Cheddar-Scallion Drop Biscuits

It’s January and I’m in full hibernate mode with soups and stews overloading my stove and palette.  I love them creamy, brothy, rich and thick; I’m there.  One thing I love even more than a good soup is bread to go with it though (see here for an example).  Last year, on an impulse, I bought the Cook’s Illustrated Soups and Stews magazine and found this recipe for drop biscuits.  Its simple, it’s delicious and I am obsessed with these biscuits.

I love biscuits and have since I was a small child. Biscuits meant that there was soup or something delicious to eat, usually slathered in butter.  Then I was obsessed with some Pillsbury ultra flaky ones that peeled apart into layers (which I may have loved simply by dint of the fact that they looked like pages stacked together and baked).  But as I (and my palette) grew up and learned more about baking I grew away from the Pillsbury biscuits in a tube and started to look for a perfect biscuit recipe.  My sister obsessively made some from The Joy of Cooking but I found them a bit dry and wasn’t a fan.  So I kept searching.

I got this issue of Cooks Illustrated for the ramen recipe (which I still haven’t tried; I really need to get some good miso) but instead found this little gem regarding perfect drop biscuits.  I tried it, thinking that at worst it would cost me some flour and buttermilk.  These were perfect, flaky and chewy without being messy or crumby.  These are flexible; I used them later to make shortcakes by adding some extra sugar and cinnamon and I almost always add a handful of good quality cheddar cheese and a few spices.  I love a recipe that is flexible like this and will move to be whatever I want.  Also there is none of that classic cutting butter in.  An ingenious method involving melted butter and really cold butter milk makes really consistent butter chunks evenly distributed into a simple flour mixture.

Cheddar-Chive Drop Biscuits
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated: Soups & Stews

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup scallions, chopped finely
1/2 cup good quality cheddar cheese (I used Cabot)
1 cup buttermilk (straight from the fridge and v cold)
1 stick (8 Tbs) butter, melted and allowed to cool a little bit

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.  Add the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, baking soda, scallions, and cheese to a large bowl and whisk them until evenly mixed (5-6) stirs.  In a separate bowl, or a 2 cup measuring cup, mix together the melted butter and buttermilk.  It will look lumpy and it will not be pretty, that’s ok.  It will taste delicious.  Add the butter/buttermilk to the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until just mixed, again 5-6 stirs.  Scoop out the biscuits onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush some additional melted butter or some milk on top of the biscuits or sprinkle some extra cheese on there.  Bake them for 10-12 mins.  They will be a light golden brown and totally delicious.  Enjoy these biscuits with whatever you want; I like mine at breakfast with an egg and some hollandaise or served with whatever soup I’ve made most recently.  Perfect.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup for the Big Kids

I love the fall.   I love the cold and the wonderful excuse it makes for me to crank the oven up and bake, or the way that cold also makes me think of nothing but soup for endless days.  So, naturally this is something for both of those fall loves, baking and soup – because what’s a good soup without something warm and bready to dip into it?  These pretzels started as an idea – germinating in the recesses of my brain as away to make yeast bread and maintain the deliciousness that is a fresh soft pretzel.  I have made them time and again since they first showed up in the issue of Bon Appetit where I found them.  And the soup – the soup is a symphony of tomato – it was the perfect late fall soup, especially with the plentiful amount of late summer tomatoes on the farmer’s market recently.

When childhood memories come up for me I usually see some sort of florescent mac and cheese or the time when I was 6 and made my mom Spaghetti-O’s for dinner, so the whole grilled cheese and tomato soup thing is just not something I ever ate as lunch on a cold fall Saturday.  But here I was – friday night, clean kitchen, and tomato soup and grilled cheese were on my mind, so I morphed it.  I created my favorite pretzels but riffed them with some cheap grated cheese stuffed in and roasted tomato soup – a little more decadent than Campbell’s but damn, that was divine.  And while I am not usually a fan dipping my pretzels in anything but mustard, they were perfect in their cheese-filled goodness as something to dip in this soup.

I know I already talked about my love of soft-pretzels recently, but is there anything better, seriously?  With their rich dark crust and that heady soft interior – it’s one of my favorite taste and texture combinations. And these ones are great because they are a little bit sweeter and darker than the average bear – something to do with brown sugar, and let’s face it brown sugar makes everything so-much-better.  The tomato soup was a really wonderful set of flavors – dark, with the roasted flavor, but still so light as to marry brilliantly with this pretzel.


I won’t tell you that pretzels are an easy feat; they’re not – you need patience to make pretzels with the two risings and the par boiling in beer/baking soda/brown sugar but it’s totally worth it.  So here you go – take the time to make these – you won’t regret it or feel like your Saturday was wasted.  I promise.

Cheese Stuffed Pretzels and Roasted Tomato Soup
Note: These are superb together but don’t be afraid to make them separately.  Also I’ve recently been thinking that the pretzels would be great with some sort of cream cheese filling.  If you try it, let me know how it goes!

Roasted Tomato Soup
8 large tomatoes, cut into eighths (about 4 lbs)
salt and pepper
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion quartered
1/2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme

Line tomatoes and onion on a large parchment paper lined baking sheet (cut side up) and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until the tomatoes have started to caramelize.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 20 minutes.  In a large pot, add a little more olive oil and sauté the garlic over med heat for 2-3 mins.  Add the thyme and rosemary, and saute for another 30 secs or so.  Add the roasted tomatoes and onion to the garlic and herb oil and stir it all together.  Let the whole thing come to a simmer and, using an immersion blender, pulp it all together until it is smooth and even.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, just let the soup cool and blend it in batches in either a blender or food processor. Serve warm, garnished with some fresh basil and grilled cheese (or cheese stuffed pretzels) on the side.

Cheese-Stuffed Pretzels
Adapted, fairly closely, from a recipe in Bon Apetit, March 2009
1/2 cup warm water (you should be able to hold a finger in it for about 5 secs and it should feel warm)
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 Tbsp packed dark brown sugar
3/4 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
2 cups flour, if you have bread flour go ahead but All purpose is just fine
1 1/2 tsp salt, I used kosher
Oil, for the bowl and rising dough
2 Oz shredded cheese (cheddar is better, next time I’ll probably use fresh, grated, extra sharp cheddar)

Mix the yeast into the hot water and let it rest for about 5 minutes, until bubbles start to form and you get a nice “yeasty” (that’s a very technical term there, you see?) smell.  Add your buttermilk and both sugars to the yeast mixture, mix well.  In a large bowl, mix flour and salt together with a wooden spoon.  Create a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast mixture gently. Stir this in until fully combined (this is sometimes a little bit sticky).  Oil the bottom and sides of a clean bowl and scrape your dough mixture into the bowl. Drizzle some oil on top of the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator to rise; about an hour, until it’s puffy and about half again as much.

Poaching Liquid
1/4 cup amber beer (I used Shipyard Pumpkinhead but any amber would do – something like Magic Hat No. 9 is good)
1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 Tbs vegetable oil
1-2 Tbs pretzel salt (for sprinkling post-poach)
Water to make the liquid 2 inches deep. Depending on the pot, this varies – the less water you need, the more flavorful your crust, but don’t skip it!

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Bring the beer, water, baking soda, dark brown sugar, and vegetable oil to a simmer in a reasonably large wide pot – I use a soup pot which is great, but a dutch oven, if you have one, is a solid option here too.  Remove the risen pretzels from the fridge and prepare to poach!  I find it easiest to poach these knots using a slotted spoon and poaching one pretzel at a time.  Place one pretzel gently in the bowl of the spoon and lower it into the liquid.  Let it poach on each side for 30-45 seconds and then place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Do this for all eight pretzels.  Sprinkle cheese stuffed pretzels with more of the cheese filling, and regular pretzels with coarse or pretzel salt.  Put them immediately in the oven!  These can’t dawdle around on the counter while the oven preheats, the poaching liquid will seep in and cause the salt to melt resulting in a gummy pretzel (this is bad)!  Bake the pretzels for 12-15 minutes in the middle of your oven, if your oven heats unevenly make sure you rotate the baking sheet or some of the bottoms will be burnt.  Let the pretzels cool for 10 minutes (if you can) and enjoy.  These are particularly good the next day!

Ratatouille, My way

I love Ratatouille and I feel like I have been making it for years, and I guess in a way I have.  I started by making a Greek Caponata one night because in the three months of college that I sprung to get myself cable I watched way too much of the Food Network and Giada made it.  The greek caponata was good in that it had enough flavor but it always made way more than Boyfriend and I could ever eat in a single sitting and the leftovers usually went bad, also it had potatoes in it and boyfriend is not the biggest fan of potatoes.  So I modified the recipe that Giada had made, I chucked the potatoes and I halved the eggplant (you can’t even find eggplant that’s fresh in Maine so there is very little point in trying) I kept the zucchini at it’s full amount and stuck with a full red onion but switched to a can of diced tomatoes instead of fresh.  This was a great way to eat the caponata but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I sort of gave up on it as a meal.

I graduated from college and moved to Boston, land of the locavore and the farmer’s market.  What a beautiful thing the farmer’s market is – everything is so accessible it’s a T-stop or a short bus ride away and you have bags of fresh veggies on the cheap and they actually *gasp* seem to be fresh.  While not exactly unfamiliar with the idea of fresh fruits and vegetables (fresh from a farmer) I hadn’t seen a lot of fresh vegetables that I could pick up from a bin that I didn’t harvest and weed myself.  Growing up we had a huge vegetable garden and that was my summer job, the weeding and care were among my numerous responsibilities over the summer months, from planting in the pouring rain to harvesting rutabagas well into the darkness on the night that they called for the dreaded “first-frost.”  I lived in that garden.  sneaking peas before they were ripe and claiming the first cherry tomato as mine.  I loved it and I loved the fresh veg that came from it more.

So here I am now in my mid-twenties and just finding fresh vegetables again after years if missing out – did you know you can get fresh eggplant for 3/$1 if you talk to the right farmer?  or that 2nd run tomatoes make a delicious and easy tomato soup, not to mention cheap?  So here I was, second run tomatoes, red pepper, eggplant, and zucchini in hand and panicking for ways to use them before Boyfriend reprimanded me for food waste, when from the dregs of my memory I saw a bowl full of big unwieldy chunks being tossed by hand in my tiny college kitchen and I had a plan.  I didn’t want the chunks but the more dainty looking ratatouille that I saw in the movie of the same name, something elegant and layered that made the eater wish for more if only to gaze at the beauty of it.  The first time I layered the whole thing like a lasagne in large flat sections that worked their way up the oval shaped baking dish Boyfriend had let me get at our first (and terrifying) trip to Ikea.  This was great in principal and looked stunning but it was a) a total nuisance to cut and b) way more food tahn two people need at any given time.  So I adjusted and came up with this!

Ratatouille, My Way
Note: Yes I know it does look like the Ratatouille from that movie with a rat (I like that it’s pretty) but it can be cubed up and baked for a more homely feel.

1 Medium sized onion chopped to a coarse dice (1/2″ pieces is fine)
2 Cloves fresh garlic, pressed or minced
2-3 Medium sized fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped (the fresher the better, I liked the heirlooms in mine)
1 Medium Size eggplant, or 2 small (make sure they’re fresh or they’ll be bitter)
1 Medium sized zucchini, yellow or green is up to you
1 Sweet Red Pepper
2-3 Tbs Olive oil, plus more for the pan
Salt and Pepper to taste
2 Fresh Thyme Sprigs

Heat the Olive Oil in a medium sized skillet and add the garlic and onion.  Saute the garlic and onion until the onion is slightly translucent (about 5 minutes) over medium heat.  Toss in the tomatoes and turn the heat down to low, med-low and cover, stirring occassionally for about 10 mins.  Drizzle Olive Oil in the bottom of a bakable dish (I do sincerely like my Ikea stoneware, it was cheap and seems durable enough for a girl on a budget) and make sure it has a light coating (this is flavor too so use a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil).  Add your sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onion mix to the dish and spread it evenly over the bottom.  If you have cubed your vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper) put them all in a large bowl and gently toss them by hand with 1 Tbs of Olive oil and salt and pepper, if you’re feeling adventurous a little balsamic vinegar is also a nice touch.  If you want your Ratatouille to look like mine cut your vegetables into 1/4″ thick rounds and stack them alternately around the pan in a circle until you reach the center (this is best in a circular or oval dish), drizzle Olive Oil over these veggies and top with Salt and Pepper to taste.  With both versions add a couple of fresh sprigs of thyme to the top and cut a form fitting piece of parchment to cover the whole dish.  Cover and bake it for 45 Minutes, until the veggies are tender and your entire apartment smells of tomato and zucchini, I’m on a late summer veg kick what can I say!  I suggest using this time to pour yourself a glass of wine and relaxing, preferably with a good book, Heirloom by Tim Stark is quite good.

Serve this with a nice salad, with sweeter greens – baby spinach or romaine!  YUM!!! Ratatouille, it’s homey and makes me feel good!

Zucchini and Tomato Galette

This galette is my ode to late summer.  The zucchini and tomatoes that I associate with August and my mom seems to fit so well together that there is nothing I like better (well maybe some good Taza chocolate).  I have been making this galette all summer long, from the first zucchini I saw to the most recent ones sitting in my pantry.    I love zucchini especially the small ones that have a good crunch and they always make me think of my childhood and the massive zucchini plants we had in our garden.  We would pick the zucchini daily from mid-July on and about a month in we always had it coming out of our ears.  After making zucchini relish and stir-frying it for lunches we still had way more zucchini than we could eat.  So we took to sneaking to friends houses in the dead of night and leaving the smooth and long summer squash on their doorsteps before giggling and running away.  And there was always the one that got missed and was left to grow to the size and weight of a large infant (we’re talking 8-9 lbs here).  It is a familiar taste and comforting.  This is an update on the way I remember eating zucchini as a child – stir-fried with lots of fresh thyme, oregano and chives and covered in enough mozzarella to make you wonder how you were going to choke it all down.

I initially made this according to some directions over on Smitten Kitchen that I thought looked great but I didn’t really care for it.  I thought it was a little dry and the zucchini overpowered the delicate flavor of the ricotta.  I wanted the basil and the creaminess of the ricotta to really shine when I ate this dish and that one fell flat for me.  But the inspiration was there.

I have now made this galette three times and every time I find something about it that I love a little bit more, or that makes me think – huh I should probably have a salad with this so I can have some leftovers later, but I almost always seem to forget to make that salad until it’s too late and the galette is out of the oven and I’m pleading with Boyfriend to turn off StarCraft 2 and hoping that there is something good on TV so I can be lazy if only for a little while.  For a while this summer this recipe was in regular rotation, we had it every other week or so and depending on what was hanging out in the fridge it got a jolt of goat cheese or homemade hazelnut pesto.

Zucchini and Tomato Galette
Note: While this recipe started as something on Smitten Kitchen it’s really all mine now.  I adapted hers to the point where mine is markedly different – hers is very nice though if you don’t like your ricotta filling with an egg in it.  Also for my crust I buy one.  To make your own please see my quiche recipe and use the crust there.

1 pie crust recipe rolled out to an 11-12 inch round
1 cup ricotta
1 egg
1 tsp Thyme (use an extra half tsp if your thyme is fresh)
1/2 cup swiss cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella
1/4 cup grated asiago cheese
1 Tbs Olive Oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2-3 Tbs goat cheese (optional)
2-3 Tbs fresh Pesto (optional)
1 medium zucchini sliced into thin rounds
2-3 Roma tomatoes sliced into thin rounds

Combine the ricotta, egg, grated cheeses, thyme, olive oil, salt & pepper, and goat cheese or pesto (if you are using either or both of them) in a medium bowl and stir to combine.  Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over your rolled out crust leaving about 1 1/2 inches of crust free (to pull over the sides and create an edge).  Starting on the outside layer the tomato and zucchini alternately clockwise on the ricotta mixture.  Continue to layer the tomato and zucchini until the ricotta mixture is completely covered.  Drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the vegetables.  Pull the crust you left free over the vegetables gently trying not to tear it, it helps to pull about two inches of crust up and then work around the galette in a clockwise pattern pulling up 1-2inch pieces of crust at a time until complete.  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 35-45 minutes, I tend to go away and blog/read/play video games until the vegetables are lightly browned and I can smell the tomatoes roasting and the ricotta is puffed up.  Serve with a green salad, if you remember to make it! Serves four with the salad, two without – unless you’re tiny and then it’s more like three :p.

Strawberry, Spinach and Fennel Salad

So… I made this salad a while ago when strawberries were still in season.  It was delicious then and it would still be delicious now given that there are berries coming in from the more northern climates and they still have that freshness that I crave, also fennel is coming into season right now – so go for it.  I liked the quickness of this for a couple of reasons – 1) a little chopping and a masterpiece is created and 2) spinach and strawberries are a match made in heaven.  For real. Also it was one of those salads that barely needed to be dressed – a little bit of well aged balsamic and some olive oil and a quick satisfying meal is made.

It was raining when Boyfriend and I ate this salad, which was originally for a naively imagined craft night that lasted a total of three weeks for those of us involved.  But regardless I loved it – the night crunch of  fennel with the softness of the strawberry and the mellow smoothness of baby spinach was amazing.  I can just imagine how very good this would have been if it had been hot outside or the urge to cook wasn’t particularly high.

It also only took about 10 minutes, including hulling and chopping – instant gratification dinner.  I’m there.

Strawberry, Spinach and Fennel Salad
Note: If you want to add a few walnuts or pine nuts to this salad I’m pretty sure it would rock.  Also some goat cheese crumbles would pair beautifully.  Truestory.

10-12 Medium Strawberries Hulled and Quartered (about 1/2 cup)
10 oz Washed Baby Spinach (about 2 Cups)
1 Medium Bulb of fennel sliced finely (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup Nuts (optional)
2 oz Goat cheese (optional)
Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil

Slice and rinse the fennel and set it aside.  Line a wide, shallow dish with the spinach (I used a pie plate and I think it was just right).  Sprinkle the fennel evenly over the spinach and then add the strawberries.  If you are using the nuts and goat cheese you can add them now or have them in bowls to the side for optional toppings.  Serve the salad immediately with a light drizzle of good quality Balsamic vinegar (I used Blueberry balsamic and it was delicious) and olive oil.