Saturday, June 29, 2013

Classic Buttermilk Biscuits

After the 2013 Southern Baking Retreat, I couldn't help but come home and bake biscuits.  This resulted in a delicious explosion of flour in my kitchen, but it's so worth the mess.  Homemade biscuits have always been a favorite thing of mine to make.  Mostly in part because it brings back all those wonderful memories of being in the kitchen with my grandmother, cutting biscuits with an upside-down sweet tea glass.  Plus, I'm a self-proclaimed "bread girl," so no meal is complete without some sort of biscuit, toast or roll on the side.

When it comes right down to it, is there any food more quintessentially southern and delicious than a well-made buttermilk biscuit?  

It's an art form in itself.  Even though there's really only 3 ingredients involved - flour, butter & buttermilk - so much can go right, or so much can go wrong on any given biscuit-making day.

It's all about the technique and ingredients that you use: 
  • Southern flours, like White Lily, are made from soft winter wheat, and therefore have much lower levels of protein.  This results in lighter, fluffier and more tender biscuits.  
  • In addition, always use COLD butter and buttermilk.  
  • Work quickly while making the biscuits, so that the ingredients stay cold.  Once that cold butter hits the hot oven, it will create steam, which helps the biscuits rise higher. 
  •  And most importantly - Use a gentle hand and do not over-mix.
This recipe is a delicious, yet basic one that I've always used.  Biscuits only get better with lots of practice, so don't be afraid to make a flour-y mess of your own.  :)

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Classic Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups Southern, self-rising flour (such as White Lily brand)
1/4 cup COLD, salted butter, cut into cubes
2/3 to 3/4 cup cold buttermilk 
2 Tbsp melted butter

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or coat with no-stick cooking spray.

Pour flour into a large bowl.  Using a pastry blender, cut 1/4 cup cold butter into the flour until butter pieces are the size of peas.

Slowly blend in buttermilk using a fork, just until dough begins to leave the sides of the bowl.  Do not over-mix!

Place dough onto a lightly floured work surface and very gently knead the dough 2-3 times, just enough to bring it together.  Do not over-knead. 

Pat or roll the dough until it is 1/2 inch thick.  Cut biscuits using a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter, being careful NOT to twist as you cut.  (This will seal the edges and prevent the biscuits from rising as high.)

Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet, so that they are almost touching.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown.

While still hot, brush additional melted butter on the top of each biscuit.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

2013 Southern Baking Retreat - A Recap

Recently, the wonderful folks at White Lily & Martha White invited 10 food bloggers for a fun-filled weekend in Nashville, TN for their first ever Southern Baking Retreat.  I was lucky enough to be among those 10 bloggers chosen, and it truly could not have been more fun.  It not only was a great opportunity to learn a little more about two southern brands that I already love, but it was also an unforgettable experience filled with great food, fun times, incredible music and new friends.

Here's a fun little video that they put together of the retreat.  It does a great job of summing up all the fun we had!

Also, here's a list of the other 9 fantastic food bloggers in attendance.
Be sure to check out their sites:

Mike Rutherford welcomed us into his studio.
DAY #1:  
We spent Day #1 at the photography studio of uber-talented photographer Mike Rutherford.  His studio is simply incredible.  One of Mike's specialties is food photography, and he has an entire room FILLED to the brim with the most amazing props you've ever seen.  As you can imagine, I was practically drooling at the sight of all those beautiful plates, bowls, forks, spoons, cutting boards, etc. etc.  You name it...he had it.  Here are a few shots from his studio:

Glorious props:

The next part was really fun...They paired us up into teams of two and tasked us with creating a recipe using Martha White muffin mix.  There was a beautiful kitchen filled with pre-heated ovens and every utensil and tool you'd ever need.  After a little brainstorming, we all got to work on our creations.  The experience was so fun!  I pretty much felt like a contestant on The Next Food Network Star...Only there was no judging and no one got sent home...thank goodness! :)

There we are hard at work!

Julie and Robyn were all smiles!

There's me and my partner, Stacey Little, from Southern Bite!

Our creation - Red, White & Blueberry Tartlets

 That night, we were treated to what was probably one of the most special dinners I've ever had the pleasure of attending.  We dined on the rooftop in downtown Nashville, TN at a place called Aerial, with a breath-taking view of our surroundings.  It was really quite spectacular. 
I chose the Sweet-Tea Pork Loin with Pimento Cheese Grits (OMG!), Molasses Glazed Green Beans & Bourbon Jus.  It was heaven!  Chocolate Cake with a Raspberry Ganache followed for dessert, which was beyond.words.delicious.

And if that wasn't incredible enough, dinner was followed by an intimate performance by Hall of Fame singer/song-writers Tony Arata and Pat Alger, along with the grammy-nominated Bluegrass Queen herself, Rhonda Vincent.  

If you're a country music fan, you've probably heard of 3 little hits called "The Thunder Rolls," "Unanswered Prayers," and "The Dance."  Tony and Pat actually wrote those songs, and it was amazing to hear them sing those, among many others.  Rhonda is also incredibly talented and their performance was one I'll never forget.

Tony Arata and Pat Alger

DAY #2:
We started Day #2 off right, I tell you!  We took a field trip to The Loveless Cafe for one mouth-watering breakfast.  I'm talking fried chicken, perfectly seasoned grits, farm fresh scrambled eggs, bacon, country ham, fresh fruit, hashbrown casserole, and buttermilk biscuits (made with White Lily flour, of course!).  Needless to say, we were STUFFED when we left.

White Lily biscuits in the making at Loveless Cafe

Fried chicken for breakfast?  Yes ma'am!

Gosh, those biscuits were tasty!

After breakfast, we traveled back to Rutherford Studios and got back into the kitchen for one last challenge.  We were paired up again and got the chance to put our biscuit-baking skills to the test.  There were 5 teams of 2, and we each were assigned a different White Lily biscuit recipe.  The results sure were yummy!

Here's me and my partner, Lindsay, of Love & Olive Oil.
 Once the biscuit-making festivities were finished, we got to meet and listen to the new Southern Living Test Kitchen Director, Robby Melvin, dish on all things southern.

And that, my friends, just about wraps it up.
I want to say a special thanks again to the great folks at White Lily, Martha White and DVL Public Relations & Advertising for putting together such a great event.  It's surely something I'll never forget! 

Also, many of the photos that you see here were taken by Erick Blackwood, the talented  photographer/producer that followed us around like the paparazzi during the event.  He also created the video above.  Thanks, Erick!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Vanilla-Glazed Yeast Doughnuts W/Dark Chocolate Ganache & Hazelnuts

Usually, my fried food intake is limited to the occasional french fry stealthily stolen from someone's plate or an egg roll at my favorite Chinese restaurant.  I try not to eat too many fried foods, but gosh, every now and then you just NEED a sinfully delicious doughnut that's been fried until golden brown and topped with chocolate ganache wonderfulness, I tell you!

When my eyes first caught site of the cover of Saveur issue #154, my mouth began watering and it only got worse as I opened the magazine and was greeted by page after tempting page of all things doughnut.  There were pages of doughnut recipes, followed by pages of homemade glazes to top them with.  

I mean, SERIOUSLY!?!  A girl's will power only goes soooo far.

When National Doughnut Day (of all things!) rolled around, I decided to bite the bullet and make these divine doughnuts you see here.  And if you're wondering, they were worth every single calorie!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Vanilla-Glazed Yeast Doughnuts
Adapted from:  Saveur magazine, Issue #154
Makes about 1 1/2 dozen

2 (¼-oz.) packages active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1½ cups milk, scalded and cooled
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 eggs
6 tbsp. vegetable shortening, plus more for greasing
5 cups (1 lb. 6½ oz.) all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting
Canola oil, for frying
10 tbsp. unsalted butter
⅓ cup evaporated milk
2½ tsp. vanilla extract
2½ cups confectioners' sugar

Combine yeast, 1 tbsp. sugar, and 6 tbsp. water heated to 115° in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment; let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add remaining sugar, plus milk, salt, eggs, and shortening; mix until combined. With the motor running, slowly add flour; beat until dough is smooth. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with plastic wrap; set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; roll dough into a 13" round about ½" thick. Using floured 3½" and 1½" ring cutters, cut out donuts and holes; gather and reuse scraps. Place on greased parchment paper—lined baking sheets, at least 3" apart, and cover loosely with plastic wrap; set in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Heat 2" oil in a 6-qt. saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°. Using scissors, cut the donuts out of the parchment paper, leaving about 1" of paper around the sides of each donut (the paper makes it easier to transfer them to frying oil). Working in batches, place donuts in oil, paper side up, using tongs to peel off and discard paper. Cook, flipping once until puffed and golden, about 3–4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a baking sheet with a wire rack; let cool completely.

Melt butter in a 1-qt. saucepan over medium-low heat. Using a small ladle, skim and discard white film from surface. Slowly pour liquid from pan into a bowl, leaving sediment behind; let cool 1 minute. Add evaporated milk, vanilla, ¼ cup water, and sugar; whisk until smooth. Dip donuts in glaze, coating completely; return to wire rack until glaze is set.

To avoid oily donuts, remember: Fat attracts fat. The less you use in your dough, the lighter the donut will be after frying. Also go light on flour when rolling out dough, and use a brush to remove any excess; loose flour particles attract and absorb oil. 

Dark Chocolate Ganache Glaze
Adapted from:  Saveur magazine, Issue #154

8 oz. dark chocolate, grated
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
⅛ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

1 cup chopped roasted hazelnuts

Mix chocolate, sugar, vanilla, and salt in a bowl. Bring cream and butter to a boil in a 1-qt. saucepan. Pour cream over chocolate; let sit for 2 minutes without stirring. Whisk until smooth; chill until thick. 

Dip doughnuts into the chilled glaze and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.


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Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Dad's Famous Tomato Gravy + Happy Father's Day!

Isn't it wonderful that there's an entire day devoted to celebrating the incredible dads in this world?  I'm one lucky girl, because I was blessed with the greatest father in the whole world.  I know, I know...We ALL think our dad is the greatest, but mine truly is.  :)

Not only is he a great dad, but he's an equally awesome cook.  Today is your lucky day, because I'm sharing one of his best recipes.  This is one that I've meant to write down for the longest time.  He visited recently and whipped this gravy up for dinner along with country fried steak, and I made it a point to take notes as he went.

This isn't your mama's gravy!  It's packed with mouth-watering flavor and is kicked up a notch with the help of red wine and bacon.  The secret to the best gravy is bacon drippings, and this recipe takes full advantage.  

Be careful - This is dangerously delicious and has been known to cause dancing in one's seat at the dinner table.

Happy Father's Day, and Bon Appetit my friends!

PS - I love you bunches, Dad!!  :)

Paul's Famous Tomato Gravy
Source:  My dad

6 slices thick cut bacon
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1/2 cup dry red wine
2 cans beef broth
2 cans diced tomatoes
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a large cast iron skillet, fry the bacon over low-medium heat, flipping often.  Once the bacon is nice and golden brown, drain on a paper towel-lined plate.  Once it's cool enough, break the bacon slices into small pieces and set to the side.

To the pan drippings, add the flour and stir with a fork, scraping up the cooked-on bits from the bottom of the pan as you go (this adds flavor!).  If needed, add a little more flour, until all the bacon grease has been soaked up.  Keep stirring and continue to cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. 

Next, add the red wine, broth and diced tomatoes to the skillet, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir until chunks are gone and the gravy is smooth.  Add the bacon pieces back to the skillet and season with salt and pepper, stir well.

Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Serve with buttermilk biscuits or country-fried steak.

NOTE:  This gravy is the perfect accompaniment for country-fried steak.  If making country-fried steak with this gravy, add your cooked/fried steak right to the skillet while the gravy simmers in the final step.  This will produce incredibly tender and flavorful steak!

Stirring the flour into the bacon drippings and scraping up those yummy bits with a fork!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Q&A with Goo Goo Dolls' Robby Takac: The tour, the history and the new album

Photo Credit: Asia Geiger

So, I know this isn't the normal recipe or food related article that you're used to seeing here, but I wanted to share a cool interview that I recently had the opportunity to do with Robby Takac from Goo Goo Dolls.  It ran today over on  Hope you enjoy!


It was a cool December evening in 2002.  The Goo Goo Dolls were playing at the House of Blues in New Orleans, LA, and I was lucky enough to find myself standing in the 2nd row, near the middle of the stage.   That was a night I'll never forget, and they forever claimed a spot as my favorite band.

Their lyrics stand the test of time, just as well as the band itself.  After 27 years, they're still going strong and are currently on tour promoting their brand new album that hits stores today, called Magnetic.  Their summer tour will bring them to the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham on Friday, August 2nd, along with Matchbox Twenty.

Goo Goo Dolls fans will find the new album to be a breath of fresh air, filled with upbeat and optimistic songs that have meaningful lyrics and foot-thumping beats.  Ultimately, fans will love it.
I recently had the chance to chat with the band's bassist and founding member, Robby Takac.  Read on as he talks about the making of Magnetic, his greatest memory with the band, and the current tour.

Where are you right now?

I'm in New York right now, actually.  We just played in Poughkeepsie, NY last night, and we're doing some press here today and then headed to Florida for a show.  So, we're busy, busy!

How's the tour going?
Good!  We've been doing spotty stuff for the past few weeks.  You know - a few days off, a couple shows, a few days off, a couple shows.  But, it's starting to fill up pretty serious.  Of course, this summer we've got an unbelievable amount of shows, so it should be great.

Are fans getting access to a lot of the material from Magnetic on the current tour?  Are you mixing it up each night?
Yeah, well the record comes out on June 11th.  We've been out doing some stuff on the web and such, so there's been some songs floating around on the internet.  We're doing about 5 songs in the set this summer and actually starting now.  So, it's getting out there, and it'll be nice to have some new stuff to play.

Your lyrics are always incredible and have such depth to them.  What was the biggest source of inspiration when writing this album?
I think we just wanted this record to be a little more upbeat than the last few.  We noticed that the last couple records were getting a little dark.  So, we went about making this record in a much different way.  We sort of approached each song one at a time and used a few different producers rather than holing ourselves up in a room and trying to come out the other end of the situation with 14-15 songs.  We tried to hit just a bit more of an optimistic tone on this record.

Yes, I love the direction you guys have taken with Magnetic.  Is there a particular song on the album that's most meaningful to you, and why?
It's all pretty new right now, you know?  I think once we get out there and start playing it a little bit, I'll probably form a little bit more of an opinion about that.  At this point, it's just cool to have some new songs to play.

The band has been together now for 27 years and is going strong.  What do you make of it all, and are there moments where it just seems surreal?
Yeah, it always seems surreal.  I guess anytime you look back, you get to look at all the time and all the experiences that have passed.  Our history is much longer than most bands of our era right now, so I get to actually look back and say, "Holy cow, this is a career and not just something that came and went really quickly!"

What's your greatest memory with the band so far?
I can remember years ago we played at a place called Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo where I got to see The Who, Kiss and all these bands as a kid.  It's since been torn down, but I can remember sort of seeing the room from the other side.  It was sort of like a moment for me...Staring at the whole venue and going, "Wow, this is what it looks like from up here!"

What's something that readers would be surprised to learn about you?I have about 3,000 PEZ dispensers at my house.  I also have a 16 month old baby girl named Hana (pronounced Ah-na) at home.

Was there one particular moment that you knew you wanted a career as a musician or has it always been your passion?
I think there was a moment that it seemed realistic that it could happen.  The first ten years of the band, we were driving around in vans and getting home and having to find a job, find another apartment, and/or girlfriend (laughs).  So, right around 1995 it started to feel like, "Wow, this could actually be something."  It wasn't much more than a dream for the first 10 years.

What musicians were most inspiring to you early in your career?
I was a 70's rock kid, so I liked Cheap Trick, Kiss, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath when I was growing up.  Through college, we discovered a lot of alternative rock - The Cure, The Replacements, The Crash and stuff like that.  So, pretty typical.

Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Just practice, and get good! (laughs)  Practice as much as you can, working at what you're doing with somebody that's been doing it more.  Just make sure you're doing your best.

What would you like to say to your fans that are reading this?
Buy the new record and check it out.  Come out to the shows.  It's a big night of rock, and we'll be coming somewhere close to whoever is reading this, no matter where you're reading it.  We'll be near you in the next few months.  So, come out and share a show with us!

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Hummingbird Cake - Southern Living

Do you like pineapples, bananas and shredded coconut?

Do you like deliciously layered cakes?

If you answered yes, then you are going to be in love with this cake.  A cake SO good, that it has actually become the most requested recipe in Southern Living magazine history!  It was originally submitted by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, NC and featured in the February 1978 issue of the magazine.

I can remember my mom and grandmother making this years ago, and it has always been one of my favorites.  My Aunt Sheila also made it every Thanksgiving.  There's just something about the bananas mixed with the crushed pineapple in the yummy cake batter, and don't forget the scrumptious cream cheese icing smothered over each layer.  The chopped pecans on top add the perfect nutty crunch, and I like to add a little shredded coconut to mine.

I made this particular cake for my wonderful mom-in-law's birthday recently.  Everyone loved it, and several folks even went back for seconds (don't worry...I'm not naming any names!  Hah.)

If you're looking for a mouth-watering layer cake for a special occasion, look no more.  This one can't be beat!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Hummingbird Cake
Adapted from:   Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook, , Jan. 1999

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped bananas
Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut 
1/2 cup chopped pecans


Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.

Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkling shredded coconut on top of each of the 3 frosted layers as you go.  Finally, sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

Cream Cheese Icing
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese and butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.