Archive for December, 2010





English Muffins

Thursday, December 30th, 2010






My Little English

Muffin




I grew up with English Muffins for breakfast. I think I heard it said that my mom used to make them from scratch, but all I remember are boxes of Thomas English Muffins or various other brands in tubular bags loaded with muffins stacked one on top of the other. We cut the treats with a fork and toasted them in the oven until the tallest points were crisp and brown and the rest of the muffin was warm and chewy. Eggs Benedict was a favorite in our house, with the English Muffin as the basis for that whole, yummy egg concoction.


I did a little research, out of curiosity, to see where this muffin originated and got conflicting reports. According to Wikipedia, they originated in England and may have been around as long as the 10th century, however, they didn’t become fashionable until the late 1800′s. It stated that these muffins were and are served as a staple part of “tea”. But according to Foodreference.com The English swear that they never heard of them until these muffins were imported to England from America. It appears that Wikipedia may have confused English Muffins with Crumpets. Crumpets are a flatter, chewier, spongier version and really are a “tea” staple in England.


Foodreference.com joked that perhaps a pitiful English baker named Thomas, messed up his mother’s crumpet recipe – probably added too much flour – and produced the English Muffin instead. Who knows. It makes a good story though!


About a month ago, one of the active participants on the MaryJane FarmGirl Connection challenged all of us “Farmgirls” to a bread baking day. What fun. We were told to make something that we had never tried before. It was a blast reading recipes that were shared and seeing photos of the results. What a wonderful group of women. It was with that challenge, that I decided to try my hand at English Muffins. The following is the result and I must say, “Oh my!!” A pat of butter and some strawberry jam and you might as well leave me to meditatin’. These were very easy to make and I encourage you to give it a try. You will love the results. No more ‘store boughten’ for me!!!!


English Muffin Recipe



1 cup water
1/2 cup scalded milk
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp warm water
1 pkg active dry yeast [or 1 tbsp loose yeast]
4 cups flour
3 tbsp softened butter


Printable Recipe


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Scald milk in a small sauce pan



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Dissolve yeast, 3-5 minutes, in 2 tbsp warm water



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In a mixing bowl, add 1 cup water, scalded milk, sugar and salt and stir. Add in the activated yeast mixture.



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Sift flour before measuring and then slowly beat in 2 cups of the flour. Beat until batter is smooth



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Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the sponge rise in a warm place about 1 1/2 hours or until the sponge has risen and then collapsed back on itself. Notice the level to which the batter rose and then fell.


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Beat in 3 tbsp of softened butter and add the remaining flour. I knead the dough in my mixer with the dough hooks for about 6 minutes.



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Pour the really sticky dough out onto an Oklahoma Pastry Cloth™ or other floured surface.



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You can carefully roll out the dough to cut with a tuna can or large biscuit cutter, or you can just pinch off some dough to pat into well-greased muffin rings that have been placed on a cookie sheet covered with buttered or oiled foil and sprinkled with cornmeal. I experimented here with the rings, a tuna can that had been defrocked of it’s top and bottom and no kind of ring at all. Hands down, the muffin rings were the easiest things to work with. The tuna cans worked ok but were too deep and the ones without a ring were a disaster. I have, therefore, stocked my kitchen with 3 sets of muffin rings. Anyway, cover the cookie sheet of filled rings with a damp cloth and allow to rise until doubled.



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When dough has doubled, gently lift the rings and dough from the foil and place into a hot skillet or griddle that has been well buttered or oiled.



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Slide the rings off of the muffins and fry until golden brown on the bottom. Turn the muffins to the other side and only cook once on each side.



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Cook on second side until golden brown



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Cool on a baking rack



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Cut muffins in half by using the tines of a fork. Toast in a toaster oven, or spread with butter and fry in a skillet, pressing down into the skillet to form a crispy, buttery surface.



I don’t care where these precious breads were invented or if they were just a mistake on the part of a bad English baker who immigrated to the US, they are delicious and a real treat. Next post, I’ll show you something that you can do with them that will thrill the kids. Until then….

Happy Cooking!!

MB

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Sweet Taste of Success

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010




Sweet Taste of Success!



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A dear friend surprised me with a freezer bag stuffed with clippings covered with the prettiest green leaves. She informed me that the clippings were from her Stevia plant and that she hoped I could use them.


I like Stevia. My dear hubby doesn’t care much for it but I have decided that just as God creates us with different eye colors and different finger lengths, He also gives us different taste bud lengths. If you have short taste buds, then you’ll eat anything since the food doesn’t really touch much taste bud surface at all. There isn’t enough total taste taken in to determine, “Yuck. I don’t like that” before the item is whisked to your tummy. I also think that this is the reason why people who have ulcers still eat hot and spicy foods. Their taste buds are too short to tell them, “Whoa there, Bucko! That’s gonna kill your stomach.”


People with the longest taste buds are the pickiest eaters – kinda like my friend – the one with the stevia plant – who insists that “Cheetos are the other yellow vegetable.” She won’t eat cooked squash (yellow) or sauerkraut (sorta yellow), but she will eat corn (mostly yellow) which is the main ingredient of Cheetos minus the artificial colors (including Yellow #6) and therefore a larger cousin of the Cheeto family. I’m not sure which genus.


I am pretty sure the height of my taste buds is medium to low because I will eat almost anything except meat of any type that has the potential to move if it hasn’t been cooked, or canned peas. My taste buds are tall enough to tell me that canned peas consist of those legumes which didn’t make the cut, so were pressure canned to hide the fact. But MY tastebuds know the truth!


So what was I saying? Oh yes. I like Stevia. You have to be careful about this sweetener because a little goes a REALLY long way. The processed type can be found in just about any grocery these days, as well as local health food stores. There is even a mixture of sugar and Stevia that is pretty good, however my hubby’s long taste buds can pick the Stevia out everytime.


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So I took the clippings, given to me by my dear friend, and tied them in little bunches. I put a paper clip through the rubber bands holding them together.


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I hung the bunches in the garage to let them dry. As you notice, my dear hubby not only has long tastebuds, but also collects Coca Cola memorabelia.


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After drying the clippings for about 5 weeks, I took them down the other day. They were brittle.


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I picked all of the leaves off of the stems which really wasn’t very hard. They broke off easily.


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I figured that the next best thing to an herb grinder was the trusty old blender and so I pulverized those leaves until they were dust.


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I stored it in a plastic bag for fresh keeping.


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And so, today, I decided to brew some Oklahoma Prairie Blend tea. I put the Stevia powder in a small tea infuser in hopes of keeping the powder out of the tea since I knew it wouldn’t dissolve. No luck. It was still in there and it was still green, but green never killed anybody. It really tasted good and it was kinda cool drinking tea with a no calorie, no side effects sweetener that I had ground myself. Another new thing tried! Check!


Fresh Stevia leaves make a wonderful edition to a salad, adding just a hint of sweetness. It is healthy and, evidently, really easy to raise. I will be putting a plant here in the Spring. I understand that it is important to check packages of commercial Stevia for location of processing. In the US it is processed using water filtration but Stevia is also imported from China where dangerous chemicals are used to filter it. I’ll bet you people with long taste buds can tell the difference!!! :-)



Happy Experimenting!


MB


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Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 16th, 2010



Merry Christmas!



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Christmas for all things Oklahoma Pastry Cloth™ is up and running and I absolutely love the time of year! I would just like to take this time to wish all of you a Merry Christmas and to thank everyone for making this year so successful and exciting.


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Sorry that this photo is so fuzzy. After fifty million pictures of the tree that were blurry and because all of a sudden everything in the screen appeared in Japanese, I realized that my camera was dying a low battery death.

~~~

Our days of cutting down a tree and bringing it to the house are over. We have to be satisfied with a fake. Poor hubby’s allergies can’t handle the real thing.



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Our kitty, Callie, thinks it’s a real tree and that tree skirt she’s lying on is really a forest bed of pine needles. The star ornament is from my childhood trees. It’s plastic!!!



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This year’s theme is ‘silver and pearls’. Silver bows, silver pine cones, silver balls are all mixed in with our traditional ornaments. “Turn your ear to wisdom and apply your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding and if you look for it as for SILVER and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 2:2-5 and “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine PEARLS. when he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” Mathew 13:45-46


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We have a choo-choo train, that really blows smoke, chugging around the tree. I love the sound of the whistle. The cat hates it and the dog doesn’t really know what to think. Notice all of the plastic ornaments on the bottom row? They are also from my childhood. I put them on the bottom just in case the cat decides that they are acrobat rats hanging by their tales! I have a feeling that’s why my parents had plastic ornaments too. Four kids and glass Christmas ornaments make for a sure disaster.



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The nutcrackers stand guard over the front entrance. I watched the Nutcracker Suite last night and I’m waiting for one of these little guys to salute me!



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The garlands and poinsettas are placed in strategic locations.



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My favorite part of decorating for Chistmas is setting out the Nativity scenes. I just feel a certain connection as if I am holding a photograph of a moment in time.



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I have been very disheartened at what I have discovered in our stores. Most are not stocking Nativity Scenes anymore. I was trying to find one to replace a relative’s broken one and asked at the usual places. Not one place had a single set and the clerks really didn’t seem too worried about it.

Christmas is about the Nativity, but it is so much more than that. For Christians, it is a time of celebration and amazement because God came down and dwelt among men and showed His authority and His ability to provide for us. This nation has honored that belief for a long time. Please, let’s not take the Christ out of Christmas.



Have A Very, Merry Christmas!


MB


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Christmas Cookies

Sunday, December 12th, 2010




And VERY Good They

Are – Jum-Jills!




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Everyone has some traditional and tasty treat that is made year after year at Christmas. The internet is full of blog posts describing a favorite candy or cookie that is included in decorative tins, mason jars or pastry boxes for friends and neighbors. All of them are good and all of them make wonderful gifts.


My family is no different and I decided that I might as well join the flood of internet recipes with a family delicacy of our own. However, I will venture a bet that few other traditions are QUITE like ours. Ours is more than a cookie that has been part of our family world since I was a little girl. Our tradition is also a story about the cookie, with a happy ending, and, I’m quite sure, a moral which I have yet to figure out even over these past 5 decades!

Captain Kangaroo used to include a book on his show about a little old man and a little old woman who just wanted a little cat. They wound up with “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats”. (That was before ‘quadrillion’ and ‘google’ were invented) It is a predicament we rural folk seem to find ourselves in all the time. Children all over the country were glued to the television as strains of an oboe and flute accompanied the pictures from the book one could swear were moving. A deep, pleasant voice intoned the story line. The book was written in 1928 by a German author, Wanda G’ag, and was a favorite in many households. A second book she had written in 1929 , however, does not seem to be as well-known. That is the one my family absolutely loved and it has now been read to grandchildren with an eye on great-grandchildren. The title? The Funny Thing.


The Funny Thing “looked something like a dog and also a little like a giraffe, and from the top of its head to the tip of its curled tail, there was a row of beautiful blue points.” He called himself an “aminal”. He ate good little children’s dolls. “And very good they are, good little children’s dolls.”


There is a little old man of the mountains named “Bobo” who is the hero and Bobo makes some little round balls from nut cakes and other items. He calls them “Jum-Jills”. Bobo tells the Funny Thing that the “Jum-Jills” will make his blue points bluer and his long tail longer. The vain Funny Thing gobbles them up and pretty soon his tail is so long that he has to sit on the top of a mountain, curling his tail around it, while the birds fly by and drop “Jum-Jills” into his mouth. The day is saved and no more good children have to suffer the loss of their precious dolls!


And so, when my mother was making the cookies in the recipe below, they immediately became “Jum-Jills” in our household and have been ever since. It is fun to take a batch to a group of young children, read the story and then hand out the cookies. It thrills them every time. So here is the easy recipe for “Jum Jills” so that you too can include them in your traditions! The recipe is also in our family cookbook along with other traditional recipes.




Ingredients for Jum-Jills



1 cup flour
1 stick real butter salted
3 tbsps powdered sugar
1 cup finely chopped nuts
powdered sugar for covering



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I am using home ground, soft, white pastry, whole-wheat flour here, but you can use all purpose flour. I sift my flour because it is freshly ground. Also, I am doubling the recipe here because I was making a large batch. Here I am adding 2 cups of flour instead of one.



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Next, add the powdered sugar. Because I am doubling, I am adding 1/4 cup + 1/8 cup instead of the 3 tbsps.



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Have butter at room temperature and cut into chunks to make mixing easier and more uniform.



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Mix until the butter is cut into the flour and powdered sugar mix, much like cutting shortening into flour for biscuits. The result should be a mixture of course crumbs.



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Chop nuts in the blender or food processor or by hand. We use pecans, but almonds and English walnuts can be used as well. If using almonds, add 1/2 tsp. of almond extract per recipe to make almond “Jum-Jills”. Add the nuts to the mix and mix until the nuts are thoroughly incorporated.



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Because I use the whole wheat flour, I have found that I need to add 1 tbsp of water per recipe. I am adding two tbsps here because I have doubled the recipe. If using regular, all-purpose flour, you can add a tsp of water if you find that your dough is not coming together.



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The dough is ready when it forms a shaggy clump. The dough will seem dry, but that is ok because the butter is what makes the cookies soft and crunchy.



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With a spoon, dip out a little bit of dough and roll it in the palms of your hands and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. You do not have to space them very far apart. Bake for 20 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 350º.



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It is great to make a lot of dough at once because it freezes well or keeps in the frig well for a quick bake. Just bring to room temperature and form your cookies.



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When the cookies are done, let them cool slightly and then place several in a container with a tight lid that has been filled with powdered sugar. Shake carefully so not to break the cookies and coat the cookies with the sugar.



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A plate of Jum-Jills will not last long around your house. And you might check to see whose points are bluer and whose tail is longest. You’ll know your culprits immediately!



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A wide mouth canning jar makes a wonderful vessel in which to put cookies for a gift. The cookies will last even longer if you have a vacuum seal system that vacuums jars. Put a lid and ring in place and cover with brown paper or cloth. Attach a rubber band to hold the cloth or paper in place and cover it with a decorative ribbon. You can add a tag to wish your friend, neighbor or family member a Merry Christmas!



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Happy Cooking!

MB
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December In Oklahoma

Friday, December 10th, 2010





December

In Oklahoma



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I just thought that I would remind you of what Oklahoma looks like in the Spring before you see the following photos!



I have decided that every place on earth has its own beauty and every place on earth in any season of the year displays that beauty in many different ways.


Oklahoma is no different. From the “mountains” (hills to you Colorado folk) of the eastern and southwestern part of the state, the rivers and forests of the southeastern and southcentral part, to the wide open prairie and sand dunes of the western part of the state, nature shows herself in glorious splendor each and every season.

Yesterday, my dear husband and I made a day of it heading out to Altus, OK, home of Altus Air Force Base. From our starting point, the route winds through Chickasha, Lawton and Fort Sill, Cache and Snyder (home of General Tommy Franks) past ranches that spread as far as the eye can see.

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We started out in cold, brisk temperatures hanging around 32º with a dusting of snow on the ground. As we moved south, the cold air had hit warmer air and we were driving in the proverbial “pea soup”.


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I thought that you might like to see what our state looks like in the late Fall/early Winter before the heavy snows move in. I took these from the car as we were sailing along at a 70mph clip!


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These are the mountains that are evidently keeping Trader Joe’s from coming to Oklahoma. It seems their trucks can’t make it over our “mountains”? Yes, clerks at two different Trader Joe’s stores in two different states shared that secret with me. I’m wondering how they made it all the way to Tennessee from California!! Some of our “mountains” are leftovers from the Dust Bowl days. Large dunes of sand give testimony to those hare and terrible days. I think the view is spectacular.


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Every breed of cow you can imagine dots the countryside. I bet these Angus could make it over the “mountains”!!!



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Around Snyder, there are these strange outcroppings of rock that just rise right out of the ground.



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That isn’t snow! That’s cotton. I never saw so much cotton as I did on our drive.



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Those are bales of cotton and they were everywhere. With cotton prices soaring, that looked like gold bars in them thar fields!!



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The cotton bolls are sharp. It is hard to imagine how painful it must have been when hand-picking was the only way to pull the soft cotton off of the plants.



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We finally made it to Altus to sun and warmer temperatures. We went by the Air Force Base and it was humming with activity. The monstrous C5 Galaxy planes looked like battleships trying to stay in the air. They are so big that it is just hard to fathom how in the world they fly!!!


So there’s a little view into one part of our world on the southwest side of the state. Hope you didn’t get carsick!!



MB

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Random Musings – Buttermilk Biscuits From Scratch

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010




Random Musings



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Biscuit cutters come in all shapes and sizes – from the real utensil to a tin can or plastic cup with holes punched in the top



Isn’t it funny the things we say before we really realize how dumb we sound? Like the clerk who recently told my daughter that she didn’t think the grocery store carried poppy seeds anymore because of the opium in them – Huh??


Or how about someone near and dear to me who announced that the IPhone had an exciting new app that turns your IPhone into a walky-talky, allowing you to talk to other people over your IPhone!! Ya think? (Oh and that’s ‘application’ for those of you out-of-the-technologically-advanced-loop kinda fuddy-duddies)


One of the best was stated by a sport’s caster announcing a Denver Bronco’s game, years ago, who marvelled, “He threw it with his left arm!! He threw it with his left arm!! He’s amphibious, you know!!!”


I’ve had my major share of unengaged brain moments myself. There was the time I didn’t realize that I explained to a friend of ours, who had accompanied us to a reunion, not to be alarmed about one of our cousins who suffered from “necrophelia” (attraction to corpses). I couldn’t understand the shock and recoil of our guest until one of our children whispered to him, “She means narcolepsy“(sleeping disorder). Oh yes. I really said that.


And then, there was the awful time that I got frustrated with one of the old timers who loved to kid me in the grocery store meat department where I worked years ago. Balancing a row of packaged chicken breasts, three deep, along my left arm as I was placing them in the bin, I picked up one package, waved it in front of his face and threatened, “Do you want some breasts in your mouth??!!” There was nothing to do but hide in the big cooler between the hanging sides of beef and pork until the coast was clear.


My favorite story of all time, though, involves a very dear friend of mine (whose name I will change to protect the not-so-innocent), Claude. In that very same grocery that I mentioned as my place of employment, there was a very handsome, macho, young man – the brother of my boss and co-owner of the store – who worked the cash register every so often. His name was Gerald. My boss, had a delightful little tow-headed four year old son, who spent many days with us in the meat department. And his name was Jarod. One day, my friend Claude and his wife had come to the grocery store to shop. Seeing Jarod playing in front of the store, Claude’s wife mentioned, “Oh! There’s Jarod. When you get closer to him, be sure to play “Got’cher Nose” with him because he loves it.” If you have no idea what that game involves, it requires the adult to grab the youngster’s nose, and then, sticking the thumb between the index finger and the middle finger to present it as the stolen nose, the adult declares, “Got’cher nose!” to which the youngster screams in terror, “Give it back!! Give it back!!” It is solely for the sadistic pleasure of adults to terrify, frustrate and generally disturb the psyche of young children.


Now Claude, dutiful husband that he was, pushed the cart around the store and loaded it with groceries alongside his wife. In order to pay for their loot, Claude stationed the buggy at the checkout stand manned by Gerald, my boss’s brother. Claude looked a little timid at first, but just as Gerald rang up the last item and stated how much was owed, Claude reached across the conveyor belt to Gerald’s nose, grabbed it and declared, “Got’cher nose!!” Now, Claude defends his actions by explaining that when his wife mentioned “Jarod”, he heard “Gerald”, and disaster ensued. Gerald, every bit the man’s man, stepped back in shock and stared at Claude in total confusion. Then Claude saw little Jarod and realized his mistake. Leaving groceries, cart, a stunned checkout clerk and a wife, who was in hysterics, Claude exited the grocery as fast as he could and waited in the car until his wife made it out with the groceries. It was quite awhile before Claude set foot in the place again, and those of us who worked in the grocery had a story and a laugh for weeks and weeks.


Well, speaking of Claude – Claude, like Ernest in the old milk commercials, used to pop up at our home every morning because he knew that there would be fresh biscuits and sausage for the taking. He loved biscuits and he always made me feel so appreciated as he devoured a plateful. And so, it is in honor of Claude that I thought I’d post my biscuit recipe. Hey, Claude!! Got’cher nose!


Buttermilk Biscuits From Scratch

2 cups flour (all purpose or whole wheat pastry flour)
2 tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp shortening
buttermilk
oil
butter


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Mix all dry ingredients and then cut in shortening with a dough blender also known as a “pastry cutter”.



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The mixture should resemble small crumbs



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Now here is where I have a tough time explaining because I am a “dump” cook. In other words, I just start dumping in buttermilk until it looks right! If it makes you feel better, start with 1/4 cup and mix that in and then another 1/4 cup and so on until the dough is soft to stir, but not too sticky. I am going to venture a guess at 1/2 cup total buttermilk, but it all depends on the consistency of the buttermilk.



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The dough is ready to put out onto a floured surface like an Oklahoma Pastry Cloth™ I flour my hands and press the dough into a ball and knead it slightly by dropping it onto the pastry cloth, rounding it up again, dropping it and rounding it about 6 times.



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Gently roll the dough to a circle about 3/4 to 1″ inch thick



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Cut the biscuits with your favorite sized biscuit cutter



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Put enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan or baking sheet in which you plan to bake your biscuits. A cast iron skillet works great for baking biscuits.



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Place the biscuits top side down into the oil and then flip over to right side up so that the top is oiled. In the photo of the biscuits in the skillet, notice that they are closer together than the ones in the cookie sheet. Putting them closer together makes the biscuits soft on the edges. Separating them makes them crusty all the way around. Bake in a hot oven at 450º for 13 minutes or until golden brown on top.



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As soon as the biscuits are out of the oven, I melt a little butter on the tops. I immediately cover the biscuits with foil or a heavy dish towel to steam them for about 5 minutes from their own heat.



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Now they are ready to put on the table!



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Any leftovers can go into a freezer bag and stored in the freezer. Just pop one out and nuke it in the microwave, or place it in some foil and bake it in the oven at 400º for about 10 minutes and it tastes just like it is fresh!




Happy Cooking!

MB
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