Thursday, June 3, 2010

Southern Appalachian Blackberry Dumplings

I heard about this book, "Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking" and immediately checked it out at the library. My mother's family hails from Southern Appalachia (Appalachia with an 'a' like 'cat'), specifically Western North Carolina, so of course my interest was peaked.

I quickly whipped up a batch of "Bryson City Cathead Biscuits" because I'm a part of the Bryson clan. I also made the "Sylva-Style Potatoes" the same day as I made these utterly delicious blackberry dumplings. My friend, Talia, was joining me for a spur of the moment home-cooked meal, so what better way to treat her than with some Appalachian specialties? She brought her healthy and tasty Veggie (sort of) Chili to round out the feast.

After we finished our chili and potatoes, I got to work on the dumplings. The blackberries I had procured from the luscious Wednesday Santa Monica Farmer's Market amidst chef chatter and the unmistakable voice of Laura Avery. This market is so good for the soul!

This was probably one of the easiest desserts I've ever made. If you like cobbler, you'll love these dumplings as it's basically cobbler made on the stove top rather than in the oven.

Bessie’s Blackberry Dumplings from the Smithsonian Folklife Cook Book via  “Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine: The Folklore and Art of Southern Appalachian Cooking” by Joseph E. Dabney
1 quart blackberries
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 cups water
3 to 4 cups self-rising flour
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup shortening
½ cup milk
To make dumplings, fill a large mixing bowl almost full with sifted flour and make a hole in the middle. Mix in buttermilk, milk and shortening. Knead dough, then tear off pieces. Bring blackberries, sugar and water to a boil. Drop in dumpling dough. Cover and simmer until dough is done.
*I cut this recipe in half because a quart of blackberries was too expensive.
I used one small tray of blackberries, 2/3 cup sugar, ½ cup shortening, ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup buttermilk, and 2 cups White Lily Self-Rising flour. I would venture to say that butter would be a delicious substitute for shortening if you don't have trans-fat free version handy.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Lunch: Asparagus, Leek and Gruyere Quiche

Now is the time to stop putting off making your own pie crust. Well, that's what I told myself a few days ago. The joys of working with all kinds of dough are quickly becoming apparent to me. I think the more I work with flour, water, yeast, salt, sometimes butter, sometimes lard, sometimes egg, the more fascinated I become with the all the crazy chemistry that's going on from one recipe to the next. I never considered myself much of a scientist but I have to face the fact that I am dabbling in a kind of alchemy that is more often than not, quite edible.

This quiche is perfect for spring, making brilliant use of two of my favorite vegetables - asparagus and leeks. The flavor is rich and satisfying. I think a mushroom variety of this recipe would work also work well.

Ms. Stewart's pie crust recipe calls for only 4 tablespoons of ice water, but I had to add double that. I looked at other recipes that called for 1/4 cup. So use your discretion. When you think the dough is coming together nicely, stop adding water.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Drop Biscuits

When I was home over Christmas, I went through my mother's old Betty Crocker red recipe box. I adore it. Its stuffed full with all kinds of recipes my mother has collected for lord knows how many years. The recipe cards that came with the box and in monthly installments have long since been thrown out, but the box remains.

In the recipe box, I found many biscuit recipes. One was a handwritten recipe, author unknown and humbly titled "Biscuits". The recipe was so simple and utterly different from the myriad of other biscuits recipes that I've tried. It didn't call for chilled butter (in fact, the butter is melted!) or folding methods or rising or rolling out of the dough. only has 3 ingredients! This recipe exemplifies the 'drop biscuit', meaning you mix up the batter and dollop onto the baking pan. It is so stinking easy and delicious, that to be honest, who really needs chilled butter and rolling pins?

2 cups self-rising flour (I used White Lily)
8 oz sour cream
1 stick of butter

Melt butter, stir in sour cream. Add flour. Mix thoroughly.
Drop into hot buttered muffin tins. (I used a warmed glass pie dish, as you can see)
Bake at 375 deg until golden.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

White Lily Flour & Mexican Vanilla Bean Biscuits

Much ado has been made about this flour. It's been said that this is the only flour to use for biscuits, especially if you're a Southerner. However, Smuckers bought this company up a few years ago and some bakers swear they can tell the difference. Honestly, I wouldn't know having only just recently baked with it myself.

The difference between White Lily's all-purpose flour is apparent upon opening the bag. I thought, wow, this looks like confectioners sugar! When they decided to put 'white' in White Lily, they really meant it! I actually read the label again just to make sure I had the right product because it even clumps up the way powdered sugar does. I'm guessing this has something to do with the soft winter wheat that is used (also the bleaching) to make this flour. This is what the White Lily website has to say about it:
"Soft winter wheat is a variety of wheat that has a low protein content and low gluten content. It is the type of flour recommended for cakes, biscuits, and quick breads. White Lily flour is lower in protein content because the soft wheat is pure-- not blended with hard wheat. Hard wheat has a much higher protein content and gluten content."

I decided to remake the Angel Biscuits with White Lily all-purpose flour and add Mexican vanilla bean as the Lee Brothers suggested in their Southern Cookbook. I also experimented with using all lard instead of 1/2 lard, 1/2 butter.
These were like puffy, vanilla-flecked cookies. I didn't add as much sugar as was suggested in the Lee Bros. recipe. I bet if I had, these definitely would've passed as cookies. These would be lovely with a nice glaze. My cousin suggested eating these with strawberries and cream. I think that sounds delicious.
If you'd like to make vanilla biscuits, just scrape out the beans of one vanilla bean pod into the dry ingredients of whatever biscuit recipe you'd like to use. Mix together. If you want to add more sugar, go for it. The smell of vanilla will quickly fill up your kitchen.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The World's Ugliest Toaster Tarts

I got this adorable little book awhile back called "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It" by Karen Solomon. It contains all manner of goodies - recipes for Coconut Cream Pops, Marshmallows and Jamaican Ginger Beer. I have already made the Fruit & Nut Brandy that was a part of my post on Liqueurs. Delicious.

As a huge fan of Pop Tarts, (my favorites were the Brown Sugar and Strawberry varieties) I was excited to try the Toaster Tarts recipe, a grown-up version of dessert for breakfast. I was impressed that Ms. Solomon included lard in the recipe, as well as the encouragement to use homemade jam. Ha, of course, I didn't use my homemade jam, I used someone else's, but hey, we'll get to that a little later when strawberries are peaking. I also found this recipe to be a good excuse to try my first homemade pie dough. Since that's really what toaster tarts are - mini rectangular pies that are toaster-friendly!

I used Mosswood Farm Store's Wild Yellow Plum Jam that I purchased from them in a tizzy of delight as I had also acquired organic, acorn-finished lard from a local farmer. If you're ever in Micanopy, Florida you must stop by early Sunday afternoon when the farmer's market and bread-baking brick oven are fired up in the back yard. See photos at bottom of page.
But back to the tarts...I am not the neatest of people (see old architecture school models) so my tarts were not pretty, but they still tasted good, which is kinda the point.
The crust overwhelmed the filling which to me is the opposite of a Pop Tart where I always wanted to eat more and more of the crust and just a little of the filling. But this is a radically different crust than a Pop Tart. Very flaky and crumbly. I loved the flavor of the plum jam and thought I could probably get away with using more next time. This is one project where I don't have to worry about having leftovers that may or may not get eaten because they are so easily frozen and toasted for a breakfast treat. So my advice is this: don't worry about how the tarts look, focus on using good quality jam and practicing your pastry dough technique! What a great way to start the day out right!

Toaster Tarts from "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It" by Karen Solomon

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup lard
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 /1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
5 tablespoons ice-cold water, or more as needed

1 cup confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons water

1 egg
5 tablespoons jam, apple butter, or lemon curd, or more as needed

To make the crust, chop the butter and lard into 1/2 inch cubes, and chill in the freezer for about 15 minutes while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor, if you have one. If you don't, mix by hand in a chilled bowl. Add the cold butter and lard, and pulse until combined. If working by hand, quickly coat the butter and lard with the dry ingredients and, working with 2 knives, cut the butter and lard into the flour until it forms coarse crumbs. Add the vinegar and water and combine. If needed, keep adding water, 1 teaspoon at a a time, just until the dough holds together. (The key here is to use as little liquid as possible.
Bring the dough together on a floured surface, cut it in half, shape each piece into a flat rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, wrap each rectangle in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the icing, while the dough chills, stir together the confectioners' sugar and water.

To assemble the tarts, preheat the oven to 350 deg. and beat the egg in a small bowl. Have pastry brush near.
Remove the first dough rectangle from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll it out on a floured surface using a floured rolling pan, keeping it in the best rectangle shape you can muster, about 1/8 inch thick. If the dough gets too soft to work with, chill for 20 minutes in the fridge or 5 minutes in the freezer.

Measure twice, cut once. Grab a tape measure or ruler and nick the edges of the crust to allow for as many 3 by 4 inch rectangles as possible. When you have the sizing right, cut out your rectangles with a pizza cutter, knife or scraper. From 1 dough rectangle, you will likely have 10 to 12 pieces, enough for 5 to 6 tarts. Brush each piece of dough with beaten egg.

Eyeball 2 similarly sized pieces. Spoon 1 scant teaspoon of jam into the center of 1 of the pieces of dough and smooth it over, leaving a 1/2 inch margin on all sides. Cover with its twin piece of dough, egg wash side down and gently flatten the 2 pieces together, squeezing out as much air as possible and being careful not to let the filling leak out on the sides.

With a dinner fork, press the edges of the tart together, and gently poke 3 or 4 sets of holes into the top of the tart. Brush with the icing. Don't worry too much if the icing doesn't go on evenly, as it will become transparent as it bakes. Using your scraper or a spatula, carefully transfer the tart to an ungreased baking sheet.

Assemble the remaining tarts. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or just until light brown. The theory here is that you'll finish baking them later in the toaster oven when you're ready to eat them. If you want to eat them all right away, bake for 10 minutes more, or until golden brown all over.
Repeat the above with the second dough rectangle.

How to Store It
Cooled, prebaked tarts can be kept in a sealable plastic bag in the freezer for 3 months. Toast in a toaster, toaster oven or oven when ready to eat.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Southern Living's Homemade Loaf Bread

This bread is perfect for luscious grilled cheese sandwiches, for dipping in olive oil or pasta sauce or for simply slathering butter and jam on. A tight crumb, thin, crunchy crust and a mild flavor lend to its versatility. Not to mention how easy and fast it is for homemade bread--no long rise times or special equipment (other than a mixer with a dough hook).

Homemade Loaf Bread from Southern Living's 'Our Test Kitchen Secrets'
 1  (1/4 oz) envelope active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup warm water (100-110 deg)
2 to 3 cups bread flour
2 tblsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt

1. Combine first 3 ingredients in bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer; let stand 5 minutes.  Add 2 cups flour, oil, and salt. Beat at low speed, using dough hook attachment, 1 minute. Gradually add additional flour (up to 1 cup) until dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl and pull together, becoming soft and smooth.
2. Increase speed to medium, and beat 5 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (85 deg), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
3. Preheat over to 400 deg. Punch dough down, and let stand 10 minutes.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; shape dough into a 12-inch loaf, and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cut 3 (1/4" deep) slits across top of dough with a sharp paring knife. (The slits release interior steam and prevent the loaf from splitting apart at the sides.) Spritz dough with water just until lightly coated.
5. Bake at 400 deg. for 16 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack. 

Sister Schubert's Buttermilk Biscuits

My obsession with biscuits continues. I know, you're probably totally bored by now. I apologize, but I can't say when my preoccupation with biscuits is going to end.

I had heard so much about Sister Schubert's frozen, par-baked biscuits that I had to try them. Of course, they're not sold in stores in California, so when I was home over the holidays I marched myself over to the freezer case at Publix and picked me up a pack.

I really wanted them to be god awful, but they weren't. They were pretty good. Darn it. But will I ever buy them again? Nope.

Because of one evil little word. Trans-fat. Yep, the famous Alabama biscuits made by the little church lady raising money for charity contain the dreaded partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Here's the quote off the packaging:
"Sister says, "I use no preservatives and only the finest ingredients. You can taste the difference!"

Yeah, right! Another food product trying to come off as wholesome and natural only to find it's a big fat lie. I guess they're hoping that we won't actually read the ingredients or even know what partially hydrogenated soybean oil is. What a shame.