Y’all, buttermilk biscuits!

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While home in Georgia for the holidays, I took Harvard University’s dialect test online.

Well, y’all, turns out I’m a southerner.

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When I was growing up in Atlanta, I wasn’t very fond of the south.

Actually, I did everything I could to prove I was not southern. When asked where I was from, I said Australia. During the “Freedom Fries” mania, I ordered French Frites. Okra made me gag. My parents were the only liberals within a forty-mile radius who dared put “vote democrat” signs in their yard, and I was proud of it. In high school, I skipped as many football games as was humanly possible without committing social suicide. And I insisted on leaving the south before I turned fifteen, escaping to the farthest parts of the world I could think of: Japan, India, Guatemala, Nepal.

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I still say y’all. I would trade my future child for a Price’s Chicken Coop fried chicken dinner; I know the words to every Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton song. And yes, oh yes, I love down-home, sweet and flaky, buttermilk biscuits.

For years, I have searched for the best biscuits. I’ve tried many in restaurants– Skillet Diner in Seattle and Swallow at the Hollow in Atlanta make my favorites. But I needed to eat biscuits that I had made in my own kitchen. I needed to cut butter and lard into flour, to feel silken buttermilk as I worked dough together with my hands. It would prove to myself who I was: a southerner.

It seems fitting that, just as I have begun to accept the south, I would find my homemade biscuits. It happened on New Year’s Day. My mom fried quail and boiled collards and beets; I made biscuits, trying out a new but sworn-by recipe. Sitting down to the table, we were a picture of the post-church Sunday Dinner Southern Gothic.

The biscuits tasted as they should: light yet sour, flaky yet rich. To me, they tasted like the south: tender and sweet.

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Ma Mae’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Recipe adapted from fellow Georgian and foodist brother, Alton Brown, who, for years, has sought to recreate his Ma Mae’s* biscuits. I suggest you serve these biscuits with butter and sorghum or molasses, as pictured above. It’s the southern way.

*Ma Mae: n. southern for grandmother (synonyms: mammy, grandmammy, granny, me-ma, etc…)

Makes a dozen.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet or pie pan. Prepare a clean surface with flour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. As quickly as possible, rub cold butter and shortening into dry ingredients with your fingertips until mixture looks like small peas; don’t let the fats melt. Make a well in the center and pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together; it will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on rimmed pan so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible, and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and golden brown on top, 12 to 18 minutes.

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Pretzels, and getting out of them.

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What have I been up to exactly? Dear reader, the real question is where do I begin?

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In the past six months, I’ve been a part time hand model, food stylist, professional granola/ice cream maker, freelance beer-tender, recipe tester, and almost cheesemonger. I’ve drank too many cups of good coffee, accidentally worn my apron to the grocery store, and learned how to pronounce things like Fernet. The past months have made many recipes and stories; so stay tuned! Those stories are on their way.

When I first moved to Seattle, I started helping out at The Pantry, a well-loved and well-respected food craft cooking school. At The Pantry, I worked alongside a group of amazing women who made it their goal to introduce me to Seattle’s food scene. It was my first job in the food industry and most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing.

Despite my glass-breaking, pan-burning foibles, The Pantry ladies stuck with me and taught me their magic food ways. By the end of my summer stint at the school, I knew how to prepare the pies class’s pie dough like a pro and fix a broken aioli in record time. I met fascinating chefs, renowned food writers, and home cooks that have since given me more opportunities than I can count on my ten fingers. The Pantry made my coming out to foodie society sophisticated and proper, and it was wonderful.

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Well, it was wonderful ninety-nine percent of the time.

The first class I helped an instructor lead was called Pretzel Making at Home. It would have been the perfect class to start. We would only make two types of dough and a few simple dipping sauces, and I had power posed in front of the mirror before work; there would be no chance for stove-top blunders or knife skills gone wrong. But, only perfect situations become not perfect.

When I arrived at the kitchen to get things ready for class, I found large plastic bottles of lye waiting for me. Yes, the same chemical lye that Brad Pitt uses to burn Edward Norton’s hand in Fight Club. A pretzel evolves into a pretzel after it bathes in either a baking soda or lye solution;  I had thought we would use baking soda because, come on, no one wants to see that Fight Club scene, the “this a chemical burn” demonstration, in real life. But the instructor, a food anthropologist-chef who was about to publish a book on pretzels, insisted lye was best. So I listened, pushed the chemical burn scenarios from my mind, made sure everyone was double-gloved, and, by golly, sprayed those pretzels in lye.

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I have to admit; the lye was worth it. After a sprinkle of caraway, poppy, and sesame seeds, our pretzels tasted like edible pieces of Bavarian Germany. And they were beautiful too. Lye gave the pretzels a thick, deeply golden-black crust that safe baking soda could never give. Do not fear the pretzel and its lye ( Lie! Hah pun time! Okay, sorry, too much.) Instead, embrace this jumbled pretzel of a life, do something you’ve never done before, and taste its uncertainty, its imperfections. Who knows? Pretzels might just teach you a useful lesson or two.

Traditional German Soft Pretzels

By Andrea Slonecker, adapted from Pretzel Making at Home

Makes 8 pretzels

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100 – 115 degrees)
  • 1 tbsp firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 cup cold pilsner or lager-style beer
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp food-grade lye or 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp water

Follow this link to see how, step-by-step,  Andrea Slonecker and The Oregonian create the perfect pretzel (lye-sprayed, of course.)

Boozy baked apples, coming home.

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Friends, it has been waaay too long. Four months; four-ever. I wish I had a story-worthy excuse that sounds something like “so I was riding down this dark, coffee shop-lined alley on my fixie and these hipsters in jeggings and oversized knit hats kidnaped me” or “the ship I was working on as a fisherwoman didn’t have wifi.”

But, alas, I was not kidnapped by caffeine-hyped hipsters and I gave up my dreams of becoming a fisherwoman when I was thirteen and The Perfect Storm gave me reoccurring nightmares. Instead, my only excuse is that I have fallen helplessly and ridiculously in love with my new home.IMG_8356

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Seattle is beautiful. Most days are gray, but when afternoon sun nudges its way in to the street you can’t help but smile.  Ninety-two percent of the people I’ve met are introverts involved in either a start-up or a band, sometimes both, and who love their dogs, alcoholic drinks, REI membership status, bocce ball, composting, and good food. I live in an apartment above an espresso shop and incense emporium, and when my window is open I can hear the church down the street play hymns on the hour (and coincidentally the same church Macklemore features in “Same Love.”) At night, the air smells like salt and clouds.

Put Seattle on your bucket list; you will thank me forever, I promise. Where else can the sun make you automatically smile?

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The great state of Washington also happens to have incredibly wonderful apples. A couple weeks back, I went to a farm north of the city and picked 22 pounds of the sweet red things. Since then I’ve eaten one a day, and kept the doctor away, but I still feel a duty to my new homeplace to explore its apple horizons. So I pull out the old pyrex dishes and autumn spices, pour myself a cocktail, and get to work on these boozy baked apple babies. Oats and almonds give the apples a crisp, buttery core and amaretto reduces as the apples cook, absorbing their sweetness into a spicy, caramelized syrup that tastes like home. It’s a simple recipe that takes five to ten minutes to prep. Yet time in the oven highlights each apple’s creamy interior, its tart skin, its hint of harsh minerality and the soil where it once grew. I find there is no better way to honor Washington, to honor autumn, than by baking its apples.

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Baked Apples with Ginger and Amaretto

Serves three.

  • 3 medium, firm, flavorful apples, cored
  • 2 tbsp butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp quick oats
  • 1 tbsp sliced almonds
  • Pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
  • 1 tbsp crystalized ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup amaretto
  • 1/2 cup apple cider

Preheat oven to 375º. Core apples with a small pairing knife or spoon.

In a small bowl combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, almonds, spices and ginger. Knead ingredients together with hands until combined. Spoon mixture into apples that you have nestles into in a small baking pan with sides. Pour amaretto and cider around apples and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm with crème fraîche, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

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Kombucha: a colonial love story.

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Valentine’s day is coming up and I’ve got love on my mind.
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Here it goes, Kombucha. I haven’t stopped craving you since first sip. You had me at fermentation.
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It all began two years ago when I was living with nine college kids in a cramped, drafty house on the outskirts of campus. We called ourselves the “Eco-Haus.” We composted, turned off the thermostat, rode a special bike to power our television, ate as locally as possible, and ate as much homemade granola as possible. From massage trains and hug competitions to kneading bread, there was always some sort of fun going on in the house.  Even though we could never quite eliminate the fruit fly population that hovered over the kitchen compost bin or get the smell of eco-cleaner vinegar out of our clothes, it was one of the best semesters of college.

We committed to only eat “local” foods, or food produced within 100 miles of the Eco-House, with the exception of staples like flour and sugar. Every once in awhile, someone needed to pick up more sugar or baking soda from the nearby health food store and I volunteered. I have a strange love for grocery shopping; The vibrance of the produce aisle after its fake rain storm entrances me and the endless possibilities of the cheese counter excite me. But I wasn’t just shopping for the love of it. I was shopping for my Eco-House Shopper reward: a chilled bottle of the bubbly, fermented tea drink, kombucha.

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Ever since the “Eco-Haus,” I haven’t been able to divorce myself from the drink.
Kombucha is vinegary sweet and bubbly with a hint of caffeine to keep you going. But, unlike coffee or even black tea, kombucha doesn’t act as a diuretic and dry you out. Instead, kombucha rejuvenates your gut, promotes digestion, and energizes your mind. Store-bought kombucha runs $2 – $5 a bottle and, although it makes my gut happy, store-bought kombucha doesn’t make my budget too pleased. So what does a poor and kombucha-hungry college student do? She makes it herself.

Home-Brewed Kombucha

Makes 1 gallon.

To start, you’ll need a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.) You can get one from a friend or buy one online from Hannah Crum at Kombucha Kamp (after thorough research, I found K.K. is the best supplier.) Hannah has great brewing directions and they’re available below or on her website.

Supplies

  • 1 cup organic sugar (you can use normal white sugar)
  • 4-6 bags tea (for loose leaf, 1 bag of tea = 1 tsp)
  • 1 Kombucha Culture (SCOBY)
  • 1 cup starter liquid (retain from top of previous batch or substitute distilled vinegar)
  • 1 gallon purified/bottled water
  • tea kettle or pot to boil the water
  • brewing vessel (glass, stainless steel or oak) you can use food grade plastic, but I prefer glass
  • cloth cover (no cheesecloth: the weave is too loose and will allow fruit flies in your brew)
  • rubber band

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One: Make the Sweet Tea Solution

This is the stuff that will feed your Kombucha mother culture and turn into delicious Kombucha Tea:

  1. Boil 4 cups of water.
  2. Add hot water & tea bags to your chosen brewing vessel.
  3. Let steep for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Remove tea bags.
  5. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
  6. Fill vessel about ¾ full with purified cold water – the cold water will bring the temp of the hot water to a level where it won’t kill the yeast (they thrive at lukewarm).
  7. If tea is body temperature or below, proceed to the next step. If not, wait until it cools before completing the next step.
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Two: Add Kombucha Culture

Cure hands with filtered water or distilled vinegar before touching SCOBY.

  1. Add SCOBY. Immediately add started liquid to protect the brew.
  2. Cover with cotton cloth, secure with rubber band (can also use paper towels or coffee filters.)
  3. Say a prayer, send good vibes, commune with your culture (optional, but recommended.)
  4. Set in a warm, airy location out of direct sunlight and away from aromatic or greasy food preparation.
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Three: Don’t Do Anything

1. Do not disturb for 7 days.
2. Don’t do it.
3. Just wait.
4. It will be hard.

 1-DSC01768a new culture, white and gummy-translucent begins to form on top (if mold, or something that doesn’t look like this, forms, discard everything and start over.)

(flavors from left to right)Orange Peel, Ginger Spice, Pomegranny
(flavors from left to right)
Orange Peel, Ginger Spice, Pomegranny

Four: Taste and Bottle

  1. After 7 days, gently insert straw beneath the SCOBY and take a sip. Too tart? Redue your brewing cycle next time. Too sweet? Taste each day until it reaches optimum flavor. Properly brewed kombucha has a slightly sharp apple cider taste. Brewing cycle will range from 7-18 days, depending on temperature.
  2. With clean hands, remove both cultures (the new baby culture that formed and the original mother
    Kombucha culture) and place in a clean bowl.
  3. Ladle or pour 2 cups of liquid from the top of the brew over the cultures. This will serve as starter liquid for the next batch.
  4. Cover cultures with the cotton cloth and set aside for the next brew, preferably after bottling.
  5. Find clean, suitable bottles with tight fitting lids. Recycled bottles are fine, but avoid metal lids that may corrode. I like to use glass pasta sauce containers with rubber-coated lids.
  6. If flavoring the Kombucha, place fruit/juice/flowers/whatever(!) directly into the bottles. A little goes a long way. Experiment for fun. (Check out the picture above for my 3 flavor experiments; Pomegranny with pure pomegranate juice is my favorite.)
  7. Place bottles in the sink.
  8. Insert a funnel in your first bottle and ladle or pour the Kombucha.
  9. Fill to the top for increased carbonation. Repeat for the other bottles, but don’t drink the brown yeast dregs at the bottom, just dump the last 1-2 inches down the drain. (You may choose to strain the brew of culture or
    yeast bits, though it is not necessary.)
  10. Screw the lids on and set aside 1-3 days, burping the bottles to release carbonation and prevent explosions.
  11. Move bottles to the fridge as they reach the desired carbonation/flavor. This stops the secondary fermentation occurring due to sugar in flavorings.
    * ginger, strawberry & blueberry provide great flavor & fizz but also fast CO2 build up. Use caution! Bottles can overflow when opened or even explode during secondary fermentation if not tended. Store in a box, empty cupboard or cooler to minimize mess & danger.
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Chocolate hazelnut and gluten-freedom.

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At a party the other night, a friend asked me, “If you’re stuck on a deserted island and could only bring Nutella or peanut butter, what would you bring?” Scoff. I’ll have both, and stay on this island forever.

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My family moved to Australia when I was five and I discovered new friends with Nutella-wonderbread sandwiches in their lunchboxes. Lucky me, Aussie children are crazy about American egg salad. At school, I traded my Power Ranger lunchbox for the sweet, nutty chocolate in a shady cafeteria corner. I was hooked.

Since Australia, I squirrel Nutella in to everything I can: smoothies, frostings, spoonfuls, and now cookies. These aren’t just cookies with Nutella. No, they are the hazelnut chocolate makings of Nutella in cookie form. And they’re gluten-free.

More to come on peanut butter love affairs…

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(Gluten-free!) Nutellettles

About 45 cookies
Recipe by Terresa Murphy of La Cucina di Terresa and David Lebovitz

1 1/4 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 cup rice flour (or all-purpose flour)
3 1/2 ounces butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1. Put the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until very fine; they should be the consistency of coarse polenta.

2. Transfer the ground nuts to a bowl and add the rice flour. Cut the butter into pieces then add the butter, sugar, and salt to the dry ingredients. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together until the butter is dispersed and completely incorporated. The dough should be very smooth and hold together. If not, knead it until it does or add a tiny, tiny bit of water.

3. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece until it’s 3/4-inch (2cm) round. Try to get them as smooth as possible, with no cracks. If the dough is too long to work with as you roll them out, you can cut the dough at the midway point and work with it in batches or use plastic wrap to compress the dough in to ropes. Chill the dough logs until firm on a small baking sheet or dinner plate lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper in the freezer for 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 325ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Working with one length of dough at a time, keeping the others in the refrigerator or freezer, cut off equal-sized pieces using a knife. Once you’ve cut a length of dough, roll the pieces into nice little balls the size of a marble and place them on the baking sheet, slightly spaced apart.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during cooking, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Let the cookies cool completely.

7. Melt the chocolate until smooth on microwave medium heat or in a double boiler. Put a chocolate chip-sized dollop of chocolate on the bottom of one cookie and take another cookie, and sandwich the two halves together.

Storage: The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

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