Basics – Scones (Biscuits)

Devonshire Tea.

Okay. I give in. Just for the Americans among you, I’m going to refer to these as biscuits.

Scones!

Scones!

That’s only going to happen up here, mind!  For the rest of the post they will be known as scones (a word that rhymes with ‘on’, by the way). However, this mere mention at the outset will mean that some of you will find a recipe you are looking for and the rest of the readers will learn that Americans call scones, biscuits.

I don’t know why.

Anyway, these are one of the first things many of us learn to bake – or should. Try making these with your kids, they don’t take a lot of time and are a great way to fill a rainy afternoon.

Scones are also one of those wonderful recipes that lend themselves to variations, both sweet and savoury.

Learn how to make a good scone and you can whip up a batch and serve them within 30 mins of unexpected guests calling, or you can augment the recipe to create a sweet breakfast scroll or a lunch dish along the line of pizza. You could even fill your freezer with quick-bake lunch box fillers and finger food.

Once you’ve made plain scones a few times, then extend your repertoire and give these a go too:

But first, let’s start from the beginning.

Scones are a form of quick bread and may even be considered a type of pastry. They need the bare minimum of ingredients: flour, butter, milk.

They also work best if you handle them as little as possible. Do not use a rolling pin. Ever. I don’t care what you may have seen elsewhere. Just don’t.

Okay?!?!

Ahem.

Let’s just deem them delicious and get stuck in.

Preheat your oven to 230°C or 475°F.

Sift your flour, and a pinch of salt into a largish bowl.

I add a spoonful or two of sugar to my scones following a tip I was given many years ago. It helps to avoid a “floury” taste to the scones when eaten cold in the days after baking. (If any are left.) It really does seem to work, so I keep doing it.

You may, of course, use wholemeal flour if you prefer.

Sift your dry ingredients together

Sift your dry ingredients together.

Cut your butter into small pieces and then rub it into your flour.

add your shortening

Add your butter to your flour.

This stage may be done with something called a pastry blender. I’ve never been in actual physical contact with a pastry blender at any stage in my life, so I can’t tell you how to use one.

You can also use a food processor…apparently. However, this is a very simple, ancient recipe and fingertips are something one usually finds whenever one happens to be in one’s own kitchen – why create more washing up, people? Why??

Rubbing is a technique that is a little hard to describe, and I suspect I may have to make my first foray into YouTube to demonstrate it, however here goes…

Have your butter a little on the soft side, but not too close to melting. Plunge both your hands into the flour and, holding your four fingers together, rub your thumb across them as you lift them out of the flour. Aim to get pieces of butter between your thumb and fingers as you grab the flour. Repeat.

Continue rubbing the flour into the butter until there are no clearly visible pieces of butter left and the contents of your bowl resemble fine breadcrumbs.

Actually a quick questioning of Mr Google has revealed this YouTube clip. It’s not how I would demonstrate it, but it may help 😉

So, now we add our liquid. Milk works well, you may also use buttermilk, a mix of half yoghurt and half milk or all yoghurt.

In the pictures below I have done the latter.

Be aware that the measurement in the recipe is for milk. A greater quantity will be required for the buttermilk/yoghurt options.

Make a well in your dry ingredients and add 3/4 of the liquid all at once.

add your liquid

Add most of your liquid to the flour.

Now cut the liquid into your dry ingredients using a butter knife. Because my mother said so.

Actually, using a knife to mix in the liquid works a lot better than using a spoon, as it does away with any little hollows for flour to get trapped in.

If there is flour left in the bowl when the liquid has all been incorporated, then add more a tablespoon at a time until you have a bowl of dough and no loose flour.

The mixed scone dough.

The mixed scone dough.

When your dough has all come together – if you are using milk it will be a lot smoother than the dough pictured – turn it out onto a floured surface.

Prepare a surface with flour.

Prepare a surface with flour.

Save yourself a lot of drudge work and cover your work surface first with either a silicon baking sheet -as I have done in the photos -or just with a strip of baking paper. Then, when clean up time comes, you can either shake all the leftover dusting flour into the bin or throw the whole piece of paper in.

No more gluey sponges.

Moving on.

Gently shape your dough into a ball, patting it with flour where it might be sticky, and then gently flatten it with your fingertips into a rough oblong shape about an inch or so thick.

Shape and flatten your dough, using only your hands.

Shape and flatten your dough, using only your hands.

Don’t use a rolling pin, or you will knock all the air out of your dough, making it denser and  tougher.

Place a sheet of baking paper or parchment over a baking tray.

Then, using either a scone cutter or a small drinking glass dipped in some of the flour on your surface, cut the dough into rounds. Re-dip the cutter between scones.

Be as economical as you can with your cutting. Start on the side of the dough nearest to you and cut each piece as close to the last as you can. This way you minimise the need to re-form and re-roll your dough.

Any scones made with dough that has been reshaped will be less smooth than the first cutting, as you can see in the picture below.

The result of reshaped dough.

The result of reshaped dough.

Place each scone on the tray as it is cut, starting in the centre and working your way around. Think in terms of making a daisy shape. Place your scones as close together as you can. This helps them to rise instead of spreading outward.

Any leftover piece of dough that is too small to cut into a scone should be given to any small child who may be “helping” and shaped into their own special creation for baking…

Place closely together on the baking tray.

Place closely together on the baking tray.

Using a pastry brush dipped in milk (or your finger) gently brush the tops of your scones. This will encourage a nice brown finish, but is not necessary.

Bake for 15 mins, until a toothpick inserted in the centre scone comes out clean. Again, yoghurt or buttermilk mixes may take longer to cook.

Now for one of those old-fashioned tricks: Scones wrapped in clean cloth as soon as they are removed from the oven will keep soft as they cool. I have this rather groovy cloth bread basket I bought on clearance at Ikea a few years ago, but two tea towels overlapping in a cross formation should do the trick equally well.

Wrap your hot scones in a cloth to cool.

Wrap your hot scones in a cloth to cool.

Serve your scones. Another tip, don’t cut them in half or they will become doughy. Instead use your fingers and gently break them apart.

And serve..

And serve..

Serve with strawberry jam and whipped cream and a nice pot of Earl Grey for your classic Devonshire Tea, or you can serve them up with butter and any spread you darn well want: marmalade, vegemite, peanut butter. Knock yourself out.

Scones also freeze well and travel quite nicely in packed lunches.

Devonshire Tea.

Devonshire Tea.

Basic Scones

  • Servings: 12 scones
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 cups self raising flour (250g)

pinch salt

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp butter (30g)

¾ cup milk (187ml)

Method

Heat oven to 230°C or 475°F.

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Cut butter into small pieces and rub into flour until mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Add milk and cut in quickly and lightly with a butter knife until a moist dough is formed.

Turn onto a lightly floured board and shape into a smooth oblong about an inch thick using hands and fingertips.

Using a floured scone cutter or drinking glass, cut out scones and place close together on a prepared oven tray.

Glaze with milk.

Bake for 10-15 mins until a toothpick inserted in the centre scone comes out clean.

For soft scones, wrap in a cloth until cold.

 Variations to basic recipe:

Cheese Scones:

Add ¼ tsp mustard or a dash of Cayenne pepper to the flour before sifting. I like using a tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning.

Add ½ a cup of grated tasty cheese before you add liquid.

Fruit Scones:

Add 2 tbsps of caster sugar to the flour before sifting.

Add 1/3 cup of dried fruit such as sultanas, currants, diced dried apricots or craisins before adding the liquid.

 

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How to cook plain old rice (without tears or a rice cooker)

Fluffy rice with flecks of spice.

Rice is one of those things that seems much harder than it is.

It makes the perfect accompaniment to umpteen million (actual measurement) other dishes, requires little to no thought or skill to pull off and can be incorporated into other dishes which make you look like an absolute star.

Perfectly cooked long grain rice  - without using a rice cooker.

Perfectly cooked long grain rice – without using a rice cooker.

I like to cook more than I need when I do a pot. Cooked rice keeps well in the refrigerator, reheats easily in the microwave and can be the foundation stone for other dishes like fried rice, rice salads, etc. It also makes a handy filler for things like meatloaf and rissoles (meatballs).

It’s also one of those budget booster ingredients. A kilogram of rice will only cost a few dollars but will give you three times its weight in cooked product and store in its uncooked state indefinitely if treated properly.

It can also be an absolute pain in the neck.

Pots that boil over (ugh!), rice that burns, or rice that resembles glue are all elements of everyone’s respective rice nightmares.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Really.

It’s not rocket surgery folks and with just a little care and attention you can cook perfect rice each and every time without even using a measuring cup.

Although – if I know you guys – someone out there will *demand* that I give an actual measure somewhere. Sigh.

Not gonna. Nyah.

Take your largest pot. Fill it a quarter full of rice, cover with water to a depth that reaches halfway up your first finger joint, cover, bring to a boil, then cook on a really low heat for 15 minutes.

There. Hard innit?

Okay. Here we go again, but more slowly.

Rice triples in volume when cooked. If you want to cook a cup of raw rice, you’ll end up with three cups worth at the end. Make sure your pot will hold the finished volume of rice. That’s important.

Some may tell you that you absolutely must wash rice before you cook it. I very rarely do. If I were making rice for sushi or for something that required precise levels of starchiness, I might.

However, if your rice is processed in clean facilities, then I shouldn’t be too bothered with it for the purposes of cooking it as a side dish. It may have a few clumps in it, but they can be rectified with a fork…

Here is what the water will look like on unwashed rice…

Water added to unwashed rice is cloudy.

Water added to unwashed rice is cloudy.

When it’s been rinsed a few times it becomes clearer.

The water becomes clearer with each rinse.

The water becomes clearer with each rinse.

Not washing it will save you a colander to wash too…. (just sayin’)

You will need a saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Don’t fret overly if it’s not completely snug – we’ll deal with that soon.

In my largest saucepan, I usually place a layer of long grain rice about an inch deep.

Put your rice in the pan

Put your rice in the pan (it’s wet because I just demonstrated the effects of washing it. Keep up.)

To this I then add cold water. To measure the level, I place the tip of my index finger on the top of the rice and add water until it reaches halfway up the first joint of the finger.

Like this:

Measuring the water

Measuring the water

Then place your lid on your pot and make sure any vents are closed.

The lids of my saucepans have small holes in them to vent steam. I want to keep the steam in, so I place a sheet of baking paper or parchment over the pan and under the lid.

Use a sheet of parchment paper to seal off any leaks of heat and water.

Use a sheet of parchment paper to seal off any leaks of heat and water.

Then jam the lid on as securely as possible.

Put the lid on firmly and resist moving it until the rice is cooked!

Put the lid on firmly and resist moving it until the rice is cooked!

Do not move it from here on.

I mean it!

Place it on the hob and turn the heat to full. Do not walk away.

Turn your heat to full.

Turn your heat to full.

You are waiting for the rice to come to the boil at which stage you will turn it down to the lowest heat possible on your stove.

So…how do you tell if it’s boiling if you can’t lift the lid?

It’s actually very easy. Place the tips of your fingers gently on the lid handle. As the heat increases you’ll feel a slight vibration that grows as it gets closer to the boil. If you are using parchment and have a glass lid like mine, the paper will inflate as boiling point is reached.

Regardless, if you miss all these signs, you’ll know for sure as the lid tries to rock and rattle its way off your pot.

Turn the heat to the lowest point you can without turning your stove off.

Turn your heat to the lowest level you can.

Turn your heat to the lowest level you can.

In fact, you could probably remove it from the heat altogether and not have any problems. It would just be a little less fluffy.

Not kidding.

Just don’t lift the lid!

Set a timer for 15 mins and walk away. Have a cup of tea, put away the dishes on the drainer or start prepping whatever you want to serve with the rice.

When your timer goes off, take it off the heat and leave the lid on for a further 5 minutes. If you wish, place a folded wet tea towel under your saucepan to further minimise any risk of sticking.

Lift the lid and stir with a rice paddle if you have one.

Perfectly cooked rice - without a rice cooker.

Lift your lid…

 

Stir your rice.

Stir your rice.

If you don’t have a rice paddle, then just use a fork. Don’t use a spoon or you will end up creating a mushy, claggy mess.

Remove the rice to a serving bowl or to a storage container as quickly as you can.

Filling your saucepan with hot water and dish soap as quickly as possible after the rice has been removed will make it a breeze to clean after you have finished your meal.

Ring the changes:

Once you feel confident in your ability to cook rice, try some very simple variations.

When you add your water also add a teaspoonful of Caraway Seeds. This makes a lovely accompaniment to rich meat dishes, especially those containing pork.

A sprinkle of caraway for flavour and fragrance

A sprinkle of caraway for flavour and fragrance.

Fluffy rice with flecks of spice.

Fluffy rice with flecks of spice.

 

Or try a dash (maybe a ½ tsp) of turmeric instead. This will turn your rice a lovely yellow and add a beautiful, warm fragrance to the air…

Indeed, adding a touch of almost any spice will transform your rice. Try cracked Cardamom Pods, fennel seeds, star anise or – if you are feeling particularly affluent – soak a few saffron threads in warm water for 5 mins before adding them in the same way.

Use any left over rice in my Almost Genuine Fried Rice dish.

Almost Genuine Fried Rice

Almost Genuine Fried Rice

Let me know how you go!

Making Chicken Stock in a slow cooker

So, don’t you hate those people who get all snobby about stock powders that come in cubes and cans and stuff?

You know, the ones who make their own stock and simply can’t understand anyone who doesn’t?

chicken stock (2)

Yeah.

I’ve become one of them. Sorry.

I used to be the person who would reach for the Massel or the Vegeta if stock was necessary, but since I moved at the start of the year I’ve been making my own actual liquid stock and it is soooooo much better than anything I’ve ever bought – even in one of those tetra pack doovers.

The hardest part is storing it. However, since I had to buy a new refrigerator when I moved, I got a wider one with these lovely drawers in the freezer. I lovingly ladle the stock into mason jars, place them in the freezer and forget about them until I need stock for risotto, gravy or soup…

I make my chicken stock in the crock pot or slow cooker overnight.

It’s terribly uncomplicated. Every now and then The Boy and I buy a BBQ Chook* from the local supermarket for one reason or another. After we’ve picked as much of the flesh as we can off it, I use it for stock. Now, if the freezer is already well stocked with…um… stock, we simply freeze the carcass until we need to restock the … stock. Follow? Good.

Leftover BBQ Chook

Leftover BBQ Chook

Making the stock goes like this:

Pop your chicken carcass into a slow cooker or crock pot. You can do this with an uncooked chicken, but a cooked one will give you far more flavour. Make sure to remove any stuffing from the cavity and dispose of it. You don’t want that in your liquid.

To the slow cooker add a roughly chopped onion, a couple of carrots and some celery. There is no need to add salt or any other seasonings. You want your stock to be as versatile as possible, add other flavours to the final dishes not here.

Roughly chopped vegetables

Roughly chopped vegetables

It honestly doesn’t matter how your vegetables look either. They’re all going to be thrown away at the end of the process — after every skerrick of flavour has been cooked out of them. Basically, you just want to be able to fit them in the pot with the chicken.

Cover the contents with water – you can boil the water first if you wish.

Add water to your stock pot

Add water to your stock pot

Turn the slow cooker on to low and then ignore it for 8 or so hours. Better yet, get this all done after dinner and leave it to cook overnight while you sleep. You’ll wake up to a delicious smelling house and a slow cooker full of something that looks like this…

Cooked chicken stock

Cooked Chicken Stock

And doesn’t that look terribly unattractive? Don’t worry, it’s not the finished product.

Turn your slow cooker off, let the contents cool for a bit, and set a large sieve inside a large bowl. Line the sieve with some cheesecloth or a new kitchen wipe like this:

Line your sieve with a fresh cloth

Line your sieve with a fresh cloth

Then upend the contents of your slow cooker into it. It will look horrendous.

Strain the broth from the solids

Strain the broth from the solids

Walk away from the sink. Shower, dress, have a nice cup of something warm and caffeinated.

Leave it alone.

Then, after an hour or so, remove the sieve and discard the contents. Bin them, bury them, place them in your compost or Bokashi bin; you will no longer need them in your kitchen. What you will want is this, this liquid gold. <cue heavenly choir>

Pure chicken stock

Pure chicken stock

Don’t worry about the fine layer of fat you can see in the sheen on the surface. That is pure flavour and, when chilled, will give the stock a gelatinous texture.

Now, all you need to do is bottle it. Place it in some sterilised mason jars and freeze it as I do.

Mason jar of chicken stock

Mason jar of chicken stock

You could also place it into ziploc bags for freezing.

Alternatively, you can put it in a large saucepan and boil it until it is so reduced that you can freeze it in ice-cube trays as an über concentrate that you add water to when defrosted.

My 3 litre slow cooker made 2 ½ litres of stock. Isn’t it purdy?

A whole batch of chicken stock

A whole batch of chicken stock

Give it a shot, you’ll love the results. I promise. It will also make you feel all chef-y and virtuous (for not throwing food away) at the same time.

Let me know how you go.

*Side note:  Try going into an American supermarket and asking for a BBQ Chook. I dare you. If you happen to be an American reading this, it can be translated as ‘Rotisserie Chicken.”  You’re welcome.

Challenge Accepted

Hey All,

I’m currently sitting in a moderately comfy chair, attached to an IV.

DON’T PANIC!

This is routine. I have a monthly infusion for my MS, and it seems to be doing the trick. Touch wood.

Anyway…The Boy has suggested that I dive into things head first (while I’m busy putting together set up guides for absolute beginners) and show my peeps that it’s possible to eat well on next to nothing.

His budget at University was around $30 AUD a week.

SOOOOOOOO, he has challenged me to feed us on that amount (each) and share the meals and planning processes with you all.

What can I say? I’m a sucker.

A new page will soon appear titled $30 challenge. You’ll be able to follow our adventure in this, from purchases to recipes. I just hope you can handle my photography…

So here goes, looking forward to getting the magical “Achievement Unlocked” seal of approval.