Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Biscuits... This is why I'm Fat

I adore food.

Let me just get that out there on the table. 'Cause, really, food is a very big motivator in my life. Indeed, there are weeks now (while I'm unemployed) when there's only two things that will get me out of the house:

1. Alternate-side street parking for street cleaning; annoyingly, the street-cleaning days are every Monday and Tuesday, from 8am to noon. To avoid a ticket and, possibly, having my car towed (which, in the lovely city of Newark will cost you $275 just for the towing company and another $45 (minimum) for the parking ticket, plus whatever storage and admin fees they can tack on), I have to move my car every Sunday and Monday night; and

2. Food shopping. I like food shopping; it's the check-out process that sucks. Especially lately, when grocery prices are really starting to get jacked up. Have you noticed this? Egads, I feed just one person and I have to really debate over some food items. Fortunately, I'm a good cook and can make cheap ingredients into something good.

Yes, I'm a reclusive foodie.

Anyway... lately, I've been making it a point to really enjoy what I cook. Before, when I was working, I'd barely have the energy to boil pasta and mix it with cheese and sauce; that'd be dinner more often than not - no wonder my cholesterol was sky-high (263, total; 77 for HDL).

I'm making sure I enjoy food now because, in just about a month, I'm taking a step that'll force me onto a liquid diet for at least six weeks. Yes, I'm having my stomach partially removed; it's called vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

Before I take that step, I'm getting in all the foods I haven't eaten in years and I'm doing it with no concern about calories, fat content, or anything else us dieters are supposed to guard against. I'm also testing recipes for the 'full liquids' and 'mushies' phases, and have discovered that beans, a ham hock and a cube of beef bouillon makes for one hell of a good bean'n'ham soup. Same with split peas/split pea soup.

For the past few weeks, I've been researching biscuits (one of those things that was not on my 'perpetual diet/healthy living diet' because of the carbs and butter involved). My semi-obsession with biscuits stems from a recipe for "butter-dip biscuits". For those who aren't clicking that link: think a slab of biscuit dough sunk into a pan of melted butter then baked. Yeah, my arteries are hardening just thinking of that. And they should: I've made the butter dip biscuits twice. The first time, meh; the dough seemed a touch tough and too salty (partly my fault: I used table salt not kosher salt). The second time, angels sang... I used half the salt called for. But... still, there was a toughness to the biscuits. Since I didn't knead the dough at all, I couldn't put a finger on why they were tough.

Now, I need not wonder. I've moved on to making 'real' biscuits. During my research into biscuit making, I've learned about leavening with baking soda, baking powder, buttermilk; why a biscuit maker shouldn't knead the dough too much; and how to make 'cutting' butter into the flour easy.  I won't bore anyone with the re-telling of the first two; the third one? Genius! And I've forgotten where on the web I learned it. But, the key is to freeze your butter stick then grate it using the large holes on a cheese grater. For mine, I grated the butter then put it back in the freezer while I gathered the other ingredients and started a batch of split pea soup in the crockpot.

Here's the biscuit recipe:
The Most Awesome Buttermilk Biscuits

6 Tablespoons of frozen, grated butter (salted)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 cup very cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Keep the butter frozen till after you've mixed the dry ingredients together. Toss the grated butter into the flour mix and gently fold it all together. Break up any bigger chunks of butter. Working quickly, add the buttermilk and fold the ingredients together until most of the flour mix is wet.

You want the dough to be wet but still not a cohesive whole.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and, treating it gently, press it together, then press it flat (about an inch/inch-and-a-half thick) and fold it over. Do this routine quickly four or five more times, till the dough is together, soft, and still cold, adding a bit of flour if the dough wants to stick to your hands or the surface.

At this point, pat it out (don't roll it) to an even thickness. I used a knife and just cut square biscuits so that I wouldn't need to press any scraps together. If you're using a round cutter, press down and lift up, don't twist. Ball your scraps together, pat out and cut again. The biscuits from the second handling/cutting will be less fluffy than the first batch.

Once the biscuits are cut, put 'em on a lightly greased baking sheet (touching if you want soft sides; about an inch apart if you want crispy sides), and leave 'em in the oven (400 degrees) for 10 to 12 minutes. Please don't overbake 'em. If the tops are turning golden, they're good. Of course, if you like dry, hard biscuits, by all means, bake 'em longer.

These are awesome all by themselves or with butter or honey or sausage gravy!

My batch made nine roughly equal-sized biscuits and two slightly smaller biscuits... so... call it ten and a half? Yeah. Either way, only six of them made it to the fridge.

And by the time I thought to take a photo, there were only five survivors:

(Yes, there are six in the photo... only five of them made back into the fridge after their photo shoot.)


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