Butter-Cream Dinner Rolls

    Butter-Cream Dinner Rolls

Early September, just after Labor Day – I’m already relishing the wonderful thoughts of my favorite time of year: Fall.  There’s HBCU college football; spawning of the largemouth bass and crappies in the lakes; the fish markets will soon have more black sea bass and spots on ice – and I will be a thoroughly happy camper!

For my fried fish, I want a wedge of cornbread, some fluffy rice with some Carolina Gumbo (see note below on that everybody-eats-it-in SC Carolina Gumbo!) on top of it. When I’m having that early-morning fall breakfast before getting out on the lake, I want some hot biscuits, butter and pure cane syrup with my scrambled eggs and sausage patties or country ham.  Of course, some sausage gravy for those biscuits will do just fine for my breakfast meat course also!  For dinner, I truly miss my Aunt Emma T’s hot yeast dinner rolls – something I didn’t learn to make!  Aaaaaaah, but fellow foodies, I’m some kinda dangerous guy now, ‘cause I’ve learned to make hot yeast dinner rolls!  And, that is what this blog entry is all about – light, fluffy, flavorful hot yeast rolls that are rich, and will make ya’ slap ya’self for eating so many!

 

I did my rolls in my cast-iron skillet.

You can use any rectangular baking dish if you prefer.

Here’s the story –

I’ve always loved French baguettes and use to stay in the HEB Central Market on Lovers Lane during my years in Dallas. They make them fresh every day.  And, of course, while in there, I’d get my yeast rolls and freshly-made loaves of Black Russian bread for sandwiches as well.  All these years, I’ve been wishing that I could make my own bread!  Well low and behold, about four weeks ago I saw a simple recipe for a crusty loaf of bread that was hailed as absolutely foolproof.  I made it, and sure enough it was indeed foolproof!  This gave me a confidence like I’ve never had before!  After just one try at breadmaking, I then got the “big head”!!!  Suddenly, I going to experiment and make my own bread recipe!  What was I thinking?  Flavor like the sweet Hawaiian breads; wonderful texture like the Parker House rolls; beautiful color and height like my Aunt Emma T’s hot yeast dinner rolls!  Wah-lah, I would think of how I make a pound cake:  Butter, milk, and sugar!

So, what I ended up with was a ratio calculation based upon that foolproof loaf I had made a couple weeks earlier. To that, I added some flavor and richness, but kept the roll light by increasing the amount of active yeast for rising; reducing the amount of flour to liquid ratio to keep them fluffy while still having the substance of bread!  What I ended up with was what I now call “Mack’s Butter-Cream Dinner Rolls”! Oh my goodness, these are good!  And, I assure you – they are also foolproof!  There’s no whole lots of fuss with the kneading and all that time-consuming rising, punching down, rising again, and such other nonsense that only leads to frustration of your waiting to delve into the wonderful end product!

I’m a member of several social-media cooking “groups” and showed photographs of these rolls already. I’m including all the photographs of the process to help you understand what I’m trying to say in the instructions I give for making these wonderful rolls!  But, first the recipe –

5 1/2 cups of bread flour (that I divided into 2 cups, and 3 cups and ½ cup)

4 TABLEspoons of active dry yeast (I do not use the quick yeast)

2 cups warm water

1/3 cup unsalted butter (melted)

2 cups heavy whipping cream

½ cup granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

Okay, let’s go to the kitchen and pull these items from the pantry and fridge. Let’s get out tools off the shelf, out of the drawers and cabinets, and make these wonderful rolls I’ve created – your family is going to sing your praises at dinner tonight!  They’ll think it took you forever to make them!  I won’t mention a word to them about the ease of making them, and neither should you – accept the praise; you deserve it!!!

Okay, let’s get a large bowl and butter it like you would a cake pan before pouring in the batter. Let’s also get another large bowl for the initial mix of ingredients.

You will need a small sauce pan; a cast-iron skillet; and a loaf pan. (This recipe will make 12 nice-size dinner rolls; and a loaf of bread for use for sandwiches later!)  If you only want to make the rolls, or only the loaf of bread, then make only half of this recipe.  If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet; if exact same-size rolls are important to you, then you will need a medium-size ice cream scoop and a 9 x 12 rectangular baking dish as well.

We are in the kitchen, and here’s how we’re going to make these rolls –

  1. In a large bowl, add the 4 tablespoons of active dry yeast, the ½ teaspoon of salt and the ½ cup of granulated sugar. Use a hand whisk and stir to mix it together. Then add the 2 cups of warm water to it. Wait for about two minutes – then add and stir in the 2 cups of bread flour. Cover with a very hot damp dish towel; sit on the counter; and leave it alone for 10 minutes.
  2. Now add the melted butter, the 2 cups of heavy whipping cream and the 3 cups of flour. Using a large wooden spoon or a large rubber spatula, fold in and mix. Now, pour this mixture of very soft dough into the large buttered bowl. Cover with a very hot damp dish towel; leave on counter for 30 minutes to rise.
  3. Oh wow, it’s dinner-roll time now. Turn your oven on and allow it to heat up to 500-degrees.
  4. Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining ½ cup of flour on your counter. Pour the dough onto the flour and knead for a minute or so, just to dry the dough a tiny bit. If dough is still too wet, sprinkle a little more flour. When you are done, this dough should be very very light, but dry! There is no more kneading to be done after this – hoorah!
  5. Using a medium-size ice cream scoop, scoop up the dough and rolls into a ball. Place in your cast-iron skillet or baking dish, whichever you’re using.  Note: If you are using your cast-iron skillet, you may not need to butter it since it’s probably already seasoned.  If you are using a rectangular baking dish, you need to butter it like you would a cake pan before pouring in the batter!
  6. If you’ve made the full recipe, you will now have about half your dough still on the floured counter. Using your fingers, “squish” it together and make a “sausage-type” roll of it and place it into your buttered loaf pan!
  7. Sit both of these on top your range and open your oven door slightly. Let the rolls and the bread loaf rise for about 15 minutes or so. You will know that its ready to go into the oven because the rolls will begin to slight touch each other!                                                                         Rolls slightly touch
  8. Turn the oven down to 375-degrees, close the door and when the oven gets back to temperature, put in your rolls and loaf of bread. Bake for 20-30 minutes, dependent upon your altitude and/or oven. Tops of rolls should be golden brown as in the photograph shown below!

Notice the beautiful brown tops on these rolls once they are baked.

 

Notice the beautiful texture of these rolls when opened.

 

Folks, I simply cannot describe the deliciousness that you’ve just baked! And, don’t you dare tell your family how easy it was! Sit yourself down and enjoy your dinner AND you praises!!!!

Cobbler is Juicy

Cobbler is Juicy

The women in my family have been making cobblers since before I can remember!  But, what I always remember is the wonderful juiciness of every one of them!  That little memory brings me to the discussion of what is cobbler; what is pie; and what is an upside-down cake? Probably dependent upon what part of the country you’re in, the term cobbler means different things to different folks!

Let’s travel a few miles south of my home state of South Carolina and go to Tuskegee, Alabama so I can reminisce just a bit. I moved there in 1992 to teach in the business school at that crown-jewel of higher education, Tuskegee University. My love of the food there was enhanced with my experience of enjoying an apple “cobbler” at their wonderful Kellogg Conference Center! It was quite a different cobbler from any that I had ever experienced.  Initially, I thought it was cake with a fruit bottom – a sort of upside-down cake, but with more liquidity to the fruit bottom!  It’s really not – the fruit filling for the cobbler is very much like the fruit filling for the cobblers we make in South Carolina.  However, the topping is cake-like, versus a crust top that I was use to eating in South Carolina.  For sure, it was delicious – different—but, absolutely delicious! Common to both:  Juicey!

When we talk about pie (we’re talking double-crust fruit pies), on the other hand, there’s no difference by region –it’s a bottom crust and a top crust, both of which are perfectly flaky, and the filling is juicy to varying degrees!

Upside-down cake is a fruit filling on the bottom with a cake top. It is not so much juicy, as it is a part of the cake itself!  Generally, when I make these, I serve these on their own with perhaps a brandied and sweetened whipped heavy cream on the side for guests to dollop a scoop upon their serving should they so desire.

This little chat is all about the fruit cobbler, given these wonderful berries and other fruits that I’ve been seeing at the fruit stands, and farmers’ markets. I’ve made three cobblers in the last six days!  I’ve included several photographs to go along with our chat, because I want you to note two things  — the absolute importance of a flaky crust; and the clear necessity of a juicy filling!  Let’s step into the kitchen.

For all three cobblers that we will chat about today, I did them as individual cobblers in custard dishes. You can use little ramekins, miniature pie plates, or custard dishes when you are doing individual cobblers.  This is easy for me being an empty nester; and it gives me a little bit of control of my gobbling up too much of a good thing in one sitting!  Of course, if you are making your cobbler for the dessert course of a family dinner, then by all means use your 9×9 square baking dish; or  your larger 9×12 rectangular baking dish.  My mother use to use a larger lasagna pan to make her cobblers because our family consisting of daddy, mommy,  one sister, and two brothers, plus me of course, was an army of six hungry mouths awaiting large dessert portions after dinner.  We won’t talk about my two younger brothers always saying “I want some more cobbler”!!!

I am showing three cobblers: (1) Apple, with a filling that is that of a luscious apple pie; (2) Cherry-Berry, with a very sweet filling of dark sweet cherries and luscious blackberries; and (3) Blueberry, with a very juicy filling touched with a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon zest.  They have different degrees of juiciness as dictated by the fruits themselves.

First up are a couple of beautiful apples that were on sale. I pick up a Red Rome and a Granny Smith.  Both of these apples are just too wonderful for baking.

First, refer to the earlier blog on “Perfect Flaky Pie Crust”. As you know, my standard recipe for crust is what I use.  Take a look at the first photograph – this is the Apple Cobbler before breaking the crust.  Look at the tenderness and flakiness of the crust!  This is what you want to complement your wonderful filling.

Photo No. 1 – Apple Cobbler Crust

The cobbler is just enough for one person; goes well with that after-dinner cup of coffee; and prevents eating too much!

Photo No. 2 – Apple Cobbler Flakiness of Crust

Note the degree of flakiness in photo number two. I broke up the crust and photographed it to show you just how perfect the “Perfectly Flaky Crust” recipe is for your pies and cobblers.

Photo No. 3 – Apple Cobbler Filling

The filling of the apple cobbler should be nice and juicy as dictated by the amount of apple juice released during the baking process. It is not a runny type of juicy.  It’s a enveloping glaze of a liquid that complements the baked apples with a delicious accent of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and a hint of lemon.  It is not unusual for me to add a tablespoon of rum in my seasoning if I am including raisins in my apple-cobbler filling!

Take a look at this apple cobbler – all you need is a simple scoop of vanilla or rum raisin ice cream! Of course, I dared not to succumb to the additional indulgence!

Once you peel and cut your two apples, you need only add 3 tablespoons of sugar, about a teaspoon each of the spices, along with a tablespoon of cornstarch. You will be able to divide this among three ramekins (or in this case, custard dishes), add a top crust and bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.  This is just a real quick, uncomplicated dessert that gives “miles of smiles”!

It’s summer time in South Carolina; and I’m driving on a secondary road on my way to Kingville. This is a lovely Saturday morning and I want to visit the cemetery of my great grandparents.  On the trip down are these wonderful fruit stands along the way.  I stop and get out of the car anticipating a particular fruit, but quickly notice these luscious blackberries, and some beautiful dark sweet cherries. I cannot make a decision as which “one” to get, so I get some of each! I quickly realize that I left my cherry pitter in Texas, so I’ll have to hand-pit each cherry if I’m going to use them in a cobbler!  The blackberries, no problem – just rinse and dry!

I used about 2 cups of cherries and a pint of blackberries. This combination yielded me 4 individual cobblers. The blackberries give off a bit more juice, and cherries not quite as much, but retains its juice within the flesh of the cherry itself; so I use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch as part of my seasoning for the filling.  I simply put the berries and pitted cherries in a medium-size steel bowl; add a quarter cup of granulated sugar, a teaspoon each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and half teaspoon of cloves, then the cornstarch. I stir and divide it among the four custard cups; top each with a portion of crust and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  Do keep in mind that if you are making a large family-size cobbler, your bake time will increase to 35-45 minutes, dependent upon size of cobbler.

Photo No. 4 – Cherry-Berry Cobbler Crust

 Photo No. 5 – Cherry-Berry Cobbler – Filling 

Photo No. 6 – Cherry-Berry Cobbler – Filling

 

Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits. I am particularly fond of blueberry pie; and a blueberries and cream layer cake that I make. During my early years of summertime in NYC, my absolute favorite desert was the blueberry cream pie that one could get at the Chock-Full-o-Nuts lunch counters.  As they are long gone, it’s a memory that I bring to fruition at home during summer months.  My version of that delicious cream pie is included in volume one of “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook.”

As you can see below, blueberries also make a fabulous cobbler. They are the juiciest when baked and create the most delicious filling .  Note the difference in the liquidity of the juice that the blueberry cobbler has in the photographs provided below.  A little addition that I did with the blueberry cobbler was brush the crust with a little bit of melted butter and sprinkle some sugar atop it! Ohhhh, don’t get me started on describing how wonderful that was – sugary and flaky!

Photo No. 7 – Blueberry Cobbler – Crust 

Photo No. 8 – Blueberry Cobbler – Sugary Flaky Crust

 

Photo No. 9 – Blueberry Cobbler – Juicy Filling

 

Photo No. 10 – Blueberry Cobbler – Juicy Filling

Hope you enjoyed taking a look/see at these wonderful cobblers. I assure you that each was delicious! Its summertime – go get some beautiful summer fruit; make a cobbler!!!

 

 

Brown Flour

How to Make Brown Flour

Since I was a young child, I can remember the cooks in my family browning white flour and storing it in jars to be used later. Aunt Emma T, the real food expert in the family, split her browned flour into portions, seasoned some, and would refrain from seasoning the remaining amount.

There was an on-going joke among the cooks in my family about gravy for beef – if it was not sufficiently brown, the flour wasn’t cooked properly. If it was too brown, it was store-bought!!! You would have to know the cooks in my family – Emma T and Bunch would tell you in a heartbeat – “made from scratch”! Forty years later, I am much more appreciative now, than I have ever been, about their insistence in cooking from scratch, and their pride in doing so. In those days, such pride had more to do with signature of taste. Nowadays, there are also great health concerns pertinent to additives and chemicals in processed foods!

Now, before going into the kitchen, let’s chat a minute about this technique of browning flour: You MUST have patience! There is no quick way to brown flour; there is no shortcut except to have an extremely hot pot; and if you do – I can almost assure you of failure!!!!! So, unless you are ready to spend 30-45 minutes to do this, let’s stop now and save this little task for another day! No hurt feelings here – I’d rather you do this when you are going to have stellar results. That way, as the old jazz torch song says “Love Me, or Leave Me” goes — you’ll love me, instead of leave me!!!

The most crucial word to have in your vocabulary when in a conversation about browning flour is “dry”! Everything must be absolutely dry – not a drop of water near your flour, or utensils!

Let’s go brown flour! We start out by setting up the following utensils/tools on our kitchen counter –

A 4-cup dry measuring cup;
1 large hand-held sifter
1 large wooden spoon;
1 wooden spatula;
1 offset metal icing spatula
1 medium-size hand whisk;
1 large metal mixing bowl
1large sauté pan that’s at least one-inch deep.

For browning flour, I love using a tin-lined copper pot. A very high-quality steel pot is also an excellent choice. I have found the high-end French copper, and our American high-end steel and steel/copper combinations, equally excellent choices for this task.

You should have on the ready: A bag of all-purpose flour, your four-cup measuring cup setting on top of a sheet of wax paper; with your sifter setting on top of your measuring cup. Then pour your flour into the sifter, and simply use your wooden spoon to agitate and sift the flour into the measuring cup. You will have a bit of a mound of flour, and you need only using an offset metal spatula to level off your four-cup measure of flour; then let the browning begin!

I brown flour in 4-cup amounts because it is so much efficient than having to constantly brown flour for sauces and gray. I use glass jars to store it once the browned flour is cooled to room temperature, or chilled in the refrigerator! Because we are essentially cooking at an extremely low temperature, it’s really best to have a warm pot to start the process.

I turn my range up on high, and set my dry pot on it. Once the pot is very hot, I remove it from the heat and set it off to side to cool back down to “high-warm”! High-warm is hotter than a cool or cold pot; it is very much cooler than a hot pot! There is no testing for a “high-warm” pot! Here’s where you prove that you are indeed an accomplished, experienced cook!!!

Next, I turn my heat-setting down to just below medium. Then I return the warm pot back to the range, and pour in the four cups of flour. I do absolutely nothing for 3 full minutes. Then suddenly, I have wooden spoon and wooden spatula at the ready, and intermittently using the two utensils alternately, I begin to stir and turn my flour. I step back and let it be another 3 minutes. Then suddenly, with the same utensils at the ready, I repeat the process of the stir, then let it be!

Usually, I will have a high stool or high-leg kitchen chair at the range, so that I can sit while stirring and waiting. However, there will not be time to read a good book because you must keep your eye on the flour!

After about 15 minutes of cooking and stirring, you should begin to see the slightest of color change to your flour! Your first indication of success is the flour should begin to bring on an ivory-ecru color! But, don’t let that excite you; don’t try and rush it by turning up the heat – you will ruin it!!! Be patient, and do some more stirring!!!

After about 20-25 minutes of cooking and stirring, you should begin to see a richer color hue – your flour should be bringing on the color of walnuts! And, with your patience intact, you begin to have that feeling of pride about your excellence. At this point, you want to turn your heat down to low, because the browning will not begin to accelerate! Your stirring will become more constant, such that you will not “let it be” from now to the end of the browning process!

Once your flour has browned to point of “pecan” in color, we are ready to remove it from the heat. This is crucial, because the warm pot will continue to cook the flour a bit more after you remove it from the heat. Keep stirring; keep stirring; keep stirring for another three minutes or so. You want to stir then pour the flour into the cool mixing bowl. (Hint: To be certain that my cooking of the flour stops immediately, I have my mixing bowl in the refrigerator while I am cooking the flour. That way, it is absolutely cold when I pour the flour into it!)

Congratulations! You have now browned flour! Don’t buy another bottle of gravy mix! Don’t buy another pouch of gravy mix! Don’t buy another jar of pre-cooked processed gravy! YOU have just made the best foundation for brown gravy! (Light gravies and sauces we will talk about in another post!)

Putting all your excellence to work to now give it your taste signature, we divide the flour. We put half the flour in a canning jar just as it is (unseasoned) and add that to our pantry. For the second half, we season it!

Many times, I use a brown gravy for my red meats. If I am doing a brown mushroom gravy, chances are minced garlic and diced or minced onions are also part of the symphony of flavors! Thus, I want my browned flour to accentuate those ingredients as well. Here’s how I do season my browned flour for a mushroom gravy –

In a small bowl, I mix three tablespoons of browned flour with 1 teaspoon each of iodized salt, finely-ground black pepper, dry rubbed sage, onion powder, garlic powder, dry yellow mustard powder. To make the gravy, I make slurry with 3 tablespoons of red wine and ¼ cup of water. I pour this over a sauté pan of buttered, simmering mushrooms, minced garlic and diced or minced onion combination. I simmer this for two to three minutes until thickened. I add more water if needed, or simmer a bit longer if more thickening is needed.

Use your browned flour to make your signature brown gravy or brown sauce! You’ve earn the distinction of Gravy Master!

As I know those two ladies of great cooking skills, Aunt Emma T and Bunch are smiling with much pride that you are cooking their good, pure, unadulterated gravy from scratch, instead of buying that stuff in the jar!!!!!!!

Dressing – versus – Stuffing!!!

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Dressing – versus – Stuffing!!!

Don’t  mean to start another Civil War – that ended in 1865; let’s leave it there!!!  But, let’s do have a little fun talking about food differences above and below the Mason-Dixon line!!!  But, remember, we’re just having some fun!

Okay, so now you want to know what’s so funny?!  Let’s say we are about to have a conversation a bit early in the year, about six to seven months early!  It’s April, and we’re going to talk about Thanksgiving Dinner!  This brings me back to my days living in New York City in the 1970s, and talking food with my northern friends that are affectionately known as “Yankees”!  They love a “bready” accompaniment with their turkey the same as we do down south.  But, we have different names for that “twice-baked bread”!

Years ago, while living in New York City some friends invited me over for Thanksgiving Dinner. On the menu was pecan-cranberry dressing!  It was absolutely delicious! ‘Twas a wonderful cornucopia of diced celery and onions, chopped pecans, chopped “craisins” (i.e., dried cranberries), delicious stock, shredded carrots and all sorts of proper Thanksgiving spices (i.e., sage, thyme, celery seed, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric, salt, pepper, etc.).  BUT, it was not dressing – it was stuffing!

Now, hear me out—don’t chop my head off yet!  I call it stuffing, because down south if it’s made with loaf-bread, it’s stuffing!  If it’s made with cornbread, its dressing!  Again, as I said earlier, the pecan-cranberry dish was wonderful; absolutely delicious.  However, it was made with white bread, cut up into small cubes, dried in the oven before using to mix the dish. Down south – that’s stuffing; whether you stuff the bird or not stuff the bird–doesn’t matter–it’s stuffing!!!

Also, there were NO eggs in the mixture!  As Aunt Emma T and Bunch would have told me  — “boy, you gotta put some eggs in there to bind your dressing!!!” (Note:  Oh, you should read the story of these two fantastic cooks in the first volume in the series:  “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”.)  No self-respecting southern cook is going to make dressing and not have eggs in it!  It holds it all together in a delicious sort of way!

So, what’s dressing and how do you make it?  It could have been everything that the pecan-cranberry stuffing was, with one substitution and one addition!  Don’t use the dried and cubed loaf bread, instead use some dried cornbread!  Add to the mixture a couple of eggs!  Don’t stuff it in the bird, (a little something I almost never do because of health precautions); instead, bake it separately in a buttered rectangular dish!

Whether you’re making stuffing or dressing, the key is moisture!  No one likes a dry stuffing; no one likes a dry dressing! Here is how you remedy that little malady of cooking—plenty of stock!  Once I finish mixing my dressing “batter” which is rather thick, I make sure that I have enough stock in it that is looks like a wet cornbread!  In the casserole dish (i.e., the rectangular pan), I want to see a bit of that moisture just above the batter – little tiny pools of stock being visible!  Ahhh, then I know for sure that my dressing will not only be delicious—it will also be moist because I have enough stock in it!  Also, stuffing and dressing are two of those “the hands and eyes perfect the recipe” type of dishes! Initially, you do the basic measuring, then it’s feel and eyesight the rest of the way!

Let’s chat a little bit about geography!  My thoughts on the dressing versus the stuffing thing is that it probably came about with a lot of baking of loaf bread in the north; lots of leftovers; and a use for catching turkey drippings inside the bird!  Personally, I don’t like my stuffing having been cooked inside the bird—I prefer it to have been baked in a separate pan.  Food experts also tell me that it safer to cook it separately as well.

Actually, growing up in South Carolina, I never saw a turkey that was stuffed.  All the dressing was baked separately from the bird.  When I ventured north, my relatives from the south that migrated to the north, though a nice divide of some of them preferring the stuffing they discovered once they migrated, also cooked such stuffing separated—thus NOT a stuffing—as nothing was stuffed!!!

So, to all my very dear friends north of my southern divide, we will not have another Civil War, though we may have a civil war as to preference of which dish.  But, for the most part, we will instead enjoy the wonderful variations of stuffing that I discovered in New York City; and this delicious cornbread dressing that we make as tradition down here in Dixie.  My family has a couple dressings that we make.  I start with the historical cornbread from my Daddy’s side of the family.  The Finch Sisters did wonders with cornmeal and you can read all about them, their cornbread, and their dressing.  See their recipes in volume one in the series:  “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)

Okay, everybody put down your arms – grab a plate and fork! Turkey and dressing and stuffing and giblet gravy on the menu!

All best wishes for good eating; enjoy!

Joe

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The Way to Cook: Rice (white)

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The Way to Cook: Rice (white)

Rice is one of those dishes that you either love it or you don’t care too much for it! I think perhaps I actually hated rice growing up because of a bad experience I had at the school cafeteria at an early age – the rice was pasty, sticky, and clumpy – very much unlike my mother’s rice at home! I have since learned that there are actually cultures that like their rice with a browned bottom of a crust of sorts; others like their rice rather sticky; and others even like their rice sort of creamy! Pretty much I like rice with every grain separate and void of excess starch!

I think there is a difference of a sticky rice of some cultures that have a few grains lumped, such as some of the fried-rice dishes in Chinese cuisine. I love rice prepared in that manner, especially with all the added ingredients. That is not the same as rice that is sticky because the excess starch was not discarded during the cooking process! I think there’s a difference as I will talk about shortly.
Many years of cooking rice like my mother taught me has resulted in perfect rice with separate grains. This discussion will talk about how I cook long-grain white rice, and one of the ways that I season it with a savory blend of spices! Cooking brown rice and wild rice requires a different technique and will be another blog discussion at a later date.

One of the gadgets that have taken off in popularity over the years is a rice cooker. I do not use one! Call me old-school! I cook rice the way I saw my mother cook rice – a sauce pot and lid! I do vary just a bit and use a second pot for the finish, but it really is not necessary—everything can be done using one pot.
Almost every bag or box of rice I’ve seen has a recipe on back with measured ingredients! I do measure spices and other additives, but I never measure the amount of water I am going to use to cook the rice! (Bear with me, it will become clear momentarily!) What happens if you buy your rice in bulk and there is no recipe of measured ingredients on the bag?! Emma T and Bunch taught me to cook rice with a fundamental technique, not necessarily by exact measurement! That’s because neither of them wanted rice with excess starch in it creating a pasty, sticky result!

Before I cook white rice that is going to be simple savory rice for a side dish to sliced steak or some other savory meat, I go to the pantry and scoop up a cup of long-grain white rice for every three people that I’m serving (i.e., 2 cups should serve 6 dinner guests.) From the pot drawer, I grab one medium-size sauce pot with a lid if I’m using one pot; and a sauce pan (usually a 9-inch, and I pull the glass cover from my stock pot). Now, on my counter I set out a large sifter or colander, (though I actually prefer a sifter); a box of iodized salt; containers of ground black or white pepper; turmeric; dried parsley leaves; dried thyme leaves; whole celery seeds; dehydrated onion; a couple cloves of fresh garlic to be finely minced or a jar of refrigerated minced garlic! Now, we’re in the kitchen and ready to cook some rice!

Sit your sauce pot on your stove burner and turn it up to high. Let the dry pot set and heat up for 2 – 3 minutes. Add enough hot water to fill the sauce pot about two-thirds full and bring this hot water to a very rapid brisk boil! Immediately, add your rice and cover the pot; then turn your burner down to medium. (What you now want is a slow simmer for your rice to cook slowly.)

Now, after you have allowed the rice to simmer for a few minutes (i.e., I begin to check after about 8 minutes), with a serving spoon lift up a bit of the rice and examine it closely to determine the done level of the rice! Here’s how to assess it:

a) If the rice has increased in size by about 75%, that means the rice is al dente . You would allow it to simmer just about 5 minutes longer.

b) You will now take up another spoon full. Look at the rice closely. If you see a faint line on the grain of rice, it is essentially done and only requires final steaming. This is the point at which you rinse your rice. (Notice that there are no seasonings in the rice to wash down your drain!!!)

c) Go over to your kitchen sink, with your cold water running, pour all of your rice and the cooking liquid in a sifter and completely drain it.

d) Put the rice back in the sauce pot, let the cold water run over it very slowly until the water is clear and you see no more cloudy starch. At this point, pour off all the liquid and drain the rice once more. (You are using the same methodology that you use when you are draining pasta!)

We are now ready to finish our rice and season it!

e) Set your sauce pan on the burner and turn the burner up to high. When the pan gets hot, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil or unsalted butter and enough water just barely cover the bottom of the 9-inch sauce pan and let it come to a boil. This is usually about 1/3 – 1/4 cup of water! You can also use stock if you like. Add a tablespoon each of the dehydrated onion and finely-minced garlic.

f) Immediately, pour in your rice and cover. When the boil returns, take the sauce pan OFF the burner; set on a cool burner, cover and allow the rice to steam for about 5 minutes. (If there is any liquid still at the bottom, heat up the pan long enough to cause that bit of liquid to steam up–then cover, move to cool burner and allow the steam evaporation.)

g) In a small bowl, add about a ½ teaspoon of each of the ground spices, and a tablespoon of the thyme leaves and three tablespoons of the dried parsley leaves. Stir to combine, then put on top the rice and cover again and let sit for about 2 minutes.

h) Your rice is finished.  Remove the cover and with two dinner-size forks, toss the rice a bit in the sauce pan to mix the spices.

You should now have a lovely pan of long-grain rice with every grain separate; lovely aroma from the spices with a faint yellow hue to it!

All best wishes for good eating; enjoy!

Joe

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The Perfect Pie Crust (every time!)

HamBonesCookingTechniques

The Perfect Pie Crust

There is nothing better in eating than a terrific pie crust on a chicken pot pie; or an apple pie; or a wonderful custard pie.  I have friends who much prefer cake to pie because they don’t like eating a pie with a bit of a wet, soggy bottom crust.  Well, guess what – neither do I; and a bottom crust need not be wet and soggy!  I, especially love a good custard pie be it potato, coconut, lemon, etc.  The way I make sure I have a nice crust that’s flaky and dry is to pre-bake!  However, pre-baking will not correct incorrect ingredients or flaws in technique!

The pie crust was one of the most difficult lessons to learn because I had difficulty with “looking like peas”!  But, I could and still can visualize “rough” and “coarse” and “lumps”!

The pie crust recipe below is the one that I use for almost any kind of dish that I make that call for a crust.  I have three versions of it, which illustrates its flexibility!  It’s just flour, shortening, water and vinegar (i.e., flexible with sugar)!  I don’t waste a good egg on a pie crust! I don’t use good cream cheese on a pie crust! I don’t use up good milk on a pie crust!  Just flour, shortening, water and vinegar–perfection every time!

Let’s stop talking – let’s get to the kitchen and make a crust!  Now, I want y’all to use my recipe and follow my instructions!  This recipe is from my Aunt Emma T, and taught to me by Bunch (my mom)!

(You can read the wonderful story about these two amazing cooks and see this recipe in volume one of the series, “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook”!)

Perfectly Flaky Pie Crust

(Not just sometimes, but EVERYTIME!!!)

There are some basic tricks to a perfect pie crust –

  • the first and most fundamental – all ingredients need to be icy cold! So, here is what I do just as routine:  I keep a pint-size Mason or Ball canning jar with ½ water and ½ pure white vinegar in my refrigerator (at all times), so that I can make a pie crust on the spur of a moment! Once I cut up my shortening/butter pieces, I put it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. 
  • the second being the technique of adding the liquid to the dry, and I’ve given a bit of comical details in the instructions below. 
  • the third – I’m old fashion, I do NOT use a food processor to make pie crust. I use a pastry cutter (a knife and fork can be substituted for a pastry cutter) and my fingers!!! 
  • I use one of my stainless steel bowls. Of course, I’ve had it in the freezer for 30 minutes before I begin to make a pie crust!

So, let’s do this y’all!

I make three different pie crust (i.e., plain, savory, sweet)!  And, of course, with many different additions of spices, the list could go on and on (i.e., cinnamon, etc.)!

As your base for a –

PLAIN PIE CRUST (for meat pot pies and the like and dessert pies when you don’t want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 ½ cups solid vegetable shortening

water/vinegar mixture as needed

SWEET DESSERT PIE CRUST (for dessert pies when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

½ cup 10X powdered sugar

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

[SAVORY] PIE CRUST (for meat and/or vegetables when you  want a sweet crust)

4 CUPS plain flour

1 cup solid vegetable shortening

½ cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon each salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, ground thyme extract

water/vinegar mixture as needed

Preparation instructions:

  1. Take your stainless bowl out of the freezer
  1. Add the dry ingredients, and using a hand whisk, blend all dry ingredients (no blending required for a plain pie crust)
  1. Cut your shortening ingredients (solid vegetable shortening and/or butter) into cubes
  1. Using a pastry blender (or a knife and fork), cut shortening into dry ingredients.

Hint:  The trick here is do NOT cut the shortening in too fine!  You really WANT TO SEE LUMPS of shortening still remaining in the blended flour.  Lumps should be about the size of sweet peas (i.e., English peas) as my mother would say!  I like to say the flour should now look a bit coarse and rough as a result of the lumps!!!  Visualization your choice!!!

  1. Using only a TABLESPOON at the time, add your water/vinegar mixture! Now, take you hand and mash the liquid into the flour mixture!

Hint:  First time, it’s going to still be very dry.  Now, add the second tablespoon of liquid and repeat the finger-to-blend step!  NOW STOP! 

Take a look/see at your crust – it should just BARELY come together.  Should be crumbly just a tad!

IF it will not come together at all, a third tablespoon is required.

IF YOU HAVE ADDED MORE THAN A TABLESPOON at the time and your crust comes together like a biscuit dough, you are NOT going to have a nice flaky crust.

The difference between a pie crust dough and a biscuit dough –

You want your pie crust dough to be like a DRY “play putty” (that kids use), that when you roll it out, you want to be able to see the large pieces of shortening in the crust!  It should not roll out to easy–it should be just a tad bit stiff!

You want your biscuit dough, on the other hand, to come together well, be pliable a bit that it will stay together when rolled out for cutting into biscuits!

  1. Now, for the technique of rolling out your dough! If you do not have a large marble slab (which I do not!!!!!), I form my dough into two balls, wrap in wax paper and put it back in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to get cold again.
  1. To roll out my dough, I put down a sheet of wax paper on my counter, lay dough on top, and a second sheet of wax paper on top the dough. Using my rolling pin, I hit the dough a couple time to give myself an indention in the dough to get started with the rolling process.

Starting at the center of the dough, I roll to the desired size and shape such that I can lift from the bottom wax paper and flip the dough into my pie plate!  Now, I must say I use the wax paper so that I don’t have to dust my counter with flour.  It’s the one instruction from Aunt Emma T and Bunch that I don’t necessarily follow:  They dusted their counter with a bit of flour!)

But, all in all – Boys and girls, follow this technique and you’re gonna get a perfect pie crust EVERY single TIME!!!!

All best wishes; enjoy,

Joe

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The Way to Cook: Eggs (scrambled)

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“The Way to Cook: Eggs (scrambled)”

Is there really any better total protein than the incomparable egg? The debatable answer to that question I will leave to others. I would much prefer to enjoy that wonderful food in a most glorious yet simple way – scrambled! Yes, the basic scrambled egg that we grew up on is both a simple food to make and when made correctly, is glorious on an indulgent level! The absolute first cardinal rule to perfect scrambled eggs is very low heat! You cannot rush and cook wonderful scrambled eggs in a minute or so—just ain’t gonna happen folks! Think eggs; custard; eggs; custard –get the picture— it’s stirring and patience!

Whether I’m having them for breakfast, a light lunch, or my entrée for dinner, it is the technique of preparing them that makes all the difference in the world. In fact, I’ve become so finicky about my eggs that I am not at all hesitant about sending them back for proper preparation and presentation when dining out! So, let me tell you my way of cooking this creamy velvet of a dish.

First and foremost, I do like decadence when it comes to scrambled eggs! I want rich unsalted pure butter in them; I want no whites showing in the finished dish; and I want a small curd that’s oh-so-creamy. (The creaminess is not generated from adding milk; it’s the true creaminess of the egg itself that you want.) The reasons I use unsalted butter are twofold: There’s to be only one person in charge of the seasoning in my kitchen—that would be me, not the maker of the butter; as well as the fact that I like for the richness and quality of the butter to stand on its own!

One final quip before we are off to the kitchen: Unless I am making a sandwich that calls for it, I don’t want a scrambled egg that’s dry or with brown scorch spots as a result of overcooking! My goal every time is a creamy velvet-textured small-curd delight akin to a superb cottage cheese!

So, how do I achieve this end result? Well, as Aunt Emma T and Bunch would tell you: Consistency of technique brings learned perfection! So, let’s go to the kitchen and cook some “learned perfection” of scrambled eggs! (Note: You can read the story of these two fantastic cooks in volume one of the series – “Ham Bones: Memoirs of a Southern Cook!)

First, let’s get three large eggs; pull out a fork from the utensil drawer; a miniature hand-held whisk; a medium-size bowl; a small sauce pan; iodized table salt; and a stick of very high-quality European-style butter! Ah, the anticipation!

Though I keep my eggs refrigerated, I crack them and let them sit in a covered bowl for 20 minutes or so on the kitchen counter before working with them. Immediately afterwards, I turn on my stove to its highest setting and set my sauce pan on it for about 2 minutes—no more than that mind you! This is to temper my pan! Then, I move the pan to another eye on the stove where there is no heat happening; then turn my burner eye down to low! I now return my sauce pan to the burner that’s on low heat and put in two tablespoons of butter!
(Remember, I told you I like decadence in my scrambled eggs; but you can use one tablespoon of butter if you prefer. When I make these eggs for friends who have to watch their cholesterol, I actually use a margarine that is made with olive oil – and I call the finished dish ”Scrambled Eggs a la Olive Grove “– they are divine!)

Now, add to the eggs a liberal pinch of iodized salt (I use about ¼ teaspoons for three large eggs) and with great vigor, whisk the eggs profusely until well scrambled. (Now, now, boys and girls – don’t cheat! I do not want you to pull out your blender and blend the eggs, as blended eggs are not scrambled eggs! If you blend, you will not get the correct texture to which we are striving! Instead, you will get a fluffy soufflé-type omelet of an egg! I love omelet, but that’s another post at a later date—different technique!)

So, now that you’ve done your whole-arm exercise for the day, take a look at your sauce pan. Your butter should have slowly melted; a shallow sea of luscious yellowness with no browned butter. If your butter browned, you do not have your burner low enough. The butter should melt very slowly!

All at once, pour the entire bowl of salted eggs into the melted butter and turn your heat up — ONE notch only! Give the eggs about 30 seconds, and suddenly like a patient parent, use your fork to stir those eggs from center point out until you reach the outer edge of your sauce pan. Continue to do this from center point covering the complete circumference of the pan all of about 5 minutes. Keep stirring – do not let a flat skin set on the bottom of your pan – stir boys and girls, stir!!!

You should now begin to see small curds! Make sure you have the tines of the fork pointed downwards and from the center, start slowly stirring again – eggs will be wet (rather liquid yet) – but, take them off the heat completely and stir once more.  Finally, use the fork to now flip and flop the eggs within the pan then onto the plate and using the fork to finalize your curd size! If you removed the eggs from the heat timely, you will see a plate of soft creamy velvet-textured scrambled eggs that will be a love sonnet for your pallet! Enjoy!

All best wishes for good eating!

Joe

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The Way to Cook: Technique is Everything

HamBonesCookingTechniquesSo many times, what promises to be a fantastic dish to serve to one’s dinner guest, ends up being a disappointment. Something just didn’t go right in the preparation, but ya’ just can’t quite put ya’ finger on what went wrong! Over the years, I have found that it’s not so much what ya’ did, but how did ya’ do it!

Anytime I have a conversation about cooking techniques, I always refer readers to the first lesson I was taught on cooking technique – how to measure flour for a cake! That lesson was given to my mother by her sister, a home economist then passed on to me! Though the story is a bit of a comedy, it proves true in the baking world! I tell the story in the first volume of this series of Ham Bones cookbooks, (Memoirs of a Southern Cook).

I’m fielded quite frequently with telephone calls from friends adventuring in the kitchen with some new recipe. They usually want to know how I do a particular task to achieve something that they read in the recipe. As always, I am happy to share my techniques.

A particular feature in my “Ham Bones Blog” will be a frequent feature on cooking techniques. I am calling this feature “The Way to Cook”, with each post being a particular item/ingredient and proper methodology for preparing it for consumption.

In the next few days, be on the lookout for “The Way to Cook: Eggs (scrambled)”

All best wishes for good eating!

Joe

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