Monday, October 3, 2016

Praline Cookies

It's been almost a year since my last post and a lot of life has happened around here in the meantime.  As usual with life, it has been a mix of good and bad.  I'm not sure I want to dwell on the bad, but on the good side of things, we started volunteering for a local animal rescue group and have fostered six kittens so far.  Our own pets aren't really into sharing their home with the interlopers, but it makes us feel good when we look at the "before" pictures and know that we have made a difference, at least in a small way.

For example, here is one of our current boarders:

Penn, day 1

Penn, now.  What a handsome devil!

But now, back to food!

This copy of the Watkins Hearthside Cookbook (1952) followed me home about a year ago.  I know my grandmother had an earlier Watkins book and liked it, so I decided to give it a whirl.

Oh, who am I kidding?  I really bought it because I thought the illustrations inside were adorable.  Sure, newer cookbooks have some drool-worthy photos in them, but how many are this cute?

While looking for something to entertain my sweet tooth, the recipe for Dream Bars initially caught my eye, but then I noticed the Praline Cookies next to it and thought they sounded like they had potential and would be a lot quicker to make.

When I make cookies (which isn't often because I cannot keep my #$%^ hands out of them!), I have to locate the Break-Up Spatula, which is the best cookie lifter ever.  I was told by Farm Boy when we married that if we divorced, I am morally obligated to steal this from him.  Legend has it that he stole it from his ex, who stole it from a former roommate.  And while I can't prove that it was stolen before then, I feel certain that the roommate wasn't the original owner.  If only this thing could talk, I'm sure it would have some tales to tell.

Chambers stove range
The Break-Up Spatula, ready to work
This recipe was pretty easy to make.  I wasn't sure if the baking sheet should be buttered or not, so I went ahead and used parchment paper.  I could have sworn that the recipe stated to flatten the cookies "using a drinking glass", but I would have sworn wrong.  I did, though, use a drinking glass, which I dipped in sugar before each flattening.

The cookies spread more than I expected, turning into thin, very crunchy/crispy, caramelized brown sugar discs.  My taste testers gave them rave reviews and I had to fight to bring home the last few cookies for myself.  And because I can't keep my %$#@ hands out of them, they were all gone within a day. 

Chambers stove range
Mmmm, I can almost smell them now!

Praline Cookies (Printable version)
From the Watkins Hearthside Cookbook (1952)
  • 1 1/4 cups sifted flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Watkins vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 375F. 
Sift the flour once, measure and resift with the salt.  Cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat thoroughly.  Stir in the dry ingredients, then add the nuts.
Form into small balls the size of small walnuts and flatten on the baking sheet to 1/4" thickness.  They should be about 2 inches apart.  Bake at 375F for 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool on baking pans about 2 minutes, then remove to wire cake racks to cool.  This recipe will make about 3 dozen cookies. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chocolate Toffee Bars

Several years ago I stumbled on a book sale at the local library on the last day of the sale.  You could buy an entire bag full of books for something like two dollars, but the only thing I found that looked interesting to me was a battered 1970s edition of The Settlement Cookbook.  I think it might have been a book club edition because it was very compact with extremely small print.  Some of the recipes looked interesting, but it was so tedious to read that I never used it.

A few months back, I came across a much nicer 1965 edition.  It is also a book club edition, but it is much easier to read (and has much less tape holding it together).  Since the librarian had made me a good deal (twenty-five cents) on the original book sale copy, I felt like I could justify spending one whole dollar on this much nicer copy. (Have I ever mentioned that I am cheap??)

After buying this copy, my sister lent me the book, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, which is a history of how women have cooked and lived in North America from the time of the Native Americans through the early 2000s.  The Settlement Cookbook was mentioned as having been originally published in the early 1900s as a cooking textbook for new Jewish immigrants at Milwaukee's Settlement House and it still remains the best-selling charitable cookbook of all time.  Fun fact! 

Now, on to the food...

I wanted to make something for a potluck dessert last week.  After flipping through several books, I noticed this recipe for Chocolate Toffee Bars and thought it met my requirements of 1) chocolate and 2) easy.

Since I didn't want a 9x13" pan of bars to tempt me for the rest of the week, I decided to halve the recipe, using another recipe on the same page for baking guidance.  Melting the chocolate also seemed like too much work, so I baked the bars partially, then sprinkled chocolate chips on top and returned them to the oven for a few more minutes, then used a spoon to spread the melted chocolate around.  Melting the chocolate first would have resulted in a smoother chocolate topping, but once the walnuts were sprinkled on top, you couldn't really see the texture of the chocolate anyway.  Laziness for the win! 

chambers 90c stove range

These were very tasty, although softer than I expected.  They are also very rich, so I suggest cutting them into tiny bars.  One made it home with me and I had it for second breakfast the next day.  I thought it was even better then, which made me sad that I had given the rest away!

Chocolate Toffee Bars (Printable recipe)
Adapted from The Settlement Cook Book, 1965
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg, beaten well
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup toasted chopped nuts

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add vanilla, well-beaten egg, flour and salt.  Mix well.  Spread in greased 8" square pan (or equivalent).  Bake at 350F for 15 minutes.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Return to oven and bake for 5 more minutes or until chocolate chips are soft.  Smooth the chocolate chips with a knife or the back of a spoon, then sprinkle with chopped nuts.  Cut at once into bars, then cool.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Apple Crisp

Last Thursday I had lunch out with my mother and one of my sisters.  Dessert was included, so I made a beeline toward what I thought was apple crisp, but turned out to be bread pudding.  Don't get me wrong, I love bread pudding, but since I had already set my taste buds for apple crisp, I was sorely disappointed.  So disappointed that I sought solace from the chocolate pie instead. 

On Saturday I noticed that the Granny Smith apples in the crisper were not quite as crisp as they had once been, which made me think I should bake something with apples.  That decision was heavily influenced by the Thursday of Apple Crisp Despair, I am sure. 

I turned to Baking with Brother Boniface (1997) for inspiration.  I hate to think that a book from 1997 might be considered vintage, but I'm going to cheat a little here by pointing out the cover photo: both the tree and Brother Boniface would definitely qualify.

This is a nice little baking book with mostly-from-scratch recipes (there are a few that call for cake mixes) ranging from the very simple, like this apple crisp, to more challenging recipes such as the Mepkin Abbey Cinnamon Buns.  The recipes use ingredients that are easy to obtain and the instructions are clear without being overwhelming.  I think it would be a great book for someone just learning to bake. 

Now on to the crisp!

I didn't weigh the apples, but I'm pretty sure I had less than three pounds, possibly a little less than two pounds.  In all, I had three large Granny Smith apples, plus two Honeycrisp apples.  Pink Lady apples are my favorite eating apples, but I haven't been able to find them lately.  Someone recommended Honeycrisp apples, but they are too sweet for my taste. I like my apples like I like my friends: a little on the acidic side.

Because of the sweet Honeycrisp apples, I substituted lemon juice for half the water.  I also wanted oats and cinnamon in the topping, so I used some of the cinnamon in with the apples and mixed the rest in with the topping, adding 1/2 cup of oats to the mixture.

Chambers 90C stove range
The house smelled so good while this was baking!
Mmm-mmm!  This really hit the spot!  The only things I would do differently next time would be to make sure I have some vanilla ice cream on hand to serve with it.

Apple Crisp (Printable recipe)
adapted from Baking with Brother Boniface, Recipes from the Kitchen of Mepkin Abbey, 1997
  • 3 pounds of cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 1.5 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoons water
  • 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9-inch round baking pan.
Toss apples with lemon juice and water.  Place in the prepared pan and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.  Using a pastry cutter or fork, mix the butter, flour, sugar, oats and remaining cinnamon together until crumbly.  Spread over the apples.
Bake at 350F for 30 to 40 minutes.  Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cinnamon Logs

Last week there were seven estate sales, which is a big number for this area.  I didn't find many things, but I did nab this 1952 cookbook at one of the sales:

A quick internet search tells me that "Prudence Penny" was a recipe request column for Hearst newspapers.  I always enjoy storing a new bit of trivia in my brain.  I just wish I could remember the name of someone I met five minutes ago as easily as I remember the useless information!

The book seems to be composed of several of the old Culinary Arts Institute regional cookbooks, plus sections for "General Auxiliary Recipes" and the "Cosmopolitan America Cook Book."  The Cosmopolitan section is only fourteen pages long, so apparently not many regions were considered cosmopolitan back in the day.

I am so going to have to make oliebollen sometime!
The estate sale companies don't divulge much information about the estate owner, but I noticed that several of the cookbooks were written in Japanese.  I know this only because one of them  had both Japanese and English versions of each recipe and stated that the other language was Japanese.  I had to wonder how the cook ended up in our smallish Texas town.  I'm sure that is an interesting story.

Okay, on to the actual cooking...

The last time I posted about Cookies by Bess, a grandchild of Bess Hoffman was kind enough to comment on my blog and to suggest that I try the Cinnamon Logs recipe. I wanted to try them immediately, but I accidentally misplaced the book for a few months.  It somehow ended up mixed in with the gardening books and I didn't stumble across it until I needed to look up something plant-related.  I feel really bad about interrogating Mom so harshly now...

chambers 90c stove range

These are really nice - delicate, not too sweet, with a nice cinnamon-sugar flavor, almost as if someone had combined Mexican wedding cookies and cinnamon toast.  The small size and light texture keep them from being filling, so it is easy to nibble several without feeling guilty (because really, who can eat one cookie? Not I!). They also seem to get even better on the second day and store well for several days. These are going straight onto my "make again" list.  Thank you for the recommendation, PSherm!

Cinnamon Logs (Printable recipe)

from Cookies by Bess (1980) by Bess Hoffman

  • 1 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups flour
Preheat oven to 300F.
Mix well in order given.  Shape in rolls about 1/2 inch in diameter.  Cut in little logs about 1 1/2 inches long.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheets for 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool slightly.  Roll in sugar.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Chambers Thermowell Creole Fish with Vegetables

This recipe comes from a pamphlet that Chambers published to promote the Thermobaker, which allows you to use the deep well as a small oven.  The Thermobaker is really just a heat shield that protects foods from the direct heat of the well burner, with the addition of a handle that lets you get the hot pans out easily. 

The Thermobaker was introduced with the model C Chambers and had to be purchased separately, so they are a little hard to come by.  When we went to pick up a freebie Chambers cooktop (which is destined to one day be part of an outdoor cooking cart, aka the Great Outdoor Baconator), the guy asked me if I wanted "one of those pie baker thingies" that he had sitting in his garage.  I had to restrain myself from galumphing into his arms like an overgrown puppy.  I managed to mostly maintain my poker face and croaked out a subdued, "Yes," then screamed like a banshee when Farm Boy and I got back in the pickup. 

Ahem.  Perhaps I need to get out more.

Mostly I use the Thermobaker to bake small cakes or pies because it adds no noticeable heat to the kitchen, which makes a big difference in our Texas summers.  However, I have been wanting to utilize it for more main dish or entire meal cooking.  Enter Creole Fish with Vegetables:
The writers of the Chambers literature were "really" into quotation marks


I used cod for the fish, because that is what we had in the freezer.  I replaced the garlic salt and basil with Howie's Cajun Dust, which a local Cajun restaurant keeps on the tables to sprinkle on the free coleslaw.  They sell the seasoning mix at the checkout, which I'm sure offsets the cost of the coleslaw! 


chambers 90c stove range thermobaker
Before.  All stacked up and ready to go.

chambers 90c stove range thermobaker

chambers 90c stove range thermobaker
After.  Although the sweet potatoes don't look that much different than before!

chambers 90c stove range thermobaker

Both Farm Boy and I really liked this.  I wasn't sure about fish cooked with such a large quantity of tomatoes, but it really worked.  I might go a little lighter on the celery next time, but that's just my own anti-celeryite tendencies showing. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Fruit-filled Meringue or Angel Pie

Last summer my aunt pointed out Angel Pie in the 1950 Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book and told me that I needed to try it.  I promptly forgot about it and didn't think of it again until we went grocery shopping last week and came home with a ridiculous amount of raspberries and strawberries.  The raspberries we managed to mostly consume during the week, but we still had an unopened giant container of strawberries when the weekend rolled around.  I thought of making an angel food cake to serve with them, but then remembered my aunt's recommendation of the meringue shell "pie".

Good ol' Betty Crocker!

While I have attempted a few meringue-topped pies, this was my first time to make a crunchy meringue.  I really liked it!  I think I could eat the meringue all by itself, without the berries and whipped cream.  (Farm Boy looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears when I said that - he says that the whipped cream is required.) 

I'm assuming that any topping/filling that doesn't require baking could be used to make an angel pie, but the recipe does specifically call for a lemon curd filling. Perhaps I am committing meringue blasphemy by filling it with berries, but I think it is worth the risk. 

The one problem I encountered was that the meringue stuck to the pie pan.*  I think next time I will just mound the meringue onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and form a higher ridge around the edge to form the "bowl" shape, like the heart-shaped one in the recipe photo.  I think that would make serving it a lot easier and a lot less messy. 

*Incidentally, I just noticed that the recipe calls for a 9" round layer pan instead of a pie dish.  I must have read this recipe 25 times and I missed that every time.

Angel Pie  (Printable recipe)
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book (1950)

  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 275F.  Line a 9" round cake pan or a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Beat egg whites until stiff (holds a point).  Gradually beat in 1/2 cup sugar, then beat in remaining sugar, alternating with lemon juice. Continue beating until very stiff and glossy.  Spoon the meringue into the pie dish or onto the baking sheet into desired shape.  Bake until delicately browned and crusty, 60 minutes for one large meringue or 40 minutes for smaller, individual meringues.  Cool completely.

Fill with whipped cream or ice cream and fruit or pre-cooked filling of your choice, such as lemon curd.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Oddly Named Mocha Squares

It has long been told in family lore how my mom used to make "mocha squares" when my oldest sister was a kid and everyone loved mocha squares.  Until Oldest Sister had an unfortunate bout of foodborn illness after eating chow mein and mocha squares.  After that, she refused to eat them ever again.

This was long, long before my time (let's see if Oldest Sister reads this...), so I had only heard of mocha squares, but never tasted them.  I asked Mom what they were and she described a vanilla cake with white frosting and peanuts.  Um, where is the chocolate?  Where is the coffee?  This made no sense to me.  Until I borrowed Mom's cookbook.

Tried Recipes, Grafton Lutheran Ladies Aid (1961)

There in the tattered book was the recipe for mocha squares. 

I did internet searches for mocha squares and found recipes for bars that involved chocolate and coffee, which is exactly what someone would expect from the name.  Finally, in desperation, I searched for "cake squares frosted peanuts" and saw that the rest of the world calls these peanut squares or peanut cake squares.  That makes so much more sense!

Because I am such a good sister, I whipped up a batch of so-called mocha squares to share with Oldest Sister at our weekly tea and crumpets.

Lily lends a paw to the baking process

They were fairly easy to make and tasted delicious while fresh.  I gleefully arranged them on a cute 1950s platter and drove them to my mother's house where I waited for Oldest Sister to arrive so I could tell her I made her most-hated food*.  And she had the nerve to not show up that day.  Drats, foiled again!

chambers 90c stove range
Mocha squares!
I think I will leave the recipe off this time because while these were quite delicious initially, the cake became... gummy... once refrigerated.  I think there is probably a better recipe for peanut squares out there.  I will try again sometime in the future because the combination of the sweet frosting and the salty peanuts was really nice.  I just didn't care much for this particular cake recipe.

*Lest anyone think that I am more evil than I really am, I have a similar story involving cherry pie with canned cherry pie filling, which I cannot stand to even smell to this day.  Oldest Sister has made several things with cherry pie filling, so this was an act of revenge, not outright aggression.  Too bad it didn't work out. <sigh>