Kindred Kitchen: Non-Conforming Cupcakes

If baking was a beauty contest and the participants were cupcakes, mine would fall somewhere near the bottom tier. Their frosting isn’t piled high like a luscious bouffant and they opt to go sans accessories. The golden oven coloring is a bit uneven, like they got a beautician-in-training to apply the fake tan because it came at a discounted price (no, I’m not drawing from personal experience). Instead, my cupcakes have traded the cutesy names and add-ons for some homemade realism.

These vanilla cupcakes served a sweet purpose, making their way into both my grandma’s and mom’s school lunches. Grandma once described her lunch pail as basically an old tool box, small in size but made of heavy metal. She lugged all sorts of rustic samplings to country school, varying from sandwiches on homemade bread to soups in the winter. The kids would bring potatoes, putting them on the single stove that kept the one-room school house and its occupants warm. Hmmm, country chic and a far cry from today’s cardboard pizza.

In 1945 and at just 17 years old, Grandma went from the student to the master, getting a temporary license to teach country school. After turning 18, she qualified as an educator for kindergarten through the 8th grade (so, teens, what have you done lately?). After getting married in 1953, Grandma stacked and packed homemade meals for her growing family. For several decades, making lunch boxes was a daily task and one my grandma took very seriously (a trait passed to my mom). And if these cupcakes made the cut, you know they’re good.

The 4 Minute Cupcakes

Ingredients:

2 cups flour

1 1/3 cups sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)

2/3 cup milk

Using a mixer, combine the above ingredients in a bowl, beating for two minutes. Then add…

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/3 cup milk

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat for another two minutes until creamy. Using the care and steady hands of a brain surgeon, transfer your batter into a paper cup-lined muffin tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full. I squeezed 19 cupcakes out of this recipe. It’s worth noting Grandma says NOT to double the recipe (reason unknown… world destruction possibly?). Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 12 to 15 minutes or until golden like a co-worker who scraped together enough PTO to go on vacation to Miami.

Homemade Frosting

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of butter (not margarine)
1 to 2 cups of powdered sugar. Start with 1 1/2 cups and go from there, depending on consistency. You might need more, but we’re playing this whole thing by ear.
1 teaspoon of vanilla
Half and half cream
Directions:
Using a mixer, cream together the butter, powdered sugar and vanilla and a small bit of half and half. If you want a larger amount of frosting, then add some more of the sugar and enough half and half to make it creamy in consistency. Not too runny and not too stiff. You just have to do a little bit and a little bit, pretending your Goldilocks in the kitchen. You want it just right.
Add food coloring too for some pizzazz. If you end up with extra leftover, it freezes just fine.Easily fooled, I thought the title “4 minute cupcakes” meant these desserts would push along quickly. The recipe was simple, but prep and cook time took about an hour and a half for both the cupcakes and frosting. Was it worth the extra effort to do the homemade frosting vs that in a can? Yes. Did they taste as delicious as they would if they had two more tablespoons of frosting and three extra flavors? I’d say so.
There’s a beauty in simplicity and the rich flavor of a family tradition that made it’s way from many lunch boxes to this blog.

Kindred Cookbook: Potato Chip Cookies (they’re a thing)

 

First, I brought you “salad” with whipped cream and marshmallows. Now, I share the satisfyingly sweet and salty potato chip cookie. No, my depravity knows no bounds.

I’ve been making some fairly decent life decisions as of late, both in regard to my health and you know, life trajectory. So, I decided I needed to make some bad or at least questionable choices. As I flipped through my recipes filed under “BEWARE – UNTESTED,” my first thought was “How can I undo everyone’s bikini body goals and send their blood sugar level soaring to levels doctors have not yet calculated?” Grandma, bless her,  had the answer. Written in demure print, right underneath the recipe for Cash Money Cookies, was this little number.

Potato Chip Cookies

Yes. You read that correctly. Buckle your seat belt.

Ingredients:

1 cup shortening

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups crushed potato chips – think more along the lines of Lays vs Doritos. If you’d be interested in more crunch, you could try kettle cooked.

8 oz. of butterscotch chips

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Directions:

Stop hyperventilating.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cream the shortening and sugars together using a blender. Add the two eggs and mix well. Then slowly add the flour, baking soda, vanilla, blending well. Go against all of your cooking instincts and mix in the crushed potato chips and the butterscotch chips. A word to the wise – avoid a giant crumby mess and measure the potato chips into a Ziploc bag and then smash. Slightly less chaotic.

Shape and place cookies on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for seven to eight minutes or until golden brown and smelling like your wildest culinary dreams. Makes roughly two dozen cookies, depending on how much dough you consume in the baking process.

You will have an increasing level of skepticism as you’re mixing these ingredients together, but my goodness, when these little clusters of butterscotch sweetness hit that oven… It’s heaven. My kitchen, nay, my apartment was only what I imagine The Three Broomsticks smelled like in Harry Potter’s wonderful fictional world. Yes, I’m implying this recipe is *magical.* 

How this recipe came to be in the family collection is something of a wonder. Shortly after graduating from college, my mom used her writing prowess and passion for delectable dinners to pen a weekly column for the Indianola Record Herald and Tribune. In 1982, she visited the humble kitchens of women in southern Iowa, recording some of their best recipes and kitchen hacks. Besides sharing some county fair-winning recipes, my mom recorded bits of the culinary history of rural Iowa. I would put her akin to Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, but with more gravel roads and less (as in no) international travel. Also unlike Anthony Bourdain’s Emmy Award-winning series, the ingredients are readily available and are perhaps slightly more appealing. I’m certain that potato chips and cookies combined would do well on the international baking circuit.

Kindred Cookbook: Don’t pass up pistachio salad

From a young age, my mom and grandma instilled in me a truly wonderful state of mind — a dish can contain marshmallows and you can still call it a salad. How liberating! Take it one step further, adding in Cool Whip and it’s still a salad. No kale, spinach or the resemblance of anything that could improve my bodily state and I’m able to slap the salad category on not just this recipe, but others. This is the equivalent of the 1960’s free love, but with food.

Either way, this sweet salad is the ultimate throwback to the days of a party salad, the dish people brought to both cheerful get-togethers or church funerals. That is again a testament to its versatility on the plate. It’s light green color reminds me of shag carpet, macrame and bell-bottom jeans. And hey, one of those things are coming back into style, so this salad surely isn’t too fair behind.

Pistachio-Pineapple Salad

Ingredients

20 oz. can of crushed pineapple

Box of instant pistachio pudding mix

8 oz. container of Cool Whip

1 1/2 cup of mini-marshmallows (multi-colored if you’re daring)

Optional – A bit after the fact, mom told me you can also add maraschino cherries or pecan bits to the salad for a little extra kick.

Directions

Place pineapple with juice in a mixing bowl. Add dry pudding mix, mixing well with a spoon. Gently fold in the Cool Whip and then marshmallows. Chill overnight before serving to allow the pudding to set up.

From Christmas to summertime picnics, the pistachio pineapple salad has appeared on my plate. Small wonder considering it’s my mom’s favorite salad (I think partly due to the taste, but also the fact it takes about 10 minutes to make and serves 10-12 easily). Interestingly, Mom shared that this dish was originally called a Watergate Salad following President Nixon’s infamous blunder. How a political scandal translated into a fluffy feast of whipped cream and pineapple, I’m not entirely sure. It makes me wonder if five years in the future, all dinner parties will have a spot for Russian Probe Pudding or Email Scandal Eclairs.

Kindred Cookbook: Preferred type of exercise – Rhubarb Crunch

There are three types of people in this world: those that love rhubarb, those that detest it and the blissfully ignorant. I now have the wonderful opportunity to sway one of those blissfully unaware people to the tangy and sugar-laden dark side, and this is the recipe I chose to do it.

It’s always a shock to hear someone has never set fork and knife to a dish that is as common to Midwesterners as county fairs. My mom and both grandmothers have rhubarb patches, of which I have accidentally mowed over once or twice (ditto with the asparagus patch). Rhubarb has a limited season, best from April to June. That makes the window for others to experience this tart and tasty treat rather narrow. Thank goodness for the frozen fruit section.

I don’t remember the first time I ever had rhubarb, which is a taste profile you’d think would have ingrained itself in my memory. I do vividly remember my mom bringing in the large stalks of green, pink and red into the kitchen from the backyard. Her one small plant provided us with pies, crisps, jams, and Jello salads. I wanted to share some semblance of these memories with those who haven’t had the gumption to pick up a package of this odd court-declared fruit. Yes, you read that correctly. The U.S. Customs Court in Buffalo, New York issued a ruling in 1947 that rhubarb should be considered a fruit as it is typically used like a fruit. For more on rhubarb’s colorful and sometimes toxic history, read on here.

But from the very beginning, my grandmother’s recipe didn’t make it an easy one to share.

Rhubarb Crunch

Ingredients:

4 cups of rhubarb pieces (unsweetened if you get frozen)

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

Topping:

1 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

4 teaspoons red* Jello – optional

*Either Grandma was just vague here or forgot the color red is not a flavor. Anyway, I used strawberry.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss the rhubarb with the 1 cup of sugar and 2 tablespoons of flour. Put the mixture in a 8 to 9 inch baking dish and spread.

Stir together the topping mix of sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and Jello. Then beat one egg and add to the topping batter to make it crumbly. Spread over the rhubarb dish. Bake until the rhubarb is tender and the crumb top is nicely browned (for me, that was about 30 minutes).

I would highly recommend serving this dessert with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or even just cream. Basically, dairy. Any light sweetness to counteract the tang of the rhubarb plays well on the plate and palette.

As a reminder, I’m cooking recipes from a handwritten book my mom and grandma compiled when I moved into my first apartment. Concerned I would starve, they pulled some of their classic concoctions, ranging from wintery soups to 1950s Jello salads (we have a deep and passionate love for flavored gelatin). The book itself is an heirloom, but I’m afraid it does require some reading between the lines…and a few phone calls home.

Bd. p. Bd. p. I stared at this abbreviation written in my grandma’s hand for the rhubarb crunch recipe. What is this? The strange code was keeping me from recreating a good crunch. Oddly, my first thought was peanut butter. That was clearly wrong after a call to my mom revealed it was likely either baking powder or baking soda. We hedged our bets and went with baking powder. After getting off the phone about 40 minutes later, (my mom and I don’t really do “quick” calls) the recipe was complete. With so few ingredients and such an easy recipe, its very likely my grandma would often just whip this decadent dessert together from memory, not needing to read the recipe through four times (like me). I have yet to reach that level of skill, but this dessert may be the perfect start.

Today, I’m packing up the dessert in little containers, distributing them at work like a rhubarb crunch prophet, hopefully converting a few to this tart and tangy way of life. And sorry, I’ll open the gates of flavor heaven for you, but it’s BYOIC (bring your own ice cream).

Kindred Cookbook: Have your casserole and eat it too

Ah, the Midwestern food group that is a casserole. The staple of any weekday dinner and Lutheran church gathering. Always right next to the jello squares. I will forego the state debate of casserole vs hot dish because that’s terribly off topic and because it’s casserole, you heathens. So says Wikipedia.

casserole (French: diminutive of casse, from Provençal cassa “pan”) is a large, deep dish used both in the oven and as a serving vessel. The word is also used for the food cooked and served in such a vessel, with the cookware itself called a casserole dish or casserole pan.

Saying casserole now makes me increasingly cultured.

There are many appealing parts to a classic casserole, a few among them being its ability to feed a small army and yet produce bountiful leftovers. You can nuke a casserole within an edge of its life and it tastes fresh out of the oven. AND a casserole is a Houdini for hiding vegetables in. Well, semi-hidden. Generally under a thick layer of butter and cheese. But the nutritional value is still there, right?

This is just one of many casseroles I’ve sampled over my lifetime and is easily one of my favorites. There are many satisfying memories and meals made circled around a casserole dish in the center of the dinner table with baked potatoes and vats of butter. And apparently, I’m not alone. My grandma marked this recipe as “One of your mom’s favorite dishes.” A tradition continues.

Chicken Broccoli Casserole

Ingredients:

2 10 oz. packages of frozen chopped broccoli

1/2 cup mayo or salad dressing (commonly known outside my family as Miracle Whip ((we like the tangy zip of Miracle Whip))

1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice

2 cans of cream of chicken soup

2-3 cups of cooked chicken breast

Topping Mixture:

1/2 cup of fine bread crumbs

2 tablespoons of melted butter

1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese (eating some straight from the package, if you’re me)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×13 pan. Put the broccoli in the bottom of the pan. Layer on the *cooked chicken. Mix soup, mayo, lemon juice together and spread over the top. Bake for about 25-30 minutes.

Mix all the topping ingredients together and spread over soup layer just before you’re ready to the casserole out of the oven (about 5-10 minutes before) and return to the oven to just crisp it up.

*My method for cooking the chicken: Use a crock-pot. Thaw chicken, add a small bit of water or chicken stock, salt and pepper and let the chicken pretend its at the sauna. I like to do mine overnight, so I feel even more productive in my non-waking hours.

Don’t expect a thick slice of tangy chicken-y goodness from this dish. After it finishes toasting in the Tuscan oven sun, it’s probably less than an inch thick and doesn’t hold its shape well on the plate. When I say plop it on the plate, that’s literally what you’ll need to do. Casseroles don’t hold their shiznit together when confronted with a hangry table (not that I can blame them), so don’t expect a fully Instagramable meal. DO expect a happy stomach and second helpings, because if there’s one thing a casserole can do, it provides a satisfied tummy and table.

This is just the first installment in the my Case for Casserole, a cause I’m suddenly very passionate about. The poor dish has dealt with enough scrutiny and is ready to rise above the uppity diners who turn their noses at these deep dishes that are serving up smiles across continents.

Share your favorite casserole recipes here and enjoy even more deep dishes! I’d love hear your favorites and if anyone can share why their family calls a casserole a hot dish. Time to make your case, Minnesota.

Kindred Cookbook: Cash Money Cookies

Growing up, I don’t think my mom or grandma knew about saturated fats, trans fats, the general dangers of sugar, or the terrorist type plot all dessert-like food seem to be cooking up while we cave to our addicted sweet tooth. It was never a concern. Sugar flowed like cocaine in Pulp Fiction. Butter lived in abundance. Growing up on a dairy farm, my mom recalls mornings when they’d use fresh cream as the topping for cereal. No wonder their cheeks look so rosy and plump in photos.

Desserts, namely in the handy form of cookies, were always readily available, happily nestled in wax paper and old Danish butter cookie tins (a theme of butter can be traced throughout my childhood). In school lunches, two or three at a time would be tucked in next to a summer sausage sandwich. I probably cackled a bit when I saw others had to satisfy themselves with Chips Ahoy.

After school, cookies or ice cream treats found their way into my probably already sticky fingers. And after supper, there was a different sweet treat to satisfy a final craving. This it seems is part of my family’s kitchen culture. My great grandmother Marian would always have coffee and cookies for whomever came to visit. Originally from Denmark, this is apparently part of Scandinavian hospitality (a tradition I could sign onto), and these were one of the classics that were commonly present.

 

Million Dollar Cookies

Recipe:

1 cup shortening (either Crisco or margarine, I used Crisco)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1 egg

2 cups flour

1 t. cream of tartar

1 t. baking soda

1 t. vanilla

Cream together with blender shortening, sugars, egg, and vanilla. Then mix in dry ingredients. Chill for 30 minutes to overnight (Mom recommends overnight to allow flavors ((vanilla and sugar?)) to meld. Chilling does make forming the cookie balls easier.

Bake at 350 degrees for  10 minutes. Grandma says recipe makes about 40 cookies, but in my experience, that’s a gross overestimate. Unless your cookies are quarter size, I’m betting you’ll average around two dozen…also depending on how much cookie batter you ingest pre-oven.

I cleverly forgot to cream my sugars and shortening, making the texture of the batter more crumb-like than what you’d expect. That could have led to the more shortbread type consistency of the final product. If you’re looking for an ooey-gooey center, move along. The Million Dollar Cookie doesn’t have time for your half-baked shenanigans.

This cookie basically baked itself and certainly didn’t cost a million dollars. I was able to comfortably whip them up in about 10 minutes, removing time for photo posing of course. And you always have to help yourself to a few fresh from the oven.

Save your brunch reputation: All-in-one quiche

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Behind every one of these glorious, drool-worthy photos is about six dirty dishes. While I hope everyone is buying into the idea my kitchen is as clean and organized as the pictures could allude to, that is a misconception akin to believing Twinkies have an incredibly long shelf life (fun fact: Twinkies are good for about 45 days). No, the way I cook is not graceful and is honestly without much thought.

Brief examples of my careless cooking technique:

  1. I commonly try to flip things that with my eye-hand coordination result in at least half of the food on the burner, smoking up the kitchen in a matter of seconds.
  2. I always, ALWAYS try to “soften” butter in the microwave, but end up melting half of it all over the microwave tray. This, of course, leaves me no choice but to use a piece of bread to lap up the golden nectar that is buttah.
  3. When I cook, I require an apron. For the safety of my shirt of course, but also because I tend to wipe my hands constantly on my jeans. There is a pair that’s so coated with flour in the seams, they look vaguely acid washed.
  4. The shopping list is never complete and a grocery run mid-recipe is generally required to complete any dish. Almost makes that Samsung refrigerator camera seem like a logical option rather than a first-world misuse of technology. Almost.
  5. If I’m cooking, I can be exceptionally cavalier about the needed ingredients, questioning the recipe writer like we all did Britney Spear’s sanity in 2007. But I’m a devoted recipe follower when baking is involved. I know you don’t mess with science.

It’s understandable that watching me cook can make my mom’s toes curl…Kind of like how when she’d ride in the car with me during the learner’s permit era and press the imaginary brake on the floorboard. It wasn’t exactly subtle, but neither was I when taking corners.

But for an experienced cook to watch another would-be chef blunder about, it must be torturous. This quiche is actually one of the first dishes I made for my mom when she visited me for the weekend. Barefoot in my kitchen, I slopped the quiche mixture on the floor, over-poured the Bisquick mix, and was a general human tornado. Despite the process, the brunch was a complete success. The quick quiche gave me enough time to whip up muffins (via Betty Crocker, my heroine), chia seed pudding fruit parfaits, mimosas, and coffee.  It may have been the mimosas, but I saw in my mom’s eye this was the meal that showed her I could cook.

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All-in-one quiche

Ingredients

1 1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup Bisquick

2 tablespoons of soft butter

3 eggs

1/4 tablespoon salt

1 cup dice ham, bacon, or sausage

One medium onion or 2 green onions (finely chopped)

A single 4 oz. can of mushrooms (drained)

1 cup of cheddar cheese

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Directions:

Beat the first five ingredients together. My mom always used her blender to mix the ingredients, so I decided to give my Nutribullet a heftier call in life than blending frozen fruit. Worked out well, but now with the mixer having “tasted” meat, I’m not sure if it can go back…

Next, stir in the meat, onion, and mushrooms to the mixture. I added fresh parsley and tomato slices on top for color and, ya know, taste.

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Pour into an ungreased pie pan and sprinkle the cheese on top. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake about 45 minutes or until golden brown. Take from the oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Words of wisdom: This quiche doesn’t have a great structure to it for plating. The Bisquick forms a type of crust on the bottom, but it’s about as flimsy as any of the Bachelor’s girlfriend pairings. You can also add various types veggies or different cheeses to the recipe, customizing it to your heart’s or taste bud’s desire. Easily reheated in the microwave, it’s a great breakfast or lunch dish for later. I would caution against trying to freeze it. However ,you won’t have enough leftovers to even try to stow it away for a rainy day.

The all-in-one quiche is a dish that’s meant to be shared. This weekend save some moola and invite the brunch crew over to kick it old school in the kitchen. While trendy restaurants will always have their appeal and do remain at the core of my social outings (sorry friends, you’re important too), your kitchen is the most intimate of dining settings and is always in style. And if they’re truly your friends, they won’t judge your careless cooking technique too harshly.