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Tag Archive: food

Feb 23

Warm tapioca pudding, the classic comfort food

“Comfort food, so simple.” – Al Wong, chef, cookbook author and restaurateur

There is something supremely comforting about the thought, the taste and smell and the calm that warm tapioca pudding gives.

Maybe it’s the childhood memories of waiting for the silky, creamy, balmy homemade tapioca pudding to finishing cooking in a double boiler on the stove. Maybe it’s the smell of the vanilla. Maybe it is watching with child-like wonder, as the pearls of tapioca turn glassy when the pudding thickens.

Whatever it is, warm pudding is soul soothing.

Perhaps, your day went badly. Someone dented your car door in the parking lot, or you found out you owe money this year on your income taxes and are not getting the big return you anticipated. A Prima donna called you a brat in front of your co-workers, leaving you dumbfounded and speechless. Your dog ate the door while you were away.

Warm pudding to the rescue.

Made-from-scratch tapioca pudding is so smooth you can feel it slide down your throat all the way to the stomach. At that moment in time, you don’t really care about your miserable day.

When I was waxing poetic about warm pudding the other day to my friend Cyndi Johnson, she began to spout out a flood of childhood memories of her favorite warm pudding—butterscotch.

Now, that is something I’ve never tried, I told her.

“Back in the day,” Cyndi said, “We made pudding with real cream, which is not on anyone’s fat-free diet these days. Sometimes, we ate pudding for breakfast. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t a traditional breakfast food because it was warm and brought a sense of cheer and reassurance that the day ahead would be just fine. We had our pudding to get us started.”

Cyndi told me how her mother made slow-cooked butterscotch pudding in a double boiler because the recipe calls for brown sugar, and one must not let it scorch. The same is true of tapioca—one does not want to let it burn.

Cyndi also related how, in the day, you could take your warm pudding to school or work in a thermos that kept it heated for hours. We didn’t have microwaves, so we used a thermos. “I remember that I couldn’t wait to get to that pudding at lunchtime,” Cyndi recalled.

I love how Cyndi describes the warmth and calm that homemade warm pudding brings far better than I can.

“My mama used to say that there’s no love in a box. That’s why I love to cook from scratch because it is comfortable love that is in the food you prepare. The love inside you is coming out. You get to pass that love around to anybody who eats your food. It doesn’t matter who eats it because you share that love. And the flavors, oh my the flavors of warm homemade pudding!”

If you have time one day and want a soul-soothing treat, try making your own tapioca pudding on the stove, not in a microwave and not from a box. One finishing touch my mother used was to add beaten egg whites; slowly stirring them into the mixture after the pudding is fully cooked. It leaves little “pillows” of fluff in the pudding.

Here is a standard tapioca pudding recipe I am happy to share that my family has used over the years, but I am sorry to say I can’t help you on the butterscotch pudding recipe. I’ll ask Cyndi.

Tapioca Pudding With Fluffy Egg Whites
(Made in a double boiler.)
2 cups milk
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca (not instant pudding)
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
Dash salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Optional: 2 egg whites beaten and stiffened with a little bit of cream of tartar or lemon juice (Sorry to say it’s not an exact science, beating egg whites that is, and most cooks probably can’t say exactly how they do it.)

Serves 4 (but I always double it).

Add milk and tapioca to top of the double boiler over already boiling water in the lower pot.

Let milk and tapioca mixture come to a boil. The tapioca will rise to the top and look translucent and glassy.

Add beaten egg and stir in sugar.

Then add a couple of tablespoons of hot milk-tapioca mixture slowly to the egg mixture to bring it to the same temperature as the milk and tapioca.

Slowly, very slowly add the egg mixture into the rest of the hot milk-tapioca mixture and stir continually until it thickens. Be patient.

Add the vanilla. Serve warm.

Optional: Fold in beaten egg whites to make fluffy pillows in the pudding.

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

Feb 02

The Super Bowl is a mind-boggling American holiday

“Men, I want you just thinking of one word all season.
One word and one word only: Superbowl.”
– Bill Peterson, American football coach, known as the “Coach of Coaches”

Throughout most of America and in many places around the world, millions of us are thinking of one word right about now, well actually two, Super Bowl. We probably thought of it all season, too.

I don’t know if this is true, but a sports pundit said recently that more people would watch the Super Bowl this year than voted in the last presidential election.

The numbers from food consumed to the cost of television commercials become even more mind-boggling than the number of viewers.

Take a look at these numbers, for example:

  • CNBC notes that 1.25 billion chicken wings will be consumed this weekend.
  • SBNation.com explains that Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest day for food consumption trailing only Thanksgiving Day, a holiday that is all about food. SBNation adds that the average viewer will consume 1,200 calories just during the game alone (I’m feeling fat already.).
  • According to the Nielson Group, Americans will consume 8 million pieces of pizza,
  • 46 million pounds of potato chips and 71 million pounds of guacamole.
  • I couldn’t find statistics on beer consumption, but seriously, if we are eating 8 million pieces of pizza, a lot of folks are going to get thirsty.
  • If you are going to order a pizza, call early. Last year, Pizza Hut, Dominoes and Papa John’s received twice as many takeout orders than on any other day of the year, that according to Bleacher Report.
  • As for total number of viewers–111 million last year.
  • The expected number of viewers in 2012, again according to Bleacher Report, should exceed last year with people watching in 232 countries speaking 34 different languages.
  • Television commercials will make up more than 45 minutes of the game-day broadcast. Ads will cost more than $100,000 per second with each half-minute spot costing 3.5 million dollars.
  • According to the online ticket price broker TiqIQ, the average price for a Super Bowl ticket in Indianapolis is $3,984.73.

Super Bowl Sunday with its mind-boggling stats is more than a game; it’s an American holiday that millions celebrate with their own traditions even though most of us don’t really have a horse in the race, if you will. More than likely, as in the case of Kansas City Chiefs fans, your team didn’t make it to the Super Bowl.

Still, we love to watch the game, the highly creative commercials and the unpredictability and pageantry of the half time show.

The Super Bowl is a holiday we look forward to all football season, and it is a day, admit it, that most of us do not want to spend alone. It’s depressing not to celebrate.

Some people prefer small gatherings of family and friends, fun parties for small children that nearly resemble birthday parties, or large, raucous parties.

One thing all these celebrations have in common is our outright love for chowing down on fatty, greasy, high-calorie food, when for one day at least, we do it without a shred of guilt. It is accepted. It is the norm.

In fact, a vegan told me she eats pepperoni pizza on Super Bowl Sunday without giving it a second thought and actually looks forward to eating it all year. She has to, she says, it wouldn’t be the Super Bowl without a pizza. It’s a national tradition.

And consider this thought from Americanfood.about.com as you consume your 1,200 calories during the game: “If you are wondering where all this festive frivolity leads to the following Monday, there’s a 20 percent increase in the sale of antacids and an estimated 7 million employees will not show up for work.”

Super Bowl Sunday only happens once a year, so buy some Tums, eat pizza, chicken wings, nachos, chips and salsa, fries, and of course, the guacamole.

Go for it, I say, but please don’t call me in the morning.

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.

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