Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

I’ve always said: “Happiness is a warm, fluffy, buttermilk biscuit!”

Actually, that’s a lie – I’ve never said that before. But, I have felt that sentiment deep down in my heart for a very long time, and NOW I’m saying it… and I mean it! Seriously, a buttermilk biscuit is a beautiful, wonderful thing, especially when it’s fresh from the oven and slathered in butter. Part of the beauty of a buttermilk biscuit is that you can dress it up in millions of ways. Add cheese! Pop it on top of a chicken pot pie! Slice it in half and use it to sandwich a delicious piece of fried chicken!

(Stop drooling on your keyboard. It’s unsightly.)

ANYWAYS. When I was brainstorming some menu ideas for a wedding shower I was helping to throw, I knew I wanted to make a biscuit sandwich of some sort. A biscuit sandwich fulfills many of the requirements for food at a brunch: it’s dainty, it’s cute, it’s carb-y to soak up all the mimosas in your stomach. I wanted to add a couple other elements, too – something Italian (I met the bride while working in her dad’s Italian bakery nearly 20 years ago), something cheesy (please tell me I don’t need to explain the need for cheese?), and something to give it a real savory/spicy edge. Mission accomplished!

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)
makes about 16 petite sandwiches, with jam left over

For the jam:
1 pound strawberries, rinsed, hulled and quartered
1 cup brown sugar
2 T water
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (white, if you have it)
a healthy pinch of kosher salt

For the biscuits:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
generous 1/2 t kosher salt
3/4 t coarsely ground black pepper
8 T butter, super cold, and cut into cubes
2 oz gruyere cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 cups cold buttermilk

For the sandwiches:
16 thin slices of prosciutto
arugula

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

1.) Start by getting your jam going on the stovetop. Add all the jam ingredients to a small sauce pan, stir well to combine, and set over medium heat. Let the mixture come up to a boil; turn the heat back just a bit (you don’t want it to be a hard boil, but you want more action than a simmer), and let the mixture cook down until it’s nice and thick. Keep an eye on it, and stir often, and it should take about 45 minutes.

2.) While the jam cooks, make your biscuit dough (and preheat your oven to 425°). In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, kosher salt, and black pepper. Using a pastry blender (or two knives, or your hands), cut the butter into the flour mixture, until there are still some bits of butter the size of small peas. (More thorough biscuit-dough-making directions are here.)

3.) Add the grated cheese to your flour/butter mixture, and use a fork to toss it all together until the cheese is evenly distributed. Then, drizzle the buttermilk around the bowl, and use the fork to lightly mix everything, until a shaggy dough starts to form.

4.) Lightly flour your countertop, and dump the dough out on to it. Working quickly, press the dough together into a lump, and then shape it into a square that’s about 3/4″ thick. Remember, the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible, so it doesn’t get overworked and it stays COLD!

5.) Cut the dough into 16 neat squares. (You can also cut traditional round biscuits out of the dough – I just find the rolling of scraps to be cumbersome, and the constant handling of those extra pieces can result in a tough biscuit. So, I go with squares.) Place the biscuits on to a parchment-lined baking sheet, about 2″ apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the biscuits have risen nicely, and are a light golden brown on top.

6.) While your biscuits bake, finish up your jam. Dependent on what kind of texture you want, you can do a few things: leave it as is (for a super-chunky jam); mash up the strawberries with a potato masher (for a finer, but still chunky, jam); or blend the jam with an immersion blender (or in a traditional blender, for a much smoother jam). Let the jam cool completely.

7.) When your biscuits are done baking, let them cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes, then move them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

8.) Time to assemble the sandwiches! Gently slices the biscuits in half, and then spread jam on both sides of the biscuit. Layer on a piece of prosciutto, a small bunch of arugula, and then the top half of the biscuit. Serve at room temperature.

These sandwiches really have a lot of flavor going on – but it all ends up working really nicely together. The biscuits are nice and savory from the gruyere, and a little spicy, from the pepper. The prosciutto is smoky and salty, and pepperiness of the arugula complements the biscuit, and the strawberry balsamic jam adds just enough sweetness to round it all out. They’re rich and delicious, but small enough not to be too filling and heavy.

A couple items of note:

1.) You’ll have lots of jam left over. Use it on EVERYTHING – your morning toast, a slice of toasted baguette slathered in goat cheese, drizzled into your yogurt, eaten directly off a spoon. It will last for several weeks in the fridge.

2.) If you’re making these sandwiches for a party, make the biscuits ahead and freeze them. Once the biscuits are cut, lay them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop the baking sheet into the freezer. After 3 or 4 hours, when the outsides are completely firm, toss them all into a ziploc freezer bag, and keep them frozen until you’re ready to use them. Bake from frozen, but allow about 25 minutes for them to bake. (This is also a good idea if you just want to keep biscuits on hand for quick breakfasts or snacks – you can bake as many or as few at a time as you like.)

Gruyere and Black Pepper Biscuit Sandwiches (with Strawberry Balsamic Jam)

If you’re still feeling apprehensive about attempting homemade biscuits, just DO IT. It takes a little practice and finesse, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be so glad you tried it. You can do it!

A world of buttery, flaky, deliciousness awaits you,
Tina

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Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

I am going to skip all my usual flowery introductions (I just like to talk, okay??) and get right down to business on this one. Here are the important things you need to know about this recipe:

1.) It’s unbelievably delicious.
2.) It looks REALLY impressive.
3.) It’s actually really easy to make (and not ALL that time-consuming).
4.) You will feel like a bad-ass when you’re done making it. Because you are.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu
serves 4-6 as a main course
gnocchi recipe (barely adapted) from here

For the gnocchi:
15oz whole milk ricotta*
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmesan
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 T butter
2 cloves garlic, smashed
additional parmesan for garnish

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

For the ragu:
1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 large (or 2 smaller) carrots, cut into very fine dice
1 medium sweet onion, very fine dice
1/2 a large red bell pepper, very fine dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground lamb
2 T tomato paste
1/4 tsp celery salt
1 cup dry red wine
15 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
kosher salt
black pepper
3 T fresh parsley, minced

*If your ricotta is on the watery side, spoon it into a mesh strainer and set it over a bowl for an hour or two. This will give you a thicker, less wet base to begin with.

1.) To start, get the ragu going. Heat a pot over medium heat, and add the olive oil and butter. Once the pan is hot, add the carrots, onion, and bell pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. Season with a small pinch each of salt and pepper.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

2.) Move the vegetables to the side of the pot, and add the lamb. Season the lamb with a bit more salt and pepper, then break the lamb up with a spoon, and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat from the pot.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

3.) Add the celery salt, and the tomato paste. Stir until the tomato paste coats all the meat and vegetables, and cook for a minute or two, so the paste caramelizes a bit. Add the red wine, diced tomatoes, and the bay leaf, and allow the mixture to come to a boil. Immediately lower the heat and bring the mixture back to a simmer; cover partway with the lid, and simmer for about an hour, until the ragu is no longer watery, and has cooked down to a thick, rich sauce.

4.) While the ragu simmers, you can make the gnocchi. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

5.) Add the flour to the ricotta mixture, and stir until the flour is fully incorporated. Lightly flour your countertop, and turn the gnocchi dough out on to the counter. Pat it into one cohesive ball, and then cut into three equal pieces.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

6.) Take each of the three pieces, and gently roll them into long ropes, about 1″ wide. Use a paring knife to cut the ropes into pieces about 1/2″ wide. Move the gnocchi to a parchment-lined baking sheet (be careful to lay them out in a single layer – they’ll be a bit tacky, and will definitely stick together).

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

7.) Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat, and melt two tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add the two crushed gloves of garlic to the pan, to the infuse the butter.

8.) Add the first batch of gnocchi to the pan, setting them cut-side down, and leaving enough room between them to turn them easily. You will likely need to pan-fry them in 3 or 4 batches. Allow the gnocchi to cook on the first side for 2-3 minutes, until they’re golden brown, then flip and cook the second side until brown. Remove the gnocchi to a paper towel-lined plate, and continue with the rest of the gnocchi, adding more butter to the pan as needed.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

9.) When the gnocchi are all fried, garnish them with some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Pile some gnocchi into the bottom of a bowl, and then top with a generous ladleful of lamb ragu. Sprinkle a bit of fresh parsley over the top.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

Do you think it would be a problem if I ate ricotta gnocchi every day for the rest of my life? Because that’s the plan, at this point. For every dinner, every day, I will fry up a handful of pillowy, cheesy gnocchi, and then douse them with freshly grated parmesan cheese, pile them into a bowl, and eat them in bed while watching crappy reality TV. Because I’m an adult, and I can.

Pan-Fried Ricotta Gnocchi with Lamb Ragu

Okay, seriously… this meal was GOOD. The ragu is rich and hearty, but the gnocchi are light and airy and crispy on the outside, so they make a perfect pair. You could easily pair either component with something else – the ragu would be great with spaghetti, or spooned over some roasted potatoes. The gnocchi would be fantastic with a simple marinara sauce, or some browned butter with sage. But, I think you should try them together first, because I they’re kind of made for each other!

Go forth and impress your friends and family,
Tina

(Side note: If you find that the gnocchi recipe makes too much, you can easily freeze them. Just lay them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop them in the freezer for a couple hours. Once they’re pretty solid, you can load them into a ziploc freezer bag, and keep them until you’re ready for them! When you’re ready to make them, pan-fry them the same way – they’ll just need an extra minute or two.)

Lasagna with Meat Sauce

I have a deep and unwavering love for pasta – and making pastas with fun and different combinations of ingredients, like cauliflower and bacon, or italian sausage and whole grain mustard. But, sometimes you just want a classic pasta dish – some good old red sauce filled with ground beef, and lots of mozzarella! For those days, this is a quick and easy, basic lasagna; I’d say it only required about 20 minutes of active prep time, it baked up fairly quickly (about 30 minutes), and it was incredibly tasty.

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce
serves about 6, generously

For the sauce:
1 T olive oil
one medium yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1lb ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)
2 T tomato paste
28oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
14oz can diced tomatoes
2 t dried oregano
2 T sugar
salt and pepper

For the lasagna:
one batch of meat sauce
1/2lb no-boil lasagna noodles
15oz whole milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg
12oz sliced mozzarella

1.) Start by making your meat sauce. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, and then add the onion. Cook until nearly translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic, and a pinch each of salt and pepper, and stir to combine.

2.) Push the garlic and onion off to the sides of the pot, and add your ground beef. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until the beef is browned and cooked through; drain any excess fat and liquid from the pot.

3.) Add the tomato paste to the beef mixture, and stir until it’s evenly distributed. Open your can of whole, peeled tomatoes, and use a pair of kitchen scissors to chop them up a bit – no need to be exact about it, I just kind of stick the scissors into the can and chop away. Pour the chopped whole tomatoes, and the diced tomatoes (with their juices) into the pot, and stir.

4.) Add the oregano and sugar to the sauce, along with another healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to combine well; let the sauce simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until it’s slightly reduced and thickened, stirring occasionally.

5.) Preheat your oven to 375°. While the sauce reduces, make your ricotta filling. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, parmesan cheese, egg, and about 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. Mix until the consistency is smooth.

6.) When the sauce is ready, it’s time to assemble your lasagna! I used a 9×9 baking dish, but any equivalent size will do. Begin with a layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. Top the sauce with a layer of lasagna noodles (breaking some up to fill the dish from side to side, if necessary), then a layer of the ricotta mixture, then a layer of sliced mozzarella. Repeat the layering 2 more times, ending with the mozzarella.

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce

7.) Lightly spray the top of the lasagna with some olive oil, and place it on to a larger, rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and bubbly. Once you remove the lasagna from the oven, allow it to sit for about 10 minutes before serving, so the layers have a chance to set, and you don’t end up with a runny mess.

This lasagna was delicious! And, because the active prep time is minimal – it was great for a weeknight. I threw the sauce together, got some stuff done around the house while it simmered, then assembled the lasagna, and caught up on some laundry while it baked! I served it with a garlicky kale salad and some fantastic, crusty dinner rolls (recipe coming soon), and it was perfect. Of course, the lasagna made for several days of great work lunches, as well, much to my husband’s delight.

Classic Lasagna with Meat Sauce

You could also make this lasagna ahead if you wanted to. Assemble the day before you want to cook it, wrap it and stick it in the fridge. When you’re ready to bake it, allow the lasagna to sit at room temp while the oven heats, and then bake it as usual. Alternatively, you could bake the lasagna, allow it to cool completely, then wrap it tightly and freeze it. When you’re ready to serve it, it can go straight from the freezer to the oven; it will require an extra 15 minutes or so of baking time.

Why don’t I make lasagna more often?
Tina

Key Lime Pie Popsicles

Before the last of the warm weather is gone, you need to make yourself these popsicles. They are embarrassingly easy to make, and creamy and sweet and tart all at the same time. Lighter than ice cream, but more complex than a regular old popsicle – a perfect late-summer dessert.

Key Lime Pie Popsicles

Key Lime Pie Popsicles
recipe from here*
makes 6

*I modified the original recipe to work for the size and number of popsicle molds I had. My molds are a set of six, 1/4 cup molds, so that’s what this recipe will accommodate.

half a 14oz can of sweetened, condensed milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
zest of two limes
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (2-3 limes)
pinch of salt
1 cup of graham cracker crumbs

Key Lime Pie Popsicles

Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, milk, lime zest, lime juice, and salt. Once everything is well-combined, pour it evenly into the popsicle molds, leaving about a half inch of space at the top of the mold to allow for expansion.

Freeze the popsicles for about 6 hours. Dip each mold into room temperature water for about 10 seconds, and pull the popsicles out of the molds. Roll them in the graham cracker crumbs, and serve immediately.

Key Lime Pie Popsicles

I am really not sure that I can adequately describe how delicious these are. If you love key lime pie, you will adore these! They are perfectly tart and refreshing – and with the graham cracker crumbs on the outside, the texture reminds me of almost exactly of one of those strawberry shortcake ice cream bars I loved so much as a kid!

Good thing I have a few more of these waiting in the freezer for me,
Tina