Wedding Weekend

I am just getting back from a long weekend away from home – my parents and I traveled together to my cousin’s wedding in Springfield, Missouri (does every state have a Springfield?). It was a family reunion, of sorts, and it was good to see most of my aunts and uncles and some of my cousins. Our family is too big for everyone to be able to make it, but there were still a crowd of us (we missed everyone who wasn’t able to come!).

Rich and Calvin had work and school, so I played carefree woman for a few days while they held down the fort at home. They survived, though it meant a lot of eating out (they didn’t complain about that) and almost missing the school bus in the morning. I think (hope!) they are glad to have me back.

I took the chance to talk to my aunts and uncles about their childhoods and my grandmother’s cooking. I wish I had recorded more of the stories with my phone (thanks for the suggestion, Uncle John!), but there will be other visits. I have asked my dad about what he remembers about his mother’s cooking, and he has plenty of stories, but it is always good to hear other perspectives and memories. It also makes for some lively conversations when the siblings’ memories don’t agree.

Dad had told me about his mother’s method of mixing biscuits – she did everything by feel – no measuring – and mixed them totally with her hands, even after she added the milk. And she could put together a batch of biscuits for her large family in about five minutes. My aunt told me what she remembered; adding more details, but the method was pretty much the same in her version. She told me that Grandma made biscuits every day of the week until they bought a country grocery store and moved away from the farm.

I need to make a project of it and call my aunts and uncles in turn to get their different memories of Grandma’s cooking and their growing up years in general. It is a large, spread-out family and the older ones definitely have different memories than the babies of the family. There will always be new stories I haven’t heard, but you better believe that I am going to start collecting them in earnest before more are forgotten.

It was a nice few days of extended family time with lots of time to catch up – at least for those of us not in the wedding party. The wedding was beautiful, the days of visiting were fun and we were sorry to leave (which is always a sign of a good party).

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Buttermilk Biscuits

When I say, “biscuits,” what do you think about? Maybe the kind the doughboy puts in the can? What if I told you that you could make biscuits from scratch in less than half an hour? You can absolutely do it, even if you don’t consider yourself a baker. Think how accomplished you will feel when you bring your own hot biscuits to the table. If homemade biscuits are old hat for you, take this as a reminder of how good they are and make some soon.

When I was probably eight or nine, Dad decided he was going to learn to make biscuits. He attempted time after time to make biscuits like he remembered his mother making. We always thought they were pretty good, though there was a learning curve – some flat biscuits, and some crunchy biscuits, but we always happily ate them. Somehow Dad’s biscuits became the menu for Sunday mornings. Every week Dad made biscuits, eggs and sometimes sausage or bacon. Later, as we all became more health conscious, we had fruit more often than breakfast meat, but the biscuits were ever present.

Dad usually uses shortening in his biscuits, and so did my grandma. I used to use shortening too, but lately I have started using butter in my biscuits. There is the trade-off between the saturated fat of butter, the trans fats of shortening, or the palm oil they use to make the new trans-fat free Crisco. I am currently trying to avoid palm oil since I read a few too many articles about the rain forests they are cutting down to plant palm oil plantations. Not that my efforts are going to save one scrap of rain forest, but you do what you can live with, right? The long and short of it – you can use butter or shortening in these and they will work just fine.

Dad always bakes his biscuits on two cast iron flat griddles. I have one that he gave me that was my grandma’s (of course there is a story). This recipe makes enough biscuits for two 10-inch griddles, so I use a cast iron skillet for the other half. Or I use my 14-inch cast iron pizza pan. You can always use a regular baking sheet, of course, but if you have a cast iron pan, use it. The cast iron makes the bottoms of the biscuits extra crispy. We coveted biscuit bottoms when I was a kid. I still eat the tops first and the bottoms second, to save the best for last.

Whether you like crispy biscuit bottoms, with butter and honey soaking through, or if you prefer the fluffier middles, make some biscuits soon. And be sure to post in the comments about your biscuit making adventures.

Buttermilk Biscuits
From the Cook’s Life
Makes 9-12, depending on size

1 cup white whole wheat flour*
¾ cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4-6 tablespoons butter or shortening (the larger amount makes a richer biscuit)
¾ cup buttermilk
2-3 tablespoons buttermilk, regular milk or water (if the dough is dry)

*You can substitute all-purpose flour for the white whole wheat if you would rather. You probably won’t need the extra buttermilk/milk/water if you do this.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a baking sheet or one large or two medium cast iron skillets or flat griddles. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together white whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Cut in butter or shortening until mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the buttermilk all at once. Mix well, but gently, until dough forms.

If there is still dry flour, add buttermilk, milk or water, a tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together and there are no dry patches.

Lightly flour the counter or a large cutting board and turn dough out of the bowl. Sprinkle dough lightly with flour and knead it gently, about ten times – fold the dough in half, turn it one quarter turn and repeat the folding, pressing down gently each time. Add flour if the dough sticks to your hands.

Pat the dough into a rough square.

Use your floured hands, or a rolling pin, to pat or roll the dough about ½ inch thick. Use a round biscuit or cookie cutter to cut out biscuits. After you have cut as many biscuits as possible, remove them to the prepared pan.  Place them about a ½-inch apart if you want them to rise together and have soft sides, or farther apart for crispier sides.

Push the scraps together so the cut sides stick together. Gently press the dough together until you have one solid piece again. Press or roll dough out to ½ inch again. Cut out as many biscuits as possible and place on the pan.

Or you can cut the biscuits in squares or triangles and completely eliminate any scraps or the need to re-roll. I sometimes do circles for the first cutting and squares with the scraps, as I did here.

Bake the biscuits for 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and the bottoms are deeper brown. Serve immediately.

Download the recipe here.

Homemade Mixes to the Rescue

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I don’t keep cake mixes or Bisquick in the house. I prefer to bake from scratch so I know exactly what is in my food, and because I like the results better. That is not to say that I don’t need the convenience of a mix sometimes.

Last Thursday evening I realized I had just set myself up for two days worth of baking on Friday. Of course, Friday is still only one day, so I was up a little creek without a paddle. I needed to bake Vanilla Shortbreads and Chocolate Oat Bars for church coffee hour treats on Sunday, make brownies and peach cobbler for a family gathering on Saturday and make something for a quick breakfast on Saturday, along with the biscuits I wanted to have with dinner on Friday.

I could have bought treats for church, made only one dessert for Saturday and changed the menu for dinner and breakfast, but I didn’t. I’m not sure if it has come through in my posts, but I can be just a tiny bit stubborn sometimes. I needed a plan to make it all work, with a minimum of stress.

Solution: homemade mixes. Thursday night I mixed up the dry ingredients for my muffins, the biscuits and the cobbler topping (basically biscuits with a bit of sugar). I cut the butter into the biscuit mix and cobbler topping and put those in the fridge. The muffin mix was fine to stay on the counter.

On Friday I mixed up my muffins in five minutes. The biscuits took even less time than that. I decided to take the cobbler mix and the peaches with me on Saturday, so we could have fresh, warm cobbler. And so I would have help peeling and slicing the peaches. I may be stubborn, but I never pass up extra helping hands. With three of my projects out of the way, I got my other baking done in no time.

Take a look at your favorite recipes and see which ones you can use to make your own mixes. The dry ingredients for muffins, quick breads and cakes can be mixed together and stored at room temperature almost indefinitely. Just be sure to label the container or bag, and list what is in it. Trust me, you think you will remember, but you won’t. Store biscuit mix in the fridge or freezer, since there is a chance that the added fat could go rancid if you leave them at room temperature.

What tricks do you have for saving time in the kitchen?