Buttermilk skillet cornbread

The other night when I was making Shipwreck Stew, I remembered that we always used to make it with cornbread. So I decided to whip up a batch in one of our cast-iron skillets. I combined a couple recipes I had saved in my recipe book, and I thought it turned out really well.

My skillet was 8 inches in diameter instead of 9, so it made a really tall cornbread, but that’s OK. Next time I would actually use frozen corn instead of fresh off the cob. The fresh stuff was so watery it didn’t have much flavor when it baked.

So here’s what I came up with:

Buttermilk skillet cornbread
Serves 6
Soft and slightly sweet cornbread that pairs well with comforting stews.
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Cook Time
1 hr
Cook Time
1 hr
Ingredients
  1. 2 cups AP flour
  2. 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  3. 3/4 cup sugar
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  6. 2 eggs
  7. 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  8. 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  9. 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
  10. 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-inch skillet and place it in the oven to preheat.
  2. In one bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and oil.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and corn and stir it all together.
  4. Remove the hot pan from the oven (carefully) and pour the batter in. Return to the oven and bake for one hour, or until the top is browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Notes
  1. I found that frozen corn worked better than fresh in this recipe.
Adapted from The New York Times Magazine
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/

Homemade vanilla extract

Have you ever tried making your own vanilla extract? I am going to try it and see how it turns out. I just put a split vanilla bean pod in a jar with a cup of white rum. The recipe I have says to leave it in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks. Then you can keep feeding it, kind of like a sourdough starter, indefinitely.

I will report back in a few weeks.

Buttermilk biscuits + sausage gravy

If you’re a new parent with barely any time to cook, but you’re craving a home-baked goodie, biscuits are perfect. They are ridiculously easy to make, especially if you take a couple of shortcuts like I do. If you have a little more time, sausage gravy is not a bad way to turn your biscuits into a meal. We like them as a breakfast for dinner.

My recipe makes a lot of gravy, perhaps too much for this amount of biscuits. But since Sadie jumped up on the counter and ate some off the tray, I’m not really sure. I guess she is back to her old self again.

One other note about milk. It really pays to use whole milk in recipes like this. You get a nice creamy sauce that thickens quickly. I used to think whole milk was so gross. Now it’s skim that seems totally wrong to me. Plus I can always say I need the extra fat for breastfeeding. 😉

Aaaand, one last thing. I did make the biscuits one time with half whole-wheat flour. They were still good, but a little drier. If you go that route, maybe add in a little more buttermilk.

Buttermilk biscuits
adapted from Joy the Baker
makes 12 medium or 8 large biscuits

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute half whole-wheat flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
6 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk
Melted butter or buttermilk to brush on top (optional)

Whisk your dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Then add in the butter cubes and start mashing them with a pastry cutter. (I prefer that over a food processor because it works really well and doesn’t require nearly as many dishes to be washed.) You can also just use a fork or your fingers. You want to work until you have about pea-sized butter pieces.

Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the buttermilk.

Work the dough together with your fingers. At first it looks kind of like shreds. But eventually it will come together into a ball.

Spread out some flour on a flat surface and dump out the dough. Here’s shortcut #2: just press it out with your fingers until it’s about 3/4-inch thick. No need for a rolling pin.

Cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter. I got 12 with the standard size. You could also use a glass if you don’t have a biscuit cutter.

When you get down to the last one, you can press the dough inside the cutter so it becomes the right shape.

Lay out the biscuits and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until they are just starting to brown on top.

When the biscuits come out of the oven, brush them with melted butter or buttermilk.

Sausage gravy

1 pound mild Italian sausage (you could also substitute veggie sausage)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until it browns. I like to use a potato masher to separate the pieces.

Remove the cooked sausage to a bowl, leaving any pan drippings behind. I didn’t get many, so I added 3 tablespoons of butter.

While your pan’s still hot, melt the butter. Then whisk in the flour and keep whisking until it starts to turn light brown.

Whisk in your milk and stir occasionally until the gravy starts to thicken and bubble, about 10 minutes.

Add the sausage back in. At this point, season with salt and pepper. I don’t specify an amount because your sausage will be seasoned differently.

Serve over those fluffy biscuits.

Buttermilk biscuits
Yields 12
Flaky biscuits that pair perfectly with sausage gravy.
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Cook Time
20 min
Cook Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute half whole-wheat flour)
  2. 1 tablespoon baking powder
  3. 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  5. 1 teaspoon sugar
  6. 6 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
  7. 3/4 cup buttermilk
  8. Melted butter or buttermilk to brush on top (optional)
Instructions
  1. Whisk your dry ingredients together in a big bowl. Then add in the butter cubes and start mashing them with a pastry cutter. You can also just use a fork or your fingers. You want to work until you have about pea-sized butter pieces.
  2. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the buttermilk.
  3. Work the dough together with your fingers. At first it looks kind of like shreds. But eventually it will come together into a ball.
  4. Spread out some flour on a flat surface and dump out the dough. Press it out with your fingers until it’s about 3/4-inch thick. No need for a rolling pin.
  5. Cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter. You could also use a glass if you don’t have a biscuit cutter. When you get down to the last one, you can press the dough inside the cutter so it becomes the right shape.
  6. Lay out the biscuits and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until they are just starting to brown on top.
  7. When the biscuits come out of the oven, brush them with melted butter or buttermilk.
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/
Sausage gravy
This creamy gravy is the perfect companion for buttermilk breakfasts.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound mild Italian sausage (you could also substitute veggie sausage)
  2. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  3. 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  4. 4 cups whole milk
  5. Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cook the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat until it browns. I like to use a potato masher to separate the pieces.
  2. Remove the cooked sausage to a bowl, leaving any pan drippings behind. If you don't have any fat left, add 3 tablespoons of butter.
  3. While your pan’s still hot, melt the butter. Then whisk in the flour and keep whisking until it starts to turn light brown.
  4. Whisk in your milk and stir occasionally until the gravy starts to thicken and bubble, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the sausage back in. At this point, season with salt and pepper. The amount depends on how salty your sausage is to begin with.
  6. Serve over buttermilk biscuits.
Cara Corey http://www.caracorey.com/

Ham and cheese puff pastry

One of our favorite things to do on the weekends is pick up breakfast pastries at La Farine. It’s this lovely French bakery that has all kinds of beautiful baked goods like chocolate croissants and morning buns. But our absolute favorite treat to get is the ham and cheese pastry. We take them home and warm them up in the oven. They’re made with puff pastry so they’re flaky and buttery, and then in addition to the salty ham and cheese there is also a creamy bechamel sauce inside.


La Farine goodies. 

So when I saw a recipe for a very similar ham and cheese pastry on Joy’s blog, I had to try it. I ended up changing the recipe a little to incorporate the bechamel sauce, which seemed essential. And although my tart was quite a bit uglier than Joy’s, I liked how it turned out. It’s also really easy to make, and goes well with the salad I have been obsessed with lately (spinach and bibb lettuce with tomatoes and hard boiled egg).

Ham and cheese puff pastry
adapted from Joy the Baker

1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry, defrosted but still cold
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons AP flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup brown or whole grain mustard
1/2 pound thinly sliced Black Forest Ham
1/4 pound Gruyere cheese, sliced into strips (plus a few shavings for the sauce)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while you make the bechamel sauce. In a medium-sized skillet or saucepan, heat the butter over medium. When it melts, whisk in the flour. Then whisk in the milk and continue to cook until the sauce becomes thick and bubbly (5 minutes or so). Season with salt. Mix in a few shavings of cheese just to boost the flavor.

Now you can roll out the bottom sheet of puff pastry on a lined cookie sheet. You just want it large enough that you’ll be able to roll up the edges. Brush the bottom of the pastry with the mustard. I was going for a circular tart, but it ended up more squarish — go for whatever shape you like.

Pour the sauce on top of the mustard and spread it evenly. Then layer on the ham and the cheese slices.

Place the second layer of pastry on top, then crimp the edges of the bottom piece over the top, using a fork to press them together. You may need to remove the corners of dough if you’re going for a round pastry. Then brush the top with the beaten egg and cut three slices in the dough for venting.

Bake for 20-25 minutes. When my pastry first came out of the oven it had puffed up huge, but it eventually sank down.

Cut your pastry into slices, just like a pizza and enjoy!

Renegade recap and cookies

I just wanted to point you to a couple of posts I did over on the Goodsmiths blog. I posted a bunch of photos of my favorite vendors at Renegade in a little recap of the show, which was amazing.


Mike mans the booth.

Both days were extremely busy, and since I had more stock this year I was able to sell quite a bit more than last year.

I also posted about some shortbread cookies I made last week that turned out really well.

I actually can’t remember a time when I’ve made shortbread before, so I was pretty happy with my first try. I dipped the cookies in chocolate, which makes them extra indulgent, although they are buttery and delicious by themselves.

I have a few more orders to make this week, but then I am ready to relax. And bake! We might even take some kind of mini babymoon while Mike has time off.

Mom’s pumpkin bread

This is one of those recipes that takes me straight back to childhood. I remember my mom making this pumpkin bread seasonally, and we would often eat it cold for breakfast with a smear of butter. It’s crunchy from the pecans, and sweet, but not too sweet.

Making it now I realize that the recipe is actually really easy, and, bonus!, it makes two loaves. (Though you could always halve the recipe if you wanted.)

Mom’s pumpkin bread

3 1/2 cups AP flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
1 cup chopped pecans
1 15-ounce can pumpkin (or 2 cups homemade)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a big mixing bowl. Then combine wet ingredients in a separate bowl. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Then divide into two greased loaf pans and bake for 1 hour. Check for doneness. Mine needed another 10 minutes or so.

After the loaves have cooled a bit, turn them over and gently shake them out of the pans. If you want, wrap one and freeze it for later. Or not.

*You could also make these into mini loaves. Just cut back on the baking time a little.

Mini apple crisp

Last night Mike and I were craving a little fall-ish dessert, but I didn’t want to make a huge pan of apple crisp and then feel bad about eating it all week. So I just made a little one.

I adapted my full-sized recipe for apple crisp, which actually comes from my recipe for strawberry-rhubarb crisp. But really you could use any fruit you like. This one just makes it mini. (Though I tried apricots once, and it was just meh.)


A photo from a full-sized apple crisp. Very dangerous.

Mini apple crisp

2 tart apples, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 t. vanilla
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oats
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup softened butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans

To make this a little healthier, reduce the sugar in the apples to 1/4 cup, and use whole wheat pastry flour and raw sugar instead.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, toss the apples with the sugar and vanilla and cook them until they are softened, about 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch/water and stir until the mixture thickens. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl until you get a mixture with some clumps. Press half the mixture into a small casserole. Add the apples on top of that, and then the rest of the topping. Bake for 30 minutes.


We also got a little pint of Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream. Perfection!

Some other desserts that can be made as minis:

Rustic apple tarts

Zucchini bread (just make it in mini loaf pans)

Muffin tin pies

Mini puddin’ pies

Cooking through Super Natural Every Day

A few weeks ago I was feeling like I was in a cooking rut. I was looking through my cookbooks for inspiration, and when I got to Super Natural Every Day, I realized that I hadn’t just marked a couple of things to try one day. I had pretty much marked the whole thing.

So I thought that instead of taking years to get to all those, I would commit myself to making all of them in the coming weeks. I ended up making all but I think two of the ones I had marked. I feel pretty good about that, and sure that I’ll get to the rest of them soon.

Along the way I added some items to my pantry that I hadn’t used before. I think I will keep them on hand regularly now. First, whole wheat pastry flour. Not only is it healthier than white flour, it makes your baked goods light and fluffy. The batters I made with it were downright silky.

The other item is natural cane sugar.

It’s somewhere in between fine white sugar and turbinado sugar. Since sugar seems to really affect my diet, I appreciate any ways I can take it back to its more natural form.

Both of these (and the copious amounts of maple syrup in her recipes) are more expensive than traditional baking ingredients. But not terribly so, and I think they’re worth the extra dollar or two.

One of the first recipes I made was a blackberry compote.

It’s pretty easy to make, and nice to have around since you can use it as a topping for pancakes, ice cream, and the like.

I went ahead and made the multigrain pancakes to go with the compote. They were awesome!

I think I liked them even better than my whole wheat pancakes, so they might become my go-to pancakes now.

The book is packed with great breakfast recipes, so I continued making those. I had never cooked with millet before so I was excited to try the millet muffins.

They came out a little crunchy on the outside, sort of like a cornbread muffin (but a healthier one). Again, the whole wheat pastry flour seemed to help a lot.

I also tried the bran muffins.

They were good, but I think if I’m looking to make a “healthy” muffin, I’d probably rather have my carrot muffins.

I can’t say the same for the granola, though. It turned out so much better than any granola I’ve made before.

I’m not sure why I’ve struggled (and burned) so many pans of granola before. But I think using the thicker shreds of coconut makes a big difference. I will definitely start making this instead of getting the storebought stuff.

It couldn’t be easier. The only thing I might change is halving the recipe because it makes a ton.

One week I was craving biscuits and gravy, so I thought it would be a good time to make the yogurt biscuits.

I don’t get too excited about baked goods that I have to roll out, but these were pretty easy to assemble. And the layering of dough produced exactly the stacked look I was hoping for.

They’re good by themselves, but they also make a perfect base for sausage gravy.

Though it’s in the dessert section, I ended up having the buttermilk cake for breakfast a few times.

It’s not overly sweet at all. I put apricots on top instead of plums, and used about 1/3 the amount it called for.

These apricots were really tart raw, but that made them perfect for baking. I can’t believe I’ve never baked with them before.

Another dessert we loved was the sweet panzanella. It calls for golden raspberries, which I haven’t been able to find yet at the store. So I used regular raspberries, and I thought they worked well.

The only thing I would change is the bread. I used a big loaf of white bread, but it called for an artisan loaf of wheat bread.

We’ve since discovered La Farine’s wheat levain, which would be perfect. Next time!

You top the sweetened crisped bread cubes with the mushed raspberries and there you have your bread salad. It could not be easier.

Getting to some of the savory dishes, I tried the frittata one night for dinner. My expectations weren’t too high since baked egg dishes aren’t usually my favorites. But this one really surprised me.

The golden potatoes and salty feta cheese with the fresh asparagus made for an excellent combination. And again, a pretty easy dish to throw together. I finally found some better quality eggs at the grocery store that don’t cost a fortune, and I think those made a difference too.

I had high hopes for the vegetable curry, but it was just OK.

I think the vegetables and tofu produced a lot of water, which thinned out the sauce. Then you were supposed to add broth, which thinned it out even more. I think I will try it again, though, because I love the overall concept.

I got excited about the cauliflower soup because I finally had an excuse to buy orange cauliflower. I always notice the interesting varieties of cauliflower at the Berkeley Bowl, and this time I got to buy one!

I also loved the idea of the Dijon flavored croutons that go on top of the soup.

The soup itself came together well with some help from my immersion blender. It doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but it’s definitely the kind of soothing dinner that sounds good on dreary days.

So, after all that I have some recipes that will become staples and some that won’t. I got to try new ingredients: millet, apricots, orange cauliflower. I found a new way to make croutons and a technique for rolling biscuits. And I certainly feel like I have accomplished something!

I think the only thing to do now is buy her other cookbook.

Crumb coffee cake

File this under naughty things to make once in a great while. I was craving coffee cake — you know, the kind that has as much crumbly topping as actual cake?

Well, it took me a while to figure out that most recipes for such a cake are called ‘crumb cake.’ But I finally found a recipe for exactly what I wanted.

It called for rhubarb, which would be delicious. But I didn’t have any, and I wanted it plain anyway. So I made it plain, and it was incredibly good. Like, I-need-to-be-alone-with-my-fork good.

It’s nice warm out of the oven or cold out of the fridge. Make it next time you’re hosting a brunch. Or maybe just for yourself. Just because.

Full recipe here.

Leek tart

This recipe actually comes from Mike, who made it last week after searching for something to make with leeks. All I could think of was potato soup, but this French tart is much better suited for spring, and so delicious.

Leek tart
from the Organic Cookbook

4 tablespoons butter
4 leeks, finely sliced (make sure they are well-rinsed!)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup creme fraiche (or you could use heavy cream)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pastry shell:
1 1/3 cups AP flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cold water

Start by making the pastry crust — put the flour, salt and butter in a food processor. (If you don’t have a food processor you could do this by hand with a pastry cutter). Pulse until you get fine crumbs. Add the egg yolk. Pulse until the pastry comes together, adding water a little bit at a time. Dump out the pastry on a floured surface and knead it into a round.

Roll out the pastry to 1/8-inch thickness and then press it into a tart pan. The closest thing we have is a springform pan, which works fine, or you could even use a pie pan. Chill for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the tart shell with parchment paper and then fill it with dry beans. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, then bake for another 10 minutes until golden brown.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Place a baking sheet in the oven to preheat. While that’s adjusting, you can make the filling. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and cook them until they’re soft and wilted, 20-30 minutes. Set them aside to cool. Mike says it seems like you will have way too many leeks for the tart, but they end up cooking down and fitting.

Beat the eggs, creme fraiche, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a bowl. Add the leeks to the mixture. Pour this into the baked pastry shell. Place the tart on the preheated baking sheet and bake until the tart is golden, 30 minutes. If you jiggle it a little you should be able to tell if the filling has firmed up.

The great thing about these quiche-like tarts is that you can eat them hot or cold. A slice of this served with a salad reminds me so much of La Mie lunches in Des Moines, which reminds me of pretty pastries sitting in the window. Good times!