Saturday, August 20, 2011

School Days

I didn't appreciate it when I was in elementary school and junior high, but we had 4 of the greatest cooks at the Lake Norden School:  Cecile Albertsen, Roma Carlson, Elma Jacobsen, and Jane Espland. Since we lived in a very small community, the cooks were the grandmothers of several students and everyone knew where they lived and had probably visited their homes, at one time or another, with one of their grandchildren. These women had a talent for making anything they cooked (or even reheated) taste good and no one ever walked away from their kitchen hungry. I also didn't appreciate the amount of effort and planning it must have taken to prepare lunch every school day for 200-plus students and faculty. Almost everything was made from scratch and was served fresh. It's true, they were all fantastic cooks and bakers, but what I remember most about them was how very kind they all were. I don't remember them ever being cross or rude to any student and they greeted each one of us as we came through the lunch line with a smile.

I always looked forward to the end of summer and the beginning of a new year, with a new teacher, and new room. The school in Lake Norden was a big,old 3 story brick building with the lunchroom and kitchen in the basement. When you came throught the big double doors at the front entrance, you stepped on to a landing. You could either go upstairs to classrooms or the principle's office or downstairs to the Home Ec room (remember Home Ec?), a passage leading to the kindergarten, first, and second grade classrooms, or you could go all the way down to the kitchen and lunchroom. The first thing you noticed, as you came into the school, was the aroma of whatever was being prepared for lunch. On most days, you didn't pay a lot of attention to lunch, except for the days you would smell a warm, chocolate-y scent climbing the steps to greet you as you walked in the door. Chocolate cake for dessert! There was no place in the school you could go to and not smell that wonderful cake baking. It didn't matter what the entree was. It didn't matter if peas or broccoli was being served. We would choke it down because we were having chocolate cake for dessert and that's all that mattered. 

That chocolate cake is probably the best memory I have of school lunches. In our house it's known as the "World Famous Lake Norden School Chocolate Cake". Two of the cooks, Cecile Albertsen and Jane Espland, were good enough to share the recipe for their chocolate cake in a church cookbook. Every time I make it, I think of coming in the big, double doors of the Lake Norden school, catching the scent of chocolate cake, and wishing my own children could've experienced school lunches like I did.

In addition to a great recipe, I also have a few tips for baking cakes:

A good quality cake pan - like a Fat Daddio's pan - ensures a successful cake. A high quality pan heats evenly and allows the cake to bake evenly from all sides. A good quality pan also means less sticking and cleaner, sharper corners (if you're using the pan for a decorated sheet cake).

When you grease the pan, use shortening and be generous. Also, if you want to be sure the cake will release, dust the pan with a little flour and empty the excess flour from the pan before adding the cake batter. If you're baking a chocolate cake, try using cocoa powder instead of flour. You'll be sure the flour doesn't leave any tell-tale signs when the cake is served.

No buttermilk on hand? No problem! A simple substitution works beautifully. All you need is milk and vinegar or lemon juice in a ratio of 1 tbsp. vinegar (or lemon juice) to 1 cup of milk. Just add the vinegar (or lemon juice) to the measuring cup first and then add milk to the 1 cup line. Stir and allow the milk to sit for about 5 minutes before adding it to your recipe.

Did you know a slower oven temp equals a level cake? Sure, it'll take a little longer for the cake to bake, but wouldn't you trade that for a cake with a hump in the center or having to level it? Just slow your oven temperature by 25 degrees and you'll be guaranteed a level cake every time.

The Lake Norden School Chocolate Cake

2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tbsp. vinegar or lemon juice
2 eggs, room temperature & lightly beaten
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp. vanilla

Grease a 9 x 13 cake pan. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 degrees (I've already factored in a slower oven temperature, so preheat to 325).

Sift together 3 times:  flour, cocoa, sugar, and baking soda. Set aside. Mix the oil, buttermilk, eggs, and salt. Combine the flour mixture with the liquid mixture. Last, add the boiling water and vanilla and stir just until thoroughly combined.

Pour into prepared cake pan and bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes and a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into center of cake or until center springs back when lightly touched and sides of cake begin to pull away from the pan.

Cool. Frost. You can use whatever frosting you prefer, but I like to use the frosting recipe used when it was served at school.

See how level the cake is?

With frosting!
Chocolate Frosting

1 cup sugar (granulated)
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter or shortening
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine the sugar, milk, and butter (or shortening) in a saucepan; bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the chocolate chips and vanilla. Beat until smooth. Frosting will be thin. Pour/spread over cake and quickly smooth.

Please let me know if you have any recipes, tips, or techniques you’d like to share. They’re always welcome! And, if you try any of the recipes and want to share them, please send a photo along with any comments to me. I’ll publish them in the next post!

And, if you have any questions about this recipe or a technique, please email me at and I'll do my best to answer it!

Next week:  summer's last picnic.

This recipe is linked with love to the following:


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Fresh Basil

A Correction . . . .

I have to start this week's post with a correction of last week. When shocking the hard-boiled eggs with cold water, DO NOT add cold water to an already hot pan. There's a really good chance you'll warp the pan. I've known this for quite awhile and shouldn't have told you to add cold water to the hot pan. Instead, have a bowl of cold water ready and, using a slotted spoon or a spider (for those of you wondering what a spider is, see the picture/link to the left), remove the eggs from the hot, simmering water and gently place them in the bowl of water.

OK, now on to basil . . . .

Basil has to be one of the most-used culinary herbs in the world. It's a very aromatic herb (part of the mint family) and commonly used in tomato dishes, pesto, compound butters, marinade, and salads - just to name a few. Of the different varieties of basil, sweet basil is the most commonly used. Most cooks in my area use basil in its dried form because fresh is not always available, but I prefer to use fresh. South Dakota's climate doesn't allow for basil to be grown outside year-round, so I keep a pot of sweet basil growing indoors during the fall, winter, and spring months. If you're interested in growing basil, there are a lot of websites you can visit with tips and instructions for growing this herb indoors.

Cooking and baking are constantly evolving and more and more new uses for ingredients are being found. For a long time, basil was used primarily in savory dishes, but lately it's been making appearances in some sweeter recipes.

One of my favorite beverages is tea - I like it hot or cold, winter, spring, summer, or fall. I found the recipe below in an issue of Martha Stewart's Living magazine a few years ago and initially, just followed the directions and made it as an iced tea. Last year, about this time of year when you're getting a little taste of fall in the evenings, I heated a cup of the strawberry basil iced tea. It was fantastic and a great change to hot tea with lemon and honey. Throughout the winter I brewed the recipe hot and used frozen strawberries in place of fresh when they weren't available.

After making the Strawberry Basil Iced Tea as a hot tea, I got to wondering how basil would taste in a strawberry and sugar syrup for things like ice cream and strawberry shortcake toppings. It's delicious! I just followed the recipe for the syrup in the tea recipe and used that as a topping for ice cream and shortcake. I'm currently working on incorporating basil into a traditional strawberry pie and even strawberry lemonade.

Below is the recipe for Martha Stewart's Strawberry Basil Iced Tea. I've also included a link to the recipe on her website. Enjoy!

Martha Stewart's Strawberry Basil Iced Tea

Makes 2 quarts

8 black tea bags
1 pound strawberries,hulled and halved
1 cup water, plus more for steeping the tea
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup fresh basil (you must use fresh for this recipe)
Ice, for serving (if you like)

Steep the tea bags in 4 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes. While the tea steeps, combine the 1 cup of water and the sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove the sugar syrup from the heat, add the basil (all of it), and let it steep for 10 minutes. While the basil steeps in the sugar syrup, discard the tea bags and place the strawberries in a bowl. When the basil is done steeping in the sugar syrup, strain the basil-sugar syrup over the bowl of strawberries and discard the basil. Toss to coat the strawberries. Let stand for 25 minutes or until cooled. Combine the strawberries, syrup, and tea in a pitcher and refrigerate until chilled for iced tea. If you'd like to enjoy the tea hot just warm the iced tea.

For a topping for ice cream and shortcake, I just make the basil-sugar syrup and combine it with the strawberries. I keep the strawberries and syrup in the refrigerator and add it to freshly brewed tea, as another alternative for hot tea.

Martha Stewart Strawberry Basil Iced Tea Recipe

As always, please let me know if you have any recipes, tips, or techniques you’d like to share. They’re always welcome! And, if you try any of the recipes and want to share them, please send a photo along with any comments to me. I’ll publish them in the next post!

And, if you have any questions about this recipe or a technique, please email me at and I'll do my best to answer it!

Next Week:  my childhood motivation for going to school!


Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Incredible, Edible Egg . . . .

I sometimes think the egg is the most under-appreciated food in the world. It took a bad rap a few years ago when we were all cautioned not to eat too many of them and it's a usual suspect whenever there's a salmonella outbreak. But properly prepared, eggs are a delicious and economical source of protein. And there's so many ways to prepare them:  fried, scrambled, poached, hard or soft-boiled, in a quiche or an egg bake . . . .  I don't think I know anyone who doesn't like eggs in some form or another.

My friend, Trava, and her family raise laying hens - among other things - on their farm in southwest Minnesota. She's become my "fresh egg" connection. Her hens even produce the brown-shelled eggs that stores charge more for (she doesn't, though). I know there's no difference between the white-shelled and the brown-shelled eggs, but I just really like the brown ones. I don't know. They just seem a little more special. There's nothing like having fresh eggs. If you're reading this and in the Sioux Falls to Marshall, MN area and want to purchase farm fresh eggs, just send me a message and I'll put you in touch with Trava.

* * * * *

Doesn't it seem like everyone has the perfect method for hard-boiling eggs? I'll confess, I haven't tried any of them. Years ago, I found the method that works best - for me, anyway. The tricks to perfect hard-boiled eggs are fresh eggs, cold water, simmering, and shock. And patience. Here's the process I use:

Place however many fresh eggs you want to hard-boil in a saucepan. Fill the saucepan with enough cold water to cover the eggs. Bring the water to boiling over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to simmering and cover the saucepan with a lid. Simmer eggs for 15 minutes. Don't rush the process. Drain. Fill the saucepan with very cold water to shock the eggs and stop the cooking process. Let the eggs stand in cold water for two minutes. Drain.

To peel:  gently tap the hard-boiled egg on the countertop to crack the shell. Roll the egg  between the palms of your hands. Peel off the eggshell, starting at the large end.

* * * * * 

Whoever invented the egg slicer is a genius!  A few years ago, I was at a Pampered Chef party and watched the consultant chop hard-boiled eggs with an egg slicer for a breakfast pizza she was making. It's quite simple and I couldn't believe I hadn't already figured it out myself. All you do is slice the egg vertically, then carefully turn the egg and flip it (you'll see what I mean, if you try this), so you can slice it horizontally. Chopped eggs! I just pick the slicer up, open the slicing lid, and flip the chopped egg into a bowl. It doesn't get much easier than that and clean-up is a breeze.

I use my egg slicer not only for slicing/chopping hard-boiled eggs, I also use it to slice bananas, strawberries, and kiwis.

* * * * * 

Now that you have hard-boiled eggs, what to do with them? Hard-boiled eggs are great all by themselves, on crackers with a little dill, and terrific in salads.  I usually hard-boil eggs for egg salad sandwiches. They're especially wonderful on freshly baked bread and egg salad is one of my favorite sandwiches.

Awesome Egg Salad

4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped (an egg slicer works really nice for egg salad)
2 tbsp. finely chopped onion - green onion is really good in egg salad
2 tbsp. salad dressing (Miracle Whip) or mayonnaise - more, if you like really creamy egg salad
1 tbsp. mustard (Dijon-style is a nice change, if you like a little kick)
4 slices of bread (any style) - you can also use pita bread or bagels
Lettuce leaves

Combine the chopped eggs, onion, salad dressing, and mustard. Stir just until combined. Taste before adding salt and pepper - then add to your taste. Spread the egg salad on 2 slices of bread, top with lettuce, and remaining bread slices. Makes 2 sandwiches.

This is just a basic recipe, but you can add any seasonings or spices you like. I like a little crunch in my salad so I add a tbsp. (or so) of chopped celery or dill pickle. I also like to add a little celery seed or dill weed. You can also add a tomato slice with the lettuce for more texture and taste.

* * * * *

Egg bakes not only make economical meals, they're also unbelievably versatile. You can use a variety of ingredients and serve them for any meal. They're perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch, or even supper! You can even make them and freeze them for later. I keep pre-baked individual servings in the freezer to heat up for a quick breakfast or for those times when I just don't know what to make for supper.

Below is a recipe for a super-easy, declicious egg bake with a southwestern flair. It can be topped with sour cream, salsa, cheese, black olives, chilies, onions - whatever you like!

Southwestern Egg Bake

Corn Bread Crust
7-8 large eggs
1 cup whole kernel corn (you can use frozen or fresh)
1/2 cup salsa (any type you like)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. dried cilantro (or 1 tbsp. fresh)
1-2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese (or whatever cheese blend you like)

First, make the corn bread crust. There are a few ways you can make this: 

1. moisten 1 cup corn bread stuffing crumbs with one egg and about a 1/4 cup milk. Press into a greased 9 x 9 (or 8 x 8) pan. Bake for 5 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

2. purchase a small corn bread mix and follow the mixing directions on the package. Pour into a greased 9 x 9 (or 8 x 8) pan and bake for 5 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

3. mix 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup corn meal, 2 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 cup milk, and 1 egg just until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Pour into a 9 x 9 (or 8 x8) pan and bake for 5 minutes in a 400-degree oven.

While the crust is baking, mix the eggs, corn, salsa, sour cream, salt, cilantro, and 1/2 cup cheese in a bowl. Pour the egg mixture over the corn bread crust when it comes out of the oven and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Return to the 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until a knife inserted into the egg mixture comes out clean. Enjoy with your favorite toppings!

** If you prefer, you can omit the crust and just bake the egg mixture. **

Please let me know if you have any recipes, tips, or techniques you’d like to share. They’re always welcome! And, if you try any of the recipes and want to share them, please send a photo along with any comments to me. I’ll publish them in the next post!

And, if you have any questions about this recipe or a technique, please email me at and I'll do my best to answer it!

I'm also looking for a dairy farm to purchase raw milk from. If you know of anyone in the Sioux Falls area, please email me at the address above. I'd really appreciate it!

Next week:  Basil!