Ingredient: sugar

So Many Strawberries!

When I go to the farmer’s market on Saturday’s I get a little over zealous buying berries. I buy way more strawberries than I know we’ll use, but I also get a little nuts with the blue, black and little red ones, too. May is our peak month but, here in California, we are fortunate to enjoy beautiful berries all year long. I get really frustrated when my berries go bad before we have a chance to eat them. So now I make jam! Sometimes just strawberry, other times I mix it up. The point is I make a lot of jam!

Making jam is one of those arts that is actually pretty easy. If you make it with lots of love, like I do, it’s a great gift. I have been trying to keep some in my freezer and take it as a hostess gifts.

The basic recipe is always the same, but you can get creative with flavors. You can play around with spices. How about adding some ginger? Then use it as a glaze over pork tenderloin as it’s grilling. Adding a little fresh ground black pepper gives a surprising flavor profile when used in a Croque Monsieur. I sometimes stir in 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter for a creamier texture. If you’re, really, looking to jazz it up, try adding orange liqueur or champagne. Be sure to remove the jam from the heat to add liquor. Just stir in about 1/3 cup, then boil again for about 5 minutes to set-up.

Homemade jam is always appreciated and what can be better than a dab of fresh jam on toast in the morning or even a midnight snack.

So Many Strawberries!
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So Many Strawberries!
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Wash and hull strawberries. Give them a rough chop.
  2. Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, over medium heat.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer 30-40 minutes. Use a brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar crystals on side.
  4. Once jam has thickened, remove from heat. I use a immersion blender to puree it a little.
  5. At this point you can add 1/3 cup of your favorite liqueur (I like Grand Marnier). Just be sure to remove from heat before adding. You may need to bring it back to a boil for 5-10 minutes, if it thins out too much.
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It’s National Chess Day!

Today is National Chess Day. Yes they are talking about the game, but it made me think about a pie I had as a child, when I would go and visit my grandparents, in Georgia. I looked through a few cookbooks and found no less than fourteen recipes for Chess Pie. Five of them are my own family’s recipes.

Folklore of how this pie got it’s name is that a cook on a plantation made up the recipe and when asked what she had made she answered “Just pie”. Because of her thick accent it was misheard as “chess pie”. Of course there are as many versions of how it got its name as there are recipes for the pie.

Another version of the story is that because the recipe has such a high amount of sugar, it is naturally preserved and therefore didn’t need to be stored in an icebox and could be kept in a pie chest. Again chest eventually got slanged down to “chess”. Finally, there is a version that says Chess Pie is really Cheese Pie, an English recipe that is almost identical and is basically a form of cheesecake. I don’t buy this one at all.

If you don’t know what Chess Pie is, it is a custard pie with a minimal amount of cornmeal or sometimes flour in it. This basic pie exists in every region, in some form. Indiana has Sugar Pie and this may even be a precursor to the base of lemon meringue pie. You could even call it a solid pudding in a crust.

This pie hits all the sensory notes. It is at once smooth with a bit of crunch from the cornmeal. The corn meal will rise to the top and form a crust. When I was a kid I loved this pie because it was so sweet and the more sugar the better. Now that I am an adult, I understand the nuances of the flavor and sugar.

Chess Pie, in the south is like Pound Cake and squash soufflé. If you ask a dozen women you will get a dozen recipes for the same item. I even did a spreadsheet to see where the variances are. I really only wanted to make my family recipe but I tried one other, too. They are both very sweet. In our family recipe, the one below, a tablespoon of vinegar is added. It seems to be what cuts the sweetness a bit.

The ingredients of the recipe are basics and you probably have them in your pantry and fridge all the time. Really, sugar, eggs, cornmeal, milk and butter, is all you need. It all comes together fast so, if you do have the ingredients on hand, you can have a fabulous dessert made in about an hour. However, I do recommend that it cool then get refrigerated over night before serving.

You can add different flavors, too. The easiest way is to change out the vanilla for another extract. However, you can add 1 cup of coconut or ¼ cup cocoa powder too. The cocoa powder also cuts down the sweetness.

Just one bite of this pie and I am driving down a red dirt road to my grandparents and catching lightning bugs.

Chess Pie
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Servings
8-10-10
Servings
8-10-10
Chess Pie
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Servings
8-10-10
Servings
8-10-10
Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Beat the eggs until frothy.
  2. Stir in sugar, milk, cornmeal, vinegar and vanilla. beat until well blended.
  3. Add butter and blend well.
  4. Pour into an unbaked 9" pie shell and sprinkle with nutmeg.
  5. Bake at 325° for 45 minutes.
  6. Cool completely, then refrigerate overnight, before serving.
Recipe Notes

My pie dish is actually a 10" pie dish so, as you can see, the filling didn't come all the way up. Be sure to use a 9" pie dish or make a 1 1/2 times batch.

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Cake for Breakfast!

Cake for breakfast! Yes it’s a thing and it is all over the Internet. It’s actually not a new thing. It started popping up in my feed in every blog I get, recently. So, I decided to do a little research of my own. Before I get to a really good chocolate cake recipe, that you will probably over indulge in, let me give you some of the Kisses and Nibs of it all.

The original study came out in 2011 and was conducted in the UK. It did say that eating cake for breakfast was a good thing and that you might lose some weight. However, it turns out the study was more about eating a big hearty breakfast than it was about eating cake. It also pointed out that if you’re going to eat sugary unrefined carbs, maybe you want to do it earlier in the day, rather than later. Finally, the UK study was a closed study, meaning that the participants were living and eating in a dorm facility. So the facilitators noted that perhaps the social nature of eating together might have had the participants eating less. Be more social when you eat breakfast, if you can. Talk more, eat less.

The second study was done at Tel Aviv University in 2013. This study suggested that the brain works better when it is stimulated immediately in the morning and that chocolate cake was a great conduit for that. The long and short of this is that chocolate has flavonoids and caffeine; both can act as a stimulant. Flavonoids are also a great antioxidant. Both supply energy to the brain and in my honest opinion are a great way to start your day.

I did the MOST official study of all in 2017. It shows that if you make a chocolate cake, somebody will eat it for breakfast!

Okay, enough with the science! Here is a great chocolate cake recipe. I put it together from several different recipes. Make a double batch of the frosting; one is just not quite enough to frost the whole cake.


Really Good Chocolate Cake
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This is three full layers of cake, not one cake cut into three layers! With lots of rich milk chocolate frosting between and all around. Oh yeah!
Really Good Chocolate Cake
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This is three full layers of cake, not one cake cut into three layers! With lots of rich milk chocolate frosting between and all around. Oh yeah!
Ingredients
Chocolate Cake
Milk Chocolate Frosting
Servings:
Instructions
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and Flour three 9" round cake pans.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.
  3. In a large heatproof bowl, combine the unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder. Heat the water and butter in a pot over medium heat until butter is melted but water is simmering not boiling.
  4. Pour hot liquid over chocolate and cocoa mixture and stir to combine and melted and smooth.
  5. Add the sugar and mix to combine. Make sure chocolate mixture has cooled then add the eggs, one at a time and use a hand mixer to just combine. Add vanilla extract.
  6. Add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture alternating with the buttermilk, finish with the flour, being sure to scrape down the sides. Don’t over mix.
  7. Divide batter evenly between the prepared pans. Bake 20-30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool in pan 15 minutes, then invert and cool on rack. Cool completely before frosting.
Frosting
  1. In the bowl of a stand up mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and slowly add the sugar. Be sure to scrape down the sides. Drizzle in melted, cooled chocolate until evenly combined
  2. Frost each layer with about ¾ cup frosting and between each layer. Use remaining frosting to frost whole outer cake.
  3. Melt additional chocolate candy bars and drizzle over the top of frosted cake for decoration.
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Jam Cake!

For most of my life I heard about “Granny”. My Great-Grandmother. By all accounts she was an amazing cook, great seamstress and she was feisty! My Great-Grandfather was 27 years older than her and had come from a family of privilege in Georgia. My Great-Grandfather was “one of the most sought-after bachelors”. By all accounts he was a bit of player and drove a flashy “rubber-tired buggy” with a “trotting horse”. Today that might be compared to a little red corvette. Granny was a schoolmistress that came from a hard working, “good” family. In the 12 years they were married, prior to his death, they had 4 children and she was pregnant with the 5th when he passed. While the story is told of their love at first sight, I’m guessing there was a certain amount of satisfaction in catching the un-catchable.

In 1900 $18,690 would have been the equivalent of approximately $430,000 today. In 1900 that would have meant that you were wealthy. This is how much the savings passbook shows my great grand parents had in the their bank account when Granny started using it to write recipes. That is a lot of money for the time. While they lived a somewhat grand life with servants and a large plantation home, they also were very conscious of using what they could from their own land. They had crops such as watermelon and their own patch for growing fruits and vegetables. They also raised several different types of chickens and had milk, butter and cheese from their own cows.

A grandchild’s imagination can run wild and mine is no different. At first, I imagined my “feisty” Granny getting mad at Ab, my great grandfather’s nickname. Perhaps he had asked her to run ANOTHER errand to the bank on a day when she had sick children and chores to do on the Plantation. I can see her running into a friend and asking for her Watermelon Rind Preserves recipe. When she realized she has no paper, maybe she thought, “I’ll show him the value of his money!” and scratched out the recipe right there on the 4th page of the passbook. I say this because the recipe is quickly given. There is no list of ingredients and amounts, then instructions. It’s all on continuous sentence.

I sometimes fantasize that maybe she really didn’t have any paper and thought it would be “just one recipe”. However, it became her go to for writing recipes when she ran into friends. Eventually, the recipes did evolve and have a list of and amounts ingredients and instructions.

Today we don’t have passbooks and most of our recipes are shared via email, the Internet or pinterest. Having those recipes written in my grandmother’s handwriting is invaluable. As the years passed, after my Grandfather’s death, times got hard for my great-grandmother and her family. She was able to turn to her Brother in law for help and keep her family together, during the depression, World War II and a great cyclone. I still imagine that she would have been teaching us that the value of a rich family history has more value than today’s $430,000.

My favorite recipe was the Jam Cake. This is a traditional southern cake that came out of Tennessee or Kentucky, depending on what website you are looking at. I have searched high and low for a jam cake recipe that was made with wine instead of buttermilk. I’m not sure why Granny made the substitution, but it sure is good!

I’m giving it to you as written and then my version. How lucky was my Granny to be able to bake with such a limited recipe. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

Jam Cake!
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Jam Cake!
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Beat eggs and sugar together until light colored and ribbony.
  2. Sift flour and baking powder together.
  3. Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add to eggs and sugar.
  4. Slowly add flour & baking powder mix to butter/eggs mixture.
  5. Once flour is completely added, add spices and lastly wine. Blend until just combined.
  6. Pour into 8 or 9 inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350°F for 30 - 35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  7. For frosting I make a cream cheese frosting and use a good store bought caramel sauce to make a caramel frosting. Divide the layers. I put an extra layer of jam in between cake layers with the frosting and then frost the whole cake.
  8. You can find my cream cheese frosting recipe in my May 8, 2015 post of Red Velvet cake.
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Try Something New! Graham Cracker Edition

When I read a post where the first thing the author does is make an excuse, I have to admit it is a huge turn off.  Julia used to say something to the effect of don’t make excuses for your food whether it’s bad or good, everybody already know’s. Well, Julia, true that but sometimes life just rushes by and you get behind.  The ironic thing is I have been writing like crazy, because I have so much to say!  It’s the cooking and picture that seem to set me back.  So here I am to catch up and I think this first one is a good one.

We finally got a little cold snap her in Los Angeles.  I love to think that means we can have a fire in the fire place and snuggle up.  I mean what else can you do when it is 50 degrees out (pause for groan from the east coast)? A fire in the fireplace almost always means S’mores.  So tonight it meant making my own graham crackers.


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I don’t know why I wanted to make my own graham crackers. There was something so intriguing to me. I imagined it would be very complicated so it never occurred to me that I would share it here, under try something new. It was super easy!

I went looking for “Graham” flour. Guess what? Its really just whole-wheat flour that is not sifted during the milling process and is ground coarsely. You can find graham flour in some health food stores. For my purposes I used plain whole-wheat flour. I started with a recipe from King Arthur Flour Company. I made the first batch exactly as directed. One of my daughters is not a big cinnamon fan and I thought it could be a little more “wheaty” so I made some adjustments and the following is my recipe. It really is simple.

My advice is to be patient when rolling out the dough. You do want to get them very thin. You also will want to have a ruler handy, if measuring out as squares, which is the proper graham shape. I admit I got bored of that and made some squares and some circles with a biscuit cutter. Finally don’t forgo the pricking with a fork. This helps them keep their shape, without puffing up.

Homemade Graham Crackers
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Homemade Graham Crackers
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Ingredients
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Combine whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and baking powder in a medium bowl. I used a stand-up mixer fitted with a dough hook.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, honey and milk. Blend into flour mixture, until a ball starts to form. Add an additional tablespoon of milk if necessary.
  3. Wrap and chill the dough for about an hour. Turn the chilled dough out onto a lightly floured board an knead gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°. Grease or line with parchment, 2 baking sheets.
  5. Roll the dough to 1/16"; make sure the board stays floured so the crackers transfer easily.
  6. Cut the dough into 3X# square and prick them with a fork several times. Place on prepared pans and brush tops with a little milk. You can sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, if you wish.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool completely, on rack. They will keep well wrapped at room temperature for a week or freeze for up to 3 months.
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Mastering the Art of French Cooking

While I’m am off doing the above, I hope to be posting lots! However, I never wish to leave my devoted followers hanging.  I thought there could be nothing more appropriate than giving you a recipe from Julia’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Since it is Fall and apples are abundant I am giving you a variation of a Clafoutis.  Clafoutis is really just a fruit flan and is typically done with cherries.  Her are Julia’s words.:

The clafoutis which is traditional in the Limousin during the cherry season is peasant cooking for family meals, and about as simple a dessert to make as you can imagine: a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven.  It looks like a tart and is usually eaten warm.

Clafoutis aux Pommes (Apple Flan)
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Servings
6 people
Servings
6 people
Clafoutis aux Pommes (Apple Flan)
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Servings
6 people
Servings
6 people
Ingredients
Servings: people
Instructions
  1. Saute apples gently in hot butter, until browned. Let stand in skillet for 1/2 hour with the brandy, cinnamon and first 1/3 cup sugar.
  2. Blend together the milk, additional 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour for a full minute until well blended and frothy. It is best in a blender, but a hand mixer will work as well.
  3. Butter a fireproof baking dish. Pour a 1/4 inch layer of the batter in the dish and set over moderate heat for a minute or two until a film of batter has set in the bottom of the dish. Remove from heat.
  4. Spread the apple mixture over the batter layer. Pour on the remaining batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
  5. Place in the middle of an oven preheated to 350 and bake for about an hour. The clafoutis is done when it has puffed and browned and a needle or knife plunged in to its center comes out clean.
  6. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar just before serving. It is best served warm or hot. It will sink slightly in the center.
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