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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?

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

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of a friend this morning. I struggle to imagine what my life would have been like without him. High school would have been close to intolerable. The friend is someone you may also know. His name is “Twinkie the Kid”.

I fondly recall the parties my friends and I had in high-school. They weren’t your typical high school parties. We were the nerds so we did things a little differently. We had what we used to call, “Ho-Ho Parties”. Everyone invited to the party would bring their own box of Hostess snack cakes and a six-pack of their favorite caffeinated beverage. Some of us preferred Ho-Hos, but I fell into the group that was Twinkie fan. That golden sponge cake, the gooey creamy filling…irresistible.

I used to joke that Twinkies were actually the ultimate health food because they contained all four food groups (back in day when there were such a thing as food groups). The flour was your grain group; the cream filling was the dairy products group; the animal shortening was the meat group; and the fruit and vegetables group was represented by corn syrup and soybean oil. According the Twinkies Wikipedia page the official list of ingredients are: Enriched wheat flour, sugar, corn syrup, niacin, water, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable and/or animal shortening – containing one or more of partially hydrogenated soybean, cottonseed and canola oil, and beef fat, dextrose, whole eggs, modified corn starch, cellulose gum, whey, leavenings (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, monocalcium phosphate), salt, cornstarch, corn flour, corn syrup, solids, mono and diglycerides, soy lecithin, polysorbate 60, dextrin, calcium caseinate, sodium stearoyl lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulphate, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, yellow #5, red #40. Yummy! Sometimes I regret not becoming a food scientist. Think about it…Your job is to invent food. Awesome!

Twinkies have a long history (having first been invented in 1930). People even deep-fried them, and they became an instant hit at the Texas state fair and at ballparks across the nation. Sadly, I will have to live with the regret that I was never able to savor one of these magical delicacies. I was however able to share a wonderful Twinkie treat with my daughter. One of all-time favorite musicians “Weird Al” introduced me to the Twinkie Wiener Sandwich. You take a Twinkie and turn it upside down, cut it down the middle lengthwise so that it resembles a hot dog bun. Then place a cooked hot dog in the sliced Twinkie and top the whole thing off with a generous helping of Eazy Cheese. It is a taste that your taste buds will never forget. An explosion of mouth-watering goodness.  My daughter absolutely loved them.

Twinkies even had their day in court when a defendant claimed that he was not in a right state of mind when he committed the crimes because of his increased consumption of junk food. Although Twinkies were never specifically mentioned, famed newspaper columnist Herb Cain dubbed this the Twinkie Defense.

The shelf life of Twinkies is legendary. I even recall having buried a couple myself with the hope of returning one day and digging them up to see how well preserved they still were. If only I could find that treasure map to their locations. The movie Wall-E even has a still-wrapped well-preserved Twinkie on the shelf in Wall-E’s trailer. Look for it next time.

So my friend, I am sad to see you go. You led a rich life and touched the hearts of millions of people. Lives were changed because you were on this planet. I count myself lucky to have known you. I know that I will see you on the other side. God Speed Twinkie the Kid.

James Kennedy

VCE Chemistry Teacher at Haileybury, Australia

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