Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

In which I explain about potatoes.

I get this sort of arrogance when it comes to cooking.  I use recipes as references only and feel like I can do it better than the recipe writer.  That, somehow, I can improve upon the original intention of the dish.  With a dish like simple old-fashioned potato salad, it seems a shame to not add bacon or pesto or sprinkle the top with paprika.  Liven it up somehow.  But this recipe doesn’t call for any of that.

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My arrogance extends to my cooking methods. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents last summer.  At the beginning of summer they announced they were moving into an assisted living facility in Duluth, about 5 hours away from me.  Their decision to move so far away broke me a bit.  I spent as much of the summer with them as I possibly could to try to help them get things squared away and just to spend some time with them before it became more difficult for me to do so.   When I was up there once, my mom, grandma and I were all in the kitchen together cooking dinner.  I cut some potatoes and got them into a pan to boil them for potato salad or something.  I started to add water and was immediately scolded by my grandma for using too much water.  Apparently, I had been doing it wrong for nearly 30 years, according to grandma.  “There is no need to waste so much water, just put a little water in the pan and let those potatoes steam.”  My mom stated that she always used a lot of water, but then used the potato water for other things like soups or breads.  That was the same summer I was informed that I was middle-aged and reminded that I don’t know everything even if I walk around like a know-it-all.  I think about that every time I boil potatoes now and never put too much water in unless I have plans for the extra water.dscn2390.jpg

 

When I was prepping this recipe, I realized that the can of evaporated milk I thought I had was actually sweetened condensed milk.  This is where smart phones are handy.  I learned that evaporated milk can actually be made in at least two ways.  You can actually reduce about 2 ¼ cups of milk on the stove top until it’s 1 cup, or the much faster way is to make double strength milk from milk powder.  I tried the first, but realized that it was going to take much longer than I felt like I had.  I pulled the milk and will use it to make cocoa for the kids later.

DSCN2407Most delis have at least three varieties of potato salad on hand at all times because potato salad can be so many things.  In the book Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West, she dedicates an entire chapter to potato salad.  Her mother has very definite ideas as to what potato salad should be and what it should not be.  My opinions on it are not nearly as strong as hers.  However, I do like my potato salad to have enough crunch and enough ingredients in it that not every bite is exactly the same.  And this is that sort of potato salad.  It’s classic, the eggs provide a nice texture.  It’s the perfect kind of mushy without being sludge.  It’s sweet and would be great with fried chicken or BBQ meats.  It tastes like summer.  Old Fashioned Potato Salad

Marriage

In which I find something on the back.

Marriage of the Year

Found on the back of one of the recipes.  Not to be too cheesy, but my husband is a heck of a guy.  He puts up with an amazing amount of silliness from me, really bad jokes, and a whole lot of cooking since I got laid off.  He eats everything I make, sometimes more than once.  He’s kind of an amazing guy and I’m a very lucky woman.

Devils Food Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

In which I make a birthday cake.

We are deep in the middle of birthday season at our house.  Entrenched in what feels like constant present buying, cake making, perfect day planning.  We have a great many discussions about who wants what to eat, to play with, to do.  I can meet some of the requests like Shrimp and Olive Pie,even if I have to make it up.  The request for “chocolate cake with pink frosting” was a no-brainer.  I immediately found the cookbook I had made for grandma with her mom’s recipe box and turned to the cake and frosting section.  It was time to get serious.

There were multiple recipes for Devils Food cake.  I chose the one that looked like it made the most cake because I had visions of a layered cake with some sort of fluffy pink frosting.  Because it was a special occasion I got out my cocoa powder from Penzey’s.  It was one that I had gotten free with another purchase.  It was perfect in this cake.

DSCN2467There is a difference between homemade cakes and cakes from a box mix.  Making a cake isn’t a terribly difficult to do.  But you do have to have a basic understanding of the science before you can look at a recipe like the one I had.  First, in order to make a cake, you have to figure out how to create the lift.  There are, of course, the normal leavening ingredients, baking soda and baking powder, especially combined with an acid like buttermilk.  But it needs more fluff.  Creaming the butter and sugar creates volume.  Whipping the egg whites to soft or stiff peaks and folding those into the batter adds more air.  Air=lift.   dscn2462.jpg

This cake is a very nice chocolate cake.  A little dry in texture, but you know that you’ve eaten cake by the time you are done with a piece. It cries out for a thick creamy frosting to balance it out.  This is not a glaze and go sort of cake.  It’s not a cake that you could just sprinkle powdered sugar on and be content.  It would hold up to soaking syrups, jam between layers, or really anything that you wanted to do to it.  In this case, what I wanted to do was marshmallow frosting.

My inheritance from Great-Grandma included 3 recipes for marshmallow frosting.  I chose the one that did not require melting marshmallows because I didn’t feel like figuring out how many small marshmallows equals one big marshmallow.  I’m sure there is a conversion table on the web somewhere…DSCN2488

I am not sure that I’d ever had marshmallow frosting before.  Perhaps I did as a young child, but I don’t remember.  And this isn’t a choice that you get from bakeries.  You probably see it more frequently at cupcakeries, but most bakeries will offer you a choice of whipped cream frosting or buttercream and that’s a shame.  Marshmallow frosting is transformative.  It’s life changing.  It’s sweet and fluffy and a little spongy from the gelatin. It holds its shape.  It can be swirled and streaked.  It can make a cake look magazine perfect (if I’m not the one decorating it because I’m just not that good). Because the recipe said I could “flavor as you wish”, I decided to flavor it using some homemade strawberry jam since it needed to be pink.  I stand by this decision.  Ooey, gooey, subtly strawberry pink fluff.  On top of chocolate cake.  In between layers of chocolate cake.

You know those Sno Balls made by Hostess?  The ones that you may pick up on a road trip when you are craving something overly sweet?  The ones that come in packages of two and are vaguely neon-colored?  Cream filled, coconut covered balls of chocolate cake and marshmallow fluff?  This is the most grown up, best tasting version of that (minus the coconut).  It’s also the version where you can control the quality of the ingredients.

This is important.  Good ingredients well prepared makes good food.

All in all, the princess declared her cake delicious.  Between that and learning to rollerskate, I think she had a perfect birthday.DSCN2491

Devils Food Cake

2 cup sugar                            1/2 cup shortening
2 egg yolks                              1/3 cup cocoa
1/2 cup water                         1 tsp soda
2/3 cup sour milk                   2 cup flour
2 egg whites stiffly beaten     1 tsp vanilla

 

Icings
Marshmallow Icings

1/2 envelope Knox Gelatin
1 cup granulated sugar, Boil sugar with 5 TB of cold water until it threads well.
Dissolve the gelatin in 5 TB of cold water and let set while syrup is cooking.
Pour boiled mixture while hot into gelatin stir gently and let set until lukewarm.
Flavor to suit taste and beat until stiff.

Birthday Edition: Shrimp and Olive Pie

In which I invent a recipe to make sure the birthday girl gets exactly what she wants.

You asked for it and here it is.

Eating dinner the other night, we asked the kids what they would like to eat for their birthdays.  This year, I was going to be making them whatever they wanted instead of going out for it.  We discussed the merits of this favorite dish and that one.  Nicholas mentioned having a pie birthday.  Nothing but different types of pie all day long.  Including chicken pot pie, apple pie, and pizza pie.  Miles wants red beans and rice.  Caroline’s favorite foods are shrimp and olives, but she thought having pie seemed like a really good idea, so jokingly I suggested she have shrimp and olive pie.

I should’ve realized that she was going to latch onto the idea and not let it go.  It’s the sort of girl she is.  The problem is, I don’t know that I have ever heard of shrimp and olive pie.  I threw those exact words into Google, hoping there would be a brilliant recipe.  There wasn’t.  I asked some friends and relatives and mostly got “ew” as an answer with a few helpful suggestions.  It was edging nearer and nearer to the date and I still hadn’t had a brilliant inspiring flash as to how this was going to work.  Even more so, one brother declared he hated shrimp, one brother hates olives, John is not a fan of olives, but I wasn’t planning on cooking more than one meal.  I just don’t do that.

One day, while in the shower, washing my hair, I had the brilliant realization that Mediterranean cuisine had to include shrimp and olives.  Right?  I consulted my Mediterranean cookbook for confirmation.  I didn’t look up pie recipes, just recipes that used both shrimp and olives.  I found nothing.  I found fish recipes that used olives.  Seafood is seafood, right?  But at least now I had an idea.

I could see it all in a tomato based sauce, except I don’t think the kids would appreciate that.  So I re-evaluated, again.
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I was stuck on the idea of a potpie.  I found a recipe in Great-Grandma’s book for Never Fail Pie Crust.  It’s exactly what I needed because I can make pie crust that tastes delicious, but always have trouble rolling it out.  Every pie I make has a patchwork crust. I made the pie crust.  It was easy.  I divided it into 4 pieces and threw them in the fridge.  I didn’t think it was going to win me points on the Great British Baking show, but it seemed to be a pretty decent pie crust.  Malleable, decent texture, you know, the stuff you look for in a pie crust.  I could immediately tell that it would be much easier to roll out than other pie crust.  As long as I floured my counter and rolling pin properly, it didn’t seem like this was going to be a terrible mess.

Now I was just down to the filling.  I started with some onions because onions go into these sorts of things.  I chopped them up and started sauteing them as I contemplated the contents of my fridge and freezer.  I found a bag of frozen vegetables from Trader Joe’s.  Misto Alla Griglia.  It was a mixture of marinated and grilled eggplant, red peppers, and zucchini.  I had been contemplating just putting some random herbs from the garden into the pie, but this made it much easier.  I chopped those up into bitty pieces and threw them in with the onions.  When that was all nice and the onions were tender, I threw in some flour and stirred.  I added a generous splash or 6 of white wine, a bit more butter and realized that I hadn’t added the olives. I was wondering if it was a good idea to just chop them up and add them to the crust, but realized the birthday girl would not recognize them as olives, so I threw big pieces into the sauce.  I added some milk to make everything creamy, added my shrimp, threw it all in the pie crust, put the top crust on after rolling out with some Romano cheese (inspired by Beverly Goldberg’s Shrimp Parm) and baked until it looked done.

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I don’t have an exact recipe for anything except the pie crust.  It’s just not the way I cook.

The question is then, is this good?  Should I try this at home?  Yes, please do.  I was the only one that ate leftovers.  The crust didn’t microwave well, but as a concept this worked out really well.  Despite everyone claiming to dislike one or more of the ingredients in the dish, everyone ate it without complaining.  I could easily see it made more like any British fish pie recipe with some peas and thyme.  I recommend not using pre-cooked shrimp because it overcooks during the length of time it needs to be in the oven.

Never Fail Pie Crust

Mix together in a large bowl:
4 cups flour
1 t baking powder
1 1/2 t salt
1 T sugar
1 1/2 cup lard or shortening

Mix well, then add:
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup of cold water
1 T vinegar

Blend well, roll out.  Makes 4 single crusts or 2 double crusts.  Keeps 2  weeks in refrigerator.

 

Kringla

In which I share a secret family recipe.

Kringla. When you say that word to anyone that has known my family for a while, you can practically see them salivate.  “I love kringla.” They will always say.  The boys were just having a conversation about how much they loved kringla.  “You just need to say one word when describing kringla.  Yummy!” Nick told me.

For a long time I refused to learn to make kringla because it was something my grandma always made us.  When I called her to tell her that I was going to visit, she’d say “I guess I need to get some sour milk.”  I didn’t learn to make it until my grandma moved into assisted living. And still, I don’t want other people to make it for me.  I don’t really want to hear about it if someone other than family makes it.  I definitely don’t want to hear if someone changes the recipe.  I am sharing this recipe, but reluctantly.  Maybe someday I’ll be ok hearing about what other people do with kringla, but not yet. DSCN2479

A kringla, the way we grew up with them, is a knot of dough that tastes sort of like a sugar cookie and has a crumb kind of between a biscuit and a pancake.  Dry like a biscuit, but softer and less flaky, like a pancake.  It’s easy, it’s simple.  It’s like a hug.

I had a boyfriend in college who told me his grandma made kringla.  One day, he brought me something in a baggie.  It was a knotted pastry, but it was more like a croissant.  It was good.  It was fine.  It was not kringla.

I don’t remember ever having it fresh from the oven until I started making it myself.  I remember having it handed over to us in a plastic bag that had been rewashed a few times.  The kringla was always pale and dusted with flour.  Biting into it there was always that first dryness of the flour, the softness of that hitting the tongue.  Then there is this sweetness.  It’s vanilla and sugar, but unassuming.  Everything about it is just sort of soft and gentle.  It sort of hits you with subtlety.

I have introduced many, many people to my grandma’s kringla.  They grab the first one from the bag because they are hungry and because they can’t quite believe that I am THAT excited about something that is so modest.  Just a pale gold knot of dough.  It looks bland.  It looks boring.  It looks beige.  It’s not something that will ever challenge the taste buds.  And then they taste it.  They might start the way I do, breaking off the end of the knot and then eating it from one end of the knot to the other.  Savages bite it down the middle.  As they finish, their hand reaches into the bag for another.  They can’t help it.  The next time I mention to them that my grandma is coming to visit they ask if she is bringing kringla.  She didn’t always.  Sometimes it was her chocolate chip cookies, but that’s another story.DSCN2481

Going through the recipes I inherited, I found a copy handwritten by my great-grandma Funk.  I mentioned it to my mom.  “Grandma Funk never made Kringla, that was a recipe your grandma got from Pearl Simpson.”  “I’m pretty sure this is great-grandma’s handwriting.”  “Oh, well then, she must’ve gotten the recipe from your grandma.” She conceded.

I found the cookbook in which Pearl Simpson had published her kringla recipe.  One of those church cookbooks from Iowa where all the women are identified as Mrs. Husband’s Name and then gives the name of the town they lived in.  It’s exactly the sort of cookbook you’d expect from Iowa in the 1950’s, a place where my parents assure me “ketchup was considered spicy.”   DSCN2483

I started texting my siblings and posting on FB whenever I visited with Grandma and got two dozen kringla to eat at a later point, later like in the car on the way home.  I liked to rub it in their faces.  It was mean.  I knew it.  I intend to make it up to them someday.  But for now…I have kringla and I bet you don’t.

Kringla

 

Choose your Own Adventure

Remember reading those books, or trying to read them to your kids?

I was never satisfied until I had read through every possible ending.  Sometimes I would start at an ending and work my way back to see how the story developed and sometimes I would read the book in the way a normal book is read just to make sure that I had explored all alternatives. I’m not sure anyone that knows me would be surprised at this.

Anyway, this is possibly your chance to go on a similar adventure.  Each of these posts will happen at some point, so don’t worry if your favorite isn’t chosen.  We’ll get there.

 

“Japanese” Chicken

In which I discover why reading is fundamental.

It’s probably good that I got bifocals the last time I went to the eye doctor.  Looking at this recipe, I swear I read “Japanese Chicken” and since it was on the same page as the Egg Foo Yung, I decided that we could have an Asian night and I would cook those recipes.  While looking at the recipe, I couldn’t figure out why it was called Japanese chicken when there was nothing Japanese about the ingredients.  When did they start using tarragon in traditional Japanese cooking?  But this was Iowa and well before I was born, maybe tarragon was exotic?  I also had a hard time realizing that “Pour over chicken” was not “Parmesan Chicken.”  Perhaps it was the handwriting?  Right before I went to cook this recipe, I realized that “Japanese” actually said “Popover”.  That gave me a lot of answers.Popover Chicken

But there were still more questions.  Like what kind of chicken?  Cooked chicken?  Raw chicken?  I took a guess.  I think I guessed wrong, but considering the information I was working with, it was certainly not as bad as it could’ve been.

We had gone to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Botanical Gardens and the kids had all gotten a coupon for a free junior cone of custard for completing the scavenger hunt, so we did backwards dinner where we ate dessert first.  I believe that things work out the way they should most of the time.  Because we had bellies full of custard, no one was hungry immediately upon getting home.  So it was less important that dinner took over a half hour longer than estimated.

As a warning to anyone that may try this, raw, still slightly frozen chicken thighs on the bone do not cook

completely at 350 for 50 minutes.  This information will come in handy for all sorts of things, so remember it.  However, if after 60 minutes, you turn the oven up to 450 and cook them for another 15 minutes or so, the pink goes away.DSCN2458

Another note, raw, bone in chicken produces a lot of juice.  This will make the popover part of the dish turn into something that somewhat resembles a dumpling.  Only the top of the popover is that delicious, light airy substance that we love to fill with homemade jam. (Not in this dish, but in general).

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I think done correctly, using pre-cooked chicken, B/S chicken breasts, or some sort of shredded chicken, this would be a really nice sort of fun meal.  Like a pot pie…oh, like a potpie…That is a brilliant idea for someone’s upcoming birthday.

After this meal, I think I owe my family one of my normal meals with a delicious cake or great dessert.  Even if the main courses are crap, Great-Grandma made great cakes and desserts.

Popover Chicken

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 t salt
1 T oil
1 T chopped Tarragon

Beat first 4 ingredients together for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add oil.  Beat 30 seconds more.  (Do NOT overbeat)

Pour over chicken in a casserole. (Maybe this meant a chicken casserole, not just a casserole dish?) Bake 50-60 minutes at 350 or til done.