BISCUITS IN BIRMINGHAM

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First, let me offer sincerest apologies for my absence from this blog to the three people (you know who you are) who may or may not actually have wondered where in God’s name I’ve been these past few months.
Second, let me come clean. Back in June 2013, I launched Tales of a Recipe Goddess as a response to being laid off from Food & Wine Magazine, where I worked in the test kitchen for nearly 20 years. Recipe Goddess was my F&W twitter handle and a little cringe-provoking for me, but it was not completely inaccurate and so, it sort of took roots. There, I wrote dozens and dozens of stories, developed thousands of recipes and tested many thousands more. Recipe Goddess or Recipe Workhorse? The latter doesn’t sound nearly as nice…
Out of some sense of embarrassment or lack of courage or more likely the fear that without F&W I’d lose my credibility as a chef and food writer, I purposely left my employment status more than a bit ambiguous. How could I let on that I’d been EX-ed out of the very institution that I lovingly helped build and that helped build me? I remember the giddy sense of pride in seeing my name on the mast head for the very first time. I also remember the crushing sense of failure and disappointment when I realized September would be my last.
See, that’s the problem with growing up in a job—it’s not like graduating from college and being faced with a rosy, bright future. When it’s over, you find yourself middle aged, wondering “What the Hell am I going to do now?”. When you’re 25, the long hard slog is a journey, full of interesting and inspiring detours, but when you’re 52—without the luxury of time, that long hard slog is just that. A long…hard…slog.
Unless of course you can find a way to embrace that change, take a deep breath and  look at your new status as a blank slate—a sort of liberation from who you thought you were and what you thought you could or couldn’t do. More than that, develop an almost militant drive to do exactly what you really, really want to do.
Taking stock is a lot harder and more time consuming than making stock, and it doesn’t happen overnight. For me, it took months and months, but it led me to a few revelations—not bad for an old broad. Revelation #1: Ambition is not a bad thing when used without sabotage. Revelation #2: There’s plenty to go around—even in this economy. Revelation #3: Openness sparks opportunity and opportunity sparks options and options are a very good thing.
Which leads me to why i’ve been so blog-negligent since October. Re-invention is a process and every aspect of my career needed some re-evaluation. Food styling was how I initially came to F&W and it was something I loved to do, but my styling book was a little out-dated. So, in order to modernize it, I began testing with photographers, which led to several styling jobs.
Re-establishing old and building new work relationships took considerable time and effort. Gradually, through those efforts as well as recommendations from others (greatly appreciated!), I’d been contracted to write articles for a number of very popular national magazines and websites. Maybe I didn’t lose much credibility post F&W, after all. And then, in early October, I was approached by the producers of IFC’s hit show, Portlandia, to create the recipes for a Portland-focussed cookbook, centered around key episodes from the show. Like all of publishing, the turn-around on the book was INSANE and so I buried my head and knives into the project.  It was by far the funnest project I’ve ever worked on and until now, I couldn’t share it with you. It’s slated for a fall release, and as the date nears, I’ll keep you posted.
Till then, remember some key phrases: “Cacao!” and “Is it local?”
At that time, I was also recruited by Oxmoor House, Time Inc.’s Lifestyles Books division to lead their test kitchen and food styling teams to help create a new paradigm in their food department. It’s so exciting I can barely contain myself! I start on Monday and am ready to dive in head first. Located in Birmingham, Alabama, needless to say, this dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker will be learning a few new tricks—never a bad thing for any one of any age. But with my lovelies back home, I’ll be flying back and forth to Brooklyn weekly. So, yes, I’ve been a little busy (and will continue to be so) and my blog-life has suffered. But not for long—I imagine there’ll be tons of material here! When life throws you a curve ball, make biscuits—and if you’re in the South, they damn well better be good.
Buttermilk Biscuits
makes  twelve 2 1/2-inch biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for sprinkling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
3/4 cup buttermilk, plus more for brushing
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In  a large bowl whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and using 2 table knives or a pastry blender, cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Add the buttermilk and stir just until moistened.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 2 or 3 times, just until it comes together. Pat or roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter, stamp out as many biscuits as possible. Gather the scraps and cut out more biscuits. Arrange them on a large baking sheet and brush the tops with buttermilk. Sprinkle with salt and bake in the center of the oven until risen and golden, 16 to 18 minutes.
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A PEACH OF A CRISP (THAT STAYS CRISP)

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The more my mother’s cooking becomes a distant memory, the more I long for a familiar taste—one that shuttles me at light speed back to her warm kitchen and a pot of something-or-other bubbling away in the oven. Nothing does that for me in the summer quite like her fruit crisps.  She would use peaches, nectarines or even plums, throw in a handful of blueberries or raspberries and then top it with an oat-y crumble.

Using perfectly ripe summer peaches was a bit tricky for her. The fruit—super juicy—was often a little loose making the crisp topping a little soggy. But I loved it nonetheless.  Vanilla ice cream melted under heat of the juices, blending into a creamy, fruity soup. And the topping was like a soft-baked oatmeal cookie. No complaints, honestly.

Yet, secretly, I wanted a crisper crisp. That chef’s trick of cooking the filling and topping separately always seemed a bit fussy and chef-y –something I shied away from when creating recipes for my readers at Food & Wine. That is, until I actually tried it and discovered how easy it was. And how much quicker it was to put together. And what a superior crisp it yielded.

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The filling bakes in the dish while you prepare the topping.

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Then the topping bakes separately on a tray for a few minutes while the fruit is still in the oven.

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Finally, topping and filling assembled, everything bakes together until bubbling to blend the flavors and textures: Jammy fruit, crispy topping. Win-win!

I believe my mom would’ve approved and probably even started making her crisps this way. She may’ve been an old dog but she was no stranger to new tricks, especially when the reward is so sweet.

PEACH-BLUEBERRY CRISP

8 servings

8 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into wedges

1 cup blueberries

½ cup granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons St. Germain liqueur (optional)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)

1/2 light brown sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Salt

Crème fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream for serving

  1. Combine the peaches and blueberries with the granulated sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice and zest and the St Germain if using.  Transfer to a medium baking dish. In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, butter and a  pinch of salt until sandy. Press into small clumps and spread on a baking sheet.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the fruit until juicy and soft, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, bake the streusel, stirring once, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle the streusel over the fruit and bake 10 minutes longer. Let cool slightly, then serve with crème fraiche, whipped cream or ice cream.