A heritage idea that is making a big comeback… Homemade almond milk!

In my last trip to the Library in Fort Pierce (No, Google doesn’t know everything!), I ran across a story of a family that settled the area I live in. The story begins well before and continues sometime after the Civil War.Inside the book was not only a history of what settlers went through but contained such things as how to make a mosquito broom out of palm fronds, recipes and other little known tidbits.

I like scouring through old stories because they are a goldmine of Heritage Recipe information. I was fascinated reading how after the railroad arrived, ice blocks became available and how such a simple thing we take for granted today, revolutionized their lives down here (what would they have done if they had air conditioning?) . Before the coming of ice, the heat and humidity down here in Florida would render most fresh food to a state of spoilage overnight. That definitely included fresh milk!

Cattle here were called ‘Cracker Cows’ and they are the oldest of all breeds here in the United States. That and the wild boar were the meat staples for the time. The Spanish brought the cattle here in the 1500’s. Here, as they were in Spain, the breed was a gentle and social breed having a desire to stay close to humans. The only problem was, the cattle loved the taste of our Saw Palmetto and Sago Palm brush.  In order to round up the cattle, this meant rooting the cattle out from this near impenetrable vegetation. Because the cattle were so gentle, the Spanish found that by cracking their whips over the tops of the brush, the cattle would think they were being attacked and head out into the open to defend themselves. Never was the actual cow whipped. While the cattle loved eating this growth, it was also home to panthers, wild boars and bears. The cattle knew better than to try and defend itself against a predator within the confines of the brush, so out into the open they’d come.

After the Spanish left Florida due to British insistence, they left behind vast herds of Cracker Cattle. Our early settlers here soon discovered these cattle freely roaming around and found by using their whips they could control the cattle as the Spanish did . These cowboys were America’s first true cattle cowboys and acquired the name “Cracker Cowboys” from the sound of their whips. Their specially bred and trained horses became known as “Cracker Horses” and are still being bred today.

But this is not a story of Cracker Cattle but one of milk… or actually, the lack of it.

Before ice, cow and goat milk had to be drank or used in baking while it was still fresh. There was no saving it for another day. Spoiled milk not only tasted bad but was a perfect medium for bacterial and germ growth. Milk was needed in emergencies for babies and in everyday baking. So what was a mother to do?

The answer was growing in right front of their noses. Nuts…or rather, nut milk!

The South is famous for its nut trees but long before Christ was walking about, the Mideastern countries were making milk from almonds. Later, returning soldiers from the Crusades brought the concept of nut milk back to England and France with them. From there all of Europe and eventually the United States were turning almonds into a delicious drink that would still be drinkable a day later.

In my library trip, I discovered many folks down here had substituted nut milk for that of cows milk. In fact, two early Cracker recipes I ran across actually listed nut milk in their ingredients. Early Crackers lived a very frugal and sparse lifestyle. If you Google them they are a fascinating people.  Contrary to the popular belief of some writers, the Cracker is still alive and well. They still ride Cracker horses, raise Cracker cattle and have a language that is able to travel long distances through the high brush. It consist of whistles and hoots that few outsiders know about. I personally know this to be true because I lived along side of them as friends and neighbors when I lived in the Everglades just south of Lake Okeechobee.

So why am I putting a recipe for nut (Almond) milk in my Heritage and trail cooking blog? Because it more than many other recipes is a true Heritage recipe! I later learned that many of our early American settlers and pioneers made their own nut milk. With the advent of refrigeration and pasteurized milk, nut milks lost favor for that of convenience.

An added bonus is after making your milk, you are left with what is called Almond Meal. Almond Meal is Gluten free and will take the place of whole wheat flour in most any baking recipe. I’ll add a photo of it below at the end of this post.

I’m giving you a recipe that makes  over (3) three quarts. This amount last me about a week. I will also give the recipe for 1 quart below the 3 quart one.

Note; You must soak the almonds overnight in water to soften and hydrate (swell) them .

Fill to 1 inch over almonds. Change the water a couple of times. Drain completely before putting almonds into blender.

Ingredients; (for making 3 quarts)

2 cups of raw and shelled almonds (they will swell to over 3 cups after soaking)

3 cups of water for each cup soaked and swelled  almonds (makes 9 cups of milk)

2 Tablespoons of honey

1 Tablespoon of light corn syrup

1 teaspoon of vanilla

½ teaspoon of salt

Ingredients for 1 quart;

1 cup of raw shelled almonds (they will swell to almost 1 1/2 cups after soaking)

3 cups of water

½ Tablespoon of honey

1/2 Tablespoon of light corn syrup

1/4 to ½ teaspoon of vanilla

 ¼ teaspoon of salt

—————————

You will also need.

1 measuring cup

A cheesecloth or large dish towel

A colander

A large 4 quart pot

A spatula

A clean milk jug or 1 gallon pitcher with a lid

A funnel

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————

I purchase a 3 pound bag from a big box store here for under $9. I get about 3 gallons to a 3 pound bag. That brings the cost down to less than a dollar a quart.

There is not a lot of ingredients needed

Directions;

Note, your almonds have swelled after soaking. For the single cup, use the entire amount, for the 3 quart amount, divide your almonds into three separate amounts.

Set up your Pot, colander and filter cloth as in the picture below.

In a blender, pour in the desired amount of soaked almonds and fill with 3 cups of water then blend on high for 2 ½ minutes.

Pour blended nuts into filter cloth. (your colander will tend to have its center holes get plugged up by the almond meal filled cloth. Place a spoon between the cloth and the colander bottom to allow drainage. )

When fairly drained, pull up the sides of the cloth without spilling any meal into the colander and twist until a ball filled with almond meal is formed. Squeeze the ball tightly until no more milk seeps from it. Save the almond meal!

Repeat this process until all almonds have been blended and turned into milk.

Remove cloth and colander.

Stir the Honey, Corn Syrup, Vanilla and salt into the pot of milk

 I pasteurize my almond milk, it’s easy and makes for a safe bacteria and germ free drink.

(Heat milk over low heat.  145 degrees for 30 minutes. Stirring often. Do not boil or heat above 145 degrees)

To pasteurize; 145 degrees for 30 minutes

Pour hot contents into a BPA free pitcher or jug and refrigerate immediately. When chilled its as good as any that’s store bought !

Remember, this is a natural product with no added  artificial homogenizing agents in it, so over time some settling will occur. Before using, stir or shake container lightly to remix its contents evenly.

Sometimes after pasteurizing almond milk, you will find it has become thick (thicker than whole milk) in its consistency. To thin it down without losing any flavor, simply add cold clean water to it in small amounts until you find your desired taste and consistency.  By pasteurizing your milk, its taste also becomes more creamy than water like. Remember, do NOT  exceed 145 degrees as it will definitely thicken! Many online recipes skip the process of pasteurization so it’s up to you whether or not to pasteurize.  I pasteurize all of mine because I live in South Florida where there is a multitude of air born bacteria, yeast and fungi due to the high heat and humidity. Try it both ways and see which suits your taste best:)

Don’t throw it away! The left over Almond meal is a great Gluten free substitute for whole wheat flour!!! I freeze mine in marked 3 cup bags.

Advertisements

My Grandmother’s recipe for whole wheat bread

With it’s end slice removed, the texture of this homemade bread can easily be seen. It is absolutely delicious!

In an earlier post I had given the recipe for “The perfect loaf of homemade bread”.

In that recipe I used a combination of whole wheat and high gluten bread flour to imitate the rougher grainy flour of yesteryear.

My cousin in Idaho (after seeing my bread post ) wrote me to say that she had Grandma Edwards recipe and still often bakes it. She too had to adjust the flour mixture to imitate the rougher grainy flour that my Grandmother’s grain mill had produced. Sadly, she said the mills disc had worn out and would not grind any finer than a cracked wheat. By trial and error she finally accomplished what she had set out to do… reproduce as closely as possible the flour my Grandmother ground by a hand mill using wheat grain.

When I looked over the recipe, I realized how similar but how different t was from the one I had posted. I decided to bake up a couple of loaves to see what the difference really was. Was I surprised!

My cousin’s recipe was truly an exact reproduction of what old fashioned bread should be. Soft, yet with a true home ground whole wheat texture. It was so full of flavor I knew I had to post it. In the picture you will see the texture this recipe has produced. It is not flaky or crumbly. While soft, it still retains a firm body found in artisan breads. I know I will continue to be making many loaves from this recipe. Here is the recipe my cousin sent me.

2 ½ cups of whole wheat flour

1 ½ cups of bread flour

3 Tablespoons of sugar. Divide by setting aside 1 tablespoon of sugar to rise yeast

1 ½ teaspoon of salt

2 Tablespoons of melted butter

1 Tablespoon of dark Karo syrup

2 teaspoons of yeast

1 egg yolk

8 ounces of whole milk heated till very warm (If using skim or low fat milk, add two tablespoons of powdered milk.)

Directions

In your electric mixer’s bowl with dough hook, combine and mix together on low, both flours, salt, 2 Tablespoons of sugar  and (powdered milk if using it).

In a smaller bowl combine 8 oz of very warm milk, Karo syrup, melted butter, egg yolk, 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 2 teaspoons of yeast. Mix well with a fork and let stand until bubbles begin to form showing that the yeast is activated.

In your dry ingredient mixing bowl, create a low spot in the center and begin to add the wet ingredients while the mixer is on low speed. Continue adding wet mixture until dough begins to form into a soft spongy ball. After mixing for a few minutes, dough should not stick to your fingers when touched but should feel damp. Knead dough for 10 minutes using the electric mixer. After well kneaded, the ball of dough should feel very spongy. Remove dough and place on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand 10 to 15 times forming it into a ball. Place dough ball into a large greased bowl to rise. When dough is doubled in size, remove and press down lightly to deflate the dough ball. Shape into a loaf and place it into a greased bread pan, let rise until ½ inch higher than lip of pan.

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees now.

When dough is risen to the desired height, poke holes along the top of the center at 2” intervals no deeper than 1/4″ with a tooth pick to let gas build up escape while rising in the oven. Brush the top of the loaf of bread with milk and place onto middle oven rack in the center. Set a timer for 35 minutes.

Remove when done ( it should sound hollow when thumped) and brush the top with a coat of water this time. Let cool under a kitchen towel.

Home made chocolate syrup!!!

  

Today was my day to wander away from my weight loss diet consisting of veggies, chicken and fish and instead spurge!  🙂

First, I made up a fine breakfast of french toast using my home made bread. I slathered it in blue berry syrup I made from last years berry crop and a side helping of home made corn beef hash. Oh, I indulged in an excellent cup of Cuban coffee too!

Lunch was a love affair of mayo and thin sliced tomatoes between two slices of bread washed down with a glass of cold milk.

Dinner was the coup de gras! ( Why we use a french phrase meaning ‘blow of mercy’ or a ‘blow intended to end the suffering of a wounded creature’ to describe something great I’ll never know, but I digress. )

Earlier in the day I stopped at a meat market out in the Florida Prairie area. They have the worlds best grass fed beef! I ordered three pounds of meat labeled, “Philly cheese meat”.  While I’m not sure what part of the cow it comes from, I didn’t see any butt holes or eyeballs in it either.

I’d never purchased it before but I had a hankerin’ to try something new. It turned out I shoulda’ bought ten pounds not three! It had such incredible taste, no gristle, no large fat globs, just juicy, tender slices sauteed in real butter with onion and bell peppers.   Man, it was to die for! (OK, no puns about my food an’ dying or I’ll give you cause to eat your next meal through a straw!)

Now inside my freezer just waiting for this special day is a half gallon of natural vanilla bean, Blue Bunny ice cream! Another coup de gras!

I made up a nice bowl, (Large, since it would be another month before I saw any ice cream again) and went into the fridge for some chocolate syrup that’s been hanging around there since my sons Birthday party. I normally don’t use store bought anything that contains high fructose corn syrup. It shoots my blood sugar all to heck for days. Well, I looked at my bowl just settin’ there wantin’ to be gobbled up and the container of chocolate syrup with it’s yellow lid. I couldn’t do it!

I ran to my pantry, gathered up some ingredients, threw a sauce pan on the stove and made Gods gift to fine ice cream! Now it takes only about fifteen minutes to make it and an hour to cool down so it ain’t too bad holdin’ off a bit before diving into my dessert.

Now, you can make it my way or my Mama’s heritage recipe way. Mom made it without instant coffee. I add a half a teaspoon of instant coffee to give the ever so slightest coffee taste to it. I also differ from my Moms recipe in that I use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa rather than the regular cocoa. Any cocoa will do. I just like the deeper taste of dark cocoa. I swear, once you make your own (it’s way too simple not to) you’ll toss out that ‘ol can of high fructose with the yellow lid. Try it, I ain’t lyin’ to ya’!!!

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

makes 2 1/2 cups

3/4 cup hot water

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar*

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I use dark for a richer taste)

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee or just instant coffee (Coffee is optional but recommended, for richer taste I use espresso)

Pinch of kosher salt

1 Tablespoon light corn syrup**

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan, bring the water and sugars to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and whisk in the cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt, and corn syrup, whisking until all of the solids have dissolved.  Allow the mixture to simmer until it has slightly reduced and thickened whisking it frequently( 5-10 minutes.) The longer you cook it the thicker it becomes. At 10 minutes mine becomes like a hot chocolate fudge sundae syrup, at five minutes  more like a pourable chocolate syrup.

Remove from the heat and only then stir in the vanilla.

Let it cool down enough to put it into a jar with a lid. Refrigerate. If it becomes too thick in the fridge, just microwave it for a short time.

 

** Recipe for home made light corn syrup (simple syrup) but free of  High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Ingredients;

2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 pinch salt

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to liquify sugar.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cover for 3 minutes. This will get any sugar crystals off the sides of the pan.

Uncover and simmer, stirring often, until it reaches the soft ball stage (230 degrees).

Cool and store in a glass  container at room temperature.

Makes about 2 cups.

 

Recipe for brown sugar;

1 cup of granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon of unsulphered molasses.

Blend together in a small bowl with a fork.

Store in a container with a tight lid.

 

Why I have to travel for a good pancake

I don’t do breakfast café’s much here in South Florida and here’s why. Since alcohol is the fuel that drives South Florida, most folks here consider breakfast the meal that is served upon waking…around 4pm. It is coincidentally around the same time they start drinking again.

So with a mouthful of chemically dulled taste buds, burnt home fries and under cooked eggs slathered in cheap cheese does just fine for this meal. That is unless you’re one of the few that rise with the sun… as I do.

South Floridian’s almost never eat lunch.  (it gets in the way of their beer). On the other hand, did you know there are more school trained chefs here than in the rest of the entire universe? So what are South Floridians doing with all these chefs if they don’t do breakfast or lunch? Why dinner of course. South Florida is famous for its fine restaurants…by fine I mean expensive.  So why bother with a five dollar breakfast or lunch when you can open at five and close at eleven and make more money in one day than a politician gathers in ten fundraising events?

I think most 6am to 2pm eateries here are ones that failed in the evening meal circuit and must stay open due to a building lease agreement.

It isn’t until you approach the heavily forested northern part of the State, that real honest to gosh breakfasts’ are started to be found. From there it’s just a hop, skip and jump into breakfast heaven… Alabama and Mississippi.

My favorite greasy spoon is across the street from a Piggly Wiggly grocery mart in Alabama. I wanted to say it’s name and exact where about but in return for the recipe below, I promised the owner I would not give his name or place of business out. Something about a copy write legal issue involving an expensive  recipe book containing this recipe. But I digress; I want to talk about real old fashioned buttermilk pancakes here.

Now you can do box mixes such as Aunt Jemima or Krusteaz  (if you’re a restaurant) but take a second and look at the ingredients! What is all that junk? Much of it is so that the flour beetle  eggs found in most flour don’t hatch while stored six months in your pantry. Other ingredients prevent the oils from turning rancid or the baking powder from losing it’s oomph.

Please, it takes only a minute to mix your own pancake mix up and you get the benefit of knowing all your ingredients are fresh and no preservatives are involved. So without further blab, here’s the heritage pancake recipe I brag about.

Ingredients;

2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour

2Tablespoons of sugar

½ teaspoon of salt

½ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 cups of buttermilk (powdered can be used to make two cups liquid)

¼ cup of sour cream

½ teaspoons of vanilla

2 eggs

3Tablespoons of  melted butter

2 teaspoons of oil

Directions;

 

Mix all dry ingredients together first. ( If you are going to use powdered buttermilk, add the water to make a liquid then include it with the wet ingredients.)

In a second bowl, whisk eggs by themselves, then add buttermilk, sour cream, vanilla and melted butter and whisk together.

Scoop out a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mix. Stir but do not whisk or use a mixer. Batter should be somewhat lumpy so don’t over mix it. Set aside mixed ingredients for a couple of minutes to activate batter.

Preheat and grease up your pan or griddle then add oil or bacon grease. Remove any excess grease or oil first with a paper towel, leaving a thin film behind. This prevents uneven baking as oil is cooler than the pan or griddle top. (uneven baking makes a splotchy light and dark pattern on the pancakes surface, kind of making it look like a world globe rather than a nice even browning)

Using a ladle, pour enough batter to make a fist size pancake. When bubbles are bursting throughout the pancake and the sides are a bit firm, turn them over gently with a pancake turner. When done, remove and stack on a wire rack within a warm oven. Replace oil or grease only as needed. This should make about 12 pancakes or so.

For those who want to try making their own syrup, here’s an old recipe I found while out west. In the old days, Maple syrup was a rare item out west. Most maple sap products were in the form of candy, not syrup. JW

Home Made Pancake Syrup

1 cup of water

2 cups of sugar

¼  cup of brown sugar

¼ cup of corn syrup

1 teaspoon of maple extract*

½ teaspoon of vanilla extract

In a saucepan simmer all ingredients except maple extract for 15-20 minutes (about  200 degrees)  *Remove from heat and only then stir in the one teaspoon of maple extract.

Over time, sugar crystallizes. This in no way ruins the syrup just reheat it.

Securing his place in Florida’s culinary history, Clem invented the beer batter pancake.

A true WV heritage recipe, Ramps

This story and its recipe are taken from my recipe book, Maw maws recollections, observations and recipes.

The road leading to Maw maws house

 

The  Chapter is called, “Migration to the North”.  An inside look into a rural WV town and its people.

 What began as an single interview with a 90 plus year old woman living in Southern West Virgina, turned into a long love affair with her, her family and the State of West Virginia. Many of this families Heritage recipes have been shared with me for the purpose of my writing her story.  You can download a free PDF file of her story which contain the stories of her life and recipes from my post on this blog written on April 7th. JW from campfireshadows


Polio made it’s way through our small mountain community in the late 40’s. Seemed like many a child for years afterward was seen wearing leg braces or had what I call baby arms. My own got missed by that evil demon (thank the good Lord).

To this day I always believed it came on over from Europe or somewhere’s else where our service men in WWII was stationed.  It was too much a coincidence. Soon as they started coming back, the diseases started.  The government said “No” but I don’t believe a Government man even knows what the truth is to be able to tell it. We all was scared to death. It was like playing that Russian Roulette game. One day all seemed calm then you’d hear Johnny Lawson’s new baby done got it. It was frightful, no one knew what to do. The Newspapers was reporting that in the major cities it was past epidemic proportions. Seemed like a runaway train with no stopping it. Every mother feared hers would be next. Many people cut back on socializing with each other during them years. Church attendance was low for fear it was there in the pews, even though more and more people was on their knees. I think it was in April of ’55 that the hero Mr. Salk was informed his vaccine was a success. I had read as others did, that a couple years previous Mr. Salk had invented a vaccine but it needed to be on trial to see if it actually worked or not.

I will never forget the day they announced it. Every radio station blared the message into every home! People was out in the street cheering, honkin’ automobile car horns, lighten off fire crackers and crying in public. It was the first time I heard every church ring it’s bells at the same time. Unless you was living then, you just couldn’t begin to understand.

We had us a future again! Farmers holding off buying new machinery went out and made the purchase. Schools that just a few months before had been talking of closing made announcements of adding playgrounds and gymnasiums. The future looked so bright to us. We vowed never to take life for granted again or forget the God who after all, had answered our prayers.

By July at best, most had returned to their unthankful ways and life went on as before. Those left crippled were given small monthly Government subsidy checks.

Life was a fragile thing back then. Why, I remember my friend Louise’s husband left for Michigan to find work at the Ford plant there and was never heard from again! Two Years later she found out he had had a heart attack in a motel room. It appeared someone either before or afterward had lifted his wallet off him. Without no identification, he was buried anonymously in Dearborn. Not one of us thought he had run out on her but the Police up that way said his M O was a common one for disgruntled husbands .    It was during an investigation of another crime that his old wallet had turned up. The man never admitted to stealing it but police was able to locate Louise by her picture in it and his Social Security card. It made one wonder what really happened to those who just vanished. There was a large amount of men who left the area for jobs up north in them days. Some never did come back for their wives and children. Most everyone thought they’d just run out on ’em.

Henry never did have a hankerin’ to move away from here. Lived all his life within these hills. We did a vacation or two. We visited others who had moved to Michigan and Ohio for jobs but never was drawn to leave West Virginia. I’m aware it seems most the other States got a bad idea of what West Virginian’s are. Many of the men folk who left for other parts were those that we’d say to today,”Don’t let the door  hit you in the … as you leave”. They was a lot of no goods in my book. Good riddance!

An I do apologize for my English. I know it grates upon the ears of those living North an East of us but we really did attend school and even get degrees. It’s just that you’re taught one thing while living another. After a time of being away from school books one just reverts back to what language is spoken at the dinner table.  I got a boy lives up in Cincinnati Ohio. Half his kids speak as I do, the other half don’t. I wonder if it’s in the genes.

So the recipe I’m given you here is one that any person raised with an accent will give two thumbs up  to.  Ramps! -Maw maw 2009

 Delicious Ramp (Onion) Casserole

  “This recipe can substitute green onions or even scallions for ramps if you can’t find any. Ramps mostly grows around Virginia to Ohio with a few other places around thrown in for good measure.” Maw maw

 

3 beaten eggs

4-5 diced 1/2 inch  potatoes

6-8 ramp onions* – found growing wild in WV and sometimes called wild leeks.

½ lb pork sausage

½ cup of diced American cheese

½ teaspoon of salt

½ cup of milk

* 3 cloves of crushed garlic (read below first)

cook potatoes in pan of water until just tender. Steam ramps over potatoes using metal strainer 2 -3 minutes. Then chop ramps. Drain potatoes, and add chopped ramps. In skillet, fry sausage and drain. Combine with potatoes. Add eggs, diced cheese, salt and milk. Mix together in baking dish, bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

*Add 3 cloves of crushed garlic to the recipe if using an onion other than a Ramp. Ramps have a strong onion / garlic taste to them.

Cast iron cookware, the Cooks Holy Grail

Back to basics, returning to the best.

I now own three complete sets of cookware. First is a conglomeration of non stick pots and pans. Second is my cherished Tramontina Stainless Steel cookware and third… is the holy grail of all cookware, my mixed set of Cast Iron.

The first two I could live without, the third I couldn’t. I called it a mixed set, here’s why. I show little allegiance to name brand. In fact, most of my cookware is so old that if it ever had a name, I’m sure by now the company is long out of business. Many of them are well over 100 years old. The reason I chose each one individually is due to the quality. Even new pots and pans have flaws in them. They may not show but if you look closely at the rim and see a slight difference in thickness, this is a flaw. It will not heat evenly. Now other metallic pans are stamped out or extruded or as in cast aluminum, made with steel dies that cannot deviate in size. They are theoretically perfect.

Cast iron pots and pans are made using a method ages old called sand casting. A box of oily black sand is used to make the pans impression in. Top and bottom.  They put the two halves together, then molten cast iron is poured into the cast box. Once the impression is filled, the box is broken in two and the sand, along with the freshly cast pan, is poured out. The sand is recovered and reused. The pot is then inspected for flaws of any sort and sent for further finishing. A reputable cast iron cookware company has much higher standards of quality than most imports. Those I stay away from, no matter the brand. Another I don’t cotton to are ones with an enamel finish. What’s the point of these? You’ll never obtain the taste of true cast iron cooking with enamel cookware.

So how do you know if a pans any good to buy? In this rare case, name brand does help. Be aware of specialty pans made for famous chefs or merchants. They are usually a cheap import or lesser quality line made by someone else. Think about this, what qualifications do Emeril, Paula Deen or any other celebrity chef have that qualifies them to have their name cast in cookware? None! So don’t get roped into buying some junk cookware because some celebrity stuck their name on it.  I have seen some horrible import cookware on the market with great looking packaging. Remember, you will not be using the beautiful looking packaging to cook with.

A few brands I actually give my two thumbs up on are these. The old, no longer made McClary’s, Older, Griswold and Wagner’s (the later two now owned and manufactured by the American Culinary Corporation. I recommend only the  pre-takeover Griswold’s and Wagoner’s since rumor has it the newer ones made by ACC are made in China and are of a lesser quality. Many of the older lids always had dimples on them for self basting. Lodge cookware (Probably the best made today and are made in America and are my #1 choice for new cast iron cookware), Then there is Browning ( very nice set, lids are excellent, made for the outdoors. Most likely an import but well made) GW Gear (these are OK but they come with a worthless wooden storage crate that many times arrive in pieces. Lids are good though and casting is acceptable, most likely an import)

Some I’d stay away from are. Bayou Classics (cheap import), Stansport ( Chinese import, casting marks and handles are questionable but the dutch oven seems good), Buffalo tools (Import, cheaply made) Most any famous chef brand and unfortunately even Cracker barrel. This is because they cast their name on the bottom causing uneven heating.

Things to know about cast iron cooking and care.

1-      Quality. Scaling is NOT normal. A properly cast and finished pan will not scale if pre seasoned correctly. Look for how well ground out the mold marks are. See if the lid fits snugly and look for thin spots on the rim. Don’t overlook the handle, it should be smooth, even in the hanger hole.

2-      Pre seasoning. Cast iron is the original non stick cookware. Once it is seasoned, nothing sticks to it. Follow the manufacturer’s directions if purchased new. Many are now being sold as “pre seasoned”, that’s all fine and good for the first time cooking, but continue to season the pan as if it were not pre seasoned. To season;  Wash pan in mild dish detergent and dry completely.

Pre heat your oven to 225 degrees. Then using lard, shortening or the least desired vegitable oil, lightly coat the entire pot, inside and out.

Place the pot in the heated oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, increase the oven temp to 500 degrees and bake for 45 minutes. Remove when finished and allow it to cool. When cool, the pot should not be sticky, if it is then either too much oil was used or time and temp were too low. Reheating at 500 degrees for another ½ hour should solve the problem. If the pot is an antique or rusty, clean it very well, even using steel wool and a mild detergent, then season twice in a row.

3-      Cleaning. Never, ever, place cast iron in the dishwasher to be cleaned. Only a mild quick cleaning followed by an immediate drying is ever needed. I know of many cooks that simply wipe out the pot with a damp towel then returned to the fire for 1 minute to dry. Re-season by simply wiping a fine layer oil on it. If heavy cleaning is needed then you should re-season it using the oven method. The secret to forming the non stick surface is to allow a build up on the interior of the pot or pan. By wiping with a damp towel and drying it afterward using heat, will begin the buildup. Some of my frying pans, to my best judgment, have never had anything done to them but a good wiping out. I said before, some of my cast iron cookware is over 100 years old! If scrubbing is needed, use a mild detergent and a nylon scrub brush, never metal chore boys or Brillo type pads. If you cook outdoors, you can simply heat the pan until the stuck residue burns into a char. Then just wipe out the char using the damp towel again. Cast iron can crack or warp so never place a hot pot or pan in cold water, let it cool first.

4-      Cooking tips. Before using, wipe a teaspoon of oil into the pan before pre heating. Then pre heat to warm it up before placing food in them. Never place frozen or very chilled food into cast iron, doing so will cause the food to stick and burn. Soups and watery foods do not require a preheated pot but still wipe a bit of oil in them first.

5-      About Dutch ovens and frying pans. When looking at frying pans, any over 12” should have an opposing handle of sorts opposite the long handle. It may be just a 1” cast nub or a formed loop handle, either works since you’ll never grab cast iron bare handed anyway. Use a lid lifter or pot holder in removing the lid. I am against using the leather gloves so many trail cooks use because leather will hold and transmit heat, causing severe burns. I opt for a heavy cotton or Kevlar cooking glove. Dutch ovens come in two styles, flat bottomed or with legs. Flat bottoms are made for stove top or oven cooking. They can be used over a campfire if they are fitted with the wire hanger handle and work well on electric stove tops.The lids fit as either a normal pot lid or come in the depressed lid style, either works well. Dutch ovens with legs are made for open fire cooking only and will not work on electric stove tops. To use, place the pot directly on top of a bed of coals, then heap coals on the lid, doing so acts to completely submerge the pot in heat. The lid has a depression made in for this purpose.

Cooking with cast iron sounds like a bit more work, but what you put into cooking is what you get back out. Some of my 100 year old pots and pans are still releasing flavor from cooks long gone up to the big Chuck wagon in the sky. Cast iron cookware rarely if ever changes and are for the most part, passed down from generation to generation.  While I do own other cookware, those will most likely never hang from my children’s pot racks, they’ll be sent off to Goodwill. My eldest son has already laid claim though to my cast iron cookware when I too start cooking at the Heavenly Chuck wagon.

Chocolate cake, Homemade vs store bought

 

I recently had the opportunity to dine at what I call a “hoity toity” restaurant here in Florida’s Palm Beach district. While I didn’t get a glimpse of Donald Trump or Jimmy Buffett, I did get a taste of the food they eat on a regular bases while dining out.

I have no complaints about the food in general, in fact both the Sous Chef and Head Chef there are friend’s of mine and produce absolutely excellent dishes equal to any famous ‘Top Chef’. When I started my own restaurant in the Florida Keys a decade ago, both had volunteered their recipe knowledge and culinary skills in my start up .

The meal went well, my fellow dinner guest raved and wished they could get the recipes… until desert came.

While there were a number of choices, the ‘Old fashioned chocolate cake’ was pushed on us by our server. She exclaimed it was made from scratch by the Pastry Chef from an old passed down recipe. We didn’t doubt her so most of the table ordered the cake.

When it arrived on its small golden rimmed white china plate drizzled with chocolate and caramel sauce in fancy artistic patterns something seemed strange about it. It was perfect. I mean absolutely perfect.

I know some of you have had the chance to see or watch videos on how food is photographed. Rarely, if ever is real food used. Real food looks terrible through a camera lens. Nothing looks worse on TV than seeing a cheaply done commercial for some local restaurant using it’s own real food. The colors are off and meat becomes an object of unrecognizable origin. Pizza looks like a plastic Play-Doh disc a kid made.

This dessert had the appearance of the perfect stand in ones used by the professional food video industry. But… I figured since the much bragged about Pastry Chef made it from scratch, it may just taste as good as it looked.  Maybe he was just incredibly good. I figured wrong!

Partway through the silent dessert session, I looked up and glanced at my fellow dinners. Each face showed a different expression. Some looked puzzled, others like they had already over eaten and were eating only out of politeness and others took a bite or two and stopped and like me, looked at the others. I swear, the Old fashioned chocolate cake was nothing more than a Sara Lee job with fancy artwork drizzles over it. Finally someone spoke up loud enough for half the restaurant to hear. “This cake taste like crap!”

All at once everyone agreed and began putting in their own two cents. The server, upon overhearing our comments quietly made her way back to the kitchen. She returned moments later trailing behind the huffy looking Pastry Chef. He stopped and with mocking politeness asked if we had a problem with the desert. The look he gave us was saying, “You better say it was excellent or I’ll kill you with my wildly overgrown Scottish eyebrows.”

Figuring my fellow guest lives were in jeopardy, I flung myself at him as the sacrificial goat offering.

“We we’re just wondering about the cake,” I said, “Our server told us it was home made from a passed down family recipe of yours. Our taste buds say different  and wanted to know if you would tell us which food purveyor you used to purchase it.”

The Scottish eyebrows scrunched, quivered violently and as if having a life of their own, grew in size and became even more disheveled. He sputtered for a few seconds, then realizing we may just have a bit of food knowledge ourselves, turned and stomped back into the kitchen without uttering a word.

“Well,” I said, “I think I just offended Scrooge McDuck.”

The thing is folks, DON’T ever try and pass off an institutional premade food as ‘Home Made’, your dinner guest will know you’re trying to snooker ‘em.

To prove my point, Many ‘Home made’ recipes are not anywhere near as complicated as those premade ones. Ingredients used in many of the institutional recipes are not even readily available to the average cook.   I use ‘Cook’ instead of ‘Chef’ because I still hold that only a school trained cook should title themselves as a Chef.  But, that doesn’t mean cooks are less qualified by any means in producing a great dish. In fact the famous BBQ sauce maker, Stubbs, proudly proclaims on each bottle, “Lady and gentlemen, I am a Cook!”  But I digress.

If you question whether or not those strange sounding additives in an institutional recipe change the flavor, ( or are even good for you) I challenge you to make this old fashioned ‘from scratch’ chocolate cake and compare it to the taste, texture and post dining sugar / caffeine  rush of  the store bought variety. I think your Grandma would approve of the homemade one and you can honestly tell your guest, “It’s from scratch”!

“Andy? If you mention that hussy Sara Lee one more time, you’ll be sporting this spoon where the sun don’t shine!”

 

Real, from scratch, Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake*

Preheat oven to 350

Dry ingredients

1 ½ cups of all purpose unbleached flour

1 cup of granulated sugar

3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder

½ teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of baking soda

Wet ingredients

1 teaspoon of vanilla

1 Tablespoon of vinegar

½ cup of melted butter

1 cup of warm water

**

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients until well blended. Set aside.

In a smaller bowl, using a fork, whip the wet ingredients together until blended.

Making a depression in the middle of the dry ingredients, slowly pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together using the fork.

Do not whip, just blend them well.

Pour into greased and floured cake tins. (I still don’t trust the non stick stuff.)

Place in the ovens middle rack and bake for 30 minutes.***

When finished, remove from cake tins and cool on a cooling rack.

When cooled, use a bread knife to slice off the rounded top of one of the finished cakes. Use this shaved cake as the bottom layer. Place the rounded unshaved one as the top when frosting the cake.

* This chocolate layer cake recipe is from my collection of heritage recipes. Modern measurements have replaced the originals (eg; a tad bit of cocoa, a few spoonfuls of butter,  a scoop of sugar…)

** In the ‘olden days’, fresh eggs were not always available, especially out west. It was common to use vinegar mixed with milk to prevent crumbling. The vinegar soured and curdled the milk bonding the flour together.

*** Use a toothpick to determine doneness. Each oven bakes differently. When inserted into the middle of the cake, the toothpick should come out dry.

Cocoa chocolate frosting

10 Tablespoons of very soft room temperature of butter

5 cups of powdered sugar

1 ½  teaspoons of vanilla

15 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup of milk (hold back 2 Tablespoons of milk and add as needed while mixing to achieve desired thickness)

Directions

Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl until fluffy. Slowly add ½ of the powdered sugar amount (2-3 cups) and mix well. Beat in 6 Tablespoons of milk and add vanilla. When well blended, add the cocoa powder and remaining powdered sugar. Beat well until desired consistency is found. If too thick, add the last of reserved milk as needed.

Apply to cooled cake ( ¼ inch in thickness) then chill cake until frosting sets up.

How to frost a cake ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1ZAcSazfvE