Sunday, January 29, 2012

Buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy - January 29, 2012

I apologize for being mostly MIA this month. As seems to happen every year, January has been extremely busy at work with travel and learning a new territory and new programs.

So far, the new territory is great. I used to work most of the east coast, from South Carolina through New England and west to include Michigan and Ohio. That meant lots of trips to New York and Philadelphia. Great food cities, but major PITA for travel. Proof: while the airports in that region handle just 12% of the domestic flights, they account for 50% of the delays!

As of January 1, I go only as far north as Maryland and Delaware and continue to work in the Carolinas as well as picking up Tennessee and Kentucky. Also, we had our company meeting in Atlanta this year (this is the same meeting we usually have in Phoenix, where last year I managed to run into fellow Dinner Clubber and old friend Nick!). All that southern travel has given me hankering for good old biscuits and gravy, which I unfortunately have to pass up in restaurants since they are likely leavened with baking powder than contains corn starch. Boo.

But I think I have now mastered an at home, from scratch version of the classic southern breakfast dish that beats most roadside diners and rivals that of true southern cooks!

It actually starts the day before when I make sausage as a topping for pizza (which I'm still trying to master... I'll write about that soon). I have experimented with several different flavors, but my favorite for both pizza and the day-after-breakfast is a slightly spicy fennel sausage.

1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons toasted and lightly pounded fennel seeds
1 large (or two small) garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Mix gently with your hands. Cook a small portion to see if the seasoning is to your liking and adjust.

Then I use about half the sausage for the pizza and save the other half for breakfast the next day (this also keeps nicely for a week or so in the fridge so you don't necessarily have to do the pork overload of back-to-back meals!).

I've tried a few different recipes for buttermilk biscuits and have combined a few to create what I think is a winner. Tasty, flaky, and easy. What more could you ask for?

The key to making this recipe really easy is the pastry blender.

I finally bought one a couple months ago and I it has changed my life. That is a bit hyperbolic, but not really! I use it for biscuits, pies crust, and flour tortillas. I no longer need to drag out and then clean the bulky food processor, nor do I struggle to use knives or a forks to "cut in" butter.

Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder (I use Hain's Featherweight)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients together, then add the butter use a pastry blender to mix. Leave a few large clumps of butter. Stir in the buttermilk with a wooden spoon until the mixture is a soft, slightly sticky ball. Transfer dough to floured surface and form into a rough ball (don't overmix!). Use dough cutter to divide dough into 8-12 equal size pieces. Shape and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until biscuit tops are light brown.

I'm still working on a system for dividing and shaping so that they come out prettier, but the taste and texture is perfect.

While the biscuits are baking, you can start the gravy.

Sausage Gravy
1/2 pound sausage
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (whole is best, but reduced fat tastes fine too)
Optional: Tabasco for additional heat, salt and pepper to taste.

Brown the sausage over medium heat until not pink. Sprinkle flour over sausage and cook until everything starts to get a nutty brown (about 3-5 minutes). Slowly add milk in three or four additions, stirring between each addition. Reduce heat and cover, allow to cook until thick.

Place two biscuits on a plate and smother with gravy (you may have extra biscuits - they freeze nicely). Enjoy!

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