Monday, August 30, 2010

Apple Dapple Wacky Cake

Recently (and I use that term as loosely as the Seven Dwarfs did when Snow White asked them when they had last washed...) I entered a giveaway over at the blog of Chef Dennis - More Than a Mount  Full: a Culinary Journey.  I was one of the winners chosen.  He and Girard's Salad Dressings gave me a variety of four bottles of those pretty gold labeled salad dressings.  The stipulation in winning, however, was that I create a recipe using one of the dressings.  When I read about Girard's Apple Poppy Seed Salad Dressing, I immediately knew I wanted to make a dessert with it.  Apple Cake.  A Frugal Apple Cake.  A Delicious Frugal Apple Cake.

Apple Dapple Wacky Cake
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 heaping tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 apple, peeled, cored, chopped fine
apple juice
1/3 cup Girard's Apple Poppy Seed Salad Dressing
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Put the apple in a one cup measure and fill in the nooks and crannies with apple juice.  Add the salad dressing, lemon juice and vanilla to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.  Add the apple/juice combo and stir until well combined.  Pour batter into a greased 7 X 11 pan.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until done.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Homemade Oreos: Make Your Own Monday #34

I have had so called "homemade Oreo" cookies before.  Usually they resemble a Whoopie Pie more than an actual Oreo.  The cookies are soft, the middle is marshmallow-like.  So, when I decided to recreate an Oreo at home, I went after a crunchy cookie first and a sadly Crisco like filling next, because that's what the quintessential Oreo is.  My first batch didn't bake long enough and was too soft.  The reviews from my family ranged from, "Tastes like a brownie," "It's good, but it's definitely not an Oreo," and my personal favorite, "Are you sure this isn't gingerbread?"  Yeah, that taster's credibility went in the toilet with that remark.

With the second and third batches, however, all of my kids finally got on board and declared these cookies as good or better than the store variety.  My husband, the die-hard Oreo eater, was never convinced.  Having given you the honest opinions of my family, I give you my version of Oreo cookies: 

The Cookies:

2 1/4 cups flour, all-purpose
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 tablespoons cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar, white
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup milk, any kind
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the dry ingredients in a small bowl.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar.  Combine the milk and vanilla and add alternately with the dry ingredients.  Mix until well blended.  On plastic wrap (you may want to divide the dough into parts) roll the dough into a 1 1/2 inch diameter log.  Wrap with plastic and freeze an hour or until really firm.  Cut ¼ inch thick circles and place on cookie sheet.  Return unused dough to the freezer until the next batch.  Bake  at a preheated 375 for 13-15 minutes or until crispy.  Cool on a wire rack until completely cooled.

For the Filling:

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
3 teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat butter and shortening with powdered sugar.  Add the vanilla a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.  Place in a small Ziploc bag and cut off the corner.  Piping the filling onto the cookies made it really easy!

Make It from Scratch Thursday

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Saturday Stories: Mamie's Cakes

Mamie taught herself to decorate cakes.  She bought a book, read it, practiced and ended up with a successful business making cakes for weddings, birthdays, retirements and anniversaries.  

She took pictures of many of her cakes.  I found them in a drawer the other day and scanned them into my computer.   Here are some of them.


This is in one of the dining rooms of Mamie's restaurant.

Here is Bumpa fooling around with one of the finished products.  
I can just imagine Mamie hollering at him not to touch it!

Here is Mamie putting the finishing touch on a cake before the guests arrived.

I am in awe of the tenacity and intelligence Mamie exhibited in teaching herself to make such works of art.  

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Peach Pancake Syrup

We have a few fruit trees in our yard.  This year, the birds ate all 8 of the apricots on that tree.  The apple trees have grown so tall that, even on a really tall ladder, we cannot reach many of them before the birds eat them.  The peach tree, however, produced plentifully and we reaped a great harvest.  

I always put some peaches in the freezer and can a few, too,  but I thought this year we could use an alternative to maple syrup for the tons of pancakes, waffles and French toast that we eat throughout the year. This peach syrup was super easy to make and tasted fantastic as it was cooking.

Peach Pancake Syrup
15 cups peaches
6 cups sugar
6 Tbsp lemon juice
3 tsp vanilla, coconut, or brandy extract
Peel and cut the peaches and place into a food processor to puree.  (It took me 4 batches to puree all 15 cups).  In a large stockpot, combine the puree, sugar and lemon juice.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes more.  At this point, you can add the flavoring of your choice.  I chose to leave it out until I open the individual jars, so each jar can have a different flavor if I choose. Fill sterilized pint jars and then process for 20 minutes in a water bath.  Makes 8 pints.

Here's the pickled peaches I made next:

Here is the sugarless (peaches, apple juice, lemon juice & pectin) jam I made after that:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Newman's Recipes Part Two: the Salads

I realize you could just hop over to the Foodbuzz site to see all of these recipes, but like any proud parent, I am posting the recipes here, too.  Notice that all three salads are in the same bowl.  I am not sure what I was thinking, except that it's a pretty color.  It didn't occur to me that I was being redundant.

This salad was truly inspired.  It is amazing.

Fiesta Pasta Salad 

12 ounce package farfalle or rigatoni pasta
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 jar Newman's Own medium salsa
1 small can sliced black olives
3 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup mayonnaise
½ tsp salt

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.

  2. In a large bowl, combine the pasta, cheese, Newman's Own salsa, black olives, cilantro, mayonnaise and salt.

  3. Refrigerate until cold. Note: the flavor gets better the longer you wait until serving.

    Warm Honey Mustard Potato Salad

    4 14 ounce cans sliced potatoes, drained and rinsed
    ¼ cup chopped green onion
    ¾ cup pre-cooked bacon, crumbled
    1 cup Newman's Own Light Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
    ½ tsp salt
    ¼ tsp garlic powder
    1 Tbsp dried parsley

    1. In a microwave safe bowl, combine the potatoes, green onion and bacon.

    2. In a small bowl, combine the Newman's Own Light Honey Mustard Vinaigrette , garlic powder and the salt.

    3. Pour the dressing mixture over the potatoes and microwave for 4 minutes or until warmed through, but not hot. Serve.

      Black Bean Salad 

      2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
      1 can diced tomatoes, drained
      1 16 ounce package frozen corn, rinsed with warm water to clear any ice
      1 orange bell pepper, diced
      4 green onions, chopped
      3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
      ½ tsp salt
      2/3 cup Newman's Own Olive Oil and Vinegar Dressing
      2 small limes
      ½ tsp cumin

      1. In a large bowl, combine beans, tomatoes, corn, bell pepper, green onions and cilantro.

      2. In a smaller bowl, combine salt, dressing, juice of 2 limes and cumin.

      3. Pour dressing mixture over bean mixture. Toss and serve.
      Note: flavors will get better if left in the fridge for half an hour before serving.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Homemade Pizza Rolls: Make Your Own Monday #33

My kids used to be so excited when they'd go play at a friend's house and they'd be served Totino's or Jeno's pizza rolls for snack or dinner.  They aren't something that I buy very often (unless the sale is so good I can't resist, of course) let alone make at home.  We love homemade pizza, but to make those little processed rolls, that seemed a bit crazy.  One day, however, I found an obscure recipe in an obscure cookbook that promised a clone of those processed little bites.  With a bit of tweaking to suit our tastes, this is what I made:
And let me just tell you, these were WAY better than anything you can get in your freezer section.  They were very labor intensive, but they were completely worth the work for a special treat, a New Year's appetizer, a Super Bowl snack or just a meal that doesn't involve a lot of factory made food.

Homemade Pizza Rolls (like Totino's):
1 package won ton wrappers (48 count)
1 1/2 cups spaghetti sauce
1 pound Italian sausage (I used homemade)
1/2 onion, minced fine
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped fine
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
oil for frying (about 3 cups)
Cook the sausage.  Remove from pan and saute onion and pepper in the drippings. Drain if necessary.  Return the sausage to the pan and add the spaghetti sauce.  Heat through and turn off heat.  Spread out your wrappers on the counter or cutting board.  Get a little bowl of water for your finger and a cooling rack on which to place the assembled pizza rolls.  Put about a teaspoon of filling onto the middle of each wrapper.  Sprinkle a bit of cheese on top.  With your finger wet the left and right edges of the wrappers.  Bring the bottom half up over the filling and seal the edges.  Wet the top edge of the wrapper and bring that half down over the filling and seal the edges and the center seam.  Place on the cooling rack.  When all of the wrappers are filled, heat the oil.  Place a kernel of popcorn into the oil and when it pops, it's ready.  Fry the pizza rolls until golden brown on each side.  Drain, cool and eat.

Note: I had quite a bit of filling left over.  It means I will either be buying more wrappers this week, or I am going to put it on a bun for a great sandwich.

Note: I think you could probably freeze these before you fry them.  However, I have not tried it and make no guarantees.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Stories: Mom's Pets

Mamie and Bumpa always had a pet. They kept cats to keep down the mice. They had dogs for protection and companionship. It wasn't until mom came along, though, that animals were elevated to family member status.

The first cat that mom can remember growing up was named Pee Wee because she was the runt of the litter. She was probably mom's sister's cat, but when mom was about 3 she recognized that Pee Wee was part of the family. All cats at that point were outside cats until mom realized what that meant and she put her foot down and all of her cats were inside after that. Pee Wee was a calico, bright colored orange, black and white. From Pee Wee sprang all of the other cats that mom had growing up. She was the mother, grandmother, great grandmother, etc of all of the rest of the family cats. Pee Wee was a great hunter. She'd bring home rabbits that were bigger than she was. Before she ate any kill, she'd bring it over to the family to show off. That's how they knew about the rabbits. She'd feed her kittens and then later take the kittens out with her to teach them to hunt. By the time mom was six, Pee Wee was gone. Most of the cats had a way of just disappearing; either turning wild or getting killed. There were weasels who'd come in and break the necks of the kittens and then leave the bodies behind. Back then, having a cat spayed or neutered was not even thought of.

Spot, Pee Wee's daughter, was the next of Mom's cats. She loved to be picked up by the tail, swung around mom's head and thrown. Mom knew the cat loved it because the cat would pick herself up and run back to mom for another ride. In the winter, mom threw her into snowbanks. She had a harder time getting herself up , but she managed to come back for more. This went on for months until Mamie caught Mom giving Spot a toss one day.

Spot would sit on the porch with mom and share her sandwiches. She really seemed to love being around people. One week, Mom went with her parents and grandparents to Niagara Falls and when she returned, Spot was gone. Mom asked Mamie and Bumpa to help her search for her, but Bumpa sat mom down and told her that Spot loved mom so much that she had followed the family to Niagara Falls looking for Mom and had been adopted by a new family. Mom thought it was completely unfair that another family had her Spot. When Mom was about 5 or 6 and was reminiscing about Spot, it dawned on her that her parents couldn't have known about Spot going to Niagara Falls. It turned out that Bumpa had found Spot dead in the road when they returned home and didn't know how else to tell Mom about her death.

The next cat was Tiger. She was also a girl. When the old cats died, Mamie and Bumpa would allow mom to take a kitten from a new litter and tame it. Tiger was a very affectionate cat. She was allowed to come into the house. She'd come up the stairs at night, come into mom's room, meow at the threshold and then clunk around the room. She had seven toes, so she was not stealthy, Mom could hear her as she made her nightly rounds. Mom held up the covers on her bed, Tiger would jump up onto the bed and then stay there keeping mom warm the rest of the night. She was always outside by morning. One day, she just disappeared. Mamie and Bumpa always checked the road in case one of the animals got hit, but there was no trace of Tiger. About six months later, mom was out in the outer boundaries of her yard near a path to the next door neighbor's farm when she saw Tiger....the cat had become feral somehow and never came near the house again.

Tiger's daughter, Doc, was mom's last cat. Doc and Tiger were both black and gray tabbies. Mom thinks she named the cat Doc because she had just seen Snow White. It certainly didn't matter to her if a female had a boy's name or vice versa. Mom taught Doc to shake hands and sit. Doc would come out and perform for guests. Mom didn't want anyone to think she was making up the fact that Doc was so well trained. Doc was around when mom had her first dog. There was a wood shed attached to the house. One winter morning, mom went out to the shed and found the dog and cat curled up sleeping together. Before that, Mom had thought the cat and dog didn't like each other. It wasn't long, however, before Doc was hit by a car and killed. There were no more cats after Doc. It was just too hard on mom to have her cats die.

Mom got her first dog, Laddie, when she was nine. He was the first and last male dog mom ever owned. He was a purebred German Shepherd. He was a difficult child; smart enough to understand commands and smart enough not to obey them. He loved to see mom flailing around mad at him because to him, that meant play time. Laddie was outside most of the time, but was allowed into the cellar, too. Their house was heated by a coal boiler. The coal man would come every fall and deliver a huge load of coal into the cellar that looked like a veritable mountain. One night, Mamie, Bumpa and mom woke to a very strange noise in the cellar. When they went down stairs to investigate, they found Laddie sliding down the coal pile. He'd ride down on his belly, front legs out and back legs straight back and then climb back to the top and do it again and again. It was his own private amusement park. He'd get just filthy with coal dust, but he didn't care. He was a very friendly dog. One day, when he was about two, he saw a tramp walking down the other side of the road and bounded out to say hello. Mom saw the tramp, saw the dog start running across the street and saw the car that was barreling down the road. She screamed for Laddie to stop, to come back, but he didn't obey when it didn't suit him. It was heartbreaking for mom to witness her dog getting killed by a car. This was two months after Mom's sister, Marilyn had been killed in a car crash.

The next spring, mom and Bumpa saw an ad for German Shepherd puppies in the paper. Her parents and she had a long talk before they went to look at the puppies. Mom didn't want to have another dog killed, so they all agreed that mom could keep her next dog in the house. Cindy was the dog she picked out. Her mom was a white purebred shepherd and her dad was a traditional saddle back shepherd. When mom sat down to see the puppies, Cindy was the first one to climb in mom's lap and start chewing on her chin. Cindy was so fat, that as mom carried her up the stairs to her bedroom, she'd grunt with every stair. She had these little short legs and rolly polly body. After a few weeks, Mom figured that Cindy could climb the stairs herself, so she went up the stairs alone and called the dog after her. Cindy sat at the bottom of the stairs and cried. Then she tried one stair and fell back down. Then she tried again and made it. She struggled up each stair until she was about 2/3 of the way up. Then she ran the rest of the way to mom's room.

Mom used to talk to Cindy like she was a person. She'd try anything mom asked her to do. Mom asked her to eat grapefruit and she did, though her lips would curl as she struggled to get that sour stuff down. Her favorite food was an Alpo variety that had whale meat in it. It gave her awful gas, though. There isn't much worse than dog gas. Cindy loved to climb step ladders. She answered questions when asked her opinion. She was quite a ham and loved to perform whenever company came over.

When Cindy heard Alton (Bumpa's twin brother) pull into the driveway, she'd go crazy. She always had to greet him with something in her mouth. One day, she couldn't find her toy, so she ran up to Bumpa's room and got one of his socks. She dropped it as she greeted Alton and everyone forgot about the sock. The next morning, Bumpa was looking for his missing sock and asked Cindy where it was. She kept running out to the hallway and then back into his room. Finally, he got up and followed her. She went to the window that overlooked the yard and there she pointed her nose toward the sock that she had dropped the day before.

Cindy was very protective of mom. Cindy would hook her front paws over the mattress and bunch her back paws ready to pounce whenever she heard Bumpa come down the hallway toward mom's room. When he got to the doorway, she spring, standing up as tall as Bumpa with his wrist in her mouth. She'd look him right in the eye and wag her tail, but when he said, “Ow!” she'd bite down just a little bit harder. Bumpa would turn to mom and say, “Aw come on, tell her to let me go!” Mom would say, “it's okay, Cindy.” and she'd immediately let him go and walk over to mom.

Cindy died of cancer when she was 8 years old. Mamie, Bumpa and mom told stories of Cindy all through my childhood. She was one of those rare dogs, full of love, devotion and intelligence, that leaves a mark on a family long after they are gone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Potato Pancakes

When I was a little girl, my mom used to make potato pancakes every once in a while.  My dad always put maple syrup on them and treated this savory dish as a regular pancake.  Always wanting to be like my Daddy, I put syrup on them too....and hated them.  In fact, I remember gagging a time or two when eating them.

Fast forward a few decades and I decided it was time to try them again.  Sans syrup.  And I loved them.

Potato Pancakes (adapted from The Good Home Cookbook by Richard J. Perry):
4 medium potatoes, grated
1/4 onion, grated
1 apple, peeled, cored and grated
3 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp salt
bacon fat for frying
For ease of grating, throw the apple and potato into a food processor.  I used a smaller hand grater for the onion.  Combine the potatoes, onion, apple, eggs, flour and salt.  Heat the bacon fat (it's okay to use vegetable oil if you are wanting to watch your cholesterol, but remember the bacon fat adds amazing flavor) over medium high heat.  Drop the potato mixture into the hot grease with a big serving spoon.  Flatten with a spatula and fry until uniformly golden brown, about 4 minutes on each side.

Some of my kids put ketchup on theirs and treated them as regular hashbrowns.  They were delicious plain, too.  I do not recommend maple syrup.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homemade Freezer Biscuits: Make Your Own Monday #32

There is a product in the freezer section that comes in a blue bag with a little dough man on the front.  They are ready to bake biscuits.  I have tried them and they are mighty convenient for a quick breakfast or dinner.  A bag of ten biscuits retails for approximately $3.09.  Do you know how much cheaper it is to make your own???  The following recipe made two bags of 13 biscuits each...for a lot less than retail.

Freezer Biscuits
5 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 cup shortening, butter or a combo of both
1 envelope yeast
2 Tbsp warm water
2 cups buttermilk
In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients.  Cut the shortening into the flour with a pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse sand.  Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Add both the yeast water and the buttermilk to the flour.   Knead the dough until it is no longer sticky and feels elastic.  Roll out to 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut into circles and lay on a cookie sheet.  

Freeze until hard and then place into a freezer container.   To use: bake at a preheated 425 degrees until tops are light brown...about 15 minutes.  You can bake these either frozen or unfrozen.  If you let them thaw, they will rise a bit because of the yeast.  

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Saturday Stories: What Do We Do in the Summertime?

It's summertime and times as tough.  You have five children, four of them girls between the ages of say, 13 and 6.  All of them are bored.  Oh, they work hard and do their chores, but there is only so much that needs to be done.  You are living in a rented home because you lost your home to the bank.  You have a garden to supplement your family's diet, but you eat an awful lot of onions.  You live near muck land (black, wet dirt) and onions are readily available and cheap.  The president of the United States is Herbert Hoover and his campaign words, "The poorhouse is vanishing among us."  doesn't seem very true to you.  

So what do you do when your children come home one day with a treasure?  One of them found a single golf club on a street, maybe in someone's trash.  It doesn't matter where.  Golf is a sport for rich people.  This is a treasure indeed.  Now, what to do?

Luckily, you are immensely resourceful and talented.  There is a vacant lot next door just crying out for some fun.  You mow down the weeds and rake the ground free of debris.  Next, you scrounge up some lumber scraps and start painting and sawing, nailing and sanding.  By the time you are done, you have made a 9 hole miniature golf course for your kids.  Each hole has a different theme; some have tunnels, some have walls with holes for the ball.  You find a ball for the kids and off they go.

Oh the fun my grandmother and her siblings had that year!  Gram, my great grandmother, created a wonderland; a place for the kids to learn some skills, to use up some energy, to be kids during a rough and often dreary time.  They may not have had but one club between them, but they shared and laughed and remembered that summer the rest of their lives.  

Monday, August 9, 2010

Poblano Creamed Corn

I am sure there is a better name for this dish.  My parents went to Mexico and then on a cruise down around the Panama Canal earlier this year, stopping in various places along the way.  Mom came back raving about the food and swearing never to pretend she was a bobsledder  in Jamaica again (long story).  One of the dishes she tried was a pepper dish with a little corn.  After experimenting a bit and changing the ration of peppers to corn to fit our family's tastes, this is what we came up with.

Poblano Corn:
2 poblano peppers, roasted and peeled
1 16 ounce package frozen corn
1 half pint heavy cream
1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
If you have a gas stove, begin by roasting your peppers over the open flame of a burner.  This is easily done by placing a pepper on a long meat fork.
You want the outer, waxy skin to char completely.  
If you don't have access to an open flame, you can blanch the peppers in boiling water and peel them that way.  
After they are peeled, open them up and remove the seeds and stem.  Slice them into 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips and set aside.  Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil.  When the onion is clear, add the pepper strips and cook while stirring for a minute to guarantee that the pepper is completely cooked and to heat through.  Thaw your corn  in the microwave(fresh works well, too, but canned changes the taste of this dish) and add to the skillet.  When all of the corn is hot, add the cream, salt and pepper, stirring all the while, heat through and serve.  You may want to sprinkle some Mexican cheese, like queso fresco,  over the top.
Note: You may find that any leftovers get a bit hotter in flavor with time.  

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Saturday Stories: Looking at Family from a Grown Up Perspective

After I posted last week's Saturday Story about my great-great grandmother, I started to really think about my ancestors; about how life was for them.  Then I began to think about my parents and grandparents.  I was an only child for the first 13 years of my life.  My parents were strict budgeters.  Even to this day, not a cent is spent that doesn't get recorded in an allotted place in a ledger.  I never questioned it.  The system was already in place by the time I was old enough to notice.  

There was always enough for our needs and plenty, usually, for our wants.  My parents took me on many trips.  We went on short rides to local sites, on vacations to the seashore, to Disney World, to D.C., and we often went to visit relatives in upstate New York.  Our house, whether it was military housing or a home we owned, was always nicely furnished.  Mom fell in love with antiques as a teenager when both her dad's sister and brother opened antique shops.  Mom's style was early American, from the wallpaper she hung to the curtains she made.  She bought and restored countless pieces in our home.  I don't think I have ever accompanied either of my parents to a retail furniture store in my entire life!  I may not have ever owned a pair of Jordache jeans or an Izod shirt when I was growing up, but I had many clothes and toys.

Somehow, even though we lived solely on a serviceman's salary, I never thought we had a lack for anything.  And we didn't.  I carried that illusion of wealth over to my extended family.  My widowed grandmother, however,  lived in a single-wide trailer until she gave up housekeeping when I was about ten, rotated living with her three children for a few years and then went to live in a one bedroom place in an apartment building for senior citizens.   She always brought presents for me when she visited.  It never occurred to me that she might have been poor.  

I was asking my father about his childhood recently and asked him if he ever went on a vacation with his family.  The answer was no.  No vacations. No camping. Nothing except occasional trips to Buffalo to visit extended family.  I am not saying he didn't have fun as a child, but there weren't frills that we take for granted as being a "necessary" part of life.  He played sports in high school, but there were no little leagues or dance lessons.  He went to church, he was a boy scout, he had lots of friends, but movies or going out to eat were a rare treat.  

My mom's family was similar.  My maternal grandfather didn't have a career, but worked at odd jobs most of his life.  My grandmother supplemented their income with her culinary skills.  My mom grew up having two outfits of clothes for school each year.  Two!  After she was a teenager, she made those clothes herself.  Although she got to go on a few jaunts now and then to the "Big City" to shop, she also didn't go on official vacations either.  During the harsh New York winters, she slept with a hot water bottle and her German Shepherd for warmth in a poorly heated upper bedroom.  They ate potato gravy most nights of the week.

The magic of visiting far off relatives in a fairyland town of old houses and memories completely blinded me to my relatives' economic circumstances.  I feel foolish for failing to catch how little they had.  They were always so happy to see us.  My parents never complained about their childhoods.  It was just the way things were.  My parents bettered their lives, they graduated from college, Dad had a career, but most importantly, they remembered where they came from and they vowed to use their resources as wisely as they could.  

Thursday, August 5, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

The problem with searching for the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie, is that opinions are subjective.  What I like in a cookie, maybe you don't.  A recipe that one person raves over may seem blah to the next.  When I saw America's Test Kitchen's video for the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie, I knew I had to try the recipe.  It uses an almost radical technique and boasts caramelized soft, chewy perfection.

As I made the cookies, my olfactory senses were on overdrive.  The aroma of the browned butter and the brown sugar is almost overwhelming in deliciousness.  The resulting cookies are indeed in the top 5 of all chocolate chip cookies ever baked in my home, but are they the ultimate?  I leave it up to you.

America's Test Kitchen Chocolate Chip Cookies (from their website)
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 tsp baking soda
14 Tbsp unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
tsp table salt
tsp vanilla extract
large egg
large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

  • Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
  • Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
  • Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
  • Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.
I followed their instructions to the letter (I know, weird for me.) I even weighed all of my ingredients.  When I asked if these were the best cookies, The Thinker said he liked chewy, cakier cookies.  The Musician said he'd rather just have peanut butter cookies.  The Comedian said he liked thinner gooey-er cookies.  The Engineer said he liked any kind of cookie.  Someone else mentioned those ground oatmeal with the grated chocolate bar cookies.  Like I said, perfect is subjective.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Homemade Mixes to Go with the Super Easy Pot Roast: Make Your Own Monday #30

Because I am an oldest child, over achiever, type A personality, I had to find ways to make my Super Easy Pot Roast completely from scratch.  To keep the roast easy, of course, you would have made these mixes up ahead of time.  1/8-1/4 cup of each mix would be thrown on top of your roast along with the liquids and Voila! It's still super easy, just a little better for you.  

Homemade Buttermilk Dressing Mix
1 tsp marjoram
1/2 tsp summer savory
1 Tbsp parsley
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp instant minced onion
2 Tbsp instant buttermilk powder
Mix all ingredients and store in a glass jar.  Use 2 Tbsp of mix in place of one envelope of store bought mix.

Homemade Beef Gravy Mix
1 jar instant beef bouillon powder 
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp thyme
Mix together and store in a glass jar.  Use 1/4 cup in place of one envelope of store bought mix.

Homemade Italian Dressing Mix
4 tsp instant minced onion
4 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp basil
1 tsp marjoram
1 tsp garlic powder
4 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
Mix together and store in a glass jar.  Use 1/4 cup in place of one envelope of store bought mix.

Of course, you don't have to use these mixes just for the roast.  Add 1 cup of buttermilk and 1 cup of mayo to the Homemade Buttermilk Dressing mix and have some Ranch dressing.  Add 3/4 cup oil and 1/3 cup vinegar to the Italian Dressing mix and pour it over your salad.  Add 1 cup of water to the gravy mix and heat on the stove while stirring and have some cheater gravy.  Or use the mixes in any of the myriad of other recipes out there.  

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