We had a little housewarming party on Saturday. We bought beer and made spiced nuts and and stocked up on whiskey. That afternoon Sam baked homemade crackers and rushed around building recessed spice shelves. I roasted eggplant, baked a failed bundt cake, and bought far too much cheese. My sister Rachael came early with paper napkins and salami; my friend Tracy was in town from the Bay Area and swung by with her friend Joy; couples and singles and even baby Oliver came over to say hello. Some stayed for hours, some a few minutes. Regardless, it all felt like a pretty big deal. This was our house. Finally.
It’s certainly not news to either Sam or I that we’re very different party people. I’m a planner and a list-maker and feel most comfortable prepping things days in advance whereas Sam’s most frequent line is “we’ll figure it out,” and he often begins a project 2-3 hours before a party. Usually without a recipe. And you know what? It’s always just fine. Not really just fine, it’s usually quite wonderful.
But in the thick of it, if I’m not planning and list-making, I feel untethered. Which is silly, because really, we’re talking about a gathering of friends here, not a race for the presidency. Sam believes the more you stress about a party, the more you miss what it’s really about. It should be enjoyable. He was reminding me of this around 10 a.m., 11 a.m., again at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. It was that kind of a day. And as much as I hate to admit it, he was right. Everything turned out just fine: we had way too much cheese, and lots of leftover food. As with most parties, folks gathered in the kitchen after a few hours. Right around this time, Sam began making his almost-famous-in-some-circles Casselberry Biscuits. Fancy olives and dark chocolate brownies step aside: everyone fell for these simple little biscuits comprised of not much more than butter, sugar, flour, nutmeg and raisins. I’ve begged Sam for the recipe for a good 9 months now. He’s finally given in. Today’s a big day.
I actually had Casselberry Biscuits for the first time in Oakland. Sam and I had a dinner party in my tiny apartment and, of course, I over-planned and Sam decided to whip them up at the very last minute. My friends still ask for the recipe. I think part of their charm is that you cook them in a skillet on the stove-top, so they’re always warm. And the recipe makes quite a lot of them, so they continue to replenish themselves throughout the night. This becomes more and more important the later it gets and the more dark porter you drink. I know this to be true.
Sam pre-cuts the biscuits before the party and lays them in a pan with wax paper separating each layer. An hour or so into the party, he heats up a skillet and starts cooking the biscuits, setting them out on a big plate for folks to grab. The raisins get all warm and soft, the nutmeg becomes fragrant, and the outsides gets brown while the inside stays delightfully soft. We eat them right out of the skillet but you could certainly have them with just a little butter or your favorite jam, too.
Many people ask about the name. Casselberry is a town outside of Orlando, Florida where Sam and his family lived when he was a boy. His mom, Nancy Tanasy, made these biscuits often and Sam remembers helping in the evenings with Sydney Poitier movies on in the background. I thank them both for bringing them into my life. And I know I have friends in a few different states who are saying the same thing right about now.
Because this recipe makes quite a few, I offer you some advice: first, don’t underestimate how many people will eat. They will eat many. Second, they’re easily freezable and you can keep them pre-cut in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and pull them out whenever a craving strikes. Sam has made these with currants instead of raisins and even added a little citrus zest. These are a forgiving biscuit. Sam laughed as he watched me make them because I was being quite precise with the flour measurements. These aren’t a moody dessert. Don’t fuss over them. Don’t stress over them. They’ll turn out just fine.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and milk, and mix until combined. The mixture will seem chunky at this point, but don’t worry it will smooth out once you add the dry ingredients.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients, excluding the raisins.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until combined. At the very end, add the raisins and stir just long enough to incorporate them into the dough. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for one hour. After chilling, roll the dough out about 1/2 inch thick on a well-floured board. Cut into shapes with a sharp cookie cutter.
Lightly brown the biscuits on a hot, greased griddle or skillet, about 30 seconds-1 minute per side. Serve warm.
Early Fall Baking
Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I've never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe -- something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn't too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that's exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.
I rarely make muffins at home and never order one when I'm out and about as I find they're often far too sweet and never truly that satisfying. I realize, too, in looking back at my cookbook that there's only one muffin recipe throughout. Case in point: I'm tentative on muffins. But not these. We've been pretty thrilled to have this healthier version of Morning Glory muffins on the counter this week; they have little bits of apple, raisins, walnuts, and grated carrot and are cloaked in a buttery oat crumble topping -- quite the opposite of your boring coffeeshop fare. I thought long and hard about doing a Valentine's post, some festive cookie or confection that would be share-worthy this weekend, but the more we talked about what our weekend would really look like, it involved something special for breakfast instead. I don't remember the last time a Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, so we have big plans to have breakfast in bed and if your plans are even remotely similar, these muffins would be a fine inclusion.
I generally work on weekends. It's something I've come to terms with only because I know it won't last forever. I write. I bake. But those two things don't always pay the bills, so I work retail on the weekends and dream of the day when I'll have a Sunday like this one: