Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grandma's Cherry Torte

This is about the easiest dessert ever; simple ingredients, simple directions. Perfectly delicious and always requested around here. The recipe comes from Mr.4444's mom.
1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup butter

1 pkg Philadelphia Cream Cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla

1 can cherry pie filling
1 container of Cool-Whip

First, cut the butter into the flour. I do this with butter knives,
because the thought of touching butter with my bare fingers grosses me out. If you're dying to go that route, here's how. Otherwise, just keep scissoring the knives through the butter and flour until it looks like this (loose crumbs.)Next, pat the mixture into an unprepared pan.

If you don't want people to see your tree-frog fingers, you could get a hand-double, like this (Thanks, Kendall!)
Put that in the oven at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Meanwhile, mix the creamed cheese, powdered sugar, and vanilla until smooth.

After taking the crust from the oven, allow it to cool a bit before the next step.

Spread the creamed cheese mixture onto the crust (my mouth is watering as I type this!)

Then, just top with cherry pie filling (or any pie filling, I suppose, but cherry is our favorite.) I have to admit that I opened two cans; I like a lot of cherries. I save the extra for ice cream
topping or something.

Now, if you're like some people, at this point you'll remember that you forgot:

a) to take the Cool-Whip out of the freezer a few hours ago to thaw
b) to take the thawed Cool-Whip to the potluck with the torte
c) to buy Cool-Whip at all

Don't worry; this torte is delicious with or without the Cool-Whip. (Not that I would know, of course...)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Spaghetti Sauce from Heaven

I promise you right now, you are going to thank me for this recipe. I needed to make spaghetti for Kyle's swim team Monday, so they can "carb-up" for their meet on Tuesday. I found this recipe for "Mom's Spaghetti" (from an Italian guy named Chris Divito) on the Food Network. There were many, many reviews that raved about it, and yet, I could not understand what could possibly be so good about a spaghetti sauce with such simple ingredients. Since I am no Rachel Ray, I figured I didn't know what I was talking about and should just trust the reviews. Boy, am I glad I did! This sauce is wonderful. [and yes, you could just go get the recipe from the link, but there will be no photos, and reading my post will be much more entertaining :)

First, the ingredients:We were planning to feed a swim team, plus have extra, so I tripled the recipe. For the single recipe batch, click on the link above.

3 lbs ground round
3 lbs ground pork
3 lbs Italian sausage

Here, you wonder, HOLY COW! Isn't that a lot of meat?! Yes, it is, but I never promised you a vegan recipe. (It's protein, Baby!)

15 6oz cans tomato paste (Yeah, your wrist will get a workout; quit your whining!) (90 oz. total)
30 cans of water (otherwise known as 180 oz or 1.4 gallons)
6 large onions, chopped
3 tablespoons basil
3 tablespoons oregano
12 cloves of garlic
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon freshly-ground pepper
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning

First, brown the meat. I had so much that I had to put it in two pans.

(Obviously, you won't have to do that if you just do a single batch.) Can I just add that breaking up nine pounds of meat to brown is a real workout? (Who needs Wii Fit?!)

[At this point, you may be wondering, Where's the cute doggie??"
  Our "cute" little doggie was outside in the dog kennel, having been caught eating butter off the kitchen counter this afternoon!!]

Next, open the bajillion cans of tomato sauce. Do not say a word to your husband who decided that small cans would be better than doing the math and buying larger cans. (After all, he went to the store for you, and he's helping, so be quiet.)

Here's a fun trick; open both ends of the tomato paste cans,

so then, you can just push the paste through the can (assuming that you have nice long fingers, like mine :)

It's still kind of a mess, but look what you get:

I still give it a quick swipe with the rubber scraper so that I get every bit. Then, smush the garlic in a garlic press, but don't panic if you don't have one; ours broke during this photo, so we just minced it.

I'm lucky, because as you learned here, Mr.4444 loves to chop onions for me.

He's a big baby about it, though...

Sorry about the hairdo; that's no shower yet, combined with snow-blowing hat-head. See, Mr.4444 drops everything to help me in the kitchen, so I don't complain about the hair. Besides, I had to get a tissue...
When the meat has browned, add it to the pot with the onions, garlic, and tomato paste.

Add the Parmesan cheese. (And no, you may not use the canned kind; is that really cheese anyway?? Regardless, there is nothing like REAL Parmesan cheese.)

Add the cans of water. ( Again, this is proof that you do end up using math again in "real life." I used a 2-cup measure and poured 11 of them in, because the original recipe called for 10 tomato paste cans of water, and I was not about to measure 30 cans of water. If you are a math freak and think I made a mistake, please keep your genius to yourself, thanks.)

Also add the basil, oregano, and Italian seasoning. If I buy them dry, I like to rub them between my fingers (or, in this case, hands), because it "wakes up" their flavors. (Yes, really. I made that up, but I'm pretty sure it's true.)

Freshly ground pepper is better than canned, too.

[Yes, I do know the dishwasher door is wide open. That's how we roll in this house, because a cracked shin is like heaven to us (I told you this is Spaghetti from Heaven! ( At least it's empty!)]

Mix it all up. As you may recall, Mr.4444 loves to mix stuff up when it's in this enormous, insanely-deep pot. (Plus, I think the hair on his arms adds flavor.)

Simmer the sauce for 3-4 hours. It took us about an hour to get the sauce up to proper heat, but that's because of how much we had.

I have to tell you, this sauce tasted terrific right away. Imagine how it tasted two hours later, when we snuck a bunch out for supper with Mr.4444's brother and his family. We served it with the usual garlic bread and salad, and we still had this much left over for tomorrow for the Grandmas, and for freezing...Right now, as I type this and look at this photo, I'm saying to myself, "MAN, that sauce is good! Why in the world am I wasting any of it on the swim team, whose members would eat cardboard if I threw sauce on it and called it lasagna?"

Hmm...We do have a lot of leftover boxes from the holidays...

I've gotta run!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When "kaka" Means Yummy!

In 1999, I taught school in the local jail. (Yes, even juvie delinquents have to attend school while incarcerated.) As I wrote in this post, I loved the job. It was entertaining, to say the least. While there, I once met a young female student (Amanda) who sadly commented that her mother was "big into the Sons of Norway," and was probably at home baking Norwegian treats for Christmas. (See, even normal, Christmas-cookie-making moms have children who go astray sometimes, unfortunately.)

I'd always been interested in my Norwegian heritage. To make a long story short, I got Amanda's mom's phone number and ended up at her house, where she was kind enough to let me shadow her as she went through her Christmas baking. We made fatigman, rosettes, and krumkake (pronounced croomkaka); all delicious, of course, but the easiest, and my favorite was the krumkake. Making krumkake has been a favorite tradition at our house ever since. Here's how it goes....

The basic recipe amounts are listed below, but I quadruple it in this post, which makes 60-70 (I lost count of how many I was eating!)

3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 5-oz can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter

Vanilla may be substituted for any other flavoring, but we have always favored vanilla. You will also need a krumkake maker, which can be found at any kitchen supply store (or even some hardware stores!)

First, gather your ingredients.The directions I have say "throw everything all together and mix. However, I melt the butter first and let it cool a bit while cracking the eggs. Add the liquid ingredients and mix, along with the sugar.At this point, remember that the Kitchen-aid Mixer you used last year was your neighbor's (and much bigger), so from here, you might need to wing it. It was touch and go here, folks! We added the flour very slowly, mixing with a large wire whisk, and it turned out fine.Remember to stop and put your life in your hands by tasting the batter (raw eggs and all!)The batter needs to chill for at least four hours (better overnight, actually). Separate the batter into 1.5 or 2-qt containers to work in small batches (or it will get too warm and soft).While you're waiting for it to chill, notice the pigsty in the kitchen. When you're ready, turn the griddle on to heat up. Assemble your tools.Have butter ready to grease the griddle. As you can see, I also put plenty of paper towels beneath the griddle, as butter and batter is sure to leak out all over your counter top, otherwise. I like to use the small Pampered Chef scoop to scoop up batter and place on the back half of the griddle.Gently let the cover set down, but don't clamp it shut yet; wait about 30-45 seconds before clamping it tightly. Each pair of krumkake take about 80 seconds to cook.

The first several are part of the learning curve...(too little, or too much batter)As you can see, my krumkake is not perfectly round, because that isn't how I roll, heehee. I am far from perfect and don't pretend to be (so, in-your-face, Martha! :) Okay, to be honest, I do try to make them perfect; I'm just not that good at it and don't care enough about it to lose sleep over it. I would be open to easy tips for perfectly round krumkake, but as my mother says, "You should see them in your stomach!" They'd only be perfectly round for the few seconds from your hand to your mouth, so why bother?! I haven't had any complaints so far...

Guess what Cooper's looking for?? (He keeps the floor nice and clean during Christmas baking!)I almost forgot that you can also use the doojobby that comes with the krumkake maker to roll your krumkake into cute little cones to fill with custard or whipped cream or whatever you like. (Careful! They're HOT!)I've done this; krumkake filled with custard is so close to heaven, it will have you looking for the "white light," but I rarely have time to go to that extent. Plus, they get eaten (plain) so fast that I don't see the need.

So, that's it for my holiday baking; sugar cookies and krumkake. Someone might twist my arm to make gingerbread men, but so far, I'm in the clear.

What is a must in your holiday baking traditions?