March 20, 2007

Candy Cake

This one comes to you from my youngest. I don't know whether or not I mentioned it, but my one-of-a-kind, can't-be-beat, beef heart and burgundy chili was actually, well, --beat. Soundly. At the church's Chili cook-off / dessert bake-off, there were 15 chili entries, and 9 awards. Which means mine was judged one of the 6 worst. ( I figure the judges hadn't the discerning palate I had previously credited them )

But the evening wasn't a total wash. In fact, we brought home a winner in our midst after all. My youngest, the aspiring baker, made her grandmother's "Candy Cake" and entered it in the dessert category, where there were 18 entries and merely 4 prizes. She, unlike her old man, brought home the goods. And I promised her a spot on the blog with her winning entry.

The really cool part of all this is, though my LCB doesn't like to cook, nobody has made this cake in our house since her mom passed away. (I'm not much of a baker, and I don't really care for cake). So, by Hope making the cake from Grandma's recipe, and the LCB assisting to see if it was they way she remembered, they were both able to bridge across an emptiness that's been too long there. Made the LCB cry, but I think it was the good kind of crying.

OK, enough sappiness, here's how you make these incredibly rich little squares:

50 Caramels
1/2 cup evaporated milk

Melt the caramels and 1/2 C. evaporated milk in a double boiler.

1 box German Chocolate cake mix
1/3 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup melted margarine
1 Cup chopped nuts. (We used walnuts)

Mix the cake mix, milk, margarine, and nuts.
Put 1/2 the batter in the bottom of a 9x12 pan.
Bake for 6 minutes at 350 degrees.
Put 1 Cup chocolate chips sprinkled over the hot cake.
Pour caramel mix over chocolate chips.
Sprinkle the rest of the batter on top. (It's more like a dough than a batter)
Bake 15-18 mins at 350.
Cool for 15 mins.
Refrigerate 1 hour.

Cut into squares and enjoy!

March 15, 2007


Some time ago, Mimi posted some recollections on her Memere's potato masher. This evening, a package arrived that my LCB had ordered. It was a beautiful red enameled cast-iron French Oven. (I grew up calling these things Dutch Ovens, but I guess they're French Ovens now. Or maybe there's a difference I'm failing to notice.) Anyway, Mimi's recollections spawned by an artifact, coupled with a brand new cooking pot, brought to mind a story I read somewhere once.
We all have what I call "hang-ons". Not hang-ups, but hang-ons. Things we do and we don't really know why we do them. The story goes like this:

A newlywed couple were in the kitchen, and were preparing a roast together. The bride took the knife and cut off about 2" of the pointed end of the roast, and tossed it in the garbage can. The husband was a bit surprised at this, and asked her why she did it. She replied "That's how my mom always fixed a roast". "But why?" asked the still perplexed husband. So the wife called her mother and asked "Ma, why do you always cut off the pointed end of the roast?" Her mother said, "That's how your grandma always fixed a roast, and her roasts were always so delicious, so I do it the same way." The new wife asked "But why did she do it?" Of course, the mother wasn't sure. So, the next time the woman and her mother went to meet Grandma, they asked her "Grandma, why when you're preparing a roast, do you cut the pointed end off?" The Grandma held her hands about 8 inches apart, and said "That's all the bigger my roasting pan was."

I'm sure you saw that one coming a mile away, but it's still one of my favorite stories. And I wonder what hang-ons we have.
For me, I like to mix the dough for my flour tortillas by hand, even though I have a perfectly good KitchenAid that would do a perfectly good job of it sitting on the counter. I just like the feel of working the flour and the lard together when it's all still warm from pouring in the water.
For the longest time, I resisted getting the KitchenAid. Finally, my LCB bought it anyway. For some reason, I supposed there was something that magically made a better pie crust if you used a pastry cutter and mixed it all by hand. Probably because that's how Gi-Gi did it. Of course, if Gi-Gi had been alive, she'd probably have cuffed me one, and said "you dolt! -- there's a perfectly good mixer standing right there."
Now I have to go figure out what I'm going to fix for the crew tomorrow with my new French Oven. They're not keen on stew, or soups, so I'm thinking something braised and simmered.

March 13, 2007

Cornbread Cake

Last night it was barbeque chicken. We had loosely planned our meals for two weeks, and though I knew it was BBQ chicken night, I hadn't really figured out any sides yet. I wasn't keen on canned veggies, and I couldn't remember what fresh veggies were around. (It's been a busy few weeks, and who keeps their pantry / fridge inventory memorized anyway?)
BUT -- I always have buttermilk pancake mix on hand, and I happened to have some corn meal left over from when I made Elise's wonderful creamy polenta last week. And I seemed to recall that a close friend of ours used to make her cornbread with pancake mix and corn meal. In our recipe box, it's listed as "Aunt Elizabeth's Cornbread". And cornbread always goes with BBQ. Besides, I've been thinking about Mimi's Bisquick Day event, and thought why not another mix? It'd certainly be faster, and the kids will eat it.
Some years ago, I was stationed with the U.S. Marines in the middle east. We'd been eating MRE's for several weeks, and when you're eating MRE's, I can tell you, the novelty wears off about halfway through lunch the first day. So eventually, they assigned us a Marine Cook, who was also an amateur boxer who hailed from Louisiana. I was assigned to KP, which I really didn't mind at all. This guy was sweating it out with us and saved us from the MRE's, I'm only too happy to help him out. He picked up a can of cornbread mix, cleverly concocted by one of Uncle Sam's culinary alchemists, and said "Can you read, doc?" (I was a corpsman a few lifetimes ago) I said "Yes, Staff Sergeant." So he tossed me the can and said "Make this." So I looked at the instructions, and noticed it said "optional -- n Cups sugar." Then I said "uh, staff sergeant...this says you can optionally use sugar." He shot me a Marine Corps Boxer look, rather than a Marine Corps Cook look (and I think the distinction is subtle, at best) and barked -- "NO! You NEVER put sugar in corn bread!! That ain't cornbread, - that's cake!"
So, Aunt Elizabeth's cornbread, as it's referred to in our recipe box, is being posted as Cornbread Cake, because even though it's been 16 years, -- I still defer to the Staff Sergeant on this one. But it's not a dessert cake, it's a ok-for-the-kids-to-eat-at-dinner cake. And it's tasty besides.

2 Cups buttermilk pancake mix
6 Tbsp cornmeal
1 Cup sugar
2 eggs
1 Cup milk
1/2 cup margarine (melted)

Mix the dry ingredients in a big bowl. Then mix the milk and egg together, and add them to the dry stuff. Mix all that together, then add the margarine. Mix everything together and pour into a greased 9x9 pan. Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes.

You no doubt noticed from the picture, I used a #8 cast iron skillet. As long as it's well-seasoned, it works better than the pan.

March 11, 2007

Cheddar Garlic Biscuits

My LCB's favorite place to eat is Red Lobster. She loves it. I'm not sure why. Actually, I do kinda know why. She likes consistency. And if we go to RL in Maryland, or in California, or anywhere in between, she knows that if we go to Red Lobster, she'll get something she likes. I prefer family owned restaurants. I like variation. Sure, you get some dud meals from time to time, but you also can hit on some real delicious surprises. Anyways, let me try to re-rail the conversation.
One of the LCB's favorite things at RL are the cheddar-garlic biscuits we get prior to the meal. So one day, when she was craving those biscuits, but not seafood, I decided to google them. Now, it turns out, they're all over the internet, but at the time there was one or two sites that had them. They're all pretty much the same, because like most good things, they're pretty simple. This recipe came from When you get right down to it, there are very few things that aren't made a bit better with garlic butter. Here's the recipe:

2 c. Bisquick
2/3 c. milk
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 c. butter
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Mix Bisquick and cheese; add milk. Spoon on an ungreased cookie sheet (makes about 12). Bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Brush with melted butter and garlic powder.

March 07, 2007

Salami Coronets

Sometimes you just want a good snack. Everyone's gone to bed. Time to hit the recliner, pour a good drink, and TIVO up a good program, or pop in a DVD. When I get those rare moments, I don't usually want to spend a lot of time on the prep. So one night, watching Emeril, he was doing a whole show on late night snacks. He made these Salami coronets, (That's what he called them, I'd have called them something much more sophisticated, like probably -- salami rolled up with cheese) One of the things he mentioned, that I've taken to doing, was that he kept a container of this cheese in his fridge. It's the simplest stuff in the world to throw together, and it's handy to have around. I've used it on genoa salami, hard salami, and pepperoni, and I've stuffed it into olives. It would also make a good stuffing for jalapenos. It's just:

1 8oz container of Ricotta cheese
1 8oz pkg of cream cheese
Some chopped chives
some chopped basil (or oregano)

Mix all that together until it's blended real well, then go find stuff to smear it on. Makes an excellent accompaniment to a classic Clint Eastwood flick, or a black-and-white Bogart picture.

March 04, 2007

Lemon - Herb Chicken Breasts en Papillote

Last Wednesday, I forgot to take the chicken out to thaw. (Actually, I forgot to take it out on Tuesday, we were supposed to eat it on Wednesday.) But I did have some of those frozen chicken breasts in the freezer and those can be defrosted in the microwave without much fuss. So I tried to think of some way to fix them that we a) had the ingredients for, and b) haven't done a million times already.
Looking around the kitchen, we had some herbs, we always have onions and garlic lying about, and I happened to have a lemon that I meant to use for something or other but never got one or more of the ingredients for whatever it was. Now I love lemon-pepper chicken, or lemon-pepper fish, but the rest of the clan aren't quite the pepper-heads that I am. So I figured lemon-herb, and I've been meaning to try this en papillote method for a while.
En Papillote just means it's cooked in parchment paper. A couple sites I visited said you can also use foil, but I'm not crazy about the idea. Especially when you're using citrus, or any other acidic ingredient. Cooking the meat in paper's supposed to keep all the juices in, so the meat doesn't dry out, and what better to test that with than white-meat chicken?
Well, I want to tell you all, that was some of the juiciest chicken I've ever had. And the presentation is wonderful as well. Everyone gets their own little gift-wrapped dinner, and when you open the paper, the aromas waft up and fill the room with that lemony-herby smell. (mmmm)
I'm going to attempt to explain how I did this, but there's an excellent site that shows the procedure with pictures at e-how.

Mix together some rosemary, thyme, sage, and savory. (I used dried herbs)
Dice one onion, and toss some of those herbs in with it.
Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic, and toss them in with the onions and herbs.
Slice a lemon, so you can put 1-2 slices on each piece of chicken. (depending on the size)

Take an (approx.) 18 inch piece of parchment, and fold it in half. Cut a half a valentine shape, large enough to leave a one-inch margin around the chicken breast.
Open the paper, and brush it with olive oil, leaving about an inch margin all around.
Take one piece of chicken, and sprinkle some kosher salt on each side, and a little fresh ground pepper on each side, then sprinkle some of the herbs on each side.
Put a slice of lemon on top, and then a little of the onion-herb-garlic mixture.
Lay it on one side of the valentine. Bring the other side over, so the edges meet.
Starting at the not-pointy-end, roll the edges together, crimping them now and then to seal the package. When you get down to the pointy end, give it a little twist to finish off the seal. (be careful not to tear it)
These packages can go on a baking sheet, or a roasting pan, or whatever you have that they'll fit in, and go into a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
When they come out, use some tongs to carefully put one on each plate, and serve it in the paper.

I didn't get pictures of this, because honestly, it's been a crazy week, and besides, I really need to work on my photography. I meant to post a bit on my chicken gumbo, but the picture turned out so bad, you wouldn't have known what it was! I need to spend some time over at Food Blog S'cool.

March 01, 2007

Just make the sandwich already

I'm sure I'm in a severely limited minority when it comes to choices. I really don't want that many choices. I know we talk about "freedom of choice", and "choosing our own destinies" and such, and that's all fine and well. But every day I have to decide, "Debit or Credit?", "Paper or Plastic", "Do you want room for cream?" (I always specify that I want my coffee black, but I suppose some baristas have an uncanny ability to pour coffee that stays black even after the addition of cream.)
A plethora of choice is just as bad as a dearth of choice. Which brings me to today's rant. Sometimes, I just want to grab a sandwich and get back to my desk.I have too many decisions to make as it is, so when I grab lunch, I want to decide on a sandwich, pay for it, and go back to work. What could be simpler?
Well, at either Subway, or Submarina (the west-coast version of subway) the answer is almost anything. Seriously, at either of these sub-chains ordering a sandwich makes cold-fusion look simple.
You have to specify each and every element and ingredient that goes into your sandwich. By the time I get to the register, I could have made the sandwich myself, and been back to the office. I tried to circumvent their procedure droids once, and it was not pretty. They had a new sandwich, something like a teriyaki chicken sub. I said "I'd like a teriyaki chicken sub, and I want you to make it exactly like it is in the picture." (thinking I'd cleverly found a way around the endless questions.) The clerk said "What kind of bread?", I said "Whatever that bread in the picture is". Then he started studying the picture, until, exasperated, I said "white -- just use white". Then he said, "what kind of cheese?"I responded, "whatever that cheese in the picture is". So he determined it was provolone (round and white). Then -- "You want Olives?" I said "Are there olives in the picture?", he looks at the picture, then at me, then says "uh,... yeah".
I understand that a LOT of people like to customize their sandwiches, I do too. At home. But when I go to a sandwich shop, I expect the folks they hire will know the basics of putting the sandwiches together. For example, I shouldn't have to choose a type of cheese to go on a meatball sub.
I remember as a kid, there were delis around here that would simply tell you "no" if you ordered something wrong. "No, the pastrami comes with mustard, not mayo". (as it should) If one establishment made a killer chili dog, you'd go there for chili dogs, because they made the best. They probably wouldn't make the best if they let the customer specify each and every step in the dog's construction. That's why they're the "chili dog man". They've perfected the process. I'd go to one shop for a cold cut sub, and another for chili dogs, based on their respective strengths.
Not nowadays. Choice is king, even when the person making the choice doesn't know their subject.
When I go into an eating establishment, sometimes I don't even know what I want, but if I can ask the clerk, "what would you have?" and they come back with the specialty of the establishment, I'm grateful. And I'll order that most of the time.
But when I go into an establishment and I have to tell them each and every step, ingredient, etc... what am I paying for? Makes me think I should open my own sandwich shop and call it "Make your own dang sandwich".

Sorry for the rant, but I wanted to get that off my chest. I've actually had some fairly successful experiments this week, and I hope to get some of them posted over the weekend.