31 March 2015

This Needs To Stop

Yes, it is just, as the say on the weather report, a dusting, but come on!  When we first posted about the daffodils coming up, my BFF Beverly informed me they were crocus.  If they were squash, we would have recognized them.

We are expecting another "dusting" Thursday night.  Sunday is Easter.  Let's get this over with!

25 March 2015

A Casserole

After the floods, blizzards, no water, no heat, no electricity of early March, my first trip to the grocery store was joyous. I could have anything I wanted. So what was my first big meal after returning to civilization? A casserole.

We were not a casserole family. My mother never made mac and cheese. The notion of casseroles was foreign to my great aunts. They believed that if you didn't grow, you probably shouldn't eat it. They rarely ate cheese, never ate Italian, Mexican, or Chinese, never ate anything hot or spicy.  That is the reason this casserole stood out to me. My great aunt made this Mexican Chicken Casserole once.

The casserole contains chicken and an onion, staples in the kitchen. Then it went totally off my family radar.  There was a lot of cheese which we never had. There were two cans of CANNED soup, and canned soup never touched our lips. Then there was the "Mexican" element which presented itself in the form of a tiny can of chopped peppers, available in your stores International isle, and isle we never went down. The other truly authentic Mexican item was a a bag of Doritos. We never ventured down the chip/soda isle.

To make this casserole required the purchase of five items!  Three cans, a bag of Doritos and cheese!   Casserole was an event! I loved it but it was never invited back to the family table.

At home with just my mother and me, I would often make it.  In my own kitchen, I have made it with homemade soup, but after all my calamities, I just wanted comfort and this fit the bill.

Like most casseroles, there is a protein (chicken), a starch (Doritos), a sauce (two cans of cream of chicken soup), an scant attempt at a vegetable (onions and peppers), and finally a binder (cheese).  Repeat these in multiple layers, always ending in cheese and you have a casserole.

Mexican Chicken Casserole

1 bag of Doritos
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 teaspoon oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 can diced peppers
2 cans cream of chicken soup (to be a real gourmet use one can cream of chicken and one can cream of celery)
2 cups grated cheddar

In a large skillet, heat the oil and add the chopped onion, cooking about three minutes until translucent.  Add the can of peppers and stir for another minute.  Add two ans of soup and heat till just boiling.

In a tall casserole dish, layer the of the dish with Doritos.  Add  1/3 of the chicken.  With the chicken in place, begin adding Doritos to the sides of the dish.  You want the Doritos to form a rough crust around the edges of the casserole.  Set a row with the wide side down, the a second row, with the pointed edge filling in the gap.  When the row is complete, add 1/3 of the sauce followed by 1/3 of the cheese. 

Add a layer of Doritos, flat on top of the cheese and then again around the edges adding 1/3 of the chicken, 1/3 of the sauce, 1/3 of the cheese.  Repeat a final time, ending with the cheese.  You will probably have leftover Doritos, just save them for something else.

Bake in a 350 oven for about 40 minutes.

When my casserole came out of the oven, I just wanted to sit on the floor next to the stove, hold it in my lap, and eat the whole thing.  I refrained. But after a tough week, one can't beat a warm, mushy, gooey, childhood treat.  Next time life sucks -- make casserole.

20 March 2015

Famous Food Friday - Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray

In 1947, Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray stared in "The Egg and I." The movie was based on Betty MacDonald's book of the same name. It was a wildly popular account of her life as a young bride on a chicken farm. When I say The Egg and I was a popular book, I mean that in less than a year it sold a million copies! The film rights were quickly sold and in 1947 the book became a movie with Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. 

In addition to Colbert and MacMurray, the film co-stared Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride as Ma and Pa Kettle.  Main was nominated for an Academy Award for best Supporting Actress but she lost to Celeste Holm in "Gentleman's Agreement." (It is so hard to win for comedy!) After all the publicity, practically everyone involved with the book was sued.  According to the folks down on the farm, old Mrs. MacDonald portrayed them negatively and they wanted monetary gains for being made to look foolish! And they did indeed get paid, but enough about them.

If you bounce over to Cookbook Of The Day, you know that we are especially fond of egg cookbooks and of celebrity recipes. This Famous Food Friday, we have both. As a spin-off of the wildly successful movie, The Favorite Egg Recipes of Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray was published in a booklet by the National Egg Board. (Yes, Virginia, we are willing to concede that these recipes are probably not the actual recipes of Fred and Claudette, but we are happy to overlook such notions.)

According to Colbert:

"The egg is really one of the greatest boons to womankind, ranking with the sewing machine, the electric washer, the permanent wave and the right to vote."

According to MacMurray:

"The egg, for my money, is the best friend of any man ever trapped in the kitchen."

I love eggs as much as the next person, but I am not sure I would equate them with voting rights.  What a difference seventy years makes. Well we are still eating eggs, still voting, and still drinking. Of course, today we are drinking alcohol. In 1947 such drinking, especially endorsed by the family friendly National Egg Board, was frowned upon. Here is an eggy julep for you, in the truest sense of a sweet, flavored drink, as opposed to the kind that most often feature a good shot of bourbon.

Egg and I Julep

3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups orange juice, strained
1/3 cup lemon juice, strained
Crushed ice, club soda

Blend eggs, sugar and salt. Add fruit juices. Shake or beat until sugar is dissolved. pour over finely cracked ice to fill tall glasses 1/2 full. Add club soda slowly. Stir. Serve promptly.

Feel free to add a big ol' glug of bourbon! on a personal note, I would suggest trolling Turner Broadcasting to find a showing of any one of Ma and Pa Kettle's movies and feel free to watch with a big ol' glug of bourbon!

18 March 2015

No Food Like Southern Food

My mother's family in Alabama believed there was no food in the north. It does seem counter intuitive, perhaps they believed there was no GOOD food in the north. They were always sending food stuff to my mother. On one rather calamitous trip to Alabama, where I got sick, my mother got sick, and my father was forced to come and rescue us, food from the South became a big issue. 

Since my mother wouldn't fly, my father came to get us and take us back to the cold, cold north on the train. He was not happy that his presence was required to get his family home, but it seems that every time we went to Alabama, there was some sort of conspiracy to keep us there. My father bundled us up and there was a big ol' caravan to take us to the train station in Birmingham. We got on the train and all was well, until it wasn't.  Our train was delayed, which required an unexpected train change and a short timeline.

My father got the bags and was somewhat dismayed at the sheer weight of two bags.  I was  still a bit sick and whiny, complaining about the train change and the cold weather in Chicago.  My father set down the bags a bit too forcefully and soon it became clear why they weighed so much. My great-aunts had stuffed them with canned beans, tomatoes, pickles, and jams.  It was a quart of bean that broke in the bag, soaking the contents with bean juice, beans, not to mention the chunks of broken Ball jars.

He got mad, mother cried, then I cried.  There was no way to simply abandon the bags.  We made it home but we never again traveled to Alabama without my father and we never went on the train, again.

I am no better.  Back when White Lily Flour was still milled in the South and still hard to find way up north, I would bring back bags of flour from my visits.  After one visit, a friend of mine, who was also a chef, walked into the kitchen and asked if I was thinking of opening a bakery.  Last year, returning from Charleston, SC my car held two cases of Blenheim ginger ale, ten pounds of Carolina Gold rice, and five pounds of sea island red peas.

This trip South was no different. It was a perfect time to stock the larder with Southern delicacies. Where to begin?  Let's begin with bourbon in Kentucky -- Bourbon Barrel Foods. They began in 2006 as a soy sauce microbrewery.  Exactly!  They were the only one in America.  Now they have moved on into Worcestershire sauce, salts and vanilla.  With Woodford Reserve® they are making bitters, spice blends, and Woodford Reserve® Bourbon Cherries.  
In Tennessee, we made an almost religious pilgrimage to Benton's for bacon and country 
ham.  The James Beard Foundation is naming Allan Benton to it's 2015 Who's Who of Food & Beverage in America and no one deserves it more. While we were waiting on some county ham, one of the butchers asked me if I cooked dried bean. I said I did and he tucked and enormous ham hock into by bag!  It that wasn't great enough, we also picked up some Cruze Buttermilk.  Why carry buttermilk from Tennessee to West Virginia?  Cruze buttermilk is ACTUAL buttermilk.  That stuff you get in groceries is cheap milk with cheap additives.  The is no butter there.  Cruze is the real thing.  We also grabbed a couple of bars of Olive & Sinclair Chocolate.

While we never quite crossed into North Carolina, we couldn't resist a jar of Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Sorghum Butter.  We did nick a corner or Georgia, so we picked up some olive oil from Georgia Olive Farms. Who needs Italy!
Of course, the biggest haul came from Alabama.  We headed up to Elkmont on a Sunday, knowing that Belle Chevre would be closed, but we wanted to do a drive-by.  We wrote about owner Tasis Malakasis' first cookbook here.  Glad to see another one on the way.

We wrote about Susan McEwen McIntosh's cookbook Glorious Grits here. Some of the most glorious grits are from McEwen & Sons in Wilsonville, Alabama.  They have excellent corn meal, too. We have written about Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book here. Big Bob's is the home of white barbecue sauce, and while I often make it fresh, we picked up a couple of bottles to have on hand.
We went to a party at Good People Brewing Company, who let us party in the midst of expansion. We grabbed some Snake Handler on tap, but it was scarce as... well, snake handlers.  Fortunately, my goddaughter knew a place in north Alabama and we found some to bring home.

The first thing I cooked when unloaded the loot was a pot of beans with my ham hock from Benton's.  They had cut it in four nice pieces, so there was plenty to spare.  I made a skillet of cornbread with McEwen's meal and Cruze buttermilk.  As soon as the cornbread was ready, I cut a piece and spread it with Belle Chevre Pimento cheese.
They say the next big food area is Appalachia.  If that's true, this is best we can offer.
With all the turmoil and bad things that happened in March, we can honestly say, the larder is in great shape!

17 March 2015

Tea Brack

Recently, I became obsessed with tea brack. I got one of those catalogues for King Arthur Flour in Vermont (affectionately known as King Bisquit by me) and on the back pages was a recipe for tea brack. It seemed like a great fit for my baking box. I think that was the spark. So I looked the cake up on the Internet. Big mistake.

There really is such a thing as too much information. In the olden days, like ten years ago, I would have grabbed a cookbook, found a recipe, and made the cake/bread.  But noooooo.  Now there are a zillion recipes.  Go ahead, Google it and check out the photos.   

Now with something like chocolate cake, there a zillion recipes, but they look like chocolate cake. Tea brack was all over the place. Maybe it was because it started out as a bread, but moved over to a more cake-like incarnation.  Who knows?  Well, it turns out I know quite a bit.

Originally it was a bairín breac.  "Bairín" meaning loaf and "breac" meaning speckled, so bairín breac is a speckled loaf, a raisin bread.

"Barm" pronounced like "barn"  is the yeast filtered out of beer toward the end of production. It was a cheap source for leavening bread. So it is often called "barmbrack."

Because it sounds like "barn," the English often called the bread "barnbrack."

But some think "barm" is actually derived from the old English word "beorma" meaning  yeasty.  There is also a word "aran" meaning bread.  Aran Breac would be another way of saying yeasty bread.

And since it is Irish and there are a lot of freckles in Ireland, it is also called Freckle bread.

Most recipes require the fruit, usually raisins and sultana, to be soaked in a strong tea overnight, so some people call it Irish Tea Bread, or tea brack.  Not to mention it is often served with tea in the afternoon. 

 If you want to be chummy, just call it brack. 

The brack is a tradition in Ireland for Halloween.  Much like a King's Cake in New Orleans with a baby baked in, the Halloween brack has all sorts of items tucked in to predict one's future. These item include:

A pea: sadly no marriage for you that year.
A stick: if married you will be unhappy, if not you will have a contentious year.
A rag: you will have bad luck or be poor, which might be seen as the same thing.
A coin: the opposite of the rag, so money and good fortune.
A ring: you are headed to the alter.
A medallion of the Virgin Mary: you are headed to the alter with Jesus.
Fortunatly, it is not Halloween.

Yeast was a popular raising agent in many cakes.  The 19th century saw a rise in the popularity of various baking powders that aided in the leavening of cakes. In 1856, Eben Norton Horsford began studying the chemical compositions for a baking powder.  He was a founder of the Rumford Chemical Works, named for  Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford, who endowed the professorship that paid for Horsford's early work. In 1869, his rising mixture was manufactured and commercial baking powder was born.

Really, I just wanted a tea cake!!

First I made a yeasted loaf.  It didn't rise much, it wasn't very sweet, and it was dry.  I sliced some of it and looked like someone stepped on my biscotti.  So I sliced it all, let it dry out and made bread pudding -- Irish Barmbrack Tea Bead Pudding.  It was A-OK.

But still, no tea cake.

I looked at recipe after recipe.  After the lackluster yeasty brack, I was skeptical. So I devised my own recipe. In the end, I added milk, too much milk, and the cake was a touch soggy in the middle.

However, one is supposed to toast the brack and slather it with butter.  So my slightly soggy tea brack dried out in the toaster.  Covered with butter, it really didn't matter. It was a tasty little treat.  One I will probably never make again!  Which is a shame since I know most everything one could possibly know about this cake, except how to make a good one!

Here is the recipe:


OK, fine.  The simplest recipe I came across was one on Nigella Lawson's community board.  That means it's not Nigella's recipe, just one posted on her site.  It would also seem that Nigella's site translates recipes from grams to ounces quite literally, which is kinda funny!
Tea Brack

13.24 oz golden raisins 
8.83 oz soft light brown sugar 
11 fl oz tea (strong, hot)
butter (for greasing) 
10.59 oz self-raising flour 
1 egg (beaten)
Here's hoping you don't find rags in your bread.

16 March 2015

Luke, I am Your Father...

We planned to post this, the last (please God...) icicle of winter. It was nearly four feet long and weighed about three pounds. Usually, when one reaches for them, they immediately break into several pieces, but this one came down in tact. We felt rather Star Wars!

We got a bit preoccupied with disaster so we never finished this post. And then today...
a harbinger of Spring. When the lady at the post office reminded me that we always have an Easter snow, I scoffed. Keep those daffodils coming!

14 March 2015

Pi Day

For Pi day we made our favorite and signature Chocolate Honey BBQ Frito Pie.  Salty, sweet, and chocolate.  Who could resist?  Here is the recipe.

11 March 2015

March Came in Like A Z#%^HVDF%**

Yes, January sucked, February sucked, but March...I was looking forward to a lovely March.  How bad could it be?

February was ending on a high note.  I went South for a conference that I was looking forward to.  I would see my BFF, Beverly.  All would be well.   I had to stop in Tennessee because there was a blizzard in Alabama.  But I got there, got to the conference, and February ended in fine form.

1 March:

Heading back to North Alabama, I had a blow out.  AAA couldn't find my account but finally sent out a truck.  While had managed to get the lug nuts off, I couldn't get the tire loose.  The tow truck guy told me there was a trick for removing stuck tires and I watched carefully as he bent his knee and kicked the tire.  Yes, it popped right off!

2 March:

Got the tire replaced and headed home even though I was planning to stay and leave on the third, but the weather was looking iffy!

3 March:

Arrived home but just in time.  By the late afternoon this was my road:

4 March:

By the morning I was originally scheduled to get home, the bridge was underwater, so it was a good thing I left when I did.  That night it snowed.
And snowed...
And then we lost electricity.  And it continued to snow.

5 March:

This was our second day with no heat, no phones, no water, no lights, no refrigerator.  There was an eerie silence interrupted by generators.   My neighbor, Lynn, made his way over and helped me set up my generator.   I got lights, and a refrigerator, but for some reason, the heater was not on the generator circuit.  And it had been so cold, the water had frozen.  That night it was 36 degrees in the house.  I piled on blankets and the cats came and crawled under with me.

6 March:

I found several animals dead in the yard.   After getting wet and not finding shelter from the blizzard it was too much for several stragglers.  According to the power company, it would be 10 March before power would be restored.

I kept watching for Dr. Zhivago to cross the fields.

7 March:

The sun came out.
It warmed up, but not enough to thaw the water pipes.

I went out for more fuel for the generators.

8 March:

Another trip for gasoline.  A wide-load truck came over a hill going faster than the speed limit without his lead car.  I slammed on the breaks and spilt gasoline in the back of the car.
I delivered gasoline.  At about 6 pm, the electricity was restored.  After an afternoon of sun and rising temperatures, the water finally came back on.  We had heat, water, and telephones!

9 March:

I forgot to close the back of the car as I wanted some of the gasoline to dissipate and my car was dead!  A neighbor found me walking to the Post Office and took me home and jumped my car.

10 March:

Made it to the grocery store for much needed milk and veggies.   Met a neighbor who still had no power!

As I said in my last post like this, hey I am alive, and well, and currently warm!  With everything happening in the world, I am very lucky, but really....So now I am looking forward to April.

I have several recipes, books to tell you about, tunes to recommend and I promise -- no more whining!

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