Category Archives: Buttermilk

Thanksgiving Dry Run: Cornbread Stuffing

This year for Thanksgiving, James and I have volunteered to bring a dish we’ve never tried before but that I’ve always wanted to make: cornbread stuffing.  Or I guess, more exactly, cornbread dressing since it won’t be stuffed inside the bird. We’re from Philadelphia and cornbread is not really a staple of family meals, although always welcome.  Stuffings or dressings that don’t use regular sandwich bread have always fascinated me, since that’s what I grew up eating – Mom’s bread dressing is always made with Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread.  I’m also interested in the texture difference that chunks of cornbread would lend to stuffing – but most importantly, the flavors of slightly sweet cornbread combined with sage and rosemary sounds heavenly.  James’ brother, Andrew, the brave host of Thanksgiving even with the most adorable 3.5-months-old baby now residing in their home, welcomed the side dish and we’re excited to contribute.

Cornbread stuffing actually requires the use of two completely new recipes to us: baking cornbread and then the cornbread stuffing.  We could buy the cornbread, of course, but I saw several warnings that grocery-store cornbread would be too sweet.  And I had to concede that can happen – grocery-store cornbread can often taste like corncake.  So we decided to do a dry run and make both recipes, so we can be sure it’s delicious on Thanksgiving Day.

I only do dry-runs for really important things: I’ve done a few Christmas Cookie dry-runs, feeding my office with the tests, or before we’re going to make a special meal for someone.  But having the audacity to volunteer yourself for the most important part of the Thanksgiving table and trying a new recipe?  You must have some nerve.  Thanksgiving is the most sacred of meals in the year: if you’re contributing, you better bring your A-game.

The best way, in my opinion, to do a dry run is to do the recipe once exactly as written.  Therefore, I did no such thing.  Who has time for that?

When waiting at the doctor’s office one morning, James and I went through a whole bunch of recipes for cornbread stuffing on our phones and narrowed down the ones we liked.  Eventually, we settled on an Anne Burrell recipe, but we decided to sub in bacon for sausage, and omit cranberries and walnuts, to make it more crowd-pleasing.  All the rest of the ingredients seemed right on.

I found a recipe that reviews lauded as a sturdy cornbread that wouldn’t fall apart, that seemed perfect for this dish.  We needed 10 cups of cornbread, and in the very helpful video from Anne Burrell it looked like she just used two 8-inch cornbreads, so I’m trusting that I was right about that.

And therein lies one of my biggest frustrations as a home cook – poor recipe writing for normal people.  This recipe called for 10 cups of cornbread.  Sorry, but cornbread isn’t measured in cups.  Had I decided to base the amount of cornbread I needed to make on the number of cups in the recipe, I would have made 5 cornbreads instead of two.  Can you help a girl out and tell me how I get to 10 cups?  Come on now.

We’re feeling really good about the stuffing at this point, but we do have a few tweaks to make, which I’ve included in the recipe below.  I’ll make updates once Thanksgiving Day has gone down!

Cornbread Dressing

Adapted heavily from Anne Burrell’s recipe

Ingredients:

Cornbread (makes one 8″ x 1″ loaf):

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 3 TBL yellow cornmeal
  • 1 TBL baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 4 TBL) melted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Cornbread dressing:

  • 2 pounds bacon
  • 2 medium-sized onions, diced
  • 1 heart celery, diced
  • salt
  • 3 gloves of garlic, pressed
  • 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2  8-inch cornbread loves, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 5 cups chicken stock

Procedure:

  1. First, bake your cornbread, at least 6-hours prior.
    1. Preheat your oven to 400ºF.
    2. Grease your pans
    3. Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately.
    4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir just to combine.
    5. Grease pan, pour batter into pan, smooth into an even layer.
    6. Cook for 30-33 minutes, until a skewer or knife inserted into the center of the loaf can be removed (mostly) clean
    7. Cool, remove loaf from pan, leave loaf out in the open air to stale
  2. When ready to make the dressing, preheat oven to 350ºF
  3. Chop all your ingredients – onions, celery, herbs
  4. Cook bacon in a skillet on the stovetop.  Cut bacon into pieces with kitchen scissors or with a knife.
  5. Once bacon is cooked, remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain
  6. Let fat cool slightly and removed from pan.  Leave about 4 tablespoons of bacon fat in the pan. (You heard me.)
  7. Add onions, celery and 1/2 tsp salt and cook in bacon fat on medium heat until they are lightly golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  8. Add pressed garlic and herbs and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  9. Remove “aromatics” mixture from heat and let cool slightly – you’ll be mixing it with your hands soon.
  10. In a very large bowl (I mean VERY large), combine cornbread chunks, chicken stock and aromatics.
    1. Add chicken stock 1 cup at a time.  You may not need a full 5 cups.
    2. This may be easiest to do by hand: reach down into the bowl, and pull your hands up as if folding the mixture on top of itself.  It may take about 2 minutes until mixture is thoroughly combined.
    3. The final mixture will be very wet, but about half of the cornbread cubes will still hold their shape.
  11. Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish and bake in oven for 30-45 minutes, until the top is lightly golden and the mixture is very hot in the middle.
  12. Although delicious hot, we found the dressing even more delicious after sitting in the fridge for a day.  Heat in the oven again before serving.

Procedure anecdotes:

Since I’m serving this for guests, I took extra care to make sure my onion was properly diced, which can be a daunting task.  If you’ve never done it before, you make cuts in the onion in three directions.  It’s easiest in this order:

Horizontal slices (about 3):20141116_160028

Vertical Slices:20141116_160109

Now you can see the little cubes you’re aiming for, you can make perpendicular slices:20141116_160129

For the bacon, we cut the slices into pieces, instead of crumbling the bacon after it was crisp.  I wanted big chunks instead of bits.  James likes to cut each slice into the pan, as opposed to slicing the pieces altogether.

20141116_155710 20141116_155725 20141116_162747

 

I don’t always use fresh herbs, but it’s fun for something special.  Fresh herbs taste deeper, in my opinion – you get more of the flavor.  For the rosemary, you can strip the leaves (or “needles”, really), off their sprig by holding onto the top of the sprig and pulling your fingers downward.  You do not need pick them off one by one!  The smaller “branches” that hold the leaves are perfectly safe to eat.20141116_162512

With the sage, the recipe calls for 10 leaves.  I pile these leaves on top of each other and then roll them up, almost like a cigar! Then I slice into very thin ribbons or “chiffonade.” I then run the knife through the ribbons again several times to get a very fine mince.

20141116_162108(0) 20141116_162236

 

Finally – that yummy cornbread.  As I said above, the recipe we used isn’t my ideal cornbread for eating with some BBQ – it isn’t very moist and doesn’t have an interesting flavor on its own.  However, we hit a home run for the stuffing.  It works PERFECTLY – not too sweet and very sturdy.  It’s very easy to cut into cubes and mix with the aromatics and chicken stock.20141116_162742 20141116_163709

The finished mixture is half crumbly, half chunky – the texture really could not be more perfect!

Oh.20141116_164106

Yeah.20141116_172742

 

Girl.20141116_173843

 

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“Reenie Cake”

I do not like birthday cake.  That light, sponge-like cake that comes in a sheet pan and is decorated beautifully, served at birthdays, served at weddings, served at retirement parties – eh.  It’s not just for me.  I usually decline, much to the HORROR of everyone around me, as if I am making some kind of silent protest or judging them for having cake at 3:00pm.  Yo, I’d dig in, too, if it were something worth the calories.  I feel similarly about cupcakes, even though they do tempt me more often with their creative flavors.  But no – too light, too airy, gone too quickly.

I like a cake that makes you work for it, one that satisfies you completely when it’s done.  A cake that requires a break before complete consumption.

This is because my mother spoiled me (unintentionally) as a child – my whole family, really – by making us Reenie Cake for every single birthday.  When your immediate family is 6 people, that means you get to eat Reenie Cake 6 times a year.  Then you branch out into the extended family (Mom was one of 9 children), because the cake was famous by this point and requested for all types of occasions, and you’ve got Reenie Cake throughout the year.  You are eating tons of Reenie Cake.20140406_145957

My Mom would want me to tell you that the recipe was NOT her own – she got it from someone else, made the cake, and rest was history.  It was demanded to be the only cake we would eat and would be known as Reenie Cake from that point forward.  Sorry Mom and sorry person who gave Mom that recipe – that’s just the way it goes.20140406_145951

So what IS this magical Reenie Cake you must be asking yourself? Truly – it is pound cake.  Simple pound cake, actually.  But, treated as a birthday cake by my mother, it was always frosted.  Frosted pound cake.  Yeah, wrap your head around that for a second.  You see why I never could get behind birthday cake after that?

My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie's miraculous creations.
My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie’s miraculous creations.

We haven’t had many visitors since we moved to DC, so when James’ parents were coming to visit a few months ago, I lost my MIND and decided the apartment must be spotless and that I needed to bake something.  James tried to stop me – he even told his parents so THEY could assure me it wasn’t necessary – but it was useless.  For some reason I decided I needed to get all Leave it to Beaver and have a fresh baked good for his parents.20140406_150102

Around that time, I had made the Buttermilk Brined Chicken and needed to use up more of that leftover buttermilk.  I was also in a very bad place emotionally, really missing my Mom and longing for some kind of connection to her.  Then I realized – I’d never attempted to make Reenie Cake before.  What a perfect solution – and a way to connect with my Mom in a way I never had when she was alive.

Just reading my mother’s instructions was satisfying: she had a way of writing exactly as she spoke and her enthusiasm and honesty simultaneously tugged at my heart strings and cracked me up.  A perfect example is how she tried to tell my sister-in-law how to make the famous frosting: “I used 4 tablespoons of butter (fat kind) and 10 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, approx. 1/3 cup of milk, and 3 – 3 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar.  I just add the sugar and milk til it’s the right spreading consistency.  It should have also had 1 tsp. of vanilla, but I forgot to add it!”  Oh, how I miss her.

The experience of making her cake was strongly cathartic in a way I really didn’t expect.  I thought it would be nice, I’d remember her, I’d have yummy cake.  But the act of putting these ingredients together in this exact way brought up really powerful emotions.  When the batter started to come together, I jumped up and down in the kitchen proclaiming to James “It’s Reenie Cake!  It’s Reenie Cake!”  I have so many memories of my mother standing at the kitchen counter mixing together this cake and the pure childlike excitement (that, thank god, I never lost) of getting to lick those beaters and eat Reenie Cake came flooding back.  Even as health-conscious as she was, she could not resist offering us the beaters: she never could resist making anyone happy.  I can picture the look on her face, which was a mixture of bemusement and satisfaction.  The look in her eyes said “oh you’re such a weirdo for getting this excited about batter”, yet her smile hid nothing: she loved to make this weirdo excited.20140404_190241

In such a “Reenie” way, she never wanted Reenie Cake for her own birthday.  As long as I can remember, my Mom always requested Jewish Apple Cake… from the grocery store.  Every year, that’s what she wanted, which became a tradition on its own, and quite easy to accomplish because apples are perfectly in season during my mother’s birthday on October 23rd.  My sister-in-law, baker extraordinaire, had made the cake for her from scratch the last few years.  Below, you can see Mom admiring that masterpiece on the last of her birthdays we’d celebrate together.  I think I know what I’ll be doing to commemorate her this October 23rd.IMAG0510

Alas, when I attempted Reenie Cake, I did not frost mine.  There was not the time.  But now you have my Mom’s recipe above!  I made a vanilla glaze with confectioners sugar and milk (milk, I’ve found, tends to harden faster than ones made with water or lemon juice.)  But even without the frosting, it is a decadent, sumptuous treat that somehow seems as if it’s appropriate for breakfast…

So how can you, too, enjoy this jumping-up-and-down cake bliss?  I’m glad you asked!

“Reenie Cake”

Note 1: I should tell you that, although this is my third (and last) post in my series on buttermilk, Reenie Cake wasn’t made with buttermilk when Reenie would make it.  She’d make it with regular milk and lemon juice.  But I needed to use up the buttermilk, so that’s the only thing I changed about the recipe.  The cake tastes very much the same as I remember.

Note 2: The directions for this cake don’t exactly follow the rules I know about baking.  Yet, I went ahead and made the cake exactly as described and it turned out perfectly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure: (full instructions here, with pictures below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.)
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)

Procedure with Pictures

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan (I used the flat pan, not the kind with the decorative edges, as in traditional for Reenie Cake.)20140404_183347
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes20140404_18525220140404_185648
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next20140404_190003
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next20140404_185705
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined20140404_190225
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.20140404_191417 20140404_191508
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)20140404_204247
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.) 20140404_211119
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)20140406_150003 20140406_150058

Buttermilk Biscuits – the sexy side of Buttermilk

I want you to try that Buttermilk-Brined chicken so badly (fan of the blog Rudy Basso already has, to much success!) Therefore, I’ve decided to continue the buttermilk love by including a few more recipes to make good use of that extra buttermilk you’ll have in your fridge.  I had the perfect opportunity to make Alton’s buttermilk biscuits at a brunch birthday party for James’ Dad this weekend (Happy Birthday again, Lou!), that I decided to go ahead and share the step-by-step process.

I do believe that biscuits are the best looking baked-good.  You can have your perfectly decorated cupcakes and marbled cakes, just leave the biscuits to me.  I mean – just look at this glamour shot:

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How can you resist?

Biscuits seem incredibly intimidating.  A well-known culinary delight in the south, the flaky layers and light but rich texture seem like they must take hours and some secret ritual only southern grandmas know.  However, from start to finish, the process takes about an hour – including clean-up!  (There’s plenty of time to clean your dishes while the biscuits bake, which is a major encouragement.)

Once we had tried them at home, we decided to whip them up for James’ parents when we stayed with them last year.  Always the most enthusiastic audience for our cooking, James’ Dad told people about those biscuits for weeks.  The only thing more encouraging than an easy recipe and delicious product to show for it is a boost to your ego.

I hope you will take these on at home and impress your friends and loved ones.  Having never made any kind of complicated pastry before, James is now the biscuit whisperer.  We know you can be, too!

Buttermilk Biscuits

Adapted very slightly from Alton Brown’s Southern Biscuits recipe found here

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder (this is more than you think – make sure you have enough!)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter (cut into cubes and kept as cold as possible)
  • 1 cup cold buttermilk

The Process:

1.  Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

2.  Measure out the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk together to aerate (whisking takes place of sifting here, but you can sift if you like.)IMG_2624

3.  Incorporate the cold butter into the flour.  My method is by hand: coat all of the cubes of butter in the flour and then rub the flour mixture and butter together with your fingers.  You want only a few large chunks to remain.  Here’s how I do it:IMG_2626 IMG_2628

4.  Make a well in the middle of the flour/butter mixture and pour in your cup of buttermilk.IMG_2647

5.  Stir until the dough comes together. IMG_2657

6. Flour a cutting board or some wax paper/parchment paper on the counter and turn out your dough onto the floured surface.IMG_2661 IMG_2667

IMG_2680
This is about how much flour you should use in between folds – a little goes a long way.

7.  Using your hands, shape the dough into a square/rectangle and fold the dough onto itself 3-4 times.  Each time you fold and reshape, make sure to FLOUR the top of the dough before folding again.  This step is very important – and the first time I totally forgot.  I had to knead the dough again, adding the extra flour each time so they weren’t too sticky.  Even with this mistake, the biscuits still came out great.  PHEW!IMG_2669

UPDATED video with the correct technique:

8.  Once you’ve kneaded the dough, pat it down so that it measures about 1″ high.IMG_2690

9.  Use your cookie-cutter/biscuit-cutter/glass (we use one sized 2-3″ usually) to cut out the biscuit shapes.  You may need to do this two or three times.  By the third time, I could only cut out one biscuit and just molded the last one the best I could.IMG_2697 IMG_2704 IMG_2710 IMG_2712

10. Arrange your biscuits on a pan for they are touching each other – but not the sides of the pan.IMG_2722

11.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes (mine only took 15), until they are lightly golden.20140525_084930

12. If you can, eat them while they’re fresh out of the oven – AMAZING.  If not, as soon as they’re cool enough to touch, wrap them in a cloth napkin or dish towel to keep them warm and moist until serving time. 20140525_085138

13.  Be lauded as a baking prodigy, earn the envy of your friends and neighbors – enjoy it, you’ve earned it.

Time to talk buttermilk: Buttermilk-brined and Baked Chicken

It’s time to talk about buttermilk.

One of my favorite ingredients which imparts tangy flavor and silky texture, is relatively easy to find, and actually low-fat.  What’s not to love?

The buttermilk that I buy in the grocery store, the one most of us living in the northern USA are familiar with today, is a cultured buttermilk, made with low-fat milk and lactic acids, and containing good-for-you bacteria which aids digestion (like yogurt.)  True buttermilk is very hard to find in a store – usually only found at dairy farms, it is the by-product of churning cream into butter.  (For true nerds and baking enthusiasts, you may find this history of buttermilk courtesy of Slate.com interesting.  Thanks, Slate!)  I wouldn’t recommend drinking it by itself, but as an ingredient, buttermilk is rather versatile.  You’ll find it mostly in baked goods, and I’ve made my share, but my favorite recipe using buttermilk is actually a breaded and baked chicken recipe.

Adapted from a Bon Appetit article I read years ago, I’ve created a low-fat breaded chicken recipe that you can prepare mostly overnight, for a quick week-day dinner.  And it’s a recipe that I think about all day, one I can’t wait to get home to.  The breading is so flavorful and complex, it’s like the best shake and bake you ever had.  No – better.  And the usual flour-egg-breading process isn’t necessary, because the buttermilk brine is viscous enough to stick to the wet, raw chicken breasts AND cling to the breading.  (Ooh, or maybe the dijon mustard in the brine actually emulsifies it and gives it that eggy quality – I just thought of that right now!)

And the best part – the recipe doesn’t call for nearly all the buttermilk you bought (it usually comes in quart-sized containers), so you’ve got leftovers for all the carby baked goods you want to try.  A crave-inducing low-fat recipe that gives you an excuse to make super indulgent baked goods – now who ever said I didn’t treat you right?

Buttermilk Brined Baked Chicken

Marinade:

  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 TBL dijon mustard
  • 1 TBL olive oil
  • 1 TBL lemon juice
  • 1 large garlic clove, pressed (check out my technique below, which avoids cleaning the garlic press.)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless, thinly sliced chicken breasts (Bought these at Trader Joe’s and I’m not looking back.)20140406_152930

Breading:

  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs (aka Japanese style, a drier, more crunchy form of bread crumb, pretty readily available in grocery stores – try the Asian aisle)
  • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese
  • 3 TBL flour
  • 1/2 TBL dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp lemon zest (zest the lemon used for juice in the marinade before juicing, it will be much easier)
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (if you don’t own this yet, buy some for this recipe and thank me later.   A myriad of applications are now open to you!)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper

The Process

  1. Measure out the wet ingredients in the marinade and mix together in a bowl, so that mustard is incorporated.  
  2. To press the garlic, you can use a garlic press.  If you don’t have one (or hate washing yours, like me), you can sprinkle some salt over your minced clove and press it by hand with a knife.
20140406_153925
Minced garlic
Sprinkled with Salt
Sprinkled with Salt
20140406_153955
Press down with the flat of your knife and drag across the cutting board

20140406_15400820140406_1540283.  When marinade is mixed, add your chicken (in a gallon Ziploc bag, or in flat dish with sides, like this 9×9″ baking dish I used – nonstick and very easy to clean) and coat thoroughly.  Cover and marinate overnight. 20140406_154402

4.  If I’m prepping the dish the night before, I like to assemble the breading at this time, too.  As long as I’m doing dishes… this makes next day assembly super fast.  Just mix all ingredients in an air-tight plastic container and slap its lid on – done and done.  You can bread the chicken right in the container – just be sure to pick one with enough space, 2-3 times the surface area of the chicken breast.

5. The next day, heat your oven to 450ºF.  Place a cooling rack inside (or on top of) a half-sheet pan (18″x13″) – you can line the pan with foil for easy clean-up.   The cooling rack will keep the chicken elevated so it’s crispy on top and bottom.

6. Take your marinated chicken out and place the marinated chicken and breading right next to the pan, for easy transfer.  Bread the chicken as thoroughly as possible in that delicious, delicious coating.  Transfer to the rack.20140406_180629 20140406_180638 20140406_180704

7. Carefully put your chicken in the oven for 20 minutes.  The rack-on-pan can be a little unwieldy when being carried.

8.  When the baking time is over, take care when transferring chicken to your plate – you’ll see below that I scraped a little breading off with my tongs.  You may want to wait a few minutes before transferring (if you can bear to wait any longer), or gently transfer with a spatula or even your dining utensils.

9. Enjoy some badass breaded chicken.

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