Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Apron of the Month ~ June

The apron featured as my blog's cover photo for the month of June is one that belonged to my Great Grandma Clark. It was one that she wore in the final years of her life, when she lived in the nursing home. I'm not sure if she had it before then, or if someone made it for her after she moved to the home. It has her name written on the back side, as is customary to label residents' clothing.

Great Grandma's apron is made of a dainty rose bud printed cotton, with bright pink trim. It is an over-the-head smock style, full-front apron. (I suppose this style was good to ensure it would stay on her and not have bulky ties at her back.) The pocket is rather high on the side of the apron, but that was probably for practical purposes for Grandma, as she sat a lot then.

The apron does fit me, so I could wear it, but it is one of those "extra special" ones, and thus stays folded neatly and stored away. I wouldn't want to add to the stains and wear it out. I didn't know my Great Grandma Clark very well, but I still treasure her aprons. I can recall just a few memories about her....

When I was very young, my parents took my little sister and me to visit her at her house. B and I sat quietly on the couch, probably reading books - I don't think Great-Grandma liked children being noisy. There was a man named Cecil who rented a room (in the basement, I think?) from her. Her house was small and dark, as I remember, and had a teeny tiny front stoop instead of a porch.

Later, I learned that Great Grandma had had a stroke at the age of 38. She'd suffered from migraines up til then, and while the migraines went away after the stroke, she was apparently "never the same" after it. She was kind of crabby. Which makes sense...she probably didn't feel like herself anymore, poor thing.

One other memory of her is from when she was near the end of her life, and my grandpa (her son) took me to see her in the nursing home. Great Grandma could no longer speak coherently, but Grandpa asked her to recite the Lord's Prayer for us in German. Even though you couldn't understand her slurred, mumbled words, you could definitely hear the cadence in her voice, and it was positively the Lord's Prayer. That memory makes me happy!

Monday, May 28, 2018

As American As Apple Pie

For many years, I rarely attempted to make a pie; cake was my favored dessert to bake. After working at a local bakery/lunch spot several years ago, I learned their recipe for pie crust that makes pie making a whole lot easier for me. And then began my search for the ultimate apple pie...

There are a couple of apple pie recipes in my binder that are really good, but this one is my favorite:  Candy Apple Pie. It's a recipe that was published in Taste of Home magazine, so of course I won't take credit for it. You can find the recipe here:  Candy Apple Pie. Please note:  the recipe card that I clipped out of the publication years ago has double the proportions for the topping. I believe I know why. Get yourself a slice of pie and a glass of iced tea, have a seat at my table, and I'll tell you a story.

Once upon a time, more than 20 years ago, I clipped this recipe out of a magazine and attempted to execute it. It made a HUGE mess in my oven, because the topping boiled over the edges of the crust and dripped into puddles on the bottom of the oven. Because I refuse to use oven cleaner or the self-cleaning feature, I spent many hours and much elbow grease scrubbing the burnt stickiness off. Even though the pie tasted good, I decided it was not worth the mess.

Fast forward to 2017. While weeding out dud recipes from my binder, I ran across the Candy Apple Pie recipe card. I wondered if it would turn out better now that I have the best pie dish ever (Pampered Chef glazed stoneware). Guess what happened? Yep, the topping boiled over again! It didn't make nearly as big a mess, however, because I planned ahead - I put a pizza pan underneath the pie dish to catch the drips. Smart. 😁 And that pie was delicious! So I challenged myself to experiment with the recipe until I could get that topping to stay put.

I tried cooking the topping a few minutes beyond it coming to a boil. Still had spill-over. Next time, I reduced the topping's bake time to 2 minutes. No spill-over, but it didn't set quite enough. And then this most recent bake...I figured it out. I'd been using half-and-half or even milk to make the topping, rather than heavy cream. There IS a difference, people! This time, the topping stayed put and set nicely. Oh YUM...the perfect apple pie!

Now, for my tweaks. You know I can't leave a recipe alone! Ha ha! I added some lime zest to the apple slices with the lime juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt. (Oh, yes, by the way, I always use pink sea salt. It adds so much flavor!) Also, I add half a teaspoon of ground cardamom.

I put the pizza pan underneath - just in case - and always use my "crust shield". It keeps the edges of the crust from browning too much. Take it off for the last 10-15 minutes of the bake. If you remember. If you don't, it's not a big deal. Luckily, this time the topping didn't boil over, but I will still use the pizza pan insurance. And, as you can see, I used a glass pie plate instead of my stoneware, because it was currently in use holding spaghetti pie. (Oh, I'll have to share that recipe with you all, too! It's easy and tasty!) Hmm....perhaps I should do one more Candy Apple Pie experiment to see if stoneware makes any difference. I always thought it was superior to glass, but maybe not.

Sadly, this is the only photo of the topping cooking, and it's blurry. I don't add the chopped pecans to the sauce, because Some Postman doesn't care for nuts in/on his desserts. Instead, I sprinkle a few pecans in a kind of X on top of the pie, so that only half the pieces will have them.

Cutting the topping ingredients by half, like the current version of the recipe linked above, may eliminate the problem of spill-over, but I think I'll stick with the original amounts. After all, more topping means more Candy Apple Pie deliciousness!!!

Now for the pie crust recipe. Since they published their recipe in a cookbook they sold in the shop, I think I can safely share it here. This is the Friendship House's recipe for pie crust:

Never Fail Pie Crust

3 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup Crisco
1 egg
1 tsp cider vinegar
1/2 cup cold water

Mix flour and salt together. Cut in Crisco until resembles coarse crumbs. Mix beaten egg with vinegar and cold water. Mix into crumb mixture with a fork. Do not overmix. Make into four balls. Refrigerate overnight or freeze for later use. Makes 2 double-crust pies.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Spring Is Finally Here!

It's sure taken its time getting here, but Spring has finally arrived in Kansas! We've had brief visits, a day or so at a time, since the Spring Equinox, but she was shy about staying around for very long. Now, at last, Spring has settled in! Of course, Summer is very likely going to bully her way in well before her scheduled arrival date. So we will enjoy our gentle Spring while we can!

With the coming of warmer weather, Yard Sale Season is upon us! To kick things off, I thought I'd share with you a recent thrifting adventure. Our local thrift store has two major sales each year; one in the spring, the other in the fall. The first week of the sale, everything in the store is half-price. The second week, it's the Most Awesome $1-a-Bag Sale. Stuff as much as you can into a paper sack, and it only costs a buck (plus tax)!

I usually spend at least two hours in the thrift store for the bag sale, because not only am I shopping for myself, but also for eBay fodder. Long-time followers of this blog know that I've got a thing for shoes and fun socks and bird prints and, well, lots of clothes in general! Selling stuff on eBay funds my online shopping habit. 🌝

By using strategic cramming techniques, I was able to get 48 items into three sacks, making each item's cost a mere 7¢!

The majority of the goodies is destined for eBay. I don't think I've listed any of the things in this photo yet, but if you'd like to see what is currently listed, you can find me on eBay under the name Dachshiemama. (I don't have a store; use the Advanced link next to the Search button, then select By Seller under Items on the left side of the page. This will work if you're using a browser to access eBay; I'm not sure how it works with the app.)

I gave these adorable Hello Kitty jammy pants to my niece, and a pile of books (not pictured) to my grandkids.

Here's what I found for myself. The choker-neck top is new with tags! The jeans are super comfortable. Looks like this would almost make a great outfit, doesn't it? 

This coming weekend will be another chance to bargain shop. A nearby town is having their spring city-wide yard sale days. Then the following weekend is our own town's city-wide yard sale days. I wonder what treasures will come home with me?!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Biscuits From Scratch

My daughter's workplace has a monthly potluck, usually with a theme or contest of some sort. Last month, they had a breakfast potluck with a "biscuits and gravy" theme. Min signed up to bring biscuits, then called me up to ask me to teach her how. The night before the potluck, she came out to the old home place, and together we baked a couple batches of biscuits from scratch.

It's a very simple recipe and technique that I've used for so long, it's muscle memory for me. I can't even remember where I first read the recipe. It was a joy to teach my daughter how to make a fluffy, buttery biscuit.

Ingredients assembled!
Min using the pastry blender to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture.

Buttermilk Biscuits

In addition to simple buttermilk biscuits, we made a batch of cheesy biscuits. Of course, one does not measure cheese; one dumps in handfuls until it "looks right". This sometimes results in a bit too much cheese (if there is such a thing!). We may have added more cheese to this dough than necessary; it took considerably longer for them to bake than normal. Nonetheless, they tasted fabulous!

Drop-style cheesy biscuits

Golden Cheesy Deliciousness!

Buttermilk Biscuits

2 cups flour
2 Tbsp wheat bran
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter
1 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 425°F. Stir together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender. Add buttermilk; stir until mixture forms a dough. Turn onto floured surface and knead dough 4-5 times. Pat into a circle about 3/4 inch thick; cut into rounds using a biscuit cutter or glass dipped in flour. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Bake 11-13 minutes or until golden.

Cheesy Biscuits

2 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
1 tsp dried parsley
1/4 cup cold butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oven to 425°F. Stir together dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender. Add buttermilk; stir just until combined with flour. Stir in cheese. Drop by extra-large spoonfuls onto baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Vintage Aprons

Goodness, time has gotten away from me, and I haven't written anything in over two weeks. Honestly, I haven't done much interesting cooking, either. I caught a cold and it lingered, so I didn't care too much about what I ate since I couldn't really taste it. Felt better for about a week, and then allergies punched me in the nose.

I've done some baking recently, and I'll write about that soon, but in the meantime, I thought I'd tell you all about the fun vintage aprons featured as the cover photos for the blog. I've collected vintage and contemporary aprons for a long time, and have a few of my great-grandmother's aprons. My mother-in-law made many aprons for me, and I'll never part with any of them, despite the stains. Yes, I do wear my aprons for their intended purpose, although most of the vintage ones are reserved for non-messy occasions (such as serving company) or for decorative purposes.

February's apron was this adorable vintage pink half-apron that features a heart-shaped pocket, contrasting sheer fabric, and rick-rack trim. I can't recall exactly how this sweet little apron came to be in my collection, but I think perhaps my friend Carol gave it to me. I don't believe it had ever been worn prior to my possession of it; I've only worn it briefly myself one time. It's just too delicate and dainty and I really don't want to soil it!

For March, this lovely green gingham half-apron is gracing the blog's header with charm. This one was made by my great-grandma; she did the hand-work, too. It's embroidery of some sort. I know there's a name for the type of embroidery done here, but don't know what it is. Anyone out there know?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Family Favorite ~ Fudge Sheet Cake

Today is Valentine's Day! What better way to celebrate than with chocolate? For this week's Kitchen Adventure, I thought I'd share with you all my Fudge Sheet Cake recipe. It's not really much of an adventure for me to bake this cake, as I've made it dozens of times, but it is a family favorite and a great way to show some love. Well, actually, I did have a bit of an adventure making the cake yesterday - it refused to get done in the usual time, which put me behind schedule by several minutes. Not a huge deal, but it caused me to forget to take along my poster for our church's Lent Challenge. It would have been nice to get it set up before tonight's Ash Wednesday service. Ah well, it is what it is!

I made Fudge Sheet Cake yesterday morning for the circuit Pastors' lunch we served at church the same day. Luckily, there were a few pieces leftover for me to take home to serve to my sweetie (and myself!).

Nearly 29 years ago, we received a Mennonite cookbook as a wedding gift, in which I found the first recipe I used to make Chocolate Sheet Cake. It called for margarine and shortening, as well as a higher baking temperature. The cake always turned out perfectly, and tasted very good. It's been my son's most requested birthday treat over the years. When I discovered that butter is superior to margarine, I made that substitution, but never could figure out how to ditch the shortening.

Fast forward to just a few years ago, when I discovered a recipe for Texas Sheet Cake in Cooking Light magazine that uses ONLY butter! My son was a bit skeptical the first time I made it, because he knew he liked the old cake - could a new, lighter version be just as good? He and I were both pleased to learn that it not only tastes better, but also has a better texture and scent! Honestly, isn't everything better with butter?

Of course, being the rebel that I am, I don't follow the Cooking Light recipe exactly. For one thing, fat-free milk is really wimpy pale white water, so it absolutely never finds its way into my grocery cart. And I haven't bothered to flour-dust baking pans in ages. I use my stoneware pan for sheet cakes; it's so well-seasoned it almost doesn't even need cooking spray. Most recently, I increased the cinnamon in the cake, because a friend of mine accidentally put too much in hers, and I loved it! Both sheet cake recipes I've used in my life call for chopped nuts in the frosting, but my family believes that is just wrong, so we opt out.

A few notes - Use the same pan and wooden spoon for heating the butter portion of the  cake batter and for making the frosting. You're putting almost the same ingredients in the pan each time, so there's no reason to dirty more dishes. There are a couple of things that I don't measure:  vanilla and powdered sugar. Splash in however much vanilla you want! Measuring powdered sugar for frosting is pointless; just dump in half the bag, beat, then add more if you need it. I'm guessing it's around 3 or 4 cups. This frosting isn't supposed to be too thick, so keep that in mind, but you don't want it runny, either. I like it best about the consistency of white gravy. Also, don't scrape out the pan too well as you pour the frosting onto the hot cake. Part of your reward for slaving away in the kitchen is cleaning up that hot fudge yumminess!

Here it is...the way I show love to my favorite people....

Fudge Sheet Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa, divided
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 Tbsp vanilla, divided
2 large eggs
6 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup milk
3 or 4 cups powdered sugar

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray a 15 x 10 jelly roll pan (stoneware is best!) with cooking spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. In a large saucepan, combine water, butter and 1/4 cup cocoa; bring just to a boil, stirring frequently. Pour into the flour mixture. Beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended, scraping sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Add buttermilk, 1 tsp vanilla and eggs; beat well. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 375° for 17 - 19 minutes or until pick comes out clean and cake springs back when lightly touched. Place on a cooling rack.

When there are 5 minutes left on the bake time, begin preparing frosting. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, milk and 1/4 cocoa in the saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar enough to keep it from making a mess, then use the mixer to fully blend. Add more powdered sugar if needed. Stir in 2 tsp vanilla. Pour frosting over hot cake and spread evenly. Cool completely on cooling rack.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Vegan Hot & Sour Soup

Back when I was a "normal" eater, we used to eat at the local MSG Palace on occasion. They had all kinds of saucy ways to serve chicken. My favorite was Walnut Chicken. I'm sure it was chock full of sugar and sodium, but so SO tasty! Salt & Pepper Shrimp was another thing that always went on my plate. And my meal was never complete without a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup.

I've found a brand of meatless "chicken" chunks that I like, so maybe I could find a recipe for Walnut Chicken to make a vegetarian version. Fish sometimes agrees with my tummy nowadays, but not shrimp, and I've never seen faux seafood at my grocery (sounds rather awful, anyway, don't you think?). That leaves a remake of S&P Shrimp out of the question for now. Hot & Sour Soup, however, is completely doable!

One shelf of my cookbook cupboard is filled with vegetarian and vegan cookbooks. After consulting several of them, I found two recipes for Hot & Sour Soup and decided to combine them. Not all of the ingredients were readily available to me, so those were either skipped or substituted. One recipe called for tofu, which is not something I find palatable, but since there was a package of tofu in my freezer that had been there for several months, I decided to use it anyway. My combo/revised recipe is at the bottom of this post.

All the ingredients are gathered.

Doesn't tofu look like a sponge? Tastes like one, too! :p

Something I've learned from watching cooking shows on TV is to do all the prep work BEFORE beginning to cook. This is not something I've done much in the past, and it almost always results in frantic antics in the kitchen. And sometimes, it really messes up the end result. So, the next thing I did was chop all the vegetables, open cans/boxes, and zest/juice the limes.

The tofu was supposed to be deep fried, then cut into chunks. Since I don't have a deep fryer, and I wanted to save time, I cut the tofu into cubes first, then fried them in some olive oil in my small cast iron skillet. The tofu didn't brown up as much as I thought it would, but it did get a bit of a crust on the edges. I sampled a tiny bit after it was done. Verdict:  nope, still don't like tofu! Hopefully it will absorb the flavors in the soup.

After the majority of the vegetables were simmering in the veggie broth, I took the scraps out to the hen pen for the chickens to eat. They love it when I bring them snacks! We don't have a garbage disposal in our kitchen sink, and never will. Food scraps never go to waste here on the farm!

After the pot simmered a while, the rest of the ingredients were added, and the soup was done. It smelled delicious!

The soup is supposed to be served with a garnish of sliced lime, but garnishing isn't something I'm accustomed to doing. I'm not a fancy cook. And now I'm noticing that I forgot to put a spoon with the bowl of soup in the photo. While you certainly could use this Frankoma bowl like a mug and slurp the soup, I did use a spoon like a civilized eater.

My conclusion:  While this soup doesn't taste anything like the Hot & Sour Soup served at MSG Palace, it has great flavor and I love it! The tofu isn't horrible in it, but I could happily leave it out next time. The original recipes both called for some type of Asian hot pepper, which I did not attempt to find, or even use a different kind of hot pepper, because I don't care for very spicy-hot foods. The Thai red curry sauce and chili paste that I used offered some heat, although I could probably handle a bit more. A pinch of Sriracha sauce might be good. I'm the only one who is eating this soup at our house; Some Postman hates ginger with a passion, so he won't even taste a bite. That's fine with me - it's ALL mine! Of course, I can't eat an entire batch alone without it going south, so two-thirds of it was poured into freezer containers and stored in the deep freeze for later use.

Hot & Sour Soup

7 oz firm tofu, squeezed dry, cubed and fried lightly in olive oil
4 cups vegetable broth
3 thin slices fresh ginger
1 drop lemongrass essential oil (use fresh lemongrass instead, if you can find it)
2 Tbsp Thai red curry sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp Bragg's liquid aminos (I used this because I didn't have enough soy sauce.)
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice and the zest of 1 lime
1 - 14 oz can light coconut milk
1 tsp jarred garlic (or one clove fresh garlic, minced)
1 tsp ground chili paste
1 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp coconut sugar
3 green onions w/ greens, sliced
1/2 head bok choy, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 red pepper, cut into very thin slices
4 oz mushrooms, sliced
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup fresh basil, loosely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Fry the cubed tofu in a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a cast iron skillet; set aside. Put ingredient list A in a large soup pan and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and add list B to pan; simmer about 20 - 25 minutes. Remove ginger slices (chickens will eat it!). Add list C; simmer 4 minutes. Gently stir in the eggs and cook another minute or so to set. Serve with a slice of lime.