Saturday, February 28, 2015

10. CARAMEL CORN

Tonight the Littles who are staying up at Libby’s house trekked down to our house to make popcorn.  In my mind you have two options when making popcorn: either smother it with …you guessed it, butter; or coat it with absolutely non-nutritious caramel coating, which is mostly made of…you guessed it, butter.  And sugar.

R.I.P. little red popcorn popper.
We pulled out the new red hot air popcorn popper, the one I bought to replace the old yellow one that kept burning out after the first batch.  I’ve used it a number of times with no problem, but sure enough, tonight, with three little helpers at the counter, it died mid pop, with only a handful of kernels having filled the measure of their creation.  I had to rush it out to the front porch because, even after it was unplugged, it was sparking and spurting.

Alas, we had to resort to the long forgotten methods of my childhood.  A large pot, a glug of vegetable oil on top of a nice steady flame.  We popped our Orville Redenbacher successfully the way our mothers did, on the stove top.  


After consulting with the three powers that be, whose median age was four and a half, we opted for the caramel version. This is not that brownish sticky kind of caramel that makes popcorn balls.  This is the white sugar kind you serve in a big bowl and grab by the handful, crunching unconsciously while you watch a show.  We made two giant bowls, one to go up to Libby’s with the kids and the movie, and one for our house, where tonight we host nine delightful teenage girls for a church “mission” sleepover.  Kate and I sat in the basement family room with the girls and our guitars, the popcorn and a batch of brownies on the table in the middle of us, the Young Women in their comfies curled up on the couches and snuggled into pillows on the floor.  I loved watching them interact.  I love hearing them giggle, and sing, and pray together.  There is something completely divine in a girl trying to make good choices, even if she’s not sure of them.  The desire is so beautiful to me.

This recipe is one that sits soundly in the brain and I never need to open the recipe book to make it.  I carry it with me always.  I imagine one day I might be in some memory care unit and the only cohesive string of words I will recall will be in the form of songs or recipes.  I guess that’s ok, considering my songs are my history, and for that matter, so are my recipes.

SHERRY’S CARAMEL CORN  
(Sherry Davis, my sister)

Pop a couple batches of popcorn, enough to fill a very large Tupperware bowl, or two.  I like less coating on mine, just enough to make it crunchy sweet, roughly 12 - 14 cups of popcorn. Salt the popcorn before you add caramel.

Caramel Coating: 

1 c butter (2 sticks)

1 c sugar 

2 T light corn syrup

2 T water 

Melt butter, add sugar and corn syrup and water.  Stir constantly over medium heat .  Low boil for somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes.  It should end up at a soft ball stage.  To test for soft ball stage, put a small spoonful of the caramel in a cup of cold water.  Try to gather it up with your fingers in the water.  If it will clump together in a soft “ball” of caramel, then it’s ready.  If not, cook a while longer and keep testing.  (If it cracks when you put it in the water then it’s a hard crack stage and you’ve over cooked it.)
Pour mixture gradually over popcorn, stirring as you pour so that the popcorn is evenly coated.  I find it best to stir it with a metal spatula or wide spoon.


Enjoy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

9. CHICKEN TETRAZZINI

In his third year of law school Dave was selected by Judge E. A.VanGraafeiland of the US Second District Court of Appeals to serve a year long clerkship in New York.  The Judge's chambers were in Rochester, NY, and they heard cases in Manhattan one week out of every month. So upon graduation we loaded up a UHaul truck and drove to the east coast, up from Pittsburgh through the green belt, through the maze of lakes to Pittsford, NY, where we rented the house of a family who had gone overseas for a year.  We have fond memories of that year, of that place, and especially the people.  I distinctly remember the gold shag carpet, and the astrological posters that graced the walls of the master bedroom.  I patiently pursed my lips together and blew on one of those stars through hours of labor with our second baby, Sarah, who was born at Rochester General on my 22nd birthday.  
Dave worked unreasonable hours while we were there.  Twelve hour days…or more.  Meanwhile I was in a strange new place with no car and no friends (until I got a church calling with the incomparable Sally Jo Winebrenner, who changed my life).  So I started my own business, Cori's Unforgettable Edibles.  I designed and baked and decorated gingerbread houses.  I marketed them to Realtors, who ordered them for clients with children.  I even hand delivered them, with hand made cards that said things like "Hope you're enjoying your new HO-HO-HOME", with a Santa on front. I spent a lot of time cooking there in New York, since there wasn't a whole lot else to do but change diapers and chase a toddler and nurse a new baby.
One of the recipes I tried that year was in a Better Homes and Garden's cookbook.  Turkey Tetrazzini, using leftover Thanksgiving turkey.  I wasn't in love with that idea, but I could tell by reading the recipe that if I altered it and used fresh ingredients it would likely make for some yumminess.  And so this is what I came up with.  It's a family favorite, and is one of the few things we rarely have to throw away as a leftover from the fridge, because it is just as good reheated as it was fresh from the oven.  Many a teenage school kid came home after school and zapped a portion in the microwave. 
By the way, I keep my shredded Parmesan cheese in the freezer.  It lasts much longer and defrosts quickly since it's shredded.

CHICKEN TETRAZZINI

½ c  butter

1-2 lb. Chicken breasts or tenders, cut into 1” chunks

1 pound (more or less)  mushrooms

1 pint cream Same amount of chicken broth as cream

2 cans chicken broth or 3 c water and 4 t bouillon powder

1/2 c. flour

½ c white cooking wine

Salt and pepper

1lb. thin spaghetti

1 c. parmesan cheese

Bring large pot of water to boil and cook spaghetti noodles (al dente…do not overcook)
Meanwhile, melt ½ cube of butter in large skillet.  Sear chicken chunks in hot butter until they  barelyturn white.  Remove from pan.  Add clean sliced mushrooms and cook until tender.  Remove from pan (may put in same bowl as chicken).  Add another ½ cube butter. Melt, then add flour. Stir flour into fat until completely coated.  Add equal portions of broth and cream.  (if the sauce ends up too thin add more flour in cold water.  If too thick, add more broth and cream) It should look like a thin gravy.  Add ½ c white cooking wine.  Let boil so alcohol steams off.   Salt and pepper to taste.
Once sauce is thick and smooth add chicken and mushrooms.  Stir into drained noodles and mix well.  Pour into casserole and top with shredded parmesan cheese.  Bake uncovered ½ hour - 45 mins. at 350 degrees, or until it's bubbling and cheese on top is browned.
Slice chicken breast meat into strips.
It will cut easier and more uniformly if it's slightly frozen.
Cut into uniform chunks, 1/2" to 1"
Clean surfaces where chicken has touched with bleach and water.
Cook mushrooms after you sear the chicken, in the same pan.
After cooking mushrooms, cook down the remaining liquid
then add more butter, then flour.
Stir constantly as you add broth, cream and wine to flour and butter mixture.
Add chicken and mushrooms to cream mix. Then add cooked pasta. Stir.
Pour into casserole dishes and cover with parmesan cheese.  Bake 30-45 mins at 350.



8. GINGERBREAD BOYS

Our army of Gingerbread Boys at GRAM'S FAM Reunion last year.
When the trees have shivered in an autumnal chill, and their leaves have trembled themselves from their branches…when I’ve rolled the casement window knobs and sealed the locks against the blast of wind from the east canyon…when the boiler in our basement grumbles and shakes, and the vents in the floor belch out the dust that has gathered in the temperate weeks of Indian summer…then I search the skies for that swirl of grey and inhale as I step out on my front porch, knowing that this would be the day.  First Snow.  Virgin flakes sift from the heavens, dying like the front lines in a massive battle as they hit the ground. The surface is not yet cold enough to sustain them.  By mid-morning, however,  the grass has taken on a pearly sheen, and I know I must prepare.  By the time school gets out we have a couple inches.  The counter is cleaned off, and the molasses and shortening sit beside the sugars and flours and powdered ginger.  I heft my workhorse AEG mixer over onto the island because the little hands of my little Loves will be measuring and mixing and it is easier if they kneel on the stools over there.
Traditionally, in our house, we make Gingerbread Boys on the first snow of the year.  We hope our schedules cooperate.  My grandchildren, if they are close enough to make the trek, stand in a row while I sort through their aprons and chefs hats.  I tie them to their necks and waists, tuck their hair under their caps, and we all wash our hands with soap.  The youngest ones are strapped into their high chairs with Cheerios and the plastic set of Dwarves to humor them.  The mid range Littles scramble for the closest stools, and the older ones huddle behind them.  We measure, and pour and mix and chill.  We roll and cut and bake and frost.  “Oh goodness…too BAD, (one of us moans).  He broke his arm!”  We all sympathize as we rip appendages from the poor fellow, gobbling him up before he is properly adorned with raisin buttons.
My Gingerbread Boy recipe is hand written, in the lovely script of my mother.  I am ageless when I place that recipe on my counter.  I am thirteen and I am thirty and I am fifty six and I am ninety.  My mother’s long slender fingers press the raisins into her thick buttercream frosting and I imitate her.  And my children imitate me, and their children repeat after them until we form a long eternal chain of deliciousness.

It’s been such a tepid winter here in Utah this year.  Almost no snow since Christmas.  My family and friends back east are envious.  And I must admit it has been lovely to have so much sun.  But there is just as much winter weariness here.  And flu bugs and coughing abounds here.  I think we need a hefty snowstorm to freeze it all off! Come on, Snow, make yourself known!  It is nearly March, and my Littles are waiting!

I have a good supply of these vintage cutters.

GRAM’S GINGERBREAD BOYS

½ cup shortening

½ c soft butter

1 cup light brown sugar

1 cup molasses (look for Grandma’s brand- Mild)

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp. vinegar

7 cups flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ginger

4 tsp. cinnamon
Cream shortening and butter, add sugar gradually and cream thoroughly. Blend in molasses. Sift 2.5 cups flour with soda, spices, and salt and stir into syrup mixture. Add vinegar and remaining flour, alternating with buttermilk. Chill dough well. Roll out .25 inch thick on a lightly floured board and cut out into shapes. Roll the cookie dough thicker for soft gingerbread and thinner for crisper cookies.
I divide dough in half and put into a plastic food storage bag, sort of flatten it out and stack the bags in the fridge or on the porch in the cold winter.  It’s easier to roll out when prepared that way. I’ve made these without chilling and it’s fine, but chilling makes them better.  Chill for even a half hour outside in the winter, each bag separated from the other for quicker chilling. Roll one part of dough at a time on floured board to ¼ to 1/8  inch thick. Cut out gingerbread boys with sharp cookie cutter. Dip cutter into flour before cutting. Place on greased cookie sheets (or use parchment paper) and bake at 375 degrees F about 6  to 10 minutes. Cookies are done when you gently press your finger into a tummy and it sort of springs back up.  Unless you want really crisp cookies, don’t overcook. Cool slightly and remove. Decorate with white buttercream frosting and raisins.

Buttercream Frosting


1 1/2 cubes butter, softened (3/4 c)

2 1/2 c. powdered sugar

1 T pure vanilla

dash of salt

1-3 T milk, cream or warm water (add gradually to get correct consistency.)

Beat well till fluffy.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

7. CAPELLINI POMODORO

For Mother’s Day  one year, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, Dave and Johnny built me some grow boxes, conveniently located at the end of our driveway.  I thank them for only building two, because I may dream about being a nature girl with a green thumb but the reality is that I can hardly keep those never-say-die philodendrons alive in my house. 
I plant four items in my grow boxes: tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and basil.  Lots of basil.  It’s the thing I use most, and most appreciate being able to walk out and snip from my own growing place.
One of my go-to recipes during the growing season, or when I find basil marked down at Smiths or cherry tomatoes on a major discount at the 5 Hour Store, is Pasta Pomodoro. It’s quick, and fresh, and you can stretch it to feed a crowd if you need to.

CAPELLINI POMODORO

1 lb capellini or angel hair pasta (Barilla)

1-3 lb tomatoes

1 bunch of fresh basil

1 cluster of fresh garlic

Olive oil

Butter

Salt and pepper

I prefer to use angel hair pasta or capellini because the thin noodle represents the correct proportion of pasta to sauce for me.  But you can use any kind of pasta.
I’ve cooked  the sauce on the stove top in a heavy fry pan, and I’ve broiled it in the oven.  Both work fine. You can cut fresh tomatoes (Roma are best, but any will work) into small pieces, or you can use small whole tomatoes cut in half. Lately I’ve been using cherry or grape tomatoes in the oven.  Here’s how I do that:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, for the pasta
Meanwhile…
Wash and cut grape tomatoes in half. I use two Tupperware lids or two small plates stacked with the tomatoes between them to cut the tomatoes.  Fill the plate with the tomatoes, place another plate upside down on the tomatoes, then using a long serrated knife, slice horizontally between the plates.  Repeat till the tomatoes are all cut.
Cut grape tomatoes easily by placing them in a tupperware lid.  Put another lid on top and slice between the two lids.

I use this handy tool all the time.  Put garlic clove inside rubber tube and roll.  It comes out clean and ready to cook.


Place ¼ c good olive oil in the bottom of a glass casserole dish.  Toss tomatoes in oil.  Add  cleaned cloves of a cluster of garlic and toss as well.  Wash and tear a bunch of fresh basil, mix with other ingredients.  Sprinkle with sea salt or kosher salt.  Broil close to the element in your oven, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are cooked and garlic is tender.
Boil pasta until al dente, roughly 6 minutes for angel hair pasta.  Drain pasta and toss into tomato mixture.  Add a tablespoon of butter and toss.
I often serve this with thinly sliced chicken breasts which have also been seared and quickly cooked in olive oil, garlic and butter.

Yum.