Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens" - Maple Syrup Cookies

Date I made this recipe: February 22, 2010

Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens by Marie Nightingale
Published by: Nimbus Publishing Limited
ISBN: 0-920852-10-6

Recipe: Maple Syrup Cookies – p. 158

And now, another salute to the Winter Olympics…

Oh Canada, Canada, Canada. I really wanted to like these recipes I made from your cookbooks but…no. Just say “no.” (As opposed to the Canadian “eh” that usually means “yes”).

This recipe sounded deceptively easy; I mean, how hard is it to melt shortening, maple syrup and sugar and then add dry ingredients? But sometimes, kids, the easiest recipes are the most problematic.

Take this for example: the recipe called for 2 cups all purpose flour but then in the directions it said to add “flour enough to roll out.” So…this could mean that you need more than 2 cups of flour (which I did) or it could mean only add enough so you can roll it…or it could mean that I over-thought the recipe. Either way, deciphering this took more work than it was worth.

In the end, I added the two cups of flour and then kept adding more to get the mixture to bulk up, and then because it was no where near being able to be rolled out and because time was speeding by and because I had actual Olympic events to watch, damn it, I mixed and plopped and threw it in the oven and voila – cookies! My husband laughed at my oven antics but I mean really!

The result of this whole mess was that the cookies came out okay (despite me making drop cookies instead of nicely-cut cookies) but the flour I added (which I’m telling you, you will need to add as well) overshadowed the taste of the maple syrup and that was a darned shame.

Overall, the night was fraught with peril—the cookies were a pain, I developed a splitting headache and my eyes, my eyes—can we TALK about the ice dancing “outfits?” I could just picture Michael Kors from Project Runway sighing deeply and saying “Where to begin?” (The phrases “train wreck” and “hot mess” came to mind—you chose.) And call me crazy, but isn’t ice dancing supposed to be uh, dancing? And to a song I can recognize? Because excuse me, when the one American couple came out and “danced” (ahem) to a religious piece, I about died. And that outfit – oy!

So, overall, a big hands down on my Canadian food fest. Let’s hope the rest of the games pick up after this—although what am I saying? The ladies ice skating competition starts tonight!

Maple Syrup Cookies – serving amount not listed (but probably makes about 2 dozen)
1 ½ cups maple syrup
½ cup white sugar
½ cup shortening
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup rolled oats
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups (or more) all purpose flour

Heat the maple syrup, sugar and shortening to boiling point. Remove from stove and add the soda which has been dissolved in a little warm water. Let cool. When cold, add the rolled oats, salt and flour enough to roll out. (See above—this is a little confusing). Roll not too thin and cut with a cookie cutter. Bake in a 375 oven until light brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.

As noted above: I made drop cookies out of these and baked them for 9 minutes and they were perfect.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Downhomer Household Almanac & Cookbook" - Tuna Noodle Casserole

Date I made this recipe: February 21, 2010

Downhomer Household Almanac & Cookbook (Canadian Best Seller) Edited by Ron Young
Published by: Downhomer Magazine
ISBN: 1-895109-02-7
Recipe: Tuna Noodle Casserole – p. 232

And now, a salute to the Winter Olympics…

“O Canada! Hmmmm, hmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm, hmmmm…” (leave it to Canadians to leave off the “h” in “Oh.” Must be a British-influence thing!)

Folks, we are now entering week two of the Vancouver Olympics and I have to tell you that I am glued to the set! Glued. I mean, what is not to love about the luge (single or two-man—can somebody explain what is up with that?!) or the bobsled or curling or [men’s figure skater] Evan Lysacek…or Evan Lysacek…and did I mention Evan Lysacek? Some advertising agency with the Brylcreem account should sign that man pronto!

So…Canada. I’m afraid I do not have much in the way of Canadian cookbooks save for the two I’m writing about here. Both of these provinces are easterly and as we (should) know, Vancouver is in the west, but hey (or “eh” as the Canadians say) they’re close enough for my blog.

Believe it or don’t, I have a Canadian Olympic tale to tell…well, sort of. Way back when (and I do mean way back when), my brother participated in the Upper Peninsula Winter Olympics, held in Sault St. Marie, Michigan, a hop, skip and a jump from the Canadian border. He played, of all things, ping pong (???) but we got to watch athletes from around the U.P. participate in ski jumping (very big in my hometown area) and figure skating and even curling. So I’m a curling aficionado from way back. (Okay, not really but at least I’ve seen the sport before).

As for Canadian food, I haven’t visited Canada much in recent years but if memory serves the food is underwhelming. Let’s just say if you don’t like fish (and I don’t) you are out of luck. (I reference the book, The Shipping News, where they ate cod…and more cod…and some more cod…and potatoes.)

So fish was out and gosh darn it, I forgot to put in my order for moose (and seal—ew!) (and I am not kidding when I say there are recipes for these meats in the cookbook) and so I took the coward’s way out and went with a tuna casserole. It’s as close to an homage to fish as I’m ever going to get. And besides, what with the two-man bobsled and the speed skating going on, I didn’t want to miss a second. (And can we all just agree that watching skiers on the moguls track automatically triggers a trip to an orthopedist?!)

This dish will not have you running to the supermarket anytime soon but it was fuel on a winter (dare I say almost spring-like?) day and so there it is. I rather like peas in my tuna casserole so I opened a can and added them after the fact which did nothing at all to the dish but so be it. I wasn’t out for an Olympic (culinary) medal I just wanted to cross the finish line.

O Canada!

Tuna Noodle Casserole – serves 6 to 84 cups cooked noodles (I recommend cooking them to “firm” rather than “well-done”)
1-7 oz tin (can) tuna
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp onion, grated
2 tbsp pimento
½ cup milk

Combine all ingredients. Mix with a fork until blended. Place in a buttered casserole. Bake in a 350F oven for 50-60 minutes.

NOTE: To cover or not to cover, that was the question. I went with a cover for a bit and then went uncovered for the last half as I desperately wanted to avoid a dish of crunchy noodles.

Monday, February 15, 2010

"Bread and Chocolate - My Food Life In & Around San Francisco" - Chocolate Pots de Creme

Date I made this recipe: February 14, 2010

Bread and Chocolate – My Food Life In & Around San Francisco by Fran Gage
Published by: Sasquatch Books
ISBN: 1-57061-153-X

Recipe: Chocolate Pots de Crème – p. 38

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I made a chocolate dessert. The end.

Okay, that seems a little sparse, doesn’t it? Let me rephrase: “Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I made a chocolate dessert. While watching the Olympics. The end.”

Much better!

Because I tend to find many contradictions in life amusing, the fact that I was preparing a decadent chocolate dessert while watching the end of the Nordic Competition (ski jumping—as if!—and cross country skiing) just cracked me up. (Even worse—I ate this dessert after consuming half of a take -out turkey dinner with all the fixings from one of our favorite restaurants while watching the new season of the TV show Ruby. Ruby [Geller] is this delightful southerner who once weighed over 700 pounds and now weighs around 330. The show chronicles her quest to lose weight. Not that Ruby knows me or anything but I felt kind of guilty eating all this rich food right in front of her (so to speak)). On the other hand, dark chocolate has been proven to be good for you and so I say when it’s Valentine’s Day, some chocolate, in moderation, is appropriate.

Now in my humble opinion, the author could have skipped the “bread” and focused on the chocolate portion of her book but hey, it’s her book and her story and so if she wants to include bread, so be it. Actually, this cookbook has little to do with either food group and instead offers us quite the selection of recipes with stories to boot. And this recipe was such a hit that I’d suggest making some other delectable goodies, sweet or savory, from this book.

But for now, let’s focus on the matter at hand: Valentine’s Day calls for chocolate and this pot of chocolate is a winner. It is easy, it is delicious and it makes a lot! How can that be bad?

Chocolate Pots de Crème – serves 8
Note: the author describes this dish as a “thick, creamy custard that is very smooth” but I felt the texture was more like a mousse than a custard. And this is why you must make it and judge for yourself!
Eight 6-ounce ramekins
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk
2 cups (16 ounces) heavy whipping cream
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) granulated sugar
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, such as Scharffen Berger or Valrhona, finely chopped. (Note: I found both of these but they are rather expensive – almost $4.00 for 3 ounces. So I substituted Ghirardelli bittersweet morsels instead; I think a 10-ounce package (how did they know?!) cost around $6.00 or so. I then ground them in my Cuisinart so that they were finely chopped)
8 extra-large egg yolks
2 extra-large eggs

Preheat the oven to 325F. Bring the milk, cream and sugar to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted. Cook to lukewarm.

In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks and eggs together. Whisk in the cooled chocolate mixture. Pour it through a sieve into a pitcher and divide among eight 6-ounce ramekins.

Make a bain-marie: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the filled ramekins in a large baking pan. Pour boiling water into the pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with foil. Bake until the custards are just set, 50 to 60 minutes. They will still jiggle in the center. Remove the ramekins from the bain-marie, let them cool, then refrigerate them until serving.

Serve the custards with a dusting of powdered sugar or with a dollop of whipped cream.

Monday, February 8, 2010

"Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban" - Cuban Pot Roast (Boliche)

Date I made this recipe: February 7, 2010 (Super Bowl Sunday)

Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban by Glenn Lindgren, Raul Musibay, and Jorge Castillo
Published by: Gibbs Smith, Publisher
ISBN: 1-58685-433-X; © 2004

Recipe: Boliche – Cuban Pot Roast – p. 112

So today was Super Bowl Sunday, one of my favorite days to watch TV because as we all know, it’s all about the commercials. And the game. But if we’re honest, it’s really about the commercials, right? The thing that cracks me up is that I didn’t want to leave the room during the commercials but I didn’t want to miss key plays of the game, either. And for the record, it was quite the game. I liked both teams (the New Orleans Saints v. the Indianapolis Colts) but was leaning toward New Orleans (especially after they beat the evil Vike-Queens and stopped their advance to the show) and toyed with making something from one of my New Orleans cookbooks but thought that would be rather unfair, seeing as how I don’t have anything to represent Indianapolis. (Although I do have cookbooks from Baltimore and seeing as how I still think of Baltimore Colts as the home of the Colts (not to mention Johnny Unitas), that would have worked…except it wouldn’t, you know what I mean?).

So to even the playing field, I made a recipe from a Miami cookbook to represent where the game was actually played and since Cuban food represents a big part of Miami’s edible offerings, I went with the three guys from Miami (one of whom is originally from Minnesota – guess which one!).

Now in the interest of full disclosure, when I first got the cookbook, I made the recipe for the Tres Leches (3 milks) cake but it didn’t work out very well, in all likelihood because I had dry ingredients that were just past their “use by” date. Baking is a funny thing as fresh ingredients are often keys to the recipe’s success whereas in regular cooking, they often don’t make that much difference.

Now I have to say a word about the Spanish chorizo called for in this recipe. Although the recipe itself didn’t say anything about what kind of chorizo to buy, the back of the book said that chorizo is a “dry, hard sausage” and I know this to be true since I bought some dry links one time at El Burrito Mercado in West St. Paul. But the day I went shopping, we were pressed for time and so I bought chorizo from my local Rainbow Foods that was not dry but rather very wet, just like regular sausage and it did not come in a casing as the other sausage did. And this made the recipe greasier than would have otherwise happened. The taste was still the same, which is to say it added a little bite to the meat, but we could have probably done without the grease. So just be aware of that when making the recipe.

The other thing I have to say is that I thought this dish would be more flavorful the next day but having just polished off some leftovers, I can say that the dish was tastier yesterday when it was fresh from the stove than it was today. That’s not to say the dish still wasn’t delicious, but it wasn’t what I expected.

What I liked best about this dish was that it involved my favorite cooking task—stick it on the stove and ignore it for a couple of hours. And seeing as how I had the Super Bowl commercials to watch (all 68 of them – yikes!), I just couldn’t be bothered with something more complex to make (even though I have a TV in my kitchen. But I mean one wrong move when watching the game or the commercials and I could have lost a thumb!).

So congratulations, Saints, better luck next time Colts, and Betty White, you made me want to go out and buy a case of Snickers bars, you were so funny in that commercial. And to see Abe “I thought he was dead” Vigoda was priceless. (For those who don’t know, for years now, radio shows have been doing this “Dead/Not Dead” contest featuring celebrities and someone always assumes that poor Abe has died when in fact, he’s still going strong. Abe is best known for his role as “Fish” on the TV show Barney Miller). I’m going to have to track down a recipe for Snickers pie or something or maybe go the deep fried route like they do at the Minnesota State Fair where there are two food groups—things that are deep fried and things on a stick. We love us our sticks!

Boliche – Cuban Pot Roast – serves 6 to 8
6 links Spanish chorizo
3 to 4 pounds chuck or rump roast
7 cloves garlic, mashed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ cup olive oil
1 (14 ½-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon oregano
4 medium potatoes, quartered
1 large onion, sliced
¼ cup green olives
1 cup water
½ cup red wine

Remove casings from the chorizo. Cut a slit in the beef and insert the chorizo and some of the garlic inside. Salt, pepper and lightly flour the roast; brown on all sides in a frying pan with the olive oil. Place all ingredients except the water and wine (including the roast and the oil you browned it in) in a large covered pot or Dutch oven with the potatoes, onion slices, and green olives on top.

Mix the water and the wine. Add just enough of this mixture to cover the bottom 2 inches of the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered (leave your lid slightly ajar to let some of the steam escape) for approximately 3 to 4 hours. Check the roast occasionally and add the water/wine mixture as necessary. When the roast is fork-tender, remove it from the pot. Remove bay leaf and discard.

Arrange meat and potatoes on a large serving platter. Garnish the plate with the cooked onion slices and green olives. Slice beef at the table.

Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Jews of Poland - Recollections and Recipes" - Chicken Soup with Almonds

Date I made this recipe: January 31, 2010

The Jews of Poland – Recollections and Recipes by Edouard de Pomiane, Translated from the French by Josephine Bacon
Published by: Pholiota Press, Inc.
Originally published in French in 1929; this edition © 1985
Recipe: Chicken Soup with Almonds p. 71-72

Well call me magazine geek but I love reading the Smithsonian (magazine) because every month I get to either learn or relearn something of interest. The magazine covers it all-arts, science, travel and history. Can more fun be had? I think not.

The recent issue, February 2010, for example, contained an article about the Egyptian Sphinx, a recap of the infamous sit-in at the Woolworth’s Counter in Greensboro, NC during the civil rights movement, and an article about Auschwitz, the famous Nazi concentration camp located just outside Krakow Poland.

My husband and I visited Krakow back in 1995, all due to an issue of the Smithsonian, but it wasn’t an article about Auschwitz that drove us there but rather a fascinating article about Krakow’s famous 700 year-old underground salt mines. (Who knew?)

At the time of the article, Andy and I were toying with the idea of going to Eastern Europe but had not considered going to Krakow. Initially, he was not too keen on going, particularly since it was a 10-hour train ride from Prague to Krakow but as I am wont to do, I beg, pleaded and whined in order to get my way and so we embarked on the train and were off and running (at train speed though, which is to say somewhat slow).

Years later, we both agree that it was one of the highlights of the trip. Krakow is absolutely beautiful having been spared the devastating bombs raids of Allied and enemy (Axis) forces during WWII. And the salt mines were really, really interesting, even though they were further down in the ground than I was comfortable going. (Believe it or not, there is a huge chapel and ballroom carved from salt where many locals hold their weddings.) But the big draw to Krakow is, of course, to tour the prison camps of Auschwitz and neighboring Birkenau.

As a kid, I was an avid reader (well, okay, I still am) and I must have read Anne Frank’s diary over and over again (and finally visited the museum in Amsterdam years later) and that started a whole wave of reading regarding Hitler’s Germany during WWII. I mean, do you know of another teenage girl who did a book report on The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich while in high school?

And so, dear reader, there was no way I was going to pass up the opportunity to take a peek at the camp while I was in the neighborhood. And I have to say, it was a surreal experience.

On the one hand, the camp is so pristine today that it looks like it could have been used as a summer camp for inner-city youth. And so it’s hard to reconcile what went on there with how it currently looks—flowers are growing, buildings are pristine and “guards” are friendly.

On the other hand, while you are there, you also see the things left behind by the prisoners – suitcases, clothing, shoes, hair – all piled a mile high and deep such that you are just rendered speechless. And then there’s the movie about the camp’s liberation and you are just shocked beyond belief at the condition of the human body of those who somehow remained standing to the last days. But the thing that stays with me always is the photograph of a woman who could have been my grandmother (with beautiful, white hair and just a lovely, wrinkled face) who was one of the first political prisoners in the camp. (My grandmother was Catholic but grew up in Austria Hungary so I suppose anything would have been possible had she stayed put in Europe). And you just have to ask yourself “Why” a million times and even then it just doesn’t make sense.

And so how this whole experience comes full circle is that according to the article in the Smithsonian, January 27th was the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and Birkenau and so I decided to pull out a cookbook I bought a long time ago at Kitchen Arts and Letters in New York and make a commemorative dinner. Many of the recipes were a little intimidating because they called for meats I didn’t want to use or schmaltz – chicken or goose fat – but I forged ahead until I came to this simple soup. It seemed the least that I could do.

Since this book was written before Hitler started his quest for the “final solution,” it doesn’t discuss anything about the war and all of the photos of cities in Poland such as Krakow (also spelled Cracow) and Warsaw are from 1929 when things we still all fine and dandy. And this people, is why the Smithsonian comes in darned handy sometimes. It fills in the gaps and makes us think and learn and connect and go “ah ha!” I like that about a magazine. This one connected an historic event to a cookbook I owned and as Martha Stewart says “that’s a good thing.”

To read the article in question, go to www.smithsonian.com and look for the article Can Auschwitz Be Saved? by Andrew Curry (February 2010 issue). (An even better idea is to become a member of the Smithsonian Institution via the magazine—a subscription gets you entry to all the Smithsonian museums in Washington (and the gift shops—most important) as well as the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York City (equally as cool)).

Chicken Soup with Almonds – 8-10 servings
NOTE: This recipe takes 6-8 hours to make. Plan ahead!
2 ½ pounds chicken, preferably a boiling fowl, cut into 8 serving pieces (Note: allow a ½ hour to kosher the chicken, instructions below)
Coarse (kosher) salt
1 tablespoon of chicken or goose fat (I checked online and the standard substitute seemed to be Canola oil so I went with that.)
3 medium carrots, sliced into julienne strips
2 small turnips, sliced into julienne strips
2 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon salt
20 almonds, blanched and ground or 4 tablespoons almond meal (Believe it or don’t, I actually had a small stash of blanched almonds in my cupboard. Score!)
½ teaspoon paprika

To kosher the chicken, sprinkle it with the coarse (kosher) salt, leave it sit for 30 minutes, then rinse it thoroughly in running water.

Melt the fat in a Dutch oven or soup pot and sauté the vegetables. As they start to color, add the flour. Stir and allow to brown lightly. Add enough warm water to cover the contents of the post, about 1 pint (16 fl oz). Add the salt and ground almonds. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces to the pot. Add another pint (16 fl oz) and the paprika. Cover the pot tightly and simmer for six to eight hours.

Remove the chicken bones from the liquid, and discard them. Strain the soup and puree the solids. Mix this puree with the soup, season to taste and return to the heat. Serve very hot.

By the way, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t note the irony that the translator of this Jewish cookbook had the last name Bacon.