Microwave Potato Chips

Posted on 23 July 2016 | 2 responses

My microwave is an indispensible sous chef. It melts and tempers chocolate, parcooks root veggies on their way to the roasting pan, sweats onions in a pinch, and dries and toasts old bread for nearly instant bread crumbs.

Wait a minute—toasting? While we think of the microwave for reheating, melting, and steaming, it can also dehydrate and bake like the Sahara. You have to watch it, though. It doesn’t take long to turn light brown perfection into black, smoking carbon.

The potato chip is such a perfect microwave snack there should be a button for it next to “popcorn.” Better than the greasy chips from a bag, they are crispy yet ethereal hits of pure potato. You can bake them light in color or a little dark for deeper flavor. Sweet potatoes work equally well.

This recipephany calls for a couple of gadgets: a microwave bacon cooking rack (I got mine at Stop and Shop for about $7), and a mandoline (thanks to my sister-in-law, Chris). The mandoline slices the potatoes paper-thin—or, well, as thin as 100# cover stock. The thinner they are, the faster they bake. And the sooner you can be crunching on this tasty, low-fat treat.

Microwave Potato Chips

  • 2 russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon salted butter, melted
  • Sour salt (citric acid) to taste, stirred into melted butter (optional)
  • Kosher salt for sprinkling
  1. Wash potatoes and dry thoroughly. Slice paper-thin and lay out on paper towels. Cover with paper towels and press out moisture.
  2. Place slices on microwave rack. Do not overlap. Brush on a dab of butter or butter/sour salt mixture onto each slice. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.
  3. Microwave for 2-4 minutes, depending on your machine. Check frequently at first to determine the proper baking time. If you can bend them, they need more time.
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Nocciola Gelato (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

Posted on 28 June 2016 | No responses

We recently backpacked mountain trails from Salerno to Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast, famous for both its sheer beauty and its sheer drops. Dan mapped hikes that led us to a mountaintop church unreachable by roads, up and down hundreds of flights of stairs built for pack animals, between terraced groves of lemon trees bright with fist-sized fruit, and through a meadow where electric wildflowers thankfully distracted me from the nearby precipice. We ended each sweaty day at a fine hotel where we could wash up, get presentable, and go find gelato.

I learned a lesson when we took our kids to the Grand Canyon. No matter how breathtaking your location, the better the snacks the better the vacation. And what could enhance a Mediterranean panorama better than nocciola gelato?

Italy has an enduring relationship with the hazelnut [see Hazelnut (Nocciola) Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate]. Besides inventing Nutella, Italians perfected hazelnut ice cream with intense, intoxicating flavor. While Dan opts for silky, dark cioccolato, I always choose the complex sweetness and toasted nuttiness of nocciola.

So I set out to recreate the soft consistency and aromatic nuttiness of the third most popular gelato in Italy (after cioccolato and crema), without gelateria equipment or artisan pomp. I found that this home version whips it up fairly easily. As with my Double Chocolate Sorbet, ice-cube trays and the food processor magically replace an ice cream machine. The mixture freezes quickly in the trays, reducing ice crystals. The food processor transforms the cubes into a glorious swirl you can eat immediately as a thick frappe or freeze into moderately soft ice cream.

I use Frangelico hazelnut liqueur to help keep the gelato soft and scoopable, since alcohol’s got a ridiculousy low freezing point. You can probably substitute vodka without much difference. If you still find the gelato hard, nuke it for a few seconds to get the perfect softness.

Note that I refuse to strain out the flecks of nuts, though, as other recipes specify. The texture is plenty smooth, so why toss out fiber or flavor?

As I’ve said before, chocolate is hazelnut’s soulmate. So don’t hesitate to pour on the fudge sauce.

Nocciola Gelato (Hazelnut Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Machine)

  • 2 cups whole milk (or equivalent of nonfat or low-fat with cream)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, toasted (Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, or vodka
  1. Finely grind toasted hazelnuts with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor, until it almost turns into a nut butter. Set aside.
  2. Heat milk on the stove or in the microwave until it is very warm but not boiling.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, adding the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar gradually. Continue to beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is light and pale yellow.
  4. Gradually add the warm milk, stirring until blended.
  5. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the hazelnuts. Warm over a medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid any burning. Be careful not to let the mixture boil. It should thicken slightly, enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  6. Stir in vanilla and Frangelico liqueur.
  7. Pour carefully into ice cube trays placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze for two or three hours, until solid.
  8. Use a fork to stab the edge of each frozen cube and slide it into the food processor. (This avoids turning over the ice cube tray, which can create a mess.) Whir until smooth. Spoon into a quart container and freeze until firm. You can stir it up from time to time if you want to aerate a little more.
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Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

Posted on 3 May 2016 | 2 responses

I dedicate this post to the memory of Nancy Osborn and everyone who would rather spend their time doing things other than cooking. People, for example, who “baste” a hem, try not to “slice” a golf ball, or, as in Nancy’s case, think of “beat” and “measure” as nouns, not verbs.

————————————————————————————————

Cheese Dreams from Willy Osborn’s childhood reflect a time when modern marvels of food technology tantalized Americans with new tastes, mouthfeels, and convenience. One slice of nutrient-fortified Wonder Bread topped with one perfectly sized slice of shiny Kraft American turned into a toasted cloud fused with molten gold.

Homemakers could delight their kids with this wholesome open-faced sandwich in the time it took to bubble cheese under a broiler. Before the days of take-out and corner restaurants, dishes like this liberated women from kitchen drudgery so they could pursue their true passions.

One such liberated homemaker was Willy Osborn’s mother. Music was her passion. Born Anne Pell (but everyone knew her as Nancy), she went to Juilliard to become an opera singer and earned her degree in voice. In 1942, she married Frederick Osborn, a businessman who wrote operettas on the side. They orchestrated five children and built their family life on a foundation of music and singing. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 94, to the very end devoted to her family and to opera.

“To Nancy, food was simply fuel,” says Willy. Cheese Dreams helped her get food on the table fast, so the family could get right to the singing. “If we could have gotten our food intravenously, that would have been even better,” Willy adds.

Nancy put the cheese-topped bread on a sheet pan directly under the gas broiler. “A little skin formed on top and the direct flame produced dark spots,” says Willy. “Because she put the bread directly onto the pan, underneath it got soft and a little soggy. It was delicious.”

When Willy first went to France he discovered that a Croque-Monsieur was essentially the same thing. French cheeses and fancy breads don’t have a monopoly on the complex flavor changes that come with browning and toasting. After melting, flowing, and browning, even American cheese develops new flavors and aromas due to caramelization and that trendy Maillard reaction.

A recipephany is a recipe that strikes a chord in our lives. To the Osborn family, a simple Cheese Dream was the prelude to beautiful music.

Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

Makes 1 Cheese Dream

  • 1 slice of soft white bread, preferably Wonder Bread
  • 1 slice of American cheese, preferably peeled off a block of Kraft yellow slices (not individually wrapped “Singles,” as pointed out by Pell Osborn)

Put cheese on bread. Place onto a sheet pan and put under the broiler. Watch closely as cheese bubbles, and remove when brown dots form. Serve immediately.

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Matt Murphy’s Irish Brown Bread

Posted on 16 March 2016 | No responses

If you’re looking for Irish Soda Bread—the slightly sweet scone-like raisin bread that is as much a part of St. Patrick’s Day as green beer—sorry, this isn’t it.

This recipephany is for authentic Irish Brown Bread, the hearty whole-grain soda bread served on cutting boards alongside a crock of butter or ragged slices of cheddar.

Well, at least at Matt Murphy’s Pub.

Everyone in Ireland makes Irish Brown Bread. It’s a kind of national institution. I wish I could say I brought this recipe back from our trip there a couple of years ago. I had made it my mission to track down the best recipe. One woman rattled off the recipe from her mother-in-law from Kilkenny, a “good cook of plain food” who had 13 children but lost five. The bartender in Dublin told me he just follows a recipe from the back of a bag of Odlums coarse wholemeal flour.

Everybody I talked with agreed that Irish wholemeal flour is mandatory, so I smugggled home some Odlums Wholemeal Extra Coarse in my carry-on. Maybe bad metric conversions threw off the delicate balance of acids and bases and whatnot. All the recipes I tried left me with tough, dry, joyless loaves.

As the cliché goes, I traveled the world to find true love in my own backyard. I returned to Matt Murphy’s recipe clipped from The Boston Globe many years ago. Matt Murphy was the chef, original owner, and namesake of our illustrious neighborhood pub. I once saw Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen lunch there alone—just him and his bow tie—a tribute to the wholesomeness and quality of the food.

This makes a loaf somewhat like dense rye bread, with a slight chewiness and buttermilk tang. It is simpler than the recipes I got in Ireland. And any whole-wheat flour works like a lucky charm.

Matt Murphy’s Irish Brown Soda Bread

(From the The Boston Globe, March 12, 2008, Keri Fisher and Matty Murphy)

Work quickly when putting this together, trying not to handle the dough too long or too firmly. Be as gentle as possible; never use a mixer.

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups buttermilk (I use Saco cultured buttermilk powder and water)
  • Extra all-purpose flour (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Lightly flour a baking sheet.

2. In a bowl, combine the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours with the bran, salt, and baking soda. Stir well with a wooden spoon.

3. Add the buttermilk and stir gently until just combined; the mixture will be sticky.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and very gently shape it into a disk. Lift the dough and carefully bend the sides of the dough back, causing the top of the disk to break open and look craggy. Set it on the baking sheet.

5. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut an “X” in the top of the loaf, cutting down about 1/2 inch. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour.

6. Transfer to the oven and bake the bread 40 to 45 minutes or until it is brown and the bread sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom with your knuckles.

7. Cool the bread on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

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Oscars 2016: The Big Shortbread

Posted on 29 February 2016 | 2 responses

The Big Short won best adapted screenplay for its crisp dialog and cleverly simple demystification of the financial meltdown of 2008. The Big Shortbread is also crisp and light, with simplicity at its core. And butter, of course. Dressed up with extra-dark chocolate chips or toasted pecans, it’s ready for any red carpet.

This recipephany also has loose ties to the surprise best picture winner, Spotlight, about how the Boston Globe uncovered clergy sexual abuse. I adapted this from Cookies: 20 Recipes to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, a Boston Globe publication by Sheryl Julian. Ms. Julian is the source of many of my recipephanies, and I was sorry to see that she recently retired as the newspaper’s food editor.

At this year’s Oscars Gala, The Ravenous food truck pulled up and a slobbering grizzly stuck out his head to take our orders. We sipped on red Martiantinis while savoring Baked Brie Larson and crunching Bridge Mix of Spies. After Tom’s Hardy Mad Max and Cheese, spicy Mark Ruffalo Wings, and Sylvester’s Calzone (with Leonardo DiCapicola and Rooney Maranara dipping sauce), fortunately there was still Room for The Big Shortbread.

The Big Shortbread

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (such as Guittard Extra Dark 63% chocolate chips, or Hershey’s Special Dark) or toasted chopped pecans*
  • Granulated sugar (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a pie pan or plate and a pencil to draw three 6-inch rounds on the papers. Turn the papers over.

2. Beat the butter for 1 minute or until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until creamy.

3. Add the flour and salt. Continue beating, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or the toasted pecans.

4. Set 1/3 of the dough in the center of each round. With the heel of your hand, press the dough evenly to fill the circles.

5. Sprinkle the dough generously with granulated sugar. With a large straight-edged knife, cut one of the rounds evenly into quarters. Cut each quarter in half to make 8 triangles. Repeat with the other rounds.

6. Bake the rounds for 25 minutes or until they are pale golden, turning the sheets from back to front halfway through baking.

7. Slide the parchment papers onto wire racks and let the rounds sit for a few minutes to cool. Carefully transfer the papers to a board. Cut the rounds along the same lines you made before baking. Set the triangles on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Toast pecans on a baking sheet in a preheated 350° oven for about 5 minutes. Watch to make sure they do not scorch. You can also toast them in a heated frying pan for about 5 minutes, stirring to make sure they do not burn.

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Cocoa Date-Nut Truffles: A Sweet Deception

Posted on 13 February 2016 | No responses

Deep dark chocolate truffles with flecks of walnut and hazelnut feel so much like a naughty indulgence that you’ll catch yourself stealing them when nobody’s looking. But why? They are entirely fruit and nuts, without any added sugar or cream. These wholesome concoctions play such a trick on our confection detectors that this recipephany may be more appropriate for April Fool’s Day than Valentine’s Day.

The idea for these truffles came from my sister-in-law Sheila. A few years ago she brought us some soft and creamy Medjool dates and a recipe for turning them into no-bake vegan brownies. We mixed up a batch, rolled them into balls and called them “Cocoa Medjools.” I’ve embellished the recipe, but I would never dare tamper with its magic formula. Throw minimal ingredients into the food processor or blender, and minutes later you have hand-crafted heirloom-quality artisanal chocolate truffles infused with the complex sweetness of dates. And go ahead, sneak as many as you want.

Cocoa Date-Nut Truffles

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts
  • Dash salt
  • 1¼ cup soft pitted dates, either Medjool or Beglet Noor*
  • 1/3- ½ cup cocoa, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Triple Sec (optional)
  • Additional ground hazelnuts and/or grated chocolate

Process walnuts, hazelnuts and salt until ground. Add dates and process until mixture sticks together. Add cocoa powder and vanilla (and Triple Sec if using) and mix until blended. Add a tiny bit of water if too dry. Roll into balls. Roll in ground nuts and/or grated chocolate. Refrigerate.

*If using drier dates, soak them in water to soften and squeeze out excess.

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Spinach Cooked with Onions (Mughlai Saag) from the ‘Godmother of Indian Cooking’

Posted on 28 January 2016 | No responses

As we approach the Oscars, I propose a new category of Lifetime Achievement Award: “Best Actor & Cookbook Author.” The recipient would be an award-winning star of motion pictures as well as a best-selling cookbook author with James Beard honors. And, naturally, she or he would be a host of popular cooking shows.

And the winner is: Madhur Jaffrey.

I had no inkling of Jaffrey’s double life when my friend Wendy gave me her authoritative Indian Cooking cookbook 30 years ago. I had never even heard of her. But Wendy was a fan. She had just come back from living in Amsterdam, where she had watched Jaffrey’s BBC cooking show, and had picked up this companion book to the series. It has become my bible for foolproof Indian recipes.

This Spinach Cooked with Onions recipephany is a gem from that book. Bright, lively spices team up with tender spinach against a backdrop of oniony sweetness. Where would the world’s cuisines be without the beloved onion?

Last year I saw a trifle of a comedy called Today’s Special about a young man struggling to find his roots through Indian cooking. Madhur Jaffrey played his mother, showing a warmth and range far beyond what I would expect from a celebrity chef in a cameo role. I figured the casting director just got lucky.

But I was simply ill informed. This “Godmother of Indian Cooking,” author of more than a dozen cookbooks, seven-time James Beard award winner, and host of a groundbreaking BBC series, is first and foremost an actress.

Born in Delhi, India, she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art alongside Diana Rigg and Glenda Jackson. She’s been in 20 movies, including notable Merchant-Ivory films. In fact, she introduced Ismail Merchant to James Ivory, launching the legendary partnership that spawned a whole genre of gorgeous Oscar-winning costumed dramas (e.g., Howards End) featuring passion, tragedy, and the most desirable British actors available.

While at the RADA, she couldn’t stomach either the British or local Indian food. She begged her mother for her favorite childhood recipes, which she received in Hindi on onionskin paper via airmail. While she had never cooked before, she got great satisfaction mastering all kinds of traditional dishes. Her big break came when the New York Times food editor read a story she’d written for Holiday magazine about Indian home cooking.

While I’m curious about her acting, I’ll be binge-watching her old BBC cooking shows before I get to her old movies. One episode taught me how to make perfect paratha, so I’ll be trying more of her never-fail recipes.

Spinach Cooked with Onions (Mughlai Saag)

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking

  • 2 pounds spinach, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion (or more to taste), peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons oil or ghee
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon peeled, very finely grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala

Heat the oil or ghee in a very large pot (fresh spinach has enormous volume) over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry for 3 minutes. Add the green chili, ginger, salt, sugar and spinach. Stir and cook down the spinach for 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes. Uncover and boil away some of the extra liquid, or just spoon out some liquid if there is too much. Sprinkle garam masala over the top and mix before serving.

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Better-Than-Bailey’s Irish Cream (and Homemade Chocolate Syrup)

Posted on 21 December 2015 | No responses

Forget the eggnog. Here is an easy, crowd-pleasing recipephany for a Holiday Party in a glass.

Kevin McElroy brought this homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream to Annie and Ken’s party. He set the jar on the bar. Guests surrounded it like bloodhounds on a mission, then cautiously sampled. Yummy noises followed and a drinking frenzy ensued.

Kevin kindly shared his recipe, with wishes to “enjoy all the holidays that face us, and then all the bleak, cold, miserable, snowy days that will follow.” This will certainly help.

Better-Than-Bailey’s Irish Cream

  • 1 cup heavy/whipping cream
  • 1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 2/3 cups of Irish Whiskey (Kevin prefers Jameson, but even Trader Joe’s is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • 2 tablespoons hot fudge sauce, room temperature (Kevin prefers a rich dark chocolate sauce. I use homemade chocolate sauce. See recipe below.)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla (I double this, of course)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and set on high for 30 seconds.  Bottle in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate.  Shake before using.

Kevin Notes: Will keep a month or longer, but I’ve never had it last anywhere near that long!

Cocoa Syrup (Chocolate Syrup)

“Your very own homemade chocolate syrup. This is one of our most requested recipes.”
From Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury, 1984, Golden Press

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • Dash salt
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (I use 3 teaspoons)

Combine sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; gradually stir in water, blending until mixture is smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils; boil and stir 3 minutes. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Pour into container; cool. Cover; chill. Makes about 2 cups syrup.

Note: For Chocolate Milk, add 1 to 2 tablespoons Cocoa Syrup to a tall glass of cold milk; stir until blended.

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Apple Crumble Tart Takes on a New Shape

Posted on 25 November 2015 | No responses

Pi r squared. Pie r round. Tart r rectangular.

The rectangular tart is the more rustic, country-mouse version of its classic round cousin. It looks stylish without pristine glazes or radiating starbursts of fruit. A simple trimming of nuts or berries in neat rows looks just right. Tatte’s, the fastest growing bakery and café in Boston, makes most of its tarts rectangular, and sells them for a tidy sum through Williams-Sonoma.

I’ve made my own version of Tatte’s rectangular nut tart, heaping it high with whole toasted pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and cashews, and drenching it in caramel. It took me a while to get the hang of making caramel, though. After endangering our guests’ teeth with a filling resembling nut brittle, I found that the secret to soft caramel is the same as for chocolate ganache: an insane amount of cream.

This apple crumble tart recipephany makes a warmly spiced alternative to that rich caramel tart, a delicious balancing act of tangy and sweet, soft and crunchy. Sautéing the apples and spices before baking concentrates flavors, thickens the filling, and caramelizes the sugars.

You can get a 13 ¾” x 4 ½” x 1” pan for yourself or, as I did, you can simply drop hints at holiday time. The trick is having the right size cutting board or serving platter. I got lucky and found one dirt cheap at Pier 1. I also make disposable serving boards to take to parties by cutting matte board or foam core scraps to 15″ x 6″ and covering them in parchment paper using a glue stick (tape won’t stick).

Hope to see you soon at a holiday party. I’ll be the one carrying the apple crumble tart.

Apple Crumble Tart

A. Prepare crumble topping

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  1. Combine dry ingredients, molasses and spices.
  2. Cut in the butter with fingers to make a course crumble. Set aside.

B. Make pastry

  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice (more or less)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Mix flour and salt, cut in shortening until it looks like coarse meal. Stir in enough orange juice with a fork to make a ball of dough.
  3. Roll the pie crust into a rectangle to fit the pan, then reinforce the sides with extra pastry. (You will have some leftover.) Prick all over with a fork to keep from puffing during baking.
  4. Bake for about 6 minutes. Set aside.

C. Make filling

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large Cortland or other baking apples
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon mace
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Toss in a bowl with lemon juice and zest.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, molasses, spices and flour.
  3. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Add the apples, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Top with sugar, molasses, flour, cinnamon nutmeg, salt and mace.
  4. Cook over medium-low heat until the apples are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
  5. Remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes.

D. Assemble and bake

  1. Spread the slightly cooled apple filling over the crust. Sprinkle topping over the apples and lightly pat down. Place the pan onto aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, just in case it bubbles over.
  2. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the crust gets golden and the apples bubble (they won’t bubble too much because of the topping).
  3. Cool until you can release the tart easily from the pan. Use a thin sharp knife to loosen the sides. If you want, you can leave the bottom on.

Place on a cutting board or rectangular platter. Slice and serve. Optional: Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and store for two days at room temperature or refrigerate.

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Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Posted on 26 October 2015 | No responses

Cinnamonth continues with this recipephany for cinnamon-lover’s bread. With a swirl that leans toward gooey, it’s a warm morning greeting when toasted, and a fun twist with peanut butter and jam.

If you’re like me and enjoy stirring up mounds of cinnamon and sugar to create a spice cloud you can inhale while you bake, this is for you. Just thinking about it gives me a tingling in my sinuses.

When my daughter Claire gave me the recipe she got from Allrecipes, she said, “Use TONS of cinnamon.” She reasoned that if you’re in this for the cinnamon—and it is “cinnamon bread” after all—then the more you can taste the better the bread will be. The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons, and I have tripled that and added a little more sugar.

The concept of “too much cinnamon” eludes me, but I found that too thick a layer could cause the swirl to separate from the dough. Nevertheless, I’m always trying to push the envelope and hope you do the same.

Claire also told me to roll it thin to make a tight swirl. I’m still working on that.

This makes three lofty loaves with the ease of making one. So you can give one away, devour one and stash one in the freezer.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Makes 3 large loaves

Dough:

  • 8 cups flour (all-purpose or bread)
  • 4 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (can use nonfat)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
  • 1 cup raisins

Swirl:

  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • Butter or margarine to rub over outside of warm bread
  1. Put 4 cups of flour, yeast and ½ cup sugar into the food processor with a plastic dough blade and whir to blend. Add eggs, softened margarine, 1½ cups milk and 1 cup water at room temperature. (Do not warm these because they will heat up in the food processor.) Whir until smooth.
  2. Add more flour by the cup and process until the dough moves away from the side of the bowl. It should take about three minutes, and the dough will still be stringy and sticky. Add raisins and whir to combine.
  3. Add enough flour to make the dough easy to handle, and take out of the food processor and put onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a minute or two to get a satiny dough.
  4. Oil two large bowls. Divide dough in half, place each half in a large bowl, and cover each with plastic wrap. Let rise about an hour, or until double in bulk.
  5. Combine dough from both bowls and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle about ½ inch thick. Brush dough with 2 tablespoons milk. Mix 1 cup of sugar with 6 tablespoons cinnamon and sprinkle over the dough.
  6. Roll dough up tightly, creating a roll about 27 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Cut into thirds, and seal the seam and ends.
  7. Place the loaves in three generously greased 9×5 inch pans. Let rise for about an hour. During that time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Bake for about 38-45 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned. They are ready when they sound hollow on the bottom when tapped.
  9. Remove from pans onto rack and immediately rub tops and sides of the warm loaves with butter or margarine. Cool before slicing.
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Apple Butter, Pressure-Cooker Fast

Posted on 6 October 2015 | No responses

I’m declaring October “Cinnamonth,” and kicking it off with harvest-fresh apple butter.

Smooth, cinnamon-spiked apple butter on soft challah was my equivalent of a jelly doughnut when I was growing up. So this year, besides our usual tart Cortlands for pie, we also picked Macouns and McIntoshes (which get mushy when cooked) to whip into apple butter. I’d never made it before, but applesauce is a cinch, so how difficult could it be?

Turns out it’s easy, but shockingly time-consuming. Besides the cinnamon and other spices, complex flavors bloom from that mysterious process called caramelization. While applesauce cooks up in less than a half-hour, apple butter takes a whopping 3½ hours.

This is a job for my superhero, The Pressure Cooker. It can turn a slab of corned beef fork-tender in an hour. It can convert dried, out-of-the-bag navy beans into Southie-worthy Boston Baked Beans in just 45 minutes. And in less time than it takes me to check email, veggies cook up vibrantly colorful, bursting with concentrated flavor and at the top of their nutrient game.

How does The Pressure Cooker do it? Don’t let that low-tech look fool you. I suspect there are some serious quantum mechanics at work. Lock the lid, set the heat, and the contents travel to some cosmic dimension where they cook to perfection in a fraction of earth time. We can’t see inside the pot—much like the box with Schrödinger’s cat—so who knows what kind of spacetime hijinks goes on?

With this recipephany, you’ll get apple butter that will make your fanciest jam jealous. While relatively quick, it is still the longest I’ve ever cooked anything in The Pressure Cooker: 1 hour 10 minutes. But it’s worth every second. It’s out of this world.

Enjoy, and Happy Cinnamonth!

Pressure Cooker Apple Butter

Makes about a pint of dark, deeply flavored apple butter.

  • 4 large apples (I used Macoun, McIntosh and Cortland)
  • ¼ cup cider plus a teaspoon of white or cider vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of ground cloves and nutmeg to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Core, peel and roughly chunk apples. Place in pressure cooker with cider, vinegar, sugar and molasses. Bring up to pressure and cook 1 hour.
  2. Release steam to reduce pressure. Puree the cooked mixture using a food processor or blender.
  3. Return mixture to pressure cooker, add spices, bring up to pressure and cook 10 minutes.
  4. Release steam to reduce pressure and stir in the vanilla.
  5. Let cool a bit, and then pour into a glass pint jar to finish cooling. Store in refrigerator.
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Last Gasp of Summer: Blueberry Whole-Wheat Scones

Posted on 7 September 2015 | No responses

As part of September denial, I’ve been manically buying up fresh blueberries. The season is fast slipping away, and before you know it, blueberries will cost a dime apiece again.

I’ve been making these sunny whole-grain blueberry scones for the past two weeks. They’re buttery, pastry-like and tender, with tangy berries that melt on the tongue and make me wonder what I ever saw in chewy raisins.

While this is an amalgam of recipes, it is mostly a repurposing of Liz’s Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Buttermilk Blueberry Pancake recipephany. I’ve borrowed the key ingredients, the spices, and the technique of soaking oats in buttermilk to create a sweet mush without any hint of roughage (or as my friend Pam used to say, “rubbish”).

This recipephany features a method for cutting fat into flour that I just learned from Allrecipes. Usually I rub chilled butter or shortening into the dry ingredients with my fingers (I’ve never bothered with a pastry blender). Or, I’ll pulse it in the food processor. Instead, for the scones I use a common gadget that has probably inspired many clever kitchen tips: a box grater. I grate a frozen stick of butter right over the bowl. It’s more work, but does a nice job of creating tiny uniform butter curls for a perfect texture. And since I store my butter in the freezer, I don’t have to think ahead to thaw it.

Soon Cortand apples will take over my fridge. Until then, summer’s still in full swing.

Blueberry Whole-Wheat Scones

  • 1¼ cup buttermilk (some will be used for soaking oats, a tiny bit for the glaze)
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1½  teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup frozen butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Sugar to sprinkle on top
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Soak ½ cup quick oats in ½ cup buttermilk for about as long as it takes to do the rest of the steps.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a large bowl.
  4. Grate a frozen stick of butter right into the bowl using a cheese grater. Add blueberries and toss. Add buttermilk/oat mixture, vanilla, and almost the rest of the buttermilk (save just a little for glaze). Stir until dough is just moistened.
  5. Knead briefly until the dough comes together. Pat into about a 1½-inch thick rectangle. Cut into 4 equal rectangles, then cut each rectangle diagonally into three triangles. Transfer scones onto baking sheet. Brush tops with a little buttermilk, then sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake until well browned and blueberry juices bubble, about 18-25 minutes. Cool before serving.
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Double Chocolate Sorbet (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

Posted on 18 July 2015 | 5 responses

I’ve been itching to make rapturously fudgy sorbet ever since our friends Adam and Pam served it on their porch four years ago.

But who’s kidding whom? I don’t have a modern ice cream machine, and I’m not about to get one. That’s because my husband lives by Newton’s Third Law of Stuff: For every impulse to buy something, there must be an equal and opposite impetus to get rid of something. Every new kitchen gadget kicks out an old one.

I recite this mantra for self-control, especially when fantasizing over the King Arthur Flour Kitchen Porn Catalog. Ah, that perky little Cuisinart ice cream machine would be my passport to homemade sorbet. But do I really need this single-purpose appliance?

Searching for an alternative, I ran across a comment on some blog. In essence it said, “Dude, just use ice cube trays and a food processor.”

The ice cube tray, an endangered gadget since the advent of the automatic icemaker, is a necessary kitchen tool. I cube chicken broth, pesto, fruit juice, egg whites, wine, and more, and then zip cubes into freezer bags. As for my food processor, I use it so much I burnt out a motor. I already use it to whip up fake ice cream using frozen banana, cocoa and vanilla.

I’m not sure why the revelation of pairing these two tools to make sorbet blindsided me. After all, the ice cream machine predates both the food processor and the freezer. Sure, churning during freezing avoids ice crystals. But why not just process the hell out of ice crystals instead? Are we talking disruptive technology here?

Yes, and this recipephany proves it. You can make smooth, intense chocolate sorbet with little effort and few ingredients. The cubes freeze fast, and (according to Serious Eats) fast freezing inhibits ice crystal formation.

There’s only one caveat. Since the melted chocolate mixture is watery, when you pour it into the ice cube trays it can splash like a preschooler in a kiddie pool. To avoid brown pinpoint polka dots on your clothes (I know, I should use an apron), transfer the mixture to a bowl with a spout and then pour it into the trays. Also, a rimmed cookie sheet under the ice cube trays helps keep drips under control.

This recipe fills more than two plastic ice cube trays. I use a small plastic container to handle the rest. So the next kitchen tool I get might be another ice cube tray, probably from Goodwill. I just have to figure out what I’ll take over there in return. Maybe an apron.

Double Chocolate Sorbet (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee (or to taste, optional)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I mix Hershey’s Special Dark with regular)
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Mix sugar, cocoa, salt, instant coffee, chocolate chips and water in a saucepan.
  2. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to thoroughly dissolve chips. Do not overcook. Remove from heat.
  3. Add vanilla and stir. Pour carefully into three ice cube trays (or two trays and a small plastic container). Freeze for three hours, or until solid.
  4. Use a fork to stab the edge of each frozen cube and slide it into the food processor. (This avoids turning over the ice cube tray, which can create a mess.) Whir until smooth. Spoon into a quart container and freeze until firm. You can stir it up from time to time if you want to aerate a little more.

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Ma-Po’s Bean Curd from Pei Mei

Posted on 15 June 2015 | 2 responses

In the 90s sitcom Frasier, the sardonic Niles winces when he meets his first hatchback. “Well, there’s a novel idea,” he says. “Name the car after its most hideous feature.”

I winced, too, when I found out “Ma-Po” means “pockmarked grandmother.” It refers to the Sichuan woman who first tossed tofu with ground meat in a spicy bean sauce more than a century ago. Was she feisty? Did she like to wear red? We’ll never know because some dunderhead immortalized this gifted chef and her luscious creation by her most unpleasant feature. (We might think the name sounds cute because it includes “Ma,” but actually “Ma” is the part that means “pockmarked.”)

Brody’s Second Law of Marketing states that if you can’t name it, you can’t sell it. Ma-Po Bean Curd, even with the flawed name, proves it by finding its way into Top 10 lists of favorite Chinese dishes all around the world.

And with this recipephany, you can make an authentic version at home in no time and with only a few ingredients.

Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book
Fu Pei Mei, the Julia Child of China, was the country’s first famous cookbook author. She started a TV cooking show in Taiwan in 1962, and remained China’s top celebrity chef until her death in 2004. This recipe comes from her groundbreaking Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book, published in 1969 in Taiwan and later expanded into a coveted three-volume series.

Pei Mei’s book screams authenticity because each recipe appears on opposing pages in Chinese and in English. Besides assuring you that she hasn’t dumbed it down for Americans, this format limits each concise recipe to one airy page. It’s clear, easy-to-follow, and all business.

In some ways Pei Mei’s book is like Niles’s hatchback. It is humble and utilitarian. It looks like it was typeset with a Olivetti and rubber stamps, and there are endearing typos throughout. Color plates are right out of a Chinatown menu. Black-and-white snapshots of the author in various settings look like grainy old newspaper clippings.

Like many Chinese-made toys and gadgets from my childhood, this book was not built to last. I bought what I suspect may be a first edition in a short-lived Asian market in Brookline Village about 20 years ago. It would probably be worth a lot if the spine hadn’t prematurely disintegrated and the pages weren’t turning browner than stir-fried tofu.

Authentic, with asterisks
My Chinese friend Angela ruled Pei Mei’s recipe authentic. She was quick to remind me, though, that the Chinese don’t generally follow cookbooks. They start with a list of ingredients, then learn to make a dish by watching over the shoulder of a friend or relative.

But let me be the friend to show you how to make this. Pei Mei has kept the ingredients and the procedure simple. Adjust all the seasonings and sauces to your taste. Add more tofu. You can’t go wrong.

I confess I have never used the brown peppercorn powder. It supposedly creates a numbing sensation that I don’t miss. Let me know if you try it.

Of course, this isn’t exactly Pei Mei’s recipe. I’ve altered quantities and substituted the more convenient bouillon for soup stock. I’ve added turkey as an alternative to the traditional pork or beef because it is light and soaks up the flavors well. I have also suggested Thai hot sauce and hoisin sauce to taste. Neither Ma-Po nor Pei Mei would have done any of that. So just call me “Ma-Bad.”

Ma-Po’s Bean Curd
Adapted from Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book

  • 1-2 pounds bean curd
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey (or pork or beef)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons hot bean paste*
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 cups chicken bouillon
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown peppercorn powder
  • Dash of hoisin sauce**
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water to make a slurry (adjust amount of paste as desired)
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Cut bean curd into ½ inch cubes. Put in wok, cover with water, bring to a boil and boil for about 30 seconds.
  2. Remove from heat. Drain and set aside bean curd.
  3. Heat oil in the wok, add ground meat and fry well. Add garlic, hot bean paste (or sauce and chili paste to taste), soy sauce, bouillon, and bean curd. Boil 3 minutes.
  4. Adjust seasonings. Add salt if needed, Add hoisin sauce to sweeten, if desired. Thicken with cornstarch slurry, then sprinkle with chopped scallions and sesame oil before serving.

* I often substitute regular bean paste or bean sauce and add Sambal Oelek chili paste for heat.
** My suggestion. Hoisin sauce is Cantonese, and Pei Mei would never have suggested it for a Sichuan dish.

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Croissant Crazy

Posted on 29 April 2015 | 5 responses

I just tried this recipe and was thunderstruck. Here were high, flaky croissants, the kind I’d expect to pull out of a butter-stained bakery bag rather than right out of my oven. The French call it un coup de foudre —love at first sight—and I’ve fallen hard for this recipephany.

My dreams of baking authentic croissants go way back to my advertising copywriting days at “The Pit.” (See “How to Fowl-Up a Chicken.”) In a desperate attempt to escape that basement sweatshop, I came within a gluten-strand of opening a bakery with a “Best-in-Boston” croissant baker who happened to live downstairs from us. In a moment of over-caffeinated inspiration, I named the prospective bakery Croissant Crazy (“kwassahn kwazy”) and eyed an empty storefront in Brookline Village. I had second thoughts, though, about the drudgery, pre-dawn work hours and the perils of partnership with a stranger. So when my favorite client, Baxter Travenol, offered me a plum job and promised to bankroll my MBA, I stuck with both my professional career and amateur baking status.

As close as I got to selling croissants, I remained clueless about making them. The recipes I tried yielded doughy crescents more Poppin’-Fresh than French.

Last week I flipped through Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook and discovered her recipe. Founder of the successful and trendy Boston bakery called simply Flour, she devotes nearly 2,000 words to her well-honed method. With sincerity and generosity, she reveals how the pros do it. Her recipe leaks the plans for perfect croissant lamination—delicate multilayers of butter and silky-smooth dough. Thanks to her, I’m finally in on the lightly-floured secret handshake of the French pastry chef.

Croissants are as much origami as baking. And origami begs for diagrams. Chang didn’t include any, so I’ve drawn them to show the folding and cutting steps at a glance. Since they won’t fit on this post, please see the full Croissant Recipe.

Be precise, use a ruler, and fold along the dotted lines. If you’re like me, you’ll love playing with the dough, but there’s also a lot of waiting. Don’t skimp on the long rises—they improve texture and deepen flavor. And—here’s the secret to flakiness—once you fold the dough into a package, don’t start by rolling it out. First press firmly with the rolling pin up and down over the length of the dough, which will create ridges and flatten it down close to the right size. Then roll out the dough just to smooth the ridges and get to the final size. This distributes the butter evenly between the layers and prevents the top layer from stretching beyond the others. You’ll be rewarded with delicious paper-thin layers and a lovely flurry of tasty brown flakes.

For ease and simplicity, I changed Chang’s procedure slightly so I could use my food processor. I also pounded out the slab of butter with a rolling pin rather than using a mixer because it seemed tidier. But I stuck to her origami technique and recommend you do the same.

Have fun and go croissant crazy!

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Gardner Heist 25th: Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

Posted on 15 March 2015 | 2 responses

On March 18, 1990, two guys dressed as Boston’s Finest pulled off the biggest art heist in US history. Holes in Gardner Museum’s so-called security led to holes in frames.

I commiserate with those who may never tick that Vermeer off their bucket lists. But mostly I feel mostly for Isabella. I’ve had a close, imaginary relationship with this woman since the day I arrived at college literally next door. Museum admission was free back then, so I frequently strolled through like an invited guest, taking in Sunday concerts that seemed arranged just for me. In my yearbook picture, I’m seated on a bench abutting the Venetian courtyard, my hair ironed and my glasses off, seeking approval from Isabella’s palpable spirit nearby.

I envision her spirit wandering the museum, pissed off that after 25 years the FBI is still without a solid lead.

Stollen Pieces
Clearly, Isabella’s Stollen Pieces aren’t real stollen, the fragrant yeast bread filled with almonds and brandy-soaked fruit. But the cookie bars do have a lot in common with it: cinnamon, two types of raisins, orange zest, and toasted slivered almonds. With a nod to Isabella, the batter is also full of spirits. Instead of milk, I used Triple Sec liqueur to reconstitute nonfat milk powder. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?

Like real stollen, the pieces tend to dry out, but they stay delicious and are good dunkers in tea or coffee—or even some spirits.

Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

Have you seen this painting?

  • ¼ cup dark raisins, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
  • Warm water to cover raisins
  • About 3/8 cup Triple Sec orange liqueur
  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1½ tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • ¼ cup dry roasted slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup dry roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • Powdered sugar and water to glaze
  1. Grease a 15 1/2” x 10 1/2” x 1” jelly roll pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine dark and golden raisins. Pour enough warm water over raisins just to cover.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, oil, eggs, salt, soda, vanilla, orange zest and milk powder.
  4. Drain the raisins and reserve the liquid. Add enough Triple Sec orange liqueur to the reserved liquid to make ½ cup. Add to the other ingredients and stir. Mix in raisins and nuts. Spread into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 18 minutes, or until done. Cool 10 minutes.
  5. Glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar mixed with hot water to desired consistency, a tablespoon at a time.
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Pi Day 2015: 10 Digits of Pi

Posted on 10 March 2015 | 2 responses

We’ll celebrate Pi Day on 3.14.15 at 9:26:53. My mathematics-major husband suggested this 10-digit representation to celebrate this rare occasion.

The apple pie is made of Cortlands from the half-bushel we picked in September. When we got back from the orchard, I peeled and sliced apples, tossed them in a bowl with spices and filling ingredients, double bagged them in one-pie portions, then labeled and stored them in the freezer. I defrosted a bag overnight in the refrigerator, then made this farm-fresh pie in no time with my own 10 little digits.

Apple Pie Filling (fresh or frozen)

  • 6 or 7 Cortland or other baking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon mace
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pastry for two-crust pie, either Orange Juice Pastry or Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust

1. Mix all filling ingredients in a bowl. Use immediately, or store in a food bag in the freezer for up to a year. For frozen filling, defrost in the refrigerator before use.

2. Roll out pastry dough and line a 9-inch pie pan. Rub bottom crust with butter or margarine. Pour in filling. Dab with butter before putting on the top crust.

3. Trim and crimp. Brush milk or cream on the top crust, avoiding crimped edges as they get dark anyway. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Cut slits or poke top with fork to release the steam.

4. Place pie on a cookie sheet on a rack in the top third of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 425°. Lower heat to 375° and bake about 40 minutes, or until pie is golden brown and bubbly inside. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Oscars 2015: Imitation Game (or, “Rabbit” Out of the Woods)

Posted on 23 February 2015 | No responses

Best-picture nominee The Imitation Game handed me this pun on a platter for Oscars Night 2015. This recipe for Sicilian sweet-and-sour rabbit marinated in red wine and simmered with pine nuts, golden raisins, olives and capers made a tender and deliciously drunken stew with chunks of chicken thighs. Alongside it, we served Grand Goudapesto Rotelle, a baked casserole of corkscrew pasta tossed with basil pesto and grated gouda. It was all much more satisfying than the half-baked Oscars show.

As you can see below, Oscar himself is reading up on our Variety Boffo Buffet, which included:

  • The Tequila of Everything Margarita with Eddie Redmayne Pomegranate Juice (to honor National Margarita Day)
  • Birdmanchego Cheese
  • Rosamund Pickles
  • German Code Crackers
  • American Snippets
  • Emma Stone Crab Tarts
  • Mark Ruffalo Mozzarella
  • Benedict Cucumberbatch with Feta Knightly
  • Julienne Moore Stir Fry
  • Citizenfour Leeks
  • Breadly Cooper
  • Selma-lina King Cake
  • Cool Whiplash
  • BoyHoodsies to Eat Witherspoon

Imitation Game, or Sicilian “Rabbit” Stew with Chicken Thighs

  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 4 small or medium onions, 2 in quarters and 2 finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 6  tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1  clove garlic, minced
  • 2  tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 20 small green olives, pitted, and broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 two-cup chicken bouillon cube, and water as required
  • 1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine the wine, onion quarters, 1 teaspoon salt, and some twists of the pepper mill. Cut chicken thighs into about 1-inch chunks, submerge in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 3 hours.

2. In another bowl, pour warm water over the raisins, just enough to cover them, and set aside to plump.

3. Drain the chicken well and remove the onion. On a sheet of wax paper, combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and another few twists of the pepper mill. Roll chicken chunks in the mixture and shake off excess.

4. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan or pot. Sautée the chicken chunks until lightly brown, about 2 minutes. The flour will tend to stick to the pan, but that is okay as long as you do not let it burn. Dark brown is okay.

5. Remove chicken and set aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan or pot. Add chopped onion, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring well, for 5 minutes or until onion softens, making sure not to burn flour on the bottom of the pan.

6. Return chicken to the pot. Add raisins and water, tomato paste, pine nuts, olives and capers. Add the bouillon cube and enough water to barely cover the stew. Bring to a boil. stirring well to deglaze the pan and mix in any flour stuck to the bottom. This will thicken the sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

7. Add vinegar and honey and continue simmering for 15 minutes more or until done. You can continue to cook to reduce sauce about as long as you want, as the meat will stay tender and the flavors will blend.

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No-Knead Rustic Bread

Posted on 5 February 2015 | 2 responses

I’m one of millions of home bakers who, after failed attempts at making crusty bread, achieved the impossible with the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipephany created by Jim Lahey (owner of Sullivan Street Bakery) and turned viral by Mark Bittman (big-time food writer).

With no special ingredients or equipment, this phenomenal bread essentially makes itself. It has the holey, airy, chewy and crusty goodness of a European-style loaf from a respectable bakery.

We use this for everything, from sandwiches, bread pudding, and bruschetta to (in its last gasp) toasted breadcrumbs. Once a week I stir up the dough after dinner, then bake it the next morning or early afternoon. The toasty aroma and the crackling it makes as it cools raise the cozy quotient of the house, especially during our recent record-breaking snowstorms.

You get a lot of leeway with this technique. The gluten develops into such stringy strands during the long rise that you may not be able to tell the difference between all-purpose and bread flour. If you shorten or extend the rising time by an hour or two, the bread most likely won’t care.

But there’s one immutable requirement: a pot with a tight fitting lid, often called a Dutch oven. Don’t ask me for the science, but I think it has something to do with increasing the humidity around the loaf. Happily, you don’t need to put a Le Creuset on your Christmas list. My white speckled, 13-inch oval black-enamel-over-steel Dutch oven I got decades ago works like a charm, despite its light weight. One just like it (Granite Ware roaster) today costs only $13.

This recipephany feels like a throw-back to neolithic times. I can see early bakers swirling the sticky dough with their hands, then letting it collect wild yeast from the air until it gets bubbly. After they form it into a ball, they leave it to grow high before they plop it into a small stone oven. Whenever they bake it, it’s okay—nobody is watching the sundial.

If you haven’t already seen it, take 5 minutes to view Mark Bittman’s famous New York Times video that upended the baking world. Here is my adaptation of this marvel, which makes a slightly larger loaf than the original. I add just a dash of honey to reward the yeasties for all their labors, since they are the ones saving us the work.

No-Knead Rustic Bread

Mix:

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast (SAF-Instant, from the 1-pound package I freeze to last over a year)
  • A drizzle (about a teaspoon) of honey

Add:

1 3/4 – 2 cups water

1. The evening before. Mix dry ingredients and honey in a large glass bowl with a wooden spoon. Pour in half the water and stir a few turns. Add more water and stir just until it becomes a mass of sticky, spongy, lumpy dough, with all the flour barely incorporated. If it’s too dry, add a dribble more water. It should grab onto the spoon and not want to give it up. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours at room temperature.

2. Morning or early afternoon (you have a lot of leeway here). Dough should be full of bubbles and still a little sticky. Sprinkle flour over it to keep it from sticking to you and fold dough over on itself gently a couple of times, still in the bowl.

3. Generously flour a cotton towel (not terry cloth). Adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking, form the dough gently into a ball. To get good oven spring, you need enough surface tension so that it holds its shape. Put onto the center of towel. Flour top of the dough, and fold the towel over to cover it. Let it rise about 1 ½ hours or until double in size.

4. Meanwhile, about a half-hour before dough is ready, put a 3- to 8-quart covered pot into the oven and preheat to 460 degrees. (Mine holds only 2 ½ quarts, but its domed lid allows plenty of room for rising.)

5. When dough is ready, take the pot out of the oven and uncover. Quickly invert the cloth and dump the dough into the hot pot. Don’t worry if dough is scraggly or if some has stuck to the towel and you have to break gluteny strands to release it into the pot. If dough doesn’t go in straight, shake the pot a couple of times to better distribute it. It is very forgiving. Slash top with a sharp knife lengthwise to help it crest. Cover and bake 35 minutes.

6. Take off lid and brown another 5-10 minutes or so, depending upon how dark you like your bread.

7. Take out bread and let it cool (and listen to the crackle) for about an hour before cutting. Reheat leftover bread the next day(s) for best flavor and texture.

NOTE: Since I posted this, I took out the instruction “Let it sit for 15 minutes” at the end of Step 2. This rest seems to relax the dough and make it more difficult to form into a ball. I also changed the range of water, since the amount you use depends upon the humidity in the house. In the winter I use more than in the summer. I now recommend slashing the top with a sharp knife, which helps give it a nice crest. Finally, I found a dough whisk for a buck at Goodwill and love it. It saves most of the work—cleaning the wooden spoon.

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The Great Molasses Flood and Mighty Molasses Clove Cookies

Posted on 14 January 2015 | 2 responses

January 15, 1919. A bulging, overheated storage tank burst, spewing a towering wave of fast-flowing molasses into Boston’s busiest commercial district, killing 21, injuring 150, and wreaking tsunami-style devastation.

The incongruity of “molasses” and “disaster” tends to rob the legendary Great Molasses Flood of its gravitas. Better viewed as a horrific industrial accident, it offers up five lessons worth mulling over on its 96th anniversary.

1. Heed warning signs.

The massive tank, which held more than 2 million gallons, leaked so badly that neighborhood kids used to scoop up the puddles with pails. The owner, U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) Company, chose camouflage as a solution when it repainted the gray tank to match the oozing molasses. Our Government may screw up, but let’s hope that part of our tax dollar continues to go toward safety inspectors who prevent such criminal negligence.

2. Expect unexpected consequences.

Nobody blames Prohibition for the flood. However, USIA had earmarked the molasses for rum production and filled the shoddy tank to the brim to outrace the Eighteenth Amendment. Prohibition passed the day after the disaster and took effect a year later.

3. Beware of “nice” Boston weather.

The temperature had swung from 2 degrees up into the 40s within a couple of days. While people stood around coatless in the sun chatting about the weather, the dark-brown syrup in the dark-brown tank nearby was overheating, fermenting, and building up deadly pressure.

4. Understand non-Newtonian fluids.

Like modern paints and other “shear thinning” non-Newtonian fluids, molasses turns from the tortoise into the hare under pressure. The same glob that seems like it will never make it from the jar to the measuring cup went from viscous to vicious, speedily flowing at 35 mph after erupting from the high-pressure storage tank. As it thickened, it smothered all in its path.

5. Remember the mightiness of molasses.

What people see today as a quaint old flavoring and quirky sweetener was once a staple in every home, the coin of the realm in the early American economy, and a major historical force. The Molasses Act of 1733 taxes helped foment the Revolution. Molasses was pivotal to the ignominious Triangular Slave Trade: West Indies molasses to New England; rum to Africa; slaves to the West Indies.

By the time of the flood, molasses was losing its hold on the New England economy. It no longer played a role in munitions production, which had kept it a hot commodity during World War I. Sugar had taken its place as a standard sweetener. Its star had faded, and it was slipping into a status of “old-fashioned.”

If this odd and tragic disaster had to happen somewhere, it’s not surprising it was Boston. Molasses had been so vital to everyday life—and central to the signature brown bread and baked beans that carried its name—that Boston could easily have been “Molassestown” rather than “Beantown.” The molasses tank was as relevant as today’s cell tower. This flood deserves to be remembered as the catastrophe that marked the end of the Molasses Era.

Except, of course, in my kitchen, which is happily stuck in the Molasses Era. And the Mighty Molasses Clove Cookie explains why.

As you bite into the crackled surface, it bites back with a jolt of spice and hearty molasses. The chewiness gives way to a supremely moist interior made possible through the miracle of molasses.

This is not a gingersnap; it has no ginger. Gutsy levels of cinnamon, cloves and vanilla awaken even the laziest taste buds. I buy molasses by the gallon, spices by the pound, and vanilla by the quart. I revel in recipes like this that don’t wimp out, that remind me of the mightiness of molasses. If you find you don’t have enough cloves or even molasses, come on by and I’ll give you some.

Mighty Molasses Clove Cookies

Makes about 3 ½ dozen

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup oil  (I use canola)
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 teapoons vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • Extra sugar for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves.
  3. In another large bowl, beat sugar, oil, molasses and vanilla for about 3 minutes at medium speed to aerate.
  4. Add the egg to the wet mixture and beat about a minute.
  5. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet in 3 additions, mixing on low speed after each to incorporate thoroughly the dry ingredients. After the final addition, beat on medium for just a few seconds to get the dough uniform.
  6. Spoon a little shy of a tablespoon of dough onto the parchment paper for each cookie, placing cookies 2 inches apart. Flatten them slightly to form rough discs, and sprinkle lightly with extra sugar.
  7. Bake about 9-11 minutes, or until the tops crack. Remove sheets from oven and slide the parchment paper with cookies still on top onto cooling racks. Cool completely before removing and storing in an airtight container.
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Jimmy Bruic’s Banana Vegan Cookies

Posted on 21 October 2014 | No responses

I wish to publicly thank Ellis Island for my Irish surname. Having walked the breathtaking landscape of my faux homeland, I will increasingly claim this island as my own. Actually, my kids are a quarter Irish, thanks to my husband’s great-grandparents who came from the Dingle Peninsula. So according to a Scientific American article (I’m not making this up), “Scientists Discover Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains,” I may be part Irish after all!

And why shouldn’t I claim Irish food as my heritage? Smoked salmon, for which my brain has a unique receptor, appears in convenience stores, for goodness sake. I breakfasted on sweet, freshly smoked kippers, a royal relative of the canned version my mom used to sizzle with eggs. Irish stew, Irish brown bread, Irish butter, Irish oatmeal, Irish tea, Irish whiskey—that “Irish” brand calls to me as if from some ancient, inherited memory.

View from Coill an Róis Bedroom

This recipephany comes from the affable proprietor of the Coill an Róis (Forest of the Roses), a model bed and breakfast in Ballyganeen, Feohanagh, Dingle, County Kerry. After a two-day walk along the Dingle Coast, we reached this cosy guest house nestled amidst sheep-dotted farmland with gentle mountains on the horizon. Jimmy Bruic, who built the B&B about 20 years ago on his family’s briar-covered farmland, greeted us like a long-lost cousin and regaled us with a proper afternoon tea and baked Irish treats. Formerly the pastry chef at Harbour Lights in Manhattan, Jimmy spent many an off-season working at trendy New York restaurants. So I hit the jackpot when, after my enquiring about his chocolate mini-muffins, he responded instantly with an A4 sheet of recipes which included this very clever cookie.

Smart cookie
Why so clever? It’s quick and simple. Splendidly oaty with oil instead of shortening, it boasts just-right sweetness, slight chewiness, and lots of Irish charm. Make it with or without nuts. It’s wholesome, of course, but with a wink, since chocolate chips add that confectionary indulgence yet to be found in nature.

I’m surprised my new cousin Jimmy defines this as a banana cookie, since that is a background flavour. Maybe it’s because the banana makes it all possible by replacing the egg. I prefer to call this my favourite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, with no need to qualify it with “vegan.”

Slán, and stay tuned for more Irish recipephanies.

Jimmy Bruic’s Banana Vegan Cookies

(Shown above with Barry’s Irish Tea)

Preheat oven to 320° F.

  • One banana, mashed
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2/3 cup sugar (I added a touch of molasses)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I doubled to 2, as always)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups Oat Flakes (I used old-fashioned rolled oats)
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (I used Hershey’s Special Dark, not too sweet)

Combine all ingredients. Spoon onto baking tray. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Makes 2 dozen.

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Black Magic Wedding Cake, One More Time

Posted on 5 September 2014 | 2 responses

Black Magic Wedding Cake

I only have two children (as far as I know). And both asked me to make them Black Magic Wedding Cakes. I couldn’t have been happier if they had proclaimed “I love you, Mom” on the Fenway Park Jumbotron.Chocolate Leaves

Last year, it was my daughter Claire and Gordy’s three-tiered cake with buttercream frosting.

This year, Raegandrew (Raegan and my son Andrew) opted for all chocolate. No tiers, no “3D frosting.” Just regular birthday-style cocoa frosting.

Six cake recipes yielded exactly three 9” cakes for guests and one 6” three-layer cake for the bride and groom to smear all over each other’s faces. Claire truly topped it all with her poetic sculpture of intertwined trees with gleaming, gem-like leaves.

Wanting to push the 3D barrier and echo the wedding’s nature theme, I added some chocolate leaves. I found an easy recipe (see below) for something called modeling chocolate, a cross between Tootsie Rolls and fondant, but more delicious. Rolled thin, it made a smooth, pliable sheet, perfect for a mini cookie cutter.

Olalliberry Pies, too

Raegan and her mom made a bubbling pot of their favorite pie filling—luscious olalliberry—which I had the honor of encasing in orange juice pastry and decorating with pastry leaves. The remarkable olalliberry has the complex flavor of mixed berries because it is a hybrid of raspberries and two types of blackberries. Grown primarily in California, it is as unknown and regrettably as absent on the East Coast as In-N-Out Burger.

So now that the kids are married, I hope to be working on Black Magic Anniversary Cakes next.

Modeling Chocolate for Chocolate Leaves

  • 7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup light corn syrupPlease enjoy both of the favorite childhood desserts of Raegan (olalliberry pie) and Andrew (chocolate cake)
  1. Heat the chocolate in the microwave until barely melted. Stir until smooth and slightly cooled.
  2. Stir in the corn syrup. The chocolate will stiffen almost immediately. Stir until completely combined. Refrigerate about a half hour to harden a bit.
  3. Roll thin between wax paper and cut out shapes. If too hard, nuke in the microwave for a few seconds to soften and get back the gloss.
  4. Put any leftover chocolate into a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. When ready to cut, nuke for a few seconds, again to soften and get glossy.
  5. Refrigerate leftover chocolate. It will keep for months.

Cake and pie photographs by Mason Foster Photography.

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Boston Brown Bread Muffins

Posted on 18 May 2014 | 4 responses

Boston Brown Bread MuffinsWhen I moved to Boston, New England was in the middle of its Muffin Era. Pewter Pot Muffin Houses had Colonial wenches serving up a couple dozen varieties which, according to the Harvard Crimson, all tasted pretty much the same except for the chocolate chip.

Home bakers were obsessed with finding the “real” recipe for the legendary Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin sold in the department store’s dining room. It was a cakey mountain, topped with crusted sugar and bursting with perfectly distributed blueberries. I’ve tested several “original” recipes swearing to have come from such unimpeachable sources as the actual baker’s mechanic’s wife’s hairdresser, but was never convinced.

The other Holy Grail was the moist, bakery-style bran muffin. I’m sure they have bran muffins down South, but I never had one until I moved here. I think it has something to do with molasses or perhaps a New England preoccupation with regularity. Traditional recipes call for All-Bran cereal, which I refuse to use on principle. I tried recipes with unprocessed wheat bran, but never found a keeper.

Then along came the Boston Brown Bread Muffin. It’s the bran muffin’s dark, mysterious cousin—the ultimate bran muffin without the bran.

I cut this out from the Boston Globe food section in 1987, taped it to an index card, and stuffed it into my “baked goods to try” cardboard accordion folder. I rediscovered it about 15 years later, after the elastic around the folder had snapped, and the dividers bulged way beyond their rated capacity. As I was triaging which recipes to save to my new 3-ring binder with sheet protectors, this one sweet-talked me with its Boston accent and all that molasses.

Had I not left the recipe to languish all those years, I would have discovered the genius of its author, Marion Cunningham, sooner. This came from The Breakfast Book, the first book she wrote under her own name after she had masterminded the updated Fanny Farmer Cookbook. She cleverly adapted Boston Brown Bread, a Yankee staple since the Pilgrims, repurposing it for breakfast rather than for supper with baked beans.

The tenderness of the rye and wheat flours give way to a tiny cornmeal aftercrunch. The softened golden raisins add a brightness in every sense, so don’t substitute regular raisins if you can help it.

You know how recipes say to fill the muffin tins only ½ to ¾ of the way up? You can fill these almost to the brim. They only overflow a little, enough to make that kind of muffin top we can all enjoy.

Now I guess I have to go back to finding that elusive Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin.

Boston Brown Bread Muffins

Adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup plus about a tablespoon molasses (be generous here)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 400º. Grease 12 muffin tins, or line with paper baking cups.
  2. With a fork in a large bowl, blend together the rye flour, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl, beat together the egg, molasses, sugar, oil, and buttermilk until well blended. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix well. Add the golden raisins and stir to mix.
  3. Fill the muffin tins almost to the brim. Bake 15 minutes or just until the top sets and bounces back to the touch, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the muffin center. Don’t overbake. Serve hot. Makes 12.

* I substitute Saco cultured buttermilk powder and water. You can also use sour milk; combine 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup.

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Oscars 2014: Despicable Meat Stew

Posted on 4 March 2014 | 2 responses

Forget Jennifer Lawrence’s retina-burning red gown, Ellen’s shamelessly promotional tweet, and Kim Novak’s wind-tunnel face. The real excitement was at Oscars Diner, where we partied with Drew Barrymore, Vin Diesel, Heather Locklear, and other beloved B-listers. Okay, they were just autographed 8×10 glossies, but even so they were much more animated than some of the live presenters on TV.

And so what if Oscars Diner was our place decked out with apostrophe-challenged placemats and menus, wrapped straws, and packaged butter pats? Imagine our guests’ reaction when the heavily tattooed cook and gum-chewing waitress (who looked just like us) introduced themselves as Hank and Gladys! I detected mild amusement.

Fortunately, Chris created a fine diversion with American Guzzle, a snappy mix of Ciroc vodka, pineapple and pomegranate juices.

Lynn and Willy’s Cap’n Phillips Pirate’s Booty commandeered the table and kidnapped our appetites. Shrimp, crab cakes, and other seafood delights circled cabbage boats filled with cocktail sauces. Swashbuckling Playmobil pirates dangled off the boats, successfully substituting the concept of “small” for “Somali.”

Supporting appetizers: Amy Edams with Bradley Capers, Martin Scorcheesey, Leonardo DiCapicola, and Steve My Queen Olives.

The short subject, The Wolf of Waldorf Salad, led up to our double feature, Despicable Meat Stew and Dallas Buyers Club Sandwiches. Jonah Hill of Beans, tangy and crunchy green beans garnished with fennel and red onion, completed the course, thanks to Jennifer.

Baked Nebraska, Phyllo Minis with lemon curd, and splendid Alexander Champagne (courtesy of John) finished the dinner.

Besides Guava Tea (say it three times fast), Oscars Diner’s drink and cocktail specials featured Christian Bale Ale, Sangria Bullock, Hericane, Ginnifer Lawrence, and 12 Years a Scotch.

Not too despicable

Despicable Me 2 is the funniest Oscar nominee this year. Too bad it lost. If I had served an entrée based on the winner, Frozen, I could have just pulled out any old package from my Kenmore.

This Catalan-style, beefy-rich stew sweetened with caramelized onions has a faint Northern African accent from its ground nuts and cinnamon. Boneless beef rib chunks turn particularly succulent and tender, although a well-marbled beef chuck substitutes nicely for this surprisingly pricey cut. Mushrooms make it one delicious umami fest. The “despicable” part is that it takes all afternoon to make. I’m going to try a pressure-cooker alternative. At least Hank from Oscars Diner says I should.

Despicable Meat Stew

Stew base

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large onions, minced
  • Dash of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes, 14.5 ounces
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1½ cups dry white wine
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 teaspoon beef bouillon powder (or to taste, optional)
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2½ pounds boneless beef short ribs or nicely marbled beef chuck, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes

Picada

  • ¼ cup ground almonds, toasted in a pan
  • ¼ cup toasted bread crumbs
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

While stew is cooking, combine in a bowl and set aside.

Mushrooms

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ pound sliced mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

Heat oil and sauté mushrooms with a dash of salt until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sherry vinegar.

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 310°. On the stovetop, heat oil in a Dutch oven. Add onions, and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and dash of sugar. Sauté over medium heat until onions are nicely caramelized, stirring often, about a half hour. Add tomatoes, smoked paprika, and bay leaf, and cook to blend, about 5 minutes.
  2. Season beef with 1½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Add to Dutch oven with white wine, water, thyme, and cinnamon. Stir, adding a teaspoon of beef bouillon powder (optional), or an amount to taste.
  3. Bring stew to a simmer, then transfer to oven and bake, uncovered. After 1 hour, stir, put back in the oven, and continue to bake uncovered until meat is tender, about 1½ to 2 hours more.
  4. Remove bay leaf. Stir in picada and mushrooms. Adjust seasonings to taste.

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Charlie the Tuna Salad

Posted on 19 February 2014 | 2 responses

For 50 years I have credited my Mom’s olfactory alarm system for saving us from one of the deadliest poisons known to man. She religiously poked her nose into every can before ruling it fit for consumption. But my memory hasn’t kept up with that of my 97-year-old mother. She remembers that she rejected the Tainted Tuna because of how it looked.

I was 13 at the time, and eager to make Mom’s sweet and crunchy tuna salad, a task I always relished (pun unavoidable). I opened the only can we had on the shelf and handed it to Mom. She took a whiff. Fine. But then she stopped. “It looked nasty,” she says. “It was crusty, brown, and dry, and there was no oil.”

She tossed the can, tuna and all, into the trash.

She offhandedly mentioned it to my Dad later, and it piqued his doctorly curiosity. He asked her to retrieve the suspicious processed fish product so he could send it out to a lab the next day.

The lab injected mice with a diluted sample, then waited.

After a few days, Mom got a phone call. “All they said was, ‘We want to inform you that the mice died.’”

Once confirmed that it was a galloping case of botulinum toxin, “they” (we don’t know who) instituted a massive recall. A couple of representatives called to talk with Mom, but she declined, letting Dad give the details. She preferred to keep a low profile.

Now, you may ask, wasn’t the can all bulgy or leaky? No, she says. “There were no dents, no holes. It was a perfectly good can or I wouldn’t have taken it.”

We all swore off tuna, joking that we had gotten Charlie, the garish advertising spokesfish who was rejected for substandard taste. A good decade passed before I got the nerve to make the salad again.

In that pre-Googlian era, the source of this botulism remained a complete mystery to us. Now, from just a simple search, I learn that the culprit was a San Francisco cannery. Three Detroit women—a mother, daughter, and neighbor—thought their tuna looked, smelled, and tasted good enough for a lovely soup-and-sandwich luncheon. Two of them died. It was the only known instance of botulism poisoning ever attributed to canned tuna in this country. The FDA collected at least 21 cans nationwide containing the botulinus organism. Who knows, perhaps Mom’s was the first to blow the lid off this deadly threat.

So thanks, Mom, for this recipephany and for saving your family. You insist that any homemaker would have done the same. But thank you for not leaving it up to your oblivious teenage daughter—the one hungriest for your tuna salad.

PS. Mom’s response to this post: “You’re going to put a dent in canned tuna.”

Mom’s Tuna Salad (without Charlie)

  • 2 cans white tuna in oil or water, drained and carefully inspected
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Mom likes Miracle Whip brand salad dressing)
  • 3 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • Scallions (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon capers (optional)

Mix tuna, mayonnaise, relish, and celery. Adjust to taste. Add scallions and/or capers if desired.

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Dick’s Sticky Buns

Posted on 18 December 2013 | No responses

With the exception of our family tree trimming—when nostalgia and aesthetics collide as we unwrap ornaments and debate which deserve center stage—the sticky bun is my favorite Christmas tradition.

The tradition goes like this. The week before Christmas, we bake these fluffy, high cinnamon rolls glazed with caramel and topped with pecans. On Christmas morning, the buns, wrapped in foil crinkled from storage in the freezer, warm in the oven. Meanwhile, the kids squirm and whine on the stair landing, as if restrained by Santa’s Invisible Fence, until buns and coffee are ready. Once out for all to grab, the sticky buns fuel the strenuous morning of gift opening and debris management.

My late mother-in-law, Dick, (see Dick’s Sour Cream Cake and Ma’s Lemon Sponge Pie) set Christmas Day in motion with these buns. I assumed this tradition went way back. My sister-in-law, Chris, recently set me straight.

A talented baker, Dick made mostly conventional cakes and cupcakes while her five kids were small. Around the time the younger ones hit high school, she and her best friend, Lorraine, decided to push the envelope.

“They started a kind of bake-off,” says Chris. “Here were two housewives, the closest of friends, trying to ‘out-wow’ each other.” If Lorraine offered up éclairs, Dick would counter with Danish pastry. Out of this exchange came sticky buns. Like the latest Disney animated feature, the buns delighted the family and became an instant holiday classic.

Fun, from start to finish

Preparing this recipephany is total fun, from whirring up the silky-smooth dough in the food processor, to flipping over the baked buns to reveal lacquered pecans fossilized in amber caramel. During baking, wafts of warm cinnamon and rising sweet dough make you light-headed. These pheromones can permeate the house for hours, maybe even days.

No matter what your experience with yeast, these buns will come out high and light if you just wait patiently for them to rise slightly above the pans. The unusual combination of yeast and baking powder might have something to do with the fluffiness.

Soft caramel, not gooey syrup, sweetens the tops. So nothing will drip onto your pjs.

You can adapt the recipe to your tastes. I use bread flour to get that extra gluten springiness. I nearly double the filling, following the rule that you just can’t have too much cinnamon. And rather than scattering nuts, I like to line up a dense phalanx of pecan halves marching across the tops of my buns. (Dan just mentioned that he doesn’t care for this ashlar pattern, so I’ll probably go back to sprinkling.)

Be sure to freeze the buns to keep them soft and tasting just-baked. Warm them up right out of the freezer. Preferably on Christmas morning.

Dick’s Sticky Buns

Sweet Dough

  • 2 packages dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)(I use SAF instant yeast)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 cups lukewarm milk, scalded and cooled
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5-6 cups flour or more, either all-purpose or bread flour (as much as needed to make a soft, stretchy dough)

Cinnamon Sugar Filling

  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I use 3/4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon (I use 3 tablespoons)

Caramel Pecan Topping

  • 1 cup brown sugar (I use 1 cup sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses)
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • Pecan halves (about a pound)
  1. Put 3-4 cups flour in the food processor with salt, sugar, baking powder and yeast. Mix about a minute. Add water, milk, egg and oil, and blend. Add remaining flour to make a dough, and process until it pulls away from the bowl. Put in a lightly oiled bowl, turn the dough over to coat with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until double, about an hour to an hour and a half, depending upon the warmth of the room.
  2. Meanwhile, make the pecan topping by heating the 1 cup brown sugar (or white sugar and molasses) and butter or margarine in a saucepan until just melted. Remove from heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons light corn syrup. Divide caramel mixture between two 9 x 13 inch greased pans. Press half the pecan halves into the mixture in each pan.
  3. Punch down dough and cut into two. Lightly flour a surface, and roll out one half of the dough into a large rectangle, about 12 x 18 inches. Spread with half the softened butter or margarine. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together, then sprinkle half over the dough, being sure to go right to the edges. Starting with the long side, roll up jelly-roll style. Pinch the end of the dough to the roll to seal. Slice into 12 rolls. Place each roll in the pan on top of the caramel and nuts, cut side up. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Let rise until the tops of the buns go slightly above the top of the pan (not all have to rise that high), about an hour.
  4. Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 30-35 minutes, until browned.
  5. Immediately invert the pan onto a large sheet of aluminum foil, and spoon out any caramel still in the pan onto the tops of the buns. (The caramel solidifies quickly, so if the buns or caramel have been out even a short while they can stick to the pan. If so, pop the pan into the oven for a couple of minutes to melt the caramel.) Let buns cool, then wrap completely in aluminum foil. Freeze if you don’t intend to eat them within a day. Warm before serving.
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Anne’s Irresistible Cuban Black Beans and Rice (Frijoles Negros)

Posted on 13 October 2013 | 4 responses

My first taste of Anne Discenza’s cooking was no less than Beef Wellington, perfect tenderloin gift-wrapped in puff pastry. She happily dove into all kinds of cuisines, from epicurean classics to ethnic specialties. She was so generous and passionate about food that she created dishes showcasing local seafood even though her allergies prevented her from taking the smallest taste. She rarely taste-tested as she cooked anyway, since she got all her feedback by simply sniffing aromas mingling in the pan.

Following Anne’s memorial service last month, the family gathered in her and Joe’s kitchen.
Miriam Discenza told the story of her mother-in-law’s irresistible black beans and rice.
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Once you make this recipe, you’ll understand its allure: glistening black beans and tender bits of ham in a comforting sauce of earthy spices, aromatics, and sweetness curbed by a spike of vinegar. The term “sofrito” tipped me off that this is real Cuban cooking. Anne added the coriander, and specified a sherry vinegar splash at the end. I bought Spanish vinagre de Jerez expressly for this purpose, and its bright flavor is worth it.

Provenance of the recipephany

This recipe has its roots in Cuba in the 1950s with Bessie Sams Casas. According to her daughter Mary Casas Knapp, Bessie was “a Southern mountain girl (from Mars Hill, North Carolina, near Asheville) who fell in love with a dashing Cuban and moved with him to Cuba. Her beans were better than or equal to those of the best Cuban cooks, and it was a consternation that a Southern lady had such a perfect ‘hand’ with frijoles negros.”

Mary brought the recipe to the US when she left Cuba around the time of Castro’s takeover. She gave it to Platt Arnold in Miami in the early 1970s. Platt says she still uses the “much be-spattered recipe card” in Mary’s handwriting.

From Platt it went to Anne, from Anne to Miriam, and from Miriam to us with this sweet remembrance.

“Black Beans and Rice, or
How My Mother-in-law Ruined Our Dinner Out (in the Best Possible Way)

“Given what a phenomenal cook my mother-in-law, Anne, was, I’m not sure what my husband and I were thinking that weekend we were visiting when we decided to forego one of her meals and go out to a nice restaurant instead. All I can say is that our children were small and we were seduced by the idea of free babysitting and a quiet meal alone.

“By the time we were dressed and ready to go, incredible smells were coming from the kitchen.

“‘Oh, I just warmed up some leftover black beans and rice for the kids,’ Anne told us. ‘Here, try some.’ She gave us a bowl to share. Knowing we would just take a bite or two each, I felt bad that she had wasted a whole bowl on us.

“After wolfing down that bowl and more, we finally tore ourselves away so as not to miss our reservation. Unfortunately, neither of us was very hungry by the time we got to the restaurant. That was ok, though, because nothing we had that night was half as good as the leftovers Anne casually pulled out of her refrigerator.“

Anne’s Black Beans and Rice

  • 1 bag black beans
  • 1 ham bone with lots of ham still attached*
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Sofrito (see below)
  • Sugar
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Tabasco
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Wash beans and bring to a boil in a large pot of water. Turn off heat and allow beans to sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
  2. Bring beans covered with water to a boil in a large pot with ham bone and bay leaf. Simmer for 2 hours.
  3. Remove ham bone but keep in as much ham as possible. Add sofrito. Cook 1 hour longer.
  4. Season with sugar, cider vinegar, tabasco, salt, and pepper (not much sugar is needed if ham had a honey glaze).
  5. Serve over rice with chopped sweet onion and sherry vinegar on the side.
  6. Freezes well for 2-4 months.

Sofrito

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon coriander
  1. Combine olive oil, onions, green pepper, and garlic in a skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until mushy.
  2. Add remainder of ingredients and combine. (Note: I tend to lay on the spices and use more tomato paste, so feel free to season to taste.)

*If you don’t have a bone, you can substitute a ham steak with a small bone. Tear up the meat into small pieces and it all cooks down nicely.

Notes from Platt Arnold: “Salt should be added toward the end of the cooking process, as it toughens the skin of the beans if added early on. Serve on white rice (in which case the dish is called moros y cristianos). It’s wonderful served with pork roast. The beans can be made into soup; add tomato soup or V8 to the beans, and some more Tabasco, if you like it zingy.”

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Black Magic Wedding Cake

Posted on 21 August 2013 | 5 responses

Black Magic Wedding CakeThree years ago I kicked off this blog by posting Black Magic Cake. Now it’s back as my daughter Claire’s wedding cake.

Claire didn’t exactly ask me to bake the wedding cake. She asked me to take charge of getting enough Black Magic Cake for the wedding. I think she envisioned friends and family dropping off cakes in various pan sizes at a designated table.

And yet, despite my inability to do anything with buttercream frosting other than get it in my hair, I wanted to bake her a real wedding cake. This would be a challenge. I’ve never watched more than five minutes of “Ace of Cakes.”

Claire is smart, and knows that even the Swedish Chef couldn’t screw up this cake. Still, I felt I couldn’t do this alone. Fortunately, my husband/architect/father-of-the-bride Dan happily designed the cake and 3-tier support structure. He helped me every step of the way.

Since I would need to bake the cake at a remote farm in an unfamiliar kitchen, we planned out every detail. I read up, experimented, and practiced over three months. I filled a notebook with test results, master recipes, checklists, conversion tables, production schedules, flow charts, equipment lists, ingredient purchasing assignments, and Dan’s gorgeous cake slicing diagrams.

I cut out wax paper pan liners to speed up preparation. I tried plastic “cake spikes” that keep flowers fresh in a little water. They worked, but they split open a trial cake and cracked the frosting.

I indulged in all kinds of fun toys. I bought 2”-deep pans in multiple sizes, cardboard rounds, a turntable, an offset spatula, a cake stand, decorating tips and bags, and special nails to distribute heat in the large pans. I bought clear vanilla for the frosting, only to return it because I imagined that syrup of ipecac must taste better. I stuck with my whiskey-colored version.

Our fabulous farmhouse hosts gave us full reign of their kitchen for two days. So the cake came out as planned: rich, moist almost to a fault, with perfectly flat layers that needed no leveling. A spray-on coconut oil did the job as a crumb coat. It kept the icing white, pristine, and not at all like my early tries that looked like oreo cookie ice cream.

Both the bride and groom like to knit and crochet, so my sister-in-law Chris made what could be the world’s first knitted cake topper. I could get all mushy and talk about how it symbolizes the knitting together of their lives, souls, and love. But I will avoid such sentimentality.

If you want, I can give you the scaled up recipes and instructions. It’s a lot of fun. Just allow yourself three months or so to practice.


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Lemon Buttermilk Poppy Seed Cakes, and the Poppy Seed Predicament

Posted on 20 May 2013 | No responses

Poppy Seed Lemon Cake

Poppy seeds and lemon adore each other, and prove it in these lovely mini loaves. You can feel the sparks fly in your mouth, with the teeny pop of the seeds and the puckery citrus. Tangy buttermilk, the one-two punch of lemon in the cake and the syrup, and the delicately nutty seeds create a sunny cake to boost your mood any time of day. Wrap a petite loaf in clear plastic, tie it up with some raffia, and it makes a luxuriously delicious gift.

This recipephany, though, also has to do with how I solved the Poppy Seed Predicament. I’m not talking about how a slice of this will make you flunk a drug test for, say, two days after you eat it. No, the predicament is how to keep poppy seeds on hand all the time, since they go rancid so quickly. Who would think that these little steely balls would be so temperamental? They are mostly oil, which apparently makes them unstable. This spells disaster for people like me who buy them in bulk and then need to toss them out in bulk.

The solution? The trusty Kenmore freezer. Freezing keeps seeds fresh-tasting indefinitely, ready for any baking or cooking whim. No need to defrost before using.

So pop the seeds in the freezer and get baking.

Lemon Buttermilk Poppy Seed Cakes

Makes 3 small cakes

  • ½ cup margarine or butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
  • Grated rind of 1 lemon
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or buttermilk powder and water)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 6 x 3 x 2 inch loaf pans, dust them with flour, and tap out excess.
  2. Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar 2 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs one by one, beating well after each addition. Beat in lemon extract, lemon rind, and poppy seeds.
  3. Add 1 cup of flour to the batter and beat well. Add buttermilk (or buttermilk powder and water), baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat in the remaining 1 cup of flour until the batter is just mixed.
  4. Divide the mixture among the three pans and bake about 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Make the syrup.

Syrup

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • Splash of Triple Sec, or other orange-flavored liqueur
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and lemon juice and warm them, stirring, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add Triple Sec.
  2. When the cakes are done, leave them in the pans and place the pans on a rack. With a cake tester or toothpick, poke holes all over the tops of the cakes. Brush tops with half the syrup and let them cool for 15 minutes.
  3. Turn the cakes out upside down onto a wire rack and set it over a plate. Brush the bottoms with the remaining syrup and let them cool another 10 minutes. Turn the cakes right side up to cool completely.
  4. Wrap individually. These keep at room temperature a few days, and freeze well.

Adapted from the Boston Globe, Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven

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Nocciola (Hazelnut) Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

Posted on 22 April 2013 | 3 responses

Hazelnut Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

Even more than “cashew,” which sounds like a sneeze, “filbert” is the stupidest nut name ever. Fortunately, the NAAFRCP (National Association for the Advancement of Foods Resembling Chick Peas) promoted the more melodious “hazelnut.”

Proving that everything sounds better in Italian, “nocciola” rightly implies dark depths of flavor. The hazelnut grows abundantly in the Piedmont Region, and became a cocoa substitute as Italy rebuilt after World War II. This explains why nocciola gelato has the smooth richness of chocolate, and why Nutella tastes like chocolate spread with some hazelnuts, when it’s really the other way around.

This recipephany produces a classic, crunchy biscotti with a toastier, more mouthwatering flavor than the almond variety. Because chocolate is hazelnut’s soulmate, I used to throw in mini chocolate chips. But the chips smeared when I sliced the warm cookies for the second baking. I found that a thin coating of melted chocolate applied after baking keeps the biscotti pristine and lets the nocciola flavor prevail.

These biscotti are also fine without chocolate, and are excellent dunkers that can convince a regular coffee that it’s cappuccino.

Nocciola (Hazelnut) Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons Frangelico hazelnut liqueur
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup unskinned hazelnuts, toasted until golden (about 8 minutes at 350º)

For dipping:

  • 1 dark chocolate candy bar, about 2 ounces, or whatever suits your taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Lightly grease two baking sheets.
  2. In a food processor with steel blade, whir together flour, sugar and baking powder once to combine.
  3. In a mixing bowl with a spout (if you have one), whisk together eggs, Frangelico, and vanilla extract. If your bowl is spoutless, transfer the liquid to a large measuring cup or pitcher.
  4. With the food processor running, add the liquid through the feed tube, stopping when all liquid has been poured. Add hazelnuts and pulse just to mix the them into the dough and to coarsely chop a few. Most will stay whole. If the dough is very sticky, add a little more flour (not much) just so you can handle it.
  5. Spread dough with a spatula so it forms a strip onto each baking sheet—each about 14 inches long. Sticky dough will spread, so allow for a couple of inches on each side. If dough is firmer, flatten each strip with your palm to about 3 inches wide.
  6. Bake about 20 minutes, or until the long cookie feels firm.
  7. Remove from the oven, leaving the oven on. Let the strips stand for 20 minutes, then slice crosswise into about 1/2 inch thick cookies. Or, cut slightly on a diagonal for longer cookies.
  8. Place the cookies, cut side down, back onto the sheets. Bake until golden and crisp, about 15-25 minutes.
  9. Heat chocolate in a bowl in the microwave, taking it out after only about half melts. Stir to melt the rest of the chocolate completely. Dip the bottoms of the biscotti into the chocolate, then spread using a rubber spatula to coat. Place cookies cut size down on wax or parchment paper to let chocolate set.

Makes about 4 1/2 dozen biscotti, depending upon how thin you slice them.

1/13/14  Notes: I have tweaked this recipe since posting.

  • I took out the optional almond extract.
  • Directions make it clearer that the sticky dough will spread considerably.
  • If you cut 1/2 inch cookies, you’ll get more than 4 dozen cookies.
  • Baking time can be longer depending upon how often you open the oven to check crispness. (I like a very crispy cookie.)
  • Melt chocolate part of the way in the microwave, then stir to melt the rest, in an effort to temper the chocolate.
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Oscars 2013: Life of Pot Pie

Posted on 25 February 2013 | No responses


The Life of Pot Pie

Suggested by Claire, based on Raegan’s mega-veggie curry pot pie, and produced with the help of Chris, Life of Pot Pie became the centerpiece of our 2013 Oscars® Red Carpet Gala last night. It was a tasty and substantial sidekick to the starring course, Dan’s sweet-and-spicy grilled Finger Lincoln Chicken (also known as Poulets Misérables) and nicely complemented Jennifer’s technicolor Beets of the Southern Wild salad.

The appetizers were a tough act to follow. Lynn’s half pineapple filled with Naomi Watts-in-This-Dip was a delicious thriller that kept us guessing, a big winner with Emanuelle Pita Chips. Chris’s lavish Ham Hathaway with Hugh Monterey Jackman Cheese Quvenzhané-Quesadillas disappeared as quickly as you could say the name, leaving us to dip our Pretzel Washingtons into the tangy sauces and guacamole. The stunner of the night was the bag of “burger-flavoured” snacks John brought back from St. Andrews to summarize how the Canadians feel about the minimization of their role in Ben Affleck’s movie: Canada’s Beef With Argo Chips.

Zero Tart Thirty was the nutty end to the dinner, after which we grabbed our glasses of Jessica Champagne and Paul’s spirited Silver Limings Headache cocktails and fast-forwarded through the ceremonies.

The Life of Pot Pie

  • 2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks2013 Oscars Menu
  • 2 cups red potatoes cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 2  cups parsnips, peeled and sliced into 2-inch rounds
  • 2 cups carrots, peeled and sliced into 2-inch rounds
  • A few tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 leeks, light parts only, cleaned and sliced
  • 2 cups chicken broth or vegetable bullion
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • Splash of vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons mango chutney
  • Pastry for 2-crust pie (see Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust)

Preheat oven to 400° F (200° C).

In a large bowl, toss sweet potatoes, red potatoes, parsnips, and carrots with olive oil, Kosher salt and black pepper. Place vegetables onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and sautée leeks on medium heat until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add vegetables and 3 tablespoons butter, cooking and stirring until butter is melted, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix flour, curry and garam masala into vegetables until evenly coated. Pour in broth and milk, stirring until sauce is thickened, about 3 minutes, adjusting seasonings, flour, or liquid as desired. Stir in vermouth and chutney. Pour into large casserole and top with pastry. Decorate as desired. Bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 30-40 minutes.


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Jan Hagel Cookies, a Dutch Treat

Posted on 1 February 2013 | No responses

Jan Hagel Cookies

No relation to Chuck, the Jan Hagel is as fun to make as it is to say (Yahn HAHgle). This traditional Dutch Christmas cookie is a crispy melt-in-your-mouth delight with cinnamon and toasted almonds.

Curiously, this cookie makes me think of my college orientation week. A day in Harvard Square was on the schedule, including an exciting “Dutch Treat” lunch. Imagine my surprise when we ended up at the Wursthaus, a legendary spot with fabulous schnitzel, but no Gouda or Edam. I suppose I might have figured it out if it had said we’d “go Dutch,” but I was a teenager who didn’t get out much.

Two years later, I had my first Jan Hagel cookies, coincidentally from a Harvard Square shop, finally fulfilling that Dutch Treat promise. They became a favorite in college, so when I saw this simple recipe in the Land O’Lakes Cookie Collection cookbook a few years ago I had to make them. They were even better than I remembered.

This became an official recipephany when my Chinese friend Angela liked them so much she asked me to show her how to make them. I felt honored, since she grew up where desserts are quite different from ours, and where cooks pass on recipes by demonstrating techniques rather than writing them down. So I held my first baking class in my tiny kitchen—with the perfect student. Angela now bakes these frequently and with great success. So when she told me recently that she looked for but couldn’t find the recipe on recipephany.com, I knew the time had come for this post.

Jan Hagel Cookies

(adapted from Land O’Lakes Cookie Collection)

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash vanilla
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, butter, egg yolk, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed, 2 to 3 minutes. Divide dough into halves. Put each half onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Cover the dough with wax paper and use a small rolling pin to form a rectangle 1/16-inch thick. If you prefer, press it out with your hands. Remove wax paper. In a small bowl, beat egg white with a fork until foamy. Brush over dough, then sprinkle with nuts. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until very lightly browned. Immediately cut into 2-inch squares and transfer them to a rack. Cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes 3-4 dozen squares.

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Persian Green Olive and Walnut Salad

Posted on 24 January 2013 | No responses

Persian Green Olive and Walnut SaladSome think a good waiter is someone who sneaks an extra shrimp into your cocktail. Me, I prefer a waiter who gives away the chef’s secrets.

I got this recipephany many years ago from a waiter at Lala Rokh on Beacon Hill, an elegant Persian restaurant near John Kerry’s townhouse on Louisburg Square. It was my Dad’s birthday, when the kids were home and my folks could still negotiate at least some of the steep walk to the door.

We started with this appetizer called zaitun-e parwardeh. It mesmerized me so much that—sort of like the Men in Black’s Neuralizer—it wiped out my entire memory of the rest of the meal. Sweet, tart, salty, and crunchy, it had an exotic, tangy flavor I couldn’t pin down.

When I asked the waiter what was in it, he disappeared, then returned from the kitchen to reveal the secret ingredient: pomegranate molasses.

I did my best to reconstruct the salad, although I can’t claim to match the restaurant’s version. I am happy with the outcome, though, and am proud that it was one of my recipes that our friend Gary Isaacson, an admirable chef, liked to make.

Although distinctly Persian, it seems like a not-so-distant cousin of my Mom’s choroses, the ritual Passover treat made from walnuts, honey, chopped apple, cinnamon, and wine.

Secret ingredientPomegranate Molasses

More like a thick syrup, pomegranate molasses has a regal, deep red hue and gleams with Disney-like sparkle. It’s also bursting with antioxidants. I get mine at our neighborhood Indian store, and you can find it at Arax in Watertown, or other international grocers. It’s my Middle Eastern version of hoisin sauce, and has become essential in baba ghanoush.

Feel free to play with the proportions. Prepare a little ahead of time, even a day early, so the flavors can blend. And see if your guests can guess the secret ingredient.

Persian Green Olive and Walnut Salad

Modify freely to suit your taste.

  • 8 ounces green olives, pitted and broken into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1/4 cup flat parsley, chopped
  • Dash of cayenne or tabasco (optional)
  • 3 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (add it a tablespoon at a time so you can adjust to your taste)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Superfine sugar (optional, if it tastes too tart)
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Mix. Refrigerate. Add more pomegranate molasses at the last minute if it needs an extra kick. Serve with pita triangles, flatbread, crackers, etc.

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Beef Stroganoff: The Story of the Princess and the Recipe

Posted on 3 November 2012 | No responses

Princess Kropotkin's Beef Stroganoff

Why do restaurants name so many dishes by their ingredients rather than after the chef, the locale, or even a favorite patron? In today’s can-you-top-this cuisine, maybe nobody wants to own up to such culinary contortions as “Crunchy Rabbit with Citrus-Chili Paste and Soybean Purée.” (A real entrée at the Jean-Georges Restaurant in New York City. Curiously, it sounds less mouth-watering than Monty Python’s “Crunchy Frog.” Feel free to stop here and view this sketch now.)

Brody’s Second Law of Marketing states that if you can’t name it, you can’t sell it. So why not brand a dish with a memorable name? And the granddaddy of them all is Beef Stroganoff.

This recipepany comes from one of my oldest friends, Wendy, who actually studied cooking in college. She reminds me that when she first served it to me, I told her that if I were a man, I would propose.

Nevertheless, I never thought to make it until now. What got me interested was a terrific Powerpoint presentation of the recipe—complete with an “Ochi Chernye” soundtrack—that Wendy recently made for a computer class. And when she said the recipe came from a real Russian Princess, I had to know the story.

Wendy said she got the recipe from a library book when she was in junior high. Only she didn’t remember the name of the Princess or the book. So I quickly put on my food anthropologist’s apron and got to work.

The Princess

Princess Alexandra Kropotkin

Once upon a time there was a real Russian Princess named Alexandra Kropotkin. She was a direct descendent of the first tzar, but didn’t grow up in a palace, or even in Russia. And she probably wasn’t related to Count Pavel Stroganov, the 19th century diplomat and military leader credited with popularizing the dish.

Princess Alexandra was born in London, probably in the 1890s during her parents’ exile. Her father was the famous aristocrat-turned-anarchist, Prince Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin. His subversive writings and activities in Russia had led to his arrest and imprisonment. He escaped to Europe where met his wife, a Russian student also in exile.

Princess Alexandra grew up in an atmosphere of philosophy, radical politics, and science. She became fluent in French, Russian, and English. Although she was steeped in Russian culture, she didn’t move to Russia until 1915. She was imprisoned during the Revolution and escaped to the US. I believe she married here, and worked to help liberate the Russian people from repression.

She described herself as a “linguist, traveler, lecturer, and authority on fashion.” She wrote breezy columns for women’s magazines in the 1930s, and translated War and Peace and other hefty classics in 1940s. Her engaging narrative and smart recipes in her book How to Cook and Eat in Russian (1947) gave America a glimpse of Russian life in general and the definitive Beef Stroganoff recipe in particular. She reissued it in 1964 as The Best of Russian Cooking.

And as far as I can figure, she lived happily ever after.

The Recipe

Craig Claiborne wrote in the Foreword to the 1964 edition that he discovered the book in a secondhand store (my kind of guy) and it became his go-to reference for Russian cooking. He praised it for its faithful depiction of the Russian heritage. He singled out Beef Stroganoff, saying it “is as popular at a church social in the mid-West as it is in a Manhattan penthouse.”

And its popularity has endured. Matt Damon recently called Beef Stroganoff his signature dish, which he made mostly because his mom forced him to cook once a week.

But what is the real Beef Stroganoff? The Princess makes it clear: no mushrooms. And although she browns onions in with the steak, she says not to put them back into the dish for serving. Leaving them out keeps the sauce light and focuses on the flavor and texture of the meat. (Of course, I eat them on the side.)

The Princess says that the secret to the dish is the mustard. I prefer a slightly sweeter mustard, so I combine Nance’s sharp and creamy mustard with Dijon.

The original recipe specified “thick” sour cream. Today that’s an unnecessary adjective. But back then, sour cream as we know it (similar to smetana in Russia) was a relatively new product in America.

Note also that the steak is only gently heated after browning. This keeps it tender.

Wendy’s delicious adaptation includes more flour and butter to make thicker sauce, and more mustard. Wendy, good cook that she is, adapts it to her tastes, and she encourages me to do the same.

Below is the Princess’s recipe from the 1964 edition, with a couple of my notes. Along with her recipe, she wrote, ”Even this classic recipe has undergone local changes over the past 20 years. Through the south of Russia 1 tablespoon of tomato puree has crept into the sauce. Or a few cooked mushroom slices may be introduced. In America, the tomato puree and the mushrooms are both added. The result is tasty, I admit. But it isn’t Beef Stroganoff.”

And that, my friends, is the story of the Princess and the Recipe.

Beef Stroganoff

  • 1½ pounds fillet of beef or lean part of the tenderloin (Note: I use top sirloin.)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup consommé (Note: I use bouillon.)
  • 1 teaspoon prepared hot mustard
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  1. Remove all fat and gristle from the meat. Cut it in narrow strips about 2 inches long and ½ inch thick. Dust the strips of beef with the salt and pepper, then set them aside for 2 hours. Do not put them in a cold place.
  2. Melt 1½ tablespoons of the butter and blend in the flour. Add the consommé and boil up. Stir in the mustard.
  3. Now in another pan brown the strips of meat very quickly with the sliced onion in the remaining 1½ tablespoon butter.
  4. Have the sour cream at room temperature. Add it to the mustard sauce and boil up once, then add the meat to the sauce. Don’t put the onion in. Cover the pan and keep hot for 20 minutes, taking care it doesn’t boil or even simmer. Set the pan over brisk heat for 3 minutes just before serving. Serve immediately.
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Trader Faux Rosemary Raisin Crisps, Plus Math Recipephanies

Posted on 15 September 2012 | 5 responses

Trader Faux Rosemary Raisin Crisps

Imagine the Snack Fairy tapping her wand on a piece of plain melba toast. Pecans, seeds, raisins, fragrant rosemary, and a kiss of honey appear, transforming it into an object of desire: Trader Joe’s Rosemary Raisin Crisps.


Before and after: quick bread and baked crisps

Leave it to a Canadian to reverse engineer a recipephany for a similar cracker called Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps. Her blog, “Dinner with Julie,” shows how it is twice baked, like biscotti, but easier. You stir up tiny eggless quick breads, bake and freeze them, and then thinly slice the frozen bread and bake fresh crackers on demand.

The crisps shrink to about 70 percent of their original size, perfect for spreading cheese (see Mock Boursin recipe below) or free-style snacking.

To see if I could substitute four mini-loaf pans for two larger ones, I poured two mini-pans of water into one larger pan and it fit fine.

Some math recipephanies

I’m not a mathematician,
but I use math in my kitchen.

This reminds me of my sister-in-law Chris’s recipephany involving her mom’s brownies.

“For years I was cutting two half-cup sticks of oleo (now I use butter) at the 1/3 cup marks to get 2/3 cup, because that is what my mom always did,“ she said. “I was left with two little nubs, which I always just stuck into the butter dish. One day it occurred to me, ‘Wait a second. One cup is 3/3. I should just cut 1/3 cup off of 1 stick and that would leave me with 2/3 cup!’ One much handier piece of the stick of butter was left over. Not a biggie, but I laughed so hard! It changed my life.”

I admit, dealing with thirds can be tricky. I recently made 2/3 of a recipe, and everything divided easily until I got to the ½ cup of milk. Then it struck me that 2/3 x ½ is the same as ½ x 2/3, which is 1/3. Very tidy.

My husband’s aunt, a spectacular baker and cook in the finest Italian tradition, recently told me how she used math to finagle a favorite recipe out of her mother.

She said, “My mother made wonderful pannetone, but she couldn’t tell me the recipe because she didn’t know the proportions. ‘You just have to get the feel of it,’ she said. I replied, ‘That’s fine for you, but that won’t work for me.’ So I measured out each of the ingredients, making sure to put out more than my mother would use. When she was done, I measured what was left over. That told me exactly what she used and I finally had the recipe.”

A note about the crisps: With my first batch, the raisins fell to the bottom. To avoid this, thanks to Leah’s excellent advice below, I chopped and tossed them with flour before adding them to the batter. It scattered them beautifully.

Rosemary Raisin Pecan Crisps

2 cups flour
2 tesapoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 tablespoons white vinegar and enough milk to make 2 cups)
1/4 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup white sugar plus a dash molasses)
1/4 cup honey
1 cup raisins, chopped (dust with flour)
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup flax seed, ground
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add buttermilk, sugar, molasses and honey and stir a few strokes. Add the raisins, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seed and rosemary and stir just until blended.

Pour the batter into two 8”x 4” greased loaf pans or four mini-loaf pans (5-3/4” by 3-1/4” by 2-1/4”). Bake about 35 minutes for larger loaves, about 25 minutes for the smaller loaves, until golden and springy to the touch. Remove from the pans and cool on a wire rack.

The colder the bread, the easier it is to slice really thin. (I store the loaves in the freezer until needed.) Slice the frozen or cold loaf as thinly as you can and place slices in a single layer on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 300° for about 15 minutes, then flip slices over and bake another 10 minutes, until dry, crisp and golden brown. Makes about 8 or 9 dozen crackers.

Mock Boursin

Beat together:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons butter, softened
¼ teaspoon of each (dried): basil, marjoram, dill weed, thyme
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
garlic to taste

Spoon into custard cups, and grind black pepper on top to garnish. Cover and chill. This freezes well.

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Dick’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Posted on 14 June 2012 | 1 response

Of all my mother-in-law’s signature recipes for cakes, breads, cookies and pies, this one elicits the most nostalgia. So much so, the family handed it out on printed cards at her memorial service.

Dorothy, or Dick as we all called her, passed away three years ago at the age of 91. She started out with the usual nickname, Dot, until her baby brother mangled it so adorably that the mutation stuck. I don’t know how much gender confusion it caused, but when she and my father-in-law Louis won a bridge tournament, the local newspaper reported their names as “Richard and Louise.”

Dick first baked this cake in the late ‘50s. No one knows where she got the recipe. It didn’t come from her Irish mother or her Italian inlaws. I’d like to think that it has New England roots, since I never saw it when I lived in the South. My college roommate from Connecticut made an almost identical cake with grated baking chocolate in the filling. And Joe Kennedy likes to give away at Christmastime a pretty good version made by a local coffee cake company. But there are bloggers from all over claiming sour cream coffee cake as part of their heritage, so let’s just say it somehow materialized in her recipe box, ready to delight her family for decades and generations to come.

Deliciously reproducible
The aroma of the cinnamon-walnut topping as it toasts will grab you before you even get it out of the oven. The cake is light and moist with a soft crumb, and the contrasting sweet, spicy nuts and occasional raisin give it crunch and dimension. It’s a classic company cake, perfect for overnight guests, and easy to make anytime since it calls for common pantry ingredients.

The recipe is flexible, too. Sometimes I substitute chopped apple for the raisins. And I rarely use sour cream—usually yogurt or sour milk.

Best of all, it meets my three top criteria:

  1. Reproducibility. You can trust it will come out great every time.
  2. No fussing, yet it looks beautiful. The tube pan makes this possible.
  3. It freezes well.

I transcribed Dick’s recipe into a cookbook format so you can scan the ingredients. However, I also include below the old-style way she wrote it out, more as a narrative.

Dick’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Bake at 350° about 35-40 minutes.

Batter

  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream (or yogurt, or milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Topping

  • ½ cup chopped nuts (walnuts)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon (double to 2)
  • ¼ cup raisins for inside batter only
  1. Grease a tube pan well and preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cream together shortening, eggs and sugar.
  3. Mix sour cream (or sour milk or yogurt) with vanilla and set aside.
  4. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to creamed mixture, then mix in sour cream mixture.
  5. Put half the batter in a tube pan. Sprinkle on it half of the topping plus ¼ cup raisins. Cover with the rest of the batter, then sprinkle on the rest of the topping.
  6. Bake 35-40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Or, as Dick used to say, “When you can smell it, it’s done.”

Sour Cream Coffee Cake (Dick’s narrative)

350°  35-40 min.

(1) Cream together:

  • ½ c. Crisco
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 c. sugar

(2) Mix and set aside:

  • ½ pt. sour cream (1 c)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

(3) Sift together:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. salt

(4) Topping

  • ½ c. chopped nuts
  • ¼ c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Cream #1 – then by hand add your sour cream mix (#2) to the above (#1) stir well – add sifted dry ingredients – fold + stir in well – then put ½ mixture in tube pan + add ½ topping mix and also ¼ c. raisins – then remaining half of mixture and rest of topping.

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Fig Brooklines, Cookie Clusters, and the Possibility of Dark Batter

Posted on 1 May 2012 | 1 response


Newtonian physics
I steer away from the cookie aisle, since I prefer to bake, and who knows what’s in those processed things? Yet one packaged cookie always draws me in: the Fig Newton. Crunchy little seeds in moist jam, the tender crumb that doesn’t crumble—all stacked neatly in a sleeve that suggests how many you could (but shouldn’t) eat in one sitting.

What’s more, they could have been called Fig Brooklines. The Kennedy Biscuit Works of Cambridge (a founding bakery of Nabisco) introduced them in 1892 using a new funnel-within-a-funnel technology that formed a continuous tube of dough filled with fig jam. Since the bakery named their products after nearby towns, they called this one Newton. But why not Brookline? Maybe the filling reminded them too much of the Muddy River.

Wikipedia says handmade fig rolls similar to Newtons originated in ancient Egypt, but that sounds like a figment of somebody’s imagination.

Fig Brooklines
This recipephany makes a cookie that’s tastier than a Newton with surprisingly little work. Because you can make the filling and dough the night before, it’s easy to assemble and bake them the next day.

During baking, the sliced edges tend to puff up. Other fake Newtons shown online seem to keep their cleanly sliced edges, but I wouldn’t mess with these just to make them look more mass-produced.

Cookie clusters
I confess, this recipe is a slight modification of ones I found online. Okay, so it’s not highly original. But what is?

According to Michael P. Brenner, professor of applied mathematics at Harvard and expert on the quantitative analysis of baked goods, an original recipe needs to enter uncharted territory.

I learned this last week at his sold-out lecture, “The Science and History of Cookies and Brownies.” I went not just because it sounded like a good name for a chick flick, but because I’d been intrigued by his three-dimensional recipe tetrahedron I’d read about in the Boston Globe.

He and some assistants analyzed thousands of recipes, then plotted them according to their ratios of four ingredients: flour, sugar, eggs and liquid. In this baking universe, similar recipes cluster together to form what look like galaxies—there’s a brownie galaxy, a sugar cookie galaxy, as well as galaxies for chocolate cakes, angel food cakes, crepes, and so on. This new kind of food pyramid is cute, but it ignores a defining ingredient in desserts—fats. Have you ever tried to make a brownie without fats?

More of a regular dude than a professor, Brenner readily admits he is not a baker. So he also didn’t consider things like leavening agents, techniques, and baking temperatures. But he rightly saw cookies and brownies as a fun arena where he could apply kick-ass data analysis and visualization techniques.

Brenner challenged us to explore the white areas of the tetrahedron where there are no plotted recipes. He speculated that there might be totally new concoctions yet to be discovered.

My husband and I came up with another explanation, and posed this question to him: What if there are already baked goods in that white space, but we just can’t see them? Could these be called “dark batter”?

I have no idea where these fake Newtons might fit in the cookie universe. Nonetheless, they’re stellar.

Fig Brooklines

Fig Filling

  • 1 package dried figs (about 12-14 ounces)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¾ – 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Dough

  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sugar*
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda

1. Finely chop figs in a food processor (a good job for the Mini-Prep) and put into saucepan. Add sugar, water and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring, for 10 minutes or until like thick preserves. Add a little more water if it gets too thick. Cool and chill.

2. Beat together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla until well blended. Combine flour, salt and baking soda and stir into the creamed mixture to form a stiff dough. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill 3 hours or overnight (so it gets easy to roll out without adding much flour).

3. Place dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a rectangle 12 x 14 inches. Cut into 4 long strips, 3 1/2 by 12 inches. Spoon filling down the center of strips. Turn the sides in to cover the filling and seal the edges. Cut each roll into 9 or 10 pieces.

4. Bake seam-side down on cookie sheets at 375° for 10-12 minutes or until firm and lightly browned. Cool on racks. Store airtight. Makes 36 to 40 cookies.

*Can substitute 1 cup brown sugar for the sugar and molasses.

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Liz’s Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

Posted on 4 April 2012 | 1 response

Liz's Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

Willy and Lynn Osborn are alchemists. They take what looks like water and, like magic, turn it into Vermont gold. The full-day ritual involves a wood-fired evaporator, potion bubbling along a maze in a shallow rectangular pan, wafts of sweet steam, gauges, levitating hydrometers, spigots, and woolly filters. They bottle the result as Sweet Willy’s, reduced to one-fortieth of its original volume, a supremely delicate amber maple syrup that glows of its own volition and flirts with your sweet taste receptors.

We celebrated an unseasonably hot St. Patrick’s Day weekend in their sugar shack, sipping similarly colored amber liquids such as our newfound friend, Michael Collins 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any sweeter, Lynn made these pancakes.

The recipe comes from Liz Samuels, and it performs it’s own share of magic. How could something be both whole-grain hearty and fluffy at the same time? Lynn sprinkled in wild blueberries she had frozen from the shores of none other than Blueberry Lake, a short hike away. My first bite, drizzled with Sweet Willy’s, left me swooning. I had to restrain myself from making constant yummy noises. I have since made them at home, and they are spectacular. So much so that the two of us ate the whole batch.

The breakfasts of home
Liz, busy finishing up medical school, was kind enough to tell me the story behind this recipephany. Here’s what she said:

“I grew up in upstate New York, just outside of Albany. My mom used to make us all buttermilk oatmeal pancakes growing up, which I absolutely loved. When I left home to go to college on the West Coast, I found myself calling her for the recipe, missing the breakfasts of home. These pancakes quickly became my signature breakfast potluck contribution. To this day, when I visit friends in Portland, they always suggest that I make us ‘your mom’s buttermilk oatmeal pancakes.’

The scrap of paper that I scribbled the recipe on survived many moves, but somewhere along the way from California to Boston, I lost it, but managed to remember most of it, and piece together some gaps by looking at other recipes.

I made a couple of changes from my mother’s original rendition. I changed the original all purpose flour to whole wheat, and added (first) nutmeg and (then) cinnamon. I’ve also made this by substituting whole wheat pastry flour for the whole wheat flour, which gives the pancakes a more delicate texture. Either way, it’s delicious (especially with Sweet Willy’s).”

Liz’s Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes

Feeds 4  (or two with healthy appetites)

  • 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk (Recipephany Note: I use Saco Cultured Buttermilk powder, available at grocery stores, so I don’t need to have fresh buttermilk on hand.)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • a couple of dashes of grated/ground nutmeg (~1/8 tsp)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg (lightly beaten)
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar (packed)
  • Frozen wild blueberries, mostly defrosted (recommended)
  1. Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk 10 minutes.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together butter and brown sugar. Add egg and then remaining 3/4 cup buttermilk, and oat mixture.
  4. Add wet to the dry ingredients. Add small amounts of milk if you think the batter appears too thick.
  5. Heat a griddle over medium heat until hot. Melt butter or lightly oil griddle. Pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake. Sprinkle in blueberries, if desired. Flip when bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown. Add butter or oil as needed.
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Great-Grandmother’s Prokas (Sweet and Sour Meatballs and Cabbage)

Posted on 21 March 2012 | 2 responses

Prokas, Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Meatballs

Several months ago, I was desperate to track down the story behind Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old). Turns out the woman I thought was the great-granddaughter really wasn’t, and that the recipe probably came from an old Brer Rabbit Molasses ad.

It recently struck me that I had a story of a recipephany handed down from a great-grandmother. The recipe is for Prokas, it is more than 130 years old, and the great-granddaughter is me. Take that, Brer Rabbit.

Prokas is Yiddish for “stuffed cabbage.” Stuffed cabbage hails from all over Eastern Europe, under names like Holishkes, Golumpkis, and Lahanodolmathes. My great-grandmother, Rachel, brought her recipe over from the Ukraine in 1883 along with six of her eight children, including my toddler grandfather. She came to join her husband and two eldest boys who had found a place on 7th Street in Philadelphia.

My mom recently shared memories of her “Bubbe.” She never learned to speak English and relied on her Yiddish to get by. She was a warm woman and a wonderful cook. Meticulous in the kitchen, she would hand-slice her fine noodles with the precision of a pasta machine.

So I can imagine her there, shvitzing in her long black dress with high lace-trimmed collar, delicately tucking meat and rice into perfect packets of cabbage. She taught her daughter-in-law, my grandmother, to do the same.

But then my mom, the modern woman, turned it all inside out. She deconstructed Prokas into meatballs and cabbage simmered in a thick, deliciously tangy tomato sauce. This was my favorite dinner growing up, right up there with chicken soup as a comfort food. It’s a satisfying meal made perfect with crusty bread for sopping. Those not so keen on cabbage can load up on meatballs (leaving more cabbage for us). It’s the kind of dish that tastes even better as leftovers, and is sure to warm your kishkas.

Secret ingredient: sour salt
Let’s get this straight: By “sweet and sour,” we don’t mean anything involving pineapple chunks. While the sweetness comes from tomato paste, onions, and sugar, the delightful tartness comes from pure citric acid, AKA “sour salt.” A little goes a long way, replacing the juice of many lemons. When my mom wrote out the recipe for me, she, as her grandmother had done, sketched three small nuggets to suggest how much to use.  Nowadays, sour salt looks just like table salt and doesn’t generally clump up. You can find it at a Kosher market or online, and a small jar will last you many years.

Sour salt has become my secret ingredient in hummus and other dishes where I want the pucker but don’t need or want the lemon flavor. It also lets me save my lemons for Ma’s Lemon Sponge Pie or Lemon “Vinaigrette,” where they are much more appreciated.

Meatball variations
My mom eliminated the rice typically in stuffed cabbage from the meatballs. I once tried adding it back, only to have it fall out as the meatballs cooked and shrank. I have slightly adapted her recipe to lighten the meatballs with bread crumbs and a little water. I also add a dash of Worcestershire sauce for that extra hint of umami.

I tend to make Prokas soupier than my mom’s so I can enjoy more bowls of it per sitting. But since measurements are approximate, feel free to adjust them to your own tastes. I’m sure my great-grandmother wouldn’t mind.

Great-Grandmother’s Prokas (Sweet and Sour Meatballs and Cabbage)

Cut up and place in a big  pot:

  • 1 large cabbage
  • 2 large onions

Add:

  • 1 12-ounce can tomato paste (large can)
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, squeezed
  • 1 teaspoon sour salt (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

and cover with water. Stir and bring to a boil.

Make small meatballs with:

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, squeezed
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste

I also add to the meatballs:

  • About 1/3 – 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • About 1/4 cup water
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce for a hint of umami

(You can add whatever you want according to your taste. Also, keep in mind you need to make the meatballs a bit salty because they will lose the salt as they boil.)

Gently add meatballs, one at a time, into the boiling pot, then turn to simmer and let cook about 3 hours. Taste test for more sugar, sour salt, or seasoning. Let it cook down to thicken, but watch carefully and stir occasionally to avoid burning.

Note: You can halve this recipe, which makes a lot, substituting a medium cabbage for the large.

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Oscars 2012: The Help (Yourself to Another Slice of) Chocolate Pie

Posted on 16 February 2012 | 3 responses

If you’ve seen The Help, you know that Minny’s famous chocolate pie has to headline this year’s Oscars menu. I found what purports to be the recipe, but I had to test it before posting. After all, it was a movie prop. I was afraid it would look good, but taste crappy.

After some adaptation (adding lots more cocoa and vanilla, and simplifying the baking), I’m pleased to report that my Minny’s pie recipephany below rates 5 out of 5 stars, with a dark filling that tastes like a melted chocolate bar. Neither cream, nor custard, nor chiffon, it’s a firm pie that would not lend itself to tossing. It poses no danger of a chocolate flood in the oven because the filling stays comfortably below the line of crimpage.

This variation of a classic Southern chocolate chess pie is a good movie choice because it must have held up well under the Klieg lights. When I was growing up in North Carolina, chocolate angel pie with its heavenly chocolate cloud on a thin pecan meringue crust was the hands-down best Southern pie ever. Now that’s Oscar material. But it would never have lasted beyond the first take.

And considering how hard it is to make a chocolate angel pie (at least for me—I have yet to get it right), Minny’s pie has the edge because you can dash it together from ingredients you have around the kitchen. (Especially if, like me, you still have that can of evaporated milk left over from Thanksgiving.)

Blues Food Tradition

My husband and his college friends created “Blues Food” themed dinners many years ago, the intersection of good food, puns, and conceptual art. Once we put sautéed chicken livers with red wine gravy into a baked pie shell, and topped it with squares of baked pastry with perforated edges—a dish my husband called “Shit or Get Off the Pot Pie.” This Oscars menu humbly bows to that fine tradition.

2012 Oscars Menu

  • Martin Scorcheesey’s Hugorgonzola
  • Melissa Havarti with Jonah Dill
  • Kenneth Bran-Oat Crackers
  • Mid-ripened Pears from Woody Allandale Farm
  • Brad Pitted Olives
  • Mishellfish Williams with Warm Horseradish Sauce
  • Gary Oldmanicotti with Rooney Marinara Sauce
  • Meryl Strip Steak
  • The Artistchokes with Greens du Jardin and Bérénice Dijon, Misshelled Hazelnuts and Money Balsamic Vinaigrette
  • The Tray of Libations, including George Kahlua Neat
  • The Help (Yourself to Another Slice of) Chocolate Pie
  • Heavyola Davis Cream, Whipped

The Help (Yourself to Another Slice of) Chocolate Pie
(AKA “Minny’s Chocolate Pie”)

I have already increased the cocoa and vanilla. But, hey, it never hurts to add more.

  • 9-inch pie crust, unbaked (see Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk (can be skim)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Prepare the pie shell and rub the inside bottom lightly with butter or margarine to keep the crust from getting soggy.

Whisk sugar with cocoa powder, butter, eggs, evaporated milk, vanilla and salt until smooth. Pour filling into the pastry and bake for about 40-45 minutes. The filling should be set around the perimeter and wiggle just a little in the center when you jiggle the pie so that the chocolate doesn’t overcook. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

Note: I have changed this recipe since I first posted it. It now has nearly double the cocoa, shorter baking time, and clearer (I hope) instructions. It’s definitely 5 stars now.

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Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old)

Posted on 8 December 2011 | 4 responses

I believe in probability. I don’t play Powerball because I have about as much chance of winning as drowning in a bucket.

However, eerie coincidences tend to follow me around like stray puppies. I don’t notice them until I look over my shoulder, and there they are, tails wagging and tongues panting, and a little too close for comfort.

When I was 24, I noticed the registration number on my birth certificate: 123456. It was creepy then, but even eerier now that it’s the most popular computer password—and a sucky one at that.

This eerie coincidence involving Great Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old) began in 1976, when I bought an old textbook, Domestic Science, Principles and Application (copyright 1923) in a used bookstore in Raleigh, North Carolina. There, tucked in the pages, I found this already brown newspaper clipping (see photo). I had no idea what paper it had come from, or when it was published.Great-Grandmother's Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old)

No matter. The recipe delivered. Moist and high, like a good chocolate cake, the gingerbread had a spicy molasses twang. Old, but not old-fashioned.

Over all these years I have stared at this recipe and yet the name of its contributor never registered.

This past May, when I went to scan the recipe for posting, I dope-slapped myself when I realized I could Google her. I didn’t expect to find anything. But I did.

It was her obituary. She had passed away just 17 days earlier at the age of 81. The only fact about her was her occupation; she had worked in the food services industry.

I composed a thoughtful letter to her daughter, then to her son, with my condolences. I told them how important this recipe had become to me, and included the picture of the clipping. I asked them to please tell me more about her and this recipe, if they could. I gave them many ways to reach me. I introduced Recipephany.com to show my honorable intentions.

They probably pegged me as a stalker, were creeped out by my timing, or just didn’t want to associate with my blog. I waited months for some sort of reply. I yearned to hear the story of how a crumbling page of faded fountain-pen script was passed down from a woman who probably never had electricity and bought molasses by the gallon (wait—I buy it by the gallon now). But nothing ever came.

Turns out, upon further Googling, that this wasn’t really her family recipe anyway. A Brer Rabbit Molasses ad dating back to 1935 showcases Great Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old) (see recipecurio.com). The only difference is that the contributor to my recipe substituted shortening for butter and lard, shortened baking time, and took out the “fashioned” from “old-fashioned.” Coincidentally, that’s exactly what I would have done. Now, as long as people still use molasses, Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread can probably go on for another 100 years.

Great-Grandmother’s Gingerbread (Over 100 Years Old)

  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 ½ teaspoons soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 2 ½ cups sifted flour
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup hot water

Cream shortening and sugar. Add beaten egg, molasses, then dry ingredients which have been sifted together. Add hot water and beat until batter is smooth. Bake in greased shallow pan 35 minutes in moderate oven (325 degrees to 350 degrees F.). Makes 15 portions. Good old gingerbread. (Note: I use an 8-inch square pan so that it comes out high.)

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Heather’s Cranberry Apple Pie Inspires OccuPie Brookline

Posted on 31 October 2011 | No responses

Occupie Brookline Cranberry Apple Pie

A week ago, after chowing down chow foon in Chinatown, we went with our friends Heather and Will to Occupy Boston. Will led us, as he had been there before to donate goods. With tents snugged together like soap bubbles, the encampment is not so much a protest site as a tiny village. It has a library, a bike-powered generator (courtesy of MIT), a canteen, art exhibits, entertainment, derelicts, tourists (us), and dedicated activists chanting responsively in the village square.

An apple from the canteen that had rolled to the foot of a tent got me thinking about Heather’s Cranberry Apple Pie. Sweet, tangy, scrumptious, and so New England.

Heather gave me this recipephany several months ago, but now as we approach Thanksgiving, it’s time to share it as part of our new movement, OccuPie Brookline. Our cause: Everyone is entitled to a bigger piece of the pie.

Heather’s pies

“Here’s the recipe for two deep or four shallow pies,” writes Heather. “I should note that no matter who in the family is hosting Thanksgiving, it’s been a standing requirement for many years that I show up with at least two Cranberry Apple Pies and some vanilla ice cream. I tend to make four pies at once—two to bring and two to freeze. They freeze, unbaked, really well and can be baked months later.”

She and I use the hand-crank peeler/corer/slicer, which peels the apple skins into thin, spiraling ribbons. “Eating the ‘peels’ from the apples used to be a big treat for my kids,” she says. “They had lots of fun eating the long strands.  At this point, I’m the only one enjoying the strands,” she adds, now that her kids are both in college.

I made only one pie, so I used about one-third of the recipe (see below). She says just to make sure to be generous with the cinnamon, and she’s so right.

Cranberry Apple Pie

For 2-4 pies

  • 12-15 apples (Heather likes Empires but notes that any baking apple works) yielding 12 cups, peeled, sliced apple pieces
  • 4-5 cups cranberries (depending on how sweet the apples are and how tart you like it)
  • 2 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 6+ teaspoons cinnamon  (never too much!)

Stir together sugars, flour and cinnamon. Add apples and cranberries and coat well. Turn into pastry lined pans. (Heather likes to make a lattice top.)

Bake at 425° for 45 minutes.  Keep foil around the edges for the first half hour or so, then remove edge foil for the last 10ish minutes.

For one 9-inch pie (approximately)

  • 5 apples, yielding about 4 cups
  • 1¾ cups cranberries
  • 1 cup sugar with 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2+ teaspoons cinnamon (never too much!)
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Gary’s Date and Oatmeal Bars

Posted on 14 October 2011 | 5 responses

This may be the first recipe I ever got from Gary Isaacson, who passed away two years ago next week. A born chef, he was fluent in all cuisines. Yeast loved him as much as everyone else did, and he put the “art” in artisan breads. I hope to post more of his recipephanies, and I invite his friends and family to send me their favorites along with any Gary stories that go along with them.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

I was in the slow checkout line at Publix a few years back when the woman ahead of me put three boxes of Betty Crocker’s date bar mix onto the stopped conveyor belt. Like a first responder, I knew I had to talk her down from the ledge. “Have I got a recipe for you!” I said, yenta-style. She still bought the mixes, but wrote down her address so I could send her this recipephany. It was a good thing, too, because the company discontinued the mix (maybe because she stopped buying it).

I first had these when Gary served them for dessert at his and Laurie’s home. I remember going back repeatedly for stray oaty crumbles when I thought no one was looking. As someone who had depended solely on Solo date filling, I was delighted to taste this luscious homemade alternative. A sparkle of fresh lemon juice cut the sticky sweetness of the dates, and there was that surprise of walnuts in the smooth filling.

I begged for the recipe, telling Gary I had to make these for my date-addicted Dad, but of course, I wanted them for myself, too. Fortunately, Gary, ever generous and fun, enjoyed sharing, teaching, and cheering his friends on, so he wasted no time in getting me the recipe on a card embossed with his initials. Pretty cool.

Gary’s Date and Oatmeal Bars

  • About 1 lb. pitted dates, cut up
  • 1 cup water or more
  • 3 TBS lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup broken walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup margarine or butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (I use 1 cup sugar and about 2 tablespoons molasses)
  • 2 cups old fashioned oats (can use more)
  1. Combine dates and water in saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer on low heat about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add more water if it gets too thick, especially if you use chopped dates that have been rolled in oat flour. Cool. Stir in lemon juice and walnuts.
  2. Cream butter and sugar and beat ‘till fluffy. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Add oats and stir.
  3. Press 2/3 of oat mixture into a 9×12 greased pan. Spread the date mixture over it. Top with remaining oat mixture and pat.
  4. Bake at 375° for 30-35 minutes. (Look at it at 25 minutes – with my convection oven, it takes generally less than 30 minutes.)
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Oven Chicken Croquettes à la Mini-Prep

Posted on 5 October 2011 | 1 response

Chicken croquettes

Ah, comfort food. This recipephany produces a classic croquette from the early 50s. But it is neither deep fried nor béchamel-laden, as you’d find in a diner. So you can take comfort in its wholesomeness. It’s more like a chicken patty, best served with spicy barbecue or horseradish sauce. And surprisingly, it has no onions. More surprisingly, I’ve never been tempted to add any. (Note: Since I posted this, I tried adding chopped scallions. They gave the croquettes a nice little bite and turned them into something like baked chicken salad.)

Most important, it’s comfort food for the cook because I get to whirr it up in the Cuisinart Mini-Prep Plus Processor my friend Emily gave me a couple years ago. At the risk of sounding like Ron Popeil, this midget chopper/grinder is the real recipephany here. I use it instead of my big-ass food processor whenever I can because it cleans up quick and weighs little more than what you put into it.

The Mini-Prep. (Not to be confused with the miniprep method of isolating plasmid DNA from bacteria.)

Even when I just need to mince garlic, out comes the Mini-Prep. Now don’t get me wrong—I don’t like to waste energy. My admirably green neighbors Lynn and Willy calculated that I have saved more than 2 tons of carbon by dragging my bubby cart on shopping trips. I love to hand-crank pasta, and my rotary egg beater is downright fun to use. But this Mini-Prep does in seconds what takes me minutes with a sharp knife, and considering how I am with sharp knives, the extra electricity is well worth it.

Oven Chicken Croquettes

  • 2 cups cooked chicken, ground
  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 cup soft bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, well-beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • Chopped scallions (optional)
  • ¼ cup melted butter or margarine
  • ½ cup dry bread crumbs (from bread toasted in the oven and ground up in the Mini-Prep, of course)

Preheat oven to 375°.

In separate batches, process the bread to make soft crumbs (exactly one hamburger bun defrosted from the freezer), grind chicken pieces, and chop the celery (roughly cut first for even processing).

Combine everything but the melted butter or margarine and dry bread crumbs. Shape into 6 croquettes. Roll each in melted margarine or butter, then in crumbs. Place in shallow pan. Bake until a golden brown. You may want to turn them once midway through baking for even browning. Bake about 30 minutes.

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Sunny With a Chance of Leeks (for Potato Leek Soup)

Posted on 9 September 2011 | No responses

Potato Leek SoupLeeks remind me of that squintingly-bright Sunday morning we spent on the paradise of Coronado Island, San Diego, four years ago. My daughter led us on a run past the regal Hotel Del Coronado (where Marilyn Monroe sizzled in “Some Like it Hot”), past magnificent Mission-style clay-roofed homes, and along pristine, underused sidewalks.

About half way around the loop, my daughter spied a bundle of plump, fresh, organic leeks demurely lying on a strip of grass beside the sidewalk. Had there been a gentle leek sunshower?

My daughter picked them up. Upon closer examination, we surmised that they had more likely arrived by limo. These were the Gisele Bündchen of leeks, long and alluring, cleansed as if prepped for a photo shoot. They were clearly worth more than the French toast brunch I would have later at the restaurant.

Did we take this pricey booty? I had rescued much sketchier produce—bruised bananas discarded in a Haymarket alley—and the result was perfect banana bread. There was no apparent owner here. So yes, my daughter carried them the rest of the run and they ended up in her soup pot that night.

So it can be said that while we were out running, we had to stop to take a leek.

A real softy

I am a newcomer to the leek. Only recently have I discovered that this big, usually tough-looking aromatic vegetable is surprisingly mild, and it cooks up softer and faster than onions. It generally requires more rinsing, though, since those not found on Coronado Island tend to have grit on them.

I fell for this Potato Leek Soup recipephany because it plays on the leek’s creaminess to make a rich-tasting soup without anything rich in it. It’s a perfect vegan dish, but all food sects should equally enjoy it.

Potato Leek Soup

  • 2 large whole leeks, prepared and sliced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter, oil or Earth Balance buttery spread (for vegan version)
  • 6 cups water
  • 3 medium all-purpose potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 4 vegetarian or chicken bouillon cubes
  • Sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste
  1. Prepare the leeks by trimming off the root end and cutting off the tough top dark or ragged outer leaves. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse under cold water, slightly pulling apart the leaves to get rid of all the sand and dirt. Roughly slice.
  2. Sauté sliced leeks and chopped onion in butter, oil or buttery spread in a soup pot until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the water, potatoes, and bouillon, rosemary sprig and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer about 30 minutes, or until potatoes soften.
  3. Remove any twig left from the rosemary and puree the soup in a blender or food processor, doing it in two batches. Pour back into the pot and reheat, adding salt a little at a time until the flavors perk up, and pepper. Serve hot or chilled. Garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs.
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Red Sox Dinner Lineup, Featuring Jacoby Ellsberry Pie

Posted on 23 August 2011 | 2 responses

We’re putting together the lineup for a Red Sox dinner—we hope for October—but I don’t want to give them any kenahoras, if you know what I mean. Here’s what we have so far, and I invite your suggestions. (Of interest, in 2007 Jacoby replaced what otherwise would have been dessert: Coco Crisp.)

Starters: Cocktail Francona Bun, Adrian Gorganzalez Cheese, Green Muenster Cheese, Tim Wheatfilled Crackers, and Carl Crawfish Dip.

Main Course: Veal Saltalamacchia, Marcoroni Scutaro, Josh Reddickio Salad with Big Poppy Seed Dressing, Jason Varitexas Toast, Kevin Yuccaless Side Dish with Jed Lowrie’s Seasonings, and Dustin Pedroyams.

Dessert: Jacoby Ellsberry Pie, with (of course) Jonathan Papelbon-Bons closing the dinner.

The Berries

Our bumper crop of frontyard raspberries allowed me to freeze enough for Ellsberry Pie. (I spread the berries out on a cookie tray, froze them, then stored them in baggies.) The concentrated flavor and deep color make the pie as special as its namesake. You can substitute frozen blueberries for some or all of the raspberries, or your choice of mixed berries (such as Trader Joe’s Fancy Berry Medley), since (don’t tell anyone) an ellsberry doesn’t actually exist in nature.

I have included my old standard Orange Juice Pie Crust because it goes so well with fruit.

Jacoby Ellsberry Pie

  • Orange Juice Pie Crust (see below) or your favorite two-crust recipe
  • 4 cups raspberries (or more, and can be frozen)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons instant tapioca
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon dairy product (cream, half and half, or milk) for decorating
  • Sugar for sprinkling

Mix defrosted raspberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon, cinnamon, and salt until berries are covered. Let sit 15 minutes.

Make pie crust. Place bottom crust in the pie plate, then rub with some soft butter to keep the bottom from getting soggy.

Pour filling into pie crust, dot with butter, and add top crust. Trim and crimp. Roll out leftover trimmed dough, cut out lettering with cookie cutters, and decorate by pasting letters on with your dairy product of choice. Brush more dairy on the lettering and the top crust, avoiding crimped edges as they get dark anyway. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Cut slits or poke top with fork to release the steam.

Bake at 425º for 15 minutes, then 375º for about 25 minutes.

Orange Juice Pastry

Two-Crust Pie

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup shortening
  • ¼ cup orange juice (more or less)

Mix flour and salt, cut in shortening until it looks like coarse meal. Stir in enough orange juice with a fork to make a ball of dough. Break in half, and roll out accordingly.

One-Crust Pie

  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice (more or less)

(For a baked pie shell, prick the pastry all over with a fork, including sides, to prevent bubbling. Bake at 425º for 12-15 minutes.)

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Quick and Creamy Microwave (for the heatwave) Chocolate Pudding

Posted on 22 July 2011 | No responses

We’re having a heatwave, a tropical heatwave, and the temperature’s rising to 100°. So do I hold off cooking dessert? No! I get out a microwaveable bowl and whisk up this quick and creamy chocolate pudding without adding a single degree to the house.

Essentially guilt-free (except for the sugar), it can also be guilt-optional, letting you choose whether or not to add all the butter or top with whipped cream. It tastes rich using skim milk, and, unlike many puddings, has no egg yolks to sabotage your summertime shape. There’s no saucepan to scrub—you can cook it right in the serving bowl—so in some small way you’re doing your part to conserve water during the drought.

But most important, there’s no sweating over a hot stove. In fact, there’s no sweating at all, since it’s as easy as directions on the back of a My-T-Fine box. For this reason, what began as a summertime recipephany (adapted from The Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury) is now my go-to recipe for a quick chocolate fix any time.

Quick and Creamy Microwave Chocolate Pudding

I buy cocoa by the 5-lb. bag.

  • 2/3 cup sugar (can adjust to taste)
  • 3/8 cup cocoa (can adjust to taste)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups skim milk (can add a little more if you add more cocoa)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Combine sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt in a medium micro-proof bowl, and gradually sir in milk. Microwave on high 5 minutes, whisking twice during the cooking. Then, microwave on high 2-3 minutes or until cooked and thickened. Whisk in butter and vanilla. Pour into bowls (if you want), press plastic wrap onto surface. Cool, and chill thoroughly. 4-5 servings.

If you want to double this, you will need to double the cooking time (or see how it goes with your microwave).

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Kathleen’s Tiny Tarts: short and sweet

Posted on 9 June 2011 | 3 responses

Kathleen's Tiny Tarts

Tiny Tarts. I admit I love the nutty name as much as the nutty flavor. You’d think “pecan” would be the operative word, but no, the diminutive size gets top billing.

This recipephany goes back to our first visit to the postcard-perfect Canadian seaside resort of St. Andrews in the ‘70s. We stayed at our friend Julie’s family home, a charming Cape Cod cottage that served as a dining hall for officers stationed at a nearby fort during the War of 1812.

Julie’s mother Kathleen was a superb, versatile baker, ahead of her time with high loaves of honey oatmeal and other whole grain breads. When she treated us to these delicate Tiny Tarts along with New Brunswick’s own King Cole Tea, I was enthralled by the short cream-cheese pastry, the ethereal brown-sugar pecan filling, and of course the alliteration. There was none of the gooeyness of pecan pie, and the crust and filling melted together with the first bite. I thought of the British military who crunched on their shortbread or digestive biscuits in the house, clueless as to the delight the all-American pecan would bring to the table more than 150 years later.

I make these at Christmastime, maybe because of a subliminal “Tiny Tim” message. But they are good in the summer or any time, as they bake up fast and dress up fresh fruit or ice cream.

P.S. Thank you, Kate, for your comment about how these “butter tarts” turn out to be a truly Canadian dessert!

Tiny Tins

I recommend a nonstick mini muffin tin like this:

tiny tart tin

The tiny pastry shells require no rolling. You take a small clump of dough and spread it with your fingers to coat the inside of each well. The recipe says you should chill the dough, but I usually don’t.

I’ve made a few adaptations. I add molasses to regular sugar instead of using brown sugar (I don’t believe in brown sugar, but that’s another story), double the vanilla, and garnish with pecan halves.

Kathleen’s Tiny Tarts

Served with a pot of King Cole loose tea.

Crust:

  • 3 ounces cream cheese
  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 cup sifted flour
  1. Let cream cheese and butter soften, mix with flour. Chill 1 hour.
  2. Divide into 24 small balls and place in ungreased small muffin tins. Press to bottom and sides to form crusts.

Filling:

  • 1 egg
  • ¾ cup brown sugar (I substitute white sugar and about a tablespoon of molasses)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2 teaspoons)
  • Dash salt
  • ¾ cup broken pecans
  • 24 additional pecans halves to decorate tops*
  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Beat egg, sugar, vanilla, butter and salt until smooth. Add broken pecans. Dip into tins with teaspoon. Top with pecan halves.
  2. Bake at 325° about 30 minutes.

They freeze beautifully.

*The original recipe called for dividing the 3/4 cup of broken pecans and putting half into the filling and sprinkling half on top.

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Julia Lipman’s Cinnamon Tea Cake

Posted on 24 April 2011 | 2 responses

A best-selling novelist who serves up social comedies with affection and wit, Elinor Lipman has a talent for observing and carving up our culture — which of course includes food. Most notably, she can remember every meal she ever ate.

While critics have praised her pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, I would also like to extol her taste buds. Everything she cooks and bakes and every restaurant dish she recommends is a winner.

So I am overjoyed she has let me feature her mother’s recipe for Cinnamon Tea Cake. It’s a Drake’s crumb cake in Blu-ray, delightfully light and luscious with cinnamon. It also performs a brilliant trick of self-streuseling. That is, the crumbly topping (streusel) comes from the same dry ingredients you mix for the batter. You just set some aside and sprinkle it on at the end.

The Cake at Lake Devine

Elinor grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, and her family vacationed at Lake Dunmore in Vermont in the ‘60s. Her mother, Julia, selected this lake from a Chamber of Commerce brochure, and sent inquiries to several hotels and lodges. The family ended up at a cottage, not the grand inn on the lake, due to a letter her mother received from the inn’s proprietors. This letter, displaying what Elinor calls a fascinating “marriage of good manners and anti-Semitism,” became the inspiration for her novel, The Inn at Lake Devine, hailed as “a tale of delicious revenge” by USA Today.

Elinor, her sister, and her father would swim while her mother and her friends sat at the shore within sight of the restricted Inn, shmoozing and exchanging recipes. This gem came from one of these friends, Sib Rosen.

Cinnamon Tea Cake

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2 teaspoons)
  1. Preheat oven to 350º.
  2. Mix the sugar, margarine, flour sifted with salt, baking powder and cinnamon until crumbly. Reserve 1/3 cup for topping.
  3. Add vanilla to milk and milk to beaten egg.
  4. Add liquids to first mixture and beat until smooth.
  5. Pour into 8” greased pan (can be round or square. I line it with wax paper bottom so it can be taken out of the pan. If you want to leave it in the pan, just grease as usual.)
  6. Sprinkle with reserved topping.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes or until done.
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Sweet and salty Kettle Corn, with no extra calories

Posted on 29 March 2011 | No responses

Fats, sugars and salt. They comprise the snack food hat trick, and, frankly, are what we crave in food. When made with enough oil, popcorn with salt nails two out of three.

Caramel corn solves the sweetness issue, but then you’ve got Cracker Jack, a real sugar-shock inducer. So when I discovered Kettle Corn, with its light sugary glaze, I decided to make it at home.

It was disappointing. The recipe called for adding sugar to the popcorn and oil, and the sugar just caramelized and burned.

Then I had a recipephany. Why not just sprinkle sucralose (aka Spenda) on top of the freshly popped kernels? It worked. Because it is light, it sticks to the popcorn. You can sweeten to taste, and it doesn’t overpower the salt. It’s got that county-fair taste, couldn’t be easier, and adds no extra calories. Perfect for popcorn junkies like me.

Kettle Corn

I use a Theatre II stovetop popper which has a hand crank for stirring.

1. Make popcorn. (Chances are, you have a favorite way to make popcorn with oil, so skip this step. However, don’t use a hot-air popper because you need the moisture of the oil.)

  • Pour enough popcorn into the pot to cover the bottom completely.
  • Add enough oil to cover the kernels.
  • Put on lid and heat at medium high, shaking the pot (or stirring with the handle) almost constantly, and turn off heat when the popping has almost stopped (about 3 minutes).
  • Remove the lid so the steam escapes and the popcorn dries a bit.
  • After a minute, dump popcorn into a big snacking bowl.

2. Turn it into Kettle Corn.

Sprinkle with sucralose and popcorn salt to taste. Toss.

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