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Easy cheesy Thanksgiving...with cake

Staff writer

Everything in life is a balancing act. I am constantly walking a tight rope between time for work and time for family. Add to that issue the time needed for Thanksgiving preparation and it all gets a little out of synchronization. In order to have it all make sense, I try to find a good balance. When it comes to food for Thanksgiving Day, I have found it helps to combine a little new with the old, and think outside the box for the Thanksgiving meal.

I have to admit, however, that I am a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving Day food. At our house, we have turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole and some sort of gelatin salad on Thanksgiving.

A few years ago, I found an easy way to include the traditional cranberry sauce in our meal … one that my children actually liked! It is a change now considered part of our tradition.

Cran-Raspberry Salad

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1 package (6 ounces) raspberry-flavored gelatin
  • 1 can (16 ounces) whole berry cranberry sauce
  • 1 cup dairy sour cream

Pour boiling water on gelatin; stir until gelatin is dissolved. Stir in cranberry sauce. Refrigerate until slightly thickened.

Beat in sour cream with hand beater. Pour into 5-cup mold. Refrigerator until firm; unmold.

Just last year I was turned on to the best ever cheesy-potato casserole dish and replaced the traditional mashed potatoes and gravy at our Thanksgiving table. No one complained, so I feel safe sharing that recipe too.

Easy Cheesy Potatoes

  • 2 lbs. frozen hash browns
  • 1/4 c. oleo, melted
  • 1/4 c. minced onion
  • 1 carton (8 oz.) sour cream
  • 2 c. grated cheese
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (10 1/2 oz.)

Thaw potatoes. Combine with the other six ingredients. Spread in a large pan (13 X 9 inches). Top with 2 cups crushed cornflakes and 1/4 cup melted oleo.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes.

The act of balancing tradition with taste on Thanksgiving Day continues with dessert at our house. I have always liked apple pie, and about half our family agrees with me. The other half likes pumpkin pie, which is a good traditional favorite as well, but for me is kind of a hit-or-miss thing to make. I guess I just have not found the perfect no-fail recipe yet. Most likely, this is because I am somewhat a thrifty cook and use my own pumpkin mix. I do not like to buy the stuff in cans unless I have too.

That is how it is with cake and me as well. Cake mixes are quite cheap these days, so it probably makes more sense to use a cake mix instead of looking for a recipe. However, I love recipes and would rather make it from scratch.

I am not the best plan-and-prepare-ahead kind of cook though, and problems sometimes occur.

First, I have never been good at keeping a grocery store in my pantry, and I do not see the advantage of buying premeasured, premixed, chemical concoctions if I can just as easily stir it together at home.

Another problem is that sometimes I do not have all the necessary ingredients on hand for emergencies.

Such a case-in-point happened last week when my son’s high school play included a pre-performance meal and parents were supposed to donate two cakes each. Of course, I forgot about this until the day of the evening performance.

I was quite proud of myself to find in my old recipe box, two tried-and-true cake recipes that I have always turned to with success. There was not time for a grocery store run but I knew my grandmothers, from whom the recipes came, would not let me down.

The first recipe was a depression-era cupcake treat, which I figured could easily convert to cake with the use of the proper pan.

My mother had written this recipe in her own childhood cookbook, copied from her mother’s cookbook … so it was very special to me.

Thrifty White Cupcakes

  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/3 c. sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2/3 cup shortening (soft)
  • 1 c. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg

Beat all ingredients except egg for two minutes. Add the egg and beat until smooth and creamy. Optional, sprinkle part or all of a small package of strawberry gelatin over top before baking.

Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes.

I doubled the recipe, sampled the batter (it was very good!), and put it in the oven to bake. All was well, until I discovered I had no frosting ingredients. What to do? Hmmm, there was a package of strawberry gelatin in the cabinet … why not sprinkle it on top while the cake finished baking?

While cake number one with the strawberry gelatin top was baking, I started on cake number two. This chocolate cake recipe came from my mother-in-law, who had gotten it from her mother, a good family favorite.

As I started mixing the chocolate cake ingredients together, I noted there were a few items I was in trouble on. First, I had used the last of the vanilla in the thrifty white cake, so I would need to make a substitution. The spice cabinet yielded few options until I found the mint flavoring purchased a few years ago for making peppernut cookies. Hmmm … smelled good, so in it went.

As the batter mixed, the aroma reminded me of my favorite chocolate Andes’ mints … now this recipe change might be worth keeping.

Moist Chocolate Cake

Combine:

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 2 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 5 T. cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • Add to dry ingredients:
  • 1 c. salad oil
  • 1 c. buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla (or substitute 1 tsp. mint flavor)

After all is mixed, combine and add:

  • 1 c. hot water (or substitute 1 c. hot coffee)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda

Beat well. Batter is thin.

Bake in a 13X9 inch pan at 350 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

When the recipe called for an additional cup of water to be added with baking soda, my creative mind was already hard at work. Why not use the leftover coffee in the pot instead and have Chocolate-mint-coffee cake as a result? In went the coffee. Mmm, the batter was good, and the finished cake was even better, but there was still the problem of no frosting.

I mixed up a bit of cornstarch and sugar, and for fun added green food coloring. The result was a glaze, of sorts, which I drizzled on top of the finished cake. It looked a little too bare, so I finished off with half a can of colored sprinkles, which stuck nicely to the glaze.

Mission accomplished; I was just admiring my handiwork, when the son who needed to take the cakes to school came down the stairs.

“Oh, by the way, mom, our teacher said to tell our parents not to bring any more cakes because we already have way too many,” he said.

Great! I hope my family is interested in cake for Thanksgiving. I put them both in the freezer and we will see how they taste on Thursday — should be interesting. They will probably be too full of turkey, cranberry salad, and cheesy potatoes to notice they are eating cake instead of pie. It is all a balancing act anyway.

Last modified Nov. 23, 2011

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