Category Archives: recipes

Recipe Request: Things to Pour onto Chicken

Here is a shortage I have found in my recipe file: Things to Pour onto Chicken. What I like (“like”) to do is put raw pieces of chicken breast (“pieces” as in “cut each chicken breast into several pieces, like chicken tenders, or actually use chicken tenders) into a 9×13 Pyrex baking dish, pour something relatively easy over the chicken, and put the whole thing into the oven. Or crock-pot would also be fine, though the one time I tried to cook chicken in a crock-pot, it was totally cooked in, like, four hours.

There are a fair number of “dip the chicken into something liquidy, then into something crunchy” recipes, and there are tons of “cook the chicken first, then put it in the baking dish” recipes, but I have enough of those. I need ones where once I’ve finished putting the raw chicken into the baking dish, I don’t have to touch it anymore. I don’t mind doing a lot of OTHER work, but I don’t want to touch the chicken. Do you have any of those?

It doesn’t have to make the chicken into a CASSEROLE, either. Like, the recipe can be “put on lemon juice and pepper, then cover it and bake it for x minutes.” Don’t think to yourself, “Oh, but she’d already know this,” because I am VERY NEW to handling raw chicken.

Easy Appetizer Recipes

I am going to a thing with appetizers, and for this thing I will need to bring an appetizer. I am about to ask for appetizer recipe suggestions. First I will mention the things that seem pertinent to me:

1. It will be all women there
2. The theme seems to be decadence rather than restraint
3. I think it will be something like 8-10 people
4. Everyone is supposed to bring an appetizer
5. The beverage will be wine

Also, I realized as I turned to consult my recipe file that I have never made an appetizer before. Never. And I am not much of a cook to begin with. So think of me as a high school student who has come to you needing an appetizer: we would not say to that high school student, “Oh, you know a recipe I find satisfyingly challenging-but-worth-it after a decade or two of rigorous cooking experience? You start by just putting a duck carcass and some lovely Ajowan caraway in your pressure cooker…” No. We would ask her if she’d heard of any of the lovely Velveeta dips. That is the sort of guidance I am looking for.

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Update! I’ll add to here as I try any of the recipes! Here are links to posts containing reports on what I’ve tried so far:

Aunt Judy’s Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball
Emily’s Party Bread

Righteous Smoothie, and How to Do the Pumpkin Part

This is my favorite Righteous Smoothie right now. Start with:

  • 4 T. (1/4 cup) rolled oats
  • 2 T. flax seeds or flax seed meal
  • something like half a T. of sugar

Use the blender to blend those into flour (10 seconds or so). Then add:

  • some nasty bitter expensive 100% cranberry juice, about 1/2 cup
  • some milk, about 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup 
  • a big firm handful of raw spinach, and then another big firm 4-fingered pinch of it

You can use a different juice; it’s good with orange juice, too. I like to use the bitter cranberry because I’m supposed to drink it anyway as A Preventative, but it’s difficult to drink it straight. In the smoothie, it adds a pleasing tartness. But it’s seriously $5/quart, so if you don’t need The Benefits, orange juice might be a better call. If you use a sweeter juice, you might not need sugar.

Blend. You might have to open the (NON-RUNNING) blender and shove the spinach floof down a couple of times. It goes from this:

to this:

 
Then add:

  • plain yogurt, about 1/3-1/2 cup
  • a frozen spoonful of pumpkin (see below)
  • half a banana
  • frozen peach segments, about 5 or 6 of them
  • frozen blueberries, about 2/3-3/4 cup

Blend like heck. If it seems resistant/thick, put in another couple of tablespoons of milk or juice.

The blueberries are what hide the spinach. You can see the change in this next picture: the top half of the blender is still splashed/coated with the spinach step, but the bottom half shows the color the smoothie has turned with the blueberries in it.

And, done! It’s not going to win a beauty contest even with that casual “Oh hi, I’m a zinnia” in the background, but it just looks like a smoothie, not like a SPINACH ALERT:

 
This makes an amount of smoothie known as “Gah, I don’t really want any more, but I don’t want to WASTE it.” (That’s a little over half of it in that cup there.) If Henry drinks a nice big cup of it, it’s just right. So….serves two, I guess.

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The pumpkin thing started way back when I was pregnant with the twins and was trying to eat-eat-eat all the nutrition in the world. Yellow/orange fruits and vegetables was a difficult category to satisfy. So I looked for the easiest way to fulfill it, which looked like it was canned pumpkin: very dense in vitamin A. An ice cube’s worth or two in a smoothie was easy to incorporate.

And that’s what I still do now. When I make muffins, I use the big can of pumpkin, but I only need 2 cups of it; the can claims to hold more like 3.5 cups. After I measure 2 cups into the muffin batter, I scoop the remaining pumpkin onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper:

That’s a soup spoon in the picture, for scale. I made eight lumps of pumpkin with about 1.5 cups of pumpkin, so I guess that’s about 3 tablespoons per lump? But it seemed more like 2 tablespoons, and I’ve noticed that nutrition labels don’t seem real accurate with measurements. Each lump is about the size of a cookie, when flattened a bit with the spoon. (Edit: These were a bit much for the blender, as it turned out. They worked okay, but I’d make ten lumps next time, instead of eight. Or sixteen lumps, and use two per smoothie.)

Then the tray goes into the freezer:

After awhile, they’re frozen solid and can go into a baggie:

Then when you’re making a smoothie, plunk one in! They barely have any flavor, but have TONS of vitamin A! Which is good! For stuff! Allegedly!

Swistle’s Punch Recipe

I was looking for another recipe in my recipe box, and I came upon my punch recipe. I say “my” possessively, but also with the understanding that most punch recipes are pretty similar and made of the same stuff, so probably there are half a million other punch recipes exactly like this one. And if so, don’t tell me, because I like thinking of this one as mine, and I DID invent it, through MUCH trial-and-error, even if I wasn’t the firsty-first to do so.

It is particularly good with Thanksgiving foods. It’s fizzy-but-not-too-fizzy, it’s a little tart and not too sweet, and it goes very nicely with savory and salt. I made it once for a large family-reunion Thanksgiving, and my aunt said, “Hey, this is really good! I have to admit, I was not sure about it when I saw what you were putting into it, but it’s GOOD!”

(I’d spiked her cup, so no wonder.)

(No, I didn’t.)

(Or did I?)

(No.)

Swistle’s Punch Recipe

2 parts cranberry juice cocktail, light or regular
1 part orange juice
1 part grapefruit juice
2 parts clear diet soda

So, that means that if you start with a 2-quart bottle of cranberry juice, you’ll also need 1 quart (4 cups) of orange juice, 1 quart (4 cups) of grapefruit juice, and a 2-liter of diet 7-up or diet Sprite or something.

If you are a family of four and don’t think you’re going to drink a quart and a half of punch each, you can start with 2 cups of cranberry juice and add 1 cup of orange juice, 1 cup of grapefruit juice, and 2 cups of clear soda. Or you can make it for just your own self: use a quarter-cup measure twice with cranberry juice, once with orange juice, once with grapefruit juice, and twice with soda. The 2-1-1-2 is the part to remember, and change the measuring device depending on how many people are going to drink it.

If you aren’t sure how many people are going to drink punch, I suggest mixing juices together in the right proportions and then adding the soda to small batches (say, a pitcher’s worth) as you go along: if it’s all mixed together, it’s no good once the soda goes flat (though you can somewhat perk it up by adding more soda); but if you have them separate, you can keep the juices for a long time (save the empty juice bottles to store it in) and mix it with soda later as needed (2 measures of juice to 1 measure of soda).

You can also make fun ice cubes, if you make sure you have extra juice. Put a mandarin orange segment and/or cranberry and/or maraschino cherry in each little ice cube slot, and then fill up the rest of each slot with one of the juices. I do some cubes of each juice, because that’s pretty. Those can be for each person’s individual glass: one grapefruit cube, one orange cube, and one cranberry cube—so pretty. You can also make larger versions for the pitcher with a cupcake tin, or if you have a punch bowl you can make a huge juice-ring with a bundt pan or 1-quartish bowl (you can LAYER the juices for PRETTINESS!).

Spinach Smoothies Recipe; Room

I read somewhere that you could put spinach in a smoothie and not even taste it. And I thought: “Ha ha, yes; I’ll bet this is from the same people who told me that tofu is undetectable and that fruit makes a GREAT dessert.”

But then I read that Minnie puts spinach and even KALE in her smoothies. I was particularly persuaded by this part of her post:

…the added bonus of making me feel so very accomplished to have eaten 2 servings of leafy greens for breakfast. It’s like I expect some kind of angel of leafy greens to come down, bless me and give me a medal every time I have one.

So I tried it and lo, I will use the word “lo”: it was barely detectable, if at all, and indeed I DID feel as if I deserved a visit from an angel of leafy greens.

Smoothies are a “wing it” kind of recipe, but I can’t get behind any recipe that doesn’t even say if we’re talking about 1/8th teaspoon or 2 cups of an ingredient (see also: my late mother-in-law’s cinnamon roll recipe), so here is my Winging It Spinach Smoothie (measurements are approximate—but I HAVE approximated them):

2 T. flax seed meal

1/4 c. rolled oats

2 t. sugar

big firm 5-fingered pinch of spinach leaves, plus another 3-fingers pinch

about a third of a cup of yogurt

about a third of a cup of orange juice

something like 6 or 7 frozen peach segments

about a half a cup of frozen blueberries

(sub any frozen fruit for peaches/blueberries)

(you could also use fresh fruit, and then ice cubes)

(bananas work great, but I don’t like banana)

First blend the flax seed, oats, and sugar, until the oats are like flour. Then add everything else. The spinach will look like wayyyyyyyy too much spinach—like, practically filling the blender. Be brave! Trust Swistle. Blend it up.

This might make enough for two adult servings in some households, but at my house it makes enough for me to share with a child.

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Elizabeth, with enthusiasm: “The best thing about pillow pets is you can use them EITHER as a pillow OR as a stuffed animal!!” Yes. Welcome to the point of this product.

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I finally read Room. I consider myself more sensitive than average to stories of child endangerment, and yet I got through it fine. I did have one section in the middle where I thought I might have a heart attack, but I reasoned that MANY of us are sensitive to child-endangerment stories, and yet MANY of us had read the book and I hadn’t heard any outcry, so it must be okay. I think part of the reason it worked for me is that it was told from the child’s point of view rather than the mother’s: I didn’t have to think much about how SHE felt. And by the time it occurred to me to think of it, I’d finished that section. (I did a little skimming ahead, too, to make SURE.) The thriller part only lasted the first half of the book or so—and more like just the second quarter of it, since the first quarter is “figuring out what is going on.”

I did find it thought-provoking, as pretty much everyone who read it mentioned. Lots of interesting issues to mull while doing boring cooking or cleaning or exercising. Even though I’m someone who lies awake worrying about how we’d all get out in the case of a fire, I didn’t find that this book gave me fresh material to worry about. Instead, I found it reassuring/interesting: it said, basically, “Look, here is how someone took a terrible situation and made it livable.” And then you get to wonder if you would have made the same making-it-livable decisions. (Still, I guess it does make my heart pound afresh if I think about it too intently.)

A complaint: from time to time I felt like it veered into “And a little child shall teach us” territory. The child is supposed to be less than a month past his 5th birthday, and yet his thought processes seem unusually sophisticated/observant, and he makes sermon-quality remarks about how other people waste things, and fail to appreciate things, and consider themselves so stressed and busy. Yes, thank you for that lesson-for-us-all, Author-speaking-through-child. This was fortunately only a SMALL and OCCASIONAL issue.

Taco Meat & Bean Dip With Bell Pepper Scoops and Two Mother-In-Law Anecdotes

I have solved a meal situation, and it has been such a successful solution I can hardly keep myself from publishing a cookbook with just this one recipe in it. It’s something I came up with in several parts to handle several different issues, and I think it’s finally perfect. And this is going to be a long story because I’m so! enthusiastic! about all the steps along the way. (If you feel pity at this moment for anyone unable to just skip to the end to find the part that looks like a recipe, you could spare a moment for Paul. Not only has he heard each issue explained in its turn, and each part of the solution explained in its turn, but he’s had to hear the entire thing REVIEWED with each installment.)

It STARTED because one of my favorite meals is leftover taco meat heated up, with salsa and cheese on top, eaten by scooping up bites with bite-size tortilla chips.

But! This is one of the times I appreciate Paul’s careful use of the word “nutritious” (as opposed to “healthy”): it is fine to have tortilla chips, and I plan to have them on many occasions, but they are not a particularly NUTRITIOUS part of the meal. And also, I take them as-needed out of the bag rather than measuring a serving, and I don’t WANT to measure a serving, because I don’t want “a serving,” I want “exactly as many as there are bites of taco meat.” (And also because I don’t really want the “how many chips I’m eating” information, if it isn’t going to change anything anyway.) But what can replace tortilla chips? NOTHING.

MEANWHILE, while I was mulling this issue, Paul and I were ALSO trying to figure out a way to have MORE leftover taco meat: as a family we were using a large amount of ground turkey (seasoned with a taco seasoning packet) for a taco meal and there often wasn’t any leftover for me to eat. SADNESS. When my mother-in-law was alive, she told me roughly a million times (most often while standing over me as I cooked up some ground turkey) that what SHE did to make meat go further was to “add a canna-corn to the hamburg” (she called this a way to get children to eat more vegetables, too, but…corn is a grain, right?). She thought that was a very clever way to save money on meat, and indeed it is, and it would also be a good way for a family who wanted to eat less meat total to decrease their meat consumption.

But there were several problems with this idea. To start with, Paul always hated his mom’s meat-mixed-with-corn. For another thing, neither of us are keen to remove something we consider quite nutritious (the ground turkey) in favor of something we consider less nutritious (a starch). (Your nutrition equation may vary. Nutrition is a CRAZY PLACE. I state our own current inclinations for it so that you can see the problem we were trying to solve here, which could have been just as nutritiously stated in the opposite direction for a family with different nutrition goals: for example, “trying to replace animal products with whole grains.”)

Then one day I was contemplating the Taco Bell menu items that are made with refried beans, which I dislike but Paul and Rob like them. So I thought we could add refried beans to our taco meat (legumes are another area of unknown nutrition, but we are currently tentatively assuming nutritious), except I don’t like refried beans. But I DO like chickpeas! So…I could grind up chickpeas and add them! And I did it, and lo it was delicious and the children didn’t notice, so, score for adding variety and for making the meal more filling so there was more left over for me.

Then we were out of chickpeas but still eager to experiment and so we tried a can of black beans. With the chickpeas I’d used the larger-size can, drained (I remember reading long ago that the soak-water for beans should be removed to decrease some of the, er, “musical fruit” element; I have no idea if this was/is actually true, but the tip has stuck with me regardless, and also the bean water typically looks/smells gross), added water to make it blenderable, and used about 1/3rd of the resulting puree for each 1.3-pound pack of ground turkey. Our opinion was that we could have divided it among two batches instead of three [note: later we tried this and decided no, dividing into three is better with the big can of chickpeas], so with the black beans I used the smaller-size can, drained, mixed with about 3/4 cup of water and 1 packet of taco seasoning mix right in the blender (the taco seasoning needs to be mixed with 3/4 cup water anyway, so this combines the two tasks), then added the whole amount to the meat. It was beanier, and it LOOKED grosser (darker, burned-looking—the chickpeas end up more of a warm terra cotta color with the seasoning), but Paul thought it tasted even better, and the kids noticed the appearance this time but still weren’t bothered by the taste. I liked it better, too, but I think that was because I used the spicy taco seasoning instead of the regular: I’d thought the chickpeas had soaked up too much of the spiciness.

Then I had my third idea, the one that brought this whole thing together. In my eternal quest to try to eat more vegetables, I’d impulse-bought a yellow bell pepper and an orange bell pepper (memory digression: my late mother-in-law, laughingly to Paul, in front of me, after I’d set out a dish of colored bell peppers and dip with lunch: “Swistle’s the only person I know who spends extra on the pretty colors!” Me: “…They…taste different? than the green ones? I don’t like the green ones raw—but the orange/yellow/red are sweeter? and milder? and I like them raw?” My late mother-in-law: “Whatever, I’ve just never known anyone who would spend so much extra money just to get the pretty colors! *merry derisive laughter*” Me, in my head: “AND YOU STILL DON’T, AS I’VE JUST EXPLAINED”). And I was thinking about how I should eat those peoppers before they went bad. And that is when it occurred to me that they might, MIGHT, considering how much I like them, be adequately crunchy and yummy to be sometimes used instead of tortilla chips.

I was nervous to try it, but did it anyway for lunch one day. I heated up leftover ground-turkey-with-black-beans-and-taco-seasoning with some salsa. I added cheddar cheese on top. I cut up the orange pepper. I used a segment of pepper to scoop up some meat and took a tentative bite, and….YUM. Very, very yum. A different meal than with tortilla chips, but wonderful in its own different way.

It was so good, I wanted to eat it three meals a day for awhile.

I feel odd even saying this, but I left out the cheese the next time I made it. Normally I think of taco meat as REQUIRING cheese—but something about the sweetness of the pepper made the cheese taste a little weird and out of place to me. I know, I know, but it did. If you try it, put cheese on the first bite and see if you agree. I ended up scraping it to one side.


Second attempt, with the yellow pepper and no cheese this time
(this is with chickpeas)

So, to sum up. Before: taco meat/seasoning, cheese, salsa, tortilla chip scoops. After: taco meat/seasoning (SPICY seasoning), beans, salsa, bell pepper scoops. Very different meals, but BOTH YUMMY. Success!

Cake Mix Divided By Three = A Pan of Mini Cupcakes (or 8 Regular Cupcakes)

Now that my brother and sister-in-law and niece and sister-in-law’s sister live relatively near, I periodically drive down for an overnight. The three grown girls do a fun outing in the afternoon (last time we went to a tea shop for afternoon tea! with tiered platters and everything!) while my brother and niece drudge around and go to a playground or something (NO nice china at the playground, NOR wee crustless sandwiches). Then after niece’s bedtime the four grown-ups stay up and eat pizza and cupcakes and drink wine and feel sorry for my sister-in-law who is pregnant and not drinking wine. Then in the morning we finish off the cupcakes with breakfast.

The first time I brought cupcakes, it was impulsive: I was making two one-layer cakes for a school bake sale, and I thought, “Hey, I could make two different flavors of cake AND make mini-cupcakes for the overnight with the extra.” So I did.

But since then, a bake sale hasn’t coincided with an overnight. And when I tried freezing some mini-cupcakes long-term, I found they didn’t do so well. So this is my solution: I divide each cake mix into three. Then I make 1/3rd mix each of two different kinds.

(This picture shows a pile of four cake mix baggies
plus one bag of thawing leftover frosting,
so it is not an ideal illustration.)

I divide the mix into thirds for two reasons: (1) the cake mixes I use call for 3 eggs, and it is tricky to divide into a number of parts different than the number of eggs; (2) one-third cake mix makes almost exactly one pan of 24 mini-cupcakes.

One-third cake mix would also make about 8 regular cupcakes. So if you sometimes want to make cupcakes at your house, but you don’t want a whole cake mix of them, this would be perfect.

Now, I realize this SEEMS like a hassle, and it IS a little teeny BIT of a hassle—but it only has to be done every THREE overnights and, once done, it results in much LESS hassle. And, I divided two cake mixes AND baked a tray of mini-cupcakes from each one in only part of one evening (I don’t think I even started until 8:30 or so), with long breaks while the batches were baking.

Speaking of hassle, don’t miss this step: write the ingredients/instructions on the baggies BEFORE BEFORE BEFORE putting cake mix into them. Before! It is so much easier to write on baggies when they’re flat than when they’re plump with mix. I didn’t remember that this time with the first mix, so my handwriting is a little woopy.

When figuring out 1/3rd of a mix, the most important measurement to know is that a cup is 16 tablespoons. And–stay with me, now–this means a quarter-cup is 4 tablespoons, and a third of a cup is 5 and 1/3 tablespoons. Do not get overwhelmed; do not worry that you don’t have a 2/3 tablespoon measurement. Everything will be fine.

A little bit one way or another isn’t likely to make a huge difference. If I come out with something like 1 and 2/3rds tablespoons, I do a tablespoon and then almost a second tablespoon—I don’t try to get it exact (though I do write it as exact as possible on the baggie, so I know what I’m aiming for with the estimate). And you COULD do it exact: a tablespoon is three teaspoons, so you could do one tablespoon plus two teaspoons. And here’s an easy way to do 7 tablespoons: measure half a cup, and then scoop out one tablespoon.

I did the math on two mixes last night, so I will put those measurements here—and if I think of it, I’ll do different mixes each time and add THOSE measurements here later.

Pillsbury Moist Supreme Classic Yellow (for 1/3rd box of mix)
1/3 cup water
1 egg
approx. 1 and 2/3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or 1 T. plus 2 t.)
350 degrees F for 11-12 minutes minis, 19-23 min reg cupcakes

Betty Crocker Super Moist Chocolate Fudge (for 1/3rd box of mix)
approx. 7 tablespoons water (1/2 c. minus 1 T.)
1 egg
approx. 2 and 2/3 tablespoons vegetable oil (or 2 T. plus 2 t.)
350 degrees F for 11-13 minutes minis, 20-25 min reg cupcakes

So, I write all that on the baggies. Then I get out my little up-to-two-pounds scale, and I divide the cake mix evenly into two baggies, using the original bag the cake mix comes in as the third baggie. It ends up being about 6 or 7 or 8 ounces of cake mix per baggie, but I just kept shaking out little bits of mix until the two baggies each weighed the same as the bag I still had in my hand. This SOUNDS like a huge headache, but it takes about one minute. (If you don’t have a small-weights scale, you could measure a quarter-cup or half-cup or tablespoon at a time evenly into three bowls until you run out of mix.)

Then I make the first batch of cupcakes from the original bag, and I put the two written-on baggies in the pantry for next time. Next time I plan to buy a different mix (maybe an orange? a spice? a lemon?) and divide THAT, and then use the new mix plus one of the previously-sampled ones.

If you make two different kinds of frosting, and frost half of each cupcake flavor in each, you have FOUR different kinds of cupcakes: for example, 1/4th of the cupcakes are yellow cake with vanilla frosting, 1/4th are yellow cake with chocolate frosting, 1/4th are chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, and 1/4th are chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.

Doughnut Cake (or Donut Cake, If You Must)

Sometimes, as when the previous day has included Doughnut Debauchery, I will make a drink composed of a cup of V-8 juice and two rounded tablespoons of flax seed meal. (You can add an ounce or two of vodka, if this is instead an advance measure taken in anticipation of a different sort of debauchery.) I will stir it up and drink it down quick like medicine: it’s thick to begin with, and it’s not exactly what I’d call tasty, and the flax seed meal will start soaking up the liquid if you let it sit around, so it’s not a SIPPING drink.

Paul, this morning, watching me make and drink it: “I’m sorry, that is too nutritious. I can’t eat my leftover doughnut after watching that.”

The doughnut situation happened because we celebrated the twins’ birthdays, and Edward chose a Doughnut Cake as his cake. Doughnut Cake (or Donut Cake, if you must) is an accidental invention. We think it started back during one of my pregnancies when I was craving doughnuts, but we’re not sure. All we remember is that the first time we had one was on one of my birthdays, when as my birthday dessert I said I didn’t really want a cake, I wanted DOUGHNUTS. So then Paul went out and got doughnuts, and he arranged them on a plate in a roughly cake-shaped stack. The idea caught on; I’d say we’ve had Doughnut Cake at someone’s birthday at least once a year since then.

For the top layer, I use three iced doughnuts, either with or without sprinkles, ideally matching. It gives it a “frosted” look. (Iced doughnuts should not be put into the underlayers: the frosting gets friendly with the doughnuts above. Additional iced doughnuts must wait in the box, or on a separate plate/platter.)

The other important element of Doughnut Cake is that, when the candles are blown out and it is time to eat it, the doughnuts should be cut into quarters—or halves at most. One does not “eat a doughnut” from a doughnut cake; one cuts off a quarter doughnut here and a quarter doughnut there until one’s tum cries out for mercy. The sampling of many flavors is crucial to the Doughnut Cake experience. (People who only like one flavor of doughnut are ALLOWED to just “eat a doughnut.” But the rest of us avert our eyes.) The doughnuts need not all be cut up at once; it is better to cut into each doughnut as needed.

This year I made a slight change to the construction of the cake, based on what happened last year: last year, the top layer of doughnuts kept slipping or threatening to slip—and when the top layer has LIT CANDLES in it, that is a bad idea. So. Shorter doughnut cake. The rest of the doughnuts stay in their box, to be brought from the kitchen after the candles are blown out.

…Oh, hey, I checked, and it turns out I have PHOTO DOCUMENTATION of last year:

Teetery-looking layers with lit candles in them
Hey, what happened to one of the flaming doughnuts?
And look, another is sliding down in the opposite direction.
Why is Mother continuing to take photos
instead of saving this party from a fiery end?

Spring Mix Salad with Kielbasa and Pepper-ring Brine Dressing

This is one of my favorite meals right now. One day I had it for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.

Start with kielbasa. It’s often sold near hot dogs. I like turkey kielbasa, and there’s also a spicy one that’s really good.

I cut a kielbasa into three roughly equal servings. Two of them I put in baggies in the fridge/freezer for another meal.

The third I use. This is an excellent meal to make ostentatiously if you are angry at a male in your household. Even just the sight of the 1/3 kielbasa on the cutting board will cause him to pale.

I first cut it in half down the long way, then put the two halves flat-side down and slice them, so I get little half-circles. I put the half circles into a skillet over medium-high heat, stirring periodically.

Meanwhile I get the lettuce ready. I use an 8-cup bowl. I like the bagged Spring Mix that looks like someone snipped it directly out of a meadow. I fill the bowl about halfway and pack it down a bit. Then I add two spoonfuls of the liquid from a jar of those yellow pepper rings (banana peppers). It would have been nice if I’d had a better jar for this picture, instead of one that was empty of all but a couple of tablespoons of juice, but there it is. Then I fill the bowl the rest of the way, again packing it down a bit, and add two or three more spoonfuls of pepper liquid. It’s good with a few of the actual pepper rings, too, but as you can see I was all out this time.

By now the sausage is getting nice and browned. I like it even a little more cooked than this, but I was hungry and didn’t want to wait. If I use the spicy sausage, it needs to be blotted with paper towels after cooking; but the turkey kind cooks dry.

Put the sausage on top of the lettuce, and it’s ready to eat. Each bite should contain one half-circle of sausage plus a big unwieldy floof of lettuce that will have to be crammed inelegantly into the mouth.

For me, this serves one, but I can imagine it serving two instead, or more if you use it as a side salad.

Cake From Scratch: Crazy Cake

There is a recipe from Paul’s side of the family called Crazy Cake. It is not actually called Crazy Cake, but it’s something similar to that, and I am genuinely concerned about the likelihood of someone from his family Googling it. They all seem to think it ought to be called Jesus Cake, and could be checking to see if the President has yet answered their petition to make a whole national holiday in honor of it. Plus, I enjoy the crazycakes association here.

My mother-in-law passed the recipe to me proudly when I married Paul; I tactfully refrained from mentioning I’d already made it for him three times in the two and a half years we’d been dating and living together. I still have to make it once a year for Paul’s birthday, and I consider it an enormous act of sacrificial love. It’s funny how one’s OWN handed-down family recipes carry generations of meaning, tying us to our ancestors through simple rituals—whereas the family recipes of one’s greatly-disliked in-laws are a burden and also stupid.

Paul’s family likes to say EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY MAKE THE CAKE, “If it was any more moist, it’d be pudding! HAR HAR HAR!!” First of all, GROSS. Secondly, please imagine the pleasure involved in removing a circle of almost-pudding from a cake pan. Every year I grimly use the Crisco and the flour, or the Pam baking spray, or the WD-40, or whatever I think MIGHT make the cake came out of the pan without breaking, and every year I end up patching with frosting AGAIN.

I had to recopy the recipe onto another card because my mother-in-law’s version was so excruciatingly annoying. When I first made the recipe, I was working in a bakery. I was pretty sure that “IMPORTANT: Beat EXACTLY 2 minutes BY THE CLOCK!!” was not a legit instruction. I removed about five such instructions, which left me with “Mix everything together. Bake 350 for 35-45 min.” These modifications caused no change in the resulting cake, confirming my opinion that my mother-in-law had a greatly inflated idea of her own special cooking skillz.

I have over the years become accustomed to the taste of the cake, so that I can now eat a piece for celebration’s sake and not mind it. I gradually increased the cocoa from 2 tablespoons to 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) which helped some, as the chocolate cake now has a chocolate flavor instead of just a chocolate color. The frosting is still a struggle: it’s so greasy it soaks into the cake. At least it’s BUTTER grease: I would have expected it to use Crisco.

I once asked why it was called Crazy Cake. It turns out it’s because the CAKE is chocolate, but the FROSTING is white!! Get it? GET IT? Me neither. I guess a few generations back it was pretty wild.

You may have the recipe if you want it. I don’t see why you would, though, considering how excellent cake mixes are. I often convert recipes to grams and ml and so forth, but I don’t have the heart for it with a recipe I don’t even recommend you make—and surely all of you have the same access to Google I do. Put “1 cup in ml” or “1 cup in grams” or “1 teaspoon in ml” in the search field and it will convert it for you. “T.” is tablespoon; “t.” is teaspoon; “c.” is cup.

Crazy Cake

2-2/3 c. flour
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. baking cocoa
2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
3/4 c. vegetable oil
2 T. vinegar
2 T. fake vanilla
2 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two round cake pans. Mix all the ingredients together; beat on high for about two minutes. Bake 35-45 minutes. Cake is done when you can say that if it were any more moist it would be pudding, or when a toothpick to the center comes out clean.

Crazy Cake Frosting

1 c. milk
5 T. flour
1 c. (2 sticks) softened butter
1 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine and heat milk and flour, stirring constantly over medium heat until it thickens creepily and is basically smooth. Cool completely.

In a mixer, combine the butter and sugar and beat for two minutes. Add the flour/milk mixture which is now thickly skinned-over and congealed and gross, and beat for another two minutes, or longer if the pieces of milk-flour skin haven’t yet blended in (but you might have to pick some of the stubborn ones out). Add vanilla.

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I changed the cake recipe from “vanilla” to “fake vanilla,” because NO recipe should use a full ounce of vanilla when vanilla is so expensive, if you CAN’T EVEN TASTE IT. For the frosting I usually use the real vanilla.

Also, notice this is an egg-free cake recipe. The first time I made it, I thought that must be a mistake. And maybe it IS a mistake, who knows. But it DOES make it a nice recipe for someone with egg allergies, especially if they make a different frosting.