Who knew fluffy, flaky buttermilk biscuits were so simple to make? If you’ve ever made scones or pie crust, you know that baking things that are mostly a combination of flour and butter are easy as . . . pie.
These biscuits are sweetened with sweet potato and a touch of brown sugar, and would be perfect served warm with a drizzle of honey. Make sure to use chilled buttermilk and chilled butter when mixing everything together, and don’t work the dough too much, or the final product won’t be as soft and fluffy as you intended.
I recommend pairing a biscuit with a nice serving of shepherd’s pie for a cozy, snowed-in weekday meal.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
makes 8; adapted slightly from Bon Appetit, December 2009
- 1 big or 2 smallish sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 1 Tbsp packed dark brown sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 8 Tbsp (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, plus Tbsp extra melted
- 1/3 cup chilled buttermilk
- Cook sweet potato cubes in boiling salted water until tender, 8-10 minutes. Drain, cool, and mash.
- Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Butter bottom of 9-inch cake pan.
- Whisk flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cayenne in a large bowl. Add chilled cubed butter, toss to coat and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Whisk 3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes with buttermilk in a bowl. Add the flour mixture and toss with a fork. Gather dough in the bowl, kneading until dough forms. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and pat into a 1-inch-thick round. With a biscuit cutter or knife, cut out individual biscuits, flouring the cutter in between. Gather and pat into a 1-inch-thick round, repeat until dough is gone (avoid regathering dough more than once).
- Arrange biscuits side by side in cake pan. Brush tops of biscuits with melted butter, bake until puffed and golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of one biscuit comes out clean, about 22 minutes.
- Cool in pan, then turn biscuits out and pull them apart.
- Serve with butter and honey, if desired.
Now is time for the post-holiday detox. Five weeks of cookies, candy, cornbread, and cream-based alcoholic drinks calls for sobering up with bowl of cucumbers. When I was attending work parties in Japan, where drinking is a highly valued part of professional performance, I would remedy the morning after with tsukemono, those brightly-colored Japanese pickles. The clean, briny taste cleared my head and went easy on my stomach.
This salad is flavored with celery seed, dill, a little bit of white onion. Use long, thin English cucumbers so you don’t get the pulpy mess of seeds that are hidden in salad cucumbers.
- 2-3 English cucumbers, sliced thickly and quartered as shown in photo
- 1/4 white onion, thinly sliced
- olive oil
- apple cider vinegar
- dill, finely chopped
- celery seed, finely ground
- 1 Tbsp sugar, or to taste
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- Combine all ingredients except the celery in a bowl and whisk together. Toss with the cucumbers.
- Allow salad to marinate for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before serving. Serve cold.
What would happen if you had cornmeal, eggs, milk, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, and a taste for something new? This is exactly what happened to me a few days ago (the chipotle peppers in adobo sauce being left over from my chipotle mashed sweet potatoes), and the result was deliciously sweet and smokey chipotle cornbread. The more subtle, flavorful heat of the chipotles balances perfectly with moist and crumbly cornbread.
Use your favorite basic cornbread recipe for this; I use Mark Bittman’s recipe found here. Simply follow the recipe, then stir your finely chopped chipotle peppers into the batter with a couple of spoonfuls of adobo sauce. Don’t mix the peppers in evenly; stir them in just enough make a red swirl in the batter. Eat it warm with a dollop of sour cream, but be warned–after this you may never feel satisfied with the plain old sans-chipotle stuff.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy contribution to your next holiday potluck that won’t seem (or taste) skimpy, try out this festive cheese ball. It’s always a party favorite, and it can be made ahead of time and kept in the fridge until shortly before serving. The tabasco, garlic, and sharp cheddar give it some bite (as a good party dip should have), and the nut-parsley coating lend some texture and color. When I have them, I also like to chop up dried cranberries and mix them in for a touch of tart-sweetness and little pops of red.
Holiday Cheese Ball
- 3 Tbsp finely chopped pecans/walnuts/pine nuts
- 1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
- 3 green onions with tops, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
- 1 Tbsp strong Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp Tabasco sauce
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup minced parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped dried cranberries (optional)
- Toast the pecans or other nuts in a small skillet over low flame. Toss frequently and watch carefully so they don’t burn. When well browned, remove nuts to a separate bowl to cool.
- In a bowl, mix cream cheese, onions, mustard, Tabasco, and garlic. Stir vigorously or beat with an electric mixture until well blended. Stir in cheddar cheese.
- Form the mixture more or less into a ball and overturn onto plastic wrap. Wrap completely and shape into a ball, then chill in the refrigerator, 30 minutes to an hour.
- In a shallow bowl, mix the toasted nuts, parsley, and dried cranberries. Carefully unwrap the cheese ball and roll in the nut mixture, coating the ball completely.
- Let cheese ball come up to room temperature, then serve with a cracker assortment.
Over the holidays we tend to go hog wild (turkey wild?) for everything in combinations of meat, butter, potatoes, and pie crust, pushing the token dish of greens to a forgotten and little-frequented corner of the table. Like cousin Merle, everybody knows it’s there but we just don’t talk about it.
But let’s remember how nutritious, and delicious–and pretty, too!–a nice little green can be, when bumping elbows with mashed potato and gravy volcanoes and shreds of overdone turkey breast. A simple salad like this one can be put together in about five minutes and will help prevent the post-Thanksgiving-”Why did I eat so much?“-stupor. Edamame is rich in protein (a nice alternative to some or all of the turkey) and adds textural as well as colorful contrast to a holiday plate.
The edamame-cranberry combination is loosely inspired by my mother’s lima bean and corn succotash dish, which she used to make for every holiday dinner until we convinced her not to. Here, instead of pale and mushy frozen lima beans we have snappy, firm edamame and instead of watery corn we have sweet and vibrant dried cranberries. Feta adds a salty contrast and some richness. And see how festive it looks!
Edamame Cranberry Salad with Feta
- 1 cup edamame, cooked and shelled
- 1/4 cup dried cranberries
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta
- drizzle of olive oil
- fresh lemon juice
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- fresh basil, chopped (optional)
- Combine all ingredients and mix well. If using basil, add just before serving.
- Serve cool or at room temperature.
Thanksgiving anticipation has finally set in around these parts, evidenced by the cheerful potpourri of round and colorful pumpkins inhabiting my kitchen. Accompanying them are boxes of cornbread, baskets of onions, mounds of garlic, heaps of potatoes, and–better yet–the potato’s prettier and sweeter sister.
I like to make mashed sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, because their vibrant orange color feels so much more festive than traditional dullish white spuds. The sweetness of sweet potatoes, on the other hand, can be overwhelming for me, so chipotle peppers in adobe sauce add a balancing smokey heat and nice bits of earthy color. You can find chipotle peppers with adobe sauce canned in most larger grocery stores.
The idea for this dish originally came to me from Mark Bittman, I believe, though the actual recipe has been lost to internet archives of years past. The dish really requires no recipe at all–just boil and mash your sweet potatoes, add butter or garlic or nutmeg or whatever else you prefer, and then the chopped chipotle pepper with adobe sauce. For new or especially exacting makers of this dish, measurements (which, admittedly, do sometimes come in handy) are included in the recipe below.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Chipotle Peppers
- 4 medium-large sweet potatoes
- 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
- 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 3-4 chipotle peppers, plus adobe sauce (from can)
- Peel and cube the sweet potatoes. Boil in a large pot until completely fork-tender. Strain and put back in the pot.
- Cube the butter and add to the pot.Grate the nutmeg into the pot, and add the sea salt. Mash together and beat if desired.
- Chop the chipotle peppers finely. Add to the pot with plenty of adobe sauce.
- Stir until smooth. Serve warm.
One thing living in France taught me is that when it comes to vegetables, simpler is better.
Naked carrots, grated raw and barely dressed, are one of the sexiest French salads, in an everyday-sexy kind of way. You can find carottes râpées in the packaged deli aisle of any supermarket or convenience store in France; it’s an obligatory side at pique-niques, or on school lunch trays, or for light Tuesday dinners.
The usual carottes râpées salad, the kind you find at Monoprix or Carrefour, has perfectly grated skinny little carrot sticks like crunchy orange straw, in a completely useless vinegary-water dressing. At home, your grating job might look less than perfect but the addition of a few simple extras like fresh lemon juice, fresh cilantro, and raw garlic will soon make up for that.
My grated carrots look like they came out of a cheese grater. Which they did. Those of you with fancy mandoline-julienne graters, go to town. Otherwise, you can arm yourself with a very sharp knife, a steady grip, and a lot of patience and julienne those carrots the old-fashioned way.
If you think just carrots is boring (it’s not!) you might mix in some julienned celery root or beetroot. An even better idea, I think, would be to add citrus–swap a spoonful of fresh orange juice for some of the lemon juice and cut in some orange pieces.
Carottes Râpées (Grated Carrot Salad)
- 6-8 carrots
- juice of half a lemon
- drizzle of olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- small bunch of cilantro, chopped
- sea salt
- Peel the carrots.
- Grate the carrots as thinly and longly as possible. If you have a fancy vegetable grater so much the better. If you don’t, take your sharpest knife and start slicing away, then slice some more.
- Put the carrots in a mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, minced garlic, olive oil, salt, and mix. Add the cilantro last and mix again.
- The salad will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days–any longer and the cilantro will start to wilt.
Here’s your antidote to the cold weather rapidly descending upon us (in Chicago at least): habanero paste, with enough chili fire in one spoonful to warm your entire body from belly to extremities.
The intensely fruity, bright flavor of habanero chilies is strong enough to persist through the inevitable burning aftermath, which is why a wee bit of this happily colored condiment can be a wonderful flavor compliment to so many dishes: tacos of course, chili, seafood, rice, even pasta. Just ration carefully or you’ll block out more subtle (that is to say, all) other flavors.
Making habanero paste was a simple process. I harvested a bunch of sunny yellow chilies from my garden (you can buy yours and save the seeds for your own plants next summer), then halved, seeded and stemmed them. I then lightly sauteed the chilies in olive oil with chopped garlic, just enough to slightly soften them and take the raw edge off the garlic. Using a food processor, I pureed the chilies and garlic, then added a slow dribble of olive oil and some apple cider vinegar until mostly smooth.
Keep the paste in a glass jar in your fridge for shots of summer heat throughout the winter!
I’m not usually one for the veggie-versions dishes, by which I mean classic dishes heavy on animal protein reinvented without meat or animal products. I say, if you aren’t going to eat it, don’t eat it. No tofu-dogs or seitan burritos for me, thanks. I’ll go with black-bean burgers and quesadillas instead–meatless food that is designed to be delicious on its own, not as a substitute for something else.
That especially goes for tofu. Tofu is oft-maligned for being tasteless and rubbery, but that’s when it’s cooked badly, like at a barbecue; or added where it’s not appropriate, like on a green salad or on pizza. In Asian cooking, on the other hand, tofu is used to its full advantage. It’s divine in red-hot, oily mapo tofu; perfect garnished with seaweed as a light Japanese appetizer. So generally I steer clear of dull west-coast “tofu salads” and their ilk, in preference for meals where tofu has a star role.
Ok, then . . . what exactly am I posting here? This eggless salad commits two sins: 1) it is egg salad without eggs; 2) it is tofu smothered in American condiments–i.e. where tofu does not belong. But–BUT–here I make an exception. Forget about the last two paragraphs. This is one tasty salad, tofu/egg substitutes notwithstanding.
Egg salad is undoubtedly one of my favorite sandwich fillings, but it is pretty heavy stuff. This egg-less salad may not have the heft for a proper sandwich, but it is a perfect light side dish with all the rich flavor and texture of the egg version. I first encountered this salad at Whole Foods this summer, and the recipe that follows is an approximation of theirs, copied and refashioned with some simplifications from their ingredient list. It’s a very close approximation.
The bulk of this salad is tofu (which needs to be firm in order to hold up in the mix) and roasted red pepper, with green onions for flavor and celery for crunch. Turmeric adds more flavor and a nice yellow color that is reminiscent of a real egg salad. The quantities of all of these ingredients are given but should obviously be adjusted according to taste.
(based on the salad found at Whole Foods) makes enough for 2-4
- 1/2 block firm tofu, cut into small cubes
- 1 red/yellow/orange bell pepper
- 1 stalk celery, sliced thinly across the width into “C”s
- green onions, sliced
- 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise (substitute vegan mayonnaise if desired)
- lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp turmeric
- sea salt
- ground black pepper
- Quarter the bell pepper and remove stem and seeds. Grill or scorch over a flame or in the oven until skin is blistered and slightly blackened, and pepper is tender throughout. Let cool, then rub off blackened skin and slice into strips.
- Mix pepper strips, cubed tofu, celery, and sliced scallions in a mixing bowl. Add mustard, mayonnaise, and lemon juice, and mix gently until completely coated. Add turmeric, salt, and pepper. Mix to combine.
- Refrigerate overnight to intensify yellow color. Serve cold or room temperature.
Here’s an example of cooking on the fly, whereby a medley of unrelated foods occupying fridge or pantry space is pulled out, subjected to heat or a knife or otherwise altered according to a mental file of basic technique and knowledge, then spontaneously assembled into a little meal that if nothing else, at least fills the belly. This, of course, is what home cooks are in the habit of doing, recipes being special-occasion special-effort sorts of things. Most of the time the results of these practically-motivated flights of fancy are only ho-hum, sometimes it all ends soggily and with not enough salt–but then there are other more pleasant evenings when everything turns out quite nicely.
This little salad fits in the latter category. For last post’s brownies we made full use of the sweet ruby earthiness of beetroots. But what to do with the leafy purple-ribbed greens that come attached, and which would surely wilt in a day’s time? Making a salad seemed evident, and quick and painless besides. I had feta and a jar of kalamata olives on hand, for the start of a classic Greek combination of flavors. So I chopped up the greens and the olives, and crumbled some feta over the top. Tomatoes would have been a predictable addition, but tomatoes I did not have, nor did that seem very interesting. I was also finickily opposed to the clash of red against the deep purple accents already present. Rummaging further into the refrigerator produced the cheeky grin of a summer’s end watermelon, and so (approving of chunks of pink to interrupt the Jokerish color scheme), I cubed that and sent it into the bowl.
At this point the salad had plenty of bitter, lots of salty, and a touch of sweet. It was missing a tang–some diced red onion would do the trick. I rather like the sharp edge of raw red onions in a salad, but it’s not for everyone. A gentler palate would pause here to undertake caramelization. I opted to save fifteen minutes and a dirty pan, and, finely dicing a quarter of an onion, whisked it into a simple dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A light sprinkle of sea salt and three vigorous cranks of the pepper mill finished the salad off, and my fork did the rest.
And that’s one way to use up beet greens.