Friday, November 30, 2012

In Search of the Best Biscuits...and Buttermilk Biscuit variation

I have been trying different biscuit recipes for a while- always searching for the best taste and the fluffiest texture. So this quest has turned into a 2 day baking challenge trying different versions and techniques. I read numerous cookbooks (old and new) and looked at videos online-- I also tried buttermilk versus using regular milk. There are two different types of recipes, one that uses self-rising flour and ones that keep the flour and other ingredients separate. Some even recommend cake flour for the best rise. I, however, used all-purpose flour for my different biscuit recipes. The first baking powder and buttermilk biscuits I made, I didn't brush the tops with butter prior to baking-- but when I tasted the last butter-brushed batch, I was convinced that it is truly necessary for the best taste.

Also, the last batch I made, I put the biscuits in the pan so they were all touching each other. This seemed to give more uniformity to the rise and they were not as lop-sided. In the future, I will put one batch of biscuits in an 8 or 9 inch pan so they can touch and have side of the pan all around to keep the outer biscuits from spreading out too much. Initially, I indented the centers of the biscuits in the first couple batches because people said that helps them rise straight, but I still had a problem with some of them being a little uneven. Another thing I experimented with was my biscuit dough more wet and sticky versus not-so-sticky. The last batch was a more wet dough and seemed to have the most tender texture inside.

My conclusion? I could not decide which I preferred more- baking powder versus buttermilk biscuits. They were equally good- especially when brushed with butter before baking. The most important things seemed to be working with a more wet dough and not mixing or kneading it very much at all.   Do you have a favorite biscuit recipe?

Yields: 16 medium biscuits (if rolling out dough to 1/2 inch thickness), or approximately 8 extra thick (if rolling 1 inch thick)

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (or cake flour as some recommend)
  • 1/2- 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp sugar- up to 4 Tbsp if you like a sweeter taste
  • 1/2 cup shortening or butter (I used palm shortening, which is not artificially hydrogenated)
  • 2/3- 3/4 cup milk
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Sift dry ingredients together into a medium bowl. 
  • Cut in shortening or butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs the size of peas.
  • Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour all the milk in at once.
  • Stir just until dough follows the mixing utensil around the bow, adding milk as necessary to get a moist dough.
  • Lightly flour your counter/cutting board and sprinkle top of dough with some flour. Roll dough ball around in the flour, giving it a couple gentle kneads until outside is not so sticky. Pat or roll out the dough. 
  • (Optional- fold one third towards the middle and then the other third over the first- like an envelope. Then pat the dough out to the desired thickness.)
  • Cut with a biscuit cutter or glass, being careful to press straight down and not twist until the cutter is all the way to the bottom. Alternatively, you may just cut them into equal squares with a sharp knife, but make sure your dough is squared up on the corners and sides first. 
  • Place on an ungreased baking sheet with sides touching and brush with melted butter for extra flavor! 
  • Bake for about 10-12 minutes until golden brown.
** For Buttermilk Biscuits:
do not use cream of tartar, increase baking soda to 1/2 tsp, decrease the fat to 1/3 cup and use 1 cup buttermilk instead of milk. Follow the directions otherwise as above.

flour and shortening
first batch of dough- less sticky

first batch cooling

wetter dough sprinkled with flour
Make sure you brush the top with butter!

final biscuit batch

tasting the final batch- YUM!

If you really want a shortcut- make the dough wet enough that you are unable to roll out the dough, then put into a greased glass baking dish in which you have melted 1/4 cup of butter. Lightly press flat in the pan and pour 1/2 stick of melted butter over top and score top of the biscuit dough 3-4 times in each direction. (courtesy of The Country Cook) Bake for about 20 minutes or just until golden brown. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vegetable Rice Salad

I love recipes that are all about using up the leftovers in your refrigerator. Well, this is one of those. The inspiration for this recipe came from the Back to School 2012 issue of Penzeys Spice catalog. I changed some of the ingredients and added more dressing, but that is the great thing about this recipe- just chop and throw in whatever veggies you have that need to be used up. This dish makes a great lunch by itself, a light supper, or as a side dish for a meal.

  • 3 1/2 cups cooked rice, white or brown (I had some of both)
  • 2 cups freshly cooked corn (I used our own frozen corn- so much sweeter and richer)
  • 1 red or green bell pepper, diced or a combination of both
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped finely (optional- does not really add any heat)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 6 small green onions, sliced
  • 1-2 avocados, chopped into small chunks
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 medium cucumber, diced
  • 1 can small red beans or black beans, rinsed (whatever type of bean you like)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup black olives, chopped (optional, may also use green olives)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley (more or less to taste)
  • 1 tsp seasoned salt
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar (may substitute red wine vinegar also)
  • 1 Tbsp prepared yellow mustard
  • 2-3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 Tbsp cumin (adjust to taste- I used more because I really like a stronger cumin flavor)
  • Mix rice, vegetables and salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  • In a small bowl, mix dressing ingredients together and pour over the salad ingredients.
  • Mix all ingredients together well. Chill for about 4 hours- the longer, the more flavor. 
** The dressing does not have any sweetener but the corn and rice balance it out and it is not too tart.

Feel free to add in some chopped celery, carrots and any other vegetables you need to use up.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Homemade Cornbread Mix

Sometimes I  am a lazy cook. I am not very good at planning ahead meals, although I am trying to work on this. I enjoy cornbread but find that I do not make it very often because it seems like too much work to mix up the batter and get it in the oven while I am making the rest of the supper, which is often being done at the last minute. So, not that I enjoy baring my faults with the world, but this is an area that has been an impetus for me to look for shortcuts without always going to a box (although I do that with cakes and brownies at times). I have come across a lot of bulk mixes on blogs like Chickens in the Road and Country Momma Cooks, which made me decide to get out the recipes I love and make up some of my own bulk mixes. Then when I am running short on time (which is most of the time), I can just pull out the container, add the wet ingredients and it is ready for the oven in a jiffy!

I love a lot of different cornbread recipes, but the one that really caught my taste buds was from Land-O-Lakes, called Honey Moist Cornbread. You can see the original recipe at the link attached to the title. I have not really changed the recipe much- I usually use low fat milk in place of half and half and it still comes out wonderful. If you like a VERY sweet cornbread, you might want to add a little more sugar, but try it first this way since it has a nice balance of sweetness already.

This bulk mix makes 6 recipes. The following is the information I put into a label to put on the outside of the container so I would not have to get out my recipe every time I make some.

Cornbread Mix

9 servings
In a large bowl, mix 1 cup milk or half and half, 2 slightly beaten eggs, ¼ cup honey and ¼ cup melted butter. Stir in 2 1/3 cups of cornbread mix just until moistened.
      Pour into greased 8 or 9” pan. Bake at 350 for 18-22 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. 

For the bulk mix recipe:
  • 6 cups all purpose flour
  • 6 cups yellow or white cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 Tbsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp dry milk powder (optional)

Stir all ingredients together until well blended in a LARGE bowl or clean bucket. Transfer to a seal-tight storage container.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cranberry Salad/Relish

Cranberries are such a traditional part of a Thanksgiving dinner in the United States. However, because they are so tart, many people do not like them. When I was young, my family always had the jellied cranberry in a can with our turkey dinner. While I still enjoy that type of cranberry relish, I really have come to enjoy the whole cranberries. One of the grocery stores in our area sells a couple of different cranberry salads that are so yummy- but have a lot of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Since I have been trying to cut back on sugar and avoid HFCS as much as possible, I decided to make up my own version that has been inspired by their recipes. I have been making this for the past couple years, and wherever I serve this dish, it always gets rave reviews.

Don't be put off by the list of ingredients. It is not very hard to make if you have a food processor or chopper and is totally worth the effort. It also freezes well and can be made up in a big batch and then separated into a few containers to freeze. Then remove it later and serve with some chicken, turkey or pork.


  • 1 bag (12 oz.) of cranberries, fresh or frozen- I prefer frozen so they don't mush up as much when chopping)
  • 1 large apple
  • 2 large celery stalks, outside fibers removed if necessary
  • 1 (15 oz.) can of pineapple, drained (reserve the liquid for jello)
  • 1 large orange, peeled and membranes removed or 1 (11 oz.) can of mandarin oranges in light syrup, drained
  • 2 (3 oz.) boxes of raspberry or cherry jello
  • 1 3/4 cup total of liquids- use reserved liquids and enough water or orange juice to make up the amount needed
  • 3-4 Tbsp sugar

  • Rinse cranberries and chop with quick pulses in a food processor or chopper, being careful to not chop too much or it will turn to paste/liquid
  • Continue chopping the remainder of the fruit/vegetables and add everything into a large bowl. Oranges need to be broken up somewhat so there are not very large chunks.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat liquid and sugar together until just boiling, then add in the gelatin. Turn off  heat and remove from the burner, stirring well to mix and dissolve the jello. 
  • Add the liquid mixture into the chopped fruit and stir well. 
  • Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours or until well-chilled and more firm. 
  • Just before serving, stir to loosen it up and break up the chunks. 
*Note: if you desire a much softer consistency, try using only 1 box of jello and add in 1/4 -1/3 cup extra sugar into the liquid mixture when boiling. There will be more juices from the cranberries and other fruit.