Sunday, October 31, 2010

Election Cake

 Am I a political person? Hemmm. I would say yes. I ran for County Commissioner once, knowing, fully well I wouldn’t win. My Dad told me once that being and American means, that if you don’t like something you can voice your opinion. If you want something to change, well, you run for an office. Both have always been good advice. I have applied them to my cooking to a small degree. Of course you can’t vote a chicken off the island if you don’t like how it turned out. You can, however, buy another chicken and try again.

As Nov 2nd is just around the corner, I am brought back to thinking about how our forefathers ate and cooked. I’m certain that during debates and when meetings happened, they involved food and drink. What did Abraham Lincoln eat before he spoke to the people on a soap box in Illinois? Did he have steak and potatoes? When JFK ate before his famous speech “ask not what your county can do for you” what did he have?

My guess is that some of our patriots ate a little something called “Election Day Cake”. Election cake dates back from the 18th century America, though some historians believe it dates back a century further. Spiced yeast cakes, like Election Cake, were popular in both Great Britain and the American colonies during then 17th and 18th centuries. Originally called Muster Cake, Election Cake was prepared in 18th century colonial townships when men from neighboring and rural farms were called to military training also known as “mustering.” The towns needed to provide the men with shelter and food, and Muster Cake was born.

So without further ado, here is something you may want to try out this Election Day.

Election Cake


1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups dried fruit, including cranberries, golden raisins, and blueberries
1/2 cup American whisky
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup milk
1 package (1/4 ounce) rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour, sifted
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) soft unsalted butter, cut into cubes
3 eggs
1 cup confectioners' sugar

The Know Hows:
Combine 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar with the water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium-high heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the dried fruit in a large bowl. Add the sugar mixture and whisky; stir and set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine warm water and milk.

Combine yeast with 1 cup of whole-wheat flour and combine it with the milk mixture. Sprinkle the remaining whole-wheat flour on top. Set aside to allow the yeast to ferment until the yeast breaks through the surface of the flour, approximately 30 minutes.

Lightly spray and flour an 8-inch tube pan.

Sift together the remaining dry ingredients and set aside.

Drain the fruit mixture; reserve the syrup for later use as a glaze.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the remaining 1 cup of granulated sugar until light in texture. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition.

Turn the mixer to low speed and add the sponge (flour and yeast mixture); mix until fully combined. Add the remaining sifted dry ingredients. The batter will be stiff. Stir in the drained fruit.

Place the batter in the pan, cover, and set in a warm area to allow the cake to rise, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the glaze: In a medium-sized bowl, combine the 1 cup confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons of the syrup reserved from the drained fruit. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Bake cake in a preheated 350º F oven for 45 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Allow to cool in pan for 5 minutes and transfer cake to a wire rack to cool. When cool, lightly brush with reserved syrup, and top with glaze.

So in closing, remember this, when all is said and done, when the polls are closed, that is the time to sit down together, set aside our differences and eat a little cake and have some good conversation. In the end, we all are Americans who love our country.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Carmel Popcorn Balls

God bless you parents who give my children toys that shoot white light Lazar beams and make "Rap Like" sound effects that my Son woke me up early this morning by standing over me in my bed and shooting me in the face with the debilitating arey of lights that I now see clearly every time i close my eyes. God Bless you!!!  EVEY LAST ONE OF YOU! 

Hence, I was up early thinking about what to write on to ring in the Halloween week of goodies, costumes, and over excited children.  My thought took me back to my own child hood of trick or treating through the 1970's California neighborhoods.  I remember hitting block after block of houses of friends from school and friends of my parents.  It seemed like hundreds of houses.  It was a different time back then when we kids ran in mobs without parent supervision.  Our main goal was to get as much candy as humanly possible.  Back then candy was different.  Many people made homemade candy like popcorn balls, Carmel and Candy apples, Cinnamon sticks, Cotton candy, and many more.  I think about the time I began to hit my teens my parents would warn us not to open any home made candy since there was rumors of kids biting into razor blades.  Sad but true fact that things weren't going to always be what I new them to be when I was a child.

Now days things are different for the little munchkins.  Main Street trick or treating being a popular event when you take your children to the downtown shopping area and the business open there doors for the little guys to give them free treats and toys.  Fall Harvest carnivals that some churches put on being yet another popular option for your children to have some fun.  I don't recall those things going on during my childhood.  Not to say they didn't, but they were not as popular as they are this day in age. 

So as I walk around main street seeing all the crazy outfits and the haggard parents trying to keep up with there children all the while hearing yells from behind me and in front of me "Stewy!  SLOW DOWN!"  "Becky,  you forgot your SHOES!!"  "Levi,  DON'T hit your sister with your lightsabor!" I enjoy the memories of my children creating there own.  I enjoy the moment were my daughter sees things in the Innocent view that I know in time she will Cherish as much as I do now as an adult.  

Carmel Popcorn Balls

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch cream of tartar
1/2 (10-ounce) package marshmallows, about 4 cups
10 cups hot, salted popcorn, uncooked kernels removed

In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, water, corn syrup, butter, and cream of tartar
*The cream of tartar keeps the sugar from crystallizing*

The Carmeling process:
Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar.

When the sugar syrup reaches a boil, stop stirring and swirl the pan around over the heat so it doesn't burn. As the syrup reaches the caramel stage, (245 to 250 F) the bubbles on top will become smaller, thicker, and closer together. Simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, until the caramel coats the back of the spoon. ( stick a candy thermometer in the pot and cook until the syrup reaches the soft crack stage, about 270 F. 

When you drop a bit of this syrup into cold water, it will solidify into threads that, when removed, are hard yet bendable.

Moveing on:
Remove the caramel from the heat and stir in the marshmallows. Fold the marshmallows into the hot caramel so they all melt into a caramel sauce.

TIP:The caramel will coat better if the popcorn is hot, so make it while boiling the sugar.

Put the popcorn in a big bowl and pour the caramel marshmallow mixture over the popcorn. Gently fold with a wooden spoon to coat each kernel. Grab handfuls of the popcorn and squeeze it together to form popcorn balls; make them about the size of a tennis ball. Put the popcorn balls on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper to cool completely.

I often make home made candies to give out, but keep in mind i only give to my Sister's kids and close personal friends.  Never people I don't know, so the poor parents don't have to stress over the unknown person giving there children candy.  Have a fun week people!  Enjoy your children and enjoy the candy!


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Baked Pears with Cranberries and Walnuts

My 6 year old son has been running around the house in a ninja outfit jumping from our bedroom headboard to the couch and then onto to a chair, all the while swinging his favorite Jedi lightsabor and having himself a good Ol' time.  This is a prime indicator that the holidays are fast approaching.  Halloween has always been the kick off holiday to ring in all the rest.  This mean a 3 month cooking marathon of Fall favorites and Winter delights.

So far this Fall we have cranked out Applesauce, Salsa, Jams, Jelly's, and a few others that escape my memory.  So I have been thinking about something a little different from the normal.  Not something that is WAY off base from our normal fair, but something that is always there through the holidays but not often thought about.  PEARS!!!!  When I worked in a produce department for a locally owned grocery store here in Lander, I recall getting pallet after pallet of pears, peaches, plumbs, and oranges this time of year.  I have to admit every time I have a sore lower back I think about those pallets.  I would often think about what people do with the pears since the bought them by the case rather than per Lb. 

I later, rediscovered them while browsing through my cookbooks.  Well, I think its more accurate to state I rediscovered them a few times, since I have cooked with them before but the recipe never wanted to stay in my memory.  I think that it is because they don't show up in large quantity's till Fall.  Anyway, the point is, Pears go well with many different ingredients.  Savory, Sweet, Tart, and Chocolate are just a few flavors that Pears go well with.

Jamie Oliver once made a dish with pears that was very simple.  Was basically pears baked with Olive oil, Thyme, Salt and pepper.  It was simple, and yet it was a dish with complex in flavor.  He served it with Couscous.  Yummy stuff.

So with all this in my mind I struck out and decided on something a bit holiday, but simple enough for a normal dinner night at the family table.

Baked Pears with Cranberries and Walnuts

3 ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored and quartered
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place quartered pears in a baking dish.
Drizzle pomegranate juice over pears.
Sprinkle cranberries and walnuts over the top.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until pears are tender.
Serve with juices over Ice Cream or Yogurt (My Wife loves yogurt)

You see how simple this is, but yet complex in flavor.  I still believe that you can create OUTSTANDING flavor by just keeping things simple and basic.  I know many people who love to cook but don't want to spend hour after hour in a kitchen fixing complex reduction, infusions, and food chemistry.  We shall leave that too the professionals for now, and maybe in the future we might give it a try.  But until then, we will cook simple, and produce BIG flavors all the while having clean bowls and plates at the end of the meal.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Explore! Cook! Learn! Grow!

Sometimes, with a little explanation, things don't seem as complicated as they first appeared.  New ingredients, new sauces and new herbs can sometimes discourage the home cook from preparing something scrumptious.  Ive known a few people, who after reading Julie & Julia , decided to work there way through various cook books recipe by recipe, only to skip the ones that looked strange and foreign.  It has always been my experience, that cooking once with a new ingredient, turns into a month of experimentation with the new ingredient. With the Internet, educating yourself about items like Chard , Foie gras , and Broccoli rabe are as simple as typing in the name then hitting the enter key. 

Now finding the new items can be more of a hurdle then not being familiar with them.  I once made a Entree that required Linguica but I had to substitute with Chorizo since not only did people not know what Linguica was, but nobody sold it in a 360 mile radius.  One of the major draw backs for living in a very remote state.

Ask questions!  If you know someone who's an accomplished cook or a Professional Chef, ask them questions about your new adventure.  I think you will be surprised with the answers you get.  Most accomplished cooks or Professional Chefs absolutely LOVE to talk food.  They love to talk about food as much as your hardcore football fan loves to talk about there favorite team or super bowl game.  I am never afraid to ask someone questions about a dish they made or a ingredients they have used that I'm not familiar with.  You will never grow as a cook or Chef if you stop growing your skills and talents with food.

One of my favorite types of food styles is Mediterranean. Learning the spices was tedious at best.  Since I don't live there or ever spent much time traveling there I had to rely heavily on reference material like Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean or The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook.  So, with the books and Internet in hand I cooked and experimented time and time again.
Here is one of my favorite recipes that has come from my trials and errors when learning Mediterranean foods.  I hope it might inspire you to go after some ethnic fair that you have always wanted to try but was intimidated by some of the ingredients.

Seppie Ripiene Al Forno
(Stuffed cuttlefish, Basilicata style)

1 lb fresh cuttlefish

2 oz stale bread roll
1 egg
Little bunch fresh parsley, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
3/4 oz ewe's cheese, grated
2 anchovy fillets in oil, chopped
1/4 Cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4Cup fish stock
Salt and Pepper
(If you lucky enough to have caught fresh Cuttlefish) how to clean cuttlefish 
The Filling
Crumble the bread roll (you can also use the food processor). Combine it with garlic, parsley (set aside some for later), anchovy fillets, the egg lightly beaten and ewe's cheese in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper (if you like) and stir very well. The filling must be soft.

Stuff IT
Stuff the cuttlefish with this mixture and close them with toothpicks.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Pour half the oil in a deep baking pan, place the cuttlefish in the pan, sprinkle them with the remaining olive oil and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper if you like.

Bake for about 40 minutes basting often (every 8-10 minutes) the cuttlefish with boiling fish stock.
*Time of cooking depends on the size of the cuttlefish*

The If's
If you prefer you can use anchovies in salt instead of anchovies in oil. Wash them before using.
If you don't like garlic you can substitute it with a fresh little onion, finely chopped.
If you bake the cuttlefish too long they can become tough.

Explore the world or even your own back yard.  It can be exciting and challenging and the results will be tasty and rewarding.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wind Chimes and Venison

I posted this a week or so ago on a local forum here in Lander, WY. after a  early Saturday morning event at my home:

Good Morning,

If anyone happens to see a Big Ol' Buck Deer running around Lander with wind chimes hanging from his Antlers, the chimes are ours. Seem, last night (4am-ish) while grazing in our front yard flower garden the poor bloke was attacked by our wind chimes. Made and awful racket. I heard the chimes/buck Deer heading west down Amoretti at a rather high rate of speed.

You just have to love living in Lander WY. Were else would stuff like this happen?


John Applegate

Imagine my surprise when I opened my email the following day to find 50 some emails asking for pictures, details of the current status of the wind chime search, was it a "BIG" buck with a large rack, did you lose all your flowers and many many more.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of the comments and I really though that I would give some further details since this topic drew allot of attention.

When I finally had a few cups of coffee under my belt Saturday morning I decided to go out into the front yard and check the status of my wind chimes and my wife's flower garden.  As I came out of my front door I saw the sad state of the cast iron rod, that the poor victims hung from, was bent at the base.  The other wind chime that hung next to its twin was wrapped completely around the pole like a kidnap victim.

After I fixed both the cast iron pole and untangled the 2nd wind chime, I began my search for the other wind chime.  At the edge of the lawn near the road I found the tell tale signs of the misshapen chime.  It seems there was a trail leading to the end of the block of wind chime parts.  I was able to recover all parts minus one wood paddle and some fishing line.  So I returned to my garage and performed a restoration of the poor victim.

Later that week I was heading to work in the morning and saw, what I think was the recipient of the wind chime attack.  The buck deer looks to have a little bit of fishing line still in his antlers.  Though, I'm not 100% sure that was the deer, but he did seem to be going out of his way to not go through my neighborhood.  Not a very exciting conclusion to the main event, but I did get allot of request for details. 

So with that little tale, here is a Venison recipe for you to try:

Hoisin Marinated Venison


1/3 cup hoisin sauce
3 Tablespoons rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons minced roasted garlic
1/4 cup minced scallions, including green parts
1 Tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 boneless venison strip loin, 2-1/2 to 3 pounds, well trimmed, silver skin removed


Whisk together hoisin, rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, scallions, honey, salt, and oil, and scrape into a large resealable plastic bag. Add venison and seal, turning to coat evenly. Marinate in refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Remove venison from refrigerator and return to room temperature before cooking.

Preheat to medium a Gas or charcoal grill.  Grill for 15ish minutes per side, turning once, for medium rare.  Remove from grill and rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

I would recommend serving this with some Asparagus and a nice crisp Romain salad.   I hope you enjoyed my twisted little story and this gem of a recipe. 


Thursday, October 7, 2010

"K"rab Salad

Ever have a craving for some seriously good Krab Salad?  Did you notice the "K" in crab?  Yep!  The fake stuff.  Whitefish made to look and taste like Crab meat.  Its not the real deal sadly but, who can afford real crab meat? And to add insult to injury, I'm landlocked.  So, what do you do when life deals you fake crab?  You make "K"rab Salad. 

I will be straight with you.  When I first saw this being made, I thought to myself, no way in hell am I putting fake crab in my mouth.  I thought, how on earth can you make fake crab?  How can you even mold the stuff to resemble crab meat?  And the coloring, well, I won't touch on that because it just kind of freaks me out.  The funny thing is, if I don't think about it to deeply, I actually like the stuff. 

When I was younger I will openly admit, I was food snobby.  I refused to put anything in my mouth that was what I considered "low quality" but time and age have tempered that in me.  This "K"rab salad was one of those moments when I learned, that things that are not legit, ain't always bad.  I have made this many times after that first experience and it has always been a crowd pleaser.  I often don't mention the fact that its fake crab to see who can tell the difference. I never spoil someones moment, but sometimes its awfully hard not to point a finger and yell "GOTCHA!!!"

Well, enough bantering on and on.  I do sincerely hope you enjoy this.  Its economical friendly and delicious to boot.

"K"rab Salad

2 Packages of Krab Salad (Whatever brand is cost friendly)
16 oz (about 1 Lb or half of a Large Bag) shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 - 2 Bundles of Green Onion (Finely diced)
2 Cups of Heavy Mayonnaise (Not Salad dressing, its just too sweat)
Salt and Pepper to taste


Break apart your Krab into small peaces.  Its up to you how chunky you want your Krab.

Add the rest of ingredients and mix thoroughly with your hands.  Its important to get all the ingredients mix thoroughly.

Refrigerate for 24 hours. The reason for the long resting time is so the flavors will infuse the dish and the cheese will have time to soften up and break down a little.  The onion will be somewhat strong at first but after the 24 hours it should soften up in strength.

I recommend transferring to a nice bowl before serving, most often people will like to eat this with crackers or on a crostini.  I'll leave that up to you.  Enjoy.