Friday, May 16, 2008

Cakes In A Jiff

One year for Christmas I gave everybody Cake in a Jar. (Actually I think one person got brownie mix, but still) It was a pretty cool hit. Instant cake! Who doesn't love that?

The basic recipe is cake mix plus a complimentary pudding mix. Once you've got that, any cake is made up of a cup of that mix, an egg, one tablespoon of oil and one tablespoon of water.

That much batter will make about two five inch cakes, or four cupcakes.

There's two ways to cook that - two minutes in the microwave or 20 minutes in the oven. I like the oven method better.

Making it portable and entirely fuss free? I found Deb-el dried eggs, and put the equivalent measure of egg powder in the mix (then add more water when the time comes to cook).

As for oil, I haven't tried hard to find a substitute, but I think dried lethicin granules might do it. Mainly the advantage of the powdered eggs is that I can let the kids lick the bowl without worrying about salmonella.

We've had a lot of fun with differently shaped cupcake cups. "Can we have star cakes, Mom?"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Berger Beer-Battered Bass

One of the things I dearly loved to do as a teen was visit mom's relatives in Washington state. Grandma and Grandpa had a house on a lake, and during the summer, any kids there had free run of the place as long as the chores were done.

For me that meant fishing and swimming just about every day. One of my most relaxing and cherished memories is me reclining in an innertube (a real one, not these beach-y things they sell these days) in the sun on the lake, about 25 yards from the shore. I'd passed the swim test (swim 200 yards without stopping) and so was allowed to be out beyond the dock. I was too far away from the little kids for them to bug me, but close enough to hurry in if there was trouble. To this day if I'm asked to visualize myself relaxing in some self-help excercise, that's where I go.

As for the fishing, I'd learned the bobber and hook method on trips with dad's side of the family. Now I learned bass hunting: lures, places to fish, how to set the hook, and how to get the bugger off and measure it.

I liked the bass fishing better - I could keep my hands occupied and yet not work very hard and usually could bring a few home for dinner.

We'd usually have beer battered fish when I did bring in a catch. First we'd skin the fish, then fillet. The beer batter would be flour or crackers, with salt and pepper, and whatever beer we happened to be drinking that evening. Dredge the fish planks in the batter and shallow fry on medium heat. The fish was done pretty quickly - once the batter crusted and turned golden brown.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My (Almost Perfect) Pinto Beans

One of the regular duties growing up was the making of beans and tortillas. It was my job to hang around and help Grandma with this three times a week.

Tortillas were done with a mix, though she had a recipe handy if we ran out.

Beans were bought dry in bulk, about 5 pounds at a time. She'd take two cups full, dump them in the deepfryer/slowcooker filled with water, throw in half an onion, some salt, and set it to (memory says)400 degrees. The stuff would boil for about and hour and a half, and she'd toss in about a teaspoon of Caldo de sabor de Pollo. Half an hour later the beans were done. Perfect. No spots, no skin peeling off (well, maybe there was) and nothing crunchy.

I've been trying on my own for the last 20 years and it's been a pain. I tried the little one quart crockpots. I've tried big crockpots. I've tried stovetops. Nothing. I had moderate success soaking the beans overnight and discarding the soak water (helps with gas, too).

My sister sent me this link, which has the little trick of boiling then soaking. I put some beans and water in the microwave for 5 minutes, then let it sit for an hour. That helped some.

Nowadays I just use a regular nonstick saucepan with a reasonably tight lid. I soak a cup of beans for at least 8 hours in two cups of water. I rinse the beans and then put them in the pot with 2 or 3 cups of water, depending on the relative humidity. I put in a half teaspoon of salt, a wedge of onion, and bring it to a rolling boil.

Once it's boiling, I reduce the heat to low and put the lid on. This lets it boil again, but not lose the water as fast. About an hour and a half later, I put in the chicken bouillion, and simmer for another half hour.

There's no magic to putting the salt and bouillion in at different times, it's just habit. I've noticed that the beans are saltier if I put the table salt in late, but that's about it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Emergency Pizza!

Mostly "emergency pizza" is just a dramatic name. One of the kids wanted pizza, and I had all the fixings, but I didn't feel like mixing dough. I don't mind kneading and rolling and shaping dough, but getting from powder and liquid to the dough lump is a process I dislike. If I can, I have the breadmaker or handmixer do the work.

Anyway, the emergency pizza is a flour tortilla, ketchup, cheese (any kind) and whatever toppings are handy, usually pepperoni. I try to make sure that all of the slices have exactly the same number of pepperoni slices or sausage crumbs or whatever, or I'll hear about it.

The tortilla is what's called "burrito size" in the stores, so it's a good 10 inches across. Ketchup is what the kids prefer, but they're slowly getting used to pizza sauce with actual flavor, as long as the pepperonis are there.

I described all this to a buddy at work, and he said that, technically, I'm making pepperoni quesadillas. I conceded that he had a point.

Until! I went to La Diosa Cellars as part of the First Friday Art Trail. I had the Pizza Barcelona, which was essentially a whole wheat tortilla covered with cheese, chicken, and tomatoes.

So there.

p.s. - frozen individual pepperoni slices are a tempting, heavenly snack. Very very good, and very very bad for you.