Say this: “A stick of butter.”
Now say it again. And again. Dozens of times, over and over, every time the phone rings. And rings. And rings.
If you ever want to know whether people are interested in a recipe, just make a mistake in one. Last February, I wrote a column about Charlotte cook Pamela Duvick and her method for making towering, flaky biscuits she calls “tall soldiers.” But in describing her method, I forgot to include how much butter she used.
For the next week, everyone who sat near my desk had to hear the same scene repeated over and over: My phone would ring. I would pick it up, say my name and then say just two words: “One stick.”
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Of course, there are better ways to find out what recipes readers crave. When Andrea Weigl, my food-writing colleague at The Raleigh News & Observer, answered a reader’s request for the down-home squash casserole made by Kinston chef Vivian Howard, it became one of the paper’s most-read stories online that day.
At the end of the year, it’s traditional to contemplate the trends that were predicted for this year. Some were misses: Celery root didn’t replace kale, beer cocktails never became more than novelties, and we haven’t seen a lot of vegetable-flavored yogurts. Others did come true: Fermented foods and new forms of hummus got plenty of attention, and New York restaurateur Danny Meyer at least started the conversation on the end of tipping.
More than those, though, our memories of the year are dominated by the recipes we found and loved, and the recipes we shared that readers loved. For my favorites of the year, I picked those biscuits, and the amazing chocolate chess pies made by Belmont Presbyterian pastor Sam Warner. Andrea was drawn to Vivian Howard’s soulful version of squash casserole and a vivid blueberry cheesecake ice cream. She learned to turn potstickers into a weeknight dinner, and I stirred together a rich, creamy version of kale (still around, despite 2015 predictions that it would disappear) flavored with coconut milk and flavorful green curry paste.
Trends come and trends go. But the recipes stay with us, always.
We can’t wait to see which ones we fall in love with in 2016.
Squash and Fontina Casserole
Adapted from chef Vivian Howard, co-owner of Chef & the Farmer restaurant in Kinston, and star of “A Chef’s Life,” on PBS.
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 tablespoons bacon fat
4 medium yellow onions, halved and sliced thin, about 4 cups
2 tablespoons minced garlic
8-10 medium yellow squash or zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch rounds or half moons
3 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups grated Fontina, Swiss or white American cheese
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish and dust the inside of the dish with cornmeal. Alternately, you could use six (6-ounce) ramekins and make individual casseroles.
Heat bacon fat over medium heat in a 12-inch saute pan or cast iron skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent. Add the squash, sage, rosemary, salt and black pepper. Stir it all to combine and cook over medium-high heat for about 25 minutes, checking periodically to make sure things aren’t sticking. You are looking for the squash to release all its liquid and begin to brown. Remove pan from the heat. While things are still steamy, stir in cheese. Allow the mixture to cool slightly. Then stir in the egg.
Fill whatever vessel you choose three-fourths of the way with the squash mixture. Bake uncovered for 30-45 minutes for the large casserole or 15-20 minutes for the small ones. Either way, you’re looking for it to brown on top and around the edges. Serve warm.
Yield: 10-12 servings.
Blueberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 ounces) cream cheese, softened
4 large egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups half-and-half
3 cups fresh blueberries, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup water
Combine first 3 ingredients in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until smooth. Combine milk and half-and-half in a medium-sized, heavy saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Gradually add half of hot milk mixture to cheese mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return milk mixture to pan. Cook over medium-low heat 5 minutes or until a thermometer registers 160 degrees, stirring constantly. Place pan in an ice-filled bowl. Cool completely, stirring occasionally.
Combine blueberries, powdered sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool completely.
Stir blueberry mixture into milk mixture. Pour mixture into the freezer can of an ice-cream freezer; freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Spoon ice cream into a freezer-safe container; cover and freeze for 1 hour or until firm.
Yield: 2 quarts.
Pork and Shiitake Mushroom Dumplings
These pot stickers are easily frozen. Spread them out on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch; be careful that none are touching each other. Freeze 10 minutes or until firm. Place in a large zip-top freezer bag with 1 teaspoon cornstarch. Freeze for up to 2 months. Follow recipe instructions, placing frozen dumplings in pan, and increase steaming time by 2 minutes. Any leftover wrappers freeze well. From Cooking Light magazine, March 2014.
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, divided
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
4 ounces thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps
5 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce, divided
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces lean ground pork
40 gyoza skins or round wonton wrappers
1/4 cup hot water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sambal oelek (ground fresh chile paste, aka Rooster sauce)
Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add sesame oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add 1/2 cup onions, garlic, ginger and mushrooms; stir-fry 3 minutes. Remove from pan; cool slightly. Combine mushroom mixture, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, hoisin sauce, pepper and pork in a medium bowl.
Arrange 8 gyoza skins on a clean work surface; cover remaining skins with a damp towel to keep them from drying. Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons pork mixture into center of each skin. Moisten edges of skin with water. Fold in half; press edges together with fingertips to seal. Place on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornstarch; cover to prevent drying. Repeat with remaining gyoza skins and pork mixture.
Combine hot water and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add remaining 1/4 cup green onions, remaining 1/4 cup soy sauce, vinegar and chile paste, stirring with a whisk until well combined.
Heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Generously coat pan with cooking spray. Add 10 pot stickers to pan; cook 30 seconds or until browned on one side. Turn pot stickers over; carefully add 1/3 cup water to the pan. Cover tightly with a lid; steam 4 minutes. Repeat batches with remaining pot stickers and more water or follow freezing instructions in headnote. After cooking, serve immediately with dipping sauce.
Yield: about 40 pot stickers.
Chocolate Chess Pie
From Sam Warner of First Presbyterian Church in Belmont, who bakes and gives away pies as part of his ministry.
6 large eggs
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, preferably Baker’s
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 frozen deep-dish pie crusts, thawed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Whisk thoroughly, until there is no grittiness from the sugar.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof measuring cup. Heat for 1 minute, 30 seconds. Add the butter and return to the microwave for 2 minutes. Stir together the melted chocolate and butter. Add to the sugar and egg mixture and whisk well again.
Divide the filling between the two pie crusts. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, lift and stir the filling to release any bubbles. Place the two pies in the oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the filling is pulling away from the sides of the pie and the top is set. (The top may crack, but that’s OK.)
Cool briefly, then refrigerate until chilled. Store in the refrigerator; the pie also can be wrapped well and frozen.
Yield: 2 pies.
Tall Flaky Biscuits
From Pamela Duvick of Charlotte is so proud of her biscuits, she sent us a picture. The secret: Keeping everything very, very cold.
1/2 cup (1 stick) frozen unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups self-rising flour, preferably White Lily, plus more for dusting work surface
1 cup buttermilk
1 to 2 tablespoons salted butter
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Chill a mixing bowl and rolling pin (preferably marble).
Grate the frozen butter on the large holes of a box grater onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper. (Duvick wears a latex glove so her bare hand doesn’t warm the butter.) Place flour in the chilled mixing bowl and add the shredded butter. Toss lightly with the tip of a large whisk to coat the butter with flour.
Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the buttermilk. Starting slowly with a wooden spoon, toss flour from the edge into the pool of buttermilk, then continue gently mixing until all the buttermilk is mixed in. Place in the freezer to rest for 10 minutes.
Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Pat and press the dough gently to form a mound. Using a cold, floured rolling pin, roll in the same direction to flatten slightly, then fold the dough and turn. Repeat five times to form a rectangle of dough that’s about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.
Using a round biscuit cutter dipped in flour, press straight down without twisting. Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet slightly touching. Pull the scraps together, roll and continue cutting out biscuits until you have 12.
Bake 12 to 15 minutes, watching closely so the biscuits don’t burn. Remove from oven and immediately brush with melted salted butter. Serve warm.
Yield: 12 biscuits.
Green Curry and Coconut Kale
Inspired by a similar dish at the restaurant Black House at Straw Valley in Durham, Kathleen Purvis created this version. The restaurant later closed, but the recipe is still one of her favorites.
1 bunch of kale, preferably Tuscan-style
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sliced shallot or onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons green curry paste (see note)
1/4 to 1/2 cup light coconut milk (about a half can)
Cut away and discard the thickest part of the kale stems. Stack the leaves, cut into 1-inch-wide strips and set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet with a lid over medium heat. Add the shallot, cover and cook several minutes until starting to soften. Add the garlic and cook about a minute, until fragrant but not browned. Stir in the curry paste and cook about 30 seconds.
Add the sliced kale, stirring it around to coat with the oil and curry mixture. Cook a minute or two.
Shake the coconut milk very well before opening. Pour into the skillet with the kale. Cover and cook a few minutes until the kale is softened. Uncover and cook a few minutes to reduce the sauce.
Note: Green curry paste is usually sold in a jar. It’s available in the international section of most supermarkets.
Yield: About 4 servings.