One Sandwich to Rule Them All

            All throughout my life I have been a picky eater. My mother has even told me stories of when I was a baby that I was hard to feed for this very reason. I have always hoped that at some point in my life I would grow out of this. And despite trying different types of foods on continuous occasions I still haven’t been able to kick my own unfortunate habit. So throughout the years I have attempted so many different types of food but none really caught my attention. No matter what the food group I couldn’t find something I enjoyed, whether it be any sort of meat or fish or anything of the sort I couldn’t find something I liked. Except for one delicious sandwich. Of course, I am speaking of the oh so simplistic yet at the same time so satisfying grilled cheese sandwich. I am sure you are quite perplexed at how I could share so much love for such a basic sandwich so let’s go back into where this love for this sandwich started.

Grilled Cheese

            Based on what my family has told me, my mother is one heck of a cook. To my disappointment this is something I never really got to enjoy myself. It’s not like I haven’t tried to eat her cooking as I previously mentioned, it just seemed that for some odd reason I never really had the taste buds for the food she cooked. This has caused me to miss out on all types of feasts she has prepared all my life, from holiday dinners to some random Tuesday night. Based on what my family tells me she is quite skilled at cooking all forms of chicken but that is something I don’t have much experience in tasting. It always upset me and made me feel bad for not indulging in my mother’s delicious cooking. My mother knew this so being the kind women she is she would always go out of her way to make me a separate meal that I could enjoy. Almost every time this happened the meal would consist of grilled cheese sandwiches. Despite it being rude on my part for not just eating what everyone else did, I couldn’t help but at times feel a bit special that my mother would do this for me. What made me feel even more special was when she would occasionally make the meal of the night grilled cheese. She would always do it just right. Fill an entire plate with a mountain of grilled cheese sandwiches that the family was free to grab from as they pleased. And of course it was I who would always be grabbing the most. The sandwiches would then be accompanied by tomato soup, like most families I assume do, but I have never really been one for soup. So I would swap out the soup with ketchup and it would have the same delicious effect as the soup would, despite what my professor may think.  Sure, it may sound a little odd to get so excited over just a simple grilled cheese I couldn’t help but enjoy it to the fullest extent. Maybe it had something to do with how my mother would go out of her way to do this just for me but it was still so tasty all the same. And despite having different grilled cheeses from different places none of them have ever came close to my mother’s grilled cheeses. I guess what they say is true nothing beats a mothers cooking.

Ingredients

            One of my personal favorite factors about the grilled cheese is how easy it is to make. Along with how few ingredients you need to make the sandwich itself. There are literally three main ingredients you need to make the sandwich: bread, butter, and the most important part cheese itself. There are also a few optional ingredients that are included in this masterpiece. The main one I am speaking of is the tomato soup which allows you to dip the sandwich in for a little more flavor. However, if you’re not one who enjoys soup, like myself, you may swap this out with ketchup. If I could put my two cents into the matter of what is better to dip into I would have to say the ketchup, but that may just be me.

Cooking Process

            My mother would cook them just as any ordinary person would so that is how I am going to advise how to cook them. Starting off with 2 pieces of bread, they can be any kind of course I have just always preferred white bread myself. Next item you will need to prep the bread is just some simple butter. You then proceed to smear the butter on both sides of the two pieces of bread. Once this is complete you can start to get the stove ready by setting them to either a low or medium temperature depending on how you like the grilled cheese. Once this is ready you place your first piece of bread in a pan on the stove. Then it is accompanied by a slice of cheese or two, again depending on your own preference, and then the other piece of bread. Once this is done you flip the sandwich repeatedly until the bread is toasty tan and the cheese is nice and melted. The only next thing to do is to take that first bite into the best sandwich around. I recommend cutting it in half to get the full effect of its gooey goodness. If you are interested in the soup option all you need for that is a simple can of tomato soup, pour the can into the pot, and just have it on the stove as you cook the sandwiches. This will add a bit of flavor since the sandwiches are rather simple. Or if you aren’t the biggest fan of soup, like myself, plain ketchup is a terrific substitute.

 

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Lifetime of Tradition

            Tradition means something different to every single person because it is such a personal thing. When you ask someone what tradition mean to them they will most likely tell you a personal tradition they engage in. Webster dictionary defines tradition as “an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior”. Tradition is such a huge part of my past and my family, without even thinking about it there are so many things that my family has always done the same way year after year. We eat the same foods for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas every year including some strange ones like cheesy peas and my mother’s infamous coleslaw, we always take rice Krispy treats and yoo-hoo when we drive to Disney World, and we always open our stockings after presents and breakfast on Christmas morning. However the biggest and most important tradition that sticks out in my mind when I think of my family is Faschnaut Day.

 

            The day before Ash Wednesday, which falls near the end of February, is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras but for the Pennsylvania Dutch it will always be Faschnaut Day. This day will always be one of my favorite days of the year. My family’s tradition of Faschnaut Day started with my Grandmother on my mom’s side, although the recipe comes from much further back then her. My grandmother would make Faschnauts every Monday before Faschnaut Day for my mom, aunt and uncles so they would be available for Tuesday morning breakfast (because who eats donuts for dinner). I never got the chance to meet my grandmother but her recipe lives on through my mom and every Faschnaut day I feel like a little piece of her is with us. For as long as I can remember every Monday before Faschnaut Day my mom, members of our extended family and I gather in the kitchen and we make an overabundance of Faschnauts for everyone we know. We also make bear claws and peanut butter sticky buns, which are just as delcious, with the same dough but they are not a traditional food for Faschnaut day.

 

            When I was young all the way through my senior year of high school my mom would let me stay home from school and help, as much as I could at a young age. She would get up at 5 am and start the dough. It is a long process due to having to let the dough rise several times and making batches of mashed potatoes to mix in. By the time I would get up around 7 the whole house would be extra toasty which is delightful on a chilly February morning. We would put a heater in the living room and block off the opening between the living room and the dining room and make that our rising room. One of my favorite things when I would wake up was the smell that enveloped the whole house before we even started frying. It was the smell of yeast, that doughy almost earthy smell that only yeast can produce. Whenever I encounter this smell elsewhere it always brings back memories of my mom in her flour covered cow print apron and her hands covered in dough.

 

            When I was little and couldn’t help much I would stand next to my mom at the stove with the giant pot of oil slightly bubbling. She would drop donut holes into the pot to test how hot the oil and as she pulled them out and as she put them on a paper towel I would steal them and pop them into my mouth one by one. Burning both the pads on my fingers and my tongue in the process. I always thought she never noticed but obviously looking back she knew I was stealing them when she would eventually look at the paper towel and it was empty with nothing but tiny oil spots left. Now that I am in charge of the frying I just eat them as she yells at me from the dining room to save them for the younger kids in the family.

 

            We would bake all day till about 3 or 4 in the afternoon. Then family members would come one by one to pick up their prizes: aunts, uncles, and cousins would all stop by filling our house with love and lots of noise. They would steal whatever seat was available and stay for a while. We would catch up with each other, enveloped in the aroma of deep fried and baked dough. We talked about my cousins latest sporting event and how fast he is growing up. Laugh about the latest family drama and hilarious things the babies had done recently.  After we were done chatting we would send them home with a box or bag full of goodies carefully calculated so each family member would have enough (meaning more than one because honestly who can eat just one?) and hugs and kisses knowing we would see them soon at Easter. Hundreds of faschnauts, bear claws and pans of sticky buns later, we would be tired and covered in flour and who knows what else. My mom and I would just sit in the living room and watch TV, our bellies too bloated and full from sneaking pieces of dough and donut holes to actually eat dinner. My mom would never let me eat a faschnaut on Monday so I would go to bed anxiously awaiting the morning when I could heat one up and cover it in powdered sugar and enjoy all of the hard work from the day before.

 

            This tradition will hopefully live on, not just through me, but through my cousins and their kids. I hope it lives on because it is such an important day in my family and the recipe goes back so many years I would hate to see it die out.  I can’t wait till the day I have children and take them out of school every year on that fateful Monday to pass not just this recipe but the feeling of family and love onto them. And pretend I don’t see them stealing the donut holes off the oil spotted paper towel.

 

Faschnauts

 

Ingredients

 

·         1 packet of yeast dissolved in a ½ cup of lukewarm water

 

·         1 teaspoon sugar

 

·         1 cup mashed potatoes (no seasoning or butter)

 

·         1 cup sugar

 

·         1 cup lukewarm water (my family uses the water the potatoes boiled in)

 

·         1 cup flour

 

(After dough has risen once you will need the following)

 

·         1 cup sugar

 

·         1 cup milk

 

·         ¾ cup melted butter

 

·         3 beaten eggs

 

·         1 teaspoon salt

 

·         5 cups flour

 

Directions

 

1.       Dissolve the yeast in the ½ cup of water and add the teaspoon of sugar

 

2.       Combine potatoes, sugar, water and flour

 

3.       Let rise in a warm place for about an hour

 

4.       Once dough has about doubled in size then add sugar, milk, butter, eggs, salt and flour combine very well

 

5.       Dough should be soft but not fall apart, let rise again in a warm place for up to 2 hours

 

6.       Once dough has risen, take out and roll out about ½ inch thick and use a donut cutter. Place donuts on a tray and let rise again for about an hour

 

7.       While they are rising fill a pot or deep fryer with oil and heat to 375 degrees

 

8.       Use donut holes to test oil. You will know its hot enough when the dough bubbles when you drop it in the oil

 

9.       Drop donuts in, fry about 2-3 minutes or until golden brown on each side. Let sit on a paper towel

 

10.   Enjoy with powdered sugar!

 

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Conversation, Laughter, and Lessons in Survival

“What is that smell?” My poor American friend had no idea tonight was the night my mother was making another batch of Epice. “It’s Epice,” I said. Since the beginning of time, or at least before I was born, Haitian matriarchs have said no thank you to salt and pepper and created their own seasoning. There is more to epice than just seasoning/marinade for me, there are stories and lessons. Let’s go back.

In my younger years, I asked my mother the same question. I was watching television in my room and suddenly it started to smell. The sounds of the blender shortly followed. Seeing as how my spoiled self wanted to watch my scheduled Nickelodeon program sans smell and sounds of the blender, I hopped out of my bed and followed the smell into the kitchen. I found my mother and aunt laughing in the kitchen. “Mummy, what are you making, it’s making my room stink.” “Epice,” my aunt called out. Confused I looked over in the giant pot on the stove to find raw chicken with a green paste on it. “Why are you putting that green stuff on it?” “That’s the epice cherie (sweetie), it’s seasoning, it makes the chicken taste good.” “Tatie (auntie), why does it smell like that?” “Because of all the stuff we blended together to make it, Rachel. Why don’t you sit down and watch so you can learn how to make it?” “I don’t want to, I want to watch t.v.” “Alright,” she said and proceeded to gossip with my mother. I started to leave the kitchen and went back to my room but looking back I can see that cooking was the work and the reward was the conversation between people while making it.

In my teen years my appetite grew bigger, however, my desire to learn how to cook was still nonexistent. My mother always made sure I was fed as soon as I said, “I’m hungry.” I would find her in the kitchen whipping up something that my stomach impatiently waited for. “Mummy is the food almost done,” I asked in the whiniest voice you could think of. When she was annoyed with me, (and frankly I don’t blame her, I was a little turd with a black hole for a stomach who never cooked for her) she would ask, “Why don’t you learn to cook? Then when I’m not here you can make it yourself.” By that time, I would roll my eyes and go back to my room like the little anti-social recluse I was. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother was trying to teach me something. She wanted me to learn how to cook so I would be able to feed myself and my future husband and children. She wanted me to be able to survive when she was not here.

In recent years when I lived with my aunt, Saturday was food prep day. Early in the morning my aunt would start making the food. My cousin would work on prepping the ingredients for the epice which are scallions, onions, parsley, red and green peppers, and garlic. My other cousin would come soon after and play Kompa (Haitian dance music) and blend them all together. It’s a pretty simple recipe: a whole garlic, half a cup of chopped parsley, one quarter cup of diced onions, one quarter cup of chopped scallions, and three quarters cup of diced red and green peppers. After combining the ingredients, you just blend the ingredients up into a paste. That’s it, easy peasy.

If you guessed I was in my room taking no part in the cooking, you are absolutely right. The laughter would be so loud. It was just the right level of loud to lure me out of my room. As soon as I opened my bedroom door the smell hit me like a bag of bricks. I went downstairs to take in the scene. I walked into an in-depth gossip conversation. “That baby isn’t his son! Everybody knows it! He looks just like Frère (brother) Mickey!” Then my oldest cousin jumped up and started dancing because her song came on, garlicky gloves and all. My other cousin joined in and my aunt and I started laughing. Gossiping cousins, messy hands, and comical dance breaks every now and then, it was worth me coming out of my room.

Now, I’ve realized I in fact do want to learn how to cook. My favorite meal involving epice is baked chicken and macaroni and cheese because it tastes amazing and gives me a nostalgic feeling. I used to eat it Sunday afternoon after church in front of the tv like clockwork. There was a feeling of comfort in the expectation of knowing that my mommy’s mac and cheese and cartoons were waiting for me as soon as I got home. I want to learn how to make it and other Haitian meals and pass it down to my future children because why wouldn’t I want them to have that same feeling when they eat the foods I’ve made for them?

My mother and aunt still grill me to this day. “What are you going to do when you get married? What are you going to feed your kids?” I used to say “I’ll learn to cook when I get married. My husband will do some cooking, too. It won’t always be me.” Somehow, preparing epice sparks conversation. What else is there to do but gossip with your family when you’re sitting around making food for the family? The most conversation I’ve had was “keep the change” since I’m always ordering out. There is no laughter, no gossip, and no lesson. I’ve realized you get more than just a cooking lesson with Epice Making 101. You get conversation, laughter, gossip, and eventually a fully cooked dinner you can enjoy with the family where you can continue the conversation.

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“Dont Knock what you Haven’t Tried”

When you hear the word Vegan associated with food, most people think that the food isn’t as good as if it were “non-vegan”. Well, let me be the first to say, “Do not knock what you have not tried”. People that live a Vegan lifestyle are Pros at substituting certain things that wouldn’t be “vegan” for someone who eats whatever. In my experience, my best friend can dish up the best Vegan dishes you could possibly have, from a favorite cookbook, “A Vegan Taste of Mexico” by Linda Majzlik. Let me say I am a Mexican Food Fiend. I LOVE Mexican food, literally obsessed. And when he dished me up some food from this wonderful cookbook, I was skeptical, to be honest, but man I CRAVE the food all the time now!

So one night he asked me to come over with some fri51H0D74FWKL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_ends, he was having a party and made everything that seemed appetizing from this cookbook. There were chips, salsa, salad, soups, tacos, you name it! The food was organized in stations and we started off with the appetizers. The appetizers were fabulous, there was a “Guacamole” recipe he used and this one had a zing to it! It was so fresh! The best part of the appetizers was the QUESO! Now I am not sure what he did but he told me he used the recipe from the book, but added more of everything for flavor. The queso was amazing! I was super shocked because “vegan cheese”, a little background on it is simply gross. I have never had a satisfying experience with it. Literally everything I ate I wanted more of. The soup, salad, and taco station were just to die for. The “Pollo Black Bean Taco” was a favorite. I was impressed with the flavor and texture of the food, and I would have never thought I wasn’t eating chicken. I guess that’s why its called the “Pollo Black Bean Taco” because you would never second guess that it wasn’t chicken!

If you are a Mexican cuisine fiend like me and want to mix it up in a healthier lifestyle without the bad fats and calories in the “traditional sense” you have to give this cookbook a chance! You will not regret it nor will your stomach! Trust me when I say your stomach will love you because usually after eating Mexican you end up making a date with your bathroom toilet regretting that zesty burrito.

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More Than Just a Waffle

While my Mom does just about all the cooking in my house, it’s my father’s cooking that really makes me nostalgic. I can vividly remember waking up on a Saturday morning and bounding down the stairs in order not to miss the first of many Saturday morning cartoons. Slowly, the rest of the house would wake up too, and they would come down to the kitchen. And, if my brother and I were lucky, my father would cook us breakfast.
There was always great rejoicing when my father pulled the thick red cookbook out of the cupboard, because this meant waffles were on the way. He would bring out our waffle iron and in a few short minutes, my brother and I would be eating waffles: competing to see who could eat more.
Now, as a young woman, I can appreciate this thick red cookbook for more than just waffles. I enjoy flipping through it, looking at decadent pictures and then looking over to the recipes, reading the ingredients list and musing about how good that combination would taste. Even someone who is fairly unexperienced at real cooking can make the recipes in the Betty Crocker cookbook. The descriptions are detailed to the point where I can’t get anything wrong. The pictures are large and high quality, showing me exactly what I’m making should look like when it’s fully cooked. As for the recipes themselves: they are clearly high quality. I don’t recall ever eating something from the book that I did not like. Betty Crocker includes everything from desserts to steaks to soups and salads. The book is nothing but helpful and I can’t wait to buy my own copy and cook from it one day.

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Cooking for Everyone

Is cereal the fanciest food that you’ve ever “cooked”? Are you intimidated by words like creme fraiche and blanch? Well then I’ve got a book for you. Easy Food is a very useful book for those who have only used spoons and forks in the kitchen.

The word use in Easy Food is very friendly and open for begginers of cooking. There are no crazy words that describe very specific ways to cook something. For example, I found the phrase, “toss in marinade”, to be very straight forward without using complex cooking words like baste. The book is written with regular language; it’s written as if not everyone knows the meaning of julienne. And why even say julienne if you can just say, “cut into thin strips”.

In this cookbook you will find all kinds of recipes organized in useful sections from soups to meats to desserts, the organization helps making find what you want to eat very easy. The recipes you will find are simple and ordinary, so much so that each section’s title starts off with easy like “easy chicken”. Easy Food knows who its audience is, beginners who want relatively simple recipes and masters who want good foundations for their recipes.  Most of these recipes also have a picture to go along with so if you weren’t hungry enough before hand, now you will be. The detail of the high quality pictures makes this book worth picking up, just to look at the different kinds of food.

Rancher’s Chicken is a good example of what this book can provide. In the end this recipe boils down to chicken, bacon, and cheese BUT there are other ingredients added like sauces and tomatoes that are also recommended. This makes for a simplistic recipe but with a lot of possibilities to add on if wanted. The directions to making this chicken is as simple as the ingredients: mix the sauce and tomato, cook the chicken and bacon, combine the two mixtures with some cheese and broil.

Easy Food is a great pickup for anyone who’s into cooking, whether beginner or not. The simple nature of the recipes helps guide creativity to a more delicious result if someone, like I, were to get experimental with it. The book provides a nice foundation to begin learning about the true nature of cooking.  

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The Way to A Woman’s Heart

I can recall a time in my early childhood where my mother admonished me to learn how to cook.  “Women love a man who knows his way about a kitchen,” she would tell me, and to a six or seven year old obsessed with rom-coms and romanticism, it seemed like a good idea.  Enter the Better Homes and Gardens “New Cookbook” written by the Meredith Corporation.  Between this book and my mother’s tutelage, I’d like to think I’m no stranger to a stove and skillet.  Now at first glance, this cookbook might not seem like much.  If you left it on a stereotypically covered picnic table, you might forget it.  However, this cookbook goes over everything you need to know about the practice of cooking.

20170424_222127The “New Cookbook” is set up such that the recipes in the beginning are less complex and teach the basic processes associated with the recipes.  For example, in the breads section, which is the third section from the beginning, goes over some properties of yeast breads and then shows step-by-step how to knead bread.  Sprinkled throughout the chapters are small tips and tricks that you can use to make your baking or cooking cleaner, faster, or easier.  Within the meats section you can find a recommendation to marinate in a plastic bag to avoid a mess or to use a folding motion when stir frying to  ensure all sides are cooked evenly.  The sauces section advises using a can of condensed soup with a few additives to substitute in for a full homemade sauce.  Not to mention that more often than not, these tricks help to make the recipes even tastier.

One of my personal favorite recipes is Pepper-Lime Chicken.  Most of us have heard of Lemon-Pepper Chicken, and while this recipe is similar, it is much more flavorful.  The sweeter, smoother flavor of the lime as well as the addition of some dried thyme makes for an overall tangier and more fulfilling meal.  Couple this with some grilled asparagus and a baked potato and you’ve got yourself a scrumptious meal.

What I really love about this book is that it taught me the basics behind every kind of cooking and baking, and made it much easier for me to read and make other recipes from other sources.  Just like my mother, I would recommend this cookbook to anyone who has never cooked before, and might be thinking about impressing a future (or present) significant other, or maybe would just like to know how to make their own meals.  It will serve as the backbone to all that you could wish to know in the world of cooking and preparing food and it just might get you a girlfriend too.

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