January 4, 2011

There's a New Chef in the Kitchen

Happy New Year and thanks for checking in. We've gearing up for a great journey through some more great states. And really aren't they all great states? When we're seeking the best a state has to offer and finding quick family meal solutions, it's a great way to brush up on geography and dabble in the kitchen without feeling stressed.

So what's first on our itinerary in January? We're studying up for a trip to Indiana and a return trip to Arkansas where we call on the First Lady to provide her quintessential state meal.

We also plan to start a state-by-state page with food highlights, so if you've got a great find from your state, we'd love to hear about it!

So onward into 2011, exploring more great foods of all 50 states. And there's another new development in the kitchen. I thought you'd like to hear about it, too.

I grew up watching my mother and my grandmother cook, domestic goddesses in their warm kitchens. And lured by premium prize money at our summer county fair starting at the age of 8, I learned to bake. I still have my 4-H cookbooks with names like: Tricks for Treats and All American Foods. They're dated, sure, when a drop biscuit recipe calls for either shortening or lard. I kept them not so much for the recipes but for the chance to have my daughters look through them someday.

Someday is here. And how it came about after fixing a gazillion meals I'm not sure. We've been watching a bit more food shows over the holiday break and I've been baking more, though a "creamy caramel" flop made me question my time in the kitchen. My caramel didn't get firm enough and resembled a blob, though its taste was dulce.

But what was sweetest of all was when 9-year-old Liz confidently announced early Monday that she wasn't just helping cook. She WAS cooking. She got out her fairly recently acquired Cookbook for Girls and picked out her evening menu she would be preparing "on her own."

Liz's new fave cookbook

Her menu was: Spring rolls for appetizers, barbecued chicken kabobs for the main course with pink lemonade and white chocolate and raspberry brownies for dessert. She made her list and one modification. She agreed to use regular dark chocolate when her father announced he didn't like white chocolate.

Liz diligently wrote out her shopping list and we all went to the store. She was ready to start cooking right after we returned. I told her starting at 3:30 was a bit too early. But once she got started at quarter til 5 and for the ensuing hour and a half, she was a trooper, grating, stirring, reading and instructing me in which vegetables needing chopping and other ingredients she needed. I'd read over her shoulder occassionally to make sure she was reading the fractions right but I was more than happy to be the sous chef as she directed the action.

Liz was most concerned that her homemade barbecue sauce was made with ketchup, which to her is a most vile ingredient. But with a little coaxing she added the six tablespoons of the yucky red sauce with plenty of brown sugar and it turned out much better than she imagined. We'd also forgotten to soak our wooden skewers so we just placed the chicken chunks directly on the broiler pan and it still tasted fine.

Nearing 7 p.m. I told Liz that we'd have to make her lemonade recipe another night and so her father stepping in to help her with her fourth and final recipe. They used a salad spoon as their drink stirrer, but hey, we were ALL cookin'!

Katie, who helped too was most complimentary of her sister's abilities. Liz seemed pleased with her accomplishments and ready to make Monday night her cooking night. (Cue the Hank Williams Jr. lead-in music!) Leadership in action and oh, how I hope it continues, if only so I can have one less meal to plan. I've not been this excited for Monday nights in a long time.

Got an aspiring chef in your kitchen? Here are super easy biscuits I made my first year of cooking in 4-H when I was around Elizabeth's age.

Drop Biscuits
2 cups sifted enriched flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspon salt
1/3 cup shortening or lard (don't worry about seeking out lard, shortening will do)
1 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to very hot (450° F).
 2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into mixing bowl. (I don't worry about sifting just weighing the flour. A kitchen scale is a great thing to have. One cup of flour is around 4 ounces/113 grams)
3. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like coarse meal.
4. Make a hole in the center of mixture and pour in all the milk.
5. Stir until dry ingredients are barely damp.
6. Drop dough by spoonsful onto the ungreased cookie sheet. Use one spoon to dip out the dough and the other spoon to push the dough onto the cookie sheet. Leave about 2-inch spaces between the biscuits.
7. Bake in preheated oven about 12 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.
Makes about 14 biscuits.

Variation: Cinnamon Balls
1. Combine 3 Tablespoons sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon on a piece of waxed paper.
2. Drop a teaspoon of biscuit dough at a time into the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Roll dough around to coat the surface and gently shape into a ball.
3. Place coated balls of dough about 2 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in a preheated hot oven (450° F).
Makes about 24.

from "Tricks for Treats, A Fun with Foods Project" member manual published by the National 4-H Council.

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