Can She Bake a Cherry Pie, Charming Billy?

First place in the church pie bake off is in Shirley Tedesco’s sights. Ever since she joined as a newly-wed wife, her goal has been to reach the coveted spot held for far too long by fellow contestant, Claudia Romero. A sour cherry rhubarb pie is Shirley’s first third-place win, and Claudia can feel the younger woman breathing down her neck as she inches closer with every delicious baked creation.

I included cherry pie in my novel, The Tedescos, because it’s been a favorite since childhood. As delicious as sweet cherry pie is, there is just something—how can I describe it—more old-fashioned tasting about a sour cherry pie. The inclusion of rhubarb, traditionally featured alone or in combination with strawberries, makes Shirley’s pie a titch more special. Then there is the addition of a few ingredients even Claudia can’t discern.

Sour cherries were more readily available when I was younger. These days I have to travel a bit to find them, but they are worth it. Their too-short season of availability makes them even more desirable. If you can pick and pit your own, do so. However, fresh, pitted sour cherries can be purchased from farmer’s markets. I’ve heard good things about particular brands of jarred sour cherries in syrup, but I’ll let you do your own research and taste testing. Buying frozen sour cherries is an absolute last resort. I will say, though, that if you freeze sour cherries yourself, you’ll have better luck with them because the delicate fruit won’t be bashed about during transport and the defrosting process can take place slowly in your refrigerator.

Pre-picked and pitted sour cherries come in juice. Measure out four cups to a bag (enough for a ten-inch pie), and freeze them. Take care to evenly distribute the juice and don’t stack the bags on top of each other or place them where other frozen items will be stacked.

Rhubarb is easier to find in grocery stores and can be frozen until used. Neither the amount of red on the stalks nor the width has any bearing on the flavor. Wash the stalks, trim the ends, pat them dry, and cut into half-inch pieces. Lay the cut rhubarb in a single layer on a baking sheet with edges, freeze them for a couple of hours, and transfer the frozen pieces to a large plastic bag that can be sealed. Return them to the freezer immediately.

Because I freeze fruits and vegetables in amounts for one pie, the following recipe makes two pies because I’m combining sour cherries and rhubarb. Don’t be overwhelmed by the quantity, though. The pies will get eaten, and if you’re feeling guilty about consuming too much pie, you can always give one away or cut the recipe in half.

One last note: this recipe uses fresh sour cherries that came in their own juice. If you use cherries you picked, you’ll need to cook them with a little water, store bought cherry juice, or liquid from cherries you juiced yourself to soften them and bring out their natural juices.

Shirley Tedesco’s Sour Cherry Rhubarb Pie

For the Crust:

4 c all-purpose flour

2 t sea salt

4 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

Ice water

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Work butter into the flour/salt mixture until it resembles coarse meal. A pastry blender or two knives is recommended, but you can work quickly with your hands so the mixture stays cool. Add ice water a little at a time, forming a dough ball with your hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while preparing the filling. Preheat your oven to 375° while the dough is chilling.

For the Filling:

4 c sour cherries, with their juice

4 c rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces

3 c sugar (I used raw)

4 T kirsch

⅛ t mace

1 t sea salt

4 T butter

6 – 9 T corn starch

In a large pot over a medium heat, add the sour cherries with juice, rhubarb, and sugar. Stir gently to incorporate the sugar but not break apart the fruit/veg. When the sugar is melted and the mixture begins to steam lightly, add the kirsch, mace, butter, and salt. Stir gently.

Start with six tablespoons of cornstarch in a bowl and ladle hot liquid from the pot into the bowl until there is equal dry to wet. Stir the corn starch and juice until thoroughly blended, and then slowly pour it back into the pot. I pour the mixture into a particularly juicy area and whisk quickly to incorporate. Gently stir through the mixture and increase the heat to medium high to thicken the juice. Only use the remaining three tablespoons if your sour cherries and rhubarb are particularly juicy. Keep a close eye on the mixture so the bottom doesn’t burn. When the sour cherries and rhubarb are thickened, set them aside to cool.

Assembling the pie:

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into quarters. Return the other three to the refrigerator while working. Roll one quarter into a circle to cover the bottom of a ten-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the bottom of the pie plate and trim the edges to fit. Remove and roll another quarter for the bottom of the second pie and trim the edges.

Divide the sour cherry/rhubarb mixture between the bottom crusts by ladling it in. Remove and roll another quarter of dough for a top crust. Place it over the filling and tuck the edges of the top crust beneath the bottom crust. Crimp the edges between your fingers or seal them with the tines of a fork. Do the same with the last dough quarter for the second pie.

Place the pies on the middle rack of the oven with a baking sheet on the rack below to catch any drips. Bake the pies for 45 minutes, and then check them. You may need to keep baking in ten-minute increments until the crusts are golden brown. Allow the pies to rest for fifteen minutes to set up. Serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Enjoy!

When Georgia Gets the Blues

Pie baking is serious business, and you don’t want to get in the way of a young wife determined to climb up the church-pie-bake-off hierarchy to a first place win. Such was the case for newly-wed Shirley Tedesco when she found the outlet to express her skill with cooking. But Shirley’s baked wonders get up Claudia Romero’s nose. Claudia, who frequently holds the position of president of the Ladies Auxiliary, has held the coveted first place position for years. In Shirley, the woman has met her match.

The following recipe is just one of Shirley’s pies featured in my novel, The Tedescos. I’ve fallen in love with Georgia peaches, so if you can get them in your area, I strongly recommended using them. I’ve been most fortunate to purchase these luscious, little jewels from The Peach Truck once or twice a year. The addition of blueberries to this pie not only makes it taste divine, but the blended color of juices is beautiful to behold!

Deep Dish Blueberry Peach Pie

For the crust:

2 c all-purpose flour

2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼-inch cubes

⅓ c ice water

1 t sea salt

1 T sugar (I used raw)

 

For the filling:

2 T unsalted butter, cubed

6 large Georgia peaches, peeled and sliced

1 pint blueberries, washed and drained

½ c sugar (I used raw)

½ c dark brown sugar

½ t cinnamon

¼ t nutmeg

1 t vanilla

¼ c water

¼ c amaretto

2 T cornstarch

 

Parchment paper

Baking weights

Ten-inch cast iron skillet

 

In a large, metal mixing bowl that has been chilled, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the chilled butter. Cut the butter in with a pastry blender, two knives, or your hands. If you use your hands, take care to work quickly so as not to warm the butter. The mixture should look coarse with pea-sized pieces of flour and butter. Add the water a tablespoon at a time, mixing it in carefully until you can press the dough together and form a neat ball. Remove the dough ball from the bowl and flatten it into a disk on a lightly floured surface. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for at least fifteen minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375°. Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and cut it into two pieces approximately one-third and two-thirds. Rewrap the one-third piece for the lattice top and return to the refrigerator. Role the larger piece into a circle big enough to fit across the bottom and up the sides of a ten-inch cast iron skillet. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the diameter of the skillet as well as up the sides (crumpling the parchment in your hands makes it more pliable for use). Place baking weights in the skillet. Bake for ten to fifteen minutes or until the crust is lightly golden. Set aside to cool.

In a separate skillet, melt the butter for the filling. Add the remaining filling ingredients except for the blueberries. Cook until the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the blueberries. Spoon the filling into the bottom crust with a slotted spoon. Ladle the thickened syrup over the fruit a little at a time so it doesn’t come up over the edge of the bottom crust. (Juicy peaches yield more liquid.)

Roll out the remaining dough to approximately ⅛-inch thick and cut into ½-wide pieces as long as the skillet.

For the truly talented: Lay eight strips across the pie. Fold back every other strip, and lay a horizontal strip across the center of the pie. Unfold the folded strips, and then fold back the remaining strips. Lay another horizontal strip across the pie. Repeat folding and unfolding the strips to weave a lattice pattern. Repeat on the remaining side.

For people like me: Lay your strips in one direction taking care to leave space between them. Lay the remaining strips in the other direction also leaving space between them. Voilà! Lattice on a pie so delicious that no one notices it’s not woven.

Sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake the pie for thirty minutes or until the crust is golden and the juices are bubbling. You may need a cookie sheet beneath the pie in the oven to catch drips. Allow the pie to stand for at least ten minutes, and then serve it warm with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream.

Enjoy!

Side Note: Baking weights can be purchased at most cooking stores, but I find a bag of dry beans works just as well. They don’t impart flavor to your baked goods, and once they’ve cooled, you can store them in a sealed jar for future use.

Southern Comfort Food

I couldn’t hold up this recipe for cornbread because a lovely wedge with melting butter is pictured with the southern fried cabbage I featured in a previous post. If you’re drooling right about now, imagine how Joe Tedesco feels when he spies this duo on the serving tables at the Mother’s Day celebration hosted by the Baptist church where his and Shirley’s friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, attend.

Naturally, Italian food tops the list of Joe’s favorites, but he’s willing to experience a little cross-cultural, culinary revolution if it means he gets to eat to his heart’s content.

Cast Iron Cornbread

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup cornmeal

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar (I use raw)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Cooking Spray

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly grease an 8-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, buttermilk, and butter.

Pour the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture and fold together until there are no dry spots (the batter will still be lumpy). Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Allow it to stand for about five minutes to achieve a nice crown on the batter.

Bake until the top is golden brown and tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the cornbread from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Side Note: This recipe can be doubled and baked in a twelve-inch cast iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes and additional five-minute increments until a tester inserted into the middle of the cornbread comes out clean.

Southern Fried Solution

Joe Tedesco has a big heart, and he can see that his wife, Shirley, could use some cheering up for Mother’s Day. So, he pulls out all the stops when planning Shirley’s Mother’s Day celebration. Joe also has a big appetite, and the lure of a home-cooked meal is more than he can ignore. This is why the Tedesco Family will be attending church with their friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, on Mother’s Day. The Baptist church where Smiley and Charlene are members is hosting a meal in honor of mothers, and the dishes the men will prepare are the recipes their wives and mothers use. For Joe, this translates into culinary heaven. But really, the day is all about Shirley.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene in my novel, The Tedescos. This recipe is a meal unto itself, but when paired with other Southern favorites, then Joe is right in believing it’s ecstasy for the taste buds.

Southern Fried Cabbage

6 – 10 bacon slices

4 T butter

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large head of cabbage, sliced or chopped

2 T Worchester sauce

3 T apple cider vinegar

2 T brown –OR– raw sugar

½ t hot Hungarian paprika –OR– ½ t Cajun seasoning

Sea salt

Black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

1 t crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Side Note: I used an 8-oz. package of Applegate uncured turkey bacon for this recipe which produced less fat. You will need to increase the butter to 6 T to take the place of the bacon drippings should you choose to do the same.

Slice or chop cabbage, taking care to remove any ribs and the core, and set aside.

Stack the bacon slices and cut them into strips across the width. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until brown and crisp. Set the cooked bacon aside and reserve 2 T of drippings.

Add the butter to the reserved bacon drippings in the skillet. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion turns translucent. Add the Worchester sauce, apple cider vinegar, and sugar. Stir gently and allow the onions to caramelize slowly and the liquid to thicken as it cooks off. Return the bacon to the skillet and stir gently.

Add the cabbage and season with salt, pepper, and hot Hungarian paprika ­–OR– Cajun seasoning. Cover and allow the cabbage to cook down about half way. When the cabbage has begun to wilt, stir the mixture. Return the cover to the skillet and continue cooking until the cabbage is tender.

Remove the lid from the skillet to allow the excess liquid to cook off. Stir gently to coat the cabbage and keep it from burning. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if using. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy!

Pretty Fly for a Seasoned Fry

What’s a hamburger without French fries? This is no doubt a question Joe Tedesco would ask anyone who tried to serve the popular sandwich without it’s equally famous side. It’s also a question Joe did not have to ask Charlie Rollins and Graham Silver when he attended their party. The pair knew enough about their unofficial guest of honor to know plenty of fries had better be on the menu if hamburgers were anywhere nearby. They went one better and offered seasoned fries unlike anything Joe had ever tasted.

The following recipe is the one I came up with for the above-mentioned scene. Even though Joe never had the chance to try the delicious fries, I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as my family did.

Seasoned French Fries

Eight large russet potatoes

1 ½ c all-purpose flour

1 ½ t garlic powder

1 ½ t onion powder

1 ½ t ground cayenne pepper

1 ½ t sea salt

1 ½ t black pepper (I used a coarse grind)

1 ½ t paprika

Peanut oil for frying

¾ c water, more as needed

Combine the flour, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, and paprika with a whisk, mixing well. Set aside.

Wash and peel the potatoes. Place whole peeled potatoes in a bowl of salted cold water to keep them from turning gray. Remove one potato at a time and cut it in half lengthwise. Lay the flat side down, and cut the potato in half horizontally so you end up with a top half directly over a bottom half. Keep the halves together and cut them into ¼ inch strips. Do the same with the other half of the potato. Proceed in this fashion until all the potatoes have been cut into strips. Return the cut pieces of potato to the cold water while working on whole potatoes. Once all the potatoes have been cut into strips, drain them in a colander and rinse the cut potatoes with fresh cold water to remove excess starch. Pat the cut potatoes dry with a paper towel.

I used a heavy pot on the stove to heat my peanut oil and a candy thermometer to maintain exact heat. Heat the peanut oil to 350° F.

Add the ¾ c of water to the seasoned flour and whisk. Add more water in ¼ c increments and whisk until you have a thin batter. Place two large handfuls of potato slices in the batter and toss to cover. Excess batter will drop off when transferring the potatoes, but don’t shake off so much that your potatoes are thinly battered. Carefully place the battered potato slices in the hot peanut oil a few at a time until the surface of the oil is covered. An Asian strainer with handle is perfect for the task.

The temperature of the oil will drop a little with the addition of the cold potatoes. Maintaining 350° F will result in well-cooked, crispy fries. You may need to separate the fries as they cook to prevent sticking. When the batter turns a deep gold (approximately 10 – 12 minutes), the fries are finished cooking. Use the Asian strainer to remove the potatoes from the oil and drain them in a large bowl lined with paper towels. It is most important that the peanut oil returns to 350° before adding another batch of battered potatoes. When it does, proceed with the frying process until all the potato slices are cooked.

You may salt to taste if needed. The flavor of the seasoned batter becomes more evident once the fries have cooled to a temperature at which one can eat them without burning fingers or mouth.

Enjoy!

Oh, Honey—That’s Good!

Jewish honey cake is traditionally served at Rosh Hashanah, but all Shirley Tedesco knows is that her new neighbor, Muriel Shapiro, loves the stuff. Besides, it’s only January, and Shirley is desperate. At least she takes the time to discover Muriel’s heritage as well as her preferences in desserts.

From the deep wells of kindness that abide in Shirley’s heart, she uses the delicious cake to make inroads with Muriel. And while her motives are pure—she really does want to become close with the shy Jewess from New Jersey—if pressed to admit, Shirley also needs a babysitter who has never experienced her brood of eight unholy terrors.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind for Shirley to present as a peace-offering prior to Muriel experiencing the Tedesco horde. When Muriel agrees to babysit, she has to watch the twins, Holly and Noelle. Unfortunately, the twins are disgruntled at being the only siblings without plans for the evening, and they take it out on their unsuspecting babysitter. There isn’t enough honey cake in the world to repair the damage the girls inflict upon poor Muriel.

Jewish Honey Cake

3 ½ c unbleached flour

1 t baking soda

1 T baking powder

1 t cinnamon

½ t ginger

¼ t cloves

¼ t nutmeg

Dash of allspice

4 extra large eggs

1 ¼ c packed dark brown sugar

4 T extra virgin olive oil

1 t vanilla

1 ¾ c honey

1 c very strong coffee (decaf is fine)

1 c golden raisins

1 c whole or half candied or plain almonds

Preheat oven to 300° F. Grease and flour two 9×5-inch loaf pans or one 9×13 pan. Set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the honey and coffee and bring to a boil. Set aside to cool.

Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices together. In a large mixing bowl, blend the eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and oil. Do not overbeat.

Stir the flour and honey/coffee into the egg mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the liquid. Blend well. Toss the raisins in a little flour to keeping them from sinking and stir them in gently. Pour into the prepared pan(s) and place the almonds over the cake. (If using whole almonds, arrange them in straight rows to denote a serving and to indicate where to cut the cake finishing with an almond on top of each piece.)

Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the cake springs back. Let the cake sit overnight before serving.

Serve as is or top off with freshly whipped cream. Enjoy!

Latkes Like Momma Makes

Muriel Shapiro is one of my favorite peripheral characters in my novel, The Tedescos. The shy, intelligent native of New Jersey flees her home state with the dream of starting afresh in Northeast Ohio. When she moves into Joe and Shirley’s neighborhood, all memories of her disastrous cooking experiences under the tutelage of her impatient mother have been left behind. So have comparisons between Muriel and her well-married, grandchild-producing sisters, a father whose every sentence is spoken in a yelling voice, and the constant reminders of her failed art gallery. If ever anyone needed a peaceful environment in which to recoup, it is Muriel Shapiro.

The following recipe for latkes is quite easy, so perhaps dear Muriel’s talents simply lie elsewhere. I’m sure you’ll have splendid success when making “Momma’s” latkes and enjoy eating them even more than preparing them.

Momma Shapiro’s Latkes

12 Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded

1 large Vidalia onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, pressed

2 eggs, beaten

4 T flour

Salt and pepper to taste

Peanut oil

Peel the potatoes and place them whole in a large bowl of cold, salted water until all twelve are peeled.

I recommend shredding the potatoes through a food processor to achieve matchstick like shreds. Be sure to press out all the liquid from the potatoes either by squeezing them through cheesecloth or a clean tea towel or in a colander under a heavy bowl filled with water. Wet potatoes do not fry well.

Combine the shredded potatoes and chopped onion in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the peanut oil) and stir. You may need to mix with your hands to ensure the potatoes are thoroughly coated.

Heat the peanut oil in a cast iron skillet to very hot. The oil will ripple across the top and pop when ready. Drop in large spoonsful of the mixture and gently press them into patties. Fry the latkes until golden brown and crisp on each side. Transfer the cooked latkes by slotted spoon to a paper towel-lined platter to drain excess oil. Serve them warm with sour cream and applesauce.

Enjoy!

She Called Her a What?

Danny Tedesco, Joe’s younger brother, is the black sheep of the family. He’s long on money-making schemes and short on work ethic. And although Danny and Joe get along—they really do love each other—more often than not, Danny is a bit of a thorn in Joe and Shirley’s side.

Joe springs it on Shirley that Danny and his new girlfriend are coming to dinner, and Shirley is not at all happy. She doesn’t want to cook for her loser brother-in-law and the latest bimbo he’s picked up Lord knows where. Unfortunately, Danny is family and must be welcomed. In defiance of the dinner party, Shirley announces that she’ll make spaghetti alla puttanesca. Joe questions her choice, but his strong-willed wife has made up her mind.

The elegant sounding dish is really quite delicious, and Shirley’s choice wasn’t altogether a bad one. If you aren’t familiar with the history of the dish and/or you don’t speak Italian, allow me to explain. Spaghetti alla puttanesca literally means spaghetti in the style of a whore. According to various websites, the dish was created in Naples and dates back to the mid-twentieth century. One legend says the meal was quick and cheap for prostitutes to make between customers while another says the robust aroma drew clients in.

I lean more toward the belief that Italians use the word puttana as an all-purpose swear word the way Americans use sh*t. It would be like saying, “I threw a whole bunch of sh*t into the pan and came up with this.” Reinforcing my opinion is the fact that I watched a cooking show years ago where the Italian Momma taught the host the meaning of, “I just sh*t.” Much laughing was involved, but Momma explained it meant to take stuff from the cupboard and toss it in the pot without the benefit of a recipe.

There are variations to the recipe with a particular ingredient omitted or added based on preference and locale. The sauce is traditionally served over spaghetti, but can also be served over linguine (as pictured above), penne, or bucatini. Trust me when I encourage you to use all the ingredients listed even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy them. I admit there was one on the list that made me hesitate, but ever since I discovered spaghetti alla puttanesca, I have come to love the simple, flavorful dish.

Shirley Tedesco’s Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

1 lb. dried spaghetti

Sea Salt

8 T extra virgin olive oil (reserve 2 T)

6 – 8 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced or finely chopped

8 – 10 anchovy fillets (packed in oil), finely chopped

1 – 2 large pinches red pepper flakes

½ c capers, coarsely chopped (press them dry in a paper towel first)

½ c pitted black olives, drained and coarsely chopped

1 – 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes with the juice (recommend San Marzano), crushed by hand

Minced parsley or basil for garnish

½ – 1 T Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)

Ground black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

Place the spaghetti in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan and cover with water. Add a pinch of sea salt. Bring it to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking.

In a medium skillet, combine 6 T olive oil, anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and cook over medium heat until the garlic turns a light golden color, approximately five minutes. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the mixture sizzling without burning the garlic. Add the capers and olives, and stir to combine.

Stir in the crushed tomatoes and juice and bring to a light simmer. Continue simmering the sauce until the spaghetti is cooked to al dente (about 1 minute less than recommended on the package). Use tongs or a pasta spoon to transfer the spaghetti to the sauce. Reserve 1 cup of cooking water.

Add a few tablespoons of cooking water to the sauce and increase the heat to bring the spaghetti and sauce to a vigorous simmer. Add more cooking water as necessary to keep the sauce loose until the pasta is al dente (about 1 – 2 minutes). The spaghetti cooks more slowly in the sauce, and the starchy cooking water helps the sauce to thicken and cling nicely to the pasta.

Season lightly with sea salt (anchovies, olives, and capers are quite salty already) and heartily with black pepper. Stir in the remaining 2 T olive oil and parsley or basil. Some purists say that cheese has no place in puttanesca, but I find Pecorino Romano or Parmesan perfectly complements the dish. If using cheese, add it at this point and stir to combine. Transfer the spaghetti alla puttanesca to a platter or individual dishes and serve with more grated cheese if desired.

Enjoy!

Love is Sharing Your Popcorn

When I was little, I loved to sift through my mother’s recipe cards. I believe a gas station issued a pack of cards with every fill up as some kind of incentive. The cards had to be sorted into a holder according to the type of recipe. Each card bore the number of the category into which it fell. I particularly liked the section on children’s parties and recipes kids could make.

Nowadays, libraries and bookstores are full of cookbooks for children. As a former library employee, I enjoyed browsing these books while shelving them to see what kids might be cooking up. One recipe I don’t find anymore is that for making popcorn. I suppose that’s because today’s kids simply unwrap a package of popcorn and toss it in the microwave.

In my novel, The Tedescos, I chose to write about the old-fashioned method of making popcorn on the stovetop. The first popular home model of a microwave had been introduced in 1967 as the countertop Radarange. It cost about $495 (approximately $3700 today), so it wasn’t practical for my story.

Jiffy Pop, which I had once as a child during the same era in which my novel takes place, was also around, having been marketed since 1959. I believe the thrill was watching the popcorn bursts through the foil because the flavor left much to be desired.

Admittedly, I didn’t bother researching when air poppers came on the scene because, quite frankly, none of these methods were real cooking. Again, for a tasty and fun experience, popcorn made on the stovetop the way Mom did was the best. I know someone out there will gasp and clutch his/her heart when I suggest teaching a child to cook on a real stove, but honestly, a whole generation of children born in the 1970s who learned to make popcorn on the stove with mom are alive and well today.

In my novel, Joe Jr. attempts to make popcorn without his mother’s help. He forgets the oil, has the heat too high, and ends up with scorched kernels. Not to be deterred, Joe Jr. keeps adding fresh kernels to the skillet he’s using, but he never quite achieves success. The following recipe is what he should have done.

Perfect Popcorn

3 T olive oil

½ c popcorn kernels

Sea salt

4 T butter

Add the oil and popcorn kernels to a large pot with handles on each side. Put the lid on the pot, and turn the burner on to medium heat. When you hear the kernels begin to pop, gently move the pot back and forth over the burner. A gentle toss during this process encourages un-popped kernels to fall to the bottom. It only takes a few minutes for all the kernels to pop. During this time, don’t be tempted to lift the lid or hot popcorn may fly out and hit you in your face.

When the popping slows to about three seconds between pops, the popcorn is done. Use a large spoon to transfer the popcorn to a clean serving bowl. Wipe the pot in which you popped the kernels with a clean paper towel to remove pieces of hull and any un-popped kernels. Use the pot to melt the butter over a low heat. Pour the butter over the popcorn and salt to taste.

I cook on a gas stove, so I find maintaining even heat to be quite simple. Never having cooked on a modern electric range, I have to assume the burners are like the ones my mother had when I was a child, and that they don’t cool quickly just because one has turned down the heat. I mention this because you don’t want to burn the popped corn while waiting for the last kernels to pop, and removing the pot from an electric burner rather than shaking it back and forth to prevent scorching may be necessary.

Enjoy!

PS – Charles M. Schulz of “Peanuts” fame is responsible for the quotation that is the title of my blog post.

The Luxury of Chocolate

Chocolate ranks high among all the comfort foods in which one can indulge. It’s even better when it’s incorporated into a homemade recipe lovingly prepared by Grandma’s hands. And while chocolate in all its many forms is delicious, I do believe there isn’t anything that can’t be made better by eating homemade chocolate pudding.

Grandma Josephine Tedesco believes in love as the main ingredient in everything she makes for her grandkids. And even though Grandma’s mind isn’t always in the present, when it comes to cooking or baking, she’s as sharp as Gordon Ramsay’s knives. The following recipe for chocolate pudding is the one I had in mind when writing about pudding in my novel, The Tedescos. It’s absolutely decadent and just the sort of dessert Grandma Josephine would proudly serve. It’s simple, elegant, and a little bit of chocolate heaven.

Grandma Josephine’s Chocolate Pudding

2 ¼ c whole milk

½ cup sugar (I used raw sugar for a deep, rich flavor)

Pinch of sea salt

1/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder

2 T cornstarch

2 large egg yolks

1 large egg

5 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped or in chips

2 T unsalted butter

2 t vanilla

STEP ONE: Whisk the cornstarch, cocoa, and ¼ c of the sugar in a mixing bowl. Add ¼ c of milk, and whisk until it’s smooth. Set aside.

STEP TWO: In a medium bowl, thoroughly whisk the whole egg with the two egg yolks. Set aside.

STEP THREE: Combine the remaining 2 cups of milk, ¼ c of sugar, and the sea salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly to dissolve the sugar. When the mixture in the saucepan comes to a boil, reduce the heat and stir in the mixture from Step One. Once the two are thoroughly combined, bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Do this for about two minutes or until the pudding is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

STEP FOUR: Reduce the heat to low under the pudding and gradually whisk about ½ c of the hot pudding into the egg mixture from Step Two until thoroughly combined. Pour the egg/pudding combination back into the saucepan taking care to scrape out the bowl. Cook the pudding over medium heat, whisking constantly, until a soft boil is achieved, about two minutes.

STEP FIVE:  Remove the pudding from the heat and add the semi-sweet chocolate, butter, and vanilla. Stir until the butter and chocolate are melted and the pudding is smooth. Pour the pudding into six dessert dishes or ramekins that hold about 6 ounces each. A piece of plastic wrap placed directly on the surface of the pudding will keep a skin from forming. Refrigerate the pudding until chilled.

Serve with whipped cream and/or chopped peanuts if desired.

Enjoy!

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