March 9, 2011

The Maine Ingredient: Balance quick meals with homemade ones

"The problem with making dinner from scratch instead of using packaged convenience food is that when I get home from work, there are so many things I want to do well, and cooking for my family is only one of many." It's really the crux of it, isn't it?

Making food with our own hands for our family -- most of us would say this is important, it's just that we don't always find the time, can't find the time, run out of time. The question is, "If I'm choosing to make a healthy dinner for my family, what is it that I'm not doing?"

I write a column about food, so you can guess where my tendencies lean. On the other hand, no one can make these choices for a family -- not a mother-in-law, nutritionist nor columnist -- they must find their own way, through what feels right and true for them.

I would suggest balance has much to do with a healthy, satisfying outcome. Does it all come down to "moderation" and balance? Probably. Boring, but true.

What would balance look like? Thinking ahead, making extra to freeze, and developing some standby, go-to meals that everyone likes and doesn't tax the cook in the house -- such as omelets, frittatas, beans (go for the canned) and rice and/or pasta with frozen sauce.

This is what gets a family out of the quicksand of chaos management governed by pizza and cereal, so that those days when everyone must eat within 15 minutes of you walking through the door don't end up looking like bowl, milk, cereal, with you saying, "Hey, look at all the vitamins and minerals they list in the ingredients!"

Would scones for breakfast be something to incorporate on a regular basis? Probably not -- best if we didn't forgo the usual oatmeal, grapefruit or hardboiled egg breakfast -- but as something special when there is a moment, they're priceless.

Nothing can replace the aroma of a freshly baked flour, butter and sugar combination emerging from the oven to wrap around us like a soft, well-worn, comforting blanket on a rainy Sunday morning.

 

BROWN SUGAR AND DATE SCONES

I love to serve these scones with homemade orange marmalade.

 

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons cold butter

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk (plus extra if needed)

1 egg

1 tablespoon demerara sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. (This is an important step, because you'll want to add air to the mixture so the scones are as light as possible.)

Cut the butter with a pastry knife (or your fingers) until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal. Add the dates.

Add the milk and egg, stirring until a soft dough forms. If there are little bits of flour that are still not incorporated, add 1 or 2 more tablespoons of milk. Do not overmix. This is also very important; if you overmix, you will probably get hard tack instead of scones. Turn out onto a floured board, knead 10 times or less, and then stop.

Roll or pat out the dough until it is 1-inch thick. At this point, you can cut the dough with a floured 11/2-inch biscuit cutter or leave the dough in one round patty or pie about 7 to 8 inches in diameter.

Place the scones or scone on a baking sheet. If you choose to leave it as one large scone, as I often do, score the dough into 8 wedges with a long knife. Brush the top with milk, sprinkle with demerara sugar, and bake for 12 to 15 minutes if individual or 40 to 45 minutes if one large scone.

Makes 8 to 10 scones.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of "At Home, At Sea," a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family's windjammer. She can be reached at: chefannie@mainewindjammer.com

 

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