Monday, February 6, 2012

Old dogs, new tricks. Spice cake, anyone?

You know the saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," right? Well, I'm an old dog when it comes to hanging out in the kitchen. I don't particularly like to cook. Never have. And if I'm going to do something I don't like to do, it had better be easy.
Forget quiche. I use the quiche pan my daughter gave me as a pie tin at Thanksgiving.
Parmesan chicken? Too involved. Early morning, put frozen chicken drummies in a crockpot with some water, a good spoonful of chicken soup base from the local WINCO and maybe add some celery leaves for flavor. Just before dinner, boil some spuds and heat up a can of beans or corn, thicken the liquid in the crockpot with corn starch thickener so there's some gravy and there you go. Quick and sweet and can't be beat.
Like I said, I want it simple.
I don't generally take the time for a dessert - I don't figure we need it - but once in a while I get to hankering for something. Yesterday it was applesauce...some of the cinnamon-flavored applesauce I canned last fall. But applesauce by itself didn't seem right. That's when I thought of spice cake.
Now, maybe old dogs don't learn new tricks all that easy but I'm here to tell you I learned a new baking trick yesterday that's a winner and I want to pass it along.
See, Sundays are supposed to be a day of rest, right? Except at our house. Yesterday was especially crammed so we opened a couple jars of home-canned spaghetti sauce, threw some pasta in a pot and concocted a salad out of a can of fruit cocktail, an orange from the fridge and an apple or two that an older neighbor gave us after we helped her clean off her apple tree last fall. But I wanted something more...something spicy. A spice cake with applesauce topping sounded just right. With someone coming for help on the computer, though, I didn't have time to make one.
That's when Rick stepped in.
My sweet husband knows I don't generally like cake mix cakes. I much prefer the made-from-scratch cakes like what we ate at Mathilde's table. I guess homemade is a slice of home for me.
However, he had this Betty Crocker golden vanilla cake mix stashed away on one of the high shelves of the cupboard so he fished it out thinking I could still have the dessert I wanted - cake with applesauce - without cutting into the time I'd promised someone else.
I looked at that box of cake mix and thought, "A white cake with applesauce? That just doesn't seem right. Not interested."
Then a lightbulb went off. I grabbed my  40+ year old Joy of Cooking cookbook, looking for my favorite spice cake recipe. 2 tsp. of cinnamon, 1 tsp of cloves and 1/2 tsp of allspice later, we had a spice cake that was even better than my made-from-scratch cakes.
I think I'm going to add some cake mixes to this week's grocery list.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I've been craving gingerbread lately. Cookies wouldn't do - it had to be something sinfully and richly slathered with topping...mainly because I wanted to rid my fridge of a nearly-full container of Cool Whip. To splurge or not to splurge - such a difficult decision! You see, last week my doctor  informed me I have to go off chocolate because I'm borderline diabetic. (There you go. Now I've officially declaired my condition, no southern chef stuff here.)

Anyway, the doc didn't say to stay away from gingerbread-and-Cool Whip. Never mind the fact she probably would have if she'd known I like that aaalllmost as well as I like double-chocolate/ marshmallow brownies. She didn't say it so I wasn't bound by restrictions affecting that tub of Cool Whip. I agonized over its pending demise all week and finally decided, yesterday, that since the day was Sunday and I'd been good since last Monday, maybe I could have a little reward. Besides, Cool Whip doesn't have near the calories that sweetened whipped cream has, does it? And gingerbread isn't as loaded as brownies...particularly not the type we make at our house.

So I fished out the recipe we used in Mathilde's home, whipped up a pan of gingerbread, and fed a slew of our youngest daughter's friends...and Rick and me.

The pan's empty, now. My fridge is minus one Cool Whip tub.  And I think I'll share this super-good recipe for gingerbread with you.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Cream together:
1     C. white sugar
1/2  C. butter or margarine
Add to creamed mixture, then beat:
2          eggs
Add and mix in:
1/2   C. molasses
Sift together:
2     C. flour
1      tsp. each:
Add sifted ingredients to creamed mixture and mix thoroughly.
STIR in:
1     C. boiling water (I use the 1/2 C. measuring cup that had molasses in it to measure the water)
When evenly blended, pour mixture into a greased 9"x13" pan.
Bake 25-30 minutes or until gingerbread pulls slightly away from the sides of the pan.

This gingerbread can be served warm or cold.
Mathilde topped her gingerbread with sweetened whipped cream - skimmed from the milk from her cows. Since the town I live in frowns on me keeping a cow in my back yard, I use either Cool Whip or vanilla ice cream. Any of the three works equally well.
What a great treat for a cold wintery day!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Good eating for a cold winter's day

If August is known as the dog days of summer, what should we call January? The disagreeable dark devil of winter? True, the shortest day of the year falls in December but there’s Christmas or Hanukah or a ski holiday or a New Year’s celebration to look forward to with anticipation and that helps a person to get through December’s darkness. But January? Seems to me that January is nothing but bad weather no matter how you look at it.

Last year the lower 48 were seeing unprecedented snow. Storm after storm after storm. True, this year we’ve had inordinate amounts of sun down here while parts of Alaska are scrambling to cope with the white stuff, but even our sunshine brings its own problems. Drought. Plants that aren’t protected by a blanket of snow. Drying winds sapping all moisture from our lawns and flower beds. Doesn’t matter how you look at it, January isn’t my favorite month.

I don’t remember a winter like this one when I lived on Nephi and Mathilde’s ranch. Oh, we got a Chinook wind a couple of times and everything was a mess because the ground was still frozen and there was no place for the snow-turned-water to go but that only happened a couple of times and never in January, even then.

With winters in Jackson Hole, you could count on at least three deep cold snaps a year. If you didn’t get one around Thanksgiving, you could count on one just after Christmas, another one or two in January and maybe one in February. By deep cold snaps, I’m talking about -35F to -45F and I remember one Christmas when it got down to -60F. By anybody’s standards, that’s just a mite chilly.

Times like that, Mathilde made sure there was plenty of good sustaining food served at her table. One dish, a meat loaf that she served, has been a staple in my family ever since I left her home. It’s so good I’ve had men who professed to hate meat loaf ask their wives to get the recipe from me. Maybe this dish will help lighten the dark days of winter for you.


400 F. Oven

Preheat oven. Meanwhile:

In a large bowl, whip with a fork until slightly beaten:

1                 egg


1                 lb. hamburger

2          Tbsp. melted butter (or margarine)

2          Tbsp. chopped onion

¼         tsp. pepper

1          C. oatmeal (can use coarsely broken soda crackers)

1          C. milk

1          tsp. salt

Mix thoroughly.

Line the bottom of a loaf pan with catsup. Form loaf of meat mixture and put in pan. Across top lay:

Strips of bacon

Bake in oven 1 hour.

That’s the official recipe but it’s not how I make it. To begin with, y’all know I’m not a great fan of strict measurements. Who has exactly one pound of hamburger lurking in their fridge? Not me. And I don’t see any reason to add melted butter when you’re putting strips of bacon across the top and catsup on the bottom. And 2 Tbsp of chopped onion? Pullease! If a little onion is good, a little more is better, right?

            So I do this my own way.

            I don’t buy milk unless one of the kids is home so I substitute ¾ C of water added to the egg and sprinkle 1/3 C of powdered milk (doesn’t have to be instant but it can be) over the meat after I put it in. My husband is allergic to onions but onion salt doesn’t bother him so I make a good sprinkling of onion salt across the top of the meat, too, before I mix everything together – just to where I can see there’s onion salt there – and that takes care of both the salt and onion ingredients.  Pepper can be optional. I never used to use it but now I do and the meat loaf is good either way.

If you’re in a time crunch (and who isn’t these days?) you can put this meat loaf mixture in a microwaveable dish, cover it with plastic wrap, then microwave it at full power for 10 to 15 minutes and it will be ready to serve.

What could be easier?

Monday, January 9, 2012


            I love libraries. I love books. And I love learning new things.
Last week I was leaving our local library with an armful of Tony Hillerman books when a new book on the display rack caught my eye. LOST IN SHANGRI-LA. Interesting title. I read James Hilton’s LOST HORIZON a million years ago when I was in high school. The Lettermen’s song, Shangri-la, is still a favorite. But Lost in Shangri-la? I had to take a second look.
Even more interesting, close up the book was labeled A true story of survival, adventure, and the most incredible rescue mission of World War II. Well, now, anyone who knows me knows I’m all over history when it doesn’t come out of a text book. Shangri-la sounded like south-east Asia and I just finished reading Colonel Scott’s book, God Is My Co-Pilot, about his experiences flying the hump in Indo-china during the war so I had to check this book out.
It’s gonna be hard getting my work done with Lost in Shangri-La in the house. 
So what does south-east Asia have to do with down-home country food? Probably not a heck of a lot but while you’re steeping yourself in the flavor of the book (and I heartily recommend it) you might enjoy the following Polynesian chicken recipe.
400 F Oven
In a baking dish, arrange:
            2 lb. broiler-fryer pieces
Season with:
             salt and pepper (I seldom use salt in my cooking so that’s optional and I don't think I've cooked with plain pepper since I discovered McCormick’s Montreal Steak seasoning. If you haven’t tried it, you should.)
Bake seasoned chicken for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, drain:
            1 (8 ¼ oz.)      can sliced pineapple, reserving a good 2 Tbsp. of the liquid.            Combine reserved liquid with:                                                                                              
      1/3 C Heinz 57 Sauce
      2    Tbsp. honey

After chicken has baked for ½ hour, remove from oven. Pour liquid over chicken. Return to oven and bake 25 minutes, basting occasionally.
Remove from oven.  Arrange pineapple over chicken. Return to oven and bake another 10 minutes. Remove, drain excess fat from sauce. Arrange chicken on platter. Spoon sauce over chicken. Serve with cooked rice and either a tossed green or a fruit salad.
Makes 4 servings of a feast fit for Shangri-la. Happy reading and happy eating.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pioneer style pancakes, anyone?

Our niece mentioned, the other day, that she missed Mathilde’s sour dough pancakes. Wished she had the recipe.
I gotta tell you, I grew up on those pancakes. We ate them every morning of the year. My earliest breakfast memories are of Mathilde standing in front of her wood cookstove, flipping pancakes for her large family. At that time, there were nine of us who gathered around her table at 6:30am every day. Breakfast normally consisted of cracked-wheat cereal (which I never liked) or maybe a malt-o-meal-type homemade 'mush' (which I wasn't all that fond of either), fried eggs, bacon and sour dough pancakes with her home-made syrup. Adults drank coffee, postum or water. My brother, sister and I got milk - sometimes still warm from the cow. It was a hearty breakfast that had to tide us over until Mathilde served dinner at 12 noon.
I suppose if you analyzed Mathilde's meals, they'd flunk a nutritionist’s scrutiny. She didn't worry about calories or cholesterol. I doubt she ever even heard the terms. What she did worry about was giving us enough to keep us going. Winters in Jackson Hole were long, cold and difficult. Summers weren't all that different. We noticed if there was frost on the ground in mid-July but it wasn't shocking. We knew we could get actual snow any month of the year. Besides, in Mathilde's opinion, a lot of things could come along and make a day difficult but if a person had a good, substantial breakfast under his belt, he could face it much easier.
Some folks love sour dough. I did as a kid. And for those who do, here are some basic recipes for you to try.
First things first, you have to brew up some starter. Mathilde had a fat little brown crock that she kept her starter in. Nowadays those crocks have a hole in the lid. Mine does. Mathilde's didn't. Don't think it needed one because her home was uninsulated and the only heat came from the kitchen cookstove and a slightly larger wood heater in the living room. It might be -45F outside but we still slept with the windows to our bedrooms cracked open for fresh air. - So, it wasn't warm enough in that house for Mathilde's crock to need a hole. If you can't find a crock or if you just want to try sour dough just to say you did, I'm sure you could use a large fruit jar or a bowl or something. Haven't done it, myself. Haven't needed to.
Before I go any farther, I also need to say these recipes for sour dough starter weren’t Mathilde’s. I don’t know when her starter was first begun. My guess is that it originally came from Nephi’s mother when he first left home in 1902. I am not aware that Mathilde’s starter was ever allowed to run out until after her son, Merrill, died in 1992. If your starter is used regularly, as hers was, it’s constantly replaced and does not have to be restarted.
Recipe #1
Mix together and let set out overnight:
2 C. Flour
(just less than) 2 C. water
1 pkg dry yeast

This is a good recipe for making:

Scones -
Pour some starter in a bowl. Add:
2 t. Baking Powder
1 t. Sugar
Enough flour to make a stiff dough.
Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. Cook to golden brown on both sides, turning as needed.
Drain and serve. Honey-butter or jam is good on these.
You’ll notice these instructions are rather imprecise. Pioneer cooks didn’t measure the way we do. They grew up knowing how much to use through experience. All of these recipes say ‘pour some starter in a bowl’. And that’s exactly what Mathilde did. But you always have to leave some starter in the crock to keep the yeast going.
Also, when she measured things like baking powder, soda or sugar into her sour dough, she didn’t use measuring spoons. She used a desert spoon from her silverware drawer. Baking powder and sugar in the above recipe would have been sprinkled over the starter in the bowl.
Recipe #2 (This starter recipe came from my mother-in-law who was a superb cook and, because she worked in a school cafeteria, she was more into using precise measurements.)
Combine in bowl or crock:
1/2 pkg dry yeast (1 1/4 t.)
2 C. sifted flour
2 T sugar
2 1/2 C warm water
When combined, cover with a cloth. Let stand in a warm place for 2 days.
To replenish, each time some is used, add:
2 C. flour
2 C. warm water
Stir briefly.

ALWAYS, when you use some of your starter, replenish it. I don’t remember ever measuring the water and flour – Mathilde just dumped a healthy scoop of flour in and added water until it looked the right consistency.  I still have the metal scoop she kept in her flour bin and she used a coffee cup for adding water. If there was going to be company at her table, she made more. If someone was away on business, she made a little less. Again, that came with practice. Better to follow the recipe until you get the hang of it.
For pancakes, I can offer the following recipes. The first one is a little fancier. I’ve never made it but it’s said to be very good.
Pancakes #1 -
Pour some starter in a bowl. Add:
3 Eggs
2 t. Baking Powder
2 t. Oil
1 t. Sugar
1 t. Salt
Mix together. Fry on greased griddle.

Mathilde Moulton's pancake recipe was as follows.
Pour some starter in a bowl, leaving at least a little in the crock to get the flour and water started turning sour for the next day.
1 or 2 Eggs (Mathilde used 1. I like eggs. I use 2.)
2 heaping desert spoons of sugar
1 spoonful of soda (mash in palm of hand to break up lumps, then sprinkle over bowl contents)
Beat with a large spoon until dough thickens. If you want thick pancakes, leave it at that. If you want them a little thinner, keep beating with spoon and the batter will get thin again. It’s weird that way.

Cook on greased griddle. Mathilde always used left-over bacon grease to grease her griddle.
Another breakfast memory I have was of Mathilde’s son, Merrill, flipping pancakes. Mathilde’s griddle was rectangular with slightly raised edges and a decently long handle. After she could no longer do the cooking, Merrill frequently cooked the breakfasts and he loved to delight us kids with his pancake flipping abilities. While Mathilde always used a pancake turner, Merrill was adept at flipping them a couple feet in the air and catching them square on the griddle. That was so much fun.
Of course pancakes aren’t pancakes without syrup. I doubt Aunt Jemima’s ever saw the light of day until Mathilde was getting on in years. She wouldn’t have had the opportunity to buy it anyway so she made her own syrup. Her recipe follows:
Pancake syrup:
In a sauce pan mix:
1 C. white sugar
1 C . packed brown sugar
2 C. water
Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and serve. Can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or more. Hers never lasted that long.
Myself, I’m very partial to maple flavor and a little more robust syrup so I cut the water to 1 ½ C or less and sometimes add a little clear corn syrup. Once the mixture boils, I turn off the heat and pour in some mapeline flavoring. I don’t measure. A capful is stingy. A good glug out of the mapeline bottle is about right. After all, if a little is good, a bunch is better, right?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Crowd-pleaser for New Year's

You're busier'n a one-armed-paper-hanger, putting the last touches on the decorations for your New Year's bash, and who calls to say she and all her little curtain-climbers are showing up on your doorstep in two hours? Aunt Mary with her bazillion kids.
A quick glance at your refreshment buffet convinces you it will handle your invited guests with a little left over. But a whole tribe of extras? Not a chance! What are you gonna do now?

While the following recipe may not be from pioneer days, I've used it every Christmas/New Year's for over 40 years. A universal crowd-pleaser, it never fails to be the first treat to disappear. And, fortunately, it doesn't take all that long to make.

WALNUT BARS                                                                                          350F. Oven

Crust -
Cream together (use a fork and cream until about the consistency of coarse meal):

1/2     C. Butter (I always use baking margarine with perfect results)
1 1/2  C. Flour

Line bottom and 1/2" up the sides of a 9"X13" cake pan. Bake 15 min. DO NOT BROWN.

While crust is baking, prepare filling:

1 1/2   C Brown Sugar, packed (I prefer C & H DARK BROWN - it has a fantastic flavor)
2         T. Flour
1/2       t.  Baking Powder
1          t.  Salt (optional - I never use salt in my baking)

2              Beaten eggs
1/2      C. Coconut
1/2      C. Chopped walnuts
1          t.  Vanilla (I have to admit, folks, I always figure if a little bit of vanilla is good, a little bit more is better so I just pour in a half-ways generous glug)

When crust is baked, remove from oven. Pour filling in and spread evenly. Return to oven and bake additional 30 minutes.

While filling is baking, prepare icing:
1 1/2      C. Powdered sugar, (sifted if you're a purist who doesn't want lumps)
2            T.  Orange Juice
2            T.  Lemon Juice
2            T.  Melted butter

Now, again, I don't exactly follow the recipe to the letter. I don't buy butter because I can't digest it so I use baking margarine and that works just fine. Also, I prefer my icing to be a little tangier and have a little more body so I use fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juices and add a little of the pulp for extra zing. I also use more like 2 1/2 C. Powdered Sugar and I rarely bother to sift it. A mixer generally does an adequate job and if it doesn't and I have time, I mash any residual lumps with a fork.

Once filling is baked, remove from oven and cut into bars (I get 24 to a 9X13 pan) then spread on the icing, letting it drizzle down into the cracks.

These bars keep very well in an air-tight container. They don't have to be refrigerated although they can be both refrigerated and frozen. But you'll have to hide them. If the family knows where you've stored 'em, they won't last till the party.


Monday, December 19, 2011

gingerbread cookies - and a big oops from my childhood

When I was a kid growing up in Nephi's home, Mathilde made a gingerbread cookie that I loved. I believe her version was passed on to her in the late 1920s by a friend from Iowa but I found this earlier version that was widely used in southern Illinois before 1850.

Anyway, I liked the cookie so well I chose it as my first cooking experience. And what an experience it was! Mathilde's friend used coffee instead of water to give it a little extra zing. Mathilde didn't drink coffee; she drank postum. So she wrote out the recipe with 1/2 C postum as one of the ingredients.

Nobody thought to tell me that was supposed to be postum that was made up as a drink rather than 1/2 C of straight postum granules.

Sometimes lessons come learned the hard way.

Anyway, I'm sharing the version of gingerbread cookies that calls for hot water, nothing added. These make very fine gingerbread men or stars or angels or whatever other shapes you want to use. We used a simple powdered sugar frosting but I always thought they were just as good plain.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

     1    C. granulated sugar
     1    C. molasses (then rinse molasses from cup with the hot water)
   3/4   C. oil
   1/2   C. hot water

Add and mix:
     2         eggs

Sift together then combine with liquid ingredients:
     1     tsp  soda
     1     tsp  cinnamon
     1 heaping tsp  ginger
    1/2   tsp salt (optional)
     7     C   flour

Use more flour if needed to make a soft-but-not-sticky dough. Refrigerate through. Roll out on an oiled surface and cut with cookie cutters.
Bake approximately 10 minutes or until slightly browned on bottom

This will make nearly 350 small thin gingerbread men but I like fat gingerbread cookies so I roll the dough out fairly thick.

I never measure the ingredients for my powdered sugar icing. This is one of those recipies where you get to experiment.

1  dollup of margarine or butter - your choice (and a dollup may be around a heaping desert spoon size - I've made this so many times I just scoop some up and toss it in.)
1 good glug of vanilla ( I like a real vanilla flavor to go with this cookie - but, then, I like a strong vanilla flavor in about anything.)
Maybe a tablespoon of milk.

Mix above ingredients together then add powdered sugar until it's the consistency you like to use.
If you're a purist, you can sift the sugar first. I generally don't take the time.

This icing recipe can be used in many ways. I've used it to frost cakes when I was in too much of a hurry to do a lot of decorating. Substitute the vanilla with orange flavoring and it goes really well with sugar cookies. Use lemon juice instead of vanilla and only use enough powdered sugar to make a thin icing and it's perfect for bear claws - a popular recipe using one of Mathilda's bread recipies as a basis. I'll share that recipe another time.