Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cracker Jack's Skinny Cousin

This recipe was the result of necessity and invention and the munchies.  And trying to stay away from candy.

What to do?  Here I was with some free time, a book to read, and needed....yes I really needed,  something sweet but not high-calorie-sweet.
I had some popcorn. Hmmm.

What would happen if I melted some of this natural cane sugar with a little pancake syrup? (Which contains corn syrup, useful when cooking sugar.)

Let the sugar cook until it was liquid and clear-ish?  About 5 minutes on medium heat.  (Don't let it burn!)

Sprayed the popcorn with butter flavor oil and salted it...

Threw in some slivered almonds?

Poured on the melted sugar and stirred like mad?

Wow.  All I'd need is a prize!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cake Flour

I like to make cakes. Everyday, not fancy, spur-of-the moment kind of cakes.  And it's easy, if you know proportions.

Decide first how big a cake you want to make.  2 c. of flour is regular, 3 is extra big.
You will use almost as much sugar as you do flour.   2 cups flour, slightly less sugar.
Fat and oil should make up about 1/3 c. per cup of flour.  2 cups flour, 2/3 cup of butter or oil and butter combined.  Beat this in with the sugar for the first step.  Whip it until it's "fluffy" or some semblance thereof.
1 egg per cup of flour, plus 1 extra.  Add to sugar/fat mixture one at a time.
Measure out your flour and add salt, 1/4 tsp. per cup of flour.
One teaspoon of baking powder per cup of flour.  Whisk this in with the dry ingredients.
Alternate adding flour and liquid to the sugar/butter/egg mix.
Use liquid enough to make your batter thick and not soupy.  This "liquid" can include fruit, and  I would start with a quarter cup per each cup of flour used.
Use your imagination.  Add whatever seems right.
But use cake flour.

And I have a problem with store-bought cake flour.  For one thing, it's in a box.  And I'm pretty bad about searching out expiration dates--who has time for that?  So I see a box of flour and I wonder how long that's been sitting there, and if it will infest my other boxes of stuff with weevils.  I'm not looking to get protein that way, thank you very much.

This is definitely the best way to have cake flour ready to use.
Get a nice big canister; I happen to love the large clear ones because I can see what I have.

In a big mixing bowl, put 2 cups of all purpose flour and 1/3 cup of cornstarch.  *The other recipes I have seen are silly, with measuring out cups, and removing some flour, and adding cornstarch then, but this really makes more sense and less mess.

Mix them up with a whisk.

Then put them into a sieve and shake it vigorously over the big bowl.  You can do this multiple times if you wish, but let's not get too crazy here.


Place this mixture into your canister.

And you're done.   Now go make yourself a delicious  cake.
Fruit Cocktail Cake

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Plum Pudding, Tiny Tim?

There are two things my little Kiwi mother cooked that I know came from her family tradition; Mint Sauce for lamb, and Plum Pudding.  She was always too scared to flame it and so didn't, and didn't make Hard Sauce, at least I don't remember that, but the Cool Whip was just fine, thank you.
I'm kind of a cream snob these days so that's what I'll top mine with, but finally I got busy ahead of time and made my Plum Pudding.  For Mom.

The most difficult part of the whole thing was finding suet, and that's one thing I made sure I got because I remember that Mom said it just wasn't right without it!
I knew that suet was the hard fat from around the kidneys of beef, and that you grate it up like hard cheese, which it resembles but actually looks and feels more like tiny soap flakes.
So if you are going to make a Plum Pudding, the first thing you need to do is find either an honest-to-goodness butcher shop or, as in my case, a grocery store that cuts up the beef carcasses.
Here in El Paso, I bumbled around until the nice man at the Ruidoso Market downtown (where everyone assured me I would find it) told me to go up the street to Silva's Market.
Silva's is nestled right down at the bottom  the Stanton Street Bridge from Juarez, and you need to ask for "sebo de res".   A great big chunk of this stuff will cost you one whole dollar.
Hot Damn!  What a buy!
For a lovely Plum Pudding sans suet, see
Anyway, after you procure your suet, chill it well and grate up however much you need.
Here is the way I have the Plum Pudding figured out:
In a large bowl, combine equal amounts of:
Bread Crumbs
Self-rising flour
Grated Suet

In my case, I used 8oz. of each, but could have used 10 and had enough room in my steamer mould.
Add these spices, generously, and by that I mean at least a teaspoon:

Add 1T salt and half as much brown sugar as the amount of flour, that was 4 oz.
Add 4 oz. each (half as much as the flour) of:
candied peel (I used just a bit -- fruitcake phobia, but next time I'm leaving it out altogether)
golden raisins (Sultanas! don't you love that word?)
chopped date
chopped prunes (hence "PLUM pudding")
and a chopped apple.
In another bowl pour125ml. ale ( Stout in English recipes) You would of course increase if you used larger proportions of the rest.
and 4 eggs, or half as many eggs as ounces of flour.
Mix that in with the dry ingredients and pour it into a heavily greased bowl or steaming mould.  Cover with wax paper or cloth and tie securely, or use a covered mould like mine.
Put it into a stockpot with the water coming up halfway the bowl, cover,  and boil softly all day.

Or, put it into a pressure cooker with the pressure gage OFF, put the top on and simmer for 1 hour, then, add more water, put the pressure gage ON and cook about another hour.  This is to give it time to rise before "really" cooking.
NOW, here is where it gets mysterious.  Supposedly, you can just put this away into a cool cabinet and leave it alone until right before serving, when you steam it AGAIN for a while to get it warm and moist.
I cannot abide the idea of something that's to be eaten NOT being in the fridge, so of course that's where mine is.  I think I remember Mom leaving hers in the pantry, but maybe not?

The verdict -- it's good.  It tastes pretty much like my mother's, but doesn't seem as dark as hers was. Possibly because I didn't give it a liquor "bath" as my Auntie recently recommended.   Hard to do when there are non-drinkers to partake.
It makes me think of my sweet mother and all the generations of women before me who did their best  to make  Christmas as special as it could be.  Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Magic Tomato Box

Not really magic.   But it does work.
As usual, I had a bumper crop of late tomatoes.  Summer was too, too hot and dry, but this fall the tomato plants were very happy.
So, when word was that it was going to frost, I went out and picked a big bunch of green tomatoes.
The ones that were starting to turn went to the window sill and we're still eating them now.
The ones that were solid dark green I did two things with.
1.  I made a batch of green tomato/jalapeño relish.
2.  I put the rest in a box of sawdust with a couple of apples on the bottom and left it in the garage.

I really didn't know if the sawdust/apple combo would work or not, but have not had much luck with any other method in the past.
This worked like a charm, and continues to do so.  Some weren't quite there yet but I'm sure another week will turn them red.  Not as tasty and juicy as off-the-vine ripe, but tomatoes nonetheless.
*Follow-up.  Every single dark green tomato turned dark red.  The flavor was comparable to store-bought, so $ saved.  Heh-heh.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Sopa -or What Do with Rest of the Turkey

Sopa is a spanish word that causes some confusion, because it's used slightly differently in different regions of the spanish-speaking world.
It sounds like soup and doubtless the words come from the same origin.  Sometimes it is used for "soup", but more often it is some kind of starch (bread, tortillas, rice, or pasta), cooked in a broth or liquid.
Hence, "sopa de arroz" is the ubiquitous tomato-y rice pilaf that is served with all "Mexican Plates".
In other parts of Texas you wouldn't call this sopa, you'd call it enchiladas, or some kind of King Ranch Casserole, but I prefer the word Sopa, and I like my sopa to be very simple and minimal.  I exclude a lot of Tex-Mex add-ons, such as other vegetables or lots of herbs and  spices, such as cumin.  There is just way too much cumin being tossed into "Mexican" food, IMO.  Ditto for cilantro.

We always have so much white turkey meat left over, this is  a wonderful way for me to use it up.  So here is how we make ours, and of course you can do this with chicken as well.
I usually use Long Green Chile, but this time of year the long green is too flaco, so I'm using Poblanos.  They are always gorgeous.
I learned at A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate that if you boil your chiles first, the skin comes off easier when you roast them, so I do that.

Then I spray them with a little oil and put them under the broiler, which is quicker for me than over the flame, but you don't get as much of that wonderful smell in the kitchen!
Into a baggie they go to steam and cool off.

Then I peel and de-seed them, and it really works better using a paper towel and a little sharp knife than under the tap.

Grate the cheese, Monterrey Jack.  I guess this is about 2 cups.

Put 2 cans of Cream of Chicken Soup into the blender with about a cup of milk and 2 poblanos.  Blend that up good.

Assemble your ingredients:

Turkey, Cheese, Chiles, Soup, and of course, Corn Tortillas.  Salt and Pepper.

Layer 1: tortillas
Layer 2: turkey meat
Layer 3: chile strips
Layer 4: cheese
Layer 5: soup
Continue until you have used up your ingredients or filled your dish.  I like to finish up with a big layer of cheese.

Cook for 1 hour at 350°.  Or, you could freeze this and have a wonderful dinner ready for another day.

Of course, you need some beans to go with this meal. To me, this is one of those "comfort" foods that always makes me feel better.  Must be all the carbs!  Or the chile.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mango Salad, a regional classic from Seasoned with Sun

Here in our sharp corner of West Texas/New Mexico,  our most popular regional cookbook  is Seasoned with Sun from the Junior League of El Paso.
The original,  published in 1974 and followed by several later variations,  is sub-titled, "A Blending of Cultures",  and that says it all.  This cookbook is about what happened when Margie from Dallas got together with Maria from Durango in the kitchen to fix dinner.  It's about cooking with what's plentiful and common in this area, and using Northern Mexican foods and culinary techniques in new ways, as well as in the time-tested and traditional ways.

There are certain dishes from "Seasoned with Sun" that have become traditional in many homes, especially at holiday and entertaining time.

One of these is Mango Salad.  Straight out of the 60's,  (in a good way), it's tangy, light, and refreshing; a perfect side for a holiday dinner,  and since it must be made ahead of time there's no last minute interference with the turkey and gravy preparations.
Here's what you will need:
3 boxes of Lemon Jello.  In a pinch you can use another kind, but lemon is the best.
1 box of cream cheese
1 can of sliced mangos in syrup
1 or 2 limes

1. Drain the mango syrup into a measuring cup.

2. Add enough boiling water to make 3 cups, then add the jello and dissolve it.
3. Blend the cream cheese and the mangos.
4. Stir it into the jello liquid along with the juice of 2 small limes or one large one.
5. Pour it slowly into a large casserole.  This will be enough for a crowd. Then cover and chill overnight.  If you wanted to, you could make this several days ahead of time.

6. Serve on a lettuce leaf with a nice dollop of sour cream or crema (creme fraiche) and a sprinkle of brown sugar.  Good for any dinner, luncheon or brunch.

Seasoned with Sun, the Original, can be found at the following link, or at

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Adventures with Quince, or Membrillo

One of my very favorite appetizer/snacks  is Manchego Cheese with Ate de Membrillo, or Cajeta de Membrillo, or even Dulce de Membrillo.  It's very sweet, but with a sharp tartness at the same time, very.... refreshing and tangy. Combined with the mellow, salty funkiness of the manchego... delicious.  Perusing through a neighborhood store the other day, I saw some quince and decided to have a go at it, even though my history with candy is mainly disasters.
You can find this in some stores.

I have consulted dictionaries and translators, and apparently there is no consensus on what  to call this unusual and sweet delight.  Ate is supposed to be "quince jelly" but in Mazatlán you can buy Ate de Guayaba (guava) or Ate de Membrillo (quince), and Mrs. Griggs calls it Cajeta de Membrillo which is quince caramel.  So since there are probably many equally correct names for it, for my purposes, I'll just refer to it as Membrillo, and it is pronounced mem-bree-yo.
Here is what I found in Wikipedia about Membrillo:
"In Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela the membrillo, as the quince is called in Spanish, is cooked into a reddish jelly-like block or firm reddish paste known as dulce de membrillo. It is then eaten in sandwiches and with cheese, traditionally manchego cheese, or accompanying fresh curds. In Portugal, a similar sweet is called marmelada. It is also produced and consumed in Hungary where it is called "quince cheese". The sweet and floral notes of carne de membrillo (quince meat) contrast nicely with the tanginess of the cheese.[7] Boiled quince is also popular in desserts such as the murta con membrillo that combines ugni molinae with quince. Similar dish exists in Dalmatia, Croatia."
In Mexico, sometimes membrillo is eaten as jam on toast or rolled in sugar as a candy.

Well, to get to the gist of this tale,  I followed Josephine Griggs' recipe (which had left out an important step).  And then I compounded my mistake by thinking I could leave it in the oven to cook instead of cooking it on the stove top.  ¡Tonta!

And, I hate to admit it, but I did that twice, cooking up two batches of burnt quince jam that didn't set. Aaaarghh!

Finally I found a recipe in Allrecipes that mentioned an essential step: you must drain the water out of your quince before adding an equal amount (in weight) of sugar.  Then add the juice of a lemon and about a teaspoon of salt.
Here are the steps:
1.  Clean and chop your quince. You don't need to peel it.   I used about 6 large ones and got a 10x13 pan full of finished product.  

2.  Cover it in a heavy pan with water and low boil it until soft, around 20 minutes.

3.  Put the quince into the blender and blend it, using only a small amount of the boil water.
Blend it into a fine puree.
Important!  Drain most of the water out!
I didn't use this dish to cook, only for measurement.
4.  Put it back into the pot, add the equal amount in weight of sugar, a teaspoon of salt,  and the juice of a lemon and cook in that heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat. a Give it a good stir every 10 minutes or so.  The color will change from yellowy-tan to a lovely shade of pink/orange/brown as you cook. 

When it starts making large bubbles that pop loudly and shoot burning hot quince all over the place,  and you can see the bottom of the pan when you pull a wooden spoon through it, you know you are done. 
5. Pour it into a cake pan that is greased and lined with waxed paper.  Heating the knife before you cut makes nice cuts.  I like to sprinkle chile powder on mine before serving.

Enjoy your delicious Membrillo!    Wide mouth jam jars would be a perfect way to package this for gifts, maybe with a chunk of Manchego and some crackers.