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Archive for the ‘A Little of That’ Category

Oct
03
2008

Hey, can a get a hand here?

I really, REALLY need you all to read over the text for my Biscuit Making 101 booklet I am handing out at my first cooking class.  Tell me honestly what you think and if it is enough information.  Just pretend you have never made a biscuit in your life.  What do I need to add?  Leave out?  Just tell me what you think. Thanks!!!

Here is what I have so far:

Biscuit Making 101

Very Important Announcement:
THE BRAND OF FLOUR YOU USE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD IN HOW YOUR BISCUITS TURN OUT.
I am not even kidding you.
Here is a list of the flours I have tried and what I have found to be true about each of them.

  • Gold Medal Self Rising: Not good for biscuits AT ALL.  Very packy, dense biscuits.
  • Sunflower Self Rising: Again, packy, dense—better than Gold Medal but not what I wanted at all.
  • Martha White Self Rising: Same old, tired story.  Just not up to par.
  • Pillsbury Self Rising: Same song, different day.
  • Wondra: Blah, Blah, Blah
  • White Lily Self Rising: Folks, we have a winner!  Light, fluffy PERFECT texture   biscuits.  Hands down, THE BEST!

You may tell yourself that you don’t really care about WHY White Lily is the best, but you should! And even if you don’t, I am going to tell you anyway!  It is 100% soft winter wheat and it has a much lower protein content.  And the facts are: less protein = better for quick breads and more protein = better for yeast breads.  Also, handling your biscuit dough too much result in developing the gluten (all very scientific) and in quick cooking bread, muffins and biscuits~this is a no-no.
You have to trust me on this: ALL FLOURS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL.  And quite honestly, they shouldn’t be.  Different flours~different uses.  Makes perfect sense.  It also makes perfect sense to use the right ingredients for the recipe.  What are we trying to teach in our children??? A job worth doing is worth doing right.  This certainly goes for cooking and baking as well.  Without a doubt, having the right tools and proper ingredients can make a good cook into a great cook!  Having the right    instruction and technique makes things even better.

There are so many little hints and helps in cooking and baking that can make all the difference in the world.  Take heed when you learn something new.  Write it down.  Keep a kitchen notebook.  And ask yourself why.  Asking why and getting the answer will make it memorable.  For example, not twisting the biscuit cutter when you cut  your biscuits makes a huge difference in how they rise when baking.  No joke ~ makes a HUGE difference.  That tiny little tidbit is essential information in my opinion.  So, therefore, I am passing it on to you.  Now don’t forget!

Now for the fat content of your biscuits~again VERY important. Unless you are vegan there is no reason NOT to introduce a tiny bit of animal fat in your diet from time to time.  None of us eat biscuits every day.  If you make yours from scratch then time constraints alone prevent it.  Maybe our grandmothers did but it just doesn’t fit into our already ridiculous schedules.  So here is where I drop the bomb shell.  The very best, most tender, flaky, perfectly textured    biscuits must be made with lard.  You read that correctly.  LARD.  Cheap, old animal by-product lard. You are welcome to render your own, but the bucket or box at the grocery store is more than sufficient.  If you just can’t bring yourself to use all lard, then use half shortening or even butter.  But don’t complain if your biscuits are not light and fluffy because they won’t be.  If you really want to get crazy make your biscuits using part duck fat.  OH MY!  I can’t describe them.  They are amazing.  But hey, I like just about anything cooked with a little duck fat.

Frankly, I think fat is a much misunderstood ingredient in fine cooking.  You cannot cut fat from your diet and if you think I am nuts, read Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions.  Not the gospel of healthy eating but raises some very good questions.  And I look at it like this: That lard biscuit I eat once or twice a month will not be what kills me.  So ENJOY!

The next important factor is the liquid you add.  Not just WHAT but the amount as well.  I personally, use only Bulgarian Style Buttermilk.  It is thick and tangy ~ two very important things to look for in buttermilk.  I much prefer the Foremost brand in the waxed paper carton. It is fresher and well, I hate for my food to be stored in plastic.    Anyway, there is a BIG difference in the types of buttermilk and how things will turn out using each one.  Oddly enough, buttermilk is relatively low in fat and considered yet another animal fat~since it comes from cows~duh! And what have we learned so far?  Animal fat = delicious!
Back in the day it was what was left after butter was churned.  Now, it is just whole or skim milk with lactic acid bacteria added for fermentation.  Let me just get this out of the way before we go any further: Adding lemon juice or vinegar to milk does NOT        Buttermilk make.  So stop right there if you are considering it.  Go ahead, splurge on the cultured buttermilk and don’t worry about the date and if you will use it before the date runs out.  IT IS SOUR MILK.  If it isn’t growing something green, then it is still fine to use past the date.  Using buttermilk gives your biscuits that tart, tiny bit salty taste that just makes you go mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The amount of liquid added is very important.  If your recipe says 1/2—2/3 cup then start with the 1/2.  If it is a nice crisp dry Autumn morning, you might have to add a bit more.  If it is humid or rainy, the 1/2 might be enough.  You can add more, but you can’t take any back out! And if you have to start adding flour…well you are cooking up a recipe for disaster!

On to TEMPERATURE.  OH SO important.  Both in your raw ingredients and the baking temperature.  Chill your ingredients.  In fact, keep your flour in the freezer and your lard in the refrigerator.  Then you are always ready to whip up a batch of biscuits.  And preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  That’s right.  FIVE  HUNDRED DEGREES.  No more, no less. This insures a quick “shock” to the cold biscuit dough and whoop ~ a terrific, tall beautiful biscuit!

If making biscuits for breakfast I mix my flour and lard and put it back in the refrigerator, covered, until I am ready to mix in the buttermilk. They bake for 15-18 minutes so I try to time having my other food started and then getting my biscuits ready to bake.  Don’t let your ingredients come to room temp even after you mix the flour and lard.  Keep it chilled.

Here is where you can decide what biscuit is perfect for your taste.  Do you like soft sided biscuits?  If so, place them close together on your pan. Do you like them very crispy on top?  Brush them with milk or melted butter before baking. Do you like “layers” ? Then fold your dough over on itself a couple of times before cutting.

Always brush them with melted butter as soon as they come out of the oven. Oh please, you know you want to.  What’s a little more butter in the scheme of things?

That’s it – still have to add the recipe and a few more little hints.  Please be honest…is it easy to understand?  Enough info?  Too much info???

Sep
22
2008

Misty water colored memories

Most of this weekend was spent with my sister in law going thru, packing up, dividing and cleaning out my parents house.  Apparently if all goes well by mid October, someone else will be the proud owners of their house.  I had dreaded starting this job in such a way that it will soon be a year since my mom’s passing and aside from a few nick nacks and things, I had ignored the task at hand.

My parents were an odd pair.  I never really saw them  as a “couple”.  They were my parents, my children’s grandparents, employees, employers, business owners, school volunteers, lovers of all things food related…but never ever saw them as a romantic pair.  I never saw them embrace in way that would lead me to believe they had ever been intimate.  Though obviously they had, there is me and my two younger brothers.  I have often wondered if we might be warping our own children by showing affection towards each other  –  holding hands, my sitting on Husband’s lap, him swatting my behind as I get up, him pinning me against the kitchen cabinets for a big wet smooch because really what is more romantic than cooking together? My stomach doing a flip when the phone rings at 10:30 a.m. because I know it is him and then me running to the bedroom to talk to him because the things we have to say to each other are private and very personal and not for anyone else to hear.  This is after 35 years together.

Never once in my whole life did I see my parents hold hands, kiss passionately, her sit on his lap, him swat her behind…nothing of that nature at all.  I don’t know what I really thought of their relationship. More a comedy of errors than anything else.  Things were never “easy” for them.  Never. But my impression of them as a couple has never been clear to me.   Not really deep down.  I have had regrets on their behalf because I felt they didn’t know each other in that way. And not necessarily because we ALL think it icky to think of our parents in such a way.  So imagine my complete surprise when I found a love letter from my dad to my mom written just 3 months before they married – postmarked September 23, 1957.  And yes, I read it.  Not every single word, I felt like I was violating a serious confidence by merely opening it.  But I had to take a glimpse.  Evidently my mom had flown out to see my dad at the army base where he was stationed.  I could just see her descending the steps of the plane and running into my father’s arms, suitcase in one hand and holding her hat on with the other.  Probably in a suit with high heels and wearing bright red lipstick and the perfect jewelry for the outfit.  My mom was quite the clothes horse back in the day.  The letter was filled with “I love you, like no one has ever loved before” and “don’t know how I will live until we see each other again” and how his heart was breaking as he watched her plane take off after what evidently was a very romatic weekend.  Romantic enough that they married three months later.

I have thought about this letter so much in the last 24 hours.  Not about what it said as much as the fact that it even exists.  If you asked me to describe my father I would have said many things…funny, hilarious actually…ADHD…OCD…co-dependent, creative, musical.  He was a great and entertaining father but I had my doubts about what kind of husband he had been to my mom.  I know he wasnt the kind of husband I have.  He was not in any way selfless or particularly giving where she was concerned.  It was more of a “she took care of him” sort of thing.  But this letter gave me pause.  Maybe I had mis-read them.  Maybe they were just that private and grew up in a time were public displays of affection were just too taboo.  I thought it was a very sweet gesture on his part to send her a SIX page letter and write it evidently just hours after they parted company.

The letter lay on my desk all night.  I woke up this morning, sat down with my coffee, picked up the envelope again and something seared my eyeballs: POSTAGE DUE 3 CENTS.  I spit coffee all over myself.  I sat here by myself and laughed until I cried.  Now THAT was the Daddy I knew!!! Whew what a relief!!!

Sep
18
2008

The clock is ticking…

And I am getting further behind! Not on anything important. But I haven’t used my sewing machine in forever. Wait that is not true, I stitched up a little catnip pillow for the kitties. That took about 30 seconds. But fall is the air and I am beginning to feel a bit more inclined to create something. I have a couple of aprons cut out. I have some dolls I want to make. Why? No reason, just want to make them. I have done a bit of baking but nothing terribly impressive. A carrot cake that was VERY delicious. The icing was a bit different. You whip a cup of whipping cream and add it to 8 ounces of softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar. VERY very good. Not too sweet. Most of it is still in the frig though. We have had a tummy bug around here and not much is getting eaten. Everyone seems to be on the mend though. Thankfully.

Husband comes home a week from today. He will only be home 16 days before he has to leave for England. Then I will follow on the 16th – arriving the 17th. I think all the itinerary is finished but I don’t have the details just yet. I am a bit nervous about navigating the tube and train in London alone but at 49, surely I can do this. Surely. It is just going to be a bit overwhelming since I am from a town with a main street with 3 stop lights. I have used the Metro in Paris but not alone. I have never been on a train in my life. So yeah, I have a few apprehensions. My mantra for the trip “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Speaking of keeping calm, I saw the cutest poster at etsy that said “Keep Calm and Have a Cupcake”. I think I need it for my kitchen!

It seems we have a “bite” on my mom’s house. Hopefully that will go thru and I can check that off my list of things to do. And add 1000 other things to the list pertaining to the cleaning out, distributing and/or storing all the items from her house. I have dreaded that day. Almost as much as I have dreaded seeing someone else living in her house. But it is