Friday, December 9, 2011

No. 246


When I heard that Chef Ford Fry, of JCT Kitchen fame, was partnering with Chef Drew Belline from Floataway Cafe, I knew they were going to create something special. I was so right. No. 246, named after the plot of land that it occupies in downtown Decatur, has Italian inspired food with a Northern Californian sensibility. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a preview dinner at No. 246 before they opened and they have just continued to get better each time I've been back.


I love the design of the space, it's bright and open, with a rustic farmhouse feel. There are so many neat focal points like the giant vintage fans over the bar and the hand-blown light bulb fixtures as big as your head. The artwork on the walls mostly features farm animals, the trio of sheep above were hung opposite the impressive built-in wine cabinet.


The tableware is as visually interesting as the rest of the decor, glasses that looks like the bottom half of a wine bottle, handmade ceramic dishes stamped with hearts and stars on the bottom, rough-hewn wooden troughs displaying crusty bread and glass jars full of delicious spreads.

Bread Service
Speaking of bread, you may be tempted to fill up on it's crusty goodness, but don't dive in immediately, instead wait and order one of the artisanal cheeses & meats. The menu features a changing selection of goodies like La Quercia Prosciutto and local charcuterie favorite Pine Street Market.
La Quercia Prosciutto
I would also strongly recommend checking out the "Toasts" section on the menu, if they have the house-made pork rillettes with grain mustard, order it, you will be glad you did. I have had it in several different incarnations and my favorite came with tangy pickled fennel on the side, but no matter how they're serving it on a given night, it will be amazing.

Crispy Fior di Latte fried Mozzarella & Olives, Herbs, Marinara
I could easily make a meal just grazing on their starters. From the Toasts to the salads, all change seasonally, and you can expect to find roasted baby root vegetables draped across tender lettuces or African squash soup topped with sweet-crunchy almond brittle. However, if I did that, I would be missing out on their incredible pastas.

Spaghetti with Georgia White Shrimp, Garlic, Pequin Chilies, Breadcrumbs, Parsley
One of my favorite pastas is their spaghetti with shrimp, it has a little kick from the chilies, but mostly the focus is on perfectly cooked just-pulled-from-the-water GA shrimp. Another dish that is hard to pass up is the Pappardelle Carbonara, what makes their version special is the breaded and fried poached egg the perch atop the housemade pasta. I'm not sure how you deep fry a poached egg and still keep a perfectly runny center, but somehow they have pulled off this little piece of kitchen magic.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta @ No 246
Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Lemon-Ginger Marmalade and Candied Lemon Zest
Lest I neglect another important aspect of the dining experience, let me just state that the service here ranges from good to excellent. The servers and management all go out of their way to make sure that you leave happy, even if you arrive in the foulest of moods after battling Atlanta traffic. Previously, the only complaint I had about this place was the noise level, if you went when they were busy, which was always, you could expect to lose your voice screaming your order at your server and conversing with your companions. However, I am thrilled to announce that they have recently installed sound panels on the ceiling and I can't wait to get in and hear the improvement. 

You can reserve one of the stools on the right at the Chef's Counter for a prixe fix 5 course meal with a great view of the kitchen, 2 seatings nightly, and a real steal at only $50  

No. 246
129 E. Ponce de Leon Ave, Decatur, GA, 30030

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

One Night in Savannah

I know what you're thinking, what kind of crazy am I to go on a 4-hour-each-way road trip 2 days before leaving the country to go to Ireland? I'm the BBQ kind of crazy, that's what kind of crazy I am. I made a commitment to Tim Lively to judge the Real Squeal in Lyons, GA and I was not about to let him down, because he is one of the nicest men in KCBS BBQ that you will ever meet. Of course, if I was going to drive all the way to Lyons, I might as well go the extra hour or so and spend the night in Savannah. Extra incentive? My friend Toren Anderson wanted me to check out the food at her client Leoci's Trattoria and you know I'm a sucker for good Italian food. I am so glad I went the extra mile or 80, as it was a fun weekend, full of excellent food.

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I went straight from Lyons to Tybee Island and caught the last 2 minutes of the Pirate Fest Parade full of pirates and wenches and canons, oh my! I wanted to go to the beach, but it was unseasonably windy, so it felt a little like having my skin sand-blasted from my body. I gave up on that plan and instead rendez-vous'ed with Toren and her adorable son Aidan, who is going to change the world, watch out for this one. After a fun island tour, including amazing fried shrimp at Gerald's Pig and Shrimp, plus fantastic cocktails and sushi at Ele, I headed back across the bridge to my home for the night, the Westin. I know the staff there thought I was crazy when I woke up early the next morning to go swimming in the chilly rain, but they have an excellent pool, so I had to do it.

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After my swim, I cleaned up and took the free riverboat across the river to Savannah and wandered around a bit until it was time for my much-anticipated brunch at Leoci's Trattoria. When I pulled into their parking lot, my eye was immediately caught by their inviting outdoor eating space and I knew I had to sit outside, even though the sky looked like it was threatening to rain.

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If I had not been by myself, I would have loved to play a few games on their oyster shell bocce courts. I'm betting this is a very popular spot to get together with friends and have a few drinks on a warm summer evening.

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I was incredibly fortunate to be hosted by Roberto Leoci, who brought me more amazing food than I could possibly eat, but I did try my best. If they didn't bring out that delicious, hot bread with olive oil & balsamic dipping sauce, I would have been a lot better off.

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I started off with the beet salad, which was one of my favorite courses. Roasted beets, pickled beets, blue cheese from Flat Creek Lodge and micro-greens, it was sweet, tangy, earthy, salty goodness.

Photo credit: Christopher Hornaday Photography

After the beets, I had a meat-centric plate of incredible provolone and wine stuffed sausage on a truffled arugula salad, pork loin topped with more Flat Creek cheese and house-made onion jelly, with jalapeno-raspberry jelly on the side.

My pasta course was Rigatoni with Cod in a Saffron cream sauce made with Swiss Dairy cream and Savannah River Farms pancetta, which is cured per an old Leoci family recipe. Roberto said they may be shipping the pancetta soon and trust me you want to add this to your shopping basket, it is soo good!

Dessert was a peach basil cobbler with a crust unlike any I've ever tasted. It was almost like a short crust, so buttery and good. I would love to have the recipe for this, maybe if I beg?

I was lucky that they were having a bit of a slow day so I had time to chat with Roberto about his fine arts background, cooking in Italy and what it is like to work with the likes of Alain Ducasse and Charlie Trotter. Despite coming to the cooking relatively late in the game, this guy has chops, and a really artistic eye, as is evidenced by his gorgeous plates.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Crispy Hummus Chicken

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I'm sorry for the delay in posting the chicken recipe I mentioned in my tabouleh post. In my defense, I have been doing quite a lot of BBQ judging and traveling over the past month, including trips to Savannah and Tybee Island, as well as to the Emerald Isle - Ireland, which will eventually end up on here, as well. But back to the chicken, I am rarely in a Publix at the right time to try one of the Apron Simple meals, but I'm so glad I made it the day they were sampling this. The chicken was crispy and delicious and the hummus sauce was amazing!

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Juice of 2 limes
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
4 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 (8-oz) container Deli cilantro/jalapeño hummus
2 cups panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons canola oil


1.Reserve 1/2 c hummus.

2.The actual recipe called for chicken cutlets, but I had regular boneless, skinless chicken breasts at home, so I cut those in half and pounded them out for DIY cutlets, with varying success. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Coat both sides of chicken with hummus (about 1 tablespoon for each cutlet). I basically just smeared my hands with hummus, then rubbed the chicken between them and that worked pretty well for me. Place panko in shallow dish. Dip chicken into panko (coating both sides). Lightly shake chicken to remove any loose panko crumbs. Wash hands.

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3. Preheat large sauté pan on medium 2–3 minutes. Place oil in pan, then add chicken; cook 3–4 minutes each side or until 165°F.

4. Combine remaining 1/2 cup hummus with cilantro and lime juice; drizzle sauce over chicken. Serve.

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One note, I think this recipe might do better in a non-stick skillet and using more oil. I had a hard time getting even browning and a lot of the panko stuck to the pan or fell off when I flipped the chicken, but even with those problems I would still make it again as the flavor was fantastic!

Friday, September 30, 2011

End of Summer Tabouleh

The other day I was at Publix and I got to try one of their Apron Simple Meals and I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was. It was a panko crusted chicken with spiced carrots and rice. I had just stopped in to pick up something quick and was actually on my way to meet a friend, so I didn't think anything more about it until it was approaching dinner time that night. Stumped for a good meal idea, I remembered that chicken and went back up to Publix to get the recipe, and the ingredients. The only not so good part of the meal was the boil in the bag rice on the side, I knew I could do better. Inspired by the hummus coasted chicken (more on that later) I decided to do a Mediterranean flavored tabouleh using up some of my end of summer produce - cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. This is what I came up with.

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1 5.25oz box tabouleh (I used Near East Taboule)
1 c boiling water
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 c diced heirloom tomatoes
1 c diced cucumber
1/3 c crumbled feta
1/3 c sliced kalamata olives
1/3 c chopped parsley
1 tbs chopped fresh oregano
1 tbs chopped fresh mint
slat & pepper to taste

Put tabouleh in a large bowl, stir in boiling water, then cover and let stand 30 minutes. Meanwhile chop/slice/measure the rest of the ingredients.

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When 30 minutes has passed, first add the olive oil and lemon juice. Then stir in the tomatoes and cucumbers. Lastly gently fold in the feta, olives and herbs. If you mix the feta too much it can make the salad look milky.

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This salad is best enjoyed at room temperature, but it is also tasty straight from the refrigerator and is even better the next day. Enjoy!

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pecan-Chocolate Bars

As I've posted about before, my mom and I have a tradition of hosting an annual cookie exchange before Christmas. My cookies this year were from Fine Cooking's Cookies, Brownies, Bars & More special holiday issue and they are called Pecan-Chocolate Bars. I personally don't find the chocolate flavor to be very noticeable, so I have re-christened them Pecan Pie Bars, and they are really excellent! They are also easy to make and freeze beautifully. Please let me know if you bake them and like them as much as I do =)

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For the cookie base:
6 oz. (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 oz. finely grated bittersweet chocolate (a scant 1/2 cup)

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For the pecan topping:
10 oz. pecans (3 cups), toasted
1/4 lb. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 Tbs. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. table salt

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Make the cookie base: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Put the butter in a food processor, along with the flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Pulse until the mixture is well combined (about 20 pulses). Scatter the dough into a 9x9-inch baking pan and press it evenly over the bottom. (Wipe out the processor bowl but don’t bother washing it.) Bake the base until firm and lightly browned, about 25 min. When the cookie base comes out of the oven, sprinkle the grated chocolate evenly over the top. (Don’t turn off the oven.) Set the pan aside.

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Make the pecan topping: As the cookie base bakes, pulse the pecans in the food processor until coarsely chopped. In a medium-size heavy saucepan, melt the butter. Stir in the dark brown sugar, honey, cream, and salt. Simmer for 1 min., stirring occasionally. Stir in the pecans. Pour the pecan mixture over the chocolate-sprinkled cookie base, spreading evenly. Bake until much of the filling is bubbling (not just the edges), 16 to 18 min. Let cool completely in the pan. When ready to serve, cut into 16 squares. Tightly covered, these bars will keep for about five days (though they never last that long).

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The recipe above is straight from Fine Cooking, however, I made two minor modifications. I also used the food processor to grate the chocolate, no point dirtying another dish ;) and I toasted my pecans in the oven while the base was baking, it only took about 5 minutes. I also want to thank both Cooking With Caitlin's foodie chat #FNIchat and Fine Cooking for my gorgeous red KitchenAid food processor, it is completely indispensable and I don't know how I ever lived without it!

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Friday, August 12, 2011

South Beach Way of Life

Most people have out-of-date ideas about travel agents, that we get free airline tickets and hotel stays, that we travel constantly, that we are showered with travel perks. Unfortunately, the reality is that most hotels and airlines treat travel agents just like they treat everyone else and travel agent not being the highest paid job, I know I'm lucky if I can afford to fly to Minnesota once a year to visit my family. However, I was fortunate enough to be hosted on a rare travel agent familiarization trip to South Beach and let me tell you, after the pampering I received there, it is clear that this is the way I am meant to live my life. We were hosted in the lap of luxury by the Canyon Ranch Miami Beach and also the W South Beach, with transportation generously provided by American Airlines.

Canyon Ranch began its life as the Carillon Hotel, which sat shuttered for over 10 years until it was re-stored to what it is today, an elegant retreat with touches of nature everywhere you look - like the art piece running the length of the ceiling in the lobby, composed of smooth tree limbs and thin slices of different colored geodes.

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I have to admit I could easily live in the suite I was given, the kitchen is far nicer than the one I have in my own home, with top-of-the-line appliances and a gorgeous tiled backsplash the color of the sea I could view from the living room.

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The bathroom may have been my favorite part with it's pearly inlaid mosaic floor, huge shower, and my favorite part, the deepest soaking tub I have ever seen. I am usually not a bath person, but that tub called to me, especially after I had taken a few of the incredible exercise classes offered there. There is nothing that will get your muscles working like Buff Ballet Booty. It also helps that they have a 70,000 square foot spa with experts who can massage your cares away. I spent many an hour going from the thermal loungers to the HydroSpa to the experiential rain showers, I even popped into the Igloo a time or two.

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I will admit that I was concerned about the spa food. I had visions of rabbit food and wheatgrass shots, but instead I was served incredibly flavorful, beautifully presented food. They even had a full bar! One of the most unusual things I tried were the artichoke "fries" - strips of artichoke bottoms, covered in breadcrumbs and baked until they are a crispy satisfying treat, with ketchup to dip them in. Breakfasts were especially good, with some of the best pancakes I've ever had, and really interesting add-ins if you wanted to create your own omelet.


Unfortunately our stay at the Canyon Ranch had to come to an end, but fortunately, we were just headed down the road to the lovely W South Beach, where every room has a balcony and a spectacular sea view. I loved being greeted by these guys when we first drove up to the hotel.


Even though my room wasn't ready when I arrived, I was so impressed by the helpfulness of the front desk staff who quickly corralled my luggage and took my cellphone number to call me as soon as my room was ready. It was worth the wait, I had the most incredible view.


I was lucky enough to enjoy several meals at Solea, although I did not get to try the famed Mr. Chow. After my days of virtuous spa cuisine, I felt justified at diving into a plate of fried potatoes with Romesco sauce.


I was careful to save room for one of their incredibly elegant desserts - the chocolate mousse.


After all that luxury, returning back to my regular life was not the easiest thing I've ever done, but it's like what they say about love and loss, it's better to have experienced luxury for even such a short time, than to never experience it at all. I would highly recommend both of these properties and hope that I will be able to make it back there myself sometime soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Taste at Terrace

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to my very first media dinner a few weeks ago, and hopefully, it will not be my last. It was a preview of the new spring menu for Terrace restaurant at the Ellis, showcasing the talents of their new Chef - Jon Wolf, an alum of such local favorites as Restaurant Eugene and the Ritz Carlton - Buckhead. I had actually met Chef Wolf previously at an event and enjoyed talking with him about his commitment to local food, so I was very excited to get the chance to attend this dinner.

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Terrace has a bright, modern dining room that would be equally appropriate for a business meeting or a date night. Their second story, Boston fern-bedecked terrace elevates you enough from the noise and dirt of Peachtree Street to be comfortable, while still allowing for excellent people watching.

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The floral arrangements provided by floral matters were gorgeous and perfectly suited to an early spring evening, with hyacinth, Gerber daisies, the most delicate pale pink tulips and flowering peach branches. Just lovely.

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Our first course was a chilled ruby carrot and beet soup that was surprisingly savory for something that could easily be too sweet.

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I never would have expected to enjoy a raw kale salad, so was stunned when this was one of my favorite tastes of the evening. The strawberries were fantastic little bursts of sweetness and I could happily drizzle that dressing over anything.

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Up next, an incredibly fresh trout served over a fennel "carbonara" garnished with a baby pea shoot and Benton's bacon. If I had any complaints about the dish, it's that there was not enough bacon, but then, I can never get enough of Benton's.

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The roast airline breast of chicken was incredibly moist, although I was not in love with the barley risotto, it's a texture thing. I know it's supposed to be healthy for you, but I'll take rice any day.

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Dessert was really interesting with fried rhubarb and a mini carrot cupcake with beet juice sweetened cream cheese frosting. I adored the fried rhubarb and would love to see it on every menu in town.

As if a fabulous tasting dinner was not enough, we had Wholesome Wave founder Michel Nischan in attendance. For those of you not aware of this incredible organization, they strive to provide access to healthy, farm-fresh produce to some of this nation's poorest residents. One way they do this is by partnering with local farmers markets to help the markets accept and, through grant money, double food stamp money on purchases there. The Ellis hotel is one of the corporate sponsors that help facilitate this program locally at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tea for Twelve


My mother and I have been hosting our annual cookie exchange for longer than I can remember. I tend to be a entertaining over-achiever when it comes to menu planning, while my mother tries to reel me back from the abyss of excess. She isn't generally very successful, and even less so this year when I decided we should have a high tea theme. I was lucky to pick up two 3-tiered Food Network stands at Kohl's at a bargain price on black Friday, so I felt compelled to fill them with treats. Smoked salmon, curried egg salad, and tarragon chicken salad sandwiches; bacon and cheese mini quiches; black-pepper cheddar and cranberry-tangerine scones; chocolate chip banana mini muffins and cheesecake brownie bites as well as the traditional clotted cream, jam and not-so-traditional passionfruit curd.


We had several different types of teas brewing, throughout the party, including seasonal favorites and a rooibos blend.


I made pecan bars (center) from the Fine Cooking Cookie cookbook and they were soo good! The hint of cinnamon in the shortcrust pastry, the thin layer of chocolate that added another dimension, I think they were my most successful cookie offering yet.


I personally feel that open-faced smoked salmon sandwiches are compulsory at any tea. Ours were on pumpernickel bread with dilled goat cheese and cucumber.


Then you also have to have both sweet and savory scones, so I chose cranberry-tangerine and black pepper-cheddar. I had planned to make the earth-shatteringly delicious passionfruit curd from Dutch Monkey Doughnuts, which Arpana was so kind as to share with me, but in the end ran out of time, so was lucky enough to be able to buy a bit of theirs instead. It was the perfect compliment to the tangerine zest in the sweet scones.


We also had banana chocolate chip mini muffins from my grandmother's recipe and cheesecake brownie bites, another great find in the Fine Cooking Cookie cookbook.


When I saw that foodbuzz was doing a Top 9 Tea Party Takeover to help raise money for Ovarian Cancer Research, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. By putting up this post, foodbuzz will donate $50 to Ovarian Cancer Research, but you can help too. Electrolux has teamed up with Kelly Ripa to donate even more money. If you help Kelly create the perfect tea party outfit here, they will donate another $1 to the cause.

As you may have already noticed, I am a big fan of Fine Cooking and frequently use their website as a resource for recipes or just browsing for inspiration. I also like the easy searchability and reliable recipes of Epicurious, which is where I found my Black Pepper-Cheddar scone recipe. I made a few changes to the recipe - I did the whole thing in the food processor until I added the liquid, which took way more than 3/4 c of buttermilk, it was closer to 1 1/4 cups in all. To save on clean-up, I just dumped the dough straight onto my cookie sheet, patted it into shape and cut it there, moving the pieces apart so they weren't touching. I also wasn't gentle while mixing. The resulting scones were such a hit, I had several people asking for the recipe and I was happy to direct them to Epicurious.

Cheddar and Pepper Scones Epicurious | 1999

Edited by Fran McCullough and Suzanne Hamlin
The Best American Recipes 1999

The King Arthur Flours, its catalog (1-800-827-6836) and web site
(www. are, in our opinion, a baker's best friend.
The staff of exemplary Vermonters is unfailingly courteous and helpful
should you have a baking problem or question. They appear to be
serious at-home bakers too — many of the recipes on the web site and
in the catalog are contributed by employees.

These cheddar and pepper scones from the web site are really part
angel biscuit, part scone — not the usual dry, crumbly, heavy scone,
but rich and extraordinarily light. The black pepper is a powerful
ingredient, by the way — timid palates should use less.
Yield: Makes 15 large scones or 40 small ones
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste
3/4-1 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

Milk for glazing

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt
into a large bowl. Cut in the butter and cheese. Stir in the pepper.

Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400°F and set a rack on the upper-middle level.
Grease a heavy baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

Gently stir enough buttermilk or yogurt into the flour mixture to make
a soft, sticky dough. Gather the dough into a ball with your hands. On
a well-floured surface, roll or pat the dough into an 12-x-8-inch
rectangle approximately 3/4 inch thick. Try not to handle the dough
too much, and don't worry if it looks rough.

Using a large spatula or a couple of spatulas, transfer the dough to
the baking sheet. Use a dough scraper or knife to cut the dough into
40 squares, each 1 1/2 inches. Separate the squares slightly on the
baking sheet. Brush each square with a little milk. (Or cut circles
out of the dough with the rim of a glass or a biscuit cutter and
transfer them to the baking sheet.)

Bake the scones for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are brown on the
bottom and very lightly brown on top. Don't overbake; break one open
to test for doneness. Transfer to cooling racks to cool briefly and
then serve as soon as possible.

To serve: The scones are still good when cool, but they are best when
just out of the oven. Butter and scrambled eggs are appropriate

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