bits & basics – part 2

Here are some more cooking basics I continue to make over and over. My basics are foundations for more elaborate dishes with ingredients added to spice up my repertoire in the kitchen. You can do the same to save time and effort.

Basic Nine-Day Coleslaw  If you’re a coleslaw lover like I am, you’ll find this recipe valuable. It is mayonnaise-free, really does keep for nine days, makes a ton of slaw, and is great to bring to a potluck.

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs cabbage
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup lite olive oil
  • 2 tsp table salt (or 4 tsp kosher salt)
  • 2 Tbs mustard seed

Directions

Chop cabbage, pepper and onion and set aside in a large bowl. Place the rest of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and pour over vegetables. Toss well to coat. Place in container or jar and store in refrigerator. Best after sitting one day. Optional additions are raisins, shredded carrots, or green onions.

Basic Fruit Cobbler  This is so easy to throw together. You can use most kinds of fruit or berries—whatever is in season, but it is best with apples or peaches.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups peeled and sliced fruit
  • 1½ cups sugar (divided)
  • ¾ cup flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¾ cup milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°. Pour ¾ cup of the sugar over fruit, mix lightly and set aside. Mix remaining sugar, flour, baking powder, milk, and salt till blended. Place butter in a casserole dish and set in oven. When butter is melted, remove dish from oven, pour in batter, and top with fruit, spreading evenly. Bake 1 hour.

Basic Barbecue Sauce  I find bottled barbecue sauce way too sweet and loaded with all kinds of unpronounceable ingredients. This recipe is delicious, and you control how sweet it will be. You can make large batches and put it up in jars to give as gifts (be sure to check your canner instructions).

  • Ingredients
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbs balsamic or apple cider vinegar
  • 6 Tbs lemon juice
  • 5 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 3 Tbs (or less) brown sugar
  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste
  • Liquid Smoke to taste (optional but very nice if used sparingly)

Directions

Prepare onions and garlic. Place tomato paste in a large saucepan. Add water gradually till well blended. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. Adjust salt, pepper, and sugar. Refrigerate in jars. Use within two weeks or so, or freeze in several small containers to extend shelf life.

Basic Roasted Vegetables  What shouts “comfort food” more than oven-roasted veggies? Well, maybe mac and cheese, but really, this is so easy to make and you might even get your kids to eat them.

You can use any root vegetable like potatoes, beets, carrots, as well as apples, onions, fennel bulb, winter squash, and even cauliflower and brussels sprouts.

First, preheat your oven to 425°. Depending on the hardness of the vegetable, you’ll want to cut them according to how long they need to cook. For example, cut carrots and parsnips thin and potato a bit thicker. Apples will not take as long as squash.

You can cut your veggies into chunks or slices. Spread them out on a large cookie sheet with sides. Drizzle with oil (I like extra virgin but you can use whatever you prefer), and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in oven for about 40 minutes, flipping around about half way through, or till browned around the edges. Test doneness with a fork. Remove the cooked pieces to a serving dish and cover with foil to keep warm. Return any undone pieces to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes or till done. Serve as a side dish with anything. A drizzle of lemon juice and cracked pepper makes it even more yummy. Honey mustard dressing tastes great on this, too.

I added two bonus recipes on my blog last time—basic crepes and basic brown butter sauce—so be sure to log on to get them, and while you’re at it, download a printable PDF, Cook’s Journal-TIPS pt 2 of this post, too!

fruit

Fresh fruit, preserved fruit, frozen fruit, canned fruit—it’s all good because fruit is sweet, always available, and versatile as an ingredient in savory dishes, like ham and pineapple or pork and applesauce, as well as desserts. And now we can enjoy fresh berries and watermelon in January! My first recipe is especially for the cook who hates heating up the kitchen in the middle of summer!

no-bake berry crisp
You can use fresh or frozen fruit of any kind. No need to thaw. Serves 6.

Topping:
¾ cup sliced almonds, divided
2/3 cup flour
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
6 Tbs butter, melted

Filling:
1/3 cup white sugar, divided
1 Tbs cornstarch
2 lbs berries, apples, peaches, or frozen sweet cherries
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp salt

Optional: If using sweet cherries, add ¼ tsp almond extract and 2/3 cup dried cherries; for apples, add 2/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries.

Finely chop ¼ cup of the almonds. Mix them with flour, both sugars, cinnamon, salt, vanilla in a bowl. Stir in melted butter till it looks like wet sand and no dry flour remains.

In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, toast remaining ½ cup almonds over medium-low heat until just beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Add sugar mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool and wipe out skillet.

Prepare the filling. Mix 2 Tbs of the sugar with the cornstarch in a small bowl. Combine fresh or frozen fruit with lemon juice, vanilla, salt, and remaining sugar in the skillet. Cover and cook over medium heat until fruit thaws and/or releases its juices. Stir about halfway through. If adding any dried fruit, do it at this time. Time will vary depending on the kind of fruit you are using, but 5-7 minutes should do it. Uncover and simmer till fruit is very tender.

Sprinkle in cornstarch mixture and stir till thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and distribute topping evenly over filling. Return skillet to heat and cook till filling is bubbling around edges. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

nathalie’s apple squares
Nathalie Lagerstrom was an incredible woman. She spoke fluent Swedish and was a passionate gardener and volunteer. When my mother died, Nathalie brought these to the reception at Faith Lutheran Church. Of course I had to ask her for the recipe, which she knew by heart! Now Nathalie is gone, and we will miss her spirit. This is quick and easy to prepare using stuff you already have around. Apples can be substituted with any other fruit, and this can be doubled to fill a 9×13 pan for a crowd.

Ingredients
1 egg, well beaten with 1 cup of sugar
1/3 cup canned milk
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup peeled, chopped apple

Topping
2 Tbs sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
2 Tbs chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, place ingredients in order given and mix well. Grease an 8×8 pan. Pour batter into pan. Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle over batter. Bake about a half hour or until golden brown. Cool completely. Cut into squares.

granny cake
This is so delicious. Keep in the refrigerator—IF any is left, that is!

2 cups sugar, divided
2 cups flour
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup evaporated milk OR coconut milk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 20-oz can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a 9×13-inch pan. Mix 1½ cups of the sugar, flour, salt, soda, eggs, and pineapple in a medium size bowl, pour into the pan, and top with a mixture of the brown sugar and pecans. Bake 45 minutes.

Mix ½ cup of the sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. As soon as cake is out of the oven, pour the mixture over entire cake.

one-dish apple pudding
This is from the Shakers of Sabbathday Lake, Maine. I met these wonderful folks when they came to Caribou to do a history presentation at the Nylander Museum in 1986. Part of the program was a cooking demonstration. It was so much fun. Now you can enjoy this great recipe, which I make often. It’s so easy, but my family thinks I spend hours on it. Yours will, too!

2 eggs
1 cup white sugar
3 Tbs flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla or rose water
Dash of salt
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup finely chopped nuts like walnuts or pecans (optional)
2 medium apples, peeled and finely diced
Plain cream, whipped cream, or ice cream

Break eggs into a 1½-quart casserole and beat well. (Do NOT use a smaller dish as mixture rises and will go over in the oven.) Stir in all remaining ingredients except cream. Bake at 350° for about 35 minutes till golden on top. Might take up to another 10 minutes if needed. Serve warm with cream of choice.

Other ideas:
Substitute brown sugar for white.
Top with wheat germ, drizzle with melted butter, and sprinkle on nutmeg or mace for more flavor
Serve with lemon yogurt or sour cream.

blueberry lemon pound cake
Just right for your holiday celebrations, big enough for a crowd, and blueberries are local and fresh right about now. Can be made a day or two ahead to save you rushing around at the last minute. Historical factoid: pound cake recipes go back to before colonial days when a pound of butter, a pound of eggs, a pound of sugar, and a pound of flour was mixed to create a cake. I like the modern measurements much more. And not many of us has a scale in the kitchen anymore nor do we cook over an open fire either!

For the cake:
1/3 cup whole milk
6 large eggs
1 ½ Tbs vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour plus more for flouring baking pan
1 tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt (double if using kosher salt)
3 sticks (1 ½ cups) unsalted butter, softened plus more for greasing baking pan
½ cup white sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup freshly grated lemon zest
3 cups picked over blueberries, tossed with 1½ Tbs flour (Wild blueberries are preferred and frozen is fine if fresh is not available.)

For the syrup:
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
½ cup white sugar

TIP: One medium lemon yields approximately 1 tablespoon of lemon zest (rind) and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Be sure your lemons are at room temperature for maximum juice.

Make the syrup while cake is baking:
In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice and sugar, stirring till dissolved. Let cool a bit.

To bake the cake:
Grease and flour a 10-inch bundt or tube pan with butter. Preheat oven to 350°. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, and vanilla. Into another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter with the sugars and zest till light and fluffy. Next, add the flour and egg mixture alternately, beating after each addition until just combined. Fold in 1½ cups of the berries.

Spoon one-third of the batter into the baking pan, spread evenly, and then sprinkle ½ cup of remaining blueberries over it.

Spoon half of remaining batter into pan, spreading evenly over blueberries on top. Sprinkle ½ cup of remaining berries over it. Repeat to finish with last layer of blueberries on top.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour and ten minutes or till golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle of cake is clean.

Remove from oven, and immediately poke top evenly all over with a wooden skewer or cooking fork and brush with the prepared syrup. Let cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, invert on to rack, remove pan, and poke all over with the skewer or fork. Brush with remaining syrup. Yummy!

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memorial day ideas

Remembering loved ones, and especially those who have died for us, deserves a special meal and appreciation of family, friends, and country. Memorial Day weekend here is the time for raking the yard, getting the garden in, spreading the last of the snow around to melt, and unofficially welcoming in the summer season. With hopes the black flies haven’t started biting yet, we head outdoors to enjoy the warm air and share a meal or two.

I hope these dishes will bring a smile to your face as they are unconventional but delicious, and can become a tradition you can repeat year after year.

homemade onion dip
Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never go back to the old onion-soup-mix glop again! This one’s much less salty and tastes a lot better, too! All it asks of you is a bit of your time—and it’s totally worth it. Make this a day or two ahead for convenience. It tastes much better if the flavors have time to marry.

  • 2 large Spanish or Vidalia onions (2 cups diced)
  • 2 Tbs light olive oil
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 1 16-oz. container sour cream, brought to room temperature
  • 1 8-oz. block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs Gravy Master
  • ½ tsp garlic powder or use fresh 2 garlic cloves, finely minced (even better)
  • ½ tsp white pepper
  • Dash or three of your favorite hot sauce (optional)

Remove cream cheese and sour cream from the ‘fridge at least two hours before starting. Brown onions in oil over medium-high heat, taking care not to burn, till brown and well done. Set aside to cool.

Place all other ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Add cooled onions. Refrigerate, covered, overnight, or at least 4-6 hours. Serve at room temperature with chips, crackers, or pita bread wedges, then watch it disappear!

chinese chicken salad
I got this recipe from my friend, Dawn King and tweaked it a bit. It is so delicious your kids will gobble it up while getting some veggies in the process! You’ll need a tight-fitting plastic container—low, flat, and rectangular in shape—that’ll hold about 6-8 cups. You’ll need to get a small bottle of toasted sesame oil in the ethnic section of the supermarket, but it is totally worth it. It imparts a most memorable flavor.

For the salad, prepare the following:

  • 2 large or 3 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, gently poached, cooled, and diced
  • ¼ cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup slivered almonds sautéed in oil till golden brown and cooled
  • 1 sweet onion (Vidalia, if available, is best)
  • ½ head of medium size cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 packages of Ramen noodles (discard seasoning pack)

For the dressing, mix together in a shaker:

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • ½ cup light olive or peanut oil
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 Tbs sugar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Tbs soy sauce

Directions:
In a plastic container, break up squares of ramen noodles into 4-6 pieces. Pour mixed dressing over noodles, then add tossed remaining ingredients over. Cover and shake vigorously. Flip over and refrigerate at least overnight. If you are worried the lid will leak, be sure to enclose in a large plastic bag. Check in the morning to test that noodles are soft. Remove from refrigerator two hours before serving. Can be served in lettuce cups. Crunchy good!

mamie’s blubarb pie
A divine concoction of blueberries and rhubarb makes this pie a true celebration. Serve with a scoop of lemon sherbet!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 3 cups diced rhubarb
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • Pastry dough, for double-crust 9-inch pie*

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400°. Combine sugars, salt and tapioca in a large bowl and mix well. Add fruit and toss until well coated.

Place fruit mixture in 9-inch pie pan lined with pastry dough. Top with second crust, and trim so the top crust hangs 1/2 inch beyond rim, then tuck edge of top crust under bottom crust and crimp or pinch to finish.

Bake 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350° and bake an additional 25-30 minutes, until pie is golden and the juices are bubbling. Let cool 2 hours and then serve.

*See my magical pie crust recipe below, OR use prepared rolled pie dough.

tip: crumb topping can replace top crust
My mother didn’t much like using a top crust on a pie. She loved to make a crumb topping—sweet, rich, and crunchy. I’ve kind of gone over to her side. This recipe can be mixed up quickly and doubled or tripled, always ready in your ‘fridge or freezer in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps for a month or more. PLUS it’s delicious.

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ stick soft butter (do NOT use margarine)
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats (optional)

Mix with fingers till crumbly.

cousin ralph’s magical pie crust
This recipe first appeared on cans of Spry—a solid shortening—back in the 1960s. My wonderfully creative cousin ripped the label off his Spry can and gave it to me when I raved about the crust on the pie he’d served me in 1963. I can’t understand why this method never caught on with the pastry crowd or with anyone, for that matter. When I tell you this is the easiest crust you’ll ever make, I mean it. You’ve probably never made crust like this, and the process flies in the face of all those pastry experts and seasoned bakers out there who’ve always preached that pie crust must be prepared cold—very cold—and that is a real pain to do correctly. This crust uses hot liquids, but it works and is a snap to prepare. It is easily doubled, tripled, or quadrupled and freezes well, so you can make it two months ahead and pull it out to prepare a delicious homemade pie any time! Great for chicken or beef pot pies, too. You’ll never go back to that pastry blender!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup solid shortening (plain, NOT butter-flavored)
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt

Directions:
Measure out flour and salt; mix and set aside. Place shortening in a medium bowl and spread it evenly over the bottom. In a small saucepan, bring water and milk to a boil, and pour over shortening. Beat with a fork till smooth and thick. Add flour and salt. Stir gently with the fork, then mix with fingers gently so as not to toughen till well blended.

Form two equal balls of dough, which will be soft and warm. I like to roll it out between two sheets of wax paper to a thickness of about ¼-inch. It’s easy to peel off the top paper, pick the whole mess up and flip it on to the pie pan. Carefully peel the other paper off,. If you tear the crust, it is easily patched. Position, trim and pinch taking care to eliminate any air bubbles. (I prick them with a fork then pat it to close the holes.)

Makes 2 crusts

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I’d love to hear from you if you try this or any other recipes on A Cook’s Journal. Just scroll down to the end of this post to comment. Happy cooking!