Monday, January 1, 2007

"Visions of Sugarplums" by Mimi Sheraton & "Christmas Memories with Recipes" (recipe by Beatrice Ojakangas) -- Christmas food

Visions of Sugarplums – A Cookbook of Cakes, Cookies, Candies, and Confections From all of the Countries that Celebrate Christmas by Mimi Sheraton
Published by: Random House
© 1968

Recipe: Prune and Walnut Dumplings – p. 142

Date I made this recipe: December 29, 2006

And now, a word about prunes. Besides being very healthy for one’s constitution, prunes frequently appear in eastern European recipes.

This recipe piqued my interest because a) I had never seen a recipe for a prune dumpling before and b) I just happened to have a box of sugar cubes (sugar cubes are an ingredient) in my cupboard, just waiting for an opportunity like this to come along and c) it came out of a book called Visions of Sugarplums and what better time to make something like this than during the holiday season?

The biggest stumper of this recipe was the dough. The dough was supposed to be soft, not sticky, yet when I combined the required ingredients, including 2 cups of flour, the dough was still sticky. Since Mimi indicated it was “2 cups flour, or as needed,” I determined that I needed more so I added about ¼ cup more to the mixture and that seemed to do the trick…until…

…When I rolled out the dough, it became sticky all over again, despite my using a Teflon-coated rolling pin some friends gave us. I was truly stumped. And when I took the dumplings out of the hot water, I scratched my head even more as the dough’s consistency was more like pasta than a dumpling, or at least dumplings I was used to eating. The dumplings tasted just fine, but I have to tell you that I have no idea whether I hit the mark on the dough or not. I’m thinkin’ no, but maybe one of my dear readers can try these and give me a hint. If all else fails, the filling is delicious!

Prune and Walnut Dumplings – makes about 20

1 to 1 ½ pounds prunes
Sugar cubes

1 egg
½ cup water
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour, or as needed

1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
Cinnamon (optional)

Soak the prunes in hot water for 1 hour. Remove pits (or buy them pitted) but leave prunes whole. Press ½ cube sugar and a little cinnamon into the cavity of each prune.

Let’s pause for a moment to talk about the above instructions. First, I won’t go into details, but let’s just say that stuffing a water-logged prune with a sugar cube was not the prettiest thing I’ve ever done. Second, Mimi doesn’t indicate how one should go about halving a sugar cube so I’ll tell you my method: place your chef’s knife blade in the center of the cube and whack the blade with the palm of your hand. The cubes split evenly every time.

To make the dough, Combine the egg, water and salt and add enough flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. (See notes on that above). Knead for 3 to 5 minutes on a floured board until dough is smooth but not stiff. Divide dough in half, cover with waxed paper and cut in circles that will fit around the prunes. Wrap a circle (or square) of cough around each prune and pinch the edges closed.

And again we must pause here. Pinching the edges closed on these dumplings proved to be a challenge because that was the only time the dough didn’t stick to anything, even itself. And let me just say that when I got done pinching (and pinching and pinching) I had the ugliest dumplings all lined up that you’ve ever seen. Let’s just say I’m not expecting a call to become a pasty chef any time in the near future.

Once you’ve assembled the dumplings, drop them, a few at a time, in a large potful of rapidly boiling salted water. Keep uncooked dumplings covered with a towel to prevent drying. As dumplings puff up and cook (about 4 minutes), remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Continue cooking until all are done. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped nuts, sugar and cinnamon.

Christmas Memories with Recipes – 25 of today’s master chefs and leading food writers share their holiday-food recollections (whew!)
Published by Wing Books
ISBN 0-517-10190-4 © 1988

Recipe: Mormor’s Meatballs – p. 202
Recipe submitted by Beatrice Ojakangas

Date I made this recipe: December 31, 2006

Wouldn’t you know, of all the famous chefs listed in this book (Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, Marcella Hazan to name a few), I locked and loaded on a recipe submitted by one of Minnesota’s most famous cooking authorities, Beatrice Ojakangas. Beatrice is well known for her expertise on Scandinavian food, and this recipe, a variation of Swedish meatballs (a very beloved Minnesota dish), is mighty tasty on a snowy winter evening like we just had this New Year’s Eve. (Go figure – we had warm temperatures in the high thirties for weeks on end but on New Year’s Eve, rain turned to snow and the next thing we knew, we had us a skating rink!).

Beatrice indicates that these meatballs also make great appetizers, but I served them for dinner with potatoes and peas before heading out to a New Year’s Eve bash.

By the way, "Mormor" was the knickname given to a Swedish grandmother by her grandchildren. Although "Mormor" in this story also served the meatballs with lutfisk (a/k/a lutefisk), nothing on this earth could make me eat fish, much less fish cured in lye, with any meal, meatballs or not, New Year's Eve or not!! (Dying of curiosity about luketfisk? Google or Yahoo the phrase to learn everything there is to know about this interesting ethnic dish).

Mormor’s Meatballs – makes 36 meatballs, 4 to 6 servings
½ c. dry breadcrumbs
½ c. milk
½ pound ground beef
½ pound ground pork
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
1 egg, slightly beaten
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
½ c. concentrated beef broth
2 tablespoons melted butter

In a bowl, mix the breadcrumbs and milk; let stand a few minutes until milk is absorbed. Add the beef, pork, 1 teaspoon salt, allspice, ginger, onion and egg and mix until blended. Shape into balls about 1 inch in diameter.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Drop the meatballs into the water and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan, combine the brown sugar, broth and melted butter; stir and heat until the brown sugar is dissolved to form a glaze. (Note: my husband and I differ on how much sugar is too much sugar in this sauce. I thought it was a little on the sweet side and so I would cut back on the 6 tablespoons. He, on the other hand, thought the ratio was just fine).

Drain the meatballs and place in a single layer in a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Spoon the glaze over the meatballs and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, turning the meatballs by shaking the pan after each 10 minutes of baking.

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