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Tag Archive: cooking

Oct 19

Pancakes, biscuits and ‘Missouri MIX’

“I can still memory-taste the fresh buttermilk pancakes and hot buttermilk biscuits—both made with lard.” – Vernon L. Smith, American economist and author

Memories of homemade pancakes and biscuits stay with us forever, but over the years, most of us made the switch from “scratch” to box-style mixes.

Prior to the 1930s, many dishes were indeed prepared from “scratch” and cooking was a time-consuming and priority job for housewives, moms and grandmothers.

You can imagine the excitement when the first box biscuit mix, Bisquick, hit the stores in 1931.

According to Bisquick company lore, Bisquick was first promoted for making biscuits only. It’s slogan: “90 seconds from package to oven”.

It didn’t take long for cooks to realize that Bisquick could be used to quickly prepare a variety of other foods, such as cake mixes and cookies.

Home baking was never the same again.

I did a little research into the history of baking mixes and found one fact that genuinely surprised me.

Did you know that long before Bisquick emerged in the cooking world, Aunt Jemima pancake flour was invented in 1889 in St. Joseph, Missouri? It was actually the first self-rising flour for pancakes and the first ready-mix food ever to be introduced commercially.
I grew up near St. Joseph never realizing until now that Aunt Jemima flour originated there.

Incidentally, some folks never fully liked or embraced the taste of box mixes and continued to bake from scratch.

In the 1960s, the University of Missouri Extension Division introduced a product called ‘Missouri MIX’ that apparently solved the box-taste problem. It tasted good, very good.

I first heard of this miracle homemade pancake and biscuit mix in 4-H food projects and later in high school home economics classes.

My mother would make up big batches and store in glass jars until we were ready to use it.

Her favorite Missouri Mix creation was making pizza crusts. In 15 minutes or less, one could have a perfect, nice and soft, not-too-thick crust just like you find in pizza shops. Sometimes, she would add a teaspoon of sugar to the Missouri Mix but I never understood exactly why. It’s an easy recipe–one cup of MIX and ¼ cup water, stir, roll out, add sauce and toppings, and bake on cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes at 425 degrees.

Besides pancakes and biscuits, we used Missouri MIX to make something called Salad Sticks, which are what we call bread sticks today. The difference is that Salad Sticks were rolled in garlic butter and sprinkled with your choice of caraway, dill, sesame or anise seed before baking.

We made Swirls (a lot like muffins) loaded with cheese or cinnamon or banana-peanut butter fillings.

One could make coffee cakes, fried pies, date bread, corn fritters, apple fritters, Boston Brown Bread, cobblers and cornbread with Missouri MIX.

It was an entire bakery in a jar.

All one needed to add was a little creativity. Another bonus about MIX that I might mention is that in our current tight economy, MIX can save a great deal of money.

By now you may be wondering, where does one find Missouri MIX, and the answer is: you make it, from scratch.

It took a little searching through my mother’s old cookbooks to find the original MIX recipe, but I did. Incidentally, if you search online for “The New Missouri Mix”, you will find a re-invention of the 60s recipe complete with yummy home baking suggestions.

It is always good to start at the beginning, so here is the original basic Missouri MIX recipe that will yield about 13 cups of MIX:

9 cups sifted all-purpose flour
One-third cup double-acting baking powder
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons nonfat milk solids (dry milk powder)
4 teaspoons salt
1 and three-fourths cups vegetable shortening OR one and one-half cups lard.

Stir baking powder, dry mile and salt into the sifted flour. Sift all dry ingredients together until well mixed.

Cut fat (shortening or lard) into flour mixture until all particles of fat are thoroughly coated and mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.

Readers note: if you want to try some of the original Missouri MIX recipes, send me an email and I’ll be happy to oblige.

Apr 21

Easter dinner, almost as good as Paula Deen’s

“Two layers of pudding and whipped cream with chocolate drizzled on top: I’m gonna be making éclair cake.” –Paula Deen

I will not be making éclair cake for Easter, although it truly sounds heavenly. Rather, I will be making a tasty recipe, Passover Lemon Sponge Cake, if all goes well.

Personally, I like to eat out for Easter dinner, but once in awhile I crave my mother’s traditional Easter fare followed by a lovely Easter cake of some variety or other.

I guess you could say I am homesick for glazed ham, creamy scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs, asparagus au gratin, candied apples, and yes, Easter cake. Oh, and chocolate Easter eggs go without saying.

For dessert, my mother once served something similar to Paula Deen’s éclair cake, but what I remember most was mom’s sponge cake with lemon filling. Some folks refer to it as Passover Lemon Sponge Cake, but she called it Italian Lemon Sponge Cake.

Reflecting on these delicious memories, I decided, one day out of the blue, to recreate the meal that would serve as a trial run before Easter Sunday.

I wanted to duplicate everything to perfection, but first I needed to search through my mother’s recipes for assistance. Unfortunately, I discovered that none of these were written down, except for the Italian Sponge Cake.

I tried to reconstruct the rest of the menu items from memory hoping they would turn out exactly the way I recalled.

The ham and potatoes were ordinary at best, although I had better luck with recreating the baked asparagus au gratin.

I bought the candied apples.

As I searched for a recipe similar to the one I remembered for deviled eggs, I was surprised to find that Paula Deen’s Southern Deviled Eggs recipe is almost exactly like my mother’s.

Simply add to the mashed yolks: salt, pepper, mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish. When you are finished filling the egg whites with the mixture, garnish with paprika and chopped pimento.

Incidentally, the one difference between their versions is that Paula Deen does not add vinegar or sugar to her deviled eggs, according to her recipe. My mother added equal parts of vinegar and sugar to hers, but actually her filling was quite heavy on the vinegar as I recall. The more I think about it, I cannot imagine Paula Deen ever adding that much vinegar to anything.

Now, for dessert.

One can make the sponge cake the laborious way from scratch, or the down-and-dirty, make-it-fast way. In other words, buy a mix or a ready-made cake.

Don’t become too much of a purist about making your own sponge cake, please. Even Paula Deen suggests purchasing some things already prepared—they can be just as good. Do make your own filling.

Here’s a retooled recipe I use for Italian Lemon Sponge Cake:

Filling ingredients: 1/3 cup lemon juice, ½ cup sugar, two egg yolks beaten plus one whole egg, one stick butter cut into pieces.

Stir together the lemon juice, sugar, egg, and yolks in a saucepan with a whisk. Place over medium heat and add the butter in small pieces while still whisking. Cook until it is thickened and just starting to boil (too much boiling will curdle it). Pour into small bowl. Chill until completely cold.

Make a batter composed of 2 cups of heavy cream, just like Paula Deen would do, and whip with1/3 cup powdered sugar. Fold half of this into all of the lemon mixture. Use the remaining half of the cream mixture for icing.

Finally, slice the sponge cake into two layers. I like slicing it into 1/3 and 2/3 pieces rather than exact halves. Ice with the remaining cream mixture, and refrigerate over night or longer.

To make this cake, the Italian way, simply replace the lemon juice and the sugar in the filling mixture with ½ cup of Limoncello, an Italian liquer.

There you have it. Easter dinner almost like my mother used to make.

Disclaimer: I didn’t actually cook any of this. One morning as I lay in bed, I cooked Easter dinner like my mother used to make, in my mind. Well, my hairdresser Ann tells me she cleans her house in her mind. It is a whole lot less work.

Didn’t I say I like going out for Easter dinner? I thought so.

Jan 28

Comfort food is more than just food

Food is the most primitive form of comfort. –Sheila Graham, columnist and author

Last January, I wrote my column about comfort food. This January, comfort food is all I am thinking about once again. I remember foods my mother and grandmother made, and that is reason enough to want them.

Cookbook author Molly Wizenberg explains, better than I, why we want comfort foods from our past.

“When I walk into my kitchen today, I am not alone. Whether we know it or not, none of us is. We bring fathers and mothers and kitchen tables and every meal we have ever eaten. Food is never just food. It’s also a way of getting at something else; who we are, who we have been and who we want to be (From “A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table, 2009”).

I am not the only one thinking about comfort food. Just this week in fact, some friends invited us to a “comfort food dinner”, and we jumped at the chance. What a great idea, I thought. It is miserably cold outside, the skies are gray, and we are moping around the house with S.A.D. (seasonal affective disorder—lack of sunshine). What could be better than comfort food to make us feel better.

Our hosts served a dinner menu that turned out to be exactly what I used to eat when I was a child. Food from the 50s and 60s, and I was in heaven or at the very least in time warp. Our hosts said that they think food is not about impressing people but more about making them feel comfortable, and that is exactly what happened.

Their menu from the past:
Old-fashioned pork roast, just like my grandma’s. Baked apples served on the side, cooked with cinnamon and Red Hots candy, just like they served decades ago at my elementary school cafeteria. Baked macaroni and cheese, all crusty on the top and sides that tasted exactly like my aunt’s. Warm cherry pie with the crumbly top, same as Mom used to make.

What can one do after a meal like that but sit down in an easy chair and sigh.

And dream about walking home from school on Monday (bread baking day) and smelling the waft of my grandmother’s baked bread and cinnamon rolls from as far away as the street corner. I long for my mom’s hot tapioca pudding whipped fluffy with egg whites that she made for Sunday dinner, and my dad’s unique cornbread-sausage stuffing recipe he made on Thanksgiving Day.

“Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort,” said Norman Kolpas, cookbook author and editor.

In a harsh winter and in an unsure world, comfort me with food any old day.

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