June 2004

Impulsive Late Night Biscuit Ecstasy

Say what you will about me—call me bitter, call me mean, call me sometime, won’t you?—there’s one thing you can’t say: that I’m not impulsive.

Take these biscuits for example.

I had absolutely no reason to make them. I have bran muffins from the other night, remember? And I’m studying for the bar, remember? But I got bit by the biscuit bug and after reading a simple-enough sounding recipe in Cook’s Illustrated I vowed to whip up a batch at 11 and have them ready by 12.

Well my expectations were wildly surpassed: the biscuits were done at 11:40 and, more importantly, they were the best I’ve ever had. BETTER than the Silver Skillet’s which refused to share their recipe. Now I don’t need it.

Very quickly then I will share the recipe with you since I think you should make them too. The only strange ingredient you’ll need is buttermilk. I say strange because you’re not likely to have it in your fridge, but not strange in that you can’t run out and get it anywhere. And it adds a lot to the finished product.

Here is our ingredients list:


2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbs double-acting baking powder

1 Tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

4 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

1.5 cups cold buttermilk, preferably low fat

To form and finish biscuits:

1 cup (5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour, distributed in rimmed baking sheet

2 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

Now for the recipe. I’ll interspirce the steps with pictures from the process:

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Spray 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Generously spray inside and outside of 1/4 cup dry measure with nonstick cooking spray.

2. FOR THE DOUGH: In food processor, pulse flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda to combine, about six 1-second pulses. Scatter butter cubes evenly over dry ingredients;


pulse until mixture resembles pebbly, coarse cornmeal, eight to ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add buttermilk to dry ingredients


and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated (dough will be very wet and slightly lumpy).


3. TO FORM AND BAKE BISCUITS: Using 1/4 cup dry measure and working quickly, scoop level amount of dough; drop dough from measuring cup into flour on baking sheet (if dough sticks to cup, use small spoon to pull it free). Repeat with remaining dough, forming 12 evenly sized mounds.


Dust tops of each piece of dough with flour from baking sheet. With floured hands, gently pick up piece of dough and coat with flour; gently shape dough into rough ball, shake off excess flour, and place in prepared cake pan. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 9 rounds around perimeter of cake pan and 3 in center. Brush rounds with hot melted butter, taking care not to flatten them.


Bake 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees; continue to bake until biscuits are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

Cool in pan 2 minutes, then invert biscuits from pan onto clean kitchen towl;


Turn biscuits right side up and break apart. Cool 5 minutes longer and serve.


It’s times like these where those who insist on using prepared dough from a tube baffle me. This took me NO TIME and the results were, to quote Will Farrell as James Lipton: “Strumtrulescent.”

Seriously, these biscuits were light as a feather and tasty and buttery and perfect. As a bonus, I opened up my Nectarine-Apricot-Ginger jam and dammmmmmn girlfriend it tasted great. What a great combo. All on a whim. And what a whim it was.

Filth, Food and Cleanliness; Or, Lawyers and Poop

I’ve been thinking a lot about my poop post lately. Part of me does indeed regret it (“Don’t s**t where you eat or where you blog about eating”), but the other part of me–the mad scientist part of me–keeps rubbing its hands together and declaring: “We may be on to something here.”

I pushed and pushed and pushed until I came up with it: poop IS an appropriate area of discussion on a food blog because it pinpoints what is often missed by the overly cerebral food critics—the fact that food is VISCERAL.

Watching Alton Brown last night, I became distracted by the overmiked sounds of food preparation: the sloshy sounds of batter being stirred or the almost sexual loading up of the pastry bag. As he rolled back the layer of plastic, the noises bothered me. It was almost condomesque. I felt a certain repugnance: this is a Food Network show, these sounds are supposed to be wiped out!

But, of course, when we cook there is no sound mixer to mute the sounds of the bacon sizzling or the sauce gurgling. In your own kitchen, that’s pleasurable. Those sounds are, in a way, an extension of yourself: like the pride you may take in the echo of a mighty burp.

What I am setting up here is a dichotomy: the private self cooking at home, comfortable with the noises and the sloshing and the dripping and the tasting, and the public self who wants to view food as “clean” and “pure”—which is why William Grimes rarely mentioned his bowel movements.

In her book “Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons,” one of my favorite law school professors–Martha Duncan–writes:

“Human infants enjoy playing with feces, while older children exhibit a special fascination with mud pies, fingerpaints, and other slimy, smeary things. Currently, there is a toy on the market that consists of a green gelatinous ooze; it is called, simply, Slime.

As children grow older, their attraction to slime is overlaid with a veneer of repugnance, and mental conflict results. This conflict has been acknowledged in an amusing way by the creators of another contemporary toy, Icky-Poo. On the back cover of the Official Icky-Poo Book, which accompanies a container of sticky slime, the editors declare, ‘You’ll be disgusted with yourself for loving it.’ Conscious mental conflict is painful; therefore, children develop defense mechanisms to avoid awareness of their attraction to dirt.” (137)

I think fear of cooking is a function of this repugnance. Hence the illusion, when you dine out at a fine restaurant, that everything is clean, everything is pure. The tablecloths are white. The drinking glasses sparkle. The silverware is practically ready for surgery.

The idea of the “open kitchen” feeds into this frenzy. An “open kitchen,” at most restaurants, entails a performance by the chefs who are probably coached not to scratch their faces or sweat too profusely. When I recall my time as a waiter, the image I have of the chefs flying around is of them constantly mopping their sweaty brows. Yes, even at a high quality restaurant the chefs sweat. They’re human.

Sweat, poop, slime—these are terms we don’t want to think about when we think about food. But it is when we think about them that we begin to realize that food, unlike any other medium of expression, is intimately linked to our bodies and that unlike writing a book or composing a symphony, the end result of our labor becomes physically part of us.

It is that visceral quality about food which explains why I and many other lawyers turned to food in law school as a means of escape.

In his eGullet Q&A famed food writer and lawyer Jeffrey Steingarten answers the question: why do so so many lawyers become food writers?

Among his many theories, is this one: “In the Freudian sense, lawyers are orally fixated. They talk a lot. Of course, they don’t do badly at the other end, either. They obsess a lot.”

Anal fixation ties directly back into Martha Duncan’s theory: “When the polarities of filth and cleanliness, mess and order, are central to a person’s mental life, we speak of obsessive-compulsive neurosis. This neurosis derives from an unusually strong attachment to the anal zone….”

For me it’s easy to see how the dry, antiseptic drone of the law school led me to the rich, fragrant world of the kitchen. When Rick, my favorite college professor, asked me why I turned to cooking in law school I answered: “Because it’s visceral.” He laughed because, he said, his partner–Chuck–who also got into cooking in law school uses the exact same word to explain it.

The reason, I think, that this website seems so personal despite the fact that I write exclusively (well, for the most part) about food is that food is intimate. Every time you see a picture of an item of food hovering near my mouth, you are sharing in a very private bodily act. In essence, you are watching me poop.

Gonna Have The Whole World on a Plate

We are swiftly approaching July which marks my final month in Atlanta. I have lived here for seven years and I think the world of it. You’ve got city, you’ve got country, you’ve got trees and parks and Ted Turner. When my mom and I first visited seven years ago, she peered out the plane window as we landed and said in her thick New York accent: “Look how LUSH it is Adam! Atlanta is so lush.”

Very true, and I will miss it. But God help me if someone doesn’t get me to New York STAT.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about New York. It feels like I’ve always meant to move there but something’s gotten in the way. College. Law School. Ted Turner.

And now that I’m headed there, I can’t stop thinking about it. When I’m trapped in the flourescent BarBri nightmare each morning, my mind whisks me away to the busy city streets with life sprawling all around. I can barely contain my excitement.

But the purpose of this post is to get YOU excited. Look, I’ll confess, this blog has sucked a lot these past few weeks and will continue to suck until the bar is over. I’m scrounging for material here. For crying out loud, last night I wrote about POOP. Do you see how low I’ve sunk?

Come August, however, there will be so much fodder for this blog I won’t even know where to begin. Aren’t you excited to have me in New York? You should be. Endless exploring and so many new characters–it should be a marvelous adventure. So let’s suffer a few more weeks of non-relevance and grow more and more excited about the blogging ahead. Take it away, Ethel:

Now’s your inning. Stand the world on it’s ear!

Set it spinning! That’ll be just the beginning!

Curtain up! Light the lights!

You got nothing to hit but the heights!

You’ll be swell. You’ll be great.

I can tell. Just you wait.

That lucky star I talk about is due!

Honey, everything’s coming up roses for me and for you!

I Cooked You Up An iMix

For those of you with iTunes you can now download the official Amateur Gourmet iMix. (Clicking should load up the mix in your iTunes player).

For those of you without iTunes, allow me to share the tracklist. I have assembled 15 songs, all of which I love, some of which concern food. Here they are:

1. Domingo No Parque by Gilberto Gil. Don’t ask me how I discovered this song, or why I listen to it fifteen times a day. I just love it. It’s a great picker upper–or amuse bouche, if you will.

2. All U Can Eat by Ben Folds. Going for the obvious, but still this is a perfect anthem for our “Food and Entitlement” series and just an all around great song. As a piano player, Ben is totally one of my heros.

3. What Went Wrong (In Your Head) by Supergrass. Here we have an anthem for first-time readers.

4. Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm. Another forced food song (and a show tune) but this one sung by Will and Grace’s own Karen, Megan Mullaly. For those not in the know, she used to be a big Broadway star and she has a terrific voice.

5. The Call of the Wild by David Byrne. “Rei Momo” is now in my pantheon of favorite albums. I bought it on a whim and I have listened to it 8000 times. I love it.

6. Soap Star Joe by Liz Phair. “He’s just a hero in a long line of heros…” Describes me perfectly.

7. Election Day by Lyle Lovett. This song has no relevance except I just discovered it and think it rocks. It has a great groove and Lyle Lovett is one of my favorites.

8. (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me performed by All Saints.

Actually, I think we’ll skip the little commentary and just finish up the track listing…

9. Rockin’ the Suburbs by Ben Folds.

10. The Internet is for Porn from Avenue Q.

11. The Scientist by Coldplay.

12. Marching Through the Wilderness by David Byrne.

13. Baby It’s You/A Message to Michael performed by Chrissie Hynde.

14. English Girls Approximately by Ryan Adams.

15. Shiver Me Timbers by Tom Waits.


Annals of Eating: Not So Regular Bran Muffins for the Irregular

Bran muffins serve one purpose and one purpose only. So does bran cereal, for that matter. People don’t eat bran because it tastes good, people eat it because it makes them poop.

In case you haven’t been told, pooping is the natural consequence of eating. What goes in must come out, so they say. I am sorry to write about this on my food blog, but it’s a topic that needed to be broached. We all poop: deal with it.

When I say “we all poop: deal with it” I do not mean to imply that we all poop to the same degree. Some of us poop at a 45 degree angle. Haha, that was poop humor.

What I’m trying to say is that some of us poop more frequently than others. Julia Child, for example, poops three times a day. Go Julia!

My own personal poop situation falls into the category of “too much information for my gentle blog-reading audience.” Suffice it to say that I felt the duty (haha, duty) to make, tonight, Nancy Silverton’s recipe for Bran Muffins.

Nancy’s recipe appealed to me because #1, my diet requires bran at the moment and #2 (haha, #2), she has all these quirky elements like grated orange zest and pulverized raisin mash.

Let’s get on with it Nancy, do-do that voodoo that you do so well. Hehe, dodo.

[If this blog were my job, I’d be fired right around now.]

Now then it is late (2:30!) and I have not the time to take you through the entire recipe with ingredients, etc. If you’d like that I suppose I could type it up at some point. But for now, enjoy my pretty pictures.

We take 2 cups of unprocessed bran


and toast it for 6 minutes in a 350 degree oven:


Next we take 1.5 cups of raisins and add 1 cup of water to a sauce pan:


Simmer on low heat until water is absorbed:


Then pulverize:


To the toasted bran we’ve added buttermilk and water, and now we add the raisin mixture and grated orange zest:


Soon we add flour and brown sugar and eggs and egg whites and baking soda and baking powder and–phew!–stir it all up, pour into the muffin tin, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Here’s the result:


Ok looks a little, lumpy but I tore a top off and it was delicious:


Really, the secret’s in the raisin mush: keeps the muffins moist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the muffins out of the muffin tin without tearing the tops off: so I’ll wrap in plastic wrap and call it a night.

Let me conclude by apologizing for the “distastefulness” of this post. For those of you that were offended, please know that this post does not represent the fine work that we do here at The Amateur Gourmet. Usually, we are much more classy, much more tactful. And for those of you who were NOT offended by this post, perhaps you might enjoy photographs of the “end result,” if you know what I mean? That’s available if you click below.

Entitlement and Food: Part Three of an 87 Part Series

Ah, you thought I was done didn’t you? You thought there’d be no more about Entitlement and Food? You thought wrong!

The last few posts concerned economics, sociology and politics. This post concerns snobbery.

Entitlement works in many ways. One such way is: “I am rich and you are poor and I deserve to eat better food than you.” Another way, though–the one that concerns us now–is: “I am rich and you are poor and the food you eat is beneath me.”

This form of entitlement–culinary elitism–has manifested itself rather comically in the pages of Gourmet magazine.

The cover of the January 2004 edition of Gourmet featured a stack of technicolor cupcakes. [I just spent 8 minutes trying to find a .jpg of that cover but alas, can’t seem to find it.] The background was bright green and the cupcakes were blue, green and pink all resting upon a large white polka-dotted cake. All in all, pretty eye-catching albeit kitschy.

The letters to the editor in the May 2004 issue (I guess it takes a while for these letters to process) featured these words from Beverly Loder of Walnut Creek, CA:

“I simply can’t let any more time slip by without mentioning your January cover, which I found most distasteful. Frankly, just looking at it makes my teeth ache. I find it totally unimaginative and gross. This is a new low for your magazine. I had to hide it under all my other magazines when it arrived. And I can assure you that if I didn’t have a subscription, I certainly wouldn’t be purchasing it at the stands. Colorful, yes. Inspiring, no.”

I think “unimaginative” is fair. I think “distasteful,” “gross” and “a new low for your magazine” are words of snobbery and pretension. Since when are cupcakes distasteful? Did she even taste the cupcakes before she dis-tasted them?

Then in this month’s issue is a letter from Ann McCann of Groveland, Massachusetts who writes:

“I canceled my subscription to Gourmet because of that polka dot cake on the January cover. The frosting recipe associated with the cover was for a mostly-butter buttercream. Besides being nasty, the frosting would have been yellow. Fake, fake, fake, and not relevant to someone who loves to cook.”


Look it’s one thing to cancel your subscription because the cover features a recipe for swastika cookies, it’s another to cancel for yellow buttercream. I think too many people take the food game too seriously. It’s all subjective. There’s no “right” food to put on the cover, there’s just food–and if it sells it sells, if it doesn’t it doesn’t, but that’s about all you can say. I think it’s distasteful to call a cupcake cover “distasteful.”

Let’s stop judging one another for the food we eat, that’s not helpful. The spirit should be one of sharing, not one of harboring. If the food you eat is “better” than the food I’m eating, don’t throw it in my face, but give me a spoonful and see how I react. If my face tightens in disgust, am I not as enlightened as you? Or am I constipated? (See bran muffin post).

In conclusion, elitism has its place—there are books written about how elitists serve society in their elitism (at least according to my friend Travis who read a book that said that)—and I’m sure that’s true enough. If Daniel Boulud and Thomas Kellar weren’t elitists there’d be no Daniel or French Laundry. They’d say: “Eh, a radish is a radish, let’s buy ’em in bulk from the black market” and throw them carelessly on to your salad plate. You wouldn’t want that, would you? At least not for what they charge.

Yet even though elitism has its place, that shouldn’t invalidate humbler forms of culinary pleasure. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the Janet Jackson breast cupcake. I do get into arguments with my friend Lisa where I knock the Olive Garden, defend the pleasures of crustier bread and spread the gospel of olives—but this is all in the spirit of sharing (except for the knocking the Olive Garden part). And actually, on reconsideration, I DO like the Olive Garden. All you can eat bread and salad? Come on. To quote a great man, “Don’t judge the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the breadstick in your own.”

The Secret of the Silver Skillet Biscuit, Undiscovered


The biscuits at the Silver Skillet are the best in Atlanta. They are flaky and perfect and light as a feather. They are, in fact, among my favorite things to eat.

While I was there today, then, I decided to ask for the recipe. I thought i would use my site’s cache to earn credibility. I approached the counterman cautiously.

“Sir,” I said, “hi, my name’s Arnold Freedenblocker and I run a website called Chocolate and Zucchini. I was wondering if I could have the recipe for your biscuits?”

He gave me a look like I just asked him to take his pants off. In fact, he did take his pants off.

“I’d rather take my pants off then give away our recipe!” he said, exposing his polka-dotted boxers to the biscuit-eating public.

“Oh,” I replied.

“Our biscuits are what we are known for,” he explained, pulling his pants back up. “Can’t give that away, sorry.”

Curses! Oh well, it won’t end there. Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

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