Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As Good as It's Going to Get

I hate to be a whiner, but things have been going a little slowly for me, food-wise. Over the past week, I made a yellow cake with chocolate icing, cinnamon sugar dusted doughnuts,spicy braised beef, and Welsh rabbit. Everything was good, but not enough for me to want to share it with you. I certainly don't want to waste anyone's time with a so-so recipe.

Today I have a recipe for you that offers tastes of bacony goodness in every bite. While it's nothing too exciting or different (this bacon trend has been going on for a few years now, hasn't it?) This recipe is a cinch to make, so the next time you have a few extra slices of bacon, try baking a batch of these.

Whole Wheat Bacon Biscuits
From The New York Times Cookbook, with additional instructions.

When making this recipe, it is best to use your favorite kind of bacon, since the flavor really comes through.
Makes 12-14 biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup crumbled, crisp cooked bacon (about 4 slices)
3/4 cup milk, approximately

To make the bacon:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the bacon on a baking sheet. When the oven is hot enough, slide the pan into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes. You can continue to work on the biscuits while the bacon cooks. When is cooked, carefully remove the pan from the oven, as there will be hot grease on the baking sheet. Remove the bacon with tongs or a spatula and place on a paper towel lined plate. Wait for it to cool before crumbling.

After the bacon has been removed from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees F.
If you have not already begun to do so, in a medium to large sized bowl, mix together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the shortening. I used my hands to do this step,pinching the mixture together until pea sized clumps formed.
Add the crumbled bacon, stir. Adding the milk in gradual splashes, stir in the milk, just enough to form a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly flowered surface and knead for about thirty seconds, or until the dough is no longer sticky. Be sure not to overwork the dough.
Roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thickness, and cut into 2 inch rounds, using a round cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place the rounds onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lawn Cowboys and Thirsty Indians

Some dreams are best left as dreams. A few years ago I read about a restaurant that specialized in buffalo dishes. They raise their own grass fed buffalo (actually bison) on the premises. No, it's not like a seafood restaurant where you select which lobster you want to have killed. The turnaround time for buffalo is a little longer. I assume though, that if a particular buffalo looks especially tasty to you, you can make advanced arrangements.

I really wanted to try this place, so I was excited when I finally had the opportunity. As we neared the buffalo ranch, I had visions of a sort of Ponderosa hidden in the hills of Pennsylvania. I expected to be met by Little Joe and Hoss. I thought there would be lots of "howdy partners" and silver stars for polishing off a giant slab of buffalo steak.

In the interest of avoiding a law suit for the publisher of Sugar & Spice, I won't mention the real name of this establishment. After all, I am only a "Guest Contributor." And let me say from the start that buffalo (American Bison actually) is a delicious and supposedly healthy meat that I can highly recommend. It's so good that it's very difficult to destroy it, even with completely incompetent cooking. I know this for sure because the... let's call it the "Buffalo Ranch"... tried their best to incinerate this meat. In fact, they seemed to do everything in their power to destroy the entire dining experience. But the Great American Bison is apparently unbeatable.

Upon arrival in the gravel parking lot, instead of Hoss Cartwright on a horse, we were greeted by a cowboy on a riding mower. Well, he didn't actually greet us. He seemed to be more interested in singing along, loudly and off-key, to the country tunes on his ipod. But he was dressed in cowboy hat and open Hawaiian shirt. The 3 cars in the lot (including our own) should have given us some idea of what awaited inside. There was one other party already seated. The word "party" here is not meant to imply any sort of celebration or, for that matter, even happiness. The three diners scurried for the door as if they had been trapped inside waiting for some other unsuspecting fool to come along.

Inside, the solitary employee drummed his fingers on the counter as we perused the hand written poster board "menu." By then I had already decided to make this a quick lunch. I ruled out the $23 buffalo steak and instead opted for the $7 Buffalo Roast Sandwich. The waiter/cook/busboy attendant impatiently asked what condiments I would like. I told him I had never eaten a Buffalo Roast before and therefore was unsure of the optimal combination of condiments. "I like it with American cheese, pickles, mayo, ketchup, onions and tomatoes," he hastily explained. Wondering why he seemed to be in such a hurry, I scanned the room for a sign posting closing times. It seemed that we had the whole place to ourselves for the next 5 hours. My wife broke the awkward and confused silence by telling him to "just put pickles on mine." Yes, I added, "just pickles will be fine." The young man closed his eyes briefly and rapidly shook his head in apparent disbelief. "OK," he said. "It'll be about 10 minutes."

We adjourned to the dining area where what had to be an 84 inch projection screen was blaring an episode of the television show "COPS!" I have often wondered why people are entertained by watching the suffering of other human beings. Now I would have a chance to find out...while eating buffalo roast. In what seemed to be only several seconds, the waiter brought our sandwiches. Dry, store brand hamburger buns with some meat that seemed to be cooked to nearly resemble beef jerky. A very dry meal. Even so, the buffalo itself was quite good.

The waiter took a seat at the next table, watching COPS with great interest. I scanned the room. It was decorated with an "American basement" theme. Junk in piles around the perimeter of the room. Some of the piles were covered with tarps or old bedspreads. There was a large poster on one wall that read "Drink all your beer. There's thirsty kids in India!" We ate quickly.

After consuming the meat, leaving the bread and pickle on the plate, I stood and began to formulate an exit strategy. The waiter watched me suspiciously. I noticed a tray of plastic-wrapped pie slices. Apparently we would be offered these "desserts." There was a display of buffalo-related items at one end of the room. As I moved toward the exhibit the waiter hurried to the corner, apparently concerned that I might try to pilfer a valuable buffalo tooth or a buffalo souvenir pen. Like chess men we countered each others movements around the room until there was a sudden flash of light. It was the lawn mower cowboy coming in for a drink. I made a dive for the door. I heard my wife just behind me yelling "Gangway!" My last memory of the place was the feel of her foot on my back.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Nice and Easy Does It

At the start of the week, I expected to have at least two good recipes to share with you. But some things didn’t really go as planned. I made corn muffins that were so-so, and a really disastrous cake with olive oil, rosemary, lemon and cornmeal. I guess I should have known that with such a long descriptive, it would never live up to expectations. It tasted ok, but it completely fell apart, even though the toothpick test proclaimed it to be done. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I guess it goes to show that a few good ingredients prepared in a simple, classic way is often the way to go. The recipe that follows isn’t pure genius by any means, but it is satisfying and enjoyable. And it won’t collapse, I promise.

Roasted Asparagus and Pecorino
Use the best ingredients that are available to you, especially fresh lemons for the juice and good quality parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, and your favorite olive oil. You can serve this dish cold or warm. Just make sure to leave the dressing off the asparagus until ready to serve. Top with the cheese last.

2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided
¾ freshly cracked black pepper, divided
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about two lemons)
2 ounces shaved fresh pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place asparagus on a large sheet pan (you may need to use two). Drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Toss well. Bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes, tossing half way through the cook time. When the asparagus are done roasting, they should be crisp but tender. Allow the asparagus to cool slightly, if serving warm.
While the oven is preheating, combine 4 tablespoons olive oil with the remaining half teaspoons of salt and pepper and 4 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir with a whisk. When ready to serve the asparagus, drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil mixture and toss. Top with the pecorino Romano and serve immediately.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bad Habits Can Lead to Good Things

I have a hard time getting up in the mornings. This has been going on since middle school, I think. In the mornings before work, my morning routine is really just a flurry of movement, since I tend to get up at the last possible second. I often barely have time to eat breakfast. However, I can’t, can’t go without breakfast. And you shouldn’t, either. In order to save my sanity and some money, I’ve started baking some healthy zucchini muffins. You can tell they're healthy because they look so unappealing in pictures. I put them in the freezer after they cool completely, and I can just pop one or two of these muffins in some Tupperware on rushed mornings. On slower mornings, I’ll defrost one in the microwave and eat it with some fruit. Either way, it’s a guarantee that I have something that will keep me satisfied until lunch.

Zucchini Breakfast Muffins
I developed this recipe from one that I found for dessert-type zucchini muffins or bread on the blog Smitten Kitchen. I’ve tried to make these a little more nutritious without being too dry. One bonus of this mixture is that is sticks together nicely, so it’s easy to get the batter into the muffin cups without much mess. I’ve often thought they would be extra-good and really colorful with half shredded carrots and half zucchini.

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup demerara or raw sugar
2 cups grated zucchini, with half the skin peeled off for less texture
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup wheat germ
½ chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. Alternately, you may grease and flour to 8x4 inch loaf pans for loaves of zucchini bread.
In a large bowl of a mixer, or with a whisk, beat the eggs. Mix in the oil and sugar, then the grated zucchini and vanilla.
In a separate, medium to large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, wheat germ, nuts, and raisins.
Mix this thoroughly into the wet ingredients. Divide the batter into the muffin cups or pans.
Bake the muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean. If baking loaves, expect to have them bake 50 to 70 minutes.