Bon Appetit’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits

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I made Bon Appetit’s Best Buttermilk Biscuits last week, and they were pretty dang good. A little tang from the buttermilk, plenty of layers, crisp tops and soft centers ready to fill with a pat of butter or a spoonful of jam.

I made a few changes to BA’s recipe. For one, I kneaded my biscuits together fully by hand, instead of using a pastry cutter, or the food processor BA suggested. You’ll find directions below for hand-kneaded biscuits, a slight adjustment from BA’s version. I did look back at BA’s video after setting my biscuits in the oven, and felt like I over-kneaded my dough. If you make these, by hand or in the food processor, be sure to leave decent-sized butter chunks in your dough, and allow the dough to stay crumbly.

I also cut back the butter a tiiiiiiny bit, removing 2 tbsp from the dough, and skipping the butter-brushed tops altogether. Some might call this heresy, but I felt there was a ridiculous amount of butter in the BA recipe and wanted to dial it back, if only a bit. I’ve written up the recipe with the full amount of butter, so you can decide for yourself how much to include.

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Wild Mushroom Sauce — Latvia

 

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Food-wise, Latvia has many things in common with its neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania. Potatoes, wheat, barley, and rye are staples. Meat is the centerpiece of many meals. Latvia is a huge producer of dairy products, and you can see this in the cuisine. Sauerkraut is a favorite, each family preparing sautéed sauerkraut its own way. Cranberries and other wild berries are turned into deserts. Foraging is a common way to gather food, and foraged mushrooms are pickled or prepared as a sauce, as they are here.

Wild Mushroom Sauce - Latvia - 193 Countries

I wanted cook a traditional Latvian food for this project. This mushroom sauce is very simple, but it’s also a celebration of Latvia’s foraged mushrooms. If I were making the most authentic, Latvian version of it, I might make it with boletus mushrooms, which are abundant in Latvian forests and one of the most popular varieties for cooking. I didn’t have access to any boletus mushrooms, so I used locally grown shiitake mushrooms from my CSA share. You can use your favorite locally grown or foraged mushrooms in this sauce.

Shiitake Mushrooms

I first came across this sauce in this 1984 archived New York Times article on Latvian cuisine. I also saw it mentioned as a favorite in this blog post about foraging in the Gaujas National Forest, and this blog post on common varieties of Latvian mushrooms. Some versions of the sauce include bacon or ham, and others don’t. I have chosen a bacon-free version to suit my own preferences.

I served the sauce spooned over peeled and boiled potatoes, topped with parsley, for a hearty lunch.

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Porgandipirukas (Carrot Pie) – Estonia

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This is the very first recipe in my 193 Recipes Project.

Why did I start with Estonia? I figured I would begin with one of the Baltic states because I don’t know too much about the food in this region. This challenge is about eating new foods and learning about far away places. I certainly didn’t know what Estonians ate before I started to research.

My local library didn’t have much information on Estonian cuisine, but I found the information I was looking for on Wikipedia, Estonia’s Ministry of Rural Affairs website, and several Estonian food blogs. There’s a lot of meat and fish in the national cuisine—  I saw many recipes that called for ground beef, pork, or fresh fish. There were a number of baked pastries and soups, as well as pickled vegetables and fermented foods. What I didn’t expect is how seasonal and fresh Estonian food is. There are many plant-based dishes, featuring fresh carrots, potatoes, peas, foraged berries, apples, and many varieties of local wild mushrooms.

For my recipe, I chose to make porgandipirukas, a savory carrot pie.

Estonian Carrot Pie

There are many variations on this pie, but the filling base is always boiled or sautéed carrots and onions, seasoned with salt and pepper. Sometimes a chopped boiled egg, cheese, smoked meat, fish, or chives are added to the filling. The pastry is Danish dough. Home cooks use frozen Danish dough, or make a quick yeasted enriched dough with butter and cheese. The pies are most often shaped into a long rectangle, and sliced thinly to serve— that’s what you’ll see in this post. Some cooks also make hand-pie versions, and others make open-top pies.

The version of porgandipirukas I made is filled with grated carrot, minced onion, and a  chopped boiled egg, and wrapped in a buttery yeasted dough. The filling is sweet from the carrots, savory from the bit of onion, and almost meaty from the egg. The pastry is made in two parts— first milk, yeast, and flour are whisked together to form a wet dough, then a crumbly, buttery mix is kneaded in. It’s a simple yeasted enriched dough, but the two-part process also makes it pleasantly flaky and light. (There’s also an easier shortcut variation in the recipe notes.)

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Victuals: A review and two recipes

Above, a photo that I snapped of the inside cover of Victuals the day it arrived at my doorstep– I wanted to share the beauty of this book the minute I saw it. 

Ronnie Lundy’s Victuals (pronounced “Vittles”) is a chronicle of a 4000+ mile journey through Appalachia, a story and a history told through food. It’s part cookbook, part edible atlas. It winds its way through Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina, and pays homage to the traditions of Europe, West Africa, and the pre-colonial Americas that come together in the food of the Mountain South.  It’s a book filled with seasonal and regional recipes, but also a history of the land and the people of Appalachia. Victuals reflects a confluence of climate, culture, industry, and ethnic heritage.

Personal history also plays a huge part in this book. Ronnie Lundy grew up in Appalachia. She vividly remembers her “summers up home” in Kentucky, and recipes like the swing shift steak come directly from her childhood.

There are recipes for every season. There are recipes for bright vegetable sides and hearty meat-centric suppers. There are recipes for sweet desserts and salty snacks alike. There’s a roasted root vegetable salad that comes dressed with bacon and orange soghum vinegar. Kale potato cakes, spring ramp pot roast, miner’s goulash, and a speckled butter bean cassoulet with rabbit confit. A simple skillet cornbread, a luscious buttermilk brown sugar pie, salty cheese nabs, and the sweet-and-savory banana pudding you’ll find below. There were also a few odd but delicious-sounding pickle recipes I put on my list for the spring– picked ramps and pickled green strawberries.

The book is divided by key food groups and ingredients. Each section is devoted to a staple food– salt, corn, beans and apples, among others. The apple section is one of my favorites. It includes fried apples, cake, a sticky pudding, and a recipe for pork & kraut in cider gravy.

To be honest, I had no idea the food of Appalachia was so varied. Staple foods pop up repeatedly, but there’s almost infinite variation in the preparation and addition of seasonal produce. And while this book digs deep into food traditions, the recipes are modern and fresh.

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Shakshuka (Eggs Poached in Spicy Harissa Tomato Sauce)

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I rushed home from work on Wednesday evening to make this dish. I got to my apartment by 6 PM, and thought I’d have plenty of time to make it and photograph it in natural light. But with the strange cloudy weather and incoming fog, there was barely any light left by the time I started cooking.

I raced to get this dish on the table. Luckily for me, it took under 15 minutes, start to finish.

shakshuka

Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern dish, with particularly popular twists found in Turkey, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. Traditionally, shakshuka is made of a base of onions, fresh peppers, and tomatoes, stewed and simmered into a sauce. Poached eggs are nestled on top.

This version is a little simpler to make, and it’s my own take on a much-loved dish. I like the spicy peppery kick of harissa, and the extra depth of flavor from the tomato paste. Green onions replace regular ones for flavor and simplicity– they’re milder, but they also function as both base and garnish.

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Mushroom & Greens Potstickers

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It’s hard to believe that I haven’t written anything on this blog in a month…Especially when I went through phases when I’d write twice a week, then at least once a week. Lately I’ve been busy with school and travel and teaching and work, and I haven’t had as much time to cook up new things in the kitchen.

Luckily these potstickers are just the ticket during busy times. They’re customizable. They take a while to mix, fill, and fold. But once the hard work is done, they’re quick to cook… And you can cook them from frozen. 

Mushroom & Greens Potstickers | Kitchen in the Hills

The mushroom & greens filling is savory, a little spicy, but very light. Potstickers cook up with crisp bottoms and delicately soft tops. The filling cooks down in volume, and the mushrooms and cabbage release their liquid to make a sort-of broth. 

I like making these potstickers with kale instead of napa cabbage for flavor. (Cabbage just happened to be what was in my fridge.) If you’re going for something more substantial, I’d recommend filling these with sautéed mushrooms and onions. I’ve even made a cooked minced mushroom and nut filling that worked exceptionally well, and made these a lot heartier. 

 

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Restaurant-Style Thin Crust Pizza

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Just about anyone will tell you that you can make perfectly good pizza at home. Go to the store, pick up some pizza dough, roll it out into a big circle, throw on some toppings. Then stick it in the oven for, Oh, I don’t know, 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees?

But those of us who really know pizza? Who love it? We know that just isn’t true. You might be able to make a pizza-like object by following those instructions. But real pizza, it is not.

Thin Crust Margherita Pizza

Good pizza takes time, dedication, and a tremendous amount of skill. We’re talking New York- or Neapolitan-style pies with maybe little riffs to turn them into something special. Pies that never stray too far from tradition. And pies that most definitely, always have perfectly crisp, slightly blackened crusts. Topped, but not too heavily. Tomato sauce that is bright-tart but also smooth and rich. Melty cheese, slightly bubbly and browned in places.

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