BACON SCONES: CHEDDAR/SCALLION & MAPLE/PECAN

First off, a disclaimer: if the quality of today’s pictures seems a bit wobbly to you, that’s because I took them.  Instead of the badass Sonya.

sonya at work

{Badass Sonya is going to be real mad that I’m posting this picture of her being a badass but she’ll just have to get over it.}

I’ve never, ever been a photographer or anything close.  I knew when I started this blog that I would need serious help in the picture-taking department, and luckily Sonya was up for the job.  She has, in fact, gone above and beyond what I ever imagined; I must say that the success of BJG hinges largely on her extraordinary talent.

In an effort to cultivate that talent, Sonya and I participated in a very fun food photography workshop with photography rock star Penny de los Santos.  I decided to tag along, despite my non-photographer status, because I figured I would be able to learn how I can assist Sonya is taking the quality of BJG photographs to the proverbial “next level.”

In fact, I did learn a lot about how great food photography gets made and had the pleasure of getting to meet and chat with Penny in person.  (She then so generously visited us here at BJG and even left us a comment on the “About” page!  Did I “squee” when I saw her comment?  Maybe.)  But the coolest thing that happened was: I got behind a camera myself and took some pictures!

frenchie fries

You know, as adults, we generally spend our time doing things we are good at doing.  We’ve chosen our careers that way, culled our hobbies down the ones which best suit us.  We are choosy with our time so why devote any of it to an unfamiliar endeavor?  Not to mention, it’s hella scary to try something I have no idea how to do.  I am so accustomed to being competent and on top of things, it’s such a huge function of my identity.  So I was more than just a little confronted by the act of picking up a camera and photographing some food.

Of course, as I relaxed into the afternoon and gave up the ridiculous notion that I immediately had to be a photography prodigy, I had fun.  And really came to respect just how difficult it is to do what Sonya, Penny, & other photographers do.

Don’t fret, we’ll still be featuring Sonya’s gorgeous work 98% of the time.  But every once in a while, I conjure up some out-of-the-ballpark-winner-of-a-dish and she’s not around to capture its image.  So, I’m going to try my hand at taking halfway decent photographs, for the blog and for my own pleasure.  After just a week of playing around with the camera, I’m feeling high from the exertion and joy that comes with expanding my skill set and stretching myself out of my comfort zone.

Speaking of which, sharing my answers to the Proust Questionnaire with, you know, the entire free world makes me more than a little nervous.  But you, my readers, have been beyond generous in your support and cheering on of BJG in the last five months that I just couldn’t turn down your requests.  I’m flattered by your interest and would love to see your own responses.

Last but not least: the food itself!  We’ve got some gorgeous, clear, sunny, cool days ahead of us down here in Texas and I know these scones would be a perfect addition to any weekend plans you may have.  Perfect for game-watching, either indoor or out, tailgating, sitting-out-in-the-backyard-ing, reading-in-a-chair-ing, picnicking, brunch-ing, or just general lazing about.

These scones are a riff on a recipe a friend passed along—I felt they would be a perfect “out in the field” hunting snack for Jill to take along and share with the guys.  We’ll see what they say about ‘em Sunday!

BACON SCONES: CHEDDAR/SCALLION & MAPLE/PECAN

The goodness of these scones would not be possible without the generosity and talent of two incredible individuals: Al Marcus of Grateful Bread here in Houston, who sells the most incredible maple bacon I have ever put in my mouth and Meg Maker, who has become a friend over the last few months via Twitter and is so kind-hearted that she responded to my maple-syrup lament with a care package with a giant jug of top-quality stuff.

With beautiful products like Al’s bacon and pure New Hampshire maple syrup, the scones almost cooked themselves!  Per Al’s recommendation, I cut my bacon thick, about a ½ inch, then placed the slices on a broiler pan in a cold oven.  I turned the oven to 400° and let the bacon cook up until the oven was preheated & just a few minutes longer.

baaaacon

I made a big “master bowl” of scone starter, then divided it in half to make one batch of sweet and one of savory.  If you’re only interested in one of these versions, feel free to cut the starter in half.

oven: 400°
pan: two baking sheets lined with parchment or well-greased

ingredients:

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, cold & cut into pieces
10 T shortening
1 ½ T baking powder
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt or 1 tsp. table salt

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Cut the fat into the flour mixture until the dough resembles small-to-medium-sized pebbles.

Divide the starter evenly between two bowls.

CHEDDAR/SCALLION SCONES
: cheddar/scallion scones

ingredients:

2 slices (approx. 1 ½ oz.) bacon, cooked, cooled, & chopped
½ cup grated cheddar cheese*
¼ cup chopped scallions/green onions
½ cup buttermilk + extra for glaze.

On a floured surface, pat the dough out into a rough circle.  Cut into wedges and place on baking sheets.  Brush each scone with extra buttermilk as a glaze.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until the scones are light brown and firm to the touch.  Cool briefly before enjoying.

*I used a nice extra sharp and recommend splurging on good-quality cheese.

MAPLE/PECAN SCONES: maple/pecan scones

ingredients:

2 slices (approx. 1 ½ oz.) bacon, cooked, cooled, & chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped*
¼ cup half and half
¼ cup maple syrup + extra for glaze

Mix all ingredients into the starter, distributing add-ins evenly and being careful not to over-mix.  Dough will be very wet, so don’t freak out!

On a floured surface, pat the dough out into a rough circle.  Cut into wedges and place on baking sheets.  Brush each scone with extra maple as a glaze.

Bake 15-20 minutes, until the scones are light brown and firm to the touch.  Cool briefly before enjoying.  Serve with extra maple, butter, or jam.

*I didn’t pre-toast them and the scones were still delicious…but next time I think I will.

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BUTTERMILK BISCUITS & ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS

I love breakfast.  A nice, leisurely, tummy-stuffing, weekend breakfast (or maybe brunch, depending upon your sleeping habits).  There’s really just nothing like it; something savory with something sweet, a big steaming mug of coffee, the scrape of fork against plate where the syrup was.  Sigh.  Now I’ve gone and made myself hungry.

biscuit & omelet

Going out for breakfast or brunch is one of my favorite indulgences; I have favored spots in every city I’ve lived in.  I dream about the huevos rancheros at Baby Barnaby’s & the cheese grits at Brother Juniper’s, but when push comes to shove, I’m actually much more likely to make a big breakfast for myself.

No changing out of your pajamas, no standing in line with your stomach growling, no having to hear “Actually, we’re out of bacon.”

Having friends over for brunch can be a really economical way to entertain, much cheaper than throwing a dinner party.  Plus, everybody loves breakfast!  It’s comfort food at its best.  Throw in some mimosas or Bloody Marys and everyone’s happy.

Okay, enough about that, I know you’re thinking “what the heck is a Ziploc-bag omelet?”  It’s basically the best magic trick I know, making individual omelets in Ziploc bags.  Totally solves the problem of how to fix eggs for a group, since this person doesn’t like mushrooms and this child can’t stand onions.  Plus, it is SO much fun to do—great to do with kids, though we’ve definitely made them with all adults and they had a good time, too.

It’s not just the novelty, though; the omelets actually taste great, and without having to add any fat to cook them.  I’m sure someone out there is terrified by the thought of cooking food in plastic.  If that’s you, you probably shouldn’t try this.

Biscuits are also fun to do with kids—you’re going to get the counter messy anyway, so why not let them enjoy?  Two of my favorite kiddos in the world, Isabella & Antonio, whom I’ve known since they were each tiny babies, are always my biscuit souz chefs when I visit them or they visit me.  We use funky cookie-cutters (lobster or cactus-shaped biscuits, anyone?) to liven up things even more.

There are a million ways to make biscuits in this world; this happens to be my way. I’ve been experimenting with homemade biscuits for as long as I can remember and let me just say, these are really, really good.  I’m from Tennessee; I know a good biscuit when I meet one.

Have great weekend, ya’ll.  And eat something good for breakfast.

BUTTERMILK BISCUITS

ingredients: buttermilk biscuits

4 T each, butter & vegetable shortening (don’t soften the butter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T baking powder
1 T sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup buttermilk

extra 2 T butter, melted

oven: 425°
pan: heavy baking sheet, jellyroll pan, or cast-iron skillet

Place the shortening and butter inside a large bowl.  Add in dry ingredients—flour, baking powder, sugar, & salt—and, using your fingers, smush (yes, that’s a technical term) until you have a crumbly mixture, with large pieces.  The pieces shouldn’t be too small or too uniform—just no big chunks of fat.

Pour in the buttermilk and mix very gently with your hands (try to remember to take your ring(s) off; I always forget!).  The mixture will seem wet and as if there’s no way it could ever become biscuits.  Do not panic and do not overmix.

Turn the loose mixture onto a heavily floured surface, coating the dough once with flour on both sides before patting it out very gently to about a half-inch thickness.  Even though the dough still may not look completely together, trust me.  That’s how you want them—if you work with the dough too much = hard biscuits.

Using a biscuit cutter (if you are a good Southerner & have one, unlike me) or an upside-down water glass, cut out biscuit rounds from the dough, placing them close together on your baking sheet or in your skillet/pan.

Cobble together scrap pieces to do a second, and if needed, third round of biscuit-cutting.  Brush the tops of the biscuits with half of the melted butter and place them in the oven.

Bake for 15-20 minutes; at about the 12 minute mark, your biscuits should have risen nicely but will look a little pale.  Brush with the remaining melted butter and finish baking.

Serve warm (of course) with more butter, honey, jam, sausage, pepper gravy, etc.  Or, if you are my father-in-law, ribbon cane syrup (ew).

ZIPLOC-BAG OMELETS
(thanks to our friends Vicky & Lois for sharing this years ago!)

This is so simple that I can’t even rightly call it a “recipe”—it’s more like a formula or a magic trick. Every time I do it I’m halfway afraid it isn’t going to work, but it always does!

ingredients:

eggs (2 per person, or perhaps just 1 for tiny eaters) add-ins
Ziploc bags (sandwich-size)
a Sharpie or permanent marker

any omelet add-ins you like:

shredded cheese (cheddar, fontina, mozzarella, Monterey jack)
crumbled/chopped meats (ham, sausage, bacon or a meatless substitute)
chopped veggies (peppers, mushrooms, onions, green onions, spinach, asparagus)*
seasonings (fresh or dried herbs such as basil or thyme, hot sauce, etc)
salt & pepper

First, get a tall pot of water (the kind you’d use to cook a big batch of pasta) filled with water and bring the water to a boil.

To assemble the omelets, first have everyone claim a Ziploc bag & write his/her name on it.  eggs in a bagThen, using a bowl to help the bag “stand up,” crack two eggs into each one.

Instruct everyone to seal their bags and then smush up the eggs with their fingers.  Kids, naturally, l-o-v-e this part, so they’ll happily manage this step for everyone.

Then, have everyone open their bags back up and throw in whatever accoutrement they desire—just make sure not to overload!  Think in finger-pinches, not handfuls.

Once everyone’s loaded up their omelet-to-be, seal the bag and mix it all up again.

One last step, and this is important (the kids may need help with this one).  Unseal the bag so you can force all of the ingredients down to the bottom, then press the air out through the top and re-seal.

You should have a concentrated band at the bottom of your bag, and no, it won’t look very appetizing, but don’t worry!  I promise you this will taste excellent.

Bring your pot of water down to a simmer—don’t use a rolling boil or your eggs (and bag) will overcook.  Drop the bags into the water, one at a time—they’ll kind of bob up at the top, but that’s why you pressed all of the ingredients down to the bottom. going in the water!

You may need to kick the heat back up on your burner to compensate for the addition of the bags, but at this point, set a timer for exactly thirteen minutes and go about your business.

When that timer goes off, carefully fish the bags out of the water and onto a kitchen towel.  To serve, simply open each bag (there will be steam, so watch little fingers) and slide the omelet onto a plate.  Enjoy!

*If you decide to use asparagus, I recommend pre-cooking it in a little water, either over the stove or in the microwave.

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BLACKBERRY UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE

I am a sucker for road-side produce.  You know, you’re driving along (especially this time of year), and suddenly you see a spray-painted piece of particle board, declaring “FRESH PICKED CORN” or “STRAWBERRIES” or “OKRA.”

blackberries in a bowl

Or, you know, “BLACKBERRIES.”  When I drove to San Antonio from Houston a few weeks ago, to visit my dear friend Arianne (of key-lime-pie loving fame), I stopped about 45 minutes outside of town to buy some insanely good peaches and these ripe, Rubenesque blackberries.

What I love about this cake is the way that it works equally well for dessert as it does for breakfast. Throw it in the oven at the start of dinner, and it will be warm and ready to serve by the time your meal is finished. Bake it Sunday night, set it next to the office coffee pot, and endear yourself to all of your coworkers on an otherwise grumpy Monday morning. It would also make a lovely housewarming gift, hey-you-just-had-a-baby offering, or potluck contribution.

Frankly, I think this cake is the main reason my friend John puts up with our old, incontinent dog for whom he and his wife Courtney (an important BJG taste-tester/inspiration/dish-washer) often dog-sit.  It may actually be the only reason he puts up with me, come to think of it.

The finished cake will keep, wrapped well in saran wrap & foil and refrigerated, for about a week.  But if John is any indication, there’s no way it’s going to last half that long.

blackberry upside-down cake

Special equipment & ingredients:

• A kitchen mixer is most helpful but not required—if you do try it by hand, make certain your butter is extra soft.
Parchment paper is one of the greatest inventions known to man, and well worth the $2.50 investment. Find it on the same aisle as Saran Wrap.
• If you grew up in the south like me, you are already familiar with the wonders buttermilk can do in pancakes, biscuits, waffles, & cornbread.  If you’ve never cooked with buttermilk before, I urge you to try it this time–a small bottle will run you less than $1.  If you must substitute, stir a bit of lemon juice into some regular milk & let it sit for a few minutes before using.

BLACKBERRY UPSIDE DOWN (AND RIGHT-SIDE-UP) CAKE
adapted from Gourmet Magazine’s “Everyday Meals”

pan: 8-inch round

oven: 400 degrees F

goes nicely with: a scoop of vanilla ice cream, homemade whipped cream*

ingredients:

2 cups fresh blackberries (use an extra ½ cup if you like lots of fruit) sugar-coated blackerries in pan

½  cup sugar, plus 2 Tablespoons extra for sprinkling

1 cup all-purpose flour

½  tsp. baking soda, NOT powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ stick unsalted butter, softened

1 large egg

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup buttermilk (shake it before you pour!)

Use the bottom of your cake pan to trace two 9-inch circles on parchment paper. Cut out the circles and place them inside the pan (use a little butter if they won’t stay put). Lightly butter the sides of the pan and the top circle of parchment. Spoon in a bit of flour and shake to coat the pan.

Rinse & dry the berries.  Pour them into the cake pan; try to get them to fit in just one layer. If you’re feeling crafty, go ahead and arrange the berries into pretty concentric circles. If you’ve better things to do with your time, don’t worry, the cake’s still going to taste good! Sprinkle the blackberries with 2 Tablespoons of sugar; set pan aside.

For the batter: cream butter & sugar together until light & fluffy (if using a mixer, run on “high” for about two minutes). More gently mix in the egg & vanilla (switch speed to “low”) until the mixture just begins to come together.

Here, a classic baking technique: alternately adding the wet & dry ingredients. So in one measuring cup or bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, & salt. In another cup or bowl, measure out your buttermilk (shake it up first!). Now, you always want to start and finish with the dry ingredients. So your process will go like this:

a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the buttermilk
a third of the flour mixture

Just eyeball the amounts—it doesn’t matter if you exactly halve the buttermilk or not—the important thing is just not to dump it all in at once. Don’t over mix! Stop mixing when the batter has just come together.

Using spatula or large spoon, drop even clumps of batter over the blackberries until they are all hidden. Bake the cake for approximately 30-35 minutes—I recommend you test the cake at minute 25 using a toothpick. You want the toothpick to come out of the center of the cake with a few crumbs clinging to it.

If your cake takes longer than 35 minutes, don’t panic. If the top (which is actually the bottom!) of the cake starts to look a little too brown, just carefully cover it with foil.

Remove cake from the oven and run a butter knife around the inside of the pan. Now you get to flip it! Set a big plate or platter on top of the cake pan. Using pot holders, grab the pan with the plate on top and flip it all in one motion (it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid–you gotta do it fast!)  The cake will release from the pan—peel the parchment rounds off the top and enjoy.

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