The International Biscuit Festival

A beautiful bonut

A beautiful bonut

If biscuit heaven was a place, I think I found it.

Knoxville, Tennesse- the home of neon orange football jerseys, Mabel, and this former food post– continues to impress me. Having spent the weekend consuming the most delicious olive and scallion hummus and tasting Vietnamese pho for the first time (which, in the words of a friend of mine, tastes like “angel tears”) I thought things couldn’t get better.

That was, until the International Biscuit Festival.

Turning the corner onto Biscuit Boulevard and finding a long stretch of red and white striped tents full of happy people blessing others with hot biscuits-knowing that I could try five of whatever biscuit I chose-was about like how a small child feels staring at a never ending stack of Lucky Charms, candy bars, and free iPads.

From the humming of a biscuit-themed songwriting competition to the smell of fresh dough sizzling in a deep fryer, it was a celebration of what makes Southern food so delicious- the buttery layers of comfort and warmth we lovingly call biscuits.

Since I was forced to choose-one of these biscuit masterminds below made a bonut people- below are my top five favorites. Hopefully these will inspire you to make your own biscuit combos- or visit Knoxville next year and experience it for yourself. I’ll be there-but next year I’ll probably buy two tickets  just so I can go through the line twice.

1. Green-Eyed Monster Pimento Cheese Buttermilk Biscuit, Tupelo Honey

A mind-blowing combination of spicy pimento cheese dough, buttered and sandwiched with fried jalepeno

A mind-blowing combination of spicy pimento cheese dough, buttered and sandwiched with fried jalepeno

2. Andouille Shrimp and Grits Biscuit, Applewood Farm House Restaurant

3. Candied Bacon, House-Cured Clabbered Cream, and Honey and Balsamic Reduction Buttermilk Biscuit, The Plaid Apron

Biscuits with balsamic glaze and clabbered cream

For those of you who have never tried it, clabbered cream is fantastic

4. Sweet Water Valley Smoked Cheddar and Onion Biscuit, The Tomato Head

5. Family Reserve Drop Biscuits (aka “bonuts”) with Sorghum Whipped Cream and Blueberries, Biscuit Love Truck

A lovely, sweet drop biscuit fried and filled with cream

A lovely, sweet drop biscuit fried and filled with cream

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Horchata Milkshake with Cinnamon-Sugar Topping

Creamy, sweet and celebratory

Creamy, sweet and celebratory

Feliz el dia de cinco de mayo!

That was what my high school language teacher called “Spain-glish” for Happy Cinco de Mayo amigos/as! In celebration of all things Mexican, culinary, and ice-cream based, a friend of mine suggested I try my hand at making horchata.

The first time I heard this word I thought it was the one producers edited out of telenovelas on Telemundo, but upon further research I realized that in fact it is a delicious almond-and-rice-based drink, heady with cinnamon and a sweet vanilla flavor. Further confirmation found it’s way onto my kitchen table in this month’s issue of Food and Wine. Rick Ortiz’ version of the delicacy- spinning vanilla ice cream and condensed milk into the mix- sounded both comfortable and exotic. Definitely LuvCooks material.

!Que delicioso! Not only was this horchata easy to assemble, paired with churros and a pinata, it was a light and creamy trip to another flavor locale (and even more fun sipped through a straw). Which, with the weather as it is right now in the South, that sun-soaked vacation feeling might not happen until August.

Also, muchos gracias to Stephen Devries for making the shake look muy bonito.

So pull out your finest straws and sip to Mexican food, cinnamon milkshakes, and mas dias de las fiestas! (Lo siento Senora Downs…)

Horchata Milk Shakes (taken from Food and Wine’s Food Travel Special)

What You Will Need

  • 1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed well
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 medium cinnamon sticks, cracked (I whacked my cinnamon sticks with a mortar and pestle until they were in large chunks or slivers. !Ole!)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 banana (2 ounces)
  • 1 pint to 1 1/2 quart vanilla ice cream (depending on how thick you like your milkshakes)
  • 1/2 cup ice

What You Will Do

  1. In a bowl, cover the rice with the water. Add the cinnamon sticks and let stand at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight; discard the cinnamon sticks. You might have to use a spoon to make sure any little pieces of cinnamon bark didn’t find their way into your rice.
  2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast the almonds over moderate heat, tossing, until fragrant, about three minutes. In a small bowl, blend 1 tablespoon of the ground cinnamon with the sugar.
  3. Transfer the rice and its liquid to a blender. Add the almonds and puree for 2 minutes (keep on pureeing until all of the rice is blended and it is a uniform white color). Strain the horchata through a fine sieve into a bowl. I used a spoon to press the thicker mixture at the bottom of the blender through the sieve to release any remaining liquid.  Rinse out the blender.
  4. Return the horchata liquid to the blender and add the condensed milk, banana and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon and puree. Add the ice cream and ice and blend (I like my milkshakes super-thick so I actually used a whole quart and a half to keep the shakes dense).
  5. Pour the shakes into glasses, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar on top and serve. !Comer bien!

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup with Toasted Chickpeas

Lovely, spicy soup

Lovely, spicy soup with crunchy chickpeas

Accidents happen.

A lot of times in cooking this is a good thing. You run out of cinnamon, scan your pantry, and decide that another spicy ingredient like chili powder would go great in those chocolate brownies. Or, you run out of lemon for your hummus and decide to use lime juice instead (so good; another post for another day).

But this accident was not one of those creative culinary breakthroughs you see on Cooking Channel where someone finds a miracle solution to pizza dough and builds a million-dollar food truck empire. This was more along the lines of, “Oh, my Lord, I have just dumped all of the soup I was supposed to bring to my food shoot on my carpet, down my purple pants and in-between my toes. And on my neighbor’s front door. Oh dear-and their door mat.”

This, by the way, was the first time I met my incredibly sweet neighbor across the hall. In an attempt to carry all of my food props, the food itself and my large purse in one trip to my car- because, heaven forbid I have to take two trips- I also tried balance my pot of soup on the steps next to her door. Instead, the pot slid forward, cascading in a slow-motion orange waterfall from my orange dutch oven down my (now-orange) lower half.

After the initial shock, squishing back into my apartment for paper towels and trying my best to sop up the thick, slightly warm mess from her surrounding steps and entryway, I knocked on her door, mustered my brightest smile and shouted a very overenthusiastic “HI! I just spilled sweet potato soup all over the entryway to your home. I AM SO SORRY!” She was, of course, incredibly gracious and wonderful and understanding. While I, on the other hand, had orange gew in my hair and was experiencing mild symptoms of a panic attack and/or emotional breakdown.

But the lovely blessing in disguise from this was the answer to the prayers I quickly uttered right after the pot of soup splattered down our hallway. In a final, last-ditch effort, I rushed back to the pot in my kitchen sink with the faint hope of any liquid left inside we could photograph. And you know what? A thin rim, silver-lined rim remained. It was a total loaves-and-fishes moment: like the miracle of feeding the five thousand (but with a tiny bowl and stage lighting).

The miracle continued as my talented friend Stephen DeVries took my offering and once again made the spread look gorgeous. I am so glad he did because, y’all, it is delicious. As a Southern girl far from the country of Thailand, I imagine it tastes like what that country would offer: spice, tons of flavor, and a sweet nuttiness from the potato and peanut butter combination. And the toasted chickpeas offer a fantastic spicy crunch to compliment the jalepeno and cilantro in the broth.

Take a Southern, Thai advenure this week- just try not to spill your luggage.

Coconut Sweet Potato Soup (This recipe was taken from the lovely blog Foodess.com)

What You Will Need

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (from 1 medium-large onion)
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped (seeds removed)
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp Thai red curry paste
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1½” pieces
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • ⅓ cup natural peanut butter
  • 3 tbsp minced fresh cilantro, plus additional for garnish
  • salt, to taste
  • ⅛ tsp cayenne (optional)
  • 1 lime, cut in wedges (optional)

What You Will Do

  1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until just softened (and a bit translucent). Add jalapeno and garlic; saute for one minute. Stir in curry paste.
  2. Add chopped sweet potato, coconut milk and broth. Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn it back down to medium and cover. Cook until the sweet potato is very soft, about 20 minutes (I like to test mine with the back of a wooden spoon; if it gives gently when you press it, it is ready-to-go). Puree the mixture with an immersion blender, or do it in batches in a regular blender. (Does anyone out there own an immersion blender? I feel like if I had one I would be a total gourmand, much more like the Foodess, and it would save me from clumsily pouring boiling liquid into a blender. Be warned; if you pursue the blender method, do not fill the liquid up to the top of your blender! The steam will explode the top off and soup will go flying everywhere. Trust me.)
  3. Stir in peanut butter, cilantro, and a generous pinch of salt until combined. Stir, and adjust salt to taste. Add cayenne if additional heat is desired.
  4. Serve with more minced cilantro and lime wedges on the side. And chickpeas! And jasmine rice if you have some.

Toasted Chickpeas (This recipe is adapted from the wonderfully detailed Everyday Maven)

What You Will Need

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (if you have coconut, it would work great here)
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon hungarian paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 to 7 turns of fresh ground black pepper

What You Will Do

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas and place them into a bowl. Add in oil and spices. Toss with a spoon until the beans are evenly coated.
  3. Scoop chickpeas onto a non-stick baking sheet OR a baking sheet lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Leave any extra liquid in the bowl (don’t pour it onto the cookie sheet).
  4. Roast the peas for 15 minutes. Toss them again, making sure to evenly distribute them across the cookie sheet, and roast for another 15 minutes.
  5. Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes, then place in a bowl and serve! (Make sure that you let these completely cool before you put them in the bowl; they get mushy if you let them cool together).

Now enjoy your tasty Thai adventure!