Monday, April 30, 2012

And That's Why, Thanks to Phila, We Have Cake Every Morning

image from

My apologies to Maurice Sendak for the title of this post. Because, of course, in In the Night Kitchen, it's thanks to Mickey we have cake in the morning.  We read that book countless times to our kids when they were little.  That Mickey, what a scamp!

This post, however, is not about Maurice Sendak, or Mickey, or night kitchens.  It's about the classic breakfast cake -- pancakes.

Even when I am in a cooking funk, I can be counted on to rustle up a batch of pancakes for weekend breakfasts.  We have two competing pancake recipes at our house.  Our son much prefers buttermilk pancakes -- he is even a little militant about it -- so when he is home and there is a call for pancakes, that's what I usually make.  Our daughter prefers a recipe called Fluffy Hot Cakes, but she seldom gets to have them.  This past weekend, though, she was the only child around, so I made her preferred cakes.

This recipe is an older one.  My aunt gave me a cookbook when I was in college called Kitchen Kollege Recipes by Phila Rawlings Hach.  Phila Rawlings grew up in the same community north of Nashville as my mother and her siblings.   She became quite a well-known cook and caterer in Tennessee.  The Kitchen Kollege book was initially published in 1954 when Rawlings Hach (Miss Rawlings at that time) was hosting a local TV cooking show of the same name in Nashville.  The book was reprinted in 1975. It's a very basic cookbook which includes no photographs but which does include an assumption of a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the cook.  For example, in the section "Foods from the Wild," she will just tell the reader, "Clean turtle.  Cut up."  I don't know about you, but I would need a lot more info before I knew how to clean a turtle.

You don't need any special, secret knowledge to prepare Rawlings Hach's Fluffy Hot Cakes recipe.  It is easy to follow and easy to eat!  At our house, we call these pancakes "Phila's Fluffies." I often throw in a tablespoon of sesame seeds to add a little body to the pancakes.

On the griddle: Look at all those bubbles!  That's the fluffy!

Fluffy Hot Cakes
Slightly adapted from Kitchen Kollege Recipes by Phila Rawlings Hach

1 cup flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (can omit)

Sift dry ingredients together.  Beat egg , milk and oil together and add to dry ingredients.  Mix with wire whisk until smooth.  Add sesame seeds and mix well.

Bake on electric griddle at 375 degrees F. until fluffy and brown.  Turn only once. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Eat 'em Sesame

I've been in kind of a cooking funk lately.  As in, I just don't want to cook.  The husband has actually had to resort to cooking a few dinners to avoid starvation.  I was feeling a little guilty about it, so the other night I whipped up a batch of the sesame seed cookies he likes as a little gesture.  (They're easy to make, so it really was a pretty small gesture.) Still, he was pleased and gulped down four cookies to show his appreciation.

These cookies are for real sesame seed lovers.  At the first bite, you think, "Wow, these are really seedy and different. I don't know . . . ."  Then you finish the cookie and think, "I want another one."  At least that was how I felt the first time I made the cookies.

Look at all those seeds!

I found the recipe on where it was posted by Diana Rattray.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

I'm Late to the Party, but I'll Wave the Flag

Pennant flag garland (or bunting or banner, it has a lot of aliases) is nothing new.  It's been all over Pinterest and Etsy forever, and I know everyone and their kid sister's toddler have made one, but I finally joined the pennant flag party.  And when I join a party, I come prepared.  I made twelve yards of pennant garland.  I may have gone overboard, but we'll see.  I have a special use in mind for the garland, which I will share with you next week.  In the meantime, I hung half of it on my dining room windows just to get a little party going  (okay, it was to see how it looked).

This was a fun project although I did get a little sick of sewing triangles.  Once I bound the first group with the bias tape and got the party started, though, I got re-energized.  I like the teal-based color scheme but, in truth, I chose it so that I could use up fabric that was left over from other projects.  The one with the exploding sunbursts was used in a purse lining, the yellow dot in bathroom curtains, and the yellow gingham has been hanging around for years.  I picked up 1/2 yard of each of the others, one of which was on sale, along with the bias tape at Jo-Ann.  So the whole thing only set me back about $20.  There are loads of tutorials online if you want to get your garland groove on, too.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a pennant party happening in my dining room.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Roundabout History of My Biscuit Recipe

As many of you know, I grew up in Tennessee, in an unincorporated community in Davidson County just north of Nashville.  Joelton ran along the top of a ridge of hills called Paradise Ridge.  In the winter, it could be tough for people to get home from Nashville on the icy hills.  But the local men always seemed to head to the hill to help out.  On at least one evening after work, my mother had to have her car pulled up Germantown Hill by someone with a truck. 

Our high school, part of the Nashville school district, was quite small.  There were just under 100 students in my graduating class.  Even though it was called a high school, it actually housed students from grades 7-12.  On the first day of school each year, everyone went to the gym.  Each grade level had its own section.  There were never any signs to indicate this, everyone just seemed to know, even the seventh graders on their very first day.  The seventh and eighth graders sat in the smaller, visitor bleachers.  It made you feel important on the first day of ninth grade when you got to move over to the home side.  The teachers read out the names of their home rooms, and kids would leave. one classroom at a time. 

The school had a long history.  My mother graduated from the same high school in 1949 although it was a wooden building in those days.  The main hallway was lined with group portraits of each graduating class.  I’m not sure how far back, certainly from the 1930s, maybe even the ‘20s.  The main secretary was Miss Pauline.  She started working at the school in 1948, so she knew you, your siblings, and most likely one or both of your parents. 

school days

When I was in school – and this is completely politically incorrect – in eighth grade all the boys took shop and all the girls took home ec.  This was required.  You could finagle your way out of PE, but not shop and home ec.  Looking back, I wish they had required shop and home ec of both genders.  I think I’d be less leery of power tools today if I’d taken shop in junior high. 

Mr. Hall was one of the shop teachers.  He always wore bow ties so his tie wouldn’t get caught in the equipment.  He also taught math, and I had math one year in the shop room.  We sat on high stools at the big square workbenches surrounded by a cement floor.  Bookends and lamps the boys were working on would be distributed around the room in various stages of completion.  My brother also made a chess board one time, maybe as a choose-your-own project.

While the boys were in shop, we girls were up on the second floor in home ec.  One semester of sewing and one of cooking.  In sewing, we made a pillow out of a terrycloth bath towel.  We drew one-inch squares on the “wrong” side and created a complicated gathered surface.  I wish I had a photo to show you my bright orange towel pillow.  

Cooking was much more fun.  My home ec teacher for both semesters was Mrs. Durham.  She was a nice lady, but she had her hands full with us.  I didn’t give her any trouble in sewing, but cooking was another matter.  Even then, I couldn’t resist tweaking some of the recipes.  We made sugar cookies one day, and our group added quite a bit of extra sugar because we just didn’t believe they would be sweet enough.  Poor Mrs. Durham tried to explain that it wasn’t a good idea to change the recipes, but our cookies had turned out delicious, so we weren’t buying.

Hands down the best recipe I learned in home ec was for baking powder biscuits.  It is still my go-to biscuit recipe, and I haven't changed it a bit.  A couple of readers requested that I post my biscuit recipe after my steak and biscuits post, so here it is.  Straight from eighth grade home ec to your table.

Baking Powder Biscuits

2 cups sifted flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
5 tablespoons shortening
1 cup milk

Sift dry ingredients together.  Cut in shortening.  Add milk.  Dough will be soft.  Pat out on floured board.  Lightly knead 5 or 6 times.  Pat out dough to ½ inch thickness.  Cut out biscuits.

Bake on greased cookie sheet at 450 degrees F. for about 12 minutes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Crochet Plans of Mice and Men, or What Michael's Knew

A couple of weeks ago, I checked out a wonderful crochet book from our local library -- 200 Crochet Blocks for Blankets, Throws and Afghans: Crochet Squares to Mix and Match by Jan Eaton.  I figuratively drooled over it for a while and tried out a square that was too hard for my meager skills.  After returning it today, I realized I really wanted my very own personal copy.  It is available on Amazon for $16.47 and Wal-Mart's web site for $16.46.  But I had a 40% off coupon from Michael's stashed in a drawer.  (You Michael's regulars probably know where this is going.)

a few of the 200 squares in Eaton's book

I have become a little obsessed with learning to crochet squares.  Never mind that all I've managed to make is one partial granny square of three and a half rounds.  I've seen funky granny square slippers on Ravelry, and I'm determined to make some for myself.  (And won't they look great once I've walked around and collected dog hair on them?)

So today, I headed off to Michael's where I picked out three colors of cheap, on-sale ($1.99 per skein) yarn for the granny square slippers.  And, happy day, they had a copy of Eaton's 200 Blocks book.  Full price at $24.95, but I had that coupon.  I happily handed the cashier my 40% off coupon.

"Coupons aren't good on books or magazines," she said.  Well, of course not.  That would be too good of a deal.  I thought about Amazon's $8 savings (not counting shipping), but I had the book in my hand.  I wanted the darn book.  So I let the cashier ring it up.

No doubt, this is what Michael's counts on: avid crochet book desire and a lack of reading the coupon's fine print.  By the time someone reaches the cashier, she's already bought that book as far as her heart is concerned.

I'm happy to have the book, and I'm just going to forget about the $8 I could have saved.  But I think I'm going to shop at Hobby Lobby for a while.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Consider the Lilies

Where scattered wild the Lily of the Vale/Its balmy essence breathes
--James Thomson, The Seasons, Spring, 1728

Lily-of-the-Valley, also known as Our Lady's Tears and Fairy Ladders, is such a shy little flower, virtually hiding its petite, white, bell-shaped blooms under broad green leaves.  The scent is subtly sweet yet a little intoxicating.  Our shady yard has lots of these old-fashioned flowers hidden here and there, under shrubs and ferns, and crowding along the back fence.  Each spring, I look forward to bringing in a small nosegay of Lilies-of-the-Valley to freshen the living room or the dining room if only for a few days.

Such charming little blossoms, yet Lily-of-the-Valley is a very hardy ground cover.  It spreads easily in the right conditions; some people even consider it a weed.  So white and innocent -- isn't it hard to believe that it is also poisonous?  Maybe that accounts for another name for the flower -- Ladder-to-Heaven.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Meatless Monday Meal

Here is a great meal for a meatless Monday.  This bean and pasta bake recipe comes from Nikki & David Goldbeck's American Wholefoods Cuisine, published in 1983.  My sister-in-law gave me this cookbook, and I have used it for years.

This dish contains protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables.  All you need to add for a complete meal is a green salad. Note: The recipe calls for three cups of cooked black beans.  I have always used dried beans, but I suppose it would work with drained canned beans.  I expect the finished product would turn out a little mushier though.

Mexican Beans and Pasta Bake
from Nikki & David Goldbeck’s American Wholefoods Cuisine

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust amount to taste)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, cored and rough chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried cumin
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni (can use whole wheat)
1 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
3 cups cooked black beans (preferably from dried beans)
1/3 cup sliced olives
1 – 1 1/2 cups broken corn tacos or chips
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Heat oil in 2-quart pot over medium heat and sauté onion and garlic for 3 minutes to soften.   Add cayenne and chili powder and cook briefly.  Add tomatoes, oregano, and cumin, and bring to a boil.

Add pasta and corn and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes until pasta is just tender.  Stir in beans and olives.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Transfer bean mixture to a 2-quart casserole dish.  Top with broken chips and cheese.  Bake for 10-15 minutes to melt cheese and heat through.  If casserole is assembled in advance and chilled, increase baking time to 20-25 minutes.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Very Crabby Apple

Our crabapple tree has turned crabby.  It appears to be dead.  All the other crabapple trees in the area have bloomed and are leafing out.

A local crabapple.

Not ours.  It is a Sargent crabapple, so it only blooms every other year, but there is not a leaf in sight.  We seem to be having a run of bad luck with our smaller trees.  Last year we lost a small red bud to Verticillium wilt.  This year, it looks like the crab is going to go.

Our crabpple.  Don't let those late daffodils fool you, there are no blooms.

The husband is convinced that our son and I dealt it a death blow in 2010 when we lit it for the holidays.  Okay, maybe we went a little overboard wtih the lights, but it looked beautiful.

Its moment of glory.

Last summer, after its winter of festivity, it only put out a few twisted, stunted leaves.  That appears to have been its last gasp.  Still, shoots are coming up from the roots, so it's not completely dead.  Nevertheless, I don't think we want to grow a tree from a tiny shoot, so I suppose we'll have to replace it.  And then leave the lights off, just in case.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Little Taste of Ireland's

When I was growing up in Nashville, there was a great local restaurant chain called Ireland's.  I don't know why it was called Ireland's since they didn't serve Irish food or have Irish decor as far as I can remember.  What I do remember are the steak and biscuits.  Oh my goodness.  When we needed a real treat, my cousin and I would go to an Ireland's at a local mall just for the steak and biscuits.  Did anyone ever order anything else at Ireland's?  Certainly not me.

Ireland's is long gone, but the memory of their steak and biscuits never fades.   I don't pretend that my steak and biscuits can compare, but they do make a nice change of pace entree.

Steak and Biscuits

2 pounds round steak (approximate)
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

Trim fat from steak and cut into 3-4 inch square pieces.  With meat mallet, pound steak on both sides to tenderize. Season both sides of meat with salt and pepper to taste.  Place flour in small bowl and lightly flour the steak.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat.  Quickly brown both sides of meat and remove to pressure cooker.  Add 1 - 1 1/2 cups water to pressure cooker. Do not allow water to come above bottom rack.  (Use your pressure cooker instructions as guidance.)  Cook in pressure cooker as per cooker instructions.  Mine takes 18 minutes after the regulator begins to rock.  Cook over medium-high heat until regulator begins to rock, then turn down to medium or medium-low to prevent burning.  Make sure the regulator continues to rock.

While meat cooks in pressure cooker, bake biscuits.

Serve while hot.  Especially good with butter on the biscuits!

Printable recipe

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Early Spring at the Prairie

Yesterday was a cool and blustery day, but sunny, so it was a good day for a walk in the prairie preserve.  Early spring is a quiet time at the prairie.  Nothing is blooming except some crabapples and lots of dandelions in the mowed "park" section.  The tall prairie grasses are short, just beginning to grow, so there are wonderful open vistas.

Wind farm southwest of the prairie
No goslings yet

On a different subject, a friend dropped off this gorgeous potted hyacinth the other evening.  How glorious!  Our whole house smells heavenly!

The chocolate mini eggs are in a much smaller dish now.
And, why, yes, that lid is slightly askew.  How could that have happened?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Do You Fondue?

One of the first cookbooks I ever owned was The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook by Zoe Coulson.  It was published in 1980, and I was living in a student apartment in Knoxville, Tennessee.  My father bought the cookbook for me so I wouldn't starve.  He especially liked the fact that it is illustrated throughout and has color photos of all the dishes in a handy index in the front.  While some of those jello molds and noodle ring dishes look a little dated today, it is still a good all-purpose cookbook.

When our daughter moved into her own student apartment, I passed the cookbook on to her.  I didn't think I would miss it, but I did.  Every now and then, I'd think, if only I still had the recipe for this or that.  Then last year, I was helping clean out my husband's uncle's house and, lo and behold, there was the same cookbook buried in a drawer.  I quickly put it in the keep pile.

So this time, when that "if only" thought hit me, I had the recipe.  And this time it was fondue bread that crept into my brain.  I hadn't made it in years.  In fact, I don't think my kids had ever had it, but over Easter weekend, I had a yen for fondue bread.  I made it for a late breakfast along with free-range fried eggs and fresh fruit.

This is a very hearty and cheesy bread.  I reduced the amount of cheese from the original recipe.  The original calls for two pounds of cheese!  I used about one and three-quarter pounds, but you could reduce it to one and a half and still have plenty of cheese.  The cookbook classifies this bread an entree; you might think of it as a baked cheese sandwich.

This is also a fairly easy bread for people who are not experienced with yeast breads.  It doesn't have to rise; it only "rests" a couple of times.  If you are using yeast for the first time, be warned -- the temperature of the liquids is important.  Use a thermometer to make sure you do not overheat your liquid ingredients.  Overly hot liquid will kill the yeast.

Fondue has had a resurgence of popularity in recent years.  Maybe it's time for fondue bread to make a comeback, too!

Printable recipe

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spring and Summer Strawberry Cake

Nothing says warm weather to me quite like fresh strawberries.  I know they are available year round, but I really like strawberries when the weather is nice.  I like them plain, with cream, or mixed into a fruit salad.  So back in July of 2004, when Country Living featured a strawberry cake on the cover, I was intrigued.  I tried it, and it became a popular summer choice at our house.  This year, I celebrated spring by making strawberry cake for Easter weekend.  To make it extra festive, I tinted the whipped cream pink.

I apologize for the quality of the picture.  It was late evening by the time we whipped up the cream and assembled the cake, and our dining room is notorious for bad lighting in night-time pictures.

The neat thing about this recipe is that it makes two layers, but you serve it as a single layer, so you can freeze the other layer for another time.  The recipe is available on Country Living's website, even though it appeared in print eight years ago.  I see that it didn't get great reviews there, but we've always liked it.  Frankly, whipped cream makes even an ordinary cake extraordinary, and pink whipped cream -- well, it just doesn't get more special!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Happy Easter!

Hope you have a happy Easter weekend.  My kids are coming home from college, so . . . 
I went all out with the decorating.  Hey now, you overachievers, there are eggs; there are bunnies.  
It's more Easter decorating than I've done in years!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Hutch Too Far?

I sometimes wonder if that phrase describes our house – a hutch too far.  It’s like a bridge too far, only with furniture.  In case your World War II history is a little rusty, British Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning (commander of the British airborne forces and – this is really cool – the husband of Daphne du Maurier; Rebecca, I love that novel) coined the phrase.  During the planning for Operation Market Garden, he reportedly said, “I think we may be going a bridge too far” when discussing how long his troops could hold a bridge in the Netherlands.

Whether it’s overreaching to have three hutches in one house, I don’t know, but at least our hutches are working successfully, unlike the Allies’ 1944 military operation.  Last month, I shared our dining room hutch with you, the one I call the curiosity cabinet because it contains numerous little tchotchkes and keepsakes in addition to dishes.

Dining room                                                                                            Back porch

 We have another small hutch on our back porch.  It is really more a Hoosier cabinet than a true hutch.  Like our dining room hutch, this cabinet was inherited.  It belonged to my Pennsylvania grandmother.  It has been through a lot.  It was painted several times, its tambour door broke, the original painted glass has been replaced.  When my uncle died, my parents took in the cabinet, but they never used it.  I later rescued it from my parents’ shed.  They were planning to throw it away when I snatched it.  It still needs work.  The drawers don’t open very well, for example, and one door won’t latch, but I love having it on our porch where it holds my compost pail, grill lighters, marshmallow toasting forks, leashes, Armor All, bug repellent, you name it. 

Living room

Our third hutch, the only one we actually purchased, sits in our living room.  And, baby, it is big.  It is a little more than seven feet tall, five feet wide, and nineteen inches deep.  All one piece.  It is murder to move.  We bought it at an antiques store in Walworth, Wisconsin after we moved out of our city condo to a small-town house.  It houses our flow blue china, Fiesta Ware, table linens, candles, and other odds and ends.

A peek inside.  The bottom drawer hold croquet balls and Eiffel Towers.  Hmmm.

If we ever downsize from this old house, no doubt we won’t be able to keep all three of the hutches.  It would be tough to decide which to keep and which to let go.  Not exactly a Sophie’s choice (in keeping with my World War II references), but a hard decision nevertheless.  Do you have a similar problem with too many chairs or tables that you can’t or don't want to get rid of?  

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

More Signs of Spring

The weather has cooled off lately and returned to more normal springtime temperatures, and the spring flowers are loving it.  My bleeding hearts are not quite as tall or as bushy as in previous years; I think the quick warm-up and then cool-down might have confused them, but the blooms are still as lovely as ever.

Our bluebells are also in full bloom.  We have lots of bluebells along the property line with our neighbor on the west side.  In fact, they are really kind of like weeds.  Most years, I pull the dead blooms off to keep them from setting seed, but they still spread like crazy.  They grow out of the stone wall, in the lawn, and have even migrated to a spot in the front yard under our hackberry tree.  Luckily, they are a pretty pest!

I love how the buds are pink before they open.
I hope spring is beautiful wherever you are!

Monday, April 2, 2012

What's Wacky About This Cake?

We grow up with so many foods, it's impossible to remember the first time we ate them.  Meatloaf, green beans, mashed potatoes -- who can remember the first time?  Foods we first try in adulthood are different.  We can often remember the exact circumstances when we ate something new.

Oddly enough, wacky cake is one such food for me.  Even though it has been around since probably the 1930s, wacky cake first came into my life when I was pregnant with our first child.  We had gone to visit my in-laws in Ohio.  I think it was probably a Saturday night, and I wanted chocolate cake.  The husband and I were watching a little TV in the family room, and I mentioned that I had a real craving for chocolate cake.  (Maybe I mentioned it more than once; I can be kind of needy when chocolate is involved.)

Join me on the porch for wacky cake topped with whipped cream.

My wonderful mother-in-law never said a word, but she got busy in the kitchen and in no time at all, she brought me a square of delicious homemade chocolate cake, still warm and topped with melting chocolate icing.  Can you imagine a better mother-in-law than that?  She made me feel special and loved; how could I forget that day?  Wacky cake has been kind of near to my heart ever since.  True, it's not fancy or impressive, after all, it was developed in the Depression as an inexpensive cake that didn't require eggs, but as my mother-in-law said, you always have the ingredients on hand.  I've made this cake many times over the years, sometimes with icing or sometimes topped simply with ice cream or whipped cream.  I enjoyed it as a first-time pregnant woman, and I still enjoy it today.

The lady who introduced me to wacky cake
and the child who caused the craving.

Wacky Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
6 tablespoons margarine, melted
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease an 8-inch square pan.

In large bowl, sift together flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda.  Make 3 wells in flour mixture.  Put vanilla in first well, vinegar in the second, and melted margarine in the third.  Pour water over mixture.  Mix well with fork.

Pour into greased pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream, or allow to cool and frost with chocolate icing.