Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits
Fennel & Celery Salad
For lunch today: tomato soup and a biscuit (leftovers from Thursday night's dinner) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (courtesy of Junot Diaz, though I'm not sure I'm thanking him: am I the only person in the Western Hemisphere who did not pee herself with joy over this book? Because I'd rather pee on Junot Diaz, or even better, reread Drown).
[I'm hoping that my dad can show me how to take photos that look more like this or this, but for now we're all going to have to settle for these:]
Chris was out of town this week, but when he found out the lovely Lisa and Amos were coming over for dinner this past Thursday, he told me to make sure to "cook them up some gruel," and recommended that I serve them "something pureed," because according to Chris I "sure do like the blender." That's sort of a load of bl*g, though I did use my immersion blender for the soup (see recipe below).
I had this tomato-cheddar soup for the first time at my mother-in-law Jo Ruth's house on the night before Thanksgiving, and it was so good I've been makin' it all winter. It's a pretty serious upgrade from the Campbell's tomato my sister and I used to eat (along with grilled American cheese on white bread and the store-brand version of Oreos. I should note that we ate this kind of thing in our twenties; our parents would never, ever, ever have fed us canned soup or processed cheese, and I don't think I even knew that white bread existed). For Thursday night I made the soup early and stuck it the fridge so I could focus on not fucking up the biscuits and cutting my fingers off with the mandoline.
When Jo Ruth made this soup, she served it with Shelburne Farms' deliciously cheesy biscuits, which I broke into bite-sized pieces and floated in my soup like croutons. I wanted Lisa and Amos to be able to play with their food, too, but the Shelburne Farms biscuits were made by Jo Ruth, who is from the South, and I get the feeling that making a batch of biscuits is as easy for her as sleeping late is for me. I haven't done much baking since the Duncan Hines brownies my sister and I used to whip up after school (at this point my parents were divorced, and all dietary restrictions had moved out with my father), and the Shelburne Farms biscuit recipe includes notes about keeping the ingredients "as cold as possible" and working the dough "as little as possible" and even had a little anecdote about how one time the authors made the biscuits in an unheated barn or some shit and though the authors were "a little chilly," "the biscuits were perfect." That's quaint and all, but so not happening in my culinary world. Instead I found this recipe for cheddar buttermilk biscuits on epicurious.com, which multiple reviewers described as easy, and it was. I was so frickin' pleased with myself when Lisa and Amos walked into the house and noted how good it smelled, then oohed and awed over my beautiful biscuits cooling on the stovetop.
After handing Amos a biscuit because he was so hungry he felt light headed, I started making the salad, a fennel and celery thing I'd read about here, which I hoped would be light and crispy enough to balance out the rest of the heavy, cheesy meal (it's early March in Vermont, and I'm still hittin' the winter foods; as I told my friend Taije when I moved back to Vermont from DC last summer, winter in Vermont makes me want to lie in bed and eat mashed potatoes. FOR SIX MONTHS). My stepmother, Chrysanne, would be horrified to know that I went out and bought a single-use kitchen appliance just for this one recipe, but I knew I would never be able to slice the fennel and celery thinly enough without a mandoline, and since Chris is obsessed with the slap chop, I thought maybe the mandoline would help him stop having a boring life. After having used the mandoline, however, I must warn Girlie Hands never to go near it lest he ruin his potential career as a hand model: I cut not one but two fingers while mandoline-ing my fennel and celery, and only avoided slicing a third finger when Lisa and Amos simultaneously screamed, "STOP!" just before I took off the tip of my pinkie. The recipe is online here, and my only advice is that mandoline-ing and multitasking do not mix. Best to stick with the slap chop.
RECIPE RATINGS & NOTES
Tomato and Cheddar Soup: 4.5 out of 5 Heavy Winter Soup stars
[See recipe for cooking notes. The soup is rich and the allspice gives it a nice, but not weird, flavor. As is the recipe feeds three people well, but is barely enough for four. It's an easy, tasty soup that is fancy enough to serve guests, but is also a good option for those afternoons when in the rest of the world it is spring but in Vermont it is still winter, just brown and ugly now instead of snowy and pretty. This soup pairs nicely with an episode of Gossip Girl or the latest issue of US Magazine.]
Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits: 4 out of 5 Savory Biscuit stars
[These were cheesy and delicious and easy to make. I substituted minced, fresh sage for the scallions, and the recipe made a dozen biscuits with some dough left over. I highly recommend chunks of biscuit in the tomato soup.]
Fennel and Celery Salad: 3.5 out of 5 Salad stars
[As Lisa put it, "This tastes like spring." Light and crispy and lemony, so easy to make, but beware the finger-eating mandoline, or you will be serving your nice friends blood and skin as well as fennel and celery.]
from Cooking With Shelburne Farms
The recipe here is barely modified from the cookbook, which is probably some kind of copyright infringement. DO NOT RAT ME OUT OR I WILL POUND YOUR ASS IN THE PARKING LOT AFTER SCHOOL.
1 packed cup finely grated cheddar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
1 cup half-and-half or whole milk [whole milk is really fine, as this soup is as rich as The Donald was in the '80s.]
1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted tomatoes [the recipe calls for whole tomatoes in puree, but I've used diced tomatoes in not puree, and didn't notice any difference, though I think the fire-roasted part is important.]
1/2 teaspoon allspice [the recipe called for 1 teaspoon, which I used the first time I made it, and maybe I just have some super-strong allspice, but that pot of soup tasted like tomato pumpkin pie, and not in a good way.]
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt [or more to taste, yo.]
freshly ground pepper
1. In a small bowl, toss the grated cheddar with the flour, making sure to coat all shreds [For those of you who are neurotic, I've found from neurotic experience that you don't have to be too, too neurotic about this coating-all-shreds business. Because when you PACK the cheese, it's hard to SEPARATE THE SHREDS for coating. I'm just sayin'.]
2. In a large, wide soup pot set over medium-high heat, melt the butter until foamy. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent but not colored, about 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the half-and-half to the pot, bring to a simmer, and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Take the pot off the heat.
4. Put a handful of cheddar into the pot and whisk into the hot half-and-half mixture until the mixture is smooth. Repeat in handfuls until the cheddar has magically disappeared from the bowl.
5. Add the tomatoes and their puree, the allspice, and the salt to the pot and stir. Return the pot to medium heat for 3-4 minutes and cook, stirring to blend. Do not allow the soup to boil. [If the soup does boil, do not panic, as this does not seem to have any effect whatsoever.]
6. Using an immersion blender, a food processor, or a blender [my vote is for the immersion blender], blend the soup.
7. Return the soup to the pot if you took it out, warm it gently over medium-low heat, adjust seasonings, blah blah blah...