My Everyday Or Pantry Chocolate Cake Recipe — Perfected!

Since discovering a recipe for an everyday chocolate cake in an old Everyday Food magazine, I’ve made it several times. But it never seemed quite right. Unless you add frosting, the cake never seemed to have much going for it.

After some experimenting, however, I’ve come up with an everyday chocolate cake recipe that you can make from things you probably keep in the house — with no milk, eggs or refrigerated ingredients. In fact, depending on how you feel about sugar, this could even be considered a vegan recipe.

And since you mix it right in the baking dish, there’s less cleanup than with most cake recipes.

Here’s the simple recipe:

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Whisk the following ingredients together directly in an 8-inch square baking dish:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sugar
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Once combined, push the dry ingredients to the outside edge of the dish and add the following to the middle:

6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cup cold water

Using a whisk and a spoon if necessary to get into the edges, combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until a relatively smooth batter forms. Then cook for 35 minutes. Cool before cutting.

Here are a few tips:

  • It’s essential that you cool this cake before serving it, and it will stick to the pan a bit.
  • If this version still isn’t sweet enough for you, you can make an icing or use a canned icing. You can also drizzle with chocolate syrup — preferably one without high fructose corn syrup.
  • If your vanilla extract is a good brand, you may not need quite so much of it.
  • Keep in mind that this isn’t a decadent restaurant-style cake, nor is it a diet recipe. But it makes for a good dessert to have a couple hours after a quiet dinner at home. And it won’t leave you feeling guilty.
  • This recipe makes excellent muffins. Just decrease the cooking time and add chocolate chips, peanut butter chips or nuts, if you like.

So there you have it. A simple pantry chocolate cake you can have at your home every day. In fact, you probably have everything you need to make it right now.

And since there’s essentially no cholesterol or animal products, there’s no reason not to have a second slice.

The Quick Green Chile Stew Recipe That Time Forgot

It’s interesting how some things that I thought I’d put on the Internet years ago never actually found their way into cyberspace. Fortunately, I never delete anything that I create, so lost-in-time items like this one are always around when I remember to introduce them to the world.

My simple and quick green chile stew recipe was created in an attempt to duplicate and perhaps improve upon the version of this dish served at Pancho’s Mexican Buffet, a mostly defunct chain of mediocre Mexican food places. (Only a dozen or so loosely connected locations remain.)

While much of the food at this chain was lackluster or worse — accounting for its disappearance from most markets, I’m sure — the green chile stew was uncomplicated and very good. And I suppose it still is at the remaining loc

ations. I haven’t actually been to one of the chain’s restaurants in years.

So here’s the recipe. With nothing to do but brown some meat, cut some potatoes and open some cans, you can have this ready for dinner in 30 minutes or so.

Quick Green Chile Stew

Brown in a stew pot:
1 pound of pork stew meat in some olive oil with salt and pepper

When done, add:
6 ounces (½ bag) frozen seasoning blend vegetables (onions, bell peppers, celery, parsley)

When cooked through, add:
1 can mild Hatch green chile enchilada sauce
1 can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 can chicken broth
1 can water
4-5 medium potatoes, diced in chucks small enough to fit on a spoon
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cover and bring nearly to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are done, about 15 minutes.

Allow to reduce without lid for 5 to 10 minutes. Adjust seasoning, if necessary.

Here are a few notes that may help you in preparing this recipe:

  • Those are 14.5-ounce to 16-ounce cans, so adjust accordingly if you get your products in different sizes.
  • If you can’t find anything called “seasoning blend”, just use onions. Or make up your own collection of aromatic veggies to add to the soup.
  • If you can’t find pork stew meat, you can cut up a pork roast or pork country style ribs. The recipes tastes great with chicken or beef as well.
  • Potatoes don’t freeze well, so I don’t recommend freezing this stew. But it’s great after a few days in the refrigerator.

So there you have it: my long-awaited green chile stew recipe.

It’s actually better than the version that Pancho’s served, as it should be. When you’re trying to copy a recipe, you owe it yourself to make it better. While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, I’m not trying to flatter anyone. I’m trying to make good soup.

An Evening In Fort Worth, Texas Without A Plan Can Serve A Purpose

When we’re out on the town in Fort Worth, we usually spend our time at events like plays, concerts and art openings. We rarely go out without a real plan. But we did twice last week, and both evenings went really well. What do you do when you don’t have a plan?

Last Wednesday, we started out with our usual walk and did some necessary shopping. Then David sold a few books at Half Price Books on Hwy. 183. Part of simple living is getting rid of things you don’t need, after all. The highlight of the evening was our first visit to Le’s Wok, a little Asian restaurant in a convenience store on the Near South Side with a great back story about the family who owns it recovering from an attack

and competing with the newly opened QT convenience store across the street.

We picked up some cinnamon rolls at Esperanza’s on Park Place (where a sign says the parking is only for Ezmerelda’s patrons!) and then stopped by the Clearfork Food Park where there were two guys playing music and a private party of some kind in progress. We wandered on the river a bit and marveled at a big white bird. Then we finished the evening with some chocolate custard at Curly’s Frozen Custard on Camp Bowie. We should have had peach again, but I wanted something different.

We had no real reason to go out again the next night, but I wanted to. So we took back two of the things we bought on Wednesday that didn’t work and headed toward the Cultural District. We didn’t want to spend much money on dinner, so In-N-Out served the purpose. (Our current order is singles without cheese, mustard instead of sauce, add pickles and onions. I give David my tomato.) Then we strolled through the Amon Carter to have another look at an exhibit that we hadn’t enjoyed the previous week and see if we could make more sense of it. We did.

Next, we headed down Summit to check out the cramped newish Goodwill near Cleburne Road at Berry. After examining an ancient rice cooker and looking at a selection of DVDs that included a collection of Mormon sermons, we pointed the car toward Central Market. The goal was to get a piece of Italian cream cake to share for dessert, but somewhere between Tom Thumb and Trader Joe’s on Hulen we decided to have a dipped cone at McDonald’s instead, a good choice.

So what made these two evenings out so nice? They don’t sound very interesting, do they? They were opportunities to recover from the big experiences of life instead of actually being experiences in their own right. They provided time for us to unwind, let our sore muscles heal and clear our heads. And they were meaningful times together when no one else was looking.

In fact, maybe I shouldn’t have shared so much about our two uneventful evenings on the town. Some Fort Worth secrets are best left unspoken, I suppose.

But I want to make sure you never feel like you’ve run out of things to do. Instead, unplanned evenings out are times when you’re recovering from previous experiences and planning for others. There are concerts, plays, art galleries and, of course plenty of hours of work of one kind or another ahead of you. But why not put those out of your mind and stay in the moment? It might be a moment when looking at all the buttons on an old rice cooker is entertainment enough.

What Are Your Goals For Your Teeth?

I’ve been trying to find a good dentist recently, and that got me thinking about why I want to choose a new one. The one I went to last — years ago now — was competent enough, I suppose, but we don’t take the same approach to life.

And after I first visited him, I found out he is also a low-level politician. That turned me off.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d like a dentist who is focused on his practice rather that on his political ambitions. But that’s not why I want to find someone else.

The political dentist from which I’m fleeing got off on the wrong foot with me the first time I visited him by asking the stupidest question I’ve ever heard from a professional: “What are your goals for your teeth?”

It was the first thing he said to me after telling me his name. Then he grabbed me by the forearm with both hands and shook me a bit, apparently avoiding the awkwardness of a handshake.

“I’d like to keep them,” I answered, perhaps too quickly.

Maybe he was trying to politely ask if I was interested in a whitening procedure since my teeth were looking a bit dingy. It could be that he was trying to ask if I wanted my crooked front teeth straightened. He might have wondered if I have some kind of higher ambitions in life and thought my average-looking teeth were holding me back.

But instead of asking me to honestly discuss what I expected of him, he asked me if I had any goals for my teeth

Truthfully, I returned to him a couple of times after that first cleaning appointment. But I never felt right about him or his practice.

When I visited last, he has upgraded to digital x-rays. That’s actually a smart idea, right? But he and his staff had also started wearing little headsets so they could talk to each other without actually looking anyone in the face. It seemed like something right out of NASA — or the Taco Bell drive-through.

Could it be that this dental practice was more interested in gadgets, gimmicks and aspirations than in cleaning and repairing teeth? Or am I just being old-fashioned and judgmental?

Whichever is the case, I really need a new dentist. This guy put me off medical people — more than I already was. I don’t like dealing with these kinds of situations anyway. And there’s nothing I dislike more than disingenuous, disinterested and dismaying people.

The only health professional I’ve seen since visiting this dentist for the final time a few years ago is an optometrist who prescribed me low power reading glasses. He didn’t ask me about my goals for my eyes.

Still, though, the optometrist wears a very strange toupee, and I wonder how well he can see if he wears something that looks like that on his head. But that’s a story for another time.

How To Make A Grilled Cheese In A Waffle Maker

I’ve been experimenting recently with how to make things in an electric waffle maker besides waffles. As it turns out, almost everything I’ve tried has been a success, and there’s no simpler way to make a really good grilled cheese than in a waffle maker.

Stay with me for a minute and I’ll tell you how to do it, but as with most everything else I write, there’s a bit of story first.

Other Uses For Your Waffle Maker

It all started a couple of months ago when I bought an Oster Belgian waffle maker. I can’t even remember what got me interested in having one, but since I don’t like gadgets and I don’t like having useless junk around, it took me a while to decide to buy one.

Then, I set out to find other uses for a waffle maker besides just making waffles. As it turns out there are many. The only thing that hasn’t worked very well is making brownies, but that’s a story for another day.

Any kind of bread can be cooked in a waffle maker — including canned biscuits and crescent rolls. And I’ve heard you can even reheat pizza — although I haven’t tried that yet.

While a waffle maker is sold as a single-use machine, it isn’t. It fits perfectly into my simple lifestyle and my strained budget.

Making A Grilled Cheese In A Waffle Maker

After some experimentation, I found that the best way to make a grilled cheese sandwich in a waffle maker is to slap it together and cook it for 90 seconds. That could be the end of the story, but I’ll explain a bit more.

My preferred way to make a grilled cheese has always been to butter two pieces of bread, then start toasting them butter side down in a hot skillet. I add two slices of cheddar or American cheese to one piece of bread, then put the other butter side up over the bread and cheese. Then, I smoosh — that is, squish them together with a spatula. A quick turn to make sure both sides are toasted evenly and the process is complete.

I tried using buttered bread in the waffle maker, but that just made a greasy and wet sandwich. I found that two slices of cheese between two slices of wheat bread (or something with a bit of sugar in it) works best. Smash the waffle maker closed slightly but not all the way and cook for a minute and a half. If your waffle maker is conditioned well, you don’t need any oil or spray.

That’s it. Process complete. And although I like a long story as much as anyone, there’s really nothing more to say.

Pledge Drives Are Disingenuous: Two Reasons I No Longer Donate To Public Television

For several years, I donated a few dollars every month to a local public television station. I loyally watched the British comedies and some other programs it broadcast, and I decided to donate because I benefited from the station’s services.

I no longer donate to public television, and there are two primary reasons I made this choice. Do you agree with my reasons? Should you?

I hope these points give you something to think about if you’re considering giving some of your hard-earned funds to support public television.

Here are the two reasons I no longer donate:

1. Public television is no longer in line with my values.

I don’t mean that the public television agenda is too liberal for me or that it promotes causes with which I don’t agree. I mean that I no longer live the kind of life where something as unimportant as television plays a major role.

My simple, deliberate life isn’t as restrictive as the lives of some who chose the simple path. I watch TV when it appeals to me, and I do so unapologetically. But it’s not very important to me. If it disappeared from my life, my life wouldn’t be any less compelling or complete.

TV is, at best, something about which I’m ambivalent now, not something that I want to support with my money.

Besides, most of what I watch on my television screen these days is on DVD, not broadcast on public television. So it’s just not that important.

2. Because of the way pledge drives are handled, public television often doesn’t do what it usually does.

Public television pledge drives are more frequent than ever before, and they’re handled is more intrusive — and less interesting.

On KERA, the public television station that serves North Texas, pledge breaks are no longer centered around regular programming and haven’t been in many years. They’re based around specials that attract a different, wealthier audience than the station’s regular programming. And increasingly, these programs are highly targeted health or self-help programs aimed at a very narrow but statistically significant group of givers

There are specials aimed at people with arthritis, programs for people with memory problems and things about hormones I don’t want to understand. There are special cooking pledge programs and shows aimed at teaching people to play hack piano. And of course, there are all those classic music specials.

These pledge programs focus on older people because old people are perceived to have more money to give away. But I think it’s disingenuous of public television stations to prey on older citizens for their money, then return when the money is secured to children’s programming and home repair shows.

I still watch public television when my local station offers something I want to see, but it offers fewer quality programs and I watch less TV than ever, so I find myself watching it less and less.

Still, I like the idea of public television in theory. And I suppose I’m glad it’s there to offer an alternative voice — a voice that is less influenced by advertisers, even if it is biased at times in favor of other groups with money.

Public TV is nice to have around. It’s just not an idea I care to support anymore.

Sure, I’ll Talk To You About Discontinued Deodorants

Want to have a conversation about all the brands of deodorant that have recently been discontinued or reduced in size? Sure, I’m up for that. But there was a time when I would have been very uncomfortable with that topic.

I think I was born with a misplaced or overactive propriety gene, but it’s effect on my personality has slowly been softening. I once shied away from any conversations about personal grooming, unpleasant bodily smells and other seemingly unseemly things.

In some circles, my aversion was enough to limit my ability to participate in the conversation. You have friends like that too, don’t you?

Today, no topic is off limits to me.

Why This Comes To Mind

Deodorants are on my mind because mine has been discontinued — as far as I can tell. I can’t find absolute confirmation that Arrid Extra Dry Clear Gel has been discontinued, but I’ve seen lots of evidence. A few people are talking about it online, and the product has disappeared from local Walmart stores and everywhere else I’ve checked.

There is apparently some major realigning of deodorants and the way they’re sold, and I’m caught up in it. The product I’ve used for more than decade is gone. And I would grieve for it if I didn’t have other things to do.

I’ve seen articles indicating that homemade deodorant is the way to go, but I’m just not ready for that. I’m not likely to smear on a cream deodorant either.

Signs Of Greater Ease

You may find this a mundane topic — and you may even find it slightly uncomfortable to read about deodorants. For me, however, this is a big step.

When I was a kid, I wouldn’t have entered into any kind of discussion related to personal grooming. It’s not that I found it embarrassing exactly, it’s just that I didn’t want people thinking about what products may or may not have been on my body at any given moment. Discussing foot powders, colognes and ointments was out of the question for me too.

Today, I’m fine with all of that. I think it’s a sign of greater ease with myself. I don’t know that I use the same products you do, but I’m relatively confident that no one is judging me for using one brand instead of another.

And even if you are, I just don’t care what you think. That may sound harsh, but this post wouldn’t have been possible if I still worried about people judging me.

In fact, most of my life wouldn’t have been.

Referring To Companies As “It”, Not “They” May Explain A Lot

As I was finishing up my post about Sweet Tomatoes specifically, buffet restaurants in general and my not-so-fond memories about how I used to live, I realized something. It explains a lot about why I feel so strongly that we’re eating ourselves into despair.

Toward the end of that post, I wrote this sentence: “I won’t be visiting Sweet Tomatoes again, and I unsubscribed for the company’s email list and unliked its Facebook page.”

Actually, I first wrote that I “unsubscribed from their email list and unliked their Facebook page”. Then I remembered that according to most writing style manuals used in the United States, companies should be referred to in the singular rather than the plural.

I always want companies to be plural, perhaps, because I watch too much British television. Or perhaps I want companies to be plural because I like the idea that there are real people running them.

When you refer to a company in the singular (“its Facebook page”, for example), you suggest that the company is an entity of its own. Referring to a company in the plural (“their Facebook page”), suggests to readers that the company is made up of a collection of real people. Don’t all companies have real people behind them somewhere?

This could explain my dissatisfaction with the way many of us eat. When every item we consume comes from a faceless corporation with no one apparently representing it, how can we feel any real connection to the source, quality or healthfulness of the product? There are people involved in our food production at every level — even if machines are doing much of the work.

If I were running a food company, I’d rather be mistaken for a “they” than considered an “it”, I think. I’d like people to understand that a collection of real people are really responsible for what my company puts out. Wouldn’t you?

In fact, the world might be better than it already is if we would recognized the people behind and within every company, organization or process in which we become involved. We might feel more connection, more empathy and more respect.

We might even all get along. But perhaps that’s too grand a point to make in a simple post about an interesting little grammar rule that few people follow.

Mock Chicken-Fried Steak For The 21st Century

More than 20 years ago when we got our first apartment, I didn’t really know how to cook anything. We ate out much more than we could afford, but I also quickly learned to make some simple dishes.

Even though I’ve watched thousands of cooking shows and experimented with hundreds of dishes since then, I still prefer simple, elegant meals to complex ones that require a long list of ingredients.

Sometime during that first year in Fort Worth, a friend gave me a recipe for a dish he had made for us: Mock Chicken-Fried Steak. Essentially, it’s a meatloaf served under cream gravy — and it’s delicious. The recipe he gave me was printed on a dot-matrix printer on a piece of that paper with the invisible perforations along the edges. It was one of the ugliest pieces of printed material I’ve ever owned, apparently spewed from some recipe-organizing software that was more concerned with function than form.

I lost that piece of paper years ago, but something compelled me to make Mock Chicken-Fried Steak again recently. I recreated the experience using more modern sensibilities, reducing the ingredients list, making portions smaller and carefully considering just how much gravy I wanted to put over my piece when I served it.

Here’s the new recipe I created:

Mock Chicken-Fried Steak For The 21st Century

1 pound 85/15 ground beef

1 egg, slightly beaten

9 saltine crackers, coarsely crushed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon parsley flakes

1 teaspoon seasoned salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Place ground beef into a mixing bowl and add the egg. Add the coarsely crushed crackers and the seasoning, then mix with your hands until just combined. Shape into six patties, then cook like burgers in a skillet with a little oil.

If you like cream gravy, make your favorite recipe for it with the pan drippings — or better yet, buy a package of Pioneer mix. That’s what I did. Cream gravy is essentially hot milk or cream thickened with cooked flour and pan drippings, then seasoned with plenty of salt and pepper. The French might call it a béchamel sauce.

I don’t remember the original recipe exactly, but I know I changed three things about it:

  • First, it originally made only four patties, but I prefer smaller portion sizes of meat now.
  • Second, it originally included Worcestershire sauce, but I don’t keep any around, so I omitted it. You could add some soy sauce, I suppose, or some steak sauce.
  • Third, the original recipe called for frying the patties in an inch or so of oil, but I don’t see why that’s necessary. Even using only a couple tablespoons of oil, the mock steaks came out just fine.

In fact, my new mock steak recipe is exactly like the one I lost, as far as I can remember. And it doesn’t require frying in a pan full of oil or buying a number of ingredients that I don’t keep in the house.

So go ahead. When you’re feeling decadent, give this modern mock chicken-fried steak recipe a try. It’s not a gourmet recipe, as you can see, but it reminds me of my past. Whether it will remind you of chicken-fried steak is another matter entirely.

Need A Best Buy Email Address? This Might Work For You

If you think Best Buy doesn’t offer customer service by email, you’re wrong. But the company doesn’t make it easy for you. I solved my problem with the company after I finally located a Best Buy email address that works.

At least it worked for me. I’ll tell you how I reached them — and maybe it will work for you too.

My Best Buy Complaint

My problem with Best Buy was very straightforward, but it took six weeks to resolve — and I resolved it by email.

In November 2012, I ordered a $10 MetroPCS By-The-Minute plan card. I’ve ordered these from the company several times since this kind of card was previously unavailable locally. And because I have so much built-up credit on my cell phone, I don’t need the $20 card that’s available at Walmart. (You can now get the $10 card at some MetroPCS corporate stores.)

What was my complaint? I ordered the card and didn’t get it.

You don’t get an actual card, but your supposed to get a code by email within a few minutes — and I didn’t get it. It should be a simple matter to look up the code on the Best Buy website or click a button to ask that the code be resent, but those options aren’t available. Once a code is lost in space, it’s gone forever.

Frustrated that there was no email address for Best Buy listed on their site, I called the 800 number. The representative said this kind of issue is handled by a special department, but his attempts to transfer me failed because that department didn’t answer.

There was nothing more he could do for me. My time explaining the problem and waiting on hold was wasted.

Toward A Best Buy Email Address

I searched the Internet for an email addresses for Best Buy and found a couple. They didn’t work.

So I took another approach. I explained my complaint on the Best Buy Facebook page. (To do that yourself, “like” Best Buy at www.facebook.com/bestbuy— then write on their wall. It won’t do any good to write on your own wall.)

To my surprise, someone from the company responded almost immediately — telling me to email them with the details. What email address did they give me? This is what you’ve been waiting for:

facebook@bestbuy.com

I got no immediately response, but after a couple of weeks someone answered. The representative asked for my order information and confirmed that I still hadn’t gotten the code. She also offered a $15 gift card as compensation for my trouble.

I explained that their failure actually cost me an addition $10 since I had to go to Walmart and buy a $20 card when I only needed a $10 card, but that argument wasn’t successful in getting me any additional compensation. She requested a mailing address — not an email address — for the $15 gift card, perhaps because she doesn’t trust the company’s email system either.

It was another couple of weeks after I responded to the Best Buy representative I reached through facebook@bestbuy.com before I got a confirmation and a notice that the charge on my credit card has been reversed. Several days later, I finally got the gift card in the mail.

It took more than six weeks to resolve my Best Buy complaint by email, but since the telephone customer service representative couldn’t help me and didn’t offer any alternatives, what choice did I have but to look for another solution?

Final Thoughts

If this approach hadn’t worked, I planned to contest the charge with my credit card company and let their reps handle Best Buy for me.

By the way, I used the $15 card to buy my January phone card, and I got the code in my email within a few minutes. So there’s hope if you have a problem with Best Buy, but don’t expect a quick resolution or to be able to handle the situation with one simple email as you can with so many other company.

Why doesn’t Best Buy publish an email address? Maybe someone from the company will see this post and respond. But I doubt it. The company doesn’t seem to be Internet savvy.

Still, I’ll post a link on their Facebook page.