Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Mother's Cookbook has Arrived!

After a long year of compiling, testing, typing, blogging, eating, scanning, and designing, "My Mother's Cookbook" is done!

I learned so much along the way, not only about ingredients and techniques, what I can do in the kitchen (and what I really need to work on!) but also about the world of food blogging. I have been so inspired by the many great food writers and bloggers out there—you have opened my eyes to so many interesting ways to write about cooking. I don't know where this blog will go next (other than on the shelf for a while, as I welcome my new little girl into the world), but thanks to all of you, I know anything is possible: White Fluffy Icing, Orangette, and The Wednesday Chef to name just the three that were thanked in my cookbook, but also Big Girls, Small Kitchen, Cook That Book, Foodycat and many others.

Of course, all of the credit goes to my mother for supporting me through this project, answering my frantic phone calls when I was in the middle of a recipe card trying to figure out what to do next, or why an ingredient was listed but never mentioned in the recipe, or how long something was supposed to bake in what temperature oven since those details were not listed on the card...anyway, I guess someday I will impart undecipherable recipes to my daughters and they will be equally frustrated. Or they will just pull "My Mother's Cookbook" off the shelf and everything will be perfectly clear!

Pick up a copy today at if you are interested—hard cover and soft cover versions are available—or just flip through the pages and enjoy.

Like I said, I think the blog will go on the shelf for a while...maybe it will re-emerge with a different project in 2011, maybe the cookbook will be the next selection on Oprah's Book Club. Wherever this experience takes me in the new year, I'm just proud to have a finished product sitting in the cookbook rack in my kitchen and the memories of a year spent cooking, learning, and making my mother so incredibly happy. Worth every minute!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Making My Mother Proud

Now that the cookbook is finished and I have 76 pages of wonderful recipes in readable form (NOT on recipe cards in a disorganized pile on my counter), I can show off my new skills in the neighborhood with relative ease. I typically make a little sampler of goodies for a handful of neighbors on our street; this year I chose 4 of my mother's recipes that are real holiday favorites: Cranberry Orange Relish, Poppyseed Wine Cake, Coconut Macaroons, and Cinnamon Sugar Pecans.

[You can find all of these recipes in the cookbook or here on the blog...I haven't announced the cookbook here yet because I haven't had an opportunity to show my mom the final product. I would hate for her to see the electronic version first! I did post a preview of it my Facebook page; if you are friends me with, check it out there. More to come on the cookbook early next week. ]

My mother traditionally has baking days during the holidays to create goodie baskets like these for her friends and neighbors. And she'll have dessert parties during the holidays where the amount of baking would boggle your mind. So I think she would be proud that even in my current state, I had time to devote to spreading a little holiday deliciousness just as she has been doing year after year.

I picked up some .99 baskets and 100 cellophane bags for $14.00, the jars were $10 for 16, and the ingredients all told were probably no more than $20 since most of them are common staples you have in your pantry anyway. So in the end, 8 baskets of goodies = about $50 total spent on spreading some tasty holiday cheer up and down the street.

Happy Holidays!!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Well, another Thanksgiving goes by in the usual way...quickly, so that Christmas can take over every aspect of our lives. But first, a few recipes from my mother's Thanksgiving menu.

We spent the day at their house, just the parents, me, my husband, and daughter, and Angus the dog, of course. Quiet, relaxing, and food-filled. One minor conundrum: mom decided to have the fresh turkey she purchased butterflied by the butcher, which would have been no problem had she also purchased a roasting pan big enough to handle the flattened bird. So my husband and I wrestled with the thing to truss it back to it's previous form to fit it in the standard roasting pan. In the end, the resulting meat was completely delicious and was really just a complement to all of the amazing side dishes my mom prepared: cornbread dressing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, scalloped oysters, jalapeno corn casserole, homemade rolls...and I threw in the cranberry orange relish and pecan pie.

All of these recipes will appear in the soon-to-be-released cookbook, which is nearing completion. I really can't believe the process is almost over! I have to submit the PDFs to by December 12 in order to get the published copies by Christmas, so my deadline is looming. There's going to be a big celebration when this one is finished...just in time for me to give birth to my new little project! Due date: February 4, 2011.

Cornbread Dressing
¼ cup butter
¾ cup onions, minced
½ cup celery, chopped
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp ground sage
3 cups cornbread crumbs
3 cold biscuits, crumbled
1 slice of white bread, diced
1 cup turkey or chicken broth
2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 400. Melt butter in a heavy pan; add minced onion and celery and sauté with pepper and sage. Remove from stove and pour into the bread mixture; stir/toss until well mixed. Pour on enough broth to moisten the bread mixture (do not make soggy), add eggs, and mix lightly. Pour into a baking dish about 2 inches deep. Bake until lightly browned and cooked through. Do not overcook.

Cranberry Orange Relish
1 bag fresh cranberries
1 large navel orange
Sugar to taste

Wash orange and cut it up in chunks with the peel on. Mix in orange and cranberries in a food processor, adding sugar to taste.

Pecan Pie
3 eggs, well beaten
¾ cup sugar
1 cup white Karo syrup
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp melted butter
Pie crust

Preheat oven to 350. Mix ingredients and pour into an unbaked pie shell in an 8” pie pan. Arrange whole pecans on top to cover filling. Bake until knife-blade comes out clean, about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Simple Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnabon. I have a real problem with Cinnabon. First of all, you can smell that shop from the farthest end of every mall or airport in America...that insipid syrupy sweetness permeates everything. Combine it with the greasy stench of McDonald's and nausea will certainly ensue. Secondly, they make my hands sticky just thinking about them. Finally, Cinnabon cinnamon rolls could feed a family of four for three days. No one needs that much cinnamon roll in one sitting.

Okay, enough of my hormonal soapbox. The reason for my rant is that I have discovered yet another one of my mother's recipes that achieves perfection simply by being simple: the Christmas Cinnamon roll. Made from the same dough that makes her famous Dinner Rolls, the roll consists of bread, cinnamon, sugar, and butter, but mostly bread. A soft buttery dough with subtle hints of cinnamon, rather than oozing stickiness everywhere. These are not your typical cinnamon rolls but when I was growing up, these were the definitive. At some point in the past 39 years, cinnamon rolls became very sinful in my opinion. I'm going back to basics.

The Dinner Rolls should come first. My mother's recipe produces a nice buttery dough that is both light and rich. She makes these pretty often and sometimes fails, but mostly succeeds in making them perfect every time. If I can find success on my first try, they must not be that difficult!

Dinner Rolls Recipe
1 cup milk
1/3 cup + 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup shortening (or 1 stick margarine)
1 pkg dry yeast
2 eggs
4 cups flour

Heat milk, sugar, salt, and shortening until shortening melts. Cool to room temperature. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 2 Tbsp warm water. Stir in 1 tsp sugar and set aside. Beat eggs and add to the cooled milk mixture. Stir in yeast mixture. Mix in flour using a dough hook on low speed mixer. When dough comes together (is moist and somewhat sticky) place in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth for about 2 hours until the dough doubles in size. At this point, you can refrigerate overnight; then make into rolls and let rise 1 1/2 hours before baking. Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the roll, until lightly brown on top.

Mom makes the cinnamon rolls every Christmas and brings them out arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree after we open presents on Christmas morning. You can eat two or three and not feel like you're going to explode. And you don't need to take a shower afterwards to get the sticky off. Perfect and simple. Delicious and festive. Try them anytime of year.

Christmas Cinnamon Rolls
Roll out the Dinner Rolls dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Brush with 2 Tbsp melted butter and sprinkle with generous amounts of cinnamon and sugar. Roll up the dough and then slice into 1 inch thick rolls. Lay them flat on a buttered baking sheet and let them rise for 1 1/2 hours before baking at 375 for about 20 minutes, until they are puffed and the cinnamon sugar starts to caramelize.

Additions: add raisins and/or pecans to the inside, and maybe drizzle with icing

Saturday, October 16, 2010

English Toffee

I tried this recipe many years ago in my tiny apartment, before husband, before kids. It looked so easy, but I failed miserably. Hard crack stage quickly became giant ball of glue stuck to my cheap-o pan. But today—with my trusty candy thermometer—success!

Mom makes this at Christmas every year and the holiday tin she puts it in quickly becomes empty. Last year, she decided to make it as her contribution to our family "gift game," the one where you draw a number and then either choose a gift or steal from someone else. Well, the game was not taking place until Christmas night, so for all the days leading up to the game, everyone was becoming very disgruntled that she had not made the toffee...we scoured the house and accused her of falling down on the job. How could we have Christmas without the toffee?!? I think in the end she gave it up and told us we had to wait to see who could get it in the game. I can't remember who actually won it legitimately because as soon as it was out in the open, it was gone. Mom, next time, you make a batch and I'll make a batch and everyone will be happy.

English Toffee
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter
3 Tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Combine first 4 ingredients in medium saucepan. Cook over low to medium heat, stirring constantly, to a hard crack stage (300). Remove from heat and pour onto greased cookie sheet (9x13). Cool 1 minute. While hot, cover with chocolate chips and spread as they melt. Sprinkle nuts on top. Do not refrigerate; it may cause the chocolate to separate from the toffee. Just sit on your counter until it's hard enough to break into pieces.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Crunch Time

I'm getting down to the wire on the cookbook project and can see my Christmas deadline quickly approaching. Time to do some designing and editing instead of cooking and blogging. I do have about 8 recipes remaining that must be included, but not sure I will have time to test them...

English Toffee, Candied Walnuts, Christmas Cinnamon Rolls, Pecan Pie, Sweet Potato Casserole, Homemade Dinner Rolls...and a few others. 

After tackling and conquering the Black Bottom Pie, though, I feel like my work here is done!

After 10 months of testing and compiling recipes, I have a little over 50 recipes to include in the cookbook. I weeded out many from the original list of about 100 because I realized they had little or no significance for me as far as childhood or family memories were concerned. Some didn't make the cut because my mother could not remember ever making them, even though they were in her recipe collection! And then some I just could not muster the energy to even attempt: 3-day pickles (with lye!), Christmas Pudding, Tomato Aspic...I had high hopes of getting through everything, but low and behold, morning sickness just got in the way! Maybe after the baby comes and I'm just lounging around the house on maternity leave with nothing to do...

So as I dive into the world of self-publishing, forgive me if my blog suffers from neglect. I will post a few of the remaining tests just because they are soooo good and you should experience them too. But the remaining weeks before Christmas (only 73 shopping days left, my friends!) will be dedicated to completing what has been an extremely fun and empowering (and exhausting) journey. I've loved spending so much time in the kitchen—showing my daughter that her working mom can also be a homemaker. I've been empowered by the fact that I can recreate so many taste memories from my childhood, and actually cook this amazing homemade-with-love food that I grew up on. And I have thoroughly enjoyed what I've discovered along the way about the strong mothers in my family tree who have passed these recipes along to their daughters throughout the generations. In the end, this was the purpose for me as pass along a great tradition of home cooked meals to my TWO daughters. And they will have them in a beautifully bound collection! But don't worry...all those recipe cards will not be thrown in the trash. I think the Smithsonian might want them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Greatest Pie on Earth

Well, I've done it. Reached the pinnacle. Crossed the finish line. I have done what few even attempt and I survived to tell the tale. I made my mother's famous Black Bottom Pie. Four stages of instructions, two pages typed, thirteen ingredients, and two hours of my life I'll never get back. Worth every single minute.

This pie is one of those pies that you could quite easily sit down and eat the entire thing in one sitting...just you, a 13x9 pyrex baking dish, a fork, and bite after bite of dreamy creamy chocolately goodness. I think my sister has actually done this, which is why she vows never to make it herself. She had to move to the East Coast just to be 3,000 miles away from the one woman who makes it. And when she comes to visit, it's really the only required menu item. We think it's best for breakfast.

As my father says, it's like walking into a cold breeze with your mouth open. Or I prefer describing it as being like heaven and angels and all things beautiful. It's deceptively light and fluffy, with a dark chocolate cookie crust in the perfect thickness to give it just the right amount of decadence. It's an elegant dessert...the layers are straight and symmetrical, the colors remind you of a tuxedo and ivory satin, and it floats in your mouth.

I've always been intimidated by this recipe and now I know's pretty complicated, or at least doing it the first time was incredibly daunting. What if it didn't turn out right? A failed Black Bottom Pie would cause me to rethink this whole project. At several points in the process, I didn't think what was supposed to happen was happening so had to call my mom for some reassurance. Even when it was all said and done, I just wasn't sure I had pulled it off. After the first bite, though, there was no question. I had made a Black Bottom Pie and it was perfect.

Black Bottom Pie
Vera Davis
Makes 16 slices when using a 13 x 9 pyrex

1 box Nabisco Chocolate Icebox cookies

5 Tbsp melted butter

1 packet Knox gelatin (about 1 Tbsp)

2 cups whole milk
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar + 3 Tbsp, divided
1 Tbsp flour

Dash of salt
1 1/2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 tsp vanilla, separated
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 pint whipping cream
1/2 square unsweetened chocolate, grated

Crust: Crush one box of Nabisco Chocolate Icebox cookies in a food processor to a fine texture. Mix with melted butter. Press into the 13 x 9 pan. Heat in 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until very hot so the crust will hold together.

Filling: Stir the Knox gelatin with 4 Tbsp of cold water. Set aside. Pour milk into a double boiler to heat. Meanwhile beat egg yolks well and add to them 1/2 cup sugar and 1 Tbsp of flour mixed well. Add a dash of salt. Gradually blend this mixture into the hot milk and whisk to make smooth. Cook until the custard mixture coats a spoon, about 20 minutes.

Chocolate Layer: Take out 1 cup of the custard and mix it with 1 1/2 squares of unsweetened chocolate that has been thoroughly melted. Blend this until smooth and add 1 tsp vanilla. Spread this mixture over crust. This will make a very thin layer so be careful not to pull the crust apart as you spread.

Cream Layer: Remove pan with the filling mixture from the double boiler. Dissolve the congealed gelatin mixture to a liquid and add it to the filling mixture. In a separate bowl, make a stiff meringue by beating 4 egg whites, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cream of tartar, 1 tsp vanilla. Fold meringue into the filling mixture. Pour on top of chocolate layer. Let stand in the refrigerator until firm, preferably overnight.

Topping: Beat whipping cream and 3 Tbsp of sugar. Spoon on top of chocolate layer. Use remaining 1/2 square of unsweetened chocolate and grate it on top of the whipped cream. Return to refrigerator. This will make 16 servings and will keep several days...or about 15 minutes.

This is the scariest moment in the life of a Black Bottom Pie. After serving it at a family dinner, I'm left with just enough to do some serious damage to that pregnancy weight gain limit. Do I take one more bite, which could lead to another and another until the whole thing is gone (a sad moment in itself)? Or do I show restraint, be conservative in my approach, and save the last corner to savor another day? What did I do? I'll never tell...