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!

A Plum of a Restaurant

What passes for a family restaurant today just doesn’t quite compare to those of the 1970s. These days there’s a television mounted on every wall blaring sporting events and music videos, loud pop music piped throughout the building, and waiters and waitresses who look as if they’ve pulled an all-nighter studying for tests or indulging in kegers at a friend’s dorm. And don’t get me started on what passes for a uniform.

I recall one of my parents’ favorite places to eat during my childhood was Jack Horner’s Restaurant in Akron, Ohio. Perhaps it was because I was so young, but I remember all the waitresses being adults, not teens or twenty-somethings. They were professionals, and their friendly nature came through as they took orders and served meals.

Tasty cooking and good service appeal to any family, and the Tedescos are no different. After experiencing a special surprise one Christmas, the entire Tedesco clan heads to Jack Horner’s to celebrate with Joe’s best friends, Smiley Roberts and Officer Ted Conley, as well as Father Moretti and Sister Mary Agnes from the church where the Tedescos attend.

The history of Jack Horner’s began in 1942 when Frank Wren opened the restaurant at 395 East Market Street, Akron, Ohio. William P. Owen purchased the restaurant named after a nursery rhyme in 1946 when Wren’s health began to fail. The original twenty nine-seat building was torn down and replaced with a seventy five-seat restaurant in 1960. Three more additions followed, and by 1984 Jack Horner’s seated four hundred.

When William P. Owen bought the restaurant in 1946, he couldn’t afford to replace the sign, so the name stayed the same. Signage had little to do with the success of one of Akron’s most frequently visited restaurants over the next five decades.

Owen made home-cooked meals, affordable prices, and great service synonymous with Jack Horner’s. Delicious pies, fresh-cut hash browns and fries, bread and dinner rolls made from scratch kept customers returning as did light and fluffy pancakes and the Sir Beef (a roast sirloin sandwich). All this and more could be enjoyed seven days a week from six a.m. until one a.m.

According to William James “Bill” Owen, son of the founder, the terrific wait staff had much to do with the restaurant’s success. Eighty five people stayed in the employ of Jack Horner’s for thirty five years because the Owen family invested in their employees with paid uniforms, pregnancy leave, and profit-sharing.

Location also contributed to the success of Jack Horner’s with easy access from the freeway. Employees of Goodyear, Polsky’s, O’Neil’s, Akron City Hospital staff and visitors, and the University of Akron staff and students were regulars at the restaurant.

In 1996, Summa Health System bought the property on which Jack Horner’s stood. Bill Owen and his son, William John Owen, attempted to make a go of it at Fairlawn Town Center, but the profits couldn’t withstand high rent and a percentage of sales to out-of-town landlords. Only three years into the five-year lease, the Owen family closed the doors of Jack Horner’s Restaurant for good. Although the family lamented the end of an era, they should be proud of all the memories they made for anyone who ate there whether real or fictional.

Even Peaches Have Stones

You’ve heard it said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Fortunately, good food eaten in the company of great friends also reaches a woman’s heart, and Shirley Tedesco’s heart definitely needs reaching one particular Mother’s Day.

Shirley and Joe Tedesco have recently experienced some heartbreak, but it’s Shirley who is having a hard time getting back into the swing of things. On the outside, she appears to be the same wonderful wife and mother she’s always been. Fortunately, Joe can see through the warm and fuzzy façade to the broken heart within, and he won’t let his wife’s heart turn to stone.

Together with their best friends, Smiley and Charlene Roberts, Joe plans a Mother’s Day surprise for Shirley that includes delicious food sure to melt anyone’s defenses. Shirley understands that she’s been loved from the inside out, and the once unhappy mother finds the strength to direct her heart back to her family.

I featured peach cobbler on the Mother’s Day menu at the church where Smiley and Charlene attend. The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene. It’s easy to make, but it looks quite impressive and tastes like you slaved over it.

Old-Fashioned Peach Cobbler

8 Georgia peaches, peeled and sliced, about 6 to 8 cups

¼ c bourbon

¼ c dark brown sugar

2 T corn starch

1 t ground cinnamon

2 t vanilla

 

Dumplings:

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour

½ c raw sugar, plus more for dusting

2 t baking powder

1/2 t sea salt

16 T (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter

3/4 c heavy cream, plus more for brushing

 

Heat the oven to 375° F.

In a large bowl add the peaches, bourbon, dark brown sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, and cinnamon. Mix well to coat the peaches evenly. Set aside.

To prepare the dumplings, sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Add the sugar, and stir to mix well. (The large crystals of raw sugar will not pass through a sifter.) Cut twelve tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter into small pieces.  Add it to the flour mixture and cut it in with a pastry blender or your hands until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs.  Pour in the cream and mix just until the dough comes together.  Don’t overwork; the dough should be slightly sticky but manageable.

In a twelve-inch cast iron skillet over medium-low heat, melt the remaining four tablespoons butter.  Add the peaches and cook gently until heated through, about five minutes.  Drop the dough by tablespoonsful over the warm peaches. There can be gaps as the dough will puff up and spread out as it bakes.  Brush the top of the dumplings with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar. Put the skillet into the oven with a baking sheet on the next rack down to catch any drips.  Cook for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is browned and the peach juice is bubbling.

Allow the cobbler to sit for five minutes, and then serve it warm 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.

Putting on the Ritz

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time of family coming together in peace and thankfulness as they dine, watch football, and sleep off large amounts of consumed turkey. But in November of 1978, Shirley Tedesco has bitten off a bit more than she can chew when she decides that her family should spend the day with her wacky sister, Theresa.

Theresa almost ruins Thanksgiving dinner when she screws up Shirley’s instructions regarding the turkey. To keep Joe from noticing the shenanigans taking place in the kitchen, Shirley sets Joe up with snacks in front of the TV. One of those snacks is the well-known cracker, Ritz.

Ritz crackers have a humble history that began in 1801. John Bent, a retired sea captain, improved a recipe for hardtack biscuits (an English term used at that time) with the addition of leavening agents which produced a flat, crisp biscuit. The Bent family managed baking the new recipe while Bent traveled the countryside selling crackers from a wagon. The Kennedy Biscuit Works further refined the recipe by using sponge dough thus producing a lighter consistency.

In 1898, Bent, Kennedy Biscuit Works, and many other bakeries united to form the National Biscuit Company. In 1934, the recipe was perfected which resulted in a smooth, flaky cracker with a light, buttery flavor. Unlike the pale, square crackers widely sold at the time, this new cracker was round, golden, and had serrated edges.

The cracker received the name Ritz as a result of a company-wide naming contest. A legend exists that claims Ritzville, WA supplied the name of the cracker because the flour used in making them at the National Biscuit Company plant in Portland, OR came from Ritzville. This is pure fiction.

Mass production of Ritz crackers began in Nabisco’s North Philadelphia bakery, and the new product was introduced to the market in Philadelphia and Baltimore on November 21, 1934. Thanks to brilliant marketing that promised a taste of luxury during the Depression years, Ritz sold in the five-billion volume area during its first year of nationwide distribution in 1935. Also adding to the popularity of the mass-produced cracker was the low price of nineteen cents a box, a marketing practice made possible since Nabisco was the only baking manufacture with facilities capable of nationwide distribution at the time.

Sydney S. Stern, a Hungarian immigrant who turned personal tragedy into a prolific commercial art career, is responsible for the easily recognizable box of the world’s most famous cracker. Stern established himself as an independent commercial artist, but in 1928, after losing his wife to childbirth complications, Stern accepted a nine-to-four job with Nabisco to support his family. In one weekend, Stern, inspired by a circular label inside his hat, designed the blue circle with the word Ritz in yellow lettering. Although worried that Ritz crackers would rub Depression-era customers the wrong way, the tasty cracker and brilliant marketing had the opposite, positive effect.

Flash forward to the 1970s and the Ritz commercials where Andy Griffith quips, “Everything tastes great when it sits on a Ritz.” Griffith’s affable nature, reinforced by his television persona Sheriff Taylor, made the perfect accompaniment for a posh-tasting cracker meant to satisfy common folk. The catchy tunes sung by the handsome actor were memorable enough to keep housewives reaching for the delicious crackers when choosing hors d’oeuvres ingredients.

Unfortunately, Andy’s crooning wasn’t enough to keep Nabisco from adding high fructose corn syrup to the cracker recipe. I am unable to discover exactly when this happened, but when added to the fact that there is absolutely no fiber in a Ritz, I’m afraid the beloved cracker has been reduced to yet another processed food that has been eliminated from the Gibson family cupboards.

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.

Order in the Court

One of my favorite peripheral characters in my novel, The Tedescos, is Officer Ted Conley. Lieutenant Conley first makes a casual appearance in a chapter where I mention him as a friend who is visiting Joe Tedesco’s bowling alley. Ted and Joe are high school football buddies who stayed in touch after graduation.

It’s probably because I grew up around cops—my dad served twenty five years as a police officer—that I subconsciously chose the profession. But then I realized how handy it was to have a cop on the scene especially with a family like the Tedescos whose escapades sometimes require the compassionate arm of the law. For this reason, Officer Ted Conley makes several more appearances in my novel as both friend and policeman.

I didn’t pin down exactly where the Tedescos live right off the bat because I want my readers to relate to them as members of their own family and/or as friends. Really, where they live isn’t as important as what goes on between them. But I mention their locale every now and then as well as drop in clues.

One such hint came from my own memories of visiting my dad at work. The police station where my dad worked is located next to the courthouse, and in front of the courthouse are two amazing lion sculptures. They are the stuff of childhood fantasy, and more than once I imagined them coming alive. They made such an impression on me as a kid that is seemed natural to have Officer Conley waiting in front of one of the lion statues to be picked up by Joe for poker night.

While the history of the courthouse is quite interesting, this blog post focuses on the lions. After the original courthouse was demolished in 1905, a new one was completed in 1908. The new building was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style of architecture and included two male statues and two lion statues.

The two seated males, one with a scroll and the other with a sheathed sword, represent law and justice. The two carved male lions are symbols of the law’s majesty and are sculpted of Salem Limestone (commercially known as Indiana Limestone). The lions, mirror images of each other, flank the courthouse sidewalk with one facing northwest and the other facing southwest. The lions rest on their hind legs with their front legs outstretched and mouths open slightly to reveal their teeth. The pair has impressively large manes, and their tails curl around and up to rest on their backs. They are placed on limestone plinths which set on mortared sandstone bases.

The lion sculptures cost $1,160 in 1908 which, according to an inflation calculator, would be $32,127.49 in 2017. In order to position the lions without cracking the stone base blocks, large blocks of ice were placed between the lions and the stone bases. As the ice slowly melted, the lions gently came to rest on their stone bases.

The only information I could find about the sculptor was a snippet by someone commenting on another website. Supposedly, August Blepp, a master stonecutter, is responsible for the carved lions guarding the courthouse. I shall continue to search for any details regarding the sculptor and update this post as needed.

Perhaps you noticed that I still have not mentioned the location of the lions or the county in which they and the courthouse reside. I enjoy a little mystery, and I’d rather these details be revealed within my published novel. Until then, I’ve provided a picture clue of one of the lions.

Happy hunting!

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!

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