Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Grandma's Pineapple Ice Box Cake

In my growing up years there were certain dishes that were a part of the landscape of any special family gathering. There was one dessert, Pineapple Ice Box Cake, that was the fanciest delectable fashioned by the cooks around me. It's been around so long in my family, the name Ice Box Cake refers to a time before electric refrigerators when large blocks of ice were delivered weekly for an insulated box that served to keep food cold. My Grandma was once featured in our town's paper as having developed this recipe. Whether that was local lore or true, the dessert was certainly claimed by the family as "ours". It remains a beloved favorite in the memories, if not on the tables, of remaining family members. My Grandma Allen, my mom and my cousin Donna, who was raised like a sister with me, are all gone. They were the one's who made the dessert for so many family gatherings, wedding and baby showers and probably a Tupperware party or two. 

I hadn't made it in years as my husband and I rarely dine in a situation requiring a large dessert, and if I made it we would probably end up eating the whole thing ourselves. The idea sounds yummy but. alas, we may eat a bit higher fat food than many but that's over the top. Joining some friends for the Fourth, this year, for an informal meal, the time seemed right for sharing. And, the time is right for featuring the "famous" Pineapple Ice Box Cake here. 

It involves Vanilla Wafers, butter, powdered sugar, eggs, whip cream and pineapple.

I used my food processor, an kitchen accoutrement not available to the original makers of this dessert. It made construction of the layers very easy. No crushing the wafers with a rolling pin. The first layer is Vanilla Wafer crumbs. I split the crumbs equally, half into a bowl and half into a quart Ziploc bag (for more even spreading over the top at the end. Here is the bottom layer of crumbs in a 9X13 pan.


The trickier step, which I found fun is spreading the next layer, butter, powdered sugar and egg blended, on top of the crumbs. I drizzled the goo artistically all over the crumbs then very carefully "painted it" over any crumbs left showing. Below you see that layer with the beginning of the next layer.


On top of the sweet goo of butter, sugar and egg goes whipped whip cream infused with very well drained crushed pineapple. I whipped the cream in the food processor then folded in the pineapple. Below you see that layer nearly completed.


The final layer is the other half of the crumbs. The Ziploc bag allowed me to carefully shake them evenly over the top of the whip cream pineapple layer. See the partially topped dessert below.


Now, the trick with 'ice box' desserts, which are not cooked, is to leave them in the refrigerator over night to 'blend'. Tough to do as you'll want to take a bite. But I covered with plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and dutifully stored it over night. I'm afraid we did have some for breakfast and it was as good as I remember it tasting all those hundreds of time I had it growing up.

Grandma Allen’s Pineapple Icebox Cake

Ingredients:
1 - 12oz. box vanilla wafers

½ cup butter (one cube)
2 cups powdered sugar
2 eggs (here I have a caveat, I used Egg Beaters as people today are wary of uncooked eggs, though in all of my growing up years no one ever got sick from the uncooked eggs in this dessert. I do have to admit that, at least in the early years, my Grandma had eggs delivered weekly by the local farmer.)

½ pint whipping cream
1 #2 can crushed pineapple very well drained

Instructions
Process the wafers into crumbs. Divide in half. Spread half of the crumbs in a 9X13 pan.
Cream butter, sugar and eggs. Spread the mixture evenly over the crumbs (drizzling and then carefully spreading over any holes).
Whip the cream until stiff. Add well-drained pineapple to the whipped cream and spread over the butter/sugar/egg mixture. Top with the remaining crumbs. Let it stand for at least four hours.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

My Ultimate Comfort Food Potato Soup

I have decided that homemade potato soup is my ultimate comfort food. Now, there are rivals, Grandma Allen's Potato Salad with its secret to creaminess, unwhipped whip cream or a BLT with thick, medium cooked bacon, thick slices of on-the-vine or out of the garden tomato and crisp Iceberg lettuce on toasted white bread slathered with butter and  Best Food Mayonnaise (It's gotta be Best Foods called Hellman's back east).

My potato soup has to be the best I've tasted, even in restaurants where I would always order at least a cup if it was on the menu. I'm super fond of potatoes in general. Maybe it was the influence of my father's very good luck with potatoes each year in his garden. My love of vegetables, in general was, I'm sure, formed by my parent's enthusiasm and love of all things vegetable shared in an earlier blog post titled, Raised Green. My goodness, I had a grandfather who planted and harvested a city block-sized garden ripe with every imaginable vegetable from beets with their requisite greens (which Grandma loved with a little vinegar) to rutabagas.

Throughout life I've wavered when asked to be definitive about a favorite or best anything. When we are younger we have so much yet to discover. My lifelong fondness of potato soup, though, just grew stronger over time. Now that I am finding pleasure in cooking, I have the freedom to refine it to my taste. I can make it the way I truly like it and recreate it whenever I'm so inclined.

I was so inclined this afternoon even on this wam sunny day. I had the potatoes, chicken broth, bacon and onion. On the way home from errands I snagged the needed celery and Half and Half. On went the bacon to cook (to medium not crispy) in my favorite pan, a stainless steel Faberware electric frying pan that a friend suggested as the best (I was fed up with the coated light weight ones and she'd used one in Alaska when she cooked on a fishing boat and actually found one for me in a thrift store. When the bacon strips were draining on paper towels, into the bacon grease (with a little bacon grease added) went a large onion, chopped, and two stalks of celery thinly sliced. I browned them slowly and when they were soft I removed them and added a can of chicken broth and 1/2 can of water. After deglazing the pan, I added five medium Russet potatoes that I had peeled and cut into 1" chunks. I slowly simmered the potatoes in the broth until soft but still intact. I added the onion, celery and bacon strips (now chopped into small pieces). To my simmering potatoes and goodies I added two cups of Half and Half and 5 shakes of Johnny's Seasoning Salt. I thickened it with 3 Tablespoons of flour with some of the soup liquid blended in my Magic Bullet blender. It simmered until thickened and heated through.

Without bragging, my Ultimate Comfort Food Potato Soup is so delicious that I can eat the whole batch by myself. That Half and Half might not be the healthiest but hey it's vegetables!

My Ultimate Comfort Food Potato Soup

Ingredients:
5 medium Russet potatoes
1 large onion white or yellow (I used a sweet onion)
2 stalks of celery
4 strips of thick bacon
1 14 1/2 oz, can chicken broth
1/2 broth can water
1 pint Half and Half
5 shakes of Johnny's Seasoning Salt (or your favorite)

Instructions:
Peel and chop the potatoes into 1" chunks and place in a bowl of water to cover. Chop the onion and celery and set aside. Fry the bacon and drain on paper towels, when cool chop in small pieces. Add the onions and celery to the bacon grease, adding more bacon grease if needed (I keep some in the freezer). When onion and celery are soft, remove, add the chopped bacon to them and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the chicken broth and water and add the potatoes, simmering until the potatoes are soft yet intact. Add the onions, celery, bacon, Half and Half and Seasoning Salt. Turn onto a low simmer. Blend well 3 Tablespoons flour with some of the broth to make a thickener. Add to simmering soup. When soup is thickened, enjoy.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Quick And Easy Meaty Breakfast

Quick and Easy Plan-Ahead Meaty Breakfast

I love Seattle's Voula's Offshore CafĂ©’s Hobo Omelet’s. It's so large and substantial you can eat it for a couple meals. And, with sour cream on the side and toast with blackberry jam, yum city! Maybe it's how I grew up, but a substantial, meaty breakfast is so comforting and enjoyable.

Recently, because of need to be away for a week with the power off, I had to complete clean out my top- of-the-refrigerator freezer. I took some to my sis-in-laws, but got rid of a lot that hadn't been used in the time it should have been. I've been carefully and slowly restocking the freezer trying to use things quickly. I can now see what's there and am cooking a lot more from the freezer. I'm thinking about the things that are in there rather than the old "out of sight out of mind" relationship I had with my stuffed freezer. I've come up with a great way to make a quick substantial breakfast or "breakfast for dinner" without tearing up the kitchen and taking a lot of time.

Quick and Easy Plan-Ahead Meaty Breakfast
Ingredients:
1 lb. of sausage (I use Safeway brand Country Style Pork Sausage)
1 med sweet onion, chopped
1 package Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash Browns (I like Southwest Style)
4 mushrooms, sliced
(6 1/2" flour tortillas, eggs, cheddar or other cheese, sour cream for varying dishes.)
Instructions:
Chop onion and fry in oil until soft and translucent. Add the mushrooms about 1/2 way through. Remove to a plate
Fry the package of potatoes as instructed. Remove to the plate with the onions and mushrooms.
Fry the sausage until done. Drain on paper towels. Return all sausage, onion, mushrooms and potatoes to the pan. Stir together and fry a little bit while mixing.
Cool the mixture and pack snack sized Ziploc or other zipping bags. Place all the bags in a large freezer Ziploc bag and freeze.


Here are some dishes I make from the mixture (I also added a bag to a ‘Leftovers Soup I threw together in the crockpot the other day).

Breakfast Burritos

Scramble a couple eggs with salt and pepper. Fill flour tortilla with some of the mixture, scrambled egg, and cheese. Roll tight and heat for around 10 min in oven or toaster over (watching).

Hobo Omelets

Whisk two eggs together with 1 Tablespoon milk. Place the mixture from the bag into a heated frying pan with some butter. Pour eggs on top and mix egg into mixture. Fry until egg done and heated. Turn off heat and top with cheese. When cheese is melted, remove and serve with sour cream.

Regular Omelets

At a rummage sale I bought an unopened Nordicware microwave omelet pan  (available on Ebay for under $2.) Living in a smaller space I’ve experimented with numerous unusual microwave cooking accoutrements, some with success, some not. I decided to give a microwave omelet a try. Instructions were to whip together 2 eggs with 1 Tablespoon of milk. Pour half into one side of the omelet pan and half into the other then, microwave on high for two minutes. (I topped one side with part of a bag of the sausage mixture defrosted plus some grated cheese). Flip the unadorned omelet side on top close the pan and microwave for one more minute. Viola! A perfect omelet with no frying mess. I love the omelet pan and use it regularly serving with sour cream on the side or ketchup for my husband.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Light Yet Substantial Vegetable and Ham Soup


It’s a rainy Saturday in Seattle (almost a clichĂ©, though inaccurate as both New York City and Chicago both have more rain than we do). After being away for 3 weeks, emptying and turning off the refrigerator, we’ve been rebuilding its contents from scratch. I can’t believe how efficient I’ve become with cooking. The freezer is so organized and because I can clearly see what’s there, I’m actually using the items.

Cooking is now a creative activity for me for me.  I could never have believed it earlier in my adult life. Today I knew I had a chunk of Trader Joe’s carnitas, there were a couple stalks of celery, some mushrooms, some bacon, most of a sweet onion, some baby carrots, fresh garlic and a partial carton of beef broth let over from last nights pot pies. I’ve been learning to use and enjoy the herb thyme lately due to its use in a pot pie recipe I’m fond of.

A light soup sounded just right for the day. I put a couple pieces of thick sliced bacon on to fry in my trusty, can’t-live-without, Faberware stainless steel electric frying pan.  I then did what Madher Jeffery, the noted Indian cookbook writer, implores - I focused completely on each task I was moving through.  I carefully sliced the onion and celery into almost perfect ¼ inch chop. Then I very thinly sliced each baby carrot piece and mushroom.  For the two large garlic cloves, I sliced them thin then chopped them by cutting the other way across the slices. Then I turned to the carnita chunks dispatching them into ¼” chop.  Each item had its own pile on the cutting board. The thyme nearby with the opened cans of diced tomatoes and lima beans, I was ready. The soup came out light and delicious. I've had two bowls.
I used to be afraid of or at least intimidated  by concocting dishes, it certainly would not have been relaxing. Now it feels like indulging in art or crafting. Learning how to cook Indian cuisine and practicing often has helped me to gain confidence with herbs and spices and how to prepare the ingredients so they come together nicely.  The steps below might be second nature for good cooks but for me they are things I wouldn't have done before.  I often felt frustrated, even overwhelmed  by cooking and certainly never tried anything without a recipe.
  • Frying a small amount of bacon and using it's grease for flavor in frying the vegetables softening them for the soup.
  • Unleashing the fragrance of the herb used by frying it for a bit in the vegetables.
  • Preparing all the ingredients ahead so they are smoothly and easily added when their time comes.
Light and Tasty Vegetable Soup with Ham
A substantial but light soup heavy on the vegetables but meaty enough for dedicated meat eaters.



Ingredients:
2 pieces of bacon, fried and crumbled
A good sized handful (about 1 cup) of ¼’ chopped carnitias ((or other left-over meat)
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
5 baby carrots, sliced thin
½ can lima beans (just beans)
½ can diced tomatoes (just tomatoes)
3 cups beef broth. (Could use more)
Two good pinches dried thyme



Instructions:
Put the bacon on to fry. Chop up meat, onion, celery and thinly slice the carrots and the mushrooms. When the bacon is done, remove it and, when cool enough, crumble it. Leave the bacon grease in the pan. Add more cooking oil if needed. Fry onion , celery and carrots until they begin to soften. Add mushrooms, garlic, and carnitas and crumbled up bacon. Sprinkle with the thyme and fry to open the fragrance of the thyme. Spoon in the tomatoes and lima beans and pour in the beef broth.  Let simmer on very low heat for ½ hour.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Memory of Mexican Food And A Delicious Twist on Enchiladas

I once lived in Rawlins, Wyoming. The town had a large population of folks of Hispanic heritage and, to my dismay, the town was rather split into two areas one populated more by Caucasians, the other by Hispanics. Coming from the Northwest, I had never encountered such an obvious cultural split. I ended up living in the more Hispanic part of town. While there, I made a friend, Gloria Mendoza. Gloria had grown up in Mexico and began sharing some of her traditional recipes with me. Some Sunday's she would drop by with warm, freshly made corn tortillas. I was insecure about cooking then. Though I did attempt refried beans from scratch made with lard, and learned to make pans of tasty enchiladas. I wish I had taken the opportunity more seriously and learned more about traditional Mexican cuisine from Gloria. I did carry with me some of her recipes and treasure them as mementos of an interesting moment and person in my life. I hope Gloria's life has gone well.

Today, we enjoy Mexican food. Mostly when we go out for it, it's the more Americanized Mexican dishes of restaurants like Azteca. We do, though, enjoy the more traditional tacos and beans from the food trucks around town. I especially like the lengua tacos (made with tongue) I have a lingering appreciation of the meat from my family's unique treat of pickled tongue. Once in a while my husband would order a dozen fresh tamales from Lupe's Tienda, a Mexican grocery in Seattle. He fell in love with Trader Joe's Enchilada sauce and would munch on his tamales even for breakfast.

I haven't made enchiladas too often since living in Rawlins, and I've never made them without using a tomato based enchilada sauce. And, I don't believe I've ever made them without using hamburger for the filling. Those I've made have been tasty and, as of late, Trader Joe's Enchilada sauce has worked well and has become the new sauce basis of enchiladas made. Looking over enchilada recipes online, though, got me thinking differently about the dish.

Recently, while going through my pantry , I realized that I had several 4 oz. cans of diced green chiles. I also had an unopened package of flour tortillas. I made a trip to Trader Joe's, not for their enchilada sauce but for their Carnitas, delicious precooked and seasoned chunks of pork. The following recipe is an amalgam of several recipes I looked over with my own twist added. Delicious enchiladas, no tomatoes involved.

Enchiladas With A Sour Cream and Green Chile Sauce

Ingredients:
A couple handfuls of Carnitas  chopped into 1/2" chunks and lightly heated in some butter chopping up a bit more (you could use chicken meat, beef or hamburger or just cheese and onion
Butter for frying
1/2 small onion chopped small
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1-4 oz. can diced green chiles (If you haven't used these before they are not spicy.)
1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream
5 flour tortillas

Instructions:
Chop the meat and in a frying pan, heat the chunks a bit in butter chopping them up a bit more. Place in a large bowl. Add chopped onion and cheese. Mix together for the filling.

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in the pan used to heat the meat. Stir in the flour and mix well as a roux. Add the green chiles and chicken broth. Let this simmer until it cooks down a bit and begins to thicken like a gravy. Turn it off and incorporate the sour cream.

Fill 5 flour tortillas with the meat/onion/cheese filling rolling them in an 8x8" baking pan. Top with the sauce. Place in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. (I used a toaster oven). 





Thursday, January 30, 2014

Crockpot Ham & Chicken Soup

I love the idea of cooking a whole chicken in a crock pot. Whenever I see whole Foster Farms chickens on sale for a dollar a pound or lower I buy one and cook it up. We usually enjoy some cold chicken with butter and Best Foods Mayo on white bread sandwiches. I often freeze some of the meat for future tacos, soup or other dishes. This time we had a couple sandwiches, I made a great soup and have a little chicken left to freeze for later.

If like chicken and you've never cooked a whole chicken in a crock pot, DO IT, do it soon.

Remove the giblets, wash the chicken and season as desired. (I used Johnny’s Seasoning Salt) Place in the pot breast up with no liquid. Cook on low for 6 hours. It even browns. (Poultry is done at 165 degrees) It will be plenty done.
Remove the meat and bones

Degrease the broth (I use a tray of ice cubes, the grease solidifies against the cubes which can be lifted out)
This time I left all the chicken broth in the pot and made a delicious soup with the help of ideas from my husband.

Crock pot Ham and Chicken Soup
Ingredients:
Chicken broth from Crockpot Chicken or 1-14.5oz can chicken broth
1 cup of Bloody Mary Mix
1 14.5 oz. can of beef broth
1 14.5 oz. can of Great Northern Beans with liquid
1 meaty ham hock

Chicken meat


Instructions:
Turn Crock pot on high and let this simmer until the ham hock starts to break down.
Add some chicken meat (I added a large handful.)
Add a second can of Great Northern beans, drained.
Add salt and pepper as desired (I added none)



Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Ravioli Dinner

When my neighbor moved to Hawaii, I became the owner of some sundries remaining in her pantry. I've been waiting for a time to celebrate a partial box of La Piana Ravioli with squash filling. They were 1/2-inch square dried raviolis which I figured at $10 for a 1 lb. box (the tag was still on) had to be special.

Husband arrived home last night with two very large meatballs from a deli and some crusty French rolls. Ah ha, we had some fresh mushrooms in the fridge. I work to stay stocked with sweet onions, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. I often have fresh garlic but always have a jar of chopped on hand in the fridge. Due to a meeting I attended that ended with 1/2 bottle of red wine unfinished, I was ready to go.

I know this post may only be exciting for me and pretty mundane for any accomplished cooks but the dish I concocted turned out delicious. My discriminating husband is even eating more for breakfast.
Except for boiling the pasta, I threw it together in my handy dandy Faberware stainless steel electric frying pan. Any pasta would have been fine but the ravioli created a gourmet treat. And, if you use fresh ready-made pasta now commonly available, the dish is really fast and easy.


Ravioli and Meatballs 
Ingredients: 

1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1 large teaspoon chopped garlic
5 mushrooms sliced
1+ tablespoon for frying onion, garlic and mushrooms
Big pinch basil
Big pinch oregano
Several shakes Johnny's Seasoning Salt
Several shakes of black pepper
1 - 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 - 8oz can tomato sauce
About 1/2+ cup red wine
3/4 cup dried ravioli (I used La Piana brand squash-filled dried ravioli). You could use fresh ravioli. And, Northwest dwellers, if you haven't tried Puget Sound Consumer Coop's fresh mushroom ravioli, it's delicious.
2 large deli meatballs cut into quarters (or meatballs of choice)
Instructions:
Boil the ravioli in salted water if using dry pasta.
Sautee onion, garlic and mushrooms. Stir in basil, oregano, seasoning salt and pepper. Add wine and cook down a bit.
Add diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, ravioli and meatballs. Let it simmer on lower heat. Server with green salad and French bread slathered with butter.