Down-home American Cuisine

Two weeks ago, Chow suggested we invite friends over to her house and cook a dinner that relied on a new cookbook she had received. The cookbook contained only “down-home” classic American dishes, organized on a state-by-state basis. Of course, I’m up for trying to cook almost anything in the kitchen, especially if it is someone else’s kitchen!

The main course of the meal was “Kansas Fried Chicken”. Having a lot of relatives in Kansas and having lived there a year before moving to Thailand, I can’t rightly say what distinguished fried chicken as “Kansas” fried chicken. This was only my second time trying to make fried chicken and I have to say, keeping the oil temperature consistent around the 350 F target is a pain in the neck.

The end result turned out pretty well. The chicken isn’t brined or marinated. Simply pat it dry, sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika, and then dredge in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, and I added some chile powder. The result was super. The chicken remained moist and with sufficient salt, very flavorful. Afterwards, I used a few tablespoons of the oil to make the best gravy I’ve ever made.

If you have gravy, you might as well have some biscuits, right? These were another recipe from the cookbook and, oddly, they used vegetable oil rather than a solid fat such as butter or Crisco. The texture was tender although I think my biscuit recipe (from my mother) is better. The Crisco in the recipe gives it a flakier texture.

Side dishes included a baked spinach casserole. The bread crumbs Chow used were panko, the Japanese bread crumbs used in tempura. The dish was very dry; not sure if something more was meant to be added to the greens. It was tasty, though.

The asparagus side dish was fantastic. It used cream of mushroom soup straight from the can, spread in alternating layers with the asparagus and then baked. On the top are crushed Cheese-It crackers. 

Used this opportunity to break out a jar of the pickled green tomatoes and shallots that I made a month ago. These were great. I need to figure out somewhere to get a larger quantity of green cherry tomatoes so I can pickle more.

Dessert was a cherry and blackberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Nice and simple, keeping with our Americana theme.

 

Lavender Lemon Buttermilk Scones

This is turning into some sort of an Iron Chef thing where I get inspired by a certain ingredient or combination of ingredients and return to them day after day.  In this case, I had pulled the lavender from the back of the cupboard and resolved that I had better start using it before it went bad, combined with a good price on lemons at the Gourmet Market at Emporium.  Continuing on the theme, I decided to try a recipe for Lavender and Lemon Buttermilk Scones.

Now, buttermilk biscuits are one of my specialties, one of the few recipes that I can make (and actually follow the recipe!) from memory and that I can turn out consistently, time and time again.  Scones and biscuits are relatives and the biscuits I make reminded a former British roommate of mine of scones, so I figure I can move from one to the other pretty easily.

The recipe I used was from the EatLocal blog on WordPress, but like many similar versions of the recipe I found online, this one was credited as being adapted from Leslie Mackie’s “completely fabulous” Macrina Bakery Cookbook, so that’s maybe where credit is really due.

Lemon Lavender Scones

2 cups flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp grated lemon zest
2 tsp dried lavender, divided use
4 tbsp chilled butter
½ cup nonfat yogurt
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Heat oven to 400°F.  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest, and 1½ tsp of lavender.

Cut butter into pieces and cut into dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or crumble in with your fingers.  Separately, whisk together yogurt and buttermilk. Combine wet and dry ingredients to form a dough that will be wet and sticky.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times, then shape into a square about 1′ thick. Using a kitchen knife, cut the dough into eight triangles.  (As you can see, I used a biscuit cutter for a round shape.)

Transfer to an oiled baking sheet (I just used parchment paper instead of oiling and brushed the tops of the scones with cream) and bake 20 minutes, or until scones are golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet. Meanwhile, dissolve powdered sugar in lemon juice and mix in ½ tsp lavender, then drizzle over scones.

I wasn’t terribly patient – we were hungry and had a condominium juristic meeting to attend – so I put the sugar-lemon glaze on while the scones were warm, so instead of glazing it just absorbed.  Still, they tasted really good.  The tops also cracked, which leads me to believe I should have turned the oven down a little.  My oven is a convection and I think you’re generally supposed to cook at a slightly lower temperature but I don’t always heed this advice.

Anyhow, hope you enjoy these scones as you begin your weekend!

Ginger Macadamia Cranberry White Chocolate ANZAC Biscuits

P1020633 April 25th was ANZAC Day, the annual commemoration of the important role played by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp in World War II, especially in the bloody campaign in Gallipoli, Turkey.  To be perfectly honest, none of this would have been at the forefront of my consciousness, had Jacquie not sent Michael a box of ANZAC biscuits, an eggless cookie popularized by the wives and girlfriends of ANZAC soldiers.  These oat cookies had a long shelf life and could withstand the rigors of being shipped halway around the world to their loved ones on the front lines.

Jacquie’s version differed from the ubiquitous one on the internet by the addition of ginger powder and toasted macadamia nuts.  They looked scrumptious and since Tawn and I were going to have guests over for dinner last weekend, I decided to bake a batch.  Along the way, I spontaneously decided to add some left-over white chocolate that was in the fridge as well as a handful of dried cranberries.

This is the recipe Jacquie provided with only minor modifications by me.  An original recipe without nuts and ginger is located here.

Ginger Macadamia ANZAC Biscuits

1/2 c unstalted raw macadamia nuts
3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t powdered ginger
1 1/2 c rolled oats
3/4 c granulated sugar
1/2 c dried shredded coconut
2 T boiling water
1 1/4 T golden syrup (or corn syrup)
1 t baking soda
4 oz butter

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First step is to preheat the oven to 180 C / 375 F and, once warm, toast the nuts for a few minutes, stirring them to ensure even toasting.  Remove when golden brown and aromatic and let cool in the pan.  Then chop the nuts with a knife making the pieces not too large (they’ll fall too easily out of the cookie dough) but not so small that you lose the nice crunch of the nut.

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Next step is to mix all the dry ingredients – except for the baking soda! – together.  You may get the impression that there isn’t enough flour, but have faith that it will come together in the end.

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Melt the butter on the stovetop.  In a separate bowl, add the boiling water, golden syrup (which is a sugar cane based syrup – you can substitute corn syrup), and baking soda.  Whisk briefly to set the soda bubbling then stir in the butter.  Set aside for five minutes to allow it to cool slightly.

Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture, stirring throughly to combine.  At this point, I decided to add a few more items: a handful of dried cranberries and about a 1/3 cup of coarsely chopped white chocolate.  These were wonderful additions although by no means necessary.

You can then wrap the dough tightly and place in the refrigterator for fifteen minutes to firm it up slightly, making it easier to handle.  If your kitchen is nice and cool and you aren’t having that problem, no need to refrigerate!

Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper then portion the dough onto the sheets.  A heaping teaspoon full of dough should be enough, although you may want to experiment with sizes should you prefer a larger cookie.  Bear in mind that these cookies will spread so don’t crowd them together.  If you put the trays back into the refrigerator until baking, it will slow the spread.

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Bake one sheet at a time in the oven for about 12 minutes or until golden brown, turning halfway through the baking to ensure even cooking.  Cooking for a little longer will make for a crispier cookie.  After taking the tray out of the oven, let the cookies rest on the tray for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack.  Let cool and enjoy!

As for the rest of our dinner, I prepared some nice crostini as an appetizer:

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Balsamic-vinegar roasted sweet peppers on basil pesto.

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Black olive and caper tapenade.

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A fresh salad with feta, candied pecans, and cherry tomatoes.

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A ham, black olive, and fresh mozzarella pizza.

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And the real winner of the day, a white pizza with a simple white cream sauce, thinly sliced rosemary potatoes, a scattering of mozzarella cheese, and red onions.  Divine!

 

Finally Success with Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits

After a few attempts at making Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits to serve as little brunch sandwiches, I finally arrived at a recipe I like.  May I share it with you?  The original attempts, based on a recipe shared with me by W, resulted in very soft, somewhat oily spoon-drop biscuits, shown below.

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For subsequent attempts, I reverted to using my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe as a starting point, based on a recipe my mother gave to me.  Finally, I got the recipe to a point I’m happy with for a brunch this past weekend.  I made little round scrambled eggs with some fried pancetta on top, added some spinach leaves and made a biscuit sandwich out of them.

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I bought a pair of non-stick steel rings to form the eggs.  A few chopped green onions and some cream cheese mixed in with the eggs make them nice and tasty.  The pancetta was from the market, sliced thin to order and then fried for just a few minutes to crisp it up.

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The end result were these lovely, flaky sandwiches.  The only thing I forgot was to add some chopped green onions to the biscuits themselves.  Here is the recipe for the biscuits.  I’ll let you figure out the sandwich part on your own.  You can also use smoked salmon as a filling instead of pancetta.

 

Buttermilk Parmesan Biscuits
Makes 10 biscuits (more or less, depending on cutter size)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
2 Tbsp butter, chilled
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp minced green onions (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and thoroughly mix.  Cut the butter and shortening into the dry ingredients, forming pea-size crumbs.

Combine the shredded Parmesan cheese into the mixture, ensure that it is evenly distributed.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk.  Mix with a fork until combined.  Be careful not to over-mix; the goal is to make sure the ingredients are just combined.  If desired, mix in the minced green onions.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and fold the dough over on itself five or six times, forming layers.  Pat the dough to an even thickness of about 3/4 inch (you can make it thinner or thicker depending on how thick you want your biscuits to be) and use a biscuit cutter to cut the biscuits.  When you cut the biscuits, don’t twist the cutter.  This seals the edges of the biscuits and retards their rise in the oven.  Better to just cut by pressing straight down.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet (no need to oil it although you can use parchment paper if you like) and bake immediately in a 425 F over for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and serve while still hot.

Notes:

You can substitute 1/2 cup of the unbleached flour with whole wheat flour for a healthier, whole grain biscuit.  They won’t puff up quite as much so row them a little thicker than you otherwise would. 

If you don’t have buttermilk available, you can substitute regular milk.  Before you make the biscuits, take 3/4 c of milk less one tablespoon, and mix in one tablespoon of white vinegar.  Let sit for ten minutes and then stir.  The milk will have thickened a bit, producing a similar texture and taste to buttermilk.

Enjoy!  Feedback always welcome.