Wednesday, September 30, 2015

"Sharon O'Connor's Menus and Music Dining and the Opera In Manhattan" - Carrot Soup - Minnesota Opera's opening night!

Date I made this recipe:  September 26, 2015 – Opening Night at the Minnesota Opera

Sharon O'Connor's Menus and Music:  Dining and the Opera In Manhattan – Recipes from Manhattan Restaurants; Opera Arias Selected by the Metropolitan Opera Guild
Published by:  Menus and Music Productions
ISBN:  1-883914-03-5
Purchased at Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) annual sale
Recipe:  Carrot Soup from Cafe des Artistes – p. 33

This past Saturday, September 26th, a friend invited me to attend the opening night of the Minnesota Opera, an event of high elegance to be sure.  Opera buffs take an opera opening very seriously and although the crowd was not as decked out as the Met Opera would be in NYC, we are no slouches when it comes to fashion.

And so, what to wear, what to wear?  I have a couple of evening gowns in my closet but alas, they were last worn circa 2008 and I'm pretty sure that one of them, if not both, would not fit.  So that left me with a "party dress/no party dress" conundrum because while the weather outside was spectacular, the inside temperature with air conditioning was sure to be freezing (it always is) and so hmm...did I want to sit through a 2 hour, 36 minute production freezing or did I want to be warm?

Warm won out.  My compromise was a sequined top over black pants and a jacket with sparkly earrings and a divine little evening bag.  And I was feeling just fine about that until I spotted the veritable fashion week parade going on in front of me:  evening gown, more evening gowns, tuxes, more tuxes, rinse and repeat.  Well if that wasn't discouraging, I don't know what was.

But no matter because besides gawking, we were there to enjoy the opera and I have to say that despite misgivings, the production was fabulous and who would have thunk it?  Ariadne auf Naxos (Ariadne on Naxos) was written by Richard Strauss and his stuff can be kind of odd.  Plus it's in German and I am sorry, but German is not a pretty language.  One could say something like "Your mother is a toad and your dad is a goat" in Italian or French and it would sound pretty but in German?  Not so much.  But we overlooked all that because the story of an opera within an opera was told so well and sung so beautifully and was so funny that we were surprisingly entertained. 

Now this was not my first rodeo at the opera, a musical form I do enjoy although I go sporadically.  The most memorable opera experience I ever had was in Vienna when my husband and I thought we had tickets to the famous and beautiful Vienna State Opera only to find out at the very last minute that our tickets to the Marriage of Figaro were at the Volksoper Wein (Folk Opera House) all the way across town.  Hilarity ensued, such that we could have written a comedic opera about our dash to a different theater, but we didn't.   Anyway, we made it to the opera and were seated after the first act was underway, doing the whole "excuse us, pardon us" drill as we had to climb over several people to take our seats.  And that was just the start of the evening!

Locally, for many, many years, a friend of mine (now deceased) and I used to sit in the audience of the Metropolitan Opera's regional and district auditions in St. Paul where opera hopefuls vied for the chance to go to NYC to compete further to try to win a spot in the Met.  This competition is both intense and incredibly fun to watch and listen to as each year, my friend and I tried to figure out who would win the local series.  We often ran into friends who also liked opera and would compare notes.  Although my notes were often musically-related, I also created my own version of "What NOT to Wear to the Opera," as several hopefuls came out in just disastrous outfits that made us cringe.  Happily, the winners each year seemed to have figured out that to be a diva, one must dress like one. These are words to live by.

Once all the district winners get to NYC, they compete in the semi-finals and then as my dad would say, "Many are called, few are chosen," as the pack is reduced to about 20 of which up to 10 will become grand prize winners.  This process was documented in The Audition (which I have on DVD) and wouldn't you know that one of the 10 winners from that documentary, Amber Wagner, was our star diva in Ariadne auf Naxos.  So now I have to re-watch that DVD to see her go through the process.  I'll tell you this much, if you are one of the winners of that competition, you have survived the equivalent of Marine book camp meaning you can sing and I mean SING and that you are Met-worthy to take your place on the big stage.  Carol and I always said that we'd love to go to NYC to see the final competition but alas, she passed away before we could make plans.

Now I have never been to the Met in NYC but I have visited their gift store several times over because believe it or not, in addition to every type of opera CD you could ever want, they used to carry a series of show-tune CDs that I think they produced and I have almost the entire set starting from the 1920's and ending in 60's; the series also includes the 70's and possibly the 80's but I didn't buy those.  These CDs are no longer produced and it's a darned shame because they contained many great numbers, previously unknown to me and I imagine, to many others.  At any rate, a trip to the actual Met is on my to-do list (for which I will need to lay down some serious jing, but in the meantime, the Minnesota Opera is top-notch and so they will continue to feed my opera-fix for the time being.  (By the way, in NYC, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also referred to as "The Met" but somehow the natives know of what you speak when you refer to one or the other.  I have been to that "Met" several times and was even a member for a while but have yet to get to the "opera" Met.)

And so speaking of feed, this book – Dining and the Opera in Manhattan – is a hoot because people, almost every recipe either contained expensive ingredients (lots of lobster and caviar to be sure) or was cumbersome to make.  And I was almost ready to throw in the towel on this book and relegate to the "Never going to cook from it list," when I went through it for a fourth time and decided on the very easy, very yummy and very inexpensive carrot soup from the restaurant, Cafe des Artistes which operated in NYC from 1917 until 2011 when a new restaurant took its place.  Like almost all the restaurants listed in this book, Cafe des Artistes catered to what my parents called the "hoi polli" i.e. wealthy folks.  Other restaurants of interest (from 1994, the year this was published) are Felidia Ristorante, The Four Seasons, Le Bernardin and Le Cirque.  All four of these restaurants are currently in operation.  All the restaurants provided a menu but I decided to just make the soup and in fact, put it on the stove Saturday night so I had time to eat it before leaving for the opera's 8:00 performance.  Also included in the book are "Music Notes," suggestions on what to listen to along with a brief description of the opera so you can follow along at home.  Suggestions included here range from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte and Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute, a production I've seen several times over); another Richard Strauss production, Der Rosenkavalier; Charles Gounod's Faust; Handel's Giulio Caesar (Julius Caesar) and Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, a Minnesota Opera production that I went to a few years ago with another friend.   If I had more time, I would have listened to more of the music recommendations but alas, there are more cookbooks to be cooked from and very few available hours to do so and so we march on (just like the opera, Aida – I reference the Triumphal March - complete with elephants!).

Carrot Soup (Potage Crecy) – Makes 6 servings
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ pounds carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2 large boiling potatoes, peeled and diced
2 shallots, or 1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of sugar, or to taste
4 cups veal stock, chicken stock, or canned low-salt chicken broth
Minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley for garnish
Fresh chervil leaves for garnish

In a heavy 6-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the carrots, potatoes, and shallots or onion and season with salt, pepper, and sugar.  Reduce the heat to very low, cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, or until the carrots are very soft, almost a puree.  Stir in the stock or broth and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Force the soup, in batches, through the finest blade of a food mill set over a large bowl, until pureed and smooth.  Alternatively, puree in batches in a blender or food processor.

Return the soup to the saucepan and place over low heat until warmed through.  Adjust the seasoning and garnish with the parsley and chervil.  Ladle the warm soup into bowls and serve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"Cooking the South American Way" - Beef Empanadas - in honor of Pope Francis' visit to the US

Date I made this recipe:  September 24, 2015 – Pope Francis Addresses Congress                   
 Cooking the South American Wayeasy menu ethnic cookbooks by Helga Parnell
Published by:  Lerner Publications Company
ISBN: 0-8225-0925-3
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Turnovers/Empanadas with Beef Filling/Relleno de Carne Picada from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile

Well, His Holiness, Pope Francis, addressed Congress today, the first Pope to ever do so and that occasion certainly calls for Latin American Empanadas, does it not?  Si!

If you haven't had empanadas before, think of them as savory turnovers.  Although they can be made with fruit filling, the most popular filling in Latin America is the beef filling included here, "Carne Picada."  If you've ever had Puerto Rican Picadillo, this filling is very similar.

So Pope Francisco comes to the Vatican by way of Argentina, his native country, although he was born there to Italian immigrants.  The guy is a huge hit world-wide, and, if you ask this very lapsed Catholic, a breath of fresh air.  I can summarize how all the Popes (and bishops and priests and nuns) looked when I was in grade and high school with one word:  "stern."  Some might say "pissed."  Okay, I might say "pissed."  Religion was a serious, serious thing back then, just ask the nuns who taught in the schools.

Back when I was in school (and even before), having a photo of the Pope du Jour was a very popular thing and if memory serves, my grandma had a photo of Pope Paul VI in her room.  Missing though, was a photo of the Pope and JFK the first and so far only Catholic to occupy the White House.   Now grandma was not a snob but she was Sicilian and therefore, an Italian Pope made sense to her so I shouldn't have been surprised – but was – when it was announced that Pope John Paul II from Poland was elected Pope.  Maybe JFK and his Irish background were too much for her to post his photo?  Who knows.

Now I can never, ever think of any pope without thinking of Father Guido Sarduci's (a character on Saturday Night Live) sketch "Find-a the Pope-a in the Pizz-a."  My late friend, Carol, used to laugh about that all the time.  The gist of the sketch was that we were supposed to find photos of Pope Paul VI scattered amongst the pepperoni.  Tempting as it was to make a pizza, I've "been there, done that" so instead opted for something from South America.

My first taste of Empanadas came when I was in college.  I was a Spanish minor – long story, that one – and my instructor and some other Spanish-speaking residents near my university formed a Spanish club that met once a month.  The food was fantastic as everyone brought native dishes and so we sampled fare from Uruguay, Chile, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Spain just to name a few.  Empanadas are big in South America and making them for the Pope seemed as natural as serving spaghetti.  And by the way, although the author of this book, Helga Parnell, moved from Germany to the US, landing eventually in St. Paul, she had help with recipe development from Zila Oliveira of Brazil, Stella Piazza-Ercole of Argentina and Guillermo Moreno of Chile.

This cookbook is part of a series  of "Cooking the XXXX [insert country here] Way" books, a few of which are also in my collection.  All the recipes looked really good but I was determined to make something from Argentina and this fit the bill. And, as the cover says, these are "easy menu" recipes.  And while this was true, this recipe wasn't exactly without peril.

Let's talk about the dough.  The recipe calls for flour, baking powder, butter or margarine, water and eggs but no salt, and I cannot believe I'm saying this, but the dough needed salt.  So I looked at a couple other recipes online and yes, they all had salt.  So this made me then ponder further whether or not "salted butter" was the intended ingredient rather than unsalted which is what I use almost exclusively (as do most other home cooks).  So while the dough was good, if you make this recipe, consider using either salted butter or adding about 1/8 teaspoon salt (add more to taste) before you finish the dough.

As mentioned above, Puerto Rican picadillo is the same type of filling used for these empanadas and contains ground beef, raisins and olives.  You may raise an eyebrow on that combination but trust me, it's good.  I sampled more than a few picadillo dishes when I was in Puerto Rico (along with tostones which I love) and have made a few dishes at home as well.  The recipe calls for you to simmer the mixture for 20 minutes but trust me, that is too long unless you can maintain a really, really low flame on your burner.  I pulled it off early so I wouldn't end up with torched filling.

And so we had our empanadas and they were good and we watched a few minutes of the Pope in his Fiat Popemobile (loved that) and it was good.  Or should I say "muy bien."

Finally, a few years back, I found a greeting card that just made me laugh as it had a drawing of a Pope on skis (wearing a soap on a rope) with the following greeting:  "Soap on a Rope on a Pope on a Slope."  (Artist:  Glen McCoy) This made me laugh and somehow, given what I've seen of Pope Francis' sense of humor (not stern at all), I think he would be laughing as well.

Enjoy your "papal" empanadas!

Turnovers/Empanadas (from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile) – Makes 8-inch or 16 4-inch empanadas
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons cold butter or margarine
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 teaspoon water
3 eggs, beaten
*Ann's Note:  Unless you are using salted butter, I urge you to add a bit of salt to this dough, 1/8 teaspoon at a time until you reach your salt comfort zone.  Without salt, which most empanada recipes use, the dough tastes a little flat

Beef Filling
½ pound ground beef
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
10 green olives, sliced
¼ cup raisins

To make the pastry, preheat oven to 400.  Sift flour and baking powder into medium bowl.  With a pastry blender, a fork, or two knives, cut in butter and oil until coarsely blended.

Add water and eggs.  Mix until dough holds together.

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  Using a saucepan cover, cut 8-inch circles from dough, and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet.  (Use a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass to cut 4-inch circles if the empanadas will be used as appetizers.)

Place 1/3 to ½ cup of the filling in the center of each 8-inch circle, or 1 heaping teaspoon on the 4-inch circle.

Fold circles in half, moisten edges with water, and firmly press edges together with a fork.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

To make the filling, sauté onion in the oil.  Add meat and brown well.  Add seasonings, mix well, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, add olives and raisins, and mix well.  Spoon onto pastry.  Follow directions above to bake.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

"The Tailgater's Cookbook" & "One-Pot Meals Seventh Annual Readers Best Recipe Cookbook Minneapolis Star and Tribune" - Brats in Beer and Green and Gold Salad

Date I made these recipes:  September 20, 2015 – Green Bay Packers Home Opener

The Tailgater's Cookbook by David Joachim
Published by:  Broadway Books
ISBN: 0-7679-1835-5
Purchased at Powell's – Chicago
Recipe:  Brats in Beer – p. 68-69

One-Pot Meals – Seventh Annual Readers Best Recipe Cookbook by the Minneapolis Star and Tribune
Published by:  Minneapolis Star and Tribune
© 1983
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Richfield
Recipe:  Green and Gold p. 53 (columnist Mary Hart's recipe)

Finally!  Finally, finally, finally, my Green Bay Packers beat those evil Seattle Seahawks in a grudge match at Lambeau Field.  Plus, it was the Packers' home opener so that made it all the more special.

But you would know that at the same time the game was going on (night game), so were the Emmy Awards and this resulted in major channel-flipping on my part.  This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as I've found that sometimes changing the channel means that the Packers get organized and score and that is exactly what they did last night.  I'm somewhat convinced that if I watch them when they're down that this may jinx them and so I will flip back and forth until the danger has passed. (We all have our little superstitions in life and this is mine.)

Given that Wisconsin is know for beer, brats (and cheese), selecting this recipe from The Tailgater's Cookbook was a no-brainer.  But I do take exception to the author's statement "If you're at Soldier Field for a Chicago Bears game or at Lambeau Field for a Packers game, you'll fit right in with these brats on the grill."

For the record, there is no reason to go to Soldier Field for a brat.  None.  Oh sure, if you're a Bears fan, but why would you be?  ;)  By the way, the Packers played Da Bears in Soldier Field last week for the NFL season opener and they beat them.  And this is as it should be. 

This recipe is very easy to make but I used the wrong beer, making the dish a little more tangy (read:  bitter) than it should have been.  If you use a lighter beer like an IPA (India Pale Ale) you'll be fine as the beer flavor will compliment, not overpower the brats. 

And then there's the Minneapolis Star and Tribune newspaper's annual readers [cooking] contest Green and Gold Salad to talk about.  Out of all the recipes I could have made, this one spoke to me because green and gold are Packers colors.  But I was sure tempting fate by making something out of a Minneapolis/Minnesota cookbook seeing as how this state's home team is another Packers rival – the Vikings.  Now, the Vikings played another NFC North opponent, the Detroit Lions, yesterday and won as did the Packers, but if the Packers had not prevailed, then I would have been beside myself thinking that I jinxed my team.  Happily, all's well that end's well.

Although this salad really didn't "go" with brats and kraut and beer, it was tasty and refreshing and it was green and gold so it fit with my theme.  I can be all about themes.

Both cookbooks have a ton of recipes that should float your boat, if not your football.  The Tailgater's Cookbook has a variety of menus geared toward various NFL games, as well as NCAA and even NASCAR events.  Plus, there's a directory for sourcing tailgating gear starting on page 179, and so if you can't find something to like in this book then I just don't know.

The Minneapolis Star and Tribune book – Seventh Annual -  is a compilation of best recipes from readers hinder and yon, including, of all things, a dessert recipe from my former voice teacher, Vicky Mountain.  Vicky won 2nd place in the "Baked Desserts" contest for her "Sinful Chocolate Custard," a recipe I normally would have tried out except I'm feeling a little chocolated out right now.  Back in 1983, the year of this contest, Vicky was teaching at the West Bank School of Music.  She's now voice department chair at MacPhail Center for the Arts (formerly the MacPhail School of Music) and when she's not there, she's gigging in jazz clubs around the Twin Cities area.  I was surprised and yet not to see her photo in the book as she is a great cook as well as an outstanding vocal teacher.  I took voice lessons from her years ago and had a blast. 

Besides Vicky, other notable celebs in this cookbook are Star and Tribune columnists Mary Hart and Al Sicherman, who handled all that was cooking and recipes for the newspaper.  Mary wrote a column in the Star and Tribune paper, "Ask Mary," and Al wrote a column called "Tidbits," in which he would often bring to our attention food items coming to market or comparisons of size, price and taste of those that had already hit the market from companies like General Mills or other big food producers.  Al is also very funny so reading his columns was a high spot to many a dull day.

Speaking of dull, while baseball can get kind of snoozy from time to time, I dare say that there is not an NFL team out there that puts us to sleep, even on their worst game day ever.  It's why I love/hate football and why it is the only reason I ever embrace the coming of fall.  And these recipes are a great way to get into the spirit even if your colors are not green and gold (although they should be).

Brats in Beer – makes 10 brats
2 ½ pounds of your favorite fresh bratwurst (about 10 links) (Ann's Note:  the author recommended Johnsonville Brats and don't you know, they are a Wisconsin product.)
2 cups sauerkraut, drained
1 bottle or can (12 ounces) beer  (Ann's Note:  for best taste, use a "light" beer like an IPA – India Pale Ale.  We only had dark on hand and it was a bit bitter.)
1 green bell pepper, cut into short strips
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or vegetable oil, optional
10 crusty sausage or steak rolls
½ cup coarse German mustard

Ann's Note:  This recipe is intended for the grill but it started raining about grill time so I used the stove-top instead, simmering the brats and sauerkraut mixture for 30 minutes only before serving.

Heat grill to medium and let rack get good and hot, about 10 minutes.  Brush and oil rack, then grill brats until nicely browned all over, turning now and then, 15 to 20 minutes total.  Put brats in a large disposable aluminum pan directly on grill.  Mix in kraut, beer, bell pepper, onion, and butter or oil, if using.  Stew in pan (on the grill), mixing occasionally, for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours (for a charcoal grill, add fresh coals every hour or so.)  Serve on rolls with a steaming slew of kraut, peppers, onions, and a thick band of mustard.

If you like your brats with a crisp skin but still want the stewed flavor, reverse the cooking process in this recipe.  Stew the brats in the pan with the other ingredients first; then when you're ready, toss them on the grill until the skins are browned all over and the brats are cooked through. 

Green and Gold Salad – Makes at least 6 servings
1 ½ large heads of Romaine lettuce
3 oranges, peeled and sectioned
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
Orange dressing:
2/3 c. salad oil
3 T white vinegar
1/3 cup orange juice
1 small clove garlic
1 ½ T grated orange peel
1 ½ tsp basil
½ tsp sugar
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Prepare orange dressing by placing ingredients [salad oil, vinegar, orange juice, orange peel and spices] in a blender at low speed for a few seconds.  Refrigerate for 1 hour in a covered jar. 

At serving time, break Romaine into pieces and add oranges and avocados.  Toss with ¾ cup of Orange Dressing.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

"On Campus Cookbook" and "The Campus Survival Cookbook #1" - Pungent Curry Dip and Meat Loaf and Short-Cut Mashed Potatoes for Back to School

Date I made these recipes:  September 13, 2015 – Back to school!

On Campus Cookbook – For the Non-Kitchen CookQuick, easy, inexpensive dishes for hot pots, blenders, and toaster ovens by Mollie Fitzgerald
Published by:  Workman Publishing
ISBN: 0-89480-775-7
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Pungent Curry Dip – p. 51

The Campus Survival Cookbook #1 by Jacqueline Wood & Joelyn Scott Gilchrist
Published by: Quill
ISBN: 0-688-05030-1
Purchased at Hennepin County Library Used Book Sales
Recipes:  Meat Loaf and Short-Cut Mashed Potatoes – p. 90-91

And they're back!  Minneapolis grade and high school students started back to school in late August, college students started back the first weeks of September and now they are all back in the swing of things, studying themselves silly—or so we hope.

We live near the University of Minnesota and over the years have seen an explosion of student housing lining University and Washington Avenues (the main drags).  Sure, there are dorms, but there are also apartments housing all these students and the nice thing is that these apartments give them the opportunity to cook – not that they do, just that they have the opportunity.  And this is a far cry from what I had when I was in school.  (By the way, we watched a student apartment building go up on the corner of Washington and Huron and it is called, I kid you not – "WaHu."  Snort!)

For those of us living in the dorms – a requirement for all freshmen who were not otherwise commuting - we pretty much brought one and only one piece of kitchen "equipment" with us when we moved in:  a (electric) popcorn popper.  This was essential to dorm life as we ate, and ate and ate more popcorn than I care to think about.  That and pizza but we ordered out for that.

Some people had a hot pot to make tea, flavored coffees (just out on the market) or hot chocolate but not many.  It just wasn't a popular item for us.  And PS—even though Starbuck's CEO, Howard Schultz, graduated from my alma mater – Northern Michigan University – four years ahead of me, takeout coffee shops, never mind Starbucks, were light years away from being developed.  Yes, we were dinosaurs.

Mini-refrigerators were in hot demand but those were rented from the university; I can't recall if local stores like Shopko, even sold them but likely not.  I do recall that you had to be at least a sophomore to get your name on the "I want to rent" list and it was first come, first serve.  My roommate and I were tickled to be "awarded" one and used it pretty much to store her mother's delicious baked goods that she made for us on a regular basis (mom lived at an nearby air base).  Actually, the word "stored" is inaccurate, seeing as how nothing we put in there ever lasted that long.  We'd get a knife and start slicing and talking all at the same time until what do you know, the delicious loaf of pumpkin, apple or banana bread or strudel was gone = how did that happen?

During my junior year, I lived in an apartment where my roommates and I ate better but still didn't have much in the way of kitchen equipment.  And during my senior year, I ended up moving back to the dorms – this one intended for junior, seniors and grad students – and there you could either cook in the kitchens on each floor or opt to continue with the school's cafeteria plan which was, of course, horrible, but it was easier than menu planning on your own.

And that about concluded our student cooking endeavors.  If ramen – the staple of students everywhere – was around, we didn't know about it.   The closest anyone came to eating something with noodles in a flavor packet was to make Lipton Chicken and Noodle soup in a hot pot. I recall a few times that the dorm I was living in would host a dinner for T-day or Christmas, but for all I know, it was catered by the school cafeteria, not cooked with our own two hands.  We were too busy studying partying to be bothered, don't you know!

You can tell that times have changed, not only by the heavy marketing stores like Target does for college students, pimping out all kinds of kitchen gadgets that these students just have to have, but also with the publication of more and more "college" cookbooks.  One of the books I'm showcasing here – On Campus Cookbook – features recipes intended for hot pots, blenders and toaster ovens.  Not featured in this book – and that's because it was published in 1984 – are recipes for microwaves, a piece of equipment which has now overtaken popcorn poppers as a dorm/apartment staple.  It's only a matter of time then, until I acquire a "student" microwave cookbook.  (And PS—early microwaves cost a ton of money and also weighed a ton.)

And so to the recipes!  Finding something to make from the On Campus Cookbook was a little challenging because I don't have a blender or a toaster oven.  I do have a hot pot but wasn't in the mood for a "hot" anything given the very warm weather we'd been having.  And so, the curry dip.  One bowl and only a few ingredients works for me. 

The other featured cookbook, The Campus Survival Cookbook #1, broadens the scope of student fare by including menus for different days of the week, as well as "party menus" (well, duh) "survival menus" and "flat-broke" menus (isn't that an oxymoron?) that provide a little something for everybody.  The meatloaf I made was from the "Wednesday, Fourth Week" menu that also included the "Short-Cut Mashed Potatoes" and a "Church-Supper Cole Slaw" (untried).  My only issue with this cookbook is that it was a little hard to read as recipes were crammed onto the page and were in old-fashioned typewriter (remember those?) type.  That said, I flagged several recipes before deciding on the meatloaf and "mash" combination.

All recipes were good and nothing was too difficult so grade and high school kids should consider these as well.  In fact, Food Network's show, Chopped, is currently nearing the end of a teen tournament and last week, had a special college edition.  The requirement for these competitors though, is to transform the ingredients into something spectacular so kids, be thinking about what you can do with curry dip, meatloaf and mash.  "Time!"

Pungent Curry Dip – Makes 2 ½ cups
2 cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons ketchup
3 tablespoons honey
3 teaspoons lemon juice
3 teaspoons curry powder
2 tablespoons very finely chopped onion

Combine all ingredients in a medium-size bowl and stir well.  Served chilled with raw vegetables, such as carrots, celery, cauliflower, mushrooms, cucumbers...

Meatloaf – serves 2
1 ½ lb. ground beef
3 tablespoons chili sauce or barbecue sauce
3 slices bread, torn up small
1 cup milk
1 egg
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup

Preheat oven to 350.  Championship time for mixing this is 3 minutes, if ingredients are lined up.  Mix and bake it all in the same Pyrex ovenware bowl, or in a bread loaf pan.  (Makes excellent sandwiches, too.)

Measure everything except first two ingredients (beef and sauce) into pan or bowl.  Beat with a fork to mix well.  Add ground beef.  Squish everything together with hands until well mixed.  Pat down until smooth.  Cover with chili sauce or barbecue sauce.

Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  (Ann's Note:  more like 1 hour, 15 minutes) to ensure the middle of the loaf is done.  Pour off excess fat before serving.

Short-Cut Mashed Potatoes – serves 2
2-4 medium potatoes
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
¼ cup milk (or more)
Salt and pepper

If you have no proper potato masher, or you just can't face the job, this method will get you there.  But, start these before you get going on Meat Loaf.

Scrub potatoes clean and dry them.  (If you can eat 2 each, use 4.)  Place on center rack of oven.  Now mix Meat Loaf and put in oven.  When potatoes have cooked about 1 hour, feel them.  If soft when pinched or pressed with fingers, they're done.

Cut potatoes open.  Scoop out insides onto plate.  Add butter, milk, and ½ teaspoon salt.  Mash well with back of fork.  (You will need extra butter, milk, and salt if you've used 4 potatoes.)  Add a couple of dashes of pepper, mash and mix.  Serve.

Ann's Note:  I had both regular milk and buttermilk in my fridge but I used the buttermilk for extra flavor.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"McCall's Introduction to British Cooking" - Curried Beef - in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's 63 years on the throne

Date I made this recipe:  September 9, 2015 – Queen Elizabeth II Celebrates 63 years on the throne!

McCall's Introduction to British Cooking, Edited by Linda Wolfe
Published by:  Galahad Books
© 1959 – 1972
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Curried Beef – p. 45-46

Well let's give a Hip Hip and a Hooray to Queen Elizabeth II (a/k/a "HM" – Her Majesty) for beating out her great-great grandmother Victoria, by one day, making HM's reign the longest ever for Britain at a whopping 63 years, 7 months or 23,226 days.  That is positively brilliant, quite, quite!

I am quite the Anglophile and so I've been following HM and her family (a/k/a "The Firm") for eons now and I find her to be absolutely adorable.  Absolutely.  I mean, she's just so cute, is she not, with her hats and her purse and gloves?  That purse reminds me of the one my Grandma Verme carried around although HM's is likely devoid of cough drops (or, as my Sicilian grandma used to say "cough-a drop-as").  No doubt some lady-in-waiting (yes, she has them) is at the ready just in case HM has a coughing fit – rather.

Unfortunately, and please don't tell HM this, British food leaves a lot to be desired.  And although my husband and I enjoyed almost all our food on our trip to England many moons ago (we lucked out), the British cuisine still – and sadly – is um, rather...well, rather not quite up to snuff.

And this is why I always have a difficult time finding any recipe to make from a British cookbook that doesn't make me go "ew."  I mean, these are people who eat broiled tomatoes and what they called "baked beans" (hardly) for breakfast, along with sausage that made my husband almost flee the country.  Also on many a breakfast menu are kippers which is a small and oily herring.  A herring?  For breakfast, eh what?

I can understand this fixation with fish given that it's an island country but fish just doesn't float my boat (pun intended!) nor does mutton which is eaten with great relish and which I also do not like.  Sure, there's beef, but most of the recipes in this book are for ginormous roasts and two people don't need to eat a Fred Flinstone-style rack of anything.

We will not discuss their fascination with kidneys.  We will not.

And so out of the rubble emerged a dish that is loved by most Brits even though the recipes came from former British colonies – curry.  In fact, the minute I decided to make this dish, I could not help but think of "turkey curry buffet" from the movie, Bridget Jones's Diary.    The annual New Year's turkey curry buffet was a critical scene in the movie where Bridget reacquainted herself with former neighbor, Mark Darcy, and his horrible, horrible holiday "jumper" (sweater). 

So.  There's precedent for cooking curry to celebrate special occasions and so why not HM's...well, what do we call this celebration anyway?  "Anniversary?"  "Nah, nah, I won" Day?  "Take, that Vicky?" (I refer to Queen Victoria.)  Well anyway, you get the point. 

This recipe for Curried Beef was quite delicious but in typical British fashion, the apples and onions were cooked so long that they turned to mush.  They tasted great, as did the beef, but seriously Brits, times have changed and there is no need to render your food inedible like you used to.  I mean "mushy peas" are not called "mushy peas" without a reason. 

You should know that this curry recipe is pretty mild and therefore pretty British.  Do not expect tongue-searing heat from this dish as you would in other countries. That is not how it is done and that is that and that is that!  But it's tasty nonetheless and we ate it all (I made a half-recipe) in one sitting.  Well done then!  Smashing!

So congratulations, ma'am, on your anniversary.  I cannot contemplate doing any job for 63 years , much less leading the British people, so kudos to you.  We are quite chuffed about your success! 

Curried Beef – makes 4 servings
½ cup shortening or salad oil
2 pounds chuck, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 cup thinly sliced onion
3 cups pared, cored, and thinly sliced cooking apples
1 can (10 ½ ounces) beef consommé, undiluted
1 ½ teaspoon salt 
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
¼ cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups hot cooked rice

Slowly heat shortening in large, heavy skillet.  In this, brown meat well on all sides; remove.  Then brown onion and apples.

Add enough water to consommé to measure 2 cups; pour into skillet.  Add salt, pepper, curry powder, and meat; cover; simmer 1 ½ hours, or until the meat is tender.

In small bowl, blend flour with lemon juice and a little liquid from skillet to make a smooth paste.

With large spoon, stir paste into rest of liquid in skillet; cook, stirring until it thickens.  Serve on hot rice.

"Picnics" - Chocolate Malted Cake for Labor Day

Date I made this recipe:  September 7, 2015 (Labor Day)

Picnics by Marilyn Myers
Published by:  Running Press
ISBN: 0-89471-583-6
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Chocolate Malted Cake – p. 120

At the risk of repeating myself from another blog, years ago, a co-worker commented that the day after the Minnesota State Fair concludes (Labor Day), the temperature drops by at least 20 degrees and stays there for, well, forever. 

And sure enough folks, the day after the fair, the temperature changed from 90 degrees and humid (very humid) to 70 degrees and not humid.  (Current temperature is 62 degrees.)

I hate this time of year.

And so, a picnic dish is in order to lift our spirits!  And not just any picnic dish but a cake, and not just any cake but a Chocolate Malted Cake.  My husband loves chocolate malts and he spent his Labor Day truly laboring on our house and garage and so he deserved a treat.

This sweet treat is just one part of a menu titled "Before the Mast," indicating, of course, that we should have been out yachting this fine Labor Day weekend.  But kids, we are all yachted out so no go on that theme.  Actually, we don't even own a boat so there's that although we probably should as Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 lakes, don't you know.  Almost everybody we know has a cabin and/or a boat, and weekend bug-outs to go "up north" (often west, but details, details) clog the freeways up and down the state.  The good news is that it is always easier to get into Twin Cities' restaurants during the summer; now that we're into "fall" though, all bets are off.

At any rate, the "Before the Mast" menu contains an "Onion and Ricotta Pie," "Dilled Tomatoes and Cucumbers," the featured recipe – "Chocolate Malted Cake," and "Blush Wine" because what yacht outing would be complete without wine?

Other menus range from "Take a Hike:" Chicken Mole; Cornmeal Muffins; Chewy Molasses Sugar Cookies and Beer, to "Fired Up:" Grilled Lamb; Ratatouille; Green Beans with Basil Dressing; Whole-Wheat Rolls with Sunflower Kernels; Chocolate Malted Cake (so multi-purpose, that!) and Red Wine. 

I had several potential recipes picked out before settling on just the cake and that worked out well.  As it is, I had to wait until the temperature cooled off because no way was I heating an oven when it was already a blast furnace outside.  That said, and here I am repeating myself:  I love summer.  I don't care how hot it gets because summers here are fleeting.  Am I sometimes uncomfortable?  Sure.  I don't care.  In fact, bring it on, the earlier, the better!

As to picnics, this is one of those events that we associate with summer but that need not be the case as picnics work year-round.  Shoot, I've even "picnicked" while on cross-country ski outings but that was a long time ago when I was younger and felt the need to go out and exercise in the winter, what?

This recipe is not very hard but the small challenge I had came with the direction to start with a cold oven.  My oven, and likely yours, has a pre-heat setting and so once I select the temperature and press "Start," it preheats the oven for at least 7 minutes, period.  I do not get the choice to just start with a truly cold oven.  This book was written in 1988, and maybe preheat ovens were not yet popular, but I honestly spent a couple of minutes debating as to whether or not I should subtract the pre-heat time from the total baking time of 45 minutes.  I decided ultimately to go for a full 45 minutes at 350 but I'm not sure that worked.  The cake was moist but seemed just a tad overdone and I bet if I subtracted time, the cake would have been moister.  No matter though, because we snarfed it down anyway.  I mean, it's chocolate malted cake so....

So there you have it, the fruits of my labor on Labor Day.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Malted Cake – makes 8 servings
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons instant natural-flavored malted milk powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
Chocolate icing
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

Ann's Note:  You need to start with a "cold" oven, i.e. do not preheat!

To make the cake:  Butter a 9-inch springform pan.  Line the bottom with a circle of wax paper and lightly butter that also.

Place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy.  Then beat in the eggs one at a time, making sure the mixture thickens and becomes silky before adding another egg.

Sift together or sift the flour, cocoa, malted milk, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to mix thoroughly.  Add half of this to the butter sugar mixture and stir just enough to blend.  Add all the buttermilk and stir until smooth, then blend in the remaining dry ingredients.

Pour this batter into the lined springform pan and set in a cold oven.  Turn to 350F and bake about 45 minutes or until the top is barely warm.  Turn the cake out onto a wire rack and remove the wax paper.  Cool completely.

Ann's Note:  Most ovens have a pre-heat cycle and as mentioned above, I debated about whether or not to subtract my oven's pre-heat time (around 7 minutes) or not.  In the end, I decided "Not" but I think that was almost too much as the cake was not as moist as I was hoping.  It's up to you, just be sure to check your cake earlier than I did mine!

To make the icing:  Place the chocolate and cream in a small bowl over barely simmering water.  When the cream is hot enough to melt the chocolate, stir to blend thoroughly.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter.  Pour the icing over the cooled cake, smoothing it over and glazing the top and sides.

Ann's Note:  There was not quite enough icing for the top and sides so I skipped the sides and concentrated on the top.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Cookin' Up a Storm" & "Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking" - Cheese Coins (crackers) and Creole Corn and Crab Bisque - Hurricane Katrina Anniversary

Date I made these recipes:  August 29, 2015 – Hurricane Katrina's 10 year anniversary

Cookin' Up A Storm – The Life and Recipes of Annie Johnson – Updated 2nd Edition by Jane Lee Rankin
Published by:  Grace Publishers
ISBN:  0-9657387-2-8
Recipe:  Cheese Coins – p. 70

Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking by Emeril LaGasse & Jessie Tirsch
Published by:  William Morrow and Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-688-11284-6  
Purchased at Hopkins Library Used Book Sale
Recipe:  Creole Corn and Crab Bisque – p. 59

Today – August 29 – marks Hurricane Katrina's 10th anniversary when a good portion of New Orleans as well as other places along the Gulf Coast went underwater after a massive storm surge.  Some of those images are forever engrained in my brain and likely yours as well.  I cannot imagine the horror but am cheered that New Orleans is slowly rebuilding – not fast enough - but it's getting there.

Now the title of Cookin' Up a Storm is somewhat misleading as it has nothing to do with Katrina and nothing to do with New Orleans but I liked the title so much that I had to include it in this post.  This cookbook is subtitled "The Life and Recipes of Annie Johnson," domestic help to the Rankin household of Louisville, KY.  As with many southern African-American women, Annie Johnson was a fabulous cook and her recipes here are all basic, delicious, (mostly) southern specialties like the cheese coins I made. 

I love books like this that are half memoir, half cooking and could have easily cooked up my own storm by making all the recipes in this book.  I chose Cheese Coins because they are a southern specialty (I hardly know a southern cookbook that doesn't contain this recipe or one for cheese straws) and I was intrigued by the use of the puffed rice cereal – not to be confused with Rice Krispies.  I know this because I Googled "puffed rice cereal" and saw that it was as I remembered i.e. a lot bigger than Rice Krispies and made by Quaker Oats.  But alas, folks, finding this cereal was like looking for the unicorn.  Four stores later (I am not kidding), we found what we wanted at Lunds & Byerlys.  This is sad because I'm thinking that today's preferences for sugary cereals is why the basics are disappearing off the shelf.  So thank you, L&B!

And wouldn't you know, we both loved these very easy cheese coins and are placing the recipe into our "consideration" pile for our annual holiday party, especially since we know now where to find the rice cereal.  It's the littlest things that please us.

At the same time I was cooking up a storm with the cheese coins,  I started Emeril's bisque recipe.  Our elusive ingredient for this recipe was the seafood broth.  I knew, with certainty, that Swanson made this broth and yet our grocery store no longer carried it so that was another thing to add to the list of treasure-hunt items.  We found that, and the puffed rice cereal at Lunds & Byerlys. Coastal Seafoods, where I stopped to inquire about crabmeat, also sold homemade fish broth but it was more expensive and I would have had to freeze it.  Coastal Seafoods also had lump crab (frozen) but it was more than what I needed and very expensive so I ultimately went with canned crabmeat. All was not lost at Coastal though as they carried the small bottle of liquid shrimp and crab boil I needed so I bought that. 

After rounding up all the usual ingredients, I set to work and the first order of business was to make a proper roux for the bisque.  Epic fail.  While making the first one, I spooned too much flour into the butter and it turned into pie dough.  Dammit!  So I tried again and it was better but still not like the pictures.  This Yankee doesn't get much practice making a roux so that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  Roux is a thickener made with flour and butter (fat) and it thickened my bisque all right to the point that I ended up with chowder.  And folks, I didn't even add all the roux required!  Luckily, this mattered not as the dish was delicious, even if we settled for canned crab meat.

All in all, this was just a lovely repast showcasing the best of southern cooking.  Hurricane Katrina was a very sad event but the resilience of people in New Orleans and other coastal areas is inspiring.  Cooks and chefs of all kinds have rebuilt New Orleans, considered by many to be the culinary capital of America.  May they all continue to cook up a storm.

Cheese Coins – Yield:  4 dozen
 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 pound (4 cups) cheddar cheese, grated
2 cups puffed rice cereal (Ann's Note:  NOT Rice Krispies.  Quaker makes this cereal.)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 375F.

With an electric mixer or by hand, mix the butter and cheese together.  Sift the flour, salt and cayenne pepper together.  Add to the butter and cheese, mixing until a soft dough is formed.  Add the puffed rice by hand or with a spoon, mixing well.

Form 1-inch balls and flatten to make coins.  Place on lightly greased baking sheets 1 inch apart.

Bake in a 375 oven for 15 minutes, or until coins start to turn golden brown.  (Ann's Note:  About 13 minutes seemed right.)

Creole Corn and Crab Bisque – Makes 7 cups, 6 first-course servings
3 tablespoons Roux (see below or see page 5 if you have the cookbook)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup minced onions
1 cup uncooked corn, scraped from about 2 ears
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced celery
1 cup Crab Stock (page 11) or Fish Stock (page 9) (Ann's Note:  or store-bought.  Swanson's makes a fish broth but not all stores will carry it.)
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
3 bay leaves
3 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon liquid crab boil (Ann's Note:  Zatarain's makes this product.)
½ pound (about 1 cup) lump crabmeat, picked over for shells and cartilage (Ann's Note:  Coastal Seafoods in St. Paul had it frozen but way more than I needed so I used – gasp – canned lump crabmeat.)
¼ cup chopped green onions
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
For the roux:
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
1 cup flour

Prepare the roux, set aside 3 tablespoons, and refrigerate the rest for future use.  (Ann's Note:  See instructions below on how to make the roux.)

Heat oil in a large pot over high heat.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and corn and sauté for 1 minute.  Stir in the garlic and celery and sauté for 30 seconds.  Add the stock, salt, pepper, and bay leaves and bring to a boil.

Stir in the milk, cream, and crab boil.  Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Whisky in the roux 1 tablespoon at a time until thoroughly incorporated into the soup.  Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, whisking until the mixture thickens.

Stir in crabmeat, green onions and Worcestershire and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes.

To serve, ladle 1 generous cup of the bisque into each of 6 soup plates.

To make the roux (makes about ¾ cup)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour 1 tablespoon at a time and cook, whisking constantly, until the roux is thick and forms a ball, for about 4 to 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat or incorporate some immediately into a dish you're preparing.  If you prefer, allow the roux to come to room temperature and refrigerate it, covered, for a week or two.