Friday, August 23, 2013

Biscuits and Gravy

by Ann

I like my hot foods hot.  I mean burn-your-lips-hot.  After pouring myself a cup of fresh coffee I put it in the microwave for 20 seconds because the little bit of creamer I've added cools it down too much.  With that said, even though I'd love to have some biscuits and gravy to go with my coffee, I won't be happy if I order them in a restaurant, because they won't be hot enough to suit my tastes.  

The solution?  Make my own, and with some prepared helpers it is amazingly simple, and truly delicious. We don't have this too often because of the fat gram count, but heck, if you can't have treats every now and then (ok.... I'll admit, I have regular treats...) life is no fun!

The short-cuts?  I use McCormick's "Original Country Gravy" mix, and typically Pillsbury "Grands" Buttermilk Biscuits. Since I had a quart of buttermilk on hand from a cake recipe I'd made a week before I looked online and found the recipe that I am sharing on the Southern website.  It was easy to prepare since a food processor was involved, and had lots of rave reviews.

First, make the biscuits (or open the can and put them on the lined baking sheet).
The ingredients are simple -- With the exception of buttermilk you would most likely have everything on hand.  A key to good pastry is to have the fat very cold.
Add the buttermilk slowly while the food processor is running.  It is surprisingly "wet,"  but with a bit of flour on the counter comes together to a beautiful tender consistency.
Pat into a 1/2" thick round without overworking the dough.
You don't want to develop the gluten in the flour  too much.
Cut and bake.  It really does make a difference to use a good cutter rather than a glass jar or a cheap plastic cutter because of the thin, sharp edge of the metal cutter.
Bake to "goldenly delicious"!
Buttermilk Biscuits using a Food Processor

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the counter
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt or 1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, very cold
1 cup buttermilk (approx)

Preheat oven to 450°F.
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, or in the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Cut the butter into chunks and cut into the flour until it resembles course meal.
  3. If using a food processor, just pulse a few times until this consistency is achieved.
  4. Add the buttermilk and mix JUST until combined.
  5. If it appears on the dry side, add a bit more buttermilk. It should be very wet.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter.
  7. Gently, gently PAT (do NOT roll with a rolling pin) the dough out until it's about 1/2" thick. Fold the dough about 5 times, gently press the dough down to a 1 inch thick.
  8. Use a round cutter to cut into rounds.
  9. You can gently knead the scraps together and make a few more, but they will not be anywhere near as good as the first ones.
  10. Place the biscuits on a cookie sheet- if you like soft sides, put them touching each other.
  11. If you like crusty sides, put them about 1 inch apart- these will not rise as high as the biscuits put close together.
  12. Bake for about 10-12 minutes- the biscuits will be a beautiful light golden brown on top and bottom.
  13. Do not overbake.

Note: The key to good biscuits is not in the ingredients, but in the handling of the dough.
The dough must be handled as little as possible or you will have tough biscuits.

Ok -- biscuits are done -- While they are baking get the sausage gravy going!  Since I typically prepare this "for two" (healthy) servings, I start with half of a 12 oz package of sausage.  I often buy the hot and spicy variety, which works well for this recipe.
Brown the sausage in pan.
Once again, ingredients are simple -- Mix, water, milk and hot sauce.
I always divide the package of gravy mix in half, one tablespoon at a time until I have two equal portions -- One to use now, and one later.  (Each half had 5 T of dry mix)
Once the liquid of half-milk, half-water has been added to browned sausage, dump in one of the containers of gravy mix.  Be sure to add a splash of hot sauce to perk up the gravy!
(Put the other half of the mix back in the envelope and seal it with a clip for next time.) 
Split a couple of biscuits in half and spoon gravy mix on.  Yum...
And because of you, our dear and faithful readers, my lips did not burn eating this due to needing to take some pics, but regardless, they were still a great treat -- and the coffee was scalding!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Kitchen Backsplash; An Instant Kitchen Update

by Sheila
This is the tile I finally decided on.  These tiles are attached to a mesh background to keep them evenly spaced and easier to install.

Now that the cement countertops are in at my Cairo investment house, it's time to finish off the details in the kitchen.  Nothing adds pizazz like an attractive backsplash.  I hemmed and hawed about which one to pick and was pretty stuck on a classic subway tile, but in the end it just seemed too blah with the basic white tile floor and beige countertops.  I brought home a dozen different options to look at in the space.  Most were too dark, many were too busy, and for some the color just wasn't quite right.  In the end, I selected a mosaic with white (gloss) and grey/green (matte) glass tiles and beige travertine tiles mixed in the pattern.  A mosaic in this instance is when small tiles come attached to a mesh to create a tile pattern - usually one square foot.  This makes the installation much easier than if you had to line up each individual tile yourself.

I have done my own tile work, both floors and back-splashes.  But for this project I hired my favorite handy tile guy, Pepe.  He is a master with tile, even using a dremel tool to make intricate cuts around trim work or other obstacles.  He is fast (which I am not) and sometimes time is money.  It's important when you are doing rehab work for investment to know when doing it yourself is costing you, and this was one of those times where I felt it was worth hiring the work done.  

My costs:

$256 - tile (32 square feet @ $8 per square foot)
$12 - grout (non-sanded, left over from cement countertops
$13 - mortar (or mastic) 
$200 - labor  (This also takes into account the tools you wouldn't have to buy when you DIY)

$481 - total

The mortar or the "glue" that sticks the tiles on the surface.
Grout goes in-between the individual tiles once the mortar is set.  This gives a finished, seamless look.  You can use a contrast color, or choose one that blends in.

The tile and the walls before installation.
These walls were just begging for a pretty backsplash!  The two tiles in the background were under consideration, but didn't make the cut.
And the backsplash in place.  I really like it.  Now I just need to get in the light fixtures, GFCI's, appliances...
I am pleased with the results.  It adds an instant update to the kitchen, and adds protection to the walls.  The hardest part was selecting the tile.  While $8 per square feet seems kind of expensive, and it is compared to floor tile, you have to realize that you only need a relatively small amount of tile. I think it was well worth it.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Love at First Sight: Global Elements

by Heather

One of the many vignettes in the shop
Do you believe in love at first sight? Well, I didn't think I did until I discovered Global Elements of Scottsdale, AZ. Located just a block north of WestWorld, it's an incredibly chic retail establishment filled with unique objets d'art, jewelry, clothing, and home furnishings. The interior is reminiscent of a loft and was designed and built by a local architect. An interior designer rents the upstairs space and is available for consultations. Even without having something in mind to purchase, I can always find something I didn't know I wanted or needed.
Here are a few items that came home with me from various forays into Global Elements. On the right are two orange and  dark gold chain necklaces and coordinating earrings.
Couldn't resist the unusual shape of this necklace and the neutral colors.
The "books" made from lightweight wood caught my eye so I bought four slightly different versions. Love to use them to add varying heights to vignettes.
This necklace was on consignment from a jewelry collector. There were so many incredible choices from this lady's collection, but my love of orange made this purchase easy.  My friend, Susan, sells her exquisite handmade scarves and wraps periodically at Global Elements. I never know what I will find at the shop when I stop by but I know I'll always see something unique!

If you're ever in Scottsdale, stop in at Global Elements. Tina is usually at the front desk and is a sweetheart who's as much fun as the store!

Have a wonderful week and if you're in Arizona right now, don't let the heat get you down. Fall will be here before we know it (and if I say that often enough, I might start believing it).