There are few virtues a man can possess more erotic than culinary skill.
Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses
by Isabel Allende

Starting in November of 2009 Michelle at the Big Black Dog formed a group to bake its way through Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. I loved Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so I signed up with the group. Michelle first had us do a couple of warm-up assignments, which were my first attempt at blogging. The first "Official" post was on January 15, 2010, and it was followed by 41 more, on the 1st and 15th of each month. When I signed on I said I would bake the whole book, and like Horton (the elephant) I meant what I said and I said what I meant. I finished baking the book on October 1, 2011. Having completed that challenge, now I am just going to do some stuff, and post about it. As part of that stuff Michelle is posing a new, and different, challenge for us each month.

I am still baking bread, mostly the Five Minutes a Day kind, and if you would like to try the Five Minutes a Day bread method there are some links, with recipes, in the right hand column to get you started. Please give it a try.

But first, a word from my sponsor . . .
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This day be bread and peace my lot.
Alexander Pope

How can a nation be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Julia Child

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Yiddish proverb
(And some are only half baked.)

There is no love sincerer than the love of food.
George Bernard Shaw, via Sharon

Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.
George Herbert

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Traditions

The challenge this month is Holiday traditions.

We have always opened our gifts on Christmas Morning.  We take our time, one person opening at a time, and no feeding frenzy--at least not until brunch.

We usually open some presents, then break for brunch, then finish opening.  For brunch we must have "The Breakfast Casserole Katie Likes."   That is the name of it--it is what it says on the recipe card!  Katie is our oldest daughter.  She is not only perfect, she has red hair.  She also knows how things ought to be done, and woe to any who deviate from her expectations.  (Trust us on this.)

In addition to "Katie's Casserole" we have also had a coffee cake.  For years my mother made the coffee cake, then my sister took over the task when my mother was no longer able to do it.  I made it a few times, then the torch passed to Katie.  We know it as Grandma's Coffee Cake.

The Grandma in question was father's mother, born Olive Pearl Bundy on November 4, 1891, in Washington County Indiana.
 Grandpa & Grandma
My father was the only son, and could do no wrong in their eyes, which was known to annoy his three sisters  on occasion.  (I thought my father was pretty great, too, except on the rare occasions I REALLY managed to piss him off.)

Grandma grew up on a farm, and cooked like it.  We lived in the same town, and often went to Grandma & Grandpa's for Sunday dinner.  It may be my mind burnishing memories, but  and I swear Grandma would usually have at least 2, maybe 3 proteins--chicken, beef and/or pork, and several different vegetables and sides and a couple of desserts.  And that was when it was just us.  When my aunts and uncles and cousins were in town she really pulled out all the stops.
 Aunt Polly & Aunt Mart

That was also when Grandpa would make his home-made ice cream.  I say that Grandpa would make the ice cream, but on reflection, it seemed that he usually delegated all the work and reserved for himself only the supervisory and quality-control duties.
Grandpa took his quality-control duties very seriously!

Back to the Coffee Cake, my mother got the recipe from her mother-in-law, my Grandma.  Which it's why why we call it Grandma's Coffee Cake, and have for over 50 years.  (My mother sometimes suspected that Grandma would leave a little something out whenever she gave her a recipe she, so it would not taste quite the same as hers.)

But I was talking to my cousin Rob this fall, and the topic of eating at Grandma's came up. (Rob  was one of the "out of town cousins for whom ALL the stops were pulled out.)  I mentioned the coffee cake.  His mother (Aunt Mart, above) also had a family coffee cake recipe, but to them it was known as Aunt Hazel's Coffee Cake.   Aunt Hazel was one of Grandma's younger sisters.  Rob sent me a copy of the recipe, and they are almost identical, except that Grandma's has sugar in the batter which Aunt Hazel's does not.  Twin recipes  separated at birth?  Anyway, however denominated, it is an old Bundy family recipe.

Since this is the one we have made, here is the recipe for

Grandma’s Coffee Cake 
Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.
For the Filling and Topping 
Mix together:
1 c sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
Set aside
For the Cake
1 stick margarine                              
1 cup sugar                                              
then add
2 eggs and
1 cup sour cream                               
In a separate bowl combine:                                                     
2 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
Mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients
Spread half of the batter in the pan, then sprinkle on half the filling/topping evenly over it.  Repeat. This is harder than it sounds because the second layer of batter sticks to the dry topping layer and does not want to spread out.  Drop spoonfuls all over the topping and spread it our the best you can.  
Bake at 350 until brown and toothpick comes out clean, 1 hour or more (sometimes it seems to take longer than others).

My sister died in 2007, and I think that was the last year we made the coffee cake.  We have been going for something a bit lighter in recent years.  But after writing about it I think maybe we need to make it again, just for the tradition.  Damn the calories and full speed ahead.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gobble-y Gobble-y

Well, Thanksgiving has passed, and it is time for stores to start putting out the Christmas stuff and playing Christmas music--oh wait, that started right after Halloween.

We have an old Muppet Christmas show we watch every year (watch out for the icy patch) in which the turkey persuades the Swedish Chef that Big Bird is a turkey.  The show is old enough that Jim Henson is in it, and my bride tears up each year when we watch it.  She has never gotten over his tragic death.

Anyway, more often than not we host Thanksgiving, and I have always found it easier to make two modest sized turkeys than one huge one.  But for years was dissatisfied with the method of cooking the second turkey.  We only had one oven, so one when there, but whither the second?  Cooking on the grill here on the North Coast can be chancy in November.  I used an electric roaster, which cooked the turkey but retained so much moisture that it was more steamed than roasted.

When we redid our kitchen 2 years ago we considered a second oven, but decided that was a pretty steep price for something we would only use one day a year, and we had other places that money could be better spent.

Many people deep fry their turkeys, but some also burn down their houses doing it.  

  Then I heard about an oil-less turkey fryer.  That sounded safer, so I ordered one.  I got the Big Easy Oil-less Infared Turkey Fryer
It was a lot less than a second built-in oven.  And it works great, it uses propane from a tank, like a gas grill.  I don't understand how it works, but it does.

Now I have not had a real deep-fried turkey, and I do not claim that this is really the same, but it cooked my second turkey, 14 pounds, in just about 2 hours, and gave it crispy skin and moist meat.  The only trick is that you really need to watch it.  It can cook faster than you expect.

I would like to be able to show you a photo of my turkey, but with 2 turkeys to carve, and the other stuff to orchestrate, photography just was not in the picture, but this should give you the idea

And the Big Easy is not just for turkeys.  It does a great job on chickens (I usually cook 2 since I am cranking it up) and I have also cooked pork loin and beef in it.  For further inspiration there are online forums where people cook almost anything in their Big Easys. 

So, for you Thanksgiving turkey next year, or maybe for your Solstice turkey this year, the Big Easy might be something you want to consider.