November 22, 2017

Pumpkin Biscuits

I'm hiding from my family while writing this. In the less than 24 hours since I arrived in Atlanta, I've made my dog hate me for petting him too much, my grandma exploded microwave oatmeal while watching Snoop Dogg, and we've had approximately 3 minor Thanksgiving food emergencies. As much as I love Thanksgiving, I'm excited for the stuff that comes after, like leftovers, online shopping, and having my own bathroom again. One of the greatest Thanksgiving mysteries is what to do with all those leftovers since turkey sandwiches can get a bit boring. In my opinion, biscuits make everything better, so of course the best leftovers should be piled on a biscuit sandwich. Now, it needs to retain the Thanksgiving spirit, so I add some leftover pumpkin puree for a gorgeous color and extra pizzaz to dress up those leftovers.

It's hard to improve upon my basic biscuit recipe. My one modification to treat myself is to use lard instead of butter and shortening if I have it, but I figured my family's arteries are already clogged enough this week. These biscuits are the perfect balance of fluffy, buttery, salty, and soft. To achieve that, I blend flour, plenty of baking powder, and salt with ice cold butter (and shortening). I mix it only until the butter is in tiny lumps. I then stir in buttermilk until just combined, gently pat out the dough, and bake until golden and perfect. The buttermilk is non-negotiable for its tang and magical acidic leavening powers; trust me, it's worth buying for this recipe.

To pumpkin-ify these biscuits, I take out some of the buttermilk and replace it with pumpkin puree. Make sure you don't buy the big cans of pumpkin pie filling, since those have spices, sweeteners, and other ingredients you don't need in your biscuits. You still need some buttermilk in there for texture, leavening, and flavor, but you have to have pumpkin in your pumpkin biscuits. I've found that about a 50/50 mix works out just fine. You can serve these plain, alongside your Thanksgiving feast, for breakfast all week, or to make your leftovers on Friday just a little bit better.

3 1/4 Cups Flour
1 T + 1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt
4 T Butter, Chilled & Cubed
1 T Butter, Melted
1/4 Cup Shortening, Chilled & Cubed
3/4 Cup Buttermilk
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree

Heat oven to 425F. Line a cookie tray with parchment.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter and shortening. Whisk the buttermilk and pumpkin together, then gently stir into the flour until just combined.

Roll the dough out to a 1” thick slab. Cut into circles and place on the prepared tray. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden. Brush with melted butter.

Makes 12

November 15, 2017

Mushroom Dip

I'm going to be home in exactly a week for the first time since May, and I can't wait! I get to not have roommates (unless you count my grandma), see my dog, and cook for people that eat more than just frozen pizza and chicken nuggets. Of course I already have my Thanksgiving recipes picked out, but it's also extremely important to have a noshing plan, too. You know, all the snacks you eat during the Thanksgiving parade and while you're killing time before Thanksgiving dinner when you're hungry but still want to save room. Noshing is also incredibly useful for avoiding awkward questions and conversations because talking while eating is obviously more rude than whatever offensive things your family wants to talk about this year. Pigs in a blanket and quiche are staples for my family, and you always need a dip. This one happens to be filled with all my family's favorite ingredients: mushrooms, caramelized onions, wine, and plenty of cheese.

Like most of the best dips out there, the base consists of cream cheese and mayonnaise. I suppose it's ok to eat this raw, but these melt beautifully for a warm, gooey dip. I throw in a handful of parmesan, which doesn't contribute to the melt factor but adds a sharp flavor that helps cut the richness.

The onions are probably the most labor-intensive part of this dish. Caramelized onions have to be watched over and stirred often for the hour or so it takes to brown since the whole point is to slowly caramelize them as opposed to quickly sauteeing them for color. This way, you end up with soft, sweet onions instead of still-crunchy-despite-being-basically-burnt onions. Once the onions are done, you can use the same skillet to sautee the mushrooms with garlic and herbs. I like to throw in a few sprigs of fresh thyme since I typically have some on hand during Thanksgiving anyway. I also add in a splash of white wine to brighten the dish and further soften the veggies.

You could leave the mushrooms and onions whole, but that tends to get clunky and difficult to eat without rummaging around the whole bowl with your crackers just to find one piece. Since everyone still likes the texture of the vegetables, I found a compromise. I grind about half the veggies in a food processor until fine so that they are easy to stir into the cheese mixture and are fully incorporated. I then stir in the remaining half of the veggies whole. This way, you get all the flavors of all the ingredients in every bite but still have some nuggets of whole veggies buried around the dish. That all gets baked until golden and bubbly and served with your favorite crackers or dippables, like baby carrots or just your finger. Making this dip for your family this Thanksgiving basically guarantees that they'll be too busy eating to ask you invasive questions or make drunkenly racist comments (well, it wouldn't be the holidays without them), so do yourself a favor and pregame your Turkey Day festivities with this recipe.

1 Sweet Onion, Sliced Thinly
2 T Butter
12oz Mushrooms
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
2 Sprigs Thyme
1/4 Cup White Wine
4oz Cream Cheese, Softened
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan

Heat some oil in a skillet. Add the onion and cook for 1 hour or until caramelized, Season with salt and pepper and remove from the skillet.

Heat 1 T butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes. Remove. Add the remaining butter to the skillet with the garlic and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the mushrooms, onions, and white wine. Cook for 3 minutes or until some of the liquid evaporates.

Transfer half of the mushroom mixture to a food processor and pulse until ground.

Mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and parmesan together. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ground mushroom mixture, then fold in the whole mushrooms.

Transfer the dip to a baking dish and bake for 25 minutes or until bubbly.

November 8, 2017

Chicken, Mushroom, & Wild Rice Soup

Daylight savings hit me hard. Everyone was all excited about an extra hour to sleep or party, which I thoroughly enjoyed by the way thanks to some Benadryl and a warm, fluffy blanket. But now I'm stuck with all of 6 hours of daylight and night starting at approximately 4pm with months of this misery ahead. On top of that, it's freezing cold and I'm looking at the last Farmers' Market until spring. What do I do? I make soup. This chicken, mushroom, and wild rice soup is warm and hearty with secret bites of bacon and a rich, creamy base.

Chicken soup is probably my favorite soup of all time, especially when it has matzo balls and/or noodles. However, there are nights when I want something more filling than just a broth and want to feel healthier than eating giant balls of fluffy carbs and maybe a piece of carrot. This soup starts with bacon (for the drippings and also snacking) and searing off some chicken in the drippings. The onions and mushrooms are then cooked in that savory, flavorful fat left over. Instead of using cream to thicken my soup and give that velvety texture, I use a roux (adding flour to the leftover fat) as a thickening agent. From there, I add plenty of wine and chicken broth before stirring in the veggies, chicken, and rice. A splash of half and half rounds out the dish for that ultra-creamy texture just in case the roux didn't quite get you there.

Since this is a fancy, extra-filling version of a basic mushroom soup, it's important to pay attention to what mushrooms you're using. I wouldn't splurge on insanely expensive Morels (even if they were in season) or other high-end mushrooms since they're just going to be cooked down into the soup. I've found that your basic baby bellas/button mushrooms work just fine for the bulk of the soup, and adding a handful of dried porcinis to the rice as it cooks adds an extra punch of earthiness and mushroom flavor. Again, I don't want to cook the mushrooms to death, so I add the dried porcinis towards the end of cooking the rice. The soup has a short enough cooking time that the baby bellas should survive.

Wild rice is different than normal rice in that it's a bit chewier and earthier, which makes it perfect for mushroom soups. I like to par-cook mine before adding it to the soup to ensure that it cooks fully without overcooking. Don't cook the rice fully here since it still simmers for a bit in the soup. This also means I can steep the rice in those dried porcinis, which would have otherwise been overwhelmed by all the other ingredients in the soup. If you can't find dried porcinis, other dried mushrooms will work just as well or you can just add more fresh mushrooms to the base.

Considering most soups like to simmer for hours, this is a pretty great weeknight meal. You should be able to get it all on the plate (or in the bowl) within about an hour if you time things right, and you can make it even faster by shredding a store-bought rotisserie chicken instead of cooking your own. It basically has as many servings of vegetables in one bowl as I normally eat in a week, so that's also a bargain. You can pretty much feel the health flowing through your veins, though that might also be the wine and half-and half. Overall, it's a net-positive soup since it has your veggies and your whole grains and your lean protein all in one big, cozy bowl.

1/4 lb Bacon, Optional
1 Cup Wild Rice
1-2oz Dry Porcini Mushrooms
1 lb Chicken Breast
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Paprika
1 Large Yellow Onion, Diced
4 Cloves Garlic, Minced
12oz Mushrooms, Sliced
2 T Flour
1/4 Cup White Wine
4 Cups Chicken Broth
1/2 Cup Half and Half

Cook the bacon in a large pot until crispy, if desired. Remove, leaving drippings in the pan.

Bring 2 cups water, the rice, and a pinch of salt to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove from heat, add the dry porcini, fluff, cover, and steam for 10 minutes.

Whisk the garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Heat oven to 375F and line a small baking tray with foil or parchment.

Add a spoonful of oil to the bacon drippings if necessary. Heat over medium to medium-high heat. Season the chicken with the spice mixture and sear on both sides until brown. Transfer to the prepared tray and bake for 12-15 minutes or until just cooked through and still juicy. Shred when cool.

Cook the onion in the drippings for 6 minutes or until tender and fragrant. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the pan.

Add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook for 8 minutes. Drain off the liquid, saving for later. Add the flour and cook for 2 minutes or until absorbed. Deglaze with the wine and cook for 1 minute or until thickened. Stir in the chicken broth, mushroom drippings, and shredded chicken. Simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in the rice (with porcini) and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the half and half.

Serves 6-8
Adapted from My Modern Cookery