I work for a grocery store chain that’s fairly well-known here in my part of the country. It’s an ever-growing part of a larger national chain with several stores in a four-state area. I work out of one store, primarily, but I also assist at another, smaller store on a nearby island that’s only another fifteen minute drive from my store. I like the smaller store for its smaller-ness, but also for its unique client base. It didn’t take long for these friendly people to take me into their family and welcome me on the infrequent times I’m there. Many of them also come to my primary store and greet me enthusiastically there, as well.
One day on my first week at the smaller store, a young boy, no more than twelve, plunked down a bunch of bananas. I set them on the scale, and told him how much it would be. He was thunderstruck.
“The sign says 59 cents!” he said.
“I’m sorry, that’s 59 cents per pound, not per bunch.”
He almost collapsed on himself. Before either of us could say another word, the next couple in line said, “We’ll buy them for him.”
I nodded and rang up the rest of their groceries, putting the bananas in a separate bag. The boy had already moved away, his disappointment almost pulsing in the air. The woman took the bag of fruit, walked over to him, and handed him the bag with a smile.
He looked confused. It took three times to explain to him that the bananas were his, that they were paid for, and he was in no trouble. He smiled his thanks as he ran from the store.
I thanked the couple for their generosity. Their reply was simple but dignified. “How could anyone say no? It was only bananas. Likely the only thing he’ll have to eat today.”
It’s no secret to anyone who’s read this blog for a while that I am a big advocate against childhood hunger. I’m always on the lookout for ways to assist in this project that are easy and affordable to pass on to the readers of my blog.
Yesterday, I found another one, and for me, this one is a big one.
I’m constantly on the lookout for new recipes, new ingredients, new places to get both, and new ways to repurpose the knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years. Early in my career, I “discovered” King Arthur Flour Company. Their sales catalogs are more like magazines, chock full of recipes, history, and loads of fun baking items along with the standard bill of fare. I signed on to their mailing list, and over the years, segued into their online community.
I received an email yesterday with the news that for every Essential Goodness baking mix sold, they will donate one meal to local area food banks through Feeding America to help end childhood hunger. They are pledging a minimum of 1,000,000 meals annually. Count the zeroes folks. That’s one million meals each year, minimum. If people like us buy more than a million baking mixes, they will donate more than a million. The million is the least they will donate. They will donate more if we buy more.
I’ve always like King Arthur Flour. Their products are fun; they carry hard to find ingredients and tools; they have good recipes that are usually easy to follow. I like them better now.
King Arthur Flour Co. is sells in major grocery stores. Including their baking mixes. We don’t have to order online. It can be as easy as picking up a box of cake mix, or biscuit mix, or any other (their lemon bars are killer!) that takes our fancy, and that’s one more meal getting to a needy family or child who needs it.
My store sells them. I buy them.
Okay, first, what’s a staple? I’m not talking about the tiny metal bit you use with a handheld machine to fasten paper together. In cooking terms, a staple is an item that a cook keeps on hand all the time, or ingredients for a dish they make all the time. Flour is a good example of a staple. So is salt, or milk, or eggs. In my house, bacon is a staple. In the UK, scones are a breakfast staple.
Scones can be pronounced either as SCONE rhyming with STONE, or as SCON rhyming with ON. As far as I can tell, it’s a regional thing and you can pronounce it however you like. We typically say scone/stone because we’re American and that’s what it looks like to us. Scones are a quick bread similar to the banana bread I wrote about last week. They are very similar in taste and consistency to our American biscuit, and just as easy to make.
Scones are slightly sweetened, and typically are served with clotted cream and jam. Apparently, there’s a raging discussion over whether the jam is spread first or last. I simplify it by using butter only. If I put anything on it at all. Scones can also be made in wedge shapes or round shapes.
I have no idea why I decided to teach myself to become proficient at scones except they make a nice breakfast treat that can be thrown together and ready in about a half hour. Just about the right time to cook and cool bacon or sausage. So here’s the basic recipe:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup cold butter
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 beaten egg, optional
- various berries, nuts, seeds, chips, etc. optional
Sift the dry ingredients together until very well blended. Cut the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the milk into it. Lightly combine the flour and milk taking care to keep the mixture as airy as possible. Add any optional ingredients at this point using only 2-3 stirs to combine. When just combined, roll the dough onto a well floured surface and knead five or six times to bring everything together. Gently pat the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 an inch to 1 inch thick using flour on your hands or sprinkled on top of the dough to prevent sticking. Using a floured knife, or a floured biscuit cutter, gently cut the dough into the preferred shape. DO NOT twist the biscuit cutter or knife after the cut as this will crimp the sides and reduce rising. If desired, brush the tops with beaten egg to produce a shiny golden finish. Place on a treated baking sheet and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then remove to a serving plate. Scones can be kept for a few days in an airtight container.
See? Totally simple. I’ve watched the contestants on the Great British Bake Off throw scones together almost as an afterthought. The Two Fat Ladies are fond of scones and made them often. Of course, me being me, I wanted to read the recipe over and over. I bought a really cheap e-book for my Kindle about making scones and supplying me with about three dozen recipes. I had some chocolate chips I wanted to use. So, as a bull in a china store does, I plunged ahead.
First, per The Two Fat Ladies, I used my food processor to combine my dry ingredients and cut my butter into it. You’re supposed to just pulse the mix 5-6 times, but I didn’t see the right texture so I did several more until I decided to stop. Then going one step further, while the blade was spinning, I added the milk. But I wanted tastier scones, so I used buttermilk. I dumped the result out onto my floured countertop, and it was a dry mess. It had not come together at all. I couldn’t stop now, so I pulled it all together and kneaded it until it was a dough, kneaded some chocolate chips into it, and tried to shape it into wedges. The dough was very stiff and very flat. The recipe I was following called for the oven to be at 450, and to bake for 15-20 minutes. I omitted the egg wash and put my “scones” into the oven. Here’s what came out.
Very little rise, not a scone-like consistency, and it was like eating a large hardtack cracker, very tough. But the chocolate chips made it taste good. You couldn’t even cut them in half to put butter on them, not that you’d want to with chocolate chips in there. I was disappointed and wondered what I’d done wrong, although I suspected it was adding the milk to the flour with the food processor. I wanted this batch to get eaten, so I didn’t plan on making anymore right away.
I was puzzled so I went back to my sources to figure out what I’d done wrong. That wasn’t much help, and since I tend to be a visual person, I went to You Tube and watch a few videos on “How To Make Scones”. They pretty much confirmed what I was already suspecting. You have to treat them gently and the food processor was not the way to go. I actually learned a new technique in one video about mixing the flour and milk. It was the lifting and turning process I wrote about in making the banana bread. Overmixing is a killer when you want good lift.
So I went back and replicated my first recipe with the chocolate chips, buttermilk, and all. Again, I didn’t do the egg wash, but I did treat the dough properly and with respect. I also turned the heat down a bit and lessened the baking time. I baked for 15 minutes at 425. And I used a circular cut this time.
They were better. They were moist, tender, very tasty, but this still didn’t get the rise I wanted and knew should have happened based on the videos I’d watched. Again, I reviewed everything but the only thing different I was doing was buttermilk versus whole milk. I wondered if my baking powder was too old, but the date on the can said not. Maybe I’d overmixed, but I didn’t think that was possible. Then I had an epiphany. The only thing in the recipe causing a rise was the baking powder. Something had to be interfering with it. So I went to the internet to read about baking powder. I learned a lot about baking powder, but one thing I noted and took back to this recipe was this: don’t use an acid with baking powder since it will inhibit its ability to do its job. And guess what buttermilk is? I remembered that the combination of buttermilk and baking soda provide extra lift. That doesn’t work with baking powder.
Back to the recipe. Made plain scones. I decided to start with the basic recipe and make that every time I wanted scones so I could master the basics then start adding things. I used whole milk; I did the egg wash; I treated that dough as gently as a newborn. I patted the dough out to 1/2 inch thick. I didn’t twist the cutter. I followed every instruction to the letter.
Looks like it worked. We had these for breakfast on Saturday with link sausages. The were light but doughy, lightly sweet, exactly what I was expecting them to be. I’m going to continue making them and tweaking them until I have the consistent perfection I want, but in the meantime . . . .
We’ve got guests coming over today who are staying through the weekend. I haven’t seen these people for several decades. We only managed to reconnect on FB just about a year ago. We discovered we’d lived in the same city (Tucson) for two years, but didn’t know it until after Partner/Spouse and I had left. It’s all about timing. So, I wanted to have something freshly made for when they arrive. I had a load of options as anyone can guess, but I also had three large bananas going spotty left from the FiL’s visit. So it really was a no brainer. It was going to be banana bread. Since I was also doing a bunch of other things, it had to be a simple but elegant banana bread.
Banana bread is one of what are called “quick bread”. Quick bread doesn’t use yeast to get its rise; it uses chemical agents like baking soda and baking powder. You don’t have to wait hours for the yeast to work so they are “quicker” than regular breads. They tend to be denser, more flavorful, and heartier. Banana bread is probably the best known, with zucchini bread a close second.
My all-time favorite, tried and true recipe is below.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 1/3 cups overripe bananas
- nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, etc. optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
- Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.
Reading about, and writing about, food can often bring me to laughter. I will look up something that I remember from my childhood only to find that my memories are either flawed (not surprisingly considering the number of times my brain has taken a bashing), or incomplete. I remember reading a story a long time ago about how the Earl of Sandwich created the first sandwich during a high stakes card game which may or may not have been true, but I spouted it like an authority on food my whole junior high school years.
We own a lot of cookbooks. Oh, hell, we own a lot of books period, and a good portion of those are cookbooks. I read cookbooks not only to find recipes, but to find out about cultures and food history. I should not have more than three cookbooks because reading through all of them to find the one tidbit of information I remember reading in “one of them” takes forever. As I was doing that the other day, I got sidetracked by a recipe for a sandwich that sent me on a different path and a totally different dinner than I had planned.
But it got me thinking about sandwiches, which I love. And that got me to remembering sandwiches I ate in Arizona. There was one we used to get all the time called a Torta. The way I remembered it was a large, rather firm grilled bun with spicy beef, lettuce, cheese, and mayo. It was delicious and satisfying. Some people made it in small buns, others in larger ones. When we were in Tucson, we had one favorite fast food Mexican restaurant we went to all the time. It was cheap, and good. I ordered a variety of things from them, and finally got around to ordering a Torta with fries. The picture looked like what I remembered from thirty years prior. The reality was nothing like it. I got the large bun, but it was floppy and the filling spilled out unless held firmly with two hands. The spicy beef morphed into carne asada which is spicy beef, but the way this place made it, it was very small cubes of beef. No lettuce or cheese or salsa or anything I remembered, and certainly not as pictured. I eventually ended up eating it was a knife and fork.
So I was looking up Torta online and discovered something interesting. What I had always assumed was “THE Torta” was just one of a series of sandwiches defined by their cultures and called something similar. And the Torta I remembered eating as a kid wasn’t even mentioned. So suddenly my “authority” as a cook was suspect. I chuckled for a bit then thought of another food fondly remembered from childhood, the Empanada.
I love spicy meat-filled empanadas. In their basic form, they are hand-pies that are baked or fried. In the U.S., hand pies are usually fruit filled. Everywhere else in the world, they tend to be meat and/or vegetable filled. I like ’em all, but I really like the spicy beef and potato filled empanada. So good.
But as I was reading about them, I chanced upon a list of the same food from other cultures and what they are called. Here it is (in no way a complete list):
- Curry Puff
- Natchitoches meat pie
- Hot Pockets
- Fried Pies or Hand Pies
I was surprised at how many of these I’ve eaten. I’ve even written about a couple of them. And I was highly amused at the inclusion of hot pockets on the list, but it makes sense. And reminded me of an incident from years ago. I was still working the 9-5 professional job at the time. I was in my office when I started smelling smoke. I went to investigate and one of my staffers was removing something from the microwave in the kitchenette nearby. He placed a blackened lump of smoking charcoal in the sink and turn the water on which resulted in a billow of steam. We were discussing what it was and what had happened when a young lady showed up.
“What happened to my hot pocket?” she asked.
“Is that what that was?”
She’d mis-read the instructions and set the microwave for 15 minutes to heat up her lunch. Then walked away since she didn’t want to stand there for that long. I never knew until then that you could actually burn something besides your tongue with a microwave oven.
Another windy, damp, gray day. I have the day off (yay!) and I’m spending it catching up on a lot of things I’ve been not doing due to work and chores. So far today, I’ve caught up on laundry, done some baking, straightened the kitchen, baked scones (more on that in a later post), am about to bake cheesecake brownies, did some editing on a writing project, and getting ready to meet a self-imposed quota of 6000 words written today (and this blog post counts,) In the midst of all that, I need to plan and make dinner. Dinner on a windy, damp, gray day has to be warm and satisfying or it just isn’t worth it. No cold supper tonight.
It has to be tasty. It has to fill the house with comforting aromas. It has to be easy. It has to be interesting. And it has to be good.
I was thinking about a casserole. Simple, easy, tasty, but I’m not really sold on casseroles these days, and I don’t really want to make something saucy tonight. It’s getting close to lunch time, and I was going to fix up a couple of quesadillas until I blitzed to the realization that quesadillas for dinner would be perfect!
So, you haven’t heard of quesadillas? First, let’s learn how to pronounce it. (Reminiscent of the old joke, “How do you spell it? You don’t spell it; you eat it!” pronouncing it is necessary.) It’s KAY-SUH-DEE-YUH. It’s a Mexican treat of toasted flour tortillas with melty cheese inside.
I was first introduced to quesadillas growing up in Arizona. It was the local version of the grilled cheese sandwich. There are two versions of the quesadilla method: folded and topped. Folded quesadillas consist of one huge flour tortilla with the cheese filling on half and the other half folded on top. The topped quesadilla is one smaller tortilla with the cheese filling all over it topped by another tortilla so cheese oozes out all around it. We loved quesadillas and ate them as often as we had cheese and flour tortillas.
The basic quesadilla consists of a flour tortilla heated in a skillet. Place a heavy skillet large enough to hold the tortilla comfortably over medium heat and allow the skillet to become hot. Grate your favorite cheese (I typically use sharp cheddar, but you can use whatever you like). When the skillet is hot, place the tortilla in the skillet and allow to brown and crisp, about 30 seconds. Flip the tortilla and quickly spread with the grated cheese. If using the folded method, spread the cheese over approximately half the tortilla. If using the topped method, spread the cheese over the entire tortilla. When the cheese had started to melt, either fold the clear area of the tortilla over the filled area, or top with another tortilla. Press lightly to adhere the tortilla to the cheese. When the cheese has melted completely, flip the tortilla and cook for about ten seconds, then remove to a plate or cutting board. Rest it for about ten seconds, then cut into wedges. The quesadilla can be eaten plain as is, or served with a sauce for dipping. Salsa, guacamole, mole, salsa fresca are all good choices, but play around with it if you like.
Easy peasy, right?
Quesadillas can be filled with lots of things in addition to the cheese. You can make steak quesadillas or chicken quesadillas, or taco quesadillas, or vegetarian quesadillas.
Tonight, though, we’re having pork quesadillas. So I have to make the pork filling. Not a big production, but it’s a simmer all afternoon project. Right now, there are four pork tenderloin slices simmering in the electric skillet. I took them right from the freezer and broke them into pieces that would fit. I heated some olive oil, and browned the frozen slices on each side. Then I added some diced jalapenos, and now it’s simmering and filling the house with the warm aroma of cooking meat and spicy peppers. In a few hours, when the meat is cooked to the falling apart stage, I’ll let it cook then break it up, mixing the peppers into the meat. I’ll add some chopped mushrooms so they cooked by residual heat, but still firm.
Once it’s time for dinner, I’ll open a can of black beans and rinse them off. For each quesadilla, I’ll put down some cheese, a small spoonful of black beans, and a quarter cup of the meat mixture. I’ll top with another cheese (pepper jack, I’m thinking) and once the cheese starts to melt, I’ll top it with another tortilla, the topped method. I think two of these each with fill everyone up.
Okay, so the rain tiddled down all day, and I didn’t have the flour tortillas I thought I did and I wanted more wine, so FiL and I ventured out into the weather and got the items needed (and wanted.) I didn’t do the topped method, but did the folded. They turned out perfect!
Here’s one before it was devoured voraciously. So good.