Tuesday, September 07, 2004
I'm always on the lookout for a good plate of biscuits and gravy. It's one of those dishes that can either be really great if properly executed, or something you'll regret for the rest of your day. Given today's dietary trends, it's pretty much on the outs, since it tends to be loaded with both fat and carbs. I've tried lo-glycemic biscuits and gravy, and had some pretty decent successes, but most restaurants go for the old fashioned fluffy white biscuits. As an occasional indulgence, I'm willing to take the hit. This weekend I happened to be in lovely Port Gamble, WA, and found quite a lovely plate of said delicacy at the Port Gamble General Store. They have an all you can eat breakfast buffet for a very reasonable $5.95 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, check it out. You can also get a good plate of b&g at the RV park just north of Kalama, WA, or at least you could a few years back.
If you want to make lo-glycemic biscuits and gravy at home, here are some suggestions:
- don't skimp on the biscuits. I like Bob's Redmill Lo-carb baking mix, but I've made them from scratch too. I go heavy on the barley flour, since I'm more interested in glycemic index than in no-carb.
- for the love of heaven don't use weird lo-carb thickeners. I've had gravy thickened with xanthum gum instead of the traditional roux, and it's VILE. No flavor at all. Yuck. I use something lower-glycemic like barley or whole spelt flour, since if you aren't going to make a roux, it's not gravy, it's greasy soup. If you are that concerned about carbs, do yourself a favor and eat something else.
- soy milk works OK. It comes out pretty well. However, make sure you use unflavored. My wife made a batch from vanilla soymilk once, since it's all she had. The result turned out to be way better over oatmeal than biscuits.
- the better the quality of your sausage or bacon for the gravy, the better the result. I like New Season's bulk pork breakfast sausage.
All these gravy tips apply equally to the even more ambrosial dish, chicken fried steak, which is well worth making at home if you like that kind of thing. I realize many people just don't, but I was raised by hippy vegetarians, so chicken fried steak, or even chipped beef on toast is and exotic slice of heaven as far as I'm concerned.
This Saturday (9/11), there's going to be an historic cooking demo/exposition at the Beaverton Farmer's Market. There are a whole series of 1/2 hour demos planned on various styles/periods/etc. I'll be playing the part of "Viking Chef" at around 9:30 I think. Come on down. There will be foods to try, cooking to watch, plus all the benefits of what I've heard is a pretty great Farmer's Market.
Monday, August 02, 2004
If you ever happen to be in The Dalles, OR and you're looking for a good cup of coffee, check out Holstein's Cafe ( 303 E 3rd Street).
I myself just happened to be in the Dalles yesterday, and looking for a good place for a post-camping trip breakfast, stumbled upon Holstein's. A fine double latte, and some of the best biscuits and gravy I've had in a while. Nice fluffy biscuits, not too soda-y (as cheap ones tend to be). The sausage gravy was of the perfect saltiness, with nice, evenly sized bits of good sausage. Fluid enough to work with but not runny. In short, a fine hearty breakfast.
On the subject of biscuits and gravy... I love 'em. My wife's family is from Oklahoma, where people know a thing or two about gravy, and they turned me on to the whole b&g thing. Unfortunately, I never got a chance to try the ones made by her Grandma, since no one since has been able to duplicate her gravy perfection. Vikki's brother is also a big fan, and since he's into Atkins, we've done some experimenting with lo-carb biscuits and gravy, with varying levels of success. The biscuits aren't too hard. I prefer Bob's Red Mill low carb baking mix, which makes really good biscuits, especially with home-rendered lard. The gravy is slightly harder.
Personally, I'm more interested in low-glycemic than low-carb per se, so I use a little spelt or barley flour to thicken the gravy, which works out pretty well. Ted uses Xanthum gum, which I think makes the gravy way too tasteless, and the texture is weird. I'm willing to use a little flour to get the taste right. Plus I like more sage in my gravy.
I've tried similar things with another perennial favorite, chicken-fried steak. Unfortunately that's one thing Vikki doesn't share my love of, so I get less chance to experiment. I've several good runs using good quality pounded round steaks with a coating of barley flour, salt and pepper, and plenty of sage. Fry those puppies up to a nice golden brown and coat liberally in gravy. That's good eatin'.
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Sorry it's taken me a while to get these posted. I never seem to have a computer and the recipes at the same time...
Ham in Red Wine and Fennel Sauce
(this is for 50 people, all measurements approximate)
- Red wine ( I used a big bottle, but that’s cooking for 50)
- A cup or so sapa (reduced sweet wine) I cheated and used about ¾ of a can of frozen grape juice concentrate
- ½ or so red wine vinegar (should come out sweet/sour)
- Tbl. or so each of dill weed and thyme
- 2 tbl. or so coriander
- ¼ - ½ a cup honey (again, going for sweet and sour)
- 2 heads of fennel, chopped
- Tsp. of black pepper.
Boil the whole thing until the fennel is tender, then puree. Server over warm or cold ham slices.
Originally from a description in the “Heidelberg Papyrus”.
- Peeled, seeded and chopped cucumbers
- While wine vinegar
- Olive oil
Braise the cucumbers in the sauce ingredients until just approaching tender and serve warm.
Originally described in Pliny’s Natural History.
Celery in Raisin Sauce
- Red wine vinegar
- Sapa (again I used frozen grape juice concentrate)
- Dried onion flakes
Cover the raisins in the sauce ingredients and let sit for an hour or two until plumped. Puree. I served the sauce with celery that had been stir-fried until hot but still crisp. I’ve tried it before over steamed celery, but I think I like stir-fried better.
Originally described in Columella’s On Agriculture.
- Oil for frying
- Salt & pepper
Fry until tender.
Originally described in Anthimus’ On Foods.
Chickpeas and cheese
- Cooked chickpeas (canned or from dried)
- Hard cheese such as parmesan or pecorino. I used good old green tube Kraft parmesan.
Heat up the chickpeas and coat in the cheese.
Originally described in Galen’s On the Powers in Foods.
All of these recipes I found described in Mark Grant’s fabulous Roman Cookery (Serif, London, 1999).
More to follow…
Monday, July 19, 2004
The feast came off really well this weekend. I think everyone had a good time, and the food came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.
It's the first time I've tried cooking for 50 people, and the two big takeaways so far are that I made WAY too much food, and that I should have done more prep work at home. Cooking for 50 over a camp stove with no electricity or running water was an interesting challenge. Also, note to self: many people seem to not like fennel. Thankfully it wasn't an integral part of the meal, since it was only in the sauce for the ham, but still, something to keep in mind. On the other hand, some people really like it. My son kept coming by for leftover fennel tops to chew on. Kids are weird.
I'm going to be posting the recipes I used and any changes I made to what was in the books I used over the next few days, so stay tuned.
Maybe next year I could try ancient Messopotamian (sp?) food. It would lead to some interesting decor, if nothing else.
Thursday, July 15, 2004
So the Roman "dinner" I'd planned turned into a "feast" for 50 people, complete with decorations, togas, triclinia, etc. Should be quite the do. I'll end up spending most of Saturday cooking, but that's usually pretty fun anyway.
The menu as planned includes:
- Ham in red wine and fennel sauce
- Chicken in "green sauce"
- fried carrots
- braised cucumbers
- chickpeas with cheese
- celery in raisin sauce
- boiled eggs with pine nut sauce
- assorted table snacks, olives, bread, cheese, almonds, etc.
I'm going to try to take some pictures (of both process and product) and I'll post them here if any turn out.
At this week's market I was lucky enough to find some purple gooseberries. I've had the usual green ones several times, but hadn't seen purple before. They were tasty. Quite tart, and pretty sizeable. They color was kind of like purple grapes (the light ones, not like concords). The same vendor also had mulberries, which I don't think I've ever seen for sale around here before. I didn't try those, although now I wish I had.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
While I can't stand sweet coffee, I must admit to a craving for sweetened tea that I picked up while in Ireland a few years back. There are some food stories there that I'll have to post some time. Anyway, I love the occasional sweetened tea, but I'm pretty much totally off of sucrose. The idea of adding aspartame to a hot beverage fills me with dread (it's not good for you) so I mostly just don't drink sweetened tea anymore.
Recently I decided to try stevia, which comes from a plant, is much sweeter than sugar, and comes from a natural source. It also has 0 calories and supposedly 0 effect on blood sugar. I got some packets of stevia mixed with FOS (a soluble fiber that's supposed to promote the growth of healthy GI bacteria) for bulk. It's quite lovely in tea. No after taste that I can detect, it's quite sweet. I use a really big teacup, so a whole packet is OK, but in a regular sized cup it would be too sweet for me. I haven't tried it in any cold drinks yet, but will soon. I want to see if I can make it work for sekanjabin, which is one of my favorite summer beverages.
The only thing about it that inspires caution is that it hasn't been approved as a sweetener by the FDA, but I would tend to agree with some web sources that the lack of approval probably has a lot to do with the fact that stevia is a plant that isn't patentable and therefore doesn't benefit big chemical companies (the ones with all the lobbyists) who make stuff like aspartame and sucralose. There are some references to studies on stevia.net that suggest that it's pretty safe, but of course many such studies can be made to reach whatever conclusion you want. The fact that the FDA hasn't approved it as a sweetener (although they OK'ed it as a "dietary supplement") won't keep me up nights.
This weekend I'm going backpacking for the first time in probably 12-13 years. I'm ardently trying to remember what kind of food is good for backpacking that isn't the hideously priced stuff they sell in outdoor stores. I'm just going overnight, so weight is important, but not crucial. The classic macaroni and cheese is just a bit too high-glycemic for me. There are several good brands of sealed and irradiated Indian food that might be good. Not as light as dehydrated stuff, but tastier, and not nearly as heavy as cans. You just boil them right in the package and out comes delicious veggie Indian food. There are even some rice dishes now, although they don't survive the process quite as well. Peanut butter and jelly works well, and keeps well. Not too heavy. Hmmmm. Some low-glycemic, whole wheat pasta might work. My son requsted alphabet soup. We'll see how that works out...
For breakfast there's the classic instant oatmeal. There are several good organic, not-too-sweet brands. Salted cashews make a good snack, or jerky.
Luckily I still have a few days to decide...
You don't often see this groovy green globes for sale, but luckily I found a lovely 1/2 pint of very fresh, bright green goose berries at my local farmer's market last night. "What to do with them?" you might ask. Some classic examples are jam, or the very brightly colored "gooseberry fool". I put them on cereal. With some blueberries and a nice purple plum. Very tasty, and quite a different texture from other berries. More watery that a blueberry, and fairly tart.
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