M & M Cookies – the best ever.

Okay – best M & M cookies ever. My mom always made these for Christmas, I am not sure why, but I tend to make them year round. I guess it just one of those things I make to make the Boy happy at anytime of the year – and, yes, it really does seem to work. I think I need picture of him eating them, but do not expect he will allow that at all.

D&D_20831 cup Crisco
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups M & M’s, plain or peanut, but no – do not do peanut – just saying

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together Crisco and both sugars. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix to combine. Add vanilla. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in 2 batches, scraping down the mixing bowl as needed. Add M & M’s and stir to combine.  Use a #30 disher to scoop dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 10 minutes or until golden – turning half way through.

D&D_iPhone_image6I am not sure what else there is to say about this recipe that I have not said before. I keep Crisco in the fridge just for this recipe because I love it so much. Maybe it is just a reminder of my mom, but at the same time it is a really good cookie recipe too.

I am guessing it is a bit of both. Yep, it is.

 

Sausage & Eggs

When I was young I had all kinds of allergies. Lord knows that is the truth. I had to go through food allergy testing to see what I was allergic to after my fish incident that sent me into anaphylactic shock at 5 years-old after dinner one night – lips turn blue and throat closed up. So I had to be tested to see what other things I was allergic to. 

Mostly just trees, grass, mold, dust mites, dogs, cats, air in general, but eggs seemed to be a problem too. So my mother never really feed me eggs. Nor did I get the MMR shots as a kid, nor did I get flu shots – No vaccine built in an egg. I did finally get the MMR to go to university, had to – they do not let you in otherwise, but by then I was about 25 then.

But no matter what, the only time growing up that I had eggs was this non-recipe recipe. And I guess that is why this is the only time I eat them now.

It is one of my favorite things, um, ever. 

Basically, you cook a pound of sausage in a skillet and then scramble up a few (4 or 5) eggs and then cook them in the grease left by the sausage. This, to me, is pretty much heaven on earth. My mom made this for us for dinner – not breakfast. I don’t think she used hot sausage, but I always use hot sausage for any recipe that calls for breakfast sausage. In my head there is no other kind. Don’t get me started on sage sausage (blech) or lord help us, maple sausage (I love maple syrup w/sausage, but maple flavor in sausage – that is just too strange to be believed).dd_2016-12-25-14-13-50

I am pretty sure I just told you how to make this. It is quick, easy, and amazingly good. My mom had good handle – a very good handle –  on what was good. And this is good in spades.

It is a favorite Christmas breakfast (not dinner) for us – or maybe just me. Well – sometimes you just want what you want and everyone else has to go along with plan. I am pretty sure no one complained.

2015 – Parmesan Shortbread – Nigella
2015 – Fusilli with Artichoke Hearts and Parmesan Cream

Vanilla Taffy

I have never posted this recipe. It is a family recipe that is so special to me. It may mean nothing to anyone else – probably will not. But this is one of those handed-down recipes for something not many people make at all … and there is a story to it.

My mom made this every winter, not every Christmas because this recipe depends on the weather. There has to be low humidity and in the South that usually will only happen sometime between late December and late February. So this did grace the Christmas Eve party on occasion -yes, but there was no guarantee. It is North Florida after all. We oftentimes wore shorts on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

This was a recipe from my mom’s mom, Daisy, and my mom would describe how Daisy made it in the winter* and then to get the taffy hard they would toss it in the snow. We never were able to do anything like that, but it is kind of cool to understand where a recipe really comes from.

To be honest, I have never seen a recipe like this. Most people, when they think of taffy, think of salt water taffy which is soft,  but this is not. We (me and the Boy) have taken to calling it crack because when you pull it right and put enough air in it, it gets opaque and, well, looks like crack – at least the kind I have seen on Cops  (read: have no practical experience in the real stuff, but from TV, I can totally see it).DD_9068

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 Tbs butter
1 tsp vanilla

Necessary – candy thermometer – not kidding. Necessary.

Place sugar, water, corn syrup, and cream of tartar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Then cook without stirring until candy thermometer reaches 266 degrees.

Remove from heat and add vanilla and butter and stir until dissolved. Pour onto sil-pat lined baking sheet. When still hot, but cool-ish enough to pull, pull small bits in cords until opaque – you will burn at least your thumbs, but probably a couple of other fingers in the process. Twist into ribbons and lay on wax paper-lined baking sheet. When hard, break into pieces (just drop on baking sheet and see what happens) and wrap in cut waxed paper, or if you want to be fancy, wrap in pieces of parchment. We used waxed paper growing up, but I have taken a liking to parchment in the last few years.  

*They also butchered a pig each winter. Something I completely understand, but an not likely to be involved in.

2016 – Tomato Soup with Spinach and Mozzarella

Christmas Sugar Cookies 

So I treated myself with two new cookie cutters this year – an intricate snowflake and a Moravian star. The company is Salem Candle Works and the cookie cutters are made in North Carolina in the Moravian area of the state. I wish I had tried to do more things in the state when we live there, but once again, kind of like England, I missed opportunities. That said this is always my favorite sugar cookies – because they are stupidly good. They make me happy and I have been making this recipe since 2002. A Food Network recipe that really works and, honestly, is dead simple.dd_1745

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Sift in flour, a cup at a time. Blend until just mixed. Pour  onto a surface and mix til it just comes together. Press into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 3 – 4 hours or up to 3 days.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough to about an 1/8 inch and cut with cookie cutters. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and sprinkle with colored sugar. Bake for 10 minutes, turning the pan half way through. Let rest on baking sheet for a minute and then remove to a rack to cool completely.
Dec 2002 – best sugar cookies ever

Jan 2003 – “for cast boy” – bake on parchment not on silpat. Used granulated sugar – very pretty.

24 Dec 2003 – best cookies, took to Samantha’s for Christmas Eve – 8 minutes.

24 December 2004 -vvg as always

24 December 2006

28 January 2014

30 December 2016 – 8 minutes with awesome new cookie cutters.

How do we teach our kids how to eat?

When I was a kid, you sat down for dinner (supper in our case) and you ate what was on the table. If you did not like something, (green beans – ugh – even though my Mom was a great cook, I just never could get past this),  you ate more of something else that you did like (rice and corn mixed together with lots of butter or homemade mac n cheese or anything else). But there was not a separate meal for us kids. To be honest, I do not remember kids’ menus at restaurants either.

We had to try things (rutabagas, which I loved with lots of butter and black pepper), and we could certainly doctor things. My great aunt Rhodie’s chow chow made black-eyed peas amazing and now I cannot figure out how to eat them without that. Collards with home-made hot pepper vinegar* – amazing.

But supper was what was on the table. There it was. Your food. Enjoy.

To a large degree, we did that with The Boy and at a very early age, he ate pesto and sushi at 3-ish. In England he did what we did – trying lots of new vegetarian things (because I was, at that time, a vegetarian). Indian samosas were great and cheese and onion pasty (no sniggering –  it is what they call them) was simply and stupidly good. I’d like to think that The Boy still tries new things (in all honesty, I know he does). He is still a fan of salt and vinegar potato chips because we had chips (in the UK version of the word) with malt vinegar – something sublime about that. Okay – damn it. Now I have a craving. Crap.

Do we do our kids a disservice by catering too much to them for supper? In my case, there were nights where we had “fend for yourself” nights. For all of us – me, the Boy and the MotH. Go in the kitchen and make your dinner out of what was there. That is still one of my favorite things. Tonight, I think popcorn.

In my family, the only time you could just get around the – eat what is on the table rule – was when it was your birthday. That day you got whatever you wanted. I think that is totally valid.  But my mix of food was so weird. I mean, tacos and pecan pie. Who does that? Sounds so ugh at this point. But it did make me really, stupidly, happy. I am glad there are no pictures from this point in my life. My brother’s birthday food was even better. Roast beef, gravy, rice, and carrot and raisin salad. What a way better choice than mine. But I got the benefit of his birthday – I was smart.

I am sure we need a picture or two here, but, I’ve got nothing. Which is probably for the best.

*Home-made hot pepper vinegar is so easy. And so good.

Mac n Cheese – the best ever

This is another no recipe thing – but in the tradition of Michael Ruhlman – it is a ratio –
though I am not good at math. There it is. My mom made the best mac n cheese ever. We never had anything out of a Kraft box (ugh — so gross). I do think I picked this up my osmosis (cannot believed I spelled that correctly on the first go – woo hoo!). I really don’t remember paying that much attention to how my mom made it, but I knew how to do this by instinct  – again, in my head it was osmosis.

So this is a total ratio thing, but to me the easiest way to tell someone how to make it is to show them how to make it. It can be a little vague otherwise. This was the subject of one of the early Wednesday Cooking School nights for the Boy. It is one of his favorite things, not surprising, since it also one of my favorite things. It is also vegetarian, which means I had it in the freezer while waiting for him to be born and I remember distinctly that I had some the night I came home from the hospital with him.D&D_1397

I have this lovely ceramic dish from Portugal (I did not go there to get it, but did buy it from a store in Durham, NC) and it is a pretty dish and I bought two because of that. But here is where the ratios come into play. No matter what dish you have, to make mac n cheese for whatever sized dish you have measure out dry pasta* in the dish to about the half way full. Once you cook the pasta, then it will fill the dish — see, a ratio – who knew from math? But I knew that before Ruhlman (still love you guy).

Now here is the next ratio – fat to flour – also knew this before Ruhlman. I always prefer to have more cheese sauce than I need, so for my pan (need to measure and figure out how big that dang this is). I start with 4 Tbs of unsalted butter, which I melt over low heat and then add basically the same amount of all-purpose flour and a bit of salt and pepper. Then cook the flour for a minute or two, stirring the whole time. It  would be a good thing if you had taken your whole milk out prior to starting this and I probably should have said that before now. But as long as you add the milk a little at a time, it will be okay. Some people warm the milk in a sauce pan, but my mom never did, so I don’t either.

Here’s the thing – when you first start adding the milk it will look like a clumpy mess with the butter mixture. You really are making a light roux and then you are going on to make a bechamel sauce sort of. Anyway. Use that whisk to eliminate lumps, but pretty soon you need to switch to a good spatula (Get it Right spatulassee this link, and this one, then there is this one, and .. well you get it.)  because you don’t want the milk to scorch on the bottom of the sauce pan – that would be a disaster (i.e. start over – no other choice, nope none).

So again, this is where it is where it is so much easier to show than explain, but the ratio, is about the same amount of cups of milk as butter – in this case 3 1/2 to four, but add a bit at a time. Let simmer over low heat and let thicken over time.

Then the cheese comes into play. In my case, always extra sharp cheddar, white or yellow, your choice, but once the bechamel thickens it is time to take it off the heat and add the grated cheese, setting aside a bit to put on the top. Add the cooked pasta (you did that already, right? Dumped the pasta you measured in the pan into a nicely salted pot of boiling water and cooked until al dente) to the sauce and tip into the baking dish, top with a little extra shredded cheese and cover with foil. But in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 – 10 minutes until cheese is bubbly.

You need to let it cool a bit before diving in, but that is a necessary thing.

So to you from me – My Mom’s not-recipe for the best homemade mac n cheese.

*I typically use penne or rotini, but elbow is good too. Some pasta that will hold the cheesy goodness of the sauce.

Home Cooking can save the World

Home cooking can save the World – I heard someone say this recently,  and I started to think about … what does a statement like that really mean?  Is it true? When I get slightly sappy (not often at all) I think it might be true. But then the better part of me goes, um, no – because I don’t like to be sappy.

DD_0206

My Mom’s Banana Nut Bread – A Tradition in my family.

But I do believe in home cooking and I do think it can make a difference, and I know that, as dumb as it sounds, I do think home cooking and passing on recipes, makes a difference in kind of the big scheme of things and in the kind of person you will turn out to be, and in the the way you will influence the next generation. Your kids, your nieces or nephews and if you are lucky their spouses too. I hate to say it, but I feel this is a dying art.

I know I would love to teach the Boy more than I have. But we have the Wednesday Cooking School – at least for now, until he gets busier at work, but so far it has been interesting and fun – it kind of makes me stupidly happy. I am glad he is interested in figuring out how I make the things he likes. I also know I should have asked my mom so much more. Thanksgiving reminds me of that every year – cannot get cornbread dressing correct – ugh.

I guess that I thought I would be able to ask my mom things for way longer than I was able to and that should put you all on notice, no really. Ask for those things and write them down better than I did. Although my mom’s recipe for roast beef – “it is seared when the smoke detector goes off” just makes me smile every time I think about it. It is pretty damn funny and it was also correct.

This has made me a fan of asking people I like for their family recipes. You know, old family recipes are important. They would not be around if they were not successful if they did not make people for generations happy. My friend Elaine’s carrot cake is an example. It was her grandmother’s recipe, and it seemed a bit strange to me – no butter? – but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten (Sorry Mrs. Fields). Damnation – I want to make one every week – yes, every week, but that would really work against me (in the clothing department).