Lots of stuff going on right now, and time for the blog is in short supply, but
I just need a couple of weeks. I’ll post sporadically if something comes up I want to talk about.
In the meantime, as always:
So, apples, right? I have a love/hate relationship with apples. I like apples, but I’ve eaten so many of them, it’s tough to look an apple in the face. My mom loved apples. I think if was probably her favorite fruit. Needless to say, we had apples in the house all the time. About 45 years or more ago, we lived in upstate New York, and I have vivid memories of driving to Vermont in the fall and climbing apple trees and picking a bushel or two to take home. The way it worked, as I remember, we picked four bushels and got to keep one. So between two adults (one a Marine), and three hyperactive little kids, picking 4-8 bushels was a piece of cake. One of my cherished memories is sitting on a branch in an apple tree and taking that first bite. My God, is there anything better than that first bite of anything? Your mouth has no previous taste to fall back on, so that first bite is an explosion of whatever you’re eating. The second and third bites pale in comparison. When it’s an apple, and it’s crisp and tangy and juicy, it’s unforgettable.
We put the apples, still in the baskets, on the back porch. The weather was cool enough that the apples stayed crisp and juicy for weeks. As winter set in, the apples froze and were preserved naturally. Every time you stepped onto the back porch for any reason, the smell of those apples was strong enough to make your mouth water. I grabbed one on my way out to whatever adventure I’d set for myself that day, and on the way in, returning from that adventure hungry and thirsty. That apple took me places. There was always one in our lunch bag. I had a friend at the time and we were inseparable. Every Saturday morning, we’d share popcorn from his house left over from the night before, and apples from my house because we had so many.
For mom, there were only three kinds of apples: McIntosh (the ones we picked in Vermont), Red Delicious, and green baking apples. But I’ve eaten a couple of dozen different kinds since then, and have liked them all. By the end of winter, as the apples got too ripe, we had a lot of applesauce, and apple cake, and cookies, until all the apples were gone. Like I said, after eating so many apples as a kid, it’s hard to look at an apple now. And cinnamon isn’t tops with, either. All signs to the contrary.
Applesauce cake is a really good way to use up old apples. And, as a bonus, I’m going to tell you a way to make an incredibly easy and quick applesauce, no cooking required. Since Applesauce cake requires applesauce, let’s tackle that first.
Homemade applesauce requires apples, lemon, corn syrup, cinnamon, a blender, and something to store it in. Chop your apples, leaving the skin on, but taking the core out. In a blender, whiz a tablespoon of corn syrup and a tablespoon of lemon (to keep the applesauce from discoloring), and a pinch of cinnamon together for about five seconds. Add about a third of your apples and purée. Keep adding apple chunks until either all the apples have been processed or the blender is full. Dump into a storage container and eat. Easy peasy. My ex-wife loves this stuff. It tastes like fresh apples with a touch of cinnamon.
For the cake, you need:
- 1 cup apple cider
- 3/4 cup 1/2 inch chunks dried apple
- 1 1/2 cup flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
- 1 tsp vanilla
Heat oven to 325. Line an 8 inch square pan with an aluminum foil sling (see below.) Spray with baking spray. Simmer dried apples and apple cider until liquid is gone and apples look dry, then cool to room temp. You can either purée them or leave them as chunks. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda. Use a wire whip for this; it’s easier. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar and spices, then reserve two tablespoons for the topping. In a large bowl, whisk the egg and salt together then add the spice mix and blend till mixed well. Whisk in the melted cooled butter in three stages until well blended. Whisk in vanilla and apple sauce, as well as the dried apples (either in chunks or processed.) Fold in the flour slowly, until just incorporated, like muffin batter. Do not over mix. Spread the batter into the pan and sprinkle with reserved spice mix. Bake until done, about 35-40 minutes. A toothpick inserted into center will have a few crumbs but mostly clean. Cool the cake completely, then remove from pan using foil sling. Remove the foil and place cake on a plate. Cut and serve with whipped topping and fresh or frozen berries.
The foil sling:
Yesterday, I needed some information for the project I’m currently working on (and you’ll hear about it soon, I promise.) I had to go through the 7 boxes (that’s right, 7) of cookbooks searching for one in particular that held the info I wanted. I ended up bringing close to a dozen into my office. Not that I needed the info, I just wanted to look at them again.
It was like opening boxes and seeing old friends again. Each title brought back memories and warm feelings. I remembered when we got each of the books, and why. I remembered the recipes each book held and which ones held my attention. I found my digital scale for measuring ingredients. I found my brass book holder for ease of reading recipes while cooking. I also found a ton of shirts that I’d used for packing around the books to keep the weight of the boxes down. Some of those, I could have used this winter.
I found all of The Two Fat Ladies books we had, although they stayed in the boxes. It was good to see their smiling faces and to laugh at remembered recipes like Penis Soup and Braised Rabbit Balls. Just FYI, it’s a bull’s penis and supposedly a very rich soup. They don’t waste anything on a farm. And the Rabbit Balls are made from ground rabbit meat.
I found all the America’s Test Kitchen books which did come inside with me. I’ve already scanned through most of them since I was looking for a technique they had in several of their recipes. I also found recipes for meals we’ve enjoyed, and some to look forward to. But I also found my Kitchen Journal.
I knew it wasn’t lost, but I also hadn’t really gone looking for it. And now I have it.
Waaaaay back in post 31, I explained in some detail what a kitchen journal is. It’s just a book to write down recipes that are told to you, or you’ve modified, or you’ve created, or cut from magazines, etc. It’s like the old recipe box your grandmother and great-grandmother had. You can see from the pic that I got this one when I was going through my Paula Deen phase. Or maybe it was given to me when I was going through my Paula Deen phase. You can also see that I have a lot of work to do on it to get the recipes from their original writing/printing into the notebook. By the time that’s done, I’ll need another one, I think.
But I grinned as I went through them. I found my yellow cake recipe, so riddle solved. But I also found a couple of recipes I’d forgotten about and thought I’d share here. They’re very good.
When I was traveling in Africa a while back, one of the few restaurants we could go to due to curfew restrictions was an Asian restaurant across the street. The food was very good and I had one dish a couple of times. It was Stir Fried Beef and Onions. It used two different kinds of onions, but the twist was it used commercial french fried onions in the mix and then on top as a garnish. Over time, I added to it and here’s the result.
Beef in Garlic Sauce
- 1 1/2 pounds flank steak sliced into thin bite-sized strip
- 6 cloves garlic, minced finely
- 1/2 onion, chopped small
- 1 bunch of asparagus, just the tips
- 1/2 cup cashew pieces
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tsp corn starch
- commercial french fried onions
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Heat a large skillet to very hot. Add olive oil and swirl in pan. Add beef and fry until brown, then add garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds, then remove beef with a slotted spoon. Drain off fats and oil. Add onion and cook for 3-5 minutes. Add asparagus and cook for 3 minutes. Return beef to pan and add soy sauce and corn starch. Cook until sauce thicken, stirring constantly. Turn off heat and add cashews and mix. Serve hot over rice with french fried onion over top.
The other recipe may surprise you, coming from me. It’s made from Bisquick. Yup, once in a while, I take the easy route. Mostly cuz this recipe is so good.
Cheddar Garlic Biscuits
- 2 cups Bisquick (or other biscuit mix)
- 2/3 cup milk or water (I typically use water to steam the biscuits and get a higher rise.)
- 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (to your taste)
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
Heat oven to 450. In a medium bowl and using either a large metal fork or heavy wooden spoon, mix Bisquick, milk/water, and cheese until a dough forms. Try not to over mix. Drop dough by large spoonfuls onto a non-stick baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes, until golden brown and fluffy. While biscuits are baking, melt butter in a microwave in a microwave safe bowl. Add garlic powder and mix well. When biscuits are done, remove from oven. Brush with garlic butter a couple of times and serve hot or warm.
I’ve been working on another project involving bits and pieces of the blog (more to come on that later) and I discovered something that left me gob smacked! First, a short quiz. Real short. Just one question, really.
What’s my favorite kind of cake?
If you said Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting, you’d be right. I’ve talked about it incessantly in these posts. I’ve post pictures not only of cakes I’ve found on the web, but cakes I’ve made. I’ve even told you about my first attempt at age 13 (or so) in making a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.
The thing that left me floored was I’ve never given you my favorite recipe for yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I even went so far as to search the posts for “yellow cake” and read every entry (three pages, although in some cases it was just the word ‘yellow’ or ‘cake’ that it was hitting on.) No posts specifically about yellow cake.
Now, there is a post about butter cakes. And since butter cakes have a large amount of butter and eggs, they are typically yellow. But the butter cake recipe I gave you in the that post does not make a yellow layer cake, although it can be topped with chocolate frosting if you want. Make no mistake. That Butter Cake recipe is excellent. Very tasty, and easy to make. It never lasts too long in our house.
So then I went looking for my favorite yellow cake recipe. I realized, after several hours of looking, that I had been making my yellow cake from memory for so long, I didn’t realize I was doing it. It’s one of those recipes I’ve been tweaking and playing with, hoping to hit on the perfect combination of ingredients.
I once made a yellow cake that billed itself as Thomas Jefferson’s favorite yellow cake. It made a vast amount of batter, a batter so good I ate several spoonfuls right out of the bowl. It’s been a long time since I made it, but I remember that the dry ingredients had to be added to the wet by single spoonfuls and mixed with a wooden spoon until thoroughly incorporated. But it was good. I made three 9 inch round tiers, and there was still enough batter left over to make half a dozen cupcakes. Like I said, a ton of batter.
Cake can be as temperamental as bread. If you over mix it, the “crumb” or cake part will be tough. If you add too much sugar, the center will collapse. It can burn between one minute and the next so timing is important. It can have too much or too little of one ingredient or another, or the wrong ingredient, or the wrong ingredient type, or the wrong technique in creating the cake, or the wrong pan. You’ll end up with a cake that is less than perfect. My mom always said, “Enough frosting will fix that.”
Whenever you bake anything, read the recipe first and make sure you understand it. Have the ingredients at hand, already measured, and at the right temperature. Always, and I can’t stress this enough, always preheat the oven to the correct temp. Oven thermostats are inexact, so getting a $5 internal thermometer is worth your time. Timing is also inexact, so when following a recipe, check your cake at the first timing indicated, then the second if needed. If more time is necessary, check in five minute increments.
So, here’s my favorite yellow cake recipe:
- 1 cup butter
- 1 ½ cup white sugar
- 2 whole eggs
- 6 egg yolks
- ¾ cup milk or water
- 1 ½ tsp vanilla
- 2 cups flour (cake flour works best)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour 2 – 8 inch round pans. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped. Cool 15 minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.
Use the frosting I wrote about in Post # 333 A Frosting Conundrum on 1/16/15 and you won’t go wrong.
Several years ago, just after my wife and I separated, I decided to take a “long” vacation. I took two weeks off and spent part of it just bumming around home. Part of it I spent visiting my family back in Arizona. I hadn’t seen them for several years due to work schedules, finances, etc. I spent most of the time with my dad and we reconnected in ways we hadn’t been able to for many years.
We had a great time. We rode his truck all around the craggy mountains I’d hiked and climbed as a kid. We visited special fishing holes of his. He fished while I enjoyed the sound of water lapping at the shore. We toured my old home town as he described the changes from expansion and the changes from disasters. We sat around the fire pit as he slowly rotisseried a huge rack of beef ribs. We got quietly buzzed together, him with beer and me with wine, talking way into the morning.
My brother and I spent a lot of time together, too. We visited places we’d played growing up. We went to old swimming holes that were now non-existent. We went to our favorite places on the Colorado River. We watched the sun set sitting on the hood of his Jeep drinking sodas (since we were driving) and waiting for a train to come by. My brother loves trains. Always has, ever since he was four.
One of my favorite experiences was when I got to have lunch for the first time with my best friend. She and I met when she was 40 and I was 13. We were kindred spirits and bosom buddies almost from the first moment. I used to tell her all the stories I imagined, and she gently guided me to adulthood. This was in the 70s and no one worried about what “might be going on.” One reason was that she was such a sweet person, no one could ever suspect her of anything. The other reason was anyone who looked at us could see there was an almost mystical connection between that was rare and precious and not to be messed with.
So when I called to ask her to lunch, she accepted immediately and asked, “Do you like Thigh Food?”
“Thigh Food?” I replied, thinking chicken or pork, and not coming up with any answers.
“Yes, it’s Asian. We have a new restaurant in town that specializes in Thigh food. I can’t get anyone to go with me.”
“I love Thai food, ” I said. “I eat it all the time back home.”
“Oh, good! You can show me what to order.”
I lived about 25 minutes from her, and I think I chuckled for twenty of them.
We’d already seen each twice since I’d been home, but this was our first chance to have lunch together alone. I let her drive since she knew where we were going. Our conversations could be pretty far ranging, but most of this one was taken up with questions about my travels and traveling experience. I haven’t been to Thailand except on a long stopover going from Sydney, Australia to Paris. When I checked in with my flight from Bangkok to Paris, I was given a free upgrade to first class, and I gotta tell you. Thai International Airlines at that time in first class was beyond amazing.
So I was telling her about that when the waitress came to our table.
“Let me order for you,” I said. “I know what you’re going to like.”
I ordered Chicken Pad Thai for her, and I got Fried Calamari Salad. I also ordered Thai Beef Jerky for an appetizer.
Our drinks came, and very soon after, the appetizer. I think I may have told you about Thai Beef Jerky before, but let me refresh your recollection. It’s good quality beef, usually a roast, but not a fatty one, that’s been cut into half inch thick strips about a half inch wide and one inch long. It’s marinated in lime juice and salt cooked in a hot oven for about a half hour, stirring and adding more lime juice every ten minutes. The result is a tangy jerky bite that’s wonderful. She ate most of it.
Then our plates arrived. She looked at the mound on her plate.
“I can’t eat all this,” she said flatly.
“Don’t worry, it’ll keep. Eat what you want and take the rest home. It’s basically chicken, veggies, and noodles.”
She took an experimental bite and her face lit up.
“That’s delicious!” Then she tucked in with gusto.
I was eating my salad while the calamari was still hot when I had a thought.
“You need to try this,” I said, holding out my fork with a ring of calamari.
“What is it?”
“I’ll tell you after you try it.”
She ate it and pronounced it wonderful.
“Yeah, pretty much anything deep fried is good,” I said. “It’s squid.”
“What? I ate squid?”
“You liked it, too,” I teased. “Have some more. There’s plenty.”
She ate a couple more pieces and got used to it while I told her about the first time I ever had calamari in Naples, Italy. When I ordered it, at my teammates’ urging, I watched the chef walk over to the edge of the causeway the restaurant was situated on and haul up a basket from the water from which he took a live squid. I didn’t see the details, but I saw knives flashing quickly and heard the oil sizzle just moments later. Within minutes of having ordered it, I had a plate of fried calamari that had been swimming in the ocean just minutes before. It tasted wonderful!
We went back to our lunches and by the time we were done, my calamari had cooled off to its normal rubber-like consistency. So I offered her another piece.
“Here, try it now.”
She smiled and took it eagerly and I watched her face change as she ate it. “What happened?”
“When it cools, it turns to rubber. So always eat it as quickly as you can when it comes to the table. And if you ever get a fresh plate that’s rubbery, send it back because it’s not fresh cooked.”
We talked some more about Thai cooking, and life in general then went back to her place where we talked to sun down and the moon up.
As I was driving home, I remembered her earlier comment and was glad I was able to introduce her to Thigh food.