I was flattered when Julie from The Sporadic Cook wrote me last week to ask if I would be the featured "7 Sporadic Questions" blogger this month. When I have time to read other blogs (which never seems to happen lately), The Sporadic Cook is one of the blogs I always visit. I love the honesty in her posts and of course, all of the delicious recipes. One of the questions that she sent to me was "When you think of your childhood, do any favorite dishes come to mind?"
Julie's email came just as I was planning the menu for our Memorial Day cookout. It inspired me to plan a menu that mimicked the cookout food that I ate at the cookouts and summer parties my parents hosted when I was young. My parents enjoy entertaining as much as I do and our house was always a flurry of activity. I used to love those get-togethers. Used to? Okay, I still love to go home for a cookout on the farm.
The menu came together quickly in my mind. Of course there would be burgers, brats, and hot dogs with all of the fixings. As for sides, nothing says summer to me like corn on the cob. It's finally readily available (for a good price) at my local supermarket. So I boiled a couple dozen ears and put out butter and salt for guests to season as they pleased. Then, there is my all-time favorite pasta salad, simply named Rotini Salad after the type of noodle used. Finally, for dessert, homemade ice cream and Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake.
Sheet cake and homemade ice cream were the dessert staple at almost every summer gathering of my childhood. (Sheet cake, ice cream, and/or STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE, that is. But the shortcake really deserves a whole post of it's own) The sound of our ice cream maker motor grinding away over the wooden bucket on our back porch while my sisters, cousins, and neighborhood friends ran around screaming and laughing in the background is definitely on the playlist of the soundtrack of my youth.
Since my parents were on their way over for a weekend visit, I thought that the sheet cake/ice cream combination would be the perfect dessert to serve in their honor. While I'm on the subject of my parents, I want to give them a shout-out and a BIG thank you for all of their hard work last weekend. They arrived with a truck load of tools, equipment, plants, and my 5-year old nephew sometime after midnight on Friday night. On Saturday morning we began an intense 2-day yardwork session on our new lawn. Our new home sits on an acre of land and includes many flower beds, brick walkways, koi ponds, and tons of trees. We moved here in February when everything was covered with snow. We thought that we had an idea of what we were in for this summer... Ha! I am thankful for a big, beautiful lawn, but it IS labor-intensive!
Now that the spring rain has fallen (we had rain, rain, and then MORE RAIN here in Ohio) and the temperatures have finally heated up, the landscaping, (seemingly neglected while the house was on the market) was turning into a jungle! I had cleared away a crazy amount of dead "stuff", trimmed back the shrubs, drained and dredged the koi ponds, and planted flowers in the weeks leading up to my parent's visit. Still, the property needed some serious TLC. With my parents working side-by-side from morning until after dark for 2 days straight with my husband and I, the lawn finally underwent a noticeable transformation. Trees were trimmed and cleared, our front fountain is now running, the deck has been power washed, you can finally see the beautiful brick walkway around the house, gutters are cleaned, the outdoor lighting is now up and running, and the flower beds are weeded, organized, mulched and actually look like landscaping rather than an overgrown jungle. Sure, there is still a ton of work to be done with the ponds, our garden, and the beds at the back of the yard. But around the house it truly looks like the "after" shot on an HGTV program. (I really wish that I had taken "before" pictures). Hooray! So a BIG thank you to my mom and dad. Mom, I really am sorry about that wicked case of poison ivy that you took home with you (I'm suffering right along with her on that one! I am the Calamine queen today.). And Dad, I am sorry about your back. Hopefully you both recover soon. : ) Next time I promise we will just go sight-seeing, do some shopping, and maybe go to a movie. Love you guys!
By the time that our cookout with old and new neighbors rolled around on Sunday night, we were almost too tired to party. Almost. In the end, we had a lovely evening. Lots of friends and food and the kiddos had a blast playing together in the backyard. We topped off dinner with the desserts of my childhood: Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake and Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream sundaes. Then we finished the night with a second round of dessert by the fire with some S'mores. It was everything a Memorial Day Cookout should be and it certainly reminded me of those summer parties from my youth.
I didn't take any step-by-step photos while preparing the recipes, but here are a few that I did take the time to snap before diving into my own dessert. It was dark by the time that I got around to taking most of these, so I apologize for the picture quality.
Here are my parents, baby-sitting the ice cream freezer while my youngest looks on. I love that I get to pass on this tradition to my children!
Here's a picture of the "soft serve" ice cream in the bottom of our ice cream maker.
I remembered to take a pic of the sheet cake after I'd already begun serving it. I like mine sprinkled with chopped pecans, but I only sprinkle them over half, out of respect for my anti-nut guests and the kiddos.
The sheet cake is the base for my ice cream sundae. I put a piece in the bottom of a bowl.
Then top with ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, more chopped nuts (dry roasted peanuts) and a cherry, of course!
Here are the recipes:
Mom's Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks butter
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and sugar. Heat the butter in a sauce pan. Stir in cocoa powder and hot water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Meanwhile, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and baking soda. Add the cocoa mixture to the flour and sugar and stir until combined. Stir in the buttermilk mixture. Add a tablespoon of vanilla. Pour into a greased jelly roll pan or a large cookie sheet with sides. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until the center tests done. Cool on a rack.
1 stick butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
6 tablespoons milk
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Bring the butter, cocoa powder, and milk to a low boil. Remove from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar, then the vanilla. Pour over the warm cake and spread. Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.
* Begin making the icing when the cake comes out of the oven. By the time the icing is ready, the cake will be cool enough to ice. You don't want the cake piping hot, but you don't want it completely cooled either. The icing spreads more readily if the cake is still warm.
* Don't walk away from the frosting when boiling the butter, cocoa, and milk. You don't want to burn it!
*Add more powdered sugar, if needed. The icing should not be too thin, but it should fall reading from a spoon or be a pouring consistency.
* Cool the cake before cutting and serving.
Here is the recipe that my mom adapted from The Amish Cookbook titled:
Dairy Queen Ice Cream
For a 1-1/2 gallon ice cream freezer
2 quarts milk, scalded (I used whole milk)
4 packets Knox gelatin
3-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1-1/4 teaspoon salt
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 can evaporated milk
3-5 tablespoons vanilla extract
Soften the gelatin in 1/2 cup hot water. Scald milk by bring it to almost a boil. (This can be done in the microwave.) Whisk the softened gelatin into the milk. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Cool. Add in the cream, evaporated milk and vanilla. Chill for 5-6 hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.
Whisk the hot water into the gelatin to soften, making sure that there are no lumps, then let it sit while you scald the milk. Thoroughly whisk the gelatin into the milk, again, making sure that there are no lumps.
I hope that all of you had a wonderful long weekend!