Monday, December 28, 2009

Reindeer Games and Chocolate Cake

I hope that everyone had a happy Christmas and will have a happy new year. Christmas at our house was a great success as usual. The children received most all of the items on their wish lists, with the exception of my daughter’s Lexus SUV.  I feel her pain because I didn’t receive mine either.  Maybe next year.

My son is now the proud owner of a new guitar, an assortment of band t-shirts and a new thermometer for his fish tank. My husband and I exchanged smaller presents since we have agreed that we if we never bought anything else in our lives, we would still have too much stuff. My favorite gift was a huge assortment of mascaras. His favorite from what I can assess must be the small backpacker’s super absorbent towel that Santa delivered. Our dog Scruffy even had a month’s supply of beefy flavor treats and a toy bunny with a brand new squeaker stuffed in his stocking. We’re all pretty happy.

It was just the four of us at home this Christmas. Since it's pretty crazy in Texas this year (my book about these shenanigans is in the works) and my husband’s family wasn’t much better, we decided to stay close to home. I love waking up Christmas morning in my own bed, making a cup of instant (yes, instant, not drip) coffee the way I like it and opening our presents by the light of our own tree. Oh sure, I miss the variety and drama of a good ole south Texas Christmas with the family, but this year I decided to keep up to date via long distance.

When I was a child, I loved watching all of the excitement of a fireside family showdown but as you get older the chances of getting sucked to the middle of it increase dramatically and I wanted no part of that. My daughter was telling me about a website where you can read actual forwarded texts that are sent in by everyday people. One of her favorites said, “Its not Christmas till my mother cries.” This must have been sent in by one of my cousins because in my extended family Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a few tears. After listening to Charlie Sheen's wife's Christmas Eve 911 call, I take comfort in knowing that we're not alone.

Oh, I guess it really wasn’t all bad growing up in my family. In fact, when I think back on my favorite childhood Christmases, I seem to always go back to those mornings at my grandmother’s farm when everyone would open their presents together. We would then play with each other’s toys while our young mothers, with Dippity-do soaked pin curls scotch taped to the sides of their faces, would joke and laugh while preparing such 60’s favorites as Green Jell-O and Cream Cheese Mold, Ambrosia Salad and a gooey chocolate layer cake that I have no idea what it was called.

About three or four o’clock in the afternoon, after begging for any old scrap of food for what seemed like hours, we were ushered to our appropriate places. The younger ones of us were escorted to the kiddie table and the grown-ups took their places at the main table.  I loved sitting with the kids where the population knew how to gross each other out with their mashed potatoes.  The grown-ups just didn’t know how to have fun with their food. 

This year at our little celebration, there wasn’t any division of the generations by table. The four of us all sat together and shared stories and ate the prime rib that took about an hour longer than I thought it would and laughed. We watched videos together after dinner instead of engaging in a Andre Cold Duck infused row like the generations before us, and somehow we still managed to have a good time.

I must admit that I do miss most of my crazy family members who now have either drifted apart or passed away. I keep them alive by relying on my memories of them, cooking some of their wonderful recipes and by having a glass or two too many of inexpensive champagne with my dinner. Maybe those grown-ups knew a thing or two about having a little fun after all.

I'm not sure if this was the exact recipe that my mother used to make, but if there's a better chocolate cake in existence, I'd like to try it. This recipe has been a staple in American homes forever but if I introduce it to just one new person, my work here is done. Try it just once and I guarantee that it will make a regular appearance on your table.

Buttermilk Sheet Cake

1 cup (250ml) water
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (113g) butter or margarine
2 cups (280g) all purpose flour
2 cups (400g) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (125ml) buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 F (180C).

In a large saucepan, bring to a boil the water, cocoa, oil and butter or margarine. Mix the flour, sugar, salt and soda in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in the hot mixture and mix well. To this add the buttermilk, vanilla and the beaten eggs; continue mixing. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9”x13” oblong baking pan. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle. Remove from the oven and frost in the pan while still warm.

1/2 cup (113g) butter or margarine
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (100ml) milk
1 pound (500g) icing sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a large pan set over medium heat, melt the butter with the cocoa powder and milk. Stir in the sugar and vanilla; whisk until smooth. Add the chopped nuts if desired; stir well and spread on the warm cake. Let cake cool before cutting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recession Cooking in the Deep Freeze 101

Brrrrr! Last week, after two days of cold and snow, we have finally started to warm up a bit. There was a huge storm blanketing the country and Colorado was smack, dab in the middle feeling the brunt of the intense cold. One night our temperature got down to -15 degrees. Needless to say, this south Texas transplant only opened the door to let my dog out to do his business (poor thing). I didn’t go to the grocery store for four days which was a record for me. I usually go everyday or every other day at the most for something or other. This is the reason that a bottle of milk usually costs me $40.00 by the time I leave the store. It was really a test of skill and imagination around here to whip up something delicious and new without leaving the house for supplies. After this exercise, I now feel confident that I could not only win at “Ready Steady Cook!” but I wouldn’t need any professional help to do it. The following recipes are some that I made during my time while I was shut in. I'm passing these recipes on to you in paragraph form this time because I really didn't use exact measurements for them. These are just guidlines for recipes that I hope you make your own by adding a bit more here or a bit less there or adding a few of your own favorite ingredients.

Luckily for us, on my last trip to the market before storm I took advantage of some after Thanksgiving sales of big meat. I got a big bone in ham and a pork roasting joint that are always inexpensive but that day I only spent $10.00 for both. I love taking the ham (about 5 pounds or 2 – 1/2 kilos) and slow boiling it for an hour or so to remove the excess salt, then placing it in 300 degree F (150C) oven for a couple of hours to heat through. I sliced about half of the it for dinner that night and sandwiches the next day, then froze the rest to use later. The pork joint is easier because all I do to it is rub it down with my favorite spice rub, place it in a preheated 325 degree F (160C) oven, uncovered for about an hour and a half a pound (500g) or, in my case about 6 hours. It may look dry but my 4 pound (2 kilo) joint was fall off the bone tender and juicy when I removed it from the oven (be sure to let the meat rest for ten minutes or so before slicing). This is a breakdown on how I used my leftovers for the next few days.

Day one: I sliced it and served it the traditional way with gravy and mashed potatoes.

Slow Roasted Pork Joint

Day two: I shredded the remaining roast, made some barbeque sauce (click on the "Sauce" heading on the left side of this page for the recipe) and some coleslaw, used about 2 cups of the meat, divided it equally among 4 toasted hamburger buns, topped it with the sauce and the coleslaw and Bob’s your uncle, that night we enjoyed great pulled pork sandwiches. My family didn’t even think about it being leftover from the night before. Serve these incredible sandwiches with crisps or chips and your family will love you forever. Don’t have buns? This is great on jacket potatoes too.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Slaw and Homemade Barbeque Sauce

Day three: I incorporated a bit of my leftover sliced ham from the freezer, pan fried it, placed it on a split French baguette that has been lightly spread with wholegrain mustard. I added a couple of the cups of shredded pork joint which I had warmed, a couple of thick slices of room temperature gruyere cheese, and some dill pickle slices. I closed the sandwich, cut it into 3 equal portions, buttered the outside of the bread and placed it in a hot non-stick pan. I then took my “kitchen brick” which is a plain old building brick that I have covered in foil and placed it on top to press down the sandwich. After a few minutes when it was browned, I turned it over and repeated the last step. The result is a delicious Cuban sandwich that your family will love. I usually serve it with a mayonnaise and mustard mixture on the side to spread on the sandwich if they seem to be a bit dry.

Cuban Sandwiches

There was still a little bit of meat leftover and I made a simple pasta sauce by frying a couple of rashers of diced streaky bacon until they are almost crisp, adding a small diced onion, a handful of diced mushrooms, a finely diced carrot, 2 finely diced stalks of celery. Saut̩ the vegetables until they begin to soften, and then add a large crushed garlic clove, saut̩ for a minute longer before adding 1/2 cup red wine and 2 tablespoons tomato puree. Stir the mixture well before adding a 1/2 cup of water or vegetable or meat broth, then add the remaining shredded pork (1-2 cups) and simmer slowly to cook off the alcohol. While this was cooking, I prepared about 1/2 pound (250g) ziti (or your favorite pasta) according to the package directions, drained it and tossed it with the sauce. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste before serving it with grated parmesan cheese. This will serve 4 Р6 people.

Shredded Pork Pasta Bolognese

With the some of the remaining ham I made a ham, cheese and red pepper quiche. I preheated my oven to 375 F (190C), took a store bought pastry crust and lined a pie pan with it, mixed 5 large eggs, 1/4 cup (65ml) cream, 1 cup diced ham, 1/4 of a large red bell pepper, finely diced, a couple of tablespoons very finely diced onion, 1 jalapeno pepper (optional, without seeds and membranes) and a cup of my favorite shredded cheese. Give this all a good stir, pour it into an uncooked pastry case and pop it into the preheated oven and cook it for 30 – 40 minutes or until it is brown and firm in the middle. Sorry there's no photo of this great quiche but we ate it so quickly, I quite honestly forgot.

I hope these recipes inspire you to cook frugally with the knowledge that you can make something fresh and delicious a couple of nights in a row with the same main ingredient.