How to Make Delicious Baking Powder Biscuits

I learned to make biscuits from my grandma while sitting on her kitchen counter as she measured by eye and hand a formula she’d made hundreds of times.  When my grandma was gone, my mom, armed with the written recipe, finished my formal education into this culinary comfort food.  There is a good bit of mystique that surrounds the making of biscuits, but in reality, just like pie crust, a little practice and some simple rules are the difference between hard tack and sublime.

Because the recipe is so simple, there are only a couple of places where a person can get a bit tripped up.
1. To start, make sure that the fat is well incorporated. Using a pastry knife is the easiest.
2. Like my grandma taught me, I use my hands to incorporate the milk so I can feel the exact amount of liquid to add.
3. Adding the liquid is the trickiest part. Too much and the biscuits aren’t fluffy. Too little and the biscuits are dry.  The recipe wants just enough milk to incorporate all of the flour, no more. It’s okay to reserve a little to make sure your batch needs all the recipe calls for.
4. Don’t over mix. As soon as you begin mixing in the milk, gluten begins to develop and this is what makes biscuits chewy instead of fluffy. The less mixing the better.
5. Pat out your biscuits on a well-floured counter. Instead of rolling, which sometimes has us touching the dough too much, pat the dough out with your hands, again because working the dough too much makes hard, chewy biscuits.
6. If you find that you might have overworked the dough, a little helpful trick is to set the biscuit aside once you’ve cut them for 10 minutes or so to give the gluten time to relax before baking.

That’s it!  Fluffy, buttery biscuits are yours!

Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010
Use a pastry knife to cut in the butter until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010)
Feel the dough with your hands.
Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010 )
Add liquid and stir with your hands.
Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010 )
Use your hands to best tell when you’ve added enough milk.
Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010 )
Only mix until combined,
Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010 )
Press the dough flat with hands dusted with flour.
Baking Powder Biscuits (Photo by Elizabeth Poisson (c) 2010 )
Cut out the biscuits with a biscuit cutter and bake!

Baking Powder Biscuits
This recipe is excerpted from my cookbook, At Home, At Sea: Recipes from a Maine Windjammer.  My grandmother used shortening, and maybe even lard. Currently, shortening is out and butter is in, but to honor the history of the recipe, I’ve left shortening as an ingredient. It is a one to one replacement to substitute butter.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup shortening
3/4 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 450°F. Measure the flour, baking powder, and salt into a sifter set in a medium bowl. This is an important step because you want to add air to the mixture so the biscuits are as fluffy as possible. Use a pastry knife to cut the shortening into the mixture until it resembles a coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until a soft dough forms. It is important to not overmix; you’ll hard tack instead of fluffy biscuits. Turn out onto a floured board and knead 10 times, then STOP!  Roll or pat out the dough until it is 1/2-inch thick. Cut with a floured 2-inch biscuit cutter. Transfer the biscuits to an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 12 biscuits

Tips for Organizing Your Freezer – Weeknight Dinner Stash

In this series of posts on organizing the freezer, I’ve written tips on labeling, containers, and thinking about your freezer as a pantry.  This post is about how to use the freezer to be smart about the time you spend in the kitchen and how to easily get one or two weeknight meals per week out of this one kitchen apparatus.

These posts began with a commitment to reduce the food waste in our home after Chloe (our daughter studying environmental science in college) came home from school with what seemed like a staggering statistic – between 30 to 40% of all retail and consumer food becomes waste.  That means 1/3rd of the food in our homes goes into our garbage stream.  That seemed astonishing to me.  As a business person, food costs are always high on my watch list, whether it’s in our business or in our home.  But then I thought about our freezer.  And how I wasn’t using it efficiently, and I decided to make some changes.  I started labeling everything.  I began using containers that would stack.  And once these two things were in place, I just naturally started to use our freezer more as a resource rather than like a stuffed closet that one dreads to organize or even dare approach.

Once the freezer was organized, it became easier to keep a better watch on my refrigerator and what needed to be frozen before it went bad.  In my family, it usually takes a couple of days before the leftovers are either gone or no one wants to eat them any longer.  That doesn’t mean they’ve expired, it just means we got tired of them.  When I see that happening, I know it’s time to move them into the freezer.  These leftovers have since become treasures.  Perfect for when I don’t feel like cooking, someone in the house is sick, or the day just got away from us but we don’t want to order pizza.  What was a tired leftover becomes a quick weeknight meal with a few minutes on the stove.

To reheat soups and stews, I run warm water on the outside of the container for 30 seconds or so until it releases.  Carefully, I turn it into a small saucepan or stock pot, add a little water, and cover with a lid.  Turn the heat to medium-low and let come to temperature over the next 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally.  Turn the heat down to low and add more water if needed while you prepare a salad or the rest of your meal.

To reheat pasta dishes or pot pies takes a little more planning.  Ideally, remove from the freezer in the morning and allow it to come to room temperature.  Then heat in a 350 degree oven until the center is hot.

In 2015 the USDA issued a Food Waste Challenge with these 3 objectives:

  1. Reduce – by all of the methods I’ve been writing about in these posts
  2. Recover – by finding secondary sources for surplus food such as food banks and pantries
  3. Recycle – by feeding animals the healthy surplus and the compost pile the spoiled food

BEFORE you toss those leftovers that no one is really interested in any longer, pop them in a container in the freezer.  These gems are weeknight emergency rations that make life super easy after a just a couple of weeks of this habit.

Annie
How do you save time and costs in your kitchen?

Tips for Organizing Your Freezer – Use it Like Another Pantry

Last year I took a good hard look at the crypt that was my freezer and determined to do better about being organized and thoughtful about using up food that we already had on hand before trucking off to the grocery store.  What I found was that a little organization and intention went a long way and that with a little labeling and a little container love I’d created a system that not only reduced our food waste, but turned my freezer into another pantry of sorts.

ways to organize your kitchen and your freezer

Before I got organized about my freezer, it was a place where all food went to die.  After a resting period in the tundra, it moved directly to the hens or the compost pile depending on what unidentifiable object I thought I was looking at.

Use Your Freezer Like a Pantry
Now, however, I use the freezer as I believe it was intended, as an extended pantry.  With labels on everything and containers that stack and easily organize, I no longer dread opening the freezer, but instead go to it on a regular basis to supplement and add to meals in the works.  When I’m doing my regular rotation of food in the fridge and clearing out little bits of this and that, the freezer is just one more place I go for inspiration.

Also, no longer is the freezer a stuffed-full, can-barely-close-the-door sort of place.  Instead, I use it often to pull weeknight soups or stews that can be ready in minutes.  Just add salad or cooked greens and presto, dinner is ready.  The freezer stock is rotating on a regular basis just like my dry pantry items.

  1. Make soup, omelet, or pizza kits with little leftover bits from the fridge – remember to label everything
  2. Think about your freezer as if it were another pantry. Use it often and regularly.

Annie
How do you organize your freezer?  What works for you?

The Great British Baking Show – I had to try a recipe

Who has not spent an afternoon snuggled on the couch with their daughter watching The Great British Baking Show?  If you haven’t, you need to.  Especially the earlier seasons.  I’m still a little unaccepting of the recent changes to the show, but that’s just me and eventually I will move on.  However, Mary Berry is still my favorite host and will be forever and ever.

Of course after spending an afternoon watching, any self respecting foodie has to try a recipe or two.  This one is a perfect winter time cake.  We made ours and had it with tea in honor of, well, Britain, but it would be just as good served after dinner as a special dessert.

The recipe for Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Layer Cake is on the BBC website.

Mary Berry's Frosted Walnut Layer Cake
Mary Berry’s Frosted Walnut Layer Cake

 

Tips for Organizing Your Freezer – Use Matching Containers

Last year in the interest of getting more organized in the kitchen and reducing the amount of our food that went to the chickens or into the compost pile, I started to focus on how to use our freezer better.  Having worked in the restaurant industry for years before running the galley on the Riggin for the past 20 plus years, I already had a good process around rotating refrigerator stock, shopping to a list, and using up leftovers.  But the freezer, on the other hand, was a place where perfectly good food went only to emerge some months (years?) later as unidentified mystery items destined for the compost pile.

organizing the freezer and the kitchen

Like most habits that end up sticking, it’s the simple things that matter.  Simple changes.  Simple processes.

Use Matching Containers
What I found was the simple process of labeling made a huge difference.  The next thing I discovered, and I know this might begin to sound like a Marie Kondo ad, but using containers that matched and could rest on top of each other really worked.

The ability to stack the smaller containers on top of each other is key.  Also, with the containers the same size, everything just fits nicely and just naturally organizes better.  I have a bottom freezer, so labeling the tops of the containers makes it so I can see all of the labels at a glance without moving things around much.   If you have a top freezer, then the labels should go on the side of the container for the same reason – you can see them at a glance.

As for the storage containers themselves, I bought a sleeve of pint and quart-sized freezer containers and another sleeve of interchangeable lids.   Normally, I am not a fan of buying plastic.  Period.  But after trying to use recycled yogurt containers with the lids popping off on a regular basis (yes, that would be the lids with the labels on them) I gave up and switched.  And I gotta say, it worked.

Here are a couple of tips that I found helpful:

  1. Use pint- and quart-sized freezer containers that match
  2. If freezing a pasta dish or pot pie, use an oven proof container so you can reheat in the oven
  3. Use interchangeable lids
  4. Label the top of the lids for a bottom or chest freezer and the side of the containers for a top freezer
  5. Store the containers, labels, and permanent marker together
  6. Use freezer bags for irregular shaped items or what won’t fit into a quart-sized container

Annie
Organized and loving it!  Stay tuned for more posts in this series.

Tips for Organizing Your Freezer – Label Everything

Organize.  Budget.  Plan.  Diet.  What a perfect time of year to focus on getting organized and tidy in one or more areas, such as, ahem, my closets.  But closets are for another day.  Today is about the freezer.  I’m not really a New Year’s resolution sort of gal, but I do like this time of year for checking in about my habits and making sure that I’ve got a good handle on the life I’m choosing by the choices I’m making.  And while the garden is asleep and the winds whip and roar outside, it feels satisfying to turn my attention toward the house and our inside life.

labels for organizing the freezer

One of the things I focused on last year around this time was our food waste.  And while the compost pile is always ready and willing to receive any and all organic matter, I wanted to get even better at consuming our food before it headed to the big pile out back.  I already had a handle on rotating stock in the fridge, using up pantry items, and having a pretty good plan for leftovers and little bits.  I’ve written about good strategies for leftovers before and will be sharing more as we go along this winter.

The freezer, however, was another story. You know, that place that we relegate unused food, wait until it has freezer burn, and then a year later throw the unlabled and unknown mystery items into the compost pile?  Might as well be Siberia.   Yup.  That’s the thing I wanted to be better at.  So I’ve come up with a couple of strategies – all of which I knew and none of which I did much of until last year.

Label Everything
All of the changes I made were fairly small and didn’t take much doing, but the biggest of all was labeling everything that went into the freezer.

Basically, if I don’t label, I may as well just skip the freezer and toss everything in to the compost bucket straight off.  Once something goes into the freezer without a label, it’s never coming out as something useful.  Why not?  Because I NEVER remember what the thing is.  I always tell myself I will.  But I don’t.  Because it get moved around.  Because once it’s frozen it doesn’t look exactly as it did when I first put it in there.  Because I can’t smell it to figure out what it is.  Because I can’t taste it to figure out what it is.  Because.  Just.  Label.

Once I gave in to the idea that my intellectual prowess was not strong enough to overcome the freezer vortex, I started to love opening the freezer.  A year later it’s even more organized than it was initially and it’s something I use all the time, not a place to relegate unmentionables.

To make things easy, because who has time for anything else, here are a few tips:

  1. Make up labels ahead of time, so all you need to do is write and slap
  2. Store the labels and pen in the kitchen somewhere close
  3. Use a waterproof pen or marker, not a gel pen that will smear if it gets wet
  4. Label the top of the lids for a bottom or chest freezer and the side of the containers for a top freezer so you can see the label easily
  5. Date everything

Annie
More to come in this series – stay tuned!

Holiday Baking – See it on 207!

I had the privilege of cooking with Rob Caldwell of WCSH6 and the show 207 a couple of weeks ago.  The first of three segments aired last night and you can watch me making Chocolate Rosemary Tart with Sea Salt Caramel Bark here.  The other two will air over the winter and as we know, we’ll let you know.  The recipe for the tart is on their site and if you’ve already got Sugar & Salt: The Orange Book, then you just need to add rosemary to the recipe in the book.

This was my first time in the new O’Maine Studio, which is a lovely upgrade from the former kitchen.  But it got me reminiscing as I was the first chef to do a spot in the original studio kitchen.  How many years ago was that?  Not gonna count.

Chocolate Rosemary Tart with Sea Salt Caramel Bark Photo (c) 2009 by Elizabeth Poisson
This bark has nuts in it, but the one I made for 207 was just flavored with vanilla and sea salt.

Annie
Thanks Rob and the gang for a fun time in your new studio!

Thanksgiving Leftovers – Take Four – Turkey Shepard’s Pie

Thanksgiving dinner is truly my favorite of all the holiday meals, but it’s a toss up as to whether I like the meal itself or the leftovers more.  Here’s another idea for how to use up all those delicious leftovers and a few from previous years to keep you busy for a couple of dinners following the big one.

Thanksgiving Leftovers
One – Leftover Turkey Soup and/or Leftover Turkey Sandwich Ideas
Two – Turkey Hash
Three – Potato Cakes, Potato Bread, Potato Leek Soup

Also, don’t forget to freeze and label what you won’t use in the several days following the big meal.  Save it all for later in the winter when you need a weeknight dinner right quick and in a hurry.

Turkey Shepard’s Pie
In a casserole dish, layer cooked turkey meat, gravy, cut up green beans (or other vegetable) and top with mashed potatoes or mashed squash.  Bake at 350°F or until the edges are beginning to brown and the center is hot all the way through.  If you don’t have enough gravy, make a little sauce of your own by heating up the turkey and the green beans with a little butter in an oven-proof skillet.  Sprinkle with flour and stir to incorporate.  Add a cup or so of stock and stir.  Add more if the mixture is too thick.  Then layer the rest of your ingredients on top.

 

 

Fun Photo Friday – Mushroom CSA

Gorgeous mushrooms arrive on our doorstep all summer long from Oyster Creek Mushrooms.  Each week it’s a surprise and each week it’s my job to figure out how to best showcase these lovelies.  Of course, the recipe I just posted earlier this week, Fettuccine with Chicken, Mushrooms, and Caramelized Onions is one, but there are many more, most of which I make up on the spot as I prepare dinner on the Riggin.

Every once in a while I’m also lucky enough to find chanterelles on a couple of the islands we visit.  It took me four years of watching and observing their entire life cycle before I felt confident enough to pick them.

Other yummy mushroom recipes:
Fish Stew with Porcini Mushrooms and a Quick Buttermilk Bread
Super Big Roasted Portabella Mushroom Ravioli
Roasted Shallots and Mushrooms in a Sherry Cream Sauce over Polenta
Orzo with Shitake Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, and Spinach

local mushroom csa in maine
Chanterelles
Beech Mushroom
Beech Mushroom

 

Black trumpet
Shitakes

Annie
(turns out photos from 10 years ago aren’t as awesome, so forgive us if you click on the recipe links)

Cooking Class Complete

Getting ready to roll!

If you’ve never taken a class at Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School in York, you should.  The space is beautifully appointed and the crew top-notch.

Fun fall decorations outside the cooking school.
Using the garden as harvest decoration

It’s also seriously at least 10 times the cooking space I have on the Riggin.  Instead of standing at my stove and turning, turning, turning from stove to baking supplies to counter top, I had miles of kitchen to cover and all sorts of spaces to loose track of my knives and glasses and any number of trays of mise en place kitted up for the class.  This girl is not used to being able to spread out!

Working on the Poached Garlic and Thyme Soup

I had not a clue what to expect when I arrived, as I’ve never been in the cooking school side of the campus before.  As I walked around to familiarize myself with the space, I had several lovely surprises in the form of Riggin guests who kept walking through the door.  As soon as I’d hugged one, the next walked in!  What a treat to have the support of those who already knew me as I began the class and walked everyone through the recipes from bread to dessert.

One of our long-time guests and her friend arrived to lend support and fun. xo!
The mile long counter top, and I’m not kidding.

After teaching to a full class for 90 minutes, there was time to sign books and talk with folks as they filtered out.  What a lovely way for everyone to spend a long lunch and what a fun time I had sharing it with them.  Many thanks to the Stonewall Kitchen crew for making my first time go so smoothly.

Signing books and chatting with the peeps

Annie
Looking forward to the next time