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!