Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fluffy Biscuits

I have recently been on a quest to make restaurant-quality made-from-scratch biscuits.  It wasn't easy.  I know that tall, fluffy biscuits exist because I have had them many times, but never from my own kitchen.  And no, nothing with "Bisquik" as an ingredient counts.  Well, victory was finally mine when I stumbled on this delicious biscuit recipe and had a few "duh" moments.

For a printer-friendly copy of this recipe, click here:


2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
3 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup Crisco (use the sticks, people)
1 egg
2/3 cup 2% milk

Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees.  Next, combine your dry ingredients in a medium bowl (the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt).

Now cut in the Crisco.  We talked about this before.  I like to use my Oxo pastry blender, but if you are one of those sad, deprived people who doesn't own one, 2 forks will do.  Dump it in, then hack it into tiny pieces, mixing it with the flour as you go.

It should feel crumbly when you are done.  Go ahead -- poke it with your finger.

Now combine the egg and milk.  I like to pour the milk into a measuring cup, crack the egg directly into it, and whisk it with a fork.  That way there is one less dish to wash then cracking the egg into another bowl, and man, if we can save on dishes at the end it is a good day.  Dump the egg/milk mixture into the flour/Crisco mixture and stir with a spoon JUST UNTIL IT IS MOISTENED.  That means stop stirring the exact moment that the last trace of powdery flour is gone.  This is seriously important to fluffy biscuits, because they will get more tough with overmanipulation.

Okay, now put a little flour on your counter and dump the dough onto it.  Knead it 20 times.  It's not a lot, but again, too much handling makes for tough biscuits.

Here is my second "duh" moment.  Try not to laugh at me.  For years, I wondered why my biscuits were so flat.  It finally hit me -- you are rolling them out too flat.  I know, a genius I am not.  You basically want to go pretty thick when you roll them out.  They should be about as thick as a dime is tall (on its side).  I was able to get 2 biscuits out of the first roll-out.  Cut those out, put them onto a lightly greased cookie sheet pan, and then reroll the remaining dough.  I was able to get about 9 biscuits total out of this recipe.  I used a true biscuit cutter that I dipped in flour to cut mine out, but the rim of a water glass, also dipped in flour, will work, too.

One quick note about cookie sheet pans:  thicker and heavier is better.  I have tried the fancy ones with the air layer built in and didn't like them because they were too well insulated -- nothing would brown on the bottom, and by George, chocolate chip cookies should be browned.  In my impoverished college days, I bought the cheapest ones that I could find and those were too thin.  Things tended to burn on the bottom before they finished on top.  (Is this starting to sound like "Goldilocks and the Three Bears", or is it me?).  My current two were a Christmas present from my wonderful husband, who went into Williams-Sonoma, said, "What would you buy for a baker?", and came home with these.  They are beyond wonderful and I plan to be buried with them.  That being said, prepare to sell a kidney to pay for them.  They are very heavy and brown things just right.

Back to the biscuits.  Once you have them all cut out, slide the cookie sheet into the oven and bake it for 8-10 minutes.  They will be golden brown on both top and bottom when they are done.  The huge amount of baking powder that we added should have let them rise up nicely, as long as you didn't mess with them too much and as long as you cut them out thick.

My quest for a restaurant-quality biscuit recipe is over.  These are so tender and fluffy, but don't completely crumble when you try to add jelly to them.  And yes, the jelly is my homemade canned strawberry jam.  Stick with me until the spring and we will be making it together and learning how to can it.  To me, there is nothing more cozy than fresh-baked biscuits and homemade jam.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Snickerdoodle Cookies

I had a real need to make cookies this weekend.  It had been too long since the house smelled like baking, and I also needed to bring something to a party where little kids would be present, so cookies were an obvious choice.  I wanted something that smelled like fall, with cinnamon and sugar, and naturally though of Snickerdoodles.  If you are not familiar with these, they are basically sugar cookies that are rolled in cinnamon and sugar before baking.  They originated in 19th century New England, but the name is a mystery.

For a printer-friendly copy of this recipe, click here:


1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup Crisco
1 1/2 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
2 tbsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp cream of tartar (from the spice section of the grocery store)
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Start by preheating your oven to 400 degrees.  These cookies don't take too long to assemble so it is good to go ahead and get that going first.

First, you are going to put your butter, Crisco, and 1 1/2 cups of the sugar into a big bowl.  If you have a stand mixer, now is the time to dust it off.  Beat it until it is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Next, add your eggs and beat them in.  Now the dry ingredients: the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.  You guessed it -- beat again.  In case you are wondering, the cream of tartar is added to keep the sugar molecules from melting then recrystalizing, resulting in a grainy cookie.  It is commonly used in meringues because it also helps stabilize egg whites when you whip them up.

I told you these were easy.  I swear, a monkey could make these cookies.

Now comes the fun part.  Scoop out about a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball.  Combine the 1/4 cup of sugar and the cinnamon in a bowl (I used a cereal bowl), and drop your cookie ball on in.  Cannonball!

Roll it all around in the cinnamon sugar until it is completely coated.

Yum!  Now put those little balls of goodness onto an ungreased baking sheet, giving them some room between because they will spread.  You can tell that they are going to spread out by the fact that this recipe has so much butter -- when it heats up, it melts, and the whole cookie will slide out with it.  That's why we don't grease the cookie sheet here.  If you did grease it, heaven help you.  Your cookies would be 3 feet across and really thin.

Slide them into that warm oven and bake for about 10-14 minutes.  They are done when they are cracked and the center is set, so wiggle the pan a bit and look for that jiggle.

All done!  The one recipe made about 3 dozen cookies for me (it would have made a few more, but I was kind of grazing on the dough as I was rolling them into balls).  These were very popular, a little chewy, and the spiciness of the cinnamon was a great compliment to the crisp fall weather.  Just don't eat them all at once, or that cookie jiggle will be around your own middle.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Baked Cheddar Mac & Cheese

Like many of you, I have a picky toddler who will eat almost nothing.  I like to tell people that he is subsisting on goldfish crackers and air, but that is an exaggeration -- it is actually goldfish crackers, air, and macaroni and cheese.  He is literally staying alive on cheesy pasta.  My husband is also a lover of mac and cheese, and often waits for our son to wander away from the table so that he can swoop down on the leftovers.  Frankly, if I have to serve one more meal from the blue box, I am going to have a breakdown, so I found this recipe for a somewhat more sophisticated mac and cheese that is fancy enough for company but tasty enough to appeal to my guys.

For a printer-friendly copy of the recipe, click here:


1 lb. macaroni, penne, or ziti pasta
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour (or Wondra)
2 cups milk
Salt and pepper
2 cups (8 oz.) grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

To start, go ahead and cook your pasta.  If you want to add salt to the water to flavor it, knock yourself out.  I used mini-ziti, and the whole box cooked in 7 minutes, but check your own box for the appropriate cooking time.  Drain the pasta well.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a deep casserole dish (I think it is the 3 quart size).  Add half of the macaroni to the dish.  Top with half of the cheese.

Now to make the sauce.  You are going to be making a roux (pronounced "roo", like "kangaroo").  Don't panic!  I know that you think that only Julia Child can pull this off, but it is really super-easy.  Start by melting your butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.  When it is melted, add the flour or Wondra.  I HIGHLY recommend the Wondra over regular flour.  It is just flour that is milled super-fine and that has apparently been magically enhanced not to clump.  If you want a smooth sauce, it's the way to go.  Use a whisk to bring it to the butter party.  Now add the milk, continuing to whisk away.

Yeah, I know.  It doesn't look like much now.  But see ... no clumps!  You can now add as much salt and pepper as you wish.  I added salt to ours but no pepper.  Pepper just doesn't seem to go with mac & cheese to me, but if it does in your house, go crazy.  Keep whisking as it cooks.  You will know that it is ready to come off when it thickens up (usually 3 or 4 minutes -- if an hour goes by, you might consider adding more flour).

When you roux is moderately thick, pour half of it over the mac and cheese in the casserole dish.  Ooh, it starts to melt the cheese immediately!  Keep control of yourself and add another layer of macaroni, cheese, and the rest of the sauce.  The roux will trickle down through the pasta, melting the cheese, and making it creamy throughout.

Almost done!  Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top, then add a little paprika just for a bit of color.  I always go too heavy on the paprika and look like a stroke patient, so try to be careful with it.

Slide it into the oven and bake it for 20-30 minutes, or until it is brown on top and a little bubbly.

You can see that the cheese has melted and it is a little crispy on top.  This makes enough pasta to feed your average-sized family for days and is a nice, warm, bowl of goodness.  Comfort food doesn't get any better than this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apple Turnovers

First of all, I apologize for the long break between posts.  I was sick and my family was depending on the kindness of strangers, as well as meals that come in a paper bag and have fries on the side.  I am better now, and back in the kitchen, so let's get cooking!

I have been looking for good apple recipes for the fall, and boy, did I find one.  This one came from and was a real keeper.  I was amazed at how easy it was to make very good (seriously, these are better than some that I have had in restaurants) apple turnovers.

For a printer-friendly copy of the recipe, click here:

(Thanks to my friend Marina Shannon for the excellent suggestion of providing a printer-friendly copy of the recipe).


4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water
1 (17.25 ounce) package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed


1 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

First of all, prepare your apples.  If you are a REALLY slow apple peeler and/or chopper, you can always put 2 tbsp of lemon juice into 4 cups of water and drop your apple slices in as you go.  That will prevent them from turning brown.  But you know what?  These are going to cook in brown sugar and cinnamon, so they will already look brown anyway, so who cares?  Just don't peel the apples then head to the grocery store, because that would be silly.

Melt your butter in a big skillet on medium heat.  As soon as the butter is melted, drop in your apples.  Cook and stir, cook and stir, for 2 minutes.  This will let the apples start to soften up a bit.  Now add your brown sugar and cinnamon and stir it in, too.  Cook it for 2 more minutes.  

At this point, the sugar will have pulled some of the apple juices out, making a nice, but runny, sauce.  Obviously we don't want it to be this juicy, or we will have to change our shirts every time we eat a turnover.  Take the 1 tbsp of water and mix the 1 tbsp of cornstarch in with it, then add it to the apples.  Let it cook for 1 more minute.  The cornstarch will thicken up the sauce a bit.  When that minute is up, remove your apples from the heat and let them cool down.  The next stage will involve your hands, so you probably want to make sure that the apples are good and cool or you will regret it.

While your apples are cooling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Now take your thawed puff pastry sheets out of the fridge.  Do not make the mistake that I once did by just leaving them on the counter all morning to thaw.  They passed right on by "thawed" and went to "impossible to unfold because they are sticking together".  Follow the directions on the box and you will be fine.  Unfold both sheets (there are two sheets per box, and they are each folded into thirds).  This will give you 2 rectangles of puff pastry.  Take your handy-dandy pizza cutter and trim off a bit to make them two squares, then cut each big square into 4 little squares (8 in all, 4 from each sheet).

Word to the wise #2:  move your little puff pastry squares to a greased cookie sheet at this point.  Trying to assemble these on the counter and then move them is a bad idea.  Juice everywhere.  You get the idea.

Once you have them all transferred, ladle some of the apples onto the center of each.  Add enough so that it looks plump but not so much that you can't fold it over.  Trial and error, my friends.  Now fold each square over, corner-to-corner, giving you 8 little triangles.  Crimp the edges with a fork to keep it somewhat closed (they may open as they cook, but that's no big deal).

Slide them into the warm oven and bake them for about 25 minutes, or however long it takes to make them puffy and golden-colored.  Leave them on the pan and let them cool completely before you glaze them.

When they are cool, make the glaze, which takes about 10 seconds.  Just combine the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl and stir it up.  I had to add more milk because mine was way, way too thick, but just judge by the consistency.  If your is uber-runny (or if you tried to make it thinner but added too much milk), just add more sugar.  Take a spoon, dip it in, and whip it back and forth over the top of the turnovers to drizzle them with the glaze.

And yes, the extra glaze that runs off is very yummy.  Feel free to lick the pan.

I was very, very happy with this recipe, as was my husband.  I was so surprised at how fast and easy this was.  I am thinking about throwing in a batch the next time we bring a meal for a new baby or when family is over for Thanksgiving.  I guarantee that if you give it a try, you will never pay $5.00 for a fancy turnover in a cafe again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Apple Crisp

It is apple season here in Maryland, and everywhere I look there are little roadside produce markets brimming with sweet apples.  Naturally, I was looking for a good use for this bounty, so when my friend Kristi Dickens sent me a recipe for apple crisp, I had to try it.


5-6 apples, peeled and sliced (think tart apples like Jonathan, Granny Smith, or Jonagold)
     ***  Don't peel these until the recipe needs them or they will turn brown
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup cold butter
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional -- I left them out because I didn't have any in the pantry)

First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  While it is warming up, prepare your topping.  Just combine everything in a bowl except the butter and stir it up.

Then cut in the butter.  If you have a pastry knife like I do, this isn't too hard, but you can also use two forks.  It would be a great arm workout.  To cut in something, just drop in the whole stick (remember to be sure that it is cold or it won't cut) and chop at it with the blade until you have tiny pieces of intact butter interspersed among the dry ingredients.  You should be able to press it into tiny balls with your fingertips but shouldn't see huge chunks of butter.  I have tried a few pastry knifes in my life and prefer the one by OXO.  Most of them have flimsy tines and bend but this one is super sturdy.

So now your topping is ready and we can move on to the filling.  Keep waiting on those apples.  Last minute, remember.  In a bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, and vanilla.  The vanilla is not friends with the cornstarch and won't blend in nicely, but will make little vanilla balls.  This is okay.  Vanilla can be as unsociable as it wants to be.  It will all work out in the end.

Okay, now you can peel the apples.  Go nuts.  Peel like crazy.  Of course, if you are me, here is where you realize that you used all but 5 of your apples up last week and forgot to buy more.  My apple crisp thus ended up with a mix of apples.  I know that 3 were Granny Smith and 1 was a Fuji, but I there was one "mystery apple" from the crisper drawer that got thrown in, too.  And you know what?  It worked.

Once your apples are peeled and cut into cute little slices, mix in the filling ingredients.  The sugar in this filling will pull some moisture out of the apples and make a yummy sauce while it bakes.

Spray a 9x9" pan with Pam and dump in your sugared apples.  Sprinkle your topping on top, as light or as heavy as you like.  I didn't end up using all of my filling, but you do whatever makes you happy.

Now just slide it into your warm oven and bake it for 45 minutes.  This is going to make your house smell amazing as it cooks and will be a wonderful treat on those "crisp" fall nights.  (Sorry, couldn't resist).

This was a fast, warm, and delicious dessert to make on a cold night, but would also be great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It kept several days for us in the fridge and was a crowd favorite here.  I will definitely make it again -- as soon as I go to the store and buy more apples.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ikea Knock-Off Swedish Meatballs

I have been missing out.  I didn't know that Ikea was the mecca for Swedish meatballs, but apparently people drive for miles to eat them in their cafes.  I recently saw a recipe that was supposed to be a knock-off of their recipe in the October 2011 Food Network magazine (another one that jumped into my cart at the check-out lane).  It was very, very good, so I wanted to share it with you.

Ingredients (Meatballs):

1 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup minced white onion (I used frozen)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
3/4 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb lean ground pork (I had to go to a real meat market to find this)
1 large egg plus 1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper

Ingredients (Sauce):

4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour (or Wondra, which is super-fine flour and is easier for sauces because it doesn't clump)
3 cups beef broth
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup heavy cream
Parsley (for garnish)

First, make the meatballs.  This is a great do-ahead step.  I even made a double batch of meatballs and froze half of them uncooked.  Now it will be very quick and easy the next time that I want to make this.  Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl.  Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat.

Yes, I did put a picture of butter melting in here.  I hope that it made your day.  Add the onion, garlic, allspice, salt, and white pepper to the pan.  I confess, I think that this is the first time that I have ever used allspice, but from here on out it is known as "Swedish Meatball Spice" because that is what the main taste in these is.  Cook it all, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  You want the onion to be soft.

Add the milk and Worcestershire sauce and bring it to a simmer.  That's when you can see the steam coming off of it and it is bubbling a little bit.  

Okay, this next step is kind of weird.  You are going to pour the hot mixture from the skillet into the breadcrumbs.  Don't be alarmed if they immediately absorb all of the liquid.  Stir it all up to make a thick paste.  You will probably want to let it cool off a bit at this stage, too, since you are about to get your hands in there.  Whenever it is cool enough to work with without skin grafts, proceed.

Now add the beef, pork, and eggs to the bread crumb paste.  You will want to take off all rings, watches, and artificial nails now.  Get in there with your hands and mush it all together until it is pretty homogeneous.  

Next, grease a cookie sheet pan with Pam, roll the meat into balls, and line them up like little soldiers on the pan.  I used my cookie scoop to make them about the same size, then rolled them into little balls by hand.  Yes, I will wash the scoop thoroughly before I use it for cookies again.  One batch of these meatballs made about 30 1 tbsp-sized balls.  Cover them with Saran wrap and stick them in the fridge for at least an hour to get them chilled and firm, or into the freezer if you want to save them long-term.

When you are about ready for dinner, bake them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Be sure to chop one or two in half to make sure that they are cooked all the way through before proceeding.

Now make the sauce.  You are going to want to add the meatballs to it later, so look for a really, really big saucepan or, even better, and electric skillet, which is what I used.  Melt the butter in your skillet of choice on medium heat and then add the flour, whisking it until it is smooth and non-lumpy.  Whisk in the Worcestershire sauce and beef broth and bring the whole thing to a simmer.  Add the cream and the meatballs.  Now reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for about 10 minutes or until the gravy thickens to your satisfaction.  Season it with salt and pepper if you want.  I served it over egg noodles.

These were really, really tasty and is the new favorite recipe here.  That other batch of meatballs in the freezer isn't going to make it very long.