published Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Savory roast and baked squash an easy dinner for beginners

Jane Henegar

October is fleeing fast away, and I would guess we're all cooking up foods colorful and spicy to savor the season.

Here are today's spicy challenges: Costa Rican beans and rice as served by a Destin, Fla., food truck, Monkey Hips as once served at the Mud Pie on the North Shore, sourdough starter that specifically calls for Hungry Jack potato flakes, applesauce muffins or cake and an apple cake made with chopped apples.

Today's first two requests came from "Copycat Cook," who loves ordering something to go and then tries to pick it apart and replicate it at home. He or she wrote, "I tasted the Costa Rican beans and rice found at a food truck in Destin, topped with avocado and cilantro. My friend said it reminded her of a dish, Monkey Hips, once served at the Mud Pie. I would like both recipes please."

It's Charlie Holder who wants the Hungry Jack flakes sourdough starter, and an anonymous reader who was thinking hungrily of the apple desserts.

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Charlie Holder has the final word, for now, on cornbread. He wrote, "My mother-in-law made, by far, the best cornbread ever, very light and something always to look forward to: 2 cups self-rising cornmeal, 2/3 to 3/4 cup self-rising flour, 1/2 cup of buttermilk and 1/3 cup oil (I use olive) and 2 tablespoons hot water if the mixture is too thick. Bake in a sprayed iron skillet at 450 F. or 500 F. about 20 minutes."

The amounts of buttermilk and oil are approximations. "We never measure the amount," he said, but added these "would be sufficient."

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We've had several submissions of the popular Texas sheet cake. The sender says the cake is thus called because it is as big as Texas. This cook uses a professional cookie sheet but says jelly roll pans work well. (And by the way, does anybody make jelly rolls any more? They are lots of work. I think I'd prefer chocolate, frosted easily in the pan.)

Chocolate Sheet Cake

Cake:

2 cups flour

2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 sticks butter

4 tablespoons (heaping) cocoa

1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 whole beaten eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Note: I use an 18- by 13-inch sheet cake pan.

Heat oven to 350 F.

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Add cocoa, and stir together.

Add boiling water. Allow mixture to boil for 30 seconds, then turn off heat. Pour over flour mixture, and stir lightly to cool.

In a measuring cup, pour the buttermilk, and add beaten eggs, baking soda and vanilla. Stir buttermilk mixture into butter/chocolate mixture.

Pour into sheet-cake pan and bake in oven for 30 minutes. While cake is baking, make the frosting.

Frosting

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

13/4 stick butter

4 heaping tablespoons cocoa

6 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound (less 1/2 cup) powdered sugar

Chop pecans fine. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add cocoa, stir to combine, then turn off heat. Add milk, vanilla extract and powdered sugar. Stir together. Add pecans, stir together, and pour over warm cake in pan. Makes 24 servings.

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Camille from Hixson sent a colorful vegetable recipe that is about as nutritious as you can get, not to mention colorful. Camille reported that it is easy and delicious with roast pork or poultry.

Spinach-Stuffed Acorn Squash

2 medium acorn squash or sweet dumpling squash

1 tablespoon butter

1 (12-ounce) package frozen spinach soufflé, thawed (Stouffer's works well)

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Heat oven to 375 F. Cut squash in half crosswise. Discard seeds and strings. Brush cut surfaces with butter. Arrange cut side down in large shallow baking dish. Add enough hot water to just cover bottom of pan. Bake in oven for 20 minutes. Turn squash cut side up. Mound spinach soufflé in each cavity. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake 40 minutes longer, until squash is tender and soufflé is set and golden brown. Add more water to pan while baking, if necessary.

Makes 4 servings, 208 calories per serving.

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Euela Laubenheim sent a page of Southern Living recipes, and this one has an intriguing title, "Beginner's Roast." That makes me think of some sorry Sunday roasts I prepared in my early cooking years. Rookies should warm to the fact that this one's just for them.

Beginner's Roast

The secret to this juicy, fall-apart tender roast is in the baking. Before placing the lid on top of the Dutch oven, cover it with a double layer of aluminum foil. An eye of round roast has far less fat than a chuck roast, but when tightly covered and slowly baked with moist heat, it is every bit as delicious.

This easy recipe also is a terrific make-ahead dish. After baking, cool roast completely and remove from Dutch oven, reserving gravy. Cut roast into 1/4-inch thick slices and arrange in a 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Pour gravy over sliced roast; cover and refrigerate up to 3 days. Reheat in a 325 F. oven for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

1 (3- to 4-pound) eye of round roast

1 large sweet onion, sliced

1 (10-3/4-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 cup water

1 (1/12-ounce) package brown gravy mix (the testers used Knorr Classic Brown Gravy mix)

1 garlic clove, minced

Heat oven to 325 F. Place roast in a lightly greased Dutch oven and top with sliced onion. Stir together soup and next 3 ingredients; pour over roast.

Bake, tightly covered, in oven for 31/2 hours or until tender. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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