Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cue the angels singing

Vi Kronon’s 7-Up Cake
Our Recipes Second Edition Polish Women’s Civic Club, Inc. 1979

3 sticks oleo (margarine - I used Land O' Lakes because it had the most fat)
3 c. sugar
5 eggs
3 c. all-purpose flour, sifted two times after measuring
2 Tbsp. lemon extract
¾ cup 7-Up

Combine oleo and sugar in large bowl of mixer. Cream until lemon in color. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat well after each addition. Add flour. Continue to beat well. Add lemon extract. Fold in 7-Up. Pour into oiled and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool well before serving. Best served sliced in thin slices. (I think nice thick slices are pretty great myself!) Freezes well.

So I bought the margarine and 7-Up to make this cake and then I came home and saw that it called for lemon extract. Why that didn't stick out to me, since I never use lemon extract, I don't know. I had lemons but I wanted to follow this recipe exactly so I checked the Dollar General (it's closer than the grocery store). No lemon extract. Off to the grocery store. Wait! My tire is flat. Off to get air in my tire. Then to the grocery store for the lemon extract - over $4 for one bottle, and you need the entire bottle! Oh well, I've come this far. Home to make the cake. Hey, where's all my sugar? I don't have 3 cups of sugar. Back to Dollar General. Home to make the cake. Sniff. Sniff. What's burning? Why are there flames in my oven? Ooops! Should have put foil around the pan (it has a removable bottom like a springform pan and it leaked a little). I opened the oven so many times to clean that up (didn't want a smoked cake) that I didn't think it would rise properly.

Was it worth all that? YES! YES! OMG YES! One of the best things I've ever made. It was my dream pound cake. Dense, moist, with the most incredible crust. Every piece I ate (and I ate many) brought me great joy. Recipes like this are the reason I keep cooking and baking.

I bought this cookbook off of eBay as sort of a Christmas present to myself back in December (I say 'sort of' because I was going to wrap it up and wait until Christmas to look in it but I couldn't wait). I've been looking for Polish recipes like I grew up with, not the recipes you find in Polish cookbooks, and I figured out my best bet was looking for fundraiser type books in areas with a lot of Polish people or from Polish organizations. There aren't a lot of Polish recipes in this book but enough to make it worth it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green popcorn and Irish 'potatoes'

I am really making an effort to celebrate the holidays with food but life often gets in the way. I have tons of Valentine's Day sprinkles and cupcake liners but did I make anything for that holiday? Nick must have had a party at school but I have no recollection of making anything special. My mind is Swiss cheese these days but I don't think I did.

Anyway, I was on the ball for St. Patrick's Day. Nick needed a green snack and I recalled the perfect treat. Check out Heidi's Tried-and-True Cooking blog and her recipe for Sweet and Crunchy Popcorn. Mine wasn't as green as I wanted but hey, it's green and it's delicious. I've made practically the same recipe before (Vanilla Popcorn) but this version seemed better. I think it was the salt. I actually made a second half-batch since I popped too much popcorn (and because we ate so much of it while making it) and forgot the salt. I sprinkled some on top and that worked out great.

And then I finally made Irish 'potatoes', a treat I used to be able to buy when I lived in Philadelphia. These little confections seem to be local to that area. I've had this recipe since I lived there, copied from a library book. So, it took over a decade but here they are.

Irish Potatoes
from the Ugly Binder, copied from a library book that seems to have been about recipes from different Philadelphia neighborhoods, I think

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 14-ounce bag shredded coconut
2 pounds confectioner's sugar or to taste I used it all.
ground cinnamon

1. Mix together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla, coconut and sugar. With you hands, mix all ingredients thoroughly. (Um, they're not kidding - do not try to add all this powdered sugar with your mixer - trust me.) Refrigerate for 1 hour.

2. Roll mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Then roll the balls in ground cinnamon to coat all over. Refrigerate and bring to room temperature to serve.

This makes a lot. I gave up after filling three shallow Tupperwares. They are somewhat perishable and quite rich so I felt I had enough for the office after using about two-thirds of the mixture. I should have made a half batch. They are delicious but I am really trying to avoid too much temptation right now. I think these were better than the ones I used to buy but it's been maybe 13-14 years since I had them. Why did I wait so long to make them? I just forgot every year, is all. They are still a favorite. I mean, I think the ingredients speak for themselves - cream cheese, butter, vanilla, sugar, coconut and cinnamon? Pretty each to figure out if you would like these or not.

Sorry about the pics but there is no natural light at 9pm. Oh, and I'm still working on the pierogi post.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Lots of cooking, not much blogging

It seems like I've been cooking a lot lately but not many posts are being generated. I spent the majority of last weekend and part of this weekend making pierogies. I made three different fillings and experimented with four different dough recipes so writing it up will take a bit of time which I really don't have much of right now. Someday soon, I hope!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A food tradition

The Ugly Binder, from the internet

2 1/2 cups hot mashed potatoes*
1 cup milk
3 beaten eggs
2 Tablespoons melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons baking powder
5 cups flour
Sugar for coating
(NOTE TO SELF: Add nutmeg next time and coat some with cinnamon sugar)

* I used instant potatoes - Honest Earth brand from Costco. I prepared them according to package directions which had me add butter, water and milk.

Mix everything together except flour. Mix flour in slowly. The dough was very sticky, maybe from using the prepared mashed potatoes, but I just added flour as necessary as I rolled/patted the dough out. Divide the dough in half. Roll ½ inch thick. Cut with a donut cutter or use a knife to cut into triangular shaped pieces. I mostly patted the dough out and cut the dough into pieces using a pizza cutter. Some were square, some rectangle, some were corner pieces that came out sort of like triangles - like those in the picture. Deep fry in hot fat or oil until done. I used Crisco. Coat the hot fastnachts in sugar.

This recipes makes a LOT! I made over two dozen and threw out the rest of the dough because I was in a hurry and I just didn't need that many. I probably only used about half the dough, or maybe not even.

Almost every year I try to make donuts of some sort on Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is called Fastnacht Day in this area, Donut Day in other areas (and yet Pancake Day in other places but that's another story). I usually make do with any sort of donut recipe but this year I used an actual fastnacht recipe that I found on the internet.

I've tried donut recipes with yeast in the past (yeast is more commonly used in fastnachts) but since they took longer to make, I made them the night before and they just weren't as good after sitting overnight. I also always used oil to fry them. This year I used a baking powder recipe and made them right on Fat Tuesday (I almost didn't get to make them since some tummy issues had me down for the count in the morning). I used Crisco to fry them (well, store-brand shortening). One co-worker called them the best fastnachts he's ever tasted.

Personally, they are certainly the best fastnachts I've had recently. The first year I moved to this area and was introduced to fastnachts, I had some great church-made fastnachts but since then I've only had access to supermarket fastnachts that weren't very good at all. They were my best donut effort so far. Someday I might have the time to experiment with a yeast version but if not, I've very pleased with this version.

The recipe was so easy to work with. The night before, I made the potatoes and measured out the 2 1/2 cups that I needed. I measured out the flour and mixed it with the baking powder and I measured out the sugar. The next day I heated up the potatoes with the butter and mixed the dough up in no time while the shortening heated up. The dough was sticky but still easy to work with since it really just needs to be patted out and cut. I just added some flour to the cutting surface and on top of the dough as I patted it out and I was good to go. I didn't bother with my donut cutter (the holes are always a pain in the you-know-what to fry) and just cut them with a pizza cutter. They fried up really nicely and rather quickly.

I will definitely use this recipe again next year but I think I would like a touch of nutmeg in them (although I am almost afraid to mess with a recipe that went over so well) and I think I will use cinnamon sugar to coat at least some of them, maybe even a glaze. I'm not a big fan of powdered sugar on donuts. And although I will make them in the morning again, these actually still tasted pretty good the next day. I had some at home, loosely covered in plastic wrap and they held up better than the ones that were at work in a tightly covered container. The tightly covered ones lost their exterior crunch but I'm not about to leave food sitting around the office unless it's tightly covered (I've never seen any critters there but I'm not taking any chances).

Monday, March 07, 2011

You can't miss with the classics

The Essential Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie
The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion Copyright 2004

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 tablespoon cider vinegar or 1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°F; lightly grease two baking sheets.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugars, corn syrup, and vinegar together; then beat in the eggs. Beat in the vanilla, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

Stir in the flour and chocolate chips.

Drop the dough by the tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes, until they are just set; the centers may still look a bit underdone.

Remove them from the oven; transfer to a rack to cool.

I was a little surprised that I've never made this recipe before. At least I don't think I've made them before (wouldn't be the first time I repeated myself). I really liked the Essential Soft Oatmeal Cookie, and most King Arthur recipes, so I had faith that this recipe would be good. As I almost always do with chocolate chip cookie recipes, I think this is one of the best I've tried. It's the sort of chocolate chip cookie that I like best, soft and chewy and with a bit of height. Great flavor too.

I do wish I could once again sample the chocolate chip cookie I still think about over 25 years since the last time I had one. We used to have school fundraisers that sold big chocolate chip cookies, from (I think) the Spring Water Cookie Company (or something like that). I'm not sure what it was that made me think they were so great. Maybe they weren't as great as I remember. The company is out of business for many years I believe. In my mind, they were big, not too thick, not too thin, a bit chewy but sort of melt-in-your mouth. I really love 'big' cookies but big is not always practically. These cookies were normal-sized but still had plenty of that soft chewy center you get from the big cookies.

I hope this made sense. I am tired. It's sad when you are glad that the weekend is over.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Gumbo (sort of)

Ground Chicken Gumbo
Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbook Copyright 2009

1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 pound ground chicken
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 cup sliced fresh okra
1 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Cook rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or soup kettle, cook the chicken, celery, green pepper and onion in oil over medium heat for 8 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink; drain.
Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until heated through. Serve over rice. Yield: 6 servings.

Nutritional Analysis: 1 cup gumbo with 1/2 cup rice equals 322 calories, 11 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 50 mg cholesterol, 900 mg sodium, 40 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber, 18 g protein.

I make so many new recipes using ground chicken that the odds are that I'm bound to have a clunker every now and then. I seem to be defying the odds however and this was another winning recipe. While not unique, it was different from what I've been eating lately and that increased my enjoyment of it. It was good and not at all guilt-inducing.

I did have to make a special trip to find fresh okra but when I found it, it was cheap (albeit maybe not the freshest okra one could find). I paid about 70 cents for the okra for this. I have some vague recollection of trying to cook something with okra a long time ago and it being a complete disaster. Thinking that was frozen okra, I didn't want to go that route if I could help it. I didn't want to skip it as I knew it would provide the thickening in the gumbo and I'm not sure it would really be a gumbo without it (is it really gumbo with it - are there any gumbo purist out there???)

I'll add this to my ground chicken recipe round up.

So I went to Wegman's where I was relatively sure I would find okra, and I did. As I said, it wasn't expensive. The other stuff I impulsively added to my cart was not. We don't have a Whole Foods, we don't have a Trader Joe's. Wegman's is the ultimate shopping experience for me in this area. You'll hear more about some of my purchases in future posts.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A slightly redesigned tuna melt

Tuna Artichoke Melts

Taste of Home Comfort Food Diet Cookbook Copyright 2009

1 can (6 ounces) light water-packed tuna, drained and flaked the can I had was only 5 ounces
1/3 cup coarsely chopped water-packed artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise I used regular
1/2 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend, divided I used sharp cheddar
1/4 teaspoon salt-free lemon-pepper seasoning
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
2 English muffins, split and toasted I used a lite, high fiber version

In a small bowl, combine the tuna, artichokes, mayonnaise, 1/4 cup cheese, lemon-pepper and oregano. Spread over English muffin halves. Place on a baking sheet. Broil 4-6 in. from the heat for 3-5 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with remaining cheese; broil 1-2 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

Yield: 2 servings.

It's not that I don't love the more traditional version of tuna salad with celery and onion but it was so nice to have a tuna salad that was a bit different for a change, and this version has less chopping involved.

Usually when I reach for the lemon pepper seasoning, to sprinkle on something that I am free-styling, I take a whiff of it and put it back since it has a strong, odd smell, if you ask me. But in this small dose, I thought it worked really well. This wasn't so outside-the-box that people expecting traditonal tuna salad would be put off. I would definitely make this again.

I can't believe it's March! As much as I dislike the cold and especially snow and ice on the roads, I am disturbed by how quickly winter is passing by, by how quickly life is passing by.