Abandoned Book – Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Food item a day #10

Image via Wikipedia

One of the most difficult aspects of dieting is making good choices. If I’m craving something sweet, I know an apple is a better choice than a Swiss Cake Roll. So, I choose an apple. Something like this follows:

  1. Use apple corer to slice my apple.
  2. Take a bite, enjoy the healthy crunch of good nutrition.
  3. Chew for an exceptionally long time (I left the skin on.)
  4. Swallow. That? Was awesome.
  5. Be proud of myself.
  6. Eat another slice.
  7. Feel better than all those fatsos eating Swiss Cake Rolls.
  8. Eat another slice.
  9. Think about how much I despise people who eat apples whole. Note that it reminds me of horses eating apples and that eating apples is almost as loud as eating chips.
  10. Wonder if I have any chips.
  11. Start on slice number four.
  12. When will this fucking apple end?
  13. Consider adding peanut butter to my apple to make it interesting again.
  14. Calculate how many calories/grams of fat that would add.
  15. Decide to just have a little peanut butter on one slice of apple.
  16. Open the peanut butter jar and smell the wonderful aroma of high fat food.
  17. Thank the lord there are no life threatening allergies in my home.
  18. Spoon some peanut butter on my apple slice. Lick it off.
  19. Decide that half an apple is better than a whole Swiss Cake Roll.
  20. Toss the remaining apple in the trash, where it belongs.
  21. Eat a spoonful of peanut butter.
  22. Repeat, with chocolate chips.
  23. Feel a bit of guilt.
  24. Resolve to eat an apple tomorrow.

In the scenario above, Cry the Beloved Country is the apple. I liked it for a while. Then I got bored. There is nothing that is drawing me back into it and there are too many enticing alternatives. Sure, they probably won’t enrich my mind but now I want to be entertained. I’m sure I will finish it. One day. But, not today. Or tomorrow. Or this week. Maybe next month.

Cooking in the Swamp – Hot Chocolate

Guest post by Camey

A few years back, I bought a Rick Bayless cookbook, Mexican Everyday, that changed my way of thinking.  While reading it cover to cover* I was surprised to find that Senor Bayless decided to cut extra calories in his day and began drinking coffee and tea without additions.  He decided to appreciate them for the flavors they were intended to have.  This really resonated with me, so I began drinking my coffee black and really enjoyed it.  (I do, however, treat myself to an occasional Starbucks Latte to make sure I don’t get too out of the loop.)  This got me to thinking.  If coffee can be simplified and savored for it’s intended flavors, so can hot chocolate.

I’m a huge fan of hot cocoa.  When my kids ask for it, I typically make a pot using the recipe on the Hershey’s cocoa container.  But that has a lot of ingredients.  And sugar.  So, when Mama makes it for herself and Melissa, it is simple, quality ingredients only.  I’m talking a couple mugs with a broken bar of dark chocolate (recently we tried salted chocolate-interesting twist!), hot milk to cover, stir, and top with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.  (The REAL kind, please.)  Oh yeah, I forgot another high quality ingredient.  Rum.  Or Vodka.  Or Kahlua.  I think Senor Bayless would approve.

* I tell my 4th graders who are preparing for the state writing assessments that cookbooks ARE considered expository reading, so why not read every thing…not just the recipes?

12 Days of Boredom 2011: Day 3 – Cooking

Unlike reading, watching quality television and movies, cooking is a very love/hate endeavor for me. I love experimenting and discovering new recipes but I hate the day to day meal planning and preparation that is part and parcel to being a stay-at-home mother. It doesn’t help when one child is schizophrenic when it  comes to my cooking – one day Ryan loves a dish, the next time I make it he doesn’t – and the other only eats grilled cheese, tacos, spaghetti and chicken strips. But they both love cheesecake and eggnog, two decidedly adult tastes, in my opinion. Seriously. I give up trying to figure those two out.

This year, while my apathy for cooking has reached an apex my desire to experiment has increased. Unfortunately, I haven’t done the best job of posting about these experiments. Due to a concussion I received the day before second grade started (that kept me out of school for the first day which was a blessing because Mrs. Slaughter? She hated me. Also, what the hell kind of name is Slaughter?) my memory sucks and all those recipes are lost in a haze of suburban living.  According to iPhoto, I have lots of pictures of food but I never followed through with those posts. Shocking, I know.

The highlight for this year was my mother’s series of posts about her Perfect Brownie Quest. I guess I come by my propensity for starting projects and not finishing them honestly; on her last post, my mom said to stay tuned, she was still searching for the perfect brownie. How’s the search going, Ma? (hint, hint)

Besides the Brownie Quest, I started a couple of features, “Cooking in the Swamp PSA” which are tips and tricks for the kitchen and “Cooking Fail in the Swamp” which is self explanatory. My food photography continues to make everything I post about look unappetizing, but I am going to take a photography class next year and fix that problem! By far, the best recipe I made this year was Luscious Lemon Cheesecake. I still dream about that cheesecake. I can’t wait to make it again.

Next year, I hope to have a regular guest blogger post about cooking. Camey is a much better cook than I am so I predict her posts will be much more interesting than mine. Until then, check out a few of the food pictures I took and never posted about.

This is a picture of melting butter with instant coffee for one of the best chocolate chip cookie recipes I've ever made.

Elvis Presely sandwich - grilled peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich. Pretty good.

You know the guest blogger I'm trying to entice? She threw this platter together.

Another creation of my future guest blogger.

Peanut Butter Bread. Meh. I probably shouldn't have used half whole wheat flour.

Toasted Peanut Butter Bread slathered with jelly.

I can't remember what the name of this recipe is but it is chocolate chip cookie bottom, a layer of oreos and a brownie top. So rich but good. Kid favorite.

Pretty sure this is Rocky Road Ice Cream.

Ingredients for Bacon Wrapped Green Beans.

What’s Come Before

Day 1 – Health and Fitness

Day 2 – Apps and Websites

What’s Next

Day 4 – Movies

Day 5 – Television

Day 6 – Live Entertainment

Day 7 – Books – Non-Fiction

Day 8 Books – Fiction

Day 9 – Writing

Day 10 – Home Improvement

Day 11 – Photography

Day 12 – Swamp in Review

Cooking in the Swamp – Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

A couple of months ago, we rented a vacation house on the beach with three other families. To keep costs down, and the hassle of going out to eat nightly with 17 people, each family took a turn cooking. I originally volunteered to make burgers – always a crowd favorite. Sitting around the dinner table one night before we left, I gave my family the run down of the week. I find that, especially for my youngest, it is always best practice to tell everyone the plan in detail so that 1) there is no confusion and 2) when someone inevitable says, “You didn’t tell me we were doing *blank*” I can reply with specifics as to when, where, how and what we were doing when I did, in fact, tell them *blank*. We’re making hamburgers, I say. Eating stops, mid chew, and my oldest looks at me and says, “No offense, Mom, but hamburgers aren’t your best meal.”

Since this isn’t the most offensive thing my family has ever said about my cooking – that honor is held by the Chocolate Chili experiment – I took the comment as is was meant, constructively, and told them to bring it, what would they like for me to make? After much discussion, we decided on Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, which makes a ton and has the distinction of being a dish that everyone in my family likes. So, it was decided that we would have a New Orleans theme with jambalaya, Caesar salad (not sure how Cajun that is) and Bread Pudding for dessert.

This was a great menu which, very out of character, I took the time to plan for – printing the jambalaya recipe, prepping the sausage, peppers, onions, etc. before we left. I’m not sure why I didn’t copy or print the recipe for the Bread Pudding – probably because I thought I could get it online? – but most likely the real reason is there always has to be some sort of flaw in every one of my plans. It’s a subconscious ability I have to undermine my own success. This particular recipe is not online but in my trusty Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook. Luckily for me, I have a blog that I can put recipes on for my own future reference so I will never have to worry about not finding this Bread Pudding recipe online again.

This dish is always well received when I take it to parties. I’m always hesitant to give the recipe out because once someone makes it they will realize how easy it is and my cooking acumen will take a hit. My husband prefers the Chocolate Bread Pudding I make but I’m partial to this classic take on the dish.

Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce

Prep: 7 minutes          Cook: 1 hour           Yield 15 servings

Ingredients

1 (1 pound) loaf soft French Bread

2 Cups Half and Half

2 Cups Milk

3 Large Eggs, lightly beaten

2 Cups Sugar

3/4 Cups chopped pecans

3/4 Cups raisins

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp Vanilla Extract

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 Cup butter or margarine, melted

  • Tear bread into small pieces and place in a large bowl. Add half and half and milk to bowl; let mixture stand 10 minutes.
  • Stir mixture well with a wooden spoon. Add eggs and next 5 ingredients, stirring well.
  • Pour butter into a 13×9 inch pan; tilt pan to coat evenly. Spoon pudding mixture into pan. Bake uncovered at 325 for 55 – 60 minutes or until pudding is firm. Remove from oven. Cool.
  • Cut into squares; spoon whiskey sauce over each serving.

Per serving: Calories 484, Fat 20.2g, Cholesterol 88mg, Sodium 344mg

Whiskey Sauce

Prep: 5 minutes          Cook: 8 minutes

Ingredients

1/2 Cup Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1/2 Cup half and half

2 Tbsp Whiskey

  • Combine first 3 ingredients in a heavy saucepan; cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cool. Add whiskey. Yield 1 1/2 Cups; Per tablespoon: Calories 75, Fat 4.4g, Cholesterol 12mg, Sodium 41mg

Notes:

  • This recipe is very easy to lighten up by using milk instead of half and half and a lower fat milk, at that. Egg substitute can be used in lieu of eggs. Note, however, that some of the richness of the dish will be lost with the substitution of these ingredients.
  • While I love raisins, I don’t like raisins in my bread pudding or cookies. I omit these, always, but include the pecans.
  • If you don’t like or drink whiskey, omit the whiskey in the sauce.

Cooking in the Swamp – Lemon Cheesecake

One of these days I'll learn how to take good pictures of food.

This recipe almost didn’t get made. It looked a bit too complicated and involved – whipping egg whites, baking in a water bath, making lemon curd? – not tasks I needed to do when my focus should have been on vacation preparation. Plus, there would be no way my family could finish a full cheesecake in three days, especially when my husband doesn’t like lemon desserts. Then I remembered – or more specifically my brother reminded me – that I always make a cheesecake for him for his birthday. I didn’t need much more provocation.

This might be the best cheesecake recipe I’ve ever used. In the end, there was nothing that complicated about it. Whipping egg whites and folding them in adds another step but it’s not complicated. The water bath was just a cooking method. I have no idea why I’ve been afraid of it all these years and making lemon curd is no more difficult than making custard based ice cream, something that I do on a regular basis. In the end, it was all of these “complications” that made this cheesecake light (which I prefer) instead of dense and the lemon curd added just the right amount of tangy sweetness, a refreshing alternative to chocolate during the dog days of summer.

Tips

  •  I didn’t have almonds so I added another half cup to the vanilla wafer crust. It was nice and thick. Very tasty.
  •  Instead of whipping the egg whites after the cream cheese mixture, I whipped them before. I only have one mixer bowl and whipped egg whites slide right out, meaning you don’t have to wash the bowl before you start the cream cheese mixture.
  •  Cooking in the water bath and letting the cheesecake cool in the oven for an hour meant the cheesecake didn’t crack or fall. I will probably adjust all of my cheesecake recipes to this cooking method going forward.
  •  I halved the lemon curd recipe because it says to only use half on the top of the cake. Then why make so much? I’ve included the half recipe below.
  • As this recipe notes, it is always the best practice to make a cheesecake the night before to let it set. Which means I always need to make cheesecake when my family is not around or early enough in the morning that it can sit for at least 8 hours before they come home and devour it.
  • Original recipe was posted to Tasty Kitchen by Megan Betz

LUSCIOUS LEMON CHEESECAKE

Ingredients

FOR THE CRUST:

  • 1-½ cup Vanilla Wafers
  • ½ cups Toasted, Chopped Almonds
  • 5 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, melted
  • ¼ cups Sugar
  • ¼ teaspoons Kosher SalT
FOR THE FILLING:
  • 2 pounds Cream Cheese, At Room Temperature
  • 1-½ cup Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • ½ cups Sour Cream
  • 4 whole Eggs Whites And Yolks Separated
  • 1 whole Lemon, Zest And Juice
FOR THE LEMON CURD:
  • 5 whole Lemons
  • 1 cups Sugar
  • 4 whole Egg Yolks
  • 1 whole Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Butter, cut into pieces

Preparation Instructions

Note: the cheesecake should set in the fridge overnight, so you should prepare this ahead of time.

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Place a sheet of foil on the inside of the spring form pan. Press it in so it’s as smooth as you can get it.

In a food processor, pulse vanilla wafers and almonds until fine crumbs form; add melted butter, sugar, and salt, and pulse to combine. Don’t make it too moist. It should still crumble when you pick it up and shouldn’t be sticky. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of the spring form.

Set a full kettle of water on the stovetop to boil.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and sugar on medium-high until fluffy and smooth, then add vanilla. Make sure to scrape down sides of the bowl as it’s mixing. Beat in sour cream, egg yolks, lemon zest and juice.

Remove the batter from the mixer bowl and into another bowl. Wash out the bowl (unless of course you have an extra mixer bowl). Put the egg whites into the mixer bowl and beat on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream cheese mixture. Pour the mixture into the crust.

Wrap the outside of the spring form pan in foil, use the large size sheets not the small, or the water will leak into your cheesecake. Place your cheesecake into a roasting pan. Pour the kettle of boiling water into the roasting pan, to come halfway up sides of the spring form pan. Carefully move the roasting pan to the oven and bake the cheesecake until just set in center, about one and a quarter hours. When it’s done, the middle will still be jiggly but the top will be set. At that point, turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake in the oven with the door closed to cool for about an hour longer. Then remove it from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

While the cheesecake is cooling, make the lemon curd.

First prepare an ice bath by placing ice cubes and water in a large bowl and then place a slightly smaller bowl inside, make sure the small bowl is large enough to put all the lemon curd into.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine one cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, whole eggs and butter. Whisk to combine and then stir continuously until it begins to boil, about 7 minutes.

Once it boils, remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into the smaller bowl that you have waiting in the ice bath. Stir the curd mixture periodically until it’s cooled to room temperature. Then, cover the bowl of curd with plastic wrap and place in the fridge to chill. About an hour in the fridge should do it, or overnight is fine too.

Cover the cheesecake and chill overnight.

Before serving spread the lemon curd over the top of the cheesecake, slice and serve.

Monster Cookies

When I got my first apartment in college, my mother put together a cookbook of her best, and my favorite, recipes. The cover of the cookbook was red and white with “I’m Writing My Own Cookbook” in bold letters across the front. Over the years the cookbook has stayed with me, through multiple moves, a marriage, kids, more moves. I’ve added to it by writing recipes on the blank pages but, most likely, by sticking random recipes in multiple formats (recipe card, 8×10 internet printout, cut-outs from the newspaper) loose between pages. Some, I’ve even gone so far as to tape in. The book is warped from something being spilled on it. All in all, it is rather unappetizing, but it has sentimental value so I keep it around.

I also keep it around because there are some recipes in there that I don’t have anywhere else, namely the recipe for Monster Cookies. I don’t know where my mother got the recipe but it has been part of our family for as long as I can remember. When I made them for the first time for my college roommate, she was appalled at the size of them. I guess she didn’t think “Monster” was a literal description. I toyed with making the cookies smaller and it will work, but they are best as small saucer sized cookies. Large or small, these will disappear from your cookie jar very fast, especially if your kids are home for the summer.

Monster Cookies

  • 1/2 Cup Margarine or butter, softened
  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Cup plus 2 TBSP firmly packed brown sugar
  • 3 Eggs
  • 2 Cups Peanut Butter
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 tsp light corn syrup
  • 4 1/2 Cups regular oats
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 Cup M&Ms
  • 3/4 Cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter/margarine. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add eggs, peanut butter, vanilla and corn syrup, beating well.

Add oats, soda and salt, stirring well.

Stir in M&Ms and chocolate chips.

Drop by 1/4 cupfuls, 4 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes.

Makes 36 cookies

Tips:

Use a #20 ice cream scoop for uniform 1/4 cup sized cookies. I love using scoops for measuring cookies. Consistent sizes means your cookies will bake in the same time. No more smaller, burnt cookies or larger gooey cookies.

Spray the teaspoon with Pam before measuring out the Karo syrup and it will slide right out.

Speaking of Karo syrup, I have no idea why it’s even needed with 2+ cups of brown and white sugar.

Speaking of brown sugar, I have no idea why the extra 2 TBSPs are necessary.

I cooked these for the full 15 minutes, then left them on the pan to cool completely. These cookies always look undercooked in the middle when I pull them out of the oven. By leaving them on the pan to cool, they continue cooking just enough to stay together. Undercooked Monster Cookies are kind of disgusting.