He’s back, I’m back, and we’re hungry!

Most of you have noticed that it’s been a really long time since I updated here. That may’ve had something to do with Army Dude (aka my husband) taking a nice little year-long vacation to Sunny Iraq. He’s back now (yay!) and so am I…because I just don’t cook much at all while he’s away. After a year of having Dominos on speed dial, I’ve ventured back into the kitchen and thought I would share my excitement with you by getting my bahootie back to blogging!

One of the first breakfasts I made for Army Dude was some French Toast. French toast is usually pretty simple and most people know how to make one version or another. But this french toast is the kind you crave at midnight…it’s just that good.

First, gather your ingredients. You’ll need the following:

1 cup half-and-half

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons sweetened french vanilla coffee creamer (other flavors work, too, or warm honey can be substituted)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 (1/2-inch) slices of challah, brioche, or french bread, stale

4 tablespoons butter

The night before, whisk together the first 5 ingredients to make your custard.
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Put custard in the fridge and set bread slices out on cooling racks to dry up overnight (4-8 hours).

The next morning, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Pour custard into a shallow dish (a pie pan works nicely). Prep a large cookie sheet/jelly roll pan by putting an oven-safe cooling rack inside of it.

Dip the bread slices, one at a time, in the custard mixture and let soak for 30 seconds on each side.
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Once soaked on both sides, remove the slices from the custard and place on the cooling rack in the cookie sheet pan to allow excess to drip off. Let sit for 1-2 minutes.
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Butter a large skillet or griddle on medium-high heat. Place bread slices in skillet and cook until lightly golden brown, flipping only once. This should take about 2-3 minutes per side. Once browned, put the toast back onto the cooling rack inside the sheet pan and pop into the oven for 5-7 minutes.
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Serve immediately or turn off the heat in the oven and let them stay warm while you finish the rest of breakfast. Serve with butter, maple or fruit syrup, and powdered sugar. Yum!

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Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How to make Biscuits and Sausage Gravy…Part Two:Sausage Gravy!

As mentioned in the Biscuit Post, Sausage Gravy is not only one of my favorite things to make, but one of the few things I learned directly from my mother. Most sausage gravy recipes are pretty much the same, with slight variations here and there, but the most obvious difference between the flavor of different sausage gravies is not in the spices used, the method of preparation, or anything like that, but in the sausage used to make it. The sausage used makes such a difference in flavor, b/c different sausage companies use various spices in their sausage to make it their own. Even my own sausage gravy varies from location to location because the best sausage rolls are usually locally-produced and therefore aren’t available country-wide.

When I lived in Missouri, the best sausage EVER was Oldham’s…I have relatives that live in other parts of the country and still go to Missouri with an empty ice chest just to bring back loads of that stuff. Nothing compares…nothing. And with that particular brand, the key to awesome sausage gravy was mixing the hot sausage with the medium sausage-and the result was perfection.

Now that I’m in Ohio, this is Bob Evan’s country, and I have to say, while overall I’m not a huge Bob Evan’s Restaurant fan, their Biscuits and Gravy can’t be beat in this area of the country! So, when trying to replicate their lovely breakfast dish, I now use Bob Evan’s original sausage. When we move somewhere else, I’ll have to find a new local company to love, b/c I’ve never been a fan of Jimmy Dean’s flavor (or price) and Odom’s Tennessee Pride pretty much makes me sick. So it’s like a new adventure to find the sausage that is best in YOUR area and use it for making sausage gravy!

Sausage gravy is fairly simple if you just understand the concept of a roux-based gravy. A roux is when you mix hot fat (in this case sausage fat, bacon fat, butter, or oil) with flour-in equal amounts, mix it up, cook it a little, and then add liquid (in this case milk) to it, bring to a boil stirring constantly (to keep it from sticking) and then when it reaches a boil, the roux will magically make your gravy thicken. So, knowing this is how it works, let’s get started.

First we need to cook our sausage. I just put it in the pan over medium heat and break it up with a metal spatula (metal b/c it breaks it up better) as it cooks. Partially cooked sausage breaks up more easily than raw sausage, so this is why I use this method. Some prefer to break it up with their hands, and that’s fine, too:
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After you’ve broken it up into crumbles, it will look something like this:
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Continue breaking it up during cooking, and cook until it is no longer pink-this picture is almost done:
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Once the sausage is no longer pink, it is essentially done, and you can push the sausage to one side of the pan (or some people like to remove it completely from the pan, but if you do this, leave the fat from the sausage in the pan), and tilt the pan allow the grease to drain to the opposite side as the sausage:
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Estimate the amount of sausage fat in the pan…if you are using a particularly lean sausage (like Bob Evans) you may not have enough grease to make a roux. You’ll need approximately two whole Tablespoons of fat to make it work. If you have too much fat, drain off what you don’t need. If you don’t have enough/any grease, you can add a Tablespoon of bacon grease, butter, or cooking oil if you are really desperate. Just make sure you have at least two tablespoons of the grease, and add an equal amount (2 tablespoons) of flour to the fat. Reduce heat to low.
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At this point, you can add salt and pepper to the flour, and mix it together with the grease until it forms a paste. I didn’t get a good picture of my roux, but I found a picture for you, just click the link to see what it should look like. It is okay if it is even a little more thick than that-more paste-like…it’ll turn out either way. Now you have a decision to make. The longer you cook the roux (remember your pan has been reduced to low), the darker it will get and the more flavorful your gravy will be…but the darker it gets, the less thickening power it will have. About one minute is just about right for most people to cook their roux before adding liquids. Don’t forget to keep stirring constantly, and you can allow the sausage to be coated in the roux during this time.

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Once you are ready to add the can of evaporated milk and can of water (you can use regular milk without water, but we don’t buy whole milk, and the more fat in the milk, the better your gravy will be, so I often use evaporated for this), go ahead and pour it in the pan, bringing the heat back to¬† medium and never stopping your stirring/whisking for anything at this point.

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Continue stirring with a spoon or whisk, making sure to get all the way to the bottom so the roux cannot attach itself to the pan, b/c if it does…it’ll burn to the bottom of the pan, give your gravy a burnt flavor, and won’t be able to thicken the gravy like it should. So KEEP STIRRING.

Once the gravy comes to a full boil, it will be pretty much as thick as it is going to get, and you can turn off the heat, but don’t stop stirring until it has cooled enough to stop bubbling. As your gravy thickens, you’ll note that not only does it become thicker and more gravy-like, it will darken and become uniform in color. That’s a good way to know you’ve succeeded.
Congratulations, your gravy is done!
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Now simply crack open a biscuit (or crumble it if you wish) and pour that yummy sausage gravy over it and enjoy!
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Sausage Gravy over Biscuits:
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Jess’s Sausage Gravy Recipe:

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb bulk pork sausage (local brand)
Fat to make 2 Tablespoons (sausage grease, bacon grease, butter, or oil)
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Can of Evaporated Milk plus one can of water OR 3 Cups Milk

DIRECTIONS:
Crumble and cook sausage over medium heat in a skillet with high sides (cast iron and non-stick work best). Continue breaking up the sausage with your spatula as it cooks. Cook until sausage is brown and has no traces of pink. Once the sausage is done, move it to one side of the skillet with spatula. Reduce heat to low. Tilt the pan slightly, and add or remove fat until you have 2 Tablespoons of fat left. Add 2 Tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper, and mix with a whisk until pasty. Using the whisk, mix the sausage back in and cook for approximately one minute, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan thoroughly to keep roux from sticking. Add milk and water (or just milk if not using evaporated). Continue stirring with whisk, kick the heat back up to medium, and heat gravy to boiling. Do not stop stirring for anything, and be sure to keep it from sticking to the bottom of your pan while it comes to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and continue stirring until it stops bubbling. Serve over biscuits. Makes approximately 4 cups (enough for 4-6 people). Recipe can be doubled if using a pan large enough.

How to make Homemade Biscuits and Sausage Gravy…Part One, Biscuits!

A friend on a forum I visit mentioned she’d like to know how to make homemade biscuits and gravy…and I had a lightbulb moment-I have no idea why I haven’t given y’all a tutorial on this before, b/c biscuits and gravy are one of my favorite things to make! So here it is, a pictorial on the making of biscuits and gravy from scratch:

First, I’d like to start by saying that there is no shame in using canned biscuits if you’re just not up for trying to make your own just yet…I grew up on canned biscuits and I still have a more than healthy obsession interest in biscuits and sausage gravy made at home-it won’t scar your children, I promise. In fact, this sausage gravy is one of the few things that I actually learned how to make from my mother, who was a wonderful cook that had an ungrateful daughter who remained entirely uninterested in learning to cook till well into adulthood. I know, I know, y’all thought I was always into cooking, right? Yeah, not so much. But I’ve learned to love it, and you can, too! This post will address the biscuit part of the recipe…
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BISCUITS:

The biscuit recipe I like to use most frequently is J.P.’s Big Daddy Biscuits. It’s not that I don’t use other recipes, but this was the first recipe that really helped me learn to make biscuits that couldn’t effectively be substituted for hockey pucks (and taste the most like Bob Evans-which are my favorite biscuits). I also like southern buttermilk biscuits, so you could go that direction, too. One day, I’ll learn to turn Big Daddy Biscuits into buttermilk biscuits, but for now it’s one or the other.

*I was making a double batch of Big Daddy Biscuits, so please know that if you make a single recipe instead, your dough ball and quantity will be much smaller than what you see in the pictures. Also, I used half butter, half shortening, but all of either is fine in this recipe, no worries.*

First, preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and cut your butter into small cubes if you are using butter. (If using shortening, skip the cubes.)
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Now, I sift my flour and other dry ingredients b/c I find it makes fluffier biscuits, but the whisk almost accomplishes the same thing (which is what the recipe calls for).
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Then you put the butter/shortening in the bowl with the flour. Now is the time to employ one of two methods:
1.Use your fingers to coat the butter/shortening in flour, then continue rubbing the butter pieces between your thumb and forefinger, breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces, covered in flour until the entire mixture becomes a coarse, crumbly mess with most crumbles being similar in size to one another.
or
2.Grab a pastry blender or fork, and use the utensil to do the same thing.

Whichever method you choose, remember to keep your palms of your hands out of the whole ordeal, b/c your fingers aren’t as warm as your palms, and you are trying to keep the butter from melting. This is a hugely important step, probably the most important, so make sure that you have a good crumbly mixture before continuing on with the recipe.

This is the mixture before you begin blending, note the whiteness and tinyness of the particles of flour in this photo:Photobucket

And here’s the mixture after you’ve worked the butter into the flour, see the larger, darker look to the crumbles in comparison with the first photo?
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Measure out your milk:
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Make a well in the center of your flour mixture, and pour in the milk:
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Mix it into a big blob-y mess. This batch was a little wetter than most, but I don’t mind this b/c I flour my counter well and it is ALWAYS better to have too-wet dough than too-dry dough. Remember that you will be adding flour to the dough while rolling it out, so err on the side of too-wet, k?
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Flour your counter (sprinkle flour on the counter so the dough doesn’t stick to it), plop the dough ball on the floured countertop, and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of flour on top of the dough and try to loosely work the dough into a ball. Try not to mess with the dough very much. Something I’ve learned about both bread and especially biscuits is that if the dough still feels cold and sort of wet (but not sticky), then you have reached your goal for having light and fluffy baked goods. Once you get too much flour worked in or the heat of your hands has warmed the fat in the dough, you’ve lost some of that luscious lift you so desperately want in heavenly baked goods, so less is more with biscuits, k?
Once you have it in a ball, LIGHTLY pat it out or LIGHTLY use a rolling pin to make the dough more flat. You are looking for the edges of the dough to be about 1/2 inch thick. You can use a ruler to check. Better to be too tall then too short on this:
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Now it gets easy. Just use a glass (preferably with sharp edges) or a biscuit cutter (I use the medium size in my set of 3) dipped in flour to cut the biscuits. Cut straight down-don’t twist, or they won’t rise as high in the oven. Try to leave very little-to-no space between the biscuits and plan your cuts carefully to get the most cuts out of the dough, b/c you will NOT be re-rolling the dough to make more! We’ll get to that in a second…
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But first, a tip on making non-floury tasting biscuits:
When I cut a biscuit and pick it up to put it in the pan, I turn it over to reveal the side that was on the bottom of the floured counter, and I use a pastry brush (or a silicone brush or even my fingers) to dust off as much of the loose flour as possible. I hate floury biscuits, and this fixes that issue.
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Okay, back to the re-rolling issue. Sure you CAN re-roll the extra dough out and cut more biscuits, but quite frankly, it’s not worth it-they will be 10x tougher than the first ones and you just won’t like them very much. In fact, I believed so emphatically in not re-rolling my dough, that previously I have been known to throw the remaining dough into the trash, seriously. However, I found a neat trick that while it doesn’t produce the most beautiful biscuits, doesn’t compromise the lift and flavor of the “second round” of biscuits. Instead of gathering all the leftover dough from your first cut of biscuits and re-rolling it out to cut the second round-just do this: Take the scraps and gently form them together to make a biscuit-shaped circle approximately the size of the other ones, and cut the edges with your biscuit cutter. No kneading, no re-rolling, just shaping together without much pressure. It is much more effective and you don’t have to throw out the dough. They will be a little misshapen and ugly, but they will still taste good!

Here’s my “reworked” biscuit:
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As with most of my baked goods, I use cast-iron for biscuits, but any old pan will do. Anything from a cake pan to a cookie sheet can be used-round or square it doesn’t matter. But if you want good rise on your biscuits (and you do, you really, really do), then you may wish to put them in the pan touching like I do. Some recipes tell you to put them 1 inch apart, and that’s fine, but just know that most restaurants that make those yummy, ultra-delicious, drool-worthy biscuits that you love (every place from McDonalds to Bob Evans) smushes their biscuits all together on the pan. So unless you really like a crisp outer edge on your biscuits, the touching-method is probably the one you want to use, no matter what the recipe calls for. Just a little hint from me to you.
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Then just put your biscuits in the oven for appropriate time (in this case about 11 minutes is just right for me-but my oven also runs a little hot, so just follow the recipe on this one), and soon you’ll have fluffy, hot, yummy biscuits coming out of your oven. I brush some melted butter (or just rub a stick of cold butter over the hot biscuits fresh out of the oven) over them while they are still hot, b/c it gives them a better color and flavor…and here’s what you get:
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Doughnuts, mmm!

Okay, so I’ve been really busy this past week and I’ve been holding off on making this post. A couple weeks ago we took a small detour on our cooking class at Daddy’s request. Bryan asked us if we would mind making some doughnuts for the soldiers at his base. We like to make stuff for them occasionally, just to show we care, and had been planning on making some doughnuts via Alton Brown’s recipe for a while. Only one problem…I don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook…but never fear hubby came up with an ingenious plan that worked well, even if it was a bit unorthodox. This post will be split into two parts, the making of the dough for the doughnuts, and the frying/glazing/finished product post.

We’ll start with the flour, we measured it by weight, using my little digital scale. Good math lesson, let me tell you, lol:

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Next, we let our yeast and liquids mix:
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Now for the unconventional method…like I said, no stand mixer, no dough hook, so we thought and we thought, and finally hubby came up with the idea that if we used the drill with a clean bit that was shaped similarly, it might work…so you guessed it, we used a drill. (I should note that we cleaned the drill thoroughly before attaching the clean bit, so that dust didn’t fall off into our doughnuts!)

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The mixed dough before rising:
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After a long rest, it was time to get into the “dirty work” of rolling out dough and cutting the doughnuts:
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And then we ran into a second issue. I don’t own a doughnut cutter. Biscuit cutters I have, doughnut cutters, not so much. So I got seriously creative, and cut a ping pong ball in half and used that to cut the “hole” in each doughnut. Since we floured it before each use, it worked really well.
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And the doughnuts being cut:
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We learned that cutting the holes on the spatula worked quite nicely:
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Our doughnuts resting:
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And the doughnut holes:
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