Saturday, April 28, 2012

Loveless Cafe Biscuits

Ever since I visited Nashville last spring, I've been obsessed with the biscuits they serve at the Loveless Cafe.  The Loveless was once a motel out in the country on Highway 100 at the northernmost part of Natchez Trace Parkway.  But now it has been overtaken by Nashville suburbia, and the motel rooms have been converted into charming shops.   Anne Loveless' original biscuit recipe from the 1950s is still used there today.   I agree with Food Network that their biscuits are the best in the USA - even USA Today said that the  "miraculously flaky and feathery biscuits” from Loveless Cafe, were “Nashville's second-most-important contribution to American culture".   Jane and Michael Stern of Splendid Table fame even wrote a cookbook devoted to the Loveless, but you won't find the biscuit recipe in it.   It's a closely guarded secret.   Carol Faye Ellison,  Loveless' legendary biscuit baker, even enjoyed brief fame before her untimely death by appearing on NBC's Today, Martha Stewart, Ellen, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, CBS’s Early Show and many other shows baking biscuits.   She never shared the recipe, however.   The Loveless still serves the biscuits, but I understand Carol Faye was quite the showstopper when she brought the hot biscuits out to the many hungry patrons.   I am sad I never got to see her in action.

Many on the internet have tried to duplicate the Loveless biscuit recipe, and I tried some of their attempts, but they all came up flat.  After much research and watching many youtube videos of Carol Faye in her various TV appearances, I determined that the Loveless Cafe biscuits had to be a specific variant of a Southern style biscuit called an "angel biscuit" which have yeast in them and Carol Faye always had to give time to rise.    This type of biscuit was also called a "bridal biscuit" because it had 3 kinds of leavening in them yeast, baking soda, and Southern soft wheat self-rising flour - it gave new brides extra insurance that their biscuits would come out light and airy.   I tried many recipes of this style biscuit, but the one that led me on the right track was out of the The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook which I really need to own someday.    I tweaked it to make it more like the Loveless - the biscuits are smaller and saltier and are much taller than in the cookbook.   From my research, it looks like Carol Faye uses oil instead of shortening, but I always have shortening on hand so that's what I use.   At the Loveless, biscuits are cut small - Carol Faye said in an interview that she used to use a tomato paste can to cut out her biscuits, so I use a shotglass to cut out mine.

Use any size cutter you want, but make sure to pack them in your pan tightly and let them rise a long time, until they are doubled.   I let mine rise for hours in an oven that I preheated to 250 F and then shut off.    These biscuits are not quick to make, for sure!   Howeverm the dough can be made a head and refrigerated for up to a week for even better flavor.

Loveless Cafe Style Biscuits

yield: about 80 small biscuits

1 (¼-ounce) packet active dry yeast
2 tablespoons lukewarm water (105º to 115ºf )
5 cups Southern soft-wheat self-rising flour* 
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup buttermilk powder
2 cups water
Nonstick cooking spray
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, melted

* Note that Carol Faye used Martha White self rising flour, and so do I.  Self rising flour is hard to find in Michigan, but Meijer carries it.   There has been much written about the demise of White Lily flour since they closed the mill in Knoxville. So go with the Martha White!


Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Set aside until the yeast looks foamy.  Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. Use your fingertips to cut in the shortening until the pieces are the size of peas. Stir the buttermilk powder and water into the dissolved yeast. Stir into the flour mixture using a fork, just until moistened.  (at this point the dough can be refrigerated)
Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set  it aside. Knead the dough lightly, about six turns. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to a ½-inch thickness. Stamp out biscuits with a 1 1/2-inch cutter. (Don’t twist the cutter  or the biscuits will rise taller on one side.) Gather, roll, and cut the scraps. Arrange the biscuits with sides touching on the prepared baking sheet - pack them in tightly. Cover with a damp lint-free towel. Let the biscuits rise in a warm place until they have doubled in bulk, at least 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 425ºf. Bake until the biscuits are lightly browned, about 15 to 20 minutes. Brush the tops with the melted butter and serve hot.

Serve them like they do at the Loveless with jam or honey.    Well worth the effort!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mango Tomatillo Salsa

When Whole Foods opened their first store in Ann Arbor, it was in a small store front on the other end of town.    I loved shopping there because it was earthy and very charming in an Ann Arbor "granola head" kind of way.  In addition to buying organic food, I'd buy patchouli scented bath salts and I had my first chair massage ever at the checkout of that store.  But then, they moved into bigger digs and built a big store in a strip mall known for its crappy parking.   I found myself going there less and less because the stress of parking would get me down.  I felt the new store lost its soul.   Then, another store joined the first in Ann Arbor - this time, closer to my side of town.   By then, I had fully embraced the local food movement, and if it wasn't seasonal and I didn't personally know the farmer who grew it, I didn't go out of my way to buy it.   

However, like many moms of teenagers, I found myself shopping at WF more often.   I'd like to say it was because I wanted my cherubs to eat organic whole foods, but the sad fact of the matter it was because it was conveniently located next to an REI and a Gamestop.  Then, WF started to embrace the local food movement and carrying more of the foods I am interested in buying, plus their house brand 365 put their prices more into my price range than the "Whole Wallet" moniker they had earned.  Plus, they are planning on opening a store in the Detroit city limits.   I think they have got their groove back!

When their marketing staff asked me if I would like to write about Ataulfo mangoes from Mexico, I readily agreed.   We will never have local mangoes here in Michigan, so I have no qualms buying mangoes grown in Mexico.   I stopped by to pick up my mangoes and while I was there, it was pizza Wednesday, where you can get a large pizza for $9.99, which is a great deal for a good tasting pizza. While I was waiting for it to be done, I enjoyed some wine from the wine bar.   I think WF is the only grocery store where you can drink wine or beer while you shop! 

What to make of my mangoes?  I decided to go with a salsa.   I served this salsa as a topping for sauteed chicken breasts, and it would go equally well on top of broiled fish.  Or it can be eaten with tortilla chips.  Ataulfo mangoes would also be wonderful in one of my favorite condiment canning recipes, Major Grey's chutney.    Give them a try - they are only around for a short season!  If you are not sure how to cut up a mango, here is a video to show you how.

Mango Tomatillo Salsa

4-6 peppers - I used a combo of habanero, cubanelle, red jalapeno.  (we like spicy!)
4 cloves garlic
juice of one lime
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 mangoes, (they don't have to be very ripe) diced in 1/2 inch cubes
2 tomatillos, diced
Kosher salt - to taste, at least 1 teaspoon

In a food processor, process peppers, garlic and lime juice and cilantro until it is chopped fine.   Add the mixture to the mangoes and tomatillos and combine.  Add salt to taste.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Chocolate Coconut Cupcakes

Once again this year, the Super Bowl fell on my birthday.  To celebrate, I wanted to make Buffalo wings in the "old school" way - i.e. deep fried and no exotic sauces, although I did doctor up mine by adding a little Dave's Insanity Hot sauce to the traditional Frank's Red Hot - I like my food spicy.  these came out great but I doubt I'd make them again because of the hassle involved.   To make enough wings for a crowd, the cook is chained to the stove for a long time.    For dessert, I was craving the cupcake version of a Mounds Bar - a chocolate and coconut.  I googled around and couldn't find any recipes that didn't involved Duncan Hines cake mix, so I decided to create my own.

I went back to my trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook to dig out my usual "go to" recipe for chocolate cupcakes - good old devil's food.  Then, a little online research showed that a coconut filling could simply be made sweetened condensed milk and coconut.  I knew I wanted to top them with a bittersweet ganache and coconut.   I suppose that fans of Almond Joy candy bars could top them instead with sliced almonds....after all,  sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't....


Here's the recipes...


1 1/2 cups heavy cream
24 ounces 60% cacao dark chocolate chips

Heat cream in the microwave for about a minute until it is boiling. Add the chocolate and let it sit for a couple minutes. Gently stir the mixture until it is homogeneous and the chips are melted. Refrigerate for several hours, stirring occasionally, until quite thick.

2 c all purpose flour
2 c sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder
1 1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 1/2 c milk
1/2 c shortening
1 t vanilla
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix dry ingredients.   Add milk, shortening and vanilla and mix until combined, then beat on high for 2 minutes.   Add eggs and beat 2 minutes more. 

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
7-ounce package sweetened coconut

Mix together until combined. 

To make the cupcakes, line a cupcake tin with paper liners, and fill halfway with cake batter.   Using a small ice cream scoop, add about a tablespoon or so of filling and top with some additional filling.   Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes.  Allow to cool.  Spread ganache on top of each cupcake and sprinkle with coconut flakes, or sliced almonds.

Makes about 18 cupcakes.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Easter treats

We've been out of town for a few weeks on vacation, and it seems like forever since I have blogged. We were originally supposed to be back in town tomorrow, but I get a little antsy toward the end of vacation, so we came back a couple days early.  The fridge was empty so I used the opportunity to clean it before I restocked.  I totally despise cleaning out the fridge, but I so love the end result.   I timed myself - it took me 50 minutes to clean it out, top to bottom.   I guess I need to make time to do it more often.   We usually celebrate Easter by having my family over, but since we were supposed to be out of town, everyone has other plans.   So we are going over to our neighbors for some ham - we bought half a pig together last fall, and so we have a ham to eat.  

Despite popular opinion, Christmas is not the holiest day of the year for's actually Easter.   A popular Polish Catholic custom is to have your Easter food blessed by your priest.

It being Easter, I thought I would include a picture of Jesus that I have been seeing around all over the place lately.   It depicts the vision a Polish nun had in the 1930s, when Jesus instructed her how to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, which is a Catholic devotional prayer sequence that can be said on rosary beads.   I've been seeing this picture of Jesus everywhere lately - first I saw it in Polish Catholic churches, then I saw it as a screen saver on my Pakistani computer support guy, then a cubicle of a Lithuanian friend (St. Faustina had her vision in Lithuania).   I've never said it but I think I will give it a try this year....on Divine Mercy Sunday, which is the 1st Sunday after Easter.  

Tomorrow, for Easter, I am going to make some of my favorite best ever lemon meringue pie and the kids favorite, ribbon jello.   I didn't dye any Easter eggs this year, but if you did and you have leftovers, may I suggest pickled eggs?

Whatever your beliefs, consider the closing prayer of the chaplet, which requests...

Look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.

Happy Easter!