My daughter recently purchased a new game for the family to play. It’s called ‘Quelf‘ and if you’re not familiar with it, it can be downright silly at times. Each of the pieces in the game is a character. Some of them are quite unusual, There’s ‘Queen Spatula’, “The Dood’, ‘Mrs. PickleFeather’, and ‘The Biscuit Farmer’. I am not a biscuit farmer, but I do enjoy making them almost as much as I enjoy eating them.

Recently, as we were sitting around the table eating (biscuits were on the menu) I was given a very high compliment from my family. Both my wife and my daughter said that they thought my biscuits were better than my mother-in-law’s (She has a great blog too by the way) . That is not a compliment that was given lightly I know. I feel I can’t take any of the credit. All I did really was follow a recipe (That’s all chemistry is really.Just follow a recipe). Many moons ago I was given a cookbook. Cast-Iron Cooking for Dummies. There are many recipes for biscuits but my favorite is the recipe for drop biscuits.A nice simple recipe that only uses six simple ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons vegetable shortening

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk

1)  Heat your oven to 450 degrees

2) Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

3) Cut the shortening and butter into dry mixture with a fork or pastry blender until it resembles coarse meal. Add the milk and stir.

4) Drop by spoonfuls onto a greased cast-iron pan, griddle, or skillet.

5) Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

This recipe yields about 14 biscuits.

Cast_iron_skillet-SPL

That’s it. Pretty simple, but evidently a great recipe.

And since I’m the kind of person that loves trivia, let me share some history of the biscuit that I learned from the cookbook.

“The soft-wheat flours of the South don’t bond well with yeast. To make yeast breads, Southern cooks had to import good bread flour from the North. Folks couldn’t afford to purchase it. Biscuits were born when commercially prepared baking powder and baking soda became readily available to the southern cook. These ingredients could be combined with the South’s soft flour to make biscuits, a yummy substitute for the yeast breads that were common in the North.

When the leavening agents of baking soda and baking powder became available, biscuits became as much a part of Southern meals as cornbread and how cakes had been before that time.”

And now you know. How about you? Do you have any favorite biscuit recipes? What do you like to serve biscuits with? What do you like to put on your biscuits?

drop-biscuits-2 (Image courtesy of CrunchyCreamySweet).

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An old post from two years ago. Got the crock pot going again today.

thechemistcook

According to The All New Joy of Cooking, Hoppin’ John (aka Carolina Rice and Bean Pilau) is a dish that was most likely brought to the Carolinas in the early 17th century by the Huguenots. The Huguenots were (and I suppose still are) French Protestants that came to the States to escape the persecution they were experiencing in France. Pilau is a Middle Eastern dish that was brought to Provence when Muslims settled throughout Mediterranean Europe during the Middle Ages. When the dish migrated to the United States it merged with the rice dishes that were being prepared by African-Americans. The result was various ‘American’ pilaus or pilafs. Hoppin’ John is probably the most well-known. Tradition says that Hoppin’ John is served on New Year’s Day.

For the last seven years my family has celebrated New Year’s Day with some of our neighbors. We always make the Hoppin’…

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For many people the holidays are all about the meal. What are we going to serve for Thanksgiving? And if we had Turkey for Thanksgiving are we going to serve Ham or Prime Rib for Christmas? Last year it was just me, my wife and my daughter for Christmas. My in-laws were in another state visiting their other daughter so there was no big family dinner planned. My wife and I asked our daughter what she wanted for Christmas dinner. Do you know what she wanted? She wanted Macaroni and Cheese from a box. For her, that was a treat. So we ate mac and cheese last year. And let me tell you, it was fun. It didn’t make Christmas any more special or less meaningful. It was quick to make and an easy cleanup.
This Christmas we did things a little differently. I got thinking and the things that make those holiday meals special are the traditions, the stories behind the food. Remembering the way things were when you were younger, the taste of your aunt’s baked beans, the smell of your grandmother’s house. Food and meals are just one of the traditions that bring us together as families and give us a sense of belonging. Maybe food helps us to feel connected to those who are no longer with us. And one other wonderful thing is that we love the stories that come along with the food.
This year my family made tamales for the first time. As a boy I remember going over to my grandmother’s house. I remember the smells, and I remember that she always had a pot of refried beans on the stove. I also remember the tamales she would make. I really never liked the spicy ones, but my grandmother always made me her sweet tamales. And that’s what we made this year; using the same recipe that she used to make. (Although I did substitute vegetable shortening for lard.) And they tasted just as good as I can remember. Even better was that making them and putting them together was a family effort. I’ve known of families that will make hundreds (20 or 30 dozen) of tamales at Christmas time. I recently read in Smithsonian magazine that tamales are thought to have originated with the Aztecs. The tamales filled a need as a portable food to be eaten in battle. Prior to the use of pots and pans they were simply cooked over hot ashes buried in the ground. They were wrapped in banana leaves or pliable bark, and filled with whatever meat was available.
We also made on of my family’s favorite dishes (my sister-in-law’s favorite particularly). It’s a dish called ‘Country Captain’. The recipe came from my Cast-Iron Cooking for Dummies cookbook. And like all great meals, it has a great story. The cookbook says that the recipe came from Mrs. W.L. Bullard of Columbus, Georgia. She once served the dish to Franklin Roosevelt. And it says that General George Patton was also a big fan of the dish. In fact, upon leaving for Europe with the 2nd armored division, General Patton sent a message to Mrs. Bullard’s daughter to please meet him at the train station with a whole bucket of Country Captain.
Many great meals and traditions have stories behind them. That’s what makes them meaningful to us. The holidays are always a time for family to come together and a time to share and remember our past. Recipes, favorite dishes, and traditional meals all connect us to those with us and those ancestors that are no longer living. And as families grow and expand, the meals will change, the recipes will change or evolve, and new traditions will start. But families will still be connected through the food they share together and the stories that go along with it.
What favorite recipes/meals does your family have? And what are some of the stories behind those dishes?

Frozen_vegetables-SPLSorry Dr. Oz, but I respectfully disagree. In a recent issue of TIME (Volume 180, No. 23, December 3, 2012), Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote an article stating that in most cases, there is little difference in the nutritional content between organic foods and pre-packaged frozen varieties. He also argues that there is little nutritional difference between factory farm raised livestock verses free-range chickens and grass-fed cows. His nutritional comparisons also included chocolate, suggesting that consuming organic, free-trade chocolate is nutritionally no different than other varieties but can “satisfy cravings and ease guilt.”
As an Environmental Science professor, I have to say that we need to look beyond the nutritional content label of our foods, and that buying organic, free trade items does a lot more than ease guilt. The choices should focus on sustainability.
Seven billion people (U.S. and World Population Clock, 2012) inhabit our planet and current estimates put the world population at nine billion by the year 2044 (International Programs – World Populations, 2012). Our ability to produce food is not something I’m worried about. Historically, food has been produced at a rate faster than the rate of the population growth (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). It’s how produce food that concerns me. We have devoted more fossil fuel use to agriculture; increased our use of irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers; planted and harvested more frequently; cultivated more land; and developed more productive livestock and crop varieties. In order for our production of food to be a sustainable practice we must maintain healthy soil, water, and biodiversity. And as our population grows, almost 99% of the next billion people born will be born in the poorest and underdeveloped regions of our planet (U.N. Population Division, 2009). One billion people already struggle with finding food to eat, mostly due to political obstacles, war, and distribution problems. There are also millions of children that suffer from malnutrition, which suggests that the quality of food is just as important as the quantity.
Can we continue this pace? In order to feed the world’s growing population, we will need to increase our global food production by 70 percent (FAO, 2009). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment concluded that 15 out of 24 ecosystem services examined are already being degraded or used unsustainably (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources Institute, 2005). Ecosystem services arise from Earth’s normal functioning of natural systems. We could not survive without these processes which include: air and water purification, nutrient cycling, climate regulation, receiving and recycling our waste, and plant pollination. We have degraded nature’s ability to provide these services by depleting resources, destroying habitats, and generating pollution. An increase in global food production will be the ultimate challenge.
Soil is the foundation for our agriculture and presently 38 percent of global land is devoted to agriculture (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). Soil is not merely lifeless dirt, but a complex plant-supporting system, consisting of disintegrated rock, organic matter, water, gases, nutrients, and microorganisms. Most importantly, soil is a renewable resource, yet can be depleted. Each year our planet gains 80 million people yet loses 12–17 million acres of productive cropland (about the size of West Virginia) (Withgott & Brennan, 2011). Human activities move over 10 times more soil than all other processes combined (Withgott & Brennan, 2011).
Soil is just one of the factors that we will need to address in feeding a global population. Fresh water and biodiversity will also need to be managed wisely. A dozen species of animals provide 90 percent of the animal protein consumed globally and just four crop species provide half of plant-based calories in the human diet (FAO, 2009).
There is hope. The world has the resources and technology to eradicate hunger. But, we can’t rely on technology alone. We have to make some serious choices. I applaud Dr. Oz for living in a vegetarian household (Oz, 2012). That choice has a large impact on the sustainability of our world. Our food consumption choices need to reflect a sustainable mindset. We can’t base all our purchases on our pocketbooks. Where and how our food was produced will be just as important. Spend a little more, and make a long term investment on the health of our planet. Your life and the lives of others depend on it.
International Programs – World Populations. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/population/international/data/idb/worldpopgraph.php
U.S. and World Population Clock. (2012, December 17). Retrieved from United States Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html
FAO. (2009, October 12). How to Feed the World in 2050. Retrieved from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf
Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and World Resources Institute. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: General Synthesis.
Oz, D. M. (2012, December 3). Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance and Carrots Too. TIME, pp. 38-46.
U.N. Population Division. (2009). World Population Prospects: The 2008 revision. New York: UNPD.
Withgott, J. H., & Brennan, S. (2011). In J. H. Withgott, & S. Brennan, Environment: The Science Behind the Stories (p. 253). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cimmings.

According to The All New Joy of Cooking, Hoppin’ John (aka Carolina Rice and Bean Pilau) is a dish that was most likely brought to the Carolinas in the early 17th century by the Huguenots. The Huguenots were (and I suppose still are) French Protestants that came to the States to escape the persecution they were experiencing in France. Pilau is a Middle Eastern dish that was brought to Provence when Muslims settled throughout Mediterranean Europe during the Middle Ages. When the dish migrated to the United States it merged with the rice dishes that were being prepared by African-Americans. The result was various ‘American’ pilaus or pilafs. Hoppin’ John is probably the most well-known. Tradition says that Hoppin’ John is served on New Year’s Day.

For the last seven years my family has celebrated New Year’s Day with some of our neighbors. We always make the Hoppin’ John and they always make the corn bread. Our neighbors are both from Georgia, so they were used to the tradition of eating black-eyed-peas on New Year’s Day as a way of bringing good luck. My mother-in-law is from Oklahoma and also grew up with the same tradition. Our neighbor told us that he used to hear that you would earn one dollar for each black-eyed-pea you ate. In today’s world, that would have to be a pretty big bowl. As we sat around the table eating, we shared many wonderful memories and stories. We discussed our new year’s resolutions and what we hoped for the coming year. I made the same two resolutions I make every year. I resolved to stay alive, so that I would be able to celebrate New Year’s next year. And I resolved to not get arrested. So far, I have never broken either resolution. No bad huh?

The food was what brought us together, but it became secondary to the time we were spending together. We also asked the question of why we only ate Hoppin’ John once a year. It was so good (and easy to make) that it should make its way into the normal menu rotation. We’ll see. What traditions do you have for New Year’s? Do you make resolutions?

Hoppin' John and Corn Bread

Hoppin’ John and Corn Bread

When my daughter was in 2nd grade, each student in the class was given a week to be the “Top Dog”. The week before, the students were sent home with a sheet they were to fill out. It asked questions about some of the favorite things in life and what made them special. The kids got the opportunity to stand in front of the classroom and share all their favorites.

One week a girl in my daughter’s class shared that her favorite food was spaghetti tacos. When my daughter told me that her friend’s favorite food was spaghetti tacos, the first words out of my mouth were, “What are spaghetti tacos?” My daughter responded that she didn’t know. She had never heard of them before either.

One day after school, while I was waiting to pick up my little girl, I ran into the dad of the girl who had been Top Dog. I asked him what spaghetti tacos were. He informed me that they were an invention from his daughter’s favorite TV show, iCarly. In one episode the brother is given the task of making dinner. He is torn and can’t decide whether to make spaghetti or tacos. He is suddenly hit with a bolt of inspiration and decides to join the best of both worlds. And thus, the spaghetti taco was born.

Without a formal recipe we decided to give it a try and make out own version of the spaghetti taco. We had prepared in advance and made trip to the store for supplies. For spaghetti, my daughter opted for penne pasta. The only problem we encountered was that we have a tomato allergy in our house. We had learned that ranch dressing make a great substitute for tomato sauce in many situations. We bought the pre-made taco shells and were all ready to go. The cooking was easy; the assembly was a little more of a challenge. Trying to get the penne in the taco shell was a learning experience. In the future, I would recommend the use of regular spaghetti noodles.

Overall, the spaghetti tacos were a success in our house. I loved ‘em too. The crunch of the taco shell combined with the pasta and the ranch was yummy. They have made return trips to our house. It’s always great to learn of a new menu item that we can add to the dinner rotation.

What other menu items have you tried on the suggestion of your kids? Any unusual foods that have been inspired by TV shows or movies?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo from http://makingmemorieswithyourkids.blogspot.com/2011/01/spaghetti-tacos.html

A holiday all about food. I know that Thanksgiving really isn’t all about the food, but it would appear that way sometimes. Especially if you see some of the statistics. One of the these Thanksgivings I would love to be able to bake a Turducken and then dig into a lovely Cherpumple for dessert. But not this year. This year will be a little simper. I plan on spending a quiet day at the home of my in-laws. We will gather with a small group of family and friends and give thanks together. Maybe watch a football game or two, share some memories and expose my daughter to some of the things that we truly value in life. Not the Black Friday (or Black Thursday now) sales, not the latest Hollywood releases, and not any other material possession that marketers and advertisers will try to convince you is the secret to true happiness. Have a wonderful and blessed holiday. May your cup always overflow.

“This Thanksgiving I’ll be thankful: For the prayers for it means the presence of God will fill my home. For the smells and aromas and the memories they stir. For the crowd at my house for it means I have love in my home. For the noise of children for it means their lungs are healthy. For the laughter for it means I have joy in my home. For the old stories retold for it means there is heritage to pass along. For the sleepiness afterwards for it means all are content. For the cleanup afterwards for it means we all had our fill. For dessert for it means there is always something more to look forward to. For leftovers for it reminds us that God gives abundantly beyond our imagination.”

-Author Unknown

November 2008

James Kennedy

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