Friday, June 29, 2007

"My Mother's Southern Desserts" by James Villas and Martha Pearl Villas - Snowflake Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting

From the “vault”

My Mother’s Southern Desserts by James Villas with Martha Pearl Villas (authors of My Mother’s Southern Kitchen)
Published by: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0688156959
© 1998

Recipe: Snowflake Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting – p. 106-07

My girlfriend, Mar, sent me an email today just cracking up over my rather lengthy story about how I decided to make Scenic Salisbury Steak from a Route 66 cookbook. Little did she know I had another one of those connect-the-dots moments this past weekend. It goes like this:

My husband and I took a road trip to Kansas City (where, according to the musical, Oklahoma, “everything’s up to date.” My husband sadly did not get that connection), driving south through Minnesota, into Iowa, and then into Missouri.

Now, I do not have any cookbooks as of yet on Kansas City Barbeque (likely because I’m thinking an itty bitty gas grill isn’t going to cut it with KC pit masters, although I could be wrong) and until Tuesday of this week, I didn’t have any cookbooks from Iowa (a friend passed on most of her mom’s collection to me). And so cooking a “memorial” recipe from those places was out at least for the time being.

So instead, I’m giving you a recipe from North Carolina. Why? Well, stay with me on this: just outside Des Moines, we stopped at a Popeye’s fast food place and I ordered the chicken tenders with a side of rice and beans. I’d never been to a Popeye’s but had heard the rice and beans were good. I should have stuck with that. Instead, I ate the gut-bomb chicken tenders and the gut-bomb biscuit (or something resembling a biscuit) and lived to regret it.

So I started thinking about true southern fried chicken, which I’ve maybe had once in my life, and then I started thinking about all the southern cookbooks on my shelf at home which led me to think about two of my favorite cookbook authors, James Villas and his mother, Martha Pearl Villas, and then I thought about the hilarious description he wrote in one of their joint cookbooks, My Mother’s Southern Kitchen, about how to make a proper southern biscuit (let's just say Mother knows best) and from there I totally segued into thinking about this fabulous coconut cake I made for my 10th wedding anniversary party that I found in the cookbook I've featured here, My Mother’s Southern Desserts and that’s how that recipe came to be presented to you today! (That wasn’t so bad, was it? You try sitting in a car for 4 hours after eating a totally depressing “southern” meal and tell me your mind wouldn’t go down the same culinary highway that mine did!)

This cake is beyond delicious. It was the hit of the anniversary party (we had desserts, cordials and other after dinner drinks). I also made a couple other recipes from this book for the party, all good. (“Daddy’s Chocolate-Almond Charlotte Rousse” and “Emergency Lemon Buttermilk Wedding Cake”) But this one stood out mainly because of the note included with the recipe:
“Just the mention of ordinary coconut cakes made with canned flaked coconut and frosted with a heavy, overly sweet, innocuous white icing makes Mother cringe. ‘They’re dry as a bone, tasteless, just awful,’ she says with a scowl, ‘so if you’re not willing to deal with fresh coconut and produce a nice, light frosting in a double boiler, you’d be better of making another cake.’ And that’s that!”

Well, people, I hate to say but that was almost was “that” and I contemplated making another cake. The thought of working with a fresh coconut was rather intimidating and I thought to myself “Why bother? I don’t need her stinkin’ coconut cake!”

Well, I was wrong. I did need her cake. And so I went to the grocery store, bought a coconut, took it home, “tapped” the eye of the coconut with an ice pick so as to remove the coconut “milk” that is used in the cake, duly baked the coconut as directed, and “shaved” it so as to put fresh coconut on top of the cake. I admit it was a little bit of work but man, oh man, oh man, it was worth it. People still talk about “THAT CAKE” and every single morsel was gone, baby, gone within minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever seen something inhaled so quickly.

So if you make this cake for family and friends, be sure to get your slice while the slicing is still good. And by all means, don’t make Martha Pearl mad by substituting fake coconut for the real thing. Mothers, even if they are not yours, have a way of finding out these things.

Snowflake Coconut Cake with Seven-Minute Frosting – yields one 3-layer 8-inch cake; 10 to 12 servings.

I medium-size coconut
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
6 large egg whites
Seven-Minute frosting

Pierce the eyes of the coconut with an ice pick or small screwdriver, strain the milk into a container, add enough water to measure 1 cup, and pour into a small saucepan. (By the way, coconut milk looks more like white water than regular milk…just so you know). Add ¼ cup of the sugar, bring to boil over moderate heat, stirring, and set aside to cool. Crack the coconut with a hammer and remove the meat from the shell. Trim off the brown skin with a sharp pairing knife and discard, grate the coconut onto a plate and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round cake pans, tapping out any excess flour, and set aside.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and mix well. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and the remaining 2 cups sugar together with an electric mixer till light and fluffy. Beat the dry mixture alternatively with the milk and vanilla into the creamed mixture till well blended, ending with the dry mixture.

Wash and dry the mixer beaters, then, in another large mixing bowl, beat the egg whites till stiff but not dry peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold them into the creamed mixture. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake till a cake tester or straw inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Place a cake layer on a cake plate, drizzle about one quarter of the coconut mixture over the top, spread about ¾ cup of the frosting over the top, and sprinkle about one quarter of the grated coconut over the frosting. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third and spread the remaining frosting over the top and around the sides of the cake and press the remaining grated coconut into the top and sides. Drizzle the remaining coconut milk over the top, cover the cake with plastic wrap and chill for at least 24 hours before serving.

Notes from Martha Pearl regarding the cake that were listed elsewhere in the book:

Coconut: To remove fresh coconut meat easily from the shell after draining the milk (using an ice pick or screwdriver), preheat the oven to 400F and bake the shell for about 15 minutes. While it is still hot, split the shell with a hammer. The meat should come out easily and cleanly, but if it doesn’t, pry it from the shell with a small, heavy knife and remove any brown skin with a vegetable peeler.

Cake flour: Cake flour gives cakes such as angel food a lighter texture than all-purpose flour, but if a recipe calls for cake flour and you don’t have any, you can sift and resift all-purpose flour eight to ten times and get the same result. (Ann’s note—and I thought working with fresh coconut was time-consuming!)

Seven Minute Frosting – Yields 3 cups frosting; enough for the top and sides of a 3-layer 9- or 10-inch cake.

5 large egg whites
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In the top of a double boiler, combine the egg whites, sugar and water and beat slowly with an electric mixer until well blended. Over boiling water, beat the mixture briskly till stiff peaks form, about 7 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the vanilla. Continue beating until the frosting is thick and smooth, then use immediately. (Ann’s note: This will be hard, but try to save some frosting for the cake as it is just bowl-liking good!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"The Melting Pot - The Variety of American Ethnic Cooking" - Chicken A L'Orange

From the “vault”

The Melting Pot - The Variety of American Ethnic Cooking by Maria Gitin
Published by: The Crossing Press, Trumansburg, New York
© 1977
Recipe: Chicken A L’Orange – p. 239

Well reader, the last few weeks have been busy with no time to cook so I’m providing you with the recipe and review of one of my favorites – Chicken A L’Orange.

I hate to admit this, but in all the years I’ve had this book (it was given to me by a friend, circa 1981 or so), I’ve only tried one recipe. This recipe is so good and so easy that for many years, it was the standard fare for dinner parties until I eventually “oranged” out on the thing and had to give it a rest.

For those of you daring kitchen cooks, check out the recipe for Maria’s Famous Brownies, “famous” because there’s a tiny bit of, oh, shall we say a “controlled substance,” popular in brownie recipes in ‘70’s that is on the ingredient list. As God is my witness I have never tried making or eating these “famous” brownies although I’m pretty sure I could leave out said substance and they would be just fine. That being said, I have other mind-blowing (pun intended) brownie recipes that I’d rather make than this one but it does crack me up to no end every time I look at this cookbook.

As to the chicken recipe (boring now that we’ve discussed marijuana, isn’t it?), I’ve also made this recipe in appetizer proportions in the past and while it worked well, I think making the dish as directed is the way to go.

Chicken A L’Orange – serves 3 to 4

2 fresh, large juice oranges
2 fresh lemons
2 T A-1 Sauce
1 T garlic salt
2 T Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup (or less) brown sugar
½ cup butter or margarine
¼ tsp Chinese 5-spice (optional)
1 fryer, cut up, 3 lbs or more

Squeeze juice from oranges and lemons. Discard seeds and peels. Simmer the juice with spices and butter in saucepan 5 minutes.

Pat chicken pieces dry. Lay them in baking dish. Pour orange sauce over and bake in 325 degree oven 1 to 1 ¼ hours or til tender. Spoon glaze over chicken frequently to baste. Serve garnished with orange slices. Ridiculously simple and so good.

As a note, the author wrote this recipe at a time when Chinese 5-spice was hard to find and so she talked about getting it directly from your Chinese grocer. It might be just me but at that time, I didn’t have access to a Chinese grocer; I was lucky to have access to any grocer! If I recall, the first few times I made this recipe I wasn’t able to locate the spice and the dish was just as delicious without it.

Most grocery stores these days carry Chinese 5-spice but just in case they don’t, the spice is a mixture of Chinese star anise, cloves, fennel, anise pepper and cinnamon.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"Keep It Simple - 30 Minute Meals from Scratch" by Marian Burros - Chicken and sweet peppers with hoisin

Date I made this recipe: June 10, 2007

Keep It Simple – 30 Minute Meals from Scratch by Marian Burros
Published by: William Morrow & Company, Inc.
© 1981
Recipe: Chicken and sweet peppers with hoisin – p. 98

If you’re a faithful reader of The New York Times’ Dining & Wine section like I am, then you’ll be familiar with Marian Burros.

Marian Burros has been a mainstay at the Times for over 20 years but this book was written when she was food editor of The Washington Post. Of the dozen or so cookbooks she’s written, four have a place of honor in my collection: Cooking for Comfort; Keep It Simple; The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook and Come for Cocktails, Stay for Supper (I adore that title!). Two of the books were autographed by Marian when she came to Minneapolis (actually, St. Paul) for book tours several years ago. Naturally, I found Keep It Simple about a week after she was in town. Oh well, Marian, you’ll just have to come back!

As promised, this meal was indeed simple and came in at 30 minutes (prep time included) which is a good thing because it was a hot day when I made it and I didn’t want to spend any more time in the kitchen than necessary. The dish was also tasty although I’m guessing that it is even better the next day when the flavors have had a chance to settle in.

Speaking of flavors, I added the Chinese vermicelli noodles (our local Rainbow grocery store carried them) to the pan so as to mix the toppings and noodles together for maximum flavor and for ease in serving. I also bought chicken tenders rather than full breasts but cut them into smaller pieces before serving. Okay, so maybe that meant that dinner was actually served in 31 minutes; just don’t tell Marian!

Chicken and sweet peppers with hoisin – serves 3
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons dry sherry or apple juice
1 large onion
1 large clove garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 red or green bell peppers
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
4 or 5 ounces Chinese vermicelli (or regular vermicelli)

Slice chicken on diagonal into thin slices, less then ¼ inch wide. Mix the soy and sherry and marinate the chicken in that mixture. Chop onion coarsely; mince ginger and put garlic through press. Heat the oil in a heavy skillet or wok. Add onion, garlic and ginger and cook over medium heat about 2 minutes, until onion begins to soften. Seed peppers and cut into strips less than ¼ inch wide. Add to skillet and cook about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Push peppers and onions to the side; add chicken, without marinade and cook quickly until chicken loses pink color, about 3 minutes. Add water, remaining marinade, and hoisin. Reduce heat and cook a minute or two, until peppers are crisp-tender.

Note: Instead of following Marian’s instructions on how to cook the noodles, I followed the recipe on the back and let me tell you, they were way, way off! The instructions said to cook the noodles for 3-5 minutes until tender. Uh, no. The noodles were definitely not done in that amount of time. I think I cooked them for about 10 minutes or so.

Marian’s method sounds better to me (would that I would have followed it): Bring 3 quarts hot water to boil. In a heatproof bowl pour water over vermicelli and allow to sit 15 minutes, until noodles are tender. Drain and serve.

Monday, June 4, 2007

"The Best in American Cooking - Recipes Collected by Clementine Paddleford" - Citrus Spareribs

Date I made this recipe: June 2, 2007

The Best In American Cooking – Recipes Collected by Clementine Paddleford
Published by: Charles Scribner’s Sons
Recipe: Citrus Spareribs (submitted by Mrs. John Powell, Calif.) – p. 132

Had you been cooking in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, you likely would have been familiar with the name Clementine Paddleford. Born in 1900, Clementine became one of the country’s leading food editors. To this date, I can’t recall how I came to know of her but I do have a couple of her books in my collection, including perhaps her most well-known book, How America Eats. This one, The Best In American Cooking, was published in 1970 a few years after her death. I found it interesting that the copyright is held by The Chase Manhattan Bank, Executors of the Estate of Clementine Paddleford. Imagine; the same people who once held my mortgage helped get her cookbook published!

Ever since we rounded the corner on summer (last weekend being Memorial Day), I’ve had this jag to cook from my vast collection of “American” cookbooks. This one jumped out at me as did the spareribs recipe.

This recipe is very easy (and believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve made ribs). Since we are a family of two, I only made 2 pounds of ribs and since I only made half the ribs, I reasoned I should only make half the sauce. Big mistake. The sauce was pretty tasty and I didn’t have near enough to baste as required. But that’s the only thing I’d change.

I served this with some baked potatoes and a vegetable, just like mom would have done, and it worked for us.

Some of the recipes in this book are from restaurants, some long-gone, others still thriving and so it was fun to read through the collection to see who submitted what. Other recipes, like the recipe I made, were gathered from American housewives across the country, back in the day when women were known by their husband’s name (Mrs. John Smith), when ingredients were simple and the recipes, basic. And so some days, when life is a whirlwind, it’s nice just to pop back in time to make something as simple and tasty as citrus spareribs.

Citrus Spareribs – Mrs. John Powell, Calif. – serves 4 to 6
4 pounds spareribs
1 large lemon
1 large orange
1 large onion
1 cup catsup
2 cups water
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes Tabasco

Cut ribs into serving size pieces (ours were precut). Place in a shallow roasting pan, meaty side up. On each piece arrange a slice of unpeeled lemon, unpeeled orange and onion. Bake at 450F for 20 minutes. Combine remaining ingredients, bring to a boiling point and pour over ribs. Continue baking at 350F until tender, about 1 hour, basting twice.

Note: half the recipe fed the two of us just fine.