Sunday, January 17, 2010

What I Know for Sure

I’m not shy about saying that I’m an Oprah Winfrey watcher. In fact, I used to watch religiously until she got so ethereal and started doing what seems like endless shows on “The Secret” and “A New Earth.” The final straw was when she recently featured a woman who had a long standing affair with her own father. I was so appalled at this one that I did something I never thought I’d do, I wrote in and scolded her. I find scandal just as entertaining as the next person, but this just went too far. Over the years, I have enjoyed watching makeovers of men, women, kitchens and bathrooms, sex changes, botched plastic surgeries, great weight loss stories and anything with Nate Burkus. My very favorite show of all time was when the winner of the 41st Pillsbury Bake-Off was featured and they showed my face and mentioned my recipe as one of the final four for the million dollars. For 1.2 seconds, I was the star of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Five years later I’m still trying to figure out how to word that on my CV. Now, with 18 months of shows left it seems like she’s coming around to my way of thinking, let’s entertain them instead of educating them. That’s my girl.

Somewhere during one of her thousands of shows, I remember Oprah speaking about what she knows for sure. I can’t remember what her things were, but she got me thinking about what I know for sure. My interpretation of this statement is what I would feel confident about writing down, signing my name to and putting on a billboard in Times Square for all to see. When I thought about it that way, my list seemed pretty small if almost non-existent. Then I sat down and pondered this subject awhile longer, put my fingers on the keyboard, and finally managed to come up with a few things. So, without further ado, here are some of the things that I know for sure:

1. I know for sure that I didn’t start that grass fire at my grandmother’s farm when I was eight like my sister and cousin said I did (those bitches have told that lie so long they believe it).
2. If you put washing up liquid in an automatic dishwasher, bubbles WILL flood the kitchen (my cousin was present during this mishap as well; you can draw your own conclusion).
3. If you chop more than 5 jalapenos without protecting your hands, you will spend the better part of a day soaking your fingers in water while writhing in pain.
4. There are two types of people, those who HAVE tripped and fallen in front of a crowd of people, and those who WILL trip and fall in front of a crowd of people.
5. My family loves me no matter what, and I will love them no matter what (yes, this includes my sister and my cousin).
6. My dog loves me no matter what, and I will still love him even if he pees on my sofa (I know this one for a fact).
7. On any given day, at any given time, there is nothing on any of the 300 cable channels on my TV.
8. No matter where we live, there will always be a barking dog living next door to us.
9. What goes around does indeed come around; i.e. even if we aren’t around to see it, our enemies will get it in the end.
10. I will be finding socks under my son’s bed when he is 30.
11. Wedding rings are fattening.
12. I will die before I get caught up on my laundry.

I know that my list is pretty simple but I have never claimed to be a deep thinker. I believe that sometimes we have a tendency to over think things until the simplicity in it is lost, and what a shame that is, because it is the simple things in life that keep us grounded. In celebration of all that is simple and good, I am sharing one of my favorite simply good recipes. This brings us to one more thing I know for sure, you’re gonna love it.

Stuffed Cinnamon Toast

Ground cinnamon
Cream cheese, softened to room temperature
Vanilla extract
Sliced sandwich bread
Blackberry, strawberry, apricot or your favorite flavor of jam

Preheat a waffle iron while you assemble the sandwiches.

Place a couple of tablespoons of sugar in a small bowl. Add half to one teaspoon or so of ground cinnamon and stir well; set aside.

In another small bowl combine a couple of ounces of softened cream cheese with a couple of teaspoons or so of sugar and a splash of vanilla extract; stir well and set aside.

Spread two slices of the bread generously with the cream cheese mixture. Spread two more slices generously with the jam. Pairing one of the cream cheese slices with one of the jam covered slices, close to form a sandwich.

Spread butter on the outside of one side of each sandwich. Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar. Turn the sandwich over and repeat the butter and cinnamon sugar step.

Place on the hot waffle iron and close the lid. Cook until the ready light comes on and the sandwich is golden brown and crispy.

Remove sandwiches and cool for a couple of minutes. Be careful as the cheese and jam may be very hot. Trim crusts. Repeat to make additional sandwiches.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Funeral for a Friend: Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Coconut Pecan Icing

I lost a dear friend the other day. Her life was quite dramatic but I loved her anyway. In the five years since I met her, we weathered her acrimonious divorce, crazy neighbors, jobs she didn’t like, kid problems, a couple of stupid boyfriends and one pretty good one. She helped me by listening to my constant ranting when my daughter was having trouble with some girls at school. She tasted my Pillsbury Bake-Off entries even when they consisted of deep fried crescent dough which no doubt clashed with the flavor of her martini and caused her to spend an extra hour on the treadmill.

We laughed so hard we cried and spoke for hours on the phone about nothing at all. She was even kind enough not to laugh too hard when she witnessed me backing into my daughter's car on prom night. Always my cheerleader, you can find her smiling face under my "Followers" a.k.a. 5280GRL. My life will be so much lonelier without her.

Kim was a real dish. More than one of my daughter’s 17 year old male friends fell in love with her at first sight. I, on the other hand, look like the typical mom but was never threatened by her beauty. She was my friend and she was everything I was not. I was her friend too and everything that she wasn’t.

She was a pretty good cook and loved to give it a try when she was in the mood, but her love for instant mashed potatoes was a dead giveaway that she was less than passionate about cooking. The first time my son ate reconstituted potato flakes was at her house. He had no idea that there existed a seedy potato underbelly but thanks to her, he began to appreciate the peeling, boiling and mashing that went into the fluffy white mounds on his plate. She said her crock pot Taco Soup was her specialty but somehow I never got around to tasting it and now sadly I never will.

I, along with many others, will say farewell to her tomorrow. I’m not sure if there will be a funeral luncheon or not. In south Texas where I grew up this after party is absolutely obligatory. It is a time when the living exchange pleasantries, have pot luck and take a deep cleansing breath. I have shamelessly tracked down some of my best homespun recipes at these gatherings in a bid to get my mind off the task at hand.

While painful, I have learned valuable lessons through my grief. Lessons like no matter the magnitude of our sadness, the sun will rise again, new friends will be made, and most certainly lost, and life will go on with or without us. Such is life, but with every day that we are able to enjoy it, we should embrace each other and take a big bite out of it and enjoy.

My favorite funeral luncheon recipe is the one that I share here today. Many years ago my mother’s stepmother made this cake for the funeral of one of her friends. My mother loved it and made it for years before we lost her too. It was a while before I could make my mom’s recipes without tearing up, but now whenever I think of her I smile and am comforted. I think I'll go now and have a piece, because boy do I ever need a bit of comfort today.

Oatmeal Cake with Broiled Coconut Pecan Icing

1 cup (75g) quick cooking oats
1 – 1/2 cups (375ml) boiling water
1 cup (110g) light brown sugar
1 cup (175g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (113g) butter (room temperature) or vegetable shortening
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 – 1/2 cups (240g) flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, 180C.

Place oats in a medium size bowl and pour boiling water over and stir; cool to warm.

In a large bowl, mix together the sugars and the butter or shortening with an electric mixer set to medium; add oatmeal and continue mixing to combine. Add the eggs, vanilla, flour, cinnamon, soda and salt; mix well.

Pour into a greased and floured 9 x 13” baking pan. Bake 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in pan.
Ice while still warm.

Coconut Pecan Icing:

6 tablespoons (85g) melted butter
1/3 cup (80ml) half and half or whipping cream
1 cup (110g) light brown sugar
1 cup (100g) coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup (50g) sweetened or desiccated coconut*

Place all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl; blend well. Spread over warm cake and place in the oven under the broiler (grill). Broil icing for approximately 3 minutes, watching very carefully as it can burn easily. Remove when the coconut and pecans are light brown and icing is bubbly.

*If using dessicated coconut, increase the cream to 125ml and combine it with the coconut in a medium size bowl to soften when you begin making the cake.  Cover it and set it aside until ready to use.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Just When You Thought You'd Seen It All

I freely admit that I am a very frugal person. I religiously clip coupons from the Sunday paper (which I normally forget in the car with my reusable shopping bags) to help fuel my foodie lifestyle. I love the bargain bin at my local grocery store which is thankfully located not far from the reduced meat section where I buy my market aged beef. Being a power bargain shopper, I am careful about what I buy in these areas, no dented cans, no expired items and only aged beef, no poultry, pork or fish. I am usually content to stay within the familiar confines of my local King Soopers, but like Tiger Woods, I sometimes get bored with the same old thing and occasionally stray. My husband will be glad to know that the extent of my infidelity is leaving my local market and heading over to the more exotic Whole Foods. There is no expectation of a bargain here. No red reduced labels anywhere to be found just pretty high prices on pretty much everything, but like the aforementioned celebrity golfer, the seduction is usually too much for me, I throw caution to the wind and grab a shopping cart. Since I have no willpower when it comes to this place, I have chosen to just stay away so I am not tempted to go crazy until the memories of all the spending I did during the holidays fade a bit.

Last Saturday, Grace and I decided to go to one of the little artsy movie houses across town to see An Education. Since I am such an anglophile and she loves Peter Sarsgaard, we decided that this would be the perfect afternoon outing for us. Now we have already established how thrifty I am, so it will come as no surprise when I tell you that I am one of the legions of cinema goers who smuggles their own snacks into the theater. I mean why pay $3.00 for a bottle of water when I can bring one from home that only costs $.40? Since we were running a bit short on time and there wasn’t a Walgreen’s (my favorite pre-show snack shop) around, we pulled into Whole Foods for a slice of Fresh Berry Chantilly Cake and a couple of forks for our snacking pleasure. As soon as we walked into the entrance of the produce department, I felt the earth move. There, right in front of us was a bin filled with the most beautifully exotic looking things I have ever seen. Another shopper, who was standing close by overheard our conversation about these alien looking pieces of fruit and nonchalantly said, “Oh, those are Buddha Hand Lemons.” Why didn’t I know what they were? I mean, I’ve won cooking contests and write a blog about food. I search the web for ideas and read countless cookbooks. How did this escape my attention while this woman obviously has known about them for sometime?! Humbling, to say the least. Just to tell you how taken I was by this new discovery, I paid $5.00 for one and was happy to do it so I could share it here with those of you who may be as stupid as I. I was so taken in fact by my Buddha Hand Citron as it is properly known (take that Ms. Know It All) that Grace and I left the store forgetting what we came for, our Chantilly Cake.

Once home I carefully placed it in the vegetable crisper and threatened my son with slow painful torture if he broke off any of its appendages or harmed it in any way. The next afternoon, I waited until the lighting was just right and set it up for its close up. I placed it in front of the window to take the photo I show you here today. I only wish that I could share with you the wonderful lemony smell that it emits. After snapping a few photos I couldn’t wait to cut it open and see what’s inside. Let me tell you, when you decided to cut your own, you’ll need to eat your spinach and get a VERY sharp knife because these things are the armadillo of the fruit world. Once cut in half, the clean lemony smell filled my kitchen. I have to say that I was disappointed to find nothing inside but soft white pith. No seeds, no lovely little sacks of tart juice, nothing but the one thing that is in abundance, lots and lots of peel. If you plan on making tons of lemony flavored somethings, head to your nearest Whole Foods and invest in one of these beautiful creations of nature and get zesting.