Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Crack Cake

The proper name is Fresh Apple Cake, but we don’t call it that anymore. One might think the name comes from last Thanksgiving, when I traded Kerri a cake for a batch of her insanely delicious homemade rolls. We met in a deserted parking lot early on Thanksgiving morning to make a trunk-to-trunk transfer, giggling all the while about how sketchy it looked.

But that’s not where the name came from. That came from Kerri, who texted me later saying “Is there crack in this cake? I can’t stop eating it.” So crack cake it is. But only to us and the people at our office. Which, since I work at a Christian company, is mildly hilarious, especially when people wander by asking plaintively, “Is any of that crack cake left?”

So crack . . . er, Fresh Apple Cake . . . is a mixture of fruit and nuts with just enough flavorful cake to hold it all together. It was my father’s favorite cake but I never really appreciated how delicious it is until recently.

You can serve it with cream cheese frosting—mostly because you can pretty much serve anything with cream cheese frosting—but I generally eat it straight. It’s not really a ‘frost and decorate’ kind of cake . . . more of a ‘rip into it with your bare hands’ kind of thing. To me, it always tastes like fall. Recipe follows – but beware: it is addictive.

Fresh Apple Cake

1 cup Sugar

¼ cup Shortening

1 Egg

1 cup Flour

1 tsp Soda

1 cup Nuts, chopped (I generally use pecans, but walnuts also work well)

1 tsp Cinnamon

¼ tsp Nutmeg

¼ tsp Salt

2 cups chopped raw Apples

½ cup Raisins or chopped Dates

Cream shortening and sugar together. Add beaten egg. Sift dry ingredients together and mix with shortening/sugar/egg mixture. Add fruit and nuts, stir well to combine. Pour in 9×9 pan and bake in 350-degree oven for 45 minutes.

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Daily Bread

Well . . .

I was going to show you one of the fun projects I’ve been working on lately, but my camera has gone MIA. And since my semi-intelligent phone is smart enough to take photos, but its semi-intelligent owner can’t figure out how to get the photos off said phone, I’m having to go illustration-free until the camera comes out of hiding.

So I thought I’d chat about this bread I’ve been baking. When I saw the recipe on Facebook, I looked it over and showed it to my friend and fellow-baker, Kerri. “That won’t work will it?” I asked. “I don’t see how it can…it wouldn’t have any flavor,” she replied. So we blew it off.

Until Vikki started bragging about how she’d made the bread and how delicious it was. So I tried it. And it really is yummy, even with only four ingredients. It’s a soft bread with a chewy crust that makes excellent toast. It’s super-easy to make, too, it just takes some time. Between the easy-peasy-ness of it and the limited ingredients required I’ve pretty much stopped buying bread. Why spend all that money when you can stir up a loaf of this goodness with almost nothing in almost no time? Now that I’ve got the regular version down I’m going to try different flours; I have a bag of oat flour from Bob’s Red Mill that’s crying out to be used.

So with many thanks to the anonymous baker who created it, here’s the recipe. I’d show you a photo of my latest loaf, but since I can’t you’ll just have to try it.

Crusty Bread

3 cups unbleached flour
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon Instant (or Rapid Rise) yeast
1 ½ cups water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, and yeast. Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (unless you have a bowl with a lid, in which case use that) and set aside for 12-18 hours. Overnight works great, or you can mix it up in the morning and go off to work looking forward freshly baked bread at dinner.

12-18 hours later . . . Heat oven to 450 degrees. Once oven is hot, place a cast iron pot with a lid (like a Dutch oven) in the oven and heat (both pot and lid) for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, flop dough onto heavily-floured surface and shape into a soft ball with your heavily-floured hands. Cover it with the upturned bowl and let rest while your pot is heating.

When pot is hot, remove lid and place dough inside. [My pot is heavy, so I generally pull the oven rack out with the handy wooden pot-rack-puller-outer I got from my friendly neighborhood firemen, carefully remove the pot lid, and flop the dough in the pot. The dough is too soft to worry much about the shape.] Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes. At this point you may remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes, but I never remember to do that and mine to come out just fine. Thump on the bread’s crust if you want to check—if it sounds hollow, it’s probably done.

Remove bread from oven and place on rack to cool. Try to restrain yourself from tearing it apart and slathering hot chunks of bread with butter for at least 15 minutes, it’s better for the bread’s texture if you do. I generally leave the room at this point to keep temptation at bay.

After bread has cooled, slice (or rip apart with your bare hands if you prefer) and enjoy! You’ll need a serrated knife to get through the chewy crust, but the inside is pillow soft. It toasts like a dream, makes fabulous garlic bread, and is perfectly appropriate for sandwiches. In my Dutch oven it comes out in a round loaf, but I’ve never been picky about the shape of my sandwiches.

I guess it just goes to show that sometimes you have to “taste and see” to find out that something is good!

NOTE: I have now tried it with half wheat flour / half white flour and . . . not so fabulous. It makes the bread too heavy. It was edible but didn’t have the light texture and tangy taste of the original. But you never know until you try, right?

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7-Up Cake (Revisited)

Since it’s midsummer, hot as blazes, and this is just about the best dessert I know of on a hot day…

Since I messed up the last time and left out a major ingredient in the recipe…

And since…well, just because. Here’s a (corrected and updated) recipe for…

7-Up Cake

Pineapple Cake Mix
1 package Vanilla Instant Pudding
8 oz 7-Up
¾ Cup Vegetable Oil
4 eggs

Mix all ingredients with mixer. (I beat it on medium about 2 minutes) Pour into 2 8-inch pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted near middle comes out clean.

1 stick Butter
1 ½ Cups Sugar
4-5 Tablespoons Flour
2 Eggs
1 can Crushed Pineapple

While cake is in the oven, mix all ingredients in top of double boiler and cook until thickened. (This will take some time. Probably longer than you think.) Once it’s thick, let it cool. (This will also take some time, which is why you start immediately after putting the cake in the oven.)

Once both cake and icing are cool, assemble the two together. I like to make a 2-layer 8-inch square; it cuts neatly into little square pieces that are much easier to deal with than the triangles you get with a round cake.

Store in refrigerator. On a hot day, a chunk of this cold cake is perfection on a plate.

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My apologies for the slow giveaway results, I’ve been sitting in a puddle of sheep urine. Not the whole time, but long enough. (Trust me, it doesn’t take long for that to be long enough.) But never mind, that’s a story for another day. For now, it’s all about who gets the fun wine book.
book cover
So raise your glass for…

Andrea Leech!

Andrea voted for Riesling—a little sweet for my taste, but whatever pops your cork.

Congratulations, Andrea! I’ll put your book in the mail tomorrow. No, really, I will. There are no sheep scheduled in my immediate future.

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So go eat your food and enjoy it; drink your wine and be happy, because that is what God wants you to do. (Ecclesiastes 9:7)

While I get the impression the writer of Ecclesiastes may have written that line a wee bit sarcastically, I do enjoy both food and wine and reading about both. So when I got the chance to review The Curious World of Wine by Dr. Richard Vine, I jumped at the chance.

As far as I know, “Vine” is his real name. I have no idea if that contributed to his career choice as a winemaker. He does have impressive credentials: 50+ years in the industry, 21 of them as the wine consultant for American Airlines. Heck, Purdue University named a wine library after him.
book cover
If you have wine-lovers on your Christmas list, this would make an excellent gift. It’s hot off the press, so they probably won’t have a copy. Thanksgiving is in two weeks, people. Two. Weeks. Christmas will be here in the blink of an eye after that. It is not too early to shop.

About the book: it’s highly amusing and informative, packed with (as the subtitle says) “facts, legends, and lore about the drink we love so much.” It’s the sort of book one can pick up and put down, absorbing little sips of knowledge each time. It covers everything from the history of wine to “legends and lore” and “charming wine characters.” Did you know Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about Napa Valley? If you’ve been to the California state park named after him, you probably did, but I haven’t and didn’t. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, and Napa Valley…quite the variety of topics.

Patriotic as I am, I would, have appreciated more attention to Texas wineries. Still, there is reference to the time Texas saved Europe’s vineyards…it’s true! Read the book to find out how it went down. While you’re in there, you’ll learn the history of phrases like “three sheets to the wind” and “the bitter end.” Then there’s that whole thing about how wine glasses came to be shaped that way. Let’s just say it’s there were molds involved, it’s anatomically based, and theoretically goblets could come in sizes A, B, and so on.

There’s a lot of information about wine, too. And vineyards. And stories about the people who founded and run vineyards. And, oh, lots of interesting stuff. You should read it! Which brings me to…

The Giveaway
The publishers sent me a copy of the book, which the delivery person thoughtfully hid behind the scarecrow on my porch. It was so well hidden, I couldn’t find it, which resulted in my being sent another copy which I received shortly after I found the first one. Ahem. So now I have two—but not for long! If you’d like a copy of The Curious World of Wine, leave a comment below about your favorite kind of wine. I’ll put all the names in a bucket and poke a corkscrew in there to draw one at random. The winner will get my extra copy of the book.

Ready? The contest will be open until midnight next Saturday, 11/17. Just post your favorite kind of wine below—in the blog comments, please, not on Facebook, so they’ll all be in one place. Winner to be announced next week. Good luck!

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Below is Kerri’s report on her great oatmeal adventure earlier this year. It’s spurtlicious!

Kerri with Bob. Yes, THAT Bob.

You may remember me from reading about the fun and exciting time Susan and I had preparing for the Spar for the Spurtle Contest we both entered back in July. If not for Susan’s keen eye and wonderful way of bringing her friends along into cool new ventures, I would not have known or cared about the Spar for the Spurtle.

We prepared like mad women to be sure we had just the right recipe and flavors to win, even holding taste-tests at our office. Finally, we made videos for our entries at Susan’s house and our precious friend Richard filmed and edited them to greatness. (He’s brilliant, by the way). Here’s Susan’s:

And mine:

Although I felt I had no chance against Susan’s amazing video and recipe, I was thrilled to receive a call from Matt at Bob’s Red Mill, the host of the contest who told me that I had been selected as one of 3 winners to go to all expenses paid to Portland for the national live cook-off at Bob’s. I nearly fainted. But off I went, recipe and all cooking gear in tow. The morning of the contest came early and started with a 2 hour tour of the Bob’s Red Mill plant.

It was amazing. You could eat off the floors in that place. They go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the Gluten-Free grains and to only sell the best of the best from local farmers. Very impressive. Bob himself led our tour and we felt like royalty as we had our pictures taken and had lunch in the beautiful courtyard of the Bob’s Store where the cook-off was held.

Spurtle contestants

Ready, set, spar

When it came time to start the contest, we were first led in great pomp and circumstance through every aisle of the store marching behind a darling girl bagpiper, then the head of the Oregon Scottish Consulate addressed us to discuss his experience with what they call “porridge”, we call “oatmeal”. The judges were introduced and before we knew it, we were underway! 40 minutes to prepare, plate, and serve our recipes.

I delivered my plates first with my recipe “Raspberry Oatmeal Dumplings”—boy, was I nervous. Then the terrific gal to my right (she’s on my left, your right in the photo above), who had made “Apricot Oatmeal Pot stickers”. Both of our dishes were sweet, but the last gal to go had made a savory dish, “Italian Pinhead Torta”. The judges tasted, then stepped out of the room to decide who should win.

Drumroll please…….it wasn’t me. I was sad. I really thought I had it, but the judges had been given a specific task to choose the recipe which was the most likely to win the International Porridge Making contest in Scotland. They chose the Torta recipe as it put the oats (called pinheads) at the forefront and as the starring ingredient.

Italian Pinhead Torta

Surely they chose rightly, judging by the results of the International competition. Yep— on Saturday, Oct. 6th, Laurie won the specialty division with her Torta recipe in Scotland, and brought the trophy back to the US for Bob’s Red Mill.

I was happy for her (really!) and for all the good folks at Bob’s. They are a wonderful bunch of people, with terrific hearts and completely engaged in their mission. I highly recommend red Mill products to everyone as they are simply the best! I have seen it firsthand, and am a true believer. They are worth every penny. If you want to learn more or see this crazy Scottish contest for yourself, click here: http://www.goldenspurtle.com/

Now…to get started on next year’s winning recipe….

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Don’t those words just make you smile? A whole conference dedicated to chocolate. I know. It was awesome.

Held in the mildly fabulous Addison Conference Center (that would be in Addison, Texas) it was a chocoholic’s dream. Table after table of truffles, toffee, molded chocolates, “enrobed” chocolates (that would be chocolates that have gone through a chocolate shower, not chocolates wearing bathrobes and bunny slippers), even cocoa beans and cocoa butter.

I tried to take photos but only had my phone, and with my hands full of chocolate and all, they didn’t turn out. Let your imagination run wild.

I tried chocolates with blue cheese in them and chocolates infused with chicory and molasses (from Dude, Sweet Chocolate). There were chocolates with bacon and chocolates with lime centers (Chocolate Secrets). I had what just may have been the best brownies of my entire life (Oh Brownie), amazing homemade marshmallows dipped in dark chocolate from Elegantly Chocolate, a delicious taste from Toffee Treats, and the rest all kind of merged together in a chocolate-induced haze.

I also met some fascinating people who turned their passion for chocolate into a business. I’ll introduce some of them in the coming days. (They’re fun, you’re going to like them.) I was amazed at the number of locals who offer chocolate delicacies, many of them with day jobs who do this on the side. As Sandra Boynton’s classic work tells us, chocolate really is a consuming passion.

Chocolate: The Consuming Passion

A much-thumbed volume in my personal library

Until next time, have a lovely piece of chocolate. Unless, of course, you’re one of those odd people who doesn’t like chocolate. In which case, I’m so sorry. Perhaps some day they’ll come up with a medication for that. The rest of you, make note: the Chocolate Conference & Festival is an annual affair. See you there next year?

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Random Musings

When you see the muscular men (they’re usually men) in dark suits and sunglasses surrounding the President talking into their sleeves, it’s not much of a secret that they’re Secret Service, is it? Sometimes they actually identify themselves as “Secret Service”. So what’s the big secret?

Maybe I’ve been watching too much Warehouse 13; they tell everyone they’re Secret Service but that could be to avoid telling their other secrets.

Hey, Dallas-area peeps: check this out!

Seriously, a chocolate festival? I’ll be the one with a glazed look in my eyes, licking my fingers as I roam the aisles.

Bob’s Red Mill Cinnamon Raisin Granola tastes like oatmeal raisin cookies. I may never bake cookies again. (Wait, who am I kidding?)

Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again? Yeah. It’s Friday. And multi-tasking is of the devil. (Which might help explain this post.) But at least I didn’t set my workplace on fire today, unlike my friend Carol. On the other hand, I didn’t get to chit-chat with cute firemen, either. Oh well!

Have a great weekend!

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Stacking Altos

The choir loft in my church has sections on each side we call the “wings”. Since the first altos sit in one of those wings, we’ve dubbed ourselves the “Hot Wings.” This may either be taken as a symbol of our general, um, hotness, or the fact that many of us suffer from hot flashes. We like to leave that open for interpretation. (The first sopranos sit in the other wing; I have no idea what code name is.)

Anyway, being of a sociable nature, the Hot Wings like to get together. Last Sunday, we had a little after-church luncheon for something called a “Japanese Stack.” We signed up to bring various ingredients and were all wildly curious as to how they would go together.
Once we arrived at Laura’s house all was revealed. You arrange all the ingredients in individual bowls, then send people through the line buffet-style. (That’s pronounced “boo-fay” if you’re Hyacinth Bucket.) Start with rice, then add chicken, then stack whatever you like on top.
stack in progress
End by pouring gravy over everything.

pouring gravy

The all-important pour

Everyone’s plate comes out a little different, but all delicious. We ended with a variety of desserts,

We like variety in our desserts.

including Japanese green tea chocolates brought back from Japan by one of our own Hot Wings.
green tea chocolates

Tasty in an odd sort of way.

And a good time was had by all!
Table full of altos

Not all, just all at my table.

In case you’d like to do some stacking of your own, here’s the recipe!

Japanese Stack
• Cooked Chicken Breasts, shredded—about 1 breast per person (then add a couple extra)*
• Cooked Rice (white or brown) about a cup per person
• Unsweetened Coconut, shredded 1 C
• Toasted sliced Almonds, about 1 1/2 C
• 1 cup diced tomatoes
• 2 bunches chopped green onions
• 1 cup chopped green pepper
• 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
• 1 large can crushed pineapple (about 14 oz)
• Can/pkg of chinese noodles. (Ramen noodles, soba noodles, you choose)
• Shredded cheddar cheese, 8 oz.
• 32 oz chicken broth
• 2 cans condensed cream of chicken soup

MAKE GRAVY: Pour ¼ cup chicken broth in a container; add the rest to a pan with both cans of condensed cream of chicken soup. Heat to boiling. Dissolve 3 heaping tablespoons of cornstarch in the reserved chicken broth and stir, then add to boiling broth/soup mixture. Stir until thickened.

SERVE: Place all ingredients into individual bowls with rice at one end and gravy at the other. Guests “stack” their own plate starting with rice and chicken, then adding the additional ingredients of their choice, ending with gravy.

Everything except the gravy can be done ahead of time and then it is easy to set out for your guests.

This amount served 16 altos with plenty for several second helpings.

*Our chicken was cooked in a crock pot with some Italian dressing; it was really moist.

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Easy Enchiladas

Remember the Enchilada Class, where I said I had 4 different enchilada recipes in my repertoire? I made one of them this weekend and thought I’d share. It’s a different taste from Vikki’s family recipe, but it’s also a heck of a lot easier and only requires four ingredients.

That’s right. Four. Want to know what they are?

Ground beef (1 pound)
Mexican Velveeta (it used to come in mild or hot but now only seems to be one flavor)
Salsa (use your fave, I won’t judge)
Flour tortillas (I’m normally a corn tortilla girl, but for this one flour works just fine. These came from Kroger and were warm when I picked them up. Mmmm.)


At this point the meat is browning on the stove.

So. Place your ground beef in a pan (non-stick cleans up easier) and brown it. Add ½ cup salsa and half the Velveeta, which you have cubed so it will melt more easily. Let that get all bubbly.
ground beef mixture

Still needs a couple of minutes for the cheese to melt.

Place a couple of heaping spoonfuls on a tortilla and roll up.
enchy in progress
Since I like to make these in individual to-be-consumed-later servings, I’m placing mine directly into my plastic container, which already contains rice. (Brown. Plain. There’s enough flavor going on in the enchilada, you don’t need any extra.) in containerIf you’re making this for immediate consumption and/or for a group, place your enchiladas in/on the microwavable container of your choice.

That’s right. Microwave. No oven required.

So where were we? Oh yes, all our enchies are packaged and you still have half your Velveeta sitting on the counter. Slice it thin—this is easier to do when it’s cold—and drape over the top of your enchiladas like so. Add a little more salsa.

finished product

Ready to heat or store.

At this point, you may stick it in the microwave for a minute or so. How long depends entirely on how many you’re cooking at a time and how powerful your microwave is, so just stand there and watch it spin around. When the cheese melts, it’s ready.

If you’re planning ahead, like me, you may instead place your servings in the fridge or freezer, depending on how long you expect it will be before you put them on the menu. When the time comes, nuke ‘em in the microwave until the cheese melts and it’s all bubbly goodness inside. If you’re starting from the frozen state, I find it’s best to let them warm up a little first and have been known to hack them in half to facilitate heating up the middle. Also, if you cover them in the microwave they tend to steam and the tortillas stay a little softer, which is nice.

Easy, huh? I got the recipe off the inside of a Mexican Velveeta box…well, technically, my mother did, years and years ago; I think I was in high school at the time. Anyhoo, I’ve been eating them ever since. Here’s the official recipe. For the record, they’re called…

Beef Enchiladas Ole

1 pound ground beef
1 cup salsa, divided
1 lb (16 oz) Velveeta Mild Mexican Process Cheese Spread with Jalapeno Pepper, cut up, divided
12 flour tortillas

BROWN meat; drain. Stir in 1/2 cup of the salsa and 1/2 of the Velveeta.

PLACE slightly less than 1/4 cup meat mixture in center of each tortilla; roll up. Place tortilla, seam-side down, in microwavable baking dish. Top with remaining Velveeta and 1/2 cup salsa. Cover.

MICROWAVE on High 4 to 6 minutes or until Velveeta is melted. Makes 6 servings.

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