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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Fruitcake: don’t hate it, bake it!




            A columnist attributes what he calls our “national obsession with hating fruitcake” to Johnny Carson, who once said there is really only one fruitcake. It just keeps getting passed around. On a web page devoted to why we hate fruitcake, a reader wrote that she thought it was made by a bored grandma who baked all day and just threw her leftovers into a pan and baked it. Still another voice suggested it is a holiday decoration and was never meant to be eaten.

The truth is that a lot of people secretly like fruitcake, but it’s one of those things you hesitate about admitting out loud.

When I was a kid, my physician-father had a patient who baked his cakes in late summer and wrapped them in bourbon-soaked cloths. Periodically, he “refreshed” the cloths. By the time we got the cake it was dark, rich, and very bourbon-y. I remember liking it a lot. Perhaps that’s why when my physician-ex-husband brought home fruitcake gifts, I didn’t hesitate to serve it to various groups of ladies who met at our house. And, yes, I had a stash in the freezer. But that was in the sixties, and fruitcake’s reputation has gone downhill ever since.

There may be several valid reasons people don’t like fruitcake: they’ve always had store-bought, never a good homemade one. It is too dense and sticky for some—there are complaints of it sticking to teeth. It can be labor intensive to make. Some people—my kids, in particular—don’t like English candied fruit.

I’m going to do something I swore I’d not do—share a recipe I’ve not tried. I haven’t tried it, because no one in my family will eat it. But I have it on good authority that this is delicious. It’s a three-ingredient fruitcake. I got it from a website about all things Scottish, though I don’t think this is native to Scotland. A good friend assured me it’s delicious.

Recipes for three-ingredient fruitcakes abound on the web—dried fruit, flour, and liquid. Surfing the web, I found recipes that called for orange juice, tea, coffee—but the one I liked uses chocolate milk.

Ingredients

4-1/4 cups dried mixed fruit

3 cups chocolate milk

2 cups self-rising flour

Preparation

Put the fruit in a bowl, pour the chocolate milk over it, and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Next day, heat toaster oven to 350o F. Line a 9” square baking pan with parchment paper. Stir flour into the soaked fruit. Bake 2-1/2 hours. Test by inserting a skewer or silver knife into the center. Check frequently to make sure top isn’t burning. If it is getting too brown, cover with a square of brown paper.

Want a round cake? Use an 8” round pan.
Decorate top of warm cake with extra glace cherries if you wish.

This is so rich you’ll only want to serve tiny pieces, so one cake will serve a lot of people. (Somewhere I read 30 servings, but I can’t quite believe that.) If you try it, save me a piece—I really want to taste it.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Tradition of Sunday night supper



Sunday night supper has a long tradition in my family. When I was young, my mom rolled her tea table into the living room and put it before the fireplace. The three of us—my parents and me (my brother was away by then)—enjoyed light suppers, such dishes as cheese strata or spinach souffle. No cell phones to banish—we enjoyed each other’s company.

When my children were young, I did Sunday supper for the family, including my brother, John, and his children (he was single by then too) and whatever people I thought were alone. Some of my good friends fondly talk of those dinners with 15-20 people. I cooked huge meals—turkey breast Wellington is one recipe I recall. A lot of casseroles. I remember one night when we were working on a cookbook at my office, and I brought home a recipe for a hamburger/cornbread casserole and fixed it. My brother looked at me and asked, “Sis, is the budget the problem?”

Another night as we sat around after dinner the alarm service called to tell him his house was on fire. He lived just down the street and arrived barely in time to keep the firemen from taking an axe to his front door. He’d left chicken livers simmering on the stove and they’d burned dry.

John used to go around the table and ask each of us to tell about our week or what we were thankful for. It led to some embarrassed moments, but today those dinners are golden memories that I treasure. Maybe we should start that again, even though our dinners are on a small scale.

Today, Sunday night suppers are more hit and miss. Jordan and I try for them, and most Sundays we have supper. Christian and I alternate cooking. Tonight, he was busy decorating the Christmas tree, and I cooked a sausage quiche—they liked it, but it’s not a recipe I’ll repeat or share. I made sauerkraut just for me (no one else would try it)—bacon, onions caramelized in the bacon drippings, a bit of white wine, a tiny bit of brown sugar. Delicious. So glad I didn’t have to share. Jacob had gone to a church event.

When my kids were young the only excuse for missing Sunday night supper was a restaurant job and a scheduled shift. That doesn’t hold true today, and we often have supper without Jacob. And sometimes we don’t have a formal supper at all. If I wanted to wax nostalgic about the lost past, I would. But I am grateful for what we have and the dinners we enjoy. Next recipe? Chicken in a creamy Parmesan sauce. It was a recipe for pork chops, but a friend of Jordan’s said it would be great with chicken. I think I’ll let Christian cook that one.

A mild complaint and a quick easy dessert




A frustrated cook, one without an audience—that’s me. I clip and find and even invent recipes that sound wonderful to me, but others I cook for turn aside.  I found a recipe the other day for orange-cranberry shortbread—the response to a mention was “I don’t eat cookies.” I want to make kalpudding, a traditional Sweish meatloaf with caramelized cabbage—but someone else doesn’t like cabbage. And I really wanted to try making my own gravlax for a small gathering of friends—but two of them don’t eat raw fish, one for a valid immune deficiency problem.

So here’s a recipe I save for company, because some in my family don’t eat cooked fruit. This is quick and easy. As given it serves two, but you can fiddle with the proportions. Dessert doesn’t often figure in my menu planning—unless it’s chocolate. Seriously, I rarely fix dessert, and I never bake a pie. A whole pie for one is ridiculous—or even for two if I have company. But individual crisps and cobblers are a good way to go.

Fruit crisp for two

2 cups fruit – blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears, whatever

1 scant Tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup flour

¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup butter, softened but still firm

Butter two individual ramekins thoroughly. Slice fruit and arrange in ramekins. Mix flour, lemon juice, brown sugar, and cinnamon together. Cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. (If your butter is too soft, you won’t end up with crumbly; you’ll get paste). Sprinkle over fruit.

Preheat toaster oven to 350. Bake for 25 minutes. Lesson learned the first time I made this: I baked it ahead since I couldn’t use the hot plate and oven at the same time. Then I cooked supper, and while we ate re-heated the apple crisp. At least I thought I was reheating it. What I actually did was cook it a second time. The apples turned to mush, like applesauce—overcooked. If your sense of timing is better than mine, let dessert cook on its own while you serve dinner.
Order Gourmet on a Hot Plate: Tiny Kitchen Tips and Recipes from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and several other digital platforms.


Sunday, November 25, 2018

A cooking weekend


scrambled eggs with trout and scallions


Once I started flipping through my bulging file of recipes I want to try, I was committed for the weekend. I found so many, there aren’t enough meals for them all. Last night, to get beyond turkey, I roasted a ruby red trout filet. Simple directions are on my new Gourmet on a Hot Plate blog—http://www.gourmetonahotplate.blogspot.com . And I got it just right if I do say so—firm but still most and succulent. I dislike dry fish intensely.

But I wasn’t quite through with all Thanksgiving food—fixed green bean casserole. One can cut green beans (not French style) and half a can of mushroom soup makes two generous servings. And I didn’t miss the French’s fried onion rings. Just season with salt, pepper, and a dash of Worcestershire.

Today was a day of sumptuous eating. A sausage sandwich in a biscuit—my version of a McBiscuit—for breakfast. Biscuit, sausage patty, cheddar—no egg. Lunch was scrambled eggs on toast, topped with slivers of leftover trout and sliced scallions. The egg and trout flavors complement each other perfectly. I used good sourdough bread for the toast, but another time I think I’d just do the eggs and trout and green onions. The toast was hard to cut and keeping toast, eggs, and trout together on the fork was a challenge.


Skillet sausage supper

Tonight’s dinner was special—a skillet supper of sausage, onion, and apple. I made lots of adjustments to the recipe to adapt it to my hot plate. Cooked the sausage first and realized it wasn’t cooked through, so while the onion sautéed, I cut the sausage into bite-size pieces. When the onion was fairly well caramelized, I put the sausage pieces back in and added sliced Granny Smith apple. Let the whole thing cook for a while, turning frequently—the apples took longer to soften than I expected. Then I turned it off, so I could heat the leftover green bean casserole in the toaster oven (can’t use both at once). When I turned the toaster oven off, I reheated the skillet. Got to say it was a delicious dinner. One sausage (a blueberry one from Central Market), a half onion, and one apple made at least two servings. My mom used to do an apple and sausage skillet with ground sausage and I may try that, but the onions were a great addition.

And my cooking spree isn’t over. Tomorrow night my oldest son, Colin, will be here for a late supper, and I’ll fix family favorite Doris’ casserole. Since it makes great leftovers, I’ll make a double batch, so the Burtons and I can eat it all week. For breakfast the next morning, Colin gets to choose a biscuit sandwich, lox and bagels, or scrambled eggs and a sausage patty. I’m pulling for the lox though. I am not a bagel eater but when I saw Central Market had a bialy—looks like a bagel with onion slivers all over it but is baked instead of boiled as bagels are—I couldn’t resist.

And I just sent oldest daughter Megan a recipe for truffle pasta. She makes a truffle mac and cheese for holidays that everyone loves, so I thought she’d like this. Just pasta, butter, a bit of the pasta water, Parmesan, and sliced truffles—but I bet you could use truffle oil instead, cheaper by far. Don’t just lump all those ingredients together—there’s a technique, and I’ll post about it on Gourmet on a Hot Plate after I try it.  I just checked online and Central Market has an array of truffles, but it’s hard to tell which are the real thing and which are chocolate. I know nothing about buying authentic truffles and little more about truffle oil, which is expensive enough. The saving grace is probably that it doesn’t take much, either of the real thing or the oil—and I think I’ve heard that sometimes truffle oil is just flavored oil that has nothing to do with truffles. We consumers do get fooled.

Okay, now I’ve overfed and ready for a nap. ‘Night, y’all.


Easy trout with garlic



            Had enough turkey? Not that the turkey and fixings weren’t delicious, but I got a longing today for a light fish dinner. I got one Ruby Red trout filet from the market where I’m sure it’s fresh, not pre-frozen, and roasted it.

            Just put the trout filet, skin side down on a sheet pan. A friend blessed me with a sheet pan that fits into my toaster oven, so I used that. Mix a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, a crushed garlic clove, and lemon to taste, and pour over the trout. Sprinkle some capers on it for an extra tang if you want.

            Pre-heat your toaster oven to 450 and roast the trout until it is opaque—probably ten minutes. Don’t overcook or it will be dry. Just scrape it gently off the pan and directly onto the plate and enjoy. Yeah, I should have taken a picture, but above is the half filet I saved for lunch tomorrow. A bit of lemon, and it will be just great. I like leftovers cold, but you could easily heat at a low temperature in the toaster oven.

            Thanksgiving wasn’t completely out of my mind, though. I so enjoyed the old-fashioned green bean casserole that I made a small one for myself. One can of cut green beans (not French style) and half a can of mushroom soup, a bit of salt and pepper and a dash of Worcestershire. Who needs French’s fried onion rings? I have at least one serving of that left for lunch tomorrow too.

            How about you? What do you cook when you’re up-to-here with turkey?

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A quick and easy side dish for Thanksgiving



Gourmet on a Hot Plate is up and running, and I’m grateful that many readers have said they plan to use it as a Christmas gift. Great for everyone from elderly Great-Aunt Ella who’s in assisted living to that niece who’s a college freshman with a hot plate in the dorm room (if it’s allowed, of course!). And maybe there’s that old college fraternity guy who’s taken a notion to go live in a tiny cabin in the woods.

As I promised though, it’s time to get the conversation started on this blog that will be a continuation of the cookbook—an ongoing dialog, a place for recipes I didn’t have room for, questions you may have, recipes you love (keep that tiny kitchen in mind), and comments in general. I"ll try to keep up witht his twice a week, so send in whatever you want. I'll put new post on Facebook.

Before we get to Christmas, Thanksgiving dinner looms. Some cooking gurus call it the best meal of the year, the time when America shows off its cooking skills. But it can also be an overwhelming time for cooks—how do you coordinate all those dishes so they’re warm at the same time? Okay, maybe sometimes the turkey is cold, but if you can keep the gravy hot….

Today I’d like to give you a recipe that would be a quick and easy side dish, easily doubled—or probably tripled. Thanks to longtime dear friend Barbara Bucknell Ashcraft for this one (we met in a Brownie troop at the age of seven or so and have been fast friends ever since, even though separated by miles—and those few months she insists that I am older than she is). Barbara got this from her stepmother, and we named it for this woman I never met.

I usually don’t like to use prepared foods, like Minute Rice, but I have never experiment with real rice with this, and it’s so good my family clamors for it.

Louella’s Rice

1 c. Minute Rice

1 c. sour cream               

1 c. shredded sharp cheddar

1 can cream of celery soup

1 4-oz. can chopped chilies

Mix and bake at 350° for 35-40 minutes



            Happy Thanksgiving everyone!




Friday, August 24, 2018

Gourmet on a Hot Plate


Sneak preview: 

New cookbook due in November


Four years after that last post, I'm far from closing down my food blog--in fact, I'm rejuvenating it under a new title. With a new cookbook on the horizon in November, I want to invite you to be part of my ongoing cooking adventure. For two years I've been cooking in a postage-stamp kitchen with no built-ins. That's right--I cook with a magnetic hot plate, a toaster oven, and a coffee pot. And it's not a hardship. It was my choice.

As I aged, my children and I wanted to be proactive about where and how I lived. Many possibilities were discussed, and it came down to some basics: I was still in control of my faculties (or so I still think), still actively writing, still independent to some degree. The best solution? Redo my existing garage and guest quarters into a cottage for me, while my youngest daughter, her husband and child moved into the main house. After six months construction, I had a wonderful cottage--600 square feet, with a living/office space, a bathroom with a walk-in shower, a large closet and a fairly small bedroom--plus the postage-stamp kitchen which does hold a good-sized refrigerator/freezer.

My first six months in the cottage involved a broken ankle, extreme reconstructive hip surgery, the cleansing of my system of a variety of drugs, (some of which caused hallucinations). I didn't care what I ate, let alone cooked. But gradually I reclaimed my cooking skills and learned new methods of cooking and using food. The results is my third cookbook--Gourmet on a Hot Plate.

Tada! Publicaiton is scheduled for early November--so you can add it to your Christmas giving list, and after that this blog will, I hope, become much more active.. Meantime, check in for an occasional recipe, to comment or ask questions. You know the Insta-Pot Community? This is sort of the opposite end of the cooking scale.

So welcome. To subscribe and receive posts on a regular basis, please go to my web page: www.judyalter.com. And to get you started, here's one of my favorite recipes, a good one for  football games and watch parties coming up in the fall:

Sherry cheese pâté
 6 oz softened cream cheese (not whipped)
1 c. grated sharp cheddar
1 Tbsp. dry sherry
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 8oz jar mango chutney (or any chutney you prefer)
2 green onions, chopped

Mix cream cheese, cheddar, sherry, curry, and salt together, thoroughly. Spread the mixture on a serving plate. Chill. Spread the chutney on the top of the mixture and sprinkle green onions on the top. Serve with crackers

Happy cooking, y'all. I'll pop in with a new post now and then, but after November I expect things to get popping around here. Meantime, if you want to be on my mailing list please write me at j.alter@tcu.edu