Sunday, December 27, 2009

"La Bella Cucina" & "Family Circle Great Chicken Recipes" - (Italian) Sunday Meat Sauce and Chicken Breasts Mornay

Date I made these recipes: December 24th and 25th, 2009

La Bella Cucina – How to Cook, Eat, and Live Like an Italian by Viana La Place
Published by: Clarkson Potter/Publishers
ISBN: 0-609-60518-6
Recipe: Sunday Meat Sauce – p. 139

Family Circle Great Chicken Recipes by Family Circle magazine, edited by Patricia Curtis
Published by: Cowles
© 1968
Recipe: Chicken Breasts Mornay – p. 114

You know, just about everyone else I know stresses out about presents and family gatherings and getting the Christmas cards out on time and decorating and whatnot at this time of year but not me. I stress out about food, specifically: what do I serve for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?

You think I’d be prepared by now given that I went through the same stress last year…and the year before…but alas, no. Guess I’m a slow learner.

You’d also think that with a cookbook collection of almost 1,150 cookbooks that this wouldn’t be a problem and again you’d be wrong. There’s something about a holiday dinner that makes me feel like I should be cooking something fancy and complicated like beef Wellington when what I really crave is a good casserole. (Actually, what I really wanted was a greasy hamburger but for that, one really needs to go out to a greasy dive to get one and good luck finding a greasy dive that was open for Christmas!). And so I pored over recipe books and finally came across a chicken and cheese sauce dish to which I added side dishes of noodles and broccoli—all the components of a good casserole had I mixed them all together.

As to Christmas Eve, it is traditional in my family to have spaghetti and meatballs (or sans meatballs depending on what the Pope had to say about meat on Christmas Eve –can you say buzzkill?) and this dish wasn’t quite that but it did involve meat and so na-na! This recipe came from one of my mom’s cookbooks, one of the few she had on Italian cooking and while it’s not our family recipe, it did in a pinch.

As far as Christmas dinner was concerned, I used another one of my mom’s recipe books – Family Circle’s Great Chicken Recipes. (My mother loved Family Circle and Women’s Day magazines and every time I see them on the shelf I think of her) I think we can safely establish that it wasn’t even close to something like Beef Wellington but I wanted comfort food and I wanted easy and so voila, mission accomplished.

Now I’m gearing up for the next cooking dilemma – what to make for my family when they come to town for New Year’s? The first order of business was to make reservations for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants in town, The Lexington, (because I have my priorities straight) and I think the rest of the time, I’ll cook yet another round of spaghetti, this time with meatballs, and a roast and perhaps even a turkey breast—or not. But while I mull over that conundrum, the Green Bay Packers are playing and so “Tally ho and away we go, see you next week in a brand new show!” (It’s from the Heckle & Jeckle [cartoon] Show in case you were wondering—and yes, I am that old! And yes, Heckle & Jeckle are two talking crows—what’s your point?!).

Sunday Meat Sauce – serves 4 to 6
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 ½ pounds assorted veal, pork, beef and lamb not ground but cut with scissors or a sharp knife into small pieces or dice (ask your butcher to do this; most will happily oblige). Note: I used just beef and veal.
Sea salt and a grinding of black pepper
Pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 fresh bay leaf
½ cup red wine
1 pound very ripe tomatoes, peeled and diced
Spring or filtered water, as needed
1 pound imported artisanal pasta (almost any shape works with this sauce except very delicate ones, but ruffled lasangette pasta is a particularly fine match)
Freshly grated recorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or a mixture of the two

Heat the olive oil and onion in a braising pan our soup pot. Cook over low heat until the onion is golden and tender. Add the meat and brown over medium heat for several minutes.

Add the salt and pepper to taste, hot pepper flakes, bay leaf torn in half, and red wine. Let the wine bubble until it evaporates.

Add the tomatoes, stir, and cook, covered over low heat for 1 ½ hours, stirring regularly, until the flavors develop fully. Check often and add water as needed to prevent scorching.

Cook the pasta of your choice in abundant salted boiling water. (I can’t say as I’ve ever seen a directive to use “abundant” salted boiling water before but I like it!) When al dente, drain well and toss with the sauce. Generously sprinkle with a handful of cheese and toss again before serving. Serve with extra cheese at the table.

NOTES: as previously discussed in my blog about The French Laundry’s lasagna, this is a bad time of year to buy fresh tomatoes so I used Pomi, a boxed product that can be purchased at an Italian grocery store or more of an upscale grocery such as Lund’s or Byerly’s (local stores). As to the meat, I diced it as small as I could but still felt the result was more like stew meat in tomatoes than a true ragu which typically consists of slow-braised meat that just falls apart after cooking.

Chicken Breasts Mornay – Makes 4 servings
I just had to hoot at the tag line for this recipe: “A nippy cheese sauce sparks bland and delicate white meat.” I don’t know if “nippy” is the right word but it made me chuckle.
4 chicken breasts
¼ cup flour seasoned with ½ teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper
¼ cup (1/2 stick) melted butter or margarine
Mornay sauce (makes about 1 ¼ cups)
2 teaspoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup milk
½ cup chicken stock
¾ cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
½ teaspoon prepared mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Melt butter or margarine in small saucepan; remove from heat. Blend in flour, salt, and pepper; stir in milk and chicken stock. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens and boils 1 minute.

Add cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce; continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until cheese melts; remove from heat. Stir in parsley; serve hot.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Homestyle Mexican Cooking" - Chicken Tabasco

Date I made this recipe: December 20, 2009

Homestyle Mexican Cooking by Lourdes Nichols
Published by: The Crossing Press
ISBN: 0-89594-861-3
Recipe: Chicken Tabasco (Pollo a la Tabaquena) – p. 127

Ah December; so much celebrating to do, so little time.

One of the things Andy and I are celebrating this year is the 20th anniversary of the first time we went out. To clarify, it really wasn’t our first “date” date, more like a meet and greet to get caught up on some mutual friends of ours, the Hartman sisters.

Older sister, Susan P. Hartman, worked with me at one of my companies and it was she who was responsible for me meeting Andy. Lisa Hartman was one of Andy’s roommates in a house he shared with three other people. Yes, you can all start singing “It’s a Small World.”

In the summer of 1989, I went across country with Susan P. to help her move back to her native New Jersey so that she could start grad school at NYU. As mentioned in a previous blog about Paris, traveling with Susan P. is a little like watching an episode of I Love Lucy. To this day, I cannot look at windshield washing fluid without thinking of the hilarity that ensued when we had to add it to her car (don’t ask), nor can I think of Lexington, KY, without thinking about this damned circle drive (from hell) that we kept getting ourselves on, over and over again. In exasperation, we finally pulled off the circle drive, went to a Hyatt Hotel and proceeded to the bar for a calming cocktail before getting better directions that got us the hell out of Lexington (not that it wasn’t lovely).

And so when Andy called in early November and suggested we get together to compare notes on the Hartman sisters, I was loaded for bear with stories. I can’t recall why we decided to meet at Pepitos, a Mexican restaurant located near my home at the time in south Minneapolis, but meet there we did; maybe we were in a Mexican phase back then? Given that I was then (and still am) a social butterfly, we were unable to meet and greet until December 22, 1989 and once we did, folks, well, it was all over but the crying. We’ve been together ever since and in May 2010, we will celebrate 19 years of (pretty much) wedded bliss. All of this, of course, is Susan P’s fault and is something that I tease her about from time to time (all in good fun, of course).

Although Andy and I do plan to revisit the scene of the crime on Tuesday, I thought it would be fun to cook something from one of the Mexican cookbooks I acquired and decided on the chicken recipe because it didn’t require a long marinade nor did it require me to go out and purchase lard—not that there’s anything wrong with lard. I tend to like lighter Mexican dishes and indeed, this cookbook was full of them.

This was one tasty dish that just capped off a day of sheer laziness on our part but hey, that’s one of the perks of being together this long. And speaking of being together a long time, Pepitos actually cleans our clock on the anniversary thing—according to their website, they have been in business since 1974 (they opened in 1971 under a different name). I guess that 20 years is nothing to them but we are happy to be able to return there on this auspicious anniversary. Congratulations, Pepitos! (And hooray for us!!)

For those of you living in the Twin Cities area, Pepitos is located at 4820 Chicago Ave S in Minneapolis. Their website is:

Chicken Tabasco – Pollo a la Tabasquena – serves 6
6 chicken quarters, skinned
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 medium onion, charred and chopped
4 cloves garlic, charred and minced
6 medium tomatoes, charred, peeled and chopped
1 red bell pepper, deseeded and cut into strips
2 tablespoons green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons capers, drained
2 tablespoons seedless raisins
4 ounces ham, chopped
4 tablespoons slivered almonds
2 cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons cold water, divided
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Season the chicken with the lime juice, vinegar, salt and allspice, and let marinate for 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a tight-fitting lid and fry the chicken until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and fry all the other ingredients, except the water and cornstarch for about 5 minutes. Drain off any excess oil and return the chicken to the pan. Add 1 cup water, cover, and simmer for about 1 hour, turning the chicken pieces frequently.

Remove the chicken to a warmed serving dish. Mix the cornstarch with the remaining 3 tablespoons cold water and stir it into the pan juices. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Pour over the chicken and serve hot.

Note: I didn’t drain off any excess oil because the liquid from the chopped tomatoes, onions, etc. made it nearly impossible to tell what constituted the oil and what constituted the liquid. The taste didn’t seem to suffer at all from not draining anything. Also, I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs and they were quite tasty. Finally, I made up a little rice to go with the dish; the recipe didn’t call for it but I love rice and so there it is.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Mistletoe Madness-A Holiday Party (various cookbooks)

Date I made these recipes: December 6, 2009

Better Homes & Gardens Best Buffets by Better Homes and Gardens
Published by: Meredith Corporation
© 1963
Recipe: Hot Mulled Cider – p. 50

Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook – Guest-Tested Recipes and Party Plans for Every Occasion by Betty Crocker
Published by: Golden Press
© 1967, 1970 – Third Printing 1970
Recipe: Chafing Dish Meatballs – p. 136

Leisure Arts Presents The Spirit of Christmas – Creative Holiday Ideas Book Four by Leisure Arts, Inc.
Published by: Leisure Arts, Inc.
© 1990
Recipe: Layered Crab Taco Dip – p. 136

Always Superb: Recipes for Every Occasion – a collaborative cookbook from the Junior Leagues of Minneapolis and Saint PaulPublished by: The Junior Leagues of Minneapolis and Saint Paul
ISBN: 0-9729882-0-3
Recipe: Martini Dip – p. 36
Other recipes made but not featured: Layered Asian Appetizer -. 45

Betty Crocker Party Food by Betty Crocker
Published by: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-470-17349-7; © 2007
Recipe: Roasted Sesame and Honey Snack Mix – 26
Other recipes made but not featured: Southwestern Spiced Party Nuts – p. 14; Chex® Party Mix – p. 24 and Almond Caramel Corn – p. 21

FARM Journal Country Cookbook – Edited by Nell B. Nichols, Food Editor, FARM Journal
Published by: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1959
Recipe: Holiday Fruitcake Cookies – p. 95

Well folks, here it is December 8th and I am already exhausted by the holidays! On December 6th, my husband and I decided it was high time we threw a party and what better way to kick off the holiday season than by throwing a Mistletoe Madness open house for 50 or so of our closest, personal friends!

And so just call me Betty (as in Crocker, my idol) because I was a cooking fool for at least a week making appetizers and goodies to satisfy every taste bud. And yes, I probably made too many things but given that it was our first open house party, I wanted to run a number of things up the flagpole to see how they’d fly. For the most part, all the dishes got accolades so that was good. Sadly, many of the recipes won’t be reprinted here since my own personal rule is to only publish recipes from my own collection and some of the ones I made are from borrowed library books. But I can at least give you a hint as to where I found some of them: Desperation Entertaining by Alicia Ross and Beverly Mills (I have their Desperation Dinners book but not this one); Pillsbury Best Cookies; Betty Crocker’s Christmas Cookbook; Barefoot Contessa Parties! (I already posted this recipe for her pan-friend onion dip on my blog in 2007); Feast by Nigella Lawson (also posted her parma ham bundle recipes on my blog) and a community cookbook from my home town using some of my mom’s cookie recipes.

As to the recipes, let me just say that the yield on each of these wasn’t necessarily what was written. In general, any recipe that stated it made 5 or more dozen was a “liar, liar pants on fire.” On the other hand, recipes that said they made one cup usually yielded two or more. Go figure. Depending on your crowd, one serving may be enough but it’s up to you to determine that.

Finally, and I hate to disparage Betty Crocker, but here’s a little story that I had to email in advance to some of my friends who were attending (which I titled “What the hell, Betty?): one of the recipes I made was Betty Crocker’s Southwestern Spiced Party Nuts. The recipe called for ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon but I knew that one of my guests was allergic to cinnamon and so I called the B. Crocker Hotline for assistance. I asked the woman on the phone what else I could substitute for cinnamon and after putting me on hold, she came back and stunned me into silence by saying that she couldn’t advise me because they hadn’t tested the recipe.

What?! What?! What?! I could see other test kitchens not testing a recipe but this was Betty Frickin’ Crocker for God’s sake - my hero, my idol, the person whose kitchen I would readily die in. WTF? (I made it without the cinnamon and nobody was the wiser).

Lucky for all of you, I got over my distress and made all the recipes without too much ado. For one, brief shinning moment I considered just buying the Chex® Party Mix but then I caught myself and pressed on regardless. There’s too much salt in packaged stuff anyway!

And so here we go with my list of goodies. The Martini Dip was probably the biggest hit, no doubt because of the vermouth marinated olives. I did warn people but they still imbibed at their own risk!

Hot Mulled Cider – makes 10 servings
Before I get into the ingredients, I just have to say that this was found in a chapter called “Something for the boys” – Bachelor’s Feast. Let me just say that the “girls” liked it, too!
½ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 quarts cider
1 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon whole cloves
3 inches stick cinnamon
Dash nutmeg

Combine brown sugar, salt, and cider. Tie spices in small piece of cheese cloth; add. Slowly bring to a boil; cover and simmer 20 minutes. Remove spices. Serve hot.

Chafing Dish Meatballs – makes 5 dozen meatballs (Ann’s note: no freakin’ way! I doubled the meat and spices and only then did I achieve 60 or so meatballs. I also used 1 and ½ bottles of chili sauce and 1 and 1/3 jar of grape jelly).
1 pound ground beef
½ cup dry bread crumbs
1/3 cup minced onion
¼ cup milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon snipped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup shortening
1 bottle (12 oz) chili sauce
1 jar (10 oz) grape jelly

Mix ground beef, crumbs, onion, milk, egg and next 4 seasonings; gently shape into 1-inch balls. Melt shortening in large skillet; brown meatballs. Remove meatballs from skillet; drain fat. Heat chili sauce and jelly in skillet until jelly is melted, stirring sauce and jelly in skillet until jelly is melted, stirring constantly. Add meatballs and stir until coated. Simmer 30 minutes. Serve hot in chafing dish.

Layered Crab Taco Dip – about 5 ¾ cups of dip (which is about right)
My Auntie Mare gave me the book containing this dip years ago. I put it away waiting for the right occasion to use it and here it is! Thanks, Auntie Mare!

2 cans (6 ounces each) lump crabmeat, drained
2 green onion, minced
½ cup diced cucumber
½ cup diced red onion
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and diced
Tortilla chips to serve

Because this makes so much, I recommend skipping the cream cheese and just putting the dip in a bowl to be served with the taco chips. I also recommend skipping the red onion. I diced it as small as I could but at the end of the day, the flavor still can be a little harsh. But by all means, add the avocado!

In a glass bowl, combine crabmeat, green onions, cucumber, red onion, tomato, and parsley. In a small bowl, combines juices. Stir into crab mixture. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Combine cream cheese and mayonnaise, blending well. Spread mixture over the bottom of a serving platter. Spread avocado over cream cheese mixture. Drain crab mixture, pressing out as much moisture as possible. Spread mixture over avocado. Serve with tortilla chips.

Martini Dip – Yield 8 servings (Nope. Try two-martini glasses full of dip-sized servings!)
As I mentioned above, this dip was the big hit. Martinis are my drink of choice and so I just happened to have all the olives I needed on hand along with the vermouth. And some gin although it wasn’t called for in this dip. I also have a set of what I call travel martini glasses—plastic glasses with a green stem with a martini olive “imbedded” in the middle. Naturally, I used these glasses to serve seeing as how the colors fit so well with the holiday. I also decided I’d best let people know there was booze in them there glasses and so I put up little food name tags on my table—one can’t be too careful!

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
12 ounces vermouth-marinated chopped olives, drained

Combine the cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise in a bowl and mix until smooth. Stir in the olives. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator until serving time. Excellent served with crackers or vegetables.

By the way, I highly recommend the Layered Asian Appetizer on p. 45 of this book. Yummy!

Roasted Sesame and Honey Snack Mix – 20 servings of ½ cup each
3 cups Chex cereal (any variety)
3 cups checkerboard-shaped pretzels
3 cups sesame sticks
1 cup mixed nuts
¼ cup honey
3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
2 tablespoons sesame seed, toasted, if desired

Heat oven to 275F. Mix cereal, pretzels, sesame sticks and nuts in ungreased jelly roll pan, 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 inch.

Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over cereal mixture, stirring until evenly coated.

Bake 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Spread on waxed paper; cool. Store in airtight container up to 1 week.

Holiday Fruitcake Cookies – makes 8 dozen (and that’s about right)
Call me sentimental but my mom used to make cookies like these when I was growing up and I loved them. But then again, we are fruitcake people. There wasn’t a time that I don’t remember Jane Parker Fruitcake being on the table. We love Jane Parker. Jane Parker is an A&P store brand but we don’t have an A&P store in my hometown anymore so my sister-in-law has had to find other (black market) sources! Kidding. A few years ago, though, we did have trouble sourcing the stuff but I just looked up A&P online and it said “Click to order your holiday Fruitcake online.” I tell you what, folks the holidays are a great thing.

Anyway, when a friend gave me the FARM Journal cookbook for my collection, it just happened to fall open to the cookie page (I took this as a sign) and decided right then and there (this was October) that this was going on the party list.

Now mind you, I didn’t tell anyone that these were fruitcake cookies because you either like fruitcake or you don’t (and most don’t) but they were still eaten and I didn’t find any balled up napkins after the fact with the remains of the day so I think we’re good. Still, the recipe does make a bazillion cookies so I hope you really do like fruitcake if you make them!

4 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. shortening
2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 c. thick sour milk or buttermilk
1 c. chopped pecans
1 c. candied cherries, cut in quarter
2 c. dates, cut up
2 (4 oz.) cans candied fruits and peels (1 c.) Note: I just bought a container of cut up fruitcake fruit and called it a day. Do they even make cans anymore?
Red or green candied cherries for top (optional)

Sift together flour, soda and salt
Cream shortening; add sugar and eggs; beat until light and fluffy.
Add sour milk and flour; then fold in nuts, cherries, dates and candied fruit.
Chill the dough.
Drop teaspoonfuls about 2” apart, on lightly greased baking sheet. Top each with a cherry half if desired.
Bake in a moderate oven (375) 8 to 10 minutes. Makes 8 dozen.

Note: these were slightly on the sweet side although they probably always were and I had just forgotten!

By the way, I just have to put in a plug for one of my favorite organizations, Arc Greater Twin Cities. Arc runs four Value Village Thrift Stores in the Twin Cities metropolitan area and every year starting in November, features a Merry Thriftmas boutique. This year I scored 3 holiday tablecloths, 11 holiday platters, 9 holiday party bowls and assorted table decorations all for about $50. To be fair, as a member of Arc Greater Twin Cities, I do get a 20% discount, but folks, probably the most expensive thing I bought came to $3.95. Most platters and bowls ranged from $.99 to $2.99. Can you say bargain?! To add to the fun, I bought a beautiful top in red silk and black velvet for...are you ready...$7.95. So if you live in the area and are looking for holiday items for your own holiday party,run, do not walk, to your nearest VV Store! Store locations and hours can be found at:

Friday, November 27, 2009

"The French Laundry Cookbook" - Eric's Staff Lasagna

Date I made this recipe: November 25, 2009

The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
Published by: Artisan
ISBN: 1-57965-126-7

Recipe: Eric’s Staff Lasagna – p. 116

Thomas Keller was a guest judge on last week’s Top Chef episode. I don’t know whether to be impressed or depressed by the fact that this great chef is judging a cooking contest on a reality TV channel.

Thomas Keller owns and operates The French Laundry restaurant in California; it is considered a Mecca to many. Thomas Keller is a hero to many culinary aspirants. Sadly, Thomas Keller is unknown to likely three-quarters (if not more) of the population. That is not a good thing.

Thomas Keller should know that although I admire all the recipes made with lobster and fish and whatnot, I did not make them. I don’t really like fish, Thomas Keller, and lobster is out of my budget. The fact that there are several recipes for these ingredients in this book cracks me up, Thomas Keller, seeing as how your restaurant is in Napa Valley—emphasis on “valley.”

And so I did not aspire to recreate a Thomas Keller original because that would be way too hard; rather, I made the lasagna recipe made for a staff meal by Eric (no last name given).

Now lasagna is something I have a handle on and this recipe is close to but in no way compares with the master chef in my family, my Aunt Rose. And so whereas I am no Thomas Keller in the making, neither is Eric (no last name) my Aunt Rose. My Aunt Rose could cook the pants off these guys in a New York minute (never mind that she lives in New Jersey).

This lasagna recipe was okay – neither good nor bad – and I can’t believe I am saying this because I’m not a fan of salt but it could have used more salt. And some sugar in the sauce (although I added some myself).

Why sugar, you ask? Because tomatoes are tart and unless you add something to cut the acidity, you will be mightily puckered up by the end of dinner. I always start off small, adding a quarter teaspoon at a time until my taste buds are satisfied. I could have gone with a little more here but it still worked out fine.

The other thing that Eric (no last name) did that didn’t really dawn on me until the very end was that he only used the mozzarella on top of the lasagna. While it certainly created a cleaner flavor, let’s be honest here: is there anything more fun that pulling on goopy strings of melted mozzarella cheese? I think not!

Here’s what else I think: this dish is probably best made in the summertime when tomatoes are at their peak but hey, what are you going to do? The man was on TV in November and so one thing led to another and voila – here we are! I can’t control the timing of these things.

So eat and enjoy your lasagna but do add some salt and sugar to the sauce as you go along. It’ll make my Aunt Rose happy!

Eric’s Staff Lasagna – makes about 9 servings
½ cup olive oil (I’d recommend a little less—you don’t want this to be oily)
1 ½ cups minced yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
½ cup tomato paste
8 cups cut-up peeled tomatoes (about 12 to 14 medium tomatoes, cut into rough 1-inch pieces)
¼ cup chopped oregano or ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped basil)
As well as some sugar (a couple teaspoons or to taste) and definitely some salt!

1 ½ pounds whole-milk ricotta (Note: I bought a 2 pound contained and used it all. There is no such thing as too much ricotta)
3 large eggs
½ cup chopped parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound lasagna noodles
½ pound mozzarella, grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce: Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook gently for 4 to 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes (the tomato paste will separate from the oil and the oil will turn a vivid orange). Add the tomatoes and stir to combine.

The sauce can be completed on the stove top or in the oven. The oven method requires less attention but a longer cooking time. For the stove top, simmer the sauce gently for 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot every 10 minutes to prevent scorching. (Ann’s note: Yeah, right, like I’m going to bound into my kitchen every 10 minutes! I am a busy gal and you probably are too so take it from me when I say that you can put this on the lowest setting and leave it alone for at least a half hour, if not more, without stirring and scraping and the sauce will be fine. If not, a little charcoal never hurt anyone!)

For the oven method, preheat the oven to 325. Bring the tomatoes to a simmer on top of the stove, cover the pot with a parchment lid, and place the pot in the oven for 3 to 4 hours.

When the sauce is done, it should be thick, slightly chunky, and reduced to about 1 quart. Add the oregano (or basil) and let cool to room temperature (about 1 hour) before assembling the lasagna.

Meanwhile, for the filling: In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta and eggs until completely blended. Add the parsley and salt and pepper to taste and mix until well combined. Refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the lasagna.

Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain the n oodles and allow them to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350.

To assemble the lasagna: Spread a think layer (3/4 to 1 cup) of sauce over the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Place a layer of noodles (no more than one quarter of them) in the pan, slightly overlapping them. Spread half the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles and top with another layer of noodles. Reserve 1 cup of the remaining sauce and spread the rest over the noodles, completely covering them. Arrange another layer of noodles on top and cover with the remaining ricotta mixture. Top with a final layer of noodles and spoon the reserved sauce over them. Toss the grated mozzarella with salt and pepper to taste (to give the cheese more flavor) and sprinkle it over the top.

Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the mozzarella is a spotted golden brown and the lasagna is hot throughout. (This line actually reads “is a spotted golden grown…” in the book. I think that is a very cosmic typo consider this recipe calls for fresh tomatoes!).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook" - Pasta with Tuna (Pennoni al Tonno)

Date I made this recipe: November 15, 2009

The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook – Foreword by Placido Domingo, Edited by Jules Bond
Published by: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
© 1988 – ISBN: 1-55670-039-3

Recipe: Pennoni al Tonno (Pasta with Tuna)
Well folks, yesterday I spent an entirely delightful day (of my own volition) listening to opera hopefuls vie for a spot in the Metropolitan Opera. You heard me, the Metropolitan Opera.

Some people would consider giving up an entire Saturday to sit and listen to people screech their way through a song in another language to be akin to death…or worse. Not me. Although I am not a big fan of the opera, I don’t hate it, either, and being an audience member during these tryouts is a lot of fun - far better, to be sure, than actually trying out.

Now you might wonder if I motored to the Big Apple to take in these auditions but the beautiful thing is that I didn’t need to. For the past 57 years, the Metropolitan Opera has held regional tryouts in St. Paul and for a good 15 of those years at least, my friend, Tall (real name, Carol) and I have been part of the audience cheering (never jeering) the hopefuls on to greatness.

Although I am a singer, I moved away from classical training to jazz early on and while I think jazz singers can do classical pieces, I don’t think classically-trained singers can do jazz, at least not to my ear. Don’t get me wrong, many have tried but with apologies to those classical singers who have (and there have been many), it just ain’t a happenin’. You either feel the rhythm of jazz or you don’t. Either you are Ella Fitzgerald or you’re not. I don’t make these rules.

But boy oh boy, when classical singers actually play inside their own sandbox, the results are phenomenal as we hear year after year after year. Every year in the regional audition round, 20 or so singers try to outsing each other for the chance to move on to the district auditions, also held in St. Paul in February and then the winners of that competition go to New York for the one, big chance to try to get into the Met in any which way they can. (Suffice it to say, most probably start in the chorus since we can’t all be Renee Fleming, now can we?)

So, there we were, all front and center (and I mean that) and one by one the singers came out and gave it their best shot. This year’s field was pretty darned good with only one soprano cracking a note and with many of the tenors sounding like young Pavarotti’s.

But folks, while I believe my analysis of the singers, having studied their techniques, is usually pretty decent, I would be lying if I told you that I was there for the singing alone. Because this is an opportunity for me and Tall to become hosts of our own little “What Not To Wear to An Opera Audition.” As I am fond of saying to anyone who will listen - “If you want to be a diva (or divo, if there is such a thing for me -- not to be confused with Devo, a popular ‘80’s band), you must dress like a diva.” So while other audience members are busy writing notes all over their programs about the contestants and their vocal abilities, I write fashion statements, to wit:

Contestant 1 – male tenor – nice suit but what is with the silver, glitzy tie? Day or nighttime, dude, you decide!
Contestant 2 – male bass- the guy I call “Mr. GQ” is back again this year. Three-piece suit is sharp but just like last year we need to see some shirt sleeves peeking out of the jacket. (This seems to be a problem for most men this year).
Contestant 3 – female mezzo soprano – “I’m thinking best dressed!” This outfit was fantastic—a 60’s-looking chiffon cocktail dress with long beads and fun shoes. Wish her voice would have lived up to the outfit—nice, but weak.
Contestant 4 – male bass-baritone – “Where’s the tie?” One does not go to an opera audition looking as though one rolled out of bed thinking “Hey, I know. I’ll just throw on a shirt and a suit and go to try out for the Met.” Maybe in other cities, buster, but not here.
Contestant 5 – female soprano – “Ummmm….no.” The dress was a de-zas-ter. Very formal on top, very casual on the bottom. She also broke the cardinal rule of color continuity and instead opted for a silver top, a burgundy middle and an even darker skirt in what looked like brown – shudder! The woman definitely needs a Tim Gunn (“Make it work”) in her life.
Contest 6 – male bass – “Again with missing tie? Didn’t your mothers teach you anything?” This outfit was a mess – gray pinstripe suit, missing tie, checkered shirt and…ohmygod – are those brown shoes?!!
Contestants 7 and 8 – Acceptable but boring. Wearing black is usually okay but not if one blends with the piano.
Contestant 9 – female soprano - That lace dress looks like something out of a Mad Men episode – matronly and totally from the 60’s. This is the year 2009, dear. Try to keep up.

And on and on we went. More shirts with no ties, more gray suits with brown shoes and so on and so forth. And then we came to the day’s over-all fashion victim winner and the runner up – Miss “Big Nooooo” and Miss “What the hell were you thinking?!”

The runner-up, Miss “What the hell were you thinking?!” was very attractive but her selection of accessories for her satiny bridesmaid dress (I’m thinking J Crew bridal) ruined the look. She had on silver hoop earrings that didn’t match the look of the dress, a necklace that also didn’t match the look and a watch. Yes, a watch. Because….she needed to count the minutes until the audition was over? As the registrar of my law school used to say (quite often, I might add): “People, people, people” (followed by some admonishment such as “turn in your papers by 5 p.m. and I mean it!”) A watch with a bridesmaid dress is tacky and that is all there is to it.

As to Miss “Big Nooooo,” she hands down won the award for Worst Dressed Diva by wearing a black top that was way too small for her ample chest, with a matching skirt and a…it pains me to say this…glittery silver scarf/belt/”what the hell is that?” tied around her hips. Good golly, Miss Molly! A person garners our vote for this award when Tall and I turn to each other and on cue say “No.” That’s it, that’s all it takes to win that awards and by the way, she didn’t even need to open her mouth to capture that crown. We are so fair it is ridiculous.

But despite that fact that the two fashion victims landed on my version of “Mr. Blackwell’s Worst Dressed List,” they landed on the opera judge’s Best Singer List along with a tenor who just blew the roof off the dump. I am still singing his final number. Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ding him ever so slightly for the boring tie he wore. The color was appropriate (yellow to compliment a brown suit) but I would have liked to have seen a splash or two of color, perhaps a little red like the red in the tomato sauce from today’s recipe.

Today’s recipe, Pennoni al Tonno (pasta with tuna) is from The Metropolitan Opera Cookbook. (Patience is a virtue when it comes to reading this blog, no?) I love that I just happened to have this book on hand for today’s tryouts. This recipe is one of Luciano Pavarotti’s submissions and gee, while the man could sing like nobody’s beeswax, this recipe came close to being a culinary Big No. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t all that good, either. In fact, for the first time ever since I started this blog, Andy and I ate our portions and never said a word about the recipe, good, bad or indifferent.

I think this recipe could have been better had we left out the anchovies or used slightly less than called for (or even used anchovy paste) and we probably could have waited for the pasta to cool a bit more before adding the cheese since all it did was create a gloppy mess in the pan. (“But other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”)

So to recap: the singing at the tryouts were great (well, except for the two fashion-victim finalists whose voices we did not like), the fashion boo-boos were minimal compared to previous years and Pavarotti may have been a great opera singer but he needed some work on the culinary side. I think I’ll get going on my “What Not To Eat After An Opera Audition” notes straight away! (And Clinton and Stacey of TLC’s What Not To Wear call me!)

Pennoni al Tonno (Pasta with Tuna) – Serves 6
2 tablespoons corn oil (or olive oil)
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3 (6 1/2 – ounce) cans imported tuna (Italian or Spanish), packed in oil
1 (2-ounce) can anchovies, cut small
½ (6-ounce) can tomato paste (Note: using tomato paste in a tube is far easier)
1 (12-ounce) can tomato juice
Garlic salt to taste
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound pennoni or other pasta, cooked until al dente (Note: pennoni is very similar to penne and that is what I used)

In a saucepan, heat oil and sauté onion until transparent. Add then tuna and anchovies, and stir for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomato juice, and garlic salt. Stir well and simmer for 15 minutes. Add sauce to cooked pasta, mix well, and sprinkle on grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Recipes of All Nations" - Pork chops kassel (German pork chops)

Date I made this recipe: November 8, 2009

Recipes of All Nations -[Recipes] Compiled & Edited by Countess Morphy
Published by: Wm. H. Wise & Company
© 1935
Recipe: Pork chops kassel (Kasseler Rippespeer) – p. 380

I recently read an article in the New York Times comparing the world’s reaction to 9/11, the day when planes hit the World Trade towers, and 11/9, the day the Berlin Wall fell, allowing East Germans to stream back into West Germany to be reunited with friends and family. (By the way, this year marks the 20th anniversary of that event—hard to believe). Whereas 9/11 had us gathered in our collective grief, 11/9 was the cause for much rejoicing. It was hard to conceive of planes hitting the trade towers but in some ways, it is harder still to contemplate how a group of people from the same country were separated by a wall dissecting the city of Berlin for almost 30 years.

When I was growing up, reports of people trying to escape from East Germany into West Germany abounded. Try to picture making a run for the Minnesota-Wisconsin border only to be felled by bullets – it’s beyond weird. Harriet Tubman and her (slave)Underground Railroad was the precursor to a vast underground movement to get people out of the east and back into the west. Several thousand people tried to escape; several hundred died in the attempt.

I also grew up watching the former East Germany (known then as GDR) spit out thousands of hulked athletes who used to blow the roof off the dump in the Olympics. I especially remember images of the East German women’s swim team – those women were built like…(well, you know) – but man, could they swim…and do gymnastics and every other sport under the sum. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, the US got its butt kicked in sports but the GDR was nothing if not a powerhouse. After the wall fell, so did the old east’s athletic prowess. Sometimes, change is a good thing all around.

So in honor of the day that the wall fell down and East and West Germany started the road to reunification, I decided to cook a German meal and kids, it wasn’t easy. I don’t exactly have a keen interest in German food and so my selection was limited to one cookbook and only one cookbook and the recipes left a little to be desired. Need I tell you, reader, that I passed on making the eel soup? (Say it with me now: “Ewwwwwww”). If only eel season hadn’t just ended….

After a few hems and haws over what was left in the book (not much), I decided on making this pork chop recipe and it turned out to be a (surprise) hit. You can’t go wrong with making pork since it’s practically the national dish of Germany and it was easy and fast. (Since you know how much I obsess about the weather in this blog, this weekend was absolutely divine – temps in the 60’s and so who wanted to be inside cooking?).

By the way, my favorite local radio station, The Current (89.3 FM) played Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” in honor of the anniversary. That station is just way too cool.

Pork Chops Kassel– serving size not indicated. Note that the recipe doesn’t give specific measurements so this is my best attempt
4 pork chops (to serve 2 people)
1 apple, finely chopped
1 cup prunes, finely chopped
Butter and lots of it!
A splash of brandy (my suggestion and totally optional!)
2 eggs, separated
About 1 cup breadcrumbs

The cookbook says “There are different ways of preparing this dish, but this recipe has been chosen as being more typically German than the others.”

Chop the apples and prunes and sautee with about 3 tablespoons of butter (eyeball it) until they are cooked soft. Add a little lemon peel and/or a splash of brandy.

Flatten the pork chops so you can lay one on top of the other. I purchased two very thick boneless pork loin chops and split them in half with a very sharp knife. Spoon the apple/prune mixture into the middle.

Using a pastry brush, apply the egg yolk to the pork chops. Dip one side into the bread crumbs, then apply the yolk to the other, coat and place in a hot skilled into which you’ve loaded say…3-4 tablespoons of butter! Fry in the butter until done, about 5-10 minutes or so (check as you go).

The author suggests serving sauerkraut with this dish but my husband put his foot down and said if I made (i.e. opened a can or jar and heated) sauerkraut, I’d be eating it alone so I pulled some potatoes and onions from my pantry…and butter…and set about making fried potatoes. I have to admit that I’ve never fried a potato before (yes, I know, how did I make it this far?) but this was easy. I recommend partially cooking the potatoes (I did mine in the microwave for about 12 minutes) as well as the onions (I sliced them then microwaved them for about 4 minutes) before adding them to the fry pan to reduce cooking time. And voila, you have a perfect German meal!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"Cooks for a Cause" & "Rain, Hail and Baked Beans" & Food Network Kitchens" - Pizza Meatloaf, Scalloped Potatoes, Boston Baked Beans

Date I made these recipes: October 25, 2009

Cooks for a Cause – Benefiting the Twin Cities Race For The Cure® Susan G. Komen Foundation
Published by: Favorite Recipes Press
© 2001
Recipe: Pizza Meat Loaf – submitted by Dan Terhaar – AM 1500 KSTP – p. 73

Rain, Hail and Baked Beans – a New England Seasonal Cook Book With Favorite Recipes from New England Inns by Duncan MacDonald and Robb Sagendorph
Published by: Ives Washburn, Inc.
© 1958
Recipe: Boston Baked Beans – p. 26

Food Network Kitchens Cookbook by the Food Network Kitchens
Published by: Meredith Press
ISBN: 069621854-2
Recipe: Scalloped Potatoes with Gruyere – p. 204

So some of you might be wondering what I was thinking pairing Pizza Meat Loaf with Scalloped Potatoes with Gruyere cheese (a cheese made in Switzerland) with Boston Baked Beans but reader, there was a method to my madness.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and my mother was a twenty-three-year survivor of breast cancer before she died from a massive stroke. I purchased the Cooks for a Cause book at one of my favorite thrift stores and voila! I had my recipe.

October is also my birthday month and my mom used to make my favorite meal every birthday: meatloaf, scalloped potatoes and baked beans (with angel food cake for dessert).

Now, we were not pizza meatloaf people, my mom making the simple meatloaf recipe probably from the back of a Quaker Oats container, nor did we have access to Gruyere cheese. In fact, there was absolutely no cheese involved in mom’s scalloped potatoes whatsoever. As to the baked beans, well, my mom “doctored up” (her words) some Campbell’s Pork and Beans with mustard, ketchup and a bit of brown sugar. And danged if they weren’t good!

These recipes were all a hit and oddly enough, the flavors didn’t clash as I feared they might. The eight-hour cooking time on the beans may seem long but they came out with the texture of canned beans only better. I like things that I can put in the oven and ignore for hours on end.

By the way Twin Cities’ residents, I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a plug for one of my favorite places to get used cookbooks (such as the Cooks for a Cause cookbook), Value Village. Value Village Thrift stores are run by Arc Greater Twin Cities, an organization that provides advocacy and support for individuals with developmental and mental difficulties and their families. Value Village is currently in Richfield, MN, Brooklyn Center, MN and New Hope, MN with a fourth store just weeks away from opening at 1650 White Bear Avenue in St. Paul. I have been volunteering for Arc for over 22 years and am chairing the grand opening of the new St. Paul store. Their stores are fun places to find everything under the sun—clothes, beddings, household items and books. I think the cookbook cost me a mere $1.00. The best thing about that cookbook is that all recipes were submitted by local TV and radio personnel who work(ed) for KSTP studios. Not only was the recipe good but it benefited two good causes - can’t beat that!

Please note that you must soak the beans overnight before preparing the bean recipe. I cooked the beans for 6 1/2 hours before cranking up the heat from 250 to 350 and then threw in the meatloaf and scalloped potatoes. I cooked the beans for ½ hour at 350, then pulled them out of the oven, and after the other stuff was cooling, put the beans in for another 1½ hour at 250. They were perfect!

Pizza Meat Loaf (serves 20 so you’ve gotta know I cut this recipe in half!)
3 ½ pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork or pork sausage
1 (16-ounce) can pizza sauce
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
3 cups rolled oats
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup chopped onion
4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup ketchup (for the topping)

Combine the ground beef, ground pork, pizza sauce, tomato sauce, oats, eggs, onion, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Form into a flat lofa in a 10x14-inch baking pan. Spread the ketchup over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 ¼ hours. Drain any accumulated juices and let stand for 20 minutes before serving. Note: I cooked it for about 1.75 hours and then let it sit for 20 minutes as the center still needed cooking.

Scalloped potatoes with gruyere – 4 to 6 servings
1 large clove garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ¼ pounds Yellow Finn or other waxy potatoes (about 6), peeled (Note: I weighed my potatoes and definitely had more than 6; if you have a kitchen scale, you might want to use it for this recipe)
2 cups half-and-half
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese (about 2 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Rub the garlic all over the inside of an 8x8x2-inch casserole dish. Mince what is left of the garlic cloves. Smear some of the butter all over the inside of the dish.

Using a mandoline or vegetable slicer (or heck, just a plain, old kitchen knife), slice the potatoes about 1/8 inch thick and put them in a large saucepan with the mined garlic, remaining butter, the half-and-half, thyme, salt, pepper to taste and nutmeg. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture has thickened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and shake the pan to distribute the potatoes evenly. Bake, uncovered, occasionally spooning some of the liquid over the top, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 50 minutes (more like 75). Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake until brown and bubbly, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let the casserole cool 10 minutes before serving.

Author’s note: Boiling the potatoes in the cooking liquid before layering them in a baking dish is the key to superior scalloped potatoes. As the half-and-half heats, it draws the starch from the potatoes and turns into a satiny sauce. To lighten up this classic (Ann’s note: why?!), use the same technique with chicken broth.

Boston Baked Beans – serves 8
1 quart pea beans (I used navy)
½ pound salt pork
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Boiling water

Wash and pick over the beans. Soak OVERNIGHT in cold water. In the morning, drain, cover beans with fresh water, and simmer until skins break (about an hour). Put beans into bean pot or other casserole. Score pork and press into beans, filling pot until three-fourths full. Add sugar, molasses, salt and mustard. Cover with boiling water. Cover and bake 8 hours without stirring in slow oven (250). Keep the beans almost covered but not swimming in water. Remove the cover during the last half hour of baking.

By the way, my husband, who usually tolerates my attempts at baked beans, was all over this recipe. He said if all baked beans tasted like this, he could grow to like them!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Cake Love" - Chocolate Sponge Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

Date I made this recipe: October 18, 2009

Cake Love – How to Bake Cakes from Scratch by Warren Brown
Published by: Stewart, Tabori & Chang
ISBN: 978-1-58479-662-6
Recipe: Chocolate Sponge Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting – p. 128-129 (cake) and 154-155 (frosting)

Time flies when you’re having fun.

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago and I decided to make my own birthday cake and was going to do it the next day but then I got derailed and so didn’t make it until a week later. Such is life. Let me just say that the saying “another year older and deeper in debt” has never been more true; my law school student loans are ridiculously high, such that I’m pretty sure that I will die before I pay them off. Lest you think I’m kidding, I’m now scheduled for payoff when I’m 74. Hahahaha…..

So speaking of law school, Warren Brown, author of today’s featured cookbook, had the right idea. Warren was a D.C. lawyer before returning to his first love, cooking. He founded a bakery called Cake Love and went on to have a show on the Food Network (that I loved, by the way) called Sugar Rush. I left business to go into law and have nada to show for it. Would that I had Warren’s expertise in baking or even cooking because then I might have been “a contenda” (just like Marlon Brando in the movie, On the Waterfront).

Anyway, when Warren came out with a book, I just had to have it and when I saw the picture of the chocolate sponge cake with buttercream frosting, I did indeed experience Cake Love.

Except, folks, I am not at all a cake kind of gal. But I am most definitely all about the frosting. (And in my world, you either like cake or you like the frosting but I almost never hear of anyone who likes both.) To me, the cake is just to conduit to the frosting and my, how I love the frosting. I am always the person who eats the corner piece with the most frosting…but when I say “eat” the corner piece, I really mean that I eat the frosting off the piece and leave the cake behind. My husband and I have a deal where I eat the top of the cake and he does cleanup on aisle 12 and it works beautifully.

As far as cakes go, this one was pretty good and I had several comments from tasters that it was more like a European cake than an American one…in other words, this cake was dense. Warren commented that sponge cake is often dry but I thought it was fine…what I ate of it, of course!

But oh, reader, the frosting, the frosting! It was positively divine and there was enough left over for me to nibble at for days to come. I have been known to eat frosting right out of a can and this is no exception. My only question is: does frosting freeze?!!

Take it from me, you will LOVE this CAKE.

Chocolate Sponge Cake – yields two 9-inch-round cakes
Cake Ingredients
8 large eggs
4 large egg yolks
1 cup (8 ounces) extra-fine granulated sugar. Note: Most bakers weigh their ingredients rather than measure them by cups, tablespoons, etc. and I followed suit. But be warned that eight ounces of sugar weighed is way more than 1 cup measured. I was worried that the cake would be too sweet but it was fine.

Dry Ingredients
8 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour (1/12 cups + 3 tablespoons)
1 ounce (1/4 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla power (note: I found this locally at Byerly’s grocery store)

Liquid ingredients
1 ½ ounces (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
Whiskey, 2 tablespoons (optional)

Frosting ingredients
Yolk mixture
6 large egg yolks
2 ounces (1/4 cup) extra-fine granulated sugar
2 tablespoons potato starch
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Milk Mixture
2 cups whole milk
12 ounces (1 ½ cups) extra-fine granulated sugar

Flavorings and Butter
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons chocolate-covered cocoa nibs (optional)

To make the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 (conventional) or 335 (convection). Set the rack in the middle of the oven.

Set out the ingredients and equipment. Crack the eggs and yolks into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the wire whip attachment and set aside. Measure the sugar into a bowl and set aside. Sift the flour directly into a bowl on a scale for accurate measuring. (Oops…it always helps to follow the instructions. I didn’t sift and everything was fine). Measure the other dry ingredients into a separate mixing bowl, add the flour and whisk for 10 seconds to blend. Set aside. (Note: I weighed all the flour and sugar dry ingredients as well as the cocoa and confectioner’s sugar but didn’t weight the teaspoon items such as salt and baking powder).

Measure the liquid ingredients into a separate bowl, w2hisk to combine and set aside.

Add the sugar to the eggs and yolks and whip on high speed until a thick ribbon is formed, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium for about 30 seconds to stabilize the foam. Stop the mixer and remove the bowl.

Using a large spoon, gently sprinkle a third of the dry ingredients evenly over the top of the foam and folk in with a rubber spatula. Repeat in two more additions until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated. This step should take a total of about 30 seconds.

Slowly fold in the liquid ingredients until combined. (Note: I had a tough time combining all the ingredients and so what I did was to mix in a little of the combined ingredients with the dry pockets at the bottom of my mixing bowl so that they were the same consistency - more or less – as the rest of the batter. When cooking, though, each pan formed a squishy little center where the remixed ingredients settled. Just keep an eye on the time and test for doneness at more frequent intervals and you’ll be fine.)

Prepare the pans; line the bottom of each pan with parchments but do not spray the sides.

Divide the batter equally between the prepared pans by depositing the batter into three separate areas of each pan and smoothing it out with the rubber spatula or an offset spatula. (Note: yeah, right! No offense, Warren, but come on, how on earth do you manage to get three separate areas in a 9-inch pan? I kind of plopped and eyeballed and it was fine).

Baking time is 20 minutes for those folks who live at sea level and 34 minutes for those who live in high-altitude areas.

Once the top of the cakes appear smooth, dry, don’t dent when touched, and are even in color, test for doneness by inserting a bamboo skewer in the center of a cake. When the skewer comes out clean, the cake is done. Remove the pans from the oven and place on a heat-resistant surface or wire rack.

Cool to room temperature, 25 to 30 minutes, before removing from pans. Use a small offset spatula to loosen each cake from the rim of the pan (or just use a dinner knife like I did—works great!). Place a cardboard cake circle or plate over the pan and invert. Remove the parchment from the bottom. Assemble immediately or wrap cakes tightly in plastic and store.

Cake storage: store an unfrosted cake under a cake dome at room temperature, or wrapped in plastic in the fridge, for up to 1 week. If frosted, store under a cake dome for up to 3 days, or in the fridge for up to 1 week. To store unfrosted cake longer, label, date, and store the plastic wrapped cake in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

To make the buttercream:
Set out the ingredients and equipment.

Separate the yolks into a large bowl. Add the 2 ounces sugar, potato starch, and cocoa powder and set aside. Place a damp kitchen towel under the bowl to prevent it from sliding.

Measure the milk mixture ingredients into a 2-quart heavy bottomed saucepan and set aside.

Measure the flavorings into two separate bowls and set aside.

Bring the milk mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Once it reaches a boil, slowly pour the milk mixture into the yolk mixture, whisking slowly in small circles at first and ending with broader strokes until fully combined. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

Return the saucepan to the stove and heat over medium heat, whisking constantly but not rapidly, for about 4 minutes (3 minutes at high altitude). The key is to keep the pastry cream moving so it won’t scorch the bottom of the saucepan.

When you begin to see lava bubbles-large, slowly forming bubbles that burp steam- reduce the heat to the lowest setting and whisk briskly for 1 minute to pasteurize the pastry cream. Note: 1 minute is not enough as my mixture was still pretty soupy. Keep going until it starts to look like a frosting instead of a syrup.

Pour the pastry cream into the bowl of the standing mixture fitted with the wire whip attachment. Whip the pastry cream on high speed until it’s cooled to room temperature, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low and add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time followed by the cocoa nibs and vanilla extract. Whip on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

So okay, we’ve made the cake and the frosting and now it’s time for assembly. Warren would have you slice the two cake rounds into halves but I say “screw that.” And let me just say that frosting this thing was a nightmare. So I frosted as best I could and after cleaning up the ridiculous mess that the buttercream created, tossed the entire thing in the fridge without so much as tasting one bit. The day after I made the cake, I took half of it to work where it was gobbled up in a heartbeat. So sure, one could follow the rules but one could also go rogue and the results are the same: one damned good cake!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"Make It Minnesotan! Sesquicentennial Cookbook" - Omelets in a Baggie and Oven Hash Brown Potatoes

Date I made these recipes: October 17, 2009

Make it Minnesotan! – Sesquicentennial Cookbook – 150 Years of Recipes and Stories from Minnesota Kitchens by the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Cookbook Committee, edited by Patricia Miller, Foreword by Sue Zelickson
Published by: Nodin Press
ISBN: 978-1-932472-74-5
Recipe: Omelet in a Baggie, submitted by Jean Badovinac, Itasca County – p. 42-43
(By the way, I previously published a recipe from the Minnesota Centennial Cookbook. My how time flies!)

Minnesota-North Dakota Division – The National Secretaries Association [International]
Published by: The committee from the Minnesota-North Dakota Division – The National Secretaries Association [International]
© 1977
Recipe: Oven Hash Brown Potatoes, submitted by Randi Weisser, Moorehead, MN, Red River Chapter – p. 74

Today was Ladies’ Lunch day. As I previously blogged, I get together on a bi-monthly basis (more or less) with two former co-workers for a Meet and Eat (and gossip and bitch) session. (Not to be confused with a Walk and Talk that I do with other friends). When we started, there were six of us but now we are down to just three (the best of the bunch in my humble opinion).

A few months ago, Vicki had us over to her old house (she since bought a new one) and then Arlene had us over to her new apartment and well, you can see that my number was quickly up! So when the next luncheon date rolled around, I offered up my home and then set out to find something fun to make. (But note that after this, we are back to eating out in restaurants and having someone else do the cooking for us).

The omelet recipe was actually scoped out by Anna, the woman sitting next to me at a cooking class at Cooks on Crocus Hill. (How do I love that store? Let me count the ways!). Whenever you take a cooking class, Cooks gives you a discount coupon for an item in the store and I chose this cookbook. When Anna was looking through it, she found the recipe for an omelet boiled in a baggie and I was off and running.

Since I’m a big fan of potatoes, I decided to look for a brunch-style potato dish to accompany the omelets and oddly enough, selected it from a cookbook that one of Vicki’s friends had given me. In true casserole fashion, it featured two cans of cream soup and a small container of sour cream. No calories in that, no sir!

So Vicki brought some bread and Arlene brought some yummy fruit salad and I provided the omelets and potatoes and we had a great time getting caught up on what we were doing and of course, rehashing the good old days. (Actually, some of the years that we worked together were most certainly not good but that just gives us fodder for discussion).

As to the preparation of these items, as per usual (is it me, or what?) everything took longer than the recipes called for. The omelets took about 9 minutes to cook completely (and even then, a minute in the microwave was in order) and I think I went at least another half an hour on the potatoes, if not an hour. Each time I checked, the potatoes were crunchy and that wasn’t a good thing.

But other than that, we had fun boiling our omelets in a bag and just generally stuffing ourselves with food. I don’t know what I would do without these gals. We worked together for 8 years and just had a whale of a time even when the walls were tumbling down all around us.

If you have your own Ladies’ Lunch Bunch, I’m sure they’ll like these recipes.

Omelet in a Baggie - 1 serving
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon of your favorite cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon of chopped ham, cooked bacon, mushrooms or other filing ingredients (optional)
1 freezer zippered plastic bag (1 quart)(use heavy-duty freezer bag)
boiling water

Break eggs into a small mixing bowl. Using a wire whisk or a fork, lightly beat eggs. Add cheese and filling ingredient(s) and stir to combine. Carefully pour egg mixture into zippered. Seal bag then open seal about 1-inch and press to remove air from bag. Reseal firmly.

Fill a 2-quart saucepan about 2/3 full with water. Cover and place on heat; bring to a full boil. Place the filled zippered bag into boiling water. Boil egg mixture for 5 minutes (Note: more like 9-10 minutes). Using tongs, carefully remove the zippered bag from the water. Open the bag and roll the omelet onto a plate. When the omelet is done it slides easily out of the bag.

Oven Hash Brown Potatoes - no serving size given
1 large bag frozen hash brown potatoes
1 green pepper (I used red)
1 onion, diced
1 can cream of potato soup
1 can cream of celery soup
1 small carton cultured sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste. (Note: The instructions don't say but combine the ingredients first before salt and peppering!). Put in greased 9x13 inch pan. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley. Bake, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours at 300. (Make that about 2 hours at 350 or until potatoes are done).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"Best of the Best - QVC Family Cookbook" - Easy Crockpot Lentil Soup

Date I made this recipe: October 4, 2009

Best of the Best – QVC Family Cookbook – Favorite Family Recipes from QVC Viewers, Guests, and Friends – edited by Gwen McKee and Barbara Moseley
Published by: Quail Ridge Press
ISBN: 1-893062-72-4
Recipe: Easy Crockpot Lentil Soup – p. 59 – Recipe submitted by Gail Bradshaw, Chesapeake, VA

My friend, Carol (also known as “Tall”) is a self-proclaimed “shopper-head.” This woman loves to shop, shop, shop until she drops. And not one to be snobby, she is a big fan of QVC, a cable TV home shopping network that is now online as well.

So when I found this QVC cookbook at a used bookstore in town, I had to have it. Actually, I probably should have given it to her but I have a recipe blog and she doesn’t so I win.

Unlike Carol, I have never warmed up to QVC but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a bargain. In fact, I was prompted to pull out this book yesterday after spending a bit of time emailing her (we have not yet progressed to Face Book postings) that I scored a jacket on sale at Chico’s. To me, scoring something on sale is a rare event but to her, it’s an everyday thing. The fact that she is 6 foot tall (thus, the nickname) and finds stuff at all, much less on sale, slays me but she does.

My mother also appreciated a sale, and my dad used to tease her to no end by yelling “Sale!” There’s a sale!” when we were in a department store. My mother had the opposite problem of Tall’s – small in stature but not quite petite. And yet, she too, came back with bags of clothes. Of course, like all women around the world she “never had a thing to wear!” (My mother’s second-favorite phrase, usually directed toward my dad was “Oh, you’re not going to wear THAT are you?” You know you are your mother’s daughter when you find yourself saying the same thing to your husband.).

But I digress…this recipe book was fun to leaf through because it had many photos of QVC employees in action (there is nothing like the “in action” photos that companies use in their communication material. My favorite has to be “poised with a pen.”). I went with today’s recipe because it allowed me to use up the cabbage I bought for my vegetable soup a couple of weeks ago and it involved a crockpot. I mean, what great invention is that – plug it in and leave it alone! I am all over that instruction. (If your sense of humor is like mine though, the fact that a crockpot recipe was deemed “Easy” made me laugh. Is there such a thing as a “Hard” or “Difficult” crockpot recipe?)

Easy Crockpot Lentil Soup – serving size not listed
1 package dried lentils
3 stalks celery
1 large onion
1 large potato
1 ½ cups prewashed, prepackaged cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots). (As noted above, I used up some pregrated purple cabbage and then just added some carrots to it to come up with a cole slaw mix)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (14 1/2–ounce) can chicken broth
1 (10 ¾-ounce) can condensed chicken soup (any kind)
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

Spray crockpot with cooking spray. Wash dried lentils and place in crockpot. Wash and coarsely chop vegetables, then add to crockpot. Add cole slaw mix directly from the package.

Sprinkle all spices over ingredients in crockpot. Pour broth, soup, and tomatoes into crockpot; fill crockpot within one inch of top with water. Cook on high 2 hours. Then turn crockpot to LOW and cook at least 6 more hours.

Interesting variations: Vary the flavor of the canned soup (such as creamed soup, chicken and rice, chicken noodle, ramen noodle soup, etc.). Add additional vegetables (such as mushrooms, broccoli, squash or cauliflower). Vary the type of dried beans (such as split peas, blackeye peas, or navy beans.).

NOTE: Well, folks, either my crockpot is broken (doubt it but it is old) or the author underestimated the cooking time because after 8 hours of cooking, 2 on high and 6 on low, the lentils were still pretty firm. And so I put them on the stove in a regular soup pot and cooked them for about an hour more and they were still firm. Hmmm….lentils are usually pretty easy to cook so I don’t know what happened. The flavor was still good even if it took much longer to cook than I planned for!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Tray Gourmet" & "The Wonder Bread Cookbook" - Pork a l'Orange and Wonderfully Crunchy Chicken Casserole

Date I made these recipes: September 27, 2009

Tray Gourmet – Be Your Own Chef in the College Cafeteria by Larry Berger & Lynn Harris; Illustrated by Chris Kalb
Published by: Lake Isle Press, Inc.
ISBN: 0-9627403-2-2
Recipe: Pork a l’Orange – p. 109

The Wonder® Bread Cookbook – an inventive and unexpected recipe collection from Wonder®
Published by: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 13:978-1-58008-807-7
Recipe: Wonderfully Crunchy Chicken Casserole – p. 59

So yesterday morning I was laying in bed with my radio on, willing myself to get up to go to work when the song “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones started playing. Not exactly the inspiration I was looking for. And of course, the day turned out to be one where I should have been sedated because after I got out of bed, it was all downhill from there.

One should not, however, be sedated when driving and never more so than when driving through the University of Minnesota campus area when school is in session. I liken it to a banzai run where one girds the loins and prepares to take on the myriad of students converging on oncoming cars as if there was some special force field to protect them. Hint, "young students:" (I was going to say “hint, grasshopper” but that reference to the TV show, Kung Fu, will sail over heads) “You are not immortal.” Flinging oneself in front of my moving vehicle to catch the bus you see coming on the other side of the street is likely to result in injury as will a slow meander through cars lined up at a stop light. Because I can assure you, once the light turns green, my foot becomes a weapon, stomping on the gas pedal so as to propel myself home as quickly as possible.

My husband has had his own challenges in getting through what is known as Stadium Village but that’s because for a while there, he drove a university bus that connected the Minneapolis and the St. Paul campuses of the University. And yet he loved it, go figure. Me? I always consider myself lucky when I and the car arrive at home in one piece.

Now I mention all this stuff about “The U” as it is known here, because today’s menu was geared toward college students. Well, okay, maybe not the Wonder® Bread casserole but since Wonder® Bread was part of my youth (not that we ever had it, just that we coveted it as being something cool), it fits with the college culture. So let’s parse these recipes!

I loved the title of the college cookbook, Tray Gourmet, but sadly didn’t like the recipe. I can see where the authors were going as the ingredients were definitely items that one would find in a campus cafeteria but the orange sauce lacked punch and was pretty watery. If a student had, say, brown sugar, I think it would have helped to thicken the sauce. And it goes without saying that Grand Marnier (orange liqueur) would totally rock this recipe but since the drinking age is 21 in most states, that’s a no-no; forget I said it!

As to the chicken casserole, the only thing I didn’t like, and it was minor, was the water chestnuts. I know they were there to add the “crunch” listed in the title, but I’m thinking that sautéed celery would have been a better choice and would have been perfect with the cream of celery soup. Please note that you need to refrigerate this dish overnight.

Tonight my husband and I walked through the campus area (soooo much better than driving!) and cracked up laughing when a group of guys in front of us started asking each other if they wanted to go get some “za” tomorrow-—as in “pizza.” My husband said “I’m glad to hear them still referring to pizza as “za” all these years later" just like he did when he was going there. And here we thought we were old!

Well okay, we are old…old enough to see the reflexes slowing down just an itty bitty bit and so to all you students out there, that person that you see yelling at you from my car and shaking a fist is me so please, be alert! You have many more dorm meals ahead of you and I have enough gray hair already! (Not that you’d ever notice…) In the meantime, I wanna be sedated…..

Pork a l’Orange – serves 2
1 orange
2 pats butter
3 soupspoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
2 pork chops or pork slices

Cut the orange in half. Section one half of the orange in a bowl. To section the orange, insert your knife between the orange and the pulp and pull through until you have gone all the way around. Turn the orange inside out and pull out the orange sections. Set the other half of the orange aside.

Put butter, orange juice, vinegar, and honey in bowl with sectioned orange. Microwave until butter melts, stir, and microwave again until hot. Spoon onto pork and microwave again to warm it up if you like. Garnish with rings of orange cut from the unused orange half.

Note: the recipe doesn’t say how to cook your pork so do it the way you like it and then top it with the orange mixture.

Wonderfully Crunchy Chicken Casserole – serves 9 to 12 (refrigerate overnight)
6 to 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
8 slices Wonder Bread
2 to 3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 (8-ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, drained (Note: if you want to use water chestnuts, I would chop them into smaller pieces. If you want to skip them but still want a crunch, then I recommend celery that you can sautee with the mushrooms.
8 slices sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 can cream of celery soup (10 ¾-ounce)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (10 ¾-ounce)
1 ½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender; set aside.

Butter both sides of the bread. Arrange in a 9 by 13 inch baking dish, cutting to fit as necessary. Cover the bread with the mushrooms, chicken, water chestnuts and cheese.

Mix together the mayonnaise, eggs, celery and mushroom soups, milk, and salt; pour the mixture over the casserole. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Bake for 1 ½ hours, or until set and golden brown.

Note: I didn’t know whether or not to leave the foil on and so baked it for about an hour with it on, then removed it and baked it the remaining ½ hour (or more, depending on your oven).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook" - Vegetable Soup

Date I made this recipe: September 20, 2009

The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook by Gertrude Berg and Myra Waldo
Published by: Pyramid Books
© 1955; Fifth printing, November 1965
Recipe: Vegetable Soup - p. 20

I never should have doubted Molly Goldberg.

I made this soup from her cookbook in “honor” of Rosh Hashanah, a Jewish holy day usually referred to as the Jewish New Year. But since the weather was still warm I almost bagged the whole thing (soup on a hot day??) and that would have been A Bad Idea.

It would have been a bad idea because in looking at the ingredients, it pretty much called for fresh veggies and that is very summery…although I have to admit that I couldn’t get my hands on fresh lima beans and peas and so used frozen and warmed them up in the microwave for just a little bit.

Any who, this is a really good recipe although I almost ruined it by letting the Crisco get too hot in the pan. Perhaps I was channeling fried chicken instead of sautéed onions? Luckily, I caught the error of my ways (uh, the smoking oil was kind of a tip-off) and turned off the gas before I had myself an incident. After the pan cooled down, I tried again, this time with great results.

By the way, the author of this cookbook, Gertrude Berg, created and played the character of Molly Goldberg in a sitcom called The Goldbergs that ran on radio and TV from the 30’s to the mid-50’s. At the time that I purchased this cookbook (years ago) I had a vague recollection of the TV show since it ended a little bit before my time. But my dad often quoted what I gather was one of Molly’s famous lines - “Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Bloom” - when he was trying to get me or my mom to pay attention. I found all this out serving the internet - Google is a great thing!

Vegetable Soup (no serving size given)
4 tablespoons shortening
2 onions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 cup shredded cabbage
2 stalks celery
½ pound green peas, shelled (or use frozen)
¼ pound string beans, halved
¼ pound lima beans, shelled
7 cups water (I added 6 cups of water and 1 cup of chicken broth just for something different)
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
¼ pound fine noodles, cooked and drained
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Melt the shortening in a saucepan. Add the onions and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots, cabbage, celery, green peas, string beans, and lima beans. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add the water, salt, pepper, sugar, tomatoes, and potatoes. Cover, and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. Add noodles and parsley. Cook for 5 minutes additional. (Note: I went about 45 minutes total. The veggies were just perfect—not too crispy but not too soggy, either).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"365 Ways to Cook Hamburger" & "The Art of Salad Making" - Barbecued Hamburgers and Rice Salad

Date I made these recipes: September 14, 2009

365 Ways to Cook Hamburger by Doyne Nickerson
Published by: Doubleday& Company, Inc.
© 1958, 1960
Recipe: Barbecued Hamburgers – p. 19

The Art of Salad Making by Carol Truax
Published by: Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1968
Recipe: Rice Salad – p. 80

Not that I name my blog postings, but if I did, this one would be the “I’m not quite ready for summer to end” blog. Luckily, after a somewhat disappointing June, July and August, we are finally, midway through September, getting some warm weather and to that I say “Amen!” It won’t be long before it’ll be cold and possibly even snowy and I won’t be craving anything summery at all. It’ll be hot food and tons of it!

Last week’s recipe was called Sloppy Louie, a variation of a Sloppy Joe, and I mentioned how I much preferred a Sloppy Joe to the recipe I made (and let me just say again that I cannot figure out the purpose of the chicken gumbo soup ingredient). So not that I planned it, but you’ll see that the Barbecued Hamburger recipe resembles a Sloppy Joe and -- dare I say -- a Manwich? (With a little help from Google, I managed to find the correct wording to one of their commercials —“A sandwich is a sandwich, but a Manwich is a meal.”)

To offset the heaviness of this barbecued hamburger (not a lot of heaviness, just a little), I paired it with a salad from this cookbook by Carol Truax. Carol is kind of the pinch-hitter of cooking, as I’ve seen her co-authoring a few cookbooks here and there, including one by her and Liberace, the famous piano showman from the 60’s and 70’s.

This salad was super easy and actually refreshing what with its fresh tomatoes, crisp peppers and light oil and vinegar dressing.

What I really liked about this dinner was that I made it on a Monday night (totally out of character for me who tends to be a Sunday cook) and I finished both recipes in less than 45 minutes. The second thing I liked it that it is still warm out today (Tuesday) and so my leftovers just extended my summertime fun. Let’s hope it just lasts and lasts…hahahahaha…..

Barbecued Hamburgers 3 (as opposed to the recipes for BBQ Burgers 1 and 2) – Serves 8
1 8 oz bottle catsup
½ bottle chili sauce
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp dry mustard
2 tbsp vinegar (I used white distilled vinegar)
1 tbsp salt
2 cups chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper (I used a mix of green and red)
2 tbsp cooking oil
2 ½ pounds hamburger

Saute the onion and chopped green peppers in two tbsp cooking fat. Add the hamburger, crumbling it into small pieces as it browns. (I suggest pouring off most of the grease)

Mix the catsup, chili sauce, brown sugar, mustard, vinegar and salt, stir into the browned hamburger and simmer for 1 minute. (I went about 10 minutes) Serve over toasted buns cut in half.

Rice Salad – 4-6 servings
2 cups cooked rice
3 tomatoes, peeled and sliced (I didn’t peel and I chopped instead of sliced)
2 green peppers cut into strips (I mixed red and green and diced them)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon vinegar (I used white distilled)
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
Minced parsley (garnish)

Put the rice, tomatoes, and peppers in a bowl. Mix the salt and pepper with oil, vinegar, and mustard. Pour into the salad and stir gently. Sprinkle with a little parsley if you wish.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Cooking on Wheels" - "Sloppy Louies"

Date I made this recipe: September 7, 2009

Cooking on Wheels by Arlene Strom; Foreword by Helen Bryam Schwamborn
Published by: The Bond Wheelwright Company
© 1970
Recipe: “Sloppy Louies” – p. 107

Well, after spending a few hours making my Polish Peach Cheesecake on Labor Day, I wanted something less labor intensive to make and this simple recipe did the trick.

I bought this book on because the cover art and the title cracked me up. I didn’t realize until I got the book that the back cover contains a photo of the author in her trailer kitchen. I must say, she looks pretty happy cooking in a teeny-tiny kitchen!

We were not trailer people in my family; to our chagrin, our father refused to buy a Winnebago at the height of their popularity in the 70’s (go figure, they only cost a fortune!) and so we stayed in motels. Believe me, this was fine with me and my mother as we were not enamored with the great outdoors and so the alternative – tent camping – was out of the question. Still, I’ve always wanted to take at least one trip in a motor home just for the experience – maybe some day.

So in honor of Labor Day and the thousands of people who actually did hit the open road for one last vehicular adventure before school started up again, I made this easy recipe. I’ve heard of Sloppy Louies but just didn’t quite know what to make of the main ingredient, chicken gumbo soup (and still don’t). They were okay but I prefer the much sloppier and more BBQ-Y Sloppy Joes. Call me picky.

Wheel or not, you just can’t beat a quick and easy recipe to wrap up the end of summer so run out, get the ingredients and just get cracking!

“Sloppy Louies” – yield: 4 servings
1 pound ground beef
1 can chicken gumbo soup
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon ketchup
Onion salt to taste

Brown ground beef. Add remaining ingredients and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve in hamburger buns.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"The Foods of Chicago" - (Polish) Peach Cheesecake

Date I made this recipe: September 7, 2009

The Foods of Chicago – a Delicious History – As seen on the WTTW’s The Foods of Chicago Hosted by Geoffrey Baer, Produced by Dan Protess
Published by: G. Bradley Publishing, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-9774512-5-8
Recipe: (Polish) Peach Cheesecake – p. 120 – recipe submitted by Dobra Bielinski

So my husband and I took another trip to Chicago last weekend where I purchased this book in Greek Town where the Greeks were out in full force for a festival. Yes, I know, this is not a Greek cookbook but when I saw this compilation, I couldn’t resist.

So Greek Town is just a few blocks away from our favorite breakfast spot – Lou Mitchell’s. While standing in line at Lou Mitchell’s, you get your fill of fresh doughnut holes. I don’t know why. And then when you actually get in the door, you get a small box of Milk Duds. I don’t know why. And then when you are seated, you each get a fresh orange slice and one stewed prune. I don’t know why. And then after you have stuffed yourself with their gigantic omelets or pancakes or whatever, you each get a small cup of soft-served ice cream. And again I don’t know why.

And folks, I don’t care! If you’re in Chicago, you’ve got to go there, period, end. ( It (and Greek Town) is not far from the train station so walking off those calories is suddenly much easier although we sort of cheated and parked the car in between the two places.

So the Greek Town festival was fun and the Greek Cookbooks were fun to look at but the Polish cheesecake recipe really nailed the sale of this book.

When I was growing up, my family home was surrounded by homes owned by various generations of the Kolbus family, a large, Polish-American family with many brothers and sisters, most of whom lived nearby. In fact, our house was built by a Kolbus who then went on to build another one closer to Lake Superior (we were up the hill from the lake so it’s not like we were deprived) leaving the way open for my folks to buy the place. When our next door neighbor “Aunt Mary” (Kolbus, naturally) went down to visit one of her sisters in Hamtramck, Michigan, she often brought us the most delectable cheesecake I’ve ever had. In fact, it took me a long time before I realized that most other cheesecakes aren’t made this way.

The reason I love Polish cheesecake is because the texture is more like a cake and yet there is no doubt you are eating a cheesecake of some sorts. Because I grew up eating it “plain” (i.e. no fruit), I skipped the peaches portion of this recipe. I also wanted to avoid the crust from getting all mushy and whatnot.

This recipe takes a bit of work on your part but just leave yourself enough time to make it. And if I were you, I’d make sure you invest in a scale so as to measure all the ingredients. Measuring ingredients is something bakers have been doing forever and ever and so you should jump on that bandwagon, toute suite because you’ll notice that the recipe calls for 5.5 ounces of egg yolks and 6.5 of egg whites and I just don’t know how to properly measure a half an egg! The scale I just bought from Cooks on Crocus Hill is Escali and it set me back only a mere $39.95 plus tax. The reason that I liked it is because it “stores like a book” and since I am crammed for space in my kitchen, storage is key. I also liked it because it is electronic; my husband favored the “manual” scale but I wanted precise measurements, especially with the 5.5 oz requirement.

One final word about Chicago: We should have known better than to try to get into Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill so soon after he won Top Chef Masters on Bravo TV. When I called a couple of weeks ago for reservations, I was told that the limited number of reservations was already gone and so it was first come, first serve (or “first fender in” as my dad likes to say).

So we got there about 7:30 on a Saturday night (we had been to a Cubs game that afternoon for no other reason than to say we were at Wrigley) and of course it was packed, very packed. As in “we’re looking at 11:30 p.m. as the earliest seating.” Experienced restaurant diners know that this roughly translates into “you won’t actually get to eat until 12:30 a.m. so good luck with that.”

I don’t know about you but authentic Mexican food and midnight dining do not go together. And so we’ll try another day but in the meantime will console ourselves (okay, console myself since my husband has never eaten this) with this delectable dessert from my childhood!

(Polish) Peach Cheesecake – Serves 12
1 4-oz stick butter, chilled
¾ cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Batter8 oz. sugar
5.5 oz. egg yolks
2 oz. custard powder (or cornstarch)
2.2 lbs. farmer’s cheese (use Neufatchel)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. orange extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
6.5 oz egg whites
3.5 oz. sugar
1 16-oz. can sliced peaches
(Note: let the cheese warm up to room temperature before adding it to the batter)

Dough: In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Add baking powder and flour; mixing until it comes together. Remove dough from mixing bowl and knead slightly by hand. (Warning: dough will be sticky. Put some flour on your hands before kneading.) Roll out dough into a 13” x 9” x 2” pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes until dough is golden color.

Batter: Align drained peaches on the cooled dough, keeping them ¾ inch from the edges. (As mentioned above, I skipped this step). Spray the side with non-stick spray. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, mix egg yolks, custard powder, sugar and extracts for ten minutes starting out at low speed, increasing to high speed. Add the cheese and mix well. Empty contents into a large bowl, then thoroughly clean mixing bowl.

In an electric mixer fitted with a whisk, whip egg whites and, when volume has increased, add 3.5 ounces of sugar. Continue whisking until medium stiff peaks are reached. Gently fold egg whites into the cheese batter. Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing out the top. Bake for 60-90 minutes until a paring knife inserted comes out clean. When cooled, sift with powdered sugar and serve.