FREE counter and Web statistics from

Friday, April 30, 2010

two bad dogs

I’m normally very proud of my dogs. They’re great with our goddaughter. They follow the rules. (No barking inside when we’re home. No dogs in the bedroom.) They haven’t had an accident inside in about seven years. I’m pretty sure they speak English, and I swear they can tell time – they wake me up every morning precisely at six. They do have some endearing peculiarities: they love ice, they really enjoy eating plants, they’re scared of thunder and hide in the closet when it rains, and they’re terrified of cameras. (I had to catch Belle by surprise as she came out of the bushes to get the above picture, and I had to use my lousy camera phone. There was no chance of getting them both in the same picture.)

Every once in a while, however, they make me mad. A couple months ago, I was going to pick Kaytie up from work for lunch. I made two sandwiches, left them on the counter, and left. (Most of the time, I can leave food on the coffee table, leave the room, and come back to find the food untouched.) When we got home, the sandwiches were gone, and Belle and Bailey had guilty looks on their faces.

With this in mind, I thought I’d taken enough precautions to protect my bread. The two loaves were cooling on a rack that I slid to the very back of the counter. I moved the knife block to create a physical barrier in front of the rack. I thought it was safe. We were on our way to a wine tasting, and we were throwing a small after party. The bread was for bruschetta with olives, roasted red peppers, and manchego.

I think you know where this is going. When we got back to the house, an entire loaf of bread had disappeared. At least they left us one loaf for the bruschetta, though I think that was due less to their altruism than to the second loaf being out of reach.

Anyway, you should have the recipe for this bread, even if you don’t have a picture of it. The bread is great – one of Mom’s staples when I was growing up. So easy to make that two of my brothers sold loaves door-to-door for pocket money, and so tasty that it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Easy Italian Bread
(makes two loaves)

4 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for dusting
1 Tbs salt
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs butter
2 packages active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups warm water (110˚)
vegetable oil
1 egg white (optional)
1 Tbs cold water (optional)

The original recipe calls for making this in a food processor, which is easy. My food processor is not very big, so I used my stand-up mixer. Either way, you want to combine 3 cups flour, salt, sugar, and butter in the food processor or bowl. Pulse the food processor a few times to cut in the butter. If you’re using the mixer, cut in the butter with 2 knives in a criss-crossing motion and mix the ingredients with the paddle attachment briefly.

Stir the yeast into the water in a measuring cup. Add half the water to the dry ingredients. Pulse the food processor 4 times. (Or run the mixer using the dough hook for a few seconds.)

Add 1 ½ cups flour and the rest of the water/yeast mixture. Pulse the food processor 4 more times. (Or use the dough hook to mix.)

Run the food processor or the mixer until a ball of dough forms. Once the ball forms, keep running to knead for a minute or so.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board. Knead a few times to form a smooth ball.

Cover the ball loosely with plastic wrap and a dishtowel. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a rough rectangle that’s about 15 x 10 inches. Start at the wide side and roll the dough tightly to form a long baguette-looking loaf. Pinch the seams together and seal by gently rolling back and forth.

Grease one or two cookie sheets and dust with cornmeal.

Put the dough on the cookie sheets. Brush the dough with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours.

When you’re ready to bake the bread, take it out of the fridge. Let it rest at room temperature, uncovered, for about 10 minutes while the oven is preheating to 425˚. Make 4 or 5 diagonal slits in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. I keep a scalpel in the kitchen for just this purpose.

Bake for 15-20 minutes. (My oven’s perfect time is 16 minutes.) The bread should be light brown. (To check for doneness, thump the loaf on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, the bread is done.)

If you want a shiny loaf, do the following. Mix the egg white and cold water together. Take the bread out of the oven at about 14 minutes. Brush with the egg white mixture and return the bread to the oven. Bake for about 5 minutes more, until the bread is golden brown and shiny.

Cool the bread on a wire rack, out of the reach of your bad dogs.

Friday, April 23, 2010


“Mmm, baby, this is the recipe!”

When Kaytie said that, I knew I’d finally made a great batch of biscuits. Off and on, I’ve been working on a recipe and learning the process of biscuit-making over the past year. I grew up with biscuits of the drop or canned variety, but now that I live in Mississippi, I wanted to learn to make the classic Southern biscuits that we have here.

Lots of people claim to have a great biscuit-maker in their family, and in the next breath, they tell me there’s no recipe. You have to watch someone to learn to make biscuits. But nobody ever invited me to watch.

So, I played. I looked online. I picked up some tips along the way. The fat needs to be cold. Kneading too much creates a tough biscuit. Don’t twist the biscuit cutter when you cut the biscuits out. White Lily is the best self-rising flour, and the recipe on the bag is the best. (Not all of the tips panned out. My attempt at the White Lily recipe was a flop. White Lily’s supposed to be good because of the low protein content, so I decided to use cake flour in my recipe. So, some good came out of that batch of tiny hockey pucks.)

These biscuits are soft and light and taste like butter. Good luck!

Classic Southern Biscuits
(makes 10-12 2-inch biscuits)

2 ¼ cups cake flour, plus some extra
2 Tbs double-acting baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt
½ cup unsalted butter, cold
½ cup butter flavor shortening, cold
1 ¼ cups buttermilk

Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and whisk until well-mixed.

Slice the butter and shortening into quarter-inch slices. Toss the slices in the flour mixture to coat them. Use a pastry blender (or two knives) to cut in the butter and shortening. If you’re using knives, move them towards each other through the flour so that they criss-cross in the middle of the bowl like scissors. The point here is to cut the chunks of fat into smaller pieces. You should cut in the butter and shortening until you have pea-sized pieces throughout.

Put the bowl in the fridge for about 10 minutes. You want the butter and shortening to stay cold. I forget why, but it’s important. While you’re waiting, preheat the oven to 450.

Mix in the buttermilk until everything is just combined.

Get yourself a little bowl of flour. Dump the dough onto a floured surface. Liberally dust the top of the dough with flour. Knead it a couple times, adding more flour as necessary. You want the dough to be sticky, but not too sticky.

Pat the dough into a rectangle that is about 3/4 inch thick. Dust the top lightly with flour and fold the rectangle in half. Pick up the dough and smack it back down. I’m not sure why you have to be so rough with it, but Kaytie’s dad thinks the smacking is important, and I did it, and the biscuits turned out well.

Pat the dough back into a rectangle. Repeat this dusting, folding, and smacking process two or three more times.

Pat the dough down to about ¾-inch thickness. Cut biscuits with a two-inch biscuit cutter. (I use a drinking glass.) Do not twist the cutter. Press straight down and pick straight up. Go ahead and cut all the biscuits that can fit before you pick any of them up.

Peel away the extra dough, pick up the biscuits, and place them on a cookie sheet that you have lined with parchment paper. The biscuits should be just touching, side by side.

Mush the extra dough back together. Flatten it out, fold it over, and smack it down. Flatten back out to 3/4 inch thickness. Cut more biscuits, and repeat this process until all the dough is gone.

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Monday, April 19, 2010

one from the vault: olé!

This recipe comes from waaay back. Back in Marks, MS, in a tiny little house that had been a garage at one point. Window unit A/C, space heaters, bugs galore, and a flooded living room whenever it rained too hard – this was our first year living together. But we had a decent kitchen, and with only one restaurant (two, if you count McDonald’s) open for dinner, we set about learning to cook.

One thing we cooked often was deer meat. (I grew up in Dallas, and we called it venison. Mississippi’s more straightforward.) We had a never-ending supply, thanks to Kaytie’s dad and a deep freezer. We’d grill or roast the tenderloins and grind the rest. I had an old-fashioned hand-crank meat grinder, and I’d mix about half deer meat and half beef, to get some fat in there.

Of course, then we had pounds of ground deer meat. Tacos and chili, sure, but after a while, we had to get a little creative. One of the best dishes was Mexican Casserole. (Probably not the most PC name – I’ll take suggestions for a new one...) It tastes great when you make it, and the leftovers are good, too. You can just reheat it, or you can scramble it in with eggs for breakfast. (Red beans & rice leftovers make a great omelette, too !)

Mexican Casserole
(makes 5-6 servings)

1 cup rice
1 ½ cups chicken stock (or water)
1 can Rotel tomatoes & chilies
½ onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded & minced
1 lb ground meat
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
½ tsp chipotle powder (optional)
2-3 oz cream cheese
8 oz Velveeta (optional)
plenty of grated cheese

First, make the rice. Put the rice, chicken stock, and Rotel in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to med-low, and simmer 25-30 minutes, until all the water is soaked up.

Over medium heat, saute the onion in a little olive oil until it’s translucent. Add the jalapeno, and cook about 2 minutes more.

Add the meat and the spices. Cook, stirring, until the meat is browned.

Mix the beef, rice, cream cheese, and Velveeta together and put all of it in a casserole dish. Top with grated cheese – the more, the better.

Bake at 350 for about 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is all melted.

**You can make this casserole and freeze it. Just follow the recipe, but leave off the grated cheese, and put the casserole in the freezer instead of the oven. Let it thaw before you cook it, and cook for 20-25 minutes instead.