Desperation

If you cook, you know what it is. From “What’s for dinner?”  to “I didn’t realize I was out of eggs…”  to “I need to come up with a dessert for the party tonight!”  It takes many forms, desperation, and it sometimes calls for desperate measures. I uncovered a recipe recently that answers that call–“Crazy Chocolate Cake.”

(I prepare this recipe on the May 4 edition of Earth Eats, a program of WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. You can find Earth Eats at this link.)

When I say “uncovered,” I truly mean it.  I was looking for some quick thing to bake to go along with the fresh strawberries I had bought one day. Flipping through the “C’s” in my recipe file, my eye landed on this one, which I had written out longhand with no attribution, date, or anything to indicate I had ever baked it. No smudges, drips, stains, notations, or corrections. That day I couldn’t be bothered even to stir up batter for shortcake to go with my strawberries, so I decided this untested, but very simple, crazy cake would be just the thing.

It’s the simple formula and procedure that make this Crazy Chocolate Cake appealing. I did an online search to find other versions, and most of them mirrored my own recipe. I was drawn to the origins of Crazy Chocolate Cake and learned this type of cake, lacking milk, eggs, or butter, comes from the “desperation” category of recipes. During desperate times such as the Great Depression or the World Wars, some ingredients were in short supply or expensive to purchase. (My economist husband would remind me those two circumstances go hand in hand.) Home cooks had to improvise or use alternative ingredients for things lacking in the larder. This cake was often called War Cake, Depression Cake, or Wacky Cake, to fit the times.

Pie recipes were often altered to fit the ingredients on hand. Our own “official state pie,” the beloved Sugar Cream Pie, certainly falls into that category. You could say we’ve moved from desperation to convenience when it comes to the Sugar Cream Pie, as Wick’s Pies offers the definitive version, ready-made, in the freezer section at your local grocery! (We’ll talk more about that in a future Indiana Home Cooks Podcast episode.)

But a desperate situation can also come about because the home cook is simply out of one of the ingredients called for, or lacking time to create an elaborate dish or dessert. That’s where I was as I sought a quick and easy recipe for a baked accompaniment  to fresh strawberries. The Crazy Chocolate Cake contains no milk, eggs, or butter, requires no electric mixing, and no mixing bowl! All ingredients are stirred together in the baking pan. When the cake is cooled, it may be frosted, but I prefer a simpler approach–a light dusting of powdered sugar. That’s all this rich, moist cake needs.

Occasionally in the coming months, you can hear recipes from Indiana Home Cooks on Earth Eats, a program on WFIU, Public Radio from Indiana University. It airs on WFIU-2 (101.9 FM) Fridays at 7:30 p.m., and on WFIU-1 (103.7 FM), Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. Earth Eats is also a podcast, where you can listen on demand, whenever you want.

Susan’s Crazy Chocolate Cake

Pre-heat oven to 375º

Measure directly into a 13” x 9” cake pan, un-greased and un-floured:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Mix these dry ingredients thoroughly in the pan, using a fork or wire whisk. Make three wells in the dry ingredients (two small and one large well). Assemble the following ingredients:

  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tsp vinegar
  • Scant 2/3 cup canola or other light oil
  • 2 cups cold water

Into one of the small wells put vanilla, and into the other small well put vinegar. Finally, pour the oil into the larger well. Carefully pour the 2 cups water over all. With a fork or whisk, stir thoroughly, making sure to incorporate all dry ingredients and the oil. Take it slowly at first, so as not to slosh anything out of the pan. The batter will have small lumps. That’s unavoidable mixing by hand, and it’s fine.

Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted in center should come out clean when done. Cool completely on a rack. 

To serve, dust individual cake pieces with powdered sugar. Delicious with fresh strawberries, whipped cream, or crème fraiche. 

A Look Back–Part One

The Indiana Home Cooks Podcast keeps moving forward with plans for more shows to listen to and posts to read here on the IHC blog. Sharing the stories of people who cook, eat, and drink in the Hoosier State is my mission, and coming soon are shows featuring Indiana food artisans. First, a sound montage from the recent Artisans Marketplace in Indianapolis, and later, a more in-depth conversation with an artisan candy maker in Lafayette. Watch for those episodes coming soon to Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Stitcher, and SoundCloud. Simply click the links on the right side of this page, or go to those apps on your phone and search for “Indiana Home Cooks.”

So far nineteen podcast episodes have been produced. I’m highlighting a few of my favorites in this and subsequent posts to give readers and listeners an idea of what the show is all about.  It’s about friends spending time together and sharing a few laughs, memories and recipes…

I hope you give these shows a listen if you haven’t already heard them. Please share them with your friends or family, and give them a rating if you have a moment. That will help others find the show too.

I am deeply grateful for the support of family and friends who have encouraged me to pursue this venture, and have been willing accomplices by letting me interview them on tape! It’s been a blast and I’m looking forward to finding and sharing more stories of cooking, eating, and drinking in the Hoosier State. I hope you will join me.

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The week after Easter, I interviewed Susie Butler, owner of Butler Winery in Bloomington. More on that here.  I couldn’t leave without a bottle, or two, of her wine. I also met Richelle Peterson, owner and operator of Richelle In A Handbasket candy and gift shop in Lafayette, when I walked into her shop and she handed me a piece of chocolate. That’s her English Toffee in the picture below. I’ll interview her soon for the podcast. Another day that week I met a fellow podcaster in Lafayette, Craig Martin, host of Art Tap. Craig is an artist and his podcast explores the vast arts scene in the Lafayette area. Check it out on his blog or on Apple Podcasts and iTunes.

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Goods For Cooks

It’s a comfort knowing that some things will always be there when we need them. Be it family, a friend, a house, a vacation spot, your hometown, a favorite food lovingly prepared for you. Life can take us in many directions and many miles from where we started, but when we come home we feel comfort in the familiar.

Those who cook and eat in Bloomington, Indiana, have a place like that–Goods For Cooks, the shop on the square that has supplied cooking and kitchen wares for over four decades. A handful of owners have minded the store, each giving it their own personal touch during their tenure. The newest owner, Sam Eibling, took over last fall and is busy putting her own stamp on Goods.

On the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast (LISTEN at the link above, or on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, or Stitcher), I visited Goods For Cooks and talked with Sam about this new venture that she and her brother as co-owner have embarked upon. While Sam is excited to update and add new products to the assortment at Goods For Cooks, she is also committed to maintaining the familiar selection and the reliable service Goods has always been known for. She considers her ownership of the store as stewardship–maintaining and strengthening a Bloomington institution to thrive for decades to come.

Learn more about Goods For Cooks at goodsforcooks.com. They’re also on Facebook and Instagram. The store is located on the square in downtown Bloomington, 115 North College Avenue.

Catching Up With Katy

How does Apollo Ohno make his way into the latest episode of the Indiana Home Cooks podcast? Listen and find out.

My good friend Katy Eberle stopped by earlier this month so we could catch up on some of our latest food and cooking adventures. Besides Apollo, we discussed my recent trip to New Orleans, and how beignets have been a part of my life for 23 years. We shared a couple of recipes–Katy’s Cauliflower Pizza and my Mixed Berry Compote. And we considered one chef’s advice for stepping outside your comfort zone when it comes to home cooking.

Here are the recipes, plus a few pictures of the process…

Susan’s Mixed Berry Compote

  • 6 oz. frozen raspberries
  • 1/4 C. Water
  • 1/3 C. Granulated sugar
  • 2 C. frozen mixed berries (raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc.)
  • Wedge of lemon

Put 6 oz. of frozen raspberries in saucepan. Add water and sugar, and put on low heat on IMG_4766the stove. As berries begin to thaw, turn up to medium heat. Bring up to a simmer and let mixture cook until berries break down and juice thickens a bit. This takes about 10 minutes. Carefully add the rest of the mixed berries, stir, and return to LOW heat. Cook just long enough to thaw the berries. Turn off heat, add a squeeze of lemon and stir. Serve warm on pancakes or waffles. Let cool and store in a glass jar or plastic container in refrigerator. Will keep 2-3 weeks. Can also be served cold with plain yogurt.

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Cooking down the raspberries & sugar
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Frozen mixed berries added
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It’s done!

 

Katy’s Cauliflower Crust Pizza

For the crust:

  • 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 C shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2/3 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp minced fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper

Have pizza toppings of your choice (sauce, cheese, meats, herbs, etc.) prepared and ready.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Coat paper with non-stick spray. In a food processor pulse cauliflower florets until the consistency of rice. Put riced cauliflower in large mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine. Spoon and smooth mixture into two (8-inch) circles on prepared baking sheet. Bake until browned on bottom, about 20 minutes, then flip crusts over. Bake about 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, top with your pizza toppings of choice, return to oven and bake until cheese is melted. To brown the toppings, but under broiler for a few minutes (optional).

Makes 4 servings. Adapted from Weight Watchers.

 

Happy Birthday, New Orleans! Celebrating it’s tricentennial, 1718-2018.

 

700 going on 1,000

Since launching the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast five months ago, I’ve had over 700 “listens,” and I thank each and every one of you for taking some time to check out my little show. Seeing it surpass the 700 mark, I’ve been wondering, how soon till we reach 1,000? So I’m putting together a push to reach 1,000 “listens” for the podcast.

If you’ve not tuned in yet, it’s very simple. Click here for Apple Podcasts, or here for Stitcher, whichever podcast player you prefer. There you will see the complete list of shows and you can listen to them all, or just the ones that interest you. If you subscribe to the podcast, you’ll get the latest episodes as they are posted. Right now that’s about every 10 days, give or take. There is no cost to subscribe.

If you like what you hear, share it with your friends, on your Facebook page, or on other social media. This blog has sharing buttons at the bottom of each post. Feel free to share it  with someone who might like Indiana Home Cooks.

Finally, if you have suggestions or ideas for future shows, let me know. You can reply on my Facebook page, Twitter, or send me an email: susanmintert@gmail.com.

Thank you again for your support of Indiana Home Cooks. I hope to hear from you with your feedback, and I’ll keep looking for new stories of food and drink in the Hoosier State to share with you.

Chex Mix–My way

Is there an American anywhere not familiar with Chex “Party Mix?” It is arguably the highest and best use of Chex cereal. And for me, Chex Mix is the ultimate comfort snack. I grew up eating the stuff. My mom made it not only for parties and family get-togethers, but sometimes just for fun because we loved it. I learned early on that she did not follow the recipe exactly, and adjusted the ingredients to her liking–extra Worcestershire sauce, trading out some of the seasoned salt for celery salt, no Wheat Chex, etc.

When I started making it for my family, I had already altered the traditional recipe considerably, and it’s continued to evolve over the years.  Can you really improve on a classic? I’ll bet most of us who make Chex Mix change it up to suit our own preferences, and for me, that starts with the Wheat Chex. I would rather eat Wheat Chex straight out of the box than in my party mix. Some might argue Wheat Chex taste like the box, but I wouldn’t go that far. They just don’t belong in my mix. Leave them out and increase the Corn and Rice Chex, to 9 cups total.

Mixed nuts? Does anyone really eat all the nuts in that weird assortment? I never have, and therefore they do not make the cut for my party mix. Nix the mixed nuts, and go for PEANUTS ONLY. And not a cup, like the original recipe. Just put in half the can. That might be about a cup anyway, and it’s about the right amount of peanuts only!

Then we come to pretzels. Everybody loves pretzels. A sorry one cup of pretzels I will not abide. Half a bag does the trick for me. And that’s it for the components of Chex Party Mix. No bagel chips, Cheez-It crackers, Cheerios or other add-ins. Just Rice & Corn Chex, peanuts, and pretzels.

The seasonings of course need tweaking. The original recipe in my file calls for six tablespoons of butter. Six tablespoons. It’s much easier and more streamlined to use one stick of butter. That’s eight tablespoons. Big deal.

The original two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce are doubled in my version. And it’s a sloppy four tablespoons at that. Probably closer to five. The remaining seasonings, you can see for yourself here:

These seasonings reflect my personal taste preferences and go above and beyond the original (ho hum) seasoned salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. If you would like hold fast to the original, it’s printed on every box of Chex cereal on the grocery store shelf. It’s also here.
So if you’ve never made Chex Party Mix, here’s how it goes:
In a large baking pan (I use a roasting pan), melt the butter and stir in the w’shire sauce and all remaining seasonings. Stir the Chex cereal, peanuts, and pretzels into the seasoning mixture to coat everything. Put in a 250 degree oven, for one hour. Every 15 minutes, give the mix a stir. Otherwise it will brown on the bottom. You don’t want a lot of browning, but rather a nice even toasting of everything. When done, let it cool and enjoy. If you can wait that long.
No matter how you make your Chex Party Mix, I’m sure we can all agree that once you starting eating it, it’s hard to stop.

Memories of Home

The first Indiana Home Cooks podcast of 2018 features reminiscences of my mom, Barbara Mercer. She sat down with me some months ago to record the first interview for a podcast venture that was still in the “concept” phase. In the intervening months I couldn’t find a good spot for it on the podcast. But with the winter winds blowing, snow falling, and the thermometer making its home in the single digits above and below zero, I thought it was the perfect time for the warm comforts of home.

In the episode, Memories of Home, Mom reminisces about “butchering day” on the farm when she was a young girl in Clay County. As I listened to her descriptions, I couldn’t help thinking about the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  These were some of my very favorite books when I was a girl, and the charming illustrations by Garth Williams brought them even more to life than the vivid prose. I pulled out my copy of Little House in the Big Woods, and sure enough, in chapter one, there it was–Wilder’s account of butchering day when she was a little girl. And not much had changed from 1870’s frontier Wisconsin to mid-20th century Indiana when it came to butchering a hog.

In a wrap up of the holidays, this episode also includes the step-by-step preparation of our Fluffy Yeast Rolls. These rolls have been a staple of family dinners all my life. Special occasions, mind you, not everyday meals. It’s not that the rolls are difficult or time consuming, but they do require a little advance planning, and they are pretty rich for everyday consumption. We make them at least once a year, at Thanksgiving, and sometimes at Christmas or Easter. The recipe (with photos) is included below.

Katy Eberle and I discussed bread baking also, since I was on a little bread baking jag. I brought her a baguette I had made the day before. One of my favorite homemade bread recipes is Crusty Italian Bread from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Here is the recipe from my King Arthur book…

If you prefer a copy without spilled coffee stains, notes, and other jottings, check it out online here.

Fluffy Yeast Rolls
From the kitchen of Barbara Mercer, from Margaret Balder
Makes 18 rolls

Dissolve 1 pkg. active dry yeast in 3 T. lukewarm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. While that is dissolving, whisk together the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl:

1/2 C. (one stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
1 C. lukewarm water
1/4 C. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature

Add yeast mixture and whisk again. To this mixture, add 3 C. all-purpose flour. Mix with electric mixer until fairly smooth. Stir in 1 C. flour by hand. (Total of 4 cups of flour) Dough will be sticky. DO NOT KNEAD. Leave dough in bowl, cover with a plate or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Three hours before baking:
Remove dough from refrigerator. It should’ve doubled overnight. Grease muffin pans for 18 rolls. Melt 1/4 C. butter.

Punch down dough and pull off pieces of dough roughly the size of large walnuts and shape into balls (2 dough balls for each roll). Dip each ball into melted butter before placing in pan. Cover rolls with tea towels and let rise until double. Bake in preheated 450 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.* After baking, while still hot and in the pans, brush tops with more melted butter. Serve warm.

*If using dark baking pans, reduce oven temp to 425 degrees.