Monday, November 21, 2011

"Drop ‘em!” Cook's Illustrated Drop Biscuits

More years ago than I care to remember, when I was in my late teens, I was obsessed with Law & Order for about a year.  At the time, my life was a chaotic blur, and when I was depressed, one of the few things I enjoyed was propping myself up in front of the TV and watching L&O's neat sequence of scenes every night on the Arts & Entertainment network. Each act in the crime tragedy would be perfectly punctuated with the infamous 'da-dum' sound that mimics a cell door slamming shut.

I don't watch TV now, to be honest.  I haven't even seen a single episode of Glee, or CSI, or anything like that, not because I'm a snob, but because I'm trying to pack my life with activities that take me out into the world (riding, yoga, even baking) and I spend most of my work day staring at a screen, so 'ooh, more passive screen time!' is not my idea of leisure.

But I did love Law & Order. I loved its infinite predictability.  I loved how it would always open with two  hard-bitten cops who would make cynical jests about the dead victim, followed by the search (which always involved more brainwork than car chases), followed by the trial. The possible conviction of the defendant would always hinge upon a legal issue that was complicated enough to seem realistic but not so complicated a layperson couldn't understand it.  Usually, the case would revolve around a notorious crime ripped from the headlines, but the ending would be sufficiently different from real life that it would take the viewer by surprise--and presumably so Dick Wolf, the show's producer, couldn't get sued.

When I say I loved Law & Order, though, I mean only one particular incarnation of the show--when Chris Noth and Jerry Orbach played the detectives Mike Logan and Lennie Briscoe.  Is it possible for men to have chemistry in a completely non-sexual way?  Because they did. Mike was an emotional yet fiercely intelligent Irish cop who always wore a sexy leather jacket when it was cold.  Lennie was a recovered alcoholic with a grown daughter and a ethically flexible, worldly attitude.  There would be choice references to their personal life--an emotional expression on Noth's face during a crime, a meeting with Lenny and his daughter at the racetrack--just enough to tantalize the imagination, without revealing too much. Emotional striptease in the style of Gypsy Rose Lee.

Of course, because of Law & Order, I briefly thought I wanted to BE a lawyer.  But really, what I wanted was to PLAY a detective beside Chris Noth as an ACTOR.  I would be this kind of over-educated type who had become a detective after graduating from college.  He would rob me of my idealism, show me the ropes, but gradually come to respect my intelligence.  Then we would have hot sex together after a particularly trying night of investigating.

The first cooking show I ever watched with any regularity was a natural extension of my love of Law & Order.  It was called America's Test Kitchen, the television incarnation of the famously anal cooking magazine Cook's Illustrated.

Like Law & Order, America's Test Kitchen begins with a crime--the host, Christopher Kimball will show some sort of monstrous version of a popular dish, like a hideously heavy cake or a gooey lasagna.  Then, there are the investigatory sequences where he, and his trusted partner (usually an impish blonde woman who expresses great enthusiasm for butter) deconstruct the crime, and find the best ingredients for the dish.  Often, they explain the laborious process in the test kitchen of trying 9, 756 different recipes to arrive at the perfect consistency of frosting on the cake or getting crispy skin on fried chicken.  Expert witnesses are called in like their 'equipment guru' to give further insight (kind of like the culinary version of the forensic psychologists on Law & Order). Then, there is the trial, or the making of the dish, followed by the verdict when Kimball and Co. declare the recipe to be 'correct.'

There is much that is annoying about ATK--the idea that there is one 'best' way to make a recipe, the focus on national supermarket brand products, the fussiness of the techniques combined with a fear of 'fancy' food, spices and astringent flavors--however, for simple foods, like cookies and biscuits, their recipes are reliable.  They work.

This drop biscuit recipe, which, unlike many of the ATK recipes is available on the web for free (I avoid paying for their recipes by simply taking their books out of my local library). It is a good example of a recipe so easy you can't believe it comes out as well as it does.  With no rolling at all, it makes a flaky, tasty biscuit.  And I am assuming many of you right now are too stressed out about cooking a turkey to even think of rolling out biscuits and keeping the dough at the perfect temperature.

I am not going to reprint the recipe, out of food blogger etiquette, since I made it EXACTLY as written, for fear of being assassinated by Chris Kimball in my sleep. (Other than 'making' buttermilk by curdling skim milk with a tablespoon of white vinegar per cup of milk). After all, Logan and Briscoe are no longer on the job to find out the source of my early demise.   Just read it here. And make it.  And don't stress.

And have some butter.  Butter always makes you feel better.


  1. I used to love Law and Order when I was younger too. My favourite was the Jerry Orbach and Benjamin Bratt :) era. Though I had my on and offs since the beginning watching different casts and incarnations. I much preferred the "Order" portion to the Law, I had/have a thing for courtroom dramas. And I started young with cooking shows, frequently watching Wok With Yan when I was seven or eight, though I never really cooked/baked anything until well after I was done with University :).

  2. I miss old school L&O. I don't do TV now either.

  3. @Adam--I slowly, slowly warmed to Benjamin Bratt but I always found him a bit wooden. I did prefer the 'Order' side (it's like arguing over a black-and-white cookie, isn't it--which side is better)--but Michael Moriarty was great. Wok With Yan was fab (as was the Frugal Gourmet) but like you, it wasn't until I got away from the dining hall and had to fend for myself that I began to cook.
    ITINMT@ Old Skool for shizzle! Before the franchise became like the Subway of crime shows, with a new one opening up on ever channel...

  4. My dad and I used to watch the Practice--it made me want to be a lawyer!

  5. I stopped watching L&O about the time that Michael Moriarty left. Later, he became a crazy homeless person in Vancouver B.C. Randy Quaid has also become insane in Vancouver, but I believe he's at least renting a house.

  6. I really enjoyed your comparative, one I had never considered before. But it kind of worries me . . . I feel strongly that Jack McCoy was sleeping with Claire (Jill Hennessy) despite how cool they acted towards each other, and now I can't help but wonder if Chris Kimball's mocking of Bridget isn't a cover for an illicit affair.

    As for biscuits, it's just as well that I cannot consume dairy anymore since I have no self-control when it comes to biscuits. They're just so easy to make and so easy to eat in multiples.

  7. @Flurrious: Michael Moriarty was an extraordinary actor, and I did hear that he went off the deep end after leaving L&O. Very sad, but sometimes the source of an actor's art (emotional plasticity) can take actors to dark places when they aren't working.

    @Catboy--the sexual tension between Chris and Bridget you could cut with a butter knife! Even more so than the relationship (which I was quite sure of) between Claire and Jack.

    And yes, these biscuits are even easier than 'roll and cut outs' because there is no temperature requirement...sinfully dangerous...