Tuesday 31 May 2011

Waikiki Meatballs

I know some people might assume that caker cooking isn’t influenced by other cultures, but let me officially state that nothing is further from the truth!

In these modern times, all of us take inspiration from the myriad of culinary delights around the world. Cakers are no different. So long as that myriad comes in a can.

Take these Waikiki meatballs. They’re about as Hawaiian as…well…this guy. But hey. Why sweat over authenticity when something tastes this good?

2 pounds ground beef
1 cup bread crumbs
½ cup chopped onion
1 egg
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons corn starch
½ cup brown sugar
14 ounce can pineapple tidbits, drained (save syrup)
1/3 cup vinegar
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1/3 cup chopped green pepper

Mix beef, crumbs, onion, egg, salt and milk. Shape into small round balls. Heat oil in a skillet. Brown and cook balls. Remove meatballs and drain fat from pan. Mix cornstarch and sugar. Stir in pineapple juice, vinegar and soya sauce until smooth. Pour into skillet. Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir constantly for 1 minute. Add meatballs, pineapple tidbits and green pepper. Heat through.

Enjoy and serve with poi. (I just said that because it rhymes. A caker wouldn’t eat poi.)

Source: Favourite Recipes from Skudesnes Lutheran

Sunday 29 May 2011

Caker FAQs

To answer some of the questions that…well, no one has asked yet, I’ve put together the following list for quick reference.

What’s a “caker?”
In short, an Anglo-Saxon who cooks with Cheez Whiz, Cream of Mushroom soup and Cool Whip. The word “caker” is a short form of “mangicake,” a term coined by Italians. For my personal caker journey, click here.

Am I a caker?
That depends. Did you grow up throwing spaghetti against a wall to check if it was done? Were most of your meals served in a single dish? Was JELL-O considered a vegetable? If “yes,” welcome to the club. You’re a caker.

What’s the difference between caker and white trash cooking?
Caker cooking seems to be uniquely Canadian. White trash cooking is American. White trash cooking is about cheapness. Caker cooking is more about convenience.  White trash cooking takes pleasure in its garishness whereas caker cooking is more dignified. Bottom line is that you’ll never see a crown roast made of hot dog wieners on this blog.

Are the recipes any good?
Let me put it this way - most of the recipes I post come from small communities. Whoever submits the recipe includes his or her name. Usually, this person is a woman. If this woman submits a crappy recipe that wastes the time and money of her friends, co-workers and fellow church goers, well, just watch her try to find a Bridge partner the next time she needs one.

Where do you get your recipes?
I’ve been collecting cookbooks and recipes over the years. I’ll always post the source of the recipe and an image of the cookbook cover if I have it. Many of the recipes you see are from church cookbooks. That’s not to say all church cooking is caker cooking. I’ve simply pulled the best caker recipes from them.

How often do you post new recipes?
Every Monday, come hell or high cholesterol.

What makes a recipe a "caker" recipe?
1) A “magic” ingredient. We cakers love to think we’ve discovered some sort of short cut. Usually, this short cut requires a can opener.
2)   Ease. The recipe has to have as few steps and as few ingredients as possible.
3)   Frugality. There’s nothing more wasteful than spending good money on food.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Watergate Salad

We cakers tend to use some words and phrases quite loosely; words like “nutritious," “gourmet" and "low in saturated fat."

Another example? The caker interpretation of  “salad.”

For most non-cakers, a salad usually means lettuce, carrots, maybe a radish or two. For cakers, it means Cool Whip, miniature marshmallows and JELL-O.

Take this Watergate Salad. In my family, this was reserved for Sunday meals — as a side dish. That’s right. It wasn’t dessert. It sat on the dinner table alongside the roast beef, mashed potatoes and corn.  It seems strange, I know. But as a kid, it was great. I considered it a doubling up of desserts.

If you think this salad is a little intense, just wait until you see some of the other caker salads I’ve got up my sleeve. Let’s just say you’ll never look at popcorn and Coca-Cola the same way again.

This recipe is by special request. I hope it brings back some fond memories of dinner at your Grandma’s house, Jamie.

1 can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 package instant pistachio pudding
1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup walnuts or coconut
1 tub Cool Whip

In large bowl, mix pineapple, pudding, marshmallows and walnuts or coconut. Fold in whipped topping and refrigerate at least 3 hours. 

Pastel green, pillowy and studded with bits o' nuts, this Watergate will make you salivate.

UPDATE: A fellow caker made this and told me it turned out "soupy." The reason? He made the pistachio pudding according the box directions and then added it. Folks, don't do that. Just dump the mix in with all the other ingredients. That's what caker cooking is all about.

Source: St. Luke’s United Church Cookbook

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Peanut Butter Cauliflower Casserole

While I may wax poetic on the numerous merits of caker cooking (the taste, the ease, the strangely filling sensation for hours afterwards), you’ll never hear me say that caker cooking is esthetically pleasing. It’s not. Caker food is some of the butt-ugliest food you’ll ever come across.

Take this Peanut Butter Cauliflower casserole for example. If this dish was a person, you’d say it had a face for radio. This casserole made its debut at Caker Christmas 2010 and was met with some resistance. (Let’s face it—that’s true of most caker dishes.) But it tasted great.

Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself. Just keep your eyes closed while eating.

1 cup cauliflower (in florets)
1 cup chopped green pepper
½ cup sliced onion
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups milk
Dash of Tabasco and pepper
¾ cup grated cheddar cheese
½ cup peanut butter

¼ cup grated cheddar cheese
Pimento strips (optional)

Heat over to 350°.

Cook cauliflower, green pepper and onion in a pan for 10 minutes, then place in a greased casserole dish. In a saucepan, blend butter and flour and gradually add milk. Bring to a boil. Cook for 1 minute. Stir in Tabasco, pepper and cheddar cheese. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower. Add drops of peanut butter on top to jeuge it up.

Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with ¼ cup grated cheese and bake for another 5 minutes. Garnish with pimento strips.

Source: "Let's Break Bread Together," The United Churches in Canada

Sunday 15 May 2011

Mock Apple Pie

I thought it best to start things off with a caker classic.

For me, this recipe sums up caker cooking in all its glory. Take something as simplistic and wholesome as apple pie, only cut out the apples and replace them with…crackers?

Oh, let’s face it. Who has the time and energy to peel all those apples?

A word of warning: This looks, tastes and smells so much like apple pie you’ll be called a liar when you serve it. No one will believe it doesn’t contain apples, so keep the recipe close at hand if you’re requested to produce evidence. And yes, the photo above is an actual piece of mock apple pie.

2 cups of water
1 ¼ cups of sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
20 Ritz crackers
Double pie crust

Heat oven to 400ยบ.

Bring water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil in a saucepan. Drop in 20 whole Ritz crackers. Don’t break them up and don’t stir. Allow to boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.  While that’s cooling, you can make your pie crust. The recipe can be one of your choosing, although if you’re going for true caker style, don’t even think about making it from scratch. Buy the ready-made dough.

Lay one pie dough inside your pie dish. Pour the slightly cooled cracker mixture into it. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and a few dots of butter or margarine before adding the top crust. Seal the edges. Bake for 30 minutes or until done.

Source: A.R.C. Industries Cookbook (Desserts, Preserves, Candy, Pastry, Miscellaneous), Napanee, Ontario

My Caker Journey

I don’t remember the first time I heard the word, or the context in which it was said. I didn’t know what a "caker" was, let alone a "mangiacake." It was only years later, when I settled into life with my Italian partner, that the word began popping up more and more.

“What’s a caker?” I asked him once.

“You know,” he replied. “Canadian.”

“But you were born here. Aren’t you Canadian?”

“Yes, but I still consider myself Italian.”

“So then all Canadians are cakers?”

“No. Only the ones who cook with Cheez Whiz.”

I thought back to the years of casseroles I’d consumed, the packets of Dream Whip, the frozen Tater Tots, the Wonder Bread and Ritz crackers. I was raised in the ‘70s within an Anglo Saxon cultural fog. Part Scottish, part Irish, part I-don’t-know-but-does-it-really-matter? Like so many of my friends, I grew up with no sense of Old World traditions. We were, well, Canadians. But we weren’t cakers.

Were we?

But to back peddle a bit – exactly how did this “mangiacake” business start up? 

There seems to be two possible origins. The first is that when Italian immigrants came to North America, they couldn’t afford luxuries like cake, so they were forced to sit and watch all the Anglos stuff their faces. Hence, “cake-eaters.” The second version claims that immigrant Italians considered North American bread too cake-like for their liking.

Whatever the origins, the die was cast. The “mangiacake” was born.

My own identification as a caker came more into focus when I started to see my world through my Italian in-laws' eyes. Lunch consisted of five courses of food with names that sounded more like opera titles: sopresatta, friulano, prosciutto, zabaglione. When it came time for us to dine at my parents' place, it was hard not to cringe at the white kaiser buns tossed onto the table, the packaged luncheon meat, the neon orange processed cheese slices in fanned out display, the tub of mint-green coleslaw. What arias could be found in a bottle of Catalina?

It was only when I held my culture up to another, I realized how pale (and that's Cream of Mushroom soup pale) my own culture actually was. The Italians were right. I was a bonafide caker through and through.

What followed, naturally, was shame. I thought about the meals my in-laws made, the preparation, the ceremony, the sweat, the angst over whether or not the tomato sauce had turned out “acido.” At every meal, the food is discussed, inspected, often times critiqued, but in the end, always celebrated.

Not so with the cakers. Our food takes its merits from convenience, how few ingredients are needed, and if we manage to get away with only one dish to clean up afterwards.

I became the worst kind of caker – the apologetic one. I was embarrassed of caker food: the cheapness, the unhealthiness, the laziness that went into its preparation.

A few years into our relationship, I invited my partner's siblings, their spouses and a few friends over for a Christmas party. On a whim, I christened it a “Caker Christmas Party.” They laughed at the Duncan Hines cake box I taped to my front door and the plate of Triscuits and Velveeta cheese I set out as the centerpiece. The following year, I had Caker Christmas again. Only this time, I made it participatory. All invited guests would have to bring a caker dish. Some were nervous at first (and a little scared), but with a lot of handholding and reassurances that yes, you really do put crushed potato chips on top of the casserole, everyone persevered. Caker Christmas was a hit and the Italians ate it up – literally.

If there was a lesson learned that night, it was this – that caker food, in spite of its simplicity, over-processed ingredients and perilous sodium content, tastes damn good.

Fourteen years later, Caker Christmas is now an annual holiday tradition. I couldn’t stop having it if I wanted to. The Italians love it. Sure, they turn their noses up at the dishes, but I get immense satisfaction watching them go back for seconds.

Most importantly, what’s transpired over those dishes of melting para-mee-shun cheese, chow mein noodles and canned corn has been something I never expected – a celebration. Of my food and my caker culture. It took another culture to help me appreciate my own.

So this blog is my way of celebrating all things caker. Each week, I'll post a new recipe from the cookbooks I've acquired over the years. Whether this blog reacquaints you with some familiar recipes or introduces you to new ones, remember to be proud of your caker upbringing. Tuna casserole isn’t made with shame, my friend. Only love.

And to all you non-cakers out there – welcome to the party.