Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits

tomato cheddar bacon biscuits

The other morning I was waiting for the cable guy to arrive. I’m sure you know the drill—the cable company gives you a window of time and if you’re not home within that slot then you miss your appointment. And this you don’t want to do as it might take another week for them to send someone to fix your problem. Not to mention, despite everyone’s good intentions the repair guy usually doesn’t arrive until the end of the allotted time. So you’re stuck at home for a while.

You don’t need me to tell you about waiting for repair people, however, so let’s instead talk about happier things—like this batch of tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits. While I was biding my time at home, I had this urge to bake something. That said, because I hadn’t been to the grocery store or the farmers market in a few days, and I couldn’t leave lest I miss the cable guy, I decided to challenge myself and bake with whatever I had available.

Since I’m always cooking, you’d think that I would usually have a pretty well stocked larder, but this particular morning I didn’t have a whole lot on hand. For instance, it being summer and all, my first inclination had been to make something with fruit, but I realized I’d eaten the last of my blueberries and peaches over the weekend.



I was also out of sugar and eggs, which ruled out making cakes and cookies. But I did have plenty of cheese, buttermilk, flour, and grape tomatoes. As I poked around the refrigerator, I spotted some bacon in there, as well. And that’s how I came to bake a batch of tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits, which now may be one of my favorite things.

To make these, I followed my usual recipe for biscuits and then added some chopped grape tomatoes, shredded cheddar cheese, along with cooked and crumbled bacon. For good measure, I added a generous shake of black pepper, as well.

If you’re a fan of tomato cobblers or tomato pie, then you will love these biscuits. The soft, buttery biscuit is a perfect vehicle for the juicy tomatoes, while the sharp cheddar and smoky, salty bacon adds depth of flavor, as well. That said, if you don’t eat meat, you can leave out the bacon in these biscuits and they will still be very good, as it’s the tomato and the cheddar that are the true stars.

When my biscuits were fresh from the oven, I scrambled up an egg and made a breakfast sandwich with one while it was still warm. Usually I adorn my breakfast sandwiches with cheese or bacon, but since those items were already in the biscuit, no embellishing was necessary. It was wonderful.



Of course, if you’re like me you know that biscuits aren’t just for breakfast and these savory biscuits are no different. They go well with many things, including soups, salads, and fried chicken. Though they can also be enjoyed simply on their own with a generous pat of cold, sweet butter.

Tomato, cheddar, and bacon biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold butter
4 slices cooked bacon, chopped
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grape tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup of buttermilk

Method:
Preheat the oven to 450°F and grease and lightly flour a baking sheet or a large ovenproof skillet.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper. Stir in the shredded cheddar until well combined. Cut the stick of butter into pieces and work into the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until the flour is crumbly. Stir in the bacon and chopped grape tomatoes. Pour in the buttermilk and then stir until the dough is well combined. It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky.

Pour the dough out on a floured surface and knead for a minute. Now the dough should be smooth and no longer wet. (You can sprinkle more flour on the surface if you find that it’s sticking.) Roll out the dough until it’s 1/4 of an inch thick and then fold over in half.

Using a round cutter cut out the biscuits from the folded dough. (You may have to gather the scraps and roll out again if you run out of room while cutting.) Place the cut biscuits on the greased baking sheet close together (so they rise up, not out) and bake for 15 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.

Yield: 8-10 biscuits

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream

peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream

Sometimes the simplest dishes are the best. Take peaches and cream, for instance. When a peach is ripe and in season, it doesn’t need much to taste good, though a dollop of fluffy, chilled cream brightened with a hint of lime and ginger certainly doesn’t hurt.

Now, Texans love peaches and rightfully so, as Texas peaches are indeed the best. This isn’t brag, just a statement of fact. Trust me—I’ve eaten peaches from all over and Texas peaches are indeed the juiciest and sweetest peaches of all.

If you’re not in Texas in the summertime, then peaches just may well be the thing you miss the most. Texas farmers don’t ship their peaches out of state, as they’re a fragile fruit that don’t travel very well. So if I do find myself home in the summer, I stop at almost every truck or stand by the side of the road and grab a few to eat as I make my way.



This time last year I was in Texas and was driving from Houston to visit my grandma at her farm. Along the way I stopped in Fairfield to pick up a basket of peaches to take to her, as her tree hadn’t produced ripe fruit just yet.

While Hill Country peaches may be the most famous Texas peaches, I believe that Fairfield peaches are mighty fine peaches, too. It’s not for nothing that Fairfield is in Freestone County, a designation that guarantees your peach-eating experience will be a joyful one.

That said, in my recollection most peaches in Texas are freestone, a term that means that the pit doesn’t stick to the fruit; the opposite of freestone is clingstone or cling peaches, as my grandma calls them, where the pit sticks to the fruit. Like myself, she’s not much of a fan.

“Cling peaches are best for pickling,” she told me. “Though if you ask me, that’s a waste of a good peach,” she said. (My first book has a recipe for pickled peaches, if you’re interested.) This sentiment from her, however, wasn’t surprising. While my grandma is famous for her peach pies and peach cobblers, her take on peaches and cream may be her best peach dessert of all.

peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream

On that visit last year, after a simple light supper she took a couple of the peaches I had brought, sliced them, placed them into bowls, and then grabbed some frozen dollops of whipped cream from the freezer. She topped the sliced peaches with the frozen whipped cream and we then tucked into the bowls of peaches and cream. It was heavenly.

The peaches were ripe, juicy, and still warm from the sun. The frozen dollops of whipped cream—a preparation she did to preserve some whipped cream she had leftover from another occasion—was a refreshing topping as the cream was firm and cold yet not heavy as ice cream can be.

peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream

While we could have easily served the peaches with freshly whipped cream, the extra-cold cream was welcome on a hot day. While plain whipped cream is very good, the addition of fresh lime zest and ginger livened up the cream without overpowering the delicate peaches. Likewise, when peaches are in season they don’t need much coaxing to taste good, but if the peaches hadn’t been as juicy or sweet as we like them, gently cooking the slices in a little butter and brown sugar would have been enough to make them shine.

We were silent as we ate our fresh peaches and cream, just enjoying the perfect slices of summertime fruit. When I finished my bowl, I asked her for another. She agreed that another bowl would be good and so we went back into the kitchen, sliced more peaches, and placed them into our bowls with the frozen whipped cream.

peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream

While it didn’t take much effort, these bowls of peaches and cream were the perfect end to a summer day. And we both agreed, that sometimes the simplest dishes are indeed the best.

Peaches and ginger-lime whipped cream

Ingredients:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
8 large ripe peaches, preferably freestone
1 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)
2 tablespoons brown sugar (optional)

To make the whipped cream, first place the mixing bowl and the beater in the freezer for at least 20 minutes so they can chill.

To whip the cream, place in the chilled mixing bowl the cream, sugar, lime zest, vanilla extract, and ginger and then whip with the chilled beater until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over whip the cream. If you’re going to serve the cream with the peaches immediately, skip the next step.

If you’re going to freeze individual dollops of whipped cream so you can serve the cream later, line a sheet pan that will fit in your freezer with parchment paper. Scoop 8 even-sized scoops onto the sheet, place the sheet uncovered in the freezer, and let the cream sit until chilled and hard, about 2 hours. To store the dollops, remove the sheet from the freezer, and then gently place the frozen dollops into a storage container next to each other, placing parchment paper between each layer if you need to stack the frozen dollops.

It’s up to you if you want to serve your peaches peeled or not. I’m fine with them unpeeled but you may prefer them peeled and that’s cool, too. If you want to peel them, bring a medium pot of water to a boil and make an X incision on each axis of each peach. Place the peaches in the boiling water and let them boil for 30 seconds. With a slotted spoon or tongs, remove the peaches and then run them under cold water, gently peeling off the skins. Repeat until all the peaches are peeled.

Slice the peaches, peeled or unpeeled, in half, remove the pits, and then slice each half into 4 slices. Taste the peaches. If they’re sweet and soft enough for your taste, go ahead and place them into bowls and then top each bowl of sliced peaches with a dollop or two of the whipped cream, either fresh or frozen, and then serve.

If the peaches are too tart and hard, you can cook them for a few minutes to make them more sweet and soft. To do this, heat the butter in a large, deep skillet on low heat and stir in the brown sugar. When both the butter and the brown sugar have melted, after about a minute or so, add the peach slices to the skillet. Gently stir the slices until they’re lightly coated in the sugary butter, and then cook for a couple of minutes until the peaches are fragrant, juicy, and soft. Spoon the peaches along with the melted butter and juices into bowls then top with the whipped cream.

Yield: 4-8 servings

Note: This dessert is meant to showcase ripe, in-season peaches. To tell if they’re ripe, they should be soft (don’t squeeze them, though, as they’ll easily bruise) and smell fragrant. If your peaches are firm, let them sit out on the counter overnight and they should be ripe by the next day. You also want your peaches to be preferably freestone, as this guarantees the fruit won’t stick to the pit.

While you can certainly serve the peaches with freshly whipped cream, I’d never seen whipped cream frozen into individual dollops and thought it was a terrific idea, as it makes this a great do-ahead dessert. Matter of fact, if you find that you like having frozen whipped cream on hand, you can easily double the recipe, too.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Spicy zucchini pickles

spicy

Texans love pickles. For instance, it’s the rare gathering in Texas that doesn’t have a pickle plate on display. This platter of tangy vegetables and fruits is not only a satisfying way to get the party started, but also an excellent way to share the bounty of what you’ve put up in the past year.

Though it’s not just on social occasions that Texans enjoy pickles. Nope, Texans eat pickles all the time, as a pickle’s tangy, crisp nature is the perfect foil for many Texan dishes, anything from smoked brisket to chili con queso. Matter of fact, The First Texas Cook Book, which was published in 1887, has two whole chapters devoted to the subject.

While the season for eating pickles occurs year round, the best time to make them is in the summer, when your garden is overflowing with things that need to be eaten or preserved. Typically, when people think of pickles the first thing that comes to mind is a pickled cucumber, which is the most ubiquitous type of pickle. Of course, it has a reason for being so prominent in that a cucumber makes for a fine pickle with its tough skin and firm center. It absorbs the brine beautifully, managing to be crisp and juicy at the same time.

That said, one can pickle just about anything and if you’re like me, this time of year your refrigerator is overflowing with various jars stuffed with things that have been preserved in a brine—sometimes spicy, sometimes sour, and sometimes sweet. When it comes to pickling, I’m an equal-opportunity pickle maker.

spicy

If you’re a fan of cucumber pickles and you find yourself with an abundance of zucchini, allow me to present to you these spicy dill zucchini pickles, a fine way to use up some of the squash that is everywhere this time of year. You may be thinking that zucchini is too soft to pickle and I will admit that they are indeed not as firm as their cucumber counterparts. But don’t worry; zucchini pickles are still crunchy and refreshing with that familiar tangy bite.

Making pickles is not difficult. There are many ways to pickle, but for these zucchini pickles I opt for a quick and easy method. First, I put into my jars a mixture of dill, garlic, peppercorns, spices, and salt. Then I slice my zucchini and pack it into the jars. I boil some vinegar and water, pour it over the zucchini, put on the lid, and then place it in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Before you know it, you’ll have a jar or two of pickled zucchini that are fine enough for eating on their own but also add life to sandwiches, salads, hamburgers, hotdogs, or even tacos, if that’s your style. You can also toss the pickled zucchini with sour cream for a quick creamy side dish. And if you're feeling extra decadent, it would make for a fine basket of fried pickles, too.

spicy

If you’ve never had pickled zucchini, the concept may seem a little strange, I know. But once you take a cool, crisp bite and taste its sour, spicy flavor, I believe you’ll stick your fork in the jar and reach for more. After all, Texans love pickles.

Spicy dill zucchini pickles
1 pound zucchini
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs dill
4 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
2 teaspoons crushed dried jalapeño or crushed red chile
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup water, plus more warm water as needed
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
2 sterilized quart-sized jars with lids and bands

Slice the zucchini into 1/4-inch round slices. Divide the garlic, dill, salt, peppercorns, mustard seeds, crushed jalapeño or red chile, and cumin seeds between the two jars. Pack the sliced zucchini into the jars.

In a medium saucepan, combine the water and vinegar and bring to a boil. Evenly pour the boiling liquid into each jar, filling any remaining space with warm water, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Put the lids on the jars and give them a good shake.

Place the jars in the refrigerator. The zucchini will be ready in 4 hours, though their flavor will only improve after a couple more days.

The zucchini will last refrigerated for 1 month.

Yield: 2 quarts

Notes: This recipe can be easily doubled, tripled, or cut in half. While I prefer round pickle slices, you could also cut the zucchini into spears, if you prefer.

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