Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Simple Goodness

I think one of the first African-American heritage cookbooks I purchased was Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine. It really inspired me to get serious about preserving my family's recipes. I used it to make my first strawberry shortcake. I became a fan of the biscuit version. The sponge cakes just don't do shortcake justice.

I walked into the grocery store recently and spotted a huge container of strawberries on sale. It was on!!! Strawberry shortcakes would be a treat. It was 66 degrees outside in April and I was going with the flow. It was the warmest it had been in Chicago since October.

After my recipe search, I chose one from Cook's Illustrated. I was intrigued by the recipe because the biscuit contained an egg. The recipe promised a "light, rich, cake-like biscuit." How could I not try it?

The recipe starts like all biscuits: mix the dry ingredients. I'm new school; biscuits and pastry dough are a job for the food processor. Miracle is always up to the task. As always, baking is a science; weigh your ingredients.
Cut up your frozen butter. I like to use a bench scraper for this.
Toss the butter in the flour mixture. Process using short pulses until the mixture has a sandy texture.
Dump the contents of the food processor into a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Add the liquid ingredients.
Mix with a spatula, gently, just until large clumps form.

Flour your board.
Place the dough on the board and knead it just enough so that it comes together. Be gentle! Shape into a rectangle.

Flour the biscuit cutter and make your rounds. Place them on a baking sheet and brush with a beaten egg white. Sprinkle with sugar.

Here's my secret. This was a recipe for six. I chose a smaller cutter and made 12 rounds instead. When you have a sweet tooth as big as mine and you live alone, you have to learn how to make desserts work for you. So now when I want something sweet, I can have a full-flavored dessert with a fraction of the calories. I'm all about mini sizes and individual portions.

Bake at 425 degrees.
Aren't they cute?

As you bake, you can get started on the berries. After they have been washed and hulled, grab your potato masher and go to work on a third of them.

Slice the remaining berries. Mix the crushed and sliced together. Sprinkle with sugar. I used some Splenda.

Let these sit for no more than two hours. They will keep longer than two hours, but the texture will degrade.

Let's whip some cream. I shamelessly admit that I stole this idea from Katy at Sugarlaws.com: balsamic whipped cream. Just add some balsamic vinegar along with your sweetener (Splenda for me) before you whip the cream. I enjoy strawberries with balsamic vinegar, so Katy's post sounded promising.

I think were ready to bring it all together. Split the biscuit by hand. Add a generous amount of strawberries.
Top with a dollop of whipped cream. Wow. Take a bite of the new season.

Tools of the trade:

Saturday, April 26, 2008


I gave up red meat and pork in the mid-90s. It wasn't for religious reasons. I'm African-American an I believe the overuse of pork in soul food is one of the reasons so many of us are obese and are plagued with diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. I really don't miss beef, with the exception of a Whopper. (I know this proves I was unworthy of eating beef in the first place.) I do have to say that I think pigs are gross. I have now officially been disowned by the state of Arkansas and the folks in New Orleans are eyeing me suspiciously.

Moving on. Turkey rocks! I know that given what I said above, this may seem biased. I really do like turkey and I think it makes an excellent burger. (It kicks butt as sausage too.) It can be dry, so you have to help it out in the moisture department. Following are tricks I stole from Martha Stewart and Paula Deen to make a moist burger.

Martha's old show featured a discussion about the James Beard method of using an ice cube in the center of the burger. The particular guest chef on the show talked about using a pat of frozen butter in the center. (Culver's fans, sit up and take note.) They also discussed simply seasoned burgers -- salt and pepper and maybe the edition of parsley. Paula Deen added water to her burgers. Combine the idea of frozen butter and water and the moisture problem is solved.
Let's do it. Grab your parsley.

Get your kosher salt and pepper. I never measure for this recipe and I always throw the seasoning into the bowl before the meat.

Here's where I differ a bit. For turkey burgers, I have to have Worcestershire sauce. Add a couple of dashes and a little bit of water. Toss in the parsley.

Grab a pound of turkey. Use the 93% lean.

Mix everything well, but don't overdo it. You don't want to toughen the meat.

Portion into four pieces. Take a portion and begin to shape into a burger. Make it thick. Place a piece of frozen butter in the middle. I used a half tablespoon. Form the meat around the butter.
Fry or grill. When you're done, you'll have this!

Tools of the trade:

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sunny Side

I am trying to do better about managing my food budget. There are occasions when I forbid myself to go to the store because I have a full pantry and freezer. It was one such weekend when I came up with my artichoke and sun-dried tomato side dish. I think it was especially warm in Chicago that weekend, so this dish was also a tribute to spring sunshine.

Let's get to it. I started with frozen artichoke hearts.
I thawed them and placed them on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Next I drained sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil and sprinkled those on top.

Now time for the oil. I am a firm believer in infused oil. Add whatever flavors you want to cold oil and heat it all together over low heat. Today's mix included fresh garlic, red pepper flakes, lemon zest and dried Italian seasoning. I added kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper too.
Drizzle this over the artichoke hearts and tomato. Reserve a little of the oil to dress the dish at the table. Roast until the veggies take on a little color.

Plate and eat!

Tools of the trade:

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Bird

I eat a lot of chicken. I don't eat red meat or pork, so I get more than my fair share of the bird. When I feel like impressing myself, I roast a whole chicken the old fashioned way. Let's get to it.
Start with a brine: salt, sugar, peppercorns, lemon, garlic and rosemary.
I also add aromatics to the roasting pan. (I always toy with the idea of gravy.)

After you're done brining. Pat the chicken dry. Rub it with oil and add aromatics to the cavity.

Here is where the Southern black woman in me departs squarely from the Food Network personalities I love. Season and I mean really season the outside of the bird. Fresh herbs are of no use here; they'll burn. Dried is the way to go. Use plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a slight sprinkling of kosher salt.

Roast breast side down for about 30 minutes. Flip the bird to roast breast side up and continue roasting until done. The juices will run clear.

Tools of the trade:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rising To The Occasion

If you have a better dinner roll recipe than Rose Levy Beranbaum, email me immediately! In the meantime, here is the best yeast roll ever. This is from the venerable The Baking Bible. I'm warning you now, bread baking is about patience. It's also about precision, so please buy a food scale.

These rolls start with a sponge. A sponge is a way to develop flavor. You mix part of the ingredients until they become thick batter. You then sprinkle the rest of the dry ingredients on top. Cover and let ferment for several hours. I love to do all of this in the bowl of my KitchenAid. I'm glad I invested in the lids for the bowl too. The sponge will bubble through the dry ingredients.
Add the melted butter and mix for a minute. Allow the dough to rest.
Now, put your mixer to the test and knead for 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and allow it to rise for two hours.

This picture doesn't do it justice, but it has doubled in size.

Take the dough out and gingerly fold it. Allow it to rise for two hours.

Yep. It doubles again.

Shape the rolls and dip them in butter. Allow them to rise. Hey, you only have to wait 1 1/2 hours this time. You saved 30 whole minutes!

Your patience has been rewarded. Look at these ... okay, ignore the camera shadow.

Get these to a hot oven!! Now, the directions say to create a little steam by allowing a pan to preheat on the floor of the oven and then add ice cubes to it. I skipped this method on this batch. The rolls were still tasty. They had a nice bottom crust because I placed the pan on my baking stone.

Tools of the trade:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Joyous Vanilla

My uncles love "white ice cream." Pass around a bottle of Brer Rabbit Syrup and they are the happiest men I've ever seen. Our family's favorite, as well as most of Little Rock's, when it came to ice cream was Yarnell's.

Sadly, I must admit that I have moved on. A friend and his family drove from Chicago to Louisiana. I told him that they had to stop in Arkansas and bring me back some Yarnell's. We did a taste test and my beloved Yarnell's lost to his Blue Bell. I was shocked. Then I looked on the back of the container and I felt like the little kids in the Breyer's commercials trying to pronounce the unnatural ingredients.

Okay. All of that was the setup for this vanilla ice cream. I've made vanilla ice cream before (and I still enjoy my Ben & Jerry's.) I knew that when I made the molten chocolate cakes, homemade vanilla ice cream was the proper accompaniment. I have just two ice cream books, William-Sonoma Ice Cream and Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book. Trust me. You won't need any other recipes. This recipe is from Williams-Sonoma. Here's the online recipe.

Start with the vanilla bean. Take a fresh bean and split it in half lengthwise. You know your pod is fresh if it is pliable. Older beans are dry and brittle. Try to buy beans in a jar, so that they are moist. Scrape the seeds out using the back of a paring knife.

Add the seeds and pod to a pot of dairy.

Heat on medium heat for five minutes, or until bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Okay, so I had bubbles all over the pan.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and remaining dairy in a bowl. Temper the yolks with the warm mixture.
Everybody back in the pool! Cook over low heat, stirring constantly. You'll know when the custard is thick enough because it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. When you draw your finger across the spoon, it will leave a trail that won't fill back in.

Now, set up a straining and rig: large bowl of ice. Smaller bowl nestled inside. (I like using an 8-cup measuring cup.) Place a strainer over the smaller bowl. Strain the custard.

Once it's strained, stir occasionally to cool (don't let a skin form.) When it's cool enough to refrigerate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Make sure the wrap is touching the top of the custard. Refrigerate overnight. Now you may entertain yourself by licking the spoon.

Time to break out the ice cream maker!!! I use a KitchenAid stand mixer and the Ice Cream Maker Attachment. This is a great combo if you are short on counter or storage space. I store the attachment in the freezer. That way it's ready when I need it. Turn the mixer on and pour in the custard.

After you've finished churning, you can eat it soft serve or freeze it. Here mine is dished up next to a molten chocolate cake.

Tools of the trade: