Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Summer Rolls

Summer rolls are easy to make, pretty to look at, and fun to eat. Like a salad you can hold in your hand.

Start with a package of rice paper wrappers, which can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store. They are not expensive; mine were slightly over three dollars, and the package had at least 30 wrappers in it. To use, dip into warm water for a few seconds until they become flexible. Place onto a plate, add your fillings, and roll. When first removed from the package, they are very stiff and brittle, and will break, so handle them carefully at first. Once they have softened, they become like a piece of skin, very pliable and stretchy, and I find them to be very forgiving. Once you roll a couple, you'll really have the feel for it.

I have used them to wrap chicken salad and tuna salad. Today, I used hummus, grilled zucchini, red bell pepper strips, toasted sliced almonds, sliced red onion, baby spinach leaves, mint leaves, and sprouts. I served them with a simple soy ginger dipping sauce.

Friday, April 24, 2009


An extra or unexpected gift or benefit

As I was cutting out my angel biscuits, I wondered what I would do with the dough around the cut biscuits.

I spotted a jar of olives.

I pinched off bits of dough and wrapped it around the olives in a rustic fashion. I then placed them on a baking pan, spritzed them with olive oil cooking spray, and topped them with freshly grated black pepper.

Once I saw how cute they turned out, and how tasty, I began thinking of all kinds of things that could be stuffed inside an angel biscuit. . .

For now, I'll wash the dishes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Angel Biscuits

My friend, Butler, makes the best biscuits! I have been so envious, because biscuit making is not a kitchen skill I have mastered. He has given me his recipe, explained it, and shown me his techniques, yet my biscuits still turn out dense, hard, crumbly, and ugly.

I have worked with yeast dough for too many years. The handling of the two is so completely different. Yeast dough loves a good and thorough deep massage, driving in the heels of your hands. I love the kneading of bread. It is a relaxing and meditative exercise. The resulting mound of smooth, warm dough, after about 10 minutes of kneading, feels so alive, rather like a pregnant belly.

And there is my problem. Biscuit dough is delicate, and doesn't enjoy that kind of treatment and I don't seem to be able to hold myself back. I do, however, love and appreciate a good, tender, Southern-style baking powder biscuit, hot from the oven.

I was pondering all this the other day, when I suddenly remembered a few times, in my youth, when my grandfather would make a rare appearance in the kitchen to cook breakfast. He would bake a very different and wonderful biscuit he called Angel Biscuits, and he served them with butter and sorghum syrup.

Further, I remembered that a few years ago, a former co-worker had given me a recipe for Angel Biscuits, which she had gotten from her sister-in-law. Angel Biscuits have been floating around the South for at least 50 years, that I know of. Angel Biscuits are a cross between a biscuit and a roll, slightly sweet.

Because they contain yeast, I had hope that I could make them successfully. I was rewarded with light and airy biscuits my husband, Pritchard Parker, and I both loved. The aroma, as I was removing them from the oven, was very intriguing--and smelled just exactly like what it was--a blend of both baking powder and yeast.

Angel Biscuits
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 packet yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup warm buttermilk

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add yeast mixture and buttermilk; stir to combine. Turn onto a floured surface and fold the dough over itself a few times until all is blended.

Roll out to 3/4 inch thickness, then cut into 2 1/2 inch biscuits. Place biscuits on a baking pan which has been spritzed with cooking spray. Cover and let rise for about 45 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until done.

Note: Some cooks skip the rising step and put the biscuits directly into the oven after placing them in the pan. My grandfather could have done it that way, I don't know. I do know from experience, if you let yeast dough have plenty of time to rest and rise, you will be richly rewarded.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Spring Frittata

It would be silly to pass up those sexy bunches of asparagus springing up in the produce department this time of year. Along with the free ham I got by accumulating enough bonus points at the grocery store, some leftover new potatoes, and a few other ingredients, I made an asparagus frittata.

Spring Frittata

1 bunch fresh asparagus
2 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, sliced
1 cup chopped, cooked ham
1 cup sliced, cooked potatoes
5 eggs
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup grated cheese

Snap off woody ends of the asparagus, discard, then rinse the tender stalks thoroughly. Bring about an inch of water to a boil in a large skillet. Add the asparagus and cook for 3 or 4 minutes only, until barely tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Dry the asparagus and the pan. In the same skillet, melt the butter, then add the onions. Cook and stir the onions until they are completely limp and starting to brown. Add the ham and potatoes to heat through.

Beat the eggs with half and half until well blended. Pour over the onion mixture. Cook over medium-low heat until bottom of the mixture is set.

Arrange the asparagus over the surface, then sprinkle with the grated cheese. Place under a hot broiler until the frittata is puffed, and the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Serve with fresh fruit and enjoy.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Dressing for Chicken Salad

I don't enjoy mayonnaise, but have discovered there really is no equal for its binding quality in salads and spreads. Marvelous things happen when this dressing is allowed to sit, refrigerated, overnight. It develops a very silky texture, unlike the globiness of mayo and that mayonnaise-y smell disappears.

Flavorful Dressing for Chicken Salad

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar

3 plump cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

Mix everything together and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Makes enough for about a pound of chicken, plus whatever fruits and vegetables you wish to add. Any combination of apples, grapes, celery, toasted sliced almonds, chopped red pepper, feta cheese, are all delicious.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sailor-Style Bread Salad

This salad is a meal in itself and is certainly not for sissies! It is built from very bold flavors. My husband, Pritchard Parker, devours it. I love it too.

One dense loaf Italian bread, cut into cubes
Two 6 oz. cans tuna in olive oil
4 shallots, minced
One 4 oz. can anchovies, chopped
1/2 cup sliced oil-cured black olives
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. capers, drained
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
6 oz. feta cheese, cut into cubes
Freshly ground black pepper

Place bread cubes into a very large mixing bowl. As you open the cans of tuna and anchovies, drain the oil over the bread. Break up the chunks of tuna and chop the anchovies, which I usually do with kitchen shears, right over the bowl. Sprinkle with the shallots. Add drained capers, olives, and oregano. Toss everything together very well. Drizzle with the olive oil and add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss again, and lastly, gently mix in the feta cheese, trying not to break it up too much. Cover, and set aside at room temperature for an hour or two.

To serve, pile up on salad plates, give it another drizzle of extra virgin olive, sprinkle with a few flakes of crushed red pepper, and add a couple wedges of lemon.