Friday, July 18, 2014

Goin' To The Chapel

This picture was my Throwback Thursday picture on Facebook yesterday.  It’s one of my favorite pictures of my father and my oldest brother, Harry.  I see it as a true snapshot in time.

In this photo, my father is checking his watch to see the time.  It’s an iconic wedding photo - the groom/groom’s family worried if the bride will show.  What you don’t’ know is that time was a real factor here and it’s actually comical that Dad is checking his watch.  The groom ALMOST didn’t make it to the wedding!

The night before, Harry had a bit too much fun at the bachelor party and was stopped for a DUI.  After hearing Harry’s story and realizing his Dad was Dr. Cochran, the cop made a few concessions.  Rather than lock Harry up right then, he let my brother Robby, who was 16 (at the bachelor party?), drive home to Elgin to get bail money from Dad.  That way, they would fast track Harry and get him released in time for his wedding.  Robby made a fast track home to awaken Dad in the middle of the night.  I remember hushed voices  in the middle of the night, Dad getting dressed and leaving.

The next day, Harry was there at the wedding - all smiles - broad smiles, and an occasional grin because he realized just how lucky he was!  I remember looking up at him in awe as I thought I was never going to see him again! Not a word was said about the incident during the  wedding ceremonies so as not to spoil the bride’s day.  Later, when we were all back in Elgin, with the celebration drinks flowing, the story came out, in true Cochran fashion.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Benne Seed Wafers

Lately, I have been on a cookie baking spree.  The Coconut Oat Cookies I made were a disappointment - too soft of a cookie.  I needed to bake again to get over my failure.  On to Benne Seed Wafers!

Benne Seed Wafers are a Charleston thing.  Enslaved Africans brought over the benne, or sesame, seed with them and planted it in their gardens.  The toasted seeds of the plants were incorporated with butter, sugar and flour to make sweet, nutty, buttery, crisp cookies.  I discovered them in the 1980’s for sale by the local ladies in the Market of Charleston.  From then on, every trip to Charleston required a small bag of Benne Seed Wafers.  These would be the perfect cookie to get me over that soft coconut disappointment.

I have been squirreling away recipes for Benne Seed Wafers for quite some time ( i.e., years).  Which one to use?  The Lee brothers from Charleston have a great recipe in their cookbook, Charleston Kitchen. Their recipe has more sugar and less flour which gives you more of a candy like cookie.  It would be perfect to recreate the Benne Seed Basket that a local restaurant used to have on their menu.  It wasn’t the cookie I was craving, so I had to look further.  The Lee brothers based their recipe on an early recipe in Charleston Receipts; a cookbook from the 1950’s.  I grew up with Charleston Receipts and grabbed my copy.  It offered three recipes for Benne Seed Cookies.  I picked a recipe and preheated the oven!

Benne Cookies
¾ cup butter                                    1 ¼ cup flour
1 ½ cup of brown sugar                  ½ cup sesame seed toasted                          
2 eggs                                              1 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp baking powder
 Cream butter and sugar together and mix with other ingredients, in the order given.  Drop with a teaspoon on parchment paper in pan far enough apart to allow spreading.  Bake at 325 for 7 minutes.

The cookies are difficult to make and definitely require some skill.  I had tried these many years ago when I was a less patient baker and ended up wearing most of the batter.  This time, I was better prepared with the right equipment (parchment paper) and a better attitude (more patient - much more patient).

The Benne Seed Wafers are a big hit!  I have eaten myself silly and my husband has called a moratorium on cookies for awhile.  I think this recipe is the one I’ve searched for and with a little tweaking and more experience baking them, they will be perfect!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Knife Skills

My father loved to cook.  By cook, I mean he grilled steaks, barbecued chickens, roasted oysters, made tomato preserves, simmered one pot meals and had a light hand with crepes and fudge. Dad had an insatiable curiosity about the world around him and that crossed over to food.  He was a physician by trade - and  many other things just by sheer knowledge. 

 The kitchen at the beach house was where Dad plied his trade of head chef.  Mom had the kitchen in the Elgin house.  I was the designated sous chef in both kitchens.  A sous chef needs skills and the lessons were never ending.  Knife skills were a big thing.  

Dad had his own set of knives.  His own set that stayed in a special place at the beach and in Elgin.  One or two of his favorite knives traveled back and forth with him between houses.  No one - NO ONE - was allowed to use Dad’s knives.  We could accidentally dull one of his knives by cutting on the wrong type of surface or by placing one in a sink filled with dishwater.  Imagine my horror when a date picked up one of Dad’s knives to sharpen before cutting a tomato.  Time froze as I looked back and forth between the two men.  Fortunately for me and my date, he had worked as a butcher through college and had his own knife skills!  

Lessons in chopping, dicing and mincing came daily.  I can’t tell you the hours I stood over the handmade wooden chopping board trying to get a pile of celery and onions for gazpacho diced the same size.  Tomatoes, which were homegrown, had to be sliced paper thin for sandwiches with the long slicing knife.  Then there was the mirepoix for shrimp creole.  I can still hear Dad telling me from across the room that I wasn’t “chopping” correctly.  When asked how he knew, he replied, “I can tell by the sound that you are not chopping properly.” Ha! No escape from the knife lessons.  

Today, I am thankful to my Dad for the lessons he taught me.  Knife lessons among them.  I knew I had passed my knife lessons when in the 12th grade, he drove me to downtown Columbia for my own set of chopping knives.  Stop and think about that - I do.  When I was in the 12th grade, I had my own set of professional knives.  I didn’t ask for them - I earned them.  I also think about my Dad and his love for me that he took the time to teach me something as obscure as knife skills.  What a wonderful man he was.  

Thank you Dad.  I still use my knife skills and my knives daily

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Ode to Yellow Jasmine

SC's State Flower Yellow Jessamine

It has been in the 70's for the past four days. Today was the fourth day in a row that I have worked in my flower beds.  That is quite a record with the crazy weather we have been having here in South Carolina. You gardeners out there know the strong pull the warming dirt has.  I've been knuckles deep in it for four days!

While pulling up some offending mint, I felt a softness in the air.  That  warm breeze that brings with it promises of warmer weather and a sweetness  previously missing.  I was instantly transported back to my youth and similar days of idyllic weather.  Yellow jessamine days, that's what these are.  There was a large vine of it in the woods behind my childhood home.  It twined around a fallen tree making it just the right height to sniff and steal a tendril or two.  Days like today would send me running to check for the yellow trumpeted blooms.

Lacking a my own vine, you can bet I'll be scanning the treetops along the byways in my travels.  There has to be some yellow jasmine blooming out there somewhere.  I can feel it in the air.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blueberry Bread 

     I don't know why I'm on a blueberry kick - well, it's been a couple of years, which is more than a kick.  They are by far, my current favorite fruit.  I want blueberries in my fruit smoothies, in my yogurt, in my fruit salad, and in my breakfast breads.  I've been saving this Blueberry Coffee Cake recipe (from Southern Living magazine) to try when I had the yogurt and blueberries on hand.  It seems to be chock full of blueberries and that almond sugar crunchy goodness on top looks too good to be true.

     Feeling the need to bake something and finding myself with blueberries AND yogurt, I stirred this cake up.  All went well and as planned in the recipe except that I baked it 40 minutes instead of the 25-30 minutes called for.  It is a beautiful moist cake filled with blueberries and topped with almonds, sugar and more blueberries.  I'll definitely copy this to the "make again" file.  I think it would be good with bananas and coconut, too - my two other go to fruit of the moment.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Crimpin' Pie Crust

My Mother always made her own pie crust.  Always.  To bring a store bought crust into the house was sacrilege.  My Mom also did what she called, "recreational baking."  Yep, I inherited the gene.  I know what it's like to leave butter out softening "just in case" the urge to bake strikes.

When I was 10-ish, my Mother began my education of pie crust making and baking.  It took on a life of its own and stepped up a notch or two one summer of peach pies when I was 15 - (more about that later).  Mom's pie dough recipe is simple:

Pie Dough 
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup Crisco shortening
3-4 tbls cold water

There are secrets to it as there are to many of the great recipes.  Mom was always a stickler for the details and would leave out the tricks just to see if I could figure it out on my own.  (Remind me to tell you about the lemon cake.)  It took me 20 plus years to get the full technique for making a pie crust from my Mom.  I was not the only one who felt the frustration.  Memory serves me of a time when I went to visit my sister in law who was baking a pie for Mom's birthday.  She had 4 pie shells in various states of completion scattered throughout her kitchen - none of them fit to serve the Queen of Pastry.  My sister in law was reduced to a babbling mess.

Part of the beauty of a handmade pie shell is the crimped edge.  I have never been able to achieve the pretty even crimp like that of my Mother's.  My daughter, though, has it down pat and a nephew can turn out a pretty crimped edge on pottery.  Mine is "backwards" somehow.  I can, however, bake a blind pie shell that would make Martha Stewart envious.  All without pie weights.

Pie weights. Pie weights?  Who has time for pie weights, or dried beans?  My Mom never used them.  She would stand close by the oven and whenever the pie crust would bubble up, she'd stick it with a fork to release the stem and flatten the bubble.  I can't tell you how many times I was assigned the duty of pie shell monitoring.  I guess I learned something.

Now, when I need a blind pie crust, I use my Mom's recipe and all of her little tricks and bake one from scratch.  Invoking a bit of her baker's spirit with each crimp and poke.