Monday, December 6, 2010

Julia Would Approve (Biscuits and Chowda)

Before we start, we must talk about this bowl. I found myself wondering if it was an ash tray or an artistic expression of a coconut husk. It was one of my mom's flea market finds. Thanks, Mom!

We talk about Julia a lot, do we not? Many of us grew up watching and listening to her warble her way through French technique but not without a relaxed “what the hell” attitude. I truly adored how messy she was.

I pick up her biography, Appetite for Life written by Noel Riley Fitch, every so often and randomly open it up to a new place. I’ve never done that with a book before, but I guess it’s because any where you read in this book, you will find something fascinating. It’s a joy to read.

Early on in the book they talk about her childhood (duh) and peppered in among people’s descriptions of her growing up -and her delightful shenanigans- are recipes. One of them is her mother’s Buttermilk Herb Baking Powder Biscuits.

This recipe stood out to me for it’s simplicity and that it was dear to her heart. Her mother was supposedly not a very good cook and when asked about her mother’s cooking this was the recipe she gave a newspaper to print.

Well, if Julia liked them, I knew I would like them too. But there was a problem.

I didn’t have half the ingredients. Oh, and I was lazy, which caused me to not want to walk outside and snip a few sprigs of whatever herbs were left in my dying garden.

So we ended up with plain biscuits.

And then I didn’t have vegetable shortening, I only had butter. Darn.

And I didn’t have buttermilk, so I winged it and added some vinegar to regular milk.

My son can’t eat eggs, so I left those out.

You’re probably thinking, “This sounds like a flop”. Oh contraire, Dear Ones, they were simply heavenly. Best biscuits I’ve ever made, which isn’t saying a lot because my biscuits are generally like bricks or out of a can, soooo….

They truly were delish. I wanted to pad my bra with their fluffy goodness, powder my face with one of its million flaky layers, or simply crack one open and rub its buttery goodness on my elbows. Bizarre? Who cares.

What did I serve these with, you say? How ‘bout some chowda’? (I watch The Perfect Storm last night and I can still hear Clooney, with his dreamy, husky voice, going on about longitudes and latitudes in a Boston accent.)

How about some, the-clams-are-too-damn-expensive-so-I-had-to-buy-fish-chowder? Divine.

I think I actually liked the fish, (I used rockfish, a deep sea type of red snapper), better than clams. It was so tender and flakey…kinda like the biscuits- sorry, but I can’t get over the triumph that was the biscuits. I don't think Julia would mind that I totally changed the recipe. I mean, I'm sure she improvised many times. I felt her approval as the dough stuck to my cookie cutter and I flung flour across the counter and onto the floor.

So here’s the deal. I’m going to give you Julia’s mother’s recipe but in bold I will put my changes AND I will give you my original recipe for my fish chowda. And if you call right now, you will get a forever lazy snuggy free!…just kidding, sorry. I mean, seriously, who wears that? With the zipper in the back? Really?

Buttermilk Herb Baking Powder Biscuits

Julia Child’s mother’s recipe from Appetite for Life.

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. salt

4 tsp. double-acting baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

8 tbsp. chilled vegetable shortening (I used butter)

4 tbsp. fresh minced chives (did not use)

4 tbsp. fresh minced parsley (did not use)

2 eggs (did not use)

1 ½ cups buttermilk (I used milk with 2 tbsp. vinegar added)

Cut shortening (or butter) into dry ingredients, until it is in small pieces, stir in herbs. Mix together all wet ingredients (it says in the book that many Yankee homes did not use the eggs) and briefly mix into dry ingredients. Be careful not to overmix. Turn onto surface and knead (I barely kneaded it, for fear of my classic brick-style biscuits) and pat to ½ inch thick. Cut into rounds (make sure you flour your cutter) and bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Amazing.

Foodie House Fish Chowda

original recipe

(I don’t really measure much, so this is my eyeballed version. I’d say by eyeballs are 95% accurate)

½ sweet onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

3-4 sliced uncured bacon, diced

3 tbsp. flour

2 tbsp. butter

1 tsp. “Better Than Boullion” organic chicken base

4 cups chicken stock (or fish stock)

1 cup cream

2 med. organic russet potatoes, diced

1 cup frozen organic sweet corn

1-1 ¼ lbs. rockfish or snapper, cut into bite-size pieces (use what you like, really)

salt and pepper to taste

Render your bacon in a heavy bottom pot. Leave the drippings. Put in onion, carrot and celery. Cook until slightly soft, about 5 minutes. Add butter and let it melt. Sprinkle flour over veg and bacon and stir in. This is the roux. Cook this mixture together for about another 5 minutes.

Add chicken stock, bullion and cream. Let this cook for a good 10 minutes. You want to see the stock thicken. Stir quite often.

Add your potatoes and corn and let cook until potatoes are tender but not mushy. Taste the soup for seasoning, as the potatoes tend to absorb the salt. Ten to fifteen minutes before you serve the soup, gently simmer the fish pieces in the soup. It’s very important you do not over cook the fish.

Serve with the luscious biscuits…if you’re feeling healthy (which you won’t if you make this meal) eat a salad.

Love ya, Foodies!
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