Biscuits again, with new additions!

img_4939I’ve been trying to make biscuits for a while, guys. The first recipe on here was a biscuit recipe, and I’ve made a couple versions since. Still, while fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuits often mask a multitude of sins, the fact has remained: my biscuits don’t rise, and they don’t have flakey layers.

No more! No more am I cursed with hockey pucks that I must slather in butter to make tasty! Instead, I‘ve got this recipe for biscuits, from the brilliant Girl Meets Dough, which lays it out for you, and let me tell you: the results are fantastic.

The things I was doing wrong: I didn’t keep the butter cold. She suggests taking super-cold butter, grating it into a bowl, and putting the butter in the freezer until right when you need it. Then, once the biscuits are all set out on the pan, you put the pan of biscuits into the freezer for 10 more minutes to get the butter firm again – it helps with flakiness to go straight from freezer to 450 degree oven!

I also was trying to substitute yogurt whole-sale for buttermilk. This time, I mixed milk, buttermilk, and just a few bits of vinegar because I now know that buttermilk activates the baking powder/soda and creates the leavening. Science! Basically, invest in buttermilk or use a real substitute, not just something that makes your dough look consistent.

The final change is her method of kneading. she flattens out her dough, cuts it in half, and stacks it on top, then does it again. It effectively makes strata in the dough, which I completely saw when I removed the biscuits after cooking. Even though kneading probably melted some of the butter, it hardened back up when it was in the freezer. It didn’t even waste any time because these biscuits work up so fast that my oven hadn’t had time to get to 450 – they froze while the oven heated up.

My houseguests this weekend said that the biscuits were delicious without anything at all on them, but they also loaded them up with grape jelly or bacon. 🙂 I mean it: if you too are under the biscuit curse, try this recipe!!!

Secret Family Recipes… Shhhh.

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One of the recipes I received last year I have yet to try. It’s time intensive, has a lot of ingredients, and requires constant vigilance in its creation. Thus, I had put it off until I realized that I really had to try it, but I had been asked, a long long time ago, not to put it on the blog. I was told that even though it was no secret within the family, it was special, a special part of the family.

I was honored, because I was receiving a recipe that was only for the close family members, and I was excited because it meant I was part of this close family, the people that Husband’s relatives trusted the most. Though I knew it would be hard, and Husband would inevitably think my version didn’t measure up, I tackled it this week. I cannot tell you what the food was, or what the recipe entailed, but suffice it to say that 1. it took a long time. 2. it was a blast keeping everything together and 3. my version was good,  but not as good as another family member’s.

I write not to tantalize you about a recipe I’m never going to share, but to advocate that you develop your own. Sure, you might originally have found your apple pie recipe on pinterest, but with your own flare, and a missing ingredient you had to substitute, and time and experience and memories of apple pie, it might become yours. Keeping that apple pie recipe secret, even if you actually share it with millions of other people via the internet, is one way to make it special, make it part of your family’s traditions. By doing that, joining a tradition, you make new additions to your family – kids, in-laws – feel like they’ve really “made it” when you pass on the well-worn card to them and they get to hang it proudly on the refrigerator. I love sharing recipes and stories that my friends and family give me, but once in a while, it’s nice to have a little secret. 🙂

A Note About WordAds and ads on blogs

I wanted to address a blogging issue that might come up for some of you – the possibility that ads will show up in a blog. The way that WordPress.com works, with my membership here, means that I cannot control whether ads show up. If you’ve seen ads on my blog for the past 10 months, it was beyond my choice.

Just recently, however, I was offered a small share of that revenue generated by ads, through the WordAds program. I don’t anticipate making much money because this blog still has a small readership, but I would ask something: when you are reading personal blogs that have ads, especially food blogs that are nicer than mine and have better photos and recipe cards and all of that, please don’t turn your ad-blocker on. This isn’t about me or my blog; it’s about the community of food bloggers.

It’s been an issue I’ve been reading about, and it seems that nearly 40% of ads gets blocked by ad blockers – obviously, I understand people not wanting to see ads, but they also often get to read many interesting things on the internet for free, things that would be less useful if no one was paid to write them. My blog is not among these: I write for fun, and I haven’t invested a lot of money into cameras and hosting and other costs of blogging. But for professional bloggers, watching those ads (or at least ignoring them without blocking them!) seems like a kind way to show your appreciation for the site, and that you want them to be able to continue doing it.

My thoughts on this subject are still developing, but you know already if you read this blog that I’m always thinking about how we form communities, usually around food and family and friends and recipes. I want to be the kind of blog reader that I would want reading my own blog, and I think that might mean (gulp) not running my ad blocker. Have you all seen other models of running a blog that allow us to support those whose work we appreciate, maybe without having to view ads? I hope that is the direction that blogs are headed, but I really don’t know; I just know that I want others to be able to turn their successful blogs into long-term, large-scale work for themselves and their readerships.

All that being said, if you notice something that isn’t functioning because of ads, or if you see an ad that offends you, let me know here in the comments – I want to make sure WordAds is working for my readers, as far as ads in a blog ever can work for readers.

A Splurge: 3 ingredient peanut butter cookies

In our town, there is a push for more small businesses in downtown – one of the new small storefronts going in is a cookie store. Nothing feels more gloriously child-like than the idea of a store just for cookies and other baked goods – and sometimes we need a child-like wonder for the world, even if it only lasts until the cookie is finished.

One evening this past week, we’d finished our veggie-heavy dinner and I could tell that Husband would eat more if it was available, but there weren’t even leftovers! So I pulled out three simple ingredients: 1 cup of brown sugar, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter, and 1 egg. I mixed them all together, preheated the oven to 350 degrees, and dropped the wads of what just looked like peanut butter onto a greased cookie sheet. After 8 minutes in the oven, they had turned from wads of peanut butter into cookies – warm and crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside.

I was happy with the recipe because it made enough cookies for a couple of days to have a cookie after a meal, but not enough to have cookies lingering around the house for days afterward, taunting me with their deliciousness. While the preparation is so short and fast that it fits into my crazy life pretty perfectly, it reminds me of more leisurely cookie-making experiences with my mom and sister when we were small, when I first realized that something admittedly yummy (cookie dough) could transform into something totally different after a stay in the oven. I think I will make these peanut butter beauties when I need a quick dessert for a peanut-friendly crowd, but I won’t trade the longer, more ingredient version when it comes to making holiday memories; it’s just too sweet and totally worth the time.

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Hash Browns

On Sunday, Husband and I were coming home and ravenous for lunch; I knew I wanted something pretty wholesome but I also had two leftover cheddar bratwurst that I wanted to use. I decided it was time for some home-made hash browns.

I prefer the Waffle House variety of hash browns when making them at home – sure, the little nuggets of deep-fried goodness you can get at most fast-food breakfasts are wonderful, but those are quite hard to replicate without special equipment. As it is, I just grated two big potatoes and an onion and set the shavings on paper towels to wick away some moisture. Ideal world, you’d do this a couple hours early, I think, but I wasn’t patient (hence the clumpiness of the pictured hash browns).

In a big frying pan, I placed a tablespoon of butter and the onion and potato shavings. While it heated up and the potatoes started to brown, I alternated between stirring and chopping: I chopped up the bratwurst and then also diced a big green pepper, which I cooked separately to avoid adding even more moisture to the delicate frying hash browns. IMG_4900.JPG

When the onions and potatoes were starting to get some color on them, I moved them to half the pan and added the cheddarwurst. I knew the cheese would eke out of them, but I didn’t mind because crispy fried cheese bits would be flavorful. I seasoned the whole mess while they got browned separately, and then mixed it all together. I cracked pepper and added a twinge of parmesan to the green peppers, which gave them a bit of a crust.

In the end, I just threw everything together and Husband and I wolfed it down on the back porch. I realized, as I ate, that it would make a very nice, very simple freezer meal: if there was time to let all the chopped ingredients evaporate for a few hours, then just bag them up, you would have instant, waffle-house-style hashbrowns, which weren’t even exceptionally oily! Obviously, since this is basically just a stirfry with potatoes in it, you have infinite options for subbing out things you don’t like, which I always enjoy.

Banana Blueberry Walnut Bread!

I make a lot of fruity quick breads; still, I was trying to find something breakfasty on Pinterest and came across this beauty, and was inspired to get to baking. Husband and I just tested out the bike I got at a local flea market, and I was the good kind of tired that makes you want to eat something with great gusto but eat, you know, something sorta good for you.

When I surveyed my ingredients, I had two bananas thawing from being frozen (it’s my last ditch effort to save them if they are about to go bad and I don’t want to just eat them), 1 fresh banana and a bag of dried blueberries. I first put a bit of butter on the walnuts and put them into the oven to roast up – I just like fruit-and-nut bread better when the nuts are roasted. Then I prepared the bread, realizing in the middle that I did not have the egg I needed – so in went a small tub of applesauce. In my opinion, applesauce works for consistency of the bread once it’s cool but it binds less well than egg overall and thus results in an intensely crumbly bread when it first comes out. If you have more patience then me, applesauce is a great addition, but I want a slice of the deliciousness as soon as it is cool enough to touch, so I was eating it with a fork.

Husband and I both agreed that its hard to beat bread with so many fruits and nuts in it, and the quantities of flour and sugar were really quite modest; much of the sweetness and substance of the loaf comes from the fruit itself. The blueberries were what really made it, though – I only really associate blueberries with muffins and bagels, but in this loaf form, they provided a good counterbalancing tang to the sweet bread and the savory walnuts. 10/10, would eat whole loaf if I could, but instead eat one piece each morning with my coffee. 🙂

Shrimp Scampi

I have lately been cutting meat all over the place – not avoiding it entirely, but switching to less of it. HOWEVER. Husband will stand for only so much of this, and I sometimes choose to add meat or fish back into the diet for his happiness. In this case, I was able to choose a perfect combo: by picking shrimp, I satisfied his desire for tasty proteins, but because shrimp ain’t cheap, he could accept the smaller portion. Marriage, it seems, is a never-ending negotiation and compromise.

In the case of shrimp, though, it’s a delicious compromise. Starting with a big pat of butter, some garlic, and some pepper flake, I sautéed the shrimp from thawed-and-gray to hot-and-pink. The sauce was thinner than I wanted, perhaps due to some water still left in the package from the thawing process, so I turned to my trusty dusty chickpea flour, as well as a little parmesan and Colby jack cheese, until the sauce was thick and yellow and garlicky, the way I wanted (if not exactly the traditional, gorgeous scampi sauce that I was loosely emulating, at least at the start. If you want real scampi, there are many, many recipes).

The scampi was served atop the tomato farro I discussed earlier this week, providing a fibrous and tasty base. The excess sauce enriched the tomato, which was flavorful but not creamy. Husband and I both fell on the bowls with abandon, but when the time came to decide about seconds (we’d snarfed half of what I made), Husband surprised me by holding back. “I want to eat it,” he said. “But I want to be able to have it for lunch tomorrow.”

I know Husband just wanted tasty food the following day, but I cannot help drawing a parallel: the reason I want to eat less meat and animal protein of all kinds isn’t from some dislike for them. I just want there to be some tomorrow; with the evidence of how much more energy it takes to produce meat, it makes sense to use less meat and more carbs as we try to transition to cleaner energies and to walk lightly upon the earth. I don’t think you have to be a tree hugger (though I might be one…) to see the benefit to using slightly less energy in our lives, on the off chance that it will help us have more to use in the future.

How I Changed my Food Formula

It was pretty easy to predict how my meals went when I was living in Spain or when I lived alone in the States. My volume formula, if I’m honest with myself, went like this:

  • 50 percent carbohydrates (pasta or bread, usually)
  • 20 percent meat or meat substitute like lentils, tofu, or chickpeas.
  • 20 percent sauce/flavorings (often creamy or cheesy!)
  • 10 percent veggies/other plant-based foods.

It’s not the world’s worst proportion, but whenever the sauce/cheese crept up, or the carbs held steady, my meals might look small on the plate but were actually calorie packed. The formula that I’m aiming for these days is more like this:

  • 40 percent veggies – salad as a base, or roasted tomatoes.
  • 30 percent meat substitutes like lentils, tofu, or chickpeas, with maybe 10 percent of that coming from meats used as flavorings, like a few pepperoni on top of a dish.
  • 20 percent carbs (often in combo with the protein, like farro or quinoa)
  • 10 percent sauce (still creamy or cheesy, but in the smallest quantity possible while still being delicious!)

This means I’m getting similar volume to my meals, but I’ve subbed in more nutrient rich foods. Sauces like the butternut squash and gouda pasta sauce  allow me to actually replace sauce volume (which would have been butter or more gouda!) with a vitamin rich veggie. When this affects flavor negatively, I try to keep my sauce “pure” and just use very little of it.

I’ve been amazed, now that I think with this formula, at how a lot of the foods I crave most are actually equal proportions fat-laden sauce, meat, and carbohydrates: almost no veggie, and not even lean meats and whole grains! My transition, when I can, is to eat the flavors I love but not in the quantity I love – spreading those flavors out over a big baked potato or a tasty pan of farro has been helping me to realize that there are some healthy foods that are also craveable (see kale chips!).

It’s not a perfect system, but this is how I tend to behave when I’m not following a recipe at all; some combination of a small amount of sauce, a big pile of veggies, and small amounts of meat and carbs for texture and flavor, yields a regular-sized meal that doesn’t sacrifice flavor.

Roasted Garlic and Tomato Farro!

I have had a bag of farro in my cupboard for a long time – it’s an “ancient grain” that lives in the same aisle of the grocery store as the rice and quinoa. It has a lot of fiber and protein, and was a favorite of my grad school buddy M, who was vegetarian and always looking for something hearty to supplement his diet. I made one farro salad for a party, but I still have community-garden garlic and the last dregs of the tomato plants, so I thought I’d try this out. I got inspired by this recipe I found on Pinterest, which seemed to mix some of my favorite earthiest flavors and obviously, this blog has been all tomatoes all the time lately.

The key, I realized, was that if my tomatoes were already swimming in water (last canned batch of tomatoes had a lot of excess liquid), I might as well prepare the farro in the tomato juices, rather than separately in water. It worked like a charm – I prepared the farro in the juices according to the directions on the farro package, and soon I had big, thick kernels that looked a bit like that cereal “sugar smacks” if you remember it from your childhood. My grandfather ate it all the time, which was definitely not as healthy as eating farro but does make me endeared to the idea.

In the end, just a little garlic and salt were all the chewy kernels and various-sized tomatoes needed. I used it alongside a shrimp scampi I’ll post later, but it didn’t need oil or a lot of fancy spicing – the combination of home canned tomatoes and the nuttiness of the farro were enough to be one of those dishes that are simple without being bland. Not to mention, surprisingly filling: I didn’t have to layer on the scampi sauce to fill like I was getting a whole meal when I used this as a base instead of pasta.

Learning to Love Fruit

At the height of my disregard for healthy eating, I told my friend E, “I don’t like to bother with fruit; it’s all sugar and if I’m going to eat sugar, I want to eat caramel or chocolate!” There’s nothing wrong with loving chocolate and caramel, but E was right to be a little flabbergasted: fruit is such a beautiful food group, and I was silly to disregard it.

Fruit, when it’s really fresh, has become one of my favorite things. When eating at the breakfast here at the hotel this week, I’ve been replacing some of my old time favorites, like danishes, with larger-than-usual piles of fruit. Sure, they also are sweet, but I feel more alert and happy instead of like I’m in a butter-and-sugar coma for the rest of the day.

I’ve noticed lately that keeping fresh fruit in the house is hard because it can spoil before I get to it, but keeping fruit smoothie drinks means I’m often reaching for that instead of more pastry or bagels. I get whatever brand is on sale and sometimes there are even ones with spinach blended in – added bonus. Obviously, this is not the whole-food solution of one’s dreams, but E would probably be pretty proud of me. I’ve also been really happy with recipes like the Apple Cake and the Zucchini Bread I’ve made over the past few months, which combine my love of pastry with a mixed in serving or two of fruit. I’m coming around to the way that fruits and veggies as the bulk of my food makes me feel a lot better and be more creative with my cooking.