Way back: Hobo Packs

When I was little, there were a few meals that inspired dread in me like nothing else I knew - Stuffed Peppers (which I oddly now crave) and Polynesian Chicken (which I still loathe to think of) come to mind. There were other meals (Spaghetti Casserole, Chili, Pasta) that would, without fail, improve a bad mood or turn a proverbial frown, proverbially, upside-down. Another of those, one that my grandma (who was not an adventurous cook, and whom I miss every single day) made often, is very, very simple - it's the kind of dish that makes it feel wrong to write down a recipe, but it's also the kind that everyone - but everyone - should try, at least once.

I speak of hobo packs. I know, I know, how hard can it be to bang some ingredients into an envelope of aluminum foil and pop it in the oven? It's not hard at all, but the taste - oh, it's divine.

Hobo packs. I always thought my grandma's adherence to this recipe was a result of her having grown up in The Depression and I always imagined my grandpa and his friends dressed as hobos (battered trilby hats, patched clothes, a hankie tied onto a stick) poking around in the fire waiting for the meat to cook, breaking into the packets with pocket knives under a starry sky. My grandpa wasn't a hobo, but I thought it would have been so cool, if he had been.

Instead of huddling around a fire, we busted into the steamy packets while gathered around the dining room table, me always sitting next to my grandpa and waiting impatiently for one of the grown-ups to open my hobo pack since I always burned my fingers. I always ate mine with lots of ketchup.

The taste of my hobo packs wasn't the same. I don't have home-grown, home-canned green beans (with bacon in) to throw in there, and I did add some mushrooms and broccoli for good measure. The taste wasn't the same, but the spirit was. I reverse engineered my version from a rather distant memory, but a few things I remembered paid off. Most important, I remembered the bread squished into the meat, which makes for a few smooth, almost custardy bites in between meaty morsels. That's an important thing. Don't leave it out.

So, with no further ado, here's today's dinner.
Hobo Packs
(campfire optional)
  • 1/4 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 lb ground sirloin
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • dash garlic powder
  • 1 t balsamic
  • 1 piece white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
  • 1 large yukon gold potato, cut lengthwise into eighths or so, steak-fry style
  • 1/2 head broccoli, cut into florets
  • mushrooms, cut into chunks
  1. Squish meat and seasonings together with the bread and form into two patties.
  2. Place meat patties, potatoes, mushrooms, and broccoli on top of large square of aluminum foil.
  3. Sprinkle food with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
  4. Place another piece of aluminum foil on top and roll the edges up to seal each packet.
  5. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.
  6. Break into aluminum foil packet with a fork and enjoy.

Treasure Trove

This week, my dear friend K gave me a whole pile of castoff cookbooks (how could anyone abandon so many cookbooks!) to pick through and keep what I liked. As you all know, I'm a sucker for crusty old cookbooks with odd titles and odder illustrations. The musty smell and crumbly texture of old cookbooks and the pages that have clearly been best-loved make me very, very happy.

The books ranged from the grim Tasty Cooking for Ulcer Diets wherein we learn how the ulcer patient should be able to enjoy his dinner as much as his family does......to the shameless promotion of mayonnaise (as if it needed any help to start with) seen here.From the political, Jimmy Carter themed peanut cookbook...
...to the jolly squid peeping through a porthole! How versatile!Fodder for experimentation and gentle mockery will be found in other titles such as Mushroom Recipes by one "Countess Morphy" - I need to do some biographical research before launching into that one -, The Good Housekeeping Cake Book, The Annisquam Village Cookbook, and so forth. Expect good things.


RIP Alexander McQueen

Mr. McQueen, we shall miss ye.


Tuesday clip show


It was a takeout night tonight, so I haven't got any recipes to share. Instead, here are some photos. I've been spending a good deal of time developing and tweaking photos the last few days, which is always very satisfying. Most enjoyable was the opportunity to take some adorable baby photos (My friends' adorable little girl turned 1 on Sunday).

Regular programming should resume soon. Beginning of the semester is always rough, but this one has been murder.


Monday clip show: December roll

Yesterday I developed film for the first time in a LONG time. Here are some shots from a random December roll of film. Kodak TMax 100. Sprint chemistry. Lovely fine grain. I'm going to attempt to make this (developing and photo posting) a regular habit. No point in letting chemistry sit around and go bad. Also, it's a big part of the New Creativity. Fig. 1. Dan at Hi Rise Bakery in Harvard Square. This is the face he makes when he's confused why I'm taking a picture AGAIN.
Fig. 2. This is one of a row of stately houses across from the courthouse on 3rd Street, very near our house. It was Saturday morning and we were on our way to our breakfast haunt when the winter sun caught my eye.
Fig. 3. A lightbulb at Lord Hobo. Go there and try the Soylent Green.
Fig. 4. Hi Rise again. Lovely soft light and many-textured wood as far as the eye can see.


February Cake: Jamie's Belated Birthday

"Oh! certainly," cried his faithful assistant, "no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved."
"All this she must possess," added Darcy, "and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading."
This post is about cake, but first let's talk about my sister.My sister is, without a doubt, one of the warmest, most generous, helpful (to a fault) people you'll ever meet. Those qualities, paired with her massive intellect and unmatched way with words make her a formidable creature indeed. But for all that, she's also humble and kind and generally pretty fun to be around. (Oh, and isn't she pretty?)

When it came time for her birthday to roll around this year, celebrations were put off for a little while, but it didn't seem right that she shouldn't have a party and a cake and all the good birthday-things. And then I remembered my 2010 Cake Project.So, the morning after her party, when we were all a little bleary-eyed, I concocted a plan, went to the grocery, and Jamie came over. We measured and mixed and baked and improvised a double boiler, debated the consistency of egg whites (shiny? firm? not dry?), and finally dug into one of the finest cakes I've ever had the pleasure of tasting, much less that I could claim as my own creation.

The other occasion for this cake was the arrival of some beautiful Meyer Lemons on my doorstep. In my debate on what to do with them, I arrived at the notion of filling a cake with lemon curd and began to salivate. That's just what we did.A note on the recipe. All the components for this cake came from Southern Cakes by Nancie McDermott. If you're at all inclined to bake cakes, buy this book. Although the components all came from this book, I'm going to go ahead and claim responsibility for the combination.

Jamie's Birthday Cake white cake with lemon curd filling and cream cheese frosting For the cake
  • 2 c all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 c milk
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 c butter, softened
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° and grease your cake pans (8" or 9" rounds, three if you have them) and line the bottoms with parchment. Grease the parchment.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well.
  3. In a bowl (or measuring cup) combine the vanilla with the milk.
  4. In another bowl, beat the egg whites with a mixer at low speed until foamy, then beat at medium-high speed until they become shiny, thick, and stiff, but not dry.
  5. Then, cream the sugar and butter on high speed until light and fluffy.
  6. On low speed, add the milk and vanilla (DO NOT DO THIS ON HIGH SPEED. I've warned you.) and beat until blended.
  7. Add the flour mixture all at once and beat on low speed until the flour is incorporated.
  8. Fold in half the egg whites by hand with a rubber spatula until they are mixed into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
  9. Divide the batter among your pans (I only had two pans, so I reserved about 1/3 of the batter until after the first layers were done baking.) and bake for about 25 minutes. They should spring back when touched in the center and start pulling away from the sides of the pans. Keep a close eye, because they're not hard to over-bake.
  10. Cool on wire racks before assembling.
For the lemon curd filling
to do while the cake layers are baking
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/3 c fresh lemon juice (this was 1 Meyer Lemon for me)
  • 1 T finely grated lemon zest
  • 6 T cold butter, cut into small chunks
  1. For this you need either a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl that fits tightly into the top of a pan. I used a tempered glass bowl and a 2 qt saucepan.
  2. Bring about 3" of water to a simmer in the pan (bottom of the double boiler).
  3. While the water is heating, mix the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and zest in the bowl (or top of the double boiler). Whisk so that the ingredients are well mixed.
  4. Cook the egg mixture over the simmering water, whisking constantly, for 8-10 minutes until it thickens and begins to look opaque. It should have the texture of lightly whipped cream.
  5. Remove from the heat and drop a few chunks of butter into the curd. Mix well until the butter has melted. Repeat until all the butter is incorporated.
  6. Cool until room temperature before assembling the cake.
For the cream cheese frosting to do while the cake layers and lemon curd are cooling
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 c butter, softened
  • 1 lb confectioners' sugar, sifted (VERY IMPORTANT)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  1. Cream together the cream cheese and butter with a mixer on medium speed.
  2. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla and beat at high speed until the frosting is fluffy and smooth. (DO NOT ADD THE CONFECTIONERS' SUGAR AT HIGH SPEED. You've been warned.)
  3. If the frosting appears too stiff to spread, keep beating. The volume will increase and the frosting will become fluffier and more elastic with more beating.
  4. You'll think there is too much frosting, but you'd be wrong. Pile it on.
To assemble the cake:
  1. Place bottom cake layer on a cake stand or pretty plate. Place strips of parchment just under the edges of the cake on all sides.
  2. Slather a healthy layer of lemon curd on top of the bottom layer. Avoid too much dripping on the sides, as it will make frosting the sides harder.
  3. Place another cake layer atop the first one and repeat the lemon curd slathering.
  4. Place the final layer atop the first one and begin piling on the frosting. First do a relatively thin layer on top of the cake, then carefully spackle the sides with frosting. I find that having too much frosting on your spatula or offset spatula or big knife (Chrissy! Bring me the BIG KNIFE!) makes it easier to spread without putting too much pressure on the cake.
  5. Once the sides are satisfactorily spackled, pile the rest of the frosting on top and distribute evenly on top and put more on the sides if you want. Don't mess around with it too much, though, or you will make a MESS.
  6. Decorate the top with extra lemon zest or dollops of lemon curd. Pull out the parchment strips from underneath the first layer and voila! you haven't messed up your pretty plate!