Tag Archives: easy

Pizza Fondue

Pizza Fondue

To celebrate the season opener of the National Football League (NFL), or American football season, I have decided to share one of my most favorite recipes from my childhood:  Pizza Fondue.

I’m from Maryland and we have two professional football teams:  the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens.  As they are in two different conferences, there’s no great rivalry.  You can root for both teams. They only play each other every four years.  Theoretically they could play each other in the Superbowl, but that’s extremely unlikely to happen.  Last season, the Redskins made it to the playoffs and the Ravens won the Superbowl.  Pretty awesome season.  Can’t wait to see what this season brings!

Come game day, my kid are excited because, while they don’t really care about the game, they are all about the game day snacks.  Crab Dip and Pizza Fondue are the most requested.

Back in the 1970s, fondues were all the rage.  Pizza Fondue is a kid friendly take on the trend. My mom made this fondue for me and I still remember it in all of its awesomeness.   It is really easy to make and a true crowd pleaser.  I never have “leftover” fondue.  You can’t ask for an easier recipe that is so popular with pretty much everyone!

Pizza Fondue
Serves: A Crowd
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
1/2 pound ground beef or Italian Sausage (casings removed)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 containers of pizza sauce (about 28-30 ounces)
1 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese

1 loaf of Italian Bread, cubed

Heat olive oil over in a 4 quart sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, stirring frequently. Add meat to the pan and break into smaller pieces while cooking. Once the meat is almost done, add the garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Once the meat is cooked through, reduce the heat to medium low, add the pizza sauce and stir well. Then add the cheeses and stir until all the cheese is completely melted.

Serve with cubed bread for dipping.

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Strawberry Lime Popsicles

Over the summer, I have the kids do “academic work” so that they stay sharp.  Yeah, I’m that mom.   In order to minimize the whining, I “incentivize” my children to complete these academic assignments.  Each assignment is worth a certain number of “points” and points can be cashed in for various and sundry items.  My daughter has been dying for a Zoku Quick Pop Maker.   She worked really hard this summer to earn enough points for one of them.  I spied a really easy recipe on Pinterest (http://www.theblackpeppercorn.com/2012/06/strawberry-paletas/) for a strawberry lime popsicle and a post was born, as my daughter LOVES strawberries.

Honestly, I was dreading this task.  The Zoku has to be frozen for 24 hours, so already there’s a delay, which is oh so popular with the elementary school set.  I then have to “blend” the ingredients together.  About 7 years ago, I broke the glass blender.  Never replaced it, and, as a bonus, have never heard the end of it.  My kids are 10 and 8, and somehow they know I busted the blender.  In my defense,  we really didn’t use it and I broke it moving it out of the way.    As a substitute, I would have to use the food processor, which can be a touch leaky.  Fun!

But, we persevered.  We blended the ingredients (no leaks!), chilled the mixture, used the Zoku and had popsicles in a fairly short amount of time!  It was really hot today, so they were definitely needed!

Strawberry Lime Popsicles
Total Time: about 1 hour and 20 minutes
Makes about 3 popsicles in a Zoku Pop Maker

1 cup halved strawberries
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water

Chill Zoku Pop Maker for 24 hours.

Place ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate mixture for about an hour. Pour mixture into Zoku Pop Maker and in about 7 minutes remove the popsicle from the pop maker. When repeating for the final two popsicles, you may have to leave the mixture in the Zoku for longer periods of time.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cream Pie

Easy no bake chocolate hazelnut cream pie

My kids are with their aunt and grandparents this week.  Therefore, I have taken this rare opportunity to make things that have gotten the veto from the kids. Lemon Chicken was one. Chocolate Hazelnut Cream Pie was the other one. I’m not sure why the hate for this particular dish. I love the taste of hazelnut, but if you are thinking something will taste just like chocolate, hazelnut may not be a welcome flavor.

The inspiration for this dish came from my peanut butter cream pie experience. I thought, if a pie can be this awesome with peanut butter, what would it be like with Nutella? Also, I wanted to take the opportunity to say “Really!?!?” to those who sued Nutella because they were allegedly “deceived” by the commercials that said Nutella was healthy. Check out the news coverage here.

Let me start by saying the first ingredient is sugar. Yes, sugar. Read a label, people. Commercials make their products sound better than they are. Shocking, I know.

It was a small rant, but important one.

So, this pie is light and cold and completely easy. My elementary school kids made it easy. Great for summer entertaining or potluck!

Chocolate Hazelnut Cream Pie
Serves 8

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature (Philadelphia brand tastes best)
1 cup Nutella
2 cups heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
1 chocolate wafer pie crust

Combine cream cheese and nutella in a mixing bowl and whip until well combined and fluffy. Fold in whipped cream one third at a time, until thoroughly combined. Pour mixture into pie crust. Cover in plastic wrap and freeze until solid. Remove from freezer about 10 minutes prior to serving. Melt a small amount of nutella to drizzle on top for “flair”.

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Lemon Chicken

Rao's Lemon Chicken- Incredibly easy weeknight meal

I’m not much of a lemon fan in food.  In drinks, sure.  Food?  Eh.  Don’t like Lemon squares, bars or pies.  My desserts should be sweet, not tangy.  Don’t like citrus in my salads.  About the only place where it’s really ok is squirted on seafood or part of guacamole.   Maybe as a flavor enhancer, but certainly not a main flavor.

So, why do lemon chicken?  One of my favorite cookbooks is Rao’s Cookbook:  Over 100 Years of Italian Home Cooking.  The recipes are amazingly simple and very good.  If you have never heard of Rao’s, it’s a much sought after traditional Italian restaurant in New York City.  Reservations are very prized.   But, if you follow the cookbook, you can easily recreate the experience at home.  One of their signature dishes is lemon chicken.   I decided to be brave and try it.  I’ve tried their lasagna and marinara to much success.  I had really high hopes for this.

First, some background.  Broiling chicken is a bit of an art, but perfect for a quick weeknight dinner.  It’s like indoor grilling.  All of the heat is high and coming from a single point.  On the downside, broiling is sort of messy and can cause the fire alarm to go off, many, many times.  You also have to flip things over, to ensure meat reaches a safe temperature.  Easier said than done.  Also, the type of chicken you use is critical.  There are actually chickens labeled “broiler chickens” — you want those.  Roasting chickens are too big for this dish.  Additionally, you have to keep the oven door a bit ajar when broiling, or your oven will cycle off because “temperature” has been reached.

The next bit of difference is how you prepare your chicken.  If you get a whole one, you need to “spatchcock” it.  “Spatchcock” is a fancy way of saying you need to cut the vertebrae out and open the chicken up to allow it to cook evenly.  Flip the chicken over (breast side down), and cut down both sides of the spine and open the chicken up so that it lies flat. I can sense some of you backing away now. It’s not hard, honest. The chicken bones you have to cut through are soft and more cartilage than anything else. You can seriously use good scissors with great success. If you would like to see a very good illustration of the technique:

http://www.marthastewart.com/891288/how-spatchcock-chicken/@center/897845/chicken-recipes#210562

I couldn’t really find my poultry shears and sort of did it with a bread knife.    I’m not one to pass along bad technique, so I will spare you the hideous techniques I used to get my chicken to look like:

Spatchcock Chicken

Note the bread knife handle on the side.

Good times, no?  Anyway, the rest is rather humdrum.  Broil on one side, flip, broil on the other, quarter the chicken, cover with sauce and bake for another 3 minutes.  One the whole, very impressive meal for a weeknight!

As far as the history of this dish goes, I believe it must be a mid-20th century invention, as lemons weren’t really commercially grown in Florida too much before the 1950s.  I found no mention of Lemon Chicken (or it’s Italian version Pollo al limone) in any of the historical (late 19th century) cookbooks I usually peruse.  Additionally,  this particular version uses an obscene about of lemon juice, 2 cups.  I squeezed 6 of them, and it wasn’t a cup. Most of the classic recipes were very conservative with the high dollar items, so this seems like more of a dish that would evolve later in our food timeline.

As mentioned above, this recipe is inspired by Rao’s Lemon Chicken Recipe I made some changes, however, as I didn’t think the original recipe had enough, I don’t know, something. This version was a bit more flavorful, in my estimation.

Lemon Chicken
Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30-45

Ingredients

CHICKEN:
1 (4 pound) broiling chicken, or 2 smaller ones, spatchcocked
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 large onion, large dice
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 sprigs of rosemary
1 lemon, sliced

LEMON SAUCE:
1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 8 lemons)
2 tablespoons of lemon zest
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions

SAUCE:
Whisk together juice, zest, oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Whisk or shake vigorously before using.

CHICKEN:

Preheat broiler at least 15 minutes prior to using.

Place chicken on a cutting board and combine the olive oil, salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Rub olive oil mixture all over the poultry. Place onions, garlic, rosemary and lemons on the bottom of a baking pan (I used a cast iron skillet) and place chicken on top.
Broil chicken, turning once, for about 30 minutes or until skin is golden-brown and juices run clear when bird is pierced with a fork. Remove chicken from broiler, leaving broiler on. Using a very sharp knife, cut chicken into it’s typical serving pieces (leg, thigh, wings, and breast portions). Place chicken on a baking sheet (that will fit in the broiler) with sides. Pour half of the lemon sauce over the chicken and toss to coat well. If necessary, do this in 2 batches. Return chicken to broiler and broil for 3 minutes. Turn each piece and broil for an additional minute. Remove from broiler and portion the chicken onto each of 6 warm serving plates. While chicken is baking, slightly warm the remaining lemon sauce. Pour an equal amount of sauce over each chicken piece and serve with lots of crusty bread to absorb the sauce.

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Chicken Cacciatore

Lovely Italian Chicken and Tomato Dish

I was watching a BBC Program called “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” the other day.  As the new owner of such a dog, I was really interested in the subject matter.  The general gist is that line breeding and breeding for looks over purpose has substantial downsides.   Namely, some dog breeds are grossly exaggerated from their origins and/or riddled with significant health problems.  This particular show by the BBC inspired Crufts to implement vet checks on all the breed winners.  If the winners couldn’t pass the vet checks, they were unable to compete in the finals.   Many dogs were eliminated from this prestigious show, causing quite a stir in the dog world.

How does this show relate to my food blog?  As I’m watching this show as they compare what dogs used to look like versus what they look like now (and it’s not a favorable comparison), I feel some food has become about the same way.   Overly complicated and fussy, and not necessarily better.

Take this recipe for Chicken alla Cacciatore from The Italian Cookbook by Maria Gentile (1919):

Chop one large onion and keep it for more than half an hour in cold water, then dry it and brown it aside. Cut up a chicken, sprinkle the pieces with flour, salt and pepper and saute in the fat which remains in the frying pan. When the chicken is brown add one pint fresh or canned tomatoes and half a dozen sweet green peppers and put back the onion.  When the gravy is thick enough add hot water to prevent the burning of the vegetables. Cover the pan tightly and simmer until the chicken is very tender. This is an excellent way to cook tough chickens. Fowls which have been boiled may be cooked in this way, but of course young and tender chickens will have the finer flavor.

Let’s compare this relatively easy recipe with one from the Food Network’s Tyler Florence:

Ingredients
6 red bell peppers
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 egg
2 cups milk
1 (3 1/2-pound) whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
6 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
1 onion, sliced thin
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1/2 lemon, sliced in paper-thin circles
3 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 bunch fresh basil, hand-torn (1/4 bunch to flavor the base, 1/4 bunch to finish the dish)
1 cup dry white wine

Directions

Start by preparing the peppers because they will take the longest. Preheat the broiler. Pull out the cores of the red peppers; then halve them lengthwise and remove the ribs and seeds. Toss the peppers with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place them on a cookie sheet, skin side up, and broil for 10 minutes, until really charred and blistered. Put the peppers into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and steam for about 10 minutes to loosen the skins. Peel the peppers and roughly chop into chunks; set aside.

Season the flour with the garlic powder, dried oregano, and a fair amount of salt and pepper. Whisk the egg and milk together in a shallow bowl. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour and tap off the excess. Dip each piece in the egg wash to coat and then dredge with the flour again. Place a Dutch oven over medium heat and pour in about 1/4-inch of oil. Pan-fry the chicken in batches, skin side down, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Turn the chicken over and brown the other side about 10 minutes longer. Remove the chicken to a side plate, pour out the oil, and clean out the pot.

Put the pot back on the stove and coat with 1/4 cup of oil. Add the garlic, onion, tomatoes, lemon slices, anchovies, capers, red pepper flakes, half the roasted red peppers, and half the basil. Season with salt and pepper. This part of the recipe is going to be your base. What we are looking for is a fragrant vegetable pulp, so simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring often, until everything breaks down.

Add the remaining roasted peppers and the remaining basil. Tuck the chicken into the stewed peppers and pour in the wine. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked.

End.

Wow, right? In the summer, I would have no trouble coming up with the ingredients for Mrs. Gentile’s recipe. For Mr. Florence’s? Lemon, capers, white wine and anchovies aren’t something I keep around. Not only is the Florence recipe infinitely more complicated, but much more expensive. No wonder people don’t cook anymore. Honestly, you’d think you needed these things to make what was known as hunter’s chicken. You see hunters pulling out capers? Lemons? Doubtful.

So, I modernized the format of the former recipe and it was really good and so easy to pull together.  It’s a one pot meal without a lot of mess. My husband adored it.    Summer’s bounty used to its greatest advantage.

Chicken Cacciatore
Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 60-90 minutes

Oil (bacon drippings, lard, vegetable)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
6 chicken thighs, patted dry (you can add more, I just couldn’t fit more in my pot)
2 large green peppers, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
10 mushrooms, sliced (an 8 ounce container)
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
15 ounce can of diced tomatoes (may use fresh tomatoes as well, about 2 cups diced)
1/2 cup of water, white wine or chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Heat oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven large enough to fit chicken comfortably. I used a 5 quart oval one.

As the oil is heating, combine flour, salt and pepper in a large shallow bowl or plate. Dredge chicken thighs through the flour mixture. When the oil is ready (it will appear to be rippling), place the chicken skin side down in the dutch oven, careful not to crowd. You may need to cook the chicken in batches. Cook the chicken until each side is browned. Remove and set aside. Add peppers, onions and mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft. Turn the heat down to medium and add the garlic, oregano and bay leaf. Saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and water and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. You may need to adjust the seasoning more at this point. Return the chicken to the pot, cover and continue cooking in the oven until the chicken is tender, about 45-60 minutes. You can’t really overcook the chicken too badly at this point.

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Biscuits and Sausage Gravy

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, a traditional American breakfast dish

My first brush with a variation of biscuits and sausage gravy was something kindly called sh$t on a shingle, or creamed chipped beef on toast.   I couldn’t understand how anyone had a disparaging word to say about this wonderful dish.  It was amazing!  Creamy gravy, salty beef and crunchy toast.  Keep your breakfast pancakes, this was awesome!

Then, I had biscuits and sausage gravy.   Combine a white gravy with my favorite breakfast meat and you have me at “gravy”.    Let’s be clear, there’s not a single redeeming value about this dish.  Sure, you could try to say you are getting “calcium” from the milk in the gravy.  I use that justification for ice cream and milkshakes.  However, let’s be real, this is a fairly empty calorie carbohydrate extravaganza.   It’s up there with a doughnut for breakfast.  Maybe a bagel with cream cheese.  You get the drift.  Not health food.

Biscuits and gravy have a storied history in America.  The morning meal was terribly important, but, the meal needed to be economical.  A meal that used flour, milk and scant meat was very well received. It kept people full for a day of hard labor in the field. It may have also been a small sign of rebellion, as it was entirely different from anything the British ate for breakfast. I picked recipes from the 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer.  They mirrored other recipes and had exact measurements.  The instructions were sometimes lacking and the ingredients weren’t necessarily listed in the order they were used.  However, I love seeing the differences in preparation.  Now, when you make pie crust or biscuits, you are admonished to keep everything cold, or the biscuits won’t be flaky.  Mrs. Farmer makes no such admonishment.  It just wasn’t an option during her time.  Mrs. Farmer was more concerned about the  oven being “hot”.   If the biscuits were baked “too slow”, Mrs. Farmer warned that “the gas will escape before it has done its work”.

She has 3 versions of baking powder biscuits in her cookbook:  Baking Powder Biscuit I, Baking Powder Biscuit II and “Emergency Biscuit”.    I chose to work off of Biscuit I, as I didn’t have an emergency that a biscuit would solve.  It also used lard and butter, versus just butter, which was good enough for me.  I like the combination of the two fats, as they each add something different to the biscuit. Butter adds a flakiness as it melts and lard adds tenderness. I also interpreted a “hot oven” to be 425 degrees Fahrenheit.   I can’t really say that I was impressed by the biscuits.  They were very serviceable.  They had a great crunch on the outside and were tender inside.  However, they didn’t rise really high.  Maybe that’s a modern convention.  Maybe the oven needed to be hotter.  Maybe, as an American, I’m used to biscuits that are just too big.  I don’t know. They tasted wonderful, they just lacked in presentation.  So, be warned.  I passed it off as “how they ate back then”.  No one cared and there wasn’t a drop left. They were very good, just a little plain.

The sausage gravy is a different story.  Why does it have to be soooo drab?  Fat, flour, milk, salt, pepper and bits of sausage. So bland, albeit delicious.  But, what if it could be better?  So, I decided to break the mold.  I used onion.  I know, gasp.  I then added cognac.  That’s a pearl clutching ingredient there.  Look, this recipe can be fancied up.  The cognac adds a warm layer of flavor that compliments the sausage perfectly.  Your kitchen will smell amazing.  I am using a small amount to deglaze the pan, nothing too boozy.  You are free to leave these out for a more “pure” experience.

Biscuits and Sausage Gravy
Inspired by Baking Powder Biscuits I and White Sauce I from Fannie Farmer’s 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book
Serves 6
Prep and Cook Time: 30-40 minutes

Biscuits
2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lard (or vegetable shortening)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cup milk

Sausage Gravy
1 pound ground breakfast sausage
1 small onion, finely diced
1 tablespoon cognac
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

For the biscuits:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Mix dry ingredients together and sift twice. Work 1 tablespoon of butter and the lard into flour mixture with tips of fingers; add milk gradually while mixing with a knife. The amount of liquid needed to bring the dough together may vary depending on the flour. Place dough on a floured surface, pat and roll lightly to one-half inch thickness. Cut dough with biscuit cutter. Place biscuits on buttered pan, and melt the remaining butter and brush on the tops of the biscuits. For a crunchy surface use a cast iron pan. Bake for 10-14 minutes.

For the sausage gravy:

Over medium heat, brown the sausage and cook until thoroughly done. Remove sausage from pan. Sauté the onions in the sausage drippings until translucent. Add butter if more fat is needed. Deglaze pan with cognac. Add flour to the pan and cook until the raw flour taste is gone, about 1-2 minutes. Do not let the flour brown. Whisk in the milk and bring the mixture to a slow bubble. If the mixture becomes too thick, add more milk. Season with salt and pepper and return sausage to the pan. Serve over biscuits. Traditionally, this dish is served with scrambled eggs.

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Strawberry Shortcake

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I have a love/hate relationship with Strawberry Shortcake.  I generally have a “no fruit”  dessert policy, save apple and pumpkin pie.    Why waste my few precious carb calories on a dessert with no chocolate?  Seems like madness, truly.

The other thing is, well, I thought shortcake sort of sucked.  It’s either made with that yellow spongy crap that I now realize is the yellow spongy cake that makes up a Twinkie.  Well played, Hostess.  Tell people that all they have to do is spray whipped cream into these yellow dimpled cake shells and top with strawberries.  Voilà!  Strawberry “shortcake”!  Or, it’s made with cut up store bought Angel Food Cake.  Ugh.

A few years ago I had a berry shortcake at a small restaurant in Annapolis called “O’Leary’s”.  Honestly, the other desserts looked terrible.  “Terrible” being defined as a dessert “containing chocolate that was contaminated with fruit”.   Is there a rule that raspberries must be in a chocolate dessert?  Anyway, it was an order of last resort.   My low expectations were exceeded when a lovely confection was placed in front of me.  A tender, yet crispy biscuit split and oozing thick whipped cream topped with berries of all colors.  What was this?  Where was the Angel Food or bland yellow cake?  Instead, I got an actual “shortcake” and it was amazing.  Despite it being really good, I had no desire at the time to make it because of the whole lack of chocolate thing.

So, I’m reading the Wall Street Journal the other day and come across an article about how the French are up in arms about whether an establishment can be called a “restaurant” when it doesn’t actually cook all of the food served.  Some of the food, gasp, is frozen and prepared off site.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323398204578488990597549094.html0597549094.html

This article brought me back to my shortcake experience, and other brushes with mass produced food being used in a “restaurant”.  The “semi-homemade” take on strawberry shortcake is far removed from the real dessert.  The same could be said for dry chocolate cake or waxy “New York Style” cheesecake.  Most desserts at restaurants are so lackluster.  They pretty much taste like they came from Costco, Restaurant Depot, or some other mass production facility.   I was very sad to learn that Molten Chocolate Cake dessert can be microwaved in a minute and served.  Sigh.

One time, at Outback Steakhouse, my plate came out with a plastic bag on it.  Inside the bag were my veggies, freshly microwaved, I presume.    Honestly, it’s why I cook.   I know where my stuff comes from and who made it.

So, inspired by some of the most esteemed names in French Cooking saying they had to preserve the French Cuisine, I wanted to make a real, authentic shortcake.  My small attempt to rescue the true shortcake from the “dessert shell” purgatory it’s currently in.   On the plus side, there are plenty of old recipes.  On the minus side, they are all different.   Of course they are!!!

First of all, shortcake is not so named because the cake is short.  It’s because a fat inhibits the flour from forming long structures.   Adding a fat (in this case two, butter and shortening) creates the “short” part of the shortcake.    Shortcake also got a boost of lightness from the advent of chemical leaveners like baking soda and baking powder.    Traditional English shortcakes made without chemical leavening are extremely dense.

I think it’s amazing that a classic dessert is built around the humble strawberry.  A fruit that, realistically, was only available for a very few weeks every year.   Strawberries are fragile and they have a short harvest season.  Despite the restricted availability of strawberries during her time, Fannie Farmer has no fewer than 3 dessert recipes for just Strawberry Short Cake in just one of her cookbooks.  She also has one for “Fruit Short Cake”, which, according to Mrs. Farmer may also include strawberries.  The dessert called for the strawberry  to be paired with a quick cooking “shortcake”.  Originally, whipped cream was not part of the dessert.   Just a sweetened shortcake, strawberries, sugar and butter.  By the mid-1800s, whipped cream became integrated into the recipe.

While any berry could be used, the dessert is synonymous with strawberries.  You can certainly make a “raspberry shortcake”, but let’s just say they didn’t name a doll “Raspberry Shortcake”. This is certainly a classic summer recipe.  And, really, making the shortcake is very easy.  Make the whole dessert and really, you won’t be disappointed.

I love cooking from extremely old, some would say “historic” cookbook.  I feel a bit like an archeologist trying to recreate the exact dish the author did over a hundred years ago!  I picked a very traditional recipe from Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook Book called:  Rich Strawberry Short Cake, she credits a “Hotel Pastry Cook” with the recipe.

Rich Strawberry Short Cake

2 cups of flour
1/4 cup of sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/3 cup butter (about 5 1/3 tablespoons butter, diced)
1 1/4 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
1 egg, well beaten
2/3 cup of milk
1 pint strawberries, washed and quartered with tops removed
Sugar
1 quart heavy whipping cream

Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease 12 inch cast iron skillet with lard.

Mix dry ingredients and sift twice. Work in butter and lard to the flour mixture, until mixture appears crumbly. Add egg and milk. Stir until the dry ingredients are moistened. You may need to add a bit more milk if there is still a lot of dry flour. Place mixture in the cast iron skillet, and use your hands to spread mixture into the pan. (Tip, oil hands first!) Bake until the bottom is lightly browned and a slight crust is apparent when the shortcake is touched, about 12 minutes.

While the shortcake is baking, sprinkle enough sugar on the strawberries to sweeten the fruit and slightly macerate, about 1-2 tablespoons, depending on the strawberries.

Whip the cream until stiff peaks are formed. If sweet whipped cream is preferred, add a tablespoon of sugar to the cream while it is being whipped. A bit of vanilla extract (a teaspoon) can be added too.

Split shortcake, add whipped cream and strawberries layered with the shortcake, and serve.

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Meatloaf

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Ah, meatloaf. Sounds gross. A loaf of meat in no way sounds appealing. It’s imperfectly shaped. But somehow, meatloaf is awesome. It’s homey. It’s moist, relatively cheap, and takes well to seasoning. I’ve seen everything from Cajun to Italian to Southwest style meatloaves. Leftovers can’t be beat. Many people swear the leftover cold meatloaf sandwich is a sublime experience. I’m not a fan of cold meatloaf, but have read that meatloaf may be related to country pate. I can totally see that. It’s a meat terrine dish that’s heavily seasoned and fairly fatty. But I like it warm. And, I must confess, with ketchup. Yup, I’m that person.

Notice that the title isn’t “beefloaf”. Yet, many people make “meatloaf” with solely beef. Tragic. An all beef meatloaf can be one dimensional, tough and dry. The addition of pork and veal add tenderness and moisture to the party. Multiple meats elevates this dish to something supremely special.

Meatloaf is a rather new dish. I’ve found a recipe from 1909, but that’s about it until later in the 1900s. Ground beef was rather unavailable, and similar recipes were in the vein of “chopped beef”, not ground. Plus, I’m imagining Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle probably made people a tad skeptical of ground meat products. Ah, short memories. Now, E. Coli contamination is rather common place. I can’t buy raw milk in Maryland because it might have microbial contaminants, but I can buy ground beef. Go figure.

When cooking with ground beef (or any raw meat, really), please be aware of cross contamination issues and cook the meat thoroughly. My days of medium rare hamburgers are gone.

Back to the meatloaf. Some recipes call for the meatloaf to be made in a loaf container. I’m not a fan of this method. Sure, you have a wonderfully neat block of meatloaf, but your meatloaf cooks and swims in the expelled fat. I like free form cooking. First, there’s less cleanup. Second, the excess fat drains away from the loaf, so you have a cleaner tasting, less greasy meatloaf. Last, well, you can make any shape you like! If you are in a hurry, make a thinner one. Tons of options.

Now, my husband and I have a running conflict. He roughly chops everything. Does a recipe call for green peppers? 1 inch dice. Ditto celery and onions. Even in gumbo. He likes a toothsome soup. For a meatloaf, I don’t want chunky veggies everywhere. If you are old enough to know Eddie Murphy’s classic comedic riff on the homemade “McDonald’s” burger, you know what I’m talking about. I’m sure it’s on You Tube, if you aren’t. I want the veggies to be subtle in the loaf, not distracting. Is my way better? No, it’s just a preference. But, come on, I’m right, right?

I took my inspiration from the country pate idea to develop this recipe. Meatloaf is easy. A great beginner dish. It’s all mixed in one bowl and cooked on a sheet pan. Done.

Meatloaf
Serves 4-6
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 45-60 minutes

2 pounds total, split between ground pork, ground veal and ground beef (some stores call this “meatloaf mix”)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 cup celery, finely diced
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs
thick bacon slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit.

Mix all the ingredients, except the bacon, together in a large mixing bowl. Using your hands is the preferred method. Be careful the mix gently until everything is just combined. Over mixing will lead to a tough meatloaf.

Place strips of bacon on a baking sheet in the approximate size of the loaf you wish to make. Shape the meat into a loaf shape and set on the bacon strips. Cover with a few more strips of bacon.

Cook until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees Fahrenheit, about 45 minutes.

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Roasted Veg

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Now that it’s summer, my kids and I commute together to work, because their summer camp is at my work.  Convenient, no?  

Kinda.  My commute is long.  35 miles long, one way.  It’s a rather boring, tree lined, “almost” interstate.  “Excitement” during my commute is my son making sure to point out all the road kill while my daughter yells “gross!!!”.  Alternatively, excitement can be had by me trying to find a radio station that isn’t “boring” or inappropriate for children under 11 years old.

Good times.  Times to cherish, or so I’m told.

I only partially kid, as my kids and I have wonderful conversations.  For example, we love to discuss the merits of autotune and whether a song is plagued by it.  Although, there may have been tears involved in the Katy Perry discussion. Katy would never autotune!

Anyway….on our way home, when I don’t have something pre-planned for dinner, I get to take everyone to the grocery store.   Joy!

As we are walking around the store, I come upon the large display of pre-made foods.  Row after row of buffets filled with items like salads, soup, meat entrees and vegetables. All for an astounding $8.99 per pound! Most stores have these “convenience foods”, but I walk by it.  The illusion of homemade without the work, I suppose. I just marvel because the ingredients that go into these items are conveniently located in the store for much, much less.  I try not to be judge-y. Lots of people don’t know how to cook, and this has to be better than something in a box. Plus, I know weeknights are hectic, high stress, and minimal time. Items like this help busy moms and dads put dinner on the table. But, I stopped at the tray marked “roasted eggplant”.  Really?  $8.99 USD for “roasted eggplant”?   The eggplants were only $1.99 a pound! There’s hardly any effort involved in “roasting”. Thus, a blog idea was born. Do not pay for roasted eggplant!! Except, my kids would never agree to roasted eggplant.  Lucky for me, my store had some beautiful, locally grown yellow and green pan patty squash.  So, pan patty squash would have to be a substitute.   They may not outright rebel against something so pretty. As an extra bonus, my husband loves pan patty squash.

You can use this “recipe” on almost any vegetable that you roast.  Even eggplant! To fancy it up, you could grate parmesan cheese on top just prior to serving. I’ve cut the vegetables in chunks, you could do thick slices as well. Whatever shape you like!

When you see how easy this is, you will never pay for roasted veggies again! You can totally do this!

Roasted Pan Patty Squash

Pan Patty Squash
Olive Oil (or any other oil of your choice)
Salt
Pepper

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit.

Consistently cut squash to 1 – 1 1/2 inch pieces. Place pieces on a baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over the squash and salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix the squash so that it is well coated by the oil.

Bake for about 7-9 minutes, check the oven to see if the bottom of the pieces have turned brown, if so, use a metal spatula and flip them over. Do the same for the other side. Total time would be about 15-20 minutes, depending on the size vegetable pieces and the accuracy of your oven. Remove from the pan serve.

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Peanut Butter Cream Pie

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You’re invited to a cookout. You want to bring something, but what? You could pick something up at the local supermarket. I find those foods sort of sit because people want to try the homemade stuff first. But you are busy, right? No time for homemade. Or, maybe your cooking skills just aren’t up to where you would like them to be.

You want to take something that will be the talk of the picnic. You want to be fawned over. I get it. Who doesn’t? No one wants to be potato salad #3 at a picnic with 5 different types of potato salad.

So, I offer the following dessert: Peanut Butter Cream Pie. Why? Because, frankly, fruit desserts just aren’t my thing, with the exception of apple pie. Peanut Butter Cream Pie combines some of my favorite ingredients: cream, sugar and peanut butter. What’s not to love? It’s not like Chocolate Cream Pie, so don’t be worried about whether the pie will “set” or if you will need to serve it in bowls. If you have a mixer and a freezer, you can totally make this dessert. It’s that easy. I found this dessert years ago in New Orleans at Emeril’s. He put the recipe for it in his cookbooks and now, on his webpage. The pie is crazy easy. Combine peanut butter, cream cheese, confectioner’s (powdered or 10x) sugar and whipped cream. Pour into crumb crust. Freeze. Done. Seriously. If you want to be fancy, melt some chocolate and stripe the top of the pie.

Some caveats. This is a really rich pie, so cut the slices small. You will want to cut a hunk of pie off and eat it. Don’t. You can’t. My 10 year old son who grows 6 inches a year tried and couldn’t. Also, you need to not just like peanut butter, you need to love it.

Now, I mentioned that I was inspired by Emeril to make this recipe, and I was, but this recipe is inspired by Martha Stewart. Why? Well, Emeril called for 4 cups of cream and Martha 2. I had 2. So, the winner was Martha! Her original recipe can be found here: http://www.marthastewart.com/258413/chocolate-peanut-butter-pie

My deviations are the crust and the amount of peanut butter. I looked at a pre-made graham cracker crust, but that had trans fats. So, I was resigned to the fact that I was going to have to make a crust. I thought chocolate wafer crust would be the best, but the thought of taking the middles out of a ton of oreos made me weep. Luckily, on my travels to three different grocery stores (can’t 1 just have everything I need?), I found an oreo cookie crust with no trans fat or other terribly nasty ingredients, so I went with it. As a result, that last minute find made this recipe super easy and fast. I reduced the peanut butter by 1/4 cup just to bring a little more balance to the pie.

Peanut Butter Cream Pie
Serves 6-8
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

6 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar (sifted)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy cream
1 oreo pie crust
1 ounce semisweet chocolate, melted, for decorating

Cream together the cream cheese, sugar and salt, until well combined and “fluffy”. Add the peanut butter and vanilla and beat until combined. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Loosen the peanut butter mixture by folding in about a third of the whipped cream. Add the rest of the cream to the peanut butter mixture and, using a mixer with a whip attachment, whip until well combined.

Pour peanut butter mixture into oreo pie crust and freeze for about 2 hours. Place melted chocolate in a freezer bag and snip a small opening on a corner of the bag. Drizzle chocolate on the pie and serve.

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