Author Archive

School lunch nostalgia

January 26, 2009

Mmmmm chocolate cake

Mmmmm chocolate cake

When I was a kid back in the Hendricks county public school system, there were two school lunch items I loved absolutely: pizza, which were these rectangular crusts covered edge to edge with tiny cubes of pepperoni, a sweet and salty tomato sauce, and gooey mozzarella cheese, and wacky cake.   Wacky cake was a chocolate square, not too dense, definitely not brownie-like, dusted with powdered sugar.  I remember the top crust having a special texture, unctuous but not slimy, more like batter but baked through.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.

I got the new issue of Cook’s Illustrated yesterday in the mail (thanks Mom!) and there, 2/3rds of the way through, was a recipe for Emergency cake – a cake for when you are short on time or ingredients, developed during the war years.  This one called for mayo instead of butter or oil, which I didn’t have on hand (no neutral oil in the house either, so I wasn’t going to whip any up), so I substituted a bit of butter and an extra egg.  It also called for a cup of hot coffee, which I’m sure would add to the flavor profile.  But the only coffee I have in the house are the hand roasted beans gifted to me by a friend at the new year, and those are my special occasional treat.  So I used hot water instead.   It made a nice, deeply chocolate cake, moist and what I think of more as a cake brownie.  Not wacky cake, but delicious all the same.

1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup cocoa (dutch process preferred)

2 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped or chips or morsels (opt.)

2 Tbsp butter

1 cup boiling water

2 tsp single fold vanilla (or 1 1/2 tsp double fold)

2 eggs

Heat the oven to 350 deg F.  Butter an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan.

Mix the first 4 dry ingredients well in a large bowl.  Put the cocoa, chocolate, and butter into a second large bowl, pour in the boiling water and stir well until the chocolate and butter have melted.  Add the vanilla to the chocolate mixture.  Whisk the eggs into the chocolate mixture.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until well blended.  Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan evenly.  Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the top springs back when lightly touched.  Cool on a rack for 1-2 hours, dust with powdered sugar.  Cut into squares and serve from the pan.


My favorite pan

December 4, 2008
10 Lodge Cast Iron

10" Lodge Cast Iron

A few years back, I was living in eastern Washington, where only the most intrepid friends and family members came to visit.  One such adventurous soul was CW, who brought me a copy of The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook, thinking that, the sort of cook I was, surely I’d have a cast iron pan or two around.  But though I had gotten rid of everything non-stick several years before, at that point I only had a set of stainless steel Revere-ware and some other miscellaneous SS things.  No worries though, because CW also needed a chicken waterer, so we headed out to Ranch & Home, an all-purpose everything sort of store:  chicken waterers, gun safes, Justin boots, cast iron pans inside; hot tubs and livestock trailers in the parking lot.


Cranberry quince relish

November 28, 2008
Cranberry quince relish

Cranberry quince relish

I admit it – I love (LOVE!) that jellied cranberry sauce in a can.  Love how it floops out of the can whole, with the ring marks on the side.  Love the texture – that weird smooth “apple-pulpiness”.  Having a spare can in the pantry soothes me.  Remember the cranberry crisis a few years back??  I got through it okay, due to my emergency can.

This year, I was smitten and overwhelmed by a 3-lb bag of whole fresh cranberries, which I bought and then stared at for two weeks.  I knew I’d be making cranberry sauce, but put it off until Thanksgiving day.  Which was a good thing!  Because if I’d known how good this stuff was going to be, I would have made and eaten 3 batches by the time turkey day rolled around.

Hat tip to AW for cluing me in on using port for the cooking liquid!


4 dry cups of raw fresh cranberries, washed and picked over

1 cup peeled, cored, and roughly diced quince

1.5 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup port

1/4 cup creme de cassis (adds a black currant note, but just use port if you don’t have any in the house)

1 generous grind of black pepper

1 chunk of ginger, peeled if fresh, as is if dried

opt:  3/4 cup chopped pecans


Slowly simmer the diced quince in 1 cup of water until tender (approx. 30 minutes).  The water will reduce to about 1/2 cup and the quince will turn a salmon pink.

Put the cranberries and sugar in a large stainless saucepan.  Pour in the port and cassis, then add the quince with its remaining cooking liquid.  Stir over medium heat for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar.  Add the grind of black pepper, then put the piece of ginger into the pot (you will need to be able to identify it and remove it later!).  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.  The pectin from the berries and quince will make this tend to boil up, so keep an eye on it and stir it down if necessary.  Remove the lid and continue to cook for 10-15 minutes more, until the berries have softened or popped and the mixture thickens.  Allow to cool, take out the chunk of ginger, then stir in the optional chopped pecans.  Serve warm or chilled.

Excellent with turkey, but also will be great with pork or sharp cheese or possibly lamb.  Pretty tasty by itself, with just you and a spoon.

Handy holiday hint

November 22, 2008

I’ve been on a cream gravy kick lately and, with the gravy-making potential of Thanksgiving just days away, wanted to share this tip for smoother, faster gravy:  have your liquid as hot as possible, before you add it to the roux.  Whether it’s stock, or milk, or wine, or coffee, or some mixture, heat it up.  Adding hot liquid to hot roux helps keep things smooth and thickens things up quicker.  Adding cold milk or whatever to hot fat-n-flour is a recipe for lumps and longer stirring.

Tiny Pies!

November 22, 2008

Link sent by my crafty friend E:  Tiny Pies Baked in Jars!  Also, canned cupcakes, a more portable riff on the office mug cake!

Tasty new header

November 16, 2008

Thanks to boxofbirds for making us a custom header!


More pi…e

October 30, 2008
Life of Pi, revisited

Life of Pi, revisited

From Bookninja‘s recent competition.


October 20, 2008


Hard as a rock, covered in a strange waxy fuzz, smelling so strongly of roses infused with pears and apples, the quince is one of the last orchard fruits to ripen.  Uwajimaya, the huge asian grocery a few blocks from my flat, had several tossed in alongside the Bartletts and Boscs a few weeks ago, and I was reminded of the quince bush we found at the back of the property my dad bought after the divorce.  It was a short stunted shrub and bore a lone fruit, first green, then gradually turning yellow.  None of us thought to do anything with it.  I bought 3, determined to do something with them.


Quick pork and mushroom pasta sauce

September 27, 2008

I haven’t been working at home this week, and missed lunch on Thursday, so was starving by the time I got to the market at 5 to shop for dinner.  Most of the pasta sauces I make are the all-afternoon kind, long braises of meat, garlic, and tomatoes in wine.  But, inspired by a large package of marked down pre-sliced button mushrooms and one of organic basil, I grabbed a 1/2 pound package of thinly sliced side pork (and 5 kinds of ice cream – it really is a mistake to shop when you are hungry) and headed home.

I try to keep canned diced tomatoes in the pantry, as well as pasta in some form, garlic, and olive oil.  There wasn’t any red wine I was willing to open for cooking in the house (need to remedy this pronto), but I wanted to go for a hearty sauce with bright basil flavor, so a splash of wine could go missing.  In retrospect, I should have put the pasta water on to boil the minute I started cooking the sauce, so I wouldn’t be found at the stove later yelling “BOIL!” at the pot.


My kinda pie chart

September 26, 2008

Pie chart