every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


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Cookies: Bah, Humbug!

FullSizeRender (18)I try to keep everything simple at Christmas time, otherwise, I’m easily stressed out by shopping and gift-wrapping, Christmas cards, decorating, food, and parties.  Maybe not parties.  I love parties.  I’ll do my little bit of shopping, and I think I’m going to use every leftover Christmas card from the ghosts of Christmases past.  Surely, you don’t remember what I sent you five years ago, do you?  I’ll put my tree up a week before Christmas (yes, I realize that would be, like, now) and pull out my nativity on Christmas Eve.  But I’m not a big holiday baker.  I don’t get the appeal of Christmas cookies.

On Facebook this week, many of my beautifully organized friends are posting photos of their scrumptious cookies and advertising cookie parties.  I admire them, and I told one of them, “You’re a better woman than I,” because, really, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do at Christmas, bake beautiful cookies from family recipes to warm the heart and resurrect fond memories of Christmas past?  Oh, I am such a cookie Scrooge.

In early marriage, I made rolled butter cookies and spritz cookies, because I thought you just had to provide your family with cookies at Christmas.  My Mother did.  I just don’t have the patience.  It takes you days on end to make about 500 dozen cookies, and they’re all eaten within a few days.  If I had to go to a cookie exchange and take a recipe, the other bakers would be pretty disappointed.  I’d either take my non-traditional chocolate chip cookies (with coconut and chopped pecans) or my oatmeal cookies.  Those are the only cookies worth making, and I only make the chocolate chips once a year, at the most.

I only like crispy cookies (hence the hint of coconut in the chocolate chips to give them a little extra crunch).  Crispy peanut butter cookies are good (slightly burnt), as are crispy lemon, and lace cookies and even those little French almond tuiles, which you cool around a wine bottle to look like a roof tile.  But, they’re all too much trouble for me, the lazy baker.  Cookies?  Meh.  You might as well buy a package at the grocery store.

Good luck with that.  I wanted to show you a picture of the perfect Christmas cookie, as opposed to the lame ones that I would make, so I went to my local Wegman’s, which knows how to bake dozens of different breads with just the right crust and elegant tarts with crystalline glazes.  Apparently, a color-blind person was decorating the Christmas cookies.  The icing on the snowmen cookies was slightly yellow, and we all know what yellow snow means.  The Christmas tree cookies were olive green, as if they had been standing in the living room on the 13th day of Christmas and were about to go up in flames.  The snowflake cookies were royal blue and sunshine yellow.  And, worst of all, Santa wore a rosy lavender hat.  All of the colors had a drab, gray cast, sort of like they got covered in soot when Santa fell down the chimney with them.

Now, I’m a creative person.  I appreciate different visions of the world, because that’s what adds joy to life, but, when it comes to Christmas, I’m a purist.  I finally found a package of cookies that looked like someone cut them with Grandma’s cookie cutters and sprinkled them with red sugar (Santa) and green sugar (trees).  They even had cookies for idiots like me that were entirely plain and labeled, “Decorate-it-Yourself”.

I, however, rolled my cart over to the dairy section and bought a roll of sugar cookie dough for $2.99.  It showed them sliced and baked and in the shape of stars.  I assumed that the dough could be rolled and cut.  How else could you get that star shape by slicing a roll of dough?

I hauled out cookie cutters that hadn’t seen the mini-lights of Christmas in decades, 13 in all, a baker’s dozen.  Two red plastic ones belonged to my grandmother and must date to the 1940s or 50s.  The aluminum ones are early marriage, c. 1972.  The Nutcracker is from the 80s; the hippo from a set of animal cutters I acquired from Williams-Sonoma in the 90s.

With enough flour on the granite counter, the dough rolled out to 1/4″ easily, although it seemed a little soft.  I carefully pressed the cutters into the dough, then removed the excess from around them and removed the dorky hat from the gingerbread man.  I slid a metal turner under each cookie and eased it onto the cookie sheet.  They all made the transfer except the red plastic holly.  The dough clung to little ridges inside the cutter.  So much for lucky number 13.

Unfortunately, they didn’t smell like butter or sugar or vanilla or lemon extract, just commercial cookie dough.  I decided to brush them with my cure-all for baked goods, Grand Marnier, and popped them into the oven.

When cookies collide.

When cookies collide.

Uh-oh — they were too close together and turned into Pangea; you know?  That supercontinent from which all the other continents broke off?  Santa appeared to be delivering a star.  The Nutcracker oozed into an aerial view of a sports car with its doors open — or a feminine hygiene product with wings, maybe. (I’m an eHarmony reject, remember?)  They browned beautifully, but they still tasted like commercial cookie dough, a real waste of Grand Marnier.  I pulled them apart.

One cookie stole my heart.  I’ve always wanted a hippopotamus for Christmas.

I want a hippopotamus for Xmas!

I want a hippopotamus for Xmas!

I’m not entirely down on commercial cookie dough.  You may recall that I keep Nestle’s Tollhouse cookie dough in my freezer for emergencies — like when I don’t have anything else to eat for breakfast.  I break off four little cubes, bake them in the convection oven until they get soft, and then flatten them with a fork, so they’ll get crispy.  I also push two pecan halves into each cookie.  Voilà!  Home-baked cookies!

If you’re as lazy as I am but need to leave something for Santa, my oatmeal cookies are the perfect choice.  You dump the ingredients into a food processor and drop them onto a cookie sheet (use a silicone mat so you don’t even have to grease the pan). Santa would appreciate them with a glass of spiked eggnog, I’m sure.  Nothing like a little fiber after a long night in the sleigh.

Oatmeal Cookies 

The number of cookies varies according to the size of cookies that you make.  An ice cream scoop makes a big fat chewy cookie — the kind that keeps Santa and Rudolph strong all night long.  A tablespoon makes a smaller, crisper cookie — my fav!

½ cup brown sugar, packed

½ cup white sugar

½ cup butter, softened

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 Tablespoon milk

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oats

Preheat oven to 350°.  Prepare cookie sheets either by greasing or just use a silicone baking mat.

In food processor, cream sugars and butter.  Add egg, vanilla, and milk.  Pulse until blended.  Add all remaining ingredients except the oats and pulse just until moistened.  Add oats and pulse twice, just to evenly distribute the oats.

Drop cookies two inches apart on sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, depending on how large you make the cookies.  Remove immediately from the oven and, using a metal turner, transfer to a rack to cool.  (Cookies will stick to the sheet if allowed to get too cool.  If this happens, return to the oven for two minutes to reheat and loosen.)

Didn’t I tell you it was easy?  Ho-ho-ho!  Merry Christmas!

 

 

 


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Dolce Natale

image‘Tis the season to party, and this is a big weekend for me, a tea, an open house, a dance, and a concert reception. Ideally, I would contribute “finger food” to the refreshments at three of the events, so I’m trying to kill four birds with one stone, because, as you know, I am essentially lazy.

One of the invitations requests that “If your name starts with A-M, please bring a savory treat; if it starts with N-Z, please bring a sweet.  Hmmm…Is it acceptable to choose the category you want to provide by either your first or last name? Or does it just have to be your last name? In my case, it doesn’t matter, because both my first and last names fall in the “sweet” category. Ok, what to make…what to make…

Generally, I don’t bake cookies or even cupcakes, if I can get away with it. (See next Friday’s post for my lame excuses.) For instance, I wouldn’t participate in your PTA’s cookie exchange or your neighborhood’s cookie walk (I saw that on a sign, recently, and have no idea what that entails).

In the olden days, the Veterinarian and I used to throw huge parties at the drop of a hat. New Year’s Day? Open house for 75-100. Cast party? Buffet for 30 from 11pm to 4 am (and sometimes breakfast for those we forced to spend the night on our sofa). We always had a dozen recipes that people expected to find on our table, with my Amaretto Cheesecake at the top of the list.

Since I live alone and don’t entertain any longer (in my home, I mean; I’m still entertaining on stage and internet, right?), I haven’t made an Amaretto Cheesecake in at least five years. But that’s not finger food, is it? Or, is it? I’ve made it in 6″ versions to give as gifts, but, can I turn it into a mini-dessert?

Fast forward 10 hours

Well, I made them last night, and they were pretty good for breakfast this morning with a double espresso, so I think I’ll spread a little holiday cheer today!

Amaretto Cheesecake – yields 12 slices or 24 individual cheesecakes

For one large cake, use a 9-1/2″ springform pan.
For mini-cakes, line regular-sized cupcake tins with cupcake papers. (This is a great way to use up odds and ends of holiday cupcake papers, because they will be discarded before serving.)

Crust

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, finely ground (I use the food processor.)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup melted butter

In a large bowl, thoroughly toss together the crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Stir in the melted butter.

For one cake: press mixture into the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of the springform pan.

For mini-cakes: drop two teaspoonfuls of the mixture into the bottom of each paper and press only into the bottom.

Chill prepared crust in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes.

To bake, preheat oven to 375.

imageFilling

24 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1/3 cup Amaretto liqueur

In bowl of mixer, beat the cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in the sugar, thoroughly, scraping the bowl and beaters. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the Amaretto. Pour into prepared springform pan, or spoon 2 Tablespoons of batter into each cupcake liner.

Bake one large cake for 45-50 minutes. Bake mini-cakes for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Centers will fall and possibly crack. Not to worry! Raise oven to 425.

image

It’s ok if center falls and cracks, because you’re going to cover it with the topping.

Topping

For one large cake:
1 cup sour cream
1-1/2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon Amaretto liqueur

For mini-cakes:
2 cups sour cream
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons Amaretto liqueur

Spoon topping into the fallen center of the cakes and smooth with a knife or spatula. Return to hot oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and place on cooling rack. Immediately garnish with chopped, toasted almonds. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

image

Just before serving, run a heated knife between the crust and the rim of the springform pan. (To heat the knife, run it under hot tap water and quickly dry with a clean towel.)

For mini-cakes, remove the cupcake paper. This works best if the cakes are very cold, because the fat in the butter and cream cheese sticks less to the paper when it is cold.

Garnish the cakes with either shaved dark chocolate or mini-dark chocolate chips.


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Thanksgiving Fantasy

Thanksgiving 2010 (2)

Thanksgiving past, table for 10, with the works, including place cards

Oh, God, I dread Thanksgiving.

And here it is, staring me in the face. I guess I have to clean the house this morning, after I get the stuffing made, the bird stuffed, and the dough for the rolls rising.

And find the skinny little candles that go in all the amber glass turkeys that march around the center of the table.  I’ll drag out the Lenox and my grandmother’s turkey platter and my silver and my Italian jacquard tablecloth with matching napkins that only see the light of day once a year.  That goes for the Lenox, too.  The Waterford stays in its storage box these days, while the equally fragile Riedel on the ridiculously long stems appears.

I see that I still haven’t dragged out the thousands of dollars worth of autumn candles and wreaths and other decorations that are stored upstairs.  Where’s the cornucopia that the Daughter painted in the third grade?  Good thing that I observe Advent, which starts Sunday, so I won’t be decorating for Christmas any time soon.

At some point, I need to change these yoga pants into something chic-but-grease-resistant and wash my hair.

Place cards.  Do I go with place cards, since we’ll have a guest, The Daughter’s beau?  Or is that over-kill?  There are only five of us this year, and most of us remember our names and pecking order at the table.  It’s over-kill, and we don’t want to frighten off this nice young man who bought me flowers at the ballroom dance debacle.

Oh, no!  I should have cleaned the ovens!

Does anyone really have that warm-hearted, sit-around-the-antique-pine-table-in-ladder-backed-chairs-with-a-smiling-lavender-haired- Grandma-in-a-lacy-apron-presenting-a-platter-of-bronzed-turkey-surrounded-by-fancy-cut-oranges-topped-with-maraschino-cherries-kind of Thanksgiving?  Did they ever?

Does anyone actually eat squash?

I don’t like turkey.  I don’t like cranberries.  I don’t like Jello.  And, most of all, I hate that slimy green bean casserole.  We don’t eat it any other day of the year, but, sadly, my family expects it on Thanksgiving because it was The Veterinarian’s favorite.  Years ago, another family always came for Thanksgiving dinner, and my friend recently told me that her now-married daughter doesn’t consider it Thanksgiving without the green bean casserole.  My own Daughter is now in charge of making it, because who can’t dump mushroom soup in green beans and top with canned French-fried onions?

I’d rather be remembered for my unique pumpkin pie which has ground black pepper as a key spice and candied ginger in the whipped cream topping.  The Daughter is going to make little pumpkin tarts.  Her date is going to make lemon bars for the family members who don’t eat pumpkin pie.  My Mother will make her candied sweet potatoes and charge me with toasting the marshmallows without burning them.  My Sister will make the cranberry mold, which is spectacular and which I can’t pull off.

I’ll get to flip the bird, not because I love to say that, but because The Veterinarian discovered that it gives a juicier breast to cook it upside down and then flip it.  I always held my breath, watching him flip a 24-pounder, but, without him and our friends, it’s just a 15-pounder this year.

Thanksgiving 2014

Thanksgiving 2014, with unironed tablecloth, table for 4

It will all be perfect, because there will be alcohol.  Trapped in my house for six hours, no one will be driving.  I charged the Daughter’s Beau with bringing a bottle of Prosecco under $20 to go with the brie and crouton appetizers (thank you, Wegman’s) and my Chipotle Butternut Squash Soup. (See?  I answered my own question about squash.)  There will be a pinot noir with the turkey and an ice wine with dessert.

Then, I’ll box up the leftovers in every spare plastic container, unless they remember to bring their own.  I’ll throw the turkey carcass in my huge stock pot, cover with water and a lid and bring to a boil for 20 minutes.  Then, I’ll turn off the heat (without uncovering) and let it sit on the stove overnight, when I’ll finish the stock.

I’ll hand wash the Lenox, silver, and crystal, throw the linens in the washer, start the dishwasher, and hit the sheets.

Finally, I’ll give thanks that I survived another Thanksgiving, another chance to be together with loved ones. If I’m lucky, there will be another chance next year.  Same time.  Same place.  Same menu.  Same love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Cozy Crock Pot Cider

In years past, I always made this hot cider.  You have to omit the rum, if you have kids running around unattended, or, maybe not, if you want them to fall asleep.  (Just kidding!)

½ gallon apple cider

1 quart orange-pineapple juice

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves, tied in cheesecloth

1 cup dark rum (or to taste – optional)

Combine all ingredients in crock pot and heat until warm, about 1 hour.


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Grandma’s Pancakes

Pancakes doggieOne of my most treasured possessions is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet that I inherited from my maternal grandmother, aka The Kentucky Grandmother.  In its 70+ years, it’s seen her fried chicken and fried green tomatoes and fried pork chops, as well as my fried roast beef hash and my not-fried shrimp etouffé.  It’s seen a lot of cornbread, as well as the lightest pancakes with the crispiest edges.  You can see this humble pan holding fancier fare, like Caramelized Salmon and Blackened Prime Rib in this blog.

The Daughter asked for her own well-seasoned cast iron skillet for her birthday.  Together, we chose an American-made skillet for $12.00 at T.J. Maxx.  I told her that I would start the seasoning job, but that a really smoothly coated skillet comes from years of use.  I was fortunate to receive Grandma’s, but, for a wedding present, a friend gave us a new cast iron skillet containing a Pineapple-upside-down Cake[i], which is almost quite-right after 43 years of use.

Pancakes butter

Buttering Grandma’s skillet. The Daughter’s new skillet has a convenient second handle.

I started by wiping it with oil and heating it overnight in the oven at 300°.  I’ve been cooking everything in that pan since I bought it; bacon, potatoes, fish, hamburgers, and steak.  That’s right, I’ve been frying stuff that I have no business eating, but that’s what a good mother does for her child.  This morning, we’re going to make pancakes.

A treat of waking up at My Grandma’s house was smelling coffee percolating on the stove (remember that?) and coming downstairs to her lightweight pancakes with the crispy edges that only a hot skillet can produce.  I’m not talking crêpes.  I’m talking pancakes that she made from the traditional Aunt Jemima mix, doused with Log Cabin syrup.  Sure, anyone can buy the mix and pour it into a pan, but, after trial and error, I discovered how she achieved the light and crispy effect with extra milk and lots of butter.

In the opposite order of a usual recipe, I’m going to give you the technique first.  Be sure to turn on the exhaust fan, because there will be a lot of burning (ie, smoking) butter.

I always use two skillets, so I don’t spend all day making breakfast for other people and have no time to enjoy my own cooking.  Place them on the burners over medium-high heat and heat for two minutes.  Test the pan by placing one teaspoon of butter in the center of the skillet.  It should sizzle immediately and start to turn brown.  Run the butter over the entire bottom of the skillet, using more butter, if necessary, until thinly filmed.  To make pancakes, place another one teaspoon of butter in the center of the pan and immediately pour one cup of prepared batter into the center.  It will spread out into the butter, which gives you those crispy edges.

Pancakes edgeWhen the top of the pancake is covered in bubbles, lift one edge.  If it’s brown, carefully flip it over.  Because the batter is thin, it may run, so your results may not be picture perfect.  Because I don’t like fat pancakes, I also flatten them a little more with the turner before serving.

The first pancake is always a dud, which we call the “doggie” pancake and is always reserved for — well, nowadays — the BFF.

One day, I ran out of Aunt Jemima mix, got creative in the kitchen, and produced my own recipe, based on one from the classic Betty Crocker cookbook.  If you don’t count the copious amounts of butter in the pan, it’s mostly fat-free.    With the help of a little apple cider vinegar, I created the tang of buttermilk.  Now, it’s the only recipe that I use.

Pancakes finishedGrandma’s Pancakes

1 cup skim milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 egg

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

Lots and lots of salted butter

Pure maple syrup (I like the really dark kind.)

Pancakes batterIn a blender or mixing bowl with a spout, whisk together the milk, vinegar, and egg.  Mix in the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until smooth.  The mixture should be the consistency of gravy.  If too thick, add a little milk.

[i] The Veterinarian wanted a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake for our wedding cake, which didn’t make any sense to My Mother, who, after all, was paying.


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Reluctant Omnivore

A big old steak for a little old girl and just the right asparagus.

A big old steak for a little old girl and just the right asparagus.

I’m an omnivore.  There.  I’ve said it.  It’s true.  Gasp!  Shock!  Horror!  In whatever is left of my lifetime, it is unlikely that I will become a vegan.  Or a vegetarian.  Or a lacto-vegetarian.  Or an ovo-vegetarian.  Or a pesca-vegetarian.  Dairy gives me gas.  Eggs give me gas.  Fish gives me — well, I love fish, but even a seared Bluefin tuna steak can’t hold a candle to a veal chop.  (And is there any Bluefin tuna left for the average person?)

I’m sorry.  I would, if I could, but I can’t, so I shan’t.  I love animals.  Some of my best friends are animals.  I feel really bad about eating them, and I am ever so grateful for them, but I am so weak, and I just love red meat.  It’s the way I’m genetically wired.  I’m an addict, but, I hope, not an abuser.  If I buy meat, I make sure that I eat it fresh or freeze it.  “If I buy meat?”  Who am I kidding?  I eat meat almost every day, except when I realize that I haven’t had meat at lunch and turn it into a “meatless” day. [In that case, I eat popcorn for dinner.]

Long before the Paleo Diet became all the rage, I was a kid who ate a very limited diet of meat, potatoes, corn, and canned green beans.  That was it.  And grape jelly.  (But not together.  That would be gross, although I have had cocktail meatballs in a sauce made with grape jelly, which was weird but not gross.)  I drank milk and ate carbs, but that was it.  My Mother made sure that I had a multi-vitamin every day, because she was so concerned about me.  Our family doctor asked her, “Is Suzanne sick very often?”

“She’s never sick.”

“Well, let’s not worry about her, then.”

I eat beef in all forms, hamburgers, meat loaf, pot roast, tartare, short ribs, stew, Stroganoff, steaks real and “Swiss.”  Or stuffed in peppers or in chili or spaghetti sauce.  Trying to recreate my childhood memory of succulent Midwestern beef, I once dragged the Veterinarian to a Famous Chicago Steakhouse, when we were visiting the Windy City.  My dinner was ruined before it started, when the waiter rolled up a trolley of raw meat as we ordered.  As much as I love meat, I don’t want to smell it raw, under my nose, at the dinner table.  The portions were at least a pound or two each.  The restaurant’s motto must have been “The Bigger, the Better,” because the potatoes were the size of footballs and the asparagus as big as tree limbs.

“How do you prepare the asparagus?”  I asked warily.

“We steam it,” the waiter beamed.

“Do you peel it first?”

“Oh, no, ma’am.  We steam it and serve it just as it is.”

“I’ll have the broccoli,” I replied.  I can eat broccoli raw, if I must.

I love pork chops, especially fried.  Fried pork chops are like eating fried chicken.  You can pick it up, but My Mother taught us to cut off the fat first (always trim the fat).  I love pork roast and ribs (you should try my dry rub recipe) and whole roasted pig and all manner of smoked and cooked pork products, bacon, ham, Vienna sausages, hot dogs, baloney (or bologna, if you want to be picky about it).  I’ll even eat Spam, and I’m not Hawaiian.  There is still no vegetable that can’t be improved by a smoked pork product.  Beans and wienies?  Green beans with salt pork?  Greens and ham hocks?  Sauerkraut and kielbasa?  Brussels sprouts or spinach sautéed with bacon?  Fresh corn chowder with ham?  Canned deviled ham?  A favorite on crackers, which are not a vegetable — technically, even if they’re herbed.

Worst of all, I eat veal.  I’ve eaten veal in Europe, God help me.  I feel really, really bad about the European veal, but I rationalize it because I don’t get to Europe that often, so I can’t be part of the problem, can I?  Plus, I’m 50% Italian with a French great-grandmother thrown in.  Osso bucco?  But, of course.  City chicken?  I’m from Detroit.  Grilled veal chop?  Marinated in olive oil, lemon, and rosemary?  Oh, my!

I do not eat lamb, unless you serve me those cute little lamb chops, and my wine glass is full of a fine red wine to wash the flavor away.  An appreciation for lamb seems to be acquired, or, maybe, it’s genetic.  I’ve never acquired it. You can’t mask the flavor with mint jelly, which I also can’t stand.  And little sheep are so cute!

Like most of my vices, I blame it on The Veterinarian (and he can’t talk back, so, why not?).  He ate everything.  We were enjoying Chick-fil-a sandwiches and discussing the company’s trademarked cows encouraging us to “Eat more chikin.”  I said I shouldn’t eat anything with big brown eyes.

“Get over it.  How old do you think that chicken was that you’re eating?”  He asked me.  I didn’t know.  He told me.  I was surprised.  (Google it.  You may be surprised, too.)  “This is how we humans are designed.  This is what we eat.”  I could tell you more about meat production, but you probably don’t want to hear about it any more than I did.

You can argue with me and send me hate mail, but please don’t recommend tofu, which has the texture of mushrooms, which I won’t eat, either.  I am happy to share my only recipe for tofu:

IMG_5108

This summer, I’ve been eating a lot of skewered steak, because I really don’t ever eat an entire steak by myself. I’ve also skewered chicken, shrimp, scallops, lobster, and fish, and I feel so virtuous when adding veggies like peppers, sugar snap or snow peas, or corn.  I’ve even added cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and squash, for those who like their food tasteless.  [Really?  What is the point of squash?  To make zucchini bread?]

Lately, I’ve been grilling tenderloin chunks, which were a great buy, because they’re what’s left when you butcher a whole tenderloin into steaks or a nice roast like a Châteaubriand.  [Sudden thought:  I have to tell you about my disastrous honeymoon that was almost saved by a Châteaubriand and Captain Kangaroo.]

I have no recipe to share this week.  I marinate the meat for about an hour, longer if it’s a tougher cut, and about 30 minutes for chicken, fish, and shellfish.  Sometimes I make a little teriyaki (soy, brown sugar, garlic, ginger) or the aforementioned lemon, olive oil, and rosemary (great with chicken) or even just a little white wine, garlic, and thyme (for the seafood).

KabobI love these skewers.  They are short, with two prongs to securely hold the food and keep it from spinning when you rotate them.  They are easy to grill on all four sides.  There is also a “slider-thing-y” that pushes the cooked food off the skewer.

As with all grilling, make sure you preheat the grill and wipe it with a paper towel dampened with cooking oil (hold it with barbecue tongs), so the food won’t stick.  I also saw a tv chef wipe the grill with an onion dipped in oil, which eliminates the risk of flaming paper towel, but I’d be wasting an onion.

My secret technique for grilling with skewers is to place a disposable aluminum cookie sheet under the handles, which keeps them from burning, even if you use bambo skewers that have been soaked in water.

Enjoy this last gasp of summer!


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S’More’s the Pity

S'mores cakeLike everyone who likes to cook and peruses Facebook or Pinterest, I screenshot photos of food regularly.  I don’t always screenshot the recipe, especially if I can see the major ingredient is cheese or tinned dough or some kind of canned soup, but the photos give me ideas to play with.  I found one recently whose design was rather pretty and thought it would be perfect to adapt for the Daughter’s birthday cake.

Every year for her birthday, the Daughter requests an unusual cake.  She comes up with a lot of crazy ideas, all requiring a lot of chocolate.  I decided to make her a S’Mores Cheesecake, which is really a no-brainer adaptation of my regular Chocolate Cheesecake.  Instead of using a chocolate cookie crumb crust, I used graham cracker crumbs.  The filling was made with my favorite dark chocolate and one-and-a-half pounds of cream cheese.  I used eight ounces of low-fat cream cheese to relieve the guilt, but, considering that I used another pound of regular cream cheese, it was a pointless effort; pure chocolate-cream-cheese-overload.

Decadence

Decadence

Instead of the cheesecake’s traditional sour cream topping, I decided to arrange marshmallows over the chilled cheesecake and toast them under the broiler, just before presenting to the Birthday Girl.  You know those joke photos that people post on Facebook, “What the dish is supposed to look like,”  and it’s worthy of Bon Appétit?  But next to it is “How it turned out,” and it looks like it was made in a sandbox by a four-year old?  That’s sort of what happened with this cheesecake.

I forgot that the center of the cheesecake falls when it cools. Normally, I pile berries in the cake’s center, which is rather pretty, but in order to arrange the marshmallows levelly, I had to cut off the top edges.  Fortunately, the marshmallows hid the mess that I made.  After the marshmallows were toasted, they melted and stuck to the ring of the springform pan.  I had to shove escaping marshmallows back onto the cake.

Once the candles were lit, it was still pretty, but not worthy of Bon Appétit.  The Daughter was delighted with her decadent birthday cake, and I have all those edges in my refrigerator, just crying out for a big old glass of milk, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Trial and error:  A little messy, but lessons learned.

Trial and error: A little messy, but lessons learned.

S’Mores Cheesecake

Crust:

1½ cups crushed graham cracker crumbs

3 Tablespoons sugar

½ cup butter, melted

In a 9” springform pan, combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar.  Stir in the melted butter; press into the bottom and ½” up the sides of the pan.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  The colder the better.

Filling:

1½ pounds (3-eight ounce packages) cream cheese, softened

1¾ cups sugar

3 eggs

4 ounces of good quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted

3 Tablespoons heavy cream

¼ cup dark rum

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat, scraping the bowl and beater, until well-combined.  With the mixer running, add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.  Beat in the melted chocolate and heavy cream until thoroughly combined.  Scrape the bowl and beaters so that there are no light-colored streaks left.  Stir in dark rum.

Pour batter into chilled graham cracker crust and bake for 60 minutes.  A toothpick inserted to ¼” in the center should come out clean, although it may jiggle a little.

[Note:  If making plain chocolate cheesecake, skip to the directions below for the Sour Cream topping.]

Cool on rack completely to room temperature;  cover; refrigerate until well-chilled.  To make the S’mores dessert, cut the top edges off to make a level surface for the marshmallows.  Save the excess and serve with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Just before serving, preheat broiler.

Without unmolding, run a spatula around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides of the cake.  Arrange marshmallows on the top, covering it completely. Set under preheated broiler and toast marshmallows.  If I ever make this again, I will let the marshmallows cool and run the knife around the edge again before unmolding and serving.

Optional Sour cream topping for regular chocolate cheesecake:

2 cups (1 pint) sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Stir together all ingredients.  When cheesecake is baked, remove from oven and increase heat to 500°.  Spread sour cream mixture evenly over top.  Bake in hot oven for five minutes.  Remove to cooling rack and cool thoroughly to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.  Garnish with strawberries in center of cake.