I’m FINALLY back to blogging, folks!

Sorry for the delay, but those who know me were aware that we were moving and I’m still trying to get settled. A few days after moving into our new home, we got our first houseguest, so life’s been crazy. I did want to check in and let you all know I haven’t forgotten about you and that I’ll be back to seriously blogging, soon. In the meantime, here’s a pic of a salad I made the other day…see how easy it is to make something look amazing? This is a bagged salad mix, sliced cucumbers, cheese, bacon bits, and tomatoes. An easy salad made to look “fancy” simply by taking a minute or two to arrange the ingredients in lines. It’s so orderly and appealing to the eye, but so simple…so try your hand at making something simple look fabulous this week!


Published in: on January 13, 2010 at 6:57 pm  Comments (7)  
Tags: , , , , , ,

How to make a brown gravy, Jessica-style!

I’m sure there a thousand “how to make homemade gravy” posts circling the web, but here’s mine. This is to make a clear-ish brown gravy from any kind of non-breaded meat, such as turkey, chicken, pork or beef roast, basically anything that makes juices while cooking. I should add that it’s really hard to take pictures in your lefthand while making something like gravy with your right, my apologies for the bad pictures. Also, everyone has a different opinion on what the right kind thickening agent to add to non-cream gravies should be. I use cornstarch. It’s cheap, has multiple uses in the kitchen, and produces a clear, properly thickened gravy without dampening the flavor of the juices used to produce the gravy. It works for me,  but if you use another method…now is not the time to start sending me hate-mail, k? *smile*

This gravy was made with the juices from a turkey breast. Some people strain the juices to get rid of any bits leftover from the pan…I don’t. If you want to, feel free, I’m just too lazy.

The juices in a skillet (one with sides is important for something liquid-y like gravy). There’s probably about a cup of juices here:

Since this was a turkey gravy, I used chicken broth. You can use turkey broth, I just don’t keep turkey broth on hand, so I tend to go with chicken broth. If making a chicken gravy, go with chicken broth, for any other meat, use beef broth or a veggie broth. If you don’t have broth on hand, you can use boullion cubes and water to make your own, just follow pkg instructions. Here’s about 4 cups of broth (this is to make LOTS of gravy for something big like Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd:

Pour the broth in the skillet with the juices, and turn skillet on medium heat:

While that is heating, we’re going to make a cornstarch slurry. I don’t ever measure my cornstarch, but I put what I thought I’d use in a measuring cup so you could see how much I used. It was a little more than I really needed. The important thing to realize about cornstarch is that each container can have different amounts of thickening power. I’ve had cornstarch boxes that it only took a couple tablespoons to thicken a gravy or sauce and other boxes that it seemingly took 1/2 a box to get to the thickness that I want. You can start by using the instructions on the box of cornstarch for thickening sauces and gravy and work up to the thickness you actually want. I always end up using more cornstarch than the box calls for to get to the thickness that I want. Anyway, start with the cornstarch in a small cup or measuring vessel. I had a little less than 1/2 cup of cornstarch here:

Next, add a little bit of COLD water to the cornstarch. Yes, cold is important-warm water will make this glue-like flour-and-water kind of mixture which is not what you’re going for. Start by adding a couple tablespoons of water and try to stir. Keep adding water, a tablespoon at a time, until you are able to get the mixture to look like thick cream. Here it is just after I’ve added the water:

Next, get out a fork and use it to stir the mixture. It will be MEGA hard to stir at first, but have faith and keep trying. Unless you have been stirring for a while and it still looks like a flour-y mess, don’t add water. If it does look like that, you can add it a teaspoon at a time, stirring between each addition. Be sure to get to the bottom and stir until it stops giving you major resistance. If it begins to be as thin as water or milk, you’ve gone to far. Add more cornstarch and try to get it back to heavy cream-like thickness. Trust me on this one. If it’s too watery, you’ll end up having to make a second batch of cornstarch slurry, anyway, b/c it won’t thicken like you need it to:

Next, get out a whisk, and stir the broth/juices. Now is the time to add any seasonings you wish to add. I usually do pepper, (no salt, b/c it’s going to be salty enough from the broth) garlic, onion powder, and parsley (For turkey gravy, I also add a touch,like an 1/8 tsp., of sage, rosemary, and thyme). I don’t measure and I really don’t even know what to tell you to use. Maybe try 1/2 tsp of each and see how it tastes, if you don’t like it, add more of what you think it needs, and taste again. You can play with the broth a lot b/c it’s not going to stick on you until you add a thickener, so take the opportunity to experiment a bit with flavors. If you absolutely must have a recipe, I’d try this one, subbing the cornstarch and water for the milk and flour. It’s about the only recipe I could find online that was simple and had measurements for the spices, sorry:
“5 cups turkey stock with pan drippings
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup milk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Bring the turkey stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in soup, and season with poultry seasoning, pepper, seasoned salt, and garlic powder. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer.
Warm the milk in the microwave, and whisk in the flour with a fork until there are no lumps. Return the gravy to a boil, and gradually stir in the milk mixture. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Be careful not to let the bottom scorch. Serves 28.”

A whisk is important b/c it can get to the bottom of the pan and can break up any chunks if some should develop (they shouldn’t, by the way):

Now is where it gets a bit trickier. This is the do-or-die moment of your gravy, so pay attention. Still on medium heat, your broth should be close to bubbling (if it’s boiling, reduce heat and wait until it has almost completely stopped bubbling-a few bubbles/simmer is okay, if you are a quick whisk-er, but for a first-time gravy-maker, I’d really suggest making sure it’s not bubbling at all at this point). With your whisk in one hand and the cornstarch slurry in the other, begin SLOWLY pouring the slurry into the pan and QUICKLY whisking it in. Pour slowly to make sure you have enough time to stir it in before it solidifies in annoying little chunks, and whisk quickly to avoid the same issue.

If this is your first gravy, you might try just pouring half of the slurry in while whisking and bring it to a simmer/boil while whisking constantly to see if it is thick enough. If it’s not thick enough to please you, lower the temperature again (still whisking all the time, b/c now that the thickener has been added is when the gravy can stick if you’re not on top of things) and when it’s not bubbling so much, add the other half of the slurry the same way you did last time-slowly, while whisking quickly. Bring back to a boil (you can raise the temp a bit to achieve this faster if you are really good at whisking the whole time). The key to understanding cornstarch as a thickener is remembering two very important things. One, the cornstarch cannot be added without making it into a slurry first if you don’t want lumps. Two, it does not fully thicken until it reaches boiling point. So don’t freak out if it’s not thick enough when you first add it. If your heat is very high, it may begin to thicken immediately, but it still won’t reach its’ full potential until it boils. So be patient. If you reach a boil again, and it still isn’t thick enough, you can make another slurry and reduce the heat and repeat the above steps to get it to the thickness you want. Here’s what mine looked like after thickening-see how it now looks like it’s all the same color, essentially? That’s what a thickener does to the juices:

And finally, here’s what my turkey dinner looked like:

And one final hint: If you don’t whisk quickly enough and your cornstarch seizes up in little balls or “lumps”, you can stir in what you can, then just put it through a colander or sieve to get the lumps out and make a new slurry, reduce your heat this time, and try to thicken it again. It likely will remain somewhat thickened even if most of the slurry seized on you, but it may be a little thinner than you want after straining it.

Published in: on October 18, 2009 at 1:06 am  Comments (4)  
Tags: , , , , ,

How to make a beef pot roast in a Crock Pot!

Here’s how I make my roast in a crockpot (otherwise known as a slow cooker)…with a short disclaimer. I typically would be using 1 lb of carrots and about 4-5 potatoes cut up in the Crock Pot with my roast. This particular time; though, I used a full 2 lbs of carrots and did the potatoes on the stove to make mashed potatoes. You may also add an onion, cut into wedges or pearl onions-we just don’t care for chunks of onion in our food.

So let’s get started.
In my previous post, you saw how I peel my carrots (and potatoes are done the same way), so we’ll start with my already peeled carrots:
Cut once, and lined up for the next cut.

Each carrot is cut into thirds. I do this because I’m going to be cooking this low and slow for a long time, and I don’t want mushy little carrot coins when the roast is done cooking! You can do any shape you’d like, really, I just find this easier than making a million cuts. Just remember the smaller the piece of food, the faster it cooks, and the larger it is, the longer it will take to cook.

My 2 lbs of carrots in the crock pot.

I mix up a spice blend, b/c I like to rub it into the roast before searing. *Note: That was the closest recipe I could find to what I use for a spice rub. Searing is entirely optional, by the way. It’s something I do, lots of people don’t and if you don’t want to, you can just skip the whole searing section of this post.

The roast after the spices have been rubbed on:

Next, I put a touch of olive oil (or regular oil is fine, too) in a pan and turn it on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, but not quite smoking, I put the roast in the pan, and sear the roast for 30 seconds on each side. Just long enough to get a nice brown coat on it.

The roast in the crock pot with the carrots (this would be the time to add those onions and potatoes-cut into quarters):

Next, I simply add enough beef broth and water to cover the roast and veggies (2-3 cups of broth, 2-3 cups of water), and add whatever spices sound good (onion powder, garlic powder, seasoning salt, pepper, Italian seasoning  a touch of cayenne):

And put the lid on, turning the Crock Pot on low. It will cook for 10 to 12 hours on low. You can usually go ahead and eat it in 8 if you need to, but the longer you cook it the more tender it will become.

There is no need to stir…that’s the beauty of a slow cooker!

Once the roast is done, you can take out your carrots (and onions and potatoes) and put them in separate bowls:

Take your roast out and put it on a platter:

Now would be the time to use the broth/juices in the crock pot to make gravy if that is your desire. I’m sorry I don’t have a tutorial on the gravy just yet, but it’s coming.

And finally, serve to your happy family!

How to peel carrots without cleanup…

I love to cook, but I hate to clean up. Most people feel the same way, I’m sure. So when I discovered this method for peeling potatoes or carrots without having to pick up peels for days afterwards, my life has been much happier!

It’s a simple concept, really, and one that seems to be more effective than any other I’ve tried. Grandma always peeled into a bowl or onto a cutting board. Then you had to scrape the slippery peelings out of the bowl into the trash, which was messy.

Mom always peeled over the trashcan…which was a vast improvement over Grandma’s method, but I never got all the peelings into the trash, so I’d still be down on my knees, scraping up those slippery peelings that missed the trashcan, plus my back would hurt from bending over to try to get the peelings in the trash…so that wasn’t the best option.

The third generation (that’d be me) approaches it all differently. I still use Mama’s potato peeler, but cleanup is a breeze with the new method.

First, you cut off both ends on a flexible cutting mat:

Then, place a plastic grocery bag in an empty sink. Spread it out as open and wide as you can get it. Then begin moving your peeler (or a paring knife if you don’t have a peeler) from one end to the other of your carrot.

The peelings will conveniently fall into the grocery sack, like this:

When you are finished, simply tie the bag closed and carry it to the trashcan (or dump into your compost pile if that’s your thing). No slippery peels to clean up, no mess on the floor, and the bonus is that your back doesn’t hurt from bending over at an awkward angle to peel into the trashcan!

Tomorrow I’ll post on how to make a crockpot roast with carrots and potatoes, but I wanted to show you my method for peeling potatoes and carrots first!

Mom’s Best Cake Recipe and Picture Tutorial

I have no idea where Mom found this recipe, but she had it as long as I can remember, and I haven’t found the same recipe anywhere online by the same name or ingredients…so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. It is named Best Cake for a reason. Not only is it very tasty and incredibly moist, but it is one of the easiest cake recipes I’ve ever seen (that doesn’t include a boxed mix)!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cake baking isn’t my specialty. Cake decorating? No problem. Cupcakes I can do, but most non-box-mix cakes just fall on me-terribly! This one is almost flawlessly executed every time…and it’s even helped me place at a church cooking contest, so I can assure you it is worth the tiny bit of effort it takes to prepare it!

First, the recipe:
Mom’s Best Cake

2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. crushed pineapple (juice and all)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. plus 1/4 c. pecans, chopped (save the 1/4 c. for decoration)
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 pan (metal or glass will work). Mix all ingredients together, pour into pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. (Cake will turn from white cake-colored batter to a chocolate cake color during baking, this is normal.)

2 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 stick butter or margarine, softened (shortening will work, too)
1 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter and cream cheese together, add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Mix well until creamy-about 2 minutes.
Ice the cake in pan while still warm. Sprinkle pecans over the top for decoration. (Note: if you don’t like super-sweet cream cheese icing, try using 2 packages of cream cheese, and leave the rest of the ingredient amounts the same.)

Now for the tutorial:

If you didn’t buy already chopped pecans (which I typically do, but not this time), then you are going to need to chop the pecans into small pieces. That’ll take them from this:
To this:

Then it’s time to grease and flour the pan. Start with some shortening or margarine in the pan:

Wrap your fingers in a paper towel like I do, or just use your fingers to spread the shortening around the pan evenly. Be sure to cover the bottom, sides, and corners well.

Once you’ve done this, grab some flour and toss it into the pan:

Pick up the pan and gently tap it on one side, angling the pan so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered in flour. (The flour will stick to the shortening.) Once the bottom is covered, tilt the pan on one of its’ sides (do this over the sink or a trashcan to avoid a mess) and contine tapping and tilting until you’ve covered the entire inside of the pan with flour. Tap the non-sticking remaining flour into a garbage can, and you’re done with the greasing and flouring. Your pan should look something like this:

Measure out your pineapple, being sure to include the juices. To accomplish this, I spoon the pineapple and juice into the measuring container. This recipe will use almost all of a 15 oz. can of crushed pineapple, but not quite-so do measure it:
Crushed Pineapple

Measure the remaining ingredients (careful to reserve 1/4 cup of the pecans for decoration later) and throw them all in the bowl. Order does not matter in this cake, I promise!

Mix until thoroughly combined. Batter will be thinner than a cake mix usually is, so don’t panic. It should look something like this:

Pour the batter into the pan, and it should level itself out pretty nicely b/c of its’ thin nature:

Put the pan in the oven and bake the cake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The cake will darken during baking, so don’t panic. It’s not burnt, really:

While the cake is baking, you want to be sure to set out the cream cheese and butter/margarine on the counter to soften. I usually just toss them both in the mixer to soften:

Once the cake is out of the oven, you may begin creaming the butter and cream cheese together:

Then add in your vanilla and confectioner’s sugar:

Mix until creamy…about 2 minutes should do it. Then it’ll look like this:

While the cake is still warm, spoon the icing onto the cake and spread with a spatula:

Be sure to get the icing to the edges of the pan:

For a final touch, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of chopped pecans over the cake in a random pattern. Serve warm or cold…either way is good, but nothing beats that first warm piece of Mom’s Best Cake!

How to Make a Baked Potato!

To some, this is the simplest thing in the world…anyone can bake a potato, right? Well, not so much. When I was in my first apartment, trying to teach myself to cook for the first time…I was completely and totally lost on such a simple thing. And I didn’t have internet at home to just pop on and figure it out. In this day and age, though, most anyone can get to a library at least to learn about such things, and I thought I’d post a very short tutorial on this simple procedure. This method was adapted from the way several steakhouse-type restaurants make them, so if your potatoes at home never taste as good as the ones at the steakhouse, try this!

First, you wash the potato, and place it on a paper towel:

Wrap the potato in the paper towel to dry it:
<img src="http:/

Place a half-pat of butter (about 1 teaspoon’s worth) on the potato and put the potato on a square of foil, discarding the paper towel.
/i2.photobucket.com/albums/y31/Jesticalynn21/HPIM1107.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”Photobucket”>

Use your fingers to rub the butter all around the potato till it is fully coated, and sprinkle sea salt on it if you’d like:

Fold the foil towards you, over the potato:

Pull the ends of the foil in towards the center of the potato, and roll the potato until it is covered by the foil:

Form the foil tightly around the potato:

Now bake it at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, OR 400 degrees for 45 minutes, OR 300 for 90 minutes. And now you can enjoy your baked potato topped with whatever you’d like! I personally am a fan of the broccoli, cheese sauce, and bacon bits approach, but a potato is good with just about anything on top!

What to do with a whole pork loin…

There are several options for dealing with a whole pork loin, but there are 3 ways that are my favorites.

Preparation One: Trim fat, use a rub on it, cook it whole, low and slow in the oven. (325 degrees for about two hours for a 5 lb loin)

BTW, my roast rub is much simpler: garlic powder, onion soup mix or onion powder mixed with beef boullion, salt, pepper, italian seasoning…but I don’t use a specific recipe, thus the link above to another popular rub recipe.

Preparation Two: As a pork roast, often in combination with a beef roast, b/c they flavor each other nicely. Pretty much the same rub as above. I like to sear and then dry roast mine, but you can add a couple cups of broth or soup to the pan or toss the whole roast and veggies in a crockpot with liquid. Of course flavor with what sounds good. When making pork roast, I often go with the above mentioned spices plus celery seed, a touch of sage, parsley, and thyme.

Beef and pork roast, rubbed, seared and ready for the oven:

Ready to Roast Pork and Beef Roasts

Preparation Three: Boneless pork chops! I typically do these on the griddle or grill for a fast cooking method that gets dinner on the table quickly.

I’m going to get some more pictures together for each of these methods later, but for now, I’ll show you how to break it down for Prep Two and Prep Three:

Whole Pork Loin trimmed and cut in half for a roast:

Pork loin cut into roast

The other half sliced into thick-cut pork chops:

Raw Pork Chops

I put these chops on freezer paper on a cookie sheet to freeze them individually (so they don’t stick together when frozen), then once they were solidly frozen, I tossed them in a freezer bag, labeled them and put them back in the freezer for another day:

Ready to Freeze Pork Chops

Please don’t be intimidated with a whole pork loin, it’s really quite easy and very versatile. 10 minutes of prep and you’ve got the makings of several meals already!

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:

After you’ve broken it up into crumbles, it will look something like this:

Continue breaking it up during cooking, and cook until it is no longer pink-this picture is almost done:

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:

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.

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.


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.


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!

Now simply crack open a biscuit (or crumble it if you wish) and pour that yummy sausage gravy over it and enjoy!

Sausage Gravy over Biscuits:

Jess’s Sausage Gravy Recipe:

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

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…


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.)

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).

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.
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?

Measure out your milk:

Make a well in the center of your flour mixture, and pour in the milk:

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?

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:

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…

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.

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:

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.

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:

Simple Spaghetti and Homemade Meatballs

So often I’m lazy and just make spaghetti, use canned sauce, and forgo the meat or mix in crumbled hamburger…we all do it, right? Other times if I’m in a hurry, I’ll purchase frozen meatballs and make spaghetti using those. But on very special days-when I’m feeling particularly loving and sweet…I go through the effort to make spaghetti with real homemade from-scratch meatballs. The heavens sing, the clouds part—well, okay I made that part up, but you might think that if you heard my husband talk about my homemade meatballs!

As with so many things, I don’t really have a recipe. I just make them using what I have and what sounds good, but I can give you a basic idea of what goes into them:
2 lbs of ground meat, usually 1 lb hamburger, 1 lb lamb or mild sausage
2 eggs
1 sleeve of crackers-crumbled to a semi-fine powder using a rolling pin and a Ziploc bag
Some Italian-Herb breadcrumbs (or whatever old bread I have on hand, crumbled to a fine powder)
Italian seasoning
Onion powder (you can use real onions or deyhdrated onion flakes-we just don’t like onions much)
Garlic powder (or fresh garlic or minced garlic-depends on what I have on hand)
Just a touch of chili powder

Mix well, using your hands (it’s messy, but it doesn’t ruin the texture of the meat like a mixer does), and form into 1-2″ balls. (Sometimes I make small ones, other times I make larger ones-the only thing that matters is that all the meatballs in each batch are the same size as one another.)
Meatballs in pan

Heat a skillet over medium heat with olive oil in it (maybe 1 Tablespoon?) till the oil shimmers, but before it smokes. Once the oil and pan are hot, place the meatballs in the skillet, leaving space between each meatball so that it can cook evenly. Do it in batches if you need to. Your goal is NOT to cook the meatballs, but simply to get a pretty crust on them and give them a little flavor with the olive oil. Once a side is browned, turn the meatballs over and brown the other side-keep turning them over until there are no “exposed” sides that haven’t been browned. As soon as you have accomplished this goal, start putting the meatballs on a wire rack inside of a jelly roll/sheet pan. I use some old metal cooling racks inside my large sheet pan. Turn the oven to 350 to preheat. Do your next batch of meatballs in the skillet, adding olive oil if necessary.
Meatballs in oven

Once all the meatballs are on the wire racks inside the sheet pan, put them in the oven, and bake until they reach an internal temperature of 155. Should take between 20 and 30 minutes. The key to making yummy meatballs is the baking. You can forgo the skillet browning if you like and just bake them, that works too (and is less labor intensive, I might add), but I like to brown them all around so I don’t have to turn them in the oven. This method (using the wire racks inside the sheet pan) allows for the fat to drain off of the meatballs, leaving you with non-greasy meatballs that are ready to be eaten plain or thrown into a sauce without becoming mushy like many restaurant meatballs are when they cook them in the sauce.

I just use regular or whole wheat spaghetti noodles and Hunt’s Spaghetti Sauce (you can get a large can for a $1 on sale) that I’ve added my own spices to. Oh, and sometimes I add some canned sliced mushrooms, too-depends on my mood!
Spaghetti and Meatballs Close-up

%d bloggers like this: