Sunday, March 20, 2011

Baking at General Motors

My Mom reminded me of a fun and important fact about my Grandmother's recipe collection.  She worked on the assembly line at General Motors, along with many other women, and they were always having parties during the lunch hour.  Back then I imagine most employees brown bagged it each day instead of buying lunch at the cafeteria (which perhaps GM did not have?) or jetting out to a fast food place or Wegmans.  I also imagine that parties were a nice relief from the monotony and drudgery of assembly line work.  Everyone would bring a dish to pass and most, if not all, were homemade.  These lunch hour gatherings were the site of many a recipe exchange when any piece of paper or old envelope would do.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Award Winning Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  In honor of the holiday, I thought it would be entirely appropriate to post a recipe for Irish Soda Bread.  It does require baking, after all, and what better than an award winning recipe?  It is a recipe that my Mom uses and she won a gold medal for it at the annual Irish Feis (traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival) in Buffalo, NY.  Pre-Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, I used to dance for Desmond Penrose and later for Edward Murphy, Director of the Drumcliffe School of Irish Dance.  Those were fun times! 

This is a stock photo taken from the Internet of what Irish Soda Bread, with raisins (optional), looks like. When I eventually make a loaf, I will post an actual photo to the blog.  See recipe below.

Marilyn's Irish Soda Bread

4 cups of flour                                                   6 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. sugar                                                      1 1/2 c. raisins
1 Tbs. baking powder                                      1 Tbs. caraway seeds (optional)
1 tsp. salt                                                           2 eggs
3/4 tsp. baking soda                                         1 1/3 cup of butter milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a round casserole baking dish ( I have also used a round pie plate and works just as well) - In a large bowl with a fork, mix the first five ingredients - then cut the butter into the flour mixture ( I usually cube the butter first) - the mixutre will resemble coarse crumbs - then add the raisins and caraway seeds.

In a smaller bowl beat the eggs an retain a tablespoon to brush the top of the bread for a nice glaze - add the eggs and butter milk to the flour mixture - mix thoroughly - the mixutre will be sticky - flour your hands and turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead about 10 times into a nice round ball - place in casserole - cut a deep cross into the bread about 1/4 inch deep - brush with egg - bake about 1 hour and 10 mins. until a tootpick comes out clean when placed in the center of the bread - let cool in pan for about 10 min. it will pop right out - cool completely before slicing.  Enjoy!!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pistachio Cake: Take Two

In January I posted a recipe for Pistachio Cake, which is an easy, tasty dessert to which I personally become addicted whenever I make it and simply cannot stop eating it.  I decided to make it again to bring to a dinner party and thought I would share what I did differently this time.

For the crust, I had previously used Betty Crocker pie crust mix and used half the bag (for one crust).  I ended up noting that I should have used the full bag so that there was enough dough for a 9x13 pan (I used 8x8 the first time).  I found out from my friend, Cathy, that stores no longer carry pie crust "sticks" as required by the recipe.  So this time I bought pre-made pie crust dough that one would normally roll open and into the pie plate.  This helped from the perspective of yielding more dough to fit a 9x13 pan, but be careful not to undercook the crust (350 degrees for 20 min. was not enough time and the middle of the crust was the not quite fully cooked pie crust dough - still tasty though).

Also, I did not have finely chopped walnuts for the crust or garnish so I used more coarsely chopped walnuts that I had on hand in my pantry.  This actually gave the crust a more interesting texture in my opinion so I would probably do this again.

Someone at the party astutely asked, "Why are there walnuts on top if it is a pistachio cake?"  Excellent question.  And the answer is, "I have no idea".  We all had a good laugh over this, but I wonder if using pistachios in the crust would create a flavor that is overpowering?  I think I will test this theory in my next iteration of Pistachio Cake: 8 Guests or 2 Pigs!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frosted Date Balls

These Frosted Date Balls are easy to make and delicious!  They are soft and chewy and sweet - perfect to wash down with a glass of cold milk or to enjoy with a cup of tea.  A great follow up to the last recipe I posted, Banana and Date Circles, since I was able to use up the leftover dates.  The only downside is that the recipe claims a yield of a few dozen cookies yet I was only able to get just over two dozen when I made them.  And I wouldn't have made the dough balls any smaller.  I'll be bringing this batch to my book club this evening!  Make note of the serving platter which is a Mikasa pattern from the 70's courtesy of "Gracie".

1 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 c. sifted confectioner's sugar
1/2 c. butter
1 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
2/3 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. chopped nuts (I used walnuts since I already had some on hand)

Combine flour and salt; sift twice.  Cream the butter and gradually add sugar.  Add milk and vanilla and stir in the sifted flour.  Blend in dates and nuts.  (Note: I used clean hands to incorporate the dates and nuts.  Even though they are chopped, the date pieces stick together so by using your hands you can ensure the dates are spread evenly throughout the dough.)  Roll in 1 in. balls.  Place about 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet.  Bake in a 300 degree oven about 20 min. until light brown.  While still warm roll in confectioner's sugar.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.  Good Luck!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

"All About Home Baking"

Among the recipes I have been posting, there is also a very worn book entitled, "All About Home Baking".  The first few pages are missing so I cannot speak to the age of the book or the publishing house. It has a yellow and black gingham hard cover and I hope you can see from the photo just how worn it truly is - from age as well as a lot of use, I assume, because there are recipes jotted down on the inside and back covers as well as grease stains, etc. throughout the pages.

I am particularly drawn to the first page I see when I open the cover: It's a Wise Woman Who Knows Her Baking Rules.  This gets my blood going!  I had a similar reaction years ago as I browsed an antique store and found a small soft covered cookbook, "Desserts that Men Love".  So sexist, right?  It suggests that a woman's job is to serve and please her man - with a smile on her face and a spring in her step, and in a dress and heels.  Unfortunately, while the dress and heels have fallen away, the expectation still exists.  Many husbands now help in the kitchen with cooking and cleaning up, but for the most part it is the woman who is expected to grocery shop, plan and prepare meals.  Thank goodness for store bought baked goods and mixes.  Thank goodness for Wegmans!

Even more fascinating is that at the time of its writing this book fashions itself as modern.  "Today's busy women...will not take time to learn their (baking) tricks that way (through practice and repetition) and modern knowledge makes it unnecessary.  The progressive homemaker walks right up  to Science and says, 'You tell me how.'" Ha!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Banana and Date Circles

So I finally got around to the next baking recipe: Banana and Date Circles, compliments of my grandma's friend, Phyllis.  I should probably contact Phyllis to find out how these are supposed to turn out because beats me if I know.  Admittedly, I ignored the "heaping teaspoon" part of the serving onto the cookie sheet and used more like a tablespoon so perhaps this is where I went wrong.  This is my major malfunction when it comes to baking - patience.  I do a decent job of prepping the ingredients, but once it comes to putting it all together it had better go quickly and easily or I lose interest, especially if it is at the end of a long day I tend to hit a wall.  It was last night at 8 p.m. when I was putting these in the oven.

Don't get me wrong, these taste GREAT!, and I can envision putting a scoop of vanilla ice cream between two of them and going to town, but the "cookie" (at least I think it is supposed to be a type of cookie) spread very flat during baking as you can see from the photos. If they had been smaller they might have been more manageable in getting them off the cookie sheet.  My top rack cookies seem fine, but the bottom rack burned on the bottom so that they stuck to the sheet.  I used Heath Bar toffee bits that come in an 8 oz. bag instead of butterscotch pieces.  I do not think this was what affected the outcome of the cookies, but who knows?  Notice that the amount of butterscotch pieces is cut off on the scan and unfortunately I cannot find the original.  Maybe the 8 oz. bag was either too much or not enough?  I welcome any and all comments and suggestions. (NB: I found the original recipe and I should have used only 6oz. of the toffee (or butterscotch) bits!)

3/4 cup soft butter or margarine
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup sifted all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup coarsely snipped dates (approximately 6 large dates)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
X oz. package butterscotch pieces (I used an 8 oz. bag of Heath Bar toffee bits - you should only use 6 oz.)

Make anytime within 2 weeks before serving (this seems to be an important point that is underlined in the original recipe).
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, beat in egg.  Sift together dry ingredients and add to butter mixture.  Stir in rolled oats, bananas, dates, nuts and butterscotch.  Drop by heaping teaspoon onto greased sheet.  Makes about 6 doz.