Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Onward and Upward

I've moved the blog.  Yes, already!

I thought Blogspot was going to be super easy to use, which in some ways it is... but there are simple things I wanted to do that just weren't all that simple here.

Plus, I wanted an easier web address.  This one is a mouthful. 

So now WFI lives at www.whitefluffyicing.com.  I've added a new post, so stop by the new place and check it out!

Google followers, I don't really know what this means for you.... but I do know that you can add the new address to the subscription section of Google Reader, and you'll be able to stay plugged in to updates that way.

Sorry for all the hassle.  Hope you'll stick with me!

Monday, October 26, 2009

For the Soul AND the Flu

Flu season is upon us. Ick.

Actually, this year we didn’t really get a true off-season, thanks to H1N1. Now there are two flu vaccinations, stores are routinely stocking out of hand sanitizer, and parents are keeping kids home from school at the slightest sniffle.

Time to break out the food world’s most effective weapon against illness: chicken soup.

I can’t make you take your vitamins or wash your hands ten times a day. I’m not going to come to your house and tell you, for the last time, to turn off 'The Biggest Loser' and go to bed, for crying out loud, because sleep boosts your immune system. But if you do get sick, I might just show up at your door with a pot of chicken soup and a loaf of bread.

Several studies have been performed in recent years on chicken soup’s medicinal qualities. Perhaps it’s simply a tasty way to get more fluids. Maybe simmering the chicken releases an enzyme that speeds recovery somehow. Maybe the chicken is just a distraction, and the spices are really doing all the therapeutic work. I predict that the scientific community will eventually succeed in sussing it out, and a couple of years later we’ll see it in pill form at the pharmacy.

And that will be a mistake. Because whatever chemical loveliness is in chicken soup, conspiring to make us better, at least some of its healing power lies in the comfort it provides. The process of eating it just feels good. A scientist would chalk that up to the placebo effect, and I say, who cares? If the thought that the soup is going to make me feel better is what actually makes me feel better, sign me up.

Even if you’re not in need of a flu remedy at the moment, chicken soup makes for a tasty and healthful meal. And it freezes well, too. So you could do your future under-the-weather self a favor and make a double batch: one for the freezer and one for now. When your neighbors get sick, you could take them a batch, too. Because then you’d be “that-terrific-neighbor-that-made-the-most-amazing-chicken-soup-when-I-was-sick-and-couldn’t-imagine-making-dinner”.

There are two major upsides to doing this. One, those neighbors will be much less likely to call the authorities if (when?) your holiday party gets a touch out of hand this year, and two:

I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,
I was naked and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.

-Matthew 25:35-36


Here's a great recipe for chicken soup that I've adapted from Joy of Cooking.  The idea is to modify it to suit your tastes (and use what you have on hand).  For example, I often go heavy on the chicken, add red bell pepper, and triple the garlic.

8 cups chicken stock (low-sodium, if canned)
1 whole chicken (about 3 pounds), cut into serving pieces
3 large carrots, diced
3 large celery stalks, diced
3 medium onions, coarsely chopped
2 medium leeks (white parts only), cleaned thoroughly and sliced
2 large garlic cloves, minced 
1 bouquet garni (recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground mace (optional)
2 medium new potatoes, diced
       (or 1/4 cup rice, or 2 ounces egg noodles)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Bring first ten ingredients (stock through mace) to a boil in a large soup pot.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the breast meat is cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Remove the breast meat to a plate; continue cooking remaining chicken until it falls off the bone, about 45 minutes longer.  Remove chicken and let cool.

Meanwhile, add the potatoes/rice/noodles to the pot and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.  Discard the bouquet garni and turn off the heat.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and bones.  Shred the meat (I just pull it into pieces with my hands) and add to the soup.  Reheat, if necessary, over medium heat, and season with parsley, salt and pepper.


Bouquet Garni

Small bunch of parsley or parsley stems
8 sprigs fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 bay leaf
3 or 4 celery leaves

Wrap the ingredients in a 4 x 4-inch piece of cheesecloth and tie with twine, or simply tie the herbs together with the twine.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Kiddie Chemistry

There is something magical about cooking, and baking in particular. Anytime I make a cake, I marvel at how different (and wonderful) the finished product is compared to the ingredients. Think about it. On the kitchen counter of your imagination, line up butter, sugar, eggs, flour, salt, and baking soda. Now envision a glorious layer cake. Definitely greater than the sum of its parts, wouldn’t you say?

The secret is chemistry. When you combine all those ingredients in the right order, and apply the right amount of heat for the right length of time, you get cake.

My mom had me cracking eggs into a bowl at age two. Somewhere around age eight or nine, my parents gave me a chemistry set, which I had been begging for. I loved carefully mixing all the exotic powders and liquids and following the special instructions, and watching amazing magical things unfold. Then one day I thought: Wait a second! This is cooking, without the snack at the end. Wasn’t this what I’d already been doing in the kitchen with Mom? Carefully mixing powders and liquids and following special instructions? Afterwards, I still had to clean up a big mess, but a well-executed experiment did not produce brownies. I’d been had.

I really enjoy cooking with kids because they still believe in magic. Oh, at the right age, you can explain what chemistry is and why this and that causes the other to happen. But what they really love is getting to play in the abode of adults (oooh, the dangerous kitchen!), having license to make a royal mess, concocting a potion of weird stuff, then putting said potion into a magic hot box and poof! Out comes brownies/pizza/cupcakes/whatever. Suddenly, amazingly, a glass of milk shows up. Twenty years later, there’s still a memory etched in their brain about milk and cookies and sunshine and roses.

When I think about the wonderful little people I’ve spent time with in the kitchen, I like to think that one day the smell of a bakery will make them remember the magical experiments we did together. And it makes me downright giddy to think they might pay it forward.

Miss Cate and I recently made peanut butter cookies.

Outdoorsmen have a slogan about this that I really like: “Take a kid fishin’.” So many wonderful things happen when you do. I’m going to come up with a similar slogan about letting kids into your kitchen. When you see it on a bumper sticker, you’ll know it was me. In the meantime, take the time to introduce a child to the magic that awaits them right there in your own home. You’ll be glad you did.


Before I share this week's recipe, I have some well-timed bragging to do.  My niece Kacie took 1st Place in the Candy Category and Best of Show in the Youth Division of the Brazoria County Fair Baking Competition, with Grandma's Peanut Butter Fudge.  Talk about kids and cooking.  Way to go, Kacie!  Aunt Laura couldn't be more proud!!


Here's a great cookie recipe to make with kids, using ingredients you can keep on hand. There’s no special equipment required, not even an electric mixer. My cousin Bobbye Anne contributed it to a cookbook that my mom put together for us as a wedding gift.

Cake Mix Cookies

1 box cake mix, any variety
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients with a fork until well blended. Stir in any of the following, if desired:

• Chocolate chips
• Peanut butter chips
• Chopped nuts
• M&Ms
• Raisins

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, at least one inch apart.  Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

The combinations are endless! Let the kiddos choose, or get started by trying yellow cake mix with chocolate chips and pecans, or chocolate cake mix with peanut butter chips.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A Blog by Any Other Name

When I was a kid, there were two reasons to look forward to October. One was the Brazoria County Fair, and the other was my big brother’s birthday. Not because of his birthday per se, but because every year he asked for the same confection to celebrate: chocolate cake with white fluffy icing.

White fluffy icing. White fluffy icing! I thought every kid grew up with white fluffy icing. It’s funny how three little words can trigger a flood of childhood memories. Memories of wearing “jellies” and cooking with my mom, memories of harvest gold kitchen appliances, memories of eating cake on the red place setting which meant it was your special day.

As it turns out, White Fluffy Icing is a Southern tradition. Except that most people call it Seven Minute Frosting, so named for the length of cooking time it requires (if the benevolent frosting fairies are on your side, that is). To add to the identity confusion, the actual name of the recipe my mom uses, courtesy of Aunt Claudia, is Never Fail Swirl Frosting. Who knew? All I know is that over the years, my mom’s cake developed in me a Pavlovian reaction to the title I know and love: White Fluffy Icing!

Truth be told, Never Fail Swirl Frosting is a smidge different than Seven Minute Frosting, and the technique is quite a bit easier. The latter requires beating the egg whites with an electric mixer while they cook over simmering water, which is challenging enough. But on top of that, you must constantly monitor the temperature on an instant read thermometer (with your third hand, of course). Again, good fairy vibes help. Low humidity does, too, since it’s technically a cooked meringue.

For Never Fail Frosting, you gradually beat hot syrup into egg whites in a mixer – no thermometer, no chance for overcooking the whites. Today, I tested the outer limits of the technique by making white fluffy icing on a rainy day – and the title holds true: it has never failed me. So tell those fairies to hold off until you tackle buttercream.

Some people add chopped nuts and/or coconut to their white fluffy icing. I hear it is delicious on banana cake, yellow cake, just about anything – but I wouldn’t know, because in my mind, white fluffy icing belongs on top of a rich, dark chocolate cake. Oh yeah, and it’s low fat, too. It will, however, make your pancreas hurt if you lick too much out of the bowl. Not that I would know.

Never Fail Swirl Frosting

3 egg whites, room temperature
A few grains of salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Beat the egg whites with salt and cream of tartar at high speed until almost stiff. Meanwhile, combine the sugar and syrup in a small saucepan and cook just until bubbles form around the edges.

Gradually pour the hot syrup over the egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Return the syrup to the heat several times during the process, to keep it hot.

Add the vanilla and beat for an additional 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is the desired consistency. Use immediately.