I did not make my King Cake until Fat Tuesday this year, and have been busy with other things since, so I apologize for posting this recipe well into Lent.  Put it on your docket for Mardi Gras ’11, I suppose.

I’ve made King Cake before, but haven’t been 100% happy with the recipes I’ve come across in the past, so this is the one I’ve pieced together from an amalgam of sources, one of them being the Junior League of Lake Charles‘s Marshes to Mansions.  While theirs is a winner, I did not feel it had quite enough butter and eggs in it for my purposes.  Also, if you’ve had King Cake before, you know it can tend towards being dry.  You will not have that problem with this recipe.

King Cake

King Cake

2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 c lukewarm water
1/2 c sugar + 2 t. sugar
3 1/2 to 4 1/2 c unsifted flour
1 t nutmeg
2 t salt
1 T fresh lemon peel
1/2 c lukewarm milk
5 egg yolks, at room temperature
8 T butter, at room temperature, + 2 T melted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 T. cinnamon
1 egg
splash of milk
Stuff to hide in cake: a plastic baby is traditional, but a dried bean will do in a pinch

Icing:

3 c powdered sugar
1/4 c strained fresh lemon juice
3-6 T water

Sugars:

3/4 cup sugar, divided into three bowls
4-5 drops each, purple, yellow, and green food coloring

Dissolve yeast in the warm water with 2 t. of sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes to proof. Sift 3 1/2 cups flour with remaining sugar, nutmeg and salt. Stir in lemon peel, yeast mixture, milk, and egg yolks Beat until dough begins to pull away from edges of the bowl. Beat in 8 T. of butter cut into bits, a little bit at a time. Mix until all ingredients are well-combined. Knead 5-10 minutes on a lightly floured surface, adding more flour if dough is too sticky. Form dough into a ball, and place in a lightly greased bowl. Set in a warm, draft-free place, and allow to rise, loosely covered, for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough doubles in bulk.

Punch down the dough and roll it out into a long rectangle. Brush with melted butter. Combine sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle over the melted butter. Roll the dough up jelly roll style, starting with the long side of the rectangle. Form the roll into a ring, sealing the ends, and place seam-side down on a buttered cookie sheet. Let rise, loosely covered with waxed paper, for about 45 minutes.

I have never been any good at sealing the ends up prettily.

Whisk egg and milk together, and brush over the King Cake. Bake at 375 until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. If you’re using a dried bean for the prize inside the cake, insert it in the bottom of the cake before baking. If you’re using a plastic baby, add it after the cake is baked.

Who's the king? This guy.

To make the icing, whisk the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and water until the icing mixture is smooth. Start with 3 T., and add more if it is too stiff.

To make the sugars for topping, add 4-5 drops of food coloring to each bowl of sugar. Rub the food coloring into the sugar with the back of a spoon until there are no lumps and color is evenly distributed.

Allow the King Cake to cool for at least 20 minutes or more. While it is still slightly warm, spread the icing over the cake. Sprinkle the different colored sugars in stripes over the icing before it hardens.

I have never really been into the whole going out to dinner for Valentine’s Day thing, because being crammed into a table inches away from another couple while eating a hastily assembled prix fixe with overpriced wine is not romantic.  And I know from romantic, as my place of work was recently named the third most romantic spot in Southern California to spend Valentine’s Day.

As an alternative, there’s something to be said for the time-honored tradition of preparing a special meal for your loved one.  You get to pick the music, set the mood, and if dinner is a bust, you can always go out for beer and cheese fries after, which actually is romantic.

So, here’s a little menu I threw together from the Junior League of Waterloo-Cedar Falls‘s Pig Out (1986) for a Valentine’s Day dinner.  Since Iowa produces about a quarter of the nation’s pork, and the cookbook itself has a chapter called “Pork Specialties,” I decided it simply would not do to look elsewhere for my main course. Also, this recipe is noted with an epithet that reads, “Very impressive.”

I made half-batches of all of the following recipes, including the roast, which was only a 2 1/2 pounder.  Should you do the same, reduce your roasting time to about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  And don’t forget to rest the meat before carving.

Pork Loin Roast with Orange Glaze Cups

Glazed Pork Loin Roast

1 center cut pork loin roast, about 5 1/2 pounds
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Glaze:

1 cup orange juice
2 1/2 t. cornstarch
1 t. grated orange rind
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground mace
fresh parsley

Orange Cups

4 oranges
1 13 1/2-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained (or use fresh pineapple)
2 T. Grand Marnier

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place meat, fat side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Insert a meat thermometer so the bulb reaches the thickest part of the meat. Roast 3 hours or until meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees.

Glaze:

Combine orange juice, cornstarch, rind, ginger, and mace in small saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Brush glaze on meat during the last 30 minutes of roasting. To serve, place roast on platter. Garnish with parsley and orange cups. Pass remaining glaze.

Orange Cups:

Cut oranges in half and scoop out pulp and dice. Drain off juice and combine pulp and pineapple. Add liquor. Chill. Spoon fruit into orange shells.

– Ruth Lutz Black (Mrs. David)

Now, as tempting as the orange cups stuffed with pineapple sounded, there was yet another orange cup recipe in Pig Out that caught my eye, and it sounded absolutely perfect.  Because nothing says “I love you” like carving a decorative edge into the hollowed out skin of an orange.

Sweet Potatoes in Orange Cups

Sweet Potatoes in Orange Cups

4 medium oranges
8 medium sweet potatoes, cooked and peeled
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup orange juice
rind of 1 orange, grated
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup pecans, broken
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup tiny marshmallows

Cut oranges in half, extract juice and remove pulp. Scallop or cut in “w” shape the edges of orange shells. Mash potatoes until smooth and fluffy. Add butter, brown sugar, orange juice, rind and salt. Beat until well blended. Add nuts and sherry. Fill orange shells with potato mixture. Dot with marshmallows. Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair. But do not ask me to cut a scallop for, lo, I cannot.

Hint:  Surround your pork roast with these.

– Kate Della Maria Weidner (Mrs. Steven)

And while I’m sure that the pineapple-stuffed oranges are a lovely accompaniment to what is a truly excellent glazed roast pork, let me tell you here and now that these sweet potatoes are better.  We adored them.

And it does make a pretty plate.

For dessert, I forged ahead with this tart recipe, despite not being able to find appropriately-sized heart-shaped molds.  Instead, I used ramekins, though I’d advise finding something with a slightly more sloped side.  Fitting pastry crust into a ramekin is really not much fun.

Valentine Tarts

Crust:

Valentine Tart

1/4 cup sugar
3 cups unbleached flour, sifted
1 t. salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cold
ice water

Filling:

2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup whipping cream
1 T. orange liqueur
1/2 t. vanilla
2 pints fresh strawberries, washed and hulled
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam, melted

Crust:

Combine sugar, flour, and salt in a chilled bowl. Cut in shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add water until mixture can be formed into a ball. Chill 30 to 60 minutes wrapped in wax paper. Roll out dough on floured surface to 1/8″ thick and cut into six equal pieces. Grease backs of six oven-proof heart-shaped molds, and fit dough into molds. Trim excess with a sharp knife. Press bottoms gently in several places, place on baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool, carefully remove shells from molds and place on platter and fill.

Filling:

Melt chocolate over very low heat and while warm, gently spread over bottoms of cooled shells, and allow to set. Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth and creamy. Add whipping cream, orange liqueur, and vanilla. Spoon over chocolate and chill 30 minutes. Combine strawberries and jam, tossing berries gently to coat. Arrange over filling, cover carefully and refrigerate. Serve within 6 to 8 hours.

– Jane Rife Field (Mrs. Hugh)

If I were doing these tarts again, I might make them with a graham cracker or a pecan-butter-brown sugar crust, and just serve them in the ramekins.  I thought that those flavors might go better with the filling and strawberry-raspberry topping, which is sublime.  Of course, maybe I’d have thought otherwise had I been able to get that buttery crust rolled out a little bit thinner without it sticking to my countertop.

That said, my sweetheart was much impressed, and didn’t even mind the clumsy tart crust, nor the fact that I’d (yet again) forgotten to garnish the entree with parsley.  It was a lovely meal, and even though it was an ordinary Monday night, the few special little touches on these recipes made it a bit less ordinary.  And Charlie Brown, that’s what Valentine’s day is all about.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned before that, if you’re setting out to curate your own cookbook collection, it is incredibly economical to collect Junior League cookbooks.  I’ve never paid more than $20 for a used copy, including some rather old ones, and most I’m able to get in good condition for less than $10 (and that’s with shipping).  And while I avoid copies that have, you know, visible food stains on them, I love to get a Junior League cookbook that someone has written in.  One of my best finds was my copy of Women of Great Taste from the Junior League of Wichita, where the previous owner had written a one-word review of at least half the recipes.  That saved me a lot of time.

This week’s cookbook, the excellently titled Cordonbluegrass, from the Junior League of Louisville (1988) was a bargain, and nearly in mint condition.  It includes a selection of classic and elegant southern fare, as well as an array of hearty dishes and potent potables suitable for Derby Day entertaining.  So treat yourself to a nice fifth of Kentucky bourbon (may I suggest Woodford Reserve?), and dive in.

To greet the day, I whipped up a batch of cheese grits from the Derby Menus section of Cordonbluegrass:

Derby Cheese Grits

Derby Cheese Grits

1 cup quick grits
4 cups boiling water
1 t. salt
1/4 pound butter
6 ounce roll garlic cheese (NOTE FROM MARY: I used Boursin Garlic with Fine Herbs, which comes in a 5.2 ounce package, but close enough for our purposes)
1 egg
3/4 cup milk
dash cayenne pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheese

Cook grits in boiling salted water until thick. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and cheese until melted. Mix egg, milk and pepper, then add to grits. Pour into buttered 2 quart casserole. Top with cheese. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Preparation time: 15 minutes + baking
Yield: 6 servings (NOTE FROM MARY: If they are lumberjacks.)

A classic from The Cooking Book (the Junior League of Kentucky’s first cookbook, published in the 1970s).

While these are a little different than some other cheese grits I’ve prepared in the past, to paraphrase Vincent Vega, “Cheese tastes good.  Grits taste good.”  It’s a surefire winner.  However, the copious amounts of butter, plus the garlic cheese melted right into the grits yields a particularly creamy cheese grits casserole.  It’s bad for you, but it’s worth it.

In as many cases as possible, I’ve tried to cook the most regionally distinctive recipes in each Junior League cookbook I’ve come across.  This one is not particularly native to Kentucky, but when the cookbook draws its name from a single recipe, I figure I had better at least make that recipe.

Chicken CordonBluegrass

Chicken CordonBluegrass

4 whole chicken breasts, skinned, boned, and split
4 slices Swiss cheese
4 slices country ham
2 T. olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. butter
1-1 1/2 cups dry white wine
chopped parsley for garnish

Pound breasts until thin (NOTE FROM MARY: the chicken’s, not your own). Roll 1/2 slice cheese in 1/2 slice ham. Place a roll in each chicken breast; fold over and secure with a toothpick. Bring almost to room temperature before cooking. Saute breasts in olive oil with garlic and butter. When cheese begins to melt from the center, add wine and simmer until done (about 30 minutes). Garnish with parsley before serving.

Preparation time: 15 minutes + cooking
Yield: 8 servings

A classic from The Cooking Book. Double the recipe and freeze half for a busy day.

So, as it turns out, it is really hard to pound a chicken breast thin without just tearing it all to hell.  I made a bad job of it, and didn’t get my chicken breasts as thin as they needed to be.  In some recipes for this dish, you roll the chicken, ham, and cheese up together, bread it, bread it, saute it, then bake it, so this one was a little different.  Reviews on this dish were mixed.  Brady liked it a lot, while I thought it palatable, but not great.  However, I will say that the bites with lots of ham and cheese in them were quite good.

Finally, I felt I needed to end the meal with a boozy dessert.  I was torn between the Bourbon Apple Pie and the Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, but Brady was subject to no such internal conflict:

“Ooo!  THAT one!”

So, I obliged.

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

Pudding:

Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce

12 slices day old bread
1 quart milk
6 eggs
2 cups sugar
2 T. vanilla
1/8 t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/4 cup raisins, soaked in 2 T. bourbon
2 T. butter, melted

Sauce:

1 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 egg
1/3 cup bourbon

Pudding: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Break up bread; put in large bowl. Add milk and soak 5 minutes. Beat eggs, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg; stir in raisins. Add to bread. Pour melted butter into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish. Add bread mixture. Bake for 1 hour.

Sauce: Melt butter in saucepan. Add sugar and water. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Beat egg in separate bowl. Gradually add butter mixture to egg, stirring constantly. Slowly add bourbon while stirring.

To serve: Fill individual bowls with bread pudding and top with bourbon sauce.

Preparation time: 20 minutes + baking
Yield: 4-6 servings (NOTE FROM MARY: If they are lumberjacks.)

Serve this dessert on a cold winter night for a warm and cozy feeling!

– Peg Chumley

This bread pudding was the belle of the ball, and did indeed give us a warm and cozy feeling.  It is delicious, the bourbon-soaked raisins are plump and tender, and the sauce is potent but smooth.  The only tricky part is adding the butter mixture to the raw egg, as your egg might try to cook.  It’s not a bad idea to let the hot mixture sit for a minute or two before stirring it in; however, if you do wind up with a few cooked egg bits in your sauce, never fear.  It doesn’t taste the slightest bit eggey.  As for the bourbon, it isn’t cooked at all, so perhaps not a good choice for a children’s party.

All in all, a quick and easy, yet tasty menu from the Junior League of Louisville.  I was going to head for West Virginia next week, but some of the truly tasty recipes require extra prep time… like, a few weeks extra prep time.  So I may have to look elsewhere first while I string green beans on twine and set them out to dry, and find a store that stocks compressed yeast and root beer extract.

In the meantime, Brady and I did a test run on home-brewed ginger ale, and it is both easy and delicious.

I found this cookbook, published by the Junior League of Mexico City in 1981, in the Rare Books Department at the Los Angeles Public Library, and was able to photograph it, although I couldn’t bring it home with me.  Though the Junior League is best known within the United States, there are also active Leagues in Mexico and Canada, as well as one in London.  Of these Junior Leagues outside the U.S., the JL of Mexico City, established in 1930, is one of the oldest.

All the recipes in this splendid cookbook are provided in both Spanish and English.  Some are familiar favorites, while others, like the Yucatecan Pork (cubed pork loin, marinated in the juice of sour oranges and achiote paste, fried in lard, and served with homemade pickled onions) sounded like things I’d very much like to try.  I sort of had a hard time picking, but only sort of, because I really, really wanted to make chilaquiles.

Brady and I became aware of chilaquiles, a delicious breakfast or dinner food made out of leftover tortillas in sauce, during a trip to Tijuana a few years ago.  While they’re not difficult to find around Los Angeles, we don’t have them as often as we’d like, which is to say, daily.

Chilaquiles

Chilaquiles with sour cream and queso fresco

16 tortillas
1/2 cup oil
Red Sauce
Green Sauce
Garnish: 4 chipotle chiles; 1 cup Mozzarella or Manchego cheese, grated; 1 cup sour cream; 2 cups pork rind, crushed; 1/2 cup onion, chopped; 1 Spanish sausage, cooked and sliced; Refried beans

Cut tortillas in thin strips and fry in oil until golden. Drain on paper towel. Serve tortilla strips on individual plates. Serve with red sauce, green sauce, and garnishes.

Red Sauce

1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
2 sprigs epazote
2 sprigs coriander
1 clove garlic, minced
2 serrano chiles, seeded and chopped
Salt to taste

Fry onion in oil until tender Add the rest of the ingredients and cook for 10 minutes.

Green Sauce

20 small green tomatoes (tomatillos)
2 sprigs coriander
1/4 cup onion, chopped coarsely
1 clove garlic, minced
2 serrano chiles, seeded
Salt to taste
3 T. oil

In blender, mix all ingredients except oil. Fry in oil until flavors blend.

Serves 4

I made a few adaptations to this recipe, chiefly that I also pureed the red sauce to better blend the flavors.  Also, I could find nary an epazote sprig at the store, so I left it out without too many tears after reading that a) nothing could really substitute for its distinctive flavor and b) it is poisonous in large quantities.

Both sauces were excellent, although the green sauce was definitely more flavorful – there’s no beating the combination of tomatillos, serrano chiles, onion, and garlic in my book.  And there’s something very satisfying about eating a plate of chilaquiles.  For the first few bites, your plate is pristine and the tortilla strips are crispy, but as you go on and the sour cream gets muddled into everything and the tortillas sop up all the sauce, the plate gets messy, but every bite tastes better, and it’s hard to keep your table manners from approaching those of Randy in A Christmas Story.

It’s good stuff.

And for breakfast this week, I made this recipe, because the idea of putting avocado in a coffee cake intrigued me; however, this comes out more like a quick bread than a coffee cake.

Avocado Coffee Cake

Avocado Coffee Cake

2 cups sugar
2/3 cup butter or margarine
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups avocado, mashed
2 2/3 cups flour
3/4 t. allspice
3/4 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. salt
1 1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup nuts, chopped
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup dates, chopped
Topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1 t. cinnamon

Cream the sugar and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in avocado pulp. Sift flour and spices together. Combine flour mixture and avocado mixture alternating with buttermilk to which the baking soda has been added. Mix the nuts, raisins, and dates and fold into cake mixture. Pour all into 2 greased loaf pans. Sprinkle with topping mixture made from blending the sugar and cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until middle of cake tests done.

Yes, the batter will be green, but don't worry.

Yields 2 loaves

Actually, as green as the batter was, I was a little disappointed that the cake wasn’t green in the slightest.  However, there’s no denying that adding a couple avocados to a cake recipe will make it insanely moist.  I forgot to take a picture of a slice of cake when I made it, so the slice pictured above is actually about five days old, and as you can see, it’s still moist.

This is a fun cookbook, and well worth seeking out.  I look forward to making that Yucatecan Pork at some point in the future.

As for the Junior League of Mexico City, I thought it worth noting that while the service projects of most Junior Leagues focus on issues like poverty, art education for children, and services to women and children in crisis, their primary focus is environmental education.  They sponsor or co-sponsor recycling, reforestation, education programs, especially geared towards children, which I thought was interesting and neat.

Next up, I have a veritable cornucopia of cookbooks to choose from, though right now, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are the frontrunners.  Until then…

It was harder to find a recipe for roasted chicken than I’d expected, I guess because it’s barely a recipe at all.  You rub a chicken with some oil and garlic, stuff an onion in the cavity, and pop it in the oven for a couple of hours.  In theory, it’s so easy that any idiot can do it unless, it would seem, that idiot is me.  The first time I tried to roast a chicken, something terrible happened, and the skin was charred black, while the inside was raw and pink.  The second time, I accidentally roasted the chicken breast-side down, so it didn’t brown, and on top of that, I had the same problem where I just couldn’t get it to cook all the way through.

This time, I vowed, would be different.

So, I turned to the Junior League of Houston’s Stop and Smell the Rosemary:  Recipes and Traditions to Remember (1996) for answers, and to the internets, for many pictures of breast-side up chickens.

Herb Roasted Chicken

The resting part, it would seem, is important.

1 large whole chicken (4 pounds)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1 t. chopped fresh thyme
1 t. chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
1/2 t. salt
1 T. olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse chicken inside and out with cold water. Remove pockets of fat just inside chest cavity. Pat dry.

Blend garlic, rosemary, thyme, oregano, pepper, salt and olive oil to make an herb paste. Rub herb paste over chicken and under skin.

There is something perverse about a raw chicken with its legs trussed. There is also something perverse about rubbing an herb paste under something's skin.

Roast, breast side up, 20 minutes. Turn and roast another 20 minutes. Turn again and roast another 35 minutes. Remove chicken from oven. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest 15 minutes prior to carving. Serve chicken au jus with crusty bread.

Serves 4

The smallest whole chicken I could find at the grocery store was over 5 pounds, so I added about 10 minutes to each section of the roasting time, and made sure to rest it for the entire 15 minutes.  I held my breath as I sliced down the breastbone, and let out a huge sigh of relief when I saw that the chicken was not pink inside, and in fact, looked pretty much like it was supposed to.  Though the recipe doesn’t say to, I also stuffed half an onion in the cavity before roasting.

For a side dish, I decided to try something I’d never eaten before – parsnips.  When I was little, my favorite book was The Owlstone Crown by X.J. Kennedy, and in it, the main characters are two orphans whose foster parents, the Grimbles, force them to farm parsnips, which they use to make a quack patent medicine, Grimble’s Parsnip Punch, “the sweetheart of 70,000 sufferers.”  I probably read this book 50 times, and as a result, developed an aversion to parsnips, although I’d never tried one.  The book was rather vivid on the disgustingness of parsnips.  However, as it turns out, they’re not half-bad.

Whipped Carrots and Parsnips

Whipped Carrots and Parsnips

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 pounds parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, and cut into pieces
freshly grated nutmeg
salt
freshly ground pepper

Place carrots in a large pot of boiling salted water. Lower heat, cover partially, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in parsnips. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Return vegetables to pot. Stir over medium heat until excess moisture has evaporated. Puree vegetables and butter in a food processor until smooth. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serve warm.

This dish can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead. Warm over low heat, stirring often. Serves 8.

The parsnips have a strong, almost spicy flavor that is set off nicely by the sweetness of the carrots.  Even Timothy and Verity Tibb, the heroes of The Owlstone Crown, might have liked it.

It is, in any case, very nice with roasted chicken and toasted olive bread.

Success: tastes like chicken.

Published in 1981, the Junior League of Abilene, Texas’s Best Little Cookbook in Texas would go on to raise $150,000 for the League’s charitable activities.  Many of the recipes here are Tex-Mex favorites, obscenely hearty meat dishes, or down-home classics; however, every recipe here seems like the perfect thing for a casual get-together with friends and family who like to have a good time, and who really like to eat.

Only in Texas could a recipe call for 1 1/2 pounds of ground sirloin, and include the note:  “Serves 2.”

Jalapeno-Stuffed Hamburgers

Jalapeno-Stuffed Hamburgers

1 1/2 pounds ground sirloin
Salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 t. tarragon leaves
1 t. Dijon mustard
2 T. chopped jalapenos
2 slices Cheddar cheese

Season sirloin with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Add tarragon leaves and Dijon mustard. Mix loosely. Divide meat into four equal portions and flatten. Place 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno on each of two patties. Top each with a thick slice of Cheddar cheese and cover with remaining patty. Press edges tightly to seal; oven broil or grill. Serves 2.

– Mrs. Fletcher Rabb

The monster burger pictured above is made of slightly over 1/3 pound of ground sirloin, so imagining a single 3/4 pound burger stuffed with jalapenos and cheese actually scares me a little bit.  On the other hand, while eating this burger, I began to understand that impulse towards excess.  It was juicy, but not greasy, spicy, well-seasoned, and gooey with cheese.  I can only imagine how good these are on the grill.  I could have eaten another one.  I mean, I would have regretted it, but I could have done it.  However, there were other things to eat.

I neglected to eat my black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day this year, but I figured that having some during the month of January should at least be a little bit lucky. Though I am familiar with the little ditty “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” I realize that I have absolutely no idea what it means to be “cotton-eyed.” In the context of this recipe, however, I will assume it is a good quality.

Cotton-Eyed Blackeyed Peas

Cotton-Eyed Blackeyed Peas

1/2 pound bacon
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped bell pepper
2 cups chopped onions
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans peeled tomatoes, undrained
3 (15 ounce) cans blackeyed peas, undrained
Salt and pepper
1 t. sugar (optional)

Fry bacon, reserving 3 tablespoons of drippings. Saute the celery, bell pepper, and onions in bacon grease. Add tomatoes, blackeyed peas, salt, pepper, sugar and crumbled bacon; simmer 30 minutes.

– Mrs. L.F. Hooker

These are a meal by themselves, and a tasty version of the traditional southern dish.  Others I’ve eaten in the past haven’t included tomatoes (or at least not as many tomatoes), but I liked it.  With the burgers and beans, I was feeling a little bit of a picnic vibe in this menu.  Even though it’s January, and raining besides, I decided to roll with that theme.  And what’s a picnic without cole slaw?

Sweet-Sour Slaw

Sweet-Sour Slaw

1 large head cabbage, shredded
2 large onions, shredded
1 large bell pepper, shredded
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 T. salt
2 T. sugar
1 t. dry mustard
1 t. celery seed
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Place cabbage, onions and green pepper in a glass bowl. Pour 1 cup sugar over top. Mix vinegar, salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, mustard, celery seed and oil in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Pour over cabbage and cover immediately. Chill for 4 hours. Slaw will keep up to 2 weeks refrigerated. Serves 12.

– Mrs. Russell Cable

For dessert, I was very excited to find this chocolate cookie recipe in The Best Little Cookbook in Texas.  It’s similar to one that my mother makes for Christmas, and Brady’s favorite.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to making them this Christmas, so I decided to make it up to him. These taste like a cake-brownie hybrid, and are pretty enough for special occasions, but easy enough for any occasion at all.

Chocolate Cookies

Chocolate Cookies

1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
2 cups flour
2 t. baking powder
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

Mix oil, chocolate and sugar. While beating, add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla, salt, flour and baking powder. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in powdered sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Yields 4 dozen.

– Mrs. Robert Gooch (Janelle Long)

Thanks to my friend, Alex, for giving me this excellent little cookbook – I had a lot of fun with it (and a good meal besides).

And it would seem like I’m not quite done with Texas yet.  I have unfinished business with a roasted chicken, and the best recipe I could find was in the Junior League of Houston’s Stop and Smell the Rosemary.  So, that’s what I’ll be cooking next.  Hopefully, it will turn out better than my other regrettable attempts.

Throughout this project of mine, Brady has cheerfully eaten at least a few bites of everything I’ve put before him.  Every once in awhile, say with aspic or cold avocado soup or raw ahi tuna, I can tell he’s putting on a brave face.  But then, every so often, I can tell that he’s really excited about what’s on the menu.  This week, I went two for two on that front, first with the pot stickers, and then with this homemade variation on a Chinese takeout classic.

Sweet and Sour Snapper

Sweet and Sour Snapper

1 pound red snapper, boned and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 egg, beaten
1/2 t. salt
1 T. dry sherry
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
6 cups oil for deep-frying

Sweet and Sour Sauce

2 T. cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in heavy syrup (drain off and reserve syrup)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
2 T. soy sauce
2 ounces Chinese pickles (optional – available in Asian food shops)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
1 large tomato, cut into wedges

Dry snapper with paper towel. Mix together egg, salt, and sherry. Dip fish in egg mixture, then roll in mixture of flour and cornstarch. Deep-fry fish in a wok over high heat. Drain on paper towels, transfer to serving dish, and keep warm in a 250-degree oven.

To prepare sauce: Mix together cornstarch and water, then combine with reserved pineapple syrup, vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Add pineapple chunks, pickles, and green pepper and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add tomato wedges, and pour around fish just before serving.

Serves 4

There were many reasons I enjoyed this dish.  It only took about 45 minutes to make, the fish was surprisingly light and fresh for something deep-fried, the peppers had that  just barely cooked crispness that is secretly my favorite part of a takeout carton of sweet and sour pork or chicken, and best of all, the sauce was not neon red.  I omitted the Chinese pickles because I could not find them, and the tomatoes because their inclusion in the recipe horrified me, but otherwise, I did just what the ladies of the Junior League of Seattle said to.

The three sauces from this week’s cooking, the sweet and sour sauce, the gyoza sauce, and the sweet and sour plum sauce were a high point, and worth making on their own even if you don’t necessarily have the time to make pot stickers from scratch, or don’t feel like negotiating 6 cups of spitting hot oil.  We used the leftover sauces on some pot stickers and chicken from the freezer section at the grocery store, and were pleased with the results.

It was a fun week of cooking, and I got to make a few recipes that were outside my cooking comfort zone, but surprisingly doable.  Next week, I’ll be cooking a meal from the Junior League of Abilene, Texas’s racily name Best Little Cookbook in Texas, which was a gift from my friend, Alex.  What a Junior League cookbook from Abilene, Texas was doing in a Madison, Wisconsin thrift store, I’ll never know, but I’m glad it found a loving home.

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