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Tag Archive: food

Jan 06

January thoughts: comfort food is more than just food.

Old Fashioned Mac 'n' Cheese

 From my archived columns, first published in The Examiner on January 1, 2009. The Examiner is a daily newspaper, Tuesday through Saturday, serving Eastern Jackson County, Mo.

 

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.

Apr 18

Sweet, delicious hot cross buns, a family Easter tradition – from my archived columns

“Hot cross buns, hot cross buns. One ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns. If you have no daughters, give them to your sons, one ‘ah penny, two ‘ah penny, hot cross buns.” – English ditty

hot cross buns

Even though Easter is over, hot cross buns are high on my list of traditions I want to keep alive for future generations.

A family custom in many households around the world but especially in England, these sweet yeast rolls are served warm either on Good Friday or Easter Sunday morning.

Perhaps you wonder what hot cross buns are if you never tried one.

Here is how I would describe them if baked to perfection.

Sweet and delicious with a glossy-browned finish on top, filled with mild spices, currants, or dried fruit and raisins, and lastly decorated on top with white “powdered sugar” icing in the shape of a cross, a reminder of the crucifixion of Christ.

In addition to being simply good to eat, I find the lore surrounding hot cross buns deliciously interesting.

For example, did you know that Elizabeth I, Queen of England, once banned the buns because she feared they would bring the return of Catholicism? The buns were so popular, however, that she relented.

And before that, the Romans brought the buns to England in the 1360s, whereupon a monk distributed them to the poor for food and healing. Because the buns had a cross on top, many believed they had magical healing powers. The buns were crushed into a powder that was subsequently used as medicine.

Additionally, superstition held that hot cross buns protected one’s household from evil, therefore, families hung them from the ceilings to ward off evil spirits.

Another story tells the tale of an English widow whose son went off to sea. She baked his favorite hot cross buns, every Good Friday and hung them in her window hoping he would come home. Although he never returned, the English people continued the tradition and baked hot cross buns every Good Friday.

I guess I do the same with our sons, in a manner of speaking, although I don’t hang the buns in the window.

On this particular Easter weekend for example, our grown kids, who incidentally never saw an Easter Sunday morning without a hot cross bun in their lives, all called commenting about hot cross buns.

One son who is away at school lamented the fact that he had no hot cross buns for Easter. It saddened him.

Another son wondered if he should stop at a bakery on his way home for Easter. Did I need him to pick up hot cross buns? Just wanted to be sure we had some, he said.

Another son is newly married and lives in another state. In the afternoon they called with their greetings. My son’s bride said she was curious about something and asked, “What are hot cross buns?” She said they went to a church that served them for Easter breakfast, and she didn’t know what they were. Then she laughed and said, “But your son seemed to know all about them.”

As I said, I am doing my part to keep this tradition alive.

The lyrics of the English ditty did say something about giving hot cross buns to your sons, didn’t it?

Mar 04

From my archived columns: Pancakes, biscuits and ‘Missouri MIX’

pancakesI 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 milk 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.

 

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