Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bible Lesson #10 Part 2: Sunday Dinner Staples... Dessert - Strawberry Banana Round Cake

Any traditional Sunday dinner pot roast meal would not be complete without a delectable dessert to proceed it.

This particular recipe has an endearing story to it - I'll keep it short and sweet. It was the first time I celebrated a birthday with one of my dear friends in the beginnings of knowing him years ago. Because of circumstances out of anyone's control, he was not able to go home (out-of-state) and visit his family for his birthday. He was feeling pretty blue about this, since his mom always made him a very particular birthday cake for him. After some investigative research, I was able to get my hands on the recipe for this cake from his mother. Birthdays are one of my favorite events for my friends and loved ones, so I love to bake and celebrate all that I can - and I will go to some extremem lengths to make them it happen!

 I eventually had an opportunity to meet my friend's mother. She had heard about what I had done for her son and let me tell you - momma's love their baby boys! She grabbed me in a hug, tears on the rims of her eyes, thanking me for being able to take care of her son when she wasn't able to. Her gratitude made the memory, and the cake, that much sweeter.

It is a bit unorthodox of how its made and was skeptical at first, yet I am now a firm believer in this moist and delicious cake. So please try it at least once - you won't be disappointed.

*Using sugar free jello mix and a lowfat/sugar free whipped cream make this an easy cake for Diabetics or a healthier dessert. My father is diabetic so I'm always looking for more options for him.

1 box cake mix (White)
1 Large box jello - Make with only 2 cups boiling water

1 tub whip cream
1 small box instant pudding mix (make with half the mix for a thicker mixture) - preferably Vanilla.

-Fruit if desired

This time I made a Strawberry-Banana Cake:
-Sugar free strawberry or strawberry banana jello
-2 bananas

-Using 2 spring form pans, bake the cake mix as directed on box.
-Remove from oven. Once out, make the jello mixture with 2 cups boiling water.
- Using a fork, poke a TON of holes in the cakes
-Immediately pour the jello syrup mixture over cakes. Use ALL of the jello mix. It will seem like the cakes will be getting soggy, but just let it happen.
-Place cakes in refrigerator for at least 2-3 hours.
-When you place cakes in fridge, make the pudding for the frosting and then let set in fridge during that time as well. Also the whipped cream so it will be thawed.

- When you are ready to assemble the cakes, remove from spring form pans on to serving platter or tray.
-Level off one of the cakes with a knife to create a flat, level surface. This cake will be the bottom cake.
- Mix thawed but cold whipped cream with pudding. Place a small amount on cake round. Slice bananas and make a nice level surface again.
-Place second cake on top.
-Frost with Pudding/Cream frosting

*The fun of this cake is you can make it however you want and what flavor sounds good. I've ranged from plain strawberry to peach to pina colada. Fruit is a good flavor because then you can use real fruit to add the extra flavor!

Bible Lesson #10: Sunday Dinner Staples... Fall-Apart Pot Roast

Of all of my many skills and talents, domesticity is not my strongest form. With that said, cooking is the exception to the domestic skills that I actually value and love to do. I am not what you would call a feminist, but I am very progressive in my thinking and don't appreciate mentalities that men are superior or the 'stronger' species. The often common ideal in my surrounding society, men are the bread winners and decision makers with women staying home with the children as the homemakers. That is still a concept that I am struggling with and probably why I'm still not married (but that's ok with me!).  Equality and respect are very high on my expectations among and between the sexes. HOWEVER... I allow a sliver of room for one exception to my myriad of progressive thinking... Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is by far one of my favorite movies. It's a very popular and common occurrence at mine and my roommate's apartment to be watched. My girlfriends and I often discuss how ridiculous the concept is of men kidnapping their 'sobbin women' and 'brides', and expecting them to be grateful for now conveniently having a husband, but that if that were to happen to us, we wouldn't necessarily complain. (Don't ask me why, but girls can just be a little crazy like that...) But just saying, if a mountain man came around singing to me "Bless your beautiful hide", I'd hop into that wagon freely of my own accord, seven brothers or not. Plus, Millie's cooking in the show always inspires me to get back to my roots and down-home cooking.

Anyway, getting back on track, growing up Sunday dinners were (still are) the meal of the week. My mother would wake up early on Sunday morning before church to start preparing dinner. If roasts were involved, I would usually wake up with the aroma of their juicy goodness wafting through the house having simmered in a crock pot all night.

Now living on my own, it's difficult to get into the Sunday Dinner mood with only myself  to cook for, especially never being a huge fan of pot roast.  However, whenever friends are in town, I whip out the ole Crock Pot and simmer me up juicy, mouth-watering, fall apart pot roast with some potatoes and gravy to keep them coming back. After some experimenting, I have discovered my niche for cooking the best pot roast I've eaten, if I do say so myself. So please enjoy and let the Crock do all the hard work!

* I use these particular steps and ingredients because it makes the BEST gravy afterwards. If you don't care about that, just the broth and wine work great too - a very sophisticated flavor. I love to serve this with mashed potatoes to go with the delicious gravy, homemade or Rhodes frozen rolls, and a good veggie. very traditional, but why mess with what works? And don't forget the dessert! (coming in part 2)

Pot Roast:
1 around 3 lb. Roast
Salt & Pepper

1 can beef broth
1-1 1/2 C red wine

1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 package Lipton Onion Soup Mix
1 packet Brown Gravy Mix

-Pat the chuck roast with a paper towel, then coat it in salt & pepper. Heat a skillet pan or dutch oven pan over high heat for  about 1 minute with some olive oil.  Sear each side of roast for 2-3 minutes, browning on each side. A nice deep brown sears looks delightful. When all sides are browned, add red wine and beef broth to crock pot and then roast.
Tip: Wrap aluminum foil on bottom side of lid, it helps seal it on the crock pot.

Cook on LOW heat 5-6 hours. (I usually do right before I go to bed).

Remove roast from pot, set on a plate. Drain broth and wine EXCEPT for about 1-1 1/2 cup (depending on size of roast). Mix in the soups, gravy mix, and onion soup mix. Once mixed, add roast back into mixture. I like to spread a litte on top of roast before putting lid back on. Keep on lowest crock pot setting for additional 4-6 hours. (I do this step when right when I wake up, and then roast is ready when I get home from church).

When ready to prepare and eat, remove roast. It will be falling apart, so do it sections. Use a whisk to loosen the gravy mixture and drippings. If too thick - I add water to desired consistency.  This is by far my favorite gravy - I just eat it by it self!

Important things I've learned with the roast:
-Searing locks in the juices
-Longer time, lower heat = more tender meat
-Moisture is Very important, so make sure there's plenty in the pot
-DON'T lift the lid! It may be tempting because it will smell Delicious! But don't do it!
-It's your roast - personalize it to your own liking. This is my favorite way and ingredients - don't be scared to mix it up and try whatever sounds good.

Bible Lesson #9: Home Is Where the Heart Is... Biscuits & Gravy & Country Folk

As any New Yorker has their staple of a signature bagel, any farm and country person has their staple of biscuits and gravy (B&G). Its simplicity is completely understated, however its savory aroma and homey decadence is right on target. Having spent a chunk of time this weekend discussing the power of food and its associations and along with the power of childhood memories, this dish is one that inexplicably falls into that category. The warmth and memory which I associate with B&G comes from my grandmother. While slowly her health is deteriorating and she isn't quite the same Grandma which we all grew up with, many memories I have associated with her involve food, with B&G being in the top 5 of that list. (Remind me to get her recipe soon!) I find that whenever I am feeling particularly domestic or homey, with that tinge of home and family sickness, B&G is one sure fire remedy to fill that slight missing void.
My Role Models - Grandma Lois (On the left, in black)
and her sisters

I have not had the opportunity of working with Grandma Lois yet on perfecting some of my cooking and recipe skills that women of their generations inherently seem to posses. However, I have done experimenting of my own to find a recipe for B&Gs that I feel confidently enough competing with those monumental women. So please test my theory and decided for yourself...

Jess' Biscuits & Gravy:
1 lb ground pork sausage
1 Tbsp Butter PLUS 3 Tbsp (total 4)
3 Tbsp flour
2 1/2 C. milk
S & P to taste


-Brown ground sausage with 1 Tbsp butter.
-Once browned, add 3 remaining Tbsp butter, melt completely
-Once melted, sprinkle in flour and stir until absorbed. Will make a thick meaty mixture.
-Turn heat on burner up to HIGH
-Pour in milk and stir constantly. (High heat helps gravy thicken)
-Continue to stir on high heat until gravy becomes thick and bubbly. Remove from heat. Add Salt & Pepper to taste.
-Serve on delicious biscuits!

This is round 2, just some seconds... no big deal.

-I have yet to find a solid biscuits recipe that I like, so to save on time I use store bought pop canister biscuits, still yummy and buttery.

Healthier Alterations:
-Use Turkey sausage
-Use whole wheat flour
-Use skim milk

*If your gravy fails to thicken, mix a “paste” of 2 Tablespoons flour with 3 Tablespoons of water.  Stir the mixture into your gravy, little bits at a time until the gravy thickens to desired consistency.  Do NOT sprinkle flour directly into the gravy.  That’s how lumpy gravy is made.  :)

And the Award Goes To... Food!

With awards season in full swing, I have been reflecting on what things in my life deserve honorary mention. On the top of that list, my golden envelope declares - food. After having spent this last weekend in an all day workshop with Chicago Tribune writer Kevin Pang (@kevinthepang) discussing food for 8 hours, I haven't stopped drooling and spent the weekend in a constant state of hunger. Thank you for being a Pang in my ass. We also discussed the power that food has in each of our own lives and its ability to connect us to each other.

Why, you ask? Does food hold us captive to its powering enticings and lures? The sensual flavors exploding in your mouth, intoxicating aromas taking you hostage, archaic urges of manhandling your prey and biting into it, the combustible pop of sound coming off a sizzling platter and the pull of visual enticement steaming off the plate into your stomach. I admit it. I'm having a glorious love affair with food.

It's ability to bring a group of people together from all backgrounds, stories, and experiences is one of my favorite characteristics of food. In a world where we are living in a contant state of speed and change, food is one element of our lives where we can take our time, enjoy, and bring up back to a sense of stability, reassurance, and grounding. In food is where I find my own grounding, my sense of self and one of the very few constants in my life. So thank you for being there, for showing me how to love and appreciate life. Bon Apetite!