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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)