Friday, May 13, 2016

"No Time for Cooking" by Arlene Francis - Sweet and Sour Skillet - for Mother's Day (with a word or "two" about game shows)

Date I made this recipe:  May 8, 2016 – Mother's Day

No Time For Cooking by Arlene Francis
Published by:  Danfoods Co.
© 1961
Recipe:  Sweet and Sour Skillet – p. 29

And so Mother's Day.  This is one of those "holidays" that leaves me overwhelmed because I could go in so many different directions with my cookbook collection in order to honor my mother that I almost have a complete brain shutdown.  Sadly, very few cookbooks are titled something like "Mother's Day Cookbooks" because that would be too easy, right?

That said, I thought I had a cookbook picked out but then changed my mind after watching late night/early morning episodes of the (vintage) TV show, What's My Line, on BUZZR cable station.  And this explanation will be long so get yourself a beverage and get cozy.

BUZZR is one of those stations that I swear just appeared overnight on my cable lineup and it's all about game shows (thus, "BUZZ[E]R") that ran from the mid-50's (shortly after television started become a household item) to the late 80's.

Included in the lineup of shows are three vintage shows that I watched as a kid:  To Tell the Truth, What's My Line and I've Got a Secret.  Mind you, the episodes I'm currently watching are mostly from before I was born but no matter.  I tuned in from an early age and was fascinated even then. 

Actress Arlene Francis, the author featured here today, was one of four celebrity panelists on What's My Line and I think she holds the record for length of appearances – 25 years.  Wow!  I had no idea.

The premise of What's My Line (CBS -1950-1967), as well as To Tell The Truth (1956-1968 on CBS, 1968-1975 in syndication) and I've Got a Secret (CBS -1952-1967), is simple:  a single guest or a panel of guests (2 fake, 1 real) appear before a panel of four celebrities (celebrities at the time the show aired) and the panel has to decide a) who is telling the truth (To Tell the Truth); what someone's occupation is (What's My Line) or what someone's secret is (I've Got a Secret).  The ones who fake out the panel get money. 

The shows are all hosted by celebrity hosts (again, of the era), are all produced by venerable game show producers, Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.  And because they all ran on CBS and because CBS was the only channel we got for a long, long time (in black and white, no less), we watched these shows.

And since these shows were early evening entertainment, the panelists as well as the guests usually dressed to kill.  The women wore beautiful evening dresses (although some might have worn evening gowns) with beautiful jewelry and the men wore suits, often with bow ties that were all the rage. But it was really the women I wanted to see and who I remembered, especially Kitty Carlisle who appeared on To Tell the Truth.

Now, Arlene Francis (today's cookbook author) was quite beautiful yet the person who sticks in my mind as the embodiment of poise and elegance was Kitty Carlisle. She wore the most beautiful gowns, the most beautiful jewelry, never had a hair out of place and spoke so eloquently that it was hard not to fall is line with her. Kitty Carlisle was an actress, singer and a major patron of the arts in NYC.  I believe she was photographed at one of the New York Public Library fund raisers that I discussed in a blog a few weeks ago.  Kitty was married to playwright and theater director, Moss Hart and for some reason, I keep mixing him up with composer Lorenzo Hart of Rodgers and Hart fame (before Rodgers became Rodgers and Hammerstein). I shall have to work on that.  No doubt if Kitty was alive, she'd set me straight; she passed away in 2007.

If Kitty Carlisle commanded center stage on To Tell The Truth, then Arlene Francis did the same on What's My Line.  On that show, whenever they had a mystery guest (i.e. someone famous and recognizable), the panelists had to put on blindfolds and Arlene's was always so fancy in satin and sequins.  Loved that. 

And since we are walking down memory lane, I hope you indulge me a minute as I have to talk about these three shows:

On To Tell the Truth, three people walked onto the stage and then the announcer said "WHAT Is your name please?"  The force with which he said "What" just slays me.  And so all three said "My name is [fill in the blank].  Then the host, in this case Bud Collyer, asked the four celebrity panelists to read along with an affidavit in which the "real" person said what he or she did.  Then the three guests were asked questions by the panel, said questions designed to trip up the fakers by drilling deep into the topic.  Then the panel voted for who they thought was telling the truth, and then the announcer said "Will the REAL [insert name] please stand up?" and the person did and if the panel got all or some votes wrong, the guests got money as well as "lovely" gifts from the sponsor—things like nasal decongestants and deodorants, I kid you not!

Although many guest panelists appeared on the show, the ones I remember the most (and am watching now) were Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Don Ameche, and Kitty Carlisle.  A very young Johnny Carson sat in on the panel a few times as did the ageless Betty White.

One interesting note about this show that ties to this blog:  last week, I was watching an episode and after the real person was revealed, the other two stated their names and what they really do for a living and one of them said "My name is Bunny Day and I'm a cookbook writer" and folks, I almost fell out of my chair.  Bunny Day?  THE Bunny Day? (Do we not love that name?)  Oh my gosh, I have two of her cookbooks and cooked from one of them – Crazy-Quilt Cookery – for this blog.  Wow!  I tell you what, I was impressed with myself that I knew who she was!

On What's My Line, the guest has an interesting line of work, ranging from nuclear physicist to female bull fighter to this hilarious one:  sells glasses to chickens (don't ask) and the panel of four has to guess what that line of work is. Each guest is asked to sign in on a chalk board, then the host reads the name, and then the guest is asked to shake hands with the panel so that they can "get a better look at you" which always stops me short because these are humans, not horses!  But anyway...

Sometimes a famous celebrity appears on the show in which case, they are introduced as a "mystery" guest and the panel has to put on blindfolds.  As I mentioned above, Arlene Francis and fellow panelist, Dorothy Kilgallen, have the most lovely blindfolds; the men stick to basic black eye shades.

Most of the "mystery" guests disguise their voices so the panel won't guess who they are but that usually fails and Arlene is often the one to figure it out.  In one instance, the mystery guest was Wilt Chamberlain and the panel guessed who he was right away, likely because the disguised voice was coming from so high up!  The mystery guest is usually someone who is currently starring in a TV show, movie or on Broadway and the panel often keys questions to ascertain who they are – "Are currently in a movie?"  "Have you just arrived in New York?" and the like.  For the regular Joe Schmoes of the world, questions usually start with "Do you work outdoors?"  "Is a product involved in what you do?," or "Do you provide a service?"  The panel often has a harder time figuring the person's line of work just because it's hard to narrow things down in the allotted time. (And in the case of guy who sold glasses for chickens, the panel finally figured out it had to do with chickens but likely never would have figured out the eyeglass part.  I know I wouldn't!)

The "regular" panelists on the episodes I've watched so far are Dorothy Kigallen, Fred Allen, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf.  The show's host was John Daly.

And then on I've Got a Secret, the guest(s) do indeed have a secret that they whisper to the host and the panel also has to guess at what the secret is. On this show though, celebrities often appear as themselves and then share a secret about themselves to the show's host (Garry Moore, who also helped give actress Carol Burnett her start when she appeared on The Garry Moore Show.)  On one recent episode, actress Kim Novak appeared and her secret was that she designed the dress that panelist Bess Meyerson was wearing.  Backstage before the show began though, Bess told Kim that she hated the dress, not knowing that Kim designed it.  Apparently, it was quite itchy.  Talk about your awkward moment!

And speaking of awkward, the thing I constantly have to keep in mind about these shows is that the panelists often said things we would now consider to be politically incorrect, such as jokes about ethnic groups or even comments about women.  Sometimes the show hits its own "awkward pause" moment and sometimes I create one by gasping at the comment.

The panelists I've seen so far on I've Got A Secret have been Bill Cullen (who later went on to host other game shows), Betsy Palmer, Henry Morgan (not to be confused with M*A*S*H star, Harry Morgan) and Bess Meyerson.  Bess was also Miss  America 1945 and was the first and only Jewish woman so far to win that title.

Now then, you're probably thinking what does any of this have to do with Mother's Day, my mother in particular, or Arlene Francis?  Well kids, my mother loved watching these shows.  I loved watching these shows with my mother, ergo my walk down memory lane.  But these shows also make me reminisce about my mom's sense of style and how she always dressed to impress.  And when I see all these women wearing beautiful evening dresses, I think of her and it makes me miss her and also long for the day when people dressed up.  Yes, jeans and t-shirts are comfy, no doubt about it, but when people dressed up, it just changed the game.  They walked more elegantly, talked more elegantly and looked like a million bucks.  When mom died, I took a lot of her favorite dresses and eveningwear plus some jewelry to few vintage stores so that they could be worn by someone who could appreciate them.  Sadly, I was a couple inches taller than my mom so nothing of hers fit me.  Happily, I kept some of her vintage jewelry and evening bags though and wear them if the occasion fits.

And so just before Mother's Day, I was watching these shows which air early in the morning, one behind the other, and there was Arlene Francis and I remembered that I had a cookbook by her on my shelf.

So asking myself WWML (What Would Mother Like), I perused the cookbook and after much hemming and hawing, decided on tonight's Sweet and Sour Skillet. I'd have to look but I swear I saw a similar recipe in my mom's handwriting on a recipe card in the  card collection I now own.  Mind you, I have no recollection of her actually making it, but details, details.

Aside from the fact that this recipe was easy to make, it was also somewhat healthy; I can't say that about a lot of other dishes in this cookbook.  It's not that they were loaded with calorie-laden ingredients, it's just that my mom leaned toward leaner recipes.  In fact, I know she would not have made this recipe with salami as called for so I substituted ham.

One dish that I almost made was called "Sunday Cassoulet," a fancy name for baked beans with hot dogs but that just felt too heavy even though mom sometimes made a similar dish. And a "Date Drop Cookies" recipe that sounded similar to mom's was bounced because dates are very expensive. Very.  Sorry, mom!

Two dishes that I could have made had I stopped laughing in time for dinner were "Hurry Curry" and "Delicious Quickie" which, of course, is not what you think but rather a mixture of cream of mushroom soup, diced lunch meat, onions and olives over biscuits.  Don't think so.  And I also passed on "Savory Tongue on Toast" because mother would have as well.  Ew.

The last section of this book – "Arlene's Diet Tips" – made me chuckle because my mother also had a diet tip and it was pretty simple:  "Just push yourself away from the dinner table, Ann."  She wasn't kidding and you know what?  It worked!

In the end, Andy and I were quite happy with the dish (which I served over rice) and I think mom would have been happy as well.  And that's what Mother's  Day is all about, right – making mom happy?  In my family, we also had another rule – "Don't Embarrass Mother" but that's another story for another day.

This dish is no embarrassment to anybody so go ahead and make it and if you get the chance, check out these vintage game shows.  I now dream of evening dresses and glittery jewelry...

Sweet and Sour Skillet – Serves 4
2 tablespoons butter or cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ cup green pepper
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 9-ounce can pineapple tidbits, undrained
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 6-ounce package sliced salami, diced (Ann's Note:  I substituted diced ham)
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooked rice, if you wish

In a large skillet melt butter or oil.  Add onion and green pepper and sauté for 5 minutes.  Blend cornstarch and vinegar and stir into vegetables.  Add pineapple tidbits (and juice), soy sauce, salami (or ham) and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, stirring, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Ann's Note:  I served this over rice.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

"Mesa Mexicana" and "Pati's Mexican Table" - Shrimp Ceviche and Classic Avocado Soup for Cinco de Mayo!

Date I made these recipes:  May 5, 2016 – Cinco de Mayo

Mesa Mexicana by Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger with Helene Siegel
Published by:  William Morrow and Company, Inc.
ISBN: 0-688-10649-8; © 1994
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Richfield
Recipe:  Shrimp Ceviche – p. 90

Pati's Mexican Table – The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking (As seen on Public Television) by Pati Jinich
Published by:  A Rux Martin Book/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-63647-4; © 2013
Purchased at The Bookcase, Wayzata, MN (now closed)
Recipe:  Classic Avocado Soup (Sopa de Aguacate) – p. 64-66

May is one busy month.  We have your May Day (May 1st) celebration (which here in Mpls, is held at Powderhorn Park every year), then my late parent's anniversary a few days later, then Cinco de Mayo, the Kentucky Derby, my wedding anniversary, and then before you know it, we'll be looking at Memorial Day.  I'm exhausted already.

And then there's the fact that I was pretty busy in late April making dishes for Queen Elizabeth's 90th birthday and then dishes to honor a late friend's birthday.  So when Cinco de Mayo came around, I almost bagged the whole thing (i.e. cooking) but no.  No, I'm a "professional," I have the cookbooks, I can do this.

And so I did but I kept things simple.  And this was not an easy thing to do because both of these featured cookbooks celebrate the art of scratch cooking and include recipes for things like salsa and other sauces, tortillas (flour and corn) and many other dishes that require just a bit more time than I was prepared to spend. 

And so it came to pass that I made "Shrimp Ceviche" from the Mesa Mexicana cookbook written by two favorite cookbook authors, Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger and "Classic Avocado Soup" from Pati's Mexican Table written by the always delightful Pati Jinich.

In last week's blog about Australian food, I noted that I liked one dish, a salad with shrimp and beets and carrots a lot, but was "meh" on the meat ball soup.  Seems I had a theme going because this time around, I was "meh" on the ceviche but (mostly) thumb's up on the soup.  Go figure.

And now, on to the cookbooks, starting with Mesa Mexicana.  Had I more time, I might well have made another dish and would likely have found it delicious but I was pushing the envelope on observing Cinco de Mayo in a timely manner and so wanted something easy.  This eliminated a good portion of tasty-sounding recipes and so I urge you to give this book a whirl even though the ceviche fell flat for me.

That said, I've never had ceviche before and so maybe I was expecting a different flavor profile than I got?  I am not a huge fan of red onion or cilantro so that may have been it.
(Some people hate cilantro.  I don't mind it but I don't love it either.) And I wasn't exactly enamored with the clam juice so that may have been it.  Or I might have gone too light on the lime juice although I used the amount listed in the recipe. 

What I did like was that you partially cook the shrimp first; I am no fan of raw seafood.  And I liked the lime but just didn't feel it did anything to the dish.  And so this was rather disappointing but not such that I'm hatin' on [authors] Mary Sue and Susan because I'm not.  I just made a mistake in judgment about the recipe this time around.

Whereas folks, the soup fared much better.  It too, contained cilantro but not a lot (plus, I halved the recipe) and all the ingredients combined gave the somewhat bland tasting avocado a bit of zip and flavor.  I like avocado but eating one does not send one's taste buds soaring – just sayin'.  Still, I had some the other night and it seemed like it was missing something.  Maybe more salt or maybe some ground cumin or some other spice because it was good but not great. 

Since I've talked and written about Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger in a previous blog, let's take a moment to talk about Pati Jinich.  I think I first saw Pati on the TV show, The Chew but it looks like she spends most of her time hosting the PBS show, Pati's Mexican Table (the same name as today's cookbook).  Pati is a native of Mexico and I like her style of cooking—clean, fresh, fairly healthy.  What I also like is that we get a chance to sample Mexican food that isn't Tex-Mex in disguise (i.e. more Texas influenced than true Mexican). Like most cuisines, Mexican cooking varies by region. Coastal areas are known for seafood whereas parts of the interior are known for using various cactus and other earthly delights.

If you have more time, these are just some of the recipes I considered:  Mesa Mexicano – "Vegetarian Burritos" (p. 147); "Green chicken Chilaquiles Casserole" (p. 116); "Potato Poblano Soup" (p. 106), and "Coconut Flan" (p. 230).  From Pati's Mexican Table: "Avocado and Hearts of Palm Salad (with corn)" (p. 46); "Chicken Tinga" (p. 140), and "Red Rice" (p. 224).

So that's my Cinco de Mayo story and I'm sticking to it!  Meanwhile, here you go:  Mexican food made simple.  Enjoy.

Shrimp Ceviche – Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer (makes enough for 12 tacos)
Author's Note:  "This simple ceviche is a good choice for entertaining since the fish is partly precooked, eliminating any qualms guests might have about raw fish."

4 cups fish stock or clam juice
1 pound peeled rock shrimp or 1 ¼ pounds small shrimp, shell on
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 to 2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded if desired and finely chopped (Ann's Note:  if you can't find serrano, substitute jalapeno but use a little less)
2 large bunches cilantro, stems trimmed and roughly chopped (Ann's Note:  if you are not a fan of cilantro, use a small amount)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon salt

Bring the stock or clam juice to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.  Add the shrimp and cook 30 seconds for rock shrimp, 1 minute for shrimp in the shell.  (For the marinade to really soak into the shrimp and the texture to remain crisp rather than rubbery, resist any temptation to overcook.)  Strain, reserving the liquid, and spread the shrimp on a baking sheet to cool.  When cool enough to handle, peel the shrimp if necessary.

Combine all of the remaining ingredients with the shrimp and 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid in a bowl and mix well.  Cover with plastic and chill thoroughly before serving.

Variation:  marinate ¾ pound sea bass or snapper fillets, cut in chunks, in ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice until opaque.  Drain and discard the juice.  Combine the fish with 1 cup clam juice and the remaining marinade ingredients listed above with an additional tablespoon or two of lime juice.

Classic Avocado Soup – serves 8 – can be made up to 12 hours ahead, covered, and refrigerated.
From the author:  "I have tasted many avocado soups, but this one, based on a recipe from Dona Maria Rose Marmolejo, the former cook at the ambassador's residence in Washington, D.C. is creamier, lighter, and yet more luxurious than any other I've had."

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped white onions
¾ cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
3 large ripe Hass avocados, halved, pitted, meat scooped out, and cut into chunks
6 cups broth from Mexican chicken broth (p. 87) or canned chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste
¾ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
1 ½ cups Tortilla Crisps (p. 66) or croutons for garnish
1 cup diced queso fresco, Cotija, farmer cheese, or mild feta for garnish

Heat the oil and butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until the butter melts and begins to foam.  Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until completely softened and lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro and cook until it wilts, about 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.

Working in batches if necessary, place the avocados in a blender or food processor, along with the onion mixture, broth, lime juice, and slat, and puree until smooth.  Taste for seasoning.

Serve the soup at room temperature, or chill and serve cold.  Top each serving with some of the tortilla crisps or croutons and cheese, or pass the garnishes in bowls at the table and let your guests customize.

Monday, May 9, 2016

"A Taste of Australian Food and Wine" and "A Taste of the Past - Early Australian Cooking" - a soup and salad dinner for a late friend's birthday observation

Date I made these recipes:  April 24, 2016 for my late friend, Carol

A Taste of Australian Food and Wine by Sally Marden. Photos by Ian Baker
Published by:  Chanel Publishers LTD  Chanel Publishers LTD
ISBN: 0-958208-44-1; © 2001
Purchased at Arc's Value Village, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Warm King Prawn, Baby Beetroot, Roast Carrot and Rocket Salad (with Cardamom and Orange Dressing) – p. 134

A Taste of the Past – Early Australian Cooking by Joyce Allen & Valerie McKenzie
Published by: Reed
© 1977
Purchased at Arc's Value Village, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Meat Ball Soup – p. 80

Well, today, April 24, would have been my late friend, Carol's, 58th birthday and it's always a sad day for me as it's hard to believe she's gone.

And so every year, I try to make something to pay tribute to my fine friend, normally one the day she died – St. Patrick's Day – but this year came and went and so I was on the search for birthday food and/or a birthday dinner theme.

Then quite by happenstance, I was inspired by a trip that a mutual friend, Bonnie, took to Australia.

Carol was always a world traveler and often hit the trail with family and friends on a "course for adventure...(your mind for a new romance."  Theme from The Love Boat.)  She visited Russia twice, Hong Kong once, much of Europe including a trip to Scandinavia, and good chunks of the U.S.  She was inspired, in part, by the need to get out and explore, especially since her family trips growing up were only to Florida and back from her home state of Michigan

Toward the end of her life, she and another friend took a trip to Alaska (after cancelling once when she wasn't feeling well—she had cancer) and even after that successful trip, was practically planning her next one to Australia.  Alas, she never made it there but another mutual friend, Bonnie, did and no doubt thought about our friend while visiting Australian woolen mills; Carol and Bonnie shared a love of knitting.  I did not!

So Australia never happened but then lo and behold, all of a sudden Bonnie started posting marvelous photos from Australia on her Facebook page.  I missed the details of the how and the why she went except it looked like she was travelling with friends and enjoying every minute of it.  And I'm so glad she went even though she did so without our friend.

And so that is how I came to decide to make something from a couple of Australian cookbooks I had laying around.  Let's discuss!

Book number one, A Taste of  Australian Food and Wine is a beautiful book with lots of photos by Ian Barker.  This book provides a broad-brush view of Australian food that encompasses a lot more ethnic groups than just the Brits who founded the place (as a penal colony) and thank the lord for that!  As I wrote in my last blog for the Queen's birthday, British food is somewhat suspect to me and the rest of the non-British world.

But these recipes folks – these – are pretty awesome, making great use of all the lovely seafood that's available to all the coastal areas as well as fresh vegetables and of course, Australian wines.  Recipes are divided by region and so you will be treated to dishes from:  Tasmania; Victoria; New South Wales; Queensland; South Australia; Northern Territory and Western Australia.  The map in the front of the book shows the whole of Australia and it is one large continent such that when my parents visited it years ago, they decided to take a tour so as to experience as much of the terraine as possible.  My parents are not tour people but they loved their visit.

It is also important to note that there was a decided absence of "rude food," stuff that I wouldn't eat for any reason, even fear of impending loss of life!  I think you'll be quite pleased with this cookbook for the variety and modernity of the recipes.

And then there's book number two – A Taste of the Past – Early Australian Cooking – written in 1977 and let me just say that yes, this was a "taste" of the past and this past reflects more of Australia's British heritage than the newer A Taste of Australian Food and Wine which is to say we sort of revert back to rude food:  "Kangaroo Jugged."  I almost couldn't finish typing this as it just sounds so very, very, very awful.  Very.

Happily (?) the above recipe (I cannot type it again.  I cannot) appears to be the one and only awful-sounding thing before we revert back to British staples:  "Bubble and Squeak" (p. 90-91); "Scottish Oat Cakes" (p. 58) and "Welsh Rabbit" (p. 32) to name a few.

This is likely the only time I will ever be relieved to see British food in a cookbook (with apologies to the Queen.)

Since Carol loved salads and grew a small garden every year, I made Baby Beetroot, Roast Carrot and Rocket Salad (with Cardamom and Orange Dressing) to go with the Meat Ball Soup (courtesy of the  Australian Meat Board).  Both recipes were easy to make although I much preferred the salad over the meat ball soup; the salad had great flavor but the soup was somewhat bland and could have used more spices to offset the sherry (which I loved but was almost overpowering). 

The Meat Ball Soup recipe is accompanied by a little story as are all the recipes in the book.  If I had more time, I'd love to read through it as I'm sure I would learn a lot more about Australia the "right" way.  Right now,  my limited knowledge has been gained from watching cooking shows featuring Australian, Curtis Stone and House Hunters International!  Okay, slight exaggeration:  I actually know more about Australia than just the information provided by TV shows. That said, one of my favorite Australian movies is A Town Like Alice that takes place in Australia during WWII.  Fabulous movie, that, and I need to go on a hunt for the DVD to replace my VHS.  You can also read the book by Nevil Shute if you fancy a reading rather than viewing.  And if you want to read a humorous read about Australia (A Town Like Alice is decidedly not humorous), check out Bill Bryson's In a Sunburned Country where he points out that practically everything in that country is venomous and therefore deadly.  That said, he survived his trip and lived to write a book about it and for this we thank him.

At any rate, turning our attention to the recipes and these cookbooks, you'll need to carve out a bit of time to roast the veggies, but otherwise these dishes are quick to make and in the case of the salad, healthy to eat.  Carol would have liked that.

Warm King Prawn (shrimp), Baby Beetroot, Roast Carrot and Rocket Salad With Cardamom and Orange Dressing – serves 4 – from A Taste of Australian Food and Wine
20 baby beetroot
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
100g (1/2 pound) rocket [lettuce] Ann's Note:  you can substitute arugula for rocket but I don't recommend it as it is tough to chew and too peppery.  Just use mixed greens and you'll be fine.
12 cherry tomatoes
3 oranges
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 tablespoon caster sugar (a/k/a "Baker's sugar;" "Superfine sugar" or Quick-Dissolve/Fast-melting" sugar)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
300ml 10 ounces) olive oil
Salt and pepper
20 green prawns (shrimp), peeled and de-veined
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and paprika
1 ¼ teaspoons ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil for cooking
Ann's Note:  This seasoning was great and I think you could use it on all kinds of fish and seafood (like scallops).

For the vegetables:  Roast baby beetroot in their skins with the olive oil until tender.  Peel the carrots and cut into four.  Dust carrots with brown sugar and roast at 400F until just tender. (Ann's Note:  about 20-30 minutes) Deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar.

To make the dressing:  Combine zest of 1 orange and the juice of 3 oranges with cardamom, sugar and vinegar.  Bring to the boil then simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Strain and while warm whisk in the oil and season.

To make the prawns/shrimp:  Mix dry ingredients and lightly dust over prawns.  In a heavy-based pan, heat vegetable oil until nearly smoking.  Add prawns and cook until just firm.  Remove from the pan.

To assemble:  lightly dress the rocket and arrange on plates with beetroot, cherry tomatoes and carrots on top.  Then add prawns and drizzle the dressing around the outside of the stack.

Ann's Note:  my attempt at stacking the salad ingredients was abysmal and not at all like the photo – wonder why?!

Meat Ball Soup – serves 4 to 6 – from A Taste of the Past – Early Australian Cooking
Soup Stock
3 T butter or margarine
1 medium onion chopped fine
1 C chopped carrots
3 T flour
5 C water
3 beef stock cubes
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1 C cooked peas
2 T dry sherry (Ann's Note:  I would call this an optional ingredient)
Meat Balls
500 g finely minced beef (Ann's Note:  I used a pound of ground beef)
3 T finely chopped parsley
2 tsp seasoned salt
Large pinch pepper
¼ C dried breadcrumbs
1 egg beaten
1 T sherry

Melt 2 tablespoons (out of 3) butter or margarine in a saucepan.  Sauté onion and carrot until golden.  Cook 1 minute.  Add beef stock, stirring constantly until thick.  (Ann's Note:  it does not say anywhere to add the beef stock cubes to the water but that is what you apparently must do to achieve beef stock! You've been warned.)  Add salt and cayenne and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Mix meatball ingredients.  Shape in walnut size balls.  In pan, fry meat balls in the remaining 1 T butter until brown, adding more oil if necessary.  Drain and add meat balls to soup with peas and sherry.  (Ann's Note:  I decided to poach the meatballs in the simmering broth, just like I do for the meatballs for my Italian wedding soup.) 

Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes.  Garnish with chopped parsley.

Ann's Note:  I think you can play with the spice profile in these meatballs as the "seasoned salt" just didn't do much for me and my palate.  And know too, that seasoned salt + beef bouillon and salt to taste = a lot of salt so for those of you who have to watch the salt intake, try to use reduced salt broth and skip the seasoned salt in favor of something else.  

"Country Cuisine;" "The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains;" "The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking" - for Queen Elizabeth II's 90th Birthday!

Dates I made these recipes:  April 21 – April 27, 2016 – Queen Elizabeth's 90th Birthday

Country Cuisine by Elizabeth Kent
Published by:  Sidgwick & Jackson – London
© 1980
Recipe:  Carrot Vichyssoise – p. 117 – from Sharrow Bay (hotel) in Ullswater, Cumbria:  Chef:  Francis Coulson; Proprietors:  Francis Coulson and Brian Sack.

The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains – Edited by Michael Smith
Published by:  Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. New York
© 1977
Purchased at an estate sale
Recipe:  Louisa Trotter's Cheese Straws – p. 69-70

The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking by Linda Collister.   Includes recipes by Mary Berry & Paul Hollywood
Published by:  BBC Books
ISBN: 978-1-849-90483-4
Purchased at Barnes and Noble
Recipe:  Paul's Chocolate Volcanoes – p. 310

Right then.  Let me start off by saying that I hope "HM" (Her Majesty) appreciates the efforts I went through to produce some delicious delights befitting HM and her 90th birthday because folks, finding and making these recipes was a downright horrible exercise, what what!

Let's begin with a few points of culinary interest:  1) In 1994, my husband, Andy, and I went to England and considered ourselves most fortunate to have eaten fairly decent food while there.  This was at a time when the Brits were just getting the hang of edible cuisine.  But that said 2) most of their food is, I'm sorry to say, rubbish and I spent more time for this blog post eliminating food I wouldn't eat on a bet (like ""Smoked Mackerel Hot Pots"—oh me no think so!) than what I would eat.

Then 3) I eliminated recipes that called for hard-to-find ingredients (i.e. native to Great Britain but not here) or recipes that just took too damned long to make.  So there went half of the three book's contents right there.

And then there was this problem:  4) Some books like Country Cuisine had so many usable recipes that I wanted to "cheat" and make a bunch of stuff from that book and that book alone but that would break my own rules of one per cookbooks so I couldn't go down that rabbit hole.  Then other books like The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains was just bereft of anything usable or – dare I say – edible, and I had to work hard to find a recipe – any recipe – that would work.  Best I could do was Cheese Straws and I thought they would pair well with the soup so there you go.  And finally there was dessert which seemed like it would be easy except I had to eliminate anything made with yeast (due to previous efforts at making a doorstop), phyllo dough (I hate working with it) or anything requiring 2,000 or so steps before I could shove the thing in the oven.

So there was that.  And then, and it has to be said, I had to deal with measurements and converting measurements and that was no fun at all.  Not at all.  England uses grams for measures which is why you absolutely need a scale to do some of this stuff.  In fact, the very same day that I made this recipe, my friend, Star Tribune columnist, cookbook author and master baker, Kim Ode, wrote a column for the paper outlining essential kitchen equipment for amateur bakers as well as one for advanced and I am chuffed to say that although I don't bake a lot, I had all but one item from both lists.  As I commented on her Facebook page, I love my kitchen scale and marvel that I ever went without one.

And as a reminder, all of this was to honor "HM" whom I adore and who gets mad props for making it to age 90 (and 63 years on the throne) while looking fabulous to boot.  And all the dishes I made her paid homage to her in some way, shape or form.  "HM" is fluent in French, thus the vichyssoise, Brits love their crackers ("biscuits") and toasts at tea times (cheese straws) and "HM" loves chocolate so hooray!  And with the exception of the cheese straws, all of these turned out to be pretty darned smashing! (Details to follow.)

And now a word about the books:

Country Cuisine is a compilation of recipes from country hotels, inns and bed and breakfasts and it is "delightful" as the Brits would say.  I thought it especially appropriate that the author's name is Elizabeth Kent as Elizabeth II is related to the Duke of Kent; they are first cousins.  Most of the recipes in this book were sounded good and were pretty easy to make while others, as noted, sounded horrible.

The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains is based on a TV show – The Duchess of Duke Street – that aired on the BBC from 1975 to 1976.  The show spotlights Louisa Leyton Trotter a/k/a "The Duchess" who worked her way up from being a servant to a cook to being a Duke Street hotel proprietress.  I didn't watch the series but heard about it (it was Emmy-winning) and so there you have it.  This cookbook gave me the most trouble as most of the recipes just weren't "all that."  Again, I reference dishes like "Creamed Veal Kidneys" and "Kippers with Marmalade."  Ghastly.  The "biscuits" I made were okay but that was mostly my fault – I think.  The recipe said to add the egg mixture to the flour mixture to form a paste but the paste didn't form like it should.  I suspect more liquid was necessary but didn't know how much so left it alone.  I also think the dough sat too long in the fridge but that was my fault.

The last cookbook, The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking, got me back on track and thank goodness for that.  Say what we will about British cooking, baked goods – both savory [savoury if you are British) and sweet saved the day.  Baking doesn't usually involve icky ingredients although savory bakes can be dicey. 

Now if you're not familiar with the BBC/PBS show, The Great British Bake Off, acquaint yourself with it ASAP by watching it on PBS or YouTube. I'll wait.  In Britain, this show is several seasons ahead of where we are in America but I don't care because the show is fantastic!

The premise of this show is that several bakers, most of them baking at master or near-master levels, compete to win the show's grand prize.  Each episode has three baking challenges:  the signature challenges i.e. recipes they are known for; the technical challenge where they are given basic instructions for the challenge of the day and the showstopper where they have to make spectacular items like 7-tiered cakes that look good and taste good too.  Each challenge has winners and losers and then at the end of each episode, someone is cut and sent home.

Each challenge is judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (yes, that's his name), who are master bakers and whose recipes are included in this cookbook.  And each show is hosted by Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc.  Mel is an absolute stitch to watch and you will likely "luff" her.

The thing I "luff" about this show besides Mel is that the contestants are so absolutely polite with each other it's ridiculous.  And so British.  Even though they're in a competition they rally around each other each and every episode and it's touching.  Compare this to some of their American "counterpart" shows where every single day in that kitchen is a thrown down of some sort, sometimes involving knives, sometimes not.  "Uncivilized" is likely what the Brits would say with a good "sniff, sniff" in that way they have.

And I also love the judges and marvel at their own skill of being able to ascertain when someone's "bake" is just not quite on point.  Plus they're funny although Mary is much more quiet compared to Paul.

And with a last name of "Hollywood," it should be no surprise that Paul is the more outgoing.  And out of all the incredible edibles out of this cookbook, supplied by the bakers and the judges, I decided on his Volcano Cakes.  They were easy to make and seeing as how HM loves chocolate, this is as close as I could get to a birthday cake in her honor.

And with that, let's have a "Hip, Hip, Hooray" for HM and then off we go to the kitchen!

Carrot Vichyssoise – serves 8 – from County Cuisine
2 potatoes
4-5 carrots
2 onions
2 leeks
Ham bone or 2-3 rashers of bacon (Ann's Note:  thin slices of bacon)
2 bay leaves
2 ½ pints chicken stock
1 dessertspoon sugar
Salt and pepper
½ pint single cream (Ann's Note:  The Brits have "single cream" and "double cream" and best I can tell, half and half is probably the closest although I used regular cream without any problems."
Carrot cut in fine strips to garnish

Peel the potatoes, carrots and onions, then chop into small pieces.  Trim and shred the leeks.  Put all the vegetables into a large saucepan with the ham bone or chopped bacon, bay leaves and stock. Cover and simmer over low heat until the vegetables are tender.  Remove the bay leaves and ham bone and liquidize until smooth (or put through a sieve).  Add the sugar, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Blend in the cream, the slowly reheat (taking care not to let it boil) or chill thoroughly.  Just before serving (hot or cold), garnish with fine strips of carrot.

Louisa Trotter's Cheese Straws – serving size not given – from The Duchess of Duke Street Entertains
 5 ounces plain flour (Ann's Note:  plain flour is all-purpose flour)
4 ounces unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Good pinch of salt (about ¼ teaspoon)
Pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cold water

Mix yolks, lemon juice and water together.  Rub fat into flour until sand-like texture is arrived at.  Toss in grated Parmesan cheese.  Season lightly, tossing well in.  Make well, pour in the liquids, mix quickly and form deftly into a paste.  Leave for 1 hour in a cold place.  (Ann's Note:  My mixture did not form a paste and I suspect it was because there was not quite enough liquid in the mix but I followed the directions given so....)

Roll out dough ¼-inch thick and then cut into 2-inch wide strips.  Place these onto a buttered baking sheet, mark out the strips into ¼ to ½ inch sticks.

Dredge with more grated Parmesan cheese if the budget permits!  Bake at 400 for 7 to 8 minutes, or until crisp and golden brown.

Remove with the aid of a palette knife to a cooling tray.  Divide when quite cool.  Store in airtight tin.

Ann's Notes:  Because the dough did not form into a paste, the rest of the instructions were difficult to follow.  I did my best to roll out the dough into a ¼-inch piece but failed and gave up trying to cut the dough into strips and sticks and just sort of threw the mess onto a baking sheet and hoped for the best.

The result was not half bad in the taste department but horribly awful in the looks department.  And I baked them for about 10 minutes as 7-8 didn't cut it.  If I had time I would make these again to see if I got different results but I didn't so there you have it.

Paul's Chocolate Volcanoes (Signature Bake) – makes 6 – from The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking
Unsalted butter and cocoa powder for the moulds
165g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped into small pieces
165g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 medium eggs
3 medium egg yolks
85g caster sugar (a/k/a "Baker's sugar," "Superfine," or "Fast-melting" sugar)
2 tablespoons plain flour
6 small pudding moulds

Grease the pudding moulds with butter and dust the inside with cocoa powder.  Chill for 30 minutes.

Gently melt the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  (Ann's Note:  or use a double boiler).  Remove the bowl from the pan and stir until the chocolate mixture is smooth.

Combine the eggs, egg yolks and caster sugar in a bowl.  Using an electric mixer, whisk together for several minutes until thick, pale, and mousse-like in consistency.  Carefully fold in the chocolate mixture, then fold in the flour, trying not to knock any air out of the mix.

Divide the chocolate mix equally among the 6 prepared moulds.  Place in the fridge and chill until firm. (You can make the puddings up to 24 hours in advance and leave them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.)

Heat your oven to 400F.  Place the moulds on a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes* until the puddings are risen but not cracked.  Ann's Note:  at 8 minutes*, the dough was raw so I added 5 more minutes to the timer and they were almost done.  Five more minutes got me closer but still not quite there so I added 5 more and after a total of 23 minutes, they were perfect.  I don't see how on earth they would be done in 8 minutes unless he used the tiniest "pudding" moulds on the planet.  I used small soufflé molds and still had to bake them for quite some time.

Also, I've had similar "volcano" cakes in Hawaii at Roy's and theirs differed from these because they need 45 minutes to bake and they flowed chocolate "lava" when cut open.  These do not and from the looks of the photo, they were not supposed to.  Instead, we got a lovely moist center and that was good enough for us.  Whether they were up to Paul Hollywood's or even "HM's" standards is another story for another day.