Tag Archives: Cooking

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #8

Ginger Snaps

I wanted to post some photos of my father on this Father’s Day. My mother wouldn’t have been the great cook she was without him. Even when, at the end of his life he couldn’t eat, he looked out at the spread that Thanksgiving day and proclaimed to all the family present, “Your mother is such a wonderful cook!” We had no idea he was so sick. He died two months later.

Scan_20180617 (5)He was born in South Africa, but grew up in San Antonio and South Houston. He shared a passion for mechanics with his father. He didn’t do so well academically. His worst subject was English. I believe he could hardly read his entire life. His dyslexia must have been off the scale. He was brilliant. He could put anything together by looking at it. He had no patience until he was an old man. He loved a good practical joke. When he was young, he and some friends took a preacher’s car and pushed it off a cliff. It took a long time for the preacher to find his car. My father and his friends winched it out of the gully and fixed it up good as new.  He was in the Navy during WWII, but saw no action. He helped repair and build ships, stationed in Chicago and San Diego. He didn’t like to talk about his service. My mother said it was because he felt ashamed that he didn’t get shipped to the front lines, though the war was mostly at an end by the time he was in.

Scan_20180617 (3)He loved my mother most dearly all of their sixty years together. She loved to cook for him.This ginger snap recipe is one my mother made often. They are easy to whip together. Mind you, the recipe is down to the bare bones, so I will explain some things I learned, because I made them several times to get them just right.

The ingredients are easy:

SAM_1936When my mother says shortening she means “Crisco”. Do not substitute. This is a cardinal rule with Crisco. That’s always the case, but in this instance, here’s what happened to me.

I first made the recipe with coconut oil because I had no Crisco. The cookies tasted fine but had a strange consistency – like powder when you bit into them. I guess that means, they weren’t that good. I took them to school with me though, and someone ate them. Bless them.

SAM_1937The next effort to making them, I used butter, because I still had no Crisco. They were delicious, but a bit like hard-tack to bite into. So again, for this recipe…use Crisco.

Finally, I used Crisco. Perfect consistency. A bit chewy on the inside, and crisp on the outside.

The ingredients are precise – don’t use two eggs, only one. When it says twelve minutes at 375 degrees F. it means just that.

Also, don’t leave the dough in the fridge overnight, and then think it will be easy to pull out of the bowl. No. The dough when chilled is hard and non pliable, like dried paste. Leave in the fridge only 15 minutes. I don’t have to tell you the lengths I went to trying to get that first batch out of the bowl after leaving in the fridge overnight. I just had no time the evening before to bake them.

SAM_1939So the next time I rolled the dough into a long tube shape. Much easier to slice and lay out on the cooking sheet. If the dough is cool, it’s very thick. Trying to scoop and roll them into a ball with a spoon is a bit like trying to spoon out very frozen ice cream, needs to warm a bit first. Just roll into a roll and wrap in wax paper or a parchment sheet.  If you don’t cool in the fridge for fifteen minutes the dough is very sticky and uncooperative. Cooled, it is very easy to slice and lay out on the pan.

When I take cookies out of the oven, I always flip them over, because the heat from the pan continues to brown them on the bottom. This insures an even color all around.

The end result was really good. These are cookies that are guaranteed to bring back good memories for you. For me, the ginger and molasses in this recipe remind me of so many great holidays with my parents. I think you can see some empty spots on the pan of cookies.SAM_1941

Note: Everything is so easy to buy at the grocery. Cooking from scratch is going to a lot of trouble, going an extra step or two. So many times we are busy and feel pressed for time. Indeed, time is a very precious commodity. Even getting a decent home-cooked meal ready every evening can feel like a burden. Just keep in mind, the reason we would cook a cookie recipe is to share our good memories with our loved ones. I remember when my son was very small he asked me how I made what ever it was we were eating that evening and I told him that I had made the recipe from scratch. He looked at me with that adorable four year-old matter-of-fact way he had and said, “I don’t know where you get scratch, but I hope you can find it and make it again.”

 

 

 

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #7

The photo above is of my parents at the completion of their first home. My father built it with his GI low-rate loan. This photo is likely circa 1950.

Spaghetti sauce

I found this recipe dated 1990, but I remember my mother cooking spaghetti sauce long before this. I suppose she always went by “feel” with her ingredients, so must have decided to write it down. This recipe makes a big pot, so have some freezer containers handy. .SAM_1922

There was a time back in the 60s when my mother used the Lawry’s Spaghetti sauce pack to make sauce. You know what I’m talking about – those little packets you can still find in the “packets” section of the store near the canned meats? It must have been a craze back then, all the little packets, and frozen TV dinners, and other “things” to make life easier, that didn’t work. The Lawry’s spaghetti sauce was not bad, but this homemade recipe will knock your socks off.

From 1973 to 1975 I worked as a baker in the kitchen of the college I attended, Emmaus Bible College in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. I worked under an Italian head cook named Ruth Calgano (I may have that spelling wrong, sorry). She was a stickler about her red sauce. She taught me that a little sweetness in the sauce makes it better, so she always added honey. She called it her secret ingredient. She also said time and again, never cook the meat in the sauce, you add it after. I can picture her waving her hand at me as she said in heavily accented English, “Don’t cook the meat with the sauce!”

Okay. Okay.SAM_1923

I had never seen this recipe for red sauce until I was looking in the book for something I could cook that wasn’t sweet. So here goes the tomato sauce adventure!

I went to the grocery store to get all fresh herbs because I like to use them instead of the dried. Of all things, my grocery store had just closed due to a power failure. So here I am at home with a bunch of dried herbs, and no celery. However, I find I have dried celery leaves – yes, it’s a thing – and my dried herbs are not too over their use-by date.

10 cups is a whole lot of tomatoes, and I only have six of them. So I will have to use the cans of crushed and diced tomatoes in my pantry. I will cut the added salt by half because tomatoes in the can have added salt, and flavor.

Did you know they add the tomato flavor to the canned tomatoes? It’s true. Here’s a little side story: My political science teacher at the University of Houston told the class one day that because of the way the large tomato farms had developed automated machines to pick the tomatoes, the tomatoes would burst all over the place. So the tomato had to be genetically modified to have a tougher skin so the machines didn’t crush them. While it was true the tomato was then more square, and had tougher skin to withstand the mass pickings, they no longer tasted like tomato. Unfortunately this is even true of “heirloom” varieties now, though they are getting closer to having flavor again. Even with scientist presently trying to reverse the action of the sixties, tomatoes do not have the rich sweetness I remember the fruit having as I picked them from my grandmother’s garden – though those did tend to bust during the picking.

Enough with the side story. Here’s a sweet photo of my mother with her grandfather Leask in front of his home in Mason City, Iowa.Scan_20180515 (2)

 

 

 

Back to the task at hand. I chopped 3 medium sized onions. They are especially pungent and I do cry. While these are sauteing in a tablespoon of good olive oil, I put my celery leaves in water, along with all my dried herbs and garlic. Somehow I think this might reconstitute them. I’m dreaming, but I do it anyway.SAM_1927

 

To peel the tomatoes I drop them in boiling water and watch carefully until the skin splits. I put them in ice water to stop them continuing to cook. I rub the peel off and chop them up and add them to my 20 oz. of crushed tomatoes in a bowl, which I set aside.SAM_1929

I am not going to use white sugar, sorry Momma. I don’t have any honey either, so I use molasses. Also, I don’t have any chili pepper (I don’t really know what that is.). I use cayenne instead, but only half a teaspoon of it because I want the sauce edible!! The onions are now a nice golden color, so I add my reconstituted mess of herbs. Now it looks like pesto. I add the tomatoes and the other ingredients together in a large pan. It has the consistency of marinara sauce. Very lumpy.SAM_1930

As soon as it is bubbly, I turn the fire to low and put a lid on it. I sit next to it and watch another episode of the Inspector Lynly series on Britbox from the laptop in the kitchen. We live in such an amazing era.

After an hour the liquid has been reduced somewhat. It smells delicious. In order to smooth the sauce out I use an immersion blender. I have found that the immersion blender is something I would rather not do without. That and the rice cooker seem extravagant until you have them and find yourself using them all the time. Besides if you put hot liquid in a blender it will explode. I won’t explain how I know this is true.SAM_1932

I wish you could taste it. This is awesome-sauce – despite all my dried ingredients, and despite no sugar or chili pepper. It made a large amount so I put two thirds of it in freezer containers and into the freezer.

I had some ground sirloin in the fridge – so I sauteed it (in a separate pan, NOT with the sauce!) I cooked some spaghetti and combined the meat with the cooked sauce and added it. Another good recipe from my mom. YUM!Scan_20180515 (4)

To the right is my mother at twelve. Her school picture.

Scan_20180515 (6)

In honor of mother’s day, the above photo is my mother’s mother. Grandma Hollopeter taken sometime in the 1940s. Perhaps out at the farm in Dunkerton, Iowa, there was no note on the back.

BONUS RECIPE:  I also had a package of frozen brussel sprouts. They came in a “steam” bag so I microwaved them. Then I also microwaved some bacon until it was crisp, chopped it up, put it in with the cooked sprouts and added a tablespoon of unsweetened applesauce, and half a cup of heavy whipping cream. It went well with the spaghetti. Try it, you’ll like it.

Cooking My Mother’s Recipes #2 (Redo)

The feature photo was taken by my mother. I believe it is Christmas of 1962 because my youngest brother is so small. He would have been about sixteen months here. We are sitting on the front porch of the Ave B. house in South Houston.

My mother would often work on recipes over and over again until they were great. The thing about the Rumtopf cake recipe I have in #2 is that this would likely be the original recipe. The last time she made this cake was when she would have been in her seventies and it was remarkable.

I wanted to redo the Rumtopf cake because the original cake recipe wasn’t very good. So I’m combining the dump cake recipe with the rumtopf fruit that marinated in an expensive (for me) bottle of Calvados.

SAM_1883

I used crushed pineapple from a can and dried tart cherries from Trader Joe’s. Yummy all by itself. I added a cup of white sugar and the entire bottle, which at this point came to about two cups of the Calvados. You can substitute Triple Sec, but I wouldn’t. I stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved.

I stir the mixture once a week. Six weeks go by.

Check the recipe under My Mother’s Recipes #4. This is the dump cake recipe. I’m going to use it for the cake part.

With a few differences such as using a box of white cake this time and one and a half sticks of butter, and no nuts, the recipe is the same. I buttered a glass 9′ X 13′ casserole dish. I poured about two cups of the fermented fruit mixture into the dish. It smells divine. Okay, I tasted it. It’s delicious. It would also make a great ice cream topping.

I have a little left in the jar that I pour into a freezer container and freeze. I don’t want a bit of it go to waste. My mother would be proud.20180308_174036

 

Sprinkle dry box cake mixture over the top of the fruit evenly. Pour the one and a half sticks melted butter over the top of that. Yes, I know the recipe calls for two sticks of butter – or one cup – but the fruit had plenty of liquid in it to make up the difference, so I cut a quarter cup of butter and call it “diet”!

 

Bake for one hour at 350 degree F. Oh wow, it smells delightful! It’s obvious I couldn’t take the photo of a complete cake fast enough. Except for the six week wait for the fruit to ferment properly, this is a quick cake to make. Enjoy!20180308_174016

 

Thought for Food

Dunkin1
Image via Wikipedia

Restaurants appear and disappear all around my neighborhood. What is it that attracts people to open up a restaurant in such a terrible economy?

I can think of several reasons why 0pening a restaurant might be like writing a novel. I’ve written a novel. I wonder if I could open a restaurant…

It takes a dream. I make lovely lasagna- people will flock. My book will sell and I will make millions.

It takes an idea – a menu or a story line.

It takes a lot of perseverance. The bank will love my proposal and give me a loan for this restaurant straight away. I will finish my novel even though I have no editor on the sidelines urging me forward.

It takes more perseverance. Okay, so the bank thinks I’m just one of millions with a lasagna recipe, I’ll go to another bank, or I’ll create more and even greater recipes. (You can see the analogy).

My husband and I try to visit the new restaurants at least once, and depend upon our daughter to try out the ones we can’t get to in time, before they close, I mean.

Why do they close? There are two reasons I believe restaurants are so quick to open and just as quick to close and only one of them has to do with the food. First, because the food was less than exceptional. In a world full of restaurants and people who eat at restaurants, the food must be beyond good.  Secondly, a restaurant fails because of lack of business acuity. For instance, one recently closed restaurant handed out menus that had no English subtitles. I need to know what I’m ordering. Another is close to failing (despite wonderful food) because they added no sound-proofing along the walls and their patrons can not carry on a conversation below shouting level.

In the world of book writing a novel doesn’t get published for two reasons (And I’m being simplistic, I know.) First, because it isn’t well written. Secondly and more importantly, because the writer doesn’t push forward and persevere with publication.

But there are restaurant that are extremely successful that serve mediocre and even BAD food. (You can see the analogy I’m making. I hope.)

At Baby Barnaby’s people line up for hours on weekend mornings to get in and get a bad breakfast. On my visit I ordered a simple dish and after a few bites, could not eat it. I didn’t say anything to the waiter because I don’t want my plate whisked away and redone with spit added. Nor did I mention this to others who planned to try the restaurant. Everyone is entitled to eat bad food. But the others I had in mind have stood in line and then reported the same experience. Yet, people line up. And now I’m warning you – don’t do it! Save your money! Stand in line at the Breakfast Club instead.

There are soooo many restaurant around us. You would think I’m fortunate. I live blocks from Midtown, which is the epicenter of Thai/Vietnamese restaurants in Houston. Every one that we’ve tried isn’t worth a second visit. There is an excellent Chinese restaurant on Buffalo Speedway and I-59 called Q’uin Dynasty (five stars from me, consistently good, too). There are four Greek/Mediterranean restaurants in walking distance from my home. Not a one of them serves anything decent except the gyros. That gets boring. There are four Mexican or Tex/Mex restaurants within a few square blocks. I can’t get excited about any of them. The neighbors gather every Friday night at the pink Mexican restaurant. I will point out that of all the Mexican restaurants the pink one is the best. I think the name is La Palisado – or something else that I can’t pronounce, so it remains “the pink one.”

We went to a cafe around the corner last week and I ordered the chicken salad stuffed avocado. How could I go wrong? I received a plate sprinkled with dry iceberg lettuce with brown edges, a halved avocado with skin intact. I would describe the chicken salad as boiled chicken mashed with mayonnaise. It had been squished into the center of the avocado. I would at least grind down that cooked chicken so it wasn’t stringy, and then I would add some flavor.

Even the doughnut shop on the corner, (how can you mess up a doughnut?) can’t compare to Dunkin’ Donuts. But their parking lot is crowded with cars.

It isn’t all bad. There are incredible restaurants nearby. Marks, Davino’s, The Chocolate Bar, Little Bigs, Indika’s, and that hole-in-the wall Cajun place behind the gas station to name only a few. There are others yet to be tried and I will report.

I could make a restaurant work. I am married to a man with a good head for numbers, I DO have some great recipes and my business plan is simple – if you feed people enough tasty food, they will be back.

No, I don’t think I will start that restaurant business any time soon (though that may change as the really great restaurants are becoming fewer and farther between. And I am hungry.)

For now, I will stick to writing more tasty novels.

How opening a restaurant is NOT like writing a novel:

If at first you don’t succeed it is much too expensive to open another restaurant.

Here is a recipe:

My Mom’s Shrimp Dip

1 8 oz. block of cream cheese (room temp)

1 cup mayonnaise (gotta be the real stuff)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 lemon, juiced

1 and 1/2 cup fresh shrimp* (cooked, peeled, chopped)

Combine.

Best eaten the next day.

*the secret to good boiled shrimp is this. Put the raw, unpeeled shrimp in rapidly boiling, seasoned water. Wait two minutes. Turn fire off. Let shrimp sit in seasoned water for fifteen minutes. My favorite seasoning is two tablespoons of liquid Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp boil, and two tablespoons salt.