Wednesday, April 30, 2008

With a saucepan over the sea

My second foray into the cookbooks of the past is a 1902 volume titled "With a saucepan over the sea..." by Adelaide Keen. Miss Keen claims to have presented recipes from around the world and it does appear that she has found samples from all over Europe (which in 1902 represented the "world" to most Americans).

Ms. Keen may have been ahead of her time with her ideas about eating healthfully. "If we ate freely of greens, in salads and fresh vegetables, all of which are cheaper here than in Europe, we should not need blood purifiers nor quinine; fruit replaces liver pills, olive oil is more easily assimilated than cod liver oil, and strengthening soups are the best tonics. And it may be said that false hair and false teeth are not seen nearly so much abroad as they are here, because the people are better nourished."

Unfortunately for the modern cook, most of Ms Keen's recipes involve parts of animals that we aren't all comfortable eating today. But, that said, she has some recipes with names so curious that I had to include a few.

ANGELS ON HORSEBACK. (English supper dish.)
Cut 2 ounces of bacon into very thin slices, wrap each around a fat oyster, put three on a skewer, using all required, and fry in butter; serve that way on toast, with slices of lemon.

Beat the yolks of 6 eggs well, add 1/2 pound sifted sugar, the grated rind of a lemon, and 2 tablespoonfuls of orange-flower water. Beat all well, add slowly 6 ounces flour, then whites of eggs beaten stiff, and the juice of a lemon. Pour into ladyfinger tins or on a large pan, very thin; bake 1 hour slowly, and cut in strips.

THESE celebrated cakes, or tarts, were invented by Queen Elizabeth, and are still sold at Richmond.

Beat 2 eggs, add 1 quart of milk, and the juice of a lemon. Set in a pan and skim off the curd. Drain it, mix with yolks of 4 eggs, beaten with the grated rind of the lemon, some sugar to taste,- the lemon can be rubbed on it, in two lumps, - a little cinnamon and nutmeg, 6 ounces currants and 1 glass of brandy. Mix well and fill shells of puff paste. Bake 20 minutes.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

May Day Baskets - A cause worth arranging for

I suggest we all reclaim the old May Day tradition of the May Day Basket this year. The what basket, you say? On May 1st, folks would fill small baskets with flowers, place them on the door knob (or porch) of their neighbors, knock (or ring the bell) and run away - leaving the neighbor to open their door to a lovely surprise of flowers. Why on earth am I suggesting this, you ask? You ask a lot of questions, friend. I am suggesting this because this old tradition has the power to bring some joy to people and some fun for us.

Frankly, in this era of feuding politicians, 24 hour cable news talking heads, high gas prices, wars, reality tv shows, global warming and trans fats, who couldn't use a basket of flowers, left anonymously at our doorstep. Healing the world, one door bell at a time.

So come on, grab those thrift store baskets, or get your grade school kid to make some out of construction paper. Raid your gardens, your Costcos, your grocery stores for flowers, or get your grade school kid to make some out of tissue paper. Reclaim the May Day Basket and spread some floral love this Spring. Join the Revolution!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb has never been one of my favorite This veggie's stalk is the only edible part on the plant (leaves are poisonous) and the stalk needs plenty of sweet to counteract its tart. I've always thought this plant must have been discovered out of necessity. Strawberries, cherries, peaches - not hard to figure out how people learned to eat and enjoy these fruits, but rhubarb? Without sugar to temper the pucker, how did people discover this as a delicacy?

Rumor has it that rhubarb has been in America since Ben Franklin brought it to us, though some say it wasn't until the mid-1800s that this veggie found its way to America. I've found references to its healing properties; constipation, hot flashes, heartburn and high cholesterol are all supposedly helped by eating rhubarb (check with a doctor before you run out and buy some). But more than its health benefits, rhubarb is known as the "pie plant". Folks like rhubarb pie. Sumner, Washington has declared itself "Rhubarb Pie Capital of the US" due to the popularity of the dessert; it is the largest shipper of fresh and frozen rhubarb in the country.

Strangely, I couldn't find a rhubarb pie recipe from Sumner, so I've posted a few others for your review. These sound so good that they might make me rethink my opinion on this tart veggie:

Rhubarb and Pineapple Pie


2 cups rhubarb
1 cup crushed pineapple
pastry for double crust
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/8 teapoon salt
2 eggs beaten


Set oven to 425Deg F. Peel rhubarb and cut into one half inch peices before measuring. Line a pie plat with plain pastry. Mix Rhubarb with sugarm flour, salt and eggs. Spoon or pour 1/2 the mixture into bottom shell.spread half the pineapple over the rhubard. repeat these two layers. Cover with top crust. Press edges together and trim. prick top to let steam escape. If a glazed surface is desired, brush top of pie with milk, cream or melted butter. or slightly beaten egg white. Bake in quick oven (425deg F) 10 minutes, Reduce heat and continue baking in moderate oven (325 deg F.) 30 Minutes

Fresh Banana Rhubarb Pie


1/2 pound Fresh rhubarb
3 Medium bananas
1 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Orange juice
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 tablespoon Butter
1 9" unbaked double pie crust


Prepare pastry. Slice rhubarb (should yield 3 cups). Slice bananas (should yield 3 cups). Combine ingredients except butter and crust. Spread into pie crust. Dot with butter. Place crust on top. Bake at 450 degrees F. for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until browned. From The Central Market Cookbook by Phyllis Good.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Round One - my first try, with sweet potatoes

I'm trying to devise a good way to use canned sweet potatoes. The operative word in that sentence is canned. Fresh sweet potatoes are easy and delicious. Roasted, mashed, french fried, they are really tasty. Canned, on the other hand, is a bit of a challenge. They are soggy and generally of a mushy-and-not-that-tasty variety. My first contest however requires using canned sweet potatoes, so I picked up 29 ounces and tried to figure out what to do with them.

In the end, without meaning to, I disguised them. They were part of a stuffing, but other flavors overtook the sweet potato, which, depending upon your opinion of canned vegetables, might be a good thing. It reminded me of one of those "trick your kids into eating brussel sprouts" kind of recipe.

I tested the recipe for my folks, my grandmother, my sis and her family, NR and hubby. It was great getting feedback and the best part was hearing their thoughts beyond "that was good". You know when you make something, most of the time, people will say they liked it or it was tasty, but you don't get specifics. Because this recipe is for a contest, people felt free to give some real feedback. When asked if I should have chopped the pecan halves up instead of leaving them whole, Dad said no, the pecans were a nice surprise. Sis liked that the sweet potatoes were hidden; she's not a fan. Mom came up with a last minute ingredient that really made a difference. Grandma commented on the color and texture. NR (and Hubby) didn't like it, but neither are fans of nuts.

This experiment reminded me of high school poetry class; my teacher had given out a list of words that needed to be incorporated into the assigned poem. At first, we all balked and said snotty things, full of teenage revolt, about being stifled and boxed in. But gradually, working within the list, some of the best poems of the class were created. That's not to say that paint-by-numbers portraits are in the same class as Edward Hopper, but sometimes having a framework or a required ingredient is helpful in creating something new. Without this contest, I never would have experimented with canned sweet potatoes. I never would have learned what it can do for moisture and texture, how it bakes, what flavors conceal it, what flavors go well with it.

I'll be making up another batch for testing, changing out some ingredients and keeping some others. I'll also be making this version again for eating, as is, because I liked it. But the best part of this first round, I liked getting the support and the advice from people I respect an awful lot.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Float like a butter pat...

If you watch FoodTV or Bravo, you might wonder when did cooking become a contact sport. Show after show pits amateurs and/or pros against each other as they make cakes, casseroles, and cannollis. The pressure mounts and the time ticks away and judges wait to taste.

The zenith of these shows for me was an episode that pitted three professional pastry chefs against each other as they tried to read the text message tea leaves and figure out what kind of cake little Miss turning 16 might want for her big party on a yacht. The cake had to be three layers and feed 150 people. At the judging, Miss was dismissive, telling these professionals that their creations were either too juvenile, didn't reflect her theme, or the dreaded "you didn't listen to me". In the end, she selected a gorgeous cake that was way way way too old for her and the show ended with footage of her party on the yacht, while she twirled in her ball gown and ringlet-topped hair-do. Bleh.

Funny thing is that I don't generally like these shows (except the cake shows, because I have a secret dream of being able to make cakes likes these). Scenes of sweaty chefs racing around chef stadium to use the featured ingredient of squid doesn't generally turn me on. Be that as it may, I am getting out the culinary jump rope and beginning to train for a contest.

What contest, you ask? I'm still deciding. The Pillsbury bake-off was just held so the next one won't be for awhile. The Gilroy Garlic festival contest starts in December, so that might be a contender. There are contests for using canned sweet potatoes, for making bundt cakes, for lower calorie foods.

There is a whole underground world of competitive cooking; first rule of cooking club is we don't talk about cooking club - or do we? Websites list the various contests so would-be competitors can plan their strategy and enter their prize-winning dishes.

So look for me to enter the ring and go a few rounds. I'll post the good and the bad, the knock-outs and the busted noses. Good thing I've got plenty of aprons.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A slightly great depression?

My grandmother, who just turned 88 on Saturday, has been saying for sometime that food prices might be going so high that it will be like a new Great Depression. When she would say this, I would agree that they are high but I couldn't imagine bread lines and days of famine like the Grapes of Wrath. I mean, this is the 21st century, for crying out loud. Our flying cars are just around the corner; mass-produced and cheap food can't be far behind, right?

Well, maybe she is on to something. There have been news stories aplenty lately about the rising price of staples such as eggs, milk, flour and that with gas prices going through the roof, we can expect these food items to go higher too. Now, I already think food prices are too darn high (yet another sign that I'm getting old when I start thinking about former milk prices) but to imagine them even higher is scary. As it is, I can't afford to buy organic when I want to (I do try to do it with milk because I just like it better) and I try to pick things that are on sale. But with higher and higher prices, my family will be doing without little luxuries that we've taken for granted. The Irish cheese I get now and then, the fresh squeeze orange juice instead of frozen, the really creamy ice cream in the tiny packages.

My cooking style will have to change too, if this bleak forecast comes to pass. No more whim recipes that call for 20 ingredients (a teaspoon or two of each); it will be basic stuff with staples, done creatively to keep it interesting. Expensive ingredients will be out and old fashioned favorites will be in. Truffle oil? I think not. Good old Wesson, thank you. Leftovers, that four-letter word in my vocabulary, will have to become my new passion. Stew, again, Mommy? Oh, you bet, son. We've got a bit left in the tupperware.

Well, whether dire predictions come to pass or not, saving some dough on dough is a good idea. I'm going to be looking for recipes from tight times and tweaking them a bit for today. Easy ingredients, leftovers and interest will be what I'm looking for, so stay tuned for some posts with the most from the ghost of kitchens past.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Southwest Chop Salad

Today is one of those "I have so many thoughts swimming around my brain for posts, I can't decide which to write about" days. I will eventually frame them up this week; the topics range from adults who suffer from being way too precocious, the possibility of a new Great Depression, training for cooking contests, and aging. Whew. That's a lot of inspiration to come while waiting for an oil change. But I digress. Today is random recipe Monday and I just ate a really great chop salad from the local taco joint, Taco Time. This west coast chain prides itself on fresh, healthy ingredients and I was pleasantly surprised by how great the chop salad was for only 200 calories or so. Roasted corn salsa, grilled chicken, chopped veggies, with a ranch sour cream dressing (that added more cals, but heck, I love me some ranch). It was delish and hit the spot.

Well, I don't have their secret formula, but I found an interesting version here. I'm going to omit the cheese and add black beans to my version, maybe some chopped cabbage or carrot to round it out.

So, even though it is freezing (quite literally) here in the lovely Puget Sound area today, enjoy a little Southwest heat.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sunset Boulevard with Black & White Cupcakes

I've always loved Sunset Boulevard (1950), with William Holden and Gloria Swanson. It is hard not to be entranced by Ms. Swanson's amazing portrayal of faded silent screen diva, Norma Desmond, and her descent into madness. But I've discovered another reason to love it - Bill Holden. I have a new crush on this mid-century heartthrob. My favorite channel, Turner Classic Movies, was running a birthday salute and I found some films that I hadn't seen before. One that was particularly charming, if not altogether PC, was Father Is a Bachelor. Bill Holden practically spends the whole movie singing, which is a side I've never seen before. Lots of fun, cute kids, and a typical cheesy Hollywood ending, which is often just what I want when life isn't providing one for me.

Oh, but this is a recommendation for Sunset Boulevard. Totally different role for Bill - classic film noir character; desperate, wisecracking, and ultimately destroyed. It is so hard to focus on the other players in the film when Ms Swanson is the whole universe of the picture. Even when she isn't on screen, her shadow is there, lurking over everything. She's amazing and it gave viewers in the 1950s (and beyond) a chance to rediscover her. She was a huge force in the silent screen days and it took chutzpah to allow herself to be shown in such an unflattering light by Billy Wilder's film. But even as wonderfully crazy as she is, Bill Holden has the often unsung job of supporting her in her larger than life scenes. He is slowly eaten up by her world, struggling all the way, but in the end, consumed.

There are many great black and white films, but I thought this one deserved a true classic cupcake - the Black & White Cupcake. Inspired by the two-tone cookies, these cupcakes from Epicurious demonstrate how delish shadows and light can be.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Six degrees of Crispy Bacon - Bewitched

Supposedly, everyone in the world is connected within six degrees of separation. You know Jane, who knows John, who knows June, who knew Julie who knew President Lincoln. You get the idea. There was a short lived party game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The game was to connect people with Kevin Bacon through his movies.

Well, if it is good enough for Kevin, it is good enough for Crispy. I bet that I can connect things with bacon within six degrees. My challenge to myself today was the TV show, Bewitched, from the mid-sixties. I love that show, particular Endora. Dick York was the only Darrin, as far as I'm concerned. I've always wanted to wiggle my nose, and if it made magic, well, so much the better. Ok, so on with the challenge. Can I connect Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched with Bacon? Let's see...

Elizabeth Montgomery of Bewitched costarred with Bernard Fox who played "Dr Bombay".

Bombay is the name of a kind of gin.

Gin is made from Juniper berries.

Juniper plants are said to keep witches from entering a home*.

Witches famously use a cauldron for their brew

Witches' Brew (pea and bacon chowder) can be found here.

(I could have stopped with Bombay gin and the recipe for tomato, bacon and gin soup found here but doing all six was more fun.)

Happy Friday everyone!

*From Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs "The plant's pungent aroma has long recommended it for driving away evil spirits and disease. Legend has it that juniper planted beside the front door will keep out witches; the only way for a witch to get past the plant was by correctly counting its needles."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How long is too long?

We had an interesting conversation at my parents' house last night - if you call the shelf life of refrigerated food interesting. I'm in the "only a few days" camp but I was in the minority. I'm one of those weird people that only like milk that has been freshly opened and mayo jars that are small so they don't sit around for very long.

So for all those burning "how long in the fridge" questions, here are some guidelines from the FDA. Check out the full list here.

Soups and Stews with meat in them: 3 to 4 days
Hot dogs (unopened): 2 week
Hot dogs (opened): 1 week
Bacon: 7 days
Chicken or Turkey Parts: 1 to 2 days
Fried Chicken: 3 to 4 days
Cooked meat and meat dishes: 3 to 4 days
Mayo: 2 months
Cooked Fish: 3 to 4 days

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off was Carolyn Gurtz with her Double Delight Peanut Butter Cookies. For a taste of a cookie worth a million bucks, give these a try.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Jennie June's American Cookery Book

There is something intriguing (for me at least) about reading through recipe books of the past. I find the ones that included household advice to be especially interesting because the now irrelevant and often forgotten advice that was once so vital to the reader really gives me a picture into her daily life. Most people today don't need to know how to stoke the fire in their kitchen stove. We don't apply oil cloth to our floors, use lye around the house (except soap makers) or need to worry if our water pails are painted on the inside (they shouldn't be, by the way). It might be easy to view these earlier works as trivial but in their time, they provided invaluable information to the young women often ill equipped for managing their own households. Authors like Jane Cunningham Croly not only gave relevant information but they preserved recipes and traditions that would otherwise be lost to later generations.

Now granted, the vast majority of the recipes in these books are things I wouldn't want to eat (calf's head cake, anyone? I thought not) but sometimes you can find things worth a try (Susan B. Anthony's apple tapioca pudding, for example). More importantly, you can get a window into the kitchens of women with amazing histories - former slaves, suffragettes, pioneers, sophisticates and farmers. In the case of the Jennie June book, Ms Croly's work was popular enough in the 1870s for six printings. She covered such varied topics as Jewish recipes, the feeding of children, the care of home furnishings, and a thousand or so recipes. Over a hundred and thirty eight years later, I found her Rules for Eating to be as applicable today as they were then:

1. Eat slowly as if it was a pleasure you desired to prolong, rather than a duty to be got rid of as quickly as possible.

2. Don't bring your prejudices, your dislikes, your annoyances, your past misfortunes, or future forebodings, to the table--they would spoil the best dinner.

3. Respect the hours of meals, you have no right to injure the temper of the cook, destroy the flavor of the viands, and the comfort of the family, by your want of punctuality.

4. Have as much variety in your food as possible, but not many dishes served at one time.

5. Find as little fault with the food prepared as possible, and praise whenever you can.

6. Finally, be thankful, if you have not meat, that you have at least an appetite, and hope for something more and better in the future.

I'm spending some time reviewing these books from the past and hope to share some tidbits along the way. If anyone knows of a good one, please let me know so I can add it to my list.

Random Recipe Monday - Tennessee Caviar

I've been spending a good deal of time researching my genealogy lately. It fascinates me how one break in the chain of ancestors would have changed everything. What has been really interesting has been learning that some of my ancestors have been in the US since the time of the Revolutionary war. Family lore has always placed my mom's side of the family as only just off the boat from Ireland. Not so, from what I've found out. It has been easier to find records for relatives fighting in the Civil War or living in Salem, MA during the witch trials, then to find the connections to Ireland from just two generations ago. I'm still on the hunt for those ship records, but in the meanwhile, I thought I'd pay homage to great-great-great-great grandpa Simeon who fought for the Union in Tennessee during the Civil War.

Now Tennessee caviar wasn't a dish during his time, but the name is cute and heck, how many dishes can you think of that are named for this state? Don't fear the "caviar" part - there are no fish eggs, just veggies. Southern Living readers give this a big thumbs up, so next time you want a veggie appetizer, check it out. Tennessee Caviar.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Titanic buns

Ok, usually Saturday is reserved for a movie and a cupcake but with the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic just around the corner, I thought I would pay homage to the doomed ocean liner and her passengers by recommending a recipe that was actually served onboard.

For those handful of people who didn't see James Cameron's movie, the Titanic sank on the evening of April 14, 1912. The great ship was a tragedy of epic proportions and has long been an interest of mine. I'm a fan of early 20th century culture, as some know, but I'm especially drawn to the relics of the ship. Long ago, a museum here in my town hosted a traveling show that displayed pieces salvaged from the wreck. There were pieces of the china service, delicate personal possessions like spectacles and brushes. Things that it seems hard to believe actually survived, but there they were, big as life, reminders of what happens when we boast that things cannot sink.

Long about the time that the mega movie came out, you couldn't go anywhere without seeing something related to Titanic in shop windows. It was then that I found a book titled "Last Dinner on the Titanic", by Rich Archbold and Dana McCauley. At the time, I bought it because I wanted to see the reproductions of the menu and photographs from the ship. Now, I keep it because I'm interested in historical recipes.

And so, that is a very long way of saying that I have the menu and recipes for the voyage. Rather than post a fancy recipe from the first class restaurants, I thought I'd give a humble one from third class. The authors provide a menu that lists what a third class diner might have enjoyed during the voyage. One dinner (lunch) consisted of vegetable soup, roasted pork with sage and pearl onions, green peas, boiled potatoes, plum pudding with sweet sauce, cabin biscuits and oranges. Tea time later that day would have been a ragout of beef with potatoes and pickles, currant buns, fresh bread and butter, apricots and tea.

So, if you can stand to watch the scene of Leo and Kate on the helm of the ship one more time (let along hear Celine Dion), pop out the dvd and pop these buns in the oven.

Currant Buns (from Last Dinner on the Titanic)

1/4 c lukewarm water
1/2 c granulated sugar
1 package active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 c warm milk
1/4 c melted butter
2 eggs
1/2 c currants
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp water

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine warm water and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; sprinkle yeast over top. Let it stand 10 minutes or until frothy.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, blend together remaining sugar, flour, and salt. In small bowl, whisk together milk, butter, eggs. Stir in yeast mixture until combined.

Make well in dry ingredients; using wooden spoon, stir in yeast mixture until soft dough forms. Turn out on to lightly floured board. Knead until 8 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.

Transfer dough to large greased bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for one hour or until doubled in bulk. Punch down; turn out onto floured surface; knead in currants. Shape into a 12 inch long log. Cut dough into 12 equal pieces.

Roll pieces of dough into smooth, seamless balls. Place buns on greased baking sheet leaving about 2 inches between each bun. Cover loosely and let rest for 30 minutes.

Bake in 400 degree F over for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Stir together icing sugar and water; brush over warm buns; let cool on rack. Makes 12 buns.

*Photo of Titanic, taken April 2, 1912, found at

Friday, April 11, 2008

Good to the

It is said, by the famous "they", that coffee is the world's number two trading commodity, just behind oil. It might be true; coffee rivals older beverages like tea or wine for most-favorite drink status. Coffee arrived on the scene in the 800s in the middle east, though not in a form we would recognize until much later. From Kings to civil war soldiers, coffee has found a place in most cups. Today's coffee is often a triple grande non-fat half-caff no-foam soy latte or some such variation, but straight up java and the many companies that sold it, were fixtures in our homes and restaurants.

As the song goes, "I like java, sweet and hot. Whoops, Mr. Moto, I'm a coffee pot." My grandpa liked to drink Taster's Choice, with cream. You might remember this instant coffee from the popular serialized commercials from the 1990s featuring the British couple. Yuban also made a showing in our house, as did Folger's with the "flavor crystals". I have no idea what those crystals were really made of, but I remember them sparkling in the glass jar.

Maxwell House, of "good to the last drop" fame, started as a coffee for the Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, in the early 1890s. Time moved on and the famous slogan began appearing in advertising in 1917. The coffee and the slogan continue to be popular with the percolator set.

Sanka, first marketed in the US in the 1920s, is a type of decaffinated coffee. The company sponsored the first run of the I Love Lucy show and marketed its beverage as a means to bring down blood pressure and decrease nervousness and irritability. I suppose that would be an accurate claim compared with someone pounding back cup after cup of fully caffeinated coffee.

As popular as these brands are, there are many others, some of which are still operating. Hills Brother, Eight O'Clock Coffee, MJB, Red Circle Coffee, State House Coffee and Chock Full O' Nuts.

Coffee's influence is everywhere - where would Niles and Frasier have gone without it or Phoebe and her Smelly Cat song? Joe DiMaggio is remembered as Mr. Coffee as well as a famous ball player. The Andrew Sisters sang for a "Proper Cup of Coffee" and Ella Fitzgerald extoled "Black Coffee". Coffee tins are big in the collectibles market and many a garage has one or two full of nails or screws.

As popular as espresso beverages might be, there are folks that still prefer drip coffee (or french press or percolator, or even instant) to the fancy stuff. I like lattes myself, but more often than not I'd rather have a cup of strong black coffee in a mug, maybe with a slice of pie or starting my day first thing in the morning.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pillsbury Bake-Off - Then and Now

I bet you know what April 15th is, right? You have the date marked on your calendar, no doubt. All eyes will turn to Dallas when the winner of the one million dollar prize for the Pillsbury Bake-Off will be announced. Oh, you thought I meant tax day, huh. Well, no matter, now you have something good to watch for on that day.

The Bake-Off has been going strong since 1949. It started as a one time affair to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Pillsbury and it was held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, but its popularity ensured that it became a yearly event. The winning recipe of that first contest was No-Knead Water-Rising Twists, created by Theodora Smafield of Rockford, Illinois. Ms. Smafield won fifty thousand clams, no small prize then or now.

Into the 1950s, the entries were mostly desserts, often cake, and focused on fancy "company's coming" type sweets. French Silk Chocolate Pie was the winning recipe in 1951 and is typical of the era.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a shift in focus. Women were entering the workforce and time was suddenly important. Time-saving recipes and shortcuts were the focus. International flavors began to come into the entries, as well as entrees. Poppin Fresh Barbecups from 1968 (the winner was Peter Russell) and Zesty Italian Crescent Casserole from 1978 were two favorites.

The 1980s and 90s brought in fusion cuisine and an emphasis on healthy food. More men were entering the contest and the winner of the first million dollar prize, in 1996, was a man. Brocoli-Cauliflower Tetrazzini from 1988 and Seven-Layer Chinese Chicken Salad from 1998 are good examples.

Which brings us to the 2000s. Panini, pie and pasta have all been winners. And in just a few short days, all eyes will indeed turn to Dallas for the big winner and his or her 15 seconds of culinary fame. I raise a tube of crescent rolls and salute you, winner of the 2008 Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Random Recipe Monday - Country Ham with Red-Eye Gravy

I'm not from the South, but there are some southern style foods that I really like. Biscuits and gravy are at the top of my favorite breakfast foods. I love both Bananas Foster and steamed crayfish, New Orleans style. Pecan pie, peach pie - heck, any sweet except mint julips. Some day I'd like to visit Savannah and go back to New Orleans. But one southern food I haven't tried (but plan to) is red-eye gravy.

It doesn't strike me as a true gravy; it's more of a sauce really. Traditionally, after cooking a slab of ham in a skillet, strong coffee is added to the ham drippings (ham removed to the platter first). The resulting sauce is then poured over the ham or sopped up with biscuits. Wikipedia reports that the name "red-eye" comes from the appearance of the gravy with the coffee giving the red tinge and the grease making a swirl like an iris. It might also get its name from the caffeine that keeps you up - who knows.

Whatever the origin, I'm going to give this southern staple a try. Fresh biscuits, good fried ham, and red-eye gravy sounds like a delicious trip south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Illusionist with Peanut Butter Surprise Cupcakes

I've always been fond of magic - not the Seigfried and Roy variety, but more along the lines of Harry Houdini. Classic and classy; no sequined shirts and flaming hoops for tigers to jump through. My kind of magic is impressive for its realism, not its flashiness. I guess that is my kind of movie too because I really liked The Illusionist. It came out in 2006 and stars Edward Norton as a performer who must work his magic to save the woman he has loved since childhood. Paul Giamatti gives a great supporting performance, as does Rufus Sewell and Jessica Biel. The film is set in Edwardian Austria and it recalls the mystery of a Harry Houdini type that can shock and amaze an audience. Edward Norton really is superb and he plays the role in an understated and quietly unnerving way.

If you want to enjoy a little magic with the movie, gives these cupcakes a try. There is a sweet surprise of chocolate in the center of the cupcake.

Peanut Butter Surprise Cupcakes
"Prep: 20 min., Bake: 20 min. You can use a coffee scoop, which equals about 2 Tbsp., to measure batter into paper baking cups.

3/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups DOMINO Granulated Sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
24 milk chocolate kisses
Confectioners sugar

1. Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add granulated sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating after each addition. Add peanut butter, beating until smooth.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt; add to peanut butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.

3. Spoon 2 Tbsp. batter into each of 24 paper baking cups in muffin pans. Place 1 chocolate kiss on its side in center of batter in each cup. Top evenly with remaining batter (about 2 Tbsp. in each cup), covering chocolate kisses.

4. Bake at 375° for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool in pans on wire racks 5 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool on wire racks. Dust with confectioners sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Peanut Butter-Jam Surprise Cupcakes: Prepare batter as directed. Spoon 2 Tbsp. batter into each of 24 paper baking cups in muffin pans. Omit milk chocolate kisses. Dollop 1 rounded tsp. of your favorite flavor jam in center of batter in each cup. Top evenly with remaining batter (about 2 Tbsp. in each cup). Bake and cool as directed.

Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes

Southern Living, SEPTEMBER 2006"

Friday, April 4, 2008

Happy Birthday to You

I hope you have a very happy birthday, Mom. Here is a bouquet of Beatles for you:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Roll out the Welcome Wagon

Whew. Yesterday's post was heavy. Righteous fury is tiring, that's for sure. If only someone would knock on my door, bearing a bundt cake and some benign and easy conversation. Oh yes, that would be the welcome wagon (to the new neighborhood). Bear with this segue; I do have a point.

As with all things of wonder, the official "welcome wagon" company began in the 1920s - in Tennessee, which of course is known for Southern Hospitality (that and Nashville, and probably something to do with Elvis, I don't know...)

Oh yes, back to the welcome wagon. It began as a way for Welcome Wagon ladies to present new neighbors with coupons and gifts from local merchants, of course engendering warming feelings for both the neighbors and the businesses. Alas, the practice of door-to-door welcome wagon greeters died out in the 1980s (along with disco and the Soviet Union). But the idea of the welcome wagon lives on. Neighbors often greet new arrivals with a baked treat and a hearty hello.

Which brings me to my point, finally. Looks like....(pausing for dramatic effect) we got the house. Yes, we may be inside our new casa by mid-April. As I stare at the sea of empty cardboard boxes that surround my house, I pause to hope that we'll meet a welcome wagon at our new house. Maybe a kindly face bearing a potted plant or a plate of cookies will come over and welcome us to the neighborhood. Let's hope so. But if not, I will venture forth and say howdy, inviting these folks in for a cuppa. That is something I've never done before but I'm going to do it now.

Ding's a recipe for a tried and true welcoming treat - the coffee cake:
Quick Apple Streusel Coffee Cake

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Low low values

UPDATE: Keith Olbermann is reporting that Wal-Mart has relented. The Shanks get to keep their money. Hip Hip Hooray!

I'm going to apologize in advance for this - I'm cranky. I also have to apologize for bringing my personal beliefs into my normally easy going posts, but I'm hopping mad about this and I have to share. If you are familiar with the news story involving Deborah Shank, you probably know where this is going. If not, please read on. This is something I think we should all be aware of before we spend any money at Wal-Mart.

Now, I've always felt a little queasy about shopping there. I know the low prices are at a high cost to somebody - the staff, the mom and pop shops nearby, the overseas manufacturers or the US jobs - somebody pays for us being able to buy pants for six bucks. I've known this for awhile, but dang it, when you are broke, sometimes you have to put your outrage in perspective. Not so now. I am not going to spend one thin dime at Wal-Mart until they resolve the issue of Deborah Shank.

Mrs (now Ms.) Shank worked at Wal-Mart stocking shelves. She was enrolled in the company health plan. Unfortunately for Mrs. Shank, she was in an automobile accident eight years ago which caused severe brain damage. She now lives in a nursing home and has short term memory loss; she'll never be the same.

Mr and Mrs Shank sued the trucking company involved in the accident and received a one million dollar settlement. After legal fees, the Shanks were left with about $420,000 for Mrs. Shank's lifetime care. She's only in her early 50s, so that isn't much money for round the clock nursing home care. Wal-Mart, her employer, had paid about $470,000 in medical expenses for Mrs. Shank. Unfortunately, there is a clause in the medical policy that allows Wal-Mart to go after any settlements to repay the company for medical expenses. Wal-Mart sued the Shanks and won. The Shanks have about $200,000 of the original settlement left but Wal-Mart is owed the full $420K. As if this wasn't bad enough, and it is plenty bad, after losing their suit with Wal-Mart, the Shanks lost their son in Iraq. Because of Mrs. Shank's injury, she has to learn about her son's death every day - every day because she can't remember that he has died. Her husband works two jobs to try to support the family, though technically he is no longer her husband; he had to divorce her so she could receive a few more dollars from medicaid as a single woman.

So this poor devastated woman whose life was destroyed was sued by a company that grossed 90 billion dollars in the third quarter of 2007 for a paltry $420K. The company says that gosh darn it they are sorry but rules are rules. The US Supreme Court has refused to hear the case and so the Shanks are just out of luck.

The only way to help teach corporate giants that they must have compassion and morality is to stop shopping there until they shape up. I hope you will consider this before purchasing anything at Wal-Mart.

My hero, reporter Keith Olbermann, is going to keep this on the forefront by talking about it every day until the company makes a change. Please watch his report for a chance to see Edward R Murrow back in action.

Oh how I wish this was an April Fools' joke.