Friday, March 11, 2011

Red Lobster Cheese Biscuits

If you haven't noticed, it's been a big week in the kitchen here at Trailbraising.  This is what happens to me after two weeks of tests and midterms - I go on a mad cooking spree and end up with a back log of 4 or 5 (new) recipes I want to share. And don't even get me started on the backlog of the many many old recipes I'm always remembering I should post about here.

This recipe comes to us from Red Lobster in a Mark Stephenson adaptation, you may know him better as my oftentimes cheese grater on this blog. I've only been to Red Lobster once in my life because for my early years I, of course, thought seafood was gross and lobster particularly insect-like, and once I began liking seafood later on, my interests in food were far beyond Red Lobster (as I snubbed my teenage nose). So my first and only trip was at age 19 in Athens, Ga., and I don't remember anything but the biscuits. I think we ate 3 baskets full. 

This adaptation on a classic restaurant treat is I think better than even the original. They are light, flaky and fresh. And the rosemary and sharp white cheddar add a unique flavor.

Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits - An Improved Classic

2 ½ cups Bisquick
¾ cup cold whole milk
4 Tbsp. cold butter (½ stick)
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1 heaping cup grated white sharp cheddar cheese

2 Tbsp. butter, melted
¼ tsp. dried rosemary
½ tsp. garlic powder
pinch of salt


1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
2. Cut half a stick of cold butter into the Bisquick using two knives. Only continue until the mixture contains about pea-sized chunks of butter. Add cheese, milk and ¼ teaspoon garlic powder. Mix by hand until combined, but take care not to over mix.
3. Drop approximately ¼-cup portions of the dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
4. Bake for 15 - 17 minutes or until the tops of the biscuits begin to turn light brown. They will feel soft, so test the center of one with a knife and take out when it comes out clean.
5. Melt 2 tablespoons butter is a small bowl in your microwave. Stir in ½ teaspoon garlic powder and the dried rosemary. Brush the mixture on the tops of all the biscuits. Don't skimp! Use it all.

If anyone has a great flaky biscuit recipe that doesn't use Bisquick, please share it! Usually when I make biscuits from scratch they end up good but on the thick side. I'd love to find a good standby that doesn't require me to buy Bisquick in a crunch. For now, though, I'll stick with this cheddar delight.

Vegetarian Reuben

I've never been great at making sandwiches. It's the one food I never can seem to do as well at home. Maybe it's that I'm not good at choosing what to put in a sandwich, or maybe it's just that it's hard to keep a variety of fresh sandwich ingredients around the house to keep it exciting. Even at restaurants, I never select the build your own sandwich option because I just know the preconceived menu sandwiches will always be better.

That said, I think this vegetarian Reuben is the first real success I've had with a sandwich at home. Last night was the third night in a row I've had this for dinner! And if I didn't run out of rye bread tonight would happily be the fourth. The ingredients for the most part can be kept in the house for more than a couple of days and the result is an incredibly flavorful and filling meal that even meat-eaters will crave. I recommend doubling the recipe, even going triple if you're feeding multiple household members, so you can store the pre-prepared tofu in the fridge and enjoy Reubens all week!

Vegetarian Reuben Sandwich
Adapted from The Grit

Makes about 3 sandwiches 

1 (14 oz.) block firm or extra firm tofu
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Dash of liquid smoke (Worth the investment!)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (about half a lemon)
1/4 tsp. dried dill
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Sliced marble rye bread, toasted
Sliced swiss cheese
Sauerkraut (I found canned for $0.88!)
1000 Island Dressing
Spicy mustard
Red Onion, optional
Avocado, optional

  1. First thing, get as much moisture out of the tofu as possible by draining on paper towels while you get everything else gathered and measured out - mise en place, as they say. 
  2. Cut tofu into slices (But don't worry if they fall apart by the end. I couldn't thoroughly cook them without ending up with crumbles instead. In fact, if you just cut the tofuc into cubes to begin with the result would likely be the same.)
  3. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large non-stick skillet. Add tofu and toss and turn frequently until tofu begins to brown
  4. Combine a dash of liquid smoke (I used about 5 drops) with soy sauce, and add mixture to tofu with remaining spices and lemon. Toss to brown evenly and saute until tofu is very firm and slightly browned. Because of the soy sauce, it's difficult to tell when it's really browned, so I just taste pieces as it gets close to being done.
  5. Heat oven to 350 or 400 F. 
  6. Toast bread lightly. Spread mustard and dressing, one the each slice. Add sauerkraut followed by tofu and 2 slices of Swiss cheese to the bottom slice.
  7. Put second slice of bread on top of the sandwich and put in the oven for a couple minutes to melt the cheese. 
  8. Devour with a side of Guinness.

And if you want to make a full-blown restaurant-dining-at-home kind of night, go ahead and make these mock Red Lobster Cheddar Biscuits too, or even a Golden Bowl (coming soon!). You won't regret it.

Just entered this sandwich into the Scanwiches Fanwiches Contest! Wish me luck! And check out this humorous blog at

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Call me a mycophage

I'm taking two classes this semester that have allowed me to experiment with a bit of mycogardening. Through my new experiences with Kingdom Fungi - both in an academic and an agricultural sense - it seems my love of mushrooms has come full circle. The dream of cultivating and subsequently eating my own mushroom crops is alluring, with an appetizing earthy scent. 

In the pictures below you can see closeups of these two gorgeous specimens. The mushroom on top is a Golden Oyster Mushroom (Pleurotus citrinopileatus) with a very distinctive trumpet shape and ridges instead of gills. This mushroom was grown on toilet paper as the substrate but the white substance you can see here is all hyphae! Cool huh? Did you know that what we know as mushrooms are actually just the "fruits" of extensive hyphae networks that make up the true mycelial body of the fungus? And below are two Shiitake Mushrooms (Lentinula edodes) harvested from an inoculated sweet gum log.You've seen these in the grocery store, but you've never tasted them this fresh, moist and tender.

Want to learn how to grow your own mushrooms? Read on to the end of this post!

Now, edible mushrooms are best cooked, so with these lovely edibles at my finger tips I decided to fix up a mushroom omlette with red onions, green onions, sharp white cheddar cheese and fresh dill. I think I could become a fungivore. 

Oh and keep your eyes out when walking in the forest from now until mid April because it's Morel (Morchella sp.) season in Georgia!

Growing Oyster Mushrooms on Toilet Paper


unbleached toilet paper
aluminum pot pie pan refrigerated 
inoculum of Pleurotus cornucopoides (Golden Oyster Mushroom) 
Available from Field and Forest Products, Inc., at at about $23.00 for 4 lbs. of innoculant
disposable gloves
70% ethanol (optional if you have another way of making a very clean surface)
paper towels
clear plastic Ziploc bags, 1.0 gallon size
disposable plastic cup (at least 50 mL), optional

  1. Place the toilet paper roll in a chicken pot pie pan.
  2. Boil some water and slowly add the water to the center of the toilet paper roll until the roll is saturated (about 700 mL).
  3. Put on gloves. Spray the table with 70% ethanol and wipe down with a paper towel. This is to prevent contamination. 
  4. Label a clear, 1.0 gallon size plastic Ziploc bag with the date and inoculum. 
  5. Remove the cardboard core of the roll. It should slip out easily.
  6. Weigh out 50 grams (about 1-2 shot glasses worth) of the inoculum into a plastic up and distribute the inoculum uniformly over and in the center of the paper roll. Place the pan with the inoculated toilet paper roll into the center of the plastic bag such that the bag and the pan can sit upright. Seal the bag.
  7. Incubate the bag in an incubator or a warm setting at 30 C or 86 F. 
  8. For the next two weeks, open the bag periodically for good air exchange and maintain in the incubator. During this time a dense, white, mycelial growth will cover the roll.
  9. On day 15, put the paper towel roll in the refrigerator for two days. This convinces the fungi it is fall and time to fruit.
  10. On day 17, take the roll out of the refrigerator. Keep the roll in the plastic bag and maintain a humid environment by spraying with a water bottle. The mushrooms should begin to show in 12 to 17 days. For golden oyster mushrooms, a minimum of 12 hours of light is recommended.
  11. Harvest the mushrooms before the spores are released.

Inoculating Logs for Shiitake Mushroom Production
for 30 logs

30     logs, each approximately 30” in length
2       saw horses
         eye protection
         ear protection
         electrical drill with 12-mm stop bit
         wax (cheese wax is preferred)
         hot plate
         thermometer (capable of recording up to 450 °f)
30     metal tags
1       table to inoculate logs
2       stainless steel buckets
       You can  order the L. edodes spawn from Field and Forest Products as well, but this needs to be ordered in advance (about a couple months) in order for the spawn to grown on the substrate (usually sawdust). Spawn is available in different strains which are grouped based on temperatures required for fruiting, including CW = cold weather [winter], WW = warm weather [summer], and WR = wild range [both winter and summer].  Both WW and WR strains colonize the wood faster than CW strains. The cost is about $23.00 for 5 lbs.
         inoculating handles
         brush (for hot wax)
         cling wrap
         fire extinguisher
1)         Put on eye protection and ear protection. 
2)         Turn on hot plate and put in wax to melt. Add a thermometer to measure the temperature. The crucial temperature is 450 °F; above this temperature, the wax catches on fire. You’ll know that you are close when you observe blue smoke. If this happens, immediately remove the wax from the heat. It will explode if overheated.
3)         Set up saw horses to the appropriate height.
4)         Spread out logs.  
5)         Mix the fungal inoculum within the bag by hand until relatively uniform. Place the mixture in a stainless steel bucket. If all the mixture is not being used at the moment, cover the mixture with cling wrap to prevent it from drying out. The inoculum is sensitive to drying out.
6)         Drill the first row of holes at every 6 inches. The angle grinder has a safety on it and it must be depressed in order for the grinder to start. 
7)         After the first row of holes is drilled, turn the log 2 to 3” and move the log 3” to the right.  Drill the next row according to the jig. This makes a diamond pattern of holes that allows for optimal mycelial growth (the fungus colonizes quickly with the grain and slowly across the grain).
8)         Repeat Step #7 until the log is fully holey.    
9)         With the brass inoculator, add inoculum to each hole. The test for ensuring that each hole has the right amount of inoculum is to press the top of the plug:  it shouldn’t budge. 
10)      With a small applicator brush, paint on wax. If the hole is not sealed properly, then the inoculum will dry out. The key is to apply the wax really hot, between 350°F (177°C) and 400°F (204°C).  However, it is important to remember that the flash point of hot wax is 450°F (232°C): if the wax begins to smokes, it is approaching its flash point. Watch out!  
11)     Write two lines of information on a metal tag. On the first line, write the strain number (e.g., WW70) and the date. Staple the metal tag on the smaller of the two log ends.  
12)  Store your inoculated log out of direct sunlight. This could be in the woods behind your house or in a shed. It is important to ensure that the log continues to retain moisture - this is very important if it is being stored in a place where it will not be watered by rain. The easiest way to ensure moisture is to place the bottom of the log in a small tub that you can fill every week or so. 
       **If you are interested in large production, it would be smart to calculate the Oven Dry Weight of the log such that you can monitor the moisture accurately by weighing the log every once in a while. I have not gone into this here, but if you want to know more, just ask. 
All mushroom techniques came from Dr. Peter Hartel

Friday, March 4, 2011

Peter Reinhart on Bread Traversing Life and Death

Speaking of bread, here's a very interesting TEDtalk from Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, a book that has been on my "to read and cook by" list for a while.

For the first half, he talks through his new "epoxy" method of making a great wheat bread. But if you don't have the time, at least listen starting about halfway through where he really gets into some deeper, mystical discussions about bread baking and what makes this food special.

He says "bread is a transformational food," meaning that it goes through significant changes in form in order to reach its final state. Starting from the harvesting of wheat is death, death to any future growth it seems as the seed kernels are ground into flour. Yet it is a return to life that instigates the magic. Yeast, the leaven, reawakens the dough, and we know there is life because the dough grows. And when this purpose is fulfilled, it is the ultimate death of the same live-giving yeast that enables the dough's final transformation into bread.

Groovy stuff.

The baker is the god of his dough.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

One Fresh Loaf

The more I've experimented with bread baking lately, the less I can justify purchasing it from the store. Deep down I know this is silly really, and I'll still pick up a loaf in a rush, but it's just so easy and rewarding to make bread at home.

Most importantly, bread made at home is obviously as fresh as you'll get it. After you've managed to cover your hands in sticky dough, the counter in flour-hardened dough, and your shirt/pants/face in flour, the wafting scent of nearly done bread filling your home and the delight in pulling out a loaf from the oven that has miraculously risen and finished to perfection is a beautiful thing.

From the start, making bread at home can seem daunting because each recipe, and there are millions, varies slightly not only in ingredients but in seemingly very science-y ways such as exact temperatures in the environment, specific lengths of multiple rises, certain types of yeast, and a cultural debate over whether bread prefers to rise in an oil-coated bowl or a dry one. As an amateur bread baker at best, I can say that trying my best to follow a well-tested bread recipe and not over-thinking it, i.e. fretting too much if I am unsure whether it rose exactly twice its size or for exactly 45 minutes has led to some fine results.

Before the recipes, a few memoirs to comfort the reticent baker:
How Michael Ruhlman Overcame his Fear of Yeast
Breadmaking Tips from the Smitten Kitchen
And from Trailbraising, I say, simply, always read the recipe in full before starting out, taking note of how much lapsed rise time the bread will actually need. I will bold all significant time lapses in the following recipes. The worst disappointment comes when you've started a recipe, already tasting the dream of bread in your mouth, only to discover an overnight rise is only the beginning to the process.

A Quick and Easy Loaf: English Muffin Toasting Bread 

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbsp. instant yeast [I used Dry Active in a pinch and it still worked out fine]
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
cornmeal, to sprinkle in pan


1. Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and yeast in a large mixing bowl or in the food processor.
2. Combine the milk, water, and oil in a separate, microwave-safe bowl, and heat for a few minutes until it is hot but not scalding. to between 120°F and 130°F. The liquid will feel very hot (hotter than lukewarm), but not so hot that it would scald you. 
3. Pour the hot liquid over the dry ingredients.
4. Beat on high or pulse for 1 minute, resulting in a very soft dough.
5. Lightly grease a loaf pan, sprinkling the bottom and sides with cornmeal to prevent sticking. Transfer the dough to the pan and level out.
6. Cover the pan with a dish cloth, and let the dough rise until it's even to slightly over the rim of the pan, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°F.
7. Bake the bread for 20 to 22 minutes until it's golden brown. If you want to be exact, bread is typically done with the inner temperature has reached 190 to 210 degrees.

Some simple, yet exotic rolls: Olive and Rosemary Rolls

1 tsp. dry active yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup lukewarm whole milk
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
generous 1/2 cup black olives, remove the seeds
1 1/2 Tbsp. rosemary leaves
all purpose flour, for kneading
olive oil, for brushing

1. Mix together the yeast, sugar and milk in a bowl. Set aside in a warm place for 5 minutes or until bubbles appear on the surface. This process is called proofing.
2. Add the flour, salt and oil to the yeast mixture and mix until a smooth dough forms. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic, adding a little extra flour if the dough becomes too sticky. Cover with plastic wrap, set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
3. Brush a round cake pan with oil.
4. Tear the olives into pieces and knead the olives and rosemary leaves into the dough on a generously floured surface, incorporating extra flour to compensate for the wetness of the olives. Divide into 16 pieces and roll into balls. Place in the prepared pan, cover with a clean dish towel and set aside in a warm place for 45 minutes or until the dough is doubled in size. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the tops with olive oil and bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden.

And for a wow from the crowd: Grape Focaccia with Rosemary

3/4 cup warm water
2 Tbsp. milk, slightly warmed
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups halved Concord, red or black grapes (no seeds please!)
1 tsp. fresh rosemary needles
2 Tbsp. raw or coarse sugar
2 tsp. coarse sea salt

1. Stir together the water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and mix well (either in a mixer with a dough hook, in a food processor with a dough blade, or by hand with a wooden spoon). This kneading should last about 6 to 8 minutes depending on your method.
2. Brush a large bowl with a generous amount of olive oil. Scrape dough into the bowl and brush the top with additional oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a cool place until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
3. Press the dough down with a floured hand. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it into two balls.
4. Brush a large baking sheet with olive oil, place the balls of dough on it and brush the top with more oil. Set it aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel.
5. After 20 minutes, dip your fingers in olive oil and press and stretch each ball of dough into a 8 to 9-inch circle shape. Cover again with the towel and let it rise for another 1 1/4 hours in a cool place.
6. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush tops of dough with remaining olive oil and sprinkle top with grapes, rosemary, coarse sugar and coarse sea salt evenly over the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Serve warm or at room temperature.


My next goal is to forge my way into the world of "wild yeast" where you actually cultivate your own yeast. This is a common practice with sourdough breads in particular. When you make a starter, it's just a matter of creating the right condition to "awaken" the yeast that already lives on fresh grains. And, in the case of sourdough, collecting the bacteria that makes it sour. One you have a yeast culture, as long as you leave some remaining, the fungus yeast, which grows asexually by budding or fission, will be your own little renewable food resource in the household fridge.

But for those of you who still want to buy from the store, I recently learned that there's a secret code for bread freshness - the color of the twist tie or plastic fastener! Who knew?! If you have a poor memory, I would stash this easy key in your wallet. Or you can remember that bread is delivered daily from Monday to Saturday and the color code progresses alphabetically by day - Blue, Green, Red, White, Yellow. Neat.