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Home Baked Tortilla Chips with Ghost Pepper Relish

Stopping by Whole Foods a few weeks ago I noticed an interesting product from the Pacific Northwest being introduced on the front aisle. As it was close to lunch time the samples were tempting so I stopped by for a taste test.

When I saw the brand name, Plum Crazy Orchard, I was intrigued. I had been working with fresh sweet plums, trying to develop some recipes with them this summer. Ghost peppers, on the other hand, were new to me, and they were on the ingredient list along with apples and bell peppers.

The product representative raised my curiosity when he claimed that ghost peppers are the hottest of all pepper varieties. Not only are they hot but they offer a slow burn, initially blending into and mellowing the sweetness of the plums and apples but gradually warming in back-of-the-mouth heat intensity after they are swallowed.

Tasting them I had to admit the taste and feel were unique and interesting. This relish is spicy but in an unusual way. In fact I found it difficult to rate its heat intensity since it develops slowly. I like spicy food and I didn’t think it was particularly hot but the level of heat it imparts does linger.

I found the flavor particularly appealing as an early fall appetizer. Each bite begins with the flavors of late summer plum and apple and then warms into fall overtones. Served with tortilla chips it offers an interesting conversation starter.

For Halloween it is even more fun served with ghost and bat shaped Home Baked Tortilla Chips lightly spiced with Northwest Alder Smoked Sea Salt from Navidi’s Olive Oils and Vinegars.

Home Baked Tortilla Chips

Corn Tortillas
Non-stick cooking spray or misted olive oil
Seasoned sea salt

On a cutting board, cut corn tortillas into wedges using a pizza cutter or into seasonal shapes using cookie cutters. (I cut out two inch ghosts and vampire bats using small plastic Wilton cookie cutters but any shape could be used.)

Place cut pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Spray lightly with non-stick cooking spray or misted olive oil.

Sprinkle lightly with seasoned sea salt.

Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and serve with Plum Crazy Orchard Chili Relish or other salsa.


French Apple Pie

Seasonal Variety

In Washington State fall is a multi-course feast of apples. There are so many varieties, even at the local produce market there are nearly a dozen or so different types of apples. Many are locally grown and some are organic. They come in colors from pink to green to yellow and bright red. Many have new and interesting names: Honey Crisp, Aurora, Sweetie, Ambrosia.

The development of original apple varieties is not a new thing, nor is it unique to this area. Farmers and others have long tried their hand at coming up with the perfect apple. While discussing family food traditions my Father-in-law told us a little about his childhood in Yonkers, New York, during the Great Depression:

Grandfather used to always graft branches onto apple trees trying to come up with new varieties of apples.  He would get an apple tree growing really well and then graft different branches onto it.  He had one tree in the back he grafted seven or eight different branches onto, so every branch grew a different kind of apple.

I remember one apple he came up with that was the size of a cucumber.  It was all pulp and had no flavor.  We called those pig apples.  Nobody really wanted to eat them but they fed them to the pigs.

Back then people were always trying something and if it worked out they would share it with others.

Trying Something New

I love apple pies. I make them every fall. They are quite possibly my family’s favorite pie. For the most part I make them the same way every time: a two crust pie with a simple filling. The greatest improvement in the last few years has been the addition of homemade pie crust to the equation. Even though I am not that good at making pie crust my crusts are still appreciably better than store bought, though I’m not above using store bought when time is short.

This year my first apple pie of the season took a slightly different turn. I gathered the apples and made the dough for the crust. When the filling was ready there was enough for more than one pie so I split the crust between them and looked up a recipe with a different topping. I found this one for French Apple Pie. It has a cinnamon streusal topping that crisps a little while baking to give it a scrumptious crunch.

French Apple Pie
from "Betty Crocker's Cookbook"

Single crust for a 9-inch pie

1 cup flour
½ cup firm butter
½ cup brown sugar

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
6 cups tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Line a 9-inch pie plate with pastry for a single crust pie, using the recipe for (Nearly) Foolproof Pie Dough, your own favorite recipe or a purchased pie crust of your choice.

Prepare the topping by combining 1 cup flour with the butter and brown sugar. Mix thoroughly until crumbly. Set aside.

Prepare the filling by combining the sugar, ¼ cup flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Stir in the sliced apples until coated.

Turn the filling into the prepared pie crust. Scatter the topping over the pie filling.

Bake for 50 minutes at 425 degrees. Cover the pie loosely with aluminum foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream if desired.


Haunted Halloween Forest Cake

Decorating the Years

I love looking through my old Wilton Cake Decorating Yearbooks. They are full of cakes dressed for every occasion, from elaborately tiered wedding cakes to fun and simple cupcakes with an occasional gingerbread house or sugar castle thrown in for good measure.

I have a collection of six or eight Wilton Yearbooks dating back to the 1970's.  Aunt Hen started buying them when I was a girl and we would take turns looking through them and marking our favorite pages. Together we made out orders for a decorating kit and, now and then, a shaped baking pan or two. We practiced using decorator tips and making sugar molds.

A Rose By....

Though we read through the how-to sections and practiced, neither of us ever managed to make an icing rose as beautiful as the ones we remembered my mother making. She would gracefully twirl a flower nail under a #104 decorator tip until the icing looked just like a rose in full bloom. Then she would carefully transfer the blossom to a cake top arrangement. Aunt Hen and I had a good time trying but our talents drew us in other directions.

Any novelty cake would make my father’s eyes twinkle with delight. He understood the effort, the fun and the magic on display no matter how unrefined the result. That twinkle reminded me of the times I had seen him help my mother in the kitchen as she put the finishing touches on a Humpty Dumpty birthday cake or tiled a gingerbread house roof with Necco Wafers.

Decorating cakes was something that brought the generations together in my family. We planned and ordered, baked and decorated together and the adults smiled over the results with as much enthusiasm as the children.

Sweet Expressions

I still enjoy decorating cakes, even though the older generation is no longer with us and my children are now grown. There is a certain magic to dressing a moist delicious cake in a costume of sweet creamy frosting.  With just a few items from my kitchen pantry and an idea gleaned from a book or magazine I can express a creative inspiration in a way that is both fun and economical.  All finished, I take a photo or two and then share a slice, savoring the sweetness of life’s simple blessings: fond memories, inspiration, wholesome ingredients, friends and family to help and encourage.

In the end I am left with a clean plate and another fond memory ready to inspire and inform the next kitchen adventure.

So here’s another try at the Ghost Cake. This one is a bit more involved than my earlier version though not too complicated. Again, this cake requires no specialty pans or decorator tips. If you don’t have a 6 inch springform pan try using 8 inch layer cake pans or other oven safe vessels from your kitchen. Improvise a little. Mostly have fun. It’s the journey you will remember every bit as much as the outcome. Make it a good one!

Haunted Halloween Forest Cake

Decadent Fudge Cake Batter
Double recipe of Buttercream Frosting
8 small gumdrops

Decadent Fudge Cake
From: Southern Living Five Star Recipe Collection

1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cups semisweet chocolate mini-morsels
2 (4-oz) bars sweet baking chocolate, melted and cooled
1/3 cup chocolate syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) a 6-inch springform pan and 4 1-cup glass prep bowls or custard cups, as well as additional prep bowls or cupcake tins. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter until soft and smooth. Gradually add the sugar, beating well at medium speed of an electric mixer until fully incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk until dissolved.

Add the flour to the creamed mixture in four portions, alternating with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour.

Add the mini-morsels, melted chocolate, chocolate syrup, and vanilla, stirring just until blended. (Do not overbeat.)

Spoon butter into prepared pans as follows:

3 cups batter in 6 inch springform pan.
¾ cup batter in 4 1-cup prep bowls or custard cups.
Enough batter was left over for 4-6 cupcakes.

(If you are using different pans fill about 3/4 full and watch baking time carefully.)

Bake at 300 degrees until done. (When done the cake will spring back when touched lightly near the center and a toothpick inserted near the center will come out clean.) In my oven the cupcakes took 30 minutes, the prep bowl cakes took 45 minutes and the 6-in springform pan took approx 90 minutes.

When done remove cakes to wire rack to cool. After cooling approximately 15 minutes, carefully invert the cakes baked in the 1 cup prep bowls onto the wire rack and remove the bowls. Remove the sides of the springform pan and invert the cake onto the wire rack removing the bottom of the pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

While cakes are cooling, prepare Buttercream Frosting.

Double Recipe of 
Buttercream Frosting
adapted from Wilton.com

1 cup butter (at room temperature)
1 cup shortening
2 lbs powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla (preferable clear)
2-4 Tablespoons Milk

½ cup cocoa powder

In a large mixing bowl use an electric mixer to combine the butter, shortening and vanilla until smooth.

Gradually add the powdered sugar until fully combined.

Add the milk, one Tablespoon at a time, until a good spreading consistency is achieved.

Continue beating until light and fluffy, approximately five minutes.

After beating, set aside 2/3 of the white frosting and cover with a damp towel.

Beat the cocoa powder into the remaining 1/3 of the frosting until thoroughly combined adding another Tablespoon or two of milk if needed to achieve a spreading consistency that is slightly on the dry side.


Tree Stump:
Place the 6-inch cake near the center back of a serving platter or make a cake board to fit your cake (15" x 11" works for the size pans I used.)

Using the Chocolate Buttercream Icing, frost the round layer, extending icing out in four directions and mounding it to resemble tree roots. When you are satisfied with the general shape, drag a fork along the top of the icing in a circular pattern on top of the cake, and from top to bottom on the sides and along the roots. This will give the surface of the icing a bark-like appearance.

With the tip of a spoon (or a clean fingertip) make indentations for eyes and a long frowning mouth on the front side of the tree stump, mounding the icing a little in between the eyes to hint at a nose. Snip 2 gumdrops in half cross-wise and position the tops in the eye indentations. The tree stump is complete.

Invert each of the small cakes baked in the 1 cup prep bowls on the back of a small flat saucer or pan (I put mine of the back of mini pizza pans).

(These are decorated just like the Ghost Cake I posted last week, but in miniature.) Frost the sides and top of the cakes with the White Buttercream icing, being careful not to get crumbs from the cake into the icing. Start at the bottom and ice upward smoothing as you go leaving a sufficient amount of icing around the bottom to flow and puddle in a ghostly way.

Once the cake is covered with icing, smooth the icing again with a large flat-bladed butter knife or offset decorating knife. To achieve a very smooth look I sometimes use a knife dipped in near boiling water and wiped off with a paper towel to smooth the icing, re-dipping after every pass, working from bottom to top.

Repeat for each small cake.

Fill a quart sized Ziplock baggie with a little of the White Buttercream, zip it shut removing as much air as possible and snip ¾-inch from a lower corner of the bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, slowly pipe an arm in a semi-spiral shape on either side of each ghost's torso.

With kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, snip the bottom ¼-inch from the gumdrops. Position these, sticky side out, on the ghost's faces for eyes.

Fill another quart sized Ziplock baggie with a little of the Chocolate Buttercream, zip it shut removing as much air as possible and snip ¾-inch from a lower corner of that bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, dot pupils onto the gumdrop eyes, pipe eyebrows and mouths.

Completing the Haunted Halloween Forest Cake:
Using your decorating knife or a small spatula carefully scoop underneath the small ghost cakes and gently lift or push them into position on the Tree Stump Cake, placing one on the top and two or more around the base of the stump. Touch up the icing as needed using the remaining White Buttercream and your decorating knife.

Serve and enjoy!!

My Own Sweet Ghost Cake

Are you scared?

It's that time of year again. As the days grow shorter we are suddenly faced with the fact that it is no longer months but simply weeks until the holidays are here.

The first sign that it's that time of year again is the outbreak of Halloween treats and decor at every shopping venue. It seems they have been out for months already. I am finally getting the message.

There are lots of cute Halloween decorations available but, aside from my bright-eyed and persistently animated "door spider", I prefer for most of my decorations to be edible. At this time of year, before the seasonal rush gets the better of me, I can enjoy spending a little extra time in the kitchen shaping cookies, carving radish eyeballs or decorating a Halloween cake.

This year I decided to recreate two cakes first inspired by the 20th Anniversary Issue of Wilton's Cake Decorating Yearbook. I made these back in the day, when my kids were small. Back then my children were quite enthusiastic about helping out and eating up my cake decorating projects. This time I couldn't be sure they would be around to help eat the cakes but I wanted to make them anyway, and pass on the directions.

Along the way I made a couple of discoveries. Since I seem to have gotten rid of or misplaced most of my specialty shaped baking pans, this time I had to bake the cakes in bowls or pans I have on hand for other uses. That worked out just fine.

The second discovery was more a matter of serendipity. I finished the cakes on the weekend shortly before my daughter stopped by to join us for dinner. While we waited for my son to finish his homework so we could be on our way she asked several times if we could go ahead and cut the cake so she could have a piece. After promising we would cut it when we got back from the restaurant she relented, stealing only a taste or two of frosting from the edge before we left.

It seems children don't necessarily outgrow their appreciation for decorated cakes, even when they are quite grown up and living on their own.

Ghost Cake

Basic Box Mix Pound Cake

(As you might imagine many flavor variations are possible here. This time I used a spice cake mix and vanilla pudding, adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to the batter for extra punch. I have seen variations for a very chocolatey cake, a butterscotch cake and a lemon cake. Combine cake mix and pudding flavors to come up with your own favorite variation as you enjoy the durable consistency and good flavor of this practical cake recipe. It works very well when baking cakes in novelty shapes, though other pound cake recipes work well too.)

1 package two-layer yellow cake mix (or flavor of your choice)
1 package 4-serving instant vanilla pudding mix (or other complementary flavor)
¾ cup water
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease and lightly flour (or spray with non-stick cooking spray) a 2-quart glass batter bowl and a 1-cup glass prep bowl or custard cup. Set aside.

To prepare batter:

In a large mixer bowl combine the ingredients. Beat on low speed with electric mixer until the batter is formed. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula, then beat for 2 minutes at medium speed.

Pour ¾ cup batter into the prepared custard cup.

Pour remaining batter into the prepared batter bowl.

Bake at 350 degrees checking the smaller cake at 20 minutes. (It is done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.) Start checking the larger cake at 50 minutes. (It will probably take approximately 60 minutes to complete baking.)

When done remove cakes to wire rack to cool. After cooling approximately 15 minutes, carefully invert the cakes onto the wire rack and remove the bowls. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

While cakes are cooling, prepare Buttercream Frosting.

Buttercream Frosting

(This frosting is wicked sweet but stays put and is a dream to work with when crafting novelty cakes.)

12 Tablespoons butter (1½ sticks)
12 Tablespoons white vegetable shortening (¾ cup)
1 or 2 teaspoons vanilla (preferably clear vanilla flavoring)
1.5 pounds powdered sugar (6 cups)
2 or 3 Tablespoons milk

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
2 gum drops

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer combine the butter, shortening and vanilla until smooth.

Gradually add the powdered sugar until fully combined.

Add the milk, one Tablespoon at a time, until a good spreading consistency is achieved.

Continue beating until light and fluffy, approximately five minutes.

Remove ¼ cup of icing to a small bowl. Stir in 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder until smooth. If this icing seems dry add a few drops of milk, one at a time, stirring after each addition until a good piping consistency is achieved.

Scoop the Chocolate Buttercream into a quart size Ziploc baggie. Seal and set aside.

Place ½ cup of the White Buttercream in another quart size Ziploc baggie. Seal and set aside.

Cover remaining White Buttercream with a damp kitchen towel until ready to use.


When completely cool trim any rounding on the bottom of the larger cake until it will sit evenly on a round serving platter. Position this cake, cut side down, on the platter.

Frost the very top of the cake with a moderate layer of frosting and position the smaller cake on top, flat side down, again trimming if necessary.

Frost the sides and top of the cake mound with the White Buttercream icing, being careful not to get crumbs from the cake into the icing. Start at the bottom and ice upward smoothing as you go leaving a sufficient amount of icing around the bottom to flow and puddle in a ghostly way.

Once the cake is covered with icing, smooth the icing again with a large flat-bladed butter knife or offset decorating knife. To achieve a very smooth look I sometimes use a knife dipped in near boiling water and wiped off with a paper towel to smooth the icing, re-dipping after every pass, working from bottom to top.

When the icing is smoothed and looks ghostly, take a damp paper towel and wipe any extra icing or smudges from around the bottom of the ghost, scalloping the edge slightly as you go.

Take the Ziplock baggie containing White Buttercream and snip ½ - ¾ inch from a lower corner of the bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, slowly pipe an arm in a semi-spiral shape on either side of the ghost's torso.

With kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, snip the bottom ¼ inch from the gumdrops. Position these, sticky side out, on the ghost's face for eyes.

Take the Ziplock baggie containing Chocolate Buttercream and snip ¼ inch from a lower corner of that bag. Using the baggie as a piping bag, dot pupils onto the gumdrop eyes, pipe eyebrows and a mouth.

Your ghost is ready to serve.


Gram's Galumpki

Signs of Autumn

What is it that tells you most convincingly that autumn has arrived? Is it that the air turns cool as scarlet and orange begin to blush in the treetops and drift to the ground? Is it the abundance and variety of apples and squash that crowd the produce aisles in the supermarket? Or maybe the bright hue of mums in purple, gold and crimson in the garden section or on the neighbors' front porches?

At my house as our schedules tighten up, sports kick into gear and the light begins to turn a more golden blue I begin to hear particular requests for dinner that seldom come in other seasons. Chicken and Dumplings is one of my youngest son’s all time favorite dinners. It’s savory warmth and stick-to-your-ribs flavor begins to beckon in early fall. Likewise I hear requests for old-fashioned Meatloaf and Galumpki.

Hearing these requests gladdens my heart. These recipes differ from other seasonal favorites. These recipes are family favorites that have been handed down over the generations. My grandmother made Chicken and Dumplings much like I make nearly a century ago. Her chickens likely came from the back yard rather than the supermarket but the savory dish that resulted was much the same. I learned to make it from my aunt who was taught by my grandmother and likely learned it from her mother before her who brought her simple dishes and hearty German fare with her to America in the late 1800’s.

A Turn Toward Tradition

Galumpki has the same appeal but comes from my husband’s side of the family. It is a dish my husband remembers eating as a child. His mother was of Polish descent and she made it much as her mother had made it before her. Likely it goes farther back with a slight variation here and there, to even earlier generations. Everyone in the family seemed to enjoy this traditional main dish and it had the added benefit of being a great way to stretch ground meat into a hearty meal for a family of eight.

I have made Galumpki though I would have simply called it Cabbage Rolls. Last year my husband decided to dig for the particular details of the authentic recipe for the Galumpki he remembered so fondly. He contacted his mother’s younger sisters who still live near the place they grew up in New York. He asked them about Galumpki. They didn’t have a real recipe written out but they discussed it with interest and shared some tips.

One offered that the meat to rice ratio should be about one to one. She said that she always used ground beef in her Galumpki. She said that Gram never used pork though others would. To the ground beef she added a finely chopped onion, some garlic salt, salt and pepper. Mixed together well, like a meat loaf, that would make a good basic filling.

The Way Gram Made It

Together my husband’s aunts shared tips about preparing the cabbage to roll the filling in. The trick they said was finding good cabbage with big flat leaves. The cabbage leaves need to be separated carefully and then the vein or central rib needs to be trimmed with a sharp knife to make the leaves flatter and easier to roll.

For the sauce they offered a choice. Some used tomato sauce they said, but they agreed that Gram had preferred Campbell’s Tomato Soup. They put a little sauce or soup on the bottom of the baking dish then layer the cabbage rolls on top. They suggested using several cans but added that they, like Gram, make a lot at one time.

They concluded their tips by suggesting the Galumpki should bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. As an alternate you can slow cook them in an oven turned down low for 4 or 5 hours, especially if you are cooking a large quantity.

Sharing Memories

It was a lot of information and seeded some great family discussion. My father-in-law remembered eating Galumpki, at his Russian grandmother's house.  They called it Halupsi and they ate it often.  Then he began to talk about growing up in Yonkers. You could hear the boyish wonder in his lively voice. He had known hard times; growing up during the depression, joining the army and going to Europe during WW2, still there were extraordinary things he had seen and experienced, from bright innovations to a warm ethnic meal and they left an indelible print on his memory he was glad to share. When he focused on that memory it could take him back to another time and to an appreciation for all that was right with the world and the American dream.

This year it is my oldest son who has been asking for Galumpki. He has recently identified in a new way with the Polish line of his heritage. Since I had yet to post the recipe in our family cookbook he asked me to make Galumpki with him. He wanted to learn how it was done and then share this family recipe with his friends.

We had a good time working together as a family that day. As we worked through the recipe, along with the notes and the tips from my husband’s aunts, I was warmed by the traditions born out in our Galumpki and the thread of simple practical cooking that fills a family’s soul as well as their stomachs. Having the generations gather in the kitchen through a recipe and the fond memories of taste and smell we find ourselves fed in new ways and, more than full, richly satisfied. That is a lovely feeling, one of the exquisite joys of fall cooking.

Gram's Galumpki

1 or 2 heads of cabbage ( you will need 12-16 large leaves)

1 lb ground beef (80% lean or so)
2 cups cooked rice (cooked five minutes short of specified time)
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

tomato soup (1 or 2 small cans)
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced

fresh thyme leaves (several sprigs, 1 - 2 teaspoons)

Cut the core from the head of cabbage and wash well. Fill a large saucepan or pot (I use a 4 quart saucepot) with about 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Add ½ teaspoon salt and the head of cabbage, core side down. Cover and cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the outer cabbage leaves are tender and flexible but not mushy.

Carefully remove the head of cabbage from the pot. Run under cold water until it can comfortably be handled. Gently separate the leaves. If you get to the point where the leaves are still crisp return the remaining portion to the boiling water to cook a little longer. Repeat until you have enough cooked leaves for the number of cabbage rolls you want to make (12 -16 large leaves). Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, cooked rice, onion, egg, garlic powder, black pepper and salt. Mix thoroughly. (I reach in and use clean hands to squish the mixture together.)

If using the tomato sauce mixture instead of canned tomato soup, stir together the tomato sauce, lemon juice and minced garlic in a small bowl.

Prepare a baking dish by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray. (I use a 7 x 11 inch rectangular baking dish but this does not usually hold all of the rolls. Any baking dish can be used but cooking time may vary depending on how the rolls are arranged.) Cover the bottom of the dish with half of the tomato soup or tomato sauce mixture. Set the rest of the soup or sauce aside for the topping.

Place cabbage leaves on a cutting board one by one and, with a sharp knife, trim much of the thickness from the central ridge of the cabbage leaf starting at the core end and cutting toward the outer edge. This will flatten the ridge making it flush with the leaf and easier to roll.

Place ¼ cup of the meat mixture near the lower core edge of the cabbage leaf. Fold the lower edge up over the meat mixture. Then fold in each side of the leaf toward the middle. Roll the leaf tucking in the sides as you go. Squeeze the rolled cabbage leaf in your fist to shape the bundle and place it seam side down in a rectangular baking dish. Repeat until all of the meat mixture has been used.

Cover the cabbage rolls with the remaining tomato soup or sauce. Scatter thyme leaves over all. Cover the pan with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover. Bake another 15 minutes or until ground beef is done through.

Serve and enjoy!

Japanese Fast Food - MOS Burger

What does Japanese fast food look like?

I have posted about a few choices. There are vending machines or onigiri from a conbini. There is train food including bento boxes, hard cooked eggs, and snacks from the train cart. There are street venders selling food on a stick.

There are also some chains similar to those we have grown so used to in the US. Some look very familiar to us. McDonald’s are almost as easy to find in my travels to Japan as they are at home. I passed two walking from my hotel into the temple area in Nara. Much more tempting to my tourist’s curiosity, however, is a uniquely Japanese fast food restaurant called MOS Burger.

A quick look at the menu posted outside the door proved that among the more obvious choices for a fast food hamburger restaurant, choices including a MOS Cheeseburger and the Double Fresh Burger, there were a few uniquely homespun offerings. The MOS Rice Burger with mixed burdock, carrot and vegetables looked intriguing. The pressed rice bun alone was worth a try although I had to admit I had little idea of what burdock might taste like.

The MOS Rice Burger with fresh seafood fritter looked a little less surprisingly adventurous. An element of the known and predictable, even if just a shred of carrot, a pea and an identifiable shrimp, helps to ground a new taste experience in a familiar frame of reference. a perspective I have learned to value as I travel.

Inside, I placed my order at the counter by pointing to my selection on a laminated menu with translations in English. I chose the MOS Rice Burger with Seafood Fritter, a mixture of French fries and onion rings with cold tea to drink. I was given a number and gestured to find a table.

I sat at a small booth and looked over my surroundings. The other customers that afternoon were young. There were teenagers, apparently students, talking in one corner and a young mother with a preschool child in a nearby booth.

The most attractive seating area appeared to be the smoking area. It was a glass enclosure like a sunroom on the front of the restaurant. Through the glass I could see a couple talking. The young man lounged casually in his chair smoking a cigarette with appealing drama as the young woman listened attentively.

Before long my order was brought to my table. My MOS Rice Burger came wrapped in a sturdy absorbent napkin. This napkin prevents the diner from having to touch their food and gave me an added degree of confidence that the rice bun would not disintegrate into my lap as I ate.

The burger was fun to eat if not completely delicious. I liked the rice bun, in texture and taste. It was browned a little and crispy on the outside and it stayed together well. The seafood fritter, on the other hand, was crispy on the outside but a little greasy on the inside. The flavor was good though strangely both a little overseasoned and still fairly bland. It seemed to consist more of texture than of flavor. The onion rings and fries were fine but again seemed to highlight the texture of the outside without truly tasting like onions or potatoes.

Since eating Kentucky Fried Chicken as a teenager in Madrid, I have found fast food in a foreign country to offer an experience both comforting in its familiarity and disappointing in its lack of distinction. MOS Burger offered an interesting twist. While it was short on comfortable familiarity it was memorable in the unique quality of the food it offered. Still it's food summed up the same familiar shortcomings of most fast food restaurants, a meal short on fresh and satisfying flavor.  Even so, I'm glad I tried it.