Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quick dinner: Beans and cornbread baked as waffles

Tuesdays are dance class nights and my 4-year-old isn't the only one who has to shake a leg. We get home about 7:15 p.m. and I have to make dinner fast under the looming deadline of 8 o'clock bathtime. Soupbeans and cornbread have been in my repertoire of quick meals for years. But I've just found a way to make it even faster.

Some folks might cook their own beans but I haven't tasted any better than Randall's Great Northern Beans in a jar. I use the cornbread recipe on the back of the Quaker corn meal box, but I bet Jiffy mix would work OK, too. The timesaver is in how you bake it.

Use the waffle iron!!!

I can't take credit for that tip -- I read it in Cook's Country magazine. But it works great in a couple of ways: it saves time and eliminates wasted leftovers.

In the past, we've had lots of leftover cornbread that went to waste when the beans ran out. Baking the batter into waffles lets us easily freeze the extras and because of their shape and uniform size, the next time we need cornbread, we just have to set the toaster to "defrost." The batch I made tonight probably yielded enough leftovers for two more meals for our family of three, one more dinner if we had company to share it with. Each waffle takes just a few minutes to bake and, altogether it might take just as long to bake a pan of cornbread, but if you're really in a hurry, your family can eat assembly-line style and get on to what they need to be doing next. And next time, with the frozen extras, it won't take that long at all.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Available for parties -- My creations in cake

The first cake I remember decorating (other than just placing those hard formed sugar disks pressed into letters and shapes) was to celebrate my cousin's Special Olypics gold medal. Roberta competed in the International Games the first year they were held in South Bend, Ind., 1987 I believe. When she was due to visit to show her medal to our grandfather, I baked a cake mix and frosted it with canned icing. Then, using tubes of decorator gel, I drew a gymnast with long dark hair, arms raised in victory and a gold medal around her neck. I figure I wrote something on the cake, too, crooked no doubt, but I can't remember what.

Fifteen years or so later, I would get the urge to create again. For one of my mother-in-law's birthdays I decorated a cake to look like a grill. Simple enough -- just draw evenly spaced lines of dark chocolate frosting crosswise on the cake; slide dried fruits such as apricots, pineapple chunks and prunes, a-HEM DRIED PLUMS, on bamboo skewers; and unwrap full-size peppermint patties to stand in for hamburgers.

A couple of years after that, I took a community class in cake decorating. Susie, the instructor, can do amazing things with buttercream. I'm nowhere near that good. But I like to think I have made some children (and a couple of adults) happy with my efforts.

This was my final class project.

This is a cake I made for a newspapering colleague who got married.

Checkerboard cake with lots of roses for Mother's Day:

Perhaps my most involved/challenging cake:

I can't remember if it was harder to get the frosting flower to stick in her hair or the frosting bra cups to keep from sliding down her body!

I can do more than "star-tip", but that's what I did for this Scooby-Doo cake.

Pay no attention to the Star-Tipper, check out those fingernails! Ah, life pre-children. :)

My adventures in frosting haven't been limited to cake. For Wilton's gingerbread house contest one year, I entered a beach hut.

The hut was constructed of graham crackers and covered in potato sticks (the roofing ones were dyed with green food coloring.) Positioned on a blanket of brown-sugar sand, the hut was surrounded by palm trees made of Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes cookies and spearmint gum-drop slices. Raisins made coconuts. I used a shell tip to make frosting shells for the beach. My husband got into it and made a crab and a starfish out of dried cranberries.

I didn't win but I was on the same wavelength as that year's winner who put Santa in front of his or her beach house.

Easier than it looks... . A cake for a sister-in-law who collects everything "Coke."

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Demolition derbies are big in our town so this was a fun cake to make for a boy's birthday.

My husband had fun the smashing Matchbox cars. I personalized the cake by writing the names of the party guests on the cars, just like folks do on a real derby car.

The Spider-Man toy doubled as a gift for the birthday boy and a cake decoration.

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Never say never ...

I always said I would never try to sell cakes, but I could use the extra cash and it is a marketable skill. I won't do weddings though -- I have neither the equipment nor the patience and confidence to take on such a monumental project.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

No kickbacks from Kraft -- I swear

Food Find: Philadelphia Cracker Spreads
On a late-September shopping trip at the new -- and only -- Wal-mart in my county, I found Kraft's new Philadelphia Cracker Spreads. I chose Parmesan with Garlic & Herb. You see and taste real slivers of Parmesan in the soft cream cheese spread that's dotted with bits of herbs. Cracker Spreads are also available in Asiago and Parmesan, Feta & Spinach, Pepperjack & Jalapeno, and White Cheddar & Red Pepper. Suggested retail price is $2.49. They're good for snacking right from the tub but consider packing a few in a (refrigerated) lunch and definitely look for them at the holidays to easily upscale your hors d'oeuvres offerings at get-togethers.

Apple-sausage pancakes

Apples and sausage, to my mind, are autumn foods. So I was confused when I saw them in a Father's Day breakfast recipe for pancakes this summer. Despite the seasonal incongruity, I made them. My husband says he loves them and, because I reminded him of them when I asked his opinion just now, he's after me to make them again soon. He said they are filling and good on a cold day.

Add maple syrup and finish the trifecta of fall flavors!

2 medium sweet Italian turkey sausages (precooked), each cut into chunks
1 apple, peeled and cored
1 1/4 cups all-purpose or white whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
cooking spray

Place a heat-proof plate or platter in the oven. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F.

Place the sausages and apple in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Saute until the sausage is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In another medium bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the milk, egg and oil. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. The batter should be mostly smooth.

Add the sausage and apple mixture to the batter and mix until evenly distributed through the batter.

Rinse and dry the skillet, then lightly coat it with cooking spray. Return the skillet to the burner over medium heat. When the skillet is hot (a drop of water should immediately sizzle away), spoon about 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet for each pancake. Make 2 or 3 pancakes at a time.

When the edges of the pancakes show bubbles, use a spatula to flip and cook another 1 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer the finished pancakes to the platter in the oven and repeat with remaining ingredients. Add a light coat of cooking spray to the pan between batches.

Serve pancakes with warm maple syrup.

Credit: Associated Press

Garnishing trick: Cut a not-too-thin slice from an unpeeled orange. Cut through the peel to the center of the slice, but not all the way across. Twist the slice and stand it up on the plate. Tuck a leaf or two of fresh mint beside it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Food Find: Philadelphia Ready-To-Eat Cheesecake Filling

The tub of ready-to-eat cheesecake filling was intriguing and the urge to eat it a spoonful at a time, here and there, actually not that great. I bought it not because I planned to dump it all into a graham-cracker crumb crust and serve it -- it's obvious primary intended use. No, I was thinking about other things I could use it for. Inspired by Bob Evans or IHOP or another of those breakfast-all-day chains, my first application was stuffed french toast.

This recipe is easy enough to make for Sunday breakfast and still get to church; it'll only look and taste like you made a big fuss. Plus it's a simple way to make an everyday day extraordinary.

  • Take one day-old loaf of braided challah (Jewish egg bread...see side note below) and sliced it into pieces at least 1-inch thick. I probably had 8-10 slices.
  • Beat 4 or 5 eggs in a glass pie plate with a splash of milk. Dip the bread slices one at a time in the egg batter and fry them on a hot nonstick griddle.
  • To assemble the stuffed french toast: Put a few tablespoons of ready-to-eat cheesecake filling on one piece of french toast. Top with another slice. Garnish with sliced bananas and strawberries or, like I did, use home-canned strawberry pie filling.
A side note: The artisanal bakery in the town where I work closed this summer -- much to my great sorrow. In preparation, I ordered a couple of loaves of challah every Friday leading up to its last day. I sliced and froze the bread in zipper-lock plastic bags. Thaw the bread on the counter a day or two before making french toast. It needs to get a little stale to better absorb the egg batter.

It got me through as I'm thrilled to report that another artisanal bakery will open soon in the same location with some of the same workers but under new management.

UPDATE: One recent Sunday, I tried a variation on this recipe. I traded the strawberry topping for toasted pecans and caramel sauce. I suppose you could add sliced bananas to this, too, but I may have mentioned how I loathe a banana.

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To toast pecans, put a single layer in a skillet or saute pan and heat over low to medium flame. Shake the pan every minute and watch them carefully so they don't scorch -- yuk! I used Tastefully Simple Caramel Sauce and it was nothing spectacular, beat making my own though. Tastefully Simple, if you've never had the pleasure, sells "gourmet" foods -- mainly mixes for breads (like just add a can of beer) and dips. I think you can order direct from the representative but there are is also a home-party plan component (think Tupperware.) I like some of the company's products but can't say I'd buy the caramel sauce again -- not rich enough or something, kinda bland.

With the holidays approaching, a great use for this ready-made cheesecake product might be as filling in pumpkin rolls. Though I gather that the filling is not the tricky part (I have never tried to make one). I imagine folks might have trouble handling the thin spongy cake that makes the roll.

There is a chocolate variety, too.

Kraft suggests mixing crushed Oreo cookies into a tub of the plain filling and dumping the whole thing in an Oreo pie crust. I was surprised that the company's recommendations for using this versatile new product weren't more diverse. Of the seven recipes on Kraft's site that incorporate the ready-to-eat cheesecake filling, only one deviated from the standard "vanilla" formulations of dump it in a cracker-crumb crust and dress it up with pie filling topping, sprinkles or mix-ins. The quick tropical cheesecake trifle calls for it between layers of fruit and poundcake. Thanks to Kraft, that recipe follows.

Quick Tropical Cheesecake Trifle
Recipe from KraftFoods.com

1 package (10.75 oz.) frozen pound cake, thawed, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tub (24.2 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Ready-To-Eat Cheesecake Filling
2 cups cut-up fresh pineapple (1 inch pieces)
2 bananas, sliced
2 kiwi, peeled, chopped
1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam, warmed
1/4 cup BAKER'S ANGEL FLAKE Coconut, toasted
Layer half of the cake cubes in bottom of large straight-sided serving bowl. Top with half of the cheesecake filling and fruit. Repeat layers.
Drizzle with jam; sprinkle with coconut.
Serve immediately. Or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Store any leftovers in refrigerator. Serves 14.

How would you use it?

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