Category Archives: Five bucks or fewer

Frozen Greek Yog Redux

I feel guilty cutting and pasting my latest article from the Ville’s semi-monthly paper, The Village Chronicles because that’s shameless lazy blogging.. But I’m going to anyway, because we made a new flavor last night and it’s so good that I’ll risk my literary reputation and give you the long form, previously published version so I don’t have to retype the procedure.

Oh, mes amis, we used half and half orange marmalade and apricot jam last night as the fruity/sweetening additions. It was just crazy delicious — the apricot provided the sweet back note, and the orange flavor was bright and mysterious. What’s next? Hmmmm — Nutella maybe?

A Taste of Milk and Honey – From Greece 

 I don’t buy much yoghurt in the little containers with the pretty pictures and the cute flavors.  Before you start dumping your empty Yoplait containers on my lawn and sneer at my elitism: I like them! They taste good, provide a good hit of dairy to the diet, and may be the only healthful item your fourteen year old will eat on the bus to school, as she texts her BFF two rows back.

I mean, I’ve made my own yoghurt – that’s geeky – since I was a young bride, blooming it on a steam radiator in a  Chicago six flat. I’ve drained that yog in cheesecloth and made a soft, herbed cheese .But I’ve mostly used yoghurt in savory applications like Greek tzaziki, Indian mint chutney, or as a tangy lo-cal substitute for sour cream in mashed potatoes.

In the last five years Greek Yoghurt has appeared in our dairy cases, and it’s the Hellenic apotheosis of yoghurt. It blows all other yogs outta the park. It’s deeply, hedonistically creamy, tart yet rich, and way better than any yoghurt I’ve ever made. Fage is the universal brand here, but Trader Joe’s is better, cheaper and worth the drive. Please don’t fail me here and buy the 2% fat version. Live a little: it makes a difference, and buy the full fat version.

I’ll welcome you into my two a.m. cravings. I love to bake, love desserts, but sweets aren’t a regular part of our diet. A few early mornings ago I would have sold my Granny into slavery for a scoop of ice cream, a Peanut Buster Parfait, a brownie. Leftover couscous with eggplant in the fridge just wasn’t making it for me. I didn’t have so much as a carton of crappy cheap Neapolitan in the freezer.  I forced myself to drift into a creamy fantasy.

I, like you, have an ice cream maker lurking around, a wedding present, a garage sale find, or like us, paid in full at Crate and Barrel. It’s time to drag it out and dry it out. This is an original by Maggie, dreamed up at three in the morning. I was longing for the Adriatic, I craved sweet, rich and creamy, and I wanted to put off the egg-rich custardy base for another week.

Oh geez, so easy, so adaptable. Scrape a 16 ounce carton of Greek yoghurt into a bowl, with a teaspoon of vanilla and a cup of honey. Mix, tasting: the mixture should taste a tad sweeter than you want the finished frozen yoghurt to be, because the chill takes the edge off the sweet.

When we dished up the soft frozen stuff and tasted it: what can I say? The dairy and the honey tasted like Corfu or any other Greek Island, sweet, tart, tangy with that indescribable lingering aftertaste that tastes like summer. Fresh, sweet and a tad acid. That evocative flavor lingered on my palate for an hour.

Then we got to thinking: Greek Yoghurt can be the base of many frozen treats. I love the idea of maple syrup replacing the honey, or a cup of strawberry jam.  Try any fruit in preserved form or cooked gently on the stovetop; raw fruit can turn into frozen nubbins in the ice cream machine. Keep it sweet, keep it tangy, keep it simple. It’s so easy, so good, and it’s lovely to drift to sleep fantasizing about white houses, blue sea, and the Greek Islands.

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Filed under Five bucks or fewer, Food, How Cool is That?

Frozen Pancakes:Cheap and Cheerful, Fab Fab and Fatal

My father was the breakfast cook when we were kids, and we loved the sight of that red box with the picture of the cheery black lady. Pancakes for breakfast! (Daddy’s still the breakfast cook, and come to think of it, Aunt Jemima was my first clue that everyone in the world didn’t look like me.)

My father taught me that you have to wait until big bubbles  form before you turn the pancake, or it won’t hold together. But you can’t wait too long, because pancakes burn easily. I learned early that there’s no such thing as too much butter on pancakes, and that the syrup had to originate in a tree.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like pancakes, whether from a box or scratched up from a favorite recipe. (My favorite is Scott Peacock’s buttermilk pancake recipe from The Gift of Southern Cooking.) The shameful truth is that I’ve rarely made pancakes more than six times a year, and here’s why.

We’re only two pancake mouths, and no matter how I cut the recipe down, I always glugged half the batter down the Insinkerator. Second: pancakes trash my kitchen, or rather, I dribble the batter all over the range top, counter and ceiling — what’s up with that? By the time I’ve licked my fingers, the batter’s concrete.

A couple of months ago, we decided to cook off all the batter. That left us a dozen pancakes sitting on the griddle, stovetop trashed. We remembered laughing at an item in the frozen food case  — frozen pancakes. WTF, thought we — how lame! It’s still lame to buy four frozen pancakes for a buck, but it’s brilliant to freeze your own. He spread them on a  sheet pan in the freezer until they were hard, then we stacked them in a baggie.

Let me tell you, frozen pancakes are a beautiful thing. You can heat them up in a toaster, if your butter’s soft. But here’s the thing: put them on a plate, sliver some hard butter atop, and drizzle with syrup. Nuke for a minute and you’ve got groovy cakes with no effort.

Here’s the naughty part: If you know you have pancakes in the freezer, avoirdupois can happen. Sure they’re great for a quick lunch or breakfast, but you know, they’re even better for late night dessert . I eat sensibly and that means mostly no sweets, because I prefer protein to cupcakes. But just before bedtime last night, I had an urge to the sweet side, and buttered a couple of frozen pancakes. Then I spread them with  dabs of apricot jam, blasted it , topped it with some TJ’s Greek Yogurt and achieved midnight snack Nirvana. In forty seconds.

Criminal. I know I’m in trouble, because my bedtime’s going to be haunted by the possibility of sneaking my hands into the freezer and floating off to Dreamworld , my tummy filled with carbs and butter and something sweet — like maple syrup, raspberry jam, honey or apricot jam. It’s sooooo easy, God help me.

To take my mind off the fattening flat-out simple possibilities, I’ll post a gratuitous kitty picture. Willow always, always finds the warmest spot, though Ajax has a patch too.

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Filed under Body, Cheap and Cheerful Object of the Day, Five bucks or fewer, Food, How Cool is That?, Uncategorized

Pound Wise

I suspect Sara Lee introduced me to pound cake, as she had to pineapple-topped cheesecake. That was back in the day, when my mother’s time was consumed by four children, one with disabilities, a clean house, and a devoted lover — my father. She was a good plain baker back then in the sixties; by the eighties her personal landscape had changed and she could bake the derriere off any home baker I’ve ever met.

But if a beautiful woman still in her thirties, preferred to dance Saturday night away rather than bake for Sunday dinner, who can blame her? When I was twelve she showed me how to make pastry and I became the Saturday night pie pastry chef, but I look back with love to Sara Lee’s contributions.

Which is the back story to my lifelong fondness for pound cake. I sneer at grocery store pound cake now — check the ingredient list and air pump if you find butter. But still… I loved Sara Lee back in the day.

If you have a mixer, or the triceps of a Navy Seal, pound cake is easy, whether made with mechanical assistance or elbow grease. The high butter content keeps it fresh and edible for at least a week. It adores additions, any crazy-ass ingredient you desire, from bacon to M&Ms. It’s soft yet strong texture makes it a sponge for booze: take a toothpick, poke holes, and dribble in a sugar syrup pumped up with bourbon or Bushmills. It can be chocolate glazed, citrus-infused, speckled with chocolate  chips, poppy seeds or candied ginger. All these additions are all good.

But the thing about real pound cake, scented with vanilla and soft in crumb with all that butter, is that it keeps brilliantly. I mean, what other cake stands up for a week, and if you’ve for some inexplicable reason, the heel of a stale cake: bread pudding, trifle.

My favorite pound cake recipe is , well, “Best Pound Cake” from Susan Purdy’s under appreciated “The Perfect Cake.” I have baking books from all the usual buttery suspects, and love them, but for basic great cake recipes and instruction, I’m all over Susan.

Today, while taking on the furnace repair man, battered by laundry and the To Do lists of planning a Christmas road trip, I saw some decent fresh cranberries lolling in the veg drawer, leftover from Thanksgiving. I had the cake flour, the eggs, the butter, so I made “Best Pound Cake” with a Yankee cranberry bite. Wow, that’s a big cake!

We’ll eat some tonight, ferry some over to the Simpsons tomorrow, and pack a package for the road. Pound cake takes a good recipe, room temperature eggs, and some patience. But geez, for under five bucks, this is the apotheosis of plain cake.

A slice:

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End of Year Lists

I’m not talking about New Year’s resolutions (I have yet to keep one, so why bother?) or Christmas lists –somehow Christmas has become much simpler. I’m talking about those “Best of” lists that bloom in the first week of December, the lists about books.

We’re New York TImes “Weekenders,” which means that we walk down the driveway Friday, Saturday and Sunday and scoop up the plastic bag that holds one of the few fripperies in our lives. (A subscription to The New Yorker is another. Um, I guess we’re officially Old School.)He’s a fiend puzzler and these three days provide the most challenging grids.

How would we spend Sunday without The Times? It’s the atheist’s Sunday observance , and I continue to amaze myself that I can spen three quarters of an hour reading the Style section, Easy.

But I digress. The Book Section had the traditional 100 Best Books listing this Sunday, and the tab-sized sheets are sitting on the piano bench lest they be carelessly recycled. The fun of reading the list is to discover that fancy-dancy literary critics agree with some of your faves, remembering books you should have read and haven’t, and scowling at entires that strike you as super snores.

Here are a couple of books on the list I’ve read and loved loved loved.

This is modern Jane Austen. I saw it at the library and took it out because I’d read a rave review somewhere. Never has a rave been more deserved — it blew me away.

A gentle, witty cookbook that made most everyone’s  Best Cookbook list is Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. This is not a rehash of French classics, it’s fresh and modern. I loved that she gave me permission to buy chicken bouillon cubes — it seems that French ladies use them all the time.

But jeez, I haven’t dipped a toe into the “100 Notable Books of 2010.”  I want to read Operation Mincemeat and Charlie Chan and Big Girls Don’t Cry and Keith Richard’s Life. That’s the beauty of saving this section — it’s a heads-up for wintry treks to the library.

Send me your list!

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Collections, Five bucks or fewer, Media, Worth it anyway

Possible Death by Chocolate — A Night of Living Dangerously

Well, I’m exaggerating for effect — I’m gonna make it through the night. But in the last five years or so my body has been rejecting chocolate in an agonizing way, depriving me of one of the consolations of the middle-aged woman.  I’m not allergic or anything. Let me put this as delicately as possible: a brownie and a glass of milk is one speedy and painful emetic.

Forewarned and forearmed I said “With my shield or on it, I’m going to make Dorie Greenspan’s “Top Secret Chocolate Mousse.”  You see, I need another cookbook like Sarah Palin needs another speaker’s fee but my respect for Greenspan and the terrific discussion about her here, at egullet.org  http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/topic/134751-cooking-with-dorie-greenspans-around-my-french-table/page__p__1759138__hl__dorie+greenspan__fromsearch__1#entry1759138 broke me down,  my fingers typed amazon.com, and two days later it was on the front porch. Willow was perched atop it.

Lou spent a day reading through it, except when I snatched it from his hands and retired to the bedroom. It’s brilliant, in the helpful, anecdotal Dorie style and it’s about food actual French home cooks turn out for dinner. (They have a fondness for bouillon cubes, God bless them.) The recipes range from Gallic stalwarts like Pot au Feu to modern Vietnamese influenced plates. Of couse, as the modern mistress of the sweets course, the dessert chapter is pretty peerless.

Which brings me back to chocolate. –that and my recent resolution to add something sweet and saucy to the end of the evening meal. Tonight I made Dorie’s Top Secret Chocolate Mousse.

When she moved to Paris all her hostesses served up the same blissful magnificent mousse. (Note: I’ve not eaten Mousse au Chocolat since the early eighties.) She figured they all had the same recipe or ordered it from the same confiseur/patissier. At last one of her amies cut her a break and handed her a Nestle’s chocolate bar — the recipe was printed on the back.

When I read the recipe I laughed as Dorie must have: it was so easy, and so relatively cheap for it’s potential gustatory cheer that I decided to sacrifice my digestive system and give it a go. You separate three eggs. You melt 3.5 ounces of chocolate (the exact weight of the on sale Ghirardelli  Extra Dark  at Family Foods) and whisk in the yolks. You crank up the KitchenAid and beat the whites. Then, ever so gently, you blend.

Thanks again for the martini glasses, my fave nephew Miles:

And please forgive the tacky food photography featuring the sewing machine on the kitchen table.

We haven’t yet dined (steak salad, rosti potatoes) but I feel secure in the success of the sweet ending. And I  own a bottle of a chalky, lurid pink substance, just to help that sugar and chocolate go down.

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Filed under Books, Five bucks or fewer, Food, History

Let Me Eat Cake

I’m a good baker, sometimes a great baker. I make ice cream, I’ve made pannetone and cannoli from scratch, I’ve spun those crazy lovely caramel cages just as Julia showed me.  I’m proud of my pastry, straight-up pie and puff as well. I’m not diabetic, not fat, and I’m married to a man who loves sweets, heavy on the cinnamon rolls.

So why do I never make dessert, unless there’s a dinner party or a holiday coming up? Martha Stewart swears she serves dessert every night. My mother certainly did, even if it was nothing more complicated than a serving of canned apricots and a cookie. My father still does, and when I was in Ottawa I got into the swing, made pies on three occasions and loved it. So why have I meandered through the last thirty years thinking: “Life is short: have another slice of Shepherd’s Pie and forget dessert?”

My favorite food group is Potatoes Any Style, followed closely by Braised Bits of Meat (with lots of onions.) Add vegetables and anything with forty cloves of garlic and I’m happy at the table. But those two recent weeks when I ate a dab of dessert has changed my mind. What have I been thinking? Why have I deprived myself of the cheerful sweet  ending of a day at the table, especially when, in the scale of luxuries, it’s so cheap?

Over the course of three evenings we’ve split a pint of Ben and Jerry’s this week, which may not sound too self-indulgent except for the hot caramel sauce Lou made Friday night. Yesterday I got serious and made carrot cake from the Larousse  Treasury of Country Cooking. (Crown, 1975. If you can find a copy, snap it up.) I’ve made this recipe so many times that the pages stick together — I had a short career as a carrot cake venture capitalist back in the ‘8Os. It never, ever fails, contains oil rather than the more expensive butter, lasts for almost a week and can be put together with no more batterie de cuisine than measuring cups, a paring knife, a grater and a whisk. I didn’t even peel the carrots — those pre-peeled so-called “baby” carrots were on sale and I put them through the grater disk of my Cuisinart. The cream cheese maple-syrup infused icing was not exactly a test of anyone’s pastry chef chops.

It makes a huge cake, and I’ll probably give some away.

 

I’m a carrot cake Calvinist : No crushed pineapple, please.

I fell off the pie wagon in Ottawa, so I’m buying some apples tomorrow, and a can of apricots. I have the ingredients in the house for Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies. I may just fool around with salted caramels! But I’m heading into a new epoch of my life, the one where I give myself another thing to look forward to, which might just be the secret to being cheerful.

 

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Rodeo Cheeseburger Redux

We were fustering around last night at about five o’clock, wondering what the Sam Hill we were going to have for dinner.  We’ve never gone on a once a week food shopping trip, so unless we’ve picked up some protein on a trip to Super H Mart, we mostly shop for food every day.  Yes a waste of fuel and time,  but as I’ve mentioned we have a handful of independent grocery stores (Italian, Mexican, Polish) within easy driving distance and , hey, it’s something new to do every day.

We don’t own a pair of scales, but I have my weight-watching device: a twelve year old pair, pre-spandex, natural waist Gap jeans in a size I wore in my late thirties. I can still get some thumb  room under the waistband. The torrid temps here this summer have limited our protein to mostly chicken, and I’m fed up with tiny slivers of skirt steak, romaine and tomatoes. So when questioned about my menu preference I said: “I want a cheeseburger. A big one. We still have that good leftover coleslaw.”

He thought about it, remembering that we have an almost virgin pot of oil in the deep fryer and said:”OK, if it can be a Rodeo Cheeseburger.”

I said “Whaa?” He said “Onion Rings,” and headed the Yaris to the Carcineria Hernandez.  He returned with a couple of pounds of their impeccable ground chuck, a half pound of melting Chihuahua and a five inch diameter onion.

I’m not sure I ever ate the original Rodeo Cheeseburger, but he clearly had. Here’s the dope from Wikipedia:

“The Rodeo Cheeseburger was created to coincide with the release of the film Small Soldiers in 1998.[1] It was advertised using a parody of the Tom Cruise film A Few Good Men. In the commercial,Chip Hazard quoted Jack Nicholson‘s line “you can’t handle the truth” as “you can’t handle the Rodeo Burger.”

Although discontinued nationally in the U.S., the Rodeo Cheeseburger can still be found regionally in some locations as part of Burger King’s value menu.[2] It is also available in parts of Europe andSouth America.

In 2007, BK switched its barbecue sauce from Bulls-Eye to Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue sauce.[3]

What Lou remembered was the genius topping of fried onions, and trust me, mes amis, the combination of the meat, cheese and the crispy crunch of a fried onion topping is superlative. We had plain ole hamburger buns, not the sesame seeded version BK used. But holy jumping catfish, BK didn’t have slices of melting Chihuahua, and it didn’t have our onion rings. The BK version gave three per Rodeo Cheeseburger customer. We mixed up that thin flour and water glue that is a tempura coating and deep  fried the whole studly onion. They cracked under the teeth and tasted of pure onion.

One of my quirks is that I dislike barbecue sauce on burgers, preferring Moutarde de Dijon. This drives him nuts. He admits that he went overboard on the Sweet Baby  Rays on his burgers, but check out the mountain of the best onion rings I’ve ever crunched:

BK had a good idea. But I’m smug and confident in saying we kicked its ass.

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