Old family recipe: Angel Biscuits

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In the 1950s, as a new bride, my grandmother from the Seattle area to her new husband’s home state of North Carolina, after Grandpa was discharged from the army. She was very young and the baby of her family, moving to a part of the country where the culture was completely different, so let’s just say that those first few years were quite the learning experience for her. One thing she took away from her early years of marriage was her sister-in-law’s recipe for angel biscuits, which she’s been making for so long that she says she “can’t remember not having the recipe.”

Grandma's handwritten angel biscuit recipe

Grandma’s handwritten angel biscuit recipe

Light and fluffy, with just a little bit of yeast, angel biscuits are a southern classic, so with Dale being originally from upstate New York, it was pretty much a given that I’d make these for him at some point. They seem to have gone over well, so here’s the recipe!

Angel Biscuits

5 c. self-rising flour
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. vegetable shortening
1 pkg. active dry yeast dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water (not hot)
2 c. buttermilk (You can substitute sour milk–put a good slosh of vinegar or lemon juice, maybe a tablespoon or so, in the bottom of a liquid measuring cup and pour in enough whole milk to make 2 cups.)

Mix together the flour and sugar. Cut in the shortening–I usually use a pastry blender at home, but Dale didn’t have one. Makes sense–he cooks, but he doesn’t really bake. So I just cut it in with a couple of forks, which is more of a pain than it sounds, but if you’ve got a potato masher on hand, you can probably use that, too. Basically, instead of the shortening being in one big glob, you want it well blended into the flour, maybe a coarse bread-crumb consistency. Add the buttermilk and the yeast mixture and mix well. You need the milkfat, so don’t try to use skim milk. I found that out this time around; they were good if you’re not used to them, but without the fat they’re nothing on Grandma’s. (Nobody in my family keeps skim milk on hand, so I didn’t know.) Knead the dough, and at this point, I like to let it sit in the fridge overnight in an airtight container, though it’s good the first day too.

Roll the dough out to about half an inch thick or so–I eyeball it to about pinkie width–and cut out individual biscuits. Traditionally, you don’t let these rise, but my mom lets them rise for about an hour or so, and I let mine rise a bit less. If you bake them right away, they have more of the typical biscuit texture, but they get lighter and fluffier as they’re allowed to rise, becoming more of a biscuit/yeast roll hybrid.

I bake mine at 350F until they’re about the color of the picture above. How long that takes really depends on the size of the biscuit, so if they’re little tea biscuits, they’re going to get done a lot faster than if I cut them to the size of the ones you’d get in a restaurant. I typically start checking them around 7 minutes or so and keep an eye on them until they’re lightly golden, which for the big ones can be as much as 15 minutes.

This has been my favorite biscuit recipe since I was a little girl, and it’s one of the first things I learned to bake on my own. I was so glad that Dale liked them, because it’s a part of my childhood that I was excited to share.

Bacon-Chipotle Pimento Cheese!

Tonight Dale decided he was going to cook up the rest of the ground beef from the other night’s lasagna into burgers. They were fantastic, too–onion, basil, oregano, and cheddar all mixed into the meat. It was sooo good!  Since pimento cheese on a burger is something I’ve been really enjoying lately, my contribution to dinner was a combination of some of my favorite things: pimento cheese, bacon, and chipotle peppers. I’m definitely happy with how it turned out. Makes a lot of pimento cheese, but it beats the pants off the old church-picnic white-bread-sandwich kind I grew up with, and there’s really no excuse, as easy as it is to make, to ever buy it from the store.

Basic Pimento Cheese

1 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar
1 1/2 c. grated extra sharp cheddar
1/3 c. mayonnaise
4 ounces (1/2 block) cream cheese
2 ounces (1/2 of a small jar) diced pimentos, drained

Extra stuff to make it awesome:

5 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (roughly 1/2 of a 7.5 ounce can)
4 strips of bacon, cooked

Now, the easiest way to do the basic version is to just put it all in the food processor and pulse lightly until it’s soft, spreadable, and mixed, but not pureed. When you start adding fancy ingredients, though, it takes a little more thought. I roughly chopped one of the chipotle peppers, added it, and tasted as I went to get a feel for how much pepper both of us actually wanted in it. We both like a lot of heat, so it ended up being half the can, but make sure you’re trying it before dumping that much into the mix. Once you’ve got it where you want it, put it out into a bowl, crumble in the bacon, and give it a good stir. Makes an epic boatload of pimento cheese–sandwiches forever! What you don’t use right away, keep in an airtight container in the fridge. It’s also great on celery, or the way one of the local expensive-burger restaurants does it, as a dip for potato chips.

This is incredibly easy, packs a lot of flavor, and leaves absolutely no reason to buy that processed artificially-orange crap in a plastic tub at the grocery store. And if you catch the cheese when it’s buy one, get one free, like we did, it’s not expensive at all to make and yields a lot more than you’d get in the tub.

You can also experiment with ways to make this your own. I’ve seen people put in sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, or pickled jalapenos (as opposed to the chipotles, which are smoked jalapenos), just to name a few. It’s a basic formula that you can tweak however you want, and that makes it so much fun!

This is SO not traditional Italian: My tweaked lasagna

So while I was at the grocery store last night, my boyfriend, a much pickier eater than I am but still a food lover, informed me that he’s not a fan of ricotta. He also commented that he wanted his lasagna as cheesy as possible, and took a tone like I’d lost my ever-loving mind when I suggested silken tofu as a substitute. (I would never put tofu in a lasagna. I was trolling.)

Thinking it over, I came up with a solution. Cream sauces tend to be really frustrating for me, but I got it right! I took the classical bechamel sauce, the original method of making lasagna in northern Italy, dumped a bunch of cheese into that as if I were making a mac and cheese, and used that for the “white” layers in my lasagna. It didn’t come out as perfectly layered as if I’d used ricotta, but we’re going to have leftovers for DAYS. So much food!

So here’s how I did it this time, but I’d probably do some tweaking for repeat performances.

I used:

1 1/2 lbs 85% lean ground beef
roughly 1 c. white wine
5 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour (roughly)
4 c. milk–has to be warm first!
6 c. finely shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
4 oz. finely shredded Parmesan cheese (for heaven’s sake, don’t use that powdered crap–there’s so much more flavor in the real stuff!)
1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles
2 jars of pasta sauce (I used Bertolli Tomato Basil, because  it was on sale, but you do what you like)

I started out the way one always starts with lasagna, right? Browning up the ground beef. I like a meaty lasagna, so while most recipes call for a pound of meat, I browned up a pound and a half. It was 85% lean, so a lot of that cooked off anyway. I saw a couple of recipes that called for deglazing the pan with some white wine, and there was some Pinot Gris in the fridge, so I thought, why not? So I drained the fat off the meat and poured a glass of wine for me and one for the meat. I simmered that down to reduce it until most of the liquid had evaporated, seasoned the meat up with some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and set that to the side.

Then it was time to do the bechamel. This is a roux (pronounced roo) based cream sauce, and I’ve screwed those up enough times that all the puns about roux-ing the day I tried it are well placed. I took the recipe from a Bon Appetit recipe that made a much bigger lasagna than this, so I really think I’ll make less next time. The trick with the roux is to melt the butter on low heat, and to make sure it’s heated to the point of foaming before you SLOWLY add the flour. Make sure you’re whisking it briskly enough not to form lumps. Once you’ve got that together, that’s your roux. Keep cooking that, whisking constantly, for about a minute or so. Then you’re going to start adding your milk, about 1/2 c. at a time. Make sure it’s whisked smooth in between additions. Add a pinch of nutmeg to it–Dale had the pre-ground stuff on hand, but if you can do freshly grated, it adds a whole new level of flavor. You’re going to want to let it cook for a little while longer, still whisking, until it’s about the thickness of heavy cream.

I bought my mozzarella in 3 packages of 8 ounces (2 cups) each. Yes, it’s a pound and a half of cheese, but I like cheese, so don’t judge me! So I took one of the packages and dumped most of the contents into my bechamel at this point as though I were making a macaroni and cheese. It takes quite a bit of whisking to make that much cheese settle into the sauce, and it was still a bit stringy, but I went with it. I also grated a little bit of the Parmesan into it.  Doing it again, I’d probably make less of the bechamel itself, but the amount of cheese was fabulous. SO MUCH CHEESE!

I put about a cup of the pasta sauce in the bottom of a pan. Typically I’d use a 13×9 pan, but I couldn’t find one in his kitchen, so I picked up a foil pan that was labeled as a lasagna pan, just under 14×10 and much deeper than a typical Pyrex type thing. I ended up needing the extra depth with the amount of bechamel in it.

I then added the rest of the sauce to the meat. I layered it as one does with a lasagna, grating Parmesan into the cheesy layers, finishing up with a layer of noodles and one of cheese. Lasagna with a bechamel takes longer to cook than one with ricotta cheese, so figure on about an hour of bake time at 350F. Start it off covered with foil, then take the foil off for the last 10-15 minutes of the baking.

Make sure you let it set up for a bit before you cut into it, because it will be too runny to cut just out of the oven.  Usually, when recipes say they make 8 servings or so, I don’t buy it, but seriously, we got seconds for both of us and there’s still about 2/3 of a lasagna left. We’re going to have leftovers for days. I’m glad it turned out as well as it did, because we’re going to have lasagna for a while. I’m thinking next time, though, I’ll cut the amount of bechamel in half and do a layer of pesto too. All in all, I think it turned out well, and I’ll definitely do it again.