The moment came where I had to make a decision: do I go the easy route and bust out the food processor or mix the butter in by hand. Normally, I'd go with the former, but right now I feel like taking my time and getting my hands dirty. This is how Jessica does it in her book, Stir, and, having just finished reading it, I felt compelled to follow in her footsteps. Rubbing each cube of butter into the flour with my fingertips, I could focus on the feel of the dough and how it was forming. At the point it resembled a "coarse meal," I picked up the bowl of buttermilk I'd mixed together (a combination of milk and white vinegar, because we rarely have buttermilk in the house) and drizzled it in as I circulated a wooden spoon. When all was combined, I gave it a taste. As a cook, I can't help but try uncooked dough before it hits the oven. This met all the marks: buttery, a touch of sweetness, and a hit of salt. While the biscuits baked, I mixed together the vegetarian mushroom gravy. We had some cherry tomatoes around, which gave the sauce some acid and sweetness. I've now made this twice for breakfast, though, I think it'd would make for a delightful dinner as well. Just throw together a light green salad on the side and you have a meal.
I should step back and talk about Stir a bit more. This was a book that I knew nothing about before its release. I didn't know who Jessica was despite her living in Cambridge and being a fellow food blogger who created her site, Sweet Amandine, around the same time I did. But as soon as her book came out, her name kept popping up around the blogosphere. I marked it down on my books to read this summer and I'm so glad I did. This isn't a cookbook, which she states very clearly from the start, though there are recipes. Instead, Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home focuses a brain aneurism that she endures and the subsequent complications from the illness and corresponding procedures. But food has always played a powerful role in her life. Following her time in the hospital, she struggles to get back into the kitchen... so she turns it into a goal. If I can bake x, it means I'm still me. The writing is striking, personal and honest. But, most importantly, it's inspiring. It made me think hard and deep about the important things in my life. And it made me want to get into the kitchen and make something, with my hands, and feed it to the people I love.
Buttermilk Biscuits with Mushroom Gravy
From the Dot's Diner recipe published in Bon Appetit (Oct 2000) via Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor
For the biscuits
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks; 170 grams) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup cold buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the cubes of butter into the bowl and rub them into the dry ingredients using your fingertips until mixture resembles course meal.
3. Stir in buttermilk until the mixture forms a moist dough, but make sure not to over mix the dough.
4. Pack a 1/4 cup measuring cup with dough and drop onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until the tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and serve warm with mushroom gravy (see recipe below).
Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy
For the gravy
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
10 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
10 ounces cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons corn starch
1. Melt butter in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for a minute. Add mushrooms and tomatoes and season with salt, smoked paprika, and oregano. Add the vegetable broth and let cook for 5 minutes, until some of the vegetable broth has evaporated.
2. Put the corn starch in a medium mixing bowl. Spoon in the liquid from the pan and whisk with the corn starch until you have a slurry. Stir the slurry back into the pan with the vegetables and mix to combine. This will create a thick sauce.
3. Taste for seasoning and, if necessary, add a touch more salt. Spoon gravy over biscuits (or serve in a bowl with biscuits on the side).