Monday, March 30, 2015

"Cookbook for Fridays and Lent" - Macaroni and Cheese

Date I made this recipe:  Friday, March 27, 2015

Cookbook for Fridays and Lent by Irma Rhode; introduction by Robert I. Gannon, S.J. (Society of St. Joseph) (Irma Rhode often collaborated with James Beard)
Published by:  David McKay Company, Inc.
© 1951
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Macaroni and Cheese – p. 128

"To eat meat, or not to eat meat on Fridays?"  That was the question pondered by my mother pretty much my entire (Catholic) childhood.

The blame for this confusion and consternation can be directly deposited on the doors of the Vatican which, during the early 60's, instituted what became known as "Vatican II."  During Vatican II, the church loosened up on many age-old rules to allow for a more progressive church.  Or at least that's the story I'm going with.  I was too young to know or care about the inner politics.  What I did know is that in an instant, we went from Latin masses to guitar masses, the nun's habit went from near-mummy to "what the heck" polyester pants suits and all hell broke loose.

Also caught in the Papal crossfire was whether or not we could/could not eat meat on Fridays during Lent.  And around Christmas.  Pre-Vatican II, this was not an issue.  "No Meat," period.  But after Vatican II, all bets were off and some years we were allowed, some years we weren't.  Frankly, I loved the years we "weren't."

Translated, the "no meat" rule basically meant you ate "fish" but you see, despite the abundance of Lake Superior whitefish which I'm told is the "poor man's lobster" (Uh huh. Right), fish in our house constituted smelt (ugh), perch (double ugh) or canned salmon or mackerel.  Every once in a while, my parents got some other fish to serve us but I just don't like fish.  And I cannot think of one time we actually had whitefish while I was growing up; I think my parents got into that grove after I left home.  If they hadn't things might have been different.

Now what I did like, and really, how could you not, were fish sticks.  Fish sticks were a treat.  Fish sticks were acceptable.  Well, acceptable if you slathered them in tartar sauce.  Also acceptable?  Ketchup.  Anything to mask the taste and texture was fine by me. 

I also liked shrimp burgers which were served in the cafeteria when I was in junior high and high school.  But then again, shrimp are shellfish and I love shellfish.  It's just "fish" fish that I don't love.

So you can see where the "no meat edict" frustrated.  And the church didn't help by suggesting that fish should be the Friday night dinner selection of choice.  No mention was made of non-fish items which suggests to me that the church had some sort of world-wide agreement with fish mongers everywhere.  (Sorry about that, egg people).  And so my mother, ever the good Catholic, took whatever the church said as Gospel (pun intended) and if they said no meat, we had their suggested fish instead.

Like any good daughter (ha!) I played along with the rules until I got to college.  I don't think  I'm alone is using a few choice words for the "food" served to college students.  Given that it was a public university, they didn't have to cater to a Catholic population when it came to food service and so they didn't.  (Never mind that St. Michael's Catholic Church was a half a block away).  And what they served as fish was disgusting, such that I couldn't eat it at all.  So I cheated and ate meat or whatever else they offered that was not fish.

And things were going splendidly until my mother inquired as to my Friday night fare and well, as I was sometimes wont to do, I told a small, teeny tiny fib.  I told her that the cafeteria didn't serve fish (heathens!) and so what was I supposed to do?

You would think at that age (i.e. college-age), I would have figured out that lying to my mother resulted in nothing but hardship to me.  This was not my first rodeo with a small whopper.  No sir!   In fact, I still find it absolutely hilarious that as a second-grader making our First Confession (done before your First Communion), my entire class of thirty odd kids and I told the same, whopping lie to Father Beyer when we got into the confessional:  "Bless me Father, for I have sinned.  I stole a little red wagon."  Yup.  At that age, we were still puzzled as to what constituted a sin and therefore, what to report to Father until a classmate said "I'm going to say I stole a little red wagon," and we thought that was genius so we said it too.  I can only imagine what Father Beyer thought as he heard the same story over and over but my guess is by confessor #25, he was probably thinking "Yeah, yeah...what else ya got?"

Anyway.  Like I said, this was not my first rodeo and my mother was probably on to me so she made me talk to the parish priest at St. Michael's and tell him my story.  I was to ask for "special dispensation" which is code for "Here's your hall pass for SIN, my child.  Go ahead and eat meat."  "SD" was granted.  I mean, just like that, my story passed muster.  What?  And so for the rest of my college life, I ate whatever the heck I wanted on Lenten Fridays.  Oh, the thrill of getting away with the crime!

It is amazing, isn't it that later in life, I went to law school? ;)

These days, I'm pretty much surprised every year when Lent begins and Easter rolls around ("It's Easter on Sunday?  Really?") and therefore don't pay much attention to the meat/no meat rule or at least I didn't until I saw this cookbook last year at Bonnie Slotnick's cookbook bookstore in NYC.  And what I want to know is WHERE was this primer when I was growing up?  Because my mother could have just locked and loaded on the non-fish chapters and we would have been home free:  no muss, no fuss, no worry!  Instead, there was angst.  Lots and lots of needless angst.

Pretty much true to form, this book features fish dishes first (sigh), then shellfish, veggies, eggs, cheese, rice, noodles, etc.  I definitely passed on:  "Fried Smelts," "Baked Smelts," creamed fish of any kind and – Lord, give me strength – "Fish Casserole with Sauerkraut" on p. 59.  You should not have to work too hard to imagine the look on my face when I saw that.  Way to go an ruin a good sauerkraut...

I fared much better with the egg dishes as there were lots of recipes for cheese "puddings" and soufflés and pies, but I really hit my stride with the "Rice, Noodle and Macaroni Dishes" chapter starting on p. 121.  It's a short chapter but that didn't matter because I found what I wanted – "Macaroni and Cheese" (p. 128).

For the record, we never had macaroni and cheese at our house when I was growing up.  Actually, let me amend that:  we sometimes had Kraft Macaroni and Cheese but only if "something" was added to it like hamburger or tomatoes or something.  I just don't recall a time when we sat down and had it out of the box.  And I can also tell you that I do not think my mother ever made it from scratch which is just a sin, right?  Because this dish is so good and so easy and it beats the heck out of fish any day.  But my mother's side of the family had high cholesterol and so cheese and butter were bad things and fish was good.  Whatever.  I'm not buying it.

At first blush, you might think this dish is a little too rich what with milk, cream, egg yolks and cheese but it isn't.  And the only seasoning is salt and pepper.  So really, you'd be hard pressed to screw this up and I did not screw this up and although it says "serves six," the two of us pretty much demolished the thing.  And I will not go to confession to tell a priest this, I will not, no matter what the Bible says about Gluttony!

By the way, in a case of incredible timing, the biggest business news this week is that Heinz, best known for its ketchup, and Kraft, best known for its boxed macaroni and cheese, are merging.  Just so we're clear:  many recipes for mac and cheese call for the addition of mustard and that is okay.  But in no way, shape or form, should ketchup ever eaten with mac and cheese.  Ever.  Not even by accident by sitting too close together on a plate alongside (my) ketchup-laden fish sticks.  There are rules, kids.  Food rules.  Don't break them, especially during Lent. 

Enjoy this delicious macaroni and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese – serves six
8 oz elbow macaroni
4 quarts water
1 cup cream
1 cup milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
½ lb. cheese (Cheddar preferred), broken into small pieces or coarsely grated
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
½ cup bread crumbs

Cook macaroni in the boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, then drain.  The macaroni should be underdone.  Pile macaroni loosely in a baking dish.  Combine cream, milk, and egg yolks and blend well; add cheese and seasonings and pour the whole over the macaroni.  Stir lightly with a fork to distribute liquid evenly.  Sprinkle top with bread crumbs and bake in a moderate oven (350F) for 30 to 35 minutes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Delia Smith's Winter Collection" - Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa - for that "not quite" First Day of Spring

Date I made this recipe:  March 24, 2015

Delia Smith's Winter Collection by Delia Smith
Published by:  BBC
ISBN: 0-563-36477-7
Purchased at Barnes and Noble Used Books – Har Mar Mall, Roseville, MN
Recipe:  Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa – p. 122-123

So spring arrived on March 20th this year and that was a good thing.  Snow arrived on March 22nd this year and that was a bad thing. 

Around these parts, we tend to laugh at the calendar's version of any climate-related event like spring because we really don't have one.  Spring, that is.  We have winter and road construction.  Spring, if you want to call it that, is brief.  So brief that if you're not paying attention, you might miss it.

Oh, we've had semblances of spring this year, evidenced by nary a drop of snow and warmer temperatures than we are used to i.e. in the 40's and 50's (and even a few moments of high 60's and 70).  After last year's Polar Vortex, this is something to celebrate.  And according to the weather experts, we had as much snow on March 22nd as we did for the past 39 days.  Well, that's bragging rights material to be sure.

But as these things go, spring will likely "spring ahead," just like daylight savings time, taking us from winter (whenever it ends) to our equally short summer and then back to winter in no time.  I don't make these rules.

So when the snow was falling down upon us, all thoughts of making a "spring" dish in honor of the first day of spring flew out the window.  Instead, I turned my attention to Delia Smith's most-aptly-named Winter Collection cookbook.

That cover art?  That's what our lawns and trees looked like the other day.  Delia gets it.  And Delia's recipes reflect that as many, like the ones for braised roasts, fit nicely into the "not-quite-spring" slot.  In my humble opinion, roasts, soups and stews are good year-round which is a relief considering winter lasts almost year-round in these parts.  Kidding.  Nine months, tops.  Kind of like a pregnancy.

As per usual, whittling down the recipes from this book proved difficult.  One of the recipes, "Warm Roquefort Cheesecake with Pears in Balsamic Vinaigrette" – p. 92 and 93, sounded so good I want to revisit that for my holiday party in December.  Others, like "Roasted and Sun-Dried Tomato Risotto" (p. 99) and "Beef in Designer Beer (p. 124-125)" were in hot contention for the recipe du jour, as was "Meatballs in Goulash Sauce" (p. 115).  And then I flipped the pages to the "winning" recipe – "Black Bean Chili with Avocado Salsa."

So why that dish over the others?  Because "avocado" signals spring and summer.  I mean, I'll eat guacamole any time of the year but really, are we not all thinking of summer patios, "guac" and chips and tequila shots?  Okay, maybe that last part is just me.  Anyway, it triggered my taste buds plus black bean chili sounds so healthy, right, and spring or no spring, it's time to start getting into my best shorts and flip flops shape, STAT!

Now you should know that this dish takes some time to prep in that you have to soak the beans overnight (or carve out 3 hours the day of to make them) and then you have to cook them for 2 hours and that's just the bean-cooking portion of our program, not the entire prep/cook time.  But was it worth it?  Yes, it was.  So just do this on a day when you've got fingernail-filing time on your hands.

Delia Smith also produced a Summer Collection cookbook and once this "spring" thing is over, my thoughts will turn to that book with new recipes.  I can't wait...for any of it.

And PS—Delia Smith is "Britain's best-selling cookery author."  I love how it's "cookery," not "cook book."  So British.  As it Delia's spelling of "chilli" with two "l's."  Also, why do the Brits pronounce "banana" "bah-naan-er." There's no "er" in banana!  There is not.  And unfortunately, no banana recipe in this book either.  Shame, that.

Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa – serves 4-6
For the chili
1 lb braising steak cut into very small pieces (Ann's Note:  round steak, chuck roast or stew meat work best.  I used chuck.)
8 oz black beans
1 oz fresh coriander (reserving leaves for the salsa)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 green chillies, de-seeded and chopped small (Ann's Note:  I used one large jalapeno)
1 rounded tablespoon plain flour
2 – 14 ounce cans chopped tomatoes
1 large red pepper
Juice of ½ lime
For the salsa
2 large, firm tomatoes
1 ripe, firm avocado
½ small red onion, finely chopped
Reserved chopped coriander leaves
Juice of ½ lime
A few drops Tabasco sauce
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
To serve
4 tablespoons creme fraiche (optional)

Either pre-soak the beans overnight or start this recipe 3 hours ahead of time and begin by placing the beans in a large saucepan, covering them with cold water and bringing them up to boiling point and boiling for 10 minutes.  Then turn the heat off and let them soak for 3 hours. 

When ready to assemble, pre-heat the oven to 300F.

Strip the leaves off the coriander stalks into a bowl, cover with clingfilm  and place them in the fridge.  Ann's Note:  yet another British word – "clingfilm."  Translation?  "Saran Wrap."  Then chop the coriander stalks very finely indeed.  Ann's Note:  so polite, those Brits! ("...very finely indeed").  Also, this was the first time I've ever heard of using the stalks instead of the leaves but I liked it.  It reminded me of chopping chives yet with a completely different flavor profile.  Or should that be "flavour?"

After that (the chopping), take a casserole (4-pint and oven-proof), heat half the oil in it and cook the onions, garlic and coriander stalks and chillies gently for about 5 minutes. Then transfer them to a plate, spoon in the rest of the oil, turn the heat up high, add about a third of the beef and brown it well, keeping it on the move.  The remove it and brown the rest in 2 batches.  Now return everything to the casserole and sprinkle in the flour, stir it in to soak up the juices, then add the drained beans, followed by the tomatoes.  Stir well and bring it up to simmering point.  Don't add any salt at this stage – just put the lid on and transfer the casserole to the oven to cook for an initial 1 ½ hours.

Towards the end of that time, stir the pepper in to join the meat and beans.  Put the lid back on and give it a further 30 minutes' cooking.

While the meat finishes cooking, make up the salsa.  Skin the tomatoes by pouring boiling water over them, then leaving for exactly 1 minute before draining and slipping the skins off when they're cool enough to handle.  Then cut each tomato in half and, holding each half over a saucer, squeeze gently to extract the seeds.  Now chop the tomato flesh as finely as possible.

Next halve the avocado, remove the stone, cut each half into 4 and peel off the skin.  Chop the avocado into minutely small dice, and do the same with the onion.  Finally combine everything together in a bowl, adding seasoning, the juice of half the lime, half the chopped coriander and a few drops of Tabasco.

Before serving the chilli, add salt, tasting as you add.  Then stir in the rest of the coriander leaves and the juice of half the lime.  I like to serve this chilli with some plain brown basmati rice.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Russian Cooking" - Pelmeni (Pasta Pouches with Filling) for a decidedly un-St. Patrick's Day, St. Patrick's Day

Date I made this recipe:  March 19, 2015

Russian Cooking by Vladimir Usov; Translated by Irina Avdeyeva
Published by:  Planeta Publishers
© 1996
Purchased at Eat My Words bookstore, Northeast Minneapolis ("Nordeast")
Recipe: Pelmeni (Pasta Pouches with Filling) with Meat Filling – p. 154-156

So.  Tuesday was St. Patrick's Day, a day I would normally "celebrate" – in a cookbook way - by making something Irish.  This year though, I decided to go rogue and make something completely different because:
1)     I'm not Irish.  Not one tiny drop.
2)     My collection contains only two Irish cookbooks and I've used them.
3)     My best friend, Carol a/k/a "Tall" died three years ago on St. Patrick's Day and that changed everything.

So I decided to honor her memory by making something from a Russian cookbook because:
1)     Although she traveled the world, she especially loved Russia and visited there twice before she died.
2)     In fact, shortly after her last trip, a church near her house changed hands and is now a Russian museum.  Coincidence?  I think not! (By the way, I still have trouble imagining a Russian museum in a very Mexican-looking building but real estate is real estate so....)
3)     The night before I flew to NJ to attend an aunt's funeral, I got together with two former Calhoun-Isles Community Band band members at a fabulous St. Paul Russian restaurant, Moscow on the Hill.  Carol was a founding member of my community band and she loved that restaurant.  'Nuff said.
4)     Speaking of band, I bought this book last year at this fun bookstore – Eat My Words – while attending a book signing.  The book – Ride Minnesota – was written by another former band mate, Cynthia Sowden.  Cynthia's book is a (travel) guide for 23 great motorcycle rides across Minnesota.  If you like "bikes" (as in motorized ones), you should buy it.  Anyway, Cindy's daughter, Beth, was at the signing.  Beth lived previously in Russia.  Years back, Carol and Beth spent some time chatting about Russia.  Small world, right?
5)     Per Beth, this cookbook is very representative of "real" Russian food. So I bought it.  And after sharing a huge bowl of today's featured recipe, Pelmeni, with my friends at Moscow on the Hill, I decided that this was going to be my St. Patrick's Day dish.
6)     Except as these things go, I made this dish on a Thursday instead of St. Patrick's Day which was on Tuesday.  Oh well.

So that's the long and the short of how I came to make my non-St. Patrick's Day meal. 

As to the cookbook, most of the recipes were relatively easy but a few posed challenges mostly because of ingredients, for example, a soup with nettles (Shchi with Nettles – P. 40); Rassolnik with Poultry Offal – so NOT going there – as well as several dishes for goose.  I don't really like goose plus where would I find it at this time of year?  A few of the dishes also called for pork fat and while I supposed I could have rendered a couple of slices of bacon, that was too much work.

Other recipes though, appealed such as salads, some beef and pork dishes (without the pork fat) and the pastries.  There's a Russian Orthodox Church at the end of my block that hosts two bake sales per year and honestly, I about bought out the place the last time I went.

But.  I had my heart set on the pelmeni and there it was.  Except, of course, that there was no way I could duplicate at home what I ate at the restaurant.  None.  At one point, when Andy and I were trying to seal up these little pouches, I jokingly threatened to bring everything over to Moscow on the Hill so they could do it for me!  I'm sure they would have been thrilled.

None of the recipes gave a serving size and had I realized how many this made, I would have halved the recipe as we still have a bit leftover.  In fact, this book seems very Russian – no narratives, no helpful hints, just straight-up recipes, ingredients and cooking times.  Beth wasn't kidding when she said it was very authentic!

And because the recipes were light on the tutorial, it took us a while to figure out just how big and how thin the dough should be for these dumplings. And even then, we ended up with some that were a bit doughy that might have been better served by boiling them longer...or not.  Hard to say.  So be en garde for inconsistent dough thickness.

As to the filling, I froze the leftover filling as the yield on that was also large.  I liked the filling but wished it had just one more ingredient for balance. I'm not sure what but honestly, I kept thinking "parsley!"  Maybe that's where the St. Patrick's Day green could have come in?  I also probably got a bit carried away "mincing" the meat mixture in the Cuisinart as it ended up to be more paste than minced and that might have also thrown the filling-to-dough ratio off.  In the end, I ate more filling than the dough but honestly, I do the same to ravioli as well.  And cupcakes.  I love the frosting, love any filling that's included but not so much the cake itself.  I am sure I am not alone in these preferences.

Now ever since I started this blog, I decided that in order to even attempt to make my way through my cookbook collection, I would need to limit my recipe selection to one per book.  And I make each recipe faithfully according to the directions.  Andy's only issue with my "one and done" method for cooking for the blog i.e. making the recipe once only, exactly as directed, is that I don't allow for tweaking which may (or not) vastly improve the outcome the next time around.  But as he knows, if I were to rework all the recipes I've tried out for this blog, I would never make my way through my collection even though I am already ridiculously behind, having cooked from only 527 of my 2,060 book collection.  But when the goal is to keep cooking and keep collecting, well then it hardly matters that I've only sampled a quarter of my cookbooks.

Prep time for this dish is estimated at 1 hour and 30 minutes and I don't think it took that long but you will need to reserve enough time to make the dough, roll it out and fill it.  The filling itself took minutes!

Pelmeni (Pasta Pouches with Filling) – serving size not listed
For the dough
2 cups flour
½ cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 egg
Salt to taste

For the filling (meat)
10 oz beef
10 oz pork
 1 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
2/3 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream (optional) for garnish

Ann's Note:  it's unclear whether the beef and pork should be pre-ground or not.  I bought it (raw) already ground. 

Optional fillings (untried)
Pelmeni with Fish
1 lb filleted fish
1 onion
2 tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Pelmeni with Mushrooms (untried)
5-6 dried mushrooms
½ cup rice (cooked)
1 onion
2 tbsp butter
Salt to taste

To make the dough:
Heap the flour on the table, make a hollow on top, pour in the egg, water and milk, work into a dough. At the end, add the vegetable oil.

Roll the dough out thinly, cut out small rounds (about 2 inches in diameter), or divide the dough in three even portions and roll each into a plait about an inch thick, then cut crosswise to the size of a walnut and roll out the rounds from individual pieces.

To make the Meat filling:
Mince the beef, pork, onion and garlic in the food processor, season with salt and pepper, add the milk and mix well.

Place a teaspoonful minced meat on each round, fold over and pinch the ends together to make a half-moon.  Set the prepared pelmeni aside on a floured board as you go along.  Pelmeni can be stored frozen in the fridge, if not used immediately.

Lower the pelmeni one by one in salted boiling water; serve as soon as they surface, with butter or sour cream.

To make the other fillings:
Fish - Wash and mince pike, cod or other fish fillets in the food processor together with the onion, twice; add salt and pepper, spoon over the butter and mix well.

Mushrooms – Soak the mushrooms beforehand; cook, chop finely and fry lightly.  Add salt, the previously sautéed chopped onion and cooked rice.  Mix.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"The Artful Pie" - Ultrasmooth Chocolate Malted Pie for "Pi" Day 2015

Date I made this recipe:  March 14, 2015 (3/14/15—Pi Day!)

The Artful Pie – Unforgettable Recipes for Creative Cooks by Lisa Cherkasky and Renee Comet
Published by:  Chapters Publishing Ltd.
ISBN:  1-57630-022-6
Recipe:  Ultrasmooth Chocolate Malted Pie – p. 74-75 (Art: Doris Keil-Shamieh, Jefferson, Maryland.  Collograph print collage)

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy – it's Pi Day! "Pi," not to be confused with "pie," is the mathematical calculation of 3.14159 etc. etc. etc.  So last year, we all celebrated "Pi" day on 3/14/14.  This year, we get to do it again on 3/14/15.  I'll be curious to see if we round up next year so as to sneak in one more celebration on 3/14/16 (3.14159 rounded up to 3.1416).

So naturally, I had to make a pie, right?  And yet finding just "the right" pie was not, as the saying goes, as easy as pie.

For starters, I almost killed myself pulling Rose Levy Beranbaum's, The Pie and Pastry Bible, off my top shelf.  That was one heavy book that set the entire bunch of books next to it tumbling.  This book is signed by Rose, who I've met, and is a wonderful book but all my favorite pie recipes in this tome were more autumnal and so I made a mental note to check back in closer to Thanksgiving.

This left a few more books, one of which was this one – The Artful Pie.  This book is fun because various artists contributed the artwork that lines the pages (and serves as a very fun backdrop/placemat for the featured pies).  The art is very fun and definitely appealed to my husband who is both the "pie guy" in our house – both for eating and making the pies – and an art aficionado. (He also rocks at math so he's got a lock-n-load on the whole "pi" thing.).  Anyway, this time around, I thought I'd give my pie guy a break and make the pie myself.  Translated, this means "no complicated recipes, the likes of which my guy likes to tackle."  He may be the pie guy but I'm the one making it and posting it to my blog so it had to be good.

Okay, so now that I had selected the book, it was time to select the appropriate (read:  easy) recipe.  When I pulled this book off the shelf (without casualties), I noticed several post-it notes on various pages so either Andy or I or maybe both considered using this book in the past.  But this time through, none of the previously-selected recipes did anything for me.  So time to start over.

As with Beranbaum's book, several of the pies were either too summery (and while we're warming up, we're not there yet) or too wintry.  And so out of the list of 36 pies, I came up with four potential candidates, all of which were relatively simple to make:  "Maple Sugar and Cream Pie" – p. 32; "Ultrasmooth Chocolate Malted Pie" – p. 72; "Ricotta Nut Crunch Pie" – p. 104 and "Black Bottom Pie" – p. 124.  And then Andy, whose birthday was 3/1 (and boy, what a memorable day that was as we got stranded in Newark's airport), decided he wanted chocolate so it came down to either the "Ultrasmooth Chocolate Malted Pie" (he loves malts) or "Black Bottom Pie."

In the end, it was all decided at the grocery store.  Whereas the "Black Bottom Pie" sounded good, it has a lot of ingredients, one of which was Zwieback crackers.  I've heard of them, never used them, but was sure I'd easily find them in the grocery store.  I did not.  So this tipped the scales to the malted pie.

One of the main ingredients for the malted pie was chocolate wafers.  I knew exactly what I was looking for and found them at Byerly's grocery store.  Byerly's is an upscale grocer and when I looked at the price (over $5), I thought I'd get them cheaper when I went to Rainbow, a decidedly NOT upscale grocery store.

And so I went to Rainbow to get that and other basic ingredients for the malted pie and was dismayed to find out that while they used to carry them, they no longer did.  So this required one more trip to a grocery store that did carry them.  And that meant I had to either backtrack to Byerly's or hike over to Kowalski's about a mile away.  Either way, I was peeved both with the store and myself ("A bird in the hand...").  Thankfully, Kowalski's had two packages left of the chocolate wafers or I would have been extremely irked.  Mind you, Target was closer than either of these two but you can't depend on them to carry stuff like this although they should as these wafers are the base for every type of black-bottomed pie, like Grasshopper Pie, known to man.  And who doesn't love Grasshopper Pie...except me? (Seriously. Can't stand mint.  Can't.)

Okay then, so I got all the ingredients together and assembled this pie in short order and then put it in the refrigerator to chill. The instructions tell you that the chocolate filling will be the consistency of pudding and that's exactly how it was when I pulled it out of the fridge for serving – pudding.  So forewarned is forearmed:  it's a rather messy pie to cut and serve but very, very tasty.  And Andy was a happy camper and so that's all that mattered.

So one more word about an ingredient before I set you loose on this sucker:  "malt powder."  If your grocery store carries this, you should be able to choose between "original" and "chocolate."  "Original" is cream-colored and chocolate is, well...chocolate.  I had a container of chocolate malt in my cupboard, circa  the year 2000 something but it was as hard as a rock (guess I didn't use it much) – go figure. And so when it came down to purchasing a new container, I hemmed and hawed between the two flavors.  I finally decided on "original" because the recipe did not say "buy chocolate malt powder" but I left it up to Andy for the final word and he didn't care because by this time, where was his pie anyway?? So I saved myself another trip back to Byerly's to exchange one for the other and just went with "original." 

When I posted on Facebook that I was making this pie and would post the recipe later, one of my friends said "So...I'm coming over?" and I said "Oh darn, we were just going out for a bite to eat."  And we did.  Since Andy's actual birthday was a comedy of errors, he wanted to go to a fun restaurant near our house, Sonora Grill.  So we went and ate really good, "nouveau" Spanish/Argentinean cuisine, washed down with tequila (me) and a "cerveza" (beer – him).  And then we went home for pie.

This concludes Pi Day, 2015.

Ultrasmooth Chocolate Malted Pie – makes one 9-inch single-crust pie
*24 chocolate wafers (2/3 of a 9-ounce box)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon salt
7 large egg yolks
8 ounces semisweet chocolate (Ann's Note:  the authors suggest you use a high-end chocolate like Tobler or Lindt but I couldn't find anything that was semisweet so I used Nestles.)
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup malt powder (Ann's Note:  as mentioned above, you can buy either "original" or "chocolate.")

*Ann's Note:  this pie crust was almost swallowed up by the filling so if I made this recipe again, I think I'd just the entire box of wafers (not that many are left anyway) and adjust the butter and salt accordingly.

Crust Preparations
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Crush the wafers into find crumbs in a food processor or put them into a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.  You should have 1 ½ cups.  (Ann's Note:  As noted above, you may want to increase this yield).  Put the crumbs, butter and salt into a 9-inch pie pan and use your fingers to mix them together.  Press the crumbs onto the bottom and sides of the pie pan.  Bake for 6 minutes and set the pie crust aside to cool.

Filling Preparations
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks well and set them aside.  Chop the chocolate into small pieces and set it aside.  Scald the cream in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan.  When the cream begins to steam, stir in the chocolate until it has melted completely.

Very gradually, pour the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks, stirring continuously as you pour.  Pour the filling mixture back into the saucepan and set it over low heat.  Continue to cook the filling, stirring it constantly, until it is steaming and has thickened to a puddinglike consistency, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Do not let the filling boil.

With the mixture off the heat, stir in the malt powder.

Let the filling cool for 10 minutes and pour it into the pie shell.  Before serving, cool the pie completely in the refrigerator, at least 2 hours.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"The American Girl [Girl Scout] Cookbook" - Turkey Bake to celebrate the Girl Scout's 103rd birthday!

Date I made this recipe:  March 12, 2013 – Girl Scout Birthday!

The American Girl Cookbook (Girl Scouts) by the Editors of The American Girl Magazine (not to be confused with American Girl dolls.  Totally different!)
Published by:  Random House
© 1966; original copyright 1960
Purchased from Etsy – blueskylaneshop
Recipe:  Turkey Bake – p. 35

"I've got something in my pocket, it belongs across my face
I keep it very close to me in a most familiar place
I'm sure you couldn't guess it if you guessed a long, long while
So I'll take it out and put it on, it's a great big Brownie smile!"

This is one of the Brownie (first tier Girl Scout) songs that I learned eons ago and danged if I didn't remember the entire thing as I was preparing this recipe!  I am that good.

Yesterday, March 12, 2015, marked the 103rd birthday of the Girl Scouts.  The group was started in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia (I've toured her house) and its inaugural membership of 18 girls has now grown to over 60 million. Hooray Girl Scouts!

I'll have you know that I rose to the ranks of a Senior Scout, one level above Cadet and two levels above Brownies.  My Senior Scout troop's project was to work in a nursing home and boy, do I have entertaining adventures from that stint.  But that alone could take all day and we don't have all day.

My favorite memories as a Brownie center around making sit-upons.  To make a sit-upon back then, you cut out two squares of vinyl or shelf paper, punched holes with a hole puncher all the way around the squares, put a magazine in between and then used yarn to seal the thing up.  Mine, of course, was outstanding.  We used this sit-upons for story time around the campfire.  I also remember making an art project using a paper plate that we painted with Artex paints (a very big deal back then).  This project was not so amazing but my mother saved it for me anyway, bless her heart.

Then there was my long stint as a Girl Scout and those were the really, really...really fun years.  As a Girl Scout, we got to go to Day Camp, held at an elementary school just down the hill from my house that was situated on the shores of Lake Superior.  When I got older, I and some of my friends, assisted the swimming instructor, "Kewpie" Cage, with the younger kids.  We roped off a swim area with empty Clorox bottles and rope and I recall doing so one time when it was really rainy and cold.  My grandmother was visiting from the east coast at the time and when I came home with purple lips, she was convinced I was bound to die from pneumonia.  "But grandma, it's not that bad once you get in!!!"  She told me in Sicilian what she thought of that excuse!

At Day Camp, we also raised and lowered the flag every day and it is not every gal who can tell you how to properly fold a flag, no sir!  Plus, I got to learn Taps which we sang as the flag was lowered.  I remember Mrs. Shaffstall, a friend of my mother, was Camp Director for several years.  My mother was also a troop leader as were several other women in town, all whose signatures appear in my Girl Scout manuals, signing off on my badge completion.  You should know that I was on a mission to acquire as many badges as I could (for the sash, don't you know) and many of them are for outdoor or nature activities.  This was clearly before I decided that my life's motto was "Nature is NOT your friend."  I jest not.

No Day Camp would be complete without learning to build a fire and then make S'mores.  And "Hobo Stew" – ground beef, onions, carrots, potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil then baked in a camp fire until everything was cooked.

Eventually, a handful of us became Cadets and I don't think it's a stretch to say that we were likely the most misbehaved Cadets ever!  We constantly got into trouble, most notably during a stint at Girl Scout camp.

Naturally, as these things go, the camp I was set to attend – Timber Trail – closed just before my troop was to attend. I so wanted to go to Timber Trail because they had bunk houses.  But no.  Instead, we went to Camp Naubinway, out in the woods, where we had to pitch a tent.  Hated it.  And then we had to build our fire daily and that would not have been a bad thing but my gawd, was I bad with a hatchet (and saws and hammers), or what?  And so were some fellow campers.  Collectively, we kept the camp nurse busy. So long story short, the camp director (who absolutely hated the "Munising girls," Munising being my home town), took away our hatchet and our saws and whatnot, prompting me to write a letter to my parents along the lines of "We are starving.  We are starving because we can't cook our food.  We can't cook our food because we can't cut any wood for the fire.  We can't cut any wood because we don't have our hatchet.  We don't have our hatchet because..."

My parents cracked up laughing and saved that letter that is now somewhere in my house.  Unfortunately, it didn't sway the camp director our way and she only gave back our tools at the bitter, bitter end of camp. 

This was not our only sin though.  For some reason, instead of our regular troop leader accompanying us to camp, we got Nora, the substitute G.S. leader.  Nora was just a tad older than we were.  Nora was fun.  Nora let us skip out on activities like tree pruning.  My group of Girl Scouts?  We didn't do tree pruning.  Ever.  So Nora took us to get ice cream.  And when we got back, we all got busted by our Camp Director who had absolutely no. sense. of. humor.  And for our penance (she should have been a nun), she made us go refill the water jugs (5 pounds each) from the pump down the road.

Not. A. Problem.  We piled in Nora's car and went down to fill up the water bottles, dropping them off at each separate campsite.  But when we got back to our own site, there was the Camp Director looking all pissy and everything and she made us dump out the water and then WALK back to the pump and then WALK back carrying two five-pound jugs each.  To this day, I'm convinced my arms stretched during this process.

And those were just the camp highlights!  Post-camp, we had another run-in with the Camp Director while attending a Cadet conference in a nearby town.  This required us to stay at a hotel where we were told most explicitly not to take the elevator up further than our floors because a) the bar was at the top floor and b) (visiting) hockey players were on the floors above us, staying overnight before their game against a local semi-pro team.

So let's review:  you have hormonally-charged high school girls staying at a hotel with a bar and hockey players?  Is this not a "recipe" for disaster? Yes, Virginia, it was.

And so of course we rode the elevator to the forbidden floors and thought we were doing so well until we go to the Crow's Nest bar on the top floor.  The elevator opened and of course, standing there was the (former) Camp Director.

There is no God.

And for this infraction we were – and I am not kidding – put on "house arrest" for the rest of the weekend, with various and assorted Girl Scout directors taking turns staying outside our doors.  I'm laughing as I write this....

Given our infractions, you'd think that the Girl Scouts would deny us the "promotion" to Senior Scouts but we must have slipped through the cracks.  Six of us volunteered at a nursing home, feeding patients and just keeping them company and that turned out to be a fun and rewarding project...although not without stories that I'd best keep to myself since I'm not sure various statutes have run on our minor infractions (such as doing wheelies in the hallways with the bed trays).  I think we were done with Senior Scouts around 10th or 11th grade or so – maybe earlier – and then my time as a Girl Scout came to an end.  Sad, really.  I loved being a scout.

During the time I was a Girl Scout, I received The American Girl Magazine and recall reading it cover to cover although I had long forgotten that this was a Girl Scout publication.  Still, when I saw this cookbook on Etsy, I knew I had to have it. 

As you might imagine, the dishes here are simple recipes that any young girl or boy (or adult) can make and the recipes are pretty representative of the times, using basic ingredients and not a lot of spices.  For whatever reason, the Girl Scouts seem to have a thing for green peppers, found in many a recipe (maybe it's to match the uniforms?) but I am not as fond of a green pepper as I am for red/yellow/orange peppers so I substituted.

 I should not have been surprised – and yet was – that a Girl Scout cookbook contained a few recipes for "aspic" (basically a savory Jell-O mold) such as "Tuna Surprise" – p. 30 ("Surprise?" No kidding!) and "Chicken in the Mold" – p. 31.  These dishes seem very adult...and not very tasty at that.

Not surprising though, were recipes that used potato chips or chow mein noodles as those two ingredients were extremely popular with all ages.  Plus, this was a 60's cookbook after all when chips and chow mein noodles were practically required ingredients, especially the chow mein noodles for those "Chinese dishes" everybody made.  Yeah, right.

Sadly, the Outdoor Cookery section did not contain my Hobo Stew or S'mores.  And they call themselves a Girl Scout magazine.  Sheesh.

At any rate, after careful perusal of the book, I decided on the very easy yet tasty Turkey [Noodle] Bake.  This is my type of food as noodles + anything = really the way to go.  A quick stop at the grocery store netted me a couple thick slices of deli turkey breast which I then diced and added to the other ingredients.  And it contained a can of cream of mushroom soup which, although not a Girl Scout go-to ingredient, still warms my heart as any decent casserole is made with cream of "X" soup.  I do believe that is a law here in Minnesota.  Best to check...

So Happy 103rd Birthday, Girl Scouts from your very proud - if not a little bit of a miscreant -alumni!

Turkey Bake – makes about 4 servings
¼ cup chopped green pepper (Ann's Note:  I used red)
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
½ cup sour cream
1 (10 1/2 –ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups cooked noodles
1 cup diced cooked turkey
½ teaspoon paprika

Ann's Note:  I just chuckled at the mention of paprika, used here as a spice.  When I was growing up, paprika was sprinkled over cottage cheese (and sometimes peaches) to give it a little color and that was all it was used for.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

"The Holiday Inn International Cook Book" - Beef Stew from the Holiday Inn in Ames, Iowa

Date I made this recipe:  March 8, 2015

Holiday Inn International Cook Book by Ruth Malone
Published by:  The Holiday Inn Magazine
© 1962; Seventh Edition
Purchased at Etsy
Recipe:  Beef Stew from the Ames, Iowa Holiday Inn "on U.S. 69 & 30 off I-35"- p. 137

Dateline:  Holiday Inn, Kokomo, Indiana, spring 1968

When I was in 4th grade, my parents decided to take what would be the start of an annual spring break family vacation (never mind that I didn't technically get one) and set out from Michigan for Key West, Florida and then from Florida to New Jersey to visit my grandma and then New Jersey to home.  Grandma lived with my dad's sister, Rose, and her family, and this trip was our once-a-year trip to visit that side of the family.  It was the prefect vacation, particularly because it started my love affair with Holiday Inn hotels.

On the first day of our vacation, we drove to Kokomo, Indiana, arriving there at nightfall, beckoned by the glow of the Holiday Inn sign, the one that had an arrow that kept lighting up, pointing to the hotel, as well as a star burst on top (see below).  I was enraptured.

Inside our room – the most capacious thing I'd ever seen – was a directory of other Holiday Inn hotels, free for the taking.  So of course we took that with us and kept taking it in subsequent years, adding other hotel guides along the way, for example, Best Western when we took a trip west.

And so on every day of every trip, including the Florida one, my younger brother and I (mostly me) drove our dad crazy by whining about wanting to stay at a Holiday Inn with a pool (had to have a pool—what a treat!), something I don't think the Kokomo Holiday Inn had.  It mattered not to me that the hotel with a pool was 500 miles away because hey, I was in 4th grade and had no idea that 500 miles was not something covered in a few hours time.  But dad did so there you go:  "No! We are not driving to that Holiday Inn."  "But daaaaaaaaaaaaddddddddd."

Side note:  can you imagine if the Beach Boy's song "Kokomo" would have been released in 1968 instead of 1988?  Talk about driving my dad crazy!  It's such a catchy tune...and so fitting!

Dateline:  Newark Liberty Airport, Newark, New Jersey, Sunday, March 1, 2015 (also known as hubby's birthday)

On Friday, February 27, 2015, Andy and I flew to Newark, NJ in order to attend my dear Aunt Rose's funeral – she who was mentioned above – the next day in Middlesex, NJ where she lived most of her life.  Aunt Rose was 96 years old and outlived my dad (her brother), her parents, her husband and two out of three children. She was a beautiful woman, inside and out, and we were happy to be able to attend.

And it was all good with the trip until it wasn't which is to say until it started to snow.  This happened about noonish on Sunday afternoon, March 1st, when Andy and I were having brunch in NYC with some friends.  By the time we set out in our rental car to return to Newark a few hours later, it was snowing to beat the band.  And long story made short, our 7:30 p.m. flight back to Minneapolis was canceled and rescheduled for the next evening.  This meant we had to find a place to say near the airport that had a courtesy shuttle.  And this proved to be no easy feat.

So we rushed, as did half the people in the airport to the "bat phones," i.e.  courtesy phones at the airport, to try to secure said hotel room and from that point on, hilarity ensued.  I got on one phone and dialed #10 which allegedly connected me with the Marriott Newark. I like Marriott's hotels and the directory information said it was the only hotel on the airport premises so this seemed like a good idea to me.  Meanwhile, Andy started calling from the top of the list to see if he could get first fender in someplace else.  I won.

So we walked outside among the masses of people waiting for their courtesy vans, and within minutes, we spotted the maroon van for the Marriott and away we went.  (Please note that the van's color – maroon – is very important.) We were the only ones on the van and had a great time chatting with the driver (who also offered us water – how nice!) and within minutes we were there.  And the place was gorgeous with a beautiful fire place, a bar and restaurant and an attentive front desk staff.  What could go wrong?

Plenty.  Turns out that we were booked at the Courtyard Marriott.  The Courtyard Marriott runs a green courtesy shuttle and it ran every 30 minutes.  The fancy Marriott's shuttle ran every few minutes.

Dejected, and embarrassed even though the booking person NEVER said anything about the Courtyard Marriott, we hopped the very nice shuttle from the wrong Marriott back to the airport.  And waited, and waited AND waited for the green van.

Meanwhile, the fancy Marriott's maroon van came by several times as did the Hilton and the Holiday Inn Express (the topic of today's discussion). Over and over and over again, they came along, picked up more stranded passengers, ferrying them to the hotel in question to drop them off.  Still no green van.

By this time, the crowds of people gathering for a courtesy van were getting larger and larger and testier and testier.  One hotel's van – I cannot recall which hotel - finally arrived, causing a stampede of people to get on the thing.  But at least 10 people couldn't fit on and holy cow, you would have thought the Titanic was sinking and there was only one lifeboat left, such was the distress of the "stranded" passengers.

Several hotel's vans were really tiny and in one case, barely had room for a mom and her two kids, one of whom was a baby.  The husband, who in charge of the family's 20 pieces of luggage had to stay behind with the luggage while the "women and children first" went to the hotel.

It was chaos.  Nah, make that Armageddon.  And still we waited and waited and waited.  We didn't dare get inside out of the cold and snow because then the van could come and what if we missed it? 

Finally – thank you Jesus – the green van for the Courtyard Marriott arrived.  As did the Holiday Inn Express – again!  We piled on and all fit which was a relief because who wanted to wait another half an hour...besides nobody?

By this time it was almost 9:00.  At no point were we able to get food or drink at the airport because that was upstairs in the gate area and we never got past the "Special Services" area in the basement of the airport where we had to go to reschedule our flights.   In a parallel family moment, my brother's 1:30 p.m. flight, also out of Newark, got cancelled and he flew standby for the 8:15 a.m. flight the next day.  He decided to sleep in the gate area.  Had we known, we could have all bunked together but 'tis not the Verme Family way to be that organized!

When we got to the hotel, to our right was a bar and restaurant that was open for another hour.  To our left, the front desk.  And I swear, for one, brief moment, every passenger on that van paused to ponder these choices: check in, pass "GO" and head to the room or check in later and proceed immediately to obtain a beverage and a tidbit.  Tough call, that one.  I was just happy to see a bar.  And food.  But particularly a bar.  Just sayin'.

The hilarious thing about this is that Andy and I had just checked out of a Courtyard Marriott in Somerset, NJ where we stayed for my aunt's funeral.  Had we known all this (i.e. had we had a crystal ball), we could have just made the reservation in advance and not had to scramble.  But where's the fun in that?

And so dear reader, although we did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express that night, I had a great time recalling the magic of the Holiday Inn of my youth, even if it was done while watching the "wrong" hotel courtesy van pass by us several times over.  I told a friend that we should have just hopped on a Holiday Inn Express van just for the hell of it.  Because when those people say "Express," they mean it!

Now then, as to this cookbook, leafing through this is almost as fun as going through the  hotel directory of old except this time it contains recipes.  By the time of the seventh publishing in 1972, the town of Marquette, Michigan, which is near my hometown, had opened a Holiday Inn.  Of their two recipes, only the one for a Pasty (pronounced paa –[like baa]- stee) floated my boat but pasties are a bit of work to make so I passed on the pasty.

Kokomo, Indiana's Holiday Inn recipe for "Talk of the Town Steak" also fell short given that it consisted only of round steak, seasoning salt, liquid smoke and bacon.  I decided not to ruin the memory of my very first Holiday Inn stay with such a simple recipe.

Andy favored the "Creamed Ham and Turkey Au Gratin" recipe from the Holiday Inn in East Lansing, Michigan but given that we had a lot of rich, Italian food, at my aunt's funeral, I suggested we pass.

Several other Holiday Inn recipes also fell by the wayside – some from Minnesota, a few others from New Jersey, Florida and also the Boston area – before we settled on the beef stew recipe from the Holiday Inn in Ames, IA.

I may have stayed at a Holiday Inn in Ames, IA.  I say "may" because the last trip I made to Ames where Iowa State University is located, was almost 30 years ago and the details of the "lodging" were fuzzy.  My best friend, who died almost 3 years ago on St. Patrick's Day, graduated from Iowa State, as did her grandparents, parents, siblings and a handful of friends.  After we met and become friends, she invited me down for a few graduations and friend/alumni get-togethers, and over the years, we added a few others from Minneapolis to our travel posse.  Sometimes we stayed at private homes (once we stayed in a commune) but other times a hotel.  Maybe the Holiday Inn, maybe not.  But in her honor and in her memory, I decided on that the beef stew was going to represent Holiday Inn's everywhere and it did an admirable job.

This is a very simple recipe although patience is required when cooking the beef stew meat so that it gets nice and tender.  The recipe says 1 -1 ½  hours and I say plan on 1 ½.  The vegetables, which are added at the end, stayed nice and crispy but not such that they were raw and the whole dish was pretty tasty.  If anything, it needed a bit of spice but you can cheat and add that on your own as the recipe only called for paprika and salt.

Beef Stew – serves 8
3 pounds boneless beef, cubed
1/3 cup cooking oil
2 cups beef stock or bouillon
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 cups potatoes, peeled & diced
1 ½ cups diced carrots
1 ½ cups tomato paste
1 cup onion, diced
½ cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Ann's Note:  Although I only made half the recipe, you will likely need to add almost 2 cups of liquid so that your broth doesn't boil down.  I started with 1 cup and then added another cup halfway through cooking, making sure to cover the meat.  If making half a recipe, reduce the amount of all other ingredients though, including the cornstarch.

 Sauté beef in oil in a heavy skillet.  Brown on all sides.  Add stock and cook slowly until meat is tender (1-1 ½ hours).  Add seasonings, then vegetables and cook until they are done.  (Ann's Note:  This includes the tomato paste.)  Carefully add thickening for gravy (blend cornstarch in a small amount of water and add gradually to stock).