Basic Buttercream Icing

Basic Buttercream Icing, after nearly 20 years of experimentation, is the frosting recipe that I am finally going to commit to as my favorite. Some recipes call for powdered meringue, which can be difficult to find. Others call for cooking to specific temperatures, which to my way of thinking just increases the number of places where I might potentially screw something up. Still others are easy but make a frosting that is either too dense or too light to be considered decadent. This recipe has none of these shortcomings. It calls for basic ingredients that I can get at my regular grocery and which I keep on hand anyway. It’s nicely fluffy but still rich. The basic recipe makes vanilla frosting, but we easily made it chocolate by adding 2/3 C melted and slightly cooled chocolate chips at the end. Melted chocolate works better than cocoa powder because the powder can make frosting oddly gritty. Try your chocolate frosting on Crazy Cake. Chocolate or vanilla, making your own frosting is tastier, cheaper and more flexible (you can make the amount you actually need) than using pre-made, and you get to lick the beater when you’re through.

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Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions

Oven Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Onions is truthfully only my second-favorite way to eat sweet potatoes. My very favorite way is a whole sweet potato, rubbed in olive oil, kosher salt and black pepper and then roasted whole. The skin is so thin that you don’t even have to poke holes in it so steam can escape — eventually the skin will start breaking on its own, but it retains more of its steam this way and results in an unctuous dish that I then slather in butter and more salt and pepper. That’s dinner! The caveat to my favorite way is that it takes 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the potato. I don’t always have a full hour to wait for dinner. This recipe is much faster, especially if you cut the sweet potato smaller than the 2-inch pieces that the recipe calls for.

In addition, we have a small oven, and can’t easily fit multiple dishes in the oven at once. Cut smaller than the 2-inch pieces, this recipe will cook up in the amount of time that you are waiting for a roasted chicken or some other large long-roasting item to rest and be ready for slicing.

I adore sweet potatoes, both the lighter-colored ones and the darker red ones that, here anyway, are often labeled as “red garnett yams.” I never had real sweet potatoes growing up; you see, my mother doesn’t like sweet potatoes at all. As a result, the only sweet potato I had ever met was the sweet potato casserole my grandmother made at Thanksgiving — yes, that one: whole marshmallows, corn flakes and canned sweet potato. I even liked that. Nothing, however, can hold a candle to a real sweet potato.

I enjoy this dish leftover for lunch the next day, with a bag of corn chips to provide some texture. Yum!

Stovetop Popped Popcorn

I can clearly remember the years before we got our first air-pop popcorn machine. Mom would heat oil in a pot, add the kernels, and then as it popped she would shake the hell out of it over the burner. Sometimes it burned. To this day, I’m not sure why. Over the years, I have managed to perfect my system for stovetop popped popcorn, and I rarely if ever burn it. My best guess is that Mom wasn’t using enough oil. My discovery is that if you use enough oil, then you don’t need butter at all.

Unfortunately, my stovetop popped popcorn recipe isn’t really a recipe. I think maybe that’s ok. Amounts are going to depend on the size of your pot. In my experience, you want a pot that has higher sides, but a smaller bottom area, basically, taller than it is wide. This is because if you have a really wide-bottomed pot, your popcorn will pop out and over the sides before it is fully done popping. So, a pot that is taller than it is wide is optimum, preferably with a glass lid so you can see what is going on, although this isn’t absolutely necessary.

Once you have found your pan, coat the bottom LIBERALLY with vegetable oil. Give it what you think it needs, and then give it an extra glug. Yes, this amounts to an extra hundred calories or so, but it will taste so good that you don’t need butter. Put 3 kernels in the pot with the oil, lid on, and turn heat up to HIGH. Wait until the kernels start to sizzle, and then coat the bottom of the pot with kernels. Put the lid back on. Turn the heat down a few notches; you want the kernels to fry a bit. Give the pot a few shakes. Once it starts to pop, crank the heat back to high, tilt the lid slightly to let out some steam and then shake the pot back and forth over the burner, keeping the kernels moving on the bottom. When the popping slows down, 1 or 2 seconds between pops, turn the heat off, turn popcorn out into a large bowl, and sprinkle liberally with salt, stirring as you go.

In my experience, not all popcorns are created equal. My favorite is Amish Country Popcorn, medium white hulless, but Ovrille Redenbacher’s is a close second, and perhaps more widely available.

I recently used this method, using the Amish Country Popcorn, for a close friend and she came just shy of saying it was the best popcorn she had ever had.

Garlic Roasted Broccoli

Garlic Roasted Broccoli is proof positive of what I have come to believe about vegetables: roasted is always the best way to go. We’ve never done the lemon wedges nor the parmesan cheese that it calls for and frankly, it doesn’t need it. The broccoli turns out sort of crisp-tender, and the roasting process intensifies its flavor, rather than watering it down like some cooking methods. It makes a tasty, healthy side dish to go with a wide variety of proteins. Even better, it’s simple to prepare and a quick fix from start to finish. Often, we stage the broccoli while our protein is cooking, and then the broccoli roasts in the oven while the protein rests on the counter, nestled under a sheet of aluminum foil.

Baked Brie

Baked Brie is usually either baked covered in puff pastry dough, or baked naked and drizzled with honey. We cover ours in pie dough. It’s simple to do, we can make it ourselves, and if we’ve had the foresight to pick up a small wheel of brie (which we often do) this becomes party of a pantry meal. My 12-year-old insists that when she goes away to college, sometimes she can see this being her dinner (maybe with some fruit, hopefully). We like to do this occasionally as a part of our weekly Snack Plate tradition.

Baked Brie

Ingredients

1 4 – 6oz wheel of brie cheese
1/2 recipe of Wesson Oil Pie Crust

Directions

Make the Wesson Oil Pie Crust as directed. Roll out the resulting ball of dough between two sheets of wax paper. Keep rolling until the dough is as thin as you can get it.

With a sharp knife, cut off most of the rind from the cheese. Brie rind is edible, so you can skip this step, but leaving the rind on will prevent the cheese from getting as gooey as you might want it.

Remove the top layer of wax paper covering the dough. Place the entire wheel of cheese on one end of the dough. Using the wax paper to support the delicate dough, flip the other end of the dough over on top of the cheese. Gently press down from the top where the dough meets the cheese. Cut off the extra dough with a sharp knife. Using a fork, crimp the edges of the dough together to create a seal.

Bake in an oven-safe ramekin or on an oven-safe plate at 400 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes. Serve with crackers and fruit either as an appetizer, or as a part of Snack Plate.

Garlic Prawns in Hot Sauce

Garlic Prawns in Hot Sauce is a recipe that comes from a cookbook that I no longer have. I love this recipe, and yet, I didn’t want to make any of the other recipes in the book. When this happens, I make a copy of the recipe(s) that I want to keep, and give away the cookbook to make more room on my bookshelf. My copy of the book called for 2 pounds of shrimp, 1/3 cup of bamboo shoots, and the cornflour was listed as cornstarch, but everything else is the same. If I don’t have any fresh basil already growing in my garden, then I just leave it out; this recipe doesn’t really need it. We do love, however, to add asparagus: one bunch cut into 2 inch pieces and stir fried w/ the rest of the veggies is a fabulous addition.

Chocolate Pudding

Chocolate Pudding is one of those recipes that make me wonder at the existence of mixes. The ingredients are everything I have on hand anyway, and it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes from start to finish. I usually make this dairy-free, using vanilla almond milk, but you could totally just use regular milk if that’s what you prefer. It does call for a bit of margarine or butter, but if you are eating dairy-free, chances are you have some dairy-free margarine already on hand. The pudding just needs an extra bit of fat to make it creamy. For vanilla pudding, just leave out the cocoa and add an extra teaspoon of vanilla.

Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients

1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1/2 C cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C cocoa powder
4 C milk (vanilla almond milk works well)
4 Tbs margarine or butter
2 tsp vanilla

Directions

Combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt and cocoa powder in a medium-sized saucepan. Whisking constantly, drizzle in the milk as one continuous stream. Place over medium heat and continue whisking. After the mixture comes to a boil, cook it until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in the margarine and vanilla.

Chill before serving. Makes 8 servings.