Monthly Archives: June 2009

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES…EVERY TIME!

MAKING REALLY GREAT COOKIES…EVERY TIME

My new issue of a magazine came in today’s mail & the cover advertised hints for making great cookies – but the teaser turned out to be just a very small block on a page with only a few suggestions for making really great cookies, every time.

I thought to myself “huh! I can come up with a lot more ideas than this!” – and so here I am.

First of all – I’ll make this

Tip #1 – buy yourself some good cookie sheets. Blackened cookie sheets, even if you cover them with aluminum foil, will not bake as well as nice shiny new cookie sheets. Girlfriends, cookie sheets don’t need to be expensive (I’ve priced them–they CAN be expensive but they don’t need to be. And if you don’t spend a lot on them, you can afford to replace them every few years). And while you are at it, buy some cooling racks. Not expensive! And if you buy parchment paper to line your cookie sheets – and don’t use them for anything else – they will stay nice. You want to invest in about 6 cookie sheets (to be able to have 2 in the oven at one time, one set cooling, one set being covered with cookie dough while the first batch is in the oven).

So tip #2 is, don’t ever put cookie dough on hot (or even warm) cookie sheets. Let them cool down completely. If you are in a big hurry and only have two cookie sheets – run cold water over the ones you want to cool down fast. And I have made a curious discovery–Some cookie dough (like chocolate chip and oatmeal raisins) works BEST at room temperature. Lots of times I like making up cookie dough in the evening & then refrigerating it to start baking the next day. Sometimes you need to let it come back up to room temperature. And now – with just two of us in the house, I often make up the dough and bake them maybe a dozen at a time. Most cookie dough will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Label it something like “turnip puree” so the kids don’t get into it and eat raw cookie dough.

Tip #3 is – buy a TIMER and USE it for every single batch. I have been notorious for burning the last batch of cookies over the years – because I would get distracted, start cleaning up the kitchen, answer the telephone & whoops, when I could smell them I knew they would be burnt. Now I use a timer. Actually I have three timers. I need one of those I could wear around my neck.

Tip #4 Most cookies can be removed from the oven before they are really brown. Most sugar cookies only need to be a little brown around the edges. I once asked a friend at work why her chocolate chip cookies were so soft and chewy, just perfect – she said she always took them out of the oven in less time than recommended by the cookie recipe. So I began doing that too. You can let them cool a bit on the cookie sheets–they’ll still be just right–and they’ll be easier to remove from the cookie sheets if you let them stand for a minute or two. Meantime you can be putting the next batch into the oven and setting the timer.

Tip #5 – this is my most important tip, in my opinion. When the cookies are half way through baking – if you are using two racks – switch the cookie sheets, top to bottom, bottom to top – AND turn them around the other way. If your oven (like mine) is a little off this will make the cookies all bake evenly at the same time. Wear long mitts so you don’t burn your arms (I burn myself a lot. Ok. I need new mitts). And while I am thinking of it – get yourself a couple of those handy-dandy cookie scoops. This way you can be sure to have all the cookies exactly the same size so they will bake evenly.

Tip #6 If you are making roll out sugar cookies – you want to keep the dough chilled. Take out of the frig only what you need to roll out some of the dough, keep the rest in the frig in a plastic bag. If the dough gets too soft/warm – put it back into the refrigerator to chill some more. (or stick it into the freezer to cool down faster).

Tip #7 – also about rolled out cookies – it will be so much easier to roll out the dough and handle it – if you sprinkle wax paper with flour and then roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper. Less messy, too. Roll out the dough and remove the top sheet of wax paper, then cut out as many cookies as you can (cut them close together–have you ever seen those magazine illustrations showing cut out cookies being made with one or two cut out way apart from one another? What are they thinking?) – you want to handle the dough as little as possible, so cut OUT as many as you can each time you roll out the dough — tossing the bits of dough back into the bowl to mash back together and re-roll (re-chilling if necessary). If I am baking something like all hearts (Valentine’s Day) – I will cut out as many heart-shaped cookies with one size cutter, and then use a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter on some of the remaining dough-space…but use different cookie sheets for the different sized hearts.

Tip #8 BUTTER. If you are going to all the work of making butter/sugar cookies – girlfriends, don’t waste your time with margarine. Buy butter when it’s on sale and keep it in the freezer. You can keep it for a year in the freezer (OK, I have been known to keep it longer than that but I doubt the butter manufacturers recommend it). And you should also consider buying unsalted butter when you find it on sale. Most cookie recipes have salt as an ingredient anyway.

Tip #9 – GOOD UNSWEETENED CHOCOLATE – that’s another item I stock up on when I find it on sale. I keep it in a tight fitting plastic container (like Tupperware). And when making chocolate chip cookies – well, I guess there could be a debate over which chocolate chips are the best but for my money, nothing beats Nestle’s semi sweet morsels. I watch for it to be on sale and then USE COUPONS.

Tip #10 – OTHER INGREDIENTS – if you are going to all the work of making homemade cookies, with all the little rug rats underfoot trying to help and people invading your kitchen eating them up as fast as you can bake them – invest in good ingredients. If you buy walnuts or pecans, store them in the freezer in plastic bags. They will last for months (ok, possibly years) in the freezer. They won’t get rancid. Buy large or extra large eggs just to use for baking. Keep flour in a tight fitting plastic container – and oh yes, if you don’t know about BAY LEAVES – let me be the first to tell you.
You can put some BAY LEAVES in any kind of flour or cornmeal or Bisquick or Pancake mix – and you will NOT get any pantry bugs. Put the flour or cornmeal into plastic containers as soon as you bring it home from the supermarket and then stick a couple of bay leaves in with it. (Remember to remove the bay leaves when you scoop out cups of flour-ok, I have found bay leaves in my cookie dough a few times). It always amazes me the number of times I have seen inquiries in magazines – what to do about pantry bugs – and no one tells them BAY LEAVES. I learned this trick from my mother years ago. It works. Bay leaves are cheap (or do as my brother Jim does and grow your own). I have taught my bay leaf trick to two of my daughters in law who have expressed surprise that it WORKS. Also under other ingredients – buy real vanilla extract. It’s worth it.

Ok, those are my ten tips. Maybe I will think of others when it cools down enough to get back to baking.

Happy Cooking!

WHEN RADIO WAS KING-PART 1

Have you ever heard of The Neighbor Lady? How about Aunt Susan? Or Aunt Sammy? No? Well, how about Betty Davis at KOIN Kitchen? Or Jackie Olden at KNX? Perhaps, if you hail from the Denver area, you may remember the Pat Gay show on KLZ radio…or if you are really an old-timer, you may recall Frances Lee Barton and her “Cooking School of the Air”.

If none of these names ring a bell, maybe you have seen cookbooks by Ida Bailey Allen, or Kate Brew Vaughn, both radio recipe ladies who went on to publish a number of cookbooks, or perhaps the Mystery Chef or Mike Roy, two men who infiltrated this mainly female domain. These ladies (and sometimes gentlemen!) along with many others like them, were pioneers of another sort. They hosted radio recipe programs when radio was in its prime. Perhaps radio recipe programs is not the right term. It’s too limiting. They were friends, like neighbors, who came into your home and shared every day things with you, like recipes, or homemaking, or the trials and tribulations of every day living and making ends meet.

I am, fortunately, old enough to remember the halcyon years of radio. I say fortunately because it WAS a very special time, as anyone who remembers radio in its heyday can attest. It was nothing like the hours and hours of repetitious popular music you hear on every radio station today. Back then, radio began in the morning hours with various
breakfast clubs, such as Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club. The breakfast club on ABC and Arthur Godfrey on CBS were the two very popular programs on radio.

According to authors Sam J. Slate and Joe Cook in their book “IT SOUNDS MPOSSIBLE”, CBS scheduled daytime serials beginning at noon and running for three hours. The magic of these fifteen minute serials is that all the magic took place in your mind, in your imagination, as you ironed the clothes or waxed the kitchen floor. You could imagine the characters to look however you pleased, and you could think of them as friends coming daily to visit. The lineup went something like this: “Wendy Warren”, “Aunt Jenny”, “Helen Trent”, “Our Gal Sunday”, “Big Sister”, “Ma Perkins”,
“Young Doctor Malone”, “The Guiding Light”, “The Second Mrs. Burton”, “Perry Mason”, “This is Nora Drake”, “The Brighter Day”, “Nona from Nowhere”, “Hilltop House” and “House Party”.

Then, at 3 pm, NBC moved into first place with “Life can be Beautiful”, “Road to Life”, “Pepper Young’s Family”, “Right to Happiness”, “Backstage wife”, “Stella Dallas”, “Lorenzo Jones”, “Young Widder Brown”, “When a Girl Marries” “Portia
Faces Life”, “Just Plain Bill” and “Front-Page Farrell”. The soap opera, according to “IT SOUNDS IMPOSSIBLE”, was probably born in Chicago, which at one time was considered the heart and soul of network radio. From the Merchandise Mart and the Wrigley Building came a horde of new titles and tribulations, “Ma Perkins”, “Bachelor’s Children”, “Portia Faces life”, “The Guilding Light” and dozens more. By 1938 there were 78 such programs on the air, each with their own following.

Along with soaps, serials, comedy, western and detective programs, there were the occasional recipe shows, or something like a homemaker’s club. In Cincinnati, where I grew up, we had Ruth Lyon’s “Fifty Fifty Club” which began in radio on WLW and made a successful transistion to television. According to “THIS WAS RADIO”, in the mid-thirties, WLW Cincinnati was the most powerful radio station in the United States. It was owned and operated by Powell Crosley, President of the Crosley Radio Corporation and owner of the Cincinnati Reds (back then, we also had Crosley Field, where the Cincinnati Reds played when they were in town). WLW’s 500,000 watts nearly blanketed the country. Supposedly, the government allowed WLW that much power as an experiment. In any event, WLW became known as the “Cradle of the Stars”
and many big name stars spent fledgling years there…stars such as Doris Day and Andy Williams, Rod Serling and Rosemary Clooney.

But, getting back to radio programming. In the evening hours, there were dozens more radio shows-“Fibber McGee & Molly”, “Jack Benny” and “Burns and Allen”. There were shows like the Bickersons, Abbott & Costello, Bergan & McCarthy (to those of
you too young to remember, Edgar Bergan was CANDACE Bergan’s father, and a very popular ventriloquist. One of Edgar’s dummy’s was Charlie McCarthy). We had “The Green Hornet”, “The Lone Ranger”, “NBC’s University Theatre”, and “Lights
Out”. There was “Inner Sanctum Mystery” and “the Adventures of the Thin Man”, “Gangbusters”, and “Mr. District Attorney”. There was “Amos and Andy”, so popular that President Calvin Coolidge did not like to be interrupted when this favorite program was on. There were oh, so many! I was especially fond of Mr. & Mrs. North and, My Friend Irma., One of my favorites was “Baby Snooks”, played by actress Fanny Brice. I remember how we children all sat around the kitchen table, doing our homework, while listening to our favorite radio shows.

But for now, what I would like to do is walk with you down memory lane, saluting the radio recipe programs. As near as I can determine, Aunt Sammy may have been the true pioneer of the radio recipe program. Writes Martin Greif, in his 1975 “AUNT SAMMY’S RADIO RECIPES; THE GREAT DEPRESSION COOKBOOK” (which is, in part, a reproduction of the original Aunt Sammy cookbook), “Long Before Julia Child there was Aunt Sammy. From 1926 to 1944, for almost nineteen years, for
fifteen minutes a day, five days a week for over five thousand consecutive broadcasts..Aunt Sammy was there..this early star of the airwaves offered advice on what to feed the family for dinner, how to clean house, how to fix a leaky faucet…Sammy was everybody’s favorite aunt…and how did she come to write the best American cookbook of her day, a book unrivaled in popularity until The Joy of Cooking appeared later in the decade? Actually, Aunt Sammy was a fictitious character–the spouse of Uncle Sam–and the creation of the U.S. Government. Continues Mr. Greif, “Radio was still an infant in the spring of 1926, but already the rompers fit snugly and the youngster
had learned to stand up, holding on to the arms of chairs and tables in the homes of almost two million Americans, and began to take a step or two…great strides in both transmitters and receiving sets had been made in the little more than five years of broadcasting..radio was changing from amateurish beginnings, with batteries and boxes and gadgets
installed in a corner of the kitchen…to a thing of beauty that visitors might behold in the family living room.”

The average woman, in 1926, still did all of her own work, confined in her colorless, dreary, un-electrified kitchen. Comments Mr. Greif, “…In a day in which all foods were prepared in the kitchen from scratch and in which the wash was boiled and most clothing still handmade, the average American woman was too busy to reach out for new contacts or to feel the need for them…but then came the housewife’s electronic liberator–radio. On October 26, 1926, an announcement was made on about fifty radio stations across the United States, “This morning”, the announcer said, “we are going to introduce Aunt Sammy…” In the 15 minutes that followed, 50 women, standing before 50 primitive microphones in 50 radio studios across the country, and reading 50 identical scripts prepared by the Department of Agriculture’s Radio Service, were transformed into 50 Aunt Sammies. The American housewife put down her feather duster and listened. Aunt Sammy was a huge success, so much so that it soon became apparent that her recipes would have to be published in some kind of book form. For one thing, the program was receiving thousands of requests each week for printed recipes–more than 25,000 in the first month Aunt Sammy was on the air. For another, there was also the problem of static and station drift to contend with.

The job of putting together a cookbook was given to Ruth Van Deman, and Fanny Walker Yeatman. The Bureau of Home Economics printed 50,000 copies of the first Aunt Sammy cookbook. Within a month, it was forced to print another 50,000! For
the next four years they were never able to keep up with the demand; the “little green book” was constantly out of stock. It was also the first cookbook in the world to be press printed in Braille.

“With the advent of the Great Depression”, writes Martin Greif “which Aunt Sammy referred to as ‘this frugal period’, she taught the desperate poor to stay alive on grain products and milk, and those merely poor how to save and use every scrap for a nourishing meal, encouraging those who could to return to the soil and to preserve the fruits of the earth”. Aunt Sammy’s popularity was on a downslide in the later half of the 30s, and she officially “died” March 31, 1944….but she left a great legacy, and the stage had been set for followers.

At least throughout 1934, Frances Lee Barton conducted her “Cooking School of the Air”, sponsored by General Foods. It appears that printed recipes became available on a weekly basis; the lady of the house could put these together in a binder. Ida Bailey Allen, author of numerous cookbooks, including the one (and only) cookbook that my mother owned, “The Service Cookbook”, also hostessed a radio program. In one of her cookbooks, published by MacFadden Women’s Group (publishers of magazines such as True Romances, True Experiences, Movie Mirror and Radio Mirror), there is a photograph of Ms. Allen, standing before a microphone. Say the publishers, “Millions of radio listeners and followers of women’s pages in newspapers…have bestowed upon Mrs, Ida Bailey Allen…the affectionate title of “the Homemaker”. They continue, “Nearly two million women who have listened to her coast to coast Broadcasts over the Columbia network in the past two years have written to her…she is president and founder of the National Radio Home-Makers Club…thousands of radio listeners annually visit Mrs. Allen’s modern home atop 400 Madison Avenue, New York City, where they may see the latest developments in homemaking…and watch her staff…testing new recipes”.
(TO BE CONTINUED…..)

Ryan & Laura make “fried” onion rings

Yesterday for Father’s Day, we went to my sister’s for dinner and upon arrival, discovered my nephew, Ryan, and his girlfriend, Laura, making “fried” onion rings. I was impressed so I began shooting photographs of the two of them, with my digital camera. The pictures all turned out nicely, and the onion rings were, in a word, delicious. I asked for the recipe and it turns out, Ryan found it on a website called http://www.cookingforengineers.com.

Ryan reads the recipe

Ryan reads recipe again

Laura reads the recipe, Ryan prepares cracker crumbs

The recipe they tried, which came with illustrations, originated with Cook’s Country Magazine. The author notes that, “Usually, home cooked onion rings are dipped in a batter made with some mixture of milk, buttermilk, cream, sour cream, and mayonnaise then tossed in seasoned bread crumbs. The onion rings are then fried or baked. (Frying onion rings always ends up with the best results, but who wants to mess with all that frying oil unless you’re already planning to fry something more substantial – like a chicken?) Baked rings have a tendency to not be crispy or crunchy and somehow lacking in flavor. Cook’s Country solved this problem by using a rich, seasoned batter of buttermilk, flour, and cayenne with a final coating of saltines and potato chips…”

Ryan & Laura preparing batter

Ryan & Laura preparing batter

Personally, I use saltine crackers in a lot of favorite recipes–most notably in my salmon patties, but I have never heard or read of using kettle-cooked potato chips in a recipe. (This gives me some ideas).

To make the fried onion rings (which are actually baked not fried, but in a small amount of oil), you will need:

Oven-“Fried” Onion Rings (serves 4) Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C)

2 medium (200-250 g total) yellow onions cut into rings
1/4 (30 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large (50 g) egg
1/4 tsp. (0.5 g) cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. (3 g) table salt
1/4 tsp. (0.5 g) ground black pepper
1/4 (30 g) all-purpose flour
30 saltine crackers and 4 handfuls of Kettle potato chips, crushed–to make into crumbs–use a food processor, or for less mess, put the crackers and chips into a zip lock storage bag, seal and crush with a rolling pin. Ryan and Laura put the crackers and chips into a zip lock bag but then whacked it with the handle of a knife until they had fine crumbs. I think my rolling pin is a better way to do this step.

3 TBSP (45 mL) vegetable oil -coat sheet pan

Whisk the buttermilk with 1/4 cup flour, cayenne pepper, egg, salt, and pepper to form the batter. Then line up the onions, remaining flour, batter, and crumbs on the kitchen counter so you can form
an assembly line for dredging, dipping, and coating the onions. Then turn on the oven to preheat to 450°F.

Dipping the onion rings

Dipping the onion rings

Take each onion ring and drop it into the flour to create a dry surface the batter can cling to. Tap off the excess flour and drop the ring into the buttermilk batter. Using a fork, lift the ring out of the batter and allow the excess to drip off; then drop it into the saltine-and-chip crumb mixture. Using your fingers, press the coating onto the ring and then transfer to a plate. Repeat process for each ring.

Pour 3 tablespoons vegetable oil onto a cookie sheet with an edge, like a jelly roll pan, and place on the center rack of a preheated oven; wait eight minutes – just enough time for the oil to produce wisps of smoke. Remove the pan from the oven, tilt it to coat the pan evenly with oil, and then place the onion rings onto the pan making sure none of the rings are touching. Return the pan to the oven and allow the rings to bake for 8 minutes; remove the pan from the oven and flip all the rings over. Bake another 8 minutes in the oven and the onion rings will be done. Serve hot!

Onion rings, ready to eat

Onion rings, ready to eat

Fried onion rings on a plate

Fried onion rings on a plate

On a final note, the potatoes the kids made were also delicious but I don’t have that recipe yet. I’m proud of both of them; they worked together and did a fine job.

Susie laughs

Susie laughs

My sister Susie thought so too!

Happy Cooking!

Celebrity Cookbooks

Celebrity Cookbooks

Celebrity Cookbooks

When radio was king… there were cooking programs

When radio was king... there were cooking programs

When radio was king... there were cooking programs

Celebrity cookbooks

Celebrity cookbooks

Celebrity cookbooks

Old Time Radio Program Cookbooks

old time radio program cookbooks

old time radio program cookbooks