Archive for the 'Meals' Category

Birthdays

Fall and Winter is birthday season in my family.  Between November and February, all of us celebrate our birthdays.  This year, my girls turned 16 and 13, so each has their own special significance.  For my 16 year-old, her girlfriends threw a surprise party, which my ex helped plan.  I split the cost of the present and the meal, and baked and decorated the cake.  It was a wonderful day, and everyone worked hard to make it a special evening.  My youngest is turning 13 this weekend, and she’ll be in New York with my former in-laws.  She is very close with her cousins and is going to see a show on Broadway.

We are very close and I’m going to miss her.  But I also know that this birthday, like all birthdays, is about her, not me.  I will celebrate her birthdaywith her next week when we go on vacation together with my family.  So she shouldn’t feel bad, and neither should I.  But that’s not how these kinds of things work out for many families. 

Our family is no model of how get divorced, but I try to remember who I am compromising for and how the alternative worked. 

So my contribution today is the Tunnel of Fudge: a wonderful cake from my childhood that has been “reengineered” by the Cook’s Country Test Kitchen.  For us, it was the ideal “not quite a birthday cake.” My view is that you can get a lot of great baked goods at the store, so if you are going to go to the trouble at home, it better be worth it.  Cake and box isn’t better than cake from a bakery, so it doesn’t make it into my house any more.

I don’t recommend a lot of baking here, since it is a site for beginners and baking from scratch often requires technique that is not ideally communicated in writing.  This cake takes time, mostly waiting for things to cool, but it can be mixed with a standing mixer, a hand mixer, or just a whisk and a spoon.  There’s no folding, no kneading, and no egg whites.  It is virtually idiot-proof.  The only trick is allowing enough time for the cake to cool so it comes out of the Bundt pan in one piece.  It also requires having the right ingredients, so a trip to the grocery store may be in order.  Rather than making the icing, I’d suggest warm hot fudge or Hersey’s chocolate sauce on top.  It is also amazing with vanilla ice cream, which I’m quite sure is how they serve it in heaven!

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The Tunnel of Fudge Bundt Cake

Originally invented by Ella Helfrich, who won the Pillsbury Bake Off in 1966.  The box mix and the pans were all the rage of late baby boomer children like me.  Cooks Country Test Kitchen recreated and improved the recipe in its 2009 season. 

Ingredients

  • 2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups pulverized pecans, best if done in a food processor.
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ¾ cup Dutch processed cocoa
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 20 Tbs. unsalted butter at room temperature (two and a half sticks)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar

 Cooking Instructions

  1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in glass bowl
  2. Add boiling water and whisk gently when melted.
  3. Set aside for at least 30 minutes so the chocolate can cool to room temperature.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, pecans, confectioners sugar, cocoa and salt.  Whisk together so they are fully incorporated.
  5. In a second bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla
  6. In a third bowl, use a hand mixer to mix the butter, granulated sugar and light brown sugar until light and fluffy. 
  7. Add the egg mixture and incorporate for about 30 seconds at medium speed.
  8. Add the chocolate mixture and incorporate for about 30 more seconds at medium speed.  It will look grainy.
  9. Add the flour mixture and mix with a large spoon.  Use the hand mixer and slowly raise the speed to medium until the mix is fully incorporated (about one minute total).
  10. Grease a Bundt pan with a tablespoon of butter on a napkin, or using a spay vegetable oil like Pam. 
  11. Coat the pan with cocoa powder by pouring a half cup into the greased pan and turning the pan so the powder coats all the sides.  Then turn it upside down over the sink and tap the back.
  12. Pour the batter into the pan.  Gently rap the cake pan on table to break up large air bubbles.
  13. Place in center of a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.  Check in 40 minutes to see if top has started to crack along sides. If it has, it is done.  The toothpick test won’t work because of the undercooked center.
  14. Let cool and set for TWO HOURS!  After two hours, you can place a cake plate on top of the pan and turn the entire thing upside down.  The weight of the cake should make it come out easily.  Lift the pan off the cake and drizzle chocolate sauce on top.  Serve with ice cream and remember all the fattening stuff you put in it before you have seconds!

Potato Pancakes – not just for Jews, really!

Holidays are never easy for divorced families.  Even when everyone is getting along, the logistics make it hard.  While a joint holiday celebration is often considered the ideal, it can also be very confusing to kids who hope and pray that Mom and Dad will get back together.  Whether your holiday tradition is a honey-baked ham for Christmas, a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving, or Latkes for Chanukah, preserving traditions at your house help make it a home.

Potato Pancakes are great for breakfast, especially with eggs, lunch, or dinner.  They freeze easily, and they  make a potato side with any meat or chicken dish.  The key is to making good ones, like with all frying, is to get the oil hot enough and keep it that way.  Hot oil in the pan means less oil in the food.

Ingredients (makes 8-10, serves 4):

  • 3 cups of peeled, grated baking potatoes (about three medium size potatoes)
  • 1 cup of peeled, grated sweet potato (one medium size yam or sweet potato)
  • 1 cup of peeled, grated carrots (about three large carrots)
  • 1/2 cup grated sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Equipment

  • Food processor with grating blade
  • two large mixing bowls
  • colander
  • 10″ skillet
  • spatula
  • vegetable peeler
  • cooling rack

Directions

  1. For this recipe, I use a food processor with the grating disc, but you can grate by hand using a box grater.  I put the potatoes and carrots in at an angle so my grated strings are as long as possible.
  2. When all the ingredients that need to be grated are finished, place them in a colander and put the colander over a larger bowl.  Rinse the mixture and let it drain for 15 minutes.  Don’t throw out the drained liquid but carefully pour off the water  on top and leave the starch in the bowl.  This will work with the flour to hold the pancakes together.
  3. Now, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour to the beaten eggs and beat with the potato starch left over from the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Use your hands to mix the potato-carrot  mixture with the egg mixture.  Everything should be well coated and the potato strings should be well tangled.  Let this sit for 10 minutes.
  5. Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable  oil in a large skillet.  The oil should be at least 400 degrees F.  It will shimmer but not smoke when it is ready.  You can test it with a single strand of potato.  It should sizzle and bubble immediately.
  6. Scoop a quarter cup of the mix and form into a pancake.  Place directly in the oil and be careful not to splash it or burn your hands.  Cook each side for four minutes and don’t touch them in between.  I don’t fry more than three in a skillet at a time so they don’t cool the oil.  If the first one isn’t nice and brown on the down side when you turn it, don’t turn the other for another minute or two as they are not ready.
  7. Remove from the oil.  Let drain over the pan first, and then place on a wire cooling rack with paper towel underneath.  After five minutes, place on a plate with a paper towel underneath.

Serve with Sour Cream and/or Apple Sauce.

Stormy Monday Blues

Why has no one ever written a song about how much they love Monday mornings? If you’re a single Dad with kids in school, you probably have no idea either.  Shifting from the pace of the weekend, even with a schedule packed with soccer games, parties and mall outings, to the blur of activity between my 5:30 alarm and the car line,  I can hear Eric Clapton belting out the line “Lord, have mercy! Lord have mercy on me” as I sit here. 

The trick to getting showered, shaved and ready for my day, waking up the kids, preparing their breakfast and lunch, and getting them into the car on time to drive across town and sit in the car line without a meltdown by anyone, especially me, is planning. Remember the 5 P’s of parenting:  Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.  With that in mind, here’s how I navigate through the typical Monday morning.

5:00 am – My alarm goes off.  I do not hit the snooze button, since I know that the real name of the button is “Have a Lousy Day”.

5:05 am – In the kitchen making coffee.  I’m going to need all of the help I can get, so I take my vitamins and make my own breakfast.  I also do about ten minutes of prayer and meditation to start my day.  Please remember to place the mask on yourself before assisting others.

5:30 am – Feed and walk the dog.  This is my morning workout.  If I don’t do it now, neither of us get to it later. 

6:00 am – I take my shower, shave and brush my teeth before first reveille for the kids.  This way, if the schedule gets thrown, I’m still ready.  See airline safety card instructions again, if you have further questions.

6:30 am – I wake up my oldest daughter.  She has claimed first dibs on the shower and I don’t interfere with negotiated settlements between competing nations and teenage girls.

6:31 am – I start making the kids lunches.  Each bag gets an ice-pack, a back of crackers, a dessert-like substance in a foil wrapper and a piece of fruit. 

6:35 am – I wake my oldest daughter again. I am told she is already up though she hasn’t moved yet.  I am not told this in the same tone that I was greeted at door when she was 5.  Let’s just leave it there.

6:36 am – Back to lunches.  Each girl gets a water bottle and a sandwich, or something like it.  Whenever we order pizza, I get an extra one, and individually wrap and freeze each piece.  The frozen pizza in a lunch bag defrosts by noon.  They also like fluffer-nutter sandwiches (recipe to follow soon), peanut butter and jelly, cream cheese and cucumber, and cheese quesadillas (recipe to follow as well).  Since cold cereal is always an option, and I only make eggs or pancakes if we are well ahead of schedule, I do lunch first, breakfast later.  Hot lunch days (when the kids eat the cafeteria lunch) are also good days for a hot breakfast.

6:40 am – Wake my oldest daughter again.  She is not grateful that I have her back on this one, but the third time is often the trick.

6:41 am – Continue making lunches.

6:45 am – Wake my youngest daughter.

6:46 am – Lay out breakfast.  I set up bowls for cereal, spoons, napkins, juice, and dry cereal. They get the milk and cereal themselves.  In the future, I will walk us through making a hot breakfast in 7 minutes.

6:49 am – Tell my youngest daughter that she is late.  (She is not, but the fear stimulates adrenalin production and she is out of bed in about 60 seconds).

The nine minute lag between wake up times allows for the fact that the girls share a bathroom, and a 16 year old takes longer to get ready for school than a 13 year old.  Adjustments in timing to be determined later.

7:10 am – Everyone is done with breakfast and have their backpacks ready to go.  By 7:15, we are off the driveway with plenty of time to make first bell, even with a little traffic.

7:15 am – I wake up.  It WAS a dream.  I hit the damn snooze button!  I shout at the top of my lungs, GET OUT OF BED, WE’RE LATE.

“They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad. Wednesday’s even worse.  And Thursday’s oh so sad.”

Cheeseburgers grilled on the stove

I love to make cheeseburgers on the grill outside, but during the winter and on rainy days that’s not realistic.   These 1/4 pound “Sliders” are made inside and served on Potato Rolls.  They are easy to make and I prefer to make extra, and freeze a dozen or so before cooking so I can take 4-6 out of the freezer the night before and let them defrost in the fridge.  For traditional sliders, make twice as many from the same amount of meat and use smaller buns.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1 lb of ground hamburger
  • 4 slices of American or Cheddar Cheese
  • 4 potato rolls
  • 1 bag potato chips
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced Tomatoes
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • ¼ tsp Pepper
  • 2 tsp Steakhouse spice mix
  • ½ tsp Worcestershire Sauce

Equipment

  • Stove
  • Large frying pan
  • Spatula
  • Mixing bowl
  • Plate for condiments

Directions

  1. Place hamburger meat in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with salt, pepper and steakhouse spice mix. Add Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Mix meat with your hands and roll into balls on a plate.  They should be smaller than a baseball and larger than a golf ball.
  3. Heat your regular frying pan (not nonstick) on the stove at medium/high heat, about 8 out of 10.
  4. Add 2 Tbs of Olive Oil to the pan and let it get hot enough to shimmer.
  5. Place three balls of meat into the oil and press down to size with a metal spatula.  Let cook for three minutes.
  6. Turn burgers over cook for another three minutes.  Don’t press down with the spatula again so the juices stay inside.  They should be clear as they ooze out of the burger naturally, instead of red, which means the burger isn’t quite done.
  7. Add cheese of choice top of each burger and place lid on pan for one more minute.
  8. Place each burger on a bun and serve with chips and condiments on the table.
  9. Make the remaining burgers as above and refrigerate any leftovers.

Grilled Cheese with or without tomato

Here is a recipe for my daughter Maddie’s favorite kind of grilled cheese sandwich.  It’s got lots of butter and uses real cheese.  I love it with tomatoes, and so do many of her friends, but she’s a purist and prefers it plain.

Ingredients

  • Sliced Cheddar or American Cheese (also excellent with Swiss or any kind you like)
  • Sliced bread.  Any kind will work but I prefer Sourdough.
  • 1 bag potato chips
  • Sliced Tomatoes
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 4 Tbs of butter, softened.

 Equipment

  • Stove
  • Frying Pan
  • Spatula
  • Sharp Kitchen knife

Directions

  1. Heat nonstick frying pan on medium heat.
  2. Butter each slice of bread on one side.
  3. Place bread, butter side down on pan.
  4. Place cheese and tomatoes on unbuttered side of bread and cover with another slice of bread.
  5. Let cook for two minutes or until brown on bottom.
  6. Flip sandwich over carefully, so bread doesn’t slide apart.
  7. Cook for another minute or two, or until bread is evenly brown on both sides.
  8. Serve with potato chips and drink of choice.

Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Popovers, milk and orange juice

Breakfast is the ideal meal for Dad’s to make.  While the kids are sleeping in, you can get off to a good start and then let the kids help as they wake up.  When they wake up, the house or apartment smells wonderful, and you have had your coffee or tea or whatever you like in the morning. 

Everyone who saw it remembers the scene in Kramer Vs. Kramer when Dustin Hoffman  burns the eggs, and himself, at his first breakfast endeavor.  If that’s you, then you should leave the Popovers and Bacon off this list for the first time.  However, don’t be a pussy about this.  Popovers are the easiest way I know of to show off at any meal and almost anyone can make them.  Try this once and you’ll know what I mean.

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

  • 9 large eggs
  • Butter for table
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 8 strips of bacon
  • Salt and pepper for eggs
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup orange juice

 Equipment

  • Stove
  • Oven
  • Microwave
  • Blender
  • Frying Pans
  • Spatula
  • Whisk
  • Mixing Bowls
  • Muffin Tray
  • Wooden spoon

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 425
  2. First, we’re going to make the Popovers.  Cut 3 tbs butter from stick and leave remainder out to soften.  Melt for 30 seconds in the microwave.  Never use a metal bowl in the microwave.
  3. Break three eggs into your blender.
  4. Pour 1 ½ cups of milk in the blender.
  5. Add 1 tsp of salt into blender
  6. Add 1 ½ cups of flour, place lid on blender and blend at a low speed for 1 minute.  Use a spatula to push flour into bottom of blender so it all mixes.  Don’t push the spatula into the blades or, you know, it’s bad.
  7. Take out your muffin pan and fill each cup 2/3 high.  Be sure to fill every other cup so no two are next to each other.
  8. Place pan in oven and set cook timer for 30 minutes.  They may be done in less time so you’ll check them in 20.
  9. Now, make the bacon, take your large, nonstick pan and let it heat up on a hot stove for three minutes.  Your stove should be set between medium and high heat, about 7 out of 10.  The pan is hot enough if a drop of water quickly sizzles and evaporates.
  10. Peel each strip of bacon out of the package and place four in the pan, sitting next to each other but not touching.  Don’t crowd them.  If your pan is hot enough, they won’t stick to the bottom.  They will sizzle loudly and may spatter but don’t worry about it.
  11. When the bacon has created enough oil in the pan to coat it, you can turn the strips over.  Take a plate from the cupboard and put two sheets of paper towel on it.  The bacon will be a little more done than it looks in the pan because its heat will continue to cook it.  Remove the strips to the plate with a tongs or fork and place another four strips in the oil.  Because the pan is hotter and oil is already in the pan, these will take less time.
  12. Remove the rest of the bacon and set the pan aside to cool down.  Leave the oil in it for now.
  13. Now start the eggs, but take a quick look at the popovers.  They should have “popped” and be a light golden brown.  If they are darker brown and look done, take them out now, but they will probably need more time and your eggs await.
  14. Now, to the eggs, but we’ll be juggling them all at this point.  Break six eggs in a mixing bowl and stir with your whisk until they are a consistent color and texture. Set aside while you check the popovers. 
  15. The popovers will be done when they are nicely browned on top. Using a hot pot holder, take them out of the oven and set them down on a wire cooling rack.  In the few minutes it takes to cook the eggs, they will be cool enough to remove from the pan.
  16. Pour the orange juice in the juice glasses and put on the table, along with the silverware and napkins.
  17. Pour the extra bacon fat into a cup or bowl and leave a thin layer in the pan for making the eggs.  Set your stove top to medium heat, about 6 out of 10. 
  18. Add the eggs.  They should make a crackling sound as they hit the pan.  Don’t worry if they don’t.  Keep stirring with your whisk while adding a little pepper and a little salt.  Just a couple of shakes each.  Your kids will never know.
  19. Keep the eggs moving the entire time they are cooking.  In a couple of minutes they will be just a little runny.  Take the pan off of the hot stove and let them sit for a minute while you get the kids to sit down at the table.  They will be perfect to serve on each plate or place in a bowl because they will continue to cook from the heat of the pan and their own heat.  If you overcook them, they will be dry and hard.
  20. Holding the muffin pan with a towel or potholder, use a small plastic spatula to gently remove each popover from the pan.  They should fall out fairly easily but may need some help to keep them intact.  Put one on each plate and scoop the eggs onto each plate as well.  Put the rest in a serving bowl for seconds.
  21. Be sure to warn the kids that the popovers are hot inside and have to be torn open to let the steam out, not bitten like a cupcake.
  22. Enjoy! Popovers are great with honey, butter, jam or just plain. 

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