Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Cheese"bugar" Pie

Steaming hot Impossible Pie.
Is there any more hilarious pun than the cheeseburger/cheesebugar one? Especially when you’re nine? It’s hard to know if I meant this as a little joke, though, or if I made an honest spelling mistake. (Quick spelling aside: Even without the cheat of spellcheck, I am a fantastic speller these days. I give all the credit to fifth grade teacher Ms. Dee, who, after I got 3/10 on a weekly spelling test, announced to the entire class, “Stefin will be staying inside at recess to work on her spelling.” I never did anything but ace a spelling test after that pitiful Friday when my chums played in the golden autumn sunshine of childhood, and I glared daggers at Ms. Dee under the glow of sickly fluorescent lighting. D-A-G-G-E-R-S. Sometimes public humiliation does work.)

But with that jaunt down memory lane behind us, let’s get down to dinner. Bisquick’s Cheeseburger Pie headlined their “Impossible Pie” category for many a moon. But a quick gander at the Betty Crocker website nearly blew my mind – today, Betty’s Impossible Pie is spanning the globe and attempting to win the more refined palates, too. Tip your hat to a range of “Impossibles:” From Taco to Italian to Bacon and finally, my personal favorite: Seafood. (This last one features crabmeat and pimentos, and I found myself laughing at the idea of that concoction as much as my nine-year-old-self was laughing at bugars.)

The Bisquick mixture tops the ground beef.
Cheeseburger Pie is a cinch to make. Brown your ground beef and onion, dump it into a pan and top with a creamy concoction of milk, eggs and Bisquick. After it’s baked for half-an-hour or so, top with fresh sliced tomatoes and grated Cheddar (or American!) cheese. The beauty of the Impossible Pie is that it makes its own crust – a glorified blender quiche.

This dinner worked when I needed it to: A busy weekend evening. And as the holiday season swings into high gear, it may be just what you’re looking for. But man alive was it bland. Comparing it to today’s version of the recipe, I found an addition that would have helped a lot: Worcestershire sauce. If you’re going to try for the Impossible, I highly suggest you add some seasonings beyond the recommended salt and pepper.

The last tomatoes from my garden met a fitting end.
So while it’s certainly tastier than I imagine true “bugar” pie would be, but it’s not completely delicious, either.  But, much like an ordinary cheeseburger, it provides a launching pad from which to build a great concoction. Try your hand at some variations, and let me know what works.

 Cheese”bugar” Pie

1 pound ground beef
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1-1/2 cups milk
¾ cup Bisquick baking mix
3 eggs
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 cup shredded Cheddar or process American cheese

This is Cheddar, but I'd prefer American.
Heat oven to 400-degrees. Grease pie plate, 10x1-1/2 inches. Brown beef and onion; drain. Stir in salt and pepper. Spread in plate. Beat milk, baking mix and eggs until smooth, 15 seconds in blender on high or 1 minute with hand beater. Pour into plate. Bake 25 minutes. Top with tomatoes; sprinkle with cheese. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out clean, 5 to 8 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. 6 to 8 servings. High Altitude: Increase first bake time to 30 minutes.

·      I take any opportunity to sing the praises of Velveeta, and I’ll do it again here. I think its gooey, melty consistency would be just the right thing for this dish, actually, contributing to the Big Mac quality you’re shooting for.
·      Fifteen seconds of use is not a good enough reason to drag out your blender, and, more to the point, wash it after you’re done. Use a hand mixer (or fork, in a pinch) and count the one-minute whisk toward your daily aerobic tally!

Could be improved upon ... unlike the joke in the title.
Why Don’t You …
·      Add some chopped sweet or dill pickle?
·      Try caramelizing the onion separate from browning the ground beef? This would add a deeper, more refined flavor. Perfect for something you're going to douse in ketchup.
·      Add other favorite cheeseburger toppings – cooked bacon, avocado, ketchup, mustard. Go crazy. Betty has! (Seriously, check out that Seafood Pie on BettyCrocker.com. I bet you’d rather eat a cheesebugar. HAHA! Still funny!)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

All this luscious cake from humble beginnings.
I had the best of intentions to forgo sweets until next week, when I dodge the twin dietary minefields of Thanksgiving and my birthday. But you know what they say about intentions … and some days a girl has just got to have cake. Fortunately, this one comes together quickly, with ingredients you probably have in your pantry and -- mega-bonus! -- doesn’t totally break the calorie bank.

Though I’d never made this particular recipe, dating to sometime in the mid-‘80s, judging by the yellowed newspaper it’s cut from, I immediately recognized it as a dessert I had in college. I’d gone home to Moberly, MO with my dear friend Angie for spring break, and one night her dad made a “Pudding Cake.”  (Quick aside: I realize that saying “I went to Moberly, MO for spring break” may not have the same party-girl cachet as saying: “I went to Cancun,” but, having now been both places, I’ll take the Heartland any day of the week.) But back to the cake: I remember being suspicious that the nearly two cups of boiling water her father poured over the batter would render it edible, but I’m nothing if not a good houseguest, and kept my observations to myself. Happily for everyone, the batter sucked up the water and, warm out of the oven, put a smile on my face.

The "stiff" batter with brown-sugar topping.
That’s what happens with this recipe, too. The initial batter is stiff and scanty. Then, with the topping of brown sugar, additional cocoa and the aforementioned hot water, it turns into something resembling a science experience gone amok. But fear not, fearless readers, for the batter inverts itself, much like an Impossible Pie, and what comes out of the oven is a moist, delicious cake. And please note, fans of the "toothpick test:" This is one cake you definitely DO want to come out with moist crumbs attached.

This is not a cake to cut, per se, but rather scoop. And really, the only acceptable vehicle to scoop it onto is vanilla ice cream. The recipe says you can top with whipped cream, but trust me: You need ice cream. The hot pudding cake oozes down the side like a happy avalanche. The texture of the cake is slightly spongy, while the copious amounts of pudding "sauce" is thick and rich. And somehow it's not overly sweet, despite its combined total of 1-3/4 cups of sugar. (All the more reason to spoon it over ice cream.)

Don't worry, you haven't ruined it!
In addition to reaffirming my commitment to weeknight cake, this recipe also reaffirmed my commitment to homemade cake batter. Though many of the Time Capsule recipes rely on a boxed mix (and God love ‘em), the ingredients for a simple pantry cake come together so easily, and are so much more tasty, that there’s really no advantage to relying on Betty Crocker.

So do yourself a tasty favor. Whip up this Hot Fudge Pudding Cake and reminiscence – about your own spring break, about friends and Midwestern hospitality, about other delicious cakes you’ve enjoyed … whatever. It’s a worthy weeknight indulgence. You won’t be sorry.

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

1 cup flour
Hello gorgeous!
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons oil
½ to 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
1 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa
1-3/4 cup hot water
Whipped cream or ice cream to serve

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, granulated sugar and 2 tablespoons cocoa into bowl; blend in milk and oil. Stir in nuts, if using. Turn batter into ungreased 9-inch square baking pan. Combine brown sugar and remaining cocoa; sprinkle on batter. Slowly pour water over all. Bake at 350 degrees 40-45 minutes. During baking, cake mixture rises to the top and chocolate sauce settles to the bottom. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 9 servings.

·      I am so not sifting a weeknight cake. My trusty whisk took care of the minimal lumps just fine.
·      I used Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa powder, because that’s what I had in the pantry. Hence, the rather gothic appearance of my cake.  In most applications, I prefer the Special Dark powder.
·      I used ½ cup of chopped walnuts, but I think chopped peanuts would also be delish.

Why Don’t You …
·      Continue the hot-fudge sundae feel of this cake? Top the vanilla ice cream with the cake and fudge sauce, then continue the decadence with whipped cream, pineapple topping and a cherry.
·      Try swirling some peanut butter into the hot cake sauce for a gooey, melty double play? Oh come on people! We've got six weeks until New Year's resolution time.