Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chewy and Gooey

Ahh, the joys of spending the whole morning in the kitchen baking up a storm. I'm on vacation and I should be relaxing, right? Kicking my feet up and watching hour upon hour of Food Network shows? You would think, but I find baking so incredibly relaxing and calming and peaceful. The sense of accomplishment is well worth the sore feet.

Yesterday morning produced three chewy, gooey desserts: Fudge Cake, Pecan Pie Bars, and Chewy Oatmeal Cookies.

Fudge Cake
Granny Elizabeth's special recipe

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1/2 stick of butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 tsp vanilla

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. When mixture is melted, pour into a mixing bowl and add sugar, flour, and eggs. Mix until smooth. Add walnuts and vanilla. Bake in greased 9x9 glass dish at 325 for about 40 minutes.

[These gooey chocolately squares are really more fudgy than cakey, like super moist brownies. I think they could have cooked a little bit longer because they virtually fell apart when I tried to get them out of the pan. But who cares?!]

Pecan Pie Bars

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar (divided)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp butter
4 eggs lightly beaten
1 1/2 cup light Karo syrup
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Preheat over to 350. Grease bottom and sides of 15x10x1" baking pan. In large bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. With a mixer, cut in 1 cup butter until mixture has coarse crumbs. Press firmly and evenly into the bottom of the pan for the crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 3 Tbsp of butter. In a large bowl, mix eggs, corn syrup, remaining sugar, melted butter, and vanilla until blended. Stir in pecans. Spread evenly over hot crust. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. Cut into bars.

[Like popping a mini pecan pie in your mouth with each square. Super rich and delicious. I would make the crust a little thinner next time, but the extra buttery goodness of a little extra crust was not a deal breaker.]

Chewy Oatmeal Cookies

Let me first explain that the amounts below are a little cumbersome because I took my mother's recipe, which yields an overabundant 5 1/2 dozen cookies, and cut it in half. Not an easy task considering I don't do math and the amounts of the ingredients were all in 1/4s and 3/4s and quarts, etc. My husband lent his calculating skills to the task and I think we got the amounts correct because the cookies are perfect. I'm sure more skilled chefs out there will laugh at my amounts and there are probably conversions that would make more sense. But c'est la vie. These cookies are good.

1 cup + 6 Tbsp of butter
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp of sugar
1 1/2 cup + 4 Tbsp of brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cup flour
1 3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
5/8 tsp salt
3 cups Quaker oats, uncooked
7/8 cup pecans or walnuts
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Beat butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Add slowly to wet mixture and mix on low speed until well blended. Add oats, nuts, and chocolate chips. Place walnut sized dough balls on greased cookie sheet 2" apart. Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes. Cookies will appear underbaked but will firm during cooling.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Uncle Paul

Since this blog is not entirely just about cooking, but more and more about my mother's family, I would be remiss if I didn't report the passing of my Uncle Paul, my mother's only sibling and one of her very few remaining relatives. This has been a painful time for her being far away from him in his final days. She's been blessed with reports from Paul's children who have been caring for him, but those reports have been very hard to hear. Being the caregiver that my mother naturally is, she would have loved to have been by his side to lend a bit of her vast amounts of TLC during the past few months, not only to assist him, but to relieve his children who have put aside their lives to be by his side. But she's got a long list of people to care for here, there, and everywhere. In the end, mother will have her three daughters with her as we travel back to Wisconsin this weekend to celebrate my Uncle Paul's life and have a bit of a family reunion as well...a side benefit of family funerals, I guess.

The following obituary for my uncle ran in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. What it doesn't mention is how he would curse like a sailor when talking about politics, or how he wore black knee socks with shorts, or how he would always convince me that if I could kiss my elbow, I would get a pot of gold coins. He could fly through the NY times crossword puzzle every week. He was an amazing photographer and used his photos to make cards that I always loved receiving as a child. I'd love to have an album of all of his photos, so many of them taken at my grandparents home in Sparta—Granny's peonies, Pa dove hunting. He was a character. He will be missed.

Paul Dillon Howard: February 26, 1925 - June 24, 2010

Born on 2/26/1925 to Augustus & Lula (Dillon) Howard in Akron, OH. The family moved from Akron to Sparta, TN where Paul grew up. In 1943 he graduated from Sparta High School and made the decision to join the Navy. He participated in the Navy's V-12 program which led him to Penn State University where he would receive his bachelor's degree. After college Paul moved to St. Paul where he took on a job at 3M. It was during this time that he met Donna Tofting. The two were married and settled in Hudson. This marriage would be blessed with son, Gordon & daughter, Laura. After some time the marriage dissolved. In 1962 Paul married Marian Webster Kermott and lived in St.Paul for several years before taking a job with FreightMaster and moving to Ft.Worth, TX. In 1992 Paul and Marian bought a condo in Hudson and split their time between Hudson and Ft.Worth. Later in his career Paul started his own business, Transportation Marketing Inc and would run that until his retirement in 2005. In 2007 they moved to The Lutheran Home in River Falls. Paul was a very hard working and dedicated husband, friend, and father. He demonstrated a great work ethic and was loved and respected by all who were a part of his life. He enjoyed music - particularly Jazz. His favorite artists included Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, among others. He also was an avid, self-taught professional photographer. He was never far from a camera and loved to take pictures of everything from flowers, to nature, family, to anything else that caught his attention including advertising photography for FreightMaster. Paul was a very longtime member of AA, always willing to help and lend support to others. He was also a lifetime member of the Hudson Masonic Lodge. His greatest joy was his family and he loved sharing his loves with his kids and grandkids. He had a wonderful sense of humor was always willing to do anything for anybody and left a positive impression on those who called him friend. Paul is survived by; his wife, Marian (Webster) of Hudson; son, Gordon Howard of Eau Claire; daughter, Laura Rush of Eau Claire; daughter, Katharine Kermott (John Ahern) of St. Paul; daughter, Pam Wasson of Fort Worth, TX; daughter, Claudia (Lynn) Rhymes of Santa Rosa, CA; sister, Vera (Jennings) Davis of Oak Park, CA; 12 grandkids and 3 great-grandkids; and ex-wife Donna Vierbicher. He is further survived by other relatives and many dear friends. A memorial gathering for Paul will be held on Sat 7/3 at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home in Hudson, WI from 11am to 1pm. The gathering will conclude with military honors provided by the Hudson American Legion and VFW. A very special thanks to the entire staff of The Lutheran Home for their loving care and continuing care of Marian.

10 Recipes (More or Less) in 2 Weeks

After a bit of a hiatus from the cookbook project (and the blog), a two-week vacation should allow for plenty of time to pick things up full steam. I have a handful of recipes that I've been wanting to tackle and finally have the time to really devote myself to the effort, uninterrupted by the demands of the job and the little one at my feet...she's in school this week while I'm at home and, while I love the peace and quiet of the house, I did have a little pang of sadness dropping her off this morning and turning around to go home without her. The older she gets and the more we actually communicate on a real, formed sentences kind of level, she's become this other person in our world instead of the baby we must tend to and feed and keep occupied, or the terrible two-year-old we're trying to restrain. She occupies herself most of the time now, with little scenarios that involve the Wonder Pets, or baby dolls, or stacking coins, or "reading" books. I sit with her in awe of all that she knows and how quickly she learns and retains.

So while the uninterrupted time will allow me to get back to this project, I have to say the quiet in the house right now is deafening!

Anyway, I started back at it this weekend with two savory casseroles, before I dive into a week of mainly sweets...which will just do wonders for my summer bathingsuit bod. I hope the neighbors are hungry.

The first is a casserole from my Granny Lula's collection, written on a weathered and yellowed index card in her handwriting: Carrot Casserole. Very few ingredients, sounds tasty, so I made it to go with a Saturday night dinner of roasted chicken and sauteed broccolini. Good color for the plate and maybe, just maybe, Olivia would like it since she loves carrots in cooked and raw form.

I really stayed true to the recipe as written; no tinkering, except for the addition of a nutmeg sprinkling on top before it went in the oven. The only question mark was the "2 cups grated cheese" ingredient...what kind of cheese? Which got me thinking, I bet there was only one kind back in the day: cheddar. I wouldn't normally put cheese with carrots, and my first choice probably would have been parmesan lightly sprinkled on top or something. Anyway, must ask mom about that one.

The casserole turned out to be souffle-like, light and fluffy. If you were going to tinker with it, I could see maybe adding some thinly sliced scallions, or add a little red pepper to add a little spice. But it was delicious as is, at least to me. Olivia didn't touch it.

Carrot Casserole
Lula Howard

3 cups mashed, cooked carrots
2/3 stick of butter
2/3 cup of milk
2 cups grated cheese
3 eggs, separated

Boil carrots with salt until mashable. Mix in butter, milk, and grated cheese. Separate three eggs. Beat yellows first and stir into carrot mixture. Then fold in beaten egg white. Pour into baking dish and top with more cheese (and a dash of nutmeg, my only addition). Bake at 325 for 45 minutes.

The next casserole is a breakfast dish that has made my mom famous: Creamed Eggs. It's a standard brunch item for us...Christmas, Easter, or any family gathering calling for a heavy and decadent way to start the day. If you're used to eating a small bowl of granola and a banana for breakfast, this will throw you into a food coma for sure. Add bacon and toast on the side, and you're done for the day.

Essentially here's the recipe: drown 6 hard boiled eggs in a rich creamy cheese sauce, top with more cheese, and bake. It's one of those things that my mom makes that screams home cooking for me, and it will always be a dish that I associate with her, with family gatherings, and with a full belly.

Creamed Eggs
Vera Davis

6 hard boiled eggs, pealed
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
dash of Worchestershire sauce
sprinkle of paprika

Hard boil eggs and peal. Cut into quarters. Set aside. Melt butter over low heat. Mix flour, salt, and pepper, then stir into melted butter. Stir constantly with a whisk to smooth the sauce. Whisk briskly to avoid lumps. Pour in milk and stir as you mix. Boil until the sauce is medium thick. Add most of the cheese to the sauce, reserving some to sprinkle on top of the dish. Stir until melted and smooth. Add a dash or two of Worchestershire sauce and stir. Remove from heat and fold in eggs. Pour mixture into lightly greased casserole dish. Sprinkle with grated cheese and paprika. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until bubbly. [If you are making this for a larger group, use 12 eggs and double the sauce recipe.]

And yes, that is homemade bread on the side, fresh from the oven that morning. Feel free to clap.

More to come this week: cookie day, the pecan extravaganza, and overcoming the cake conundrum.