Monday, March 1, 2010

Sisterhood, Olympics and Pie

Last month Southwest Virginia was blanketed by snow. That's the last time I want to see "snow" and "blanketed" in the same sentence. First of all, it's a cliche and second of all, blankets are warm and soft and cozy. Snow is cold, hard and keeps you trapped in the house with your husband and kids. All of whom expect you to cook 24/7. Oh yeah - it's fun for you, but for women it's like this:

My Facebook community was divided into two camps: Those who just love the snow and think it's so pretty, and normal people who felt trapped like rats. I de-friended the first group and planned a party with the second. One of us (the one with the most brain cells left-her kids are away at college) suggested that we get together for a potluck dinner and watch the Olympics - specifically the women's figure skating final. None of us is from South Korea and therefore had no dog in this race, but it seemed like a good excuse to celebrate the escape from our families who by this time were making us nuts.

After making us all promise that we would not under any circumstances open any closed doors in her house, Dana volunteered to serve as hostess. Actually, that should be a standard rule among women who hate to clean. If you walk into our houses and there is one sparkling room, you can guarandamntee that behind a closed door somewhere is all the crap that used to be in said room.

So what should we all bring? Something Canadian, of course. I immediately volunteer for dessert because, well because that's what I do. Also, I do not want to get stuck with a Canadian main dish that may very well begin with these instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Bone a moose

Dana attempts to organize the menu and is thwarted by my attempts to butt in. In my defense, I am a professional and if there isn't a protein, starch, veg, salad, bread and dessert my head will explode. Karen, a nurse, has to work late and so I suggest she bring a cordial. I'm not even really sure what a "cordial" is, but it sounds welcoming and drinky. I snarkily tell Dana she can get out her "cordial glasses". It turns out she actually has some and has moved up a notch on my "impressive friends" list. If we had met at my house, the cordial would have been served in Dixie bathroom cups. Karen brings limoncello and is my new best friend.

Here's what we finally wound up with:

A Canadian meat pie (my best instincts had me avoid asking what kind of meat)
Scalloped potatoes
Penne rigate with spicy sausage
Broccoli in a lemon butter sauce
Some kind of cheese dip that no cardiac patient should have been eating - but I did.
Salad with a yummy homemade dill ranch dressing
A large round of freshly-baked garlicky bread from our favorite local bakery
Lindt candies and Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies
Large iced cookies in the shape of shamrocks
Maple oatmeal pie
Lemon chess pie
Three kinds of wine and the limoncello*

*This last is why we never did get around to watching figure skating.

We laughed. We cried. (Okay - I cried, but I'm very emotional). We sistered. It was wonderful.

The Maple Oatmeal Pie is something I developed for my son - an oatmeal fanatic. I thought I was being extremely clever and wonderfully motherly, but it turns out there are lots of recipes for this same kind of pie. It could also be called a Breakfast Pie because that's what it tastes like. I baked it for this party because of the maple part. Canada? Maple leaves? I started out with a basic pecan pie-type filling and went from there. It is an amazing pie. Served warm with vanilla ice cream makes this a weird breakfast - but a good one.


Make a pie crust. You can use the recipe from this site, or buy those Pillsbury pie crusts which are actually quite good.

Put crust in a standard pie pan and flute the edges.

For the filling:

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup light corn syrup (Karo)
1/2 cup maple syrup (the real stuff preferably)
1/4 c (1/2 stick) melted butter
3 tsp. vanilla
1 cup coconut
1 cup very finely ground walnuts or pecans*

In a large mixing bowl, mix well the first 4 ingredients. Add everything else and stir until combined thoroughly. Pour into the pie crust and bake for about 50 minutes at 350 or until it sets up. (Should not jiggle in the middle. I shouldn't either, but I do).

*Be careful when grinding nuts. A minute too much and you have butter.

This pie will feed your tummy. If you want to feed your soul, get together with your women friends and eat 'til you groan. One thing you will discover: You're not in this alone.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

The DAR eats Spicy Gingerbread

This week at the club there was a meeting of the DAR. For those of you lucky enough not to know who these people are, they are the Daughters of the American Revolution. I believe these are women who can trace their ancestry to the brave men who fought the War for Independence. (Support Our Troops!) One thing I know for sure - they are old.

An Actual Picture from our DAR Luncheon - the joy is palpable.

They decided to go with an authentic 1700's menu: Chicken pot pie with wild rice. Wild rice??? I don't know about you, but when I think of RICE I think of CHINA, not Bunker Hill. But, as you can tell from the photo, these are not ladies to be argued with. The dessert they selected? Warm gingerbread with whipped cream.

Hot damn. Love me some gingerbread. And not this kind:

But this kind:

This gingerbread cannot run as fast as he can AND you can catch him.

My gingerbread is spicy - a concept my DAR ladies are undoubtedly not familiar with. But they devoured it, asked for more, brought me out to thunderous applause and tipped me $1000. Part of this is not exactly true and I'll leave you to figure out which part.

I add cayenne pepper to my gingerbread for an extra dose of zippedy-doo-dah. It is like an ideal man - tender, sensitive and simple. I always serve it with sweetened whipped cream but if you want to get all snotty on me, creme anglais is a lovely foil as well. The smell wafting from your kitchen is worth every second spent on baking this.


1 stick (4 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cocoa powder
pinch of ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk
2/3 c molasses
1/2 c dark brown sugar
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 325. Grease and flour one 9-inch round or square cake pan.

Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cocoa, cloves, cayenne, salt and baking soda.

Either in a medium saucepan or the microwave heat the milk and molasses together until the molasses melts. Remove from heat.

In the bowl of your mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add brown sugar and beat until smooth and light. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

With the machine on low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk/molasses mixture. Put batter into prepared cake pan and bake for about 40 minutes. Let the gingerbread cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes and turn out onto a rack.

This is easier to cut if you let it cool completely and warm up each slice as you serve. If you can't wait that long, just hack into the thing, add whipped cream, eat and die of happiness.

And don't forget to thank our valiant boys in (whatever color they wore - just not red) for YOUR freedom. And since there aren't many (any) of them left, find a member of the DAR and thank her. I warn you - she won't speak back to you.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Aunt Mae's Hot Milk Cake

Here in normally temperate Virginia we have been "enjoying" an especially snowy winter which culminated (please, God) this weekend in another 10" on top of the 10" we already had from last weekend. Almost immediately, everybody on Facebook began to talk about what they were cooking or baking. Does Snowmageddon cause the survival instinct to kick in? Do we not feel safe unless we are surrounded by the smells of stews, cinnamon rolls, cakes, and sausage?

I know I don't.

With the cabin making me hot, I decided to go through my mom's old recipe boxes to see if I could find any gems. There are two boxes - the one I treasure most is in my mom's handwriting with funny little notes on each recipe. The second box looks as though it were the work product of an archeological dig. The recipes in this box are typed.

When I was a kid, mom managed to score an ancient typewriter and having nothing else to type, decided to type up recipes. These recipes are suspect because mom was a truly lousy typist. And guess what kids? On a typewriter, if you make a mistake - you're STUCK with it. No backspace or delete. So one must assume that "subac" probably means "sugar" in a cake recipe typed by my mom.

My most intriguing finding was "Aunt Mae's Milk Cake". First of all, being demented, I immediately had a mental picture of actually milking Aunt Mae. Second of all, I have no independent recollection of Aunt Mae. My sister assures me we did indeed have an Aunt Mae and in fact, Aunt Mae had a son who was a sadistic dentist. What a proud family tree. Then, amazingly, I scouted around and found a picture of Aunt Mae:

(Insert Your Own Milk Joke Here)

"Aunt Mae's Hot Milk Cake" contained an interesting technique I'm going to tell you about in a minute. **SPOILER ALERT** It has something to do with the hot milk!



2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 stick (4 oz.) butter

Put the butter and the milk in the microwave to melt the butter. Or you could do this in a saucepan. While that's heating up:

Cream the sugar and eggs until creamy. Add the vanilla, baking powder and flour. Beat at low speed until incorporated. Slowly add the hot milk and butter mixture and mix thoroughly.

The instructions here say, "Pour into a mold" which I assume means a bundt pan. I used two 9-inch cake pans. Here it says to bake at 350 degrees for 1 hr. And this next part is either really important or mom got stuck on caps lock: DO NOT OPEN OVEN UNTIL BAKING FINISHED.

In the 9-inch pans, this cake was done to perfection at 30 minutes. If you make it in a bundt (I cannot say that word without thinking of Lainie Kazan in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding") it will take from 45 min. to an hour and you're welcome to check at 45 minutes. I mean, if you open the oven door, God won't kill a kitten or anything.

Folks, this is an amazing cake. Old-fashioned, simple, gorgeous soft crumb, beautiful color. I sprinkled powdered sugar on the top and called it a day. It is a perfect cake. No - wait. I'm going to make it perfecter.

I torted the second cake (cut it in half) and slathered some raspberry jam between the layers. More powdered sugar and now - (angelic choir sings here) - Heavenly!!!!!

It's the kind of cake you'd expect Ma Ingalls to come up with for Half-pint's country birthday party.

The technique? You've probably already guessed that it's the addition of the hot milk. Normally, you would cream the butter and s
ugar, add the eggs, combine the flour and leaveners in a separate bowl (and we know how I hate the phrase "in a separate bowl") and do what I call WDWDWDW which is sloppy type for alternate the wet and dry ingredients.

The hot milk creates a much lighter crumb and a lovely dome. In fact, it's a fabulous method to use for cupcakes if you want your cuppies to dome.

Try this cake! Right now! I know you have the ingredients!

And now - I'm getting hungry since it's been...let's see...28 WHOLE MINUTES since I last ate.

Hmmm...I wonder if Uncle Earl has anything to offer?