1 House 100 Years

Preparing For The Centennial Of A Place That Matters

Month: December, 2012

The Best Biscuits Of My Life!

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With the big Christmas meal complete, there are always leftovers. My mom gave me a gracious amount of Smithfield ham to take back home with me. These beautiful slices of indescribable goodness will be carefully placed inside The Best Biscuits of My Life this weekend…if the ham lasts that long!

Here is the recipe that I will be using. It’s one that I have carefully adjusted with plenty of trial and error, and although I’m not particularly skilled at writing recipes, I hope that you’ll find this easy to read, easy to follow, and easy to eat!

For me, the smells from a kitchen are part of what makes a house a home. I think of some of the old houses that I’ve driven by, particularly old farm houses, and I can only imagine the thousands of hot biscuits that were made in those now-abandoned kitchens. What better for a restored home than a hot batch of biscuits from a restored recipe?!?

(I think it’s much easier to get all of the equipment out first, so rather than starting with a list of ingredients, I will be starting with a list of equipment and materials. This way you can get everything organized ahead of time.)

  • Bowl (for mixing)
  • Liquid Measuring Cup
  • Dry Measuring Cup
  • Dry Measuring Spoons
  • Mixing Spoon or Spatula
  • Dough Cutter
  • Cutting Board or Dough Board
  • 10-inch or 12-inch Cast Iron Skillet (or cookie sheet covered with parchment paper…the cast iron skillet gives a great crunchy bottom)
  • Dish Towel (just makes flour clean-up easier)
  • Pastry Brush(one special just for butter)

In a medium bowl, mix together:

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Slice and place on top of flour mixture:

4 tablespoons butter

Place in unheated cast iron skillet:

1 tablespoon butter

In a measuring cup pour:

3/4 cup buttermilk

Place measuring cup with buttermilk in refrigerator. Place bowl with flour mixture and butter slices in freezer along with dough blender or knife and fork (whichever you are using). Leave for about 20 minutes. This time in the freezer for your ingredients and tools will help to ensure that the butter will melt in the oven rather than while you are preparing the dough. This will make flakier biscuits that rise better.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut butter into flour mixture in bowl. Use a dough cutter if you have one, or a knife and fork. Mixture should be crumbly with butter in small pieces covered with flour. I aim for pieces about the size of a small garden pea. If you need to, you can use your fingers to make smaller pieces when needed, and that will be okay. It’s the heat from your hands that can melt the butter so you want to be careful and do this only if needed.

Place bowl with flour mixture and measuring cup with buttermilk into freezer. Leave for about 10 minutes while waiting for oven to preheat.

Add buttermilk to flour mixture. Stir just until the dough clings together and has a uniform textures. Over-mixing causes tough biscuits.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead gently 10 to 12 times. You may do this by patting out your dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick and then folding a third of the dough toward the middle and then the other third, sort of the way you would fold a letter to put it in an envelope. Pat it out again and repeat only this time fold in the other two sides. You’ll be making about 4 of these “biscuit letters.”

Cut with a floured biscuit cutter, leaving space between biscuits. Press straight down. Pull straight up. Re-flour the cutter after each biscuit. Don’t twist because this will seal the edges and prevent your biscuits from rising properly.

Gently press together scraps to form additional biscuit dough to cut more biscuits. You should have 6 biscuits.

Heat cast iron skillet on medium until butter melts and heats slightly, but watch for browning.

Flip and place biscuits into skillet so that bottom (on floured surface) is now on top (in skillet). This will ensure even, more uniform rising and baking. They should be close, but not touching. Biscuits seem to like closeness, just not too much closeness.

You should hear a sizzle and smell a faint pancake-like aroma. This is a good thing. It’s going to be okay. Your biscuits will not be charred on the bottom (this was my big fear the first time I did this). Your biscuits will have a slightly crunchy bottom that adds an extra dimension of enjoyment to your biscuits. I understand that this is what distinguishes a true “Southern” biscuit.

Place in preheated oven and check after 5 minutes, rotating if needed for even baking.

Bake for 4 to 5 minutes more for a total baking time of 9 to 10 minutes.

Remove from oven, and you’ve got hot biscuits! You can brush the extra butter from the bottom of the skillet over the tops of the biscuits if you would like.

Final Notes About Equipment, Materials, and Project Assembly

A food processor will cause the dough to be tough. Although it can be used to cut the butter into the flour, I prefer not to since that just make something else extra to clean.

Southern flours are milled from soft wheat, and so they have less protein than the hard wheat used for most all-purpose flours. Because of this, the gluten does not develop as much when kneading, and therefore your biscuits will be less tough.

I use only unsalted butter, and so this recipe has been adjusted and tested using butter. Because of this, I am unsure if this recipe will work with margarine, shortening, or lard.

If you use self-rising flour (because it’s all that you have on hand), use regular all-purpose flour on your cutting board or breadboard when shaping your biscuits. The leavening in self-rising flour can leave an unappetizing film. (I never buy self-rising flour since it just takes up extra shelf space.)

Although a juice glass can be used to cut the biscuits and it’s what I used when I first started making biscuits from scratch, this will compress the sides of the biscuits and prevent them from rising as well.

For shiny tops, you can brush the tops of the biscuits with a little egg wash before baking.

I have added vinegar to milk to make a buttermilk substitute, but I would only recommend doing this in a true “biscuit emergency.” There are always other uses for buttermilk, not just biscuits and pancakes. It is also great in pound cakes!

Since these biscuits contain buttermilk, they should be baked first if you want to freeze any for a later meal. Honestly, mine don’t last long enough to make it to the freezer!

“”Merry Christmas” From My House And Home To Yours!

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Merry Christmas!

Today I am taking time to rethink all of the Christmases that I’ve spent in my house up until now. Christmas and home go together.

Christmas 2007, the house had a real Christmas tree in the living room and a remodeled bathroom that really worked. There had already been a lot of plumbing, electrical, carpentry, and tiling work done just to be able to use the bathroom. I made pecan sugar cookies using pecans from the pecan tree in my back yard. (This was just about the last time that I used the old stove and countertops before the kitchen was gutted. The old kitchen sink was unusable, so I had to use either the bathroom sink or the laundry room sink.) It was the first Christmas that I celebrated in my own house.

Christmas 2008, the house was in various states of demolition just about everywhere. Rather than wrapped gifts and decorations, there were tools and building materials in almost every room. The bathroom remained my “refuge from remodeling.” This was perhaps the least “Christmas-feeling” December in my house, partly because of all of the demolition going on, but also because the previous first Christmas in the house had been so memorable.

Christmas 2009, the house had a new tiled kitchen floor and new plasterboard walls in the kitchen as well. The bead-board kitchen ceiling and trim work had been completed. The last of the rewiring had been done, and a new range and range hood had been ordered from Sears, but the room wasn’t quite ready for them yet. There was still some finish work to be done on the walls before the appliances could be installed.

Christmas 2010, the house had a kitchen cabinets and countertops that I had designed and built myself. A new cast iron sink had been installed and there was finally running water. There was now a real “kitchen triangle” with the new refrigerator that I added earlier in the year to go with the range from last Christmas-time and the sink from this Christmas-time. I had a real tree in the dining room and had friends over for real holiday meals. (No more cooking on a hot plate on top of the washing machine in the laundry room!)

Christmas 2011, the house had an almost completed sun room with a bead-board ceiling, new trim work, a new dividing wall with a new door for the laundry room and a new door for a new pantry with bead-board walls and plenty of shelf space. Even though the sunroom was looking much better, it was mostly unusable for the holidays because of the repeated coats of industrial paint on the floor that took a long time to get fully dry. There was an almost completed sunroom but the dining room and living room were chaotic.

Christmas 2012, the house had an almost completed dining room with box beam ceiling and walls completed and with just a medallion and chandelier needed for completion. Progress was being made on the living room’s box beam ceiling. If scheduling had allowed, I could have done some holiday entertaining with the bathroom, kitchen, dining room and sunroom mostly finished. Although there are still quite a few projects to be done in each of those rooms, most of the big projects have been completed.

Many thanks to everyone with tools and time to help with all of this work, and many thanks to everyone who has been following along and providing encouragement. My house’s 100 year birthday celebration is just eight short years away!

Merry Christmas!

This photograph was taken December 2012. My mom sent this Christmas card to me this year. It shows the restored train station in Suffolk. We used to take the train from Boykins to Suffolk to go shopping when I was just a little guy.

Kitchen Ceiling With Fan and Light Fixture

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Selecting the right ceiling light fixture for the kitchen was a difficult challenge, but when I saw this one, it was a singularly quick decisions among many belabored decisions that I’ve made concerning my house. (I must reluctantly admit that I take way too long to make most house decisions.)

The galley kitchen is 8 feet wide and 12 feet long, and so this fan and light fixture align with the length of the room. The two adjustable fans are positioned closely to both the sink and range areas and help target air movement to these two areas whenever needed.

Since there is a slight step up into the kitchen, this fixture is one of the first things that you see when entering from the sunroom which is an added bonus. The dark metal and fan blades make a nice contrast to the white paint on the bead-board ceiling.

I replaced the kitchen’s out-of-place crown molding with a more modest trim that is repeated in the dining and living rooms as part of the box beam ceiling. I’ve used bead-board on both the utilitarian kitchen and bathroom ceilings as well as on the casual sunroom ceiling.

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These photographs were taken December 2012. The fixture was installed fall 2011 and came from Lowe’s. (No special order needed, and very reasonably priced!) The light that you see illuminating the ceiling is from a separate light source, not the ceiling fixture. I left the ceiling light off to make it easier to photograph.