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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Mary Helen’s Mother’s Coffee Cake

More years ago than I care to count, my oldest child, Colin, was enrolled in the wonderful and now long-gone TCU pre-school program. There was to be a parents’ program, and we were all assigned recipes, so that some brought the same entrée, others brought the same dessert. Mary Helen was one of Colin’s classmates, and I drew her mother’s recipe for coffee cake.

It turned out to be a Bundt cake, and I had never made one before. If you are of my generation though, you will remember all those cake recipes that incorporated box cake mix and pudding mix. This  was one of the best of those. I dutifully bought cake mix, pudding mix, and a Bundt pan. I’d been baking successfully since my early teens, so I had no qualms as I sailed into this fairly simple and straightforward recipe. After it came out of the oven, I let it sit on the counter to cool. When I took it out, half came out and half the cake stayed in the pan! Disaster!

I called a friend to moan about my bad luck, and she just laughed. But then she told me to let it cool no more than five minutes and then promptly take it out of the pan. I went to the store, bought the ingredients again, and made a cake that turned out fine. Ever after, Mary Helen’s father called me “the two-cake lady.”

But that recipe turned out to be a staple in our family, the kids favorite and something I always served at my annual tree trimming party. You can do it in as many flavors as you can find the necessary mixes—lemon and vanilla come to mind, but I did know a woman who made a strawberry version. We stuck to chocolate.

At the holiday season, this is great to have on hand for surprise guests or to give as a gift to a neighbor. I made the cake pictured above for a neighbor, but Jordan gets credit for its picture-perfect appearance. A Bundt pan is too tall for my toast oven, and even if I could squeeze it in, the cake would undoubtedly rise to burn on the coils. So after I assembled it, Jordan baked it in her oven and was therefore cautioned about taking it out of the pan correctly. I think she was a bit insulted that I thought she needed that instruction, because she frequently makes Bundt cakes of several types, including a wine cake. At any rate, we were both proud of the product, and she delivered it to a neighbor with four children.

Mary Helen’s Mother’s Coffee Cake

1 box cake mix

1 box instant pudding

½ c. oil

4 eggs

1½ c. sour cream

Sugar and cinnamon

Mix together everything but sugar and cinnamon. Grease Bundt pan with butter or solid shortening, being sure to get every bit of the surface. Mix equal parts of cinnamon and sugar (about tsp. each) and sprinkle on all sides of prepared pan. Add the batter, evening it out as much as possible (it’s a thick batter), and top with cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350° for 50 to60 minutes (check with a long kebab skewer or something similar); it often must cook longer. Cool five minutes and remove from the pan. DON’T WAIT ANY LONGER. Run a knife around edges of pan and tunnel in the middle, and then top with a plate, invert, and gently shake to remove the cake from the pan.
You can drizzle icing over it if you want, but I consider that gilding the lily.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

What's for Suonday Supper

Sunday supper is an old tradition at my house. I started it when I was a single parent because I wanted my children to have the social experience, the conversation. Sometimes we had fifteen—usually my brother and his family, and then assorted friends, some regular, some occasional. John was a stickler for manners, which has served my children well, and he used to go around the table and have everyone tell about their week. Both the manners and the talk gave the kids a taste of the art of dining.
Sunday supper is a little different these days, but Jordan, Christian, and I usually make it happen—Jacob is often at church for supper but joins us when he gets home. Frequently I do the cooking, and I love the process of choosing the right dish. Often, it’s just an entrée and a salad.
This past week, I suggested a Mexican hamburger casserole that I’d found, but Jordan thought it sounded too heavy. She suggested a beef stew recipe, but a quick read told me they recommended cooking it thirty minutes or so—not to my mind enough time for stew. So I showed her several recipes, and she chose “No Peek Chicken.” I’ve been searching my mind, trying to remember who gave me that recipe. No success. But thank you to whoever it was.

No Peek Chicken
1 box long grain wild rice
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can water
Boneless chicken breasts or tenders.
In a greased 9x13 pan, mix the rice, the cans of soup, and the water. Arrange raw chicken over the rice. Cover and seal tightly with foil. Bake at 350o for 2-1/2 hours, without peeking..
Wild rice needs that long cooking  time, but I thought the chicken was overcooked—a bit dry and tough. I had done this recipe before with the Uncle Ben’s Instant Long Grain Wild Rice, and I think that and a shortened cooking time might give you more moist chicken. But this time, the rice was delicious. I used a six-oz. box with the band name Near East.
And I must add that in this gourmet age, I am not at all shy about confessing I make casseroles with canned soups. Easy, fast, and delicious.
A 9x13 pan won’t fit in my toaster oven, so I sent this into the house to ake. But the last time I did it, I used a smaller dish that did fit. So don’t rule this out because of the pan size.
I’d been wanting to fix a Brussel sprouts/artichoke hearts dish that a friend served several years ago, and I decided it would make a good side with the chicken. Jordan, however, protested that she’s tried Brussel sprouts more than once and just doesn’t like them. I’m willing to go with people’s tastes as long as they have tried the dish. And I confess I’m not always wild about those sprouts either. So I decided to substitute a second can of artichoke hearts for the frozen sprouts. Christian doesn’t like artichoke hearts, but I didn’t think he’d like Brussel sprouts any better—he likes them, he said later, if they’re crisp. My Austin family likes them that way too.

Brussel sprouts and artichoke hearts au gratin
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen Brussel sprouts
1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts, quartered and drained
½ cup mayonnaise
½ tsp. celery salt
¼ cup Parmesan, grated
¼ cup butter, melted
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
            Cook the Brussel sprouts according to directions. Drain. Layer sprouts and artichoke hearts in casserole dish. Combine remaining ingredients and spoon over the vegetables. Mix. Bake at 425o for 8-10 minutes. Serves six.
Christian tried it and announced he could take the artichoke hearts or leave them, but the sauce was wonderful. I bet it would be equally wonderful on broccoli.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

All about cranberries

Did you have cranberries with your Thanksgiving feast? About twenty percent of all cranberries sold annually are purchased over the Thanksgiving holiday. That bright red berry is what the food industry calls a “special occasion food.”

This year, visiting my son, there was a fresh, homemade cranberry relish, brought by a friend, on the table—a bit tart but good. There was also canned, sliced, jellied cranberry sauce—both my daughters-in-law love it. Those two dishes spoke of what I see as two different food philosophies!

For me, cranberry relish at the holidays should be the way my mom fixed it—well, really it was my dad who made it. Making cranberry relish was a ritual in our household before the days of food processors. Dad hauled out the old hand grinder, fastened it to a short worn stepladder—I can see that chipped green paint in my mind yet—and began to grind, a chore he did because, he said, it took too much strength for Mom to do it. I think they both enjoyed the shared work.

Thanks to his effort, a bag of cranberries, washed and sorted, an orange, peel and all, a sweet apple like a Red Delicious, also unpeeled, went into a bowl. Mom added sugar sparingly, getting it just right because we didn’t want it too tart or too sweet. You can find precise recipesfor raw cranberry relish should you need them on the internet, I’d suggest you use less sugar than recommended and then taste, sweetening to your personal palate.

Some people use honey instead of sugar. Others add a small can of crushed pineapple or some chopped pecans. It’s a flexible dish, that cranberry relish.[

The thing about cranberries is that they are an overlooked health food, as good for you as blueberries. They are naturally low in sugar, though they require sweetening to be palatable; they are rich in antioxidants which promote cardiovascular health. Cranberry juice is often recommended for treatment of urinary tract infections.

When you think of cranberries at the holidays, you probably think of fresh berries—they only seem to appear in markets in November and December. Truth is only five percent of cranberries are sold fresh—most are processed into juice, that abominable canned relish, or craisins—those delightful substitutes for raisins which are great in everything from salads to oatmeal.

Thanks to a neighbor, I discovered a new cranberry recipe this past Thanksgiving. Easy and quick, it’s officially called crustless cranberry pie. To me, it’s like cake and great for dessert—but shh! Don’t tell. I’ve been eating cake for breakfast.

Crustless cranberry pie

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

¼ tsp. salt

2 cups cranberries

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I’m not always a fan of nuts, and I left them out)

½ cup butter, melted

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp. almond extract


Pre-heat oven to 350o. Grease 9-inch pie pan.

Combine flour, sugar, and salt. Stir in cranberries and nuts; toss to coat. Stir in butter, beaten eggs, and almond extract. Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 350o for 40 minutes or until wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

I hope your table was laden with whatever traditions you cherish,
and surrounded by people you really care about, 
and that together you gave thanks for all that we share.
Tomorrow is time enough to worry
Today we celebrate!

Christmas recipes next!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Nibbling before the Thanksgiving feast

The Thanksgiving menu is pretty standard—a few iconoclasts eschew turkey, but for most of us it’s turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and all the usual side dishes. But we can and do vary appetizers, and I’ve been talking appetizers with Jordan. She’s hosting her first big holiday meal—for Christian’s family—and I won’t be in town to help her. So we’ve been planning and going through old recipes (my idea of fun!).

To her delight, she found a recipe that was always her favorite. It requires Beau Monde seasoning, which is something I don’t usually keep and maybe you don’t either, but it should be in the supermarket. If not, it’s offered on Amazon. The big trick here is to find a round of bread, preferably pumpernickel.

Holiday dip in a bread bowl

1-1/3 cups sour cream

1-1/3 cups mayonnaise

1 tsp. dill weed

1 tsp. Beau Monde seasoning

2 Tbsp. parsley flakes

1 Tbsp. instant onion flakes

Loaf of round bread, preferably pumpernickel

Slice top off loaf of bread and hollow out, dicing removed bread into cubes for dipping. Keep bread cubes airtight until serving time.

Mix all other ingredients thoroughly and spoon into bread bowl. Chill.

Jordan also plans to make our traditional cheeseball.

Holiday Cheeseball

½ lb. Roquefort or domestic blue cheese

1 8 oz. pkg. Velveeta

l 8-oz. pkg. cream cheese

½ lb. pecans, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, chopped fine

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small onion, chopped fine   

½ tsp. horseradish

Let the cheese soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish, and half the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheeseball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers. Leftovers will keep a month in the freezer, and you can always reshape the bowl. Sometimes you may want to freshen the outside with more chopped parsley and pecans.

Happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Holiday cookies

Several years ago I lost a lot of books when the flat roof over my family room failed during an incredible rain- and hail-storm. The room was an add-on before I owned the house and was being re-roofed at the time. Most of my good-sized collection of cookbooks were among the books damaged beyond saving—they ranged from slim paperbacks to lovely coffee table books. Unbeknownst to me, Jordan had saved some and has had them in a cupboard in the house all this time. We got to talking about a dip she particularly liked, and I said I thought the recipe was in an old book that held several of my favorites.

To my great joy, she produced the book yesterday. It’s a much battered and worn scrapbook type thing, titled My Favorite Recipes, where I pasted in recipes that I’d collected from various places, many of them printed in the magazines and newspapers which were my favorite sources before the internet. But the greatest finds were some of my mom’s recipes—what she called Alice MacBain’s Bread, her yeast rolls that the kids still clamor for the holiday dinners, the cookies she made every Christmas. Mom signed her recipes GM for Grandmother or GW for Guess Who. In one instance, after GM, she added (not General Motors).

There are other old friends I was glad to see again—my grandmother’s banana drop cookies, which I used to make into cupcakes when my kids were little. I cannot tell you how many batches I made just to avoid throwing away two overaged bananas.  Mary Helen’s Mother’s Coffeecake is aa Bundt cake I’ve made so often I need no recipe, but I’d need directions for the green goddess dressing, which I remember as excellent, or the Gore Blimey Quiche—spinach, bacon, mushrooms and Parmesan. My chili recipe is here—another I now do automatically. Things I’ll probably never make again: Russian kasha, red beet eggs, Russian black bread. (If you see a bit of a trend there, yes, these were recipes chosen to please my ex-husband, who was of Russian descent or so he thought—they tell you how old this cookbook is!)

A recipe I’m glad to have provides simple directios for Krispie Orange Cookies, a holiday tradition when I was a child and then when I had children. They require cookies cutters, and I inherited Mom’s good, old-fashioned metal ones—so much easier and cleaner to use than today’s plastic versions. Mom had a Santa, in profile with a pack on his back, a Christmas tree, a bell, a donut-shaped one we made into wreaths, and an oversized gingerbread man. We decorated with white, red, and green icing, sprinkles, and silver shot. After Colin, my oldest, married, his wife took over the cookie-making, and I passed along the cutters. Colin likes these cookies soft, but I keep telling him they need to bake just a bit longer for crispness.

Krispie Orange Cookies

2 c. sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 orange, juice and rind

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

3-1/2 c. four

Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and beat. Add orange juice and the grated rind. Separately mix flour, baking powder, and salt. Carefully stir flour mixture into shortening mixture. Chill dough. Then roll out and use those cookie cutters.

Bake 10 minutes at 375o but watch carefully. They burn before you know it.

PS: We’re still looking for Jordan’s dip recipe—all I remember was you served it in a round pumpernickel bread bowl, and it had Beau Monde seasoning. It will show up here if we find it, but so will others from My Favorite Recipes.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hello chickpeas, goodbye Keurig

Chickpeas are something I never thought much about. They did not appear on the table in my childhood home, and somehow all these years cooking I didn’t run into them. But yesterday I planned to cook a New York Times recipe for Crispy Lamb Meatballs with Chickpeas and Eggplant. At first, I thought I’d just leave the chickpeas out, but a friend encouraged me to include them. So when I ordered groceries over the weekend, I ordered chickpeas, expecting canned. They were dried, and there began my education.

Dried chickpeas, like various dried beans, must be soaked before cooking. You can use that trick of adding a tsp. of baking soda to the water if you want, but the main thing is to soak them overnight in lots of water, because the expand a great deal during soaking. You can hurry the process up with an Insta-pot or pressure cooker, but I went for the old-fashioned method.

In the morning, I drained and rinsed them, covered generously with fresh cold water (at least two inches above the top of the peas) and brought it to a boil. Then instructions said simmer for one to two hours. I hate undercooked beans, so I went for two hours and discovered that with a lid slightly askew on the pot and the heat set at medium low, my hot plate holds a nice simmer. After two hours, they were cooked—and, to my surprise, tasty.

Then the day went awry (see my blog, and I ended up not making the dish. So there I was with a pound of cooked chickpeas. First thing I learned: they freeze beautifully. Second thing, there are lots of things to do with them—put them in the food processor with tahini and seasonings and make homemade hummus (so much better), scatter them in salad, put them in soups and stews, use them for a vegetarian curry, make fritters or patties out of them, use in place of tuna in a salad, put them in scrambled eggs. The internet is alive with recipes and suggestions.

My favorite: roast chickpeas for a snack instead of chips. Take a pound of cooked chickpeas (or canned) and toss with olive oil (1 tsp.—too much oil will make them soggy) and 1/4 tsp. of salt, pepper, and the seasoning of your choice—anything from chile powder to thyme and rosemary. For even coating, put the ingredients in a large baggie and shake well. Put them in a cold oven and roast at 425o for 20-30 minutes or until crisp. The chickpeas will lose their crispness as they cool, so serve them as soon as they cool enough to handle. Even after they lose their heat and soften, they’re still tasty.

Chickpeas are a staple for vegetarians and vegans for good reason. They’re plentiful, cheap, low fat, and full of nutrients—the fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals we all need. Studies show they may help control blood pressure, improve digestion, and prevent anything from diabetes to cancer. On a diet? These are great because they give you a feeling of having eaten without adding calories.

As for the Keurig, I’ve been using it to brew my single cup of tea for years. In fact, I’m on my second machine. But my conscience has increasingly bothered me—K-cups contribute an enormous amount to our burgeoning landfills and are a disaster for the environment. Besides, I never ever took mine apart and cleaned it with a vinegar solution as you’re supposed to do at least every six months.

So when my Keurig bit the dust this week, making only an eighth of a cup each time, I sent it to Goodwill, where they will refurbish. I’m making my tea with an electric teakettle but still exploring various options. If I settle on the teakettle, I’ll get an infuser—no sense adding that daily teabag to my footprint. I tried to tell one of my daughters not to use a plastic straw, and she said dismissively, “What difference does one straw make?’ That’s just it—it’s not one straw but the millions (literally) that are discarded daily. I figure the same is true of tea bags.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Here's what's cooking at my house this week!

I admit to being a creature of habit. One of habits that has lasted for years is to plan meals ahead on Thursday and make out a grocery list, so that I can do the actual shopping on Friday. This schedule has the great advantage of leaving weekends free for cooking, reading, and whatever. So here are my ideas for cooking this week.

One night soon, just for me, shirred or baked egg. So easy, so good1

Baked egg

1 half slice good sourdough bread

A handful of baby spinach, cooked and drained

1 slice bacon, diced, cooked, and drained

2 Tbsp. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 large egg

1 tsp. cream or milk

Grease a small ramekin well. Toast sourdough and butter both sides. Shape toast into ramekin until it forms a lining in bottom of dish. Sauté bacon and drain, reserving a tsp. of grease to sauté the spinach. Cook spinach until just slightly wilted. Drain and cut into bite sizes pieces. Put spinach on toast; add cheese. Carefully break egg on top of cheese, being sure to keep the yolk whole. Add salt and pepper and pour cream or milk over egg to keep it from drying out.

Bake at 350 for 12-14 minutes, until yolk is set but still runny. Before serving, top with bacon crumbles.

* * * *

For another night, a quick tomato sauce for pasta:

Quick and rich tomato sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp. minced garlic

6 anchovy fillets

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or whole and chop them)

            Sauté garlic and anchovies in oil. Don’t skip or skimp on the anchovies. When they dissolve into the garlic and butter, you won’t taste fish or anything strong. They just add a nice, rich earthiness to your sauce.

Drain the tomatoes and save the juice for another purpose, like a pot of soup. Add tomatoes to pan, bring to a boil, and then cook on medium until sauce is slightly thick.

Should provide sauce for a pound of fettucine or spaghetti or four average servings.

* * * *

And for Sunday supper, an easy pork roast without an oven.

Pork roast without an oven

A colleague served this one night, and it was delicious. I didn’t believe him when he told me how he cooked it, so I tried it. Now it’s a family favorite, perfect for the tiny kitchen without an oven. And uses a cheap cut of meat. Can’t beat that.

2-1/2 lb. Boston butt roast, untrimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 cups water

2 Tbsp. salt

Ask the butcher to cube the roast for you, if you have access to a butcher. Their idea of cubes is usually pretty big chunks, but it’s a start. You just have to cube the cubes until you get something the size you want—about an inch

Bring the water and salt to a boil. Add the cubed meat and reduce to a simmer. Cook for at least an hour and a quarter, until all the water evaporates. The meat will look unappetizingly white, but cook it longer, stirring occasionally, and the cubes will develop a nice brown crust.

Serve with sauce below and lime wedges.

Garlic sauce:

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

2 garlic cloves, pressed.

Salt and pepper—go easy on the salt, as the meat cooked in salted water, but I suggest at least a half tsp. pepper