Making Biscuits, Changing Minds

We like to listen to Pandora when we are running errands. One of the ads that we hear sometimes is from McDonalds where the guy says, “Making biscuits from scratch? Not that easy.” Something something, come get biscuits at McDonalds.

That commercial grates on my nerves. Of course, I tell my children that biscuits aren’t hard. (They’ve heard me rant about this commercial a number of times!) Heck, if you think they are, Bisquick would probably be an acceptable step towards mastering the art of combining flour, salt, baking powder, butter, and milk. Although, I think those only combine the first three. I hate that it is acceptable, even encouraged, for people to be afraid of their food. We all need to eat!

Cooking is easily mastered. You don’t need a special degree. You only need perseverance and a willingness to learn. When I was a child I learned nothing about cooking. Yes, I could make pancakes with the aforementioned Bisquick, I also made cinnamon sugar toast (light on the cinnamon, heavy on the sugar), but, when my grandfather died when I was in high school I tried to make the spaghetti while my mom was away. Let’s marvel at how ridiculous it is that the sauce was already made so I only had to cook the noodles. How hard could that be? It turns out pretty hard when you haven’t been paying attention. The huge pot was boiling away and then the pasta was done. As the timer went off I realized I had no idea how to get the noodles out of the pot! How do you get them out of there without dumping them all down the drain? I tried gently pouring off the water, which was, spoiler, completely unsuccessful. Resourcefully, but ridiculously I used the tongs to fish them out little by little. They were very watery, but they were out! (Spoiler, the correct way to get out pasta is to dump the mixture into a colander which will drain the water while saving the noodles.)

Soon after we got married we went to grad school. We starting cooking even more than we had before out of budget necessity. We learned how to make pizza from scratch, we perfected our stir fry, we got very cozy with our crockpot. I don’t remember any cooking disasters, besides the fact that I could not figure out dried beans to save my life. I soaked them for days – not advisable. I cooked them forever – and yet they still stayed hard and crunchy. I don’t know when I conquered beans, but it wasn’t for several years, and I think not until I decided to cook them in the crockpot.

We limped along with a rudimentary knowledge of cooking until our son was born. When he was about six months old I decided that I needed to become serious about cooking things since he was going to be eating with us. Gone were quick easy, vegetable light meals. I read that he needed to try all different kinds of vegetables, so I was going to get me and my husband to try them as well. We learned how to eat squash, beets, kohlrabi, kale, spinach, turnips, and so many more. If it was in the grocery store or sold at the farmer’s market, then we decided we had to try it. The farmers were great about walking us through how to cook things, and we slowly began incorporating more vegetables into our diet.

Our son was a wonderful eater. He would try anything and usually liked what we were having. He adored spit pea soup. He munched on meat and potatoes. He even liked a lentil-rice casserole that I became obsessed with and remained obsessed with until I was pregnant with my older daughter. (It was one of those pregnancy things where the mere smell of the dish made me want to hurl, and, even now, ten years later, I still don’t make this particular casserole.) I don’t know if he was like this due to an innate nature or because we were adventurous with him. Maybe a combination of the two. But, whatever the reason it definitely encouraged me to experiment with my cooking. My mother-in-law got me “Cuisine at Home” a magazine subscription that helped me to experiment and try things that were different – usually more expensive than normal, but also with different ingredients.

But, back to biscuits. I learned how to cook those in our apartment on Gibbs Avenue. I had received some ode to Julia Child cookbook when we got married. In the book were many many recipes that I have not made, but there was a section on biscuits. The emphasis was on a light hand. Meaning: the best biscuits are those that have not been handled much. So, quickly and gently combine your 2 cups of flour with your 1 tsp of salt (kosher or 1/2 if not) and your 3 teaspoons of baking powder. I use a whisk and stir a few times. Then cut in the butter. 1/4 cup to 1/3 cup (4-5 TBSP). I have a cutter. You can use 2 knives (which sounds ridiculous). Or, you can use your hands, which apparently Julia Child preferred, because then the butter is incorporated into the flour in flat pieces, which theoretically make the biscuit flakier. Once the butter is small, like crumbles, stir in the milk. Stir it 10 times. Stop. Put the dough on the counter (or sometimes I do this right in the bowl) knead the dough 10 times. Stop. Pat it out to 3/4 inch thickness (or really whatever you want, although I wouldn’t go over 1 inch) and cut with either a biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. Bake at 450 for 10 to 12 minutes.

Bam. Done. Extremely easy. So few ingredients. So little time, maybe more as you are learning, but once you’ve got it down it takes almost no time to get the dough ready, and super quick and easy.

The trick to biscuits is the light hand. If you want them to rise and be wonderfully flaky, you can’t mess with them too much. (it’s like pie dough, which took me ages and ages to get right) So even if you think you could stir more after 10, stop. Use your kneading to continue to stir, but only knead 10 times.

And, when I think about how easy it is to make biscuits, it makes me so irritated to hear commercials like that one for McDonalds. I hate the myth that cooking is hard. Cooking is intimidating, but usually, it is not hard. Usually you should just give it a go. Give it a few goes if the flavors were to your liking but the dish didn’t quite work out, because occasionally it does take time to get your rhythm right. But, don’t give up. Start easy, or start hard. Start with whatever you want to cook. Maybe not croissants, but maybe, if that’s what inspires you.

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