I am trying to find comfort these days. Trying really, really hard to self-soothe and heal. When sick, or tired, or far from home, everyone seems to yearn for the gastronomic equivalent of a warm sweater, a kiss on the forehead, a favorite blanket. Cutting-edge cuisine has its place, but sometimes you just want a hearty meal with your favorite comfort foods.
Don’t judge. We all have them – “comfort” foods that feel like more than just food. Far beyond the random edibles of our day, these are instilled with the likes of positive memories, celebratory identities, nurturing associations. They’re the feel-good recipes or psychological standbys that satiate us on a deeper level. Irrational as it might sound (but isn’t really), food is more than function. It’s more than taste or even nutrition (gasp!). Food, specifically our personal list of comforting favorites (resulting from cultural and emotional experience), has the power to shift our mood as well as our physiology.
When we go Primal, and are reduced to our most simple self, we end up rethinking our relationship with these old standbys: all of them are unpretentious, homemade, and in most instances, the kind of dishes that would cause a riot were the restaurants to take them off the menu. For most of us, these foods are far from gourmet, and generally epitomize home cooking.
Though the actual preferences are personal, the impact of comfort food as a whole is real – and measurable. Research has shown that eating – or even writing about – comfort food actually lessens negative emotions. As with any phenomenon, the more we understand it, the better able we are to use it for good in our lives (ergo mental health). So here it goes, research shows that the reason that fat and carbohydrates figure in prominently with the most cited comfort foods is that carbs can temporarily boost serotonin levels, levels producing a feel-good sensation in your brain, which can leave us constantly running back for another neurochemical fix.
While some of my go-to savory comfort food dishes would be pastas, breaded meats, stuffed veggies or mom’s chicken soup – one of my guilty breakfast pleasures is biscuits and gravy. Sometimes I enjoy a heavy bacon gravy and other times I am more of a rich mushroom gravy gal. This should not imply that I am entirely one or the other but rather picky depending on the time of breakfast or brunch. So in my world of woeful indecision I give you both…and my most yummy buttermilk biscuit recipe. I’ll confess, I don’t always have time to indulge in the biscuit making and I’ll cheat and make my old Bisquick stand-by drop muffins but if you can spare the time, and want to impress your guests I highly encourage you to bookmark this page for future reference.
– Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
– Bacon ‘on the side’ Gravy
– Mushroom Gravy
Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
Buttermilk Biscuits Ingredients
6 cups flour
3 TBS baking powder
3 tsps salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsps kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 1/3 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups flour
4 TBS unsalted butter, melted
Buttermilk Biscuits Directions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray 13x9x2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. (Note: In the photo you will see that I had to improvise at the time of making them.)
In a large bowl combine 6 cups flour, baking powder and salt. Mix with whisk until well combined. Add sugar and kosher salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and drop into dry ingredients. Using fingers, coat the pieces of butter with flour. Crumble the butter into the flour until the consistency resembles peas. (An alternative method is to combine dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Then add butter pieces and mix on low speed for 1 minute, then on medium-low speed for an additional minute until pieces are the size of peas.)
Next add the buttermilk and cream into the mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon until almost incorporated. By hand, mix until just incorporated; kneed approximately 4 quick times. (If using the mixer, briefly mix on low speed, turning off to scrape down sides of the bowl. Repeat until combined but careful not to over mix.) The batter will be wet and not hold its shape. The beauty of this dough is that it pockets of flour and chunks of butter will eventually create a flaky biscuit.
In a shallow bowl add remaining 1 1/2 cups flour. Using 1/3 measuring cup scoop out batter and drop it into the flour. Sprinkle additional flour on top and pick it up by hand, shaking off excess flour by passing it between both hands. Starting in far corner, space three biscuits in a row across the shorter end of the baking dish and six biscuits down in row. The dough will be touching.
Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 375 degrees. Bake for 10 minutes and then rotate the pan and continue baking another 10-15 minutes until biscuits are light brown all over. When biscuits start to pull away from each other, and knife inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean, baking is complete.
Remove pan from oven, brushing the biscuits tops with melted butter and allow to cool in pan for 10 minutes before separating into individual biscuits.
Too many biscuits? No problem. Leftovers can be frozen once cooled. When ready to use thaw for one hour and reheat in a 350 degree oven.
Mushroom Gravy Ingredients
6 oz chopped mushrooms (portobello recommended)
1/4 cup onions, chopped
2 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne (or other preferred spices)
1/2 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups milk
Mushroom Gravy Directions
In a pot saute the onions in the olive oil over medium heat until softened. Then add in the mushrooms, cooking until soft. Remove the mushroom and onions (allowing cooking juices to remain) and set aside. In the same pot melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and allow to cook/bubble for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Season roux with preferred spices. Slowly stir in the stock, milk and the cooked mushrooms and onions. To make gravy on the thick side use amount of stock listed; to thin out gravy add more stock. Serve hot over warm biscuits; a soft boiled egg goes well with this dish!
Bacon ‘On The Side’ Gravy
Bacon Gravy Ingredients
1 pound of bacon OR 1/4 cup bacon grease (see note below)
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups water
Bacon Gravy Directions
Place bacon into a large skillet and fry it over medium heat, turning occasionally until desired crispness. When the bacon is done remove and drain on paper towels. Once cooled measure and then pour the bacon grease back into the skillet; begin to stir in the flour. Continue stirring until the flour absorbs all of the fat. Add in salt and black pepper. Gradually stir in the milk using a whisk or a fork to prevent lumps. Continue adding milk and whisking until well combined. Allow the mixture come to gentle boil for about 5 minutes; it will thicken. Taste the gravy and see if add any additional salt and pepper needs to be added. Serve hot over warm biscuits. Bacon on the side and a soft boiled egg goes well with this dish!
NOTE: If using refrigerated bacon grease heat it in the skillet until it is bubbly. Stir in the flour and proceed as directed.
Sidebar: Images in this post were taken during a visit to a lovely home out at Stinson Beach in Northern California.