Archive for December, 2010

Biscuits N Gravy

Sunday, December 12th, 2010

I like to make square biscuits because there’s no waste, no scrap, no re-rolling and re-cutting (especially because the re-rolled and re-cut round biscuits inevitably wind up tougher than the ones that were cut on the first go round).  I use butter, not shortening, and leave the chunks rather large to help yield a flakier biscuit.  Don’t over-knead the dough or they wind up chewy (like re-rolled biscuits) because the gluten has been over-developed.

For the gravy, I browned links of spicy sausage, then cut them into small chunks and finished cooking them.  Stirred flour into their fat to make a slack roux and whisked in skim milk (no need for anything fattier with so much sausage fat already in the mix) until it reached the right consistency.  Simmered a full 30 minutes to cook the starchy, pasty flour texture out, adding additional milk as necessary.  I probably used about a quart of milk all told, but that ratio has to do with how much roux I made.  If you want to make less gravy, pour off some of the fat before stirring in the flour—or use a lower-fat sausage.  I finished the gravy with a touch of fresh thyme.

The gravy would go equally well on French toast, if you don’t feel like making biscuits.

To reheat leftover gravy, heat a small amount of milk in the bottom of a saucepan and whisk the cold gravy into the hot milk in small portions, waiting for one addition to combine and heat before adding the next.  This method should allow you to get the gravy hot without breaking the emulsion, which would lead to pools of fat rising to the top and makes for an unsightly sauce.

Pilfered Poli Planter Pot Poor Pedigree

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Do you remember Poli Restaurant?  It was a Squirrel Hill fixture for decades.  I ate there once; my shrimp was gritty.  The establishment is now defunct.

Several months after the restaurant closed, I noticed that the parking lot featured planters made from large pieces of jet black cookware.  Several months after that, under the cover of darkness, I visited the chained-off parking lot—screwdrivers in hand—to liberate the pots for a gastronomic cause.

Alas!  The stockpots had been drilled with drainage holes.  They would serve no new master.

The brazier was on its side.  It held no plants.  It might serve me well.  Screwdrivers would be worthless, though, as it was held in place by mortar, or perhaps it was concrete.  I was forced by circumstance to leave it in place.

Several months more passed, and each time I passed the site, I would muse on strategies by which I might liberate the piece.  “I would love to have a piece of cast iron like that,” I would say.  “I can’t even imagine how much something like that would cost!  And it’s being wasted like a Stradivarius in a closet.”

Then one day the brazier was gone.  Some other food-minded fool had acted.  I had only talked. All that remained was a bit of mortar and some nails to mark where the brazier once stood.

Several months have since passed.  I walked past the parking lot today, in daylight, for a closer look.  A trademark was stamped in the sides of the stockpots.  I leaned in for a closer look, wondering whose cast iron had been defiled for drainage.

Aluminum!  It was all aluminum!  It had never been iron at all!  Ahh, nothing ventured and nothing lost.  Had I pried that brazier out and brought it home, I’d never have used it and would have lamented forever my act of vandalism for a piece of scrap.

Varnish Top Mushroom

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

As explained to me by Cavan Patterson of Wild Purveyors, the varnish top (aka Lingzhi, aka Reishi) mushroom grows in shingles on hemlocks and other softwood trees.  The source of its American name is pretty easy to determine: the top of the fungus is shiny, like varnished mahogany.

Cavan recommends drying it, grating it, and adding a tablespoon or two to tea or soup as a remedy for gastrointestinal concerns.

I asked Cavan how he learned enough about mushrooms to be confident foraging for them.  “The mushrooms taught me!” he joked.

In actuality, he’s done ten years of research and has hands on experience and assistance from his brother and partner in Wild Purveyors, Tom Cavan, who holds degrees in plant pathology and mycology from Penn State University.