Friday, August 20, 2010

It's OLD school time again

Ok, so I have been collecting old cookbooks for as long as I can remember. I love them. They are such a wonderful glimpse into life, so much more than just how to cook food. I read them like novels and savor every word. (total pun intended in case you didn't get it) Without these old books I would have never known to be sure I'm dressed in my best dress with hair neatly fixed and makeup applied, the house clean, children fed and in bed (so as to not disturb the man of the house), with a hot meal on the table ready when my husband comes home because HE'D had a hard day. Really, there aren't words. But I digress.

I have my pile of oldies but goodies. Mrs. Beeton, Good House Keeping, and random books written by ladies of the day and published for their social club. My mission, over the next couple of weeks is to take a few of the oldies and make them new again.

To be honest, I have been half heartedly doing this for a bit now but a couple of friends have asked for me for any old recipes as well as being asked for some old things to be reworked, it's just the time apparently.

"Classic" and "timeless" recipes are that way for a reason. They are usually delicious, economical and practical. They usually feed more than 2 people and make decent left overs. I'll be honest, in addition to some cool retro flavor visits, I do see loads of overcooked vegetables and Bisquick in my future if my adventures through cookbooks from the 50's+ are any indication. I'll start back with the oldest ones and I promise not to stay inside them too long. I will bring out the authentic recipes, however, like my mother, I am genetically incapable of following a recipe directly, even ones I write - there's always room for a pinch of something.

I'm scouring books, now that Connor is going back to school. Middle school, junior high school, I can't even cope so I'm diving into retrofood. I hope you enjoy the journey we're about to take because I think it'll be a little weird and entirely tasty.

/let's go

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tortillas, it's breakfast taco day

Connor wanted breakfast tacos this morning. We are on the one week before school starts mark and I'm sort of caving to his culinary requests. School or packed lunches for the next 9 months doesn't sound appetizing.

I dashed to the fridge to discover no tacos. Now, I'm no rocket scientist but I'm pretty comfortable with the assertion that breakfast tacos without the actual tacos makes it much less than it could have been.

I do, however, have flour and shortening and that, in a nutshell, is the makings for some killer tortillas.

I do own a comal, a flat, round, low sided cast iron pan. You certainly do NOT require a comal to make tortillas, a cast iron pan works best but any pan that you can get screaming hot will do the trick beautifully. You should actually own a cast iron pan anyway because, well, you just should. They are beautiful cooking vessels and once you start making your own tortillas you will certainly dash out and buy one.

The other appliance I have is a tortilla press. It is far less required than the cast iron pan. Any rolling pin, wine bottle or other flattening device will work so there's no excuse whatsoever for you to continue to buy bags of flat bread. You can make your own by investing an additional 10 minutes and I don't know anyone so important that they can't spare 10 minutes to go from a bagged item to a homemade one. Let's begin!

In a bowl combine (I use a pastry blender because, if you've followed along at all, I have hot hands)
2 cups flour (all purpose)
1/2 cup shortening
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp baking powder

Blend it evenly then add
3/4 cup very warm water.

Mix with a fork until it turns into a ball then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, knead a couple of times and roll it out into a fat snake. Chop into 16 pieces, roll each piece into a ball and put on a plate, covered in plastic. Allow them to rest while you assemble your pan, your eggs and your cheese. HA! not even 10 minutes, 5 minutes added to your day!

After the dough balls have rested a couple of minutes, flatten them with whatever method makes you happy; tortilla press, rolling pin, fingers it's all good. You may notice that I use ziplock freezer bags, cut in half, in my tortilla press. I like the texture and thickness and the raw tortillas pull off beautifully.

Put them in a DRY hot pan. Cook them a minute or two on each side. They will bubble up and puff when they are done on the first side, flip them and continue to fry them off until they are beautiful and cooked through. Keep them warm in a towel or tortilla holder. I prefer a towel because it keeps them soft.

I do a one egg omelet because Connor isn't sure he likes eggs. (?) I mix one egg, salt and pepper and a teaspoon of soft butter in a bowl and add a tablespoon of water. Pour into a very hot, wide pan in which you've melted some bacon fat. Immediately sprinkle with whatever cheeses you have in the house and roll, sprinkle Parmesan on top and serve with some of the tortillas.

Voila! One instantly happy pre-teen and it took only a few minutes more than pulling tortillas out of a bag and trust me, they are way more than a few minutes better tasting!

Make them, you'll be glad you did.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bananas Foster and a great idea

Ok, so am I the only one who wonders what it would taste like to take the lightly fried bananas from the bananas foster I made, lay them down in an egg roll wrapper, drop a few bits of good chocolate bar and a drizzle of the caramel from the "foster", wrap it and then deep fry it. I would think a quick roll in caster sugar might be nice out of the oil...and a drizzle of dark chocolate.

Yeah, this is what I think about.

But I digress, already. I had a hankering for bananas foster the other day thanks to a friend who posted on their Facebook page that they were making it. They didn't make it but I did.

Here's the not so skinny:

2 bananas, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 4 tablepoons of butter (unsalted), salt and a dash of heavy cream. Oh and there's rum, dark rum is my personal favorite here.

Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the brown sugar, boil it for a little bit, until the sugar melts, add your bananas, slicing however you like, long ways or into slices, but not too thin. Toss the bananas in and I add a "glug" of cream to slow it all down. When the bananas are brown on the botton, flip them and pour in a little rum. You can flame it at this point, just be careful. Don't set your house on fire, or you or your kids. You can just let it boil a moment to lose some alcohol or not. This is a fluid process here.

Serve some good ice cream in a big dish and put the bananas on the side, the sauce all over the top. EAT. Repeat.

Save one banana and really, try it in an egg roll wrapper, deep fried and thank me later ;) I think we all know I'm going to make it tomorrow, and yes, I'll share.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

It's a cracker, it's candy, it's quick and easy for a crowd!

Tonight is the 6th grade parent orientation at my son's middle school. The powers that be decided to make it a pot luck type gathering to encourage visiting and chatting and general mirth. I think they decided on a more social gathering to take the edge off the abject terror felt by most of the 6th grade parents sending their babies off into the dreaded "middle school". Ok, I'm all for a little social eating but I'm busy and don't know how many people are coming and, oh heck, it's a culinary stress moment for me.

Because I cook, there's always a little pressure, self induced no doubt, to present something worthy at gatherings where people eat. Since I don't know how many people, what the deal is and don't want to take anything fussy that people need to serve up, it's back to a solid "go to", saltine candy. It's old school, quick, easy and it doesn't matter in the slightest how many people show up to any given event, you can simply break the crackers smaller! Voila! twice as many for the late comers.

Preheat the oven to 400.

You need a sleeve of saltine crackers, 1 cup of butter, 1 cup of brown sugar and a little vanilla. Top it with some chocolate and nuts and you are a star!!

Line a pan with parchment paper (you will thank me for this step!) and lay out a sleeve or more of saltines, you want to cover the whole thing evenly.

Boil the sugar and butter like crazy for about 4 minutes, it'll get thicker and foamy and basically you want the sugar to be completely disolved. Remove it from the heat and add a capful of vanilla. Stir it in and carefully pour the mixture over the saltines, try to be even but it will level out in the oven.

Bake it for about 5 minutes or until it's evenly bubbly.

After it comes out of the oven, sprinkle it with chopped chocolate or chips. I'm impatient so I put it back in the oven (open) for a moment or two to help the chips melt faster.

Spread the melted chocolate and sprinkle with nuts if you'd like, leave to cool (hardest part!) and cut it up into pieces or break it into shards. Your call, either way is delicious and looks fabulous and you can feed as many people as arrive.

You can do this using graham crackers but it really doesn't have the same impact as the salty crackers under the sweet caramel and slightly bitter chocolate. It really is a surprising combination and always a big hit.

The parents tonight can take a big piece or a small one to sample and not need a knife, fork or plate. They can mingle with the comfort of something chocolaty and chat to the other wide eyed parents of first time middle schoolers. They can murmur sweet supportive things to each other, all the while horrified at the realization their babies (and mine!) have officially entered the realm of the pre-teen and short of selling up, moving to the wilds of Montana and starting a commune, there's not a single thing we can do to stop it.

Make the candy, it's easy, it's yummy and everyone will invite you back.