In this world of instant gratification and fast fixes for everything from planting a garden to enjoying a hard-boiled egg, the true art and care of doing these simple tasks is often shoved to the side. Why bother to remember a fabric softener sheet to your dryer loads when now there's a product you toss in for a whole season, or send a gift by regular mail when an instant e-card with an online gift certificate will do?
At the very least, the art of cooking like Grandma is waning in popularity, especially with the high demand for fast (and often figure-friendly) foods. Don't get me wrong - I'm all for convenience and speed in the kitchen, just not for the junky tags that come along with so much of those pre-fabricated products. Canned beans and tomatoes, dried pasta, ground spices and rolled oats are all in my pantry. I have bottled lemon juice and ketchup in my fridge. But some things, if you're going to do them at all, are just worth doing right. For me, those things are the simple and inexpensive classics: bread, muffins, cookies and biscuits.
I know - it's an ideal scenario to have the time, patience and ability to pull a picture-perfect pan of anything baked out of the oven. Box mixes, frozen or refrigerated dough and even pre-sliced, pre-garlic buttered bread is pretty much foolproof, and in a time or ingredient crunch with demandingly hungry (or picky) audiences I use them with abandon. I have never been able to justify the refrigerated biscuits, however. My grandma's buttermilk biscuits, using shortening and without the need for finicky butter, chilling and careful rolling, were just so simple and fast to whip up - 15 minutes and I had a dozen sitting in a bread basket. But even I can learn how to take a little extra time, an extra step, and perfect the flaky morsels my family and I love so much. Peter Reinhart's method not only uses chilled, cubed butter, but then letter folds the dough three times before cutting it and baking (no pre-chilling, thankfully!).
Is it worth it? Well, if your goal is puff pastry-like, buttery layers, a hint of crispness to the crust and an interior that needs no adornment (although jam would find a welcome home in the crannies), then the answer is undoubtedly, unequivocally yes. That said, am I making these for every Saturday morning brunch or Sunday supper? To put it mildly - BWAHAHAHAHA, no. But really, if you're having biscuits that often, you probably have other things in your diet to worry about.
What things do you always (or almost always) make from scratch, or value most when you know they're homemade?