“From Beef Tongue To Biscuits,” by Heather Grove
This is part of a series of blog posts cranked out by my adoring proselytes — erm, I mean, faithful readers. I’m in Utah (er, presumably — maybe the plane crashed, or maybe I was forced into white sexual slavery somewhere in Dubai), so the task of entertaining you froth-mouthed moppets falls to others.
Today’s post is by Heather Grove, with no ‘s’ at the end.
Chuck tells me I’m writing about “The Most Delicious Thing You Ever Ate, And You Ever Made.” Why? ‘Cause my husband and I are into both food and the cooking of same. We review cookbooks whenever we have the chance. In fact, cooking was the second hobby we came to share as we got to know each other in those early years. (Tabletop roleplaying was the first.) Many of my memories revolve around flavors, or the cooking of food, and we love expressing our affection for people by feeding them. When we lived in Boston we’d take in all the stranded-away-from-home people at Thanksgiving time and cook up a feast. So many significant events in my life involve food in one way or another that it would be just about impossible for me to pick out a single best thing I’d ever eaten. So instead, I’ll go with the nostalgia factor.
When I was a kid, I was nearly impossible to feed. I was suspected to have ADHD long before that was a standard diagnosis or there were standard treatments for it (it was just referred to as “hyperactivity” back then). Mom opted to feed me an all-natural diet. This is far harder than it sounds; there are preservatives and dyes and flavorings in EVERYTHING, and there wasn’t such a widespread whole foods fad back then. I ate carob instead of chocolate. We stripped the top layer off of Breyer’s ice cream because it was covered with a plastic sheet that had preservatives sprayed on it. Once, mom spent weeks trying to figure out what was making me hyper, only to realize Nabisco had started spraying preservatives onto the insides of the bags of Ritz crackers. Mom ground her own flour. Did I mention she was a single mom and full-time computer programmer back in the 70s & 80s? I suspect she might be Superwoman in disguise.
On top of that, I was picky. Since then, I’ve read that many kids who are picky eaters are believed to have a very sensitive sense of taste, and that as they become adults they often reverse course, gaining an appreciation for a much wider range of foods than most people, which definitely applies to me. But as a child, my meals were largely limited to things like spaghetti & meatballs, beef stew, fruit pies, and homemade pizza.
There are a few contenders for memorable childhood foods. Mom made mean pies, and the birthday beef fondues that became our tradition were awesome. My father made a fantastic meusli that he refused to share the recipe for. I eventually reconstructed most of it, involving steps like soaking the oats overnight; sadly it also involved shredded apples, and I’m allergic to those now. (Hmm. Maybe shredded pears would work instead. *scribbles note to self*) My father’s mother made the best cinnamon rolls on the planet, bar none. She’s also the family member who taught me the fine art of rationalization, with the famous reasoning that it was fine to have ice cream for breakfast because ice cream has calcium in it. I have extended this to the decision that pumpkin pie counts as a vegetable dish.
The one I’m going to go with, however, is my other grandmother’s beef tongue. In part, because what overly picky, easily-squicked American kid would adore beef tongue? Mom’s family moved to the US from Holland when mom was a child, and her mother’s cooking still reflected European methods and ingredients. I don’t know what method she used to cook said beef tongue (hey mom, got any ideas? *scribbles note to send URL to this post to mom*), but it was GOOD. It was soft, melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a gentle flavor that I don’t even know how to describe. Well, maybe I would if I’d had it more recently than 20 or so years ago. In fact, I’m not even sure how much nostalgia has changed my perception of it, which is part of why I want to make it myself and try it again.
For a long time, Jeff (my husband) and I tried to make biscuits with little success. We could make almost anything else, including puff pastry(!), but biscuits came out flat and hard. One day, my husband and I were watching an early episode of Alton Brown’s show Good Eats, and Alton started to talk about biscuits. He provided many tips, but the key one was this: if you aren’t using soft Southern wheat flour, you need to substitute cake flour for 1/4 to 1/3 of the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. We religiously use King Arthur flour, which is hard northern flour (why is another discussion altogether), so it was no wonder our biscuits had come out as crackers. We leapt up out of our chairs as soon as the episode ended and ran to the kitchen. Being constant bakers, we had everything we needed to whip together a batch of Alton’s biscuits: buttermilk, different types of flours, leavening, butter, and shortening. Our housemate and his girlfriend stared at us with bemused smiles as we flew about the kitchen with mad purpose.
By the time Iron Chef started a half hour later, we were sitting down making joyful, orgasmic noises as we ate our biscuits. Our perfect, fluffy, tender, flaky biscuits.
Since then we’ve applied the knowledge learned from Alton to what must be the best biscuit cookbook ever: James Villas’s “Biscuit Bliss” (you can read my review of it if you’d like). The worst we’ve had out of it has been, “wow, that’s really good,” and most of its results have been downright stunning. We’ve made sausage biscuits, bacon biscuits, yeasted biscuits, buttermilk biscuits, parmesan biscuits, scones, sweet potato biscuits, and lots more. When we saw over this last holiday vacation that he had a bacon cookbook out, we immediately grabbed it (review to come soon!).
I could come up with all sorts of other things that could easily contend for the title of “best thing we ever made,” including my favorite ever Valentine’s Day present (we made rare, dry-aged tenderloin steak last year!), one of the cakes from the “All Cakes Considered” cookbook, our own roast duck with strawberry gravy, the “Zephyr” pancakes from the “King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion” cookbook, our favorite hot chocolate recipe, and so on, but I have to choose biscuits as a whole. They’re versatile, they’re easy once you know the tricks, they’re quick, they come in endless varieties, and they go with everything! What’s not to love?!
If you want our hot chocolate recipe, however, I’ll leave you with that:
Put 1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half into a microwaveable two-cup measure. Add milk until it reaches the 1 1/4 cup mark. Microwave until quite hot, but not boiling (or scald on the stove in a saucepan, but that takes longer, and who wants to wait for hot chocolate?).
Break up a 3.5 oz bar of Green & Black’s White Chocolate With Vanilla into small pieces (we get ours at Whole Foods Market). The brand is important here: this is the white chocolate that converts white chocolate haters. It lacks the chalky aftertaste of most white chocolates and uses real cocoa butter in large amounts. If you really can’t stand the idea, you unadventurous wimp, then add another 1/4 cup milk (before heating) and use a bar of dark, deep milk, or bittersweet chocolate instead.
Whisk the bits of chocolate into the milk until melted and mixed in. Scrape the sides of the measuring cup often to get all of the chocolate. Pour into two mugs.
If desired, add 1t to 1T liqueur to your mug. I recommend butterscotch schnapps, caramel Bailey’s, or frangelico. If you wimped out and used regular chocolate, consider topping with mini marshmallows or whipped cream or both—this might be overkill for the white chocolate.
If asked for my favorite foods eaten & made each week, I’d have a different set of answers each week. But these are my answers this week and I’m sticking to ‘em. Now go home & cook something yummy!