asparagus and peas would really shine in the spring. Nuts and dried fruit would make this a creative side dish. I made this dish once with beets and marscapone cheese to amp up the creaminess, and it was a pink beauty.

You could also experiment with different grains here. The whole grains in one's diet should go way beyond whole wheat pasta and bread. There are so many out there to explore with a variety of flavors and textures. I love the chewy, nuttiness of barely, but you could also try this with farro, wheatberries, or more adventurous grains like amaranth.

Barley Risotto with Brussel Sprouts and Carrots
serves 4
4 Tbls olive oil, divided
1 small onion, diced
2 - 3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup pearl barley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 pound carrots, chopped into 1" pieces
1/4 freshly grated parmesan cheese (omit for vegan recipe)
salt and pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Pour vegetable broth into a medium saucepan, and heat until warm but not boiling. Reduce heat to low.
  • Toss vegetables with 2 Tbls of olive oil in large roasting pan and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly browned and tender, about 20 - 25 minutes, while barely cooks. Set aside when roasted.
  • Heat a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Add garlic and saute 2 more minutes. Add pearl and saute until fragrant and slightly toasted, about 3 more minutes. Add white wine and cook until wine is absorbed. Add 1 - 2 ladles of broth, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until broth is mostly absorbed, stirring frequently. Continue adding broth by the ladle-full until barley is tender but still slightly chewy.
  • Toss cooked barley with parmesan cheese, than stir in brussel sprouts and carrots. Pass additional parmesan on the side.
We ate this dinner on our brand new plates, also a shower gift. We got his and her's plates - mine have subtle white flowers and Derek's have bicycles. Very fitting...