I saw a hummingbird this morning. The hummingbirds are back which of course made me think of Bird Bars. Let me explain. A few years ago, I tasted a KIND Almond & Apricot bar and was transported. It was everything I wanted in a snack: lightly sweet, chewy fruit and nutty crunch. It tasted exactly like the almonds, apricots, honey and coconut in its grand total of only 8 ingredients. My first thought was, “I can make this”! And I was off on my next recipe quest.
Maybe it’s the heat. The temperature has been in the mid to high 90’s here in the South Jersey ‘burbs with that haze that makes me rub my eyes thinking there’s a film over them. There’s not. There’s a heat film over everything I’m looking at. I’m not complaining since it is summer and that means our garden groweth. I have two large barrel containers with herbs that are now big and green and bushy. They require no effort but water which is a major bonus and a few times a week they get a nice trimming. I find myself headed to my kitchen with a big basketful for pesto a.k.a., Lawnmower Sauce. There’s quite a homey sense of satisfaction I get plucking handfuls of green, throwing it into the food processor with a few other ingredients and ta da! By the way, I can also get that same satisfaction from store bought herbs when growing season has come and gone.
This is what happened on my way to writing about a recipe: Max. Max happened. Max is our year-and-a-half old lab/husky puppy. Did I mention that he’s 100 pounds? 100 pounds of pure exuberance, joy and happiness. He’s so happy he can hurt you, but in this case, he hurt (or rather, ate) a pound of butter.
It was my fault. I left the butter out to soften for baking and Max…well, the rest is the usual foregone conclusion. The good news is , he loved it. The bad (if there really is bad news just depends on how you look at it): he LOVED one whole pound of the most-perfectly-softened-for-baking unsalted butter. You know when it’s so perfectly softened you can see a slight indentation in the top of the stick, the wrapper shimmer, and there’s that whiff of butter fat in the air? You know what I’m talking about. There wasn’t a wrapper, blob or even smear left. But oh the look on his face: pure exuberance, joy and happiness.
Once I recovered with another pound of butter, I set about making this cake. Let me tell something about this particular coffee cake: it rocks. The cake is made from a box cake mix and the crumb topping proudly boasts a pound (yes, pound) of butter in its list of ingredients. This is a definite go-to recipe if you need to whip something up for work, house guests or if you’re just plain old in the mood for a scrumptious, unbelievably easy to make coffee cake. My family loves it and recently it was my stepson’s birthday cake. This would definitely make it to the Paula Deen butter lover’s hall-of-fame. I love making cakes from scratch, but with this recipe there’s really no need. It falls under the heading, “Why Fix It If It Ain’t Broken”.
Cheater Coffee Cake
The cheating part is our secret!
Can serve about 8 depending upon how much the baker (or dog) eats first!
- 1 box Betty Crocker Butter Recipe Yellow cake mix (any yellow box cake mix will do, but there is yet another stick of butter (!) needed for this brand)
- 4 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 tsps. cinnamon
- 1 heaping Tbsp. vanilla
- 1 lb (4 sticks) melted butter (yes, 1 POUND)
- confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the (bottom only if glass, bottom and sides of all other pans) of a 13″x9″ pan. Follow the instructions on the cake mix box and mix as directed. Bake slightly under the time recommended on the box – until it is slightly firm, 20-25 minutes. The cake will go back in the oven when the topping is added (after the next step) for another 15-20 minutes.
While the cake is baking:
Combine the topping ingredients in a large bowl and mix by hand.
Remove the cake from the oven. Scoop large chunks of topping mix, by hand, and crumble over the top of the cake. This is the fun part and you get to eat chunks of it and lick your fingers – yum. Cover the entire surface of the cake – there’s plenty to cover and then start to pile on top. Put the cake back in the oven for another 15 – 20 minutes to slightly brown the topping. Cool and dust with confectioner’s sugar.
Credit: Recipe courtesy of a former co-worker’s daughter who has no idea where she got it.
I knew the very first thing I wanted to make when I had my own kitchen (20 odd years ago) was tomato sauce. But, which one? No big deal, right? Wrong. Everyone I grew up with who cooked made a tomato sauce and every single one of them was different.
Differences like using meat or not, spices, types of tomatoes, length of cooking time and well, you get the picture. They were all good, but the one I kept craving was a type of bolognese. A rich, velvety sauce with a great depth of flavor. The kind of sauce I could be happy scooping from the pot with torn pieces of crusty bread. Aaaaahhh, pure heaven. I knew somewhere in my vast archives and piles, b.p.c. (b.p.c.: before personal computers), I had somebody’s grandmother’s recipe for that tomato sauce.
I’ve scaled the recipe down from the original that made over 4 gallons. Yes, the first time I made it, in my tiny kitchen apartment, I followed the recipe to the letter. I somehow knew enough to use a huge stockpot and it was filled right to the brim. I was not at all prepared to deal with the amount the recipe produced and proceeded to keep only what I could deal with (basically what I could scoop from the pot with crusty bread) and give the rest away. But oh that sauce, that heaven.
Which brings me to Scott Conant, one of the high-profile chef-judges of Food Network’s “Chopped”, referred to as the “Mediterranean Maestro” and “Gastronomic Guru” by the show’s dazzled host Ted Allen . Scott, are you listening? I guarantee if you were tearing pieces of crusty bread and scooping out this sauce from the pot, you would close your eyes and smile. Well, at any rate, I do every single time.
Somebody’s Grandmother’s Bolognese Sauce
Make sure you have empty containers and a loaf of crusty bread ready!
Makes 1 1/2 gallons
- 1/4 Cup olive oil
- 1 lb. ground beef
- Salt & Pepper (small palmful each to season the beef)
- 3 heaping Tbsp. dried parsley
- 1 whole clove
- 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp. dried italian seasoning (traditionally a blend of basil, marjoram, oregano and sage. If using this, the sauce can definitely handle the additional hit of basil, but don’t rush out to buy it if you already own these individually. I would add 1/2 tsp of each.)
- 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
- 1 1/2 heaping Tbsp. dried basil
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 9 oz can tomato paste
- 4 29 oz. cans tomato sauce (I prefer Tuttorosso, but any brand will do)
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat and add the meat, onion and garlic. I usually add the onions and garlic after the meat to prevent them from burning and give them a chance to release their flavors in the meat. Add the salt and pepper, mix together and cook for a few minutes to sweat the onions and garlic. Add all the spices (up to the white wine) and mix. Once the meat starts to cook through and lose its “pink”, turn the heat up to high and add the wine. Stir while it’s simmering briskly to cook off the alchohol and incorporate the flavors with the meat (about 5 minutes max). Add the tomato paste and one can of water. Don’t rinse the can first – you can get whatever paste is left with the water. Mix together and add the cans of tomato sauce. Stir and let simmer slowly for at least an hour. Add the brown sugar at any time after the sauce begins to simmer.
Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with your favorite pasta, torn pieces of wonderfully crusty bread (of course) and a liberal sprinkling of parmigiano reggiano (or other grating cheese: parmesan, locatelli, etc.). This recipe freezes well and is very much appreciated when given to deserving friends/relatives.
Note: This very fun and flexible recipe produces a large (1 1/2 gallons) quantity of sauce and can definitely handle an increase of any or all of the ingredients.
It all started with my genes. I come from a tradition and heritage of food and cooking. The women I grew up with: my mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins and their friends, were great cooks and bakers. They were not foodies or formally trained chefs. They did not have state-of-the-art kitchens. Their skills were formed from generations of cooking out of necessity and tradition.
Their kitchens were the centers of my family’s collective universe and where we always gathered. I watched and listened, talked and laughed amidst the bustle and aromas while they used their best tools (their hands) to create. In many cases, they weren’t following recipes.
Everyone shared recipes. So this is where I arrive at the name of my blog. I decided to call it “Pirate” Kitchen because what I cook is not original. Everything is stolen (“borrowed”) and I’m ok with that. I have notebooks with recipes handwritten by my mother and grandmother. I have cookbooks, articles, recipe indexes, and on and on and on to (what seems like) infinity all taken for my own use. Hang on to your recipes – I will steal them! This is also where I’ve grown to love the internet. You can find a recipe for anything. Yes, anything.
So, Pirate (verb): to use or reproduce without authorization. To take or entice away for one’s own use. There it is. Welcome to Pirate Kitchen.