Sunday, August 30, 2009

Foods of Durham Past: Peek-a-Boo Eggs

Like a lot of dads, mine had certain things he made all the time, and he made them really well. When Dad was in the kitchen, he made English Toffee (not often enough), lime lemon ice cream, custard, Swedish pancakes, oatmeal (although I really think mine is better -- sorry Dad) and, of course, "peek-a-boo" eggs.

A lot of parents try to make food fun for their kids by making it into animal shapes or putting faces on it. I guess this dish brings the classic game of peek-a-boo to the breakfast table.

I was just thinking, I have this memory of being at my great-grandma's house in Payson when I was seven or eight years old. We were eating breakfast and I watched her dip toast in her eggs and thought that was the strangest thing in the world. I guess it only made sense to me if the egg was fried directly into the center of the toast.

Anyway, I loved it when Dad made these. Asking Dad to make something for you was often not worth the trouble because the favor usually came with a list of conditions that involved making sure the kitchen was spotless, the garbage was taken out and any other earmarked items he could throw in.

BUT, if I was lucky, I would be up in my bed in the morning, still waking up and I would hear my dad come out of the kitchen and yell, "Laur? Do you want a peek-a-boo egg?" And I did.

Try it. They're fun.

Would I eat it again? Sure.
Would I make it again? Yes.
Would I feed it to friends? Only special ones.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Foods of Durham Past: Frozen Lemon Dessert

Desserts might be my favorite thing to make. Many of my dessert recipes are from my mom's cookbooks. I'm not sure where she got this one and I don't even remember the first time she made it, but it is light, lemony and oh so refreshing. Even though its name is super boring.

When I was little, I would slice myself a square and then go back in the freezer with a knife and slice myself some more. And then some more. It's one of those desserts where you could eat the whole pan before realizing what you've done.

It wasn't until recent years that I realized it's basically homemade lemon ice cream sandwiched between graham crackers. The recipe calls for a double boiler to heat the eggs, sugar and lemon juice, but we never had one so Mom always improvised with two pots. I don't have a double boiler either so I also use two pots. After the heated mixture thickens (and then cools), you whip a pint of heavy cream and then fold it into the lemon/sugar/egg mixture.

I've changed the way Mom used to make it a little bit. Instead of lining the pan with graham crackers, I crush them, add some butter and make more of a crust. The recipe also tells you to put it in a 9 x 13 cake pan, but I put it in a smaller one so the squares come out taller (or double the recipe). It doesn't change the taste, but now I can cut the same size piece (area wise) and have more dessert without having to put a giant square on my plate.

Last Sunday I made this recipe for my dinner guests and barely a graham cracker crumb remained on their plates. I don't think I've made this for anyone who hasn't loved it. Except for one friend of mine who doesn't like lemon. Can't really help that.

Would I eat it again? Oh yes.
Would I make it again? Oh I will.
Would I feed it to friends? If they ask nicely.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Foods of Durham Past: Scones

When I told my mom I was writing a series about some of the food she made when I was little, she said, “Are you going to talk about my formula?”

Formula? I didn’t know she had a formula. She explained how she served the same kind of food on every given day of the week. I don’t know how I never noticed this. I’m a bright person; I find patterns and themes in everything – apparently not when it comes to dinner though. Here is the formula she followed:

Monday: soup
Tuesday: chicken
Wednesday: ground beef something or other
Thursday: breakfast
Friday: foreign food
Saturday: sandwiches or pizza
Sunday: “Sunday dinner”

I love how vague “Sunday dinner” is. I think what she meant was we would have a ham or a roast or something like that. I called my sister shortly after talking to my mom and said, “Did you know that Mom had a formula for our dinners?” to which she replied, “Oh you mean how Wednesday was ground beef night?”

Once I thought about it, I remembered we did have breakfast for dinner a lot. I just never noticed it was always on Thursdays.

I love breakfast for dinner. I almost like it more for dinner than I do for breakfast. Mom would make waffles, pancakes, scrambled eggs, French toast and one of my favorites: scones.

From the picture, you probably noticed these aren’t scones in the British sense (my sister actually refuses to call those scones because she’s devoted to identifying the name “scone” with what she was raised on, and that is the fry bread scone).

I have a clear image in my head of sitting up at the bar watching my mom turn scones in the frying pan as my mouth watered.

I honestly don’t remember if anything accompanied the scones, like fruit or bacon. But back then I didn’t think to balance my fried sugar with fruit, dairy and protein. My idea of balance was spreading honey on one scone and jam on the other.

The scone I photographed has honey butter. I don’t think my mom ever served us honey butter. I confess the only reason I used it is because the guy selling honey butter at Farmer’s Market was cuter than the guy selling the regular honey.

Would I eat them again? I just had two more for breakfast.
Would I make them again? Yes.
Would I feed them to friends? Sure, maybe not for dinner though.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Foods of Durham Past: Pears with Miracle Whip and Cheddar Cheese

I’ve read how parents are supposed to introduce new foods to their children when they’re young and how it usually takes 6 or 7 attempts before the kid will actually try it.

I remember the very moment I tried tomatoes and lettuce on my tacos. When I helped Mom set the table I put out tomatoes and lettuce assuming it was for grown ups because the kids just had ground beef and cheese on their tacos (of course I was following my older brother's lead, Carter, who didn't willingly eat a fruit or vegetable until after high school). But one day, I tried the tomatoes and lettuce and really liked it.

This side dish wasn't any different. Except for when I did try it, I didn't like it. Every time these showed up at the table I thought, “Is this what grown-ups eat?"

Even though it didn’t taste good I felt very proud and grown up. Little did I know, just because something looks weird and doesn’t make sense doesn’t necessarily mean it's for grown ups. Some things are just weird.

I remember helping Mom by dalloping Miracle Whip on those pear halves (that's right folks, it's not cottage cheese) and sprinkling grated cheddar over the top. I took pride in how well I made them look, but the pear on my plate remained un-Miracle Whipped and un-cheddared.

I understand the cheese. Fruit and cheese traditionally go together, but this dish, whatever it derives from, is definitely the poor man's version. We’re talking canned pears and mild cheddar cheese – not exactly something out of Gourmet Magazine is it? And, much like with English muffin pizzas, the Miracle Whip/Mayo makes an arbitrary appearance at the dinner table once again.

Would I eat them again? I couldn’t get myself to eat the one I photographed.
Would I make them again? No.
Would I feed them to friends? No, and I don’t think Mom would either.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Foods of Durham Past: Frosted Graham Crackers

Did you know some people actually buy pre-made frosting from the store? This is something I didn’t learn until after I left the nest.
I remember going to the store with a friend a long time ago to buy a cake mix. What happened next was very odd and unexpected: she picked up a little tub of frosting to go with it. I must have given her the strangest look. I don’t remember if my first thought was “Stores sell frosting?” or “What do you think you’re doing?”

When I tried the packaged frosting I was grossly disappointed. I’ll admit, some of it isn’t bad. It’s not like I won’t eat it, but once you’ve had homemade frosting, you don’t want to go back (unless your taste buds have no regard for you, natural ingredients or the finer things in life).

My mom made chocolate cake a lot. She usually made it from a box, but the frosting? Oh, you better believe the frosting was made from scratch. Real butter, cocoa powder, powdered sugar…mmmm…I’ve actually taken Mom’s homemade frosting cue and created variations on the recipe in an effort to be more gourmet. I’ll stir in sour cream and sometimes yogurt. I’ll add cinnamon, vanilla bean or lemon zest. My favorite? zesting an orange with a microplane and squeezing a bit of juice to make chocolate orange frosting. SO good.

Anyway, Mom totally spoiled me with the homemade frosting. One thing I remember her doing after she frosted the cake was using the leftovers to make these tasty treats. Maybe your mom made the same thing: Frosted Graham Crackers.

She would frost them and then wrap a stack in foil so they wouldn’t get stale I guess. They’re good right after they’re frosted, but if you let them sit for awhile, the frosting softens the graham crackers making them easier to eat. It’s the simplest idea to utilize leftover frosting – and a happier way to eat graham crackers.

Would I eat them again? I just did.
Would I make them again? Absolutely.
Would I feed them to friends? Already have.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Foods of Durham Past: English Muffin Pizzas

Back in college, my three roommates and I each took a night to cook dinner for the apartment. It was a great way to save money, and eat somewhat healthier than we would if we were picking up dinner on campus. Dinners were usually tasty and none of us were picky eaters -- except on tuna burger night.

One of my roommates introduced tuna burgers to us during our junior year. Apparently it was something her mother made when she was younger. I don't remember much about the tuna burgers, but I do remember tuna fish plopped on burger buns, wrapped in foil and tossed in the oven. I don't recall ever eating one. What I do recall is my roommate Ilene warning me that something called tuna burgers was on the menu. She said she was going to the library to study and if I wanted to join her and maybe pick up something to eat elsewhere, I was welcome. I think tuna burgers revisited our dinner menu at least once more before the end of the school year.

This got me to thinking of all the strange things our parents might have made when we were younger that we were conditioned to like, either because they actually tasted good, or they were just...familiar. And what might seem conventional to us, isn't necessarily welcomed by others.

I have moments in my memory of dinner time growing up. I usually helped with dinner. I had particular dinner prep tasks, even when I was very little: setting the table, filling cups with ice, grating cheese, washing lettuce, etc. I remember we each had our own designated place at the table. Dad always had a glass of milk at his plate while we had water or maybe some other drink.

This 200th blog post of mine will mark the beginning of a series called "Foods of Durham Past." I got this idea as I sat in a restaurant in Durham, England with my parents. We talked about the dinners Mom used to make and what we liked most. Until I run out of ideas, I will be making all these dishes, photographing them, eating them, and reevaluating them with my revised, grown-up taste.

Our first dish: English Muffin Pizzas (pictured)

If I was bold enough to make these for my college roommates, they would probably place in the tuna burger category. The word "pizza" is used in the loosest sense of the word. In fact, it's pretty much a perversion of the word. The "toppings" are stirred together in a bowl and then spread on an English muffin. I absolutely LOVED these.

The most bizarre thing about this recipe is that along with the cheddar cheese, chopped olives, dried, minced onion and chili powder is the inexplicable need to hold it all together with mayonnaise. I was thinking about this as I recreated it. It would make much more sense sans mayo. I'm not sure if my mom put garlic powder in there, but I did because I found the garlic powder in the cupboard before the chili powder and it sounded like a good idea.

I haven't eaten these for over a decade, but they tasted pretty much as I remembered them. I'm sure nostalgia plays a big role in my rating, but they weren't gross and like a good girl, I ate all my dinner.

Would I eat them again? Probably.
Will I make them again? Probably not.
Would I feed them to friends? NO.