Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits

Sorry about that title, I just love alliterations. Couldn’t help myself. Anyway, I have been experimenting with a Blueberry Cream Biscuit recipe that I saw in Better Homes and Gardens. It is a new family favorite, not only for breakfast but topped with some additional berries and whipped cream for dessert, or Mr B’s personal favorite, reheated in a bowl and topped with some half-and-half.

These biscuits are quick to make, don’t require any fancy ingredients, and can be served with lemon curd, blueberry jam, or all on their own. What appealed to me was the basic biscuit dough. I have yet to find a good basic biscuit (buttermilk or otherwise) and am constantly on the search. Unfortunately this is more a cross between a biscuit and a scone, but my disappointment was tempered by their delicious flavor.

I have tried the recipe with different spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger), amounts of sugar, both whipping cream and half-and-half, topped off with sugar or not, and different baking times. I’ve come to the consensus that my small alterations to the original recipe improve upon the taste and it got big thumbs up from everyone in the household.

I happen to like a sweeter dough, so I increased the amount of sugar. This makes them perfectly edible on their own, without the need for the original blueberry sauce the recipe called for, or even butter, jam or curd. By sprinkling white or raw sugar over the top, you also get an extra bit of sweetness and crunch.

I also tried to make the recipe with half-and-half, as I was out of cream on one occasion. But the cream is significantly thicker and richer—a bridge between the traditional milk and butter called for in recipes like these. The half-and-half required an additional ½ cup of flour, which diluted the sweetness. Even with the additional flour, the dough was a bit hard to turn, as it was still a bit sticky. The result was a somewhat tough outer biscuit, not as light and fluffy as the cream-based version.

I also found that the baking time of 17 minutes from the original recipe was just too short. It was closer to 22-25 and my oven is well calibrated. Had I turned on the convection it might have been done in 17, but be warned. Taking the biscuits out too early means raw dough in the center.

These take about 5 minutes to make, and with cooking time can be on your table, piping hot, in less than 30. So what are you waiting for?

Blueberry Breakfast Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 cup blueberries
¼ cup diced crystallized ginger*
1½ cups whipping cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl thoroughly mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and ginger. Toss blueberries and crystallized ginger with the flour mixture. Stir whipping cream into the flour mixture until just moistened.
Turn out dough on a floured work surface. Gently lift and fold dough four or five times, making a quarter turn between each fold. Place dough on the cookie sheet forming it into an 8-inch square, approximately 1 inch thick. Using a floured pizza cutter or knife, cut 12 to 16 squares in dough, leaving biscuits intact. 

Bake in upper half of oven for 22-25 minutes. until golden brown. Cut through or pull apart biscuits.

*The Ginger People make baker’s cut crystallized ginger chips, which are perfect for baking recipes (as well as to put in oatmeal, granola, etc). This is what they look like, although they are significantly cheaper (by half) at Cost Plus.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Going Whole Hog

Well, not really WHOLE hog, just the belly of the beast. Yep, last week we cured, rendered, smoked or ate 20 pounds of pork belly. Now before you get on your high horse about how unhealthy that is, let me tell you that it wasn’t all consumed in one sitting. But I have found that when I am doing anything homemade, more is better. Like canning. Why make 5 jars of jam, when 10 jars are just as easy. Same thing with the belly.

It all began because we ran out of our home-cured bacon. Bacon that we not only enjoyed as a breakfast item, and in soups and other savory dishes, but also in bacon fat caramels. (More about that later.) So it was time to rub some belly and get the smoker out. And because we donated homemade bacon (and a box of those delish bacon caramels) to a fundraiser, more was required. We also share the bounty with Brilliant Daughter and Electrician Son.

So, two 10-pound pork bellies made their way to my kitchen. I cut the choicest 5-pound slab for my first foray into pancetta, for which I will dedicate a whole post to next week. Then I cut four slabs for bacon, and had one small slab leftover that I slow-roasted.

I wrote a post about “Makin Bacon” last year, when we first started making our own. We have since graduated from a repurposed Weber to an electric smoker that belonged to my godfather and is probably 15 years old. It takes a bit less tending and has 3 racks, making the smoking process more efficient and the end result is just as good.

As for the slow-roasted pork belly, I can tell you it’s not for everybody. Butcher Son’s girlfriend doesn’t like fat, and there is definitely a good amount on a belly, so we made it on a night when she wasn’t sitting at the dinner table.

The slow roasting, with nothing more than a few herbs and a finishing glaze, completely changes the texture of the fat. It just melts in your mouth. One caution: you cannot eat much of this and a small 1.5 pound slab feeds 6 easily. It also needs to be served with a starch, like rice, couscous, polenta, potato.

While it takes a significant amount of time to roast pork belly, it is so worth it, and requires no tending. You rub it up, stick it in the oven and voila! Topped with a Makers Mark bourbon glaze and you have one delicious serving of heart-clogging proportions.

I found the recipe on the Maker’s Mark site, which encourages cooking with bourbon, obviously. But the glaze added just the right amount of flavor and complemented the pork perfectly. 

So next time you are feeling adventurous, stop by your local butcher (there is a really cute one at Robert’s of Woodside!), and pick up some pork belly for dinner.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

1/2 cup Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
2 pounds pork belly, skin on
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, crushed and minced
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sherry or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 275°F. Using a sharp knife score the skin of the pork belly in a checkerboard design.

In a bowl combine the salt, pepper, sage, thyme and garlic. Rub the pork belly on both sides with mixture until evenly coated. Place pork belly in a roasting pan skin side up. Place in the oven and bake for 3-1/2 hours, turn oven to broil and cook for 10-12 minutes until the skin puffs up evenly. Remove from oven and let rest for 30-40 minutes at room temperature.

Using a serrated knife, cut the meat into 1/2-inch-thick pieces and reserve.

Place the honey, Maker’s Mark® Bourbon, vinegar, butter, salt and pepper in a large sauté pan. Place over medium high heat and reduce by a third. Place the pieces of crispy pork belly in the pan and increase to high heat. Cook until syrupy and glazes the pork belly. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Plate the meat, drizzling the remaining sauce atop and on the plate.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Strawberry-Lemonade Babycakes

I’m a fanatic when it comes to cupcakes. The reason being that I cannot make a layer cake. Well, I can make the cake, but it never lays flat and the frosting never looks like the magazine or cookbook picture. In fact, they end up looking like a five-year-old made them. So I gave up long ago and switched to cupcakes, which are easier to share with others anyway.

My latest creation is a strawberry-lemonade cupcake, which I made for a baby shower, and appropriately called “Babycakes.” These little mini-cupcakes are bold in flavor, not too sweet, and adorable as all get-out.

The idea was born out of the fact that the impending arrival will be a girl and I wanted pink cupcakes. Not just tinted white cupcakes, but something pink in flavor. And because my new favorite frosting is lemon meringue, I paired the lemon with strawberry for a refreshing spring-like melding of flavors.

I started with a box mix for strawberry cake. Now I know some of you may be purists and make your cake from scratch—and I do, too, sometimes—but cake mixes are quick, easy and have a good consistency for the small cupcakes. I buy the box mixes on sale for under $1, which leaves no guilt when I want to try out mixing in different flavors.  But, I digress…..

I started with the box mix, which required oil, eggs and water. I substituted ½ cup frozen lemonade for ½ cup of the water and added in an additional tablespoon of strawberry extract, as I wanted the flavor to pop and not be overwhelmed by lemon. The mix made 48 mini cupcakes and three 4-inch layers (one for tasting and two to make a daddy-to-be cake—which turned out slightly better than a five-year-old’s attempt).

Once the cupcakes had cooled I piped homemade lemon curd into the centers for a surprise treat. Because I have two lemon trees, I regularly can lemon curd. You can, of course, skip this step or use store-bought.

Then I made the lemon meringue frosting. (Recipe here.)  What I like about the frosting is that it only takes ¾ cup of sugar, is very light, holds up to piping or creative decorating with the back of a spoon, and tastes divine. Much better than a cream cheese-based or buttercream frosting. I even added a little pink gel color to match the cupcakes and piped it on with a star tip.

To top off the little gems, I used miniature rattles, safety pins and pacifiers. If you would prefer, you can buy miniature candy ducks or other edible decoration and avoid the hassle and waste of the plastic versions. But they just looked so darn cute. And, they tasted great.