The Biscuit Weave – A Cooking Failure


BiscuitPastrySometimes you get inspired in cooking and decide to try something new.  I had two kids to feed on a Saturday morning, various jams in the refrigerator, and decided to try something new – the biscuit weave. 

I thought that maybe I was onto something.  I had made bread weaves before, which turn out spectacular, but take a couple of days to do.  You need to make a sweet bread dough with milk, butter, yeast, flour, and some other ingredients.  Then you need to put it in the refrigerator overnight.  The next morning you then roll it out and form it as desired.  You can add butter, raisins, and cinnamon sugar and make some great cinnamon rolls this way.  You can make a jam braid where you put some preserves in the middle then criss-cross the dough over it in a weave.  When it bakes up, it is beautiful.

This morning I thought I had figured out a way to make a braid in just one morning – I would make the dough from biscuit dough, which does not need to rise or sit in the refrigerator overnight, then proceed the same way.  I pulled out my shortening and self-rising flour, and within about 10 minutes I had my biscuit dough ready.  I then pressed it out on a baking sheet, cut slits to criss-cross for the lattice, and spread a couple different kinds of jam into the middle.  I laced it up and it looked great.  I threw it into a 450 degree oven and set the timer for eight minutes – the time required to make biscuits.

When it came out it looked great.  The dough had puffed and risen and formed a great golden brown.  The jam leaked out a bit, but that was no big deal.  Just a bit of a mess to clean off of the cookie sheet.  But then I tried to cut it.


Cuisinart CBK-100 2 LB Bread Maker

The dough near the jam was raw.  It had cooked on the outside just fine, but the part touching the jam stayed too cool due to the jam, and due to being buried deep inside, and it didn’t cook.  With biscuits, you hit them with a lot of heat and they cook quickly.  But they can’t be too thick or the center will not cook before the outside burns. You also need to keep them fairly dry so that they get hot fast – water keeps the temperature to 212 degrees F until it evaporates.  I guess there is a reason you don’t see jelly-stuffed biscuits.

I put foil on the top and tried to bake it at 400 degrees a bit longer, but it really didn’t cook well.  After about 25 minutes, I pulled it out and tried to cut it.  It was truly a hot, sloppy mess.  You were able to eat most of it since much had cooked, but the part near the jam really wasn’t very pleasant.  The kids were troopers and ate my creation without complaint, but I could tell they would not want that meal again.  So, scratch that idea.

Sometimes things just don’t work out when you try something new.  But sometimes they work out great.  That’s part of the fun with cooking.  The other part is all of the money you save by not needing to pay $10 each for breakfast.

Questions?  Comments?  Let me know what’s on your mind by using the comment form below!

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

Cooking – An Easy Path to Wealth.


Of all of the things you can do, learning to cook and cooking most of your meals at home is probably one of the best ways to improve your financial future.  Meals out are a huge expense, not to mention the sodium content and calories.  If you just eat in most meals, limiting your eating out to about a meal a week, and invest what you would have spent at the restaurants you can easily retire a multi-millionaire just from the savings.

Unfortunately, with the push to the two-earner household of the 1960’s many twenty and thirty-somethings today have no idea how to cook.  All of their meals were at restaurants or they grew up on pre-processed, frozen meals.  Many people also feel that they don’t have time for cooking at home.  For this reason, I thought I’d share some of the basics for learning to cook and some tips to save time that we have learned and that have served us well.  If you plan it right, you could actually spend less time cooking than you now spend driving to and then waiting at restaurants to eat.

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The Ingredients

The first step in starting to cook at home is to gather the basic foods you’ll need.  While some recipes call for special ingredients, there are some basics you’ll want to keep on-hand since many recipes will call for one or more of them.   Here is a list of supplies that we normally buy and keep regularly since they are used all of the time in the meals we cook.  While the initial expense may be fairly high (probably $300 or so to initially stock the pantry), with these ingredients you’ll be able to cook a wide variety of standard American meals.  (If you’re cooking Asian, South American food, or food from some other culture from around the world, there will be a slightly different list (particularly spices) that you’ll need to figure out, but you’ll probably see many of these staples as well.)  Also, once you have bought the initial supply, many ingredients will last for a long time and be used in several meals.  There are always some fancy ingredients beyond this list that you may find in recipes, but those can be bought as needed.  In fact, you may be able to leave many of those ingredients out of some recipes or substitute something you have on hand (since the left-over niche ingredient will just sit on your shelf for years anyway).

Here are the basic ingredients you should always keep in stock:

Basic foods:  Bread, potatoes, eggs, bacon, milk, flour (unbleached if possible), cheddar cheese, carrots, celery, fruit (apples, pears, oranges, etc…), lettuce, greens (spinach, mustard, collard, chard, or turnip greens), onions, butter or margarine, cooking oil, olive oil, vinegar, bread crumbs, shortening, baking powder, baking soda,  sugar, frozen vegetables, canned vegetables and beans (green beans, corn, tomatoes), cream soups (mushroom, celery, or chicken), kidney beans, great northern beans). pancake syrup, jams and jellies, corn meal, and rice.

Meats:  Each shopping period you would buy the meats you would use (for example, chicken, pork chops, steaks, ground beef, and fish).

Spices:  Salt, pepper, garlic power, paprika, ground dried mustard, bay leaves, basil, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, and chili powder.

Note we don’t tend to use a lot of the short-cuts like pre-made biscuits, pie crusts, and pizza crusts.  These are actually fairly easy to make with just flour, salt, shortening, and baking powder, but having them would save a little time (in exchange for a little extra expense). Pancakes are really easy from scratch and a lot better (the secret is to whip the snot out of the eggs with a whisk).  We also don’t tend to use a lot of the spice mixtures like Italian Seasoning since you can just add the separate spices and having the mix takes up extra room, but these can save a little time looking for spices.

Tools of the Trade

In addition to a stocked pantry, you’ll need a set of basic tools.   There are always a lot of things out there you could buy.  A lot of gadgets advertise that they will make cooking a lot easier, but the truth is that most of those gadgets only add value if you are cooking in bulk.  For example, if you are making gallons of salsa, it makes sense to pull out the Cuisinart.  If you are just cutting up an onion, however, you’ll spend ten times as much time dragging the thing out and then washing it and putting it away than you will actually spend cutting the onion.  You’ll find that most of the time it is just easier to pull out a knife.

Here are the items that a well-stocked kitchen should have:

Wet and dry measuring cups

  • 1 set of plastic dry measuring cups (1/4 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/2 cup, 1 cup)
  • 1 set of measuring spoons (1/4 tsp. 1/2 tsp. 1 tsp. 1 tbsp)
  • 2 spatulas, two large spoons (one solid, one slotted), a whisk, 2 rubber spatulas, 1 two-pronged fork, 1 set of tongs

example tool set:  Gibson Home 99202.20 Total 20 Piece Kitchen Tool/Gadget Prepare & Serve Combo Set, Black

      • 2 frying pans (cast iron is best), 4 sauce pans (small, medium, large, and extra-large) with lids

Example cast iron skillet and set of pots and pans

An example set of spoons

  • 1 grater
  • 1 set of pot holders
  • 2 cutting boards (one for meat, one for everything else)
  • 1 set of cake pans (round)
  • 1 9×13 rectangular pan
  • 1 9×9 square pan
  • 1 muffin pan

example: Farberware Steel Bakeware 46650 (for Kitchen and Housewares only) Farberware Promotional Bakeware 10 piece Gray

These are nice to have, but are used less often:

  • A blender, a salad spinner, a waffle maker, a toaster over, a crock pot.
  • A pastry cutter
  • An extra spatula (never have enough)
  • An extra small sauce pan
  • A ladle
  • A bread pan
  • Apple corer (metal)
  • Egg slicer
  • Food processor
  • Hand mixer

Saving Time

Unfortunately, a lot of people who try to start cooking get a recipe that is too complicated, get every pan in the house dirty, then decide to go back to take out and frozen dinners.  Cooking does not need to be complicated and time-consuming, especially for every day meals.  You might want to spend a few hours in the kitchen and put out all of the gadgets for a special meal, but not when you just want something to eat after work.

Here are a few tips that people who cook regularly use to save time and make cooking doable with a busy schedule:

1.  Don’t try to cook like someone from the Food Network.  Also, forget those elaborate recipes you find in the cooking magazines that require umpteen ingredients.  Just learn how to make the basic meals (chicken, pork chops, hamburgers, fish, spaghetti, stew, etc…).

2.  Buy a general cookbook that will give you the basics. Good ones are The Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker.

Pick up one of these great basic cookbooks

3.  It takes the same amount of time to make six portions as four.  Cook a little extra and you’ll have a lunch that is the envy of your office the next day.

4.  Make a big salad and keep it in your refrigerator covered in plastic wrap.  Only put in lettuce, carrots, celery, and other root vegetables.  Add fruits like apples and tomatoes (that don’t do well in the refrigerator) during the meal to each portion.  You can also make a big portion of soup and heat some up for meals during the week.

5.  Many meals freeze well.  Make a double portion one week, then freeze and reheat the next week.  Be sure to write the date you made it and plan to eat it within a month or so.

6.  Plan you meals.  Write what you plan to eat during the week or next two weeks, then make your grocery list from the ingredients needed.  Freeze any meats you won’t use for at least three days.  The day before the meal, put the meat for the next meal in the refrigerator so that it will be defrosted and ready to go (it will taste better if not defrosted in the microwave too).

7.  The crock pot is your friend.  All of your soups and stews, and even things like ribs and chicken, can be made in the crock pot.   You can even put them together the night before, put it in the refrigerator, then start it on low in the morning before work.  When you get home, you’ll have a hot meal waiting.

Follow me on Twitter to get news about new articles and find out what I’m investing in. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

How to Make Your Own Croutons


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A great way to save money and avoid waste is to use your old hamburger or hot dog buns to make your own croutons.   Not only will you save yourself a couple of dollars for a box of croutons and avoid throwing out those last few buns that you never got around to eating. You’ll also find that homemade croutons are a lot tastier than the sad little bread bits you find in the stores.  They are really simple to make even if you don’t cook very often with just a few ingredients.

Looking for a good first cookbook to start a family meal tradition?  Check out:  Dinner: The Playbook: A 30-Day Plan for Mastering the Art of the Family Meal

The first step in making croutons is to cut up the buns into little squares.  I generally make them a bit bigger than you find in the stores.  Using a sharp knife, first cut equal strips in the bun in one direction while holding the bun slices together, then carefully cut in the other direction to make squares.  Press gently to avoid crushing the bread.  If you find things crumble, your knife is probably too dull.

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Cut even slices one direction

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Then cut the other way to make squares

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The finished result. My squares are about 3/4″ (2 cm) cubes.

After you have equal squares, now is the time to add the fat and the spices.  Salt is nearly a must to get a good flavor.  In my case, I used olive oil for the fat and salt, garlic powder, and rosemary as spices.  I used on the order of a teaspoon of each spice per pan of bread (each pan being three hamburger buns).  Other choices for fat would be butter or vegetable oil.  Other choices for spices would be pepper, parsley, thyme, oregano, chili powder, or seasoned salt.   You could use a bowl, but to save dishes, I just put the bread squares on a cookie sheet in a pile, drizzled with oil (maybe a tablespoon or two for a pan of bread), then sprinkled on the spices.   I then worked the bread around gently to spread out the oil and the spices and coat everything as evenly as I could.  After coating, spread the pieces out as much as you can.  You want to give them room to release water and get radiant heat from the walls of the oven to toast.

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Olive oil and spices

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Coat them on the pan and then spread them out

Next, place the bread in an oven and bake at 300 degrees F (150 deg C)  for about 15-20 minutes. You want to bake slowly to get the whole pieces firm rather than just get a toast on the top and a soft middle.  Avoid the urge to turn on the broiler and give them a little toast since they’ll burn really quickly.  They’ll darken naturally with time with the oven on bake.  Pull out your croutons when the pieces are relatively firm and starting to get a golden brown.  Don’t overcook or they’ll turn bitter.

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Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes until firm and golden.

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The final product. Golden and delicious.

At this point just let them cool on the cookie sheet and then bag them up and put them on the shelf.  Make sure you wait for them to be cool or they’ll turn soft again in the bag.  I usually just use the bag the buns came in.  The hardest part is getting them into the bag, since people will start snacking on them after smelling the delicious aroma filling the room.  If you end up with just a few after the hoards descend, just start again when you have another set of old buns and guard them more carefully next time.

Questions?  Comments?  Let me know what’s on your mind by using the comment form below!

Follow on Twitter to get news about new articles. @SmallIvy_SI

Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning advice, it gives information on a specific investment strategy and picking stocks. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.