Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Celebrity Recipes" - (Walt Disney's) Chili and Beans - celebrating the Hollywood movie and TV awards season

Date I made this recipe:  January 18, 2014 (Screen Actors Guild Awards)

Celebrity Recipes compiled by Helen Dunn
Published by:  Grayson Publishing Corp.
© 1958 (October, 1958)
Recipe:  Walt Disney's Chili and Beans – p. 54

Before we get into the gist of this recipe and this book, a word about the cover:  zzzzzzzzz.  Boring.  Really boring. (As was the recipe, but we'll get to that.)  I suspect the black and gold print on a cream page is supposed to convey elegance or "celebrity," but I must say, it's one of the most "vanilla" covers I've ever seen.  And as someone with over 1800 cookbooks, I've seen a lot.

I selected this cookbook to pay homage to the start of the Hollywood movie and TV award season, starting with the Golden Globes and ending with the big daddy of them all, The Oscars, in early March.  And you would think that a book titled Celebrity Recipes would feature all the Hollywood heavyweights that (some of us) know and love but it turned out that the name was a misnomer.

In 1958, the year this book was published, many more people than the Hollywood actors and actresses we've come to know, were considered celebrities.  In fact, the back of the book gives us a short list:  President Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President of the U.S. just before Kennedy was elected); Her Majesty, Queen Frederica of Greece (Greece did away with its monarchy in 1967 after a military coup.); Prince Aly Kahn (who married Hollywood star, Rita Hayworth); J. Edgar Hoover (head of the FBI) and so on.  In other words, no Kardashians, no Miley Cyrus, no Real Housewives of [insert city name here], and no to anybody who is currently making a spectacle of herself/himself in Hollywood (and that field is wide open.  Wide.).  This book does contain recipes of some actors and actresses but they were people who were at the top echelon of  Hollywood back in its heyday like Arthur Godfrey, Rock Hudson or even the contributor of today's recipe, Walt Disney.

Before we get to Walt, let me just point out that I should have been included in this book.  It was published in October, 1958, and I was born that month and obviously would have merited a recipe mention or two had I not been just days old (celebrity newborns are rare).  As my dad would say:  "Story of my life:  a day late, and a dollar short."

Okay, on to Mr. Walt Disney.  When I was growing up, just about every significant movie of my childhood was produced by Disney Studios.  Walt Disney, former animator turned magnate ruled the world.  Here's just a small sampling of Disney movies:

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
  • Pinocchio (1940)
  • Fantasia (1940)
  • Dumbo (1941)
  • Bambi (1942)
  • Cinderella (1950)
  • Peter Pan (1953)
  • Lady and the Tramp (1955)
  • Old Yeller (1957)
  • Sleeping Beauty (1959)

And on and on and on.  And then in 1964, Disney produced Mary Poppins, one of my favorites, and wouldn't you know the (sanitized) story of how that movie was made is now a popular movie, Saving Mr. Banks.  I haven't seen this movie yet but it's the story of how Walt Disney worked with Mary Poppins' author, P.L. Travers, to create the memorable movie version, featuring a significant amount of animation, of Travers' book. Tom Hanks stars as Walt Disney and British actress, Emma Thompson, played P. (Pamela) L. Travers.  I've read that in real life, P.L. Travers was so angry about how the 1964 movie turned out that refused to have any other of her Mary Poppins books made into a movie.  So...all was not well in the Magic Kingdom.

And speaking of the Magic Kingdom, Walt was also instrumental in building Disneyland.  Until Disney World was built (1971), Disneyland (built in 1955) in Anaheim, California, was THE place to visit.  There was not a kid I knew growing up who wouldn't have killed to go there but alas, the cost of a trip to California was beyond most families' reach.  We were lucky to go there in 1973 and even though I was a bit older, it was still magical. 

One of the attractions at Disneyland that made me positively giddy was the "It's a Small World" ride.  That 1973 California visit was not the first time I saw "It's a Small World" as my parents took me through that ride at the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair.  Thereafter, many relatives sent me "It's A Small World" dolls as birthday and Christmas presents; I just recently discovered that my mother had saved them all for me.  I want you to know that to this day, I can still sing along with the theme song: "It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, it's a world of hope, it's a world of fears, there's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware, it's a small world after all.... [EVERYBODY!] It's a small world after all....."

(Let me just say that one of the other rides I looked forward to the most, Autopia, where you got to drive your own little car on a track, provided insight into how my dad and I would do in a car for real when it came time for me to take Driver's Ed.  Hint:  not good!)

For that song alone – "It's a Small World" -  Walt Disney was a genius.  But alas, while his movies were outstanding and the idea for Disneyland and Disney World was genius, (and he even sponsored several Disney TV shows), this chili recipe fell short.  In fact, it is the only chili to date that I've ever made that had no flavor.  None.  And I'm puzzled as to why.

The basic recipe calls for three spices:  paprika, dry mustard and chili powder.  So I added them and tasted and....nothing.  I added salt and pepper (not called for in the recipe) and...still nothing.  Walt suggested that if I wanted a more spicy chili I could add other spices from an "optional" list so I did:  cumin, cinnamon, dry ginger and....oh for God's sake!  Still bland.

An even worse problem was the great abundance of liquid that turned this recipe more soupy than a stand-a-spoon-in-it thick chili and I'm not sure if that was the intent.  To start the recipe, you need to simmer the beans with onions in water and although I read and re-read the recipe, it never said to drain that water but drain I did!  I drained out a significant amount of liquid before adding all the additional "spicier" spices but by this time I think the recipe had just derailed and there was nothing I could do about it.  It wasn't bad chili, it just wasn't that great.  And what is more interesting is that Walt likely obtained the recipe for this chili while in Mexico!  Now granted, many people think that Mexican food is overly spicy and not all of it is, but I wouldn't have minded a tiny bit of tongue-singe here and there. 

The other critical thing you need to know about this recipe besides the fact that it (in my opinion) doesn't have much flavor, is that you must be prepared to devote hours to making it.  The beans have to soak overnight.  The next day, you are to simmer the beans for four hours, then make your sauce mixture and simmer than for an hour and then add that to the beans and simmer for one-half hour more.  Good thing I could dedicate a day to making this recipe because it took about that long.  I'm willing to bet that a master animator like Walt could get the illustrations done in far less time than it took me to make his chili!

Chili and Beans – serving size unknown but half a recipe still makes a lot!
2 pounds coarse ground beef
½ cup oil
2 onions, sliced
1 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dry mustard
2 lbs dry pink beans
1 large can solid pack tomatoes
1 tsp chili powder, or to taste

Soak beans over night in cold water. Drain.  Put in pot with water to cover, about 2 inches above beans and simmer with onions until tender – about four hours.  (Ann's Note:  unless you want really soupy chili and beans, drain most of the water).

For the sauce, brown the meat and garlic together in oil.  Add other ingredients and simmer for one hour.  When beans are tender, add sauce and simmer for one-half hour more.

For spicy Chili and Beans, add a pinch of:  coriander seeds, tumeric, chili seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnammon, dry ginger and a little yellow Mexican chili pepper.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"The 'I Love Peanut Butter' Cookbook" - Chicken Punjab (in memory of Elvis Presley)

Date I made this recipe:  January 8, 2014 (Elvis Presley's birthday)

The 'I Love Peanut Butter' Cookbook by William I. Kaufman
Published by:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1965
Recipe:  Chicken Punjab – p. 41
(This book was previously owned by my mother but I don't remember her making a single dish from it.  Curious.)

In my last blog post, I was on some kind of jag talking about dead celebrities.  Here's another one (dead celebrities, that is):  Elvis Presley.  January 8th was Elvis' birthday and had he lived, he would have turned 79.  Wow—the image of a 79 year-old Elvis boggles the mind, doesn't it? As it is, he made it to age 42, looking absolutely nothing like Elvis, the Younger, idol of many a teenage girl and even swoon-worthy to someone like me who watched his movies growing up (A Change of Habit, anyone?).  But we won't go down the road about how sad-looking Elvis got in his later years.  He'll always remain the "Velvi Elvi" to me! (Young 'uns, I'm referring to the velvet paintings of Elvis that were all the rage in the 70's.  Why, I do not know.)

Our Elvis was a fan of peanut butter, specifically fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches. I like the idea of that sandwich but just wasn't inclined to make it in his memory on his birthday.  Besides, this cookbook, written in 1965, did not include a recipe for that concoction, likely because the author didn't know about Elvis' favorite food back then. 

That said, this book includes just about everything else that could contain peanut butter although the making of these recipes is another matter all together.  For example, while scrolling through the Index, I noted the following:  Fish. See Seafood.  Let us pause for a moment to take that one in:  peanut butter and fish.  Well I don't think so!  I wasn't especially fond of some of the meat options either, such as Peanut Butter Meat Loaf or Peanut Butter Meat Balls.  Ew.  (There were several recipes for steak with peanut butter and that is just a sin against nature.) The very mention of those two items made me recall an Alka Seltzer commercial from the 70's where a new bride is telling her husband she was thinking of making "marshmallowed meat balls" for dinner.  Yes, I'd reached for the Alka Seltzer, too!

But whereas peanut butter and fish (no way) and peanut butter and (red) meat hit the "ew" factor, chicken did not.  For some inexplicable reason, peanut butter and chicken go together.  And so although Elvis may not have thought to make today's recipe – Chicken Punjab – I did and it was delicious. 

I'd like to think Elvis would have liked this dish.  It's got peanut butter and chicken fried in peanut oil.  And okay, sure, we added things like soy sauce and rice and pineapple to spiff it up a bit but the basics are there. 

Now I have to tell you that shopping for some of the ingredients proved to be hilarious as there are now 85,000 kinds of everything on the shelves.  I'll have you know that at Cub Foods, small jars of chunky peanut butter were few and far between but you could have yourself plenty of smooth, smooth-lite, smooth with less salt, smooth with honey, smooth with cherries and chocolate (huh?) and so on and so on.  Had I looked hard enough, I probably could have found a smooth peanut butter without the peanuts (do not laugh:  "not dogs" – hot dogs made from ingredients I cannot contemplate – are now everywhere.) As it is it took me forever to find chunky. 

Then there were the rice selections, also fraught with peril.  The recipe said "uncooked converted rice," and that little word "converted" threw me for a loop.  Again, many, many, many types of rice were there for the pickins but I didn't see any that leaped out at me saying "converted."  Turns out an internet search told me that Uncle Ben's is converted rice – well, who knew – and so I had to go back the next day to get some.  Mind you, I have a couple boxes of Uncle Ben's in my pantry but of course they were not the right Uncle Ben's.  And by the way, Cub Foods, are you trying to kill me by putting that rice on the lowest shelf possible?  Answer: yes, probably.  In the interest of time, we will not discuss the canned fruit situation which has come along way from the two I remember the best:  pineapple (in syrup) and Mandarin Oranges. 

I hope Elvis appreciates all the work I went through to make this birthday dish.

Chicken Punjab – makes 5 generous servings
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons paprika
½  teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon onion salt
1 broiler-fryer chicken, 2 ½ pounds, cut in serving pieces
¾ cup peanut oil
1 medium onion, minced
1 cup sliced celery
1 green pepper, cut in rings
1 ½ cup uncooked converted rice (Uncle Ben's)
½ cup chunky peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¾ cup water
¼ cup seedless raisins
1 can (1 pound 4 ounces) pineapple chunks with syrup

Saturday, January 11, 2014

"Cooking in Oz;" "Cora's Country Cookbook;" "The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown;" "The Twelve Days of Christmas" - food for New Year's Day


Date I made these recipes:  January 1, 2014 (New Year's Day)

The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown – Celebrity Recipes and Hollywood Memories from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe by Frank Decaro (author of The Dead Celebrity Cookbook)
Published by:  Health Communications, Inc.
ISBN:  13: 978-0-7573-1700-2
Recipe:  Judy Garland's Ham Casserole with Sherry – p. 93

Cooking in Oz – Kitchen Wizardry and a Century of Marvels from America's Favorite Tale by Elaine Willingham and Steve Cox – Foreword by Margaret Pellegrini (a Munchkin)
Published by:  Cumberland House
ISBN:  1-58182-051-8
Purchased at:  Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbooks (NYC)
Recipe:  Margaret's Old-Fashioned Hopping John – p. 68

Cora's Country Cookbook by Margaret Hamilton (playing TV character, Cora) (Margaret Hamilton was the Wicked Witch of the West in the movie, The Wizard of Oz
Published for General Foods by MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc.
Purchased at:  Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbooks (NYC)
Recipe:  Coconut Cookie Bars – p. 40

The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook by Suzanne Huntley
Published by:  Antheneum
© 1965
Purchased at:  Falling Rock Cafe, Munising MI
Recipe:  Rum (or Bourbon) Balls – p. 10-11

I think I got just a tad carried away with my New Year's Day meal, but it wasn't necessarily my fault. 

In August 2013, Margaret Pellegrini, the last of the Wizard of Oz Munchins, passed away.  About a week earlier, when I was in NYC, I purchased the cookbook Cooking in Oz, a cookbook and narrative of life on the Wizard of Oz set.  Margaret wrote the foreword.  So when she died, I thought it would be a great idea to make something from the book but then I got busy and so I set the book aside with reminder to myself to make her Hopping John recipe for the new year to bring us good luck.

At the same time I bought the Oz book, I bought Cora's Country Cookbook by actress Margaret Hamilton.  Margaret was cast as the Wicked Witch of the West and managed to scare the bejesus out of me for many years until I got old enough to figure out she was an actress.  Her alter ego in the movie was Miss Gulch, the mean and heartless woman ripped our adorable Toto ("and your little dog too") out of the arms of Dorothy Gale.  To this day, when I see people riding bicycles, the "music" from her ride starts up in my head.  Talk about memorable – not a lyric to be heard and yet that music alone also set my hair on end.  I hid behind my dad's chair when that movie was on more times than I could count.  And until I was older, we watched the entire movie in black and white (no color TV set for us!) and so I had no idea the movie switched to color when Dorothy landed in Oz.  I was a deprived child....

At any rate, in her later years, Margaret did a complete role reversal away from scaring us to death to comforting us by playing the nice, sympathetic general store owner, Cora, in Maxwell House (coffee) commercials.  (It was "good to the last drop," don't you know!) "Cora" later wrote a cookbook – Cora's Country Cookbook – featuring basic, comfort food including the delicious Coconut Cookie Bars.

Whereas both Margaret Hamilton and Margaret Pelligrini lived into their 80's, Judy Garland, our heroine Dorothy, only lived to be 47.  And so as irreverent as this may sound, her demise earned her a place in The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown.

Now before you get all up in my grill about even owning an irreverent cookbook (along with The Dead Celebrity Cookbook), let me tell you that this book is funny.  Not in a tacky kind of way funny but funny.  The author clearly loves his celebrities, loves old movies and loves giving us a glimpse into his fun world.  He is both precocious and reverent in his discussions – I like that in an author.

Judy Garland's Ham Casserole with Sherry turned out to be a big hit in our house on New Year's Day.  It's a little strong on the sherry but then again, that's perhaps a fitting way – "...and one more for the road..." - to end a typical alcohol and sugar-filled holiday season.  (By the way, this is going back in time, but every time I head that song – One for My Baby, from which "and one more for the road" is a major line, I cannot help but think of the episode of The Mary Tyler Moore show where Mary Richards sang this number.  It was pretty funny.)

And speaking of the holiday as you can see, apparently I had a subliminal theme going on here – three dead celebrities (not planned, I assure you) – and then out of the blue I included The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook.  Well, there's a simple explanation for that:  while I was shelving newly purchased books, I came upon my "Christmas" collection and thought "oh why not?"  Besides, New Year's Day is part of the twelve days of Christmas that run from December 25th to January 5th.  When I was growing up, we spent the 6th of January in church celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany.  So see, it's all good!  Even better were the rum balls I made for dessert – whoa, Nelly, they were potent!  Between Judy Garland's Ham Casserole with Sherry and these, Andy and I could have spent the day feeling quite happy.  P.S.—I love Judy Garland's rendition of "Happy Days (Are Here Again)."  As it is, I watched my Michigan State Spartans win the Rose Bowl (happy, happy, happy) and then we settled down to this mish-mash repast.  Quirky though it may have been, all dishes were good and all cookbooks were fun to look through while planning the dinner.  If I had to recommend one (or two), it would be the two Dead Celebrity books just because they include so many great recipes from famous actors and actresses plus tidbits that make you primed to win at Trivial Pursuit or my favorite TV game show, Jeopardy.

So eat, enjoy, and for those of you who try the Hopping John, may good luck follow you all year.

Judy Garland's Ham Casserole with Sherry – serves 6-8 – The Dead Celebrity Cookbook presents Christmas in Tinseltown
4 cups ground cooked ham (use a Cuisinart if you don't have a grinder)
2 cups cooked rice
½ cup heavy cream
2 eggs, well beaten
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons deiced green pepper
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ cup sherry wine
¾ cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted
½ teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the ham, rice, cream, eggs, tomatoes, pepper, onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and sherry.  Mix well and transfer to a greased two-quart casserole dish.  Mix the bread crumbs, melted butter, and paprika, and sprinkle on top of the ham mixture.  Bake 45 minutes.

Margaret's Old-Fashioned Hopping John – makes 8 servings – Cooking in Oz cookbook
2 cups dried black-eyed peas
4 cups water
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 tablespoon bacon drippings
1 cup long-grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ pound thickly sliced bacon, cooked

Wash and sort peas.  In a medium saucepan combine the peas and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Drain the peas, reserving the liquid.  Set  both the peas and the liquid asside.

In a Dutch oven sauté the onion in the bacon drippings until golden.  Add water to the reserved liquid from the peas to make 4 cups.  Add the water, peas, rice, salt and pepper to the onions and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 35 to 40 minutes, until the peas and rice are tender and the liquid is absorbed.  Crumble the bacon and stir into the Hopping John.

Ann's Notes:  First, I came close to ruining this entire recipe by first, cooking the peas too much, then almost setting the bacon on fire, then adding too much rice to the mixture and finally, getting a little too close to burning the pan by letting too much liquid absorb.  I was worried that bad luck, instead of good luck, was going to be my friend for 2014.  Second, once I got all the dish assembled I realized that I am just not that fond of this dish.  I've made it before with several variations and it just seems bland.  Still, I don't like to tempt fate and so I'll likely try a new dish next year.  Maybe the nth time is the charm? By the way, this was the first dish out of four that day and so all these comedy of errors happened when I was stone cold sober. ;)

Coconut Cookie Bars – makes 48 small or 24 large bars - Cora's Country Cookbook
½ cup butter or margarine
1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups Baker's Angel Flake Coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows (optional)
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
3 squares Baker's semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Preheat oven to 350. Place butter in a 13 x 9-inch pan and place in oven to melt butter.  Remove the pan from oven, and sprinkle crumbs over butter, pressing down with a fork.  Sprinkle coconut over crumbs; add a layer of nuts and marshmallows.  Drizzle condensed milk evenly over the top.  Bake at 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove from oven and drizzle with melted chocolate. Cool before cutting. 

Ann's Note:  Maybe this won't happen to you but my marshmallows sort of deflated instead of staying nice and puffy and the chocolate did not drizzle like it should have.  And so I made due by spreading the chocolate on top of the deflated marshmallows just like a frosting. And since I needed to finish what I started, I melted two more blocks of chocolate.  The result was fantastic!  Although the marshmallows were hard to taste (I would have failed on the TV show, Chopped), frosting the bars made them into mini Mounds Bars (sans the almonds—if you recall "...Peter Paul Almond Joy's got nuts.  Mounds don't.") We kept a good portion of the pan for our own eating pleasure but Andy took the rest to work and they were inhaled in two seconds.

Rum (or Bourbon) Balls – makes about 6 dozen – The Twelve Days of Christmas Cookbook
1 cup vanilla-wafer crumbs
1 cup pecans, chopped fine
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch cocoa
1 ½ tablespoons white Karo syrup
¼ cup or more rum or bourbon

Mix all ingredients together.  From in small balls, using about 1 rounded teaspoonful of the mixture for each ball.  Roll in more powdered sugar and store in a tightly covered container.  A variation substitutes gingersnaps or crushed chocolate wafer for the vanilla wafers; if chocolate wafers are used, omit the cocoa.  For another variation, use almonds or other nuts.  Or roll the balls in cocoa or chopped nuts instead of sugar.

Ann's Notes:  There's hardly a holiday dessert cookbook that doesn't contain this recipe but nobody said anything about what the mixture should look like, just the end result. And the mixture was way too soupy to roll (whether this was operator error or not remains to be seen) so I put the bowl in the freezer for 15 minutes.  Well that turned out to be a little long so then I left the bowl on the counter for 10 and the mixture hardened enough to roll out.    Also, a full recipe is said to make about 6 dozen rum bulls but I made half the recipe and in no way shape or form ended up with 3 dozen.  A good dozen maybe, but not three. And as I said before, eating one of these is like drinking a shot of rum so be careful out there!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

"Pat & Betty's No-Fuss Cooking (Reynolds Wrap)" - (Winter Solstice) Homestyle Pot Roast


Date I made this recipe:  December 29, 2013 (Intended for Solstice)

Pat & Betty's No-Fuss Cooking (Reynolds Wrap)  by Patricia A. Schweitzer and Betty T. Morton, home economists for Reynolds Wrap
Published by:  Hyperion
ISBN:  1-4013-0060-X
Recipe:  Homestyle Pot Roast – p. 120-121

Every once in a while, as I'm putting newly-acquired cookbooks on the shelf, I make a note on my calendar to cook from a book to celebrate certain occasions.  As an example, this year I made a note on Halloween to use the Great Pumpkin Cookbook.  I also made a note on my calendar for December 21st, The Winter Solstice, to make a dish from the cookbook Pat & Betty's No-Fuss Cooking.  Pat and Betty were product spokespeople for Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil and "foil" is a good word to describe my intent to "foil" the longest and darkest day of the year by bringing the light into my cooking.  I thought using aluminum foil would be just the ticket as it's shiny, it's bright, and keeps the heat in on a very cold day.  Get thee back, darkness!

But on the 21st, my brother and sister-in-law flew in for a visit and so dinner got put on hold until the 29th and even then my bright idea (hahahaha) fizzled because the recipe I selected did not require aluminum foil.  I know, right?  Here's what happened:  given that my plans were temporarily set aside, I did not really read through my selected recipe like I should.  And that's because I just assumed (and you know how that word gets us all into trouble) that a recipe for pot roast in a cookbook published by the good people who make aluminum foil would require the sucker to be all wrapped up, nice and cozy in said foil, just like mom used to make.  And I'm sorry, why add the word "Home[style]" to the recipe if you didn't intend for us to invoke memories of "home" and mom and family dinner?  Shame on you, Reynolds Wrap.

What was required was a plastic oven bag.  What????  That's just wrong.  Wrong, wrong, Reynolds Wrap wrong.  A plastic oven bag is not at all shiny, is not made out of aluminum therefore...FAIL.  But I was pressed for time and under the gun to get this dish made so I acquiesced but not before searching the internet to see if I could tweak the recipe to use aluminum foil.  And the answer was yes...but not quite...and so I went with the bag.  (Hangs head in shame.)

Now if you ask me, and you didn't, I think this is why the end result was not quite to my liking.  The roast was fine, it was delicious but the meat was not pull-apart like it was when mom made it in – and this is important – aluminum foil (or "tin foil" as we always called it).  It could very well be due to the fact that chuck roast has more marble in it than other cuts of meat but I think it's the bag.  And no, I don't care that it was tested in Reynolds Wraps' test kitchen by none other than Pat and Betty!

Savvy TV viewers may recall that Pat  (Schweitzer) and Betty (Morton), two actual home economists, were the faces of Reynolds Wrap in TV commercials airing in the mid 90's.  Together, they showed us all how to best use Reynolds Wrap for all of our cooking needs.  And perhaps my memory is foggy but I swore they didn't do any commercials featuring anything but aluminum foil and yet their cookbook, published in 2003 includes recipes utilizing cooking bags as well as wax paper and plastic wrap.  And again, this is just wrong, wrong, really wrong.  BUT...I like Pat and Betty and so I was prepared to overlook this minor (not really) flaw in the roast recipe. 

And okay sure, I could have made something requiring a foil-lined pan instead of a cooking bag  or even one of their recipes calling for an aluminum oven bag but I had my heart set on a roast in foil.  And let's face it, when temperatures dip, a Watermelon Boat is the last thing anybody wants to eat.  (Yesterday, the temperature started out as a balmy -22 degrees so yeah..."no" to the watermelon on page 30.)

And so in conclusion, if you like Pat and Betty or Pat or Betty or if you like the concept of aluminum foil (that wonderful light-projecting product) or if you like Reynolds Wrap (and I do), then this is your book.  The recipes are not complicated and some of them were tempting, just not on a day when I was all about celebrating the Winter Solstice even if it was 8 days later when I did so.  What can I say?  The holidays just flew by!

So happy light, happy warming temperatures (I hope) and happing roasting, even if it is in an oven bag.

Homestyle Pot Roast – makes 7-8 servings
¼ cup flour
2/3 cup water
One 1-ounce envelope onion soup mix
One 3- to 3 ½-pound boneless beef chuck pot roast
6 to 8 small whole red potatoes
1 medium onion, cut in quarters
One 16-ounce package peeled fresh baby carrots
Chopped parsley (optional)

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Add the flour to a large oven bag, shake the bag to distribute the flour, and put in a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan.

Add the water and soup mix to the bag and squeeze the bag to blend them with the flour.  Put the roast in the bag and turn the bag to coat the meat with the sauce.  Arrange the potatoes, onion, and carrots around the roast.

Close the bag with the provided nylon tie and cut six ½-inch slits in the top.

Bake for 2 ½ to 3 hours, or until the beef is tender.

Open the bag carefully and transfer the meat and vegetables to a serving platter.  Stir the gravy and spoon it over the meat and vegetables.  Sprinkle the meat and vegetables with parsley before serving, if desired.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Holiday Party Food 2013 - appetizers, crackers and sweets

REVISED:  September 10, 2014

Date I made these recipes:  week of December 1, 2013 (Party Food!)

Chips and Dips by Claudia McQuillan
Published by:  Chronicle Books
ISBN:  0-8118-1271-5
Recipe:  Four-Onion Dip - p. 81

Christmas with Martha Stewart Living by Martha Stewart
Published by:  Oxmoor House
ISBN:  0-8487-1627-2
Recipe:  Chocolate-Meringue Cookies - p. 65 (plus Swiss Meringue recipe p. 63)

Crackers & Dips - More than 50 Handmade Snacks by Ivy Manning
Published by: Chronicle Books
ISBN:  978-1-4521-0950-3
Recipes:  "Everything" Flatbread Crackers - p. 33-35

The Last-Minute Party Girl by Erika Lenkert
Published by:  The McGraw-Hill Companies
ISBN:  0-07-141192-5
Recipe:  Aimee's Hummus - p. 100

The Pleasure of Your Company - How to Give a Dinner Party without Losing Your Mind by Molly O'Neill
Published by:  Viking
ISBN:  0-670-87266-0
Recipe:  Tomatillo Salsa - p. 119

Tiny Food Party! by Teri Lyn Fisher & Jenny Park
Published by:  Quirk Books
ISBN:  978-1-59474-581-2
Recipe:  Mini Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches - p. 91; cheese sauce - p. 88

Bonus Recipe - Bacon Jam, published in the Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper

September 10, 2014:  My sincere apologies to Ivy Manning, author of Crackers & Dips.  A few months ago, my blog's host site,, sent me an email saying that they had received notice of a copyright violation and had to put this blog post into "Edit Only" mode.  I asked Blogger what the problem might be but they didn't respond.  But today, while working on some blog stuff, I noticed that this posting had a comment and the comment was from Ivy who basically said "I'm flattered that you found four recipes you like but that's practically giving away my book for free."  She is correct.  She suggested that I could list one recipe and then direct you where to buy the book and so after careful consultation with my husband, we selected her absolutely delicious "Everything Flatbread Cracker" as this worked perfectly with every spread we made. And then trust me when I say that your guests will be most impressed with every single cracker in this book and you will instantly become a Party Diva/Divo Extraordinaire.  Now be good party hosts and go out and buy this book.  Right now!  This book was published by Chronicle Books and they put out fabulous cookbooks.  You can order online at: and then search for Crackers & Dips. (For the record, in close second was the recipe for "Irish Blue Cheese and Walnut Shortbread." If memory serves I was a bad party hostess, hoarding several of them for myself.)

As is now usual and customary, my husband and I totally get our party groove thing on in December making appetizers and desserts for our annual open house.  We need a bigger house and possibly, after this year, a bigger table.  My money is on a bigger table (he can make a new leaf) before the bigger house. 

The rules of engagement for this shindig are easy:  all incredible edibles must be finger food.  I'm not opposed to forks but it's easier with toothpicks.  As it is, we rent plates and glassware every year and the rule of rental is you must rinse:  I refuse to add forks to my dishwashing detail.

As I do every year, the minute one soiree ends, I start planning the next but as the years go by, I am less driven to use cookbooks from my collection and more interested in just finding recipes that work; every year is an experiment!  The only rule that I try to follow is to publish only the cookbook recipes used in this blog seeing as how it's all about cookbooks.  That said, the bacon jam was so popular this year that it gets its own special mention at the end of all this.

So let's start.  First up was a delicious Four-onion Dip that I made from the Chips and Dips cookbook.  I liked the recipe because of the variety of the onions used to make this.  I think it was semi-popular; it could be used on crackers, breads or even the veggies I set out.  This recipe called for me to roast garlic, a new task but one that really worked.  I see more roasted garlic in my future.  There were several other delicious-sounding dips in this book but I went with this one first.  We'll see about next year next year!

In the cookie department, I added Chocolate Meringue Cookies to the mix this year, compliments of Martha Stewart.  I have a friend who can't eat gluten and these cookies, along with the Mini Chocolate Chip Meringues I made last year, really float her boat.  She gets a special doggie bag when leaving the party.  My husband Andy mixed these up and they were pretty easy.  He even got all "Martha" on me by doing a special swirl with the mixture - showoff!  Martha's book is, as you might imagine, filled with cooking and crafts.  I focused on these cookies because they seemed easy.

Next up we have a new acquisition - Crackers & Dips and here we had to restrain ourselves as there were so many yummy crackers and dips to be found.  I put Andy in charge of the crackers and the four we selected were really good.  Although the instructions can be a little long, the end result is worth it as guests oo'd and aah'd that we made our own crackers.  My rule of thumb for baking anything is "no yeast."  I fear yeast for lo, I have made doorstops in my day, and I don't have the patience to let anything rise over and over again.  For those of you who are into yeast crackers though, you'll find them all there in this fabulous book.
I had several recipes flagged in Erica Lenkert's The Last-Minute Party Girl cookbook but my husband nixed all but one - the hummus - and not because he's mean but because "This is getting out of hand."  Post-party, he mentioned that we need to cut down on dips which turns me into a pound puppy but he's right.  Still, next year I swear I'm making the White-Bean Dip and he can just suffer!

Finally, the last of the cookbooks I used - Molly O'Neill's The Pleasure of Your Company - provided the Tomatillo Salsa recipe and out of all the things I made, this one ranked "so-so" on the "yum, yum" meter.  It wasn't bad, in fact it's kind of pleasantly tangy, but other things caught our guest's attention this year.  Still, I love Molly O'Neill's writing and loved this cookbook as it is all about throwing successful dinner parties and who doesn't want to throw a successful party, dinner or no dinner?

Now that I'm through with these books for the year, they will go back into storage in bins specifically marked as Party Food so I can consult for next year.  Meanwhile, I do believe I've collected about a dozen potential recipes for next year.  My work here is never done.

Four Onion Dip - makes 2 cups – Chips and Dips cookbook
3 T. olive oil
2 Vidalia, Maui, or Texas onions (size 10/15--I have no idea what that means) or substitute yellow onions.  Cut onions into 1/4-inch dice.
1 Leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced crosswise
6 shallots, minced
1 bunch green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
12 cloves roasted garlic, minced (instructions below)
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 cup sour cream
1 T. minced fresh chives
1 T. minced fresh parsley leaves

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onions, leek, shallots, and green onions, and cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes.  Add the roasted garlic, cayenne pepper, salt and vinegar, reduce heat to low, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove mixture from heat, transfer to a bowl, and let cool completely.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cooked onions with the sour cream, chives, and parsley.  Taste and add more salt and cayenne if desired.

Transfer to a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To roast the garlic:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  With a sharp knife, slice off the top fourth of a head of garlic.  Drizzle the exposed cloves with olive oil; loosely wrap the trimmed head of garlic in aluminum foil, place in warm oven, and roast for 30 minutes.  Carefully open up the foil, and roast 10 minutes longer.  Remove from heat, cool, and remove the cloves from the skins.  *Always store roasted garlic covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Chocolate-Meringue Cookies – makes 30 cookies – Christmas with Martha Stewart Living cookbook
¼ cup cocoa powder, plus 2 teaspoons – more for dusting
1 recipe Swiss meringue (1 recipe makes 4 cups)
4 large egg whites, at room temperature*
1 cup sugar
Pinch Cream of Tartar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*We use powdered eggs whites for all our meringue cookie recipes and they work great.  Martha will likely disapprove but Martha is not in my kitchen cranking out party food, now is she?

Make the Swiss Meringue (no cocoa for now) by filling a medium saucepan one-quarter full with water.  Set the saucepan over medium heat, and bring water to a simmer.

Combine egg whites, sugar and Cream of Tartar in the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer, and place over saucepan.  Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 3 to 3 ½ minutes.  Test by rubbing between your fingers.

Transfer bowl to electric mixer; whip, starting on law, gradually increasing to high until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 10 minutes.  Add vanilla; mix until combined.

Sift ¼ cup of the cocoa over the meringue, and fold so that streaks of cocoa remain.

Fill a pasty bag fitted with the tip of your choice (Martha uses Ateco #5 star tip) OR fill a plastic bag with the mixture and then snip of a corner.  (Again, I'm sensing a frown here and I don't care, Martha!).  Pipe out cookies in small coils or desired shapes onto baking sheet.  Sift remaining cocoa over cookies; bake at 175 degrees (on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper) for 2 hours, until cookies lift off parchment easily.

"Everything" Flatbread Crackers – makes 24- Crackers & Dips cookbook
2 T. fried shallots or dried onion flakes
2 tsp dried minced garlic
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp sel gris or other granular sea salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tsp light brown sugar
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine sea salt
¼ cup creme fraiche or sour c ream
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
6 T water
1 egg beaten with 1 T water

Preheat oven to 350.  Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.  In a small bowl, combine the shallots, garlic, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, caraway seeds, and sel gris; set aside.

In a food processor or large bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and fine sea salt and pulse or whisk t combine.  In a small bowl, whisk together the creme fraiche, olive oil, and water. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and pulse or stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.  Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface until smooth, about 10 strokes.

Divide the dough into two balls, cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.  Pat one ball into a small rectangle and roll it out on a lightly floured surface until the dough is 1/16 inches thick, picking up the dough occasionally and rotating it to make sure it's not sticking to the work surface.  Alternatively, use a pasta maker following the method on page 13 until the dough is 1/16 thick, the number 5 setting on most machines.

Using a pastry wheel or pizza cutter, trim any irregular edges (save the scraps).  Cut the dough into rectangles measuring 2 by 4 inches and transfer them to the baking sheet, spacing them very close together.  Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining ball of dough and scraps, using a second baking sheet.

Brush the crackers lightly with the beaten egg and sprinkle them with the shallot mixture.  Using a flat-bottomed measuring cup, gently tamp down the toppings into the dough to adhere.  Prick each cracker 4 or 5 times with a fork or comb.

Bake until the crackers are golden brown and crisp, 15 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once from top to bottom and from back to front while baking.  Cool on racks and store in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.

 Aimee's Hummus – makes 2 cups – The Last-Minute Party Girl Cookbook
2 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
¼ cup tahini (sesame seed paste, available at most large grocery stores) (Ann's Note:  Most grocery stores, if they carry this, carry it in large amounts but the Seward Co-op in Minneapolis breaks down their shipment into much smaller quantities.
2 teaspoons roasted garlic or 2 raw cloves mashed to a paste with some salt
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin powder
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil as needed to thin

Blend all ingredients except the olive oil well in a food processor, adding olive oil at the end if needed to achieve your desired consistency.

Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Tomatillo Salsa – serves 8  – The Pleasure of your Company cookbook
3 pounds tomatillos, husked
4 medium poblano chilies, roasted, seeded, deveined, peeled, and chopped
2 small garlic cloves, minced
8 scallions, minced
1 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh marjoram

Preheat the oven to 375. Place the tomatillos on a baking sheet.  Roast them in the oven until their skins blister, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Place the tomatillos in a blender with the remaining ingredients.  Puree until smooth.  The salsa can be stored in the refrigerator in a closed container for up to 2 days.

Bonus – Bacon Jam – from the Minneapolis StarTribune (newspaper) – – Published September 18, 2013 – Article by Nealey Dozier  – - Makes 1 ½ to 2 cups.

Note: This easily can be doubled or tripled. Some recipes call for discarding some of the bacon fat before adding the onions. I kept all of the fat but it is personal preference. Hey, if you are going to make bacon jam, you might as well go all in!
1 lb. thick-cut bacon, cut into 3/4-in. pieces
2 small sweet onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large shallot (2 cloves), peeled and very thinly sliced
1/2 c. pure maple syrup
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set a large Dutch oven or heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes. Keep all the bacon fat in the pan; do not discard (see Note).

Lower the heat to medium. Stir in the onions and shallots, and cook until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the maple syrup, vinegar, Dijon and Worcestershire sauce. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in 1/2 cup of water and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally if necessary. Cook until the jam has a glossy appearance and syrup-like consistency, about 1 hour.

Allow the mixture to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a blender and pulse a few times to purée the larger pieces, stopping every pulse or two to stir and check the consistency — it should be thick and chunky, not a paste.
Transfer to an airtight container. Bacon jam can be refrigerated for up to one month. Serve at room temperature.