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Updated by Necessity - Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cake

Great! Having intentionally used up the coconut I had on hand to make Chocolate Macaroons a couple of weeks ago, I now take out the recipe for a cake I want to make, only to find the topping calls for a significant quantity of coconut I no longer have. In fact I do not have a number of the items I need since I have been cleaning out my pantry and freezer and refuse to go to the grocery until I absolutely can’t think of anything to make from the ingredients that remain on hand.

Now at 10 pm, needing a sweet snack to share at lunch tomorrow I find I don’t have what I need to make the simple Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cake I had in mind. I rack my brain for more ideas. Someone in the group doesn’t like chocolate so that eliminates about 90% of my recipes for things to make in a pinch. I don’t have enough pecans to make Pralines. Apparently it is time to improvise.

Back to the Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cake I check the recipe. Another topping will have to suffice. The next problem; I am low on butter, but I have oil. I also notice that this cake sounds awfully sweet so I choose to cut back on the sugar. It turns out I don’t have the right size pan, the one specifically called for in the directions. I take a deep breath and start making the recipe with what I have on hand.

What I ended up with is a moist and delicious snack cake that I couldn’t stop eating. The cake has a bit of texture from the oatmeal but not as much as it would have had with a coconut topping. That’s okay with me. I did add a bit of crunch by sprinkling the Maple Glaze I drizzled on top with some toasted walnut bits. I think it might be nice to add some toasted walnuts to the cake batter too but it isn’t necessary. As it was, it was very good. I will certainly be making it again.

Old Fashioned Oatmeal Cake
(from "History by Food" and other cookbooks from my hometown.)

1 cup uncooked oatmeal soaked in 1 1/3 cups of boiling water for 20 minutes
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons salt

Grease a glass baking dish. (Though the recipe calls for a 7 1/2 x 12 inch pan, I didn't have one. I used a 9 X 13 inch pan, instead. If you use the smaller size pan the cake will need to bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes.) Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the sugars, butter and oil.

Add the eggs and beat well after each addition.

Combine dry ingredients stirring with a wire whisk.

Add dry ingredients to the creamed mixture. Stir in vanilla.

Add oatmeal and stir until combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 35 minutes. Cake will be done when it springs back after being lightly touched in the center and sides start to pull away from the pan. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Maple Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar
2 T maple syrup
1 t milk

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

In a small bowl, stir together the powdered sugar, maple syrup and milk.

Drizzle glaze over cooled cake.

Immediately sprinkle with toasted walnut bits.


Bagheera Jerk Kebabs

Last weekend my oldest son came home from college with a plan. He told me he was cooking a Mother’s Day barbecue dinner worthy of posting about. He was using a recipe previously developed and taste tested among members of his band, Bagheera. The band gave these Kebabs a rave review.

I was delighted! Last weekend was the perfect weekend for a barbecue, better than the weekend before when it actually was Mother’s Day but the weather was questionable and everyone was busy. Last weekend the weather was gorgeous, warm and sunny, and following a track meet where my youngest son qualified for regionals, we had no other obligations to distract us from cooking together.

We shopped, chopped and put the meat in bags to marinate before the track meet. Back home, we put the kebabs together on soaked wood skewers. Then my son barbecued while I cooked Coconut Rice and Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Bananas and Ginger.

Dinner was delicious. The marinade, Johnny’s “Jamaica Me Sweet Hot and Crazy” Dressing and Marinade mixed with the canned pineapple, offered the perfect amount of spice for my taste and balanced deliciously with the sweet tartness of the pineapple juice. Served over rice cooked in a mixture of coconut juice and coconut milk, that turned out sweet and slightly creamy, the Kebabs were a perfect introduction to relaxed summer dining.

Bagheera Jerk Kebabs

1 20-oz can pineapple chunks
1 12-ounce bottle jerk suace marinade
2 pounds chicken thighs, skinned, boned and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 - 2 pounds lamb or sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 red bell peppers, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 pasilla peppers, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 red onion, cut in to 1 inch wedges

Combine the Jerk marinade and the pineapple chunks with their juice in a medium bowl and set aside.

In two gallon sized Ziploc bags, combine the remaining ingredients, evenly distributing the meat and vegetables between the two bags. Pour the pineapple jerk marinade evenly over the contents of both bags. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bags. Place the bags in the refrigerate to marinate for several hours.

When you are ready to cook:

Remove the Ziploc bags from the refrigerator.

Thread the meat, vegetables and pineapple chunks onto metal or soaked wooden skewers, mixing up the meat and vegetables and making sure not to pack the pieces too tightly together.

Pour the remaining marinade into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 - 5 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.

Grill the kebabs over high heat, turning once after about five minutes, until the meat is cooked through.

Serve with rice and reduced marinade.


Quick and Easy Cinnamon Rolls

The Luxury of Cinnamon Rolls

Who doesn't love warm Cinnamon Rolls, hot from the oven? Cinnamon Rolls have long been a favorite breakfast treat for my family. Before we had children my husband and I used to go out for breakfast on Saturday mornings and eating a warm gooey cinnamon roll at a favorite local bakery was one of our favorite luxuries.
Later when my oldest son was a preschooler he and I would make a very healthy version of Cinnamon Rolls with whole wheat pastry flour sweetened with honey and cinnamon. I fondly remember rolling the dough with him in our teeny tiny kitchen in Virginia and the wonderful aroma that would fill the house as they were baking.

Changing Expectations

While those are wonderful memories my expectations have devolved somewhat since then. Two more children arrived and the pace of family life made luxurious mornings at the bakery, as well as homemade Cinnamon Rolls, hard to come by. As we adapted many often-used recipes became, well, simpler.
Somewhere along the way I discovered this recipe for Quick and Eaasy Cinnamon Rolls in an issue of Southern Living. It uses refrigerated crescent roll dough as the base for a miniature cinnamon-sugar filled roll that is topped with a simple orange-tinged icing. The preparation is simple enough to invite the participation of little helpers, encouraging a sense of handcrafted accomplishment. Even without the kitchen help the result is worth the small effort required to prepare them.
These are cute, easy and taste so good that I keep a couple of cans of crescent roll dough in the refrigerator so that we can make them on short notice. When it is this easy to make hot Cinnamon Rolls for breakfast who can resist? They make a great Saturday morning or special occasion treat.

Quick and Easy Cinnamon Rolls

2 cans refrigerated seamless crescent roll dough
¼ cup butter, melted
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 cup powdered sugar
1½ Tablespoons orange juice or milk
dash of vanilla

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon until it is well mixed.

Open one package of crescent roll dough and unroll it into one large rectangle on a Silpat mat or on a lightly floured surface. ( If you were not able to get seamless crescent roll dough, use your fingertips to push together the seams where the dough could be torn into triangles.) Roll the dough lightly with a rolling pin to smooth.

Spread 2 Tablespoons or less of the melted butter over the rectangle of crescent roll dough, covering the area lightly. Sprinkle approximately 2 Tablespoons of the cinnamon/sugar mixture evenly over the buttered surface of the dough.

Beginning at a long edge of the dough rectangle, roll the dough into a spiral. Pinch the edge closed using your fingertips.

Cut the roll into about 18 slices, approximately ¾ inch wide. Place these slices, cut side down, in a shallow 10-inch round baking dish (I use an unglazed deep dish baker), covering half of the dish.

Repeat with second can of crescent roll dough. Distribute the rolls evenly in the pan. The spiral slices should cover the pan with ¼ inch or so spacing between the rolls. Top the rolls with any remaining butter and cinnamon-sugar.

Bake rolls at 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven.

To prepare glaze:

Stir together powdered sugar and orange juice or milk. Stir in vanilla.

Drizzle glaze over warm Cinnamon Rolls. Serve warm from pan with a spatula or separate into individual rolls.

Serve and enjoy!

Lessons from Childhood - Chocolate Macaroons

The Virtues of Coconut?

To be honest, I didn’t think I liked Macaroons. In truth I have always avoided them. It was never even a challenge to say no to an offered tray of those nubby golden mounds. My aversion to flaked coconut was written in my mind as a child and taken to heart.

As I examined the recipe for Chocolate Macaroons on the back of my bag of Bob’s Red Mill Unsweetened Coconut I was skeptical. To get past my apprehension I had to ask myself - had Bob ever steered me wrong before? I have tried quite a few of his products and many have surprised me with how good they really are. Already this bag of coconut had convinced me of the virtues of an ingredient I once stubbornly refused to ingest. Already I had enjoyed the delicious flavor and texture of this coconut in a number of recipes, though it had never before been the main ingredient.

For someone who is skeptical of coconut, Macaroons are a leap of faith. You can’t get much closer to pure coconut indulgence than a Macaroon. In fact these cookies break it down to the bare gluten-free essentials calling only for egg whites, salt, sugar, flavoring and coconut……and then a good sized dose of chocolate for good measure. Maybe it was the chocolate that convinced me.

A Leap of Faith

Another thing ingrained in my mind as a child was not to let things go to waste. I still had several cups of coconut left in this bag that needed to be used before it went bad. In the interest of not wasting the remains of this worthy discovery I took the leap and made the Macaroons.

I altered the recipe just a little, and played around with the chocolate, but generally speaking this recipe was a great success. The cookies are delicious but not too sweet. They are small and gem-like and very simple to make; just whip egg whites into a meringue, stir in coconut and chocolate, and bake. In no time at all I had three slightly different kinds of macaroons.

Be sure to bake these until they are starting to brown or they will get soft and sticky when they are cool. I baked mine for 17 to 18 minutes or until the lighter colored ones browned slightly across the top. They were firm on the outside and the texture was fantastic.

Chocolate Macaroons
Adapted from the back of a Bob’s Red Mill package of Medium Shredded Unsweetened Coconut
2 egg whites, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Beat egg whites with salt until almost stiff.

Add sugar gradually, beating until stiff peaks form. Add almond extract.

Fold in coconut and melted chocolate.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes or until cookies are beginning to brown on top.

Cool slightly. Using a spatula transfer the cookies to a wire cooling wrack to cool completely.

Serve and enjoy!

Variations: Instead of melting and folding in the chocolate as directed, I tried a couple of variations. I used mini semi-sweet chocolate chips. I melted ½ cup of them as directed and set the remaining ¼ cup aside.

After folding in the coconut but before adding any chocolate I divided the batter into thirds. One third I left plain. To another third I folded in the ¼ cup of unmelted mini chocolate chips. To the last third I folded in about ¼ cup (or a little more) of the melted chocolate chips. Then I formed the cookies from all three and baked them as directed.

After the cookies cooled I placed the remaining melted chocolate in a Ziploc baggie, snipped ¼ inch from a bottom corner and piped the chocolate on top of the cookies in a zigzag pattern.

The macaroons without the chocolate were very light and slightly sticky. The ones with the chocolate chips were nice. The chocolate ones were my favorite with a slightly crisper texture and a nice chocolate edge.

Feasting on Crab Cakes

Feasting on Crabs

When we lived in Virginia our neighborhood had a scheduled set of planned events. One of those events was an annual Crab Feast. This feast consisted of gathering around a picnic table behind the nearby VFW building. On top of this picnic table we would spread thick layers of old newspapers. Someone would get several huge pots of water boiling over outdoor burners then methodically prepare crates full of blue crabs by dumping them into the water for a short while then piling them on the table.

We would take crab after crab from this pile, pull it apart, pound the legs with a mallet and sift through the shell to come up with delicate little morsels of delicious meat. We would do this until we were tired, not full mind you but tired, and then we would cede our place at the table to another guest.

I enjoyed our annual neighborhood Crab Feast but I learned that while it was fun to join in and eat piles of those tasty little blue crabs it was not really a satisfying dinner without a lot of accompaniments. A significant quantity of crab meat was just too hard to remove from the shells. After savoring a few delicious bites I was ready to give up the fight. It seemed to me more calories were consumed in releasing the meat from its shell than the flavorful bits themselves provided in nutritional value.

A Crab by Any Other Name

Blue crabs are great but one thing I gained in Virginia was a perspective that allowed me a sweet appreciation of one of the Pacific Northwest’s greatest attributes: the ready availability of Dungeness Crab. Crab is still absolutely one of my favorite flavors and Dungeness crabs provide that savory meat in significant enough quantity to make digging out the meat a wholly satisfying endeavor.

Eating crabs can be a messy business if you cook them fresh. Even if they are pre-cleaned securing the meat from the legs and claws takes time, skill and effort. If cracking shells and digging for crab meat is not your style you can always opt for the purchase of shelled crab meat either claw meat or lump crab meat from the body of the crab. This meat can be used in any number of delicious recipes.

A Favorite

Perhaps my favorite way to eat crab meat is to shape it into patties or Crab Cakes. Though I love to eat them and have served them for many a special Valentine’s Day or birthday dinner, I have never made the Crab Cakes myself until recently. Finding that my favorite crab cakes were no longer available in the seafood section of my local market I decided to try putting them together myself. I’m so glad I did.

These Crab Cakes live up to the name of "The Best Crab Cakes" recipe I based them on. They are actually quite easy to put together and taste fantastic. They have a nice thin crunch to the crust and an exquisite tangy soft savor to each bite. Despite the addition of a small amount of mayonnaise (an ingredient I normally avoid) I adored these Crab Cakes. Try them. I think you will too!

Crab Cakes
adapted slightly from The Best Crab Cakes at teriskitchen.com

Makes about 7 Crab Cakes. Can be easily doubled.

1 lb crab meat ( I used the whole crab, lump and claw meat)
1½ Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup onion, finely chopped
2 eggs
1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
¾ cup white bread crumbs
Panko crumbs (for dredging)
Butter and olive oil (for frying)

Saute onion in 1½ Tablespoons butter until soft.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the eggs, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, mustard, pepper, salt and mayonnaise.

Add the sauteed onions, white bread crumbs and crab meat. Mix until combined.

Form Crab Cake patties using 1/3 cup of the mixture for each cake. Dredge in Panko crumbs and arrange on a baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet filled with crab cake patties in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before frying.

When ready to cook:

Heat 1 Tablespoon of butter and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Place crab cakes in the hot oil and cook over medium heat until golden brown, approximately 3 to 4 minutes per side. (I cook them in two batches adding more butter and oil for the second batch as needed.)

Serve on toasted buns or on a bed of lettuce topped with cocktail sauce, Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, or garnished with lemon wedges.


Simple Fajitas

Cinco de Mayo always make me think of fajitas. Fajitas are a favorite from way back in my Texas days. Many a summer barbecue we shared with friends was centered around fajitas.

And why not? Fajitas are easy to make and easy to serve. Everyone just takes what they want and puts together their own so there is no need to worry or fuss over individual preferences.

Fajitas are traditionally made from skirt steak, a tough but flavorful cut of beef. The secret to tender fajitas is marinating the meat for a long time. The biggest variable is just what to marinate it in. I have seen a lot of recipes for fajita marinades and they sound delicious. Some include chili peppers, others tequila. Some call for lime juice and some include lots of spices. What they all contain is some oil and some vinegar or citrus juice to tenderize and moisten the meat. In fact the marinade often sounds a lot like a zesty salad dressing.

To really simplify matters when I make fajitas I usually just go ahead and use a good bottled salad dressing for my marinade. It is a trick I learned from my neighbor the first time I lived in Texas, almost thirty years ago. It was at her house that I first ate home cooked fajitas. They were so delicious I had to ask her how to make them. She told me all I needed was a cut of beef and some bottled Italian salad dressing. I have been a fan of her simple technique ever since.

This time I used Newman’s Own salad dressings. They are my favorites. They are all natural and come in a variety of types and flavors. I chose Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian on the Chicken and Newman's Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette on the beef. Leftovers were hard to come by. Just sayin’.

As an accompaniment I sauteed onions, garlic and bell peppers. Simple and pretty the colors are those of the Mexican flag making it a great dish to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. While the flavors may be less than wholly authentic, for a festive week night celebration I think they do the trick.

Easy Fajitas

3 or 4 chicken breast halves
1 -2 pounds flank steak or skirt steak
2 cups bottled Italian or vinaigrette salad dressing
1 package flour tortillas
1 or 2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 teaspoon minced garlic
grated cheese
salsa and/or pico de gallo

Up to 24 hours and at least 4 hours in advance, place the beef and chicken in separate gallon Ziploc freezer bags (or shallow glass pans if you prefer). Pour 1 cup of your favorite Italian dressing or vinaigrette over each meat. Seal the bag and squish the dressing around to coat (or simply cover the glass pans). Place meat in the refrigerator, turning occasionally to redistribute the marinade, until ready to cook.

When you are ready to cook:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Wrap the stack of flour tortillas in foil and place in the oven to warm.

Slice and arrange avocados, grated cheese, and salsa or pico de gallo in serving dishes.

Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator and drain. Cook the meat on the grill or under a broiler. Cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Cook the skirt steak over medium high to high heat to desired doneness, approximately 3-6 minutes per side. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing chicken and beef into thin strips, across the grain.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, about 4 minutes. Add the bell peppers. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until vegetables are tender, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Remove tortillas from the oven and transfer to a tortilla server or warm plate.

Pass grilled meat and vegetables along with the cheese, avocado and salsa to be wrapped in warm tortillas.