It began innocently enough: Demure almond scones served warm from the oven, with a little jam and maybe some clotted cream – perfectly proper fare for breakfast, brunch or tea. A tad decadent, perhaps, but still a fine way to start the day. Then came word of the same almond scones emerging at all hours of the night, dressed provocatively in billows of whipped cream and a slathering of juicy strawberries. When approached for comment, one scone replied: “I may have a soft spot for berries, but I’m no tart.”
While many of our friends are lounging around in sunny locales this week for spring break, sipping Piña Coladas (or Shirley Temples) and worrying about nothing but SPF coverage, we are hunkering down at home – gearing up for another snowstorm (?!) and making To Do lists for our New Jersey “staycation”.
Got leftover corned beef and need a break from sandwiches or hash? Try adding it to these quick drop biscuits – no kneading or rolling required. Along with a pot of cauliflower soup, it’s what’s for dinner in our house tonight.
At the Thomas Jefferson School Science Fair earlier this week, students had the opportunity to make their own “Gak” – or polymer made from Elmer’s glue and Borax. It’s fun to play with for a while, until it ends up stuck to the car floor or buried at the bottom of a backpack. At least with homemade bread dough and these magic chocolate buns, you get to play with your dough and eat it, too. For a fun activity and tasty snack all in one, kids can help form the dough balls and stuff them with chocolate chips. (Easy enough for a 7-year-old – see below.) Or for a special breakfast or brunch item, you could make the dough and form the buns the night before; in the morning, just bake for 20 minutes and serve hot and oozy.
Usually I make the dough for these buns in a bread machine – fast and foolproof. Just dump all the ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) into the bread machine bowl, set to “Dough” cycle and walk away. After about 90 minutes, the dough’s ready to form into balls or be refrigerated until ready to use. Since not everyone has a bread machine lying around, this morning I tried making the dough with an electric mixer and dough hook. It took a little more “active time”, but the results were just as good. And for a fully unplugged and highly therapeutic version, you could mix and knead the dough entirely by hand, using the week’s frustrations to power the process. (Trying to get blue Gak out of beige carpeting comes to mind.)
- 1 Recipe multi-purpose Bread Dough (below)
- Bittersweet chocolate chips (approx. ½ package)
Multi-purpose Bread Dough
- ½ cup warm water (approx. 110-120ºF, like bathwater)
- ½ cup warm milk
- 1 package yeast (preferably RapidRise)
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened or melted
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt (not kosher)
- 3 ¾ cups flour
My younger daughter Sophie would be thrilled to have French toast for every meal, every day of the week. I even made it over a campfire last September, though without the signature Brown Sugar Walnut sauce it was less of a hit. (Suggesting perhaps that for her the French toast is merely a delivery vehicle for the butter/brown sugar sauce.) The sauce is a cinch to make in the microwave, but I didn’t have an extra pan to attempt it over the fire. Maybe next time. (Or – maybe next time I’ll have an important meeting or other serendipitous conflict with Camping Weekend and they’ll have to be content with Dad’s scrambled eggs . . .)
Serve with bacon, Canadian bacon or sausage to help balance the sweetness.
Sophie’s French Toast
Serves Sophie for the day, or 4 regular people (Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave.)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup milk (skim, whole or half and half – whatever you like)
- Pinch salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 16-20 1-inch thick slices soft baguette or Italian/hoagie rolls (Here in NJ I like Calandra’s Italian rolls.)
Brown Sugar Walnut Sauce
- ½ cup packed dark brown sugar (light is OK if that’s all you have)
- 5 Tablespoons butter (if unsalted, add a good pinch of salt, too)
- ¼ cup (heaping) chopped walnuts
- 1 Tablespoon water
If desired, preheat oven to 350ºF and place a baking sheet inside. This helps keep the cooked French toast warm while you cook the remaining pieces. [Side note: Try cooking bacon in the oven. Less mess, with the added bonus that the oven will be warm and ready for the French toast. Arrange as much bacon as you can fit onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (the parchment aids in clean-up); cook at 400ºF until crisp.]
Make the Brown Sugar Walnut Sauce:
Combine all ingredients in a microwaveable bowl or measuring cup. Microwave 45 seconds; stir. Microwave another 30-45 seconds or until bubbling and sugar crystals have dissolved. (Check this by taking a little taste.) If too thick, add ½ tsp of water at a time to achieve consistency of thick maple syrup.
Make the French Toast:
In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and vanilla extract.
Heat a large nonstick pan over medium heat. Add bread slices to egg/milk mixture, turning to coat both sides and soak through to center of bread. (This may go quickly with soft, fresh bread or may take a little longer with drier, crusty bread; also note that the more saturated the bread is with egg/milk mixture, the longer it will take to cook.) Add a little butter to pan if desired; with a good nonstick pan you won’t need to, but it’s extra insurance against sticking if you’re not sure. Arrange soaked bread slices in pan – as many as will fit without touching. Cook over medium heat 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown on one side. (The toasts will “release” from the pan and flip easily when they’re adequately cooked; flipping too soon may cause them to stick to the pan.) Flip and continue to cook on the other side until toasts feel springy to the touch (another 2-4 minutes more). Transfer to warm baking sheet and continue with remaining bread slices.
Microwave sauce to reheat just prior to serving. Arrange French toast slices onto plates and drizzle with sauce (or serve on the side).
Few things are better on a cold January day than hot soup and biscuits. Except maybe this soup and these biscuits.
I call it a chowder because of the bacon, potatoes and cream, but it’s really just fancied up chicken soup. (That tastes nothing like chicken soup.) Fresh rosemary is really key here; most of the other elements can be modified to suit your taste, cupboard ingredients or Points plan. (I.e., use an onion or shallots instead of the leeks, or make a flour/butter/milk roux instead of using the cream, or add more or less potatoes or corn, etc.) Serve with large napkins and anticipate slurping.
Corn & Leek Chowder with Fresh Rosemary
- 2 large or 3 medium leeks, chopped (white and light green part only)
- 6 slices of bacon, cut into ½” slices
- 1 heaping Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 64 oz (2 boxes) chicken stock
- 10-16 oz. frozen yellow corn, or a mixture of yellow and petite white
- 1 chicken bouillon cube
- 1 ½ cups diced russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into ½” cubes
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
Cut dark green tops off of leeks and discard (or wash and save for making homemade stock, or add to the compost pile, or shred and dehydrate for homemade Easter grass). (That started out as a joke, but now it’s got me thinking. . . ) Cut leeks in half lengthwise, then cut into ½” slices crosswise.
Add sliced leeks to a bowl of cold water and swish around to rinse. (Sand and grit will fall to the bottom of the bowl.) Carefully remove rinsed leeks to a lettuce spinner basket or colander. Repeat if the leeks were especially sandy.
In large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, cook bacon until crisp. Remove with a strainer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels; set aside for garnish.
Add chopped leeks to bacon grease left in pan (There should be about 1 Tbsp, but if the bacon is extra lean you may need to add a little olive oil.)
Sauté leeks until softened and starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add rosemary and sauté one minute more.
Add wine to pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock, corn, bouillon cube, potatoes and sugar to pot. [Here I go with the bouillon cube again; bouillon cubes are just handy packets of salt with a little extra flavor boost; feel free to use 1 teaspoon of kosher salt or a spoonful of “Better Than Bouillon” instead.]
Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered until potatoes are tender. Stir in cream. Add freshly ground black pepper and kosher salt to taste (a little pinch at a time, and keep tasting until it tastes good to you.) If you want a thicker soup, smash a few of the potato cubes against the side of the pot and stir to incorporate the potato starch. Garnish with reserved crumbled bacon.
Can be made several days ahead. In fact, tastes better if made several days ahead. If soup becomes too thick, thin with a little milk or chicken stock.
Easy Cheesy Drop Biscuits
Adapted from a 1999 Bon Appétit recipe for Cheddar and Stilton Drop Biscuits
- 2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp cream of tartar
- ½ tsp table salt (not Kosher)
- 7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ -inch pieces
- 1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère or extra sharp cheddar cheese
- Optional: ¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
- 1 ¼ cups buttermilk (or ¾ cup reduced fat sour cream and ½ cup skim milk)
- 1 large egg
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Add first 6 ingredients to food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Add cheese(s) and pulse again. Transfer mixture to large mixing bowl.
Blend buttermilk (or reduced fat sour cream and milk mixture) and egg in the liquid measuring cup. Add to flour mixture, stirring just until dough is moistened.
Using a small ice cream scooper or spoon, scoop approx. ¼ cup of dough for each biscuit and drop onto parchment lined sheets (2 apart). [Sorry – forgot to take a picture of this step, but it’s a lot like making cookies.] For best results, chill in refrigerator for an hour before baking, (Or chill overnight; you can load them all onto one baking sheet for chilling and then space out onto 2 sheets for baking.) Bake biscuits 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through baking. (Worth doing even if you have a convection or true convection oven.)
Can be made several days ahead and warmed in a low oven.
Makes about 2 dozen mini biscuits.