Sunday, November 20, 2011


When the seasons change and it starts to get cold, I want baked goods! No more salads or iced tea, thank you. I have many favorite recipes, but since I’ve never (or hardly ever) met a baked good I didn’t like, I grabbed Mary Norwak’s 1966 “Home Baked Breads and Cakes” and found a delightful English gingerbread recipe to try. I often try recipes with whole wheat flour and try to make tasty baked goods that are remotely healthy, and this is made with oats – but it isn’t always the most important element. When it’s raining outside and you want something to sink your teeth in, it just has to taste good!

Ms. Norwak’s UK book is excellent because she gives three versions of each recipe: Imperial (UK), Metric (Europe) and American. Once upon a time I did acquire metric measuring cups, but I’m sticking to the US version that she was so kind to provide. I also used molasses, though UK bakers would call it treacle. Finally, I love the UK term for baking soda: bicarbonate of soda. In case you eat way too much of it, you can whip up a “bicarb” (water and baking soda – works as good as Tums).

I love this recipe for Parkin, an English gingerbread that is traditionally served on Nov 5th, Guy Fawkes Day (an annual UK celebration commemorating the fact that King James 1 was not assassinated in the 1600s) but if you want a more cake-like and refined gingerbread, try the second recipe listed, which is one my family has made since I was little. Either way you will have your fill of molasses and spice. A nice chunk of ether with a cup of coffee or hot tea on a cold day makes everything feel right in the world.

Parkin (English Gingerbread)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground ginger

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

3 cups rolled oats or 1 2/3 cups ground oatmeal

½ cup molasses or treacle

2/3 cup butter

½ cup soft brown sugar

2/3 cup milk

1 egg

Sift together the flour, salt, spices and soda. Add the oatmeal, and toss lightly to mix. Warm the treacle, butter, sugar and milk until the butter has melted. Cool slightly, add the egg and beat well. Pout into the centre of the dry ingredients and stir rapidly until smooth. Turn into a greased and lined 7-inch square tin. Bake in the centre of the oven for 1 hour. This is the traditional cake to eat for Guy Fawkes celebrations, and should be stored in an airtight tin for a couple of weeks before using.


½ cup butter or shortening

¾ cup sugar

1 egg

2 ½ cups sifted flour

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp salt

¾ cup molasses

1 cup hot water

Grease a 9” square baking pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream shortening & sugar. Add egg; beat well. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Combine molasses with water. Add alternately with four mixture to creamed mixture, mixing well. Pour into pan and bake for 50-60 minutes. Cool 5 minutes; remove from pan. Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar or whipped cream.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Savory Crescent Chicken Squares

I loved Ceil Dyer’s 1981 book, “More recipes from the backs of boxes, bottles, cans, and jars” for its pop art rendering of packaged foods on the cover before I even opened it. Though I tend to avoid packaged foods, I will say there is something to using them, and that something is called Saving Time. If you are a working mom, you know exactly what I mean, and you’ll get why I’ve since made this, and variations thereof, no less than a few times. The best thing about it is that my 7 year-old daughter not only will eat it, she will help make it!

This book is full of gems, and “all are easy to prepare, every ingredient is readily available and each is truly a classic,” proclaims Ms Dyer. Even some of the more bizarre entries, such as “Breakfast Sausage Apple Pie” (gross!) and Hunt’s Very Special Spice Cake (made with tomato sauce!!) are indeed classics, and I’m on my way to testing them all, but I started with this, a “$25,000 Grand Prize Winner at the 25th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in 1974”. Ceil says she “likes to serve it with a cream sauce and tiny green peas” (YUCK!) but I changed it a bit: I left out the crouton crumbs and the onion and pimiento bits. Do I even need to mention that I used butter, rather than margarine? Do I also need to note that I have never in my life even purchased margarine? Shudder. Anyhow, the other change I made was adding cooked broccoli, which justified my serving it as a meal in and of itself.

Since the first test, I’ve re-made this with different ingredients, or with variations on the original. Which reminds me of an ENTIRE COOKBOOK dedicated to things you can do with Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough… but that is a story for another day!

Savory Crescent Chicken Squares

1 3-oz package cream cheese, softened

3 Tbsp margarine or butter, melted

2 cups cubed cooked chicken or two 5-oz cans boned chicken

¼ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

2 Tbsp milk

1 Tbsp chopped chives or onion

1 Tbsp chopped pimiento, if desired

1 8-oz can Pillsbury Refrigerated Quick Crescent Dinner Rolls

¾ cup seasoned croutons, crushed

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. In medium bowl, blend cream cheese and 2 Tbsp of the margarine until smooth. Add next 6 ingredients; mix well. Separate dough into 4 rectangles; firmly press perforations around edges to seal. Spoon ½ cup meat mixture onto center of each rectangle. Pull 4 corners of dough to top center of chicken mixture, twist slightly and seal edges. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Brush tops with reserved 1 Tbsp margarine; sprinkle with crouton crumbs. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Serves 4.