Biscuits and Gravy

Where we come from forms so much of who we are. Many try to ignore their own history, preferring to reinvent themselves as someone who they would like to be. If one eschews one’s past in order to fulfill an external desire, the goal tends to remain elusive.”Write what you know”, goes the oft told literary advice. That advice is wise regardless of the endeavor. Who you are and where you come from give you a unique personality that can never be taken from you.

I teach my film composer students that there are three characteristics to a great film composer: Talent, Personality and Point of View. One could argue  that it is these three traits that make any creative individual stand out. Talent is the ability to create. We all have some form of it, some more than others. Personality is developed over time, based on our experiences and where we come from. Point of view is our unique take on the world and what separates us from one another. This is also developed through experience, education, interests and backgrounds.

My late aunt Koky Dishon was a very powerful newspaper woman and the secret to her success was never forgetting where she came from. Not always were the memories positive, but they influenced her motivation in many areas. She changed the way that women were seen in the press, both from the editorial side and the business side. Change only occurs with great conviction and that conviction needs to be true and honest and strongly rooted. When you are flailing or at a crossroads, remember where you came from. It will always help guide you through.

My wife and I share many traditions from our past. Even though we came from different parts of the country, our histories are quite similar. Our grandmothers cooked similar dishes, our towns were similar in many ways and our parents brought us up believing that we could do whatever we set our minds to and that we would always be loved and cherished. All of that parallel history helped to eventually put us on the same path and discover that we were soul mates. One of the dishes that we share from our past is biscuits and gravy. This is Sunday morning comfort food that we now share with our family.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Flour + 2 Tablespoons
  • 1 Stick Butter + 1 Tablespoon (cold)
  • 1 Pound Spicy or Mild Sausage (loose)
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Cup Buttermilk
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • Pepper

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Rolling Pin
  • Biscuit Cutter (or juice glass)
  • Large Pan
  • Baking Sheet
  • Slotted Spoon
  1. Pre heat oven to 400.
  2. Combine 2 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon baking powder in a mixing bowl.
  3. Cut in 1 stick of butter, a little at a time, until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.
  4. Stir in 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup buttermilk.
  5. Roll out onto a clean, floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick.
  6. Cut into biscuits with a biscuit cutter or anything else round, such as a juice glass. You want discs about 1 1/2 – 2″ diameter.
  7. Bake on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  8. In a pan, break up sausage and sauté until brown.
  9. Remove sausage to a paper towel covered plate, leaving the fat behind.
  10. Add a tablespoon of butter and let melt.
  11. Add two tablespoons of flour and stir immediately until you have a thick rue.
  12. Add 1 1/2 cups milk, 1/2 cup buttermilk and enough water to create gravy consistency and let come to a gentle boil.
  13. Reduce heat and add back the sausage and plenty of ground pepper.
  14. Let reduce for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  15. Split biscuits and ladle over gravy.

Fish and Chips

Fish and Chips is one of those dishes steeped in tradition and every Englishman has a secret. If you want the best fish and chips, get on a plane to London and go to the Seashell. Their secret is no secret. They use really fresh fish and have been serving a long line of patrons every day for 75 years. You tend to do things right after so much practice. For the rest of us try this. I have to admit this is a variation on Jamie Oliver’s recipe. Not exact but close enough to give him credit.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 Russet Potatoes, peeled and sliced into chips
  • 4 Cod Fillets, boned
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 12oz. Beer
  • Pepper
  • 1 Quart Vegetable Oil (about)

Tools

  • Deep Pan or Fryer
  • Mixing Bowl
  • Slotted Spoon
  • Mandolin (optional)
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Thermometer
  • Paper Towels
  1. Pour enough vegetable oil into a deep sided pan to have it deep enough that the fish will be completely submerged. Heat to 300.
  2. Wash and Peel the potatoes. Make sure they are dry.
  3. Cut the potatoes in any shape that you like. I like them somewhere between shoestring and chunky. My mandolin has a blade that is perfect but a knife and a little practice work just as well.
  4. When oil is at temperature, fry potatoes until they are soft, but not brown. Usually about 4-5 minutes. Remove to paper towels.
  5. Turn oil up to 350. Make sure there are no remnants floating in the oil.
  6. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, a turn or two of pepper and egg. Beat well.
  7. Slowly mix in the beer, having a swig or two as you go. You really only need about 8 ounces.
  8. Dredge the fish and carefully slip into fryer, making sure that they are not crowded. You may need to do this in steps. The fish should only take a few minutes until they are browned. Remove to paper towels.
  9. Add the chips back for another minute or two to brown them.

Serve with malt vinegar, salt and pepper.

 

 

 

 

Apple Crumble

I read recently that Campbell’s Soup Company is laying off workers and shutting some plants. I never like to see anyone lose work and I hope that those employees are able to find other jobs or retire and pursue other interests. But seeing the salty, processed, horrible cans of crap go away could not please me more. Even though I grew up on it, I will not miss it.

What I don’t know is why this very established company has declining revenue. I can only hope that it is because of a growing movement of people becoming more educated about what they eat and knowing that processed food is not good for them or their children. One can hope.

Here is another apple recipe. I am assuming that you went out and picked a bushel once you saw I was on an apple run.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Cups Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1 Cup Sugar + 1/4 Cup
  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 1 Stick Butter
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

Tools

  • Mixing Bowls
  • Pastry Knife (optional)
  • 2 Qt. Pyrex Dish
  • Paring Knife
  1. Pre Heat oven to 350.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour and salt.
  3. Cut in butter and mix with a pastry knife or two regular knives until the texture is coarse and even.
  4. Mix the apples with the cinnamon, cloves and 1/4 cup sugar.
  5. Butter the sides of the baking dish.
  6. Spread apples evenly in the bottom of the dish.
  7. Spread flour mixture evenly over the top.
  8. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the crust top turns golden brown.

Penne With Sausage and Fennel

I still love a steaming hot dog from a street vendor or a beer and a brat at Oktoberfest. But there is more to sausage than the “tube steak” that we loved as kids. The ground, seasoned and cased meat is inexpensive, nutritious and has endless possibilities in the kitchen.

Today I offer up a quick and inexpensive pasta. It is power packed with flavor and nutrition. Once you learn to make this you can apply the techniques to a wealth of creative variations.

Keep an eye out for sausages sold individually. This usually means that they are made on the premises and therefore don’t have anything that you can’t pronounce in them. Sausages should only have ground meat and spices. Make sure you always ask if they are locally made, what’s in them and if they are pre-cooked. When they are not at the meat counter, sausages often come 5 or 6 to a package. This is not the end of the world. You can cook them all and refrigerate the unused ones for later. I have been known to snack on one right out of the fridge. You can also freeze them.

Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 2 Sweet or Spicy Sausages
  • 1 Fennel Bulb
  • 1 Red, Orange or Yellow Pepper
  • 2 Garlic Cloves
  • 2 Slices of Pancetta
  • Penne Pasta
  • Olive Oil
  • Heavy Cream (or Half and Half)
  • Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Italian Parsley (optional)

Tools

  • Slotted Spoon or Tongs
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Chopping Board
  • Large Pot
  • Sauté Pan
  • Grater
  1. Dice the pancetta into ¼ inch cubes. I have seen pancetta that comes already diced. This is only a good choice if it is inexpensive. Pancetta is usually sold by weight and you can request as much or as little as you need.
  2. Mince the garlic.
  3. Chop the pepper into bite-sized pieces.
  4. Clean and chop the fennel, removing the tough core and the top. Reserve a few of the fronds (those wispy, green things sticking off the top).
  5. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a good size pan.
  6. While the pan is heating, fill a 4-5 quart pot with enough water (about 5 cups) to cook a couple of handfuls of pasta. Set the heat to high.
  7. In the saucepan, add the sausages. Brown them on all sides.
  8. After they are browned add a splash of water and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Cooking sausages takes some getting used to because the length of time needed will depend on the size and ingredients. When in doubt, cut into the middle of one. Turkey or pork sausages should not be pink.
  9. Set them aside to cool.
  10. 10. Deglaze the pan with a splash of white wine. The idea is to get the stuck bits from the sausages dislodged.
  11. 11. Add a little more olive oil and the pancetta. Cook until slightly crispy. Keep it moving so it doesn’t stick.
  12. 12. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic.
  13. 13. Once this becomes fragrant add the vegetables and stir occasionally.
  14. 14. Cut the sausages into bit sized pieces. Add those back to the pan.
  15. 15. The water should be boiling by now. Liberally salt it and add a couple of handfuls of penne pasta. The great thing about dried pasta is that it keeps and you can cook just as much as you are going to eat. Stir the pasta occasionally.
  16. 16. The sauce should take about the same amount of time as the pasta, about 10-12 minutes.
  17. 17. Turn the heat off of the sauce and add a good splash of heavy cream. You can use half and half if you don’t want to bother with the cream.
  18. 18. Remove the pasta with a slotted spoon or tongs and add it to the sauce. You might also want a splash or two of the pasta water if the concoction doesn’t seem “saucy” enough.

Serve in a bowl with grated parmesan (not the green can, please) and some chopped Italian parsley.

Baked Apples

There are many fancy ways to bake apples, but I find all of them too much and not like my mother used to bake. This should be really simple. I make these at the last minute when I have apples and remember that the kids love them. You can core the apples but I don’t bother.

Makes 4

Ingredients

  • 4 Fuji Apples (or whatever you have)
  • 2 Tablespoons Cloves
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon and/or Cinnamon Sticks
  • 1/2 Cup Light Red Wine or Apple Juice
  • Vanilla Ice Cream (preferable homemade)

Tools

  • Baking Dish
  1. Pre Heat the oven to 375.
  2. Stick cloves in the apples, arranging about 12 evenly in each.
  3. Place in baking dish. I try to use a dish that just holds them.
  4. Dust with cinnamon. If you have cinnamon sticks, wedge one each in the top of the apples.
  5. Pour the wine or apple juice around the base of the apples.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the apples are soft.
  7. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes.
  8. Remove the cloves and serve with a scoop of ice cream.

Apple Pie

I walked into the kitchen the other morning and it smelled like pancakes. All the kids were asleep but the kitchen was a mess. This often happens with our teenagers, the middle of the night munchies. I didn’t think a thing about it other than I was not cleaning up the mess. Hours later, one of them says that he made crepes last night. He had seen my blog and made them. That made my day.

I nearly forgot to make this entry today. Whoops. But it has become fall all of the sudden and one’s heart turns to apple pie. Okay, maybe that is a little sappy. but it is apple season. And, you never know, I may wake up to the aroma of baking apples tomorrow morning.

Ingredients

  • Basic Pie Crust (See April 30)
  • 5-6 Large Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored and sliced thinly
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg (fresh if you have it)
  • 1/2 Teaspoon All Spice
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter

Tools

  • Pie Pan
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Mixing Bowls
  • Mixing Spoon
  1. Prep the pie dough as in other recipe.
  2. Pre heat to 350.
  3. Slice apples. Other tart apples can be substituted or mixed.
  4. Put the apples in a bowl and squeeze the lemon over in order to keep them from browning.
  5. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix. I just use my hands.
  6. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly with the apples.
  7. Lay the bottom crust over the pie pan and gently tuck in. Leave about 1/2 hanging over.
  8. Spoon in the apple mixture, making a pattern if you can be bothered. Remember, it will be covered and eaten before you know it.
  9. Dot the butter over the apples.
  10. Cover with the other dough layer.
  11. Cut off excess and pinch around the edges.
  12. Cut holes in the top to allow the steam to escape. And you thought those were decorative.
  13. Bake for 45-50 minutes. The crust should be golden brown.

Jalapeño Cheese Biscuits

A friend is struggling to lose weight. She has recently taken a supplement to help her achieve the difficult task. I wrote to her to suggest a few of the things I know from my adventures with food and nutrition. The particular supplement that she was taking has no proven benefits whatsoever, and even the hippy-dippy wing nuts don’t even recommend it for weight loss. Alas, after trying many things, she has lost 45 pounds. She has more to go and what I emphasized is the one issue that most people who do lose weight deny. Once it is off, you can never go back to the caloric intake level from before, let alone the eating habits.

I also suggested that she reconsider the supplements, especially not the one she was taking. But maybe I was wrong. She certainly shouldn’t take anything long term, but regardless of its known properties, it worked for her. Maybe it was a placebo effect, but it did have AN effect. My biggest fear is that she will stop taking it, become depressed and start eating chocolate shakes. Then she will blame the lack of supplement on her weight gain.

Some of my favorite and most well respected nutritionists do not recommend any supplements and, based on their logic and the lack of empirical evidence, I tend to agree with them. Unfortunately, my favorite nutritionist recommends many supplements at certain times for certain uses that I will not get into here. She is very bright, well educated and is the picture of health, so it is difficult to find fault with her suggestions. But, I need more proof. It just isn’t there. Separating the nutrients from the carrier seems like a bad idea to me. There is plenty of C in an orange and the fiber works in conjunction with the nutrients in the digestive system. Upsetting that balance, even by juicing, seems like a bad idea to me. It cannot be said enough, a diet of whole foods, mainly plants and not too much is the best way to go.

The first time I attempted Jalapeño Cheese Biscuits they came out like rocks. I think they could have been classified as deadly weapons. It turned out that we were making them way too complicated. I now use a recipe adopted from Sally Schmitt’s that she gave me a number of years ago. These are great with Jambalaya.

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 1/8 Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/3 Cup Shortening
  • 1 Cup Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon Jalapeño Pepper, cleaned and finely minced
  • 1 Cup Milk or Half and Half

Tools

  • Mixing Bowl
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Cookie  Sheet
  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Blend the flour, baking powder, salt and cayenne with the shortening. You can use butter if you prefer.
  3. Add the cheddar and jalapeños. Make sure to use as sharp of a cheddar as you can find.
  4. Stir in the milk.
  5. On a greased cookie sheet, space forkfuls of the dough about 2 inches apart. They will spread.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes.