Friday, September 2, 2016

Instant Fudge Cake Mix

This is a copycat of your standard box cake mix, but makes a much smaller cake or fewer cupcakes.  It's shelf-stable for several months in a sealed container.
  • 2/3 C flour
  • 1/2 C + 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/3 C cocoa
  • 1/2 rounded tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 rounded tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp shortening
1.  Stir together all ingredients except shortening.  Using a hand mixer, add shortening until it is completely mixed in and no visible chunks remain.

To use:

  • 1/3 C + 1 1/2 Tbsp water
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.  In a medium bowl, combine wet ingredients with dry cake mix.  Divide batter equally between two mini loaf pans (or two 6-inch round cake pans).  Bake at 350°F for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Robyn's notes: I mixed up the dry ingredients and put them in a mason jar, which was left on the counter for a couple weeks of changing weather conditions, to see how well it would hold up in heat, direct sunlight, and unexpectedly cold nights.  No problems with the mix.  I used the mix for Chocolate Cherry Bars and they came out fabulously.  For cupcakes, I baked for 17 minutes.  Waatch me demonstrate this recipe on youtube!

**** 4 Stars: Very Good.  Enjoyed by us both, I will make this frequently.   

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dealing with Large Potlucks

I think potlucks tend to be challenging for many people, but they're even harder for small households, especially when you've been a small household for any length of time.  Watch me demonstrate the included recipes on youtube!

The usual difficulties lie in time, temperature, space, and facilities.  Potlucks are often held in people's workplaces or for civic/philanthropic groups, which means there will be limited ability to re-heat hot dishes or to keep cold dishes chilled.  In my case there's the extra issue of not having much in the way of large cooking vessels.  My largest pan is a 9 inch x 9 inch cake pan.  How would I bring a casserole to serve a dozen or more people?!

If you can manage to be assigned a dessert, you're pretty much golden.  Cookies are always a good dessert, and they solve all your problems in one.  While I did spend several years only owning a mini baking sheet, I currently have a regular-size one, and I suspect that most households are more likely to have a full-size cookie sheet than one that will fit a toaster oven.  Cookies can be made ahead, bagged, and laid out nicely on a plate just before the meal, and everyone will be happy.  Another option that I've used is petit fours or even simply a cake cut into tiny squares that are individually frosted.  That takes more time and effort, but goes over well.

But sometimes you can't be the dessert bringer.  Once, when I was asked to bring a main dish, I made Easy Burrito Roll-Ups (note that the posted version is the halved recipe, for a potluck I'd make the full size, or double this posted recipe).  At a potluck, no one person should ever be the only one bringing the main dish, so you don't need a recipe that serves the total number of people, because everyone should take less than a regular serving of each entree.  So a dish that serves 8 can serve about 14, a dish that serves 12 can feed nearly two dozen.

Slow cookers are my friend for potlucks, as long as it's not a picnic (for picnics, I generally let the grocery store deli department take care of things, there's only so much time and energy I'm willing to give to the issue).  Set everything up at home, plug in as soon as you arrive, and it'll be hot when people are ready to eat a few hours later.  Chilled dishes are another good bet, if there's a fridge on site and if your dish is not too large for the shelves and there aren't a lot of other people bringing cold dishes that will crowd yours out.  Salads, therefore, are another great thing to get on the list for.  And if you can swing it at all, and don't want to worry about anything, find a way to sign up for rolls and either make them the day before or pick up a bag from the market on your way.

Potlucks are not a great place to show off your cooking skills.  Most of the people eating won't notice if you've done something special (I once made a potato side dish that required two specialty cheeses and my mandolin, most of it came home with me, which was delicious but kind of heart-breaking), and if they do particularly enjoy something they will either forget who made it or forget to mention it to you, because there are so many other dishes and people, and they're socializing while they eat.  Don't put a lot of time and heart into it, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.  Use the opportunity to take advantage of convenience foods, there is nothing wrong with that.  Remember that there will probably be at least one person with dietary restrictions who just can't have what you're serving, and be ok with that.  If possible, include a list of the ingredients that you place next to the dish (not a recipe, just a list), so that people know if what you've brought is safe for them.

Couscous Fruit Salad

  • 1/2 C orange juice, no pulp
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C uncooked couscous
  • 1/4 C sliced almonds
  • 2 lbs assorted fresh prepared fruit from the grocery
1.  Preheat oven to 350°F.  In a medium saucepan, combine orange juice and water.  Bring to a boil, add couscous, cover, and remove from heat.  Let sit for 6 minutes.  Fluff couscous with a fork and spread out on a baking sheet or several plates in a shallow layer to cool.
2.  Meanwhile, spread almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350°F for 5-6 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time, until toasted a light golden brown.  Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.
3.  Just before serving, drain fruit and combine with couscous and almonds in a large bowl.  Toss together until well mixed.

Robyn's notes: the fruit that was included in the packages I bought: strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, blackberries, pineapple, grapes, raspberries.  I actually didn't get any of this, it was far more popular than I expected so the only parts that were left at the end were a few chunks of melon, and I can't eat melon.  I packaged up the couscous and almonds separately, and assembled on site.

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often

Slow-Cooker Cheesy Potatoes

  • 3 C milk
  • 1 can (10.75 oz) condensed Cheddar cheese soup
  • 2 boxes (5 oz each) cheese scalloped potatoes
  • 2 C boiling water
1.  Spray 3.5-4 quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray.  In large bowl, combine milk, soup, and contents of seasoning packets from potatoes; blend well.  Add potatoes, mix well.  Pour mixture into sprayed slow cooker.  Pour boiling water over potato mixture; stir to mix.
2.  Cover, cook on low setting for 7 to 8 hours.

Robyn's notes: I used Betty Crocker Three-Cheese Potatoes.  This cooked for an hour, then I wrapped it in a beach towel to keep the outside warm and protect my car in case of sudden stops, and placed it on the floor of the front passenger seat.  The drive took about 40 minutes, then it was about another 10 minutes of getting things inside and set up, then it was plugged back in and cooked for about another 6 hours, possibly just a little longer.  I thought it was good, and it was very popular at the potluck.  More of it was eaten than the other potato dishes that had been brought (including at least one other scalloped potato dish), so very little of it came home with me afterward.  

*** 3 Stars: Good. At least one of us liked this enough for me to make it again, but not often