HONEY BUTTER CHICKEN BISCUIT SCONES

18th May 2015

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There are many things I’ve had to explain to folks up here about life back home, but no subject nearly as often as food. For a place that has its own fair share of odd dishes and peculiar dining habits, it always makes me wonder why the North speaks so lowly about Southern cuisine. But then again it happens the other way around, too. This is one of the reasons I study food, specifically the geographic and political culinary rifts that developed across the Mason-Dixon line, which have since perpetuated a region-specific sense of patriotism and several stalwart dogmas as to how exactly biscuits should or should not be made.

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Within the subject of food, there are several categories that always irk a curious Northerner – specifically the South’s ample use of lard, fried foods, and our affinity for sweet tea – to which I always want to ask in reply: why is there so much cream in everything, pizza on every corner, and can we talk about why a “regular coffee” up here is served with at least 6 sugars? But it won’t help, because people are unwaveringly loyal to their region’s food, as they well should be. So that’s when I whip out the big guns (another Southern thing, I suppose) and drop a food bomb on them so wonderfully fried and perfect that all their previous questions seem silly in comparison: Whataburger‘s Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, or, HBCB for those in the know.

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The hardest part, in truth, is explaining how to say and spell Whataburger. It’s What-A-Burger, but you’re supposed to pronounce it like water-burger, I’ll tell them. But it doesn’t ever seem to help. Why should I go through such lengths explaining the quirks of Texas’ pride and joy when they will likely never even get to try it? Because everyone should know the joy of a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit, that’s why, my father’s Whataburger aficionado voice rings in my ear. And he’s right. So I’ve made the best approximation of the HBCB I could muster, all while keeping in line with my own personal trans-Atlantic baking style. So for all you curious Northerners – and my fellow homesick Texans – come over and have a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit Scone.

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I guess I still need to do a bit of explaining, though. So the anatomy of a Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit is spelled out right in the title, more or less. A hot buttery biscuit is split in two and generously drizzled with honey butter (the recipe for which remained a long-kept secret by Whataburger, but has since become available by the bottle in our second Texas pride-and-joy, HEB). Then a piece of crisp fried chicken is sandwiched between the two biscuit halves and bundled up tightly in a paper wrapper. The whole thing’ll only set you back a couple of bucks and pairs nicely with a medium unsweet iced tea (note that Texas beverages are larger because we live in an unforgiving heat and need the extra hydration, so be sure to compare the diameter of your cup-holders before assuming you can handle a large). Also, it’s not polite to ask about calories. The HBCB shouldn’t be in your regular breakfast rotation anyways, so one every once and a while won’t hurt you. Note that I said unsweet tea so that’ll help (in Texas, we aren’t too terribly partial to the sweetened stuff, because, like I said, hydration and all).

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This scone version combines all the same flavors of the classic HBCB in a much more manageable and less messy medium. The chicken pieces – still fried – are tucked into the slightly sweet dough and the honey butter is drizzled on top, but is also best served alongside for those who like a bit more HB with their CB. Use the best quality fried chicken you can buy or make your own and these scones can be a way to use up the leftovers.

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Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit Scones
makes 8 scones

FOR THE SCONES:
2 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons honey or crystallized honey
2-3 strips of fried chicken, cut into small pieces
extra butter for brushing

FOR THE HONEY BUTTER GLAZE:
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. Using your fingers or the tines of two forks, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

4. Make a well in the center of the bowl and pour in the cream, egg yolk, vanilla, and honey. Use a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients until just combined. Add in the fried chicken and gently fold to incorporate.

5. Scrape the dough onto a floured surface and knead gently to form a ball. Flatten the ball into a disk about 3/4 of an inch thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the disk into eight wedges. Spread the wedges onto a baking sheet and brush the tops with a bit of melted butter. Bake until golden brown, about 16 to 18 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

6. While the scones begin cool, make the glaze. In a small bowl, add the melted butter, honey, powdered sugar, and salt, whisking together until smooth. Drizzle over the scones and serve warm.

Note: If the glaze sits for too long it will begin to thicken. Leave in a glass bowl over a warm oven or pop in the microwave for a few seconds to keep it thin and easy to drizzle.

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REYKJAVIK BY CAFE

14th May 2015

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Never in my life did I ever think I’d visit Iceland. Not that I was particularly against going, it just wasn’t ever on my wanderlust list. But thank goodness we did go, because every other adventure I’ve ever been on terrifically pales in comparison. I spent a majority of my time behind my DSLR or gawking, open-mouthed at one geological marvel after another. The trip was by no means relaxing thanks to day-long hikes, climbing up to highland waterfalls, trekking across black sand beaches, and just generally bracing ourselves against the bone-chilling arctic winds that forever blow across the country, but it was all worth the effort and helped justify our numerous visits to Reykjavik’s cafes, coffee shops, and bakeries.

I’ve rounded up my favorite locales with notes on good eats, sips, and nearby shops.

MOKKA KAFFI – CAFE MOKKA | Skólavörðustígur 3A

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Cafe Mokka is the oldest coffee shop in Reykjavik and has been in business since 1958. A dusky MadMen vibe with low tables and very helpful counter service. The smell of freshly baked waffles  – one of the cafe’s specialties – literally hangs about the store front and drifts down the street. The cafe was located just a few blocks from our Airbnb so it was our very first stop. We quickly learned that waffles (actually all sweets in Iceland) are served with a generous helping of whipped cream. Thank you, Iceland.

EAT: waffles with lingonberry jam and whipped cream.

SIP: double espresso, something from their extensive tea collection (served on a lovely tray).

CAFÉ BABALÚ | Skólavörðustígur 22

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A kitschy little cafe with an old English grandma tea cozy vibe with an odd, but wonderful Star Wars themed bathroom. Unlike many of the other cafes that stick to an early morning and late afternoon schedule, Cafe Babalu stays open plenty late and offers great lunch and dinner options including soups, salads, sandwiches, and a wonderful vegetable lasagna. They also have plenty of cafe-style sweets like cake, crepes, and cookies the size of your face.

EAT: tomato soup, vegetable lasagna, carrot cake (with whipped cream), cookie cream sandwich.

SIP: drip coffee (black), elderflower soda.

BERGSSON MATHÚS | Templarasund 3

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This darling of the Reykjavik hipster scene was a recommendation from both our Airbnb host and a few friends who had previously visited Iceland. The main attraction: the Bergsson brunch. A large stoneware platter filled with nearly housemade everything including fresh bread, hummus, jam, butter, skyr (a thick kind of yogurt) with muesli and fruit compote, as well as a boiled egg, fresh fruit, vegetables, bacon or ham, and the typical Icelandic Gouda cheese slices. Even their simpler breakfasts, like the pain au chocolat and the plain toast (with Gouda slices of course) were fantastic.

EAT: Bergsson brunch, homemade bread with homemade rhubarb jam, muesli bowl.

SIP: rich full-fat lattes, coffee (black), freshly squeezed orange juice.

REYKJAVIK ROASTERS | Kárastígur 1

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An award winning hole-in-the-wall coffee shop literal spitting distance from our AIrbnb. We ended up stopping here before our hikes and day trips out of the city, so we didn’t ever end up sitting inside. The seating is sparse and they close fairly early, so the point is definitely just to sit and enjoy the ridiculously good coffee.

SIP: drip coffee (black) and iced coffee (black) and a bag of beans for the road.

BAKERY SANDHOLT – SANDHOLT BAKARÍ | Laugavegur 36

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Perhaps my favorite food place in the city, we spent most of our spare change on pastries and loaves of freshly baked bread (our favorites were the spelt and oatmeal loaves) from Sandholt Bakery. We tried to save money and time by packing our lunches for day trips and hikes and this bread made all the difference. I think I could have survived on Sandholt spelt bread (and pastries) and Icelandic yellow butter the entire trip. They have a fairly new cafe portion to the shop (around the corner from the pastry displays) and serve a wonderful breakfast and light lunch.

EAT: pecan rolls and kleina (Icelandic fried donut), spelt bread, croissants and homemade spice jam.

SIP: coffee (black), lattes, choco milk (packaged chocolate milk that everyone seems to love).

KAFFIBRENNSLAN – CAFE BRENNSLAN | Laugavegur

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Hand’s down my favorite cafe. Quiet, cleverly curated natural decor, a mix of locals, tourists, and, most interestingly, high school youths doing homework after school. They have a small bar with a few local brews on tap and also make waffles (though the ones at Mokka Kaffi are better I think). Sit upstairs and look over the biggest shopping street and watch the ever bemusing sun-snows.

EAT: kleina, love ball (another Icelandic fried donut studded with raisins).

SIP: iced lattes, coffee (black), Einstok beer on tap.

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A few things about eating around Reykjavik:

– For a country that can’t really grown vegetables a majority of the year, carrot cake is a huge deal and every cafe has their own version. I tried several, but my favorite was from a vegetarian cafe/yoga studio called Garðurinn. A spicy, not too sweet version made with spelt flour that somehow seemed healthier until you remember that giant dollop of whipped cream on the plate.

– Maybe it’s the food photographer in me, but I noticed that every cafe served on stoneware or interestingly unique dishes rather than the go-to white or off-white options we typically find here in the states. I loved it and have decided to add more stoneware to my life and my cupboards.

– When things aren’t carrot, lingonberry, or licorice flavored, foods and drinks are spiked with elderflower. Presumably an import from the continent and neighboring England (a place that also loves elderflower everything), this little white flower packs a punch and gives a sweet floral hint to anything it touches. I had it in soda, baked goods, tea, and – my favorite – a freshly pressed blended fruit juice. Going to try this at home.

– Bread is always served with cheese. When you order toast it comes with cheese, specifically sliced, slightly holey Gouda. Even if you order it with jam and butter, cheese comes, too, but they all pair so nicely together. I’ve decided that breakfast needs more cold cheese on toast.

Essentially, I loved every single homemade-bread, whipped-cream-accompanied, hot-coffee moment of our trip.

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MUM’S CUCUMBER + ONION SALAD

10th May 2015

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A rather odd assortment of things remind me of my mum. John Hughes movies, the smell of dried flowers in the craft store, my unpolished toenails, wooden cutting boards in the dishwasher, the handkerchief that’s always in my purse, and this cucumber + onion salad. But I guess that’s how it’s supposed to be with mothers. They make sure you don’t, or can’t, forget them no matter where you are. Few of these things were directly related to lessons or motherly proverbs, just observations I made of her over the years.

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This cucumber + onion salad for example, I was never shown how to make it, just expected to know how after watching her in the kitchen. It was a staple, after all, at most of our dinners, lunches, and Sunday suppers. A simple combination of long-lasting Southern vegetables – often locally grown or from a neighbor’s backyard – quickly pickled in a humble mix of vinegar and water, salt and pepper. I hadn’t seen her make it in so long I had to call my grandmother to make sure I had the proportions right, to which she sweetly chastised that no such measurements existed. It’s all based on taste, add what you have on hand, I like a little more sugar, she says.

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But somehow that makes this recipe even more important. I have her recipes for cowboy bread and stove-top salsa (both of which still heavily rely on the “little of this, little of that” principle), but this cucumber + onion salad is like some sort of culinary fable, lost to the written world. Yes, you can find recipes here and there and all over online – but they aren’t my moms. Somewhere between an icebox pickle and leafless garden salad, it’s something that simply doesn’t translate well in a recipe. Mom, and grandma and probably her mom and grandma, are right, it’s all based on taste.

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Taking a cue from Food52’s recent line of “Not Recipes,” this cucumber + onion salad falls squarely within the realm of oral foodways, passed down from kitchen to kitchen, and likely from mother to daughter. And if it ever were written down, it was likely on the back of a scrap of paper pulled from a purse, scribbled in a mother’s tidy script, with little indication as to increments. Just a list of salad fixins. Which is exactly what I have here.

Cucumber + Onion Salad
adjust the amounts of cucumbers and onions depending on the crowd you plan to feed

sugar
salt
white distilled vinegar
water
firm cucumbers (I like to use the small pickling ones), washed, peeled, and thinly sliced
small sweet white or yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
black pepper

To large a shallow bowl, add a bit of sugar (maybe a teaspoon or two, depending upon how sweet you like it) and a hefty pinch of salt. Fill the bowl halfway with vinegar, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Gently add the cucumber and onion slices to the vinegar. Top with a bit of cool water to help even out the vinegar, and toss to combine. Chill in the icebox for at least half and hour before serving. Top with black pepper and more salt if needed.

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Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.

CLASSIC GUACAMOLE + DIY BAKED TORTILLA CHIPS

3rd May 2015

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Growing up I never paid much mind to what we ate back home, but now – a few years older and thousands of miles from Texas – I find myself defending our foodways with a cast-iron skillet in one hand and a copy of the Lone Star Cookbook in another. Granted, I don’t have to do too much since the world over is a fan of Texas BBQ, our sweet southern desserts, and our cheesy, decadent spin on Mexican food.

While I am, by no means, the only Texan, or even the only Texan with a food background, living up here in the Greater Boston Area, I love that I frequently get to act as a sort of ambassador for our state’s cuisine to the curious and hungry people of New England. There are times when I wish I could show off my other expertise – does anyone care to hear about Jane Austen’s favorite fruit pie or the expense in a Transatlantic tea shipment? – but time and again Texas and Tex-Mex are what the people want.

It also helps that Cinco de Mayo is this week – a Mexican holiday somewhat inaccurately associated with Texas…especially by those who aren’t from Texas. I’m not complaining. I welcome any opportunity to test and shoot an inordinate amount of guacamole.

My recipes for classic guacamole and homemade baked tortilla chips can be found online at the Boston Globe.

Cheers, y’all.

MOTHER’S DAY GIFT GUIDE + SOUTHERN ORANGE ICED TEA

26th April 2015

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These days everyone and their dog knows about the South’s affinity – nay addiction – for iced tea. While the level of sweetness varies from state to state, Southerners can all agree on the importance of the beverage. Since separating from our tea-sipping forefathers, the South has added are few other tea-concotions – muddled with spices, fruits, tea blends, and more – to the traditional drink menu of Southern hospitality. One of these classic variations stems from an 19th century love affair with Russian tea culture which calls for the addition of sugar and citrus. Southerners threw in a few spices – think Christmastime flavors like clove and cinnamon – and swapped the traditional lemon with a bit of orange and served it chilled to create what we call Southern Orange Iced Tea. The spiced version is still a common punch-like drink served around the holidays or at church gatherings and a completely modernized version using Tang apparently grew popular after WWI. There’s also another version that uses both orange and lemon juice as well as a dash of pineapple that’s called Citrus Tea or Fruit Tea, but the simple orange iced version is the one I remember the most.

For some reason, even though she didn’t make it that often, orange iced tea always reminds me of my mom. Maybe it’s the mix of citrus – which she prescribed in daily doses for warding off all manners of ills – or the rich, just slightly bitter iced tea that she always, miraculously had prepared and waiting on the counter. And though she didn’t cook often or elaborately, I learned some of the most basic cooking techniques from her – like adding the sugar while the tea is still hot from brewing – the kind of kitchen details that are traditionally only passed down from one southern lady to another.

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That’s what inspired this Southern Orange Iced Tea kit – though you don’t need to be a southerner to enjoy it, of course. I recently stumbled across Finest Kind Tea and their wonderfully complex tea mixers. Although they are brewed up in Maine, they happen to have a perfectly appropriate Rooibos tea mixer flavored with orange and vanilla that makes a lovely twist on the traditional Southern Orange Iced Tea. Unfortunately, the smaller bottles pictured in my kit aren’t for sale (the lovely folks over at Finest Kind sent me those as samples). Fortunately for Mom, the regular sized bottles make much more tea.

To make a Southern Orange Iced Tea Kit: Fill a small box or wooden crate with one bottle of Finest Kind Rooibos, Orange, and Vanilla tea mixer, one small glass carafe or large, tall Mason jar, a couple of fresh, sweet oranges, one small jar of vanilla sugar, and a bundle of patterned paper straws.

To make vanilla sugar: Split a small vanilla bean and add to a small jar. Fill with coarse white sugar, enough to cover the vanilla bean completely. Give it a good shake and let it sit for at least a week before using – be sure to write a date on the jar or in your note when gifting.

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The woody, subtly spicy notes of the Rooibos tea give this tea a bit of that traditional spice without overwhelming the drink. If your mom doesn’t already have her own recipe for Orange Iced tea, you can direct her here or write out this recipe to add to your kit.

Southern Orange Iced Tea
makes about 8 cups

8 oz Finest Kind Rooibos, Orange, and Vanilla Tea Mixer
48 oz hot water
vanilla sugar, to taste (anywhere from a few tablespoons to a 1/2 cup)
1 fresh orange, sliced into rounds
ice

In a large pitcher, combine the tea mixer, hot water, and sugar (if desired) and stir to combine. Add a couple orange slices to the pitcher and muddle with a wooden spoon to release the juices. Let the pitcher sit on the counter to cool completely before refrigerating – this will prevent the tea from turning cloudy.

When ready to serve, remove the old orange slices and discard. Pour tea over glasses filled with ice and garnish with fresh orange slices.


My problem with Mother’s Day, well with any gift-giving occasion really, is picking just one gift. I like to give gifts that pair well together or ones that provide an occasion to sit and socialize. So I couldn’t help sharing a few of my latest favorite things that moms, grandmas, aunts, lady friends, and anyone else who loves well-made, food-related finds will enjoy.

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Pick up a couple of these little gifts to pair with the southern orange tea kit or round everything up and store it in the lovely vintage tea tin (no. 5).

1 – Help mom host a grown-up tea party with Finest Kind Tea Mixers and her favorite spirit. The mixers work well in cocktials, mocktails, and even as plain ol’ iced tea concentrates. Flavors include the one I used for my Southern tea gift box – Rooibos Tea, Orange, and Vanilla – as well as three other mixers including: Green Tea, Hibiscus, and Honey; Oolong Tea, Ginger, Lime, and Honey; and Black Tea, Lemon, and Cane Sugar.

2 – I’ve been smitten with The Forest Feast blog for a while now and absolutely love her relatively new cookbook. The book is filled with lovely light recipes and delicate watercolor sketches and now there’s these lovely Menu Planners to match. A colorful and creative way to help plan meals and eat more vegetables.

3 – As a long-time handerkerchief holder and proud supporter of cloth napkins, I’m a huge fan of local Boston creative, Bash Studio, and their new venture with what they adorably call Everyday Napkins. The biggest decision to make is which print your mom would like more. I’m pretty partial to the limited white-and-blue rose set, but there’s plenty to suite every mom’s preferences.

4 – Who doesn’t love sprinkles. I’m pretty sure most moms like sprinkles. So these white chocolate dipped, sprinkle-coated pretzels are the perfect bit of sweet for Mom (and maybe grab an extra bag for yourself). Fatty Sundays – out of Brooklyn, NY – also make a sprinkle-coated pretzel brittle and offer various sprinkle colors for all different occasions.

5 – Even if mom isn’t a fan of cake, there’s plenty of uses for this perfectly vintage blue enamel Cake Tin from King Arthur Flour. They suggest that it also works well for pies and cupcakes, but I think it would make an attractive bread storage solution, too. But let’s hope mom will get the hint and keep it filled with cake.

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Happy sipping, y’all.