Herbed biscuits
Decades ago, our family spent vacations camping in Arkansas. We'd eat out twice: Once for fried catfish and hush puppies and the other time for a pancake breakfast. Reading the menus in the Mountain Home cafe, my Chicago-born siblings and I would marvel at the odd-sounding options, especially biscuits and gravy. We knew biscuits: Our mom served them for dessert with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. But breakfast? With sausage gravy? Not so much.

I was newly married and a culinary school graduate when I ordered them at a coffee shop in Brown County, Ind. Fluffy white biscuits split open and completely covered in a pale, chunky white sauce. My husband immediately embraced the richness.

My conversion proved slower. During three decades of travel together, we've continue to order the dish whenever it appears on menus. A diner in Austin, Texas, filled with antique mixers, toasters and coffee pots, serves my favorite rendition: Crusty, herb-riddled biscuits topped with gravy flavored with rusty red, spicy chorizo sausage.

We incorporate this version into our special occasion weekend breakfasts. So much so that I stock the freezer with chorizo and keep the vegetable shortening chilled. To make the morning prep go faster, I mix all the dry ingredients for the biscuits in advance. No matter the recipe, warm, fresh-baked biscuits always gratify.

The best tip for light, fluffy and delicious biscuits: Do not use excess baking powder. The biscuits will have a bitter, metallic aftertaste (which I always detect in the refrigerated dough versions). That's also my problem with self-rising flour and buttermilk baking mixes — excessive leavening giving an off taste. It's simple enough to mix flour, salt and baking powder anyway.

Seasoned pork sausage, crumbled and skillet-browned, flavors the classic milk-based gravy served throughout the South. If the sausage is good, so follows the gravy, since it's based on the sausage drippings. Typically, the chub of bulk breakfast sausage flavored with sage and herbs gets top billing.

The Austin diner version I like uses Mexican chorizo, typically made from ground pork, red chilies and vinegar. (Don't confuse Mexican chorizo with the Spanish version that is actually a cured sausage like salami.) The recipe that follows also tastes great with spicy Italian sausage.

You can always skip the gravy and serve the herb-studded biscuits with skillet-fried eggs. Or, add them to the dinner table with sweet, soft butter. I also like to eat them warm with a smear of mayo and thin slices of prosciutto or country ham.

The Northerner in me puts sliced ripe tomatoes and/or salad greens on the plate (dressed with lime juice and salt). Strong black coffee and fresh grapefruit juice work to cut the richness. Then take a nap. You deserve it.

Herbed breakfast biscuits

Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Makes: 12 biscuits

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (or more all-purpose flour)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, to taste
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
3 tablespoons trans fat-free vegetable shortening, very cold
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or chives (or a combination)
¾ cup whole milk or half-and-half, very cold
Milk for brushing on top

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put flours, baking powder, sugar and salt into a food processor or into a large bowl. Pulse or stir to mix. Drop diced butter and shortening randomly over the flour mixture. Pulse or use two knives to cut the butter and shortening into the flours until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in herbs. Sprinkle the milk over the mixture. Pulse or stir until the mixture barely gathers into a ball.

2. Transfer to a piece of floured wax paper; gather into a ball. Cover with a second piece of floured wax paper; gently roll or press into an even 1/2-inch thick circle. Use a floured 3-inch round biscuit cutter or drinking glass to cut into circles. Place the circles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Very gently gather up the scraps; roll into a 1/2-inch thick piece and cut more biscuits.

3. Brush the tops with milk; bake until tops are golden, 12-15 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Serve warm.

Nutrition information:
Per biscuit: 141 calories, 7 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 17 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 219 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.

Chorizo and roasted pepper sausage gravy

Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Servings: 6

1 package (12 ounces) pork or beef Mexican chorizo sausage, casings removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons flour
1 small red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, diced (or 1/2 cup diced bottled roasted red bell pepper)
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro

1. Crumble chorizo sausage into a cast-iron pan or nonstick skillet. Add onion. Cook until nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Transfer sausage and onion with a slotted spoon to a plate.

2. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the pan drippings. Mix 1/2 cup of the milk and the flour in a small bowl until smooth. Stir into pan drippings; stir in remaining milk. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until smooth and thickened, about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in sausage, diced red pepper, salt and black pepper to taste. Heat to warm through, 1-2 minutes. Serve over biscuits; sprinkle generously with cilantro.

Nutrition information:
Per serving: 369 calories, 26 g fat,10 g saturated fat, 62 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 19 g protein, 948 mg sodium,1 g fiber.

Mayonnaise biscuits

Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20-30 minutes
Makes: 12 biscuits

Note: Adapted from "Bon Appetit Y'All" (Ten Speed Press, $35), by Virginia Willis. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, chives or parsley if you like.

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon each: salt, sugar
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup mayonnaise, such as olive oil mayonnaise

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Generously oil or spray 12 standard muffin tins to coat them well. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix in milk and mayonnaise just until a thick batter forms. Divide dough evenly among muffin tins. Bake until golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Cool on wire rack, 5 minutes; remove from tins. Serve warm.

Nutrition information:
Per serving: 127 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 18 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, 365 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.