Homemade Vanilla Wafers

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Real Vanilla Wafers**

I love vanilla wafers, specifically, Nilla Wafers. One of the few manufactured foods I buy a name brand of (hate to end a sentence that way – ugh!). Somehow it makes a difference to me – the taste of Nilla Wafers I mean – not the sentence ending part – but that does bug me too. I like them by themselves, but my favorite way is to use them to make a sandwich cookie of them with peanut butter in between. To be specific – creamy Jif peanut butter. It’s great – peanut butter and its salt and the slightly sweet vanilla wafer. Perfection. I can’t even imagine how many times I had this in my (NFL) lunch box as a kid. Yes, I was that much of a tomboy. When I was in second grade I could tell you the names of all NFL teams, what city they were in, who was the quarterback, and some of the other major players too. Guess my dad wanted a boy and I was an obliging kid – and a tomboy. Where does that phrase come from – not sure – must research. One moment.

And after looking about, the term has been around since the very late 1500s – thank you OED* – I never would have thought that. I think it was, initially, pejorative, but now it seems to be a bit of bragging rights – I can hold-my-own-with-the-boys-kind-of-thing. In fact, for me, all thru school my friends were mostly boys.

Okay, back to Vanilla Wafers – lord, how did I get so far afield – ah – school lunches and NFL lunch boxes. Don’t get me started on marshmallow cream. That’s another story entirely.

Here’s how you do it –

  • 1 cup AP flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted (4 tablespoons)
  • 2 egg yolks

You’ll also want to get out a couple baking sheets and some parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Sift the flour into a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the vanilla, baking powder, salt and sugar by whisking. Add in the melted butter and whisk again until nice and smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.

Add the flour in and mix until just combined.

Use a teaspoon to portion out the dough – roll it into balls between your hands and then flatten the balls lightly with your palms. You can fit a ton of them on a baking sheet because they hardly spread.

Bake them for 12 minutes, or until nice and golden around the edges. This recipe will make between 30-40 cookies. Really – 12 minutes works perfectly.

The Boy says the next time I make them (even though I’ve made them twice this month), I need to quadruple the recipe. Think I might.

*One of the coolest books ever – no kidding. Geeky historian here.

** Excellent photo – thank you – MotH. ILY

Source: makingjiggy.com

Roasted Red Potatoes

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Roasted New Red Potatoes

We get these really great creamer potatoes this time of year. They are these small red potatoes and they are so great for roasting – like candy.   Local, from the farmers’ market, and short lived, but wonderfully addictive. But I never realized how good those roasted potatoes could be for potato salad.  I have been on the search for really good potato salad – for years. Now I have some ideas. Will be hitting Bailey’s Market this weekend and if that fails – the By-Pass Market in Milton.

And how to I do this amazing roasting – it’s dead simple. Cut potatoes in half – they are small, like golf ball sized, and put in a large bowl. Add olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Line a baking sheet w/foil and dump potatoes out and turn cut side down. Roast at 350 until a paring knife pierces the potato easily – about 15 – 20 minutes or so. That’s it. Not rocket science, but damn good potatoes.

So what makes a good potato salad?* To be honest, it is not something I grew up with and I’m not entirely sure why, but it may be that we were a rice family – not a potato family. And to this day mashed potatoes – ugh. I do love a good baked potato, but I think that’s because I can put cheese (cheddar) and sour cream and chives, if I’m growing them, on top. It’s really about the toppings, not the vehicle.

Gingras Apple Cider Vinegar

Gingras Apple Cider Vinegar

Okay, back to what makes a good potato salad – potatoes cooked well, to me, is a key thing. Also, seasoning them while they are warm and will soak up whatever flavor you add. A friend taught me a little trick – she used juice from a jar of pickles while the potatoes were still warm – it is a wonderful thing. I prefer sweet pickles, but if you like dill it will work too. I’m not a huge fan of potato salad w/lots of mayo. There needs to be restraint, and a good bit of acid – either vinegar or lemon juice. I tend to favor vinegar either from the pickle juice or just a little jolt of cider vinegar – esp. the good stuff – Gingras ExtraOld Apple Cider Vinegar – beyond amazing and used for special occasions. I really think I could just drink it, but I won’t.

Aside: I want to make a good pasta salad too – but what are the particulars? Again, I’ve tried and made some advancements on that front, but I’m still not really happy.

 

*German Potato Salad is another story entirely but it involves vinegar and bacon. And is another challenge.

Sloppy Joes

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Sloppy Joes

I know this was originally a Rachel Ray recipe (30 minute meals, I think), from at least ten years ago, probably more, but I’ve messed with it so much that it is not recognizable as such. This is what The Boy will inevitably request when I ask what he wants for dinner and for leftovers. He makes good use of leftovers after he gets home from work or from hanging out with his friends. I honestly have to hide some if I want leftovers for lunch myself.

1 pound ground chuck (easy to scale up)
1 yellow onion, diced
4 Tbs cider vinegar
1 Tbs Macormick “Montreal” seasoning
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
14 oz can tomato sauce

In a large skillet, heat a couple Tbs olive oil, add onion and sauté until it begins to soften. Add ground chuck and break up as the meat cooks until it is no longer pink and onions are soft.
Add vinegar, seasoning, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce to beef. Season with salt to taste. Let this simmer for a few minutes and taste for balance. This is key and I still do it every time.  It’s important to do that now before adding the tomato sauce because all those flavors intensify and if you like them now, you’ll like them better later. Then just let is simmer for about an half an hour.

I tend to make this a day ahead, because like spaghetti sauce or chili, it’s so much better the next day. Some times I make cole slaw with this, sort of the BBQ/cole slaw sandwich thing going on and it really works. But I guess you have to be raised with the BBQ/cole slaw thing as part of your life to get it. I was raised on Eastern NC (vinegar-based) BBQ because both my parents are from there. And every summer when we went to NC, we would come home with a cooler of Revels BBQ. Damn – that was amazing stuff and I still think about it – probably too often.

Thing of the month – Chef’s Choice Professional Sharpening Station 130

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Pretty fancy knife sharpening thing – It has a real name, but …

I base many of my purchases on Cook’s Illustrated Magazine recommendations and their accompanying PBS television programs. I love this knife sharpener because there is nothing worse, or more dangerous, than a dull knife. One of my favorite restaurants has someone come in weekly to sharpen knives. It’s a true skill. One that I do not possess.

The reason I like this sharpening station (I just won’t be typing out its slightly ridiculously long name again) is because it’s idiot proof. And in this, I am an idiot. It’s quick to sharpen and I do sharpen my knives about once a week – just to keep them in good shape – sometimes longer if I haven’t used a particular knife very much. It does take up some room on the counter, but I keep it in a drawer just below the part of the counter where I do my prep.

One caveat  – the noise is almost unbearable. Imagine the dentist, but worse. Not kidding.  I just put my headphones in and get all zen like about it. But it does not seem to work. I’ve never read the instructions, but the notes on the machine are all you really need.

It steels a blade too and that sounds so cool, but I’m not quite sure what that means. This is not cheap, but I paid about $150 for mine and I think it is well worth it. Dull blades are bad things.

Asparagus Red Onion Pasta

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Asparagus, Red Onion Pasta with Parmesan

Another perennial favorite, especially when the asparagus are at their best which is pretty much now. I like my asparagus about #2 pencil thin, they could be thicker, but for me that’s ideal. Once again another recipe that I have no idea where is started, but it did start when I was a vegetarian – All those years ago. But it does stand the test of time and come April/May I just have to make it. I think the non-vegetarians will like this – I have proof. You can make it other times of the year if the asparagus look right to you. It’s stupidly simple and no – I don’t have any real measurements anymore. I guess that’s what happens when you make a recipe so often that it becomes a bit of a thing that you like that much. You don’t have to think, you just put the pieces parts together and it works. I especially like that you cook the asparagus and pasta in the same water. There are only two pots (or pans as it were) to do this and a good bit of butter and Parmesan are involved – two of my favorite things.

So take a deep breath, like I said it’s simple, but don’t get too hung up on the particulars – taste and adjust – I still do that. I think that’s a pretty good cooking rule to live by.

  • A bunch of asparagus, snapped and chopped into about 1 inch pieces
  • medium red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
  • half a pound of farfalle pasta
  • splash of dry white wine, if you have it
  • orange juice
  • unsalted butter
  • Parmesan
  • olive oil

So heat the olive oil and start sautéing the red onion. At the same time, heat a big pot of very salted (like the ocean) water. Drop the asparagus into the salted water (did we get that salted is a key thing here?) and let them return to the surface and be bright green and crisp-tender. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and let cool. You could do an ice bath, but I never have.

Meanwhile, after the onions are soft and the pan is a little on the dry side, you can hit them with a splash of white wine or if you don’t have that, or are not inclined, just add about half a cup of orange juice (real stuff please). Add the pasta to the still bubbling asparagus water and cook till al dente. When the oj/wine has reduced a bit, add the asparagus and then the pasta when it is ready. Add another splash of oj and then add about 3 Tbs unsalted butter to make a great sauce. And then – taste and adjust. Does it need more butter, more oj, a little more time to sort of meld together as a dish.

I like the sauce to thicken a bit here and if you want to add some pasta water with its starch, but not too much – thickening is the goal. You can add Parmesan now – which I do – and then serve it with more for topping. Sorry there is never too much Parmesan in a pasta dish if you ask me.

Roast Beef with Gravy

My mom’s “recipe” (seem to start a lot of ideas that way when it comes to cooking) for roast beef and gravy was amazing. Maybe I have a memory that makes things seem better after time, but I do not think so. In our family, it was a thing on your birthday that you decided dinner for the night. I was weird, so my favorite meal was, the very exotic, taco ( I know, I know) and, wait for it … pecan pie. No cake for me. It was is totally a strange combination. I knew it then and I really know it now. But it is what I wanted and that’s what I got. And May 12th happens to be my birthday. Who knew? Um. me.

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Roast Beef w gravy and Carrot & Raisin Salad

My elder (only) brother, on the other hand, was more reasonable. And it’s funny now that I think about it. His was the only other birthday dinner I know by heart even now. Of the 4 of us – just mine and his. His was Roast Beef and gravy with rice and carrot and raisin salad. I’m sure he had a cake, and I expect it was yellow cake with fudge frosting. That cake was amazing and I guess I need to figure it out too.

Back to my mom’s recipe. It still makes me laugh, because it’s slightly absurd. You put the roast in the over at 450 degrees until, as she said, the smoke detector goes off. Then you lower the temp to 350 degrees and cook. But this recipe sounds really good to me and might be a bit more accurate or something. Nothing about smoke detector – which is slightly sad in a way.

Roast Beef with Gravy
– Trisha Yearwood
1.5 pound boneless chuck roast
salt and black pepper
1 large red onion, sliced
1/4 cup cider vinegar
4 Tbs all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Line a 9 x 13 pan with heavy duty foil large enough to fully wrap the roast. The shiny side of the foil should be up. Sprinkle roast on all sides with salt and pepper and place in the center of the foil Spread onion slices over the top and pour vinegar around it. Bring the ends of the foil together and fold several times to completely enclose the roast pour 1 inch of water in the pan around the roast. Bake until roast is fork tender, about 3-4 hours. Check the water level in the pan regularly and replenish as needed

When the roast is done, remove package from pan and let cool for a few minutes. Open package carefully transfer meat to a platter and keep warm. Pour roasting juice into measuring cup and let fat rise to the surface. Skim off fat, reserving 4 Tbs in a sauce pan and discard rest. If not 4 Tbs, add butter to make up the difference.

Measure the remaining defatted pan juices and reserve. If you have less than 2 cups, add water to make 2 cups. Add flour to fat in saucepan, and stir with wire whisk over medium low heat until the flour is lightly browned, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in reserved pan juices and stir until thicker.

Slice the roast or cut into chunks and serve with gravy.

March 2015   – and make some rice for the gravy and then some carrot and raisin salad – yep. Dale always had it right. Probably my third favorite dinner – right after tacos (w/pecan pie)  and chicken and rice. Totally. Sigh.