Quality Ingredient for the Week – Freshness

Well I was going to write about baking powder…not a sexy topic, right …but as I was preparing scones the other day, which I hadn’t done in awhile, I kept my fingers crossed that my baking powder and self-rising flour was potent enough to work. I checked the best before dates on both, and they were good, but still questioned how the scones would come out as both had been open for several months.

While the scones came out fine, it prompted me to do a little research on baking powder and I came across this great site claiming to be “Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide.”  It has all kinds of information on freshness and tips on how to keep things fresh after opening the product.  The site is www.stilltasty.com

And I did find out a lot of information about baking powder and the difference between it and baking soda, but it is a bit of a dry topic (no pun intended)…get it, they are “dry ingredients?”  Will spare you from the science class today and give you my favorite biscuit scone recipe instead.  This recipe is in the Tea With Betty cookbook / tea  manual and is the one I made the heart shaped scones from on Valentine’s Day.

RECIPE  –  BISCUIT SCONE – my absolute favorite scone

This scone is a bit like a biscuit and can be prepared to be slightly sweet or savory with cheese, herbs, or meats.   It’s truly a quick bread, 10 minutes to make, 12 minutes to bake, and delectable.

Makes 12 to 15 scones 1 ½” in diameter and ¾” high.

Preheat oven to 425º F.

2 cups self-rising or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder 

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder if using self-rising flour or a total of 3 teaspoons baking powder if using all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons unsalted, chilled butter

5 teaspoons granulated sugar

⅔  cup whole milk 

Optional: one egg for brushing tops, recommended

Optional: ¼ cup currants; add to dry mixture before adding milk

Prepare your baking sheet with dusted flour or pan liner, such as a Silpat.

Sift self-rising flour and baking powder into a bowl. Stir well to mix the two ingredients.

Break the chilled butter into pieces into the flour mixture and cut in with pastry cutter or two knives.

Stir in the sugar… or if doing a savory recipe, stir in the grated cheese, herbs, or meat.

Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the milk.

Using a dinner knife, mix the dough together for about 15 seconds. Do not over mix the dough.

The dough will be soft, but not sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a flour dusted board and knead lightly.

Pat the dough out to approximately ¾” thick; use your hands, not a rolling pin.

Cut out 12 to 15 scones using a 1 ½” round cutter.

Arrange the scones onto the baking sheet.  Bake 10 to 12 minutes until a light brown and well risen.  Transfer to a wire rack and cover with a towel.  Serve while hot!

Biscuit scones ... petite cut into 1 1/2" size

Biscuit scones … petite cut into 1 1/2″ size

Flaky, petite scones

Flaky, petite scones

 

 

Valentine for Me …

A yummy surprise.  We usually don’t do much to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  One of us prepares a nice dinner…something a little special.   This year I went for “healthy,” prepared wild caught Dover sole and various fresh veges – (well I did have a scone or two earlier in the day as I had to test the batch I made).

After dinner, I cleared the table and was surprised when I turned around to see these darling petite cakes on a plate.  They were absolutely delicious.  Came from this busy shop in Encinitas, Ca (near San Diego).   According to my Valentine, after a 30 minute wait in line…these beauties came home.  Thank you Valentine for surprising me with these. They were worth it…made of the finest ingredients and completely made from scratch – even the peanut butter.

The name of the shop is Elizabethan Desserts at www.elizabethandesserts.com

These little guys paired beautifully with a lovely whole leaf darjeeling tea.

Petite Elizabethan Desserts were a delightful Valentine's Day surprise

Petite Elizabethan Desserts were a delightful Valentine’s Day surprise

Valentine for a Friend

One of my dear friends is going through a sudden and sad loss.  It’s difficult to know what to do to help…. her  friends and I keep taking her food…comfort food, her favorite foods, healthy foods to keep her strong.  It’s one way to assist and let her know we care.

Today I decided heart shaped scones might cheer her up just a bit.   She loves scones and she particularly loves this biscuit scone recipe.  Some friends are dropping by to see her this afternoon…sooo a few scones and jam might be a good thing today…along with a nice cup of tea.  It also happens to be Valentine’s Day.

Heart shaped scones for a friend on Valentine's Day

Heart shaped scones for a friend on Valentine’s Day

 

Petite Heart Shaped Scones

Petite Heart Shaped Scones

Global versus Local….

The worldwide web might be a great thing, but worldwide produce….not so much.

Driving up the 5 freeway in So. Cal. last Friday…this sight struck us as funny….within 1/4 mile of each other these two trucks traveled.  Worldwide fresh produce…then our Rockfield local, home delivery dairy truck came up from behind.  Living in Southern California, land of fabulous produce all year long,  had me wondering why we need so much “worldwide fresh produce.”  Certainly we don’t grow every species of every fruit and vegetable here, yet the majority of items on that truck were items that we do grow “in season” here. This product was being shipped from thousands of miles away because we are “out of season” right now on those items. Things like cantaloupe and tomatoes.  Consumers must be demanding this.  Stores wouldn’t bring it in if we weren’t.

In my college days, I worked in grocery stores and saw how fruit and veggies are “cold stored” to suppress ripening before being placed on display for sale…ensuring the produce “looks good.”   However, taste matters too.  As does cost.  When considering buying fresh produce from global arenas only because your area is “out of season” on those varieties…think about the cost to the environment and all that entails freighting that product to you.

There are certainly times when globally originated produce is the perfect fit for your meal.  Some truly interesting varieties of fruits and vegetables are making their way to your markets everyday.  They are not grown locally at all.  They are exciting to try out.

My suggestion:  plan the majority of your meals around items  which are in season in your area whenever possible. The product tastes better and should be less expensive to you too…and to the environment.  As a side benefit, often increased health benefits exist in locally grown produce versus that shipped from thousands of miles away, taking days to get to you.

Know where your food comes from....here is local hot house and gardens for Thomas Keller...

Know where your food comes from….here is local hot house and gardens for Thomas Keller…

Quality Ingredient Of The Week – Butter…

All butter is not created equal.  True of almost every ingredient, quality varies.    How often have you tasted a favorite recipe that someone prepared for you and wondered why it tasted differently than how you make it?  And it’s the EXACT same recipe!  There can be a variety of reasons, including, the moisture level in the air that day if a baked item, or the temperature the ingredients were when put into the recipe.  Cooking and baking are truly chemical processes. Often more like experiments for me.  One truth though, the quality of the ingredients used absolutely makes a difference in the outcome.  This certainly holds true with butter.

With the eat “real food” movement, butter is no longer a dietary villain, hurray, (consumed in moderation of course.)

To make an excellent butter you need excellent cream, and that generally comes from pasture-grazed cows. Pasture or grass-fed butters often provide higher levels of antioxidants and coveted Omega-3 fatty acids.  Factors that distinguish one butter from another are texture, flavor, aroma and moisture content (Euro butters have a bit more fat, thus less moisture).

But just what makes one pound of butter worth more than another?  What makes an $18.99 French butter worth it versus a $4.99 per pound store brand butter?  Several things that can impact the price of a pound of butter. Cow diet, dairying equipment, speed of manufacture, the distance the butter has to travel to get to your local store.

The Food Network had a  show on called  “Follow that Butter” which is all about Marie d’Issigny butter from Normandy and how mind boggingly great it is, showed the cows eating the Norman grass.  Butters from Normandy are claimed to be the best in the world.  It’s the only butter famed chef Daniel Bouloud uses in his restaurants. Whether it’s worth it depends on what you value and how much you are willing to pay.  I’ve not found a need to pay over $9 per pound for a butter.

I prefer to use a European-style butter.  It contains less water than your average table butter and is preferred by bakers. Lower moisture helps you create cakes that rise higher, cookies that crisp more evenly.  Use unsalted butter, particularly for baking.  And note, our Costco carries sweet butter, but it has light salt in it.  I prefer unsalted and control my own salt in the recipe.  There are several quality brands to choose from, many local to you.  Favorites of mine are: Kerrigold Irish Butter, Plugra (made in U.S., possibly not fully coming from grass fed cows but “oh, well, I still enjoy it”), and a local dairy of ours, Alta Dena Unsalted Butter.  As with all ingredients, keep it fresh.

RECIPE:  VANILLA, CINNAMON & SUGAR BUTTER

Delicious on toast, scones, or biscuits.  Pairs well with Masala Chai Tea.

Makes ¾ cup.

PREP TIME:  10 minutes TOTAL TIME: 10 minutes

½ vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

⅓ cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

¼ teaspoon salt

Cut open the vanilla bean lengthwise.  Using the back of a knife, scrape along the inside of the vanilla bean to collect the seeds.  Scrape the seeds into a small bowl.

Add the sugar, cinnamon, and salt, and stir to combine.

Stir in the butter until well blended.  May prepare a few days in advance of use and refrigerate.  May refrigerate for a week.

Transfer to a serving bowl.  Serve with biscuits, scones, toast.

Popping with flavor, Vanilla, Cinnamon Butter...excellent with scones (savory or sweet)

Popping with flavor, Vanilla, Cinnamon Butter…excellent with scones (savory or sweet) – piped onto a parchment, chilled, then plated later