Monday, September 21, 2009

Biscuit Journey

Homemade biscuits can be delicious! When they are good, they are the stuff that makes family memories, but guess what? When they are bad they make even more memories! As a child, my mom made biscuits with Bisquick like every other mom I knew. Sometimes she used the canned ones, but we liked the Bisquick ones enough.
When I had a home of my own, I decided one day to try making biscuits. How hard could it be? The recipes are all very simple and they use extremely basic ingredients. As a young married person, I also reasoned that the homemade biscuits could be made for a fraction of the cost of the canned ones. That was the beginning of the longest running joke in our family-- mom's biscuits. At first, Ben was the only one around to make fun of them, poking at them like they were boulders, using the butter knife in an exaggerated sawing motion like he was cutting firewood, pretending to break a tooth-- it was all tooooooo funny and so annoying! After our daughter was born, it didn't take long before she got in on the joke as well. She especially enjoyed seeing her Dad act as though he couldn't lift the biscuit off the plate, moaning and groaning to her complete delight! Everyone's a comedian.
However, I kept at it, much to my family's entertainment. Finally, I figured out that it wasn't the recipe so much, they varied very little-- it was the technique. You have to be careful to not mess around with the biscuit dough much, pat it to the correct thickness, and bake at the correct temperature. Once you have these things in place though, the biscuits are light, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Homemade biscuits have a terrific, clean flavor. And yes, they are very inexpensive to make. As with pancakes and waffles, you can make up a batch of biscuits before you can go to the store to buy the canned ones. They can really make an ordinary weekday type meal special. I served these with the homemade plum jam my daughter and I made in the first post. Now, my family still makes fun of my biscuits because the joke has taken on a life of it's own. However, they do seem to be able to lift these biscuits enough to make it to their mouths!
2 cups all purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c. cold butter
3/4 c. milk
Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a good quality baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
Put the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well to mix. Use a pastry blender to combine the butter into the flour. As you work the butter in, you will see smaller and smaller pieces of butter within the flour. Keep going until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Add the milk and stir with a fork just until everything is moistened.
Put some flour on a tea towel or pastry cloth. Push the dough into a flattish ball, then pat gently into a disk about 1/2-inch thick. Cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter (metal is best). You can use a glass, but this doesn't cut cleanly and it kind of mashes the biscuit edges so they don't rise as well. Place the biscuits on the baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. You'll get about 9 biscuits from this recipe. Don't work the scraps too much, just press them together enough to reform them, then cut out some more biscuits.
If you want, brush each biscuit with melted butter. This makes them brown really nicely, but some people don't want the extra calories.
Bake the biscuits for about 15 minutes, but watch carefully the first time because ovens vary. Serve at once!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Spanish Stir Fry

I made this up for dinner tonight from the odds and ends I had in the fridge from the weekend. This one's more about cooking without a recipe than trying to ever duplicate it again. There are so many random ingredients it would be a real bother to try to gather these things up from the grocery store. The main idea is to learn what flavors are complimentary and invent! You know way more about flavor combinations than you think. All you have to do is think about what you like to eat based on other dishes you like. For example, in this dish, I had a couple chicken breasts, some chiles, a few olives and some cilantro. It wasn't hard to think Spanish from this collection of ingredients. Then I thought about the way I wanted to cook them. I wanted something healthy, quick, and fresh tasting-- a stir fry! But there's no law that a stir fry has to be Asian, hence the Spanish Stir Fry. From there I wanted to use some zucchini, red onion, tomato and summer squash that had looked good at the Farmer's Market. I always have garlic around-- and there it was, dinner! If this seems like too many ingredients, that's okay; your invention could have far fewer or more, depending on what you have that you want to use up or include. What you don't put in is important though. The difference between a wonderful, freshly prepared dish and "leftovers", is restraint. Don't just empty the refrigerator, heat it up and pronounce it "dinner"! The fun is in finding the friendly combinations! Anyway, here's my "recipe", use it as a guide to making your own luscious, healthy and economical meal.
P.S. I also had an avocado that needed to be used, so I made some guacamole. I served a dab of it on the stir fry. It looked pretty and added even more fresh taste to the dish.

Spanish Stir Fry
2 chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 small zucchini, sliced
1 small yellow squash, sliced
1 small red onion, sliced
2 red or green chiles, sliced
about 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1 small tomato cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbl. olives, cut up coarsely
1/2 lime
olive oil
salt, pepper
Heat about 2 Tbl. olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the chicken and saute for a few minutes. Add some salt and pepper. Add the squashes, tomato, garlic, chiles and sliced onions. Cook and stir over high heat until the veggies are looking crisp tender-ish. Add the olives and cilantro and continue to cook and stir until the flavors are blended and the chicken is done-- about another 3-4 minutes. Squeeze the lime over all and serve!

Today's Guacamole
1 small avocado mashed up
1 serrano chile, seeded and chopped
squirt of lime juice
2 Tbl. chopped fresh cilantro
Mix altogether and serve with the above stir fry or chips.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

Weekend Waffles

Hi! Well I haven't written for awhile. Ironically, I've been busy cooking for one gathering or another and haven't had time for the blog. Anyway, three day weekends are especially nice for leisurely breakfasts and waffles are always popular for that! If you haven't tried making waffles or pancakes from scratch, you should give it a try. While I do think the mixes on the market are generally very good, there are several reasons for making them yourself. Timewise, depending how far your grocery store is, you can prepare the batter for waffles or pancakes faster than it takes to drive to the store and buy a mix (I timed it once and was true at least for our store, which is about 3 miles away.). These recipes require very basic ingredients that you probably have already, so you can whip up a batch whenever the mood strikes you-- no preplanning! Besides that, they are less expensive than good quality mixes, they have no preservatives, and lastly, they taste terrific!
Here are two recipes I really like. Both recipes yield fluffy products, which we prefer at our house. If you like thinner pancakes, you can add a little more milk to the batter, but waffle batter needs to be fairly thick. This is a good waffle recipe because you don't have to beat the egg whites separately to yield a light waffle which a lot of recipes require.

Weekend Waffles

2 cups flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbl. sugar
2 eggs
1.5 cups milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 Tbl. melted butter

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar together in a bowl. Beat the eggs, vanilla and milk together in another smaller bowl. Add them to the dry ingredients along with the melted butter and mix with a wire whisk just until everything is moistened. Don't overmix the batter or the waffles will be tough.
Bake waffles according to the directions for your waffle iron. You can keep them hot and fresh on a rack in a warm (180F) oven if you want to serve them all at once.
Of course, homemade waffles deserve real maple syrup and real butter!

Light and Fluffy Pancakes

2 cups flour
1 Tbl. sugar
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1.5 c. milk
1/4 c. melted butter

Combine all dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat the eggs, milk and butter together lightly and pour into the dry ingredents. Mix with a wire whisk just until everything is moistened and the large lumps disappear. Make pancakes by pouring small amounts (1/4 cup or so) of batter on a hot griddle (350-375F) or in a large cast iron skillet that has been oiled or sprayed with PAM. Turn the pancakes over when you see the edges looking drier and holes forming in the pancake. Cook them another minute or two until the other side is browned nicely.

Both of these recipes can be "doctored up" by adding chopped pecans, blueberries, etc. People in this family are generally "purists", but I like them with all kinds of stuff in them-- banana, raisins, peanut butter........