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Herb Infused Olive Oil

I love having a garden. For the past few years we’ve been hodge podging a garden wherever we were, growing herbs (and incubating vengeful habanero plants) on windowsills, planting tomatoes in the free space at work, always on the brink of what we really wanted.  In a lot of ways we’re still on the brink of the garden we want.  What we’re fostering these days is worlds better than our last garden, but still worlds away from our goal- our dream garden.

Our dream garden (a part of our overall dream house) will have rows and rows of garden space.  There will space for the plants to breathe, to coexist with like-minded plants.  We’ll have fruit trees, all the heirloom varieties you could think of.  There will be a place for Dan to grow hops, his own beer garden.  We’ll have bees and butterflies and probably a unicorn.  Don’t unicorns always live in these idealist scenarios?

But that’s my dream garden.  And while we’re definitely working towards it, we’re not there yet.  So I’m happy with what I have, and what I have is a thriving and happy garden.  A garden that has, despite late planting and the hottest summer on record, managed to produce a quirky array of fruit.  And since I don’t have pets or children and my husband is too sweet to complain about much, my tomatoes have given me something definitive to bitch about.

My most recent foray into both garden adventures and preservation techniques included infusing olive oil with herbs.  Drizzled over fresh tomatoes, pasta, pizza, salad, or sandwiches, an herb infused oil is a great way to add a punch of flavor to a dish.  I opted for three varieties- basil, rosemary, and oregano.  I used old whiskey bottles that I sterilized but you could easily pick up any bottle that sealed tightly, preferably with a plastic or cork lid.  Easy to make, pretty, and festive you could slap on a handmade label and voila! instant gift.  Pair it up with some homemade jam or pickles and you’re a regular Donna Reed.  Put those shoes back on!

Basil Infused Olive Oil

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

4 cups fresh basil

Sterilized bottle

To sterilize the bottle, submerge it in boiling water for at least 10 minutes.

Begin by  rinsing your basil and pressing it dry.  Combine it in a bowl with the oil.  Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.  In a pot over medium heat, simmer the oil for 1 minute.  Pour the oil through a fine mesh strainer to remove basil clumps.  Repeat.  Use a funnel to pour the oil into the sterilized bottle.  Store in the refrigerator for up to one month.

Rosemary or Oregano Infused Olive Oil

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

10 sprigs herb

Sterilized bottle

Wash your herbs and dry.  To ensure they are dried completely place them in a low temperature oven for 2 minutes.

Place your oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Warm it, but do not let it boil.  Place your herbs in the bottle.  Pour the oil over them.  Cap and store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

**As with any preservation process, there are risks.  If you notice anything abnormal, discard the oil immediately.  Botulism is no fun.**

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Peach Habanero Jam

I’m not sure when Dan and I became the kind of people we are today.  And by “the kind of people we are” I don’t mean Firefly watching, unicorn joke making, shirts that light up owning geeks.  I mean people that attempt to grow as much of their own food as possible, who bake their own bread, brew their own beer, and preserve things for the winter.  It happened progressively.  In fact, you could probably go through the archives of this website and track it, watching steadily as I went from making things like mashed potatoes from scratch to pie doughs, evolving slowly into the people we are today.  People that brew beer and preserve food in a tiny apartment with no circulation in the kitchen.

When I started baking bread I jumped into it like I do all other things; I found a few recipes on various websites and tried it.  It failed.  After a few more mediocre at best (and sometimes awful) loaves I knew it was time for more guidance.  I followed the advice of some friends that had been baking bread and bought Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  I’ve been working through it slowly (though I’m on hiatus for the summer), and each loaf I make gets better. It’s been a wonderful process, one that has inspired me to make a lot more things at home (including, hopefully, cheese) and to be overall more local and conscious of what we’re eating and doing.  More than anything I’ve appreciated having what has become my bread bible, a source that taught me not only recipes but concepts.

Prior to this summer my experience in the world of preserving had been limited to freezing, some drying, and making refrigerator preserves.  So it was serendipitous that when I was just about to jump into the world of long term, for serious food preservation, I got an email from Williams-Sonoma.  They offered me a copy of their book, The Art of Preserving, and I very gladly accepted.  It arrived right before I attempted my first batch of peach habanero jam, and I am so thankful that it did.  The book takes you through different types of preserves from jams and jellies to pickles and flavored spirits.  It is comprehensive and more importantly than anything else, it is thorough and easy to follow.  And even though Williams-Sonoma was kind of enough to send me a copy, this is a book, like The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I would have purchased on my own.  It also really helps with my nightmares about killing someone with botchulism.

Before I go any further and tell you about the jam, let me promise that this is the last habanero recipe I’ll give you for a while.  If you’re half as habanero’ed out as I am right now, bless our souls because I don’t even want to look at the things.  I am fairly certain, however, that when I’m drizzling it over my toast in February (snowed into my apartment again if “they’re” right about this winter) I will be happy that I spent a few really sweaty days in my kitchen.  The jam itself is delicious, sweet and peachy with a very low note of spice (much more low key than the sorbet).  The last batch I made 8 eight ounce jars and had a lot of refrigerator jam leftover.  This round I made 21 four ounce jars and still had about eight ounces for the fridge.  The jars will be tucked away, eaten this winter and given as gifts over the holidays.  Along with the beer that my husband has been obsessing over.

Peach Habanero Jam
Adapted from The Art of Preserving by Williams-Sonoma

6 pounds of peaches, a mixture of medium ripe and unripe

3 cups sugar

5 medium sized habaneros

3/4 cup lemon juice

Start, either about 5 hours before you want to can or the night before, by using a damp cloth to rub the fuzz off of your peaches.  Next, halve them.  This book has a great suggestion for how to do that- cut the peach all the way around at the joint and twist the two halves in opposite directions, like an Oreo.  Remove the pit and slice the peach (leaving the skin on) into 1/4″ slices.  Halve those slices again and place in a large bowl.

Take your habaneros (carefully) and slice a slit into all four sides.  Toss in with the peaches.  Over the whole mixture pour the sugar, stir, and set aside for at least 4 hours.

About an hour before you want to can fill two large pots with water.  I recommend that you have some canning equipment, at the very least a large pot with a rack and a pair of tongs.  You’ll need a separate pot for sterilizing your jars and lids.  Bring both pots of water to a boil.  In one pot (the one without a lid) place your jars and the lids (not the screw bands).  Allow them to boil for at least 10 minutes, but keep them in the pot until right before you fill them.

In a third pot, combine your peach mixture with the lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat for 15-25 minutes, until most of the juice has evaporated and the peaches have cooked down.  Fish out the habaneros and start taking jars out of the water.

Use a spoon to fill the jars, leaving 1/4″ of room at the top.  Use a spoon to make sure there are no bubbles in the jar, and adjust the headspace (space between the jam and the top of the jar) as needed.  Wipe the rim with a sterile cloth and fish a lid out of the pot.  Place the lid onto the jar and screw the band on tightly.  Set aside and repeat with all of your jars.

Take the rack from the other pot and place the jars onto it.  Lower the rack into the pot (whose water should be boiling) and process the jars for 10 minutes.  Remove them from the water and (here’s the hardest part) wait for the ping.  When they first come out of the water the jar should pop up and down, but when the jars seals you won’t be able to pop the jar any more.  Some jars will seal immediately, some will take a little longer, and some may not at all.  If jars fail to seal, store them in the fridge for up to two weeks.  The jars that do seal, however, are good in a cool dark space for up to a year.  Enjoy!

**As with any preservation process, there are risks.  If you notice anything abnormal, discard the jam immediately.  Botulism is no fun.**

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Habanero Peach Sorbet

I have a lot of other things to discuss with you today so I thought I’d get business out of the way first.  You remember my habanero dilemma, yes?  Not much has changed in that department.  Actually, if anything, I have more habaneros than ever.  They just keep on coming and the more I use the more flowers those damn plants put out.  Dear Nature, this is why people turn against you.  I’ve put up a batch of peach habanero jam, habanero simple syrup, spicy pickled red onions, I’ve froze and roasted them, I’ve given a bunch away, and I made this sorbet.  This sorbet, which is singlehandedly the weirdest thing I’ve ever created.  At first, it’s all sweet and refreshing.  And then, after you swallow it gets SPICY and there is that signature habanero low and slow burn.  Delicious, yet completely disarming.  If you like taste anomalies or have a lot of habaneros to use up, I suggest you try it.

The next order of business is a personal dilemma.  As you may recall, just over three months ago we moved from Takoma Park to Baltimore.  Our apartment in Takoma Park, while small, irregularly temperatured, and leaky, had one thing going for it- the kitchen.  The kitchen was beautiful and drool worthy and had completely amazing light.  I was able to take photos with ample natural light, which gave my subjects dimension and beauty.  As long as I was cooking when the sun was up I needed nothing but an unblocked window to get beautiful photos.  Oh, how I took that for granted.  And our new apartment (despite its incredible yard) has a kitchen whose giant window looks into an alley.  A dark alley with no direct sunlight.

At first I thought it would be alright.  The lights in the kitchen are pretty white, so I figured it would be possible to take decent photos.  And compared to the dozens (upon dozens) of other crappy apartment kitchens we saw, this one looked pretty great with its dishwasher and cabinet space.  I have discovered, however, that I am flailing.  The photos I’ve been taking the past few months, either here or over at iVillage, have been flat, slightly off colored, and unappealing.  They lack that beautiful allure that natural light provides, the light that makes you want to snatch that pie right off of the windowsill.  So I’m here today asking for your advice.  Now, keep in mind, money is a little tight.  I definitely don’t have the means to buy a lot of crazy new equipment.  I recognize that something has got to give, so any suggestions you might have for my particular problems.  Not necessarily a quick fix because I’m dedicated to changing the situation, but a better solution than me carrying pans outside into the back yard to photograph them as I cook.  Because that’s my next step.

Now, in other (happier) news, I have a very exciting something to announce.  Now, if you’re around on twitter or facespace you’ll have seen this or heard wind of it, but on Friday my mother and I were photographed for the May 2011 issue of Southern Living Magazine.  I KNOW, RIGHT?  It’s been pretty crazy exciting on this end.  This all came about almost a year ago when the lovely Marian Cooper Cairns reached out to me to see if I was interested in being involved with Southern Living.  It evolved from there through many stages of me telling myself not to be too optimistic and on Thursday Marian (the food stylist/writer), Alison (the stylist), and Jennifer (the photographer) arrived in Baltimore.  We went out for an awesome dinner on Thursday night at The Brewer’s Art and on Friday the shoot went down.  (Thanks to Megan for taking the photos).

We shot at Cylburn Arboretum, a gorgeous park just north of us.  And despite on and off rain all day we were able to take a few hours worth of photos.  The photo taking itself was pretty crazy, lots of posing and doing the same gestures again and again so that they could get exactly what they had in mind.  It was really interesting to watch them work, and really enlightening to see Marian’s vision come to life.  Mom and I both had fun and if Megan’s photos are any indication of what Jennifer’s will look like, it is going to be amazing.  Now we just have to sit back, relax, and cross our fingers that it gets published!

Habanero Peach Sorbet

4 peaches

2 habaneros

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Juice of 1 lemon

Slice your peaches into 1/2″ wide slices, skin on.  Cut small slits into each side of your habaneros.  Be very careful with your hands after handling the peppers.  Bring sugar and water to boil.  Add peaches, habanero, and lemon juice.  Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Let cool to room temperature.

When your mixture is cool, fish out your habaneros and process the rest of the mixture in an ice cream maker.

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