Buttermilk recipes and other impromptu cooking moves

It all started with a bottle of frozen buttermilk. My philosophy with cooking is to work with what you got, when possible. My mother always says you should plan a menu based on what you see is fresh at the store. Borrowing from that idea, I try to plan based on what is on hand at the house. On the flip side, I tend to go to the store armed with a list inspired by two or three recipes I want to try and have prepared over the next few days or week. As for the buttermilk, before our last trip, I put the milk in the freezer.

cornbread
Buttermilk plays a key role in my Vermont-Texas cornbread recipe

Today, which I think is several weeks later, I opened the pantry, fridge and freezer – in that order – to see what was available. Spying the frozen buttermilk, I was immediately inspired. What if I made mashed cauliflower with buttermilk? And, of course, I can bake buttermilk cornbread. Check, check. Plus, we had asparagus in the fridge. Suddenly the following menu was born:

  • Garlic buttermilk mashed cauliflower
  • Sautéed asparagus with raclette cheese and tomatoes
  • Maple Texas buttermilk cornbread

Here’s how I went about it, one dish at a time.

Cornbread:

Before pulling out all the ingredients, preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with cast iron skillet inside. Ingredients: Lamb’s Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal (1 ½ cups), combined with ½ cup bread flour, 4 teaspoons sugar, 3 tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. salt, 1 cup buttermilk, ¼ cup oil, 2 eggs and a 1/4 cup of real maple syrup.

cornbread
Cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet

Directions: Simply put all the ingredients in one big mixing bowl and combine with a spoon or spatula. Pull out preheated skillet and place on stove top. Spray skillet with canola oil spray. Pour cornbread batter into greased skillet and place in over. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on stove top to cook. The bread should easily pop out of the skillet when cooled.

Mashed cauliflower: Ingredients to have on hand: one head cauliflower, garlic cloves, buttermilk, butter and olive oil. Break apart cauliflower and put florets in a microwave-safe dish. Add two cloves of peeled garlic (I initially used four cloves and it was, ahem, a bit too much).

Reducing the mashed cauliflower over low heat in a large saucepan
Reducing the mashed cauliflower over low heat in a large saucepan

Cook according to your microwave’s instructions for cooking vegetables. My Chef Mike actually has a specific setting for cooking vegetables and amounts by cups. Then put cooked florets in a large food processor. Add a tablespoon of butter, an ample splash of buttermilk, cover and crank it up. Open the top that allows the addition of further ingredients and add more buttermilk and drizzles of olive oil until combined. As it turned out, my batch had too much buttermilk so I ended up heating it on low in a saucepan to reduce the liquid. Later, I added some shredded Parmesan cheese.

Asparagus: Rinse asparagus in a colander, snap off ends, then snap into little pieces (1.5-2 inches). Saute in a nonstick pan. Once nearly cooked, add salt and sliced grape tomatoes. Finally, add some cheese. I used a raclette cheese, which is soft and strongly aromatic. Grind on black pepper.

Asparagus meeting up with tomatoes and cheese, always a great combination
Asparagus meeting up with tomatoes and cheese, always a great combination

This all came together and was served with venison steaks. It was a nice Sunday dinner and a good way to wrap up the weekend. It also was a great way to use the buttermilk that had been waiting in the freezer to be loved. I may just go get another piece of cornbread now.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

Biking Bucatini, What to Eat Before a Long Ride

Friday nights call for simplicity when it comes to pulling together dinner. I’m active in long-distance cycling and needed to carb up for a big, hilly, challenging ride tomorrow morning. Pasta was the only answer. Specifically, the bucatini shape of pasta. Bucatini is long and round, like spaghetti, but much thicker in width. It’s density provides a satisfying chew. I could just eat bucatini with butter. Then again, I did need veggies and protein to prepare for the big bike ride.

bucatini with vegetables and grilled chicken
bucatini with vegetables and grilled chicken

For the rest of the ingredients, I also wanted to use leftovers from last night: grilled chicken and sautéed cauliflower. A tried and true combination that works great with pasta is cannellini beans and artichokes. The water in the canned artichokes serves as a broth to unify the rest of the ingredients. Here’s how I started with the cooking: I set out on the counter four cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion, 1 diced red bell pepper, 1/2 cup diced grape tomatoes, 1 can drained and rinsed cannellini beans, 2 cans quartered artichokes (do not drain), and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan. While the pasta water was heating to a boil in a large pot, I started sautéing the garlic and onion in a large saucepan with olive oil. Once the onion softened and turned gold, I added chopped red pepper and the tomatoes. At this point, I seasoned the contents of the saucepan with salt and pepper. Next, the rinsed beans rolled into the pan and the contents of the two artichoke canned went in.

red pepper, grape tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic
red pepper, grape tomatoes, sweet onion and garlic

Those flavors combine fairly quickly at medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. The grilled chicken was cut into bite-sized pieces and was heated in the microwave. Same with the leftover cauliflower. The chicken and cauliflower was then placed in a large pasta serving bowl. Those ingredients were sprinkled with the cheese. Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I tossed it in the serving bowl to mix with the cheese, chicken and cauliflower, along with a dollop of SmartBalance butter alternative. Finally, the contents of the saucepan were poured over the top of the pasta bowl. The artichoke-infused water softly binds all the ingredients together, in terms of consistency and flavor. I feel satisfied that this meal will provide me with the right energy to take the hills on my bicycle. Maybe it’s psychological, but if and when I feel fatigued while climbing the hills, I can tell myself I  have it in me because I ate the right dinner with carbs and protein.

chopped grilled chicken
chopped grilled chicken

Of course, it will also help to hydrate more before bed, upon waking and while driving my bicycle out to the country town where the cycling group is meeting and riding. The really key thing for me first thing in the morning will be coffee, strong coffee. For the riding, I will have special sports mix for my water and protein bars. Afterward, the cyclists will hang out on the town square for a cookout with burgers. I’m hoping to ride around 60 miles tomorrow and the socializing will be the best part of the day. Well, the views are going to be amazing as well. All of the above are the motivation to keep pedaling those hills: bucolic views, friendship and burgers. I don’t normally eat them, but one doesn’t feel guilty about it after many miles of biking. I’m a little nervous about those hills, but still looking forward to it.

The Sage Leopard