Tuesday, 24 August 2010

How to Use Up a Jug of Buttermilk...

Where has the summer gone?  As I sit here at my desk, window open and consequently sweatshirt on, I am nothing short of impressed that the summer has disappeared so quickly and it will soon be September once again. 

Not that summer wasn't good to me.  I discovered a few new cool markets I had never visited before, spent some lovely Saturday afternoons in the park with a book and my husband, went back to Spain for a short time (a country I absolutely love but hadn't been back to visit in nearly 10 years!), and just recently closed the chapter on my 20's- all wonderful things...  However signs of autumn have somehow seemed to creep up on me just as quickly and quietly as the expiration date for this jug of buttermilk.  One day it seemes ages away and the next day you realise you have to make the most of it before it's gone!

So, make the most I did. 

First, I made biscuits.  Not British biscuits.  American biscuits.   Made with buttermilk, spring onions (scallions) and sea salt.

Originally, buttermilk was the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cream, hence the name. It also refers to a range of fermented milk drinks, common in warm climates (e.g. Middle East, India, or the Southern United States) where fresh milk would otherwise sour quickly.  It is why in American culture, buttermilk has such ties to Southern cooking; buttermilk biscuits, buttermilk pancakes, red velvet, buttermilk fried chicken etc.  (My mouth is now watering uncontrollably.)

These buttermilk biscuits are truly worth making.  My first instinct was to leave the spring onions out all together, but adding them really enhanced the flavor of the biscuits.  Plus the small amount of cornmeal made the recipe feel homey and wholesome- like cookies fresh out of the oven.  Eaten warm with a small pad of melting butter would surely be enough to help anyone welcome in the first signs of autumn with open arms and a cozy sweatshirt.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Green Onions, Black Pepper, and Sea Salt

Bon App├ętit  | November 2008
  • 3/4 cup chilled buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • Coarse sea salt

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425°F/200 C . 

Line baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Combine buttermilk and green onions in medium bowl. Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper in large bowl to blend. Add 1/2 cup chilled butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk mixture and stir until moist clumps form. 

Gather dough together. Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead gently just to combine, about 3 to 4 turns. Roll out to 3/4-inch thickness. Using floured 2-inch cookie or biscuit cutter, cut out rounds. Reroll scraps and cut out additional rounds. 

Place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter. Sprinkle each lightly with coarse sea salt and ground black pepper. 
Bake biscuits until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Or I suppose if that kind of thing doesn't tickle your fancy you could always make a pie.

Turns out I did that too...

Buttermilk Pie
Adapted from Joy the Baker

3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 stick melted butter, slightly cooled.
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extrct
1 unbaked 9-inch pie shell (I used a pre-made puff pastry sheet but really you should make your own I suppose... shortcrust would work equally as well)

Beat eggs slightly. Mix sugar and flour well and add to the eggs. Mix until creamy. Add melted butter, mixing well. Add buttermilk and vanilla extract. Bake at 325F/165C degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the custard sets.

The custard will still jiggle a bit in the oven even when it’s set. Just make sure that the middle does not jiggle a lot more than the sides. That means it needs more time.

Let the pie cool down to room temperature.  You can either serve it at room temperature or chill it.  It's a beautiful balance between custard and cheesecake and would work perfectly served with fresh fruit. 

Turns out I spent August in the kitchen.  No wonder it went by so quickly!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

 It has been WAY too long since I've been back here.... so many discoveries have happened since; Rick Bayless's chilli (twice- once with turkey mince and once with pork mince) and kohlrabi (a bulbous looking vegetable I had never seen, eaten, nor used before but now love) and quite a lot in between.  I don't have a lot of 'anthropology of...' for either one of these meals that was made, but wanted to share the adventures of them all the same, and encourage anyone to make both!

First the kohlrabi.  Nick and I for the past two months or so have been receiving our vegetables and fruits via a 'veg box' delivered to us weekly from Riverford farm.  The produce are all organic, and well over 75% of the fruit and veg are sourced from local farms.  The great news is knowing we're supporting farms and farmers, rather than air travel and large chain grocery stores, plus it's an adventure and a challenge to work with whatever ingredients they are able to provide you with for the week (like kohlrabi).  The not so great news sometimes is that you don't get to choose what you get each week- so if you have a craving for eggplant parm, well you just have to wait for eggplants (aubergines) to be in season.  Thankfully I have rarely met a fruit or vegetable I don't like, though I am getting a bit tired of apples each week and will most likely have to give up the ghost and cheat by cooking most of them down into a sauce, rather than use them a bit more creatively.

"Kohlrabi" is a German word adopted without change into the English language. Kohl meaning cabbage and Rabi meaning turnip. This "cabbage" with a turniplike enlargement of the stem above ground was apparently developed in northern Europe not long before the 16th century.  It's flavour is similar to a turnip, but much lighter, with a texture similar to a dense water chestnut or an english breakfast radish (the pink ones).  In fact I used it in a similar fashion to a water chestnut and popped about 1/2 of it, thinly sliced, into a stir-fry.  I loved it!  It has a mild sweetness and a crunch that I found refreshing.  With stir-fries like these there are no exact recipes I ever use- it's always based on what veggies are in the fridge, combined with stir-fry staples like sesame oil, soy sauce, a chilli or two, hoisin sauce or oyster sauce, and maybe some corn flour/starch to thicken up the sauce.  I also really like squeezing some lime juice over it all at the end for a bit of sharpness.  The kohlrabi was delicious and as the veggies were only cooked for a few minutes, everything was still crisp.

Then last week I moved onto a different culture and had a go with tex-mex, all thanks to two packages of minced turkey and pork I had in the freezer, dried ancho chillies in the cupboard and recipe from Rick Bayless.  His chilli recipe, as opposed to others I've seen is very simple and straight forward and really highlights the flavors of the ancho chillies, as opposed to others that call for so many ingredients (molasses, beer, coffee etc.).  This recipe was about two things- the meat and the anchos- and it was absolutely delicious!  There is however quite a controversy of acceptable ingredients based on the schools of 'Texas' chilli, where it is believed chilli originated, and well, others...

Beans or no beans?  Beef was plentiful and cheap in San Antonio- one of the larger cattle towns in Texas that was home to 'chili parlors', family run successful businesses which started pre-WWII in Texas.  Each of these businesses claimed to have a 'secret recipe' setting it apart from all the rest.  With the ingredients both economical and filling, these businesses were a huge success and became very popular.  Eventually these 'chili parlors' moved north and east, into areas where beef was more expensive and beans were added to fill out the dish and to keep the costs within reason.  It is why even today (and proof being in Rick's 'optional bean' recipe) there are still a few schools of thought on the proper ingredients for chilli.  Me personally, having only been a non-vegetarian for a little over a year, I am not a staunch believer that chilli can be only one way, one kind.  But I also didn't grow up in Texas...

Here's what Rick likes, and I don't blame him!


4 large (about 2 ounces) ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into large pieces
    OR 3 tablespoons pure ground ancho, New Mexico or California chile
2 tablespoons bacon drippings, vegetable oil or olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef, ground pork or a mixture of the two
1 medium onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire-roasted)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons masa harina (the flour used to make corn tortillas) or corn meal *I didn't think this was needed as the chilli was quite thick on its own*
One 15-ounce can pinto beans
About 1 cup grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, for serving
3 green onions, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces, for serving
1.  Toast and soak chiles.   Heat large deep skillet or a large heavy pot (like a 6- to 9-quart Dutch oven) over medium. When hot, toast chiles one by one: open flat and press down with spatula until chile releases aroma and toasts lightly - 10 to 15 seconds.  Flip and toast other side same amount of time.  Transfer to a small bowl. When all are done, cover with hot tap water and lay a plate on top to keep the chiles submerged. 

2.  Brown meat and onion.   Raise heat under pan to medium-high.  Add bacon drippings or oil, then add the meat and onion.  Break up meat with spoon or spatula as it cooks and browns—total cooking time about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.  If there is lots of rendered fat, tip it off and discard.

3.  Make seasoning.   Drain chiles, discarding water.  Place in food processor fitted with steel blade.  Add garlic, tomatoes with their juices and cumin.  Secure lid and process until smooth. Set medium-mesh strainer over meat pot.  Pour in chile mixture and press through.

4.  Simmer chile.   Return pan to medium-high heat.  Stir 5 minutes to cook chile mixture.  Stir in 2 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer 45 minutes. 

5.  Finish and serve.   Sprinkle corn meal or masa harina over chili and stir. Stir in drained beans if using.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Taste and season with more salt if you think necessary.  Ladle chili into bowls. Scoop cheese and green onion into small serving bowls. Pass separately for guests to add as much as they want.


 Whew!  All caught up now.