Apple Crisp: Food Memories

Fall Apple Crisp
I’ve done a few posts on food memories from my own family and ones from friends and I love those posts more than any other. They are more than just recipes – they are links to the past and to feelings that can’t be accessed any other way. Food is such a tie to our heritage, to our families and to the love we felt when we first experienced those memorable dishes. I never tweak these recipes because it’s my job to post about and honor the memory, not the recipe itself. My dear friend, Becky, had this picture of her grandmother’s hand written recipe on her Instagram account and when I saw it, I knew I had to make it.

Last year, Becky invited me over to look through her grandmother’s things before they had an estate sale in the wake of her passing. I had the honor of taking home a patchwork quilt she had made. Not only do my girls play on it outside nearly every day, but I used it as a backdrop for the photos I took of the final dish. I hope it makes this post that much more meaningful for my friend.

The recipe itself is completely delicious and comforting and full of the essence of the fall season! I love that it calls for “oleo” – a sure sign the baker lived through the 50s 🙂 So this was the only tweak I made by using butter instead. I also topped the apple crisp with cinnamon horchata ice cream because I was all out of whipping cream. I’m sure if Nana could have tasted the ice cream, she wouldn’t mind the substitution.

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I asked Becky to share a few thoughts about her Nana and this recipe. She also provided this amazing picture and it makes me wish I’d known her. She looked so joyful.

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My Nana (Oma Lee) was the 5th of 6 kids born in 1926 to a generous, kind-hearted family. They took in the homeless, cared for the sick, fed the hungry. They also laughed more than most.

For a couple of years while I was in college, I got to live with her and got to know her on a deeper level. She was a counselor to me, a friend, comic relief, an adult when I acted like a child. We watched Miss America pageants and Hallmark movies together and ate dilly bars from DQ.

Nana shared an apple “pie” recipe with me during that time, and it’s the only apple pie I’ve ever made, because its kinda fool proof (I need that) and darn tasty.

I made it for her once and she went on and on about how delicious it was. When I reminded her it was one of her recipes, she laughed for the longest time then said in a straight voice, “well that’s why it’s so good”. Man, I miss her.

Apple Crisp 2

Apple Crisp

6 cups peeled, sliced apples
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted butter
For the streusel topping:
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup butter

Whipped topping or ice cream to garnish

Preheat the oven to 375F. Mix together apples, sugar, cinnamon, salt and melted butter.  Place in a greased 8″ square baking dish. Set aside.

Combine the 3/4 cup sugar and flour and then cut in the butter until the texture is fine crumbles. Sprinkle over the apples. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until apples are tender*. Serve warm with dollops of whipped topping (or ice cream!)

*Becky advised that I brown the apple crisp for a few minutes under the broiler because it doesn’t really get brown during baking.

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Cheesy Broccoli Rice from Scratch

broccoli rice casserole
This was undoubtedly a comfort food for many of you growing up, as it was for me.  Creamy and cheesy with just a hint of something green, but mostly rice and cheese.  So all in all, the perfect vegetable dish. 😉 My mom made it a lot and sometimes I crave it but I’ve never made it myself.

A lot of recipes you see online call for cans of stuff, velveeta and things that just don’t seem like…food.  Now, I’m not saying that the from-scratch version is any better for you, BUT it has all real ingredients and gives you a good feeling and that’s what makes the indulgence worth it.  I decided one day I would make this dish and since I don’t keep any cream-of-whatever on hand, I made a simple bechemel (white gravy base) and added in lots of extra sharp cheddar.  Each ingredient cooked separately in chicken stock to give lots of added flavor and the results were fabulous!

We still have lots of snow on the ground and the roads are hard to travel, so warm, cheesy dishes are the perfect meal to stay inside and enjoy.  Be warm and well fed! 🙂

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole

 

Cheesy Broccoli Rice

  • 1 head broccoli, chopped small
  • 2 cups chicken broth (although vegetable broth would enable the entire
  • dish to be vegetarian)
  • 1 cup white rice
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 4 TBS flour
  • 1 cup whole milk (plus more to adjust consistency)
  • 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • breadcrumbs and extra cheese for topping (I used crushed Ritz crackers)

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large, deep skillet, bring the broth to a boil and throw in the broccoli.  Steam it with a lid covering until the broccoli is starting to get tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl.  Add the rice to the broth and cook until tender (about 15-20 minutes).  Dump rice into the bowl with the broccoli (it’s okay if there’s a little extra liquid).

Wipe the skillet clean and melt the butter over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour until it’s all coated and bubbling, but not turning brown.  Whisk in the milk and let it come back up to a boil, adding more splashes of milk to maintain a gravy-like consistency.  I’m sorry I don’t have exact amounts, but it’s really an add enough until it looks right kinda thing.  Stir in the cheddar and whisk until melted.  Add more milk if it seems too thick.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper until it tastes right and then stir in the broccoli and rice.  Top with breadcrumbs and extra cheese and melt in the oven until bubbling.

Christmas Cookies: Cranberry Rosemary and White Chocolate

Christmas Cookies
Every year since who knows when, I’ve been making these lovely little biscotti that have a wonderful marriage of sweet, tangy and savory all packed into one crumbly bite.  This year I decided to turn my biscotti into a soft sugar cookie and I absolutely loved the results.  I took the batch to my knitting group and it got rave reviews – and those ladies are hard to please!  I just love this combination – it’s so Christmassy in color and taste.  A bit of pine essence from the rosemary and the in-season cranberries with a little snow-capped action from the white chocolate.  If you wanted a more festive presentation you could skip adding the white chocolate chips and drizzle the tops with melted white chocolate!  These are easy and bake up beautifully – perfect for your Christmas cookie exchange and more unique!

Christmas Cookies - soft sugar cookies with cranberries, rosemary and white chocolate

Christmas Cookies*
makes 2 dozen give or take

2 cups (10 oz) all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 TBS light brown sugar
1 large egg
1.5 tsp vanilla
2 TBS chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick spray.  Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and rosemary in a medium bowl.

Cream the butter, sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds.  Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined.  Add the cranberries and white chocolate chips and fold in until just combined.  Scoop out onto baking sheets into about a 2 tablespoon sized ball and lightly press down with your fingers to flatten out the top.  Sprinkle with coarse sugar and bake 15 to 18 minutes, rotating halfway through.  Cool the cookies for a few minutes after they come out of the oven and then transfer to a cooling rack.  Serve with coffee and enjoy!

*base sugar cookie recipe from The New Best Recipe

Cranberry Rosemary White Chocolate Cookies

 

The Best Peach Cobbler: Food is Healing

Peach Cobbler over Vanilla Ice Cream
I grew up in Eastern New Mexico.  Which is basically West Texas.  Which is basically the South.  Basically.  And in the South, when someone is ailing, grieving, winging it as a single parent for a week with a house full of kids, or whatever – we bring food.  The more comforting the dish, the better.

Enter: homemade peach cobbler.  The BEST peach cobbler you’ll likely ever have.

My Aunt Mary could have been my grandmother.  The oldest in a family of eight children, Aunt Mary has acted like our grandmother as far back as I can remember.  She picked me up from school, she made a few dresses for me, she always gave away the best homemade treats at Halloween and she stood in place of my own ailing grandmother when I got married.  Did the same for both my brothers’ weddings, too.  Aunt Mary also brings food.  I would guess it is her first thought when she hears of someone’s suffering.

A few years ago my dad’s 20 year-old carpentry business and production shop burned to the ground in one night.  I remember us all sitting around the dining room table a couple days later, feeling numb and really not knowing what to say or do next.  It was as if a close family member had passed away.  Aunt Mary walked in holding this still-warm peach cobbler and a pint of vanilla ice cream.  We made a bowl and after the first bite,  I felt a little bit of weight released from my shoulders as my heart sank into those amazing flavors.  It was the food-equivalent of a hug.  It could have been the emotions of the day or the fact that we all love Aunt Mary so much, but I think it was the best peach cobbler, or any cobbler, I’d ever had in my life.

When my grandpa passed away a couple weeks ago, we were sitting around the house the afternoon after his funeral and Aunt Mary called.  She said, “I was just sitting here and realized that I NEVER brought over any food!”  I smiled and said quietly to myself, “please let it be peach-” at the same time she said, “I JUST made a peach cobbler. Can I drop by?”

And the same comfort washed over us, again.  This time my uncle had the first taste and in his quiet demeanor, he just nodded and said, “That IS the best cobbler I’ve ever had.”  And he’s a farmer.  He knows his cobbler.  I sat Aunt Mary down before she could leave and told her that this time, she HAD to tell me the recipe.  So, from memory she just told me how she did it.  I love recipes like that.  She even apologized and blushed a little when she told me how much sugar. 🙂

So I want to give this comforting recipe to you.  So you can give it to someone else.  Food, sometimes, is so much more than nourishment, calories, ingredients, fast or fancy restaurants.  It can be those words you don’t know how to say or that comfort you wish you could provide but  just don’t know how.

Classic Peach Cobbler

Peach Cobbler

serves 8-10

1 stick unsalted butter
2 – 28 oz cans of sliced peaches (don’t drain.  And the ounces may vary.  Aunt Mary just said, “Not the soup-can size – the bigger one! So I guessed.)
3 cups sugar (I know.  You might eat this once a year.  It’s okay.)
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt (she told me 1/8 tsp salt, but kosher is bigger so I always double the amount if I’m using it)
1/2 cup milk

Preheat your oven to 400F.  In a 9×13 pan, melt the stick of butter in the oven.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, add the peaches with their syrup, two cups of sugar and let it start bubbling.  Meanwhile, mix flour and the remaining cup of sugar, baking powder and salt together in a bowl and then add the milk.

Pour the batter on top of the melted butter.  Then pour the peach mixture over the batter.  Bake about 40 minutes until the batter is a rich brown.  I’d really advise letting this cool down considerably before eating.  You’ll think there’s waaaaaay too much syrup, but it thickens upon cooling and you have this glorious syrup to pour over your ice cream. Worth it.

Peach Cobbler

Chicken and Waffles with Molasses Butter

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Easter Sunday was a bit low-key for us this year.  I had a wedding to shoot on Saturday so we couldn’t go out of town to be with family and we didn’t have time to prepare the feast we normally do.  We typically like to have brunch-type foods when we know it’s going to be just us because breakfast is usually easy to throw together in less than an hour after church and, well, who doesn’t like breakfast for lunch?!

A few months ago I ran across a wonderful yeast waffle recipe that you mix up the night before and let it sit out on your counter to get all bubbly.  Sounds strange, but it imparts such an amazing sourdough, yeasty flavor to the waffles which helps balance the pure sugar you typically use to drown the waffle.  Matt and I have had a slight obsession with the Southern dish of chicken and waffles and every where we go where it’s on the menu, we always feel the dish falls a little short of the expectations in our mind.  The chicken should be juicy, super crispy, salty and flavorful on its own and the waffle shouldn’t be too heavy – it should be light, airy and buttery with just enough sweetness to give that perfect balance of flavors.  A lot of waffles are too heavy, too bland, too sweet or the chicken is an after-thought – dry or not seasoned.  So, taking matters into our own hands, we used the amazing recipe for Korean fried chicken that we did at the Super Bowl and paired it with a yeast waffle recipe and the combination was juuuuuust right.
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I added my own sentimental flair to the dish.  Growing up, I distinctly remember at family gatherings, often at Sunday lunches, my Pappaw would request molasses and then he’d take a large chunk of soft butter and whip the two together into a smooth paste for his biscuits.  I thought it was odd, but as far back as I can remember, there has never been a food strange enough that I wouldn’t try it.  I immediately began to imitate his method and loved the tangy sweetness of the molasses butter on my biscuits, too.

This Sunday as I was thinking about Easter and family, I had my Pappaw on my mind because just a few days ago, he underwent extremely intense cancer surgery and was, up until yesterday, still in pretty critical condition in ICU.  I thought about our family get-togethers when I was young and Pappaw’s love of biscuits, molasses and black coffee and thought for our brunch, what better accompaniment to our waffles, which beg for that salty/sweet balance, than his molasses butter?  It was an amazing addition to the waffles and it may be my new favorite topping instead of maple syrup.  Matt wasn’t convinced, but then again, he doesn’t have the memory to go along with it.  And food is so much more than just ingredients on a plate.  If you have a story or a face or a memory of light streaming in from the window across a little dinette set in your grandparents’ kitchen as you slather biscuits with creamy molasses, it’s bound to become your new favorite thing. 🙂

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Korean Fried Chicken Strips

Kosher salt
3/4 cups corn starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 pounds chicken strip tenders
2 quarts peanut oil or vegetable shortening
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup vodka

Combine 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1/4 cup cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder in a large bowl and whisk until homogeneous. Add chicken strips and toss until every surface is coated. Transfer chicken to a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet, shaking vigorously as you go to get rid if excess coating. Transfer to refrigerator and let rest, uncovered, for at least 15 minutes and up to overnight.

When ready to fry, preheat oil to 350°F in a large wok, Dutch oven, or deep fryer.  We used a wok on the stove.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, flour, and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in a large bowl and whisk until homogeneous. Add water and vodka and whisk until a smooth batter is formed, adding up to 2 tablespoons additional water if batter is too thick. It should have the consistency of thin paint and fall off of the whisk in thin ribbons that instantly disappear as they hit the surface of the batter in the bowl.

Add half of the chicken strips to the batter. Working one at a time, lift one strip and allow excess batter to drip off, using your finger to get rid of any large pockets or slicks of batter. Carefully lower chicken into hot oil. Repeat with remaining strips in the first batch. Fry, using a metal spider or slotted spatula to rotate and agitate strips as they cook until evenly golden brown and crisp all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and season immediately with kosher salt. Keep warm in a 175F oven while you fry the remaining chicken.

Yeast Waffles*

1 3/4 cups whole milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more melted butter for the waffle iron
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (from 2 envelopes)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons agave nectar or honey
1 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, combine the milk, 1/2 cup melted butter, flour, yeast, eggs, agave and salt and whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until the batter is very puffy, about 2 hours at room temperature (or refrigerate overnight, which is what we did since we wouldn’t be using it first thing in the morning).

Preheat the oven to 250°. Preheat a waffle iron and brush it with melted butter. Gently stir the batter to deflate it. For each batch, fill the waffle iron about two-thirds full (the batter will spread and rise); brush the waffle iron with melted butter as needed.

Cook the waffles until golden crisp.  Keep the waffles directly on your oven racks to keep warm and crispy until you’re done cooking them.  I find that using a traditional sized waffle iron works best than a Belgian waffle maker because sometimes the Belgian waffle irons are too deep for the batter to rise into every crevice. Also, from the two different yeast waffle recipes we’ve tried, I prefer cooking them from room temp if you leave the batter out on your counter, as opposed to keeping it in the fridge.  The batter seems lighter at room temp than cold, so you may want to test that out for yourself.  Both are delicious, but I felt the batter at room temp was thinner and more of that super crisp, light texture I wanted.

*from Food and Wine magazine but I think I prefer the recipe from Smitten Kitchen better.  They’re almost the same, but she uses a little less flour.

Molasses Butter

Dark Molasses
Unsalted Butter – room temp

Use equal parts butter and molasses and whip together until completely mixed.  Spread on waffles before topping with chicken strips.  I added a drizzle of maple syrup on the chicken and then salted it to make the salt stick better.

Irish Lamb Stew – a taste of home, no matter where you’re from

Saint Patricks Day - Irish Stew
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!  I confess I don’t know a lot about the real dishes of Ireland; the dishes people grew up eating around their family tables.  I only know that around here, people eat corned beef and cabbage and drink copious amounts of Guiness Stout.  In order to do something a little more authentic than four leaf clover shaped cookies, I consulted my fabulous and too-far-away friend, Elisha Clarke on some of her favorite Irish dishes.  Elisha was born and raised in Ireland and TODAY is her birthday!  I very much feel the luck of the Irish because I know her!  She is an amazing photographer and I hope one day I can go hang out with her in Ireland and see first hand the beauty she gets to photograph every day.
Irish Stew with Country Bread
When I asked her about dishes she grew up loving, she listed five or so and Irish stew actually wasn’t one of her favorites, haha.  But then she sent me a link to a cute, Irish celebrity chef doing this stew on Jaime Oliver’s show and he made it look so simple and delicious, I had to try it!  It came together easily and as it cooked for over an hour, I had time to relax with my family!  As I took the first bite, I was immediately transported to my own dining table as a child.  My mom made beef stew quite often and would let it simmer on the stove while we were at church.  I always loved it and she served it with saltine crackers that we’d crush up into our stew.  Tasting this very similar Irish lamb version made me smile – thousands of miles separate the humble meals of working class Americans and working class Irish, yet we are instantly connected by a warm meal.  Elisha mentioned that her country has very poor origins and so therefore, the traditional dishes are very humble in nature.  I think all the best dishes in any culture originate from people making the best of what they have been given.  My family did it, Elisha’s family did it, and if I were to guess, I’d say that probably most of you could relate to that story, as well.  A simple bowl of warm stew on a cold evening can comfort and connect family and friends, no matter how far apart.
Irish Stew
Irish Lamb Stew*
serves 6

2 TBS vegetable oil
2lb 3oz lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 inch chunks (could also use beef chuck roast)
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
1 bay leaf
4 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 1/2 cups beef stock
2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
3 TBS butter cut into small cubes
salt and ground black pepper to taste
slices of country bread, to serve

Place a large, flameproof casserole pot over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and brown the lamb pieces in two batches. Remove and set aside on a plate. Reduce the heat to medium–high, add another tablespoon of oil and fry the onion, celery and carrot for 4–6 minutes or until the onions have softened.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Return the meat to the pot, along with the bay leaf and stock, season with kosher salt and ground black pepper and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and push the slices of potato down into and across the top of the stew, dot with the butter and give a final seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper. Cover and place in the oven to cook for about 1½ hours or until the meat is tender, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes until the potatoes have browned.

Serve the stew in deep bowls with crusty, buttered bread to mop up all the juices!  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

*minimally adapted from Donal Skehan’s beautiful recipe

You Only Get One Night

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This post won’t have a recipe.  It’s about one night that we spent with our friends in Seattle this summer when we went on our big adventure.  This was our first full day exploring Seattle with our friends.  Little did we know the day before that Rod’s mother would pass away and he and Jill would have to abruptly alter their year-long travel plans and drive home the next day.  We had planned on enjoying another full week with our traveling companions and that week was reduced to just a few  hours.  We asked them what they’d like to do on their first and last night in Seattle and we all agreed that having a crab boil on the beach in Bainbridge Island where our hosts, the Ware family, lives, would be the best way to enjoy each others’ company and make some lasting memories for everyone and for Rod and Jill who would be going home the next day.IMG_5071
So we packed up all the needed supplies and we drove down to the beach.  We played in the sand and watched Ollie girl experience the ocean and sand between her toes for the first time.IMG_5060
There were long conversations sitting on logs overlooking the water and the amazing view of Mt. Rainier in the background with the glorious pink moon that was settling on the water as a backdrop for our meal together.seattle284seattle298

Mount Rainier and the rising moon in the same shot.  An other-worldly experience.seattle290 IMG_5050
We brought live crabs and potatoes, corn and sausages and got our water to boiling and while everything simmered, we played in the fading light of a very long and adventure-packed day.IMG_5047  seattle294
It was one of those nights you read about in books written about summertime.  It was like one giant cliche for how you’re supposed to spend your summer.  I’d never had the opportunity to do anything like it, being from a place where there’s no water in sight for miles.  And our lovely hosts knew exactly what to do to arrange a beautiful trip for us, and through their giving and sacrificing spirit, we had the time of our lives.  The whole trip, not just this night, was a dream!
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I had my first oyster – a briny, creamy and amazingly flavorful little creature that I will admit, I wasn’t sure if I loved or hated.  It gave me shivers – whatever that means.  But I’m glad in THAT place with THOSE people, that I tried something new and didn’t hold back from the experience.

Because, you see, you only get one night.

This evening is the last evening you’ll get to spend with the people you love.  It’s the last meal you will enjoy and it’s the last evening of doing whatever it is that you love with whomever you love most.  I’m not trying to be morbid, I just realize with new clarity that we are not guaranteed tomorrow and so today, tonight, this present moment is all we have.  How often we spend our days planning for tomorrow.  How often we waste our moments fretting about the past, what our lives should have been or could have been.  And every moment we do that is a moment wasted and gone forever.  Today is it.  You survived the night – how will you celebrate that fact today?IMG_5066
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The meal was amazing and we were salty and smelled like the sea from head to toe when we all piled back into the cars to go home.  I got to spend that night with some of my favorite people in the world and I’m glad that Rod and Jill got to experience such a perfect moment before having to cut their trip short to go home and deal with much more serious matters.  We snapped this picture right before we lost the light and I think it’s one of my favorite pictures from the trip.  I am forever grateful to the Wares for sharing their home, their beach and their city with us.  I think we spent our “one night” very well and I can say that I had no regrets or “should haves” on this trip.seattle295

Food Memories: Durango Cake

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When I polled the Facebook audience a few weeks ago on peoples’ favorite food memories, I was absolutely thrilled with all the responses.  So many unique stories and some that felt as familiar as my own childhood.  From broccoli rice casserole to stewed cabbage.  From Eastern New Mexico to Ireland – so many people had one thing in common: good memories made from a meal and shared with family.  I made it my unofficial mission to tackle a few stand-out comments that included recipes I might actually be able to make.  I got to share the first food memory  with the author herself.  This week, sadly, the author of today’s food memory, my friend from high school, Kelli Morrison,  lives in Oklahoma and can’t partake directly in the cake recipe she so graciously shared with me.  But I have a feeling she’s made it so many times that she won’t feel like she’s missing out TOO much.

This is a glorified Texas sheet cake.  For those who have made and love Texas sheet cake, you will love this cake.  I think the true magic is the icing.  It gets crunchy around the edges and the cake itself is so fluffy and perfectly moist that it truly is the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had.  I think next time, I will add some cinnamon to the cake batter because I love cinnamon and chocolate together, and I think I may make these into cupcakes so that each cake can have icing completely surrounding it!  I may even make a double batch of icing just to make sure I have enough.  I’m telling you, this icing is ridiculously good…

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Here’s what Kelli had to say about her memory of this truly wonderful cake:

Ok, so it’s a cake that was always made in a pan that could be easily traveled with, because we always were taking it places! It all started when my dad was moonlighting as a farm land real estate agent and the gentleman he worked for offered up his RV for us to use on summer vacation. So we took it to Durango for a week. At the last minute, my mom invites my recently widowed grandmother (on my dad’s side) to come with us (like, invites her the night before we’re leaving at the crack of dawn). Grandmother has no money to contribute toward the trip, but stays up that evening and packs her bags and makes this chocolate dream cake. Total hit. The next summer, we end up doing the same trip in the same RV up to our favorite lake for fishing and my brother requests the same cake that grandma brought to Durango last year. Even though grandma didn’t go the second year, my mom got the recipe and made one for the trip. From then on, it was, as my brother put it, “that good ‘ol Durango Cake.” We have made it frequently ever since, and it is always requested for birthdays, church socials, pot luck, holidays-it’s a staple in the Stroud family and among our church friends who have become so familiar with it over the years.
It has a deep, rich chocolate-on-chocolate flavor, with a thin chocolate glaze that is cooked and poured over the top while the cake is still warm (one reason it has to be IN a pan, not on a pedestal). Once the glaze cools, it creates a very thin sheet of icing that looks like broken glass when you cut into it-not thick like frosting. Because the glaze is so runny when you pour it, it usually runs all over the cake and spills over the side, so a side or corner piece is very desirable because the outside edge is covered in glaze as well.
I have been known to take a slice in each hand and scarf it like it’s going out of style just before bed, and then wake up in the morning, put another slice in a bowl, break it up into bite-sized pieces and pour milk over it and eat it like cereal. I know. I’m obsessed. But seriously, this cake is phenomenal.

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Durango Cake

Cake:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 stick butter
1/2 cup oil
1 cup water
4 tbs baking cocoa
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Cooking spray for dish

Glaze:
1 stick butter
2 tbs baking cocoa
2 tbs milk
2 cups powdered confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350.

For cake:
In a large bowl using an electric mixer (I did everything by hand), blend flour and sugar well.

In a medium saucepan heat 1 stick of butter, oil, water and cocoa until almost boiling.  Set aside.
In third container (I use a 1 cup glass measure), combine buttermilk, eggs, soda, salt, and vanilla. Whip with a fork until well mixed.
Pour heated mixture into flour mixture and blend. While mixing, add buttermilk mixture and mix well until color is even.

Pour into sprayed or greased 9×13 casserole dish (I use a Pyrex). Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Allow to cool slightly. While it’s cooling, bring all ingredients for the glaze to a boil in a saucepan on the stove. It is okay if there are several tiny lumps of sugar that don’t dissolve. Remove from heat. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, ensuring that the whole top of the cake gets covered (you may have to use a spatula to spread it a bit). Some glaze will run down and fill up the edges where the cake has pulled away from the pan. Cover upon cooling.

Note from Kelli: if you have large quantities of vanilla ice cream, it is perfectly acceptable to eat this cake while it is still warm. Otherwise, allow it to cool before serving. It is also acceptable to put fresh sweetened fruit atop this cake when serving. Strawberries, cherries, or especially peaches are quite delicious.

Food Memories: Chicken n’ Noodles

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Many of us have memories of being little and watching our moms or dads or grandmas cook or bake for the family.  The first memory that comes to mind for me is watching my mom cut out biscuits with an old green chili can she had cut the top and bottom off of (it’s the perfect biscuit size!) and then slap each side of the biscuit in vegetable oil, then slide the disc in line with the others to fill up an entire pizza pan.  There is something methodically calming about watching someone cook.  I always felt like I was helping, even if I never touched anything.  I felt involved, because mom let me stand there or sit on the counter across from her and talk to her while she worked.  I will always be thankful that she let me hang around the kitchen.  She was always so busy doing a thousand things for our family that it was the one moment when things were somewhat calm and we could just be together and I could count on it every night because I (thankfully) had a mom that cooked dinner 6 out of the 7 days of the week.  You really can’t replace that kind of experience with anything else.  Those memories stick.

My dear friend, Louise Shoemaker, shared a memory and a meal with me last week that seemed so fitting for my blog and for what I love about cooking for my family and eating together.  She is one of the best writers I know, (she was my 10th grade English teacher – how lucky I am to still be friends with her!) so I asked her to write a little blurb about the recipe and the memory that went along with it.  My favorite part about this recipe was consulting her every 5 minutes to make sure I was doing things right.  She had driven up to Lubbock for the day and ate this meal with us!  I’d never made noodles from scratch, and technically, neither had she, but she’d watched her mother so much that she knew.  Here is what she had to say about the chicken noodle soup that made a permanent home in her memory:

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ouise and her Mother

It’s funny that a food memory starts with a sharp, clear visual. The bright yellow Pyrex bowl and the red-handled Daisy egg beater swirling the rich gold of fresh yolks. I’ll never forget the 50’s color scheme of the kitchen: pink walls, turquoise cabinet doors, chocolate brown trim. I can still see the white enamel-on-steel kitchen table and my mom in her long, slim dress with the apron tied smartly and the scarf pulled back over her careful bobby-pin curls. It’s as clear in my eye today as it was in those days 50-some years ago.

It must have been a Wednesday. Two days until payday and five mouths to feed on a budget stretched to the last nickel. So, a plump (cheap!) boiling hen, a dozen eggs, a pile of flour, a splash of water, and we knew we’d make it till Friday.

Chicken’n Noodles: made-from-scratch pasta boiled in rich, fresh stock, with chunks of chicken so tender it fell off the bone. A silky thickened sauce, glistening with a bit of butter, and thick, rustic slabs of slightly chewy noodles curling on a plate. YUMM!

The aroma of that meal is the smell of childhood, and it takes me right back there to that kitchen watching my mom pour the beaten eggs into the crater of the flour volcano and mix and knead and roll the dough out to a four-foot circle. I can see her boning a mountain of chicken, dropping heaping handfuls of raw noodles into bubbling broth. Cooking this meal was a production, an infrequent event. I’ve savored the memory of Chicken and Noodles for decades. It was amazing to re-create it with Alisa. And Olive.

I like to think of them cooking together for years to come, Olive sharing with her mother an experience so rich and elemental and, in today’s environment, rare. You’re a lucky (impossibly adorable) munchkin, Ollie! And your mama is pretty awesome, too!

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I am giving you the recipe I did – I only added a few things to the stock, the rest, I followed Louise’s mom’s story-like recipe as best I could.  With pointers from Louise along the way…

Chicken’n Noodles

For the stock:
1 chicken, cut into pieces (8 pieces, bone still in: wings, breasts, legs, thighs)
Water
Salt
1 onion, chopped into quarters
3 carrots, chopped into thirds
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme

Put the chicken pieces into a large stock pot and cover with water until covered by about 2 inches.  Add a couple tablespoons of salt along with the onion, carrot, bay leaves and thyme.  Bring to a boil, skimming any foam off the top as it comes.  Reduce to a simmer and maintain a simmer (I left my burner on about a 3-4) for 1 and a half to 2 hours.
Remove the chicken from the pan and let it cool.  Then, remove skin, bones and any fat that remains.  Chop or hand-shred the chicken and set aside in a bowl in the fridge while you make the noodles.  Skim the stock of as much fat as you can, but don’t fuss too much.  Remove the carrots, onion and herbs and discard so you’re left with a (mostly) clear broth.  Keep the broth at a simmer with the lid on while you make the noodles.

For the noodles:

3 eggs
a big ol’ mound of flour (maybe 4-6  cups)
salt
elbow grease

Pour a mound of flour on a clean work space and create a hole in the center, volcano-style.  Make it deep enough so that when added, the eggs don’t spill over the side. Leave flour on the floor of the volcano so you can’t see your counter.  Crack the eggs into the hole and with your hand or a fork, whip up the eggs, incorporating flour as you go from the sides.  You won’t use all the flour, of course.  Keep incorporating flour to the eggs, stirring all the while, until you are left with a ball of dough that isn’t very sticky anymore.  Knead the ball for a good 10 minutes until you’re left with a very smooth ball of dough.  Trade off with a friend if you get tired:

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Clean your hands and insert your finger into the center of the dough.  If it comes back super sticky, add more flour and knead some more.  Cover your dough with a towel and let it rest for 10 minutes.

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Clean off your work space and if you’ve worked clean, you can save most of the flour you didn’t use.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface till it’s an 1/8th of an inch thin.  Or thinner.  You may need to let the dough rest a few times throughout this process because it will start to shrink back up.  Once you get it thin enough, cut it into whatever shapes you like.  I chose squares because I have a kiddo that needs everything cut up, anyway.  Louise remembers her mom cutting looooooooong, thick strips, which would be wonderful, too.  You could even get cute and cut out little shapes from tiny cookie cutters.  Once you get all the dough cut, make sure each piece is coated in flour and bring at least a cup more flour with you to the stove to boil and put this dish together.

Making it Into Soup:

Get your stock to a rolling boil.  Dump your noodles in a handful at a time until they’re all in the pot, stirring as you go so they don’t stick.  This is the vague portion of our program.  Once the noodles are al dente, add the chicken back in and bring it back up to a simmer over medium-low heat.  While stirring, add a sprinkling of flour – maybe 1/4 cup – and stir until fully incorporated.  Keep adding flour till a good consistency is reached.  You’re wanting an opaque sauce that’s neither soupy nor gravy – somewhere in the middle.  If it coats the back of a spoon, it’s probably ready.  Adjust the seasoning with salt until it sings of chicken goodness.  Ladle up, top with a good sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and enjoy.  We had ours with a wonderful Chardonnay and some crusty challah bread with butter.  Really – it does NOT get better than that.  The baby went crazy for this soup, too, and ate her entire bowl, plus some of ours.

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Coconut Cream Cheese Pound Cake

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This picture is of the cake resting on my toy kitchen that I had as a child.  Mom and I looked up pics of me and my cousin, Tracy, playing with this kitchen when I was three and she was five.  We were both wearing frilly dresses and prancing around the room with spoons in hand, creating recipes out of air and pretending it was delicious.  Ah, nostalgia 🙂 Doesn’t seem that long ago…
It’s funny how you can also be nostalgic about something that wasn’t even your personal memory.  My mom made this cake for my older brother and it was his favorite, but it became part of my food nostalgia anyway.  I think that’s another wonderful thing about food – others’ enjoyment of it can create memories for you, whether you took part or not.  I like remembering foods my brothers’ liked.  Matt loved cherry cheesecake, Chad was more of a savory guy and really had a thing for mustard.  I love both!  And I love that when I went home for a speedy trip this week to visit my mom, that we made this cake together and remembered good times.  Olive sat on the stove while Mom narrated my work to her as I made the cake.  Mom used to make it while I would sit on the counter and talk to her and now she plays with my daughter while I make it.  Life just doesn’t get sweeter than that.
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Coconut Cream Cheese Pound Cake
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese
3 cups sugar
1 tsp coconut flavor
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
6 eggs
3 cups flour
a pinch of salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup bakers coconut
Preheat oven to only 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10″ tube pan or bundt pan.  Cream butter, shortening and cream cheese together in a large bowl.  Gradually add the sugar, beating at medium speed until light and fluffy.  Stir in coconut flavoring and vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Combine the flour, salt and baking powder and add to batter.  Stir just until blended.  Fold in the coconut.  Pour the batter into a prepared tube pan or bundt pan.  Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes.  Remove cake from the pan and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.
This cake is dense and rich.  Don’t worry too much about the sugar content.  It’s not an iced cake, anyway!  Just imagine the sugar you wouldn’t bat an eye at putting into the frosting of a regular cake and instead, put it into the batter 🙂 And if you haven’t gotten the hint that weekends are for feasting and not for guilt, I fear you never will!  Happy Eating!
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