Plum Lucky

By spring of 1920, twelve year-old Johnny Welles had made up his mind to leave the only home he’d ever known.  As hard as it was to say goodbye to his beloved stepmother, Collie, Johnny was determined to escape the tragedies that marred his childhood.

His three older siblings, Stanley, James, and Eunice, supported Johnny in his decision even though it broke their hearts to see him go.  His Aunt Prudence, who would take over Johnny’s care, was thrilled by his choice to reside with her in Baltimore and even more so with his pronouncement that he wanted to become a doctor.

In the months after his youthful declaration, Johnny spent all of his free time with Doctor and Mrs. Hager.  The Hagers, German immigrants with no children of their own, welcomed Johnny when they discovered his passion for all things medical.  The Hagers, aware of and sensitive to Johnny’s heartbreaks, couldn’t resist the opportunity to share their medical knowledge with the young boy.

Whenever possible, Doc and Mrs. Hager included Johnny in consultations and examinations.  Between patients, the three would pore over medical journals and Mrs. Hager’s pflaumenkuchen (plum cake).  The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above.  This rich, delicious cake is quick and easy to make.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can substitute any stone fruit for the plums.  Consider peaches, nectarines, or cherries as an alternative.

Little Italian plums are my favorite when making pflaumenkuchen with black plums as a close second.  Italian plums aren’t available in my area until July, so I’ve presented this cake with black plums which are also quite appealing.  If using Italian plums, cut them in half and pit them.  The same goes for cherries.  For large stone fruits, cut them in half, pit them, and cut into slices.

The Gibson household enjoys this cake still slightly warm and served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Pflaumenkuchen

1 c sugar (I used raw)

½ unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 t vanilla

1 c flour

1 t baking powder

Plums, pitted and halved

2 T sugar (I used raw)

1 t cinnamon

Powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Grease an 8 X 8 glass baking dish.

Cream the sugar and butter.  Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat well.  Add the flour and baking powder, and mix thoroughly.  The batter with be thick like soft cookie dough.

Spread the batter into the baking dish and level it with a knife or spatula.  Place the halved plums (if using Italian) cut side down in even rows across the surface.  The same applies to cherries.  All other stone fruits should be placed in single-layer rows across the surface.

Combine the two tablespoons of sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle the mixture across the top of the cake and plums.  Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

When cooled, sift powdered sugar over the cake if desired.

Enjoy!

Happy Passover

Monday evening marked the beginning of Passover.  My family had the good fortune of observing the day with our dear friends, Dan and Valeri Remark.  The Remarks opened their lovely home to seventeen guests.  We had a wonderful time and enjoyed delicious food prepared by Dan, a chef, as well as matzo ball soup, roasted vegetables, and assorted cheeses provided by other guests.  I made the charoset and received many compliments.

The Seder hosted by the Remarks was relaxed and welcoming.  Guests had the opportunity to ask questions if they didn’t understand or comment with insight.  Roman, Dan and Valeri’s grandson, did an excellent job asking the four required questions and opening the door for Elijah.  Our son, Joshua, and the Remarks son-in-law, Quentin, engaged in a challenge to see who could eat the most horseradish.  Quentin consumed three slices the size of a quarter, and Joshua managed to down four.  Joshua was fine for the first few moments until the pungency of the root vegetable reached his nose.  Luckily, Joshua is a good sport who joined in the laughter as his face reddened and he gulped grape juice to cool the burn.

One elegant touch I’ll be sure to borrow from Valeri if I ever host my own Passover Seder is to offer my guests warmed, damp washcloths scented with orange essential oil for the custom of washing one’s hands.  Another is the use of a broken piece of pottery to collect the drops of wine while reciting the ten plagues three times each.

Giving up foods with yeast/leavening for eight days may seem like a huge sacrifice.  Yeast/leavening appears in places one wouldn’t expect such as canned broth and soup, prepared meatballs, and salad dressing.  It requires a little reworking of the menu when you can’t grab the items you’re used to.  Yet what we receive in return is so much more and makes up for the minor inconvenience of denying ourselves yeast/leavening for eight days.  The fellowship of the Seder alone is worth it, not to mention the freely flowing wine, love, and laughter we enjoyed at the Remarks.  Then there is the opportunity to reflect on Passover and what it means for us today.

Happy Passover!

Charoset

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and finely diced

3 Gala apples, peeled and finely diced

2 c toasted walnuts, coarsely diced

½ c kosher sweet wine

½ c honey

¼ c dark brown sugar

1 t cinnamon

Three hearty dashes of allspice

Toss the diced apples with the toasted walnuts.  Combine the wine, honey, brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice.  Whisk thoroughly and pour over the apple/walnut mixture.  Stir several times to coat before covering.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Stir again before serving.  Serve chilled at the Seder with pieces of matzo.

Getting Out of a Jam With Marmalade

sweet-solution-4The character of Lucia in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, started out as one of peripheral importance. I created her simply to serve in the role of head cook to John’s Aunt Prudence, but she evolved into someone much more important. Just short of handling finances, it was understood that Lucia ran the household. She also ran Prudence with a style somewhere between a tough love guidance counselor and a wise, older mentor. Lucia also came to John’s rescue in the years following his brief service during World War II. John was unable to deal with the horrors he witnessed and most specifically for the one he caused that he kept secret from those he loved.

One day over a breakfast of popovers and orange marmalade, Lucia suggested that John go on a journey taking him away from his family so he could deal with the ghosts haunting him. John’s Aunt Prudence was heartbroken at the suggestion, but Lucia knew John needed time away to heal his mind and body. Besides, she would still be in Baltimore tending Prudence more as a close friend than as an employee. Prudence would only admit if pressed to say, but her relationship with her feisty cook was exactly how she liked it.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene. There are some nice orange marmalades on the market in upscale food shops, but nothing quite compares to the flavor of homemade orange marmalade. Not only will your house smell wonderful while it’s cooking, the taste of homemade orange marmalade on toast, vanilla ice cream, or whole grain pancakes defies any description of deliciousness.

Lucia’s Orange Marmalade

6 large oranges with thin skin

1 lemon

6 c water

8 ¼ c of granulated sugar

Approximately 14 – 6 oz. canning jars, lids, rings

Water bath canner with canning rack

Wash the oranges and lemon using a mushroom brush or another type of soft, clean brush. Cut the oranges into 1/8 inch slices. Remove any seeds. Cut the stacked slices of orange into quarters. Trim any thick pieces of rind into slivers to use. Place the oranges in a large cooking pot. Zest the lemon and juice it. Add the zest and juice to the oranges in the pot along with the water. Bring to a boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat and maintain a bubbling simmer. Stir frequently and cook for forty minutes until the rinds of the oranges are tender enough to cut with a spoon.

sweet-solution-3While the orange/lemon mixture cooks, bring a large pot of water to a boil and place the canning jars in the water. Sterilize the jars by boiling for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and add the lids and rings. Let everything sit until the marmalade is ready. You may need to do this in two separate pots due to the quantity of jars.

After the orange/lemon mixture has cooked for forty minutes, add the sugar and return to a full boil. Stir frequently so the sugar doesn’t burn and the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil until the mixture reaches 223° on a candy thermometer. This process should take at least twenty minutes, but depending on your stove and/or cooking pot of choice, it may take longer. Keep a close eye on your thermometer and watch as the mixture darkens, turns glossy, and thickens. Adjust the heat if needed to keep it from boiling over.

To test the readiness of the marmalade, place a saucer in the freezer to chill. A small dollop of the marmalade placed on the chilled plate and allowed to cool should gel and move slightly. Anything runnier and the marmalade isn’t ready. Keep cooking, and watch your thermometer.

When the marmalade is ready, remove the jars from the water and drain on a clean towel. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars to just below the threads of the jar. Using a ladle and slotted spoon ensures that you don’t end up with too much peel or too much liquid for the jars at the end. Keep the juice to rind mixture balanced in each jar. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars with a clean, damp cloth and top each with a lid. Add a ring and tighten securely. You may use fewer jars than the recipe called for, but I suggest having fourteen ready just in case.

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Cooling Jars of Marmalade

Bring water to a boil in a water bath canner (approximately half full). Using the canning rack, add the jars of marmalade to the boiling water. Add additional hot water to the canner if needed to cover the jars at least one inch. Boil for ten minutes. Carefully remove the rack of jars and set on a clean towel in a cool, dry place to come to room temperature. You should begin to hear the lids pop indicating the jars of marmalade are sealing properly. Do not move for 24 hours. Refrigerate the marmalade once a jar has been opened. Unopened marmalade will last for up to six months.

Enjoy!

sweet-solution

A Crazy Little Thing Called Cake

In May of 1951, Dr. John Welles attended the first birthday party of Patty Ann Hoffman whom he had delivered the year before. The doctor was friends of Patty Ann’s parents, Morris and Lorraine, but he also had a soft spot for the spirited little girl since the day she was born. For this reason, he willingly attended a child’s party.

The Hoffmans weren’t well off, but they made do with what they had. The ingredients for the cake Lorraine served were items she probably had on hand. Furthermore, as parents they would forgo the special treat of cake and ice cream to ensure plenty for their children and guests.

The cake I had in mind when I wrote this scene was a cake I grew up with: Crazy Cake. Also called Wacky Cake, this chocolatey cake had its origins during the Depression when milk, eggs, and butter were expensive. For this reason, you may know it as Depression Cake. I have found that most people are familiar with it by one of these names. A little ingenuity solved the problem of making cake without the pricey ingredients, and following generations were none the wiser.

img_20170205_182131906Because it is so rich and delicious, and because so many children these days have dairy and egg allergies, Crazy Cake is one of the old fashioned recipes to have survived until today. Even if one is financially stable, Crazy Cake is not to be missed.

Although Crazy Cake is tasty enough to eat plain or dusted with powdered sugar, I’ve provided a frosting recipe and a fudge recipe as toppings for the cake. The frosting is a titch more elegant if you’re serving the cake to guests. The fudge is the old fashioned kind that you can pour over the cake and allow to drip and puddle down the sides until it sets. There is no other way to describe this magnificent concoction other than to say it is a hillbilly delicacy. But then that’s where my experience with this cake has its origins.

One of the things you’ll find if you conduct your own research on Crazy Cakes is that they were often made right in the baking dish. All the dry ingredients were combined, and then three depressions were made in which the vanilla, vinegar, and oil were placed. The water was added, and everything was stirred into batter. I suspect because my mother learned how to make this in school, her recipe calls for greasing and flouring the baking dish. Either way, the results are the same. You’ll also find recipes for other flavors of Crazy Cake. I cannot testify to how good they are, and they do look good, but I can’t seem to make it past the chocolate version.

Enjoy!

Crazy Cake

1 ½ c flour

1 c sugar (I used raw)

3 T cocoa (heaping)

1 t salt

1 t baking soda

1 t vinegar (I used apple cider)

1 t vanilla

6 T oil

1 c water

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour an 8 X 8 baking dish. Mix the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients. Stir thoroughly. Pour into the baking dish, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. A knife inserted in the middle should come out clean. Cool completely in the baking dish before frosting. This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9 X 13 baking dish.

Cocoa Frosting

4 c powdered sugar

¼ t salt

⅓ c cocoa

⅓ c unsalted butter, room temperature

⅓ c milk

1 t vanilla

Mix the powdered sugar, salt, and cocoa. Warm the milk slightly and add the butter and vanilla, then add to the dry ingredients and combine. Blend until it is smooth using either a stand or hand mixer.  This recipe is enough frosting for a 9 X 13 cake. Half it for an 8 X 8 or make two and fill in between the layers.

Old Fashioned Fudge

1 ½ c sugar (I used raw)

¼ t salt

⅓ c cocoa

¾ c whole milk

2 T unsalted butter

1 t vanilla

Mix the sugar, salt, and cocoa in a large saucepan. Add the milk and stir thoroughly. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches a full, rolling boil. Boil without stirring until the mixture reaches 234° on a candy thermometer (the bulb of the thermometer should not rest on the bottom of the pan). If you don’t have a candy thermometer, after about twenty five minutes of boiling, test a small drop of fudge in ice water. The fudge should form a soft ball which flattens when removed from the water.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and butter. Do not stir. Rather, swirl the pan until the vanilla and butter are mixed in. Allow the fudge to cool to lukewarm (110° on a candy thermometer). Stir the cooled fudge with a wooden spoon* until it thickens and loses some of it gloss. Pour the fudge over the cooled Crazy Cake. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

*There is some debate on the Internet from professional cooking sites to blogs such as mine regarding the use of metal versus wooden spoons for stirring fudge. Both present logical arguments, however, I’ve used wood and metal with success.

‘Til Death Us Do Part

In the summer of 1964, Dr. John Welles and Bea Turner attended the wedding of a couple that never expected to marry. Many hardships had paved the way to the happy couple’s nuptials, but they put every adversity behind them as they celebrated their special day. Everything that came before their marriage and whatever would come after only served to strengthen the bond that existed between two people truly in love. All of Addison came out to join in the joyous occasion making it a day the bride and groom would never forget.

The wedding cake I had in mind for the couple had to be completely homemade. Box mixes wouldn’t do, and the grandiose cakes created by bakers to satisfy the whims of brides today wouldn’t be believable. Unfortunately, neither my mother nor I had a recipe for a homemade white cake. Scandalous, I know.

My Internet research led me to a website with a cake that, from the recipe, looked as if it would suffice. I don’t have a problem with giving credit and linking back to the originator of a recipe, so I contacted the owner of the site requesting permission to do so. Unfortunately, I never heard back, and I’m not a recipe thief. This forced Mom and me to rework the recipe to our liking and present it as our own. Not a problem since we always tweak a new recipe the minute we find it anyhow.

The most important requirement: the cake had to taste homemade. You wouldn’t think that would be a difficult task since we weren’t using a prepackaged mix, but our cake had to capture the essence of the above-mentioned scene. How does one bake hope, beauty, richness, longing, humbleness, elegance, era, location, and love into a cake? Follow our recipe and find out.

Timeless Wedding Cake

3 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3 c granulated sugar (I used raw necessitating the need to pulverize the larger crystals in a food processor to ensure incorporation during the creaming process. Don’t skip this step; it’s worth it. You’ll be glad you did once you taste the cake.)

5 eggs at room temperature

3 c flour and more for dusting the cake pans

¼ t salt

2 t baking powder

½ c buttermilk at room temperature

½ c whole milk at room temperature

2 t vanilla extract –OR– 1 t vanilla and 1 t lemon

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Spray three nine-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and dust evenly with flour. Make sure to coat all the edges, and tap out any excess flour.

In a stand mixer, cream the softened butter and sugar until it is very light in color and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time taking care not to over beat after each addition or you’ll end up with a tough cake.

Combine the milks and vanilla in a glass measuring cup and whisk. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture alternately with the wet ingredients. Begin and end with the dry ingredients. A rule of thumb for this process is to add one-third of the dry ingredients, one-half of the wet, another third of the dry, the remaining half of the wet, and the last third of the dry.

Mix on a medium speed until well combined, taking care to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Evenly distribute the batter between the three cake pans. The batter will be thick, almost like a pound cake batter, so use an off-set spatula to level the tops. All three cakes should bake on the same level of your oven, somewhere near the middle. Carefully shift position of the pans from front to back midway through baking.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. The top of the cakes should not jiggle, and a light crust will have formed on the top. Cool for five minutes in the pans, and then remove the cakes to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Bourbon Soaking Syrup

1 c water

1 c raw sugar

2 T bourbon (I recommend Woodford Reserve)

Combine the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over a high heat. When at the boil, the syrup is done. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Set aside to cool. The syrup will thicken as it cools. Brush the cooled bourbon syrup on the top of the cooled cake layers.  If you like thicker syrup, cook longer until more water has evaporated, but take care not to burn the sugar, or it will taste scorched.

Buttercream Frosting

1 c unsalted butter, softened

3 c powdered sugar

2 t vanilla extract

2 T whipping cream

In a stand mixer, cream the butter with one cup of powdered sugar on a low speed. Scrape the bowl as needed and add the remaining two cups, one at a time. Increase the speed to medium and beat for three minutes. Mix in the vanilla and whipping cream. Beat an additional minute, adding cream by the tablespoon if needed, to achieve a spreadable consistency.  If you enjoy a thicker layer of frosting between your cake layers, consider doubling the recipe.

Assembling:

Place one layer of completely cooled, bourbon-soaked cake on a stand or plate and ice the top of the cake to the edges. Place the second layer directly on top of the first and repeat the icing process. Add the final layer of cake and ice accordingly. Use the remaining frosting to ice the sides of the cake. The bourbon soak will add a layer of flavor and keep the cake moist longer.

I knew we had achieved success with our recipe when my sister-in-law took a bite and said, “Oh…this just tastes old-fashioned.”

Enjoy!

All Aboard the Gravy Train

all-aboard-the-gravy-train-2Well-made gravy is food for the gods. Gravy deserves to be its own food group. In fact, I move that gravy receive as much recognition as the main courses and side dishes that end up on our plates. Naturally, gravy is mentioned in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.

In the scene where Johnny’s Aunt Prudence barges in on the family as they’re sitting down to dinner, I wrote that Collie served mashed potatoes. Everyone knows that mashed potatoes can stand alone as delicious comfort food, but with the addition of gravy, it’s like eating the clouds upon which cherubs rest.

I’m going to focus on chicken gravy for the sake of this post because that’s the gravy accompanying the mashed potatoes in the above-mentioned meal. I prefer to use drippings directly from the chicken I’ve cooked, whether it’s a whole roasted chicken or baked thighs, but a can of quality broth can be substituted. The amount/size of the chicken you prepare will determine the quantity of drippings you achieve. This can be stretched especially if you’ve placed butter under the skin of your chicken or are using canned broth to baste.

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Perfectly seasoned drippings waiting to be thickened.

As for seasoning gravy, I like to depend on how I seasoned my chicken. This will determine the flavor of your gravy. One of my favorite seasoning combinations that I use on a roaster or thighs, both beneath and on the skin, ensures delicious drippings for gravy:

1 t sea salt

¼ t oregano

¼ t black pepper

¼ t garlic powder

¼ t onion powder

¼ t paprika

¼ t thyme (not ground)

all-aboard-the-gravy-train-3Collect the drippings from the baking dish or pan you cooked in and be sure to strain it through a fine mesh sieve. Place the drippings in a saucepan over a low heat.

My preferred thickener for meat dripping based gravy is corn starch. Sometimes flour is too lumpy, tastes too pasty, and looks too cloudy. Also, you can use less corn starch than flour when thickening which means fewer calories.

Always mix the cornstarch in equal proportions with a cold liquid, milk or water, and stir thoroughly to prevent lumps before whisking into the hot drippings. Cornstarch placed directly in hot drippings will seize up and create inedible food glue. The rule of thumb is two tablespoons of cornstarch per cup of liquid to attain a gravy-like consistency.

Stir constantly and bring your mixture to a boil. Boil for one minute. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

When using canned broth, the same seasoning will flavor the broth nicely. Opt for a low-sodium variety since you’ll be adding salt. Thicken in the same manner, just remember to strain out the large particles of oregano and thyme.

Enjoy!

Do The Mash

do-the-mash-1Mashed potatoes figure in to my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, in a couple places. As I mentioned when I started Edible Fiction, I love to feed people whether real or imagined. For real people, it’s because I enjoy watching them appreciate what I’ve prepared. For my characters, I have discovered that food is an extension of the scene taking place and/or their personalities.

For Marian Watley Welles, wife of Johnny’s older brother, James, she attacked several mounds of mashed potatoes tipping off her mother-in-law, Collie, to the fact that she was pregnant. In fact, Collie’s suggestion to have another helping and Marian’s willingness to comply was what made Collie so sure of her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. What hungry first-time mother could resist one of the ultimate comfort foods?

Another instance where I employed mashed potatoes was during Prudence’s first visit to the Welles Family Farm. Along with the other items Collie prepared for dinner, mashed potatoes featured on the menu. I wished to convey a homey setting complete with all the family favorites. Prudence forced herself into this scenario, upsetting the Welles Family, because deep in her heart, it’s what she longed for.

A high starch potato like Yukon Gold or Russet makes the fluffiest, smoothest mashed potatoes. They absorb flavors well (chicken broth when boiling, dairy when mashing). Avoid waxy potatoes like Red Bliss or fingerlings which have a tendency to turn gummy or gluey upon mashing. Choose one large potato per person when deciding upon quantity. I include one or two extra potatoes in case someone wants seconds or leftovers.

I didn’t used to believe it myself, but salting the water truly makes a difference. It’s the first step toward seasoning, so don’t skip it. Also, start with cold water to ensure even cooking. On the other hand, when adding your butter and cream, they should be warm. I do this in the cooking pot while my cooked potato chunks are draining in a colander. Your potatoes will absorb all the deliciousness of the dairy and you’ll have to work them less to incorporate the butter and cream. This means lighter, creamier potatoes.

Weapon of Mash Destruction

Weapon of Mash Destruction

And since we’re on the subject of overworking mashed potatoes, put down the hand-held mixer, place the food processor back on its shelf, and tell your standing mixer you’ll see it later. These devices are too aggressive and will turn your potatoes into grainy food glue. Pull your potato masher from the drawer and gently mash your potatoes. Remember, lumps are not a bad thing in mashed potatoes; they add to the homemade quality. If you insist on completely smooth taters, non-electric ricers or food mills are the only acceptable, alternative tools.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Yukon Gold or Russet Potatoes

1 stick unsalted butter (This quantity for a full pot. Adjust to taste as needed.)

Sea Salt

Freshly cracked pepper (I use quad-colored peppercorns.)

Whole milk or heavy cream (Amount of liquid also dependent on quantity of potatoes.)

Choose one large potato per person. Fill a large cooking pot with cold water and about a teaspoon of salt. Wash, peel, and cut the potatoes into evenly sized chunks. Place the chunks into the water while working to keep the potatoes from turning brown or gray.

Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until the biggest chunk is tender. Pierce with a paring knife to check for doneness. Drain the potatoes but do not rinse.

Melt the butter in the pot over a low heat and stir in the milk or cream. You may need to adjust the liquid based on the quantity of potatoes, but keep in mind that you want the potatoes creamy without being too dry or too runny.  Add the cooked potatoes to the butter and milk or cream.  Mash gently with a hand-held potato masher.

Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Enjoy!

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Two Peas in a Pod

two-peas-in-a-podLike most children, Johnny Welles at twelve was rather oblivious to the world of adults going on around him. His life on the farm with his family consisted of happy days in which he lived secure in the knowledge that he was loved. And then his drunken father decided to return.

The devastation John Welles the elder inflicted upon the family would affect all of them for many years but Johnny most of all. Little did he know that help would come from an aunt he barely knew. His father’s sister, Prudence Welles Mayfield, supplied the much needed means of escape that would set Johnny on the course to becoming a doctor.

Prudence arrived at the farm just as Collie was setting dinner on the table. Without waiting for an invitation, she seated herself, dug in to Collie’s excellent cooking, and proposed the plan that would change Johnny’s life. One of the items on the menu was black eyed peas. The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene.

Black Eyed Peas

1 lb. dried black eyed peas

2 T unsalted butter

6 – 8 oz. pork shoulder, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

6 strips thick sliced bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium onion, diced

5 garlic cloves, pressed

1 1/2 t salt

1 t freshly cracked black pepper (I used quad-colored peppercorns)

1/2 t crushed red pepper

6 cups chicken broth (I prefer low-sodium, low-fat broth)

2 bay leaves

Place the dried peas in a colander and swirl around to remove any loose shells or debris. Be sure to sift through with your fingers to remove larger unwanted particles. Place the peas in a large pot and cover with four inches of water. Soak them overnight, then drain the water and rinse the peas in a colander.

(Quick Soak: Sift the peas for debris, bring them and the water to a boil, cook for two minutes. Remove from heat, cover and soak for one hour. Drain and rinse. They are ready to use.)

Rinse and wipe the pot the peas were in then melt the butter. Add the pork shoulder to the pot and brown on all sides until there is a nice sear on the meat and brown bits formed on the bottom of the pot. Add the bacon, onion, and garlic, and cook until the onion has browned, almost caramelized. Be sure to scrape the browned tidbits off the bottom as it cooks.

Add the seasonings to the pot, being sure to coat the meat and onion evenly, and cook for about two minutes. Add the six cups of chicken stock and bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about thirty minutes. When the pork becomes tender, add the peas to the pot and simmer until they are very soft, about 1 – 1 ½ hours. When the peas are finished cooking, you can purée one cup of peas and broth and return to the pot if you desire an even creamier consistency.

When finished cooking, remove the bay leaves and transfer the peas to a serving bowl. Vinegar, especially the hot-pepper variety, is often a condiment for this dish. There are also many stir-ins that people add based on the version of black eyed peas they grew up with. Consider a stalk of celery, a chopped red or green pepper, or corn during the cooking process. Some recipes even call for cooking with the bone from the pork shoulder.  Remember to remove it prior to serving.

Enjoy!

Getting Out of a Sticky Situation

getting-out-of-a-sticky-situationGladys Feldman, mother to Sam, is determined to make the holidays happy for one of her son’s best friends, Claude Willoughby. Sam and John are also trying to cheer up their friend who has been left in Maryland as punishment while his family returns home to Kentucky to celebrate Christmas.

What the trio comes up with is an after-the-fact Chanukkah party to lift Claude’s spirits. Gladys invites her son’s friends over for a meal of brisket and latkes. As delicious as the meal is, the real fun doesn’t begin until she guides them through the process of making sufganiyot, and all four end up in a friendly powdered sugar fight before settling down to play dreidel.

The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the scene above. Sufganiyot are traditionally served at Chanukkah, but they are so easy to make that you’ll probably want to sample them a couple times throughout the year.

Enjoy!

Sufganiyot

1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole milk

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 large eggs

4 cups vegetable oil, for frying (I used canola)

1 cup seedless red raspberry jelly or other favorite jelly flavor

Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Mix the yeast, one teaspoon granulated sugar, and ¼ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F) in a large bowl (preferably not metal). Let stand until yeast mixture foams, about five minutes.

With a wooden spoon, stir flour, milk, butter, salt, nutmeg, eggs, and remaining ¼ cup granulated sugar into yeast mixture until evenly blended. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth towel, and let the dough rise in warm place (80 to 85 degrees F) until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

With floured hands, punch down the dough. Turn the dough onto a heavily floured surface, and let rest ten minutes. With floured hands, pat the dough ½-inch thick. With a floured, three-inch round biscuit cutter, cut out as many rounds as possible. Place the rounds, about two inches apart, on lightly floured cookie sheets. Gently press any trimmings together. Repeat steps above. Cover the rounds, and let them rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.

In a ten-inch skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until the temperature reaches 375 ° F on a deep-fry thermometer. With a wide metal spatula, carefully place two or three doughnuts in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 ½ minutes, turning over once. With a large slotted spoon, transfer doughnuts to wire racks lined with paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining dough rounds.

When the doughnuts are cool enough to handle, using a small sharp knife, pierce the doughnuts from one side almost to the opposite side. Place the jelly in a decorating bag fitted with ¼-inch round tip. Squeeze a small amount of jelly into each doughnut through the slit. Cool the doughnuts completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle doughnuts with powdered sugar to serve.

A Sour and Sweet Situation

a-sour-and-sweet-situation-3The first time Dr. John Welles meets diner owner Bea Turner, he’s entangled in an embarrassing misunderstanding between himself and the town police officer. People in Addison had stopped to watch the encounter, but the situation became unbearable when John spied the voluptuous brunette sauntering toward him and Officer Boyce.

John would come to know Bea quite well in later years, but at the moment, he wished she had chosen another time to deliver a lemon meringue pie to the burly cop. Bea’s laughter upon departure only worsened the doctor’s humiliation; he believed he hadn’t made a good first impression.

When I choose lemon meringue pie for the above-mentioned scene, I didn’t realize how perfectly the dessert complimented what took place. John’s attitude toward life had turned sour, but in the hands of Bea Turner, he would know sweetness again.

Bea Turner’s Lemon Meringue Pie

Single Crust:

1 c flour

¼ t salt

1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced into ¼-inch pieces

½ c cold water with an ice cube

To make a bottom crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter. Work with your hands until the flour and butter combine to make pea-sized pieces. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and work through until you can form a ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and chill for twenty minutes in the refrigerator.

a-sour-and-sweet-situationPreheat oven to 425°. Roll the dough on a floured surface to fit a nine-inch pie plate. Crimp the edges and prick the bottom and sides of the shell with a fork. Line the pie shell with aluminum foil or parchment paper and fill with pie weights or baking beans. Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, remove the baking weights and continue cooking for 10 minute in 5 minute increments or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

Filling:

1 cup of sugar (I used raw)

2 T flour

3 T cornstarch

¼ t salt

1 ½ c water

2 lemons, juiced and zested

1 t vanilla

2 T unsalted butter

4 egg yolks, beaten

Combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch, and salt in a saucepan. Whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the water, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla. Cook the mixture over a medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until it comes to a boil. Stir in the butter. In the thinnest thread possible, slowly pour the egg yolks into the hot mixture directly where you are whisking vigorously. This will keep the eggs from cooking and becoming scrambled eggs in your lemon filling. Continue cooking while stirring constantly until the mixture thickens. Strain the lemon filling through a wire mesh sieve to remove any pieces of zest. Pour into the baked pie shell.

Meringue:

4 egg whites

6 T sugar (I used white as the raw is too coarse for this step)

Pinch of cream of tartar

Whip the egg whites on a high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and a pinch of cream of tartar, and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. Spread the meringue over the pie and seal at the edges of the crust. Set the meringue in a 425° oven for eight minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool the pie on a wire rack until you can handle the edges of the pie plate and serve warm, or chill the pie in the refrigerator for a couple hours and serve cold.

Enjoy!

Tips for success:

Chill the beaters and bowl in which you will beat the egg whites for meringue

That pinch of cream of tartar is what will keep your egg whites from breaking down and becoming watery

If you must buy citrus out of season, and you don’t want to risk pricey eggs and butter on bitter fruit, I suggest a test batch of lemonade to see how the lemons are doing. Another trick if you absolutely must make lemon meringue pie when lemons aren’t in season is a teaspoon of pure lemon extract to help take the edge off. I prefer having faith in my lemons, but that’s not always possible. Makes me wonder why so much lemonade sells in the summer!

Here’s a wonderful article on choosing citrus and when it’s in season

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