Happy Thanksgiving weekend! Are you still recovering from a day full of over-indulgence coupled with way to much Black Friday shopping and topped off with a few lingering house guests? Yeah me too. And while the best part of this post-Thanksgiving weekend is undoubtedly the leftovers, it somehow feels a bit too easy to just pop open a few Tupperware containers and call it dinner. Instead I try to offer a little something freshly made along with those leftover holiday favorites. But let’s be honest, the best part about Thanksgiving leftovers has to be the sandwiches and while any type of bread will do, Blue Cheese and Chive Biscuits are my favorite. They can turn a simple turkey and leftover cranberry sauce sandwich into something truly outstanding.
I make these biscuits fairly frequently (if you’ve ever been to our house for smoked ribs then you’ve definitely had them) because they’re delicious right out of the oven, they’re fantastic toasted alongside eggs for breakfast and they take simple leftover Thanksgiving turkey (or Easter ham) and turn it into something you could proudly serve guests.
I know hosting for the holidays is a big undertaking… but next time consider doing it for the leftovers!
Blue Cheese + Chive Drop Biscuits
These biscuits are wonderful anytime… along side your morning eggs, as an accompaniment to your summertime bbq or as the vehicle for an amazing turkey sandwich. But the fact that they can be made ahead and frozen really makes them stellar.
2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 oz. buttermilk blue cheese, crumbled
1 large bunch fresh chives, finely chopped
1 cup light buttermilk
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and chives. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.
- Drop dough in 10-12 equal mounds on the cookie sheet. Bake until golden, about 16 to 20 minutes.
*To make and freeze: Follow the instructions above, drop them onto the baking sheet and slide the baking sheet into the freezer. Once the biscuits are firm, place them in a freezer bag or airtight container until you’re ready to bake them. They can be baked straight from the freezer, just add a few minutes to the baking time.
Around this time each summer two things happen in my garden. The squirrels destroy my corn stalks (evil no-good rodents) and my tomato and cucumber plants explode with fruit. An over abundance of tomatoes is never a problem, I use them in salsa and salads of all kinds and for my Sweet Summer Sauce, but cucumbers are a bit more tricky. I’ve attempted to make pickles, only to end up with a soggy vinegary mess. I’ve given some away, but believe it or not a lot of people don’t like cucumbers (I know, can you imagine?!?) and I’ve eaten them simply sliced and in salads, but there are only so many cucumber salads that even this girl can eat! So I set out on a mission to find another use for all these cukes.
My initial thought was that I could try to bake with them like you would grated zucchini, they really are almost the same vegetable after all. In fact I’m sure they would be the perfect zucchini substitute in these Pineapple-Zucchini Muffins and with back-to-school only a few weeks away I think that’s exactly what I’ll do (don’t tell my son). But muffins weren’t what I felt like making amidst this August heat, so I continued to wade through my cookbook cabinet in search of inspiration. And there it was, in the NY Times food section that I had saved from last August. August 15, 2012 had been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and the food world had celebrated it in great fashion. Julia Child— the cooking and culinary legend and inspiration to generations of home cooks. She was “absolutly fabulous”. And here I stood, just days away from Julia’s 101st birthday and in need of cucumber inspiration. “Hmm, what would Julia make?” I thought to myself. That’s when I heard a warbly voice say “Potages aux Concombres!” Okay I didn’t actually hear Julia’s voice from the great beyond, but I did discover an old recipe of hers for cold cucumber soup which sounded perfect but for one exception; to thicken the soup she had used farina— that’s where she lost me. I would rather use a thickener that would add flavor to the soup as well as substance (sorry Julia). A bit more research and I found a vichyssoise recipe that seemed to have some of the elements Julia’s recipe had been missing, namely potato and buttermilk. It was at that moment, in my little New Jersey kitchen that a Julia Child/Cooking Light cold cucumber and potato soup was born.
Bon appétit and happy birthday Julia!
Cold Cucumber & Potato Soup
This soup may not be for everyone, including my children and husband. But that doesn’t mean it’s not delicious and wouldn’t be the perfect first course on a hot summer day.
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, halved and sliced thin
2 stalks celery, sliced thin
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 cup sweet onion, chopped
6 1/2 cups cucumber (about 4), peeled, seeded and chopped
3 cups baking potato, peeled and cubed (about 2)
3 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 cup light buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream (as an homage to Julia)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
snipped fresh chives, for garnish
Greek yogurt, for garnish
- In a large dutch oven over a medium-low flame heat the oil. Add the onion, leek, celery and garlic and cook 6-8 minutes or until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.
- Add to the pot the chopped cucumber, potato, and broth; cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until potato is very tender, stirring occasionally.
- Using an immersion blender (or food processor) blend the cucumber/potato mixture until it is perfectly smooth. Allow to cool on the stovetop for at least one hour.
- Once cool add the buttermilk, heavy cream, salt, and pepper and stir well. Cover and chill for several hours before serving. Garnish with snipped fresh chives and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
As you know by now I cook A LOT. I consider myself fairly well versed in the kitchen and I’d like to think that at least 89.9% of the time I serve my family something that qualifies as tasty (no one can be perfect all the time, right). But for all the success I have in the kitchen there is one area where I’m a big ‘ol failure… bread baking. Bread baking is without a doubt my kryptonite. I’m inexplicably drawn to it and it kicks my butt each and every time. Sure I can make tasty drop biscuits or simple yeast rolls, but what I truly and with all my heart long to make is an eye rollingly delicious, crusty on the outside light and wonderful on the inside loaf of bread. A simple seeded boule or a rustic baguette, bread so delicious it could easily serve as the meal, rather than just the accompaniment to it. I’ve joked that I either need a bread baking class or an intervention! I have yet to participate in either, but I’m head-strong and hell-bent on conquering this bread baking thing and so I intend to keep on trying.
Last week, while my kids were busy visiting their grandparents, I took the opportunity to cook things that I don’t ordinarily get to. While I didn’t make another attempt at my dream loaf, I did do a little baking with surprisingly successful results. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making homemade english muffins for some time now, however most of the recipes I’ve come across require special muffin rings, which I don’t have and I wasn’t sure if I felt like investing in. And so the english muffin idea had kinda been put on the back burner. Then I stumbled upon a recipe that not only called for a standard biscuit cutter, but also for the SAF instant yeast (which I had bought thinking it was the golden ticket to my boule success) I had sitting in my freezer begging to be used. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Once again I found myself giving into the bread baking monkey on my back and giving Buttermilk English Muffins a try.
I was stunned by the results. Seriously, stunned. They weren’t perfect but they were pretty damn close. I met my husband at the front door baking tray in hand singing “I made english muffins…I made english muffins…” (by now he’s become immune to singing and dancing over baked goods.) I couldn’t believe that I actually managed to pull it off. So how’d I do it? Believe it or not, I just followed the directions…
I know just as well as anyone that cooking is about taking what exists and making it your own. Baking on the other hand is nuclear physics. You could do everything according to the book and on the final step set the dial on the particle accelerator just a touch too far to the right and— disaster. Yeah, that about sums up my experience with bread baking. So far so good…so far so good…so far so good…kablooie! But this time I was determined for the outcome to be different. Recipes often give dry ingredient measurements in weights and volumes. I have a kitchen scale but I always considered weighing my flour to be way to Alton Brown and not enough Barefoot Contessa. Turns out I thought wrong. (Damn, I hate when that happens!)
Anyway after the glow of my muffin success wore off I realized I had almost two dozen english muffins on my hands and no kids to help me consume them. Simple toasting and slathering with butter and jam would be fine, but I didn’t feel it did these babies a proper justice. No they really begged for special treatment, something like a key ingredient in a fancy-dish-I-love-but-would-never-make-for-myself. Well there’s only one dish that comes to mind that I love, would never make for myself and includes english muffins— Eggs Florentine baby.
Homemade English Muffins
These are fairly simple to make and will make you feel like the rock-star baker you always pictured yourself to be.
2 cups light buttermilk
3 3/4 cups (1 lb. 5 oz.) bread flour, plus more as needed
4 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast (such as SAF brand)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. canola oil
- Warm the buttermilk over low heat to 120°F. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 200°F and then turn off.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the bread flour, yeast, sugar and salt and mix together with a whisk. Turn the mixer on and add the buttermilk in a steady stream, then add the honey and oil and allow to mix on med-high speed until the dough is almost smooth but still a little shaggy. Reduce the speed to low and allow to mix until all the flour is fully incorporated, about another 3 minutes. (Add a little more flour if the dough is very sticky.)
- Place dough in a non-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the still warm oven to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough onto a work surface well dusted with cornmeal and roll it out to about 1/2″ thick (scatter the top of the dough with cornmeal to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin). Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Transfer the dough rounds onto the prepared baking sheets and repeat with the remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, slide back into the turned off oven and let rise, about 1 hour.
- Remove the baking sheets and preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently transfer the rounds to a dry skillet or cast-iron griddle (trying not to distort their shape in the process) and over medium-low heat lightly brown each side, about 1 minute per side. Return them to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough rounds.
- Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool on a rack before splitting (with a fork) and slathering with butter. (We actually like our english muffins split and toasted, but you can eat them however you like.) Store in a ziploc bag or bread bag for future use. Makes about 21 muffins.
*adapted from williams sonoma
I made the english muffins and the hollandaise sauce for this recipe from scratch, you are under no obligation to do the same. Pick up a pack of store bought muffins and an envelope of hollandaise mix and get to poaching up some eggs.
1/2 tbsp. butter
5 ounces baby spinach leaves, rinsed but not dried
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. white vinegar
4 large eggs
homemade (or store-bought) hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and cook until it just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach in a sieve, pressing gently to remove some, but not all, excess liquid, and set aside
- Fill a glass bowl with hot tap water and set aside. In a high-sided saucepan, combine 4 cups water and the vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir the water to create a whirlpool. Crack an egg into a small shallow bowl and gently slip the egg into the center of the swirling water.
- Allow the egg to cook until the white is opaque and the egg is just firm enough to hold its shape, about 3-4 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, gently lift the egg out of the water and carefully transfer it to the bowl of hot water. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
- To serve, use a fork to split each english muffin and lightly toast. Place one english muffin on each plate. Top each half with a mound of spinach and then a poached egg. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of hollandaise over each egg and serve. Pour remaining hollandaise in a pitcher for additional saucing. Serves 2.
This sauce contains raw egg yolks. If this bothers you look for a recipe that involves cooking the eggs or use store-bought hollandaise (you have my permission).
4 large egg yolks
juice of a lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp. warm water
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted
- In a blender, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne and water. Pulse once or twice to lightly blend, then with the blender running slowly add the warm melted butter, processing until the sauce is thick and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water to thin it.
- Transfer the hollandaise sauce to a glass bowl. Cover with saran wrap and place over a saucepan of hot, but not simmering water, to keep warm.
*adapted from williams sonoma
I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.
Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.
The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.
Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.
Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.
2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper
- Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
- Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.
Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!
6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts
- Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
- Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
I consider myself relatively fearless in the kitchen. I’m willing to try just about any technique, recipe or style of cooking at least once and I’m confident enough in my abilities that I can improvise if/when things go awry. However all that goes out the window when we’re talking about bread baking. No matter how many times I attempt to bake a nice crusty loaf of bread the results turn out disappointing. I don’t know if it’s my own impatience with the whole proofing, kneading, rising process or if I’m choosing overly complicated recipes, but every time without failure… failure.
Since next weekend is St. Patrick’s Day and EVERYONE is officially Irish for a solid 12 hours, I like most of America will be cooking up what we imagine to be true Irish fare… soda bread and something that takes several hours of slow cooking to go along with it. Usually that means corned beef but this year I’ve decided to branch out a bit, to make something that wasn’t so reliant on the quality of the pre-brined corned beef I purchased. Rather I was looking for a recipe that required real honest cooking and that I had more control over (I like control). Anyway I decided that this St. Patty’s my family would be feasting on homemade soda bread and Chicken Stout Stew. Since soda bread by nature is really much more like a quick bread than a yeast bread, I considered it to be far less intimidating and chicken stew with a nice hardy stout in the gravy— how could I miss?
Well it turns out that I couldn’t… The stew was so tasty and my soda bread so successful that we briefly considered changing out last name to O’Greco.
Éirinn go Brách and sláinte!
Irish Soda Bread
This is one of my all time favorite breads. It’s perfect alongside some stew or toasted and slathered with jam for breakfast. It’s easy to throw together, doesn’t require much advance prep and it comes out delicious every time.
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup raisins
4 tbsp. butter, frozen
1 1/3 cups + 1 tbsp. light buttermilk
1 large egg
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and raisins. Using a box grater grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Sir with a fork and set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk together the buttermilk and egg. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Knead the dough a couple of times before forming it into a ball. Place the loaf on the prepared cookie sheet and use cooking sheers (or a sharp knife) to cut a deep ‘x’ across the top of the loaf.
- Bake the bread for 45-55 minutes, until it’s golden brown and a tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool on a rack before slicing.
*adapted from king arthur flour
Chicken Stout Stew
This recipe calls for chicken thighs, which happen to be perfect for slow cooking. I won’t deny that they take a bit more time to trim and clean, but if you were to use chicken breast instead it would undoubtedly be dry and disappointing. I promise that the extra effort will totally be worth it.
6 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, divided
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 1/2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cubed
6 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
7 slices quality turkey bacon, diced
4 cups chopped onion
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can Guinness beer (or other stout)
1 lb. whole baby carrots
12 small potatoes, quartered
6 springs fresh thyme
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
2 cups frozen baby peas
1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt
3 sprigs fresh thyme
- Combine 6 tablespoons flour with salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Trim and cube the chicken and add to the bag. Seal the bag and shake to dredge the chicken thighs in the flour mixture.
- Heat 2 teaspoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken and cook until lightly browned on all sides, transfer to the slow cooker. Continue with the remaining chicken, adding additional oil to the pan as needed, and reserve the seasoned flour that remains.
- Add the diced bacon, onion and garlic to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle the seasoned flour that remains from dredging the chicken over the bacon mixture and cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes more. (The fat and flour will create a light-colored roux.) Add the stout and stir, being sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
- Pour the bacon mixture over the chicken and add the carrots, potatoes and thyme. Pour the broth and Worcestershire sauce over the top and give everything a good stir.
- Cover and cook on medium 4 1/2 hours, until the chicken is falling-apart tender.
- When the stew is nearly done add the frozen peas and allow to continue cooking until the peas are heated through. Meanwhile sautee the mushrooms with the salt and thyme until they are nicely browned and all the moisture in the bottom of the pan has cooked off. Add the mushrooms to the stew, season with additional salt and pepper if needed and serve with a little soda bead.
*adapted from eating well