Category Archives: cooking

comfort food: blonde brownies

Butter, brown sugar, white chocolate … what’s not to like? These bars are dense, chewy, extremely rich, and always a hit.

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs, at room temperature (put them in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes)
2-1/4 cups flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 13″x9″ baking pan, or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla at medium speed until light and fluffy (2 minutes). Add eggs one at a time, mixing until well combined.

Stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture, and mix on low speed until combined. Stir in chipe.

Bake 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool before cutting.

If you prefer, you can use any other flavor of chip rather than white chocolate. You can also add 1 cup of chopped macadamia nuts (or other nuts).

comfort food: macaroni and cheese

one of my favorite comfort foods

Macaroni and cheese: one of my favorite comfort foods

What with the events of the week, when I chose a menu for this week’s Wednesday night Chalice Night dinner at church I wanted to serve comfort food. I decided on tomato-basil soup, macaroni and cheese, tossed salad, and chocolate-chip cake, all made from scratch (well, except the croutons in the salad).

Although the past couple of weeks I’ve had leftovers (summer attendance is light), this week I ran out. A few people told me they came specifically because of the menu. This kind of home cooking speaks to people. It’s “like mom used to make.”

The next time you want something incredibly delicious, warm, and satisfying, make the following macaroni and cheese. It isn’t difficult, and although it takes longer than mac ‘n’ cheese out of a box, the results are so overwhelmingly superior that it’s worth every minute. Because I ran out last night, I made more this evening, so I could have some. It’s in the oven as I write this.

Macaroni and cheese

6 oz elbow macaroni
2 cups small-curd cottage cheese
1 cup sour cream
8 oz American cheese (I use generic Velveeta)
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Boil the macaroni according to package directions. Don’t overcook it; you don’t want it to be squishy.

While the macaroni is cooking, grease a 2-quart baking dish. Place in it the cottage cheese, sour cream, and egg, and mix well.

After trying to find an alternative to saying “Cut the cheese,” I find there is no suitable variation. Cut it into chunks an inch or two across — you don’t have to be exact — and mix them into the cottage cheese mixture. (My friend and co-Wednesday-night-conspirator Jack tells me that this mixture in general, and the cottage cheese in particular, looks disgusting. You may think so too. Don’t worry; everything will turn out fine after a little time in the oven.)

When the macaroni is done, drain it, and then pour it into the baking dish. Mix well. No, the cheese isn’t going to melt now — the ingredients are all too cold from the refrigerator. It’s OK.

Put the dish in the oven and bake 15 minutes. Remove the pan and stir carefully but thoroughly, so all the melted cheese is mixed in.

Return the pan to the oven and bake another 15 (if you want it set but not brown) to 30 (if you want it brown and a little crunchy on top) minutes.

Yummmm. Time for me to eat.

cookies

https://i0.wp.com/www.babble.com/CS/blogs/strollerderby/chocolate_chip-cookies.jpgI just made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I’ve been making chocolate chip cookies since I was old enough to reach the kitchen counter and use the oven safely. Now I make them at least once a week; the recipe is permanently etched in my brain.

A little estimation and the help of a calculator just told me that I’m probably coming up on my 50,000th chocolate chip cookie.

Y’know, that’s a lot of chocolate chips.

400

400: That’s how many meals I prepared this weekend, with considerable assistance from my family.

The Louisville Contra Dancers hold an annual dance weekend at O’Bannon Woods State Park, and this is the second time I’ve catered most of their meals (3 meals Saturday and all-morning brunch Sunday). The event sold out, with 100 participants coming to dance, attend workshops, and enjoy an absolutely beautiful spring weekend in the Indiana woods.

Here’s the easiest way to express how much food it takes to feed 100 people for 4 meals: 1 Saturn Vue full. The shopping took 4 hours, and at the end my car was full. As in, stacked to the roof everywhere except the driver’s seat. My husband came home at lunchtime to help me unload and locate storage places for all the food for the 2 days until the event. Fortunately my mother has an extra refrigerator in her garage; Doug emptied out all the soft drinks and filled the fridge and freezer with salad, vegetables, lunch meat, and more. Our upright freezer in the garage was full to overflowing with garlic toast. And our refrigerator brimmed with 20 pounds of butter, 4 gallons of milk, and 8 dozen eggs.

I spent much of Friday making cookies, brownies, and chocolate chip cake. Saturday morning the kids and I got up at 5:00 a.m. (an hour that I don’t normally admit exists) and headed out on the scenic 45-minute drive to the park. They both volunteered to go out early with me, rather than coming a few hours later with their dad, and I was delighted. They were a huge help, and having them there made everything more fun (and much easier!). Talk about quality time with my children: this was it.

The kitchen at O’Bannon Woods State Park’s group campground is … eclectic. For one thing, you have to bring with you absolutely everything you may need in the way of cookware, utensils, storage, and cleaning supplies. I’ve made a list for next time, because this year I forgot to take measuring cups and a whisk, and we could have used more knives. And then there’s the stove. I’m sure it’s the ultimate in unbreakable, low-maintenance appliances for high-use group facilities, but it’s a pain in the ass. It has 6 burners, 2 of which didn’t work. The burners aren’t gas, and they aren’t standard electric coils or the newer flat burners. I can’t find a picture online: Envision a metal disk about an inch thick and the diameter of a standard burner. Sounds fine, but there are two problems: 1. Any pan you place on the burner must have an absolutely flat bottom, so it makes contact with the disk at all points. If the pan is slightly curved or warped, you can’t boil water in it. 2. The disks stay hot approximately forever. I’m used to turning a burner off or to a lower setting and having it cool relatively quickly. These take a very, very long time to adjust downward.

Another exciting feature of the kitchen is the walk-in refrigerator. The light within is dim, the walls and shelves dark metal, the air frigid, the overall effect extremely creepy. The large, heavy door sticks just enough that every time you have to go in, you wonder for just a moment whether you’ll be able to get out.

Despite the eccentricities of the kitchen, everything went extremely well. During the course of the day Saturday, the kids and I took turns at napping in the back of the car when we had some downtime, enjoying the lovely breeze blowing in an open door. Once the pasta buffet was set up for Saturday dinner, I left to play with Guilderoy Byrne at the Blue River Cafe, and Doug and the kids cleaned things up. I got home at 11:00 p.m., and yet managed to pull myself out of bed again at 6:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Doug and I headed back out to the camp to handle brunch; our daughter drove herself and her brother to church (it’s great to have a child who can drive!). We were finished at noon after a very successful morning. At home again, I took a 3-hour nap, and after dinner I went to play at Brendan’s. (Yes, in the big scheme of things it would have been better not to have 2 band gigs the same weekend as the cooking. I’m just glad I had time to sleep.)

It was an excellent weekend all around. We got every meal ready on time; and the attendees, hungry from their dancing, were very happy with the food. I did a better job this year of estimating quantities and ended up with fewer left-overs. It was wonderful to have my family working with me; we had a lot of fun, so despite the long hours I was never stressed. And the money we earned will be a huge help toward our upcoming summer vacation. Who knew that a killer weekend could make me so happy and satisfied? πŸ™‚

Oh — if you’re interested, here’s the menu:

Saturday

8 -10:30 a.m. Breakfast
—————————————

— Assorted cereals & milk
— Assorted Danish pastries
— Bagels, cream cheese, peanut butter, jelly
— Mixed fruit

11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. Lunch
—————————————

— Assorted breads, meats, cheeses, and hummus for sandwiches
— Veggie pasta salad
— Black bean and couscous salad
— Assorted chips
— Chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and snickerdoodle cookies

5:30 – 7:30 Dinner
—————————————-

— Spaghetti and rotini pasta
— Marinara, alfredo, and pesto sauces
— Meatballs
— Vegetable lasagna
— Green salad
— Garlic toast
— Chocolate chip cake
— Orange cream fruit salad

Sunday

9 a.m. – noon Brunch
—————————————-

— Biscuits with sausage gravy, jelly, honey
— Cheese grits
— Mini quiches
— Asparagus with lemon butter
— Vegetables and dip
— Mixed fruit
— Left-over sandwich supplies, salads
— Triple-chocolate brownies

the joy of cooking

https://i1.wp.com/jacketmagazine.com/02/px/girlcook.jpgLast evening, after the summer hiatus, I returned to the church kitchen to cook dinner for our Wednesday Chalice Night program. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.

I started at about 1:00 p.m., first making the filling for 60 black-bean burritos, and then preparing 4 large pans of banana pudding. I gathered up the ingredients for enchilada sauce, packed my car full of food (and my kids), and headed for church at 4:00. There we were joined by my husband, Jack, and Rita, and we had the usual excellent time as we filled and baked burritos, cooked enchilada sauce and Mexican rice, and dished out pudding. We were ready to serve at 5:30.

In looking for art to accompany this entry, I found a wonderful cartoon of a church kitchen. It reminds me very much of my church’s kitchen, which has signs everywhere: instructions, warnings, reminders, threats, you name it. My favorite is the brand-new fine print that someone has added to the signs labeling our storage bins full of paper plates and plastic utensils: It goes into detail about the energy and resources used to produce paper/plasticware and the space those items will subsequently take up in landfills, and suggests that people think twice before actually removing anything from the bins and using it. As Jack pointed out, when it comes to things like environmental issues, we UUs can be just the teensiest bit holier-than-thou…

I love putting together the list of what I need and going on the big shopping trip every week. I love coming to my stopping time for work on Wednesday and moving from computer to kitchen counter to start preparations. I love the cooking, and the serving, and looking out into the church social hall to see tables full of people talking and enjoying themselves over a home-cooked meal. It’s as close to spiritual as I get.

If you’re near downtown Louisville on a Wednesday from 5:30 – 6:15 p.m., come by and eat dinner for $4.00 ($2.00 for a small portion; kids under 10 are free). You’ll enjoy friendly company and good, homemade food, and it will truly be my pleasure to greet you at the serving window.

pie time

Last night we went to a free sneak preview of the movie Waitress. I highly, highly recommend seeing it, if you’re lucky enough that it shows where you live; otherwise, be sure you watch it later on DVD. It’s a small, charming, quirky movie; the SRO crowd at the theater was enchanted throughout.

The lead character, Jenna (played by Keri Russell) is a “pie genius”: Throughout the film, as situations occur, she invents appropriate pies (“Falling in Love” pie; “I Don’t Want to Have Earl’s Baby” pie; etc.). When she thinks up the ingredients, you see a pie pan filmed from above, and her hands placing the fruit, or pouring the custard, or spooning the chocolate. Pies are on endless parade throughout the movie — I dare anyone to finish the film without 1) being hungry and 2) wanting to go home and bake a pie, even if you’ve never made one before.

My son really wanted to make a pie last night, but it was too late. He got up this morning raring to go (he’s now officially on summer vacation), and with some minor guidance from me on techniques, invented his own pie: homemade crust with fresh pears, peeled and cut up, plus a few sliced strawberries, covered with chocolate filling made from baking chocolate, sugar, and cream. He even made a lattice top. He’s calling it “I Shouldn’t Have to Go to School and Help Dad Clean Out His Classroom” pie. πŸ˜€

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Isn’t it beautiful? What an excellent way to spend a morning with my son: conversation, food, and happiness.

meat muffins

(How’s that for a subject line?)

I remain firm in my belief that cooking is therapeutic. Just ask my friend and sous chef, Jack.

I’ve had a long and stressful week, and yesterday I went to cook my weekly meal at church hopeful that making and serving the meal would, as it usually does, soothe my nerves and my soul.

It did.

But this week, I owed much of my enjoyment to the accident of not having sufficient loaf pans to hold all the meatloaf (10 loaves’ worth, to be exact, which can also be expressed as “two huge bowls full of more meatloaf than the average person cares to imagine”). What should we do? We began to make loaf shapes and put them in larger pans; but then inspiration struck. We would make meat muffins! We rounded up 5 pans, to hold 5 dozen muffins, and filled them to overflowing.

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/224/465097595_87d78ccf71_m.jpg

The results were fabulous: The meat muffins finished cooking in less time than a loaf; they were beautifully brown; and they looked, well, cute, like little meaty muppets. We wished we had a way to put little googly eyes on them. (They tasted really good, too.)

https://i0.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/215/465097591_645157e492_m.jpg

The next time you’re making meatloaf (or vegetable loaf, or whatever variety of entree foodstuff you might normally make in a loaf pan), I recommend the muffin approach. It isn’t just food: It’s fun! πŸ˜€

the healing power of cooking for others

It’s been a day from Hell. I can’t send email because my ISP is doing maintenance on its servers. I have a work crisis involving an author whose own fucked-up Word formatting issues are causing horrible problems that he’s blaming on my incompetence as an editor. (And, of course, I can’t do anything today to resolve this crisis, because I can’t sent email.) My computer is behaving in a wonky manner despite being heavily laden with antivirus, antispyware, and firewall software. One of my beloved cats is scarily sick. I had to do all my shopping for my weekly night of church cooking on Senior Citizens’ day at Kroger, so the aisles were clogged with slow-moving carts. Amid all the attempts at troubleshooting my email and other PC problems, I didn’t allow enough time for food prep. Doug and my daughter couldn’t go and help this week, so I wasn’t sure I’d have any help once I got there, other than my son. I barely made it to church in time to get everything ready.

But when we arrived, a wonderful couple were there to help. My son helped me put together 60 burritos; I became calmer the second I spread beans on the first tortilla. Rice got cooked, banana pudding dished up, tables set. 50 people came and ate food that I had begun to prepare in a state of horrible stress — and had finished cooking with a feeling of peace.

My email still doesn’t work, but I’m ready to face another day.