Writing a food blog can be a funny thing because you often feel inclined to share The Very Best ____, The Real Top Banana. But some things don’t necessarily warrant a superlative. They fall into a separate although no less worthy space. So today I’m here to tell you that these are not the best biscuits I’ve ever had. Sometimes it’s nice to have a few recipes in your back pocket that everyone likes, that require no fancy equipment (not even a rolling pin), are simple, easily dressed up, and even holiday-worthy. In this increasingly busy, harried season we’re dipping our toes into, I’m telling you: a trusty whole grain biscuit and velvety sweet potato butter beats the endless search to find The Very Best any day of the week.
Biscuits are not new to this blog. I’ve made Giant Buttermilk Biscuits, Herbed Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits and Casselberry Biscuits, which really fall into a different camp altogether. But I had yet to try making biscuits with 100% whole grain flour, and have long wanted to try baking them in a cast iron skillet as I’d heard the bottoms get nice and crisp while the middle remains tender. Reporting back: true story.
What I love about these is they’re just a pat out, cut and bake situation. I’d say they’re a bit sturdier than a biscuit made with all purpose flour — they have a little more heft, but they’re still perfectly tender and great with butter, your favorite jam or my new go-to: gingered sweet potato butter. I first stumbled upon the recipe for this sweet potato butter in the Toast and Jam cookbook, which has all manner of baked goods, jams and spreads (and I’d say the recipes veer towards healthier baked goods like what I often do here, so you may really like it). The author, Sarah Owens, promises that the color and flavor is akin to autumn in a jar, and she’s onto something. This stuff deserves a superlative.
Much like the biscuits, the sweet potato butter requires little fuss (although you will have to get out your food processor). There’s no thermometer or canning involved, and you can store it in the refrigerator for up to one month. I can attest to the fact that it’s also as good stirred into plain yogurt or on top of oatmeal as it is slathered on biscuits.
Maybe you’ll bake these for Thanksgiving, or maybe you’ll make them for breakfast this weekend. Maybe you’ll just bookmark them for when you finally have some downtime at home, which — given some changes at work which I’ll tell you about soon — I’m hoping to have more of soon. Lately I’ve been particularly interested in reading and thinking about other people’s homes, desks, kitchens — how we all spend our days, especially as it relates to meals, writing, and motherhood so I thought you may enjoy a peak, too. Best, of course, with a biscuit.
The Rooms Where Writers Work – The New York Times
What Dinner Looks Like Across the USA – Huck Magazine (via Joy the Baker)
Motherland – PBS; on the Busiest Maternity Hospital in the World
When the World Feels Awful – Design for Mankind
Sweet Potato Butter lightly adapted from: Toast and Jam
For the Biscuits:
For the Sweet Potato Butter: (Makes about 2 cups / 1 pint)
Make the Biscuits:
Preheat the oven to 450 F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Add the butter and toss to coat. Either using a pastry blender or your fingertips, work the butter into the dry ingredients (with your fingers, pinch the butter into the flour repeatedly until the mixture resembles large crumbs; it’s ok if some of the mixture is as large as small peas – it doesn’t all have to be uniform). Stir in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until the dough gathers together. If you need a little extra buttermilk, add it 1 tablespoon at a time.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a 1 1/2 inch-thick round. Using a 2 1/2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, cut into rounds (dip the cutter in flour in between to avoid sticking). If you’ve got biscuit scraps, repeat to try and use them up. Arrange biscuits in a 12-inch cast iron skillet as close together as possible. Sprinkle tops with sea salt. Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm.
Make the Sweet Potato Butter:
Place the sweet potato, apple, grapefruit juice and lemon juice in a food processor and process on high until the mixture is relatively smooth.
Transfer to a medium saucepan, stir in the remaining ingredients, and place the pan over medium heat. Cook down for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The mixture will bubble and hiss quite a bit. Continue cooking until it thickens and smells caramelized. Stir often to avoid burning or sticking. Transfer the sweet potato butter back to the food processor and process until smooth and velvety. Spoon into clean jars and refrigerate for up to a month.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.