Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ode to January: Buttermilk Biscuits and Tomato Gravy

The Christmas tree comes down and January begins in earnest

I have a confession to make and I know that whether you're from California or Minnesota this will make me seem very odd. I love January. In fact, I daresay that January may just be my favorite single month of the year. There, I said it. If we were conversing, I imagine these would be your comments.

It's cold. Oh, yes, living in a rowhouse built in 1896, I am well aware that it is cold. But a big sweater and a warm cup of tea go a long way in curing the chill. Plus, the cold inspires me, whether to bake bread, to slow cook a pork shoulder, or just to get back into my home kitchen. After a long month of cooking for clients during the holidays, it's great simply to feed my family again.

Okay, Ms. locavore, the growing season is over, what do you eat? Yes, summer's bouny is a distant memory, but there are plenty of storage crops available. I look forward to January when I can relish sweet winter greens, roasted root vegetables, and earthy mushrooms. Moreover, whenever I feel a bit sun-deprived, I open the freezer where I've got bags of corn, berries, peas, and tomatoes preserved at the height of their season. This is the fun part of winter . . . March on the other hand is another story.

So you love snow, sleet, and ice? Well, yes, I do. These inconveniences are simply an excuse to slow down and stay home. When I don't feel the pressure to get out of the house or the competing draw of outside activities, I can actually attack those projects that are on my long lost to-do list. (I swear I'll get Thor's baby pictures into an album this year!) Plus, my son allows me to see the weather throught the eyes of a 5 year old. Snow isn't an impediment to a commute, it's a snow man waiting to happen. My only wish? That we actually got a snow day in Illinois. A day we for cooking baking, sledding, and steaming cups of hot cocoa.

So you may not love January as I do, but if I may offer some unsolicited advice. Don't be cranky, relax a bit, and enjoy winter's jewel. To assist, I give you the following recipe, a delicious way way to wake up on a cold January morning.

Buttermilk Biscuits
4 servings

¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable shortening
½ cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425° F. Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Cut the butter and shortening into small pieces. Work the fat into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until the mixture looks sandy with smallish lumps. Pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until the ingredients just hold together. Knead into a ¾-inch circle very lightly on a floured surface. Cut into 8 pieces. Place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes in the center rack of the oven or until light brown. Cool slightly.

Tomato Gravy
Adapted from an Edna Lewis recipe.
4 servings

1 teaspoon canola or grapeseed oil
½ pound lamb breakfast sausage
1 tablespoon bacon fat
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 ½ teaspoons all-purpose flour
½ pound roasted tomato puree
¼ cup milk
¼ cup heavy cream
Cider vinegar and Tabasco

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until just cooked through. Set aside. Heat the bacon fat in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, approximately 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt and thyme and cook for an additional minute. Sprinkle flour over the pan and cook, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Slowly pour in the milk and heavy cream. Add reserved sausage, a few drops of cider vinegar and Tabasco and cook for 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve over the buttermilk biscuits.

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