Monday, January 21, 2008

"Birthday Cakes - Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers" - Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Date I made this recipe: January 19, 2008

Birthday Cakes – Recipes and Memories from Celebrated Bakers by Kathryn Kleinman
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0-8118-4019-0
Recipe: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake – p. 102-103

January is birthday month around here. On Tuesday of this week, one of my best friends celebrated her 50th birthday. She’s the first one in our group to turn 50 and although I thought for sure she’d catch on to the party some of us planned for her that day, she was truly speechless when she walked in a local restaurant to see some of her oldest and dearest friends. One of the gang ordered a most delicious cake - yellow cake with raspberry filling and chocolate icing - to be served for dessert. Yum!

Then on Wednesday, my mother-in-law turned the big 8-0. She celebrated by flying to California to visit my sister-in-law (just as the weather got a little nippy...and our furnace went out...). When she came back, we invited her and a family friend over for dinner and I made this cake.

My parents, bless their hearts celebrate their birthdays the week of the 21st. Dad, who will be 84 on the 24th, is followed closely by mom, who will be 82 on the 25th. They live in Michigan and so we won’t be celebrating together but I think they would have enjoyed this cake as it is nice and light and contains yummy pineapple. And let’s face it fruit makes every cake healthy, right? (By the way, this recipe was submitted for this cookbook by restaurateur and cookbook author, Cindy Pawlcyn who made this cake for Chuck Williams’ (he of Williams Sonoma fame) 80th birthday. If it was good enough for Chuck, it was good enough for my mother-in-law, Ruth!)

You should know that this recipe calls for the cake to be baked in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet and we do not have one so we had to substitute. Had I been at my parent’s, I could have used any number of their well-seasoned skillets but such was not the case. So instead of the skillet, we used a glass baking pan that was slightly smaller than a 9x13 cake pan and it worked out fine. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have known what to substitute, but my husband, the math whiz, did and so all was well with the world.

This recipe makes a lot of cake and my mother-in-law is continuing to enjoy her cake as we sent her off with a big plateful. If you can’t pig out on cake on your 80th birthday, when can you?

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake – serves 12 generously

For the topping:
1 small ripe pineapple (3 ½ to 4 pounds)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup pitted fresh or brandied cherries, halved or pecan halves (I used canned and threw in a couple of drops of brandy!)

For the batter:
3 ¾ cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 ½ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups milk
1/3 cup dark rum

Whipped cream or ice cream (optional)

Place an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350.

To make the topping: Slice off the top and bottom of the pineapple so you have a stable base. Place the pineapple on end and use a large knife to cut down the side, removing the skin. Use a paring knife to cut out the “eyes.” (Or, do as I did and buy the thing all ready to roll.) Cut the pineapple lengthwise into 4 wedges and cut out the core. Slice the wedges into 3/8-inch-thick slices and set aside.

In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, then sprinkle in the brown sugar. Cook just until the mixture begins to bubble, then remove from heat. The mixture will continue to cook, so take care not to overcook it. Arrange the pineapple slices in tightly spaced concentric circles in the pan. Tuck the cherries or pecans into the spaces between the pineapple slices. Set aside.

To make the batter: Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together onto a sheet of waxed paper. Note: you will need to sift enough flour for the 3 ¾ cups called for in the recipe and then sift it again with the baking powder and salt. I sifted my ingredients into a bowl as that seemed to be a lot easier than to deal with waxed paper.

In a large bowl, using a wooden spoon, or in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the vanilla. Combine the milk and rum in a large measuring cup. Add the dry ingredients and milk mixture alternately in small increments, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Stir or mix on low speed until blended. If using a mixer, remove the paddle and scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and stir to blend the batter evenly.

Pour the batter over the fruit in the pan. Smooth the top with a rubber spatula. The pan will be quite full and some of the liquid may peek out at the edges. Place the pan on the upper rack, and place a baking sheet lined with parchment paper on a lower rack to catch any drips. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the cake is springy to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for about 3 minutes, then invert onto a large cake plate. Use a spatula to remove any caramel or fruit in the pan.

Serve warm, with whipped cream or ice cream.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Nothing Beets Borscht - Jane's Russian Cookbook" - Ukrainian Borscht

Date I made this recipe: January 13, 2008

Nothing Beets Borscht – Jane’s Russian Cookbook by Jane Blanksteen
Published by: Antheneum
© 1974
Recipe: (what else?!) Ukrainian Borscht – p. 32-34

Last year at about this time, I pulled this cookbook off the shelf, looked for the requisite borscht recipe and got scared off when I read that this called for one pound each of beets, cabbage and potatoes. I had this picture in my mind’s eye of me as a modern-day Cinderella, off in a corner, peeling all these vegetables for hours on end, not to mention me dragging all those pounds into my kitchen.

But I eventually decided pounds be damned – I’ll make the recipe!

And so off I went to the grocery store where this amazing invention called a scale saved my life. Because you see, people, six small to medium-sized beets weighted well over a pound. Two medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes weighed well over a pound. A bag of coleslaw mix (I cheated but it worked) weighed a pound. Silly, silly me! (I was never good at math.) I also freaked out when I saw it made 10-12 servings as I had visions of bowls and bowls of soup being eaten week after week, month after month until I never wanted to see a beet again. And again I was wrong because when I serve up soup, I do it in a decent-sized bowl and not some restaurant’s warped idea of a soup bowl. (Let me just rant for a minute on take-out soup cups and bowls. Are they kidding? To me, that’s a ladle full of soup—perhaps not even that. I am not advocating for larger portions, but I am saying that if you are serving yourself a cup of chicken noodle soup you can all but forget the noodles and instead enjoy the broth because that’s about all you get).

So speaking of broth, I made the broth the night before in between events since it needs to cook for 3 hours. I put the soup on right before I went to an acupuncture appointment then stirred it a little during the Packer playoff game v. Seattle and took the whole thing off the stove right before a friend came over to pick me up for a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra concert. I totally live by multi-tasking and yes, thank you for pointing out the most unique sequence of events—acupuncture followed by football followed by soothing chamber music. Which of these do not go together?!

Just as an aside, I had no choice but to schedule the acupuncture appointment for the same time as the Packer kick-off. Now, a true fan would have bagged the appointment and gone for the game, but my back has felt so much better with acupuncture that I couldn’t miss it. But of course, the appointment was backed up and there I was, lying on my stomach with these tiny needles in me, unable to move, trying to channel all my positive energy to my team while at the same time mentally imploring my wonderful Chinese doctor to hurry the hell up, already! Once done, I flew home, blew in the door, checked with my husband on the score, stirred the soup and then sat my behind down to watch the game. When my friend came to pick me up, I had removed the meat bones and vegetables from the broth and stored the whole lot of it in the refrigerator. This is what halftime is for! (Although I didn’t have time to take the meat off the bones as I can only do so much and am not superhuman in the same way that Brett Favre is). (By the way, the Packers won).

So, if time allows I recommend doing the broth one day ahead and then assembling the soup the next day but if not, I think you’ll be fine. But be warned—you will need 2 quarts plus 2 cups of broth to make the dish and I came up short by about 4 cups so I added low-sodium chicken broth to round it out. I suppose I could have used water but that’s so….boring…and so broth it was. And it tasted fine.

As to the veggies, and just so you know, beets will temporarily stain everything you use to shred/dice them so be prepared to rinse things off immediately, hands included. Prior to washing, my hands looked like I had developed some weird rash…and this is why I waited until after the concert (i.e. the next day) to shred them seeing as how I didn’t want people looking at me in horror. Instead of shredding them, you can chop them instead, saving your hands from staining; I did chop a few of the pieces that were too small to shred and wished I had done that from the beginning.

After slicing and dicing and stirring and cooking, this soup was ready to roll and people, it was so darned purty and looked so healthy that I almost hated to eat it. I’m glad I got over that. Prior to making this dish, I always thought of borscht as being heavy and hearty but this soup, really a meal in and of itself, had bright bits of carrots and tomatoes mixed in with the beets that it just screamed “Vitamins!” And besides that, it just tasted darn good. The author recommends a little sour cream and dill but I opted for a bit of creamy horseradish to kick it up a notch. At the end of the day, I have to agree with the author—Nothing Beets Borscht!

Ukrainian Borscht – 10 to 12 servings
Stock Ingredients
3 pounds ham hock
1 bay leaf
1 onion, peeled and studded with 5 cloves
1 carrot, peeled
1 celery stalk
Salt and pepper
3 quarts water (note: you may need to add more)

Borscht Ingredients
1 medium onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 slices bacon or some butter or shortening
2 small or one large carrot, peeled and sliced into small disks
1 peeled, diced turnip or parsnip (note, I used both)
1 cup peeled, chopped tomatoes or 2 small ones (can be canned)
Salt, pepper
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (plus more to finish the dish)
1 pound beets, making 2 ½ cups when peeled and grated (note—with that mess I had going on, there was no way I was going to measure! Just throw the beets into the soup already!)
1 pound white cabbage, shredded (Note, as mentioned above, an already-prepared cole slaw mix worked just as well)
1 pound potatoes, peeled and diced
2 quarts plus 2 cups of stock
1 pound kolbasa sausage or any cooked sausage if you like (but not raw or it will fall apart when you add it to the soup; if you want to use raw sausage, broil it first).

To make the stock
Put all the stock ingredients in a large soup pot and bring liquid to a boil. Turn off the heat and skim off the scum on the surface of the soup. The scum is that foamy, muddy stuff reminiscent of the foam you are likely to find at a polluted beach. (Note to author: this is descriptive—but not necessarily what one wants to read when making food, no?) Now partially cover the pot and let the soup simmer for 3 hours.

After the three hours are up, let the soup cool. When it is cool enough not to scald your fingers, remove the vegetables and bay leaf and the ham hock. Throw out the vegetables and bay leaf but save the ham hock and remove all the meat from the bones and shred it with your fingers. Throw out the bones.

Put the shredded meat in the pot. Refrigerate the stock and, before you are about to use it, skim the fat off the top. It will be a solid white layer covering the stock.

To make the borscht
Prepare all ingredients as directed. Saute the onion and garlic with 2 slices of bacon or just butter until they are limp and white (not browned). Add the carrots, turnip/parsnip, tomatoes, salt, pepper and vinegar and continue to sauté. Add 2 cups of the stock to the frying pan with the vegetables. Next, add the beats then cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes.

In the meantime, bring 2 quarts of stock to a boil, then add the shredded cabbage and diced potatoes and simmer for 15 minutes. (Note, I went about a half hour in order for the potatoes to be done.) Once the cabbage and potatoes are done, add the beet mixture then simmer, partially covered, for 15 minutes to combine flavors. (I went longer on this because my husband was finishing up a task and I think the soup benefited from extra cooking time in that the vegetables were softer, less crisp due to longer cooking).

Season the entire mixture to taste with salt, pepper and a splash more vinegar.

If you desire, cut the sausage into small, round slices, and simmer for 15 minutes partially covered.

N.B. I was just cleaning up my desk area when I came across a post it note that reminded me to talk about a recipe I didn't make--Fresh Ham Cooked in Hay and Beer (p. 67). That's right, people, in hay is for horses. Besides the obvious "ew" factor, where on earth would one score fresh, usable hay these days? Anybody? Anybody? If you know, please tell me, 'cause I'm thinking that somehow, my local supermarkets just wouldn't carry it...I'm just saying....

And to fans of Trading Spaces, do we not all remember the homeowner's horror (and our own) when "designer" (ahem) Hildy Santo Tomas put hay on the walls? [Insert visible shudder here.] I bet the owners didn't take more than a nanosecond after the reveal to rip that hay off the walls. Too bad it was all spattered with paint or it might have been usable in this dish!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Sunset Crockery Cookbook" - Country Captain Chicken Breasts (Crock Pot Recipe)

Date I made this recipe: January 6, 2008

Sunset Crockery Cookbook by the Editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine
Published by: Sunset Publishing Corporation
ISBN: 0-376-02224-8
© 1992
Recipe: Country Captain Chicken Breasts – p. 63

Back in the early 80’s my parents gave me a crock pot since it was the kitchen item that every busy working gal had to have. Not content to just leave it sit in my kitchen, I hauled that thing all over hell’s half acre, particularly up to northern Minnesota on cross-country ski weekends. And then, of course, crock pots fell out of favor and I relegated mine to the basement to collect dust for a considerable period of time.

This year, I hauled it out again, first to try out a recipe from one of my other crock pot cookbooks and then to make a pot roast for my family at Christmastime. My mom had fallen and needed a partial hip replacement and so to make it easy on everyone when she got out of the care facility, we decided on a crock pot meal—quick, easy and delicious.

And so as long as I had the thing out, I decided to cook yet another recipe, this time from this Sunset Cookbook and after a couple weeks of beef and pork roasts, I decided on chicken.

Until I started collecting southern cookbooks, I had never heard of Country Captain but I’d have to say at least one of out three southern cook books has a recipe for it. I also have to say that every time I see this recipe, I can't help but think of the (Walt Whitman) poem, "Oh Captain! My Captain! ...something, something, something, etc. etc. etc." Hey, it's been a long time since this English major hauled out a poetry book, I remember titles quite well, it's the text that is problematic!

Country Captain is an interesting mix of Indian cuisine (curry, raisins) and southern food (peppers, tomatoes and chicken—not that these are exclusive to the south but you get my point). From what I’ve read, British sea captains (hence, the name) brought back the concept, if not a recipe for this dish, home to the south in the late 1800’s.

This recipe was a little different from most of the other recipes I’ve found in that it uses currants instead of raisins (and might I say that cooked currents look like peppercorns and I kept thinking I had to remove them from my dish!) and included shrimp, turning this dish into something that resembled jambalaya.

Regardless of what you add, the curry and apples coupled with the green pepper and tomatoes made for one flavorful dish. But before posting the recipe, let’s talk about the rice.

Rice used to be the cash crop of the south, surpassing cotton as the big money maker in that part of the country. Rice is still used in a lot of southern dishes, including this one, and this gal can’t get enough of it. But for some reason, everything added to this crock pot cooked as it should have except for the rice. The rice on the bottom of the pot cooked just fine but the rice on the top of the pack did not. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Minute Rice, that oh-so-popular staple of many a kitchen (including my mother’s) in the 60’s and 70’s. So my suggestion as to how to avoid that problem is to make the rice separately, cooking it in either water or chicken broth (or a combination of both) and then add it before serving.

Country Captain Chicken Breasts – serve 6
2 medium-size Granny Smith apples
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 tablespoons dried currants
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 can (about 14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
6 small, skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 1 ¾ pounds total)
½ cup chicken broth
1 cup long-grain rice
1 pound large, raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/3 cup slivered almonds
Chopped parsley

Quarter, core and dice unpeeled apples. In a 4-quart or larger electric slow cooker, combine apples, onion, bell pepper, garlic, currants, curry powder, ginger, and red pepper; stir in tomatoes. Rinse chicken and pat dry; then arrange, overlapping pieces slightly, on top of tomato mixture. Pour in broth. Cover and cook at low setting until chicken is very tender when pierced (6 to 7 hours).

Carefully lift chicken to warm plate, cover lightly, and keep warm in a 200 degree oven. Stir rice into cooking liquid (see above about rice). Increase cooker heat setting to high; cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until rice is almost tender to the bite (30 to 35 minutes). Stir in shrimp, cover, and cook until shrimp are opaque in center; cut to test (about 10 more minutes).

Meanwhile, toast almonds in a small nonstick frying pan over medium heat until golden brown (5 to 8 minutes), stirring occasionally. Set aside.

To serve, season rice mixture to taste with salt. Mound in a warm serving dish; arrange chicken on top. Sprinkle with parsley and almonds.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

"Northern Italian Cooking" by Biba Caggiano - Lentil Soup

Date I made this recipe: December 31, 2007

Northern Italian Cooking by Biba Caggiano
Published by: HP Books
ISBN: 0-89586-119-4
© 1981
Recipe: Lentil Soup (Zuppa di Lenticchie) – p. 20

Continuing along in my “is this year over yet?” theme, I wanted to end the year on a positive note and that meant making a hearty lentil soup. You see, in Italy, lentils symbolize money and good fortune for the coming year. It’s the Italian equivalent of the south’s Hoppin’ John that is also made for the new year to bring luck. I like the “money” part of the program myself as there has been a great outpouring of it this year that was most certainly not offset by a great incoming. And so there it is.

Now, I have a great Lentil Soup recipe that I’ve made over and over and planned to make that but to my horror, I discovered I merely wrote down the recipe from the cookbook from which it came rather than buying the thing to add to my collection. This WILL be remedied immediately! But until that time, I had to come up with a substitute and so I perused all my Italian and Sicilian cookbooks until I found this one. The recipes were pretty similar so I felt pretty good about making it and indeed, it was almost as good as the other recipe. Bibba suggests sprinkling Parmesan cheese on top and her suggestion is a good one. Growing up, we always added Parmesan cheese to my mom’s chicken soup. To steal a line from the Campbell Soup people – M’m M’m good!

Lentil Soup (Zuppa di Lenticchie) – Makes 8 to 10 servings
2 cups lentils
4 cups meat broth or 3 cups canned beef broth
6 to 8 cups water
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 cup canned crushed Italian-style or whole tomatoes
¼ cup olive oil (Cut this amount way down and just coat the bottom of the pan!)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
¼ lb. pancetta, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
8 to 10 thick slices Italian bread (for garnish)
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (for garnish)

Place lentils in a large bowl. Add enough cold water to cover and let stand overnight. Discard any lentils that float to the surface. Drain and rinse lentils thoroughly. Place lentils in a large saucepan. Add water, broth, celery and carrots. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer 50 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press tomatoes through a food mill or sieve to remove seeds (Note, the tomatoes I bought didn’t need pressing so I skipped this step).

Heat oil in a small saucepan. Add onion, parsley and garlic. Saute over medium heat 2 to 3 minutes. Add pancetta. Saute 2 to 3 minutes or until the pancetta is lightly browned. Add tomato pulp. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat. Cook uncovered 15 to 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, place a third of lentil mixture in a blender or food processor. Process until smooth. Return to saucepan. Add tomato mixture. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Toast bread until golden on both sides. Place 1 slice toasted bread in each soup bowl. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan cheese. Ladle soup into bowls. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"Sarah Leah Chase's Cold-Weather Cooking" - Winter Pot Roast

Date I made this recipe: December 30, 2007

Sarah Leah Chase’s Cold-Weather Cooking
Published by: Workman Publishing
ISBN: 9 780894808449
© 1990
Recipe: Winter Pot Roast – p. 260-261

Well, here we are at the end of 2007 and I, for one, am glad. It’s not been the best year and the other day, the weather took a turn south for the winter. It’s scheduled to dip down from the mid-twenties to the about three or four above in the next couple of days. And so this recipe seemed appropriate.

But besides the weather change, the main reason that I made this roast is because my dad sent me home with an extra beef roast after the Christmas holiday and rather than freezing it indefinitely, I made this recipe.

In case you’re wondering why my Christmas present is a beef roast, well…my sister-in-law and I cooked over the holidays at my folk’s house in Michigan and she bought three small roasts for us to put in the crock pot for Christmas Day. Turns out two roasts were plenty but rather than just freezing the roast for him and my mother to eat later, my dad insisted I bring this thing home in the trunk of my car.

Now, if you and your parents lived in say, Florida, you would not want to put this roast in the trunk of your car. But here in the frozen tundra, our roast was frozen and then some by the time we got home, seven and a half hours after we started. I stuck it in the freezer but really should have kept it out as I ended up thawing the thing out in my microwave before cooking it. Apparently, a roast needs a little more time in the refrigerator to thaw than I gave it.

This recipe is a great mixture of both sweet and savory. If I recommend anything it is watching the cooking time. I made half the recipe (using a 2.5 pound roast instead of 4-5) and therefore could have cut the time down just a smidge from the recommended three hours. Still, the roast was flavorful and pulled apart in seconds.

So the next time you have a roast rumbling around in the back of your trunk during a northern winter, consider making this dish. If you don’t have a roast rumbling around in the trunk of your car, make it anyway! It’s very yummy and satisfying on a cold, winter day.

Winter Pot Roast – Makes 6 to 8 servings
¼ cup olive oil (even though I made half the recipe, I still poured a lot of oil out and just used enough to coat the bottom of the pan)
1 beef rump roast, 4 to 4 ½ pounds
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 large onions, minced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
¼ cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 ½ cups beef broth, preferably homemade
1 cup fruity red wine, such as Zinfandel or Beaujolais
½ cup imported black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
½ cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, halved
2 tablespoons capers, drained
½ cup dried apricots
½ cup whole pitted prunes
½ cup Calimyrna figs, cut lengthwise in half (note: I used the darker Mission figs since I had them on hand and they worked fine. I didn’t find any figs in my grocery store specifically labeled Calimyrna but based on website photos, it looks like golden figs are what you’re looking for).
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano

Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the roast by rubbing it all over with salt and pepper. Brown the roast on all sides in the hot oil, 15 minutes. Remove the roast from the pot and set aside on a platter.

Add the onions to the pot and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Blend in the anchovy paste and brown sugar until smooth. Pour in the beef broth and red wine, then mix in the olives, capers, dried fruits, and lemon zest and juice. Season with the oregano and additional salt and pepper.

Return the seared roast to the pot. Bring the mixture just to a simmer over medium heat. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, turning the meat occasionally, until it is very tender, about 3 hours. Let the pot roast cool to room temperature, then refrigerate overnight.

Before serving the following day, preheat the oven to 350. Remove the pot roast from the pot and slice thin. Overlap the slices in a large baking dish. Skin the fat from the sauce and spoon the sauce generously over the meat slices. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake until the meat is heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve with buttered noodles, mashed potatoes, or rice.