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.

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.
♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

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 | 4 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 | 2 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

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 sliced crisp

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: The raisins fell to the bottom. They tasted great anyway. But to avoid this, I will try cutting them up, and perhaps adding them first to the dry ingredients. If you know any math that could help with this, please let me know! (See Leah’s comment below for good advice, which includes trying currants instead of cutting up raisins and tossing them with flour.) (PS. Tossing the raisins with flour worked!)

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
2 tablespoons 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 | No responses

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 | 2 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.

So I’m pleased to report that it rates 4 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 looks like it’s a variation of a classic Southern chocolate chess pie, a good 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
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 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 45 minutes, or until the filling is set. Cool completely. Serve with whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

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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.

PS.

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 | No 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-streuselizing. 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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The King’s Peach Pie for Oscar night 2011

Posted on 23 February 2011 | 2 responses

The King's Peach Pie

Made with George-uh peaches

Our red-carpet menu for Oscar night is shaping up: The Ribs are All Right, True Grits with Salt, Social Knockwurst, Mesclun Firth and Jesse Iceberg Lettuce Salad with Geoffrey Russian Dressing, Mark Ruffalo Mozzarella on Helena Bonham Crackers, Winter’s Boneless Chicken Piccata (rather than Natalie Porterhouse Steak), Bristian Kale, Christopher Nolan’s Citrus In Sections, The Fighter Punch, Danny Boyle-ing Water for Toy Story Tea, and, of course, The King’s Peach Pie.

Worthy of the stuttering monarch, George VI, this recipephany calls for George-uh peaches plus blue-blood blueberries to cut the sweetness and give it a royal purple hue.

The King’s Peach Pie

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (or 3/4 cup white sugar with 1 tablespoon molasses)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2 pounds ripe peaches, peeled and sliced (4 cups)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Pastry for 2 9-inch crusts
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream (or milk, although cream is better)

Preheat oven to 450°.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add tapioca and allow to absorb liquid for 2 minutes and soften. Beat in sugar, salt and nutmeg. Add peaches and blueberries, and toss well.

Spoon fruit into a 9-inch pie plate lined with pastry. Roll out top crust and cut 3-4 slits. After moistening edges of the bottom crust, lay top crust on, pressing edges firmly together. Trim off excess dough (save for decorating) and crimp edges decoratively. Brush cream or milk over top crust for a glaze.

Place pie on a cookie sheet on a rack in the top third of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes at 450°. Lower heat to 350° and bake about 30 minutes, or until pie is golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Note: You can use frozen fruit.

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How to Fowl-Up a Chicken

Posted on 3 January 2011 | 2 responses

The vertical chicken roaster is the secret to crispy skin and juicy meat.

Long ago, when I was an advertising copywriter at an agency we affectionately called “the Pit,” I cranked out headlines and calls-to-action for everything from cheesy inflatable pool toys to police-car flashing lights. I didn’t have time to get too friendly with the products, though, since I had to log in every minute of head-banging “creativity.”

So it was with excitement that I got to take home a new kitchen gadget, the Poul-Tree vertical roaster. The rack would fit into the chicken’s cavity (okay, up its rear) to stand it upright in the oven. The idea was that the fat would drip away and the bird would brown crisply all over, without any soggy spots. I couldn’t wait to try it.

When I got home, though, my brain was stuck in pun overdrive. Forgetting “Poul-Tree,” I announced to my husband that we got to try the amazing new “Fowl-Up.” Although why anyone would pick a name that portended culinary disaster beat me.

The Fowl-Up was a recipephany, living up to its promise of thin, crispy skin and juicy meat. There are many vertical roasters out there (see amazon.com to see some choices), although the Poul-Tree appears long gone. Since I’m not getting a cut, choose whatever one looks good for you.

This recipe is very close to my sister-in-law’s recipe for roast chicken: “Take one chicken and one oven. Combine.”

Fowled-Up Chicken

  • 1 fryer or roaster
  • 1 vertical roaster and pan
  • Oil
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • Kosher salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375°. Rinse chicken, dry with a paper towel, and rub with oil. Rub the poultry seasoning and kosher salt onto the skin. Season the cavity with kosher salt. Place on vertical roaster and stand it upright in a roasting pan (or any pan that can catch the drippings). Roast about 45 minutes for a large fryer, longer (an hour or a little more) for a roaster. (You know how long, depending upon your oven.)

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Ma’s Lemon Sponge Pie

Posted on 30 November 2010 | 1 response


Reddy Kilowatt says, "Cook Electrically" It’s holiday time. Who is making Ma’s Lemon Sponge Pie?

Ma's Lemon Sponge Pie


My husband’s grandmother, Frances Leahey, brought home this recipephany from a cooking class sponsored by the Western Massachusetts Electric Company and its live-wire mascot Reddy Kilowatt probably around 1930. She had just bought an electric oven, and the class was, according to Reddy, to help “our electric customers to make the very best possible use of the electricity they buy.” There is no better use of electricity than this pie.

At first, Ma thought this recipe was the case of a lemon meringue pie gone awry, where the teacher mistakenly folded the egg whites in with the filling instead of spreading them on top. Whatever its origin, lemon sponge pie took the family by storm, and is now in its fourth generation of sweetening holidays, family reunions, celebrations and all-around good times.

The pie performs that magic trick of separating into golden cake on top and tart lemon filling below. It holds together so well, the tradition is to eat it as a finger food. You pick up a wedge right out of the pie pan, holding a napkin below simply to be polite. I prefer a fork and plate, though, to slow me down and help delay my rush for seconds.

The recipe below has evolved from Ma’s original. My mother-in-law Dorothy, the best baker ever, added more egg, flour and butter. My sister-in-law Chris, who recounted the pie’s history for me, upped the juice to 5 tablespoons many years ago. Now she advises that a half cup is even better, and she omits the lemon rind. So if you have a real lemon urge, feel free to adjust the tartness to your palate.

Ma’s Lemon Sponge Pie

  • 9-inch pie crust, unbakedI heart recipephany

Mix together:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • Grated rind of lemon
  • 5 tablespoons lemon juice (or more)
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten slightly
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons melted margarine or butter

Fold in:

  • Whites of the 3 eggs, beaten stiff but not dry

Bake at 350° for 35 to 45 minutes.

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Orange Cake-Pan Cake — more than just a flash in the pan

Posted on 14 October 2010 | 4 responses

Orange Cake-Pan Cake

The “cake-pan cake” could be the Missing Link between pudding and cake. Moist almost to a fault, it has giant, intense flavor. You mix it right in the pan – in a flash. What could be easier?

With no butter, eggs, milk, or sour cream, it gained popularity during the food-rationing Depression Era. It’s perfect now for vegans, folks with egg or milk allergies, or for pareve occasions.

The chocolate cake-pan (or three-hole) cake has been kicking around for years. I discovered this citrus variation in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. What a recipephany: freedom from the cholesterol-laden orange bundt poundcake I used to make. Here is a guest-worthy dessert you can slap together, all the while feeling smug about its healthfulness.

Just one teensy issue. It sticks like crazy to the pan. You can slice it in the pan. But I like to take it out. So I either cut wax paper to fit the bottom, or use a pan with a removable bottom. If you use wax paper, grease it so it sticks to the pan bottom. This will keep the batter from getting between the pan and wax paper as you stir.

I still miss the Triple Sec drizzle from my old orange bundt cake. So I added a Triple Sec glaze. The cake is plenty moist — you don’t need a glaze. But I love any excuse for Triple Sec.

There is also a maple-nut version. Let me know if you want that, and I can put it up, too.

P.S. My first job out of college was with a PR agency that assigned me the King Arthur Flour account. Thus started my yeast-baking addiction. Funny, King Arthur didn’t push its cake recipes, so it was decades later before I discovered this gem.

P.P.S. The King Arthur Flour blog has the recipe for the chocolate version.

Orange Cake-Pan Cake

Adapted from King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar (or 2/3 cup honey mixed with wet ingredients)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 TBS grated orange rind (one orange does it)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 TBS vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8 or 9-inch square or round cake pan. If you want to cut it in the pan, leave as is. If you want to remove it whole from the pan, line the bottom with greased wax paper or use a pan with a removable bottom.

Measure all the dry ingredients into the pan, including the orange rind. Blend them together with a fork and scoop out 3 holes or indentations.

Pour the vanilla into the first hole, the vinegar into the second, and the vegetable oil into the third.

Take the cup of orange juice and pour it directly over everything in the pan. Stir all the ingredients together with your fork until they are well blended. Be sure to pick up all the flour in the edges of the pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes. (My convection oven takes less time – until the tester comes out clean. As my mother-in-law always said, when you can smell it, it’s done.)

Cool completely and glaze.

Triple-Sec Glaze

Mix about ½ cup confectioner’s sugar with enough Triple Sec so you can drizzle it over the top of the cake. You can also use orange extract, water, or some orange juice in whatever blend you like. (I use all Triple Sec.)

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Grandma Annie’s Romanian Eggplant Dip

Posted on 11 September 2010 | 4 responses

Ever since my mother served up eggplant as “French fries” slathered in ketchup, I’ve been a sucker for its tasty squishiness. I’ve enjoyed it in Italian, French, Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian and African dishes. But Romanian?

I never knew Romania has its own traditional eggplant dip (called salată de vinete or vinetta), which I learned about from Julie Schecter and her sister Laurie, two people whose values and lifestyles I most admire. Julie has generously shared their heirloom recipephany, which has few ingredients yet a strict method that caramelizes the pulp and concentrates its delicate taste.

How it got here

Grandma Annie emigrated in the early 1900s from Iasy, Romania. Still a teenager, Annie was the target of the ship captain’s flirtations. But she was on her way to Mobile, Alabama, to marry the son of family friends, the Schecters. Annie went on to have five children, and one of her sons (Laurie and Julie’s father), Aaron, developed the first Century Village retirement community, only one of his many contributions toward making the world a better place.

Grandma Annie’s eggplant dip became a family staple, and when Julie was young, Annie would give her a jar of it to take to her parents. “As a kid, I couldn’t stand it—it looked disgusting!” she said. Now, of course, she craves it, and for good reason—it makes a deliciously perfect snack.

Grandma Annie Schecter’s Romanian Eggplant Dip

  • Two eggplants
  • One small onion, finely minced
  • Salt to taste
  • Sesame oil, optional

Prick the eggplants with a knife or fork and char under the broiler or on the grill. Char on one side, and then flip them over. They should be blackened, soft and deflated, and look like burnt shoes. This can take as long as an hour.

Let them cool for about 10 minutes, then drain off the oily water (the eggplant liquid may make it bitter). Scrape out the insides and discard the skin. Chop roughly. Do not put it in the blender; the pulp should retain some of its texture.

Put the eggplant into a bowl. Add the finely minced onion, salt, and sesame oil if you want, and stir. Serve with crackers or pita, or use it as a sandwich spread or appetizer.

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Vegan Banana Bread — can it be a guilty pleasure?

Posted on 23 August 2010 | 1 response

Vegan Banana Bread Cake RecipephanyIt goes beyond moist to practically gooey. Think banana intoxication with a nutmeg buzz and a chocolate rush. Does this come in IV form? Is it right to swoon like this at breakfast? Yet this can’t be a guilty pleasure, right? It’s vegan, for goodness sake!

Raegan Sales, a talented vegetarian cook, may have created this cake-like bread for vegans, but it’s also for anyone with too many bananas and no eggs. It bakes beautifully with all non-creature ingredients. And I admit I was pleasantly surprised with Earth Balance, a delicious faux butter. Thank you, Raegan, for sharing this special recipephany.

Be forewarned, though: waiting the eternal half-hour for this to cool is a primal test of willpower.

Here’s what Raegan wrote:

“Here’s a treat for days when those bananas are past the point you’d be willing to eat them, or when you just want a great smell throughout your house.

“I adapted this from a recipe I found on the Food Network website long ago. Since I became a vegetarian over five years ago, I’ve done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen—especially working to adapt more recipes to be vegan (free of animal by-products), even though I haven’t gone vegan all the way. I liked the simplicity of the Food Network recipe and found that it gave me a great place to start, so I’ve made many loaves of banana bread over the years.

“A vegan baker’s biggest hurdle is getting around the eggs. After trying a LOT of ways, an old piece of advice from a vegan friend suddenly popped in my mind, and I experienced my first culinary recipephany: applesauce! The original recipe calls for two eggs, and one of those is already covered by my addition of (at least) one extra banana. The secret to this banana bread is 3 tablespoons of applesauce. It helps do the egg’s job (don’t ask me how) and also brightens the bread up a bit, adding a different tasty fruity component.

“I am not the type of cook who measures. I use a soup spoon to measure “tablespoons” of soy butter out of the tub and judge the correct amount of cinnamon and nutmeg by the color of the mixture. I do use a measuring cup for flour and sugar, but it’s not unusual for me to add more later when I see how the batter came out.

“As a result, here’s my second, bonus recipephany: the beautiful thing about baking vegan treats is that you can go ahead and taste the batter and adjust any time. If you’re about to put it in the pan, but it seems like it has too much flour (it’ll taste too “bready”), all you do is add a little more of that applesauce cup. If instead it seems runny, just remedy it with a little more flour. If you go really crazy with the bananas, or just don’t have applesauce on hand, you can sub the sauce for an extra banana. If you’re used to nuts in your banana bread instead of chocolate, you can sub those too (though I can’t imagine why you’d want to).

“I like my banana bread very banana-y, so I prefer at least five bananas, but have made this recipe with as few as three. Adjust your spices accordingly if you decide to use a lot of bananas.

“As for baking time, the middle can get very moist, almost gooey (my favorite part). The edges will be browned, but they shouldn’t come out crispy. If you don’t like a gooey middle, use two loaf pans instead of the 8×8 cake pan.

“No matter what happens, it’ll taste delicious, and even if it wasn’t what you were going for, it just gives you an excuse to try the recipe again…and again. I’d better go have a piece.”

Raegan’s Vegan Banana Bread “Cake”Raegan's Vegan Banana Bread Cake

  • 4-6 bananas, overripe
  • 1 tablespoon soy milk
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger, preferably fresh
  • lots of cinnamon (at least 1.5 teaspoon)
  • 3 tablespoons applesauce (1/2 to 2/3 of a single serve cup)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons soy butter, room temperature (Earth Balance)
  • 2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325°F and grease an 8×8 baking dish. Mash the bananas in a small mixing bowl with the soy milk, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon. Mash until all of the bananas are broken down, but leave some chunky bits. You’ll love biting into them when the bread is done and they give it a great texture. Set the banana mixture aside.

Cream your butter and brown sugar until it lightens up a bit. Fold the applesauce and vanilla in with the bananas, then into the creamed sugar. Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and mix just until the flour disappears. Add the chocolate chips and pour the whole mixture into your greased pan. Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until a toothpick comes out almost clean (it’s taken up to an hour and a half for more gooey batches). Cool at least half an hour before slicing if you can resist the aromas that now fill your kitchen. Enjoy!

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Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust, and how it may become Chelsea Clinton’s favorite

Posted on 18 July 2010 | 1 response

Pie crust is the basic black dress of baking. It starts out simple, with flour and salt. But then come the choices. Good or bad fats? Water, milk, juice, buttermilk, vinegar, or vodka? And what about secret ingredients like sugar or baking powder?

Some recipes obsess over technique. If you want to see how many annoying steps you can stuff into a pie crust recipe, see how fussy Alton Brown gets.

So where can you find a recipe for delicious, wholesome, flaky pastry crust in 40 words or less? One that even comes with a story of conflict, mystery, and revelation? The answer is this recipephany shared by our guest blogger, Robin Henschel.

I have finagled many precious recipes from Robin over the years. She works more with clay than dough, though. An acclaimed potter, she creates splendid works of “functional sculpture,” often with whimsy and fantasy thrown (pun intended) in.

We thank Robin for this heirloom recipephany, as it’s a busy time for her and her family. Her cousin, Marc Mezvinsky, will marry Chelsea Clinton on July 31. Robin’s middle son, R&B singer/songwriter/phenom Eli “Paperboy” Reed, will celebrate the US release of his major-label debut album, Come and Get It (on Capitol Records), on August 10.

The recipephany

But enough name dropping and shameless CD plugging. Here’s what Robin wrote:

“My grandmother always worked and couldn’t cook, so she had a black cook named Edith Wilson. Edith baked wonderful pies.

“Edith and my grandmother used to fight over how she made the crust. Edith insisted on using oil, which was expensive. ‘Why can’t you use lard, it’s cheaper?’ my grandmother argued. But Edith wouldn’t budge.

“What’s more, Edith never measured anything — she just took a couple of handfuls of flour from the giant old potato chip can where it was kept, then added some oil, milk and salt.

“So when my mother tried to duplicate her crust, it never came out quite right. After ages of trial and error, my mother finally figured out the proportions.” (She may even pass the recipe on to Chelsea.)

But could she make knaidlach?

There was more to Edith, though. Robin went on:

“My grandparents were such reform Jews they had a Christmas tree. Still, they sometimes spoke Yiddish, often as a way to discuss delicate topics discreetly.

“One day, as my grandmother was confiding to a friend in Yiddish, Edith perked up and commented on their conversation. My grandmother was stunned – Edith knew Yiddish? It turns out she had picked it up when she was working for a rabbi in the South.

“At the same time, Edith was equally surprised my grandmother was Jewish. How could a family that used lard and celebrated Christmas be Jewish?”

Here’s the recipe, as recreated by Robin’s mother. “Somehow it always needs a little fudging (more or less liquid to dry),” Robin added.

Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust

For two crusts

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk

Mix the dry ingredients, mix the wet ingredients, and then stir them together with a fork. Roll out.

My note: A half recipe makes a very thin crust. So I may use two-thirds or so next time for a single crust.

But wait, there’s more! Attention molasses lovers: Here’s a recipe Robin gave me years ago, and it delivers a perfect pie exactly as advertised.

Robin’s Perfect Pecan Pie

  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup melted butter
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • Pastry shell, unbaked

Beat eggs thoroughly with sugar, salt, molasses and butter. Add pecans. Pour into shell. Bake at 350°F for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 10-15 minutes.

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White Chocolate Fruit Tart (no real chocolate was harmed in the making of this summer treat)

Posted on 4 July 2010 | 2 responses

White Chocolate Fruit Tart in a slightly smaller rendition

First, the white chocolate disclaimer

I could never understand white chocolate. Red licorice, yes; white chocolate, no. At best, its claim to any chocolateyness is its cocoa butter, and anybody who thinks it tastes like real chocolate belongs in a neuroscience experiment.

As it turns out, Nestlé white baking chips (Premier White Morsels) are total frauds and don’t contain any cocoa butter at all. Not that you’d taste the difference, anyway.

But no matter. These smooth imposters shine in this glorious summertime dessert, blending into an ideal substrate for the fruit. And no one’s the wiser.

Tasty tart

I would never have tried this if it weren’t for our guest blogger, Chris Fogarty, and I’m so glad I did. As a stay-at-home mom for 16 years, Chris approaches cooking and baking with a sense of adventure, and this is one of the gems she has discovered. Thank you, Chris.

Here’s what Chris wrote:

“I first made this several years ago for Easter. (I discovered the recipe while flipping through my Taste of Home magazine that I had subscribed to at the time.) It seems like such a nice spring/summer dessert. It was perfect for Easter, really. Everyone absolutely LOVED it, especially my nephew.  Sometimes I never think that young boys pay much attention to things like this, but he was probably about 18 years old at the time, and actually commented on it. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

“I have made it ever since, because it is so impressive looking and equally as delicious. The last time I made it, it was for a ‘girls night’ at Janice’s (my sister’s) many months ago. No one could believe that I made it; and one of the guests actually took a photo of it on her phone to send to her husband! With a caption: Look what Chris made!

“It’s one of those desserts that is SO eye appealing, and so delicious. As the Barefoot Contessa always says: ‘No one remembers dinner, they ALWAYS remember dessert.’”

White Chocolate Fruit Tart

Pastry shell

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

  • 1 (10 ounce) package vanilla or white chips, melted and cooled. (Warning: Chris says melt in a double-boiler, as the chips can easily get ruined. I cautiously used a microwave, zapping a minute at a time, stopping before they were fully melted, and stirring in the hot bowl until they melted the rest of the way.)
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (20 ounce) can pineapple chunks, undrained
  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
  • 1 (11 ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 2 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced

Glaze

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1. For the pastry shell, in a small mixing bowl, cream butter and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour; mix well. Press into an ungreased 11-in. tart pan with removable bottom or 12-in. pizza pan with sides. Bake at 300 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.

2. For the filling, in a small mixing bowl, beat melted chips and cream. Add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Spread over pastry. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Drain pineapple, reserving 1/2 cup juice; set juice aside. Arrange the pineapple, strawberries, oranges and kiwi over filling.

3. For the glaze, in a small saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in lemon juice and reserved pineapple juice until smooth. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Cool; brush over fruit. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving. Refrigerate leftovers.

My notes:

  • It’s okay to substitute margarine for the butter in the pastry.
  • For my 9” tart pan, I used all of the pastry ingredients and halved the filling. I also halved the glaze, but added a little lemonade to get it to the right consistency. While I liked the proportions, Chris gently and justly chided me for skimping on the filling. “I would highly recommend getting a bigger tart pan, because the filling is SO yummy,” she wrote.
  • Unfortunately, I couldn’t fit all those different fruits onto the tart using my smaller pan, and I added blueberries. I really wish I’d remembered to use the kiwi that is still languishing in my fridge.
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The Best Cheesecake in Chicago

Posted on 7 June 2010 | 4 responses

Best Cheesecake in Chicago
If our guest blogger, Jennifer Pieszak, ever wanted to chuck her career as an award-winning architectural lighting designer, she could open a beautifully lit bakery and there would be lines around the block for her superb cakes, desserts, muffins, cookies, scones and breads. I am honored she has chosen to share her “signature dessert” recipephany with us. This black and white cheesecake is the best—it’s luscious, gorgeous, easy to make, and punctuated with chocolate.

Here’s what Jennifer wrote:

The Best Cheesecake in Chicago Recipephany

The recipe, as originally transcribed

“When I was growing up in suburbia, Chicago and my grandmother came to represent the exotic and new. She lived on Chicago’s near north side in what is now the very trendy Lincoln Park district, and would always expose us to new cultures and foods when we came to visit.  She subscribed to Chicago Magazine, and when we were there we had to read about the latest new restaurants and things to do.

“When the magazine decided to do a piece on the best cheesecakes in Chicago, the timing was perfect. I had just finished up my first year at MIT, where my friends had agreed that if the stress ever got to be too much for us, we would end it all by eating an entire 11” Baby Watson cheesecake.

“The authors of the story were in the midst of tracking down the best cheesecakes from the finest restaurants. As they were in the final stages of their extensive testing, someone on the staff revealed that although the top six cheesescakes were good, her recipe for black and white cheesecake was even better. So, the recipe was included along with the other wining entries.

“It lived up to its promise. Simple to make, and with delicious results, it soon became my signature dessert. Who could resist the best recipe in Chicago?”

Le Crème de la Crème Cheesecake
From Chicago Magazine, May 1976

A luscious black and white cheesecake

  • 2 pounds cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 eggs (large)
  • 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
  • 1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 large milk chocolate bar

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Beat cream cheese until smooth, then beat in flavorings and sugar. Beat well, then add eggs, one by one. Place 1/3 of the batter in a small bowl, add the melted chocolate and mix until smooth.

Butter an 8” round, 3” deep pan (Jennifer says: Do not use a springform—I use a porcelain soufflé dish). Place alternating large spoonfuls of white batter and small spoonfuls of chocolate batter into pan, until all has been used.

Bake cheesecake in the bottom third of a preheated 350ºF oven set in a pan filled with hot water. Bake for 90 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cheesecake pan from under pan of  water and cool on a rack until completely cool.

When cheesecake has reached room temperature, invert onto plate. Remove pan and sprinkle bottom with graham cracker crumbs. Then, invert onto serving platter so that cake is right side up. Refrigerate at least 5 or 6 hours.

While cake is chilling, make chocolate curls from chocolate bar. Cover top of cake with curls before serving.

Serves 10-12.

Click on the “recent comments” to the right to read about amazing grandmothers.

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Rye Crackers, perfect for the economic crunch

Posted on 25 May 2010 | No responses

When our friend Julie returned from her Peace Corps stint in Colombia, she and her mother went shopping for housewares for her new apartment. Her mother pointed out an attractive serving spoon, which Julie examined closely. “It’s nice,” she said. “But do you know how easy it would be to make this?”

This recipephany is hardly the Peace Corps, but it did forever change my buying behavior. This recipe makes crispy, tasty artisan crackers like those I drool over at specialty foods stores. The kind that sell for fancy European prices. But do you know how easy it is to make them?

So I simply can’t buy crackers anymore. Not when I can impress my friends with these, or munch on them guilt-free when nobody’s around. So save your crisp dollars—these delicious, easy-to-make snacks are perfect for today’s economic crunch.

Rye Crackers from Recipephany

What makes these great

Stack them with cheese, dip them into hummus, or snack on them plain. They have a nutty whole-grain natural sweetness –  oddly, you probably won’t even recognize the rye. I suppose you could make them with whole wheat, but why bother when the rye tastes so good? Get rye flour and store it in the freezer, where it keeps beautifully for as long as you want.

Rolling these out is easier than making pie crust or sugar cookies, since the dough doesn’t get sticky. My daughter even uses the pasta maker. The thinner you roll them, the more delicate the snap. And they keep for months in an airtight container.

This recipe is adapted from Marion Cunningham’s recipe in The Supper Book.

Rye Crackers

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons cold butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, or more if needed (can use skim)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 425º F.

Blend flours and salt in a large bowl using a fork. Cut the butter into small bits and add to the flour mixture, using fingertips or a pastry blender. The mixture should resemble coarse meal. Slowly add the milk, stirring with the fork, until it forms a ball of dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl. Add drops of milk if it seems too dry, but don’t get it wet or sticky. It should feel soft and pliable.

Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a rough square with your hands. Dust a board with flour and roll out the first piece into a 14” square. It should be very thin, 1/16 inch or so. Trim the edges so they are neat. Roll the dough onto a rolling pin and unroll onto an ungreased baking sheet. Use a sharp knife to score the pieces into 2½-inch squares, cutting almost through so the finished crackers will break apart neatly. With a fork, prick each square in 3 places. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt evenly over the dough. (For faster and more even baking, you can cut the dough into quarters and separate them on the sheet. Crackers in the middle take longer to bake.)

Bake about 10-14 minutes (more or less, depending upon your oven), or until edges are nicely brown. Some will be ready sooner than others, so watch to make sure they don’t burn, and remove crackers as they turn brown. Slide off the baking sheet and cool on a rack. They will get crispier as they cool. Break apart.

Meanwhile, repeat the process with the other rough square.

Store crackers in an airtight container.

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A: This tasty “vinaigrette” has no vinegar and less oil. Q: What is lemon vinaigrette?

Posted on 22 April 2010 | 2 responses

This post’s title reads a little like something from the TV show Jeopardy in honor of our guest blogger, Leah Greenwald. As if her accomplishments as an architect and mother of triplets aren’t enough, Leah is also a five-time Jeopardy champion.

Leah has great kitchen advice – both for designing kitchens and cooking in them. (Her magnificent cakes and cookies look like they’re on loan from the MFA.) So when she sent me this recipephany I couldn’t wait to try it.

As someone who buys vinegar by the gallon, I had trouble grasping the concept of substituting precious fresh lemon juice for vinegar. But as a lemon lover, I agree it’s worth it. And I’m thrilled to do away with much of the oil typical of vinaigrettes. Tart without the harshness of vinegar, and still with plenty of olive oil taste, this dressing almost makes the greens toss themselves with delight.

Here’s what Leah wrote:

“This recipe is a transmuted version of one from Nora Ephron. Ephron’s attitude toward cooking is somewhat similar to mine: unfussy, practical, a reliance on simple ingredients.  She used lemon juice rather than vinegar, which inspired me to make this salad dressing I call ‘vinaigrette,’ even though it has no vinegar.  But most important, she added a little sugar. The little bit doesn’t add many calories compared with the oil, but it allows me to use so much less oil than the standard recipe. Most recipes call for twice as much oil as vinegar or lemon juice, while I just use equal amounts.  That was my recipephany — a little sugar meant the oil could be reduced by half.

“Don’t add too much sugar, though. Just add it taste, taking the edge of too-much-sourness out without making it detectably sweet, or, as my kids used to prefer it, it can be something approaching oily lemonade.

“Also, what brought this to mind was that this evening I was looking at a recipe for vinaigrette from a recent Cook’s Illustrated which calls for a 1/2 teaspoon of bottled mayo to be added to the mix to facilitate emulsion.  That puts all the additives from the mayo into your fresh salad dressing, which I think is a pity.  Anyway, if you use a bottle or jar, shaking it well emulsifies it plenty.  Just shake and add the dressing only when you’re about to serve the salad.

Lemon “Vinaigrette”I heart recipephany

  • fresh lemon juice
  • olive oil (1:1 ratio with lemon juice)
  • salt (about 1/4 teaspoon per lemon)
  • pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon per lemon)
  • sugar  (about 3/4 teaspoon per lemon or to taste)

“I take a wide-mouthed jar, wide enough to balance a small strainer on the rim that fits within the jar, and I squeeze one or more fresh lemons over the strainer so that the juice goes into the jar and the strainer catches the pulp and seed. After squeezing, I press with a teaspoon to make sure all the liquid has gone into the jar and only seeds remain in the strainer.  Then I remove the strainer and add what is visually an equal amount of olive oil.  For example, if there is 1/2″ of lemon juice in the jar, I add enough olive oil to double the height so that the total jar contents come to 1″ high. Then I add salt, pepper, and sugar “to taste”– a useless instruction. But unfortunately, lemons vary in size and juice yield, so I have suggested the guidelines in the recipe.

“Screw on the jar lid, shake up the contents well, and try it with a lettuce leaf or a cherry tomato or whatever you may have at hand, and then add any further seasoning you see fit. (I admit, it’s too late to subtract.)

“I usually make about four lemons’ worth of this at a time, and when it’s nicely shaken up I funnel it into a repurposed Newman’s salad dressing bottle, which is a better shape for pouring judiciously than a wide-mouthed jar.  It keeps perfectly well in the refrigerator for weeks, so I only make the dressing once every three or four times I make salad.

“This dressing goes well on these two salads I make often:

Lemony Spring Greens With Orange

  • spring greens
  • sliced navel or blood oranges
  • a bit of chopped red onion

Lemony Baby Romaine With Pears

  • baby romaine
  • sliced pears
  • slivered almonds
  • avocado (optional)

“A lemon-squeezing tip: if you microplane off the zest of a lemon for whatever reason (cookie dough?  poundcake? Gremolata*? iced tea?), a lemon is much easier to squeeze for extraction of maximum juice.  If you have nothing else to do with it, you can see if you like adding some zest to the salad dressing.”

*Gremolata (or gremolada) is a chopped herb condiment typically made of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest. It is a traditional accompaniment to the Italian braised veal shank dish, “Ossobuco alla milanese.” Although it is a common accompaniment to veal, the citrus element in gremolata makes it an appropriate addition to seafood dishes. (Wikipedia)

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Olympic Seoul Chicken, or how my mom met Frank Perdue

Posted on 7 April 2010 | 7 responses

My brother’s prize-winning peanut butter and provolone sandwich (see the PS in the last post) stuck in my mind like it stuck to the roof of my mouth. So decades later I started dabbling in cooking contests. Once I entered one of my mom’s heirloom recipes with only a minor substitution and it came in third. My mom could have been ticked off. But instead, it stirred up her competitive juices. If her daughter could do well with her recipes, why couldn’t she?

Her target: the 1988 Delmarva Chicken Cooking Contest. Her concept: an adaptation of a favorite Asian dish with the name “Saigon” in it.

“I added lots of garlic because garlic was getting popular for its health benefits,” she says.

Olympic Seoul Chicken Prize Winner

Muriel Brody and the King à la Chicken, Frank Perdue

She sparked it with a hot pepper kick, then smoothed it with honey. The sauce got thicker, more pungent. Bone-in chicken thighs, an overlooked choice at the time, made it tender, juicy, and nearly immune to overcooking. She removed the skin so the meat would soak up the marinade, flavoring every bite, and saving us all those fatty calories.

But there was even more to her recipephany. “It was the year of the Seoul Olympics,” she says. “So I changed ‘Saigon’ to ‘Seoul’ and called it ‘Olympic Seoul Chicken,’ a play on ‘soul chicken.’” My mom, the marketer.

She made finalist. At the cook-off in Delaware, one judge thought her entry so authentic, he asked if she’d been to Korea. “Koreans love garlic,” he said. A husband of another finalist predicted she’d win for the name alone.

Delectable and memorable—who could beat it? She won first prize. Frank Perdue, the King à la chicken himself, warmly congratulated her. (According to my dad, his congratulations were maybe a little too warm.)

Featured in cookbooks and on thousands of websites, this faux Korean dish could be the most popular “Seoul” recipe on the Internet. Famous chef David Lebovitz praised it a couple of years ago and speculated on its origins. Now you know the true story.

It’s quick, easy, healthy, and economical. Just make sure you have lots of garlic in the house.

Muriel Brody’s First-Prize Winning Olympic Seoul Chicken

  • 8 chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

In a small bowl, mix together vinegar, soy sauce, honey, and ginger; set aside. In a large frying pan, heat oil to medium-high. Add chicken and cook, turning, about 10 minutes or until brown on all sides. Add garlic and red pepper; cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add vinegar mixture; cover and cook about 15 minutes or until chicken is fork tender. Uncover, cook about 1 to 2 minutes more or until sauce is slightly thick. Serve with rice. Serves 4.

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Peanut butter beats the breakfast blahs

Posted on 21 March 2010 | 1 response

This recipe epiphany from Claire Discenza inspired me to start Recipephany. Here’s what she wrote:

“One day, Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

recipephany cookie

became Peanut Butter Oatmeal… BREAKFAST!

peanut butter oatmeal recipephany

And it was wonderful.

“You see, on this fateful day, the plain bowl of oatmeal led me to open the refrigerator door and poke around. No syrup. No fruit. No nuts. Nothing at all in fact. Except peanut butter, an important staple.

“Just take a spoonful of peanut butter and stir it into warm oatmeal, and I tell you, you won’t be disappointed. It has changed my life. Add peanut butter to cream of wheat, and, as far as I’m concerned, pancakes or waffles, too. Note that peanut butter can be added to all breakfast foods, except perhaps something like leftover Chinese takeout or pizza. Although, even then, there might be room for exploration.

“Allrecipes.com, one of my favorite sites, has several delicious-looking recipes for peanut butter pancakes. My roommate, however, just used to make one really big normal pancake, cover it with peanut butter, and eat that for breakfast. Very nice.”

Go to allrecipes.com to check out Claire’s suggestions:

Peanut Butter Pancakes
Peanut Butter Feather Pancakes

PS. A prize-winning peanut butter recipephany, and segue to the next post
My brother Mitchell has four degrees from MIT and does some pretty brainy stuff as a consultant. But back when he was in the sixth grade in Chevy Chase, Maryland, he demonstrated his creative genius as a snack savant in a sandwich contest sponsored by Schindler’s Peanut Butter. His entry: peanut butter, provolone cheese, Worcestershire sauce, whole cherry preserves, and a dash of Tabasco sauce. It may sound odd, but it is brilliant, piling on the key ingredients we find pleasurable — fats, sugars, salt, heat, and even savory umami (in the Worcestershire sauce) all wrapped up in carbos.

This recipephany won him a $5 prize, which he calculates “is probably worth $40 to $50 today, considering that at the time gasoline was selling for about 15 cents a gallon, a new Cadillac was under $6,000, and you could buy a nice house in suburban Washington for $35,000.” It changed the way I look at food (I still find peanut butter and cheese a treat, albeit high in fat). And it inspired me to enter contests, which in turn led my mom to enter a contest — but that’s for my next post.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the cookie pictured above, for those not so interested in breakfast.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup margarine, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 cup chunky peanut butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Cream together shortening, margarine, sugar, molasses, vanilla and peanut butter. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Mix in the oats. Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheets, allowing an inch or two for spreading. Flatten cookies slightly.
  3. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until just lightly browned. Be careful not to over-bake. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container. Makes about 30 cookies.
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Black Magic Cake works its wizardry

Posted on 10 March 2010 | 19 responses

The Platonic ideal of a chocolate cake

Whatever your passion – milk, dark, or super-antioxidant dark – chocolate has a special relationship with your pleasure center. From FudgSicles to Chunky bars to Sky Bars, chocolate melts into happy memories.

There are probably better chocolate delivery systems than cake. Flour and overbaking can mute the flavor. This explains the popularity of molten lava cakes and dense brownie-like cakes. Layer cakes can get dry or wimped out.

For decades we had a reigning chocolate layer cake recipe in our household. We were happy. No complaints. But that was before I experienced my recipephany. I opened The Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury, copyright 1984, which I bought a few years ago at a thrift store. There the Black Magic Cake greeted me, its modest sidebar labeling it as Hershey’s most requested cake recipe. How was I to resist?

Out of the oven came chocolate perfection. Suddenly I had a vision of a sweet old Mrs. Hershey smiling at me, saying “What did I tell you? Isn’t this the best?” And I have never looked at chocolate cake the same way since.

Why it’s different

Moist, intensely chocolatey yet surprisingly light, this is truly magic. It’s easy to mix. No sour cream, butter, or transfats. It cools down to perfectly flat layers — what other cake has ever done that? It pours into the pans more like a beverage than a batter. There is twice the baking soda as baking powder, which is unusual. The coffee makes it complex and black. Because it uses cocoa rather than unsweetened baking chocolate, you can make it as chocolatey as you want. And for some reason, I think cocoa makes for more intense flavor than the chocolate squares.

To confirm its magnificence, I Googled “Platonic ideal of a chocolate cake.” First up was a blog introducing this very recipe, ingredient for ingredient, credited to the Barefoot Contessa. No, Contessa, this is not your recipe. You’ll have to answer to the Hershey’s Company for that.

This recipe has become a legend. It is one of the few things I have successfully passed down to my daughter. It seems to know exactly what I want, time after time. It comforts me, pleases everyone, and is a joy to make.

Black Magic Cake (also available at Hershey’s site)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup Hershey’s cocoa (Go ahead, use more. I use almost a cup.)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk or sour milk*
  • 1 cup strong black coffee OR 2 teaspoons powdered instant coffee plus 1 cup boiling water (then cooled — sometimes I add an ice cube or two if I’m in a rush.)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1  teaspoon vanilla extract  (I double this.)

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans or one 13×9×2-inch baking pan. (I line the pan with wax paper, and grease that, for easy release.)

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk, coffee, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. (Batter will be thin.) Pour batter evenly into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes for round pans, 35 to 40 minutes for rectangular pan or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost as desired. Yields 10 to 12 servings.

* To sour milk: Use 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup. These days I prefer Saco dried buttermilk powder (1 packet makes 1 cup), which I sprinkle into the dry ingredients. Then I add the cup of water with the wet ingredients.

Cocoa frosting: Melt or soften 3 tablespoons butter, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup cocoa (to taste), 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, 3 teaspoons vanilla, and maybe 3 tablespoons of hot water (one tablespoon at a time), or just enough to make it spreading consistency. Whisk until smooth. You can also use coffee or milk instead of water, whatever you want.

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