Into The Forest We Go
When the word “forest” comes to mind, I often think about the first forest I ever visited – the San Isabel National Forest in Colorado.
Time warp 1980. It was the year of my parent’s 25th wedding anniversary and in the San Antonio Express News Mom read about a small, charming getaway in south central Colorado called Cuchara (Spanish for “spoon”). The article tugged at her heart and a family trip to Cuchara was going to happen! Since the only vacations I had been on were to the Texas Coast and one trip to Nuevo Laredo where I spent more time in the hotel sick than out and about, I knew we were in for a big treat – even bigger than when the Brady Bunch went camping.
Our Kiker family of five piled into two cars and with our CB radios at the ready we made the 12+ hour drive from San Antonio to Cuchara. Just inside the Colorado state line I remember my first few moments outside of the car – the air smelled so foreign … and fresh! It was like Mother Nature had sprayed air freshener and beauty in all directions!
Resting at an altitude of 8,468 feet, Cuchara had no stop lights and a year-round population about 100 strong. So this was a place you came to unwind. Fishing, horseback riding, hiking, sitting and staring this way and that (literally) – all the things we didn’t do in our usual city life. Mom and Dad rented a cabin at Yellow Pine Ranch – a working dude ranch with everything you’d expect and more. Here along the Cuchara River there was a pond, horses and even a donkey named “Cucklebur.”
The National Forest was expansive and we had fun enjoying the views from our 1970s Toyota Land Cruiser. Mountains, pine trees and quaking aspens were abound and my Dad later referred to this land as “God’s Country.” It came as no surprise that in November of the same year Mom and Dad were back in Cuchara scouting for land to purchase so they could build a cabin in the woods – a joint venture with their friends Margie and Herb from Waco.
That is the kind of effect the beauty of a forest can create! Now let’s make black forest squares!
foodie tips ~
❤ As my kitchen smarts continue to deepen, I’m reminded that all pans are not alike! Glass and metal pans cook differently and you might find that if you’re cake is a little burned around the edges, you might switch to metal bakeware. Here’s why.
❤ In the 1970s while whip cream often came from the can, these days I use my gourmet whipper which creates a super fresh whip. When you make your own whipped topping you can flavor the creams but for this recipe we chose to go with the standard recipe.
1 package | chocolate cake mix
8 ounces | sour cream
1 package (4-serving size) | instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup | milk
¼ cup | crème de cassis … or brandy (I had brandy on hand)
16 ounce can | pitted dark sweet cherries
2 tablespoons | sugar
1 tablespoon | cornstarch
to serve | fresh whipping cream
¼ cup | sliced almonds, toasted
ii. what to do
0. Preheat oven to 350°F.
1. Prepare the cake mix according to the package directions. Turn batter into a greased and floured 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan. Bake 10-12 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out of the middle clean. Cool completely in pan.
2. In a large mixer bowl beat together the sour cream, dry pudding mix, ⅓ cup of the milk and the crème de cassis or brandy until the mixture is fluffy. Gradually add the remaining milk, beating until smooth. Pour mixture over the cooled cake and chill.
3. Meanwhile, drain the cherries, reserving ¾ cups of the syrup. In a sauce pan combine the sugar and cornstarch. Gradually stir in the reserved syrup. Cook and stir over medium heat until thick and bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute longer. Add the drained cherries, remove from heat and cool.
4. Spread the cool cherry mixture on top of the chilled pudding layer. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.
5. To serve – whip fresh cream to soft peaks. Pipe over cherry mixture in a lattice design. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds. Cut into squares and enjoy!
Yields about 12 squares, depending on size
Founder and “Nostalgic Food Blogger” of Betty’s Cook Nook
I knew I was in for a treat when my Cousin Jennifer almost came unglued when I told her Cousin Julie gave me this slaw recipe.
This broccoli slaw can last for a few days in the fridge, if it lasts that long!
Foodie Tips ~
♥ The dressing for this is really good. On the next “go” of this dish I will find a way to double the dressing.
♥ This slaw is super flexible. You can eat it solo, try it on lettuce wraps or inside spring roll wrappers.
½ cup | sugar
¼ cup | vegetable oil
¼ cup | red wine vinegar
2 packages | seasoning mix (from the ramen noodles)
2 3 ounce packages | oriental ramen noodles
16 ounce package | broccoli slaw or red cabbage (go for the slaw)
½ to 1 cup | shelled sunflower seeds
1 cup | slivered almonds
optional | lettuce cups or spring roll wrappers (if serving slaw inside a wrapper)
ii. what to do
1. Simmer the dressing ingredients over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Do not boil!
2. In a mixing bowl break up the ramen noodles into bite-sized pieces. Note: remove the seasoning packet before breaking them inside their package.
3. Pour the dressing over the noodles and let rest for 15-30 minutes to soften them slightly.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Chill. (Best if you chill overnight).
5. Add almonds to the slaw last (it keeps them crunchy) and enjoy your finished creation as a side-kick or main dish.
Picadillo Is My Pillow
In March 2014 my awesome Cousin Julie gifted me the recipe for this ole time family favorite.
What a great gift! I remember Mom talking about “picadillo” but the recipe wasn’t in her cookbook. Luckily, it was in her sister Delores’ cookbook that Julie has in her care!
Totally flexible, this Cuban-inspired dish made its way to San Antonio kitchens before the days of the internet … and into my heart 4ever. A foodie’s BFF.
♥ The original recipe scan below makes mountains of this delicious stuff. My Cousin Julie said the portions were large because her Mom, “Delores,” would often serve this dish at parties. I divided the recipe down, down, dowwwwwn into 6ths below. And yet after Joe and I ate it all, we wanted more.
♥ Cousin Julie was very specific – unless you don’t mind soggy almonds, sprinkle the almonds on top just before serving; or set them aside in a serving bowl with a spoon.
♥ Cousin Julie also said this picadillo freezes well. Sweet! If you freeze or refrigerate it overnight, add more dry sherry when reheating. It’s the honest thing to do.
♥ You can serve picadillo many ways – on top of scrambled eggs, breakfast tacos, nacho chips or inside tacos. This stuff is so good I even ate some with a shovel-spoon or two… :)
1 pound | ground round
⅓ cup | dry sherry
1 teaspoon | salt
⅓ teaspoon | pepper
3 | japaleños, chopped
1 clove | garlic, chopped
splash | oil
4.8 ounces | canned tomatoes
⅔ cup | tomato sauce
2 tablespoons | pimiento
to taste | raisins
⅓ teaspoon | oregano
½ cup | water chestnuts, sliced
⅔ cup | canned mushrooms, sliced
flour or corn tortillas
tostitos brand scoops
⅓ cup | salted almonds, diced
ii. what to do
1. In a medium-sized pan over medium heat, bring the first 5 ingredients (see “marinate”) to a happy sauté.
2. Add “the mixture” ingredients (the 9 ingredients) above and simmer, covered, about 1 hour. Stir occasionally.
3. Uncover and stir until “mushy.”
4. Serve with your preferred foodie accents and style (above). And smile. :)
Each summer, the Kiker Family of 5 usually found our feet in the warm and sandy beach of the Texas Coast…
…Dad sporting his silver anti-reflective hat, Mom wearing her hand-painted denim shirt and a straw hat wrapped with a brown burlap ribbon. Me? I was reluctantly wearing zinc oxide on my nose and face… and a sunburn on the rest of me.
Here in Port Aransas, you’d find Dad, Tim and Roger fishing in the Gulf. And Mom? You’d find her (and alternating family members and friends) at the South Jetty with nets in hand.
We Were Crabbin’
There on the jetties, I spent many a day darting amongst the giant rocks looking for floating treasure… yet our favorite treasured time was checking the traps to see if we might have caught gold; crabs. Female crabs went back in the water, but males, we would keep. Mom would boil them rosy red later in the day back at our hotel (usually Executive Keys) and transform them into seafood spectacular.
In the meantime, grab a couple of fresh crabs (or canned ones if you’re celebrating the simplicity of the 70s) and give props to the kissin’ cousin of la quiche… Crab Supper Pie!
Even though I don’t love seafood without a disclaimer, there are a few dishes I love (fried shrimp, grilled salmon creamy nutty tuna)… and now creamy, crunchy crab supper pie.
Let’s Go Crabbin’
1 cup | natural Swiss cheese, shredded
9-inch | pastry shell, unbaked
7½ ounce can | crab meat, drained and flaked
2 | green onions, sliced with tops
3 | eggs, beaten
1 cup | light cream*
½ teaspoon | salt
½ teaspoon | grated lemon peel
¼ teaspoon | dry mustard
dash | mace
¼ cup | sliced almonds
ii. what to do
1. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the bottom of the pastry shell.
2. Top with crab meat and sprinkle with green onion.
3. Combine eggs, cream, salt, lemon peel, dry mustard and mace. Pour over crab meat.
4. Top with sliced almonds.
5. Bake in a slow-oven (at 325°F), for about 45 minutes or until set.
6. Remove from oven and let stand about 10 minutes before serving.
Great For Breakfast Or Dinner
♥ Despite the fact I’m not a Sea Foodie at heart, I added more canned crab because it was sold in 6 ounce cans (not 7½ ounce cans). The result? Uber meaty crab pie!
♥ Mace? I had never heard of this as a seasoning but turns out that mace is not something you spray in someone’s eyes… it’s a warm spice that’s a milder cousin to nutmeg. Think pepper + cinnamon. It’s about $9.00/bottle, so get ready for this nutmeg substitute!
Family Fun Fact ~
♥ A “Port A” ritual was for mom to get her chicken gizzard fixin’ and for us… a bean burger on Mustang Isle.
While most folks cringe when hearing me speak of a “bean burger,” relax… it’s a beef burger topped with refried beans, cheddar cheese and fritos… something we enjoyed back home in S.A. at Sills Snack Snack on Austin Highway. Later on at college I found a replica at College Station’s Deluxe Burger bar (now closed).
Brandied yams? Bring them on! Stay tuned for pics of this delicious dish that’s good as a side… or a delicious dessert!
I’m made this recipe and other favorites in honor of “my first” Thanksgiving here at Betty’s Cook Nook!
2-1 lb. 2 oz. cans | yams
1/3 cup | butter
1 cup | brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup | orange juice
1/2 teaspoon | salt
1/2 cup | slivered and toasted almonds
1/3 cup | brandy
ii. what to do
1. Halve the yam-potatoes and place in a serving dish.
2. Place the almonds in a pan over medium heat and toast until lightly browned. Do not burn! Set aside.
4. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves; boil gently 5 minutes.
5. Pour the sugary mixture over the yams and sprinkle with the toasted almonds.
6. Heat the brandy gently in a small pan and light with a match. Pour the brandy mixture over the yam tops (pic shown above).
Raise your arms in the air… you’re a fire starter!
Foodie Tips ~
♥ When I opened the canned yams, I promptly thought they were “small” enough to eat sized from the can. Listen-up to the instructions and cut them in 1/2 anyway.
♥ I prefer my yams warm and this is pretty much a room-temperature recipe. Next time I make these, I’m going to cook the yams in their canned juice on stove top in for a few minutes to warm them up. Then drain the juice. Then I’ll transfer the “yammers” to a serving bowl as the brandy mix is ready and light ’em up.
♥ Over the Thanksgiving table, we got into a heated debate over whether or not yams and sweet potatoes were one in the same. Fact is, they are not.