food stuff

Cream biscuits, because I’ve been baking

I seem to be posting more recipes than writing posts lately. I’ve got three different finished manuscripts that I’m bouncing between, doing last-round edits before submitting. There’s the third book of the Tempest trilogy, the third (and possibly fourth because things got long and complicated) book of the Middle Hill series, a stand-along pirate-slaveboy-fantasy thing with the working title of Shark Punching. (Spoiler alert – there is a shark that gets punched. Other spoiler alert – the working title will not be the final title.)

So of course, I’ve been making biscuits. It all started with the need for goodies for various Christmas party pot lucks, when I wanted to try making clotted cream. (Not a spoiler – it turned out, and was delicious.)

The cream biscuits are easier than butter, flakier, and stay fresh longer.  I’m giving the basic method and the variation I actually made:

Regular cream biscuits:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (though you could use self raising flour, which is even better, just skip the baking powder and salt)
  • 1-2 tbs of sugar (depending on how sweet you like them)
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Mix all dry ingredients well. Add cream. Mix with a spoon until combined. Within the bowl or on the counter (tipping out the rest of the dry ingredients if you have it so as to not add more flour, don’t knead the dough so much as pat it out flat and fold it over three or four times. The pat flat and fold method will give you the layers.

You could use a biscuit cutter to cut biscuits, then reroll and cut, reroll and cut, but every time you do so, the dough gets less and less tender. So embrace the square biscuit and cut up all your biscuits at the same time. Use a bench scraper for best results. This is best done quickly. If you saw at it, you could “glue” the layers down and they won’t puff up.

Use a pastry brush dipped in the container that held the cream and dab what you couldn’t pour out on top of the biscuits. Sprinkle with sugar if going for a sweet version. Separate the biscuits on a parchment lined cookie sheet so the heat can get at all four sides. They don’t need much space, though. They’re not going to spread out.

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. They should be lightly browned on top when they come out. Delicious with jam or honey! Even better with clotted cream.

But I made buttermilk vanilla cream biscuits, which is the same as above, just adding:

  • 1/4 cup of buttermilk powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla seeds (you can use 1 tsp vanilla paste or even 1-2 tsp vanilla extract)

I followed the exact same method. I definitely recommend sprinkling sugar over them before they go into the oven.

You could add anything to these. Dried cherries or cranberries, chocolate chips, grated cheese and chives…they’re extremely versatile and you never have to cut butter into the flour.

Gluten (and free) flatbread at the same time

A stack of flatbread on a plate

Flatbread by Le Mai on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

We decided to have bread and Greek dippy things for supper and make our own flatbread. The breads started from the same idea:

  • 6 cups of flour
  • 1 3/4 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of milk
  • 1 tbs of olive oil
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 2 tsp of yeast
  • 1 tsp of sugar.

The regular flour one got thrown into thrown into the stand mixer for five minutes. While it was kneading, mix up the gluten-free flour mix (we use the stuff from cost-co). Laugh at the idea that all that flour will only need 2 1/4 cup of liquid total. Add another cup of water and then add enough to bring all the flour together. It should be a thick texture but with no dry flour on the back.

Both rose for an hour. The gluten one got punched down and divided in half, half and half again to make eight balls. They rested for another hour rose for an hour, divided into eight, then let rest for another hour).

Shaping the gluten ones is pretty simple. Flatten them by hand or with a rolling pin. The gluten-free ones need to be rolled out between two greased parchment papers. It flattens nicely. Leave the bottom  paper on to manoeuvre into the hot frying pan, then peel sheet off. You can use and reuse the sheets, just spray with oil if it starts to stick.

With two frying pans going at the same time, cook the flatbread. The gluten ones took about half the time as the gluten-free ones. On Medium-medium low heat (as the crow flies) they took two minutes a side. If the pan was too hot, I turned down to a four. If it didn’t brown, I upped it to five. I also swapped the pans around if one was too hot and the other was too cold. Our burners have very different heat settings.

The gluten-free ones turned out really well. They’d make perfect flatbread, sandwich bread or pizza crust. I kept them in a 250 degree oven while I cooked up the whole batch. The Cloud-9 flour mix works really well for bread.

Surprisingly awesome lemon rice pilaf


Preserved lemons Again by Emma Nagle on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

We eat a lot of rice around here. Most of it is Japanese short grain. I like the clumpiness of it. But last week we made a pilaf I’m still thinking about. It’s a “some” recipe, and things can be subbed in for other things, but if you have the chance, use preserved lemons. It makes all the difference.

The recipe doesn’t veer too far into the unknown at the start. You’ve got chopped carrots, onions and celery that get sweated on the stove. Cut it up into matchsticks and then dice the match sticks, though I suppose if your knife skills lacks, you can totally food processor chop it.

Standard chicken stock liquid, standard bay leaf, nothing new to see here, but then chopped up apricots go in with an extra bit of water. While that’s cooking in your rice cooker with all the veggies added, toast some almonds until you can smell them, chop (or process) them into fairly large chunks and chop up a good half of preserved lemons.*

Serve. The best part is, the rice is so good, you don’t need a particularly good source of protein. All the flavour of the meal will come through with the rice. Sub out chicken stock for veggie stock, or even use water. It doesn’t matter. The veggies make their own broth.

*You can make preserved lemons; cut organic lemons (the organic is important here, because you’re using the peel) three quarters of the way, lengthwise so the lemon opens up like a flower. Pack as much non-table salt (pickling salt, kosher salt etc, basically anything without iodine in it) as you can jam inside it and then pack salt around the layers of lemon as you cram them into a mason jar. Leave them on the counter for a week and then put them in the fridge for a month. Or you can buy a jar of them at a store somewhere, but I’m telling you, home made is truly awesome.

Also, just incidentally, have I mentioned that it’s new book** release week for me?

(**When Matt, the former prostitute long-lost heir to the Fae throne finds out the tradition his Fae prince boyfriend has been protecting him from, he learns why the rabbit has to run. Contains gay romance, a surprisingly useful bear, and no rice pilaf–although hot buttered noodles are a plot point.)

Apple and pecan pancakes


Pancakes with Caramelised Apples by Edward Kimber on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

We brought home a lot of apples back from BC and I wanted to cook something that would be delicious, filling and have a lot of good protein in it, so we made pancakes. I made them gluten-free but they don’t have to be. Scaling back the gf flour while using the oats and nuts as part of the substitution really worked.

This is more of a… guideline than a recipe. I’m assuming past pancake-making experience. You need:

  • A large apple chopped finely. You could grate it, but diced leaves a better texture.
  • 4 eggs. I used duck eggs, you don’t have to.
  • 1/2 cup oats, put through a blender until it is flour.
  • 1/2 cup of pecans (or any nut) also pulsed in the same blender
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, whole, chopped or pulsed
  • 1 cup of buttermilk (or milk, or milk and 1/4 cup of buttermilk powder)
  • Mix 1 tbs of baking powder with 3/4 cup of flour. We used 1 for 1 substitute gluten-free flour blend.
  • 3 tbs of sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • Butter and maple syrup for serving, or topping of your choice

If you’re making this gluten-free, you can mix as much as you want to bring it together. You’re not going to develop gluten that isn’t there to begin with. If you are using regular flour, mix only until combined.

Mix together, get out your frying pan or griddle. Cook until the edges are dry and the bubbles in the middle of the pancake. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes.

These are the closest gf pancakes I’ve ever tasted to regular pancakes. With all the nuts, oats and seeds it is quite filling, but I would substitute this recipe for regular pancakes to avoid the white starch crash right after eating them. If apples aren’t in season, I’d definitely smash up three bananas, but that’s really going to increase the sugar so scale the recipe sugar back and cook at a cooler temperature.


Your favorite coffee pudding

A cup of coffee with fancy latte art swirls in the foam

A Warm Mug by Sea Turtle on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

Coffee shops are wonderful places to get hot, steamed milk products. If there’s one thing a lot of desserts required, it’s hot steamed milk products.

Order your favourite coffee drink. Ask for it as a breve, which means with cream. It should be around 18% milk fat. Those desserts that make pudding often ask for as much milk as cream and 18% is pretty close to half way between whole milk and heavy cream. 10% would work. If any coffee shop makes it in whipping cream, ask them to cut it with milk.

Ask for it double sweet and no foam. For 12 ounces, use 2 yolks, 16 ounce three yolks and 20 ounce, use four yolks. Separate your yolks and beat them up. Put your egg whites in the fridge and tell yourself you’re going to make something out of them. Tell yourself they’re even better if you let them sit around for a few days and then come to terms with the fact that you’re just going to throw them out in a week.

Add the hopefully still hot milk in a slow stream while you’re beating your yolks the whole time Ask your wife to mix up a tablespoon or so of cornstarch in a quarter cup of milk and make a note that 2 – 2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch would have made a thicker pudding for the next time.

Strain your eggy mixture into a pot that you telepathically knew you were supposed to put on the stove as you got back from the coffee shop. Turn it to 2, realize you don’t have all day, and turn it up to four and a half. Do not stop stirring the bottom. Add vanilla in whatever form you have it in. Strain the milk through the strainer you strained your egg through if someone adds the cornstarch to the liquid instead of the other way around, but don’t name names. At this point, you can throw in a handful (read: 1/2 a cup) of chocolate chips if the flavour of your coffee works with it. Don’t forget about white chocolate chips. White chocolate and pumpkin are amazing together.

Stir until it coats the back of a spoon and you can draw a line over the back of it with your kryptonite fingers. Pour into the bowl. If you kept stirring the bottom, it should all come away. If your technique leaves something to be desired, pour what will pour from the pot and leave the burned stuff stuck to the bottom. You can stir in a pat of butter at this point. I did for the first time ever and since it was salted butter, it was amazing. If you don’t add butter or if the butter you add isn’t salted, go back in time and add a pinch of salt to the strained eggs. But who literally cooks and reads at the same time?

Cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the skin if you don’t want a skin to form. The skin isn’t terrible, it’s just chewier. If you want chewier pudding, leave it off. Put it in the fridge and let it set up.


Best burger techniques

Picture of a plated, charbroilled burger with the bun top askew, topped with parsley

Burger by Ian Turk on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

This is a recipe that calls for Ron Swanson’s recipe for hamburger, cooked to Canadian squeamishness about not wanting to eat rare ground meat. It calls for beef and salt. When it comes to toppings, I strongly suggest mayo, good mustard and grilled sweet onions only.

Buy lean meat, not extra lean. It should be 80/20 meat to fat. One pound of meat should make three good sized patties, 5-6 ounces each. Don’t overwork the meat. Just separate the beef, form it into loose patties with a slight dimple in the middle and salt both sides with kosher salt. When I used to make burgers before, they would always fall apart when I cooked just beef burgers, so there’s a couple tricks to keep them together. The first is after you’ve loosely formed them and salted them, put them back in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. This lets the meat glue inherent in the protein a chance to knit the fibres together. Don’t cook them on the BBQ grill. If your BBQ has a side element, cook them in a  cast iron frying pan. Get the oven/bbq proper up to 350 degrees while you’re preheating your pan to medium high.

Put your burgers in a hot pan. Without oil on the bottom, you should be able to lick your finger and have the spit boil off before you burn yourself. Oil will cook your finger instead, so don’t do that. If you’re not cooking for family, a couple drops on the pan should dance and boil off.

Put the burgers down and set your timer for five minutes. Flip and add the tiniest sliver of butter on top if you’re not worried about boiling in the milk of the mother. Cook for another five minutes and put the pan into the oven/bbq for 5-10 minutes, or until an internal temp of 155-160 is reached.

Let burgers rest while toasting your bun.

Best Steak. Ever

It’s been a while since we got the immersion cooker, and all we’ve done with it to this point was cook onsen eggs. But before school quit for the year we went out to a local farm that sells organic beef from their small herd. We got two kansas steaks (Like NY strips, but with the bone still in them). We finally had time to cook them. Since Elisabeth likes her medium well and I like mine barely warm and the beef can sit in the hot water for hours before it mattering, I cooked hers at 66 degrees for an hour before lowering the temperature and cooking mine at 49 for the same, with Elisabeth’s still in the pot. Then I grilled them in a screaming hot cast iron pan to give them a crust. The bone and the fat meant a lot of trimming, but what was left was melt in the mouth delicious as well as extra flavourful for having cooked with the bone in.


That brined pork loin chops recipe for future use

Browned pork chop on a plate with asparagus and potatoes in the background

Maple Glazed Pork Chops by Sea Turtle on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

Dear future self: When you’re looking for that awesome pork chop recipe, here it is.

Boil 3 cups of water. Add 2/3rds cup coarse salt (nothing iodized) and 1/3 cup of sweet thing. You used sugar, but try molasses next time. I added 2 frozen popsicle molds of frozen decaffeinated strong coffee and a tray of ice, but two tablespoons of instant decaf would do the same. The frozen ice and coffee brought it down to cool to the touch. Then Add the meat and let brine for 2 hours. Then it cooked on 6 for 5 minutes, then on three for four more.

Let rest 5 minutes.

Next time I’ll crisp the fat up on the edge. Don’t be alarmed the meat inside is pinkish. The internet said pork should be cooked to 145, but I liked it at 150. It didn’t need to finish cooking in the oven. It was like Char-siu on the top of ramen. Sprinkle liberally with green onions.

Coffeeshop panna cotta — easy and amazing

overhead view of a ceramic mug on a saucer full of frothy espresso

You Look Wonderful (Explored) by Linh Nguyen on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

Panna cotta is one of those things that looks wickedly difficult and fancy but really is one of the simplest desserts out there and cheating even more by getting the base at your favourite coffee shop makes it even easier. Panna cotta is so simple that if you’re comfortable working with gelatine, it’s just bloom, heat and mix well.

The hardest part of making a panna cotta is making the flavourful base, but you can cheat here and just go to your favourite coffeeshop (mine’s Cuppers here in Lethbridge) and ordering your favourite drink. There are a few extra steps — ask for it extra sweet and a breve (brev-ah). That means they’ll use cream instead of milk. If they have 18%, that’s ideal. Most recipes call for a cup of heavy cream and a cup of milk, and that balances that out. Purists may have a heart attack, but with the small serving size, you probably won’t.

Personally, I like a large, cold, extra sweet decaf white chocolate breve with no ice for this, but you do you. I get both the syrup and the powdered chocolate added, and to make it mix, they usually have to blend it a bit. They may charge you for extra dairy for the cream and the extra syrup, but that one cup can make six servings, so it’s still a great value. You can always swap out dairy for soy or coconut milk, but it won’t be so mouth pleasing.

Try not to sip it on the way home. The base is very, very rich. You can use 1 package of gelatine to a twenty ounce drink. Pour out 1/2 a cup of the liquid into a microwave safe bowl and sprinkle your gelatin over the surface. It will take 5 minutes to bloom, so while you’re doing that, heat up the drink on the stove or microwave while you’re waiting. Don’t let it boil, but it should be hot. Nuke the bloomed gelatin for 30 seconds in the microwave and then add it to the hot liquid. You know your gelatin is melted when you rub the liquid between your fingers and can’t feel graininess. This is the only really difficult step. You should stir until it’s completely combined. If you don’t like the way jello can sometimes separate into two different densities, it’s because the crystals weren’t completely melted.

For easier pouring, a measuring cup allows more control. You can get super fancy here; try putting glasses at an angle into muffin tins if you want it slanted in the finished cup or pour into fancy glasses. This is traditionally served in a ramekin — just pop into hot water for a few seconds and invert it onto a plate. Fresh fruit, whether whole or in sauces go really well with a good vanilla base. You can dress this up or down. Whatever you do, let it set completely up, overnight if at all possible.

There’s so much you can do to this. You can use the coffee as half the base and make up your own flavours. Melt chocolate into light cream to make it less of a coffee flavoured base. Starbucks makes you a breve with heavy cream, which will allow you to add 50% of the base as coffee shots. Bringing home espresso and add condensed milk for vietnamese panna cotta coffee. Add gelatine to sweetened espresso on its own to make a rich, dark layer on top.

Pizza scrambled eggs

IMG_0122This isn’t so much of a recipe as it is an idea. Dice your pizza, fry with a bit of olive oil to start and some balsamic vinegar to finish, push the pizza over to one side, crack two eggs in the void you just created, and scramble on its own until it’s about 80% set then mix through the pizza croutons and cook until eggs have finished to your liking. Dice up a tomato, tear off a handful of basil and serve. It turns into a stovetop savory bread pudding and two slices of pizza with two eggs and a tomato makes enough for two people.