Post # 185 Happy Halloween!

October 30, 2013 at 10:31 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 185 Happy Halloween!

Hey!  Tomorrow is Halloween!  Lots of stuff on the TV about it, scary movies, classic specials.  It seems like there’s a real nostalgia trend going on.  This picture

crazies

and others like seem to be everywhere.  So called haunted houses are cropping up all over, and in my city you can’t drive for more than two blocks without running into either a Halloween costume “superstore” or a pumpkin patch market.

It’s put me in mind of Halloweens in the past that I’ve experienced.  We always had a blast on Halloween.  We never had store bought costumes.  We always had to come up with something from our imaginations.  Little kids can put on a green shirt and see anything.

Baby_Blues Halloween

My brother’s first ex-wife is an excellent seamstress and when their kids were little, she spent hours putting together their costumes.  They always looked GREAT!  My favorite was the year she made matching Crayon costumes.  I think one was red and one was orange, but I could be wrong.

As we grew older, we thought less of the candy (well, not a lot less.  I’ve already destroyed one bag of candy), and more about the pranks.  It was all about scaring the neighbor kids.  We recreated the memories from our childhood for them.

One thing that has changed over the years that I’ve actually been pretty sad about is the wane of the homemade treat.  When I was a kid, we would get things like candied apples, popcorn balls, fudge, rock candy, cookies.  Somehow, over time, people stopped making the fun stuff.  I put this down to a couple of reasons.  One, they’re difficult to make in bulk.  Two, urban legends popped up making claims about the safety of such gifts.

jack o'lantern

Urban legends are stories that have been told around the campfire for generations.  You know most of them in one form or another.  The killer with the hook for a hand.  The Mexican Chihuahua that turned out to be a rat.  The list goes on and on.  I used to have a set of four books that went into the whole social aspect of urban legends and listed them out with their history.

Remember the one about the apples with the razor blades in them?  The way the story is told, at Halloween one house is giving away apples.  They have inserted broken razor blades into them so when unsuspecting children bite into them the blades will slice into their tongues, their gums, all parts of their sensitive mouth.  God forbid if they should happen to swallow them!  Periodically, newspapers and the internet will run stories about it.  Funny thing is, though, no one can find a single real case of this happening.  A different version of this story involved the candy Dots, which were the sugar dots on paper.  At some time in the sixties, supposedly some weirded out hippies laced some with LSD and got a bunch of little kids high.  Again, no documented evidence exists that anyone can find.

Another story that made the rounds not only was based on fact, but actually started a whole trend of pranks.  Remember the Ex-lax in the brownies?  This was tried on me once when I was about thirteen or so.  It didn’t work, my metabolism was too fast, but a friend was in agony for a couple of days.

So with all the stories floating around, and the amount of work involved in actually making the treats, homemade goodies fell into disfavor.  It’s really too sad.  Fudge is easy to make.  The hard part is cutting it up and wrapping it up individually.  Popcorn balls are just as easy, but boy they can be messy!

I miss the days of homemade treats.  Take care!

lily and herman

costume

happy halloween

Post # 184 My Favorite Cruciferous Vegetable

October 28, 2013 at 3:51 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Anyone out there a fan of the television show The Big Bang Theory?  I am.  I came to it late in its lifecycle, but now I’m one of its biggest fans.  There was an episode where Sheldon had decided to live longer by eating healthier so he no longer was having Pizza Thursday with the gang.  Thursday was now Cruciferous Vegetable Night.  He ate a big bowl of Brussels sprouts.  That amount of roughage combined with the intrinsic nature of the food led to severe bouts of intestinal gas which was unfortunately expelled the next morning after a tumble down the stairs with Penny on the way to a morning jog.  He calmly announced after the loud retort that Thursdays were no longer cruciferous vegetable night.

I love Brussels sprouts, ever since I was a little kid.  I always thought of them as little cabbages and sometimes would eat them leaf by leaf until I could no longer pull the leaf off the bud.  Then, I’d toss the whole thing in my mouth, chew, swallow, and start on the next one.  I’ve told you before that my mom was an uninspired cook so boiled frozen Brussels sprouts was all I knew until I moved out on my own and saw the vegetable raw in the produce section.  Imagine my surprise to find out that not many people shared my enthusiasm for this wonderful little ball of goodness.  I like them so much that my favorite way to eat them is to steam or boil them until tender then place them in the fridge until well chilled.  A little salt, and I’m munching away.  Their inherent sweetness is offset by the touch of seasoning, while the chilled juicy veggie is crunchy but soft and wonderful to eat.  But, hey, that’s just me.

Partner/spouse did not like Brussels sprouts at all.  I made dinner one night, and not knowing his distaste for them, cut up raw sprouts into quarters, sautéed them with onions in fresh bacon fat, and sprinkle the crumbled bacon on them just before serving.  He liked them so much that he called someone he on the opposite side of the country to tell them about the sprouts he’d just eaten.

When I was still married, my wife’s sister’s husband did not like the little green balls.  We were having a pot luck, and again not knowing his aversion for them, I made a baked Brussels sprouts dish.  You heat a cup of milk or heavy cream (cream is better), then add 1/2 tsp of dried mustard, a dash of pepper, and 1 cup of grated Swiss cheese.  Stir until the cheese is thoroughly melted.  Prepare one to two pounds of sprouts and put in a baking dish.  Just before pouring the cream over the sprouts, put a tablespoon of brown sugar in and stir until it starts to melt, but doesn’t completely.  Pour over the sprouts and put in a 350 oven for half an hour to forty-five minutes until the sprouts are done.  The cream sauce thickens up, and has a tangy but caramelized taste and is to die for.  My brother in law ate them and said I was free to bring those over anytime.

Partner/spouse enjoys them so much now, he’s taken to experimenting with them.  Once, he grated a bunch of them up, fried up some onions and bacon, added the shredded sprouts, and fried them up as if he were making fried cabbage.  It was wonderful!  He added Worcestershire sauce to it just before serving and added a smokiness that was killer.  He keeps playing with it, and one time added potato cubes and called it hash.  One time, he added multiple vegetables to create a kind of medley.  Always good.

The last way I’ll tell you about is my favorite way.  I like to roast them in the oven at a very high temp, 425-450.  Place either frozen or fresh sprouts in a large bowl and add a tablespoon of good olive oil.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on them and toss them in the bowl until completely and evenly coated.  Place in a single layer on a baking sheet with a lip then put in the oven and cook for fifteen minutes.  Stir everything around and cook for ten minutes.  Stir again and cook for a final ten minutes.  The sprouts should be crispy on the outer leaves, which may have turned black around the edges, but will be soft and tender on the inside.  Serve hot with extra salt for each person to add.  Sometimes I add shallots to this for extra flavor.  Good stuff.

Enjoy your Brussels sprouts!

Post # 183 It’s Hors D’oeuvre Night . . . Again

October 25, 2013 at 4:17 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 183 It’s Hors D’oeuvre Night . . . Again

Last weekend, there was a wine festival south-east from here.  We weren’t able to go.  I know!  But a close friend got us a couple of bottles, one of which we share last night while partner/spouse and sister went out on their own.  While were talking about various things, somehow plans evolved so that we’re hosting an hors d’oeuvre night.  We’re not supplying the wine; they are.  Turns out one of the bottles that close friend got for himself is supposed to be very good.  He actually got himself four bottles.  So tonight is an excuse to uncork one.  We’re all intrigued since he’s the only person who’s had this wine.

So, as I was working last night, I was wondering what appetizers I was going to make.  With the recent outdoor concerts and plays, my snack reputation shot through the roof so I have to come up with really good stuff for tonight.  So, I thought, well, devilled eggs are always good.  Oh, and we have some corn tortillas so I can make homemade corn chips which we already have some of the best salsa ever made for dipping.  Oh!  Since everyone like the meatballs, I have some hamburger I can use to make up a couple dozen of those.  Still seems thin.  Then I thought about something else.  We have some mini flour tortillas, too.  Quesadillas are fun.  But what if I made them differently?  What if I rolled the cheese inside and baked them?  They’d get crunchy and cheesy, rather than soft and cheesy.  As I was watering the plants this morning, I saw that I had three poblano peppers.  I looked at them and thought, if I chop them fine and put them inside the rolled quesadillas I’d have sort of a deconstructed-reconstructed pepper popper.

Partner/spouse is stopping on the way home to pick up a few things, like grape tomatoes, cheese and crackers, etc.  So things are going to be pretty well rounded.

So, it’s now 1:30.  I’ve already got the eggs done.  I need to shell them, etc. and make the devilled eggs.  That’s about the only thing I can do in advance.  I’m going to shape the meatballs at 3, then start on the corn chips.  I’ll put the meatballs on at about 6.  At the same time, I’ll make the rolled quesadillas.  I’m going to cut them in half before I cook them so they’re more easily managed.

Devilled eggs are easy.  Boil the eggs.  Julia says if you start the boiling process gently, you won’t get the dark ring around the yolk.  Another tip is if you put the eggs immediately in an ice bath after they’re done, the dark ring doesn’t develop.  Some people say, the fresher the egg, the less likely you’ll get the ring.  I use the gently boil and ice bath and haven’t had dark rings in a long time.  Not that it matters with devilled eggs, come to think of it.  Once the eggs are shelled, cut them in half lengthways.  Scoop the yolk out into a small bowl.  Once all the eggs are cut, mash the yolks with a fork.  I add about a half-tablespoon of prepared mustard, one-quarter to one-half cup mayo (depending on how many eggs I’m making), a half cup of grated cheddar cheese, a small sprinkle of either sesame seeds or sunflower seeds, and a heaping spoonful of dill pickle relish (not sweet.)  Mix it all together, adding more mayo if needed.  Scoop all this into either a pastry bag or plastic sandwich bag.  Snip the corner of the plastic sandwich bag or use the pastry bag tip and squeeze the mixture into the center of the eggs.  Sprinkle with paprika, or dill, or whatever else you like.  I leave mine plain.  Chill for several hours and serve.  Don’t plan on leftovers.

I won’t go into the meatballs since I’ve already told you about those in previous posts.  This time, I’m just adding finely chopped onion and garlic.  Oh!  and maybe some sesame seed.

Homemade corn chips is easy.  Take your corn tortillas and cut them into eight wedges.  Heat oil to 350 to 375.  Carefully put the wedges into the oil and cook until they are floating on the top, usually just a couple of minutes.  Take them out with a basket scoop, shaking gently to shake off excess oil.  Here’s the important part:  Don’t put them in a bowl.  Put them on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and spread them out.  This will help absorb a bunch of oil, keeping them crispy.  While the oil is reheating, shuffle the cooked chips a little, lightly season however you like, then transfer to a bowl.  If you put them in a bowl first, the excess oil pools in the bottom whether there’s paper towels to collect it or not, and the chips at the bottom remain oily and get soggy.  Continue cooking in batches until done.  Allow to cool to room temperature and serve.

Rolled Quesadillas is an original creation.  I think.  It’s inspired by flautas, rolled flour tortillas filled with meat and cheese, or beans and cheese, and fried.  If you use corn tortillas, they’re called tacquitos, or rolled tacos.  I didn’t want to fry them since I would be frying the corn chips, but I wanted another crunch factor.  I’m going to spread them with a small bit of cream cheese, sprinkle some cheddar cheese over them, and put a just a few small pieces of poblano peppers in them.  I’ll roll them up tightly, skewer them with toothpicks, cut ’em in half, and bake them until they get brown and crispy.  I’ll serve them warm, with salsa for dipping.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

So there’s the party, except for the crudités that partner/spouse is picking up.  Now, I’ve got start cleaning and straightening, then putting appetizers together.  I’m beginning to think a bunch of frozen stuff might have better.  Certainly easier.  A good time will be had by all!!

Take care and Enjoy!!

 

Post # 182 Blueberry Cobbler Cake

October 23, 2013 at 4:19 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 182 Blueberry Cobbler Cake

I can’t believe in the year and a half that I’ve been writing this blog that I haven’t written about this!  It’s one of my go-to, easy recipes when we want something sweet, but not something chocolate.  Okay, so maybe I don’t make it as often as I thought, you know, cuz of that no chocolate thing.  But today, I’m going to make it and take you through it in pictures, and I’m going to add mini-chocolate chips.

I got the basic recipe from Ree Drummond’s show, Pioneer Woman.  Anyone who has watched her show, or read her books knows that she was a city girl who was transplanted to a ranch in northern Oklahoma after she got married.  She cooks for large groups of people regularly, and she has to work with what she has on hand since the grocery store is a good deal of time away.  Planning is critical for her.  She uses a lot of those shortcuts I talked about last week and makes some amazing meals.  I’ve duplicated many of them and been happy with the results.

As always, when I make a recipe more than once, I tweak it.  Eventually, it bears a resemblance to the original only in the name.  Well, this isn’t one of those times.  The basic recipe is so good and so versatile that I’ve left it pretty much alone, but added options that change each time I make it.  For instance, today it’s the chocolate chips.

Most of you know that a cobbler is basically fruit on the bottom, with a baked crust of some kind on top.  My mom used to make one that required sugar and flour in equal parts sprinkled over the fruit, then a full cup of melted butter was drizzled on top.  After it was baked, it was like candy.  Most cobblers use a biscuit-like topping that gets “dolloped” onto the fruit so the juices bubble over and spread color and flavor throughout.

Cake, as you all know, is a baked treat that rises into a light flour confection to which glazes, or frostings, or other fillings are added.  My total favorite.

This combines the two.  It’s fast to put together, and tastes wonderful.  Even if you don’t like fruit all the time, this will be a treat.

Now the basic recipe is here:

cobbler cake 01

Figure it out.

Not really.

First, preheat your oven to:

cobbler cake 02

Take one cup each of the sugar, flour, and milk and mix them together.  Add a half cup of melted butter and mix thoroughly.  Prepare a baking dish by either spraying with a baking cooking spray (that’s important), or by coating liberally with softened butter.  The butter makes it taste better.  When the mixing is done, pour it into the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle 1-2 cups fruit over the top of the mix, then sprinkle a quarter cup of sugar over the top.

cobbler cake 03

Place in center of preheated oven and bake for one hour.  Cool, cut, and eat.  Serve with chilled whipped cream, or ice cream, or just a fork.

Now, let’s talk about modifications, cuz as you know, I just can’t leave well enough alone.  First, when Ms. Drummond made this on television, she used fresh blackberries.  I seldom cook with fresh berries because they’re so tender.  I typically use frozen.  For this recipe, it really doesn’t matter.  I haven’t tried it, but I imagine you could use cans of pie filling, too.  And you can use any kind of fruit you like because cobbler/cake portion is bland enough to go with anything.

I don’t like bland.  The cobbler/cake portion is sweet, and it’s rich because of the milk and butter, but it has no stand alone flavor.  This is where some imagination comes in handy.  Depending upon the fruit you’re using, you can add spices and flavorings to enhance the flavor of this dessert.  Apples and cinnamon are made to go together.  If you’re using apple chunks for this, mix a little cinnamon into the flour and sugar.  If you’re using cherries, add a little cherry extract to the milk.  Peaches and cream are a combination sung about, so if you’re using peach slices, add a little vanilla.  If it doesn’t work, you’re not out a great deal.  Just remember not to use that next time.

The quarter cup of sugar on the top is supposed to add a slight crunch factor.  It’s supposed to melt and burn just a little, creating a Brule kind of topping.  However, you can use different sugars for this.  You didn’t know there were different sugars?  Sure you did!  Brown sugar, confectioner’s/powdered/icing sugar, raw sugar.  I used Turbinado.  It’s crystals are much larger than regular sugar, so it doesn’t melt as quickly.  You still get the Brule kind of topping, but with a little extra crunch.  Just for a tip, Turbinado is great to top muffins, too.

Because of the amount of sugar in this dessert, it must be cooled completely before eating, otherwise you risk burning your tongue or mouth.  I’ve been told that sugar takes away the sting of a burnt mouth, but that might just be an old-wives’ tale.  But once it’s cooled completely, cut it and eat it.

Here’s how mine looked:

cobbler cake 04

I used a little nutmeg and a little allspice in the flour to give the cobbler/cake a spicy flavor to blend with the small variety of blueberries and the mini-chocolate chips I used.  I haven’t tasted it yet, but since I’ve used that combo before, I certain the flavors are good.  The biggest problem I see is that the fruit did not sink into the cobbler/cake portion as it’s supposed.  Since the blueberries floated on top, the chocolate chips stayed there too.  And the Turbinado sugar.  I’m guessing that top layer is going to be SWEET!!!!

So what happened?  I noted when I put the blueberries on the cobbler/cake that they stayed there rather than sinking into it.  With heavier fruit, the cobbler/cake rises around it creating a cobbler effect.  I think the blueberries were just too small.  I was tempted to swirl them in with a knife prior to baking, but decided to see what would happen.

So there we are.  As I said, it’s experiments like these that teach what to do.

Let me know if you try it and how it all turned out.  Enjoy!

Post # 181 Back to the Good Ole Days

October 21, 2013 at 5:26 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 181 Back to the Good Ole Days

I’ve been without a reliable computer since last Thursday evening.  Any of my readers who also follow my facebook posts (and you’re all welcome to friend me, just reference the blog so I won’t ignore it) will know the drama I’ve experienced.  I have a laptop computer that is my primary computer running Windows 8.  I have a MS Surface RT tablet computer which allows me to do every single thing my primary computer does, but in a mobile environment running Windows 8 RT.  I don’t know what RT stands for but I’ve made a few guesses.  Last Thursday, a link to the new Windows 8.1 upgrade was available on both computers.  I figured, I don’t want to potentially harm my primary computer so I’ll do the upgrade on the Surface tablet and see how it goes.

Step One:  Upgrade Surface.  Went without a hitch and was complete in less than an hour.  Since it wasn’t even nine o’clock in the evening yet, I thought, mistakenly as it turned out, this will be a piece of cake, no worries, I’ll start now.  At 3am, I gave up and went to bed.  At 7am my eyes sprang open.  One, I’m not usually a late sleeper; two, I’d babysat the little girl next door was ill and promised to babysit that day if needed and my phone was on the computer desk so I didn’t have any idea if any calls came in; third, I wanted to humble that damned computer and bend it to my will.

I let the dogs out, took care of everything needing taken care of, fed them, checked the phone but no calls had come in, and after several minutes, finally sat down to the computer.  It was now up and running “properly”, but it looked like it was brand new out of the box.  I spent the next ten hours reinstalling apps, reconfiguring the computer, and generally swearing at the air to get this stupid thing to work.  Partner/spouse got home from work, made dinner, and when I shut off the computer, told me I was getting some meds to help me sleep through the night.  So, the next morning, I got up around 9am.  I’d slept nearly twelve hours, which for me was nearly unheard of.  I sat at the computer and found that it was indeed acting “properly” but again, as thought it were new out of the box.  I checked the Surface tablet and it showed the OS as 8.1, but when I checked the laptop, it showed the OS as 8.  I began to be concerned, but there were other things to do, and a barbeque to go to that afternoon.  On Saturday afternoon, I spent several more hours fussing with it and going to the ‘net to find out if anyone else had had difficulty with the upgrade.  It looked like I was the first person to do the upgrade because there was nothing.  I finally got the computer back to where it was before the happy accident, felt a lot better about myself, turned it off, sneered at it, and went to the barbeque.

On Sunday, I sat down to it and finally faced the fact that somehow, after all the angst and hysterics, the computer was not running the upgrade.  I ran another search and found a fairly humorous article from a guy whose computer skills far surpassed my own, even though we had similar backgrounds, and he spoke of having to run the upgrade installation on his laptop three times before it worked properly.  Now, bear in mind, in the middle of all this I’m trying to move forward in my writing obligations.  I’ve got a blog to get out every M-W-F; I’ve got a novel I’m editing; and I’m working hard to make the first chapter of that novel flawless with the assistance of another writer/editor/friend who’s giving me her time and expertise for free.  But by early evening on Sunday, with all the must do tasks behind me, I decided, okay, one more try.

And it ran like clockwork.  It did everything it was supposed to do.  In less than an hour, I had a fully operational, upgraded computer.  There was one minor quirk, though.  It was having difficulty connecting to internet.  Well, why else do people even HAVE computers?  It’s all about the ‘net.  On my little Wifi icon on the bottom, only one bar, sometimes two, would ever activate.  Other times, none, no connectivity at all.  I fussed and played around, but finally said, to heck with it.  I’m going to bed.  So this morning, I took the computer into the office where I sat literally three feet from the wireless router.  I got three bars that time.  All the other devices, including my tablet had zero problems with connecting.  I knew it wasn’t the router or the ISP service.  Months ago, when we had first bought the computers, partner/spouse and I got the same one.  He had initially complained about connectivity but over time, the complaints went away.  So I figured, I’d live with what I had for a day or two before calling our internet service.  About three hours ago, through no machinations of mine, suddenly five bars, fast internet connection, and all is right with the world!

So what the heck does this have to do with cooking, you find yourself asking?  It’s about going back to basics.  When I didn’t have my computer, I felt vulnerable and naked.  I wondered how I was ever going to get my work done.  I have backups, but they’re clunky and I’m not used to them so productivity would suffer.  Partner/spouse joked and said we’d get a notebook and pen.  I already had those.  Publishers don’t accept them.  Today, we cook with a multitude of kitchen gadgets and machines.  No house is without a microwave.  When someone gets married, it’s almost the law that they receive three toasters as wedding gifts.   I’ve seen kitchens on television that were so fully automated, you didn’t really need to know how to cook at all.

But a hundred years ago, no one had that.  But they still managed to pull together gourmet meals that would astound anyone today.  When I was learning to cook, I did almost everything by hand.  I remember standing in the kitchen watching a drop of cooked sugar and cocoa fall into a bowl of water to determine what stage of cooking it was at, hard or soft candy stage.  I held my mom’s hand-painted ceramic bowl in the crook of my arm and pounded the stuffing out of butter to get it to the creamed stage so I could add the brown sugar, then the white sugar so I could make chocolate chip cookies.  It wasn’t that we didn’t have blenders or mixers.  Mom was taught to cook that way by her mother, so that’s how she taught me.

Once, when I was in my late teens, the power in the neighborhood went out.  My mom’s kitchen was all electric, and she was frustrated that she couldn’t cook dinner.  I looked at her puzzled.

“Mom, you have a couple of choices.  If you want to cook something, you have a wood burning stove right there in front of you.  You also have a propane gas grill right out your door.  If you don’t want to cook, serve a Garbage Salad and have done with it.”

Like me and my computer, she got stuck in the technology.  We ended up with grilled hamburgers and potato chips for dinner.  It was good.

And I have a working computer now.  And that’s good.

Enjoy!

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