This year, Thanksgiving crept up on us before we were able to organize a friendly get-together, as we have done for the past couple of years. So instead, partly inspired by this NY Times feature and partly by remembering that my mom has hosted cookie decorating parties, F and I decided to host a festive afternoon Plätzchenbackparty (“cookie-bake-party”) in early December.
A bit of festive decor
So we chose a date, sent out WhatsApp invites to friends, searched for cookie recipes, and calculated how much mulled wine to make. I got my upper body strength training by using our handheld mixer to make loads of cookie dough the night before, and we stocked up on icing (powdered) sugar and food coloring.
On Saturday, friends came and went throughout the afternoon. Many cookies were baked: I made basic sugar cookies and chocolate cookies, and others contributed Scottish caraway biscuits, Lebkuchen, and shortbread. Once the icings were made – simple powdered sugar + milk, and F made this royal icing – people got down to some serious decorating business. There were plenty of drinks to go around, holiday tunes played in the background, and the atmosphere was warm, cozy, and festive. Highlights included Shana’s Shakespeare cookie cutter (and the creativity that those cookies engendered) and the ever-elusive Christmas jellyfish…photos below!
Sunday evening, after a brisk but sunny afternoon at the ZSL London Zoo in Regent’s Park, F and his visiting friend S made a delicious British beef, leek, and mushroom stew. Naturally, I offered to make biscuits, since stew practically begs for some kind of carb to dredge through the broth.
I thought about making these biscuits (but not these, which are best enjoyed on their own) — which have been delicious every time — but we had a lot of buttermilk in the fridge so I opted for a classic buttermilk biscuit, courtesy of smitten kitchen. The fluffy, buttery biscuits were the perfect complement to the hot, brothy stew. They’d be great alongside my mom’s beef stew, too. Don’t discount day-old biscuits, either — spread a bit of soft cheese onto one for a nice afternoon snack.
In my mind, buttermilk biscuits are supposed to be savory, so I used a minimal amount of sugar in these. Feel free to add more if you like sweeter biscuits. These would also be great with some minced chives or scallions mixed into the dough.
One Year Ago: Sent Off in Style (I can hardly believe I left Ukraine an entire year ago…)
If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have probably figured out that I love pancakes. But did you know that one of my top 5 favorite foods is actually sweet potatoes? I haven’t posted many recipes featuring them, mostly because they do not exist in Ukraine (and that’s where I was cooking and recipe-ing from September 2010 to November 2012). Now that I’m back in sweet potato land, however, they feature regularly — weekly, no joke — in my pans of roasted root vegetables.
Sweet potatoes are delicious baked whole in the oven, split open and juiced up with some butter, salt, and pepper. They also feature wonderfully in these pancakes. (Uh oh, back to pancakes again…) But I’m really here to tell you that I’ve discovered another great use for sweet potatoes: biscuits! I recently learned how easy it is to make biscuits — they’re great alongside beef stew or with whipped goat cheese and tomatoes. Thanks to spoon fork bacon, I can now throw together a variation on simple biscuits that includes sweet potatoes.
orange + green
We enjoyed these sweet potato rosemary biscuits with reheated vegetarian chili that we made 7 liters of a couple weeks ago (there was too much to finish…after 3 days we had to freeze the rest before the beans knocked us both out). F had barely taken one bite of his biscuit before saying, “You have to make these again.” Yes, they were that good. Super moist (from the potato), sweet and salty, slightly piney from the rosemary…They were so good I didn’t even dip mine in my chili because I wanted to enjoy the flavors all by themselves. The biscuits are also excellent toasted with butter or spread with a bit of cream cheese.
Sweet Potato Rosemary Biscuits(adapted from spoon fork bacon; makes 6 large biscuits)
1 cup plain/AP flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1.5 tsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup (113g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
1 cup mashed sweet potato (~1 sm-med sweet potato)
1.5 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
3 tbsp buttermilk
Peel and dice the sweet potato, then boil it until soft (15-20 min). Drain and then mash the potato.
Preheat the oven to 400F (200C).
Whisk together the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers until it is evenly distributed in pea-sized pieces.
Fold the sweet potato, rosemary, and buttermilk into the dry ingredient until just combined.
Plop globs of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the biscuits look set and have just started to brown on top. Remove the tray from the oven and let the biscuits cool for a few minutes before serving.
One of the first things that F and I did upon my arrival in London was look at every single recipe in the smitten kitchen cookbook, which I gave to F for Christmas. It is gorgeous. Since I arrived on a Friday, we decided to pick a couple of recipes to shop for and cook on the weekend.
Up first: Tomato Scallion Shortcakes with Whipped Goat Cheese for Sunday brunch. I followed the recipe rather closely, only having to improvise with 1% milk + whipping cream in place of the whole milk in the biscuits. And F inadvertently made the wrong dressing — I’d turned the page to read the biscuit-making instructions and he made the dressing on the right-hand page, not noticing that it was a different recipe! No matter — the mustard vinaigrette was a great accompaniment to the tomatoes, goat cheese and biscuits. This isn’t the healthiest recipe in the world, but it could certainly be worse and something about eating tomatoes for breakfast makes me feel virtuous.
Scallion Biscuits with Whipped Goat Cheese & Tomato Salad
Biscuits (makes 6 large biscuits):
2 cups + 2 tbsp (265 g) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp (30 g) baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
5 tbsp (70 g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
1 scallion, minced
1 cup (235 mL) whole milk (I used 2/3 cup 1% milk and 1/3 cup whipping cream)
Tomato Salad w/ Mustard Dressing:
1.25-1.5 cups (225-250 g) cherry/grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
3 tbsp (45 mL) olive oil
1.5 tbsp (23 mL) white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1.5 tsp honey
to taste: salt & pepper
Whipped Goat Cheese:
3 tbsp (45 mL) whipping cream
4 oz (115 g) goat cheese, softened
2 scallions, minced
Make biscuits: Preheat the oven to 425F (215C). Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Work in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture becomes like a coarse meal. Mix in the scallion and milk, combining until dough forms. Pull off pieces of the dough and form them into patties. Arrange them on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15′ or until they are golden-brown.
While the biscuits are baking, make tomato salad & whipped goat cheese:
Salad: Whisk together the dressing ingredients, then cut the tomatoes and mix them with the dressing.
Whipped Goat Cheese: Whip the cream with an electric mixer until peaks form, then add the goat cheese and scallions and beat until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.
Serve the biscuits halved and topped with scoops of salad and a dollop or two of whipped goat cheese.