Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

TartQueen's Kitchen

Archive for December, 2011

¡Feliz Navidad! Tex-Mex Style. 1

Posted on December 25, 2011 by Sahar

A Merry Xmas to everyone.  Instead of the traditional dinner of turkey or goose this year, my husband Steve & I decided to go Tex-Mex. We figured, why not?  It’s one of the great Texas treats.  A decidedly guilty pleasure.

The ingredients:

Christmas dinner ingredients. The ultimate #2 Plate.


The end result.  Decadently yummy.

Finished Xmas Dinner.


And Sopapillas.

Sopapillas & Honey.


Needless to say, we’re very full.  And, I don’t have to cook for at least the next two days.  Happy Xmas indeed.


Building the Perfect Biscuit 4

Posted on December 18, 2011 by Sahar

I’m from the South.  Or more accurately, Texas.  One of the things we love to eat here are biscuits.  Big. flaky, slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside biscuits. We eat them for breakfast with cream gravy & sausage, with stew, soup, and, with a little extra jam or honey, for dessert.  They’re a magical thing.

As  a bit of background, the word “biscuit” comes from the French words, “bis cuit”, meaning “twice baked”.  These are not, however.  That is, if they’re done properly. Biscuits fall under the heading of “quick breads”.  Meaning, breads that use baking powder and/or baking soda as a leavening as opposed to yeast.

Lovely fluffy, flaky, slightly crispy on the outside, biscuits


The most common problem when folks make biscuits is that they come out rather tough.  There are several reasons for this:

  • Too much flour was used.  This happens when the flour is packed into the cup measure instead scooped (see below).  As a result, more milk must be used to get the correct consistency.  By then, the dough is too heavy to rise properly and has been overworked.
  • The dough is overworked.  This makes a tough biscuit.  You’re not making a loaf of bread.  A light touch is necessary. (Also, see above.)
  • Old baking powder was used.  Check the date on the can.  If it’s expired, throw it it out and buy fresh.
  • The shortening or lard has been over mixed into the dry ingredients.  You want to have bits of shortening or lard visible.  As they melt in the heat of the oven, the bits melt and help to make the biscuits flaky.


Now, I’ve been using a recipe that I found, in all places, Texas Monthly Magazine.  From October 1984.  It’s a wonderful recipe.  It captures all that is good in a biscuit recipe: simplicity,  love, and deliciousness.

Here’s the basic recipe:

2 c. all-purpose flour (You can use whole-wheat if you like; but why would you want to?)

1 tbsp. baking powder (Be sure not to use baking soda. Otherwise, your biscuits will taste like soap.)

1 tsp. salt (I generally use kosher.)

1 tsp. sugar (I just use white.)

1/3 c. shortening, cut into small pieces (You can also use lard.  I will confess to using butter-flavored shortening occasionally.)

1/2 c. milk, more if needed (Whole milk, please. I’ve also used buttermilk.)

1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (Yes, this is necessary.)


The recipe instructions from Texas Monthly begin with:

“Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  Then walk out into the backyard and take slow, deep breaths for 15 minutes, cleansing your mind of all distracting thoughts.  Remember that you are merely the instrument through which the biscuits will find expression.”

Excellent advice.


Before I get to the nuts and bolts of the recipe, a tip: be sure to have your ingredients, especially the flour, shortening or lard, and milk, cold. If you can, chill the bowl, too.  This will help keep the shortening or lard from getting too soft as you mix.

Also, I don’t find it necessary to sift the flour.  I do what is called a scoop & sweep method: Take a large spoon, aerate the flour in the container, scoop the flour into your DRY cup measure (the one that looks like a scoop) and sweep off any extra.  Do not shake or  tap the cup to pack the flour; otherwise, you’ll end up with too much flour and a heavier biscuit.  You really don’t want that.


1.  Line a heavy baking sheet with foil.  Brush the bottom of the sheet with some of the melted butter.  Set aside.

2.   In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.  (I like to use my hands for this step.  But, you can use a fork.) Add in the shortening or lard.

Ready to incorporate the shortening

3.  With either your hands, a pastry cutter, or a fork, mix the shortening into the dry ingredients.   Do not make it a homogenous mixture.  You want to have pieces of shortening in the dough.  (The pieces of shortening will melt in the oven and create the layers.)  The mixture should look shaggy.

Pastry Cutter


mixing with the pastry cutter


Mixing with a fork


Mixing with hands

4.  Add in the milk (measured in a wet measure; the one that looks like a glass with a handle).  Again, with either your hands or a fork, toss the flour and milk together until just mixed.  The dry ingredients should be moistened, but not soggy.  Add in milk, if necessary, 1 tablespoon at a time, if there are still dry ingredients in the bowl.  Try not to over mix.  Again, the dough should look slightly shaggy.  Press the dough together in a slightly flattened ball shape.

lovely, slightly shaggy, biscuit dough

5.  At this point, let the dough rest in the fridge for about 15 minutes.  Have a lightly floured surface ready.  Take the dough and either press or roll it out to a ½” – ¾” thickness.

3/4" thickness.

6.  With a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or anything that comes to mind, cut out your biscuits.  Carefully press the remaining dough together and cut more biscuits.  You’ll inevitably end up with an oddball biscuit.  Embrace that.  You should have 6-8 biscuits depending on the size and thickness.

7.  Place the biscuits on the baking sheet at least 1” apart and brush the tops with butter.  You don’t want the sides touching; that’s just not right.  The slightly crispy outside is necessary.



Lovely old biscuit cutters from my great-grandmother.


Biscuits before baking. Already buttered up.

8.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes.  If you oven is anything like mine, you’ll have a hot spot.  Go ahead and halfway through the baking, turn the baking sheet.  You want the biscuits to be a light golden brown.

9.  Enjoy!

Lovely finished biscuits


Flaky, soft, slightly crispy biscuits. You want a slightly creamy colored inside.


A final word about ovens.  They all cook differently, so when you see an oven temperature in a recipe, it is based on the oven where the recipe was tested & developed.  You know whether your oven cooks hot, cool, or is perfectly calibrated.  So, adjust the temperature if needed to achieve biscuit success.







Who’s really being targeted…? 0

Posted on December 12, 2011 by Sahar

I caught this little gem of an article on the Huffington Post food page this morning. The Worst Fast Food of 2011.

Now, to me, this kind of food just reinforces the notion not only here but around the world that Americans are fat, lazy, don’t care about food, and are frankly, gluttons.  I mean, who really needs to eat a pocket of dough filled with enough cheese to feed a family of 4?

Looking at the actors in those commercials, I can guarantee they don’t eat at those places on a regular basis.  They probably even go to the gym on occasion.

Does the rest of the world have this kind of diet?  Frankly, no.  But, with the proliferation of American fast food around the world (in fact, my husband & I saw a McDonalds in the middle of Amman, Jordan this last summer), people are certainly getting hip to our ways.  Too bad for them.  Believe me, the local indigenous foods are so much better.

I my travels, I have seen tourists go into American fast-food restaurants.  It’s all I could do not to yank them out by their fanny-packs.

I’ll admit to eating the occasional take-out pizza or cheeseburger.  I do feel better about doing that (and not a little smug) because I don’t eat from one of the national chains, but from local restaurants.  But, does that make my diet any better?  Probably not.

But, the cynic in me wonders if all this calorie, sugar, fat, and chemically laden fast food is targeted at the people who need it the least: lower-income families.  Look at the deals these “restaurants” shout at you through the TV; $3.99 combo meals, $9.99 buckets of fried chicken, 64-oz sugar-filled drinks. The list is endless.

For a rather sobering look at the hunger and obesity situation in the US, go to the website of the Food Research & Action Center, In many cases, obesity is not because people have too much to eat, it’s because they have too little.

So, when someone who’s living paycheck-to-paycheck, on government assistance, or practically no income at all, has to feed their family, what are they going to do?  They’re going to gravitate towards the cheapest, most filling, calorie-laden way to feed their family.  Because, honestly, they don’t know when their next meal is coming in some cases.  This could also be said for their grocery store choices as well (i.e. Hamburger Helper, frozen pizza, boxed macaroni).

I realize here I’m painting with a broad brush.  Not all low-income families live and eat this way and certainly not all of them are overweight or obese.  Some busy families eat fast food simply because they just don’t have the time to cook

I suppose for some wonk it begs the question, is there any good fast food?  Why, yes.  Yes there is.  Go to your local food truck and try out the fast food there.  Barring that, buy stuff to make sandwiches and take those to work instead.  Or some of last night’s leftovers.  That’s what I do with my husband.

Want to help?

  1. The Sustainable Foods Center  ( has a program called the “Happy Kitchen” that teaches lower-income families how to cook in inexpensive, healthy ways.
  2. The Capital Area Food Bank ( is another wonderful organization that helps to combat hunger in the Austin area.
  3. The Green Corn Project ( helps families learn how to grow their own organic gardens
If you’re not in the Austin area and want to help families break the cycle of poor nutrition and the stranglehold of poverty, look around.  In the US, if you go to the Food Research & Action Center website (see above), they have an extensive list of anti-hunger programs in your state.  Outside the US, please check your private charity listings, no doubt there will be something you can do to help.


Almost forgot… 3

Posted on December 11, 2011 by Sahar

Almost forget to tell you.  To leave a comment, please click on the word bubble next to the blog header.

Hello world! 2

Posted on December 02, 2011 by admin

Welcome to my website and blog.  I hope we’ll all be happy together.

If you’ve read my bio, then you know I’m a (mostly) self-taught cook.  I never went to culinary school, but I have plenty of practice and real-world experience in the kitchen.  I have had the opportunity to work with great local as well as world-renowned chefs and cookbook authors.  I’ve learned lessons from each and every one of them.  Both good and bad.

I’ll really only post when I have something to say.  I’ll share my musings on food, the politics of food, food people, restaurants, cookbooks, recipe development, etc.

I won’t get into debates about who has the best cheeseburger, pork belly, wine list, etc..  Food is a very subjective thing.  Everyone has their opinion.  What I think is good may be sawdust for someone else.  Opposing opinions are fine; just don’t expect me to get into a fight about it.

Please give me feedback.  That’s how I learn.  If you feel the need to criticize, fine.  But, please do it constructively.  Any comments I deem to be rude or offensive will be removed and the poster runs the risk of being blocked.

I also like photography. So, expect lots of pictures.


Again, welcome.  I hope we can all have some fun together.




Fresh Sea Scallops. Borough Market, South Bank, London. June 2011.



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