Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Crazy In The Kitchen


Today, like so many others, we will be busy in the kitchen. I'll be making most of the foods I'll take tomorrow to our family Thanksgiving gathering. We all pretty much take the same things every year so that all of the favorites are on the table. It would be so sad if I decided to mix it up one year and there was no macaroni and cheese!

Here are links to the recipes I'm making:

Mimi Bread—otherwise known as Sourdough Bread
I've been taking homemade bread since before I was married. It's too late for you to make this for tomorrow because the starter takes several days to make, but you can start now for Christmas. It also makes a great gift.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
Delicious! I'll take these in addition to a few loaves of bread. These can also be frozen for baking later, if you have a party coming up. Or, have them ready for Christmas Day breakfast.

Macaroni & Cheese
In most other parts of the country, this dish involves a cheese sauce and maybe it is baked after the sauce is stirred in. But this recipe is how we do it in the upstate. This is how my grandfather made it. And we still do it the same way.

Cranberry Apple Crunch
Jessica makes this recipe every year. It's good as a side dish. We enjoy the leftovers as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Pecan Toffee Tarts
If time permits, I'll make these, too. When a whole slice of pie is too much, these bite-size treats are just right. (I will tell you I learned that these do not freeze well. The crust isn't crisp after freezing. You can make them the day before, though.)

Turkey in the Slow Cooker
While we aren't responsible for the Thanksgiving turkey, I'll probably do this one for us to enjoy over the weekend. Doesn't make the presentation that an oven roasted turkey does, but it tastes great. We just want this to pretend we have leftovers!

While we are busy stirring, peeling, chopping, and baking today and tomorrow, let us be sure to give thanks for the abundance that we enjoy. And then let us do something to share some of our bounty with others. Drop something in a red kettle in front of a store. Take a name from an angel tree. Even take a plate of dinner to a neighbor. But always, always share.


Afternoon Update:  Bread's done!




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Fruit Cake

Holiday Fruit Cake

So easy. Just so very easy. As I was putting it the oven and remarked how simple it was to stir together, Daddy-O said, "Your dad had many great qualities, but if he baked this cake, it had to be easy." That's pretty much true.

Daddy-O's next comments were along the line of, "How much longer 'til we can cut it?" "Can we try it now?" It does take a dense cake some time to cool. So we patiently waited. And then we ate it while it was still a little warm. I've never had it warm before. Daddy made them and we never got the cake until a day or two later.

I will tell you that it came out of the pan easily. I sprayed it liberally with baking spray. When it has completely cooled, I'll wrap it and store in the refrigerator. After we've sampled.


And the verdict? It is as good as we remember. It is not the traditional fruitcake (and maybe that is a good thing) like your grandmother baked. This one is a dense spice cake filled with fruit and nuts. 


Wrap it completely with plastic wrap or foil and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks, or you can freeze it for months. Since there are only two of us here, I might put half in the refrigerator and freeze half for later. 

Here is the recipe that my parents made for so many years. This was the first time I have made it. It won't be the last.


HOLIDAY FRUIT CAKE

1/2  cup water
2 eggs
1 (28-oz) jar None Such mincemeat
1 cup chopped nuts
2 boxes Pillsbury Quick Bread Mix (date nut*, cranberry or nut bread are good choices)
2 cups candied mixed fruit (for fruitcake—I only found a cherry-pineapple mix this time)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix all ingredients together. Spray Bundt pan with Baker's Joy (or PAM.) Pour mixture into pan. 
Bake at 350 degrees for 80-90 minutes. Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Turn out onto rack and complete cooling.
Store cake, well wrapped, in the refrigerator. Freezes well. 


The home economist in me used some basic techniques that I doubt my dad bothered with. I tossed the candied fruit in the dry bread mix to coat it before I added the other ingredients. And I lightly beat the eggs before pouring them in. Just makes it easier to stir everything together. Use a large bowl and a sturdy spoon. And make sure you mix it completely. I spooned the heavy batter into the cake pan instead of "pouring." 

Eating that first slice tonight zapped me right back to my daddy's kitchen. He's been gone for over 10 years now. It's the first time I've tasted this cake since then. This cake recipe is full of good memories for us. We hope you might enjoy it, too.


*The date nut quick bread mix is my favorite.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Fruitcake Lover Or Hater?


What is it about fruitcake that brings out all the bad jokes? Just google "fruitcake jokes" to see what I'm talking about. Now, I fully understand that not everybody likes it, but surely someone besides me and Daddy-O still eat fruitcake! Is it because there is so much bad fruitcake out there, that many people have never tasted a good one?

When I didn't see any mincemeat at the store, I sent Jessica a text to see if she could find a jar in Atlanta. They sell everything! I quickly got a text back saying, "I always think mincemeat is just something they talk about in movies—not as a real ingredient."

At the checkout counter I mentioned that I couldn't find a jar of mincemeat. The manager said, "Oh, we do have it!" It was just in an unexpected place. While I waited for her to bring a jar back to me, I asked the young checkout girl if she liked fruitcake. (I was pretty sure what her answer would be.) She told me no, she didn't like fruitcake and proceeded to say that she had never actually eaten any. Then she said, "I heard if you eat it, you get sick." Come on now. It's fruit and it's cake.

I had to stop at the second grocery store—our town only has two—to find the quick bread mix. And while I was there I did ask if they had candied fruitcake mix. For fruitcake. The stock person told me, "No...but we have candy. Would that work?" She had no clue what I was talking about. I am old, old, old.

For all the jokes and ridicule that surround fruitcake, there is some reason that it still exists. No, it is not because they are indestructible and the ones still existing are left from 1960. There are enough of us who like it, that it has not faded away completely. I'm baking one this year. It reminds me of my dad and mother. And it's a good mid-afternoon snack with a cup of coffee.

This recipe is an easy version, but it tastes as good as the labor intensive ones my grandmother made. It's a recipe that my mother found years and year ago (probably an advertisement for one of the ingredients) and she made them for years. When her health kept her out of the kitchen, my dad took over the fruitcake baking. He would usually make two or three each year and one was always earmarked for us. Now, if my father could make these, you know it's easy.

So if you can remember when fruitcake was respected as a labor of love, give this a try. I still have my grandmother's handwritten fruitcake recipe which takes nearly forever to make. She might think this recipe doesn't even qualify to be called "fruitcake" but it's close enough for me. Shhh....I might like even better than my grandmother's recipe.

Posting the recipe tomorrow. Cake just came out of the oven. 
Daddy-O has been asking for an hour, "When can we eat the cake?."

This week is getting busy. Let's all be sure to slow down and really focus on things we are thankful for. Time goes by too quickly if we don't pay attention




Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Birthday Weekend


All birthdays are worthy of celebration, but some are more significant than others. My birthday last week was one of those. A big part of my celebration was a trip to Atlanta for a long weekend. Jessica had planned lots of surprises. 


Friday we had dinner at one of the top restaurants in the city, where the best chefs cook with only the finest ingredients. Every bite was better than the last. It was all wonderful. A once-in-a-lifetime experience, for sure.


We got up early the next morning to go to the Farmer's Market at the beautiful St. Phillips Episcopal Church. In addition to the fresh winter vegetables, we were tempted by crafts, jams and preserves and baked goods. A bacon scone for breakfast worked for me!


Saturday's dinner was a home cooked meal. Not cooked by me! That was pretty spectacular, just to be the guest for a change. This meal was delicious. And the company even better.


Now while Friday's orange souffle was the perfect end to a gourmet dinner—Saturday's dinner had cake and ice cream. And a candle.  There are reasons celebrations at home are special. Birthday cake is one of them.


The weekend was full of so many special treats. Shopping in the city. Pinkberry. Lunch in Serenbe. Hallmark movies at home. But Jessica saved one more surprise for the last night.


Garden Nights—Holiday Lights is an annual event at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. We bundled up and braved the cold to walk through the gardens. Lights. Music. Hot chocolate. Holiday spirit everywhere!


We beat the rain by minutes, leaving the garden as the first drops started to fall. What a great way to end my birthday weekend. 


Now I'm back here at home, where I'm the cook. No gourmet dinner for us tonight. It's back to reality. I pulled out a recipe I used to make years ago. After all the rich food for days, I just wanted plain and simple and easy for supper.  

SALISBURY STEAK

1 can (10-3/4 oz.) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1-1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1/2 dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 egg, slighty beaten
1/3 cup water (for the gravy--not the meat mixture)

Mix thoroughly, 1/4 cup of the soup, ground beef, bread crumbs, onion and egg. (I used my hands to mix it.) Shape firmly into 6 patties. In skillet, brown patties (use a little oil if necessary and pour off excess fat, if there is any.) Blend remaining soup and the water. Pour over patties. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until done, stirring occasionally. 

Serve with rice or mashed potatoes.


City lights and gourmet meals are fun for a few days. But it's nice to be back here, sitting in front of the fire with Daddy-O. There's no place like home.






Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup


Fully knowing that Daddy-O doesn't care for soup of any kind—unless it's really cold outside—and he doesn't like cornbread at all, I made soup and cornbread for supper last night. It was an easier-to-ask-forgiveness kind of thing. Our high temp yesterday was 73 degrees. The winter storm that is pounding other parts of the country is a top story on TV. And I talked to Mommy and Little Sister this week. They were shopping for boots for Little Sister because they are expecting snow. So it IS soup weather—just not here. 

Daddy-O was a good sport about the supper. He ate the soup and cornbread without complaint. He just didn't have multiple helpings. I loved the soup. I put some in the freezer for those cold nights coming our way. (Now, I would eat soup in the summer time. It's one of my favorite things.)

This chicken tortilla soup is one of the easiest recipes ever.  Even more so, it you have cooked chicken in the freezer, like I did. Mommy told me that her church is having a soup lunch soon and she volunteered to take dessert, but she might have to take soup also. While we were talking, I could hear both little ones playing in the kitchen. It's a wonder she gets anything cooked! This would be a good recipe for the church soup lunch. It's quick to stir together and it doesn't take long to cook. Chopping the onion is the hardest part!


CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP

2 cups water
14-oz. can low-sodium chicken broth
28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
10-oz. can mild enchilada sauce
4-oz. can chopped green chilies
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 heaping teaspoon minced garlic (I used the jarred kind)
2-3 cups shredded cooked chicken (that's about 2 chicken breasts)
2 cups frozen whole kernel corn (I like white corn)
1 small onion, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

toppings: tortilla chips, sour cream and grated cheese 

Mix all ingredients (not the toppings) in a large saucepan. (My pan was the 4-1/2 qt. size.) Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with desired toppings.


You can make this soup earlier in the day to help you at the crazy time right before dinner. (We used to call it the "arsenic hour.")  You can even make it a day or two ahead. I put a quart in the freezer after supper last night and will have a "don't have to cook" meal ready for later. When I was in the midwest last spring keeping things together before Baby Girl was born, I sent a thermos of soup many times for Big Sister's school lunch. This would be a great cold school day lunch.

To make this a REALLY easy supper, you could use the meat from a deli rotisserie chicken, or even better, use your own frozen cooked chicken. I like to keep cooked chicken in the freezer. When chicken breasts are on sale, it's easy to cook and freeze some. After cooking I cut it in large chunks and put two chopped breasts, along with a little broth, in each freezer bag. Be sure to label and date!

I am hoping to start a section in the recipe index here of meals, like this one, that are good to take to someone is sick or has had a new baby. Can you help me think of a category title better than "meals-to-take-to-a-sick-friend"?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Great Pumpkin


Pumpkin Ring Cake

I have loved pumpkin since I was a small child. Pumpkin pie, mostly, because that's about all that people did with pumpkin back then. At least, the people I knew. But pumpkin turns up often now—pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin chili, pumpkin dip. All good.

Years ago, this was a recipe I used all the time when I needed a cake to take somewhere. Sometimes it was when a family had experienced great sadness. Sometimes it was to celebrate. I made it for church dinners and office parties. I could run home from work and mix this up quickly. Then I LOST the recipe. 

This was before Google searches and Pinterest boards. It was just gone. And after a few years, forgotten. But one day last summer when I was cleaning out the garage, I found it! It was in a bag of recipes--newspaper clippings, can labels, magazine pages, all safely stashed in a plastic bag. Why it never made it inside this house when we moved, I'll never know. But it was rescued at last. 

Now this recipe resides safely here on the blog and is listed in the recipe index—just in time for the holidays. A bundt cake always looks so festive. It is great cake for the newer baker. There is no sifting. No "alternately add wet and dry ingredients" and no "cream butter and sugar." Just dump all the ingredients in one bowl and mix. It's moist, dense, pumpkin-y and spicy. Good with a cup of coffee or hot tea. I know my cake baking skills have improved in the 35 years since I first baked this cake, but if you need an easy cake, this is still a good one.

Right this very minute I have this pumpkin cake in the oven. The house smells delicious. A Thanksgiving Hallmark movie is on TV. (Daddy-O left very early this morning to help cook hundreds of quarts of chicken stew at the fire department. I watch Hallmark movies when he isn't here.) The air is crisp outside. I'm starting to feel the first tinge of holiday spirit. This cake might be a good starting place for you, too.


PUMPKIN RING CAKE

3 cups Bisquick baking mix (Reduced Fat or Original)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup milk
2-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
4 eggs
1 can (15-oz.) pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)

Preheat oven to 350°.  Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt cake pan.

Beat all ingredients with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly.  Beat on medium speed for 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Pour batter into pan.

Bake about 50 minutes, or until tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pan.  Cool completely.  Drizzle with Glaze.

GLAZE

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon water (or more as needed) 
½ teaspoon vanilla

Mix all ingredients until smooth. (If you need more water, add it a teaspoonful at a time.)