Sunday, May 20, 2012

Buttermilk Biscuits

Do you swear by butter? Shortening? Butter and shortening? Lard? Roll? Pat? Beaten biscuits? Should you add baking soda? Flour from hard winter wheat (Northern - higher protein) or soft summer wheat (Southern - lower protein)? For a simple recipe that home cooks have been making in a recognizable-even-today form since the late 18th and early 19th century, there are a myriad of variations based on location, availability of ingredients and the state of your household economy.

Countless women (and men, I'm sure) have made batches of biscuits every morning - and some every night. They are 'quick' (non-yeast) breads that in their best form have a great rise, are sturdy enough to hold up to a sausage patty and egg or gravy or, sweetened with a little sugar, a load of fresh strawberries and cream. ...or just a smear of butter and some honey or jam.
If you don't already have a buttermilk biscuit recipe that you think is perfect, give this one a try.

For me, I don't stock shortening or lard and I never remember to buy White Lily (or  King Arthur) soft, summer flour. I don't even have buttermilk in my refrigerator on a regular basis, but I have discovered powdered buttermilk - a righteous and more than acceptable substitution in baking applications. I've included three other buttermilk substitutions in the recipe.

I cut in the butter (refrigerator cold) with my fingers so that the pieces are not entirely uniform - some little pea-size pieces and others that I've rubbed between my fingers into thin flakes. After I've cut in the butter, I stick the flour and butter mixture in the freezer for about 15 minutes before I mix-in ice-cold water (or buttermilk, if you're using it). There are some other tips and all are in the recipe after the jump.

Baking powder. Must. Be. Fresh. If you don't bake too often, buy the little can and throw out what you haven't used once a year. Just do it. Don't make this recipe or any quick bread or biscuit recipe until you: (a) check the expiration date on your baking powder; and if it has passed (b) buy a new can. The small cans are pretty cheap. I also use 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda. Too much of either and there's a noticeable 'off' flavor, but 1 1/4 tablespoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda passed my "Super Taster's" (my cooking compadre, Lynn - her palate is more sensitive than mine) taste test.

Biscuit cutters. If you don't have one, don't use a glass - use your knife. The sharp edge of a biscuit cutter or a sharp knife won't drag down the sides of the biscuit. Using a knife to cut your biscuits eliminates the need for re-forming the dough from scraps. Second generation biscuits are never as good as those cut the first time through. Place the biscuits close together on the pan for higher risers and an inch or more apart for crispier tops and bottoms.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Roasted and Stuffed Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin, No-Name Potatoes and Citrus Salad

I swear that this is (probably nearly) the last post for things made in 2011, but it's a great dish that we made for our 2011 New Year's Eve dinner. We'd been planning to make this pork loin roast since October 2011 when Lynn saw it in Bon Appetit. None of the components are difficult for the pork loin but there was a serious error in the original recipe when it came to cooking temperature and time - which I address in the recipe's head notes after the jump. 

Fortunately, others had gone before and there was very good information in the reviews. Ours looked like the roast in the magazine's picture and tasted like something you'd gladly open your wallet to pay for in a restaurant. It was all kinds of awesome.

A pork loin is butterflied, a layer of pre-wilted kale is spread on top, and on top of that a mixture of pork sausage, reconstituted dried mushrooms and apples, thyme and rosemary. The loin is then rolled and wrapped in a layer of prosciutto, tied and garnished with rosemary, browned briefly and roasted.
I was at Sur La Table looking to buy some kitchen twine because Lynn was out. All they had were ridiculously expensive (and small) packages of kitchen twine and these re-usable silicone bands for about the same price.  I have poo-pooed these in the past because tying your own roast or other cut of meat when called for is something you should know how to do.  However... the bands work beautifully, are easy to remove and easy to clean. These bands wouldn't work for every application, but they were perfect for this roast. Yay, technology!
Hello luv-ah!

I can't figure out what to name the potatoes. The closest I've come is "French-Fried Potato Columns" (not entirely accurate and kind of uninteresting), or maybe, "Potatoes Cooked Three-Ways". Ugh. My sister Chris served these a couple of years ago for our family's Christmas Eve dinner and I've been periodically obsessing over them since then.They taste  like french fries on the outside (but are not deep fried) and inside, but are approximately 2" high by 2 to 3" diameter "columns" and so there is a lot of fluffy potato in the middle. I don't eat potatoes very often and when I finally got around to asking her how she made them she didn't remember, didn't know where she'd found the recipe or even if there was a recipe. My research proved fruitless - I couldn't find anything exactly like what I remembered.
The potato "columns" drying after being boiled. After they've dried, the tops and bottoms are sauteed until they're a deep golden brown and then they're popped in the oven for about 15 minutes..

When we were out picking up the roast at Tacoma Boys (on 6th Ave. - great store) and other ingedients for the 2011 Christmas Eve dinner, I cornered her in the cracker aisle and wouldn't let her leave until she'd remembered how she made them. Which she did. I made a test batch for my sister Sara's family and got a unanimous thumbs up.

.The citrus salad was all Lynn's idea: a variety of greens, grapefruit supremes, toasted pecans and avocado in a grapefruit and Sherry vinegar vinaigrette. It was a perfect balance to the rich pork.

It was truly a wonderful way to mark the end of 2011.

RECIPES (after the jump):
- Roasted and Stuffed Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork Loin
- No-Name Potatoes
- Salad with Grapefruit, Toasted Pecans, Avocado and a Grapefruit Vinaigrette