Kitsch Cuisine

Getting Real With Belinda Hulin

My husband just got his birthday present in the mail from his parents in Pennsylvania.  Since this happens to be one of those “life milestone” birthdays, one might be thinking he’s counting significant bills, basking in the glow of a fine watch or examining a new electronic gizmo.  But no.  Jim’s parents know the way to make him feel loved, appreciated, accomplished oh so much better than you or I might.

Mom and Dad sent him a big box full of bags of potato chips.

Not any potato chips, mind you.  These are Middleswarth chips, available only in a limited area in Central Pennsylvania.  Jim grew up in a Middleswarth (as opposed to other local brands) family and ate nothing but Middleswarth chips in his tender, formative years.  Imagine his shock when—upon entering the U.S. Navy—he learned that the rest of us have long been deprived of his favorite side dish and snack.

Of course, tissue-thin, preservative-free potato chips quickly become stale here in the Florida humidity.  So, I was pressed to make Jim’s favorite meal from childhood post-haste, while the chips were at their just-opened, crunchy best.  That meal?  Why, the “gourmet special,” his mother’s simple, rib-sticking, weeknight comfort combo.  It consists of a buttery grilled cheese sandwich, a mammoth helping of Middleswarth potato chips, and hot kidney beans, all washed down with lemonade or soda.  Served properly, the beans have been cooked down with a touch of butter, and the beans and bean liquid become a kind of dip for the chips.

As a Louisiana native, I first made the mistake of assuming that my own red beans and sausage, made from scratch with dried beans and nurtured for hours over a slow fire, would be a fine addition to this homey delight.  However, I was informed that while my beans were fine over rice, only canned dark red kidney beans were acceptable for the gourmet special.

And so, I made the gourmet special for Jim.  Then I made a white bread and American cheese grilled cheese sandwich for my daughter, and an American cheese quesadilla for my son.  And I mused on the tacky little secret I believe we all share: For every serving of bruschetta, of small-batch handcrafted cheese, of endive salad, of Frenched rack of lamb and chicken veloute we savvy cooks present, there are thousands of different gourmet specials being whipped up, loved, devoured and kept under wraps.

As summer approaches, I think we should liberate those closeted meals and embrace our love of kitsch cuisine.  I’ve written five cookbooks and have a decades-long career telling others how to cook the trendy dish du jour, how to entertain, how to pick the right side dishes, desserts and wines for a fine entrée.  And yet, I can’t think of anything I’d rather eat than veggie soup made with leftover pot roast, lots of diced potatoes and an inexpensive can of spaghetti sauce.  When I’m stressed, depressed, or nervous, you’ll find me deep into a bag of Cheetos or a carton of store-bought vanilla ice cream, and I recently introduced my kids to the joys of making “impossible” pies with Bisquick baking mix.

In fact, I just came up with my own kitschy comfort recipe based on the concept.  Tonight, while Jim is having another round of the gourmet special, the kids and I will have this adaptation of a cottage pie—itself a notorious comfort dish.  If you’d like to join me, here’s the recipe.  Oh, and feel free to confess your own favorite kitschy dish.

Weeknight Cottage Pie

2 tablespoons butter
5 pounds red potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 pounds ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups shredded cheddar or Colby-Jack Cheese, divided use
4 eggs
1 and 1/2 cups milk
1 cup Bisquick or other baking mix

Generously butter the bottom and sides of an oblong casserole dish.

In a large pot, boil the sliced potatoes until just tender, about 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the slices.  Drain the potatoes very well, then carefully layer into the buttered casserole dish. Smooth the potatoes to create an even layer.  Top the potatoes with 2 cups of the cheese.

Combine the ground beef and onion in a pot and cook until the meat is no longer pink and the onion is softened.  Drain well in a metal colander or strainer, then return the meat and onion mixture to the pan. Add the tomato sauce and barbecue sauce. Stir well and cook over medium heat just until heated through.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Layer the beef over the potatoes and cheese.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk until well-blended.  Add the baking mix and whisk until the mixture is blended and free of large lumps.  Pour the baking mix batter over the beef and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350-degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until the top is browned and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

Birthday Cake Madness – Part 2

Getting Real With Wanda Morrissey

I’m pleased to report that I survived this year’s birthday cake without having a breakdown but it did take two late night sessions to complete. Oh yeah, and to save my sanity, I had to simplify it.  The two page blue print went out the window.

I started the cake making process on Thursday (the party was on Saturday).  I got up in the morning and started baking.  When the flour settled, there was one 9”x13” cake, four cakes in loaf pans, one 9” round cake and one 8” round cake cooling on the countertop and three batches of fondant in the fridge.  The apartment smelled like a bakery.

After Jeffrey went to bed, (bedtime is 8 pm), I started the first element for the cake – the cake pops. (F rom the cookbook Cake Pops: Tips, Tricks and Recipes for More Than 40 Irresistible Mini Treats by Bakerella (Angie Dudley) See also  Cake pops are balls made of cake (I crumbled and used the 9”x13“ cake for this part), stuck on a candy stick and dipped in candy coating.  The cake pops were serving double duty; they were going to be decorations on the cake and they were going to be the party favours, instead of loot bags.  Being the sucker for punishment that I am, this was my first time baking them.

Everything was going great until I noticed that the candy coating on some of the pops was starting to crack.  Now what?  According to the recipe, re-dipping isn’t recommended because it could make the pops too heavy and they could fall off their sticks and I didn’t have time to start over.  I wanted to cry but I’d promised myself that I wasn’t going to take it so hard if something didn’t work out right.  No more breakdowns over cake.  I took a deep breath and made a decision.  I would try re-dipping, just the tops, where most of the cracks were. I used a different colour coating (I’d bought four different colours) to dip and, you know what, they turned out really well.  I put blinders on my overcritical eye and gave myself credit for doing a decent job on my first try.

First night done.  I crawled into bed at half past midnight.

The next part was to assemble the remaining cakes into a train.  I couldn’t do that while Jeffrey was running around so, once again, I waited until he went to bed on Friday and got started.  I rolled out one batch of fondant, put it on a cake board and, using green food colour, painted it green to look like grass.  Next, I took the two round cakes, covered each in fondant, stacked them, placed them on the ’grass’ and painted them green as well.  I had a mountain.

There were going to be four cars making up the train but only two were going to be edible.  The two middle cars were made by covering Styrofoam blocks with blue tinted fondant.  They were going to hold some of the cake pops (my original plan called for more cars so I could display all the cake pops of which there were 48).  Making the engine and caboose was the most time consuming, I had to trim and cut the four loaf pan cakes to make two cars.  I had to tint and trim pieces of fondant.  I remained calm, even when my fondant threatened to start cracking like it had last year and got the cake finished.  The final touch was to paint on railway tracks using black food colour.

Second night done.  I finally went to bed after 1am.

This year I kept my perfectionist side on a tight leash.  I stayed calm when things didn’t go exactly right.  I simplified my grandiose plans and avoided a tear soaked breakdown.  The cake was a hit with the guest.

I love baking.  I love to bake fancy cakes for my son’s birthday but I’ve decided I love sleep more.  Next year, I’m renting a shaped cake pan.



Getting Real With Lisa Van De Graaff

It is soup season! Soup is an easy thing to make and enjoy on these cold, winter days. The ingredient ratios are usually forgiving, and most soups freeze well. I also find them to be inexpensive, especially if I make my own broth. Homemade broth is also substantially lower in sodium than the store-bought options.

I keep a plastic container in my freezer, and I throw in the ends from onions, peels from carrots, and tops from celery. I also throw in any celery that has begun to wilt (though once it is liquified in the veggie drawer, it is time to just throw it in the trash or compost pile!) When the plastic freezer tub is full, it is time to make some broth…

Lisa’s Vegetable Broth

In a large stockpot (I use a spaghetti pot since it makes straining easier), place:

  • Approximately 2 Onions, quartered (tops and peels are fine, the root end is usually too dirty to be useful)
  • Approximately 3 Carrots, cut in half lengthwise and into 3-inch chunks (anything orange, not the greens)
  • Approximately 6 Celery Stalks, roughly chopped (wash off any dirt)
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 5-10 Peppercorns (or ground black pepper)

Fill the stockpot with water, there should be 2-3 inches of water above the top of the veggies. Bring the water and vegetables to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cover. Simmer for about 45 minutes (I’ve let it sit for 2-3 hours with good results), and stir occasionally.

Add 8-16 ounces of Frozen or Fresh Corn (silks, husks, and cobs are fine)

Simmer, covered, for 45-60 minutes. Strain out and discard the solids.

I freeze the broth in one cup increments and keep them on hand for winter soup-making. Note that there isn’t any salt in this recipe, so you may need to add additional salt when making your favorite soup.

Other soup tips:

  • Toss the rind from a chunk of Parmesan into bean soups for added creaminess.
  • In cream or milk-based soups, remember not to let them boil – it can curdle the dairy.
  • In cream or milk-based soups, temper the dairy with a bit of the hot soup before adding it to the pot (to keep it from curdling).
  • After removing from heat, squeeze half a lemon into vegetable or squash soups to lighten the flavors.
  • In vegetable soups, wait until the end to add any chopped tomatoes. Only cook the tomatoes for 10-15 minutes to retain their fresh flavor (then your tastebuds will be fooled into thinking it is summer!)


The Gingerbread House

From MomsGetReal Contributor Wanda Morrissey

The gingerbread house was far from perfect.  The walls were slanted.  The chimney wouldn’t stay on.  The candy Santa Claus kept falling over and the icing was uneven; thin in some spots and thick and globby in others.  No, you’d never find this gingerbread house displayed in a store window but I bet this gingerbread house brought more joy and created more happy memories than a picture perfect display ever could.

Granma came to visit today and brought a gingerbread house kit with her.  “Will you help me decorate it?” she asked Jeffrey, my soon-to-be three year old.  His response was to clamour into a chair at the table and try to open the kit.  For the next half hour, they erected walls, built roofs and smeared icing everywhere.  Granma used a knife to apply the icing and Jeffrey spread it around with a candy cane because he’s not allowed to have a knife.  They stuck candies anywhere they could.  Jeffrey sampled as many as he put on the house.  Finally, Jeffrey announced that it was finished and he climbed down from the chair.  It was then that we noticed the candy Santa had gone missing and that Jeffrey’s lips were really red.

No, it’s not the most perfect gingerbread house ever created but it’s Jeffrey and Granma’s masterpiece.  Grandmother and grandson had a blast putting it together.  That little gingerbread house helped create memories that’ll last both their lifetimes.


Delicious Holiday Recipes – Baked Brie

To continue our week of special holiday treats, here’s a delicious one from Lisa Van De Graaff:

My mother creates the most amazing Christmas Eve spread of goodies. We have platter after platter of pretty little finger foods, decadent cheeses, and family favorites. For me, the platter I return to again and again is the one with the brie. One of the best things about this recipe is that the proportions don’t matter (really!)

Baked Brie Recipe

1 sheet puff pastry
1 wedge brie, rind removed, and cut into 1″ chunks
brown sugar
dried fruit (I like currants)
chopped nuts (I like pecans)

Let puff pastry thaw at room temperature for forty minutes, then unfold and place in baking dish. Distribute chunks of brie evenly down center of pastry. Sprinkle brown sugar, fruit, and nuts over cheese. Fold sides of pastry up and over cheese mixture and press lightly to seal. Cover with foil and bake at 375 for ten minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Enjoy!


Delicious Holiday Treats

All this week, we’ll be sharing our favorite recipes with our readers for the holidays. Please feel free to share yours as well!

From Getting Real With Wanda Morrissey:

One of my favorite holiday recipes is Buckeye Balls.  My Mom would only make them at Christmas time.  I loved them and would often sneak a couple extra.  It’s a great recipe for a cookie exchange because it makes a large yield and can be easily doubled so you don’t spend hours baking in the kitchen.  The recipe is as follows:

Buckeye Balls

1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
2 cups icing sugar
1/2 cup margarine, softened
16 oz chocolate chips
2 tbsp shortening

-line two baking sheets with waxed paper.  In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, icing sugar, and margarine.  Mix until a smooth dough is formed (if dough is still sticky add a little more icing sugar).  Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place on prepared baking sheets.  Put in refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.  On top of a double boiler, melt together chocolate chips and shortening.  Stick a toothpick in the top of each ball and dip into melted chocolate, return dipped ball to baking sheet.  Put Buckeye Balls back in the fridge to chill.  Keep refrigerated.

Note: Buckeye Balls freeze well and are gluten free.


Favorite Holiday Recipes

For the next few days, our MomsGetReal™ team will be sharing some of their favorite holiday recipes with our readers. We hope you’ll enjoy these as much as we do…

From Jenn Poole:

Soda Cracker Candy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line a cookie sheet with foil, cover with light coat of oil to prevent sticking.
Line sheet with saltine crackers
Melt 1 cup brown sugar and 1 cup butter and bring to boil for two minutes.
Pour over saltines and bake for 5 minutes
Cover with a package of chocolate chips (about 2 cups)
Once they melt spread them over the saltines
Add chopped nuts if desired.


Quick and Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

These cookies are easy enough even little brothers and sisters can help out.  All you need is:

1 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
1 cup Granulated White Sugar
1 egg

When it comes time to bake, make sure to get mom’s help!

  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  • Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix together to form a dough
  • Scoop out spoonfuls of the dough and place on lightly greased cookie sheet
  • Press with a fork to make criss-crosses
  • Bake for about 6 minutes