Tag Archives: mom

Thanksgiving 2: Reenie’s Bread Dressing

As I’ve stated before, my mother really didn’t like to cook.  Yet, she made sure our family of 6 ate a home-cooked meal every single night and sat down at the table together at the end of the day (except for Friday which was, of course, pizza night.)  When I went to college, my tastes in food and interest in cooking soared to a much more adventurous place than my mother’s would ever go.  But despite that, my mother taught me invaluable lessons in the kitchen, from how to store food, how to make food stretch farther, etc.  One of the greatest was using dried herbs and granulates while cooking.

There are so many options for these dried spices and our apartment in full of them.  They last much longer than fresh herbs and don’t require any kind of chopping, which makes them perfect for busy families, weeknight meals and, especially, experimenting.  They can help you save a dish that’s missing something or guide you to creating a brand new recipe.  I am incredibly grateful to my Mom for introducing me to their wonders.

This year, I celebrated Thanksgiving Day with James’ family and we had a second Thanksgiving with my family on Black Friday.  I made stuffing for both Thanksgivings and for my family I made my Mom’s traditional bread stuffing, which consists of all dried herbs and granulated onion powder.  It’s a simple dish and absolutely delicious – all the flavors you expect from Thanksgiving without any of the work.  When splitting up the side dish duties this year, we realized that my Mom’s “bread dressing” and the family’s famous “rice dressing” had almost the exact same ingredient – one has bread and butter, the other has rice and bacon.  Otherwise, all the ingredients are the same.  Why mess with perfection?

I did experiment a little bit, of course.  I increased the butter by… 150%, which frankly was a little overkill.  But below I give you the recipe that I think will come out just right.

Reenie's Bread Dressing

Ingredients:

16 slices Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread (one loaf)
8 TBL butter (1 stick) – 6 TBL melted, 2 TBL cut into small chunks
1 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 & 1/2 cups chicken stock

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Melt 6 TBL of butter.  Keep remaining 2 TBL in refrigerator until step 8.
  3. Cut or tear bread into chunks.
  4. Mix all dried spices together.
  5. Pour half  of melted butter onto bread and toss to coat.  Pour remaining butter and toss again so butter is as evenly distributed as possible.
  6. Immediately after, while butter is still wet, sprinkle dried spices while tossing so coating is even.
  7. Add 1 & 1/2 cup of chicken stock to moisten bread.
  8. Pour dressing into a 9 x 13 casserole dish.
  9. Cut remaining 2 TBL butter into small chunks and distribute on the top of the casserole.  (The butter doesn’t need to be cold, but it helps when handling with your fingers!)
  10. Bake in oven for 30 – 45 minutes until top is crisp.

Procedure with anecdotes and pictures:

Unfortunately I lost a lot of my pictures, so I don’t have any visual illustration of mixing the dressing.  I hope my description above will suffice!

Mom loved to keep Arnold’s Whole Wheat Bread in the house and that’s what the bread dressing was always made from as well.  I made sure to pick that up for this dish as well, but I’m sure any wheat bread would be great.20141128_115559

Another wonderful feature of this recipe is that you don’t need to wait for the bread to get stale – it can come right out of the bag!  That really saves on time and prep.

I find it’s easier to cut the bread with a bread knife than to tear into chunks with my hands.  I was able to cut four slices at a time, which made it really fast.  I found that cutting length-wise first made it easier to hold the slices together as I cut.20141128_12350220141128_115839

Dotting the stuffing with butter is something I just learned in this past month from Bon Appetit and it yielded great results – lots of crunchy, buttery pieces for everyone to enjoy, giving contrast to the soft pieces buried underneath.  I totally recommend it – what’s 2 more tablespoons of butter on Thanksgiving?20141128_125515

20141128_172144
Yeah… it got a little burnt. Stick to 30-45 minutes and you should be safe! And it was still tasty!

 

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“Reenie Cake”

I do not like birthday cake.  That light, sponge-like cake that comes in a sheet pan and is decorated beautifully, served at birthdays, served at weddings, served at retirement parties – eh.  It’s not just for me.  I usually decline, much to the HORROR of everyone around me, as if I am making some kind of silent protest or judging them for having cake at 3:00pm.  Yo, I’d dig in, too, if it were something worth the calories.  I feel similarly about cupcakes, even though they do tempt me more often with their creative flavors.  But no – too light, too airy, gone too quickly.

I like a cake that makes you work for it, one that satisfies you completely when it’s done.  A cake that requires a break before complete consumption.

This is because my mother spoiled me (unintentionally) as a child – my whole family, really – by making us Reenie Cake for every single birthday.  When your immediate family is 6 people, that means you get to eat Reenie Cake 6 times a year.  Then you branch out into the extended family (Mom was one of 9 children), because the cake was famous by this point and requested for all types of occasions, and you’ve got Reenie Cake throughout the year.  You are eating tons of Reenie Cake.20140406_145957

My Mom would want me to tell you that the recipe was NOT her own – she got it from someone else, made the cake, and rest was history.  It was demanded to be the only cake we would eat and would be known as Reenie Cake from that point forward.  Sorry Mom and sorry person who gave Mom that recipe – that’s just the way it goes.20140406_145951

So what IS this magical Reenie Cake you must be asking yourself? Truly – it is pound cake.  Simple pound cake, actually.  But, treated as a birthday cake by my mother, it was always frosted.  Frosted pound cake.  Yeah, wrap your head around that for a second.  You see why I never could get behind birthday cake after that?

My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie's miraculous creations.
My sister, Kate, age 2, preparing to eat one of Reenie’s miraculous creations.

We haven’t had many visitors since we moved to DC, so when James’ parents were coming to visit a few months ago, I lost my MIND and decided the apartment must be spotless and that I needed to bake something.  James tried to stop me – he even told his parents so THEY could assure me it wasn’t necessary – but it was useless.  For some reason I decided I needed to get all Leave it to Beaver and have a fresh baked good for his parents.20140406_150102

Around that time, I had made the Buttermilk Brined Chicken and needed to use up more of that leftover buttermilk.  I was also in a very bad place emotionally, really missing my Mom and longing for some kind of connection to her.  Then I realized – I’d never attempted to make Reenie Cake before.  What a perfect solution – and a way to connect with my Mom in a way I never had when she was alive.

Just reading my mother’s instructions was satisfying: she had a way of writing exactly as she spoke and her enthusiasm and honesty simultaneously tugged at my heart strings and cracked me up.  A perfect example is how she tried to tell my sister-in-law how to make the famous frosting: “I used 4 tablespoons of butter (fat kind) and 10 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, approx. 1/3 cup of milk, and 3 – 3 ½ cups of confectioner’s sugar.  I just add the sugar and milk til it’s the right spreading consistency.  It should have also had 1 tsp. of vanilla, but I forgot to add it!”  Oh, how I miss her.

The experience of making her cake was strongly cathartic in a way I really didn’t expect.  I thought it would be nice, I’d remember her, I’d have yummy cake.  But the act of putting these ingredients together in this exact way brought up really powerful emotions.  When the batter started to come together, I jumped up and down in the kitchen proclaiming to James “It’s Reenie Cake!  It’s Reenie Cake!”  I have so many memories of my mother standing at the kitchen counter mixing together this cake and the pure childlike excitement (that, thank god, I never lost) of getting to lick those beaters and eat Reenie Cake came flooding back.  Even as health-conscious as she was, she could not resist offering us the beaters: she never could resist making anyone happy.  I can picture the look on her face, which was a mixture of bemusement and satisfaction.  The look in her eyes said “oh you’re such a weirdo for getting this excited about batter”, yet her smile hid nothing: she loved to make this weirdo excited.20140404_190241

In such a “Reenie” way, she never wanted Reenie Cake for her own birthday.  As long as I can remember, my Mom always requested Jewish Apple Cake… from the grocery store.  Every year, that’s what she wanted, which became a tradition on its own, and quite easy to accomplish because apples are perfectly in season during my mother’s birthday on October 23rd.  My sister-in-law, baker extraordinaire, had made the cake for her from scratch the last few years.  Below, you can see Mom admiring that masterpiece on the last of her birthdays we’d celebrate together.  I think I know what I’ll be doing to commemorate her this October 23rd.IMAG0510

Alas, when I attempted Reenie Cake, I did not frost mine.  There was not the time.  But now you have my Mom’s recipe above!  I made a vanilla glaze with confectioners sugar and milk (milk, I’ve found, tends to harden faster than ones made with water or lemon juice.)  But even without the frosting, it is a decadent, sumptuous treat that somehow seems as if it’s appropriate for breakfast…

So how can you, too, enjoy this jumping-up-and-down cake bliss?  I’m glad you asked!

“Reenie Cake”

Note 1: I should tell you that, although this is my third (and last) post in my series on buttermilk, Reenie Cake wasn’t made with buttermilk when Reenie would make it.  She’d make it with regular milk and lemon juice.  But I needed to use up the buttermilk, so that’s the only thing I changed about the recipe.  The cake tastes very much the same as I remember.

Note 2: The directions for this cake don’t exactly follow the rules I know about baking.  Yet, I went ahead and made the cake exactly as described and it turned out perfectly.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 3 cups white sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Procedure: (full instructions here, with pictures below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.)
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)

Procedure with Pictures

  1. Preheat oven to 325ºF
  2. Grease a 10 -inch bundt pan (I used the flat pan, not the kind with the decorative edges, as in traditional for Reenie Cake.)20140404_183347
  3. Whisk flour and baking powder together to combine and aerate
  4. In mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter and shortening together for about 3 minutes20140404_18525220140404_185648
  5. Add sugar 1 cup at a time until smooth before adding the next20140404_190003
  6. Add eggs, 1 at a time, until thoroughly combined before adding the next20140404_185705
  7. Add flour and buttermilk, alternating between each, until thoroughly combined20140404_190225
  8. Add vanilla extract and mix until combined.
  9. Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan.  Smooth out batter as evenly as possible.20140404_191417 20140404_191508
  10. Bake cake in preheated oven until a toothpick or skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, for 70 to 80 minutes. (Mine took 80 minutes.)20140404_204247
  11. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. Invert cake onto a plate and then return to the rack so that the slightly rounded end is upright.  (This was incredibly hard for me because the pan was still hot so I tried to do it with oven mits on – I wish I had a video to share with you.  I recommend watching some youtube videos before you try it.) 20140404_211119
  13.  Cool completely before frosting or glazing (Reenie would cool overnight.)20140406_150003 20140406_150058