Cooking With Fractions

I love to read cookbooks but I don’t necessarily cook any of the recipes especially if I need to half or double a recipe; fractions can be problematic.  Reading cookbooks vs. cooking; it’s a lifelong habit of daydreaming about culinary creations that could be.  Let me explain.

While rummaging around this weekend I found my copy of Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls.  I would let you know how old it is but the first page that is still in the book is page #21.  I’m seeing photos of cakes but no cake recipes in the pages I have.  It makes sense, in a cookbook for children you would put dessert first.  It seems like a good plan for any cookbook.  Desserts are what we look for first whether we’re a child or an adult.

The Story Behind the Recipe

This cooking story falls into the “why do we always remember the bad things and not the good” category.  It was probably 4th or 5th grade.  I’m trying to remember which classroom I was in at the time but all the hallways were the same so it’s hard to jog my feeble brain cells.  Doesn’t matter.  The story is actually about math failure.

The homework was to find a recipe and double the ingredients.  Obviously it was a mathematics problem and as I recall we were working with fractions.  Memory is fickle so I’m not sure if I chose the Candle Salad or the Bunny Salad, they are on adjoining pages.  To be sure you completely understand my mistake I’ll give you both recipes, although I’m 90% sure it was the Candle Salad.

Let me just say, to shorten the story considerably here’s the bottom line: I failed.  I was sent home in disgrace to find a better recipe.  The teacher told me I had not done the assignment correctly and must go do it again.  Since I do not remember any other homework assignment from my elementary schooldays this must have been my defining moment; the moment when I knew I better know my nouns from my verbs and the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue because math was not going to be my friend.

The Recipes

Candle Salad

Prepared candle salad

For candle base use – 1 slice pineapple

The candle is ½ banana set upright in center of pineapple   slice

The flame is 1 maraschino cherry, fastened on top of banana with a toothpick.

Bunny Salad

Not quite the same but similar to my bunny salad

Place crisp lettuce leaf on a plate

One top of it, place upside down – a chilled pear half

Make bunny, using narrow end for face

Eyes – 2 raisins

Nose – 1 red cinnamon candy

Ears – 2 blanched almonds

For his tail – cottage cheese ball.

You Be the Teacher

If you had been the teacher would you have accepted either of these recipes?  Remember the idea was for us to use fractions.   I hang my head in shame.

If you would like an email when a new blog is posted click on the “Follow Blog” button in the right column, in the meantime, leave me a reply and comment about the favorite recipes you made as a child – successes and failures.


Camp Food – Burnt or Raw Still a Delicious Memory

Camp food is not part of the 3 great F’s of camping, they are:  Friendship, Fire and Fun.  Food and flavor are more like camping stepchildren.

If you camp with a youth group count on it, at least one meal will be partially raw and another burnt to a crisp.  It’s the law of group camping; trying to cook too many meals quickly to feed very hungry campers does not gourmet meals create.

You Can Have it Burnt  

Camping - star fire.

Generally your burnt food falls into hot dogs and marshmallows.  Hot dogs blacken quickly when the grill is über hot and blazing because stomachs don’t want to wait for the fire to die down into a nice bed of coals.  What typically happens is the grill is full of wieners and there are seemingly thousands of young voices creating distractions for the cook with questions like “Is it done yet?”  “When are we going to eat?”  “I’m going to pass out from hunger.  Aren’t you done cooking?”  “Are we there yet?”  Ooops, sorry that question is still lingering from the car trip to camp.  The cook stops to answer questions and in a moment the supper is charred.

Marshmallows are a different story.  Many people, me included, prefer to toast our marshmallows to flaming.  Charred sugar can be a good thing when in the woods.

 You Can Have It Raw

Raw happens the same was the burnt; a distracted cook and bunch of hungry antsy children.  Usually raw comes in the form of a too thick hamburger that looks perfect on the outside but didn’t stay over the embers long enough.  Generally speaking the raw burger will be returned to the grill and with luck another adult will replace the now thoroughly disgraced grill master.  Good luck new cook.  It’s not as easy as you think.

Or, You can Have Both Burnt and Raw at the Same Time

One of the favorite camping foods around here is Silver Turtles.  You might recognize it by a different name but if you have camped with a youth group you have most likely eaten one of these for dinner.  The basics are: aluminum foil, meat, cut up vegetables and a few exotic spices like salt and pepper. During my years of camping with youth I have seen 3 different versions:

1.  Placing the food items on two layers of foil and wrapping tightly

2.  Putting a wet paper towel between the layers of foil to add moisture

3.  Placing a cabbage leaf under the meat and vegetables, again to add moisture

For this entrée the meats can be anything from ground beef to cut-up steak or chicken.  As a group leader you can bring all kinds of nutritious veggies like carrots or tomatoes but what the children will ultimately put on the foil is sliced potatoes.

potato cooked in aluminum foil in the bonfire As a potato person I’m all for this BUT here’s the problem.  After the foil packets are placed on the embers the meat tends to cook quickly, the potatoes not so.  At the end it’s your choice burnt dry meat and perfect potatoes or delectable moist meat and raw potatoes.  There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground with this meal yet the campers love it and demand it trip after trip.

In the End Camp Food is Still about the 3 Fs

Ultimately what camp food has going for it is the fact that you’re hungry and will eat anything.  Later because you remember the Friendship, Fire and Fun you forget burnt and raw and tell everyone the best food ever was cooked around the camp fire.  So what’s the best meal you ever had at camp?

Camping, 1925

Right Recipe Wrong Ingredients

You can have the best recipe ever but if you have the wrong ingredients your food is not going to look like the photo in the cookbook.

Baking Powder – Baking Soda – what’s the diff?   Baking is baking after all.

I’m assuming you know the difference so I’ll skip the explanation and move right into last week’s culinary experiment.

Chinese Sesame Seed Rolls – tasty little fried morsels rolled in sesame seeds with a sweet filling of red bean paste.

Both crispy and chewy 'Onde Onde', fried sesam...

Every now and then it strikes; the “I can do anything mentality.”  Why go to a restaurant when I should be able to make these at home.  I was planning to buy the red bean paste until a friend said it was easy to make, her mother made it all the time.  I’m a mother too. I should be able to do this.  Right?

Red Bean Paste

Red beans

Optimistically I researched recipes.  First the Red Bean Paste.  Although all the recipes started with dried beans and many specified the specific Oriental bean required I had a can of red beans in the pantry.  Why not?  The basics of red bean paste are to cook the beans until soft, mash them, add sugar (either white or brown), and finally cook again, this time in oil.

Nothing seemed right as I worked through the steps.  For example, when mashed the canned red beans white inside seemed to be the prominent color and the red skins looked just like that, bits of red skin.  But once the sugar was added the color seemed to darken – what kind of food miracle was this?  By the time I was frying the kind of red glump I had in the oil it got darker and suddenly I realized I actually had Red Bean Paste…Hooray.  Apparently in this case The Wrong Ingredients still worked in the Right Recipe.

The Dough Ingredients

The main two ingredients for the Sesame rolls are sesame seeds and rice flour.  At my local Kroger I had several brands of sesame seeds to choose from but rice flour, where oh where would a grocery store hide rice flour.  It wasn’t in with the other oriental foods; more surprising to me it wasn’t in the flour section.  In desperation I did the unthinkable and asked an employee for help.  Rice flour, of course, it’s in the health food section.    Triumphant I returned home to master this recipe.

What Went Wrong

Two kinds of rice flour

Before actually cooking I went back to my trusty dusty home computer to compare a few recipes and be sure they were all similar.  That’s when I discovered my major wrong ingredient.  Seems there are two, that’s right, count’em up, two types of rice flour.  Regular, which I had, and sweet, which is specified in every sesame seed roll recipe.  In fact entire web pages were written on how regular rice flour would not produce a decent sesame seed roll.

Here’s the dilemma; I had blocked out time to make these delicacies.  I was ready to make the rolls. How bad could the rolls be if I used the regular rice flour I had purchased.   Making the rolls is easy.  The one problem I had was putting too much red bean paste into each roll.  For the size rolls I wanted it took less than a 1/8 of a teaspoon.  That’s not much.  According to the recipes I read the hard part is the frying.  You have to keep the rolls rolling.  Even that part was easy.

There’s no photo of my rolls because “they” the experts are right.  I shouldn’t have used the rice flour I did.  The rolls were heavy and thick, not at all what I wanted.   Looked good, tasted – well at least the dogs would eat them.

Once I get to a more urban environment; one that has a market with more flour choices I’ll try again.  I have the right recipe, now I just need the right ingredients.