American cooking

Gluten free Morning Glory muffins.

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“You might consider going gluten-free for at least a month,” my doctor said recently, to see if some symptoms I was experiencing might subside.

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NOT. I am cRaZy about bread, especially if it is homemade, warm and slathered with butter. The thought of giving up my absolute favorite food in the whole wide world practically borders on alarming. But for the sake of seeing if it would zap those symptoms, my brain made my mouth say, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.” Internally, though, I squinched my nose at the whole notion of it.

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For the next few days I researched and printed lists of snacks (here’s a good one) and meals that were gluten-free. I discovered the gluten-free Goddess and gluten-free on a Shoestring, both of whom show GF bread that is convincingly bread-like. I may yet try to make a gluten-free baguette.

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And honestly, gluten-free is not a hard as it sounds. Turns out we already eat a lot of things that are gluten-free, and I wouldn't need to buy too many pricey specialty items from our brand new Whole Foods store. (Yes, I waited in line for 30 minutes on a hot sticky July morning to get in this shiny new store on opening day. I got a freebie $50 gift card for my trouble.) And I rediscovered rice cakes! Which I like, especially spread with peanut butter and sliced bananas.

Waiting for Whole Foods to open

While I was going gluten-free, I happened upon a recipe in YogaJournal for gluten-free Carrot-Walnut Muffins. For GF, they sure looked good! (The pallid photo on YJ's site does them little justice -- they appear much more appetizing in the actual magazine.)

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As a bonus, they are described as having “half the calories and carbs" -- yet another reason to give gluten-free a try.

So I made them. The only not-normal ingredient I needed was
coconut flour, which is available in the healthy-organics aisle at our regular old grocery store (Jewel, which we love to hate, but that's a post for a different day). And the recipe calls for coconut oil, but I subbed melted butter because I love butter. Plus, I didn't have coconut oil on hand, although now I do. Coconut oil will make these fully vegan. With crushed pineapple and dried coconut on the ingredient list, these are very much like morning glory muffins.

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They don’t rise up into pretty domes like regular muffins, but they still look good, taste quite yummy (especially spread with butter!), and have a light yet satisfying texture. They freeze well, and you can defrost them easily on the counter or very briefly in your microwave whenever you want one (or two) with breakfast or as a snack. I've noticed that gluten-free bread things feel less filling in the tummy, which may be yet another reason to go gluten-free.

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I am weak when it comes to wheat so I am not a gluten-free convert, and my mystery symptoms subsided despite my short-lived attempt to banish gluten from my diet. I am willing to cut down on gluten whenever I can, but one of my limits is pizza crust. We tried Bob’s Red Mill Pizza Crust Mix and it was, well, okay. If you must eliminate gluten from your diet, then it's a decent substitute. It has a nice biscuity flavor that goes well with mozzarella cheese (gluten-free!) and veggies (also gluten-free!).

Since GF is not a "must" for me, I will stick with the New York Times
Quick Pizza Dough recipe, which can be made quickly in a food processor, if you have one, and in the usual bread-making way if you don't. It's still pretty quick without a food processor, with only one 20-minute rising, and it can be formed into balls and frozen for future use. My BFF might appreciate the recipe because it requires practically no kneading! She is not a kneader. I am a kneader, but our nearly-30-year friendship still works somehow.

If you feel like dipping your toes into the gluten-free zone, these GF Carrot-Walnut Muffins are a good dish to start with. You'll find the recipe
here.

Enjoy!
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Hot weather heaven: Strawberry Cheesecake Pops.

Remember the Good Humor truck?

good-humor-truck-with-kidsOkay, I don’t go back that far, but I do remember the Good Humor man.

Oh how I loved Chocolate Eclair and Strawberry Shortcake bars. Delish! And those red-white-and-blue Bomb Pops, orange Push-ups, ice cream sandwiches, and my favorite: Fudgsicles (“fudgickles” to the rest of us). Hot weather heaven.

After a long and chilly midwestern spring, Memorial Day weekend brought sunshine and warm breezes (and rain, no surprise), so summer can't be too far off. And what better way to usher in ice cream season than with Strawberry Cheesecake popsicles! And where can you buy Strawberry Cheesecake popsicles? Answer: nowhere! But you can
make them. It takes a bit more effort than pouring Kool-Aid into paper cups, but the results will be worth it (and fairly low-fat, too).

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The recipe comes from
Cooking Light magazine, courtesy of my doctor's office -- which kept me waiting just long enough to find the recipe but not so long that I had to read the whole issue twice.

As soon as I saw these pops, I was immediately on the hunt for a classic popsicle mold,
which I found at World Market -- advertised as a set of two but you can buy them separately, thank goodness. We don't need to make 20 popsicles at a time just yet. And they come with a packet of wooden sticks, too.

You'll note I keep saying "
popsicle." I know, I know -- popsicle is a brand name, but I can't help it. I just can't bring myself to say "ice pop." Too generic. For me, sweet frozen things on a stick will always be POPsicles.

(Oh my golly, even as I type this the ice cream truck is chiming its way merrily up our street!)

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Fresh strawberries (although you could certainly use thawed frozen berries if that's easier) are blended with lemon juice and corn syrup for one half of the pop. Don't balk at that corn syrup -- it helps the strawberries freeze softly rather than rock hard. Separately you mix together evaporated milk, sugar, low fat cream cheese, fat free Greek yogurt and vanilla.


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Pour the mixtures alternately into your popsicle mold or even paper cups. These molds are 4 ounces, and I got ten pops out of the recipe.

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DETOUR:
Cooking Light's recipe calls for dipping the frozen pops into crushed graham cracker crumbs before serving, but I knew that wouldn't be enough for me (plus, how would those crumbs stick?) It's the slightly sweet, buttery graham cracker crust that balances cheesecake's cream-cheesiness. So I made half a recipe of graham cracker crust (see below), which I crumbled and dropped into the molds as each layer of popsicle filling was added, and tucked some on top when they were full. It's fiddly but oh so worth it! Next time I'll drop some crust crumbles into the molds even before I start filling, so those first bites have buttery graham crust in them.

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When the molds are filled, gently swirl the mixture with a popsicle stick or skewer to mix them up just a bit but not too much. You still want that nice separation of cheesecake and strawberry flavors, just as you get with a slice of cheesecake.

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They should be frozen and ready to eat in 3-4 hours. When ready, run warm water over each of the molds for a few minutes, wiggle them out gently, and enjoy. The pops tasted
divine and elicited sounds of delight from all who ate them. They evoke the cool, creamy flavor of strawberry cheesecake without all the cheesy heaviness. And the bites of graham cracker crust throughout were perfection, if I say so myself.

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The popsicle mold will be getting an additional workout when I make the
New York Times' Frozen Fudge Pop recipe. Sure, it's easier to buy Fudgesicles, but when the recipe calls for 54% cacao chocolate ... well, I have to try making them. And at some point in the future I'll be spiking popsicles -- can't buy booze-sicles at the grocery store!

Here is the Cooking Light recipe for Strawberry Cheesecake Pops (their word, not mine -- mine would be "popsicles"). My half-recipe for graham cracker crust mix-in is below. The Good Humor man never had it so good. Bring on summer!


Graham Cracker Crust

This is ideal baked in a toaster oven because it's such a small quantity.

5 oz. finely crushed graham crackers (about 9-10 squares)
2 Tablespoons sugar
2-1/2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat toaster oven or conventional oven to 375 degrees.

In a smallish bowl, stir the graham cracker crumbs and sugar until completely blended. Add melted butter and mix well, until all crumbs have been coated and the mixture clumps a little. Press into a toaster oven pan or a pie pan to about 1/4" thick or thicker, if you like.

Bake for 4-5 minutes -- keep an eye on it so it doesn't burn. It will cook quickly! Remove from oven and allow to cool either in the pan, or lift it out and cool on a rack. Crumble into pieces as large or small as you like and sprinkle into your molds. I used probably less than half of this recipe for my popsicles, but next time I'll add more to each one.


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Concord Grape Jelly

Pictures and paintings of autumn’s harvest bounty invariably feature juicy red apples, golden yellow pears, ruby red pomegranates, orange persimmons, squash of all shapes and colors, plums (plum colored?), and always clusters of gorgeous purple grapes spilling over the side of a bowl or out the side of a horn of plenty.
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I associate grapes -- green and red -- with summer. Fresh, cold and not-too-sweet, they are perfect warm weather thirst quenchers (especially frozen). But strolling through our nearby French Market http://www.wilmette.com/business/frenchmarket.aspx last October I discovered generous cartons of purple Concord grapes giving off the headiest grapey fragrance. Concord grapes exist for just about one thing: homemade grape jam. And why not? I’ve made strawberry, raspberry and peach jams before, so grape jam can’t be too difficult.
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When I was a wee-small girl, our neighbors had grape vines camouflaging the chain link fence that surrounded their tall, narrow white house on the corner. My friends and I used to sneak hard, unripe green grapes from those vines, and ohmyGOSH were they ever tart! My mouth puckers just thinking about it. After they ripened, Mrs. Neighbor magically transformed those grapes into jelly. I had no idea how one made jelly (it was bought, at the grocery store) and imagined Mrs. Neighbor’s kitchen full of beakers and cauldrons and tubes pushing purple goop into jars. She passed along some of her finished jelly to us, and boy that goop tasted good!
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So I bought a carton of those aromatic Concord grapes (about 1.5 to 2 pounds, I think), set out a few Ball jars with rings and lids, found this http://www.thehungrymouse.com/2009/09/21/concord-grape-jam/ recipe, and got started.
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Other fruit jams require removing little green tops (strawberries), peeling (peaches), or mashing (raspberries). Concord grapes require blooping -- that is, squeezing each and every grape out of it’s tasty tart purple skin (here’s an action pic from Hungry Mouse http://www.thehungrymouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/DSCN1093.jpg). Bloop! Just like that. It’s easy but a bit time consuming. Some recipes call for mashing the grapes without skinning them, some for blooping. I blooped. The blooped grapes resemble eyes of newt. http://people.uwec.edu/piercech/animals/newt-cal.jpg
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The skins were pulverized in a blender along with some sugar and lemon juice, resulting in a sweet, bright purple juice that I wanted to drink down on the spot.
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Pulverized skins and blooped grapes go into a pan for heating to a full rolling boil. Mmmm, smells amazing already.
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Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble! No actual eye of newt http://www.potw.org/archive/potw283.html in there (nor toe of frog nor wool of bat nor tongue of dog ...) No trouble, either. Everything is bubbing along merrily in there.
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Cheesecloth is the traditional grape jelly strainer but my fine mesh sieve did the job. Kept all those crunchy seeds out of the smoooooth grape mixture.
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Now, apparently grapes have some pectin, to help the mixture set up, but mine must not have had enough. Or I didn’t boil it vigorously enough, or something. I could tell it wasn’t setting properly, so I did end up adding powdered pectin (Hungry Mouse’s recipe doesn’t call for it, but other http://allrecipes.com/recipe/concord-grape-jelly/ recipes http://www.eatingoutloud.com/2010/09/coronation-grape-jelly-recipe.html do http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/cooking-live/concord-grape-jelly-recipe/index.html. After cooling it was still looser than regular jam but nicely spreadable and oh so yummy.
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Well look at that -- just enough for one pretty li’l jar of grape jelly, about 2 cups. Not too bad for a first try! I didn’t bother with ultra sterilization and hermetic sealing -- this jar was going straight into the fridge to chill and then back out ASAP to dally around with buttered toast. Concord grape jelly 10
And it was scrumptious -- just like eating Concord grapes off the vine but without that mouth-puckering tartness. No comparison
at all with Welch’s Grape Jelly, but possibly a rival for the original Welch’s “Grapelade” http://file.vintageadbrowser.com/l-460twb69hhgefk.jpg (“... velvety smooth, rich and delicate in flavor.” Mmmm, sounds dreamy!) I could easily see filling pockets of pie crust with this jelly and making tasty little grape tarts. Next time.

Concord grapes are uniquely American, making Concord grape jam a uniquely American treat. In fact, grape jam or jelly of any sort seems to be almost exclusively American. The grapes themselves were bred in Concord, Massachusetts around 1849 by Ephraim Wales Bulls http://kaufmann-mercantile.com/ephraim-wales-bull-and-the-concord-grape/, a self-taught horticulturist who crossed various grape types to create a variety that would ripen between the late spring thaws and early autumn frosts typical of Concord’s climate. Bull’s efforts resulted in the Concord grape, hailed around the country for its hardiness, musky fragrance and sweet flavor.

In 1869, Thomas Bramwell Welch http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Bramwell_Welch devised a method of pasteurizing grape juice to prevent it from fermenting into wine (he was a staunch Methodist and prohibitionist). Later, the Welch’s company developed a jam called “Grapelade” (grape + marmalade?) which evolved into their now-famous Concord Grape Jelly. Although peanut butter was not invented by an American http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcellus_Gilmore_Edson, the peanut butter making machine http://stlouiscore.com/blog/2012/04/12/i-love-peanut-butter/ was.) So when you make a good old fashioned peanut butter and Concord grape jelly sandwich, you are taking a bite of American history. (Don’t forget the milk!)
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Peach and blackberry crisp.

flag-mini-American Oh no, summer is almost over! Did you enjoy lots of seasonal fruits while they were available? We did -- plenty of ripe nectarines (my favorite), blueberries, at least one watermelon, some cantaloupe, and most recently peaches and blackberries baked into a nutty, juicy fruit crisp.
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Fruit crisps and cobblers seem to be uniquely American desserts -- who doesn’t associate peach cobbler with southern cuisine? And in my childhood we made applesauce and ate endless apple crisps after a day of early fall apple picking.
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According to What’s Cooking America, crisps and cobblers evolved from early settlers, who adapted their favorite Old World meat-and-pastry dishes to New World produce and cooking methods. The Brits brought recipes of sweet or savory fillings cooked (or "cobbled") together with a crust or biscuity topping (which some say resembled cobblestones), from which we Yanks created some of our familiar pot pies and cobblers. And their fruit "crumbles" became our crisps.
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Variations on the fruit-and-dough theme can be found in recipe boxes and church cookbooks throughout our fair land, with folksy names like brown Betty, buckle, grunt, pandowdy, slump and sonker. Say, how about a generous helping of blueberry sonker!
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To enjoy summertime fruit without a lot of preparation, there is (almost) nothing easier than the fruit crisp, or “crumble” to my U.K. relations. Unlike fruit pies, which require two thinly rolled crusts, crisps need only a sweet crumbly oatmeal-butter-flour mixture which is sprinkled over the fruit -- much easier for casual cooks than rolling circles of dough, then draping, pinching, poking, and praying the bottom doesn’t come out soggy and the top doesn’t brown too quickly. Okay, it’s not that tricky, but crisps are, by comparison, much easier!
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Peeling and slicing fresh peaches is easy, and tossing them with a little sugar and whole blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or whatever else strikes your fancy is even easier.
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You’ll have to put a wee bit of elbow grease into the topping, but not much. Cutting butter into flour can be satisfying, in a repetitive-motion sort of way. I use a pastry blender, but you can slice at it with two knives, a fork, or just dig in with your hands and work it together with your fingers. Then stir in sugar, oats, nuts (I like toasted almond slivers) and spices, and you’ll have a nice mixture that is either crumbly or might resemble loose oatmeal cookie dough, depending on how soft your butter is. Sprinkle evenly on the fruit, or pull off small globs and plop them around the fruit as evenly as possible. (I popped a few of those globs into my mouth first, for testing purposes. Yum.)
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In 30 minutes it will cook into a beautifully golden, crispy top with juicy stewed fruit underneath. Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream go wonderfully with fruit crisp, but we ate it straight up, with some tea on the side.
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If you want to savor the last weeks of summer, make some crisp with whatever summery fruits are still available at your farmer’s market or grocery. Or try pears and apples, to acknowledge the coming of fall. And in a few weeks, as we wave down the sun on the Autumnal Equinox, we can start thinking about heartier cold-weather fare ... like anything with pumpkin! But for now, summer.
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Peach and Blackberry Fruit Crisp
Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Be creative with fruits and spices in this recipe -- fruit crisp is very versatile!

4 cups sliced peeled peaches (about 4 medium peaches)
1 cup blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix fruit gently with 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl until sugar dissolves. Pour into an 8- or 9-inch round pie plate or baking dish.

Combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon/spices in a medium bowl. Work butter into flour until mixture resembles course crumbs (or, in my case, until it resembles cookie dough). Mix in oats and nuts until well combined. Sprinkle over top of fruit until evenly distributed.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until fruit is tender and topping is golden and ... crisp. Serve warm, with ice cream or whipped cream if you're feeling naughty.
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Cowboy cake: the family secret EVERYONE knows.

flag-mini-American After making several references to "Cowboy cake" in my last post, I figured it's time to share the secret recipe for my family's favorite brown sugar spice cake. We've been enjoying cowboy cake for years, and it's time to go public with it so y'all can enjoy it, too. Yeehaw!

cowgirl cowboy fabric
Cowboy cake couldn't be easier: it stirs up quickly in one bowl with no expensive, rare or fancy ingredients (except for one very special and secret addition--stay tuned) or culinary maneuverings, baked in a regular ol' 9"x13" pan and topped only with a bit of streusel sprinkled over the batter before cooking. Once baked and cooled (if you can wait that long), it is easy to consume square after moist delicious square, especially if you have a glass of cold milk nearby. Put a plateful of humble cowboy cake on the table and my family will plow through it in a flurry of cinnamon-nutmeg flavored crumbs.

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You probably have all the ingredients on hand for Cowboy Cake.

This is the cake we've always brought to summer picnics and family potlucks, and mom seemed to make it best. She charred many a chocolate chip cookie in her day, but she could have baked a perfect cowboy cake blindfolded. I felt like I'd joined the superspecial Cowboy Cake Club the first time I made one after moving into my own apartment. With that recipe in my then very small recipe box, it seemed I was in possession of a family treasure.

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Butter is worked into a brown-sugar/flour mixture to create the batter base and crumbly streusel topping.

Then one day a few years ago I couldn't find the precious recipe. PANIC. How would I replace it? had the family secret died with mom? I turned to the internet, hoping I would find some hint of the recipe out there. After "cowboy cake" yielded only some cute
cowboy themed birthday cakes, I hit on "cowboy coffee cake" and got 89,400 results (in 0.36 seconds, thank you Google). I was elated to find the exact recipe! But suddenly I realized ... this isn't a family secret at all. Dagnammit, EVERYONE knows about cowboy cake.

Pioneer woman with cowboy cakes
Can I seriously tell you ... this was a revelation to me. I really really thought cowboy cake was our exclusive family secret -- that NO one out there knew about it but us. This could have shattered me, but some rational part of my brain quickly adjusted and I thought, of course! This easy, tasty spice cake was probably created by smart pioneer women to supply energy for their hard-workin' cowboy sons and husbands.

Keep yer hands off my cowboy cake
Those hard-workin' women could easily and cheaply obtain all the basic ingredients for cowboy cake -- eggs, flour, butter, brown sugar, milk, leavening -- but didn't have time for fussiness like separating yolks from whites, mixing ingredients in five different bowls, and the extravagance of frosting. The finished cake was meant to be wrapped in waxed paper, packed into a rucksack and eaten with hot coffee around a campfire. Hence the name: cowboy coffee cake. It all makes sense now! I couldn't find any history of cowboy coffee cake, but I'm enjoying my wagontrail version of it.

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With a twinkle in her eye, mom loved revealing the secret ingredient in cowboy cake: vinegar. One tablespoon of red wine vinegar (or whatever you have in the pantry) mixed with a cup of milk sours it in just a few minutes and gives the cake just the slightest hint of tang. I'm sure pioneer women would have preferred straight up buttermilk -- a by-product of butter churning -- but I'm guessing souring milk was faster and a lot easier on the arms.

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A wooden spoon and a pastry blender (or two knives) are just about all that's required for this cake, although our pioneer sisters might have had some fun playing with a girly pink electric handmixer.

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A reserved half-cup of the brown-sugar/flour/butter base is sprinkled on the batter -- no frosting required!

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Cooks up the prettiest golden brown in about 30 minutes. OOPS. I'm drooling.

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Believe me ... one slice will only whet your appetite for more. Remember to have cold milk, tea, hot coffee or whatever you fancy nearby. (Have I sufficiently played up the importance of cold milk here?) Camp fire and chaps optional. Naturally, I
have to have a dollop of butter to spread on this cake. I'll need all that energy for driving cattle across the plains kids to school.

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Git along, little dogies! Cow
girls like it too.

Cowboy Cake (also known as Cowboy Coffee Cake)
 
2-1/2 cups light brown sugar
2-1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup butter (slightly softened) or margarine (chilled)
1 T. vinegar, preferably red wine vinegar
1 cup milk (I use 2%)

2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1-1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

 
Optional ingredients:  nuts, strong chicory coffee, baked beans, bacon fat, chewin' tobacco.

Grease and flour the bottom of a 9"x13" pan.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl stir together flour and brown sugar until thoroughly blended.  With pastry blender, two knives or your fingers, work butter into the mixture until it is the texture of bread crumbs.  Set aside 1/2 cup of crumbly mixture.

In a small bowl or measuring cup, add vinegar to milk, stir gently and let stand until sour, 2-3 minutes.

Stir baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices into to crumbly mixture and mix well; add beaten eggs and soured milk to mixture, stirring just until mixed (better will be loose and lumpy).  Pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle reserved 1/2 cup of crumbly mixture over the top.

 
Bake 15-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean; cake will spring back when touched lightly.  Slice and eat when cooled, if you can wait that long.  Enjoy!  

Improves with age (if it lasts long enough to age) and is
amazing spread with butter. You may just find yourself standing over the pan eating slice after slice until half the cake is gone. Ain't my fault!

As always, feel free to leave a comment.
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