Coda to October Cookie Surprise

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I imagine this horse could be dreaming of leading a stampede for snack cakes. Actually I took this picture at a custom car show last year. It’s the hood of a Mustang with stunning metal flake paint. The clouds are a reflection.

Since we made snack cakes by accident yesterday, I thought I would tell you that there is a simple, reliable formula for those at Buns in My Oven. The recipe is called Chocolate Pudding Dump Cake, but it can be twisted into several different flavor variations.

The formula is super simple: combine a box of cake mix, a small box of dry pudding mix and a bag of chocolate chips (any flavor baking chip works). Mix with a cup and a half of milk, pour in a greased 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

The end product of this formula is surprisingly good. It has a fun, spongy density and tender crumb. It’s so sweet it needs no icing.

I’ve made a red velvet version by using red velvet cake mix, vanilla pudding mix and white baking chips. Using yellow cake mix, vanilla pudding and semisweet chips makes chocolate chip snack bars.

This a fun recipe for beginning bakers. I wish I had thought of these yesterday instead of baking weird snack cakes by accident.

October Cookie Surprise

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My daughter and I launched our fall baking season with a bar batch of basic Toll House chocolate chip cookies. This recipe is so reliable that both she and I know it by heart.

Something went awry in this process, for result was not the usual chewy cookie bar. Instead we have a batch of chocolate chip snack cakes that stuck to the cookie sheet ruthlessly. Only one chocolate chip was visible from the top surface of the batch. The rest of the chips stayed submerged in the pillowy dough.

At least these accidental snack cakes taste good, if not a bit too sweet.

Pizza, U.S.A.

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One of many pizza restaurants in Lima, Ohio. This one may be defunct by now. In looking through my photo archives, I was surprised that this is the only pizzeria image I had on file. How I could have just one photo of something so omnipresent in my city?

A recent article in my local newspaper about the high number of pizzerias in my city made me consider that I may be living in Pizza, U.S.A. Per this article, we have 30 pizza businesses operating a total of 40 locations. This may not sound extraordinary, but here in Lima, Ohio, we have just 38,355 residents (U.S. Census Bureau). I don’t know if anyone has made a study of pizzeria density in the United States, but I figure that my city must excel in that ratio.

Here in Lima, Ohio, I am not alone in my passion for pizza. There are two pizza joints so close to my house that I could walk a pizza home. I have a frozen pizza in my oven as I am writing this sentence. Next to my oven, there is a Kitchen Aid mixer painted the color of pizza sauce, ready to knead dough should I wish to make pizza myself.

Who doesn’t like pizza? If you don’t like it, I can still understand your plight. I hate mayonnaise, yet it seems to be the mortar that holds the Midwest together. Avoiding all those mayonnaise foods has left me more room for pizza. Thus, pizza was my first teacher in the value of being an Other.

I was born in the suburbs of Indianapolis, where pizza was not such a living thing. I can remember eating pizzeria pizza there just once. I also never tasted salsa or ranch dressing in that metropolis (ranch is the only thing with a taste compelling enough to let me overlook the mayo in it). This monotony ended when my family moved to Lima in 1982, a move that was literally a homecoming for my parents because they were both born here.

Everything in Lima tasted better to me, from the school lunches to my grandma’s divine creamed corn. Shortly after we moved, my mom converted to Catholicism, which was a culture shock to me because my religious life prior to that time consisted of Bible readings and yearly viewings of Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. When I could get my Sunday mornings back? And what was up with this forest green polyester jumper I had to wear to Catholic school?

Pizza eased my way into the Church. Facing our first ever Lenten Friday,  we needed a meatless dinner. My dad brought home a 21″ pizza from Fat Jacks. It costed just $6! It was enclosed in an enormous wax paper envelope with a miniature plastic table to keep the grease on the pizza and away from the paper. The wax paper still had a few translucent grease halos on it (Dr. Nick on The Simpsons once called such halos “the window to weight gain“).

Once my dad cut away the wax paper on that first Fat Jack’s pizza, I beheld the glory of 21” inches of carmelized cheese. There was enough pizza for all five of us in our family to have as much as we pleased. That Lenten pizza from 1982 is a still the finest pizza I’ve tasted.

I’ve lived in four different states and have visited 36 others. I haven’t been to any place where pizza is easier to get. When I lived on the West Coast, I once suggested pizza for dinner, which was vetoed because I’d made an unsolicited pizza that week. Why confine such a glory to once a week?

Here I can serve pizza to family and company alike without anyone complaining that they’ve already had too much pizza this week. Pizza is cheap, filling and can be suited to almost any dietary need.

Pizza speaks so well to the diversity, practicality and frugality of Lima. There is yet another pizzeria opening next month. I’m not worried that we’ll ever reach a saturation point for pizza.

Spaghetti Dinner

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This evening’s edition: rigatoni and ground beef with Mid’s sauce

Like chili or tacos, spaghetti is one of those dinners I regret I can’t serve more often. If I make spaghetti more than once a fortnight, I risk seeming lazy or obsessed. Since I seldom cook my own sauce, spaghetti is indeed an easy dinner for me to serve, aside from that moment of juggling pans as everything seems to finish at the same moment.

Here in the Midwest, spaghetti is actually two different things, a product or a dinner genre. The difference depends on whether you are buying or making spaghetti. In the grocery store, spaghetti is what you’d call a box of dried semolina dough that is cut to uniform length and ~2 mm girth. When you cook dinner at home around here and call it spaghetti, it could be almost any combination of tomato sauce, pasta and ground meat. Actually the meat is optional. If it is present, it may be crumbled or shaped into meatballs.

Spaghetti dinner has the rare quality of growing with a cook throughout a lifetime. It can be both a starter dish for a beginner or the signature meal of a master. I have made several attempts at creating a decent homemade sauce, but I end up with a bland but nice looking result, like a Penney’s catalog of cuisine. Since these efforts have not yet been worth the time I’ve spent on them, I usually buy a tomato sauce and add meat. My favorite store bought sauce is Mid’s, which is a bit pricey but has a much deeper tenor than typical jarred sauces.

Spaghetti dinner can be varied to the point of using a starch other than pasta. A few years ago, I tried substituting polenta for pasta, with favorable results. I can now make spaghetti dinner twice as often by disguising it as a polenta casserole. The next time I make this casserole, I will post its simple recipe. It is just a bed of polenta covered in meatballs and tomato sauce then topped with mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

I just had a vision of making a chili variation on the polenta casserole.

That’s what I need to make next.

If it works, I have an excuse to cook more chili, which is even more satisfying than making spaghetti dinner.

This could be how tamales were born. They are a taco variant of the polenta casserole.

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