30 January 2010

Barefoot In Paris

Guess which Barefoot Contessa is my favorite? Hard wasn't it? Yes, I love Paris. So following the Ina Garten around Paris while she cooks is about as much fun an one person can have when they are snowed in. Perhaps we could be having more fun if we were snowed in in Paris. With Ina...but I digress.

I have a theory about cooking. Anything you make will be greatly enhanced if you wrap it in puff pastry. It's my theory and I am sticking with it.

So there can be little doubt that this is one of my favorite recipes. I love spinach. It's good for you. It's even better for you with garlic and cheese. Now wrap it all up in puff pastry and it is magical. I know it sounds like spanakopita with puff pastry instead of filo, but we don't care. It's yummy.

Spinach in Puff Pastry

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cups onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. chopped garlic, (3 cloves)
2 (10-oz) boxes frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1/3 cup scallions, chopped, white & green parts (2 scallions)
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp. bread crumbs
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 sheets (1 box) frozen puff pastry, defrosted in refrigerator overnight
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp. water, for egg wash

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat butter in sauté pan and cook the onions over medium-low heat for 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Meanwhile, squeeze most of the water out of the spinach and place it in a bowl. Add the onion mixture, scallions, Gruyere, Parmesan, eggs, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg and pine nuts. Mix well.

Unfold one sheet of puff pastry and place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the spinach mixture in the middle of the pastry, leaving a 1-inch border. Brush the border with the egg wash. Roll out the 2nd sheet of pastry on a floured board until it’s an inch larger in each direction. Place the 2nd sheet of pastry over the spinach and seal the edges, crimping them with a fork. Brush the top with egg wash but don’t let it drip down the sides of the pastry won’t rise. Make three small slits in the pastry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the pastry is lightly browned. Transfer to a cutting board and serve hot.

This can be assembled a day in advance, refrigerated, and baked before serving.

But really, waiting a day to cook this is just plain crazy. Bake it immediately. Trust me.

29 January 2010

Barefoot Contessa -- Back To Basics


You know me. I go to the bookshelves to look for something and then I become obsessed. So I went in search of this orzo recipe, knowing it was in a Barefoot Contessa. Then I pulled a bunch of them down, and now I am sharing them with you.

I admit, I cook a lot, so I am never really enamored of those "basics" books. Somehow I ended up with a copy of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa --Back To Basics. If you don't know how to cook or just don't like to cook, but sometimes need to put food on the table, this book is for you. Even Garten's complicated recipes seem easy. Most recipes in the book I can cook without flinching, but as you know if you read Cookbook Of The Day, I am not the best fish cooker. So I was drawn to this recipe. It seems sole easy. I am going to give it a try.

Easy Sole Meuniere

½ cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 fresh sole fillets, 3 to 4 ounces each
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (3 lemons)
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Have 2 heat-proof dinner plates ready.

Combine the flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper in a large shallow plate. Pat the sole fillets dry with paper towels and sprinkle one side with salt.

Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large (12-inch) sauté pan over medium heat until it starts to brown. Dredge 2 sole fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides and place them in the hot butter. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes. Turn carefully with a metal spatula and cook for 2 minutes on the other side. While the second side cooks, add ½ teaspoon of lemon zest and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to the pan.

Carefully put the fish fillets on the ovenproof plates and pour the sauce over them. Keep the cooked fillets warm in the oven while you repeat the process with the remaining 2 fillets. When they’re done, add the cooked fillets to the plates in the oven. Sprinkle with the parsley, salt, and pepper and serve immediately.
Wouldn't this be really great if we dredged it in cornmeal and fired it!

28 January 2010

Braefoot Contessa Parties!


It think orzo is one of the most overlooked pasta out there. Out there in the universe of pastaland? Wherever.
It cooks quickly. It is a great alternative to rice. It is great in soups. There is just so much one can make with it and yet it sits on the shelf, just waiting for someone to take it home.

One person who takes it home is The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. You may not believe me but I know will trust Ina. She has a lovely recipe for orzo and veggies. It is a great dish and one can manipulate it to your hearts desire. (Add squashes in summer, maybe a diced tomato, you pick.) Just remember to add the orzo. This is a suggestion from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Parties!

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables

1 small eggplant, peeled and 3/4-inch diced
1 red bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 yellow bell pepper, 1-inch diced
1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound orzo

For the dressing:
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/3 cup good olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To assemble:
4 scallions, minced (white and green parts)
1/4 cup pignolis, toasted
3/4 pound good feta, 1/2-inch diced (not crumbled)
15 fresh basil leaves, cut into chiffonade

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Toss the eggplant, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl.

Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. Let cool to room temperature, then add the scallions, pignolis, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings, and serve at room temperature.


All we are saying is give orzo a chance.

27 January 2010

Brownies

Sometimes you start thinking about something and it just won’t let go. Since I was writing about brownies and since I talked about the lovely publishing firm of Ryland Peters & Small, it seems natural that another of their books should come up. It’s not hard to guess which one.

Brownies by Linda Collister is another fine book by of Ryland Peters & Small. Though there are not that many recipes, the ones that are in the book are fabulous. Collister is a master baker who makes her recipe accessible to home bakers.

If you like to have a little fruit with your brownies, this is the recipe for you. Here is all the goodness of big box of chocolate covered cherries in a classic brownie formula.


Black Forest Brownies

8 oz. good bittersweet chocolate
9 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons heavy cream
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 Tablespoons Kirsch or juice from cherries in jar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 oz. good bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped or 2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 16 oz. can black cherries (6oz. drained weight)
confectioners' sugar, for dusting
7" X 11" brownie pan, greased and bottom line


Preheat oven to 350 F.
Break up the 8oz. chocolate and put it into a heatproof bowl. Add the butter and cream and set it over a saucepan of steaming water. Melt gently, stirring frequently. Remove from the pan and let cool until needed.

Break eggs into mixing bowl with electric mixer and whisk just until frothy. Add sugar and Kirsch (if using) and whisk until thick and mousse-like. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture.

Sift flour into mixture and stir in. When thoroughly combined stir in the chocolate pieces. Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Gently drop cherries onto the top of the brownie mixture as evenly as possible.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove pan from oven.

Leave until cool before removing from pan and cutting into 24 pieces. Dusted with confectioners' sugar. Store in an airtight container and eat within 4 days.


Two things:

I never dust baked goods with powdered sugar. I just don’t like that layer of sweetness sprinkled over an already sweet pastry.

My cookbooks are gathered from many locations. This post and the one before it are good examples. Both books are published by Ryland Peters & Small, however, Edible Gifts is a British edition and Brownies is the U.S. edition. As we say, the recipes come directly from the book listed, so that is why one has grams and the other ounces.

26 January 2010

Edible Gifts


I approach books about edible gifts the same way I approach picnic books. I buy them not so much for the recipes as any food can be a gift or a picnic, or even a picnic gift; I buy them to see how they are packaged.

Edible Gifts by Kay Fairfax is one of those slim volumes beautifully produced by the British firm Ryland Peters & Small. Their niche is to produce beautifully photographed books on a very specific subjects. They produce a series of food books are beautiful and small additions to any library. The major complaint about these books is the comprehensiveness of the recipes. Most of the recipe books linger between 25 and 50 recipes. A lot of people complain that there are just too few recipes, but in a book that is looking at Edible Gifts, truly the magic is in the photos.

I have recently been talking to several people about brownies. It is one of those serendipitous events where everyone you talk to, seems to be talking about the same thing. There was the over-cooked brownies in the convection oven, the blondies conversation, the discussion as to whether those “brownie pans” on the television really work, and my question, “When are they going to make a brownie pan that has NO edge?” as I like the chewy middle.

Here are some brownies that everyone should like, edges and all.
Brownies

170g butter
3 free range eggs
325g golden caster sugar
75g cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
75g plain flour, sifted
250g dark chocolate drops, or finely chopped if using a bar
150g nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)

Chocolate Cream

100ml double cream
125g dark chocolate drops, or finely chopped if using a bar

Cake tin, 28 x 18 x 1 cm, lined with baking parchment extending 5cm beyond the long ends.

Method

1. Melt the butter gently in a small saucepan

2. Put the eggs in a bowl, whisk lightly, then whisk in the sugar. stir in the melted butter, cocoa and vanilla. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in the flour, stir through the chocolate and the nuts if you are using them.

3. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake in a preheated oven (160c) for 25-30 mins. until just firm in the centre and still moist at the bottom.

Do not overcook the brownies, they are not meant to have the consistency of a cake and should be moist and gooey in the middle. They will dry out as they cool.

4. Remove from the oven and let stand, still in the tin, on a wire rack, until completely cool.

5. Using the overhanging paper, carefully lift the brownies out of the tin onto a flat board and peel off the paper. Dust with cocoa powder or cover with chocolate cream. Cut into squares.

Chocolate Cream

1. Put the cream in a saucepan and heat until; just simmering. Add the chocolate and stir till smooth and glossy. Cool in the fridge for about an hour till firm enough to spread over the brownies.

I’ll eat the middle if you eat the edges.

25 January 2010

American Cooking -- Southern Style


Time-Life produced a series of cookbook collections to varying degrees of success. The individual volumes show up in kitchens and used bookstores around the country. Many times, the volumes were flipped through once or twice and set aside as more of a collector’s item than a practical volume. James Beard oversaw the American Cooking series.

The best of the best of this series is the volume Southern Style. (I know you think this is prejudicial but nothing could be farther from the truth, honest.) Southern Style was written by Eugene Walter. For more than 20 years, Walter had lived in Rome and Paris but whenever he was asked that familiar question, “Where are you from?”, Walter always answered, “I’m Southern.”
“In a sense I have never left home: in Rome I live as I lived in Mobile. On my terrace garden I have five kinds of mint, five kinds of onions and chives, as well as four-o-clocks and sweet olive. I take a nap after the midday meal; there is always time for gossip and for writing letters. I eat southern dishes: fried chicken, grits and spoon bread, having learned to cook almost all of them since I left home. I enjoy guests, I stay up the night of the full moon, my life is one long quest for a perfect cup of hot strong black coffee.”
It is the way of Southerners. I can remember my mother pleading with grocers to stock okra and when that failed, trying desperately to grow a small patch in the cold of Montana. I remember loading my car with bags and bags of White Lily flour and Martha White corn meal after a trip to Alabama. Even today, I am always on the phone to my BFF, Beverly asking her to send some Alabama product to me (most recently Alaga syrup).

My Father loved tongue and twice a year my mother cooked one for him. I like to eat the tongue, but I hated seeing it sitting on the counter. This recipe changed that.

Mobile Thyme Tongue

A 4-pound fresh beef tongue
2 cups distilled white vinegar
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 medium-sized onions, peeled and cut into 1/4 –inch-thick slices
1 medium sized garlic clove, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon crumbled dry thyme
1 tablespoon salt

With a small sharp skewer, pierce completely through the beef tongue in at least a dozen places. Then set the tongue aside in an enameled casserole just large enough to hold it comfortably.

Combine the vinegar, wine sugar, onions, garlic, mustard, thyme and salt in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar and mustard dissolve. Immediately pour over the tongue and turn the meat about to moisten it evenly. Refrigerate uncovered and when the marinade is cool, cover the casserole with its lid. Let the tongue marinade in the refrigerator for 24 hours, turning it over two or three times.

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Bring the tongue to a boil over high heat, then cover the casserole with a double thickness of aluminum foil and set the lid in place. Bake the tongue in the middle of the oven for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until it shows no resistance when pierced deeply with a fork.

If you plan to serve the tongue hot, transfer it to a heated platter. Skim and discard as much fat as possible from the surface of the cooking liquid, then strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Taste for seasoning, and present the sauce in a sauceboat with the tongue.

If you plan to serve the tongue cold, let it cool to room temperature in the cooking liquid; refrigerate until ready to serve. Transfer the tongue to a platter or cutting board, trim it and carve it into thin slices. Arrange the slices on a chilled platter.

When in Rome do as the Southerners do.

24 January 2010

Hints & Pinches



The best advice to cooks is, I feel,
seek fresh,
avoid chemicals,
keep a light hand,
rise to the occasion,
try what you don’t know,
have fun
….and good eating, you all!

Eugene Walter

We are finishing up our Alabama week with a flourish of Eugene Walter. Today’s entry is from his book, Hints & Pinches. It is my favorite type of book, an abecedary filled with herbs and spices from the mundane (salt) to the unusual (day lilies) and everything in between. The plants are presented with a botanical history as well as a social history dotted with folk tales, Southern story telling and humor.

The book is jam packed with medicinal cures, jazzy condiments and unusual recipes such as: Hamburgers with Tequila, Southern Belle Ice Cream, ‘Possum’s Passion, Elderberry Ketchup, and Hellfire Mustard. Walter’s recipes feature his years of collecting recipes from throughout the South and his years of globe trotting that add an international flair to his recipes.

In keeping with Walter’s advice, here is a wonderful variation on a carrot salad. There is nothing better than pulling fresh carrots from the garden, adding a bit of garlic and a touch of vinegar and making a light summer salad. Here is a complex variation of that simple salad.

As for advice on preparing the carrots Walters states emphatically:
"NEVER PEEL CARROTS! The flavor and nutritional value are immediately beneath the skin. Soak in cold water, scrub lightly with a straw brush, flick off any obtrusive specks of earth. That’s what fingernails are for."

North African Carrot Salad

1 pound fresh carrots (scrubbed, cut in quarters, longwise)
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon pounded cumin seeds
pinch of coriander seeds
wine vinegar
salt
sugar
hot red pepper
parsley to garnish

Cook carrots with salt, sugar, garlic about 12 minutes. Drain, sprinkle amply with vinegar, a little more salt, cayenne pepper to your taste. Sprinkle coriander seeds on top, garnish with sprigs of parsley.

Don’t forget to check out more on Eugene Walter at Lucindaville.

23 January 2010

Delectable Dishes From Termite Hall


Originally, Termite Hall was coaching inn located halfway between the Mobile, Alabama courthouse and Spring Hill College. It was known appropriately as the Halfway House. It was a place Eugene Walter knew well. The house came to its name honestly. There are several stories all a means to the same end. One has it that Mrs. Marston, the lady of the house, was walking through the house when the parlor floor gave way because of the termites. Another has the children sitting on a balustrade on the porch. When they got up, it collapsed, eaten away by the termites. Either termite story was sufficient for the house to become Termite Hall.

Eugene Walter was a consummate cook and food writer on a par with M.F.K. Fisher. He was a consultant on the Time Life Series, writing American Cooking –- Southern Style. He was also an award winning novelist and poet, a singe, actor and composer, and a general bon vivant of colossal proportion. For more on Eugene Walter, check out our post at Lucindaville. For more on his cookbooks, stay here.


Delectable Dishes From Termite Hall takes its title from the fine old three-story building seen above. Eugene Walter was not the kind of man to walk away from a good tale and falling through the floor at Termite Hall was a great tale.

Since he was a boy, Walter collected recipes the same way some kids collected stamps. As an adult, he compiled many of these recipes into a several cookbooks. In an introduction to this edition, novelist Pat Conroy writes,
“I have not come across a bad recipe in the book, and certainly, not a dull one. It was Eugene who told me that as a cookbook writer he was always trying to disguise the fact that “my real job is to be a philosopher king and prince of elves.””
Here is Eugene Walter at his elfish best on the subject of Jerusalem artichokes, grown everywhere in the South.
“Twenty-five lashes with a dead flounder to whichever publicity genius dreamed up the name Sun Choke. The plant has been known since the early 1600’s as Helianthus tuberosus, topinamber, and Jerusalem artichoke. …I love the French topinambour: I’ve always felt that if Rumpelstiltskin or Pinocchio had a little sister her name would be Topinambour.
Here is an old recipe for an even older vegetable.
Stewed Topinambour – Old Mobile Style

Melt some butter and bacon fat in the skillet and brown a thinly sliced onion, sprinkle in a tablespoon of flour, stir until nicely colored, not dark. Add a small glass of dry white wine, mix and let simmer a minute then put in a crushed toe of garlic, some freshly-ground black pepper, a dash of nutmeg, and a pound or so of small peeled Jerusalem artichokes. Simmer until the vegetable is cooked but not mushy. Before serving add more butter, salt to taste, and a sprinkling of chopped parsley or chives.
If you have never tasted Jerusalem artichokes, give this recipe a try. And please, please, read Eugene Walter.

22 January 2010

Crazy Sista Cooking


Lucy (Lulu) Buffett lives in L.A. (Lower Alabama). Yes, her brother is Warren Buffett. No, her brother is Jimmy Buffett. Yes, she parties just like Jimmy. And she has her very own place to party, Lulu's at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores, Alabama. As you might expect, Crazy Sista Cooking is just that, a bit crazy but always good. Lulu learned to cook like many women, at the apron strings of family members. Buffett ascribes her love of cooking her grandmothers.
"My maternal Grandmother Peets was the dietitian for Gulf Park College, a girls' finishing school in Long Beach, Miss. She had elegant taste, although she was a working woman all of her life. My paternal Grandmother Buffett grew up in a boarding house and she was constantly in her Pascagoula, Miss., kitchen cooking vast and scrumptious Gulf Coast meals. It was the best of both worlds for me.
These recipes are designed to make cooking fun and easy. They are the kind of recipes that just might fool you into believing that you are watching the L. A. sunset. These are not "dine alone" recipes. They are best served with lots of cold beer and lots of good friend. Or acquaintances who will quickly become good friends if you keep feeding them from this cookbook. This recipe was the one Lucy used when she competed in Great American Seafood CookOff.

Screaming Easy Wild Shrimp Wasabi

1 tablespoon wasabi powder
1/4 cup beer (I use Corona beer and drink the rest while cooking)
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
2 pounds large headless shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
1//2 teaspoon course sea salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
Lime slices for garnish

1. Combine wasabi powder, beer and horseradish. Set aside.

2. Peel and de-vein shrimp, leaving tails intact.

3. Place a cast iron skillet over high heat. When it begins to smoke, add shrimp. Shake skillet and toss or stir shrimp for 15 seconds or until they just begin to turn pink.

4. Add salt, wasabi mixture and butter. Stir quickly, turning shrimp for another 15 seconds, then cover tightly and remove from heat. Let shrimp rest for 5 minutes.

5. Add cilantro, stir once, and cover again. Wait another 5 minutes.

6. Garnish with lime slices and serve immediately.

Now that brother Jimmy has acquired Landshark beer, I'm sure that the Corona has been replaced. If you want a spicy good time, give this a try.

21 January 2010

Bottega Favorita


In 1982, Frank Stitt boarded a plane for his native Alabama announcing that he was moving to Birmingham to open a world-class restaurant. People laughed. They are not laughing now. For several years after opening Highlands Bar and Grill, Stitt drove past a fading piece of architecture emblazoned with the words “Bottega Favorita.” Designed by the architects who built the New York Public Library, the building once housed the finest department store in the South, Gus Mayer. The building had fallen on hard times, but every time Stitt passed by, “Bottega Favorita” called out to him. How often do you find a building that already has a restaurant name carved in limestone in the façade? It wasn’t long before Stitt got his building.



Frank Stitt loved Italy almost as much as he loved Alabama. Until he opened Bottega Favorita the most famous Italian chef in Alabama was Chef Boyardee. Stitt took his love for Italy and his love for the indigenous produce of Alabama and married them. I have often written of the constant repetition that happens in regional cookbooks. Stitt takes many familiar Italian dishes and reworks them into Southern classics, giving new meaning to the term Southern Italian cooking.

Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef's Love Affair with Italian Food gives us a look into that successful marriage. There are veal cheeks paired with sweet potato, pork scaloppini with greens and Vidalia onions, ravioli with crayfish, candied lemon and Tabasco, tuna salad crostini, lamb and orzo soup with butter beans, and the list goes on. These innovative dishes are some of the reasons Frank Stitt is consistently voted one of the best chefs in the country.

Farro with Butter Beans

1 1/2 cups farro
1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock or water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
1 thyme sprig
1 cup fresh or frozen butter beans
A few thyme sprigs, a small celery stalk, a bay leaf, tied together with kitchen string to form a bouquet garni
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Rinse the farro in a strainer under cold running water for a minute to remove any bitter residue. Pour the chicken stock or water into a medium saucepan, add butter, salt and pepper to taste, bay leaf, and thyme sprig, and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the farro, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, until the farro is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.

While the farro simmers, cook the butter beans whit the bouquet garni, in a saucepan of generously seasoned boiling water until tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid.

Gently fold the beans into the cooked farro and moisten with some of the reserved broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.


I have shelled thousands of butter beans and never once thought, "Let's cook them up with some farro!" Now I do.

20 January 2010

Glorious Grits



Susan McEwen McIntosh came to write Glorious Grits honestly. Several years ago her parents traveled to the Smokey Mountains where they visited an old-fashioned water-turned gristmill. There was a gift shop selling products from the mill and McIntosh’s father, who owns a hardware store, learned that the owner of the gristmill was also in the hardware business.

Dad brought back stone ground grits to his children and a bright idea to his son Frank who ran the hardware and feed store -- Buy a gristmill and grind grits. Frank said he would think about it. He thought it over and made the investment. He delivered several bags of his grits to restaurants in the Birmingham area and soon his phone began ringing. Word spread and before long, McEwen & Sons grits were turning up in restaurants all around the South.

Frank called his sister, Susan, a food writer and asked for help with some recipes. Chefs around the country were developing new recipes for grits. Southern Living wanted to know when McIntosh was going to write a book. She did. Glorious Grits features not only her recipes but also recipes from chefs far and wide. I always tell people I know 10,000 ways to make grits, but there are recipes in here even I didn't think of.

In Alabama, we love our cheese straws. Next time you are thinking of baking them give this recipe a try. These lovely crackers are a great way to slip grits into an everyday recipe. This recipe needs a fine cornmeal, so if you use a heavier stone-ground variety you might want to sift it.

Cheddar-Pecan Crackers

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground or sifted stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
3 to 4 teaspoons cold water

Preheat oven to 375F. Combine egg and 1 tablespoon water, stirring until blended; set aside.

Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients in a bowl until well blended; add butter, and cut in with a pastry blender or fingertips until mixture is crumbly. Stir in cheese and pecans. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons cold water, and toss gently with a fork until mixture is moistened and forms a ball.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and shape into a round disk. Roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-inch biscuit or cookie cutter, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush dough lightly with egg wash. Bake at 375F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer crackers to a wire rack to cool completely. Store crackers in an airtight container.


Think of the ooh’s and ahh’s you will get at your next cocktail party when you serve these.

19 January 2010

The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook



In reading through my pile of Alabama cookbooks, I couldn’t help but think of that old adage, “Everything old is new again.” That could be a problem.

Every chef waxes poetic about the vegetables at the Farmer’s Market, how they are fresh and organic and beautiful. They speak as though this is some new phenomenon, an amazing discovery on their part. I worry that this comes from a “fashion” in food as much as a love for the product. I can’t think of a living soul, especially a chef, who would pass up fresh black-eyed peas for canned ones. All those farmers in Alabama with amazingly beautiful fruits and vegetables have always been there. As a child, my great-uncle had a huge organic farm. I can’t remember buying vegetables at a store once we moved to Alabama.

When my Uncle Knox reached his 90’s and was no longer able to keep his garden going, he rose early three days a week all summer long and met a truck farmer from Chilton County to get his vegetables and their extraordinary peaches. When he moved into town and could no longer drive, he told the farmer he wouldn’t be seeing him. The truck farmer asked where he moved and each day he drove into town, he stopped at the curb in front of the house so Uncle Know could come out and get his vegetables.

In 1884, Orange Judd published Truck Farming in the South, detailing how farmers could move their produce to buyers in the North. Southern farmers have always been there, providing amazing produce to everyone, not just chefs.


I am trilled that farmers are getting their due, but let us never forget that they have always been there, feeding the nation. That is a fact and not fashion. What does make me happy in all of these Alabama cookbooks is the celebration of the traditional foods and the love of family that has always been at the forefront of Southern culture. No one celebrates that more than Chris and Idie Hastings.

In 1995 they opened The Hot and Hot Fish Club. While the restaurant might be new, The Hot and Hot Fish Club is over 150 years old. As articles and profiles are written each week about those “culinary pioneers” who gather in homes to prepare meals for cooking clubs and roaming restaurants, and formal gatherings, truth be told, it has been done before.

Chris’ great-great-great-great-grandfather, Hugh Fraser, was a founding member of The Hot and Hot Fish Club in 1845. After meeting informally to discuss the weeks work, fishing and planting, one person would offer up his catch and vegetables and the men would enjoy a simple meal among friends. After a time they decided to become a formal epicurean gentleman’s club complete with rules, regulations, and dues.

There were eighteen rules for The Hot and Hot Fish Club. Six of the rules involved baskets of champagne. That's my kind of club. Here are two of the rules outlining officer's duties.

RULE V DUTIES OF THE PRESIDENT

Each member, in rotation, and in order of residences, shall act as President. He shall furnish a ham, and good rice, and also attend to the preparation for dinner, to be on the tables a 2 o’clock p.m., or not later than half-past 2. He must preserve order, and select sides with the vice-President for games. If absent he must send his ham and rice.

RULE VI DUTIES OF THE VICE-PRESIDENT

The Vice-President shall, in addition to his dish and wine, supply the Club with water and ice, and attend the games. If the President is absent, the Vice-President will preside, and his next neighbor officiates for him. He must also announce whether champagne will be brought at the ensuing club.

When the The Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook was published, the rules from 1845 form the decorated endpapers. Clearly, this cookbook is worth the price just to read those rules. But it is not the only reason. In his introduction writer and sportsman Charles Gaines writes,
“The recipes here are as elegantly form-following-function contrivances as a Le Corbusier chair; unprissy, unhistionic, uncomplicated, and honest.”
Unprissy” is the key. If I have a complaint about many Southern cookbooks, it is that prissy, often-precious quality they seem to have, as though that is the norm. The Hastings take the indigenous food of the South and make it unprissy and honest. Why argue with Charles Gaines. There is grouper, dove, bobtails, okra, muscadines, green tomatoes, and hot and hot fish of every kind.


As a testament to this cookbook, it took me forever to pick a recipe. I finally chose one of my favorites. In the introduction to the recipe the cook is told not to tell anyone what the soup is as one might lose the chance to impress your diners of you tell them this is just cauliflower.

Cauliflower Soup with White Truffle Oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sliced tallow onion, about 1 medium
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 pound white cauliflower florets
2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
White truffle oil (optional)

Melt the butter in a medium stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the onion and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the cauliflower and stock and bring the mixture to a boil; reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the cream and cook for an additional 15 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender and the mixture is slightly reduced.

Transfer the cauliflower mixture to a blender and process until pureed. Season the soup with the salt and pepper. Ladle 3/4 cup of the soup into six bowls and drizzle each serving with 1 to 2 drops of truffle oil, if using. Serve immediately.
For some really wonderful recipes, check out The Hot and Hot Cookbook. Remember, when you are getting all misty-eyed about those fresh carrots at Whole Foods, Napa did not invent fresh farm produce, it has always been there.

Also, when you visit me in Shirley, bring a basket of champagne. It’s a rule!

18 January 2010

Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book

It’s Alabama Week here at Cookbook Of The Day. This week we are going to feature cookbooks from Alabama. In 2009, Alabama produced cookbooks as fast as they grow kudzu. Not the self-published type but those big, bold, colorful, national cookbooks.

Miss Caroline printed her name on the blackboard and said, "This says I am Miss Caroline Fisher.  I am from North Alabama,
from Winston County." The class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbor her share of the peculiarities
indigenous to that region. (When Alabama seceded from the Union on January 11, 1861, Winston County seceded from
Alabama, and every child in Maycomb County knew it.) North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel
companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Scout might have changed her opinion of North Alabama, surely of Morgan county, if she had ever eaten at Big Bob Gibson’s Barbecue.


At 6’4” and weighing in at nearly 300 pounds, Big Bob Gibson came by his nickname honestly. After working for years on the railroad and building a family with six kids, Big Bob was at a crossroad. He didn’t think he could keep working for the railroad, but he had a family to feed. When he wasn’t working, that is exactly what he was doing, feeding his family. He became an expert at cooking pork for his family. If he could feed a wife and six children, maybe he could feed other people too. In 1925, Big Bob and his wife, Ellen, known as Big Mama, opened up a barbecue joint in Decatur, Alabama. It’s still there.



Actually, it has moved time and time again. And today, under the direction of Big Bob’s great grandson-in-law, Chris Lilly, there are three locations in two states. Chris Lilly has led the Big Bob Gibson barbecue team to ten World BBQ Championships. They have also won a sauce championship. It was a natural progression to a cookbook, Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book.

One of Big Bob’s signature sauces is their famous White BBQ sauce. For a long time North Alabama was the only place you could purchase the sauce. The “white sauce” recipe was a closely guarded family secret, but Chris Lilly notes that in the history of the restaurant, there have been hundreds of cooks, so the recipe was hardly as secretive as it once was.

I never went to North Alabama that I didn’t come away bottles of Big Bob Gibson’s White Sauce. When my BFF Beverly sent me “Care “ packages from Alabama there was always a bottle of the white BBQ sauce. Beverly relayed my love of the sauce to her friend Molly, a foodie in her own right, and she told Beverly she might be able to get the recipe. A short time later, I got page torn from a small spiral notebook with Molly’s Big Bob recipe.


I immediately tweaked it, believing it needed to be spicier. (I tend to think EVERYTHING needs to be spicier!) Then I played with the ratio and came up with my own "Big Lucinda's" white sauce. Imagine my extreme joy when this book was published. There at the very back of the book was the white sauce recipe. We had all missed the “secret ingredient” failing to add the horseradish, but other than that, we had gotten pretty close.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q White Sauce

2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup apple juice
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper


In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients and blend well. Use as a marinade, baste or dipping sauce. Store refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

If you have never had White BBQ, are you crazy! Print this recipe, turn off your computer, got to the store, buy the ingredients along with a big chicken and get to work. Seriously, you NEED this sauce. Really. Why are you still reading this? Go.

17 January 2010

Susan Mason’s Silver Service


I got another cookbook from Ann for Christmas. Susan Mason’s Silver Service. Mason is a legendary caterer in Savanna. It is not unusual for clients to fly Susan and her staff to New York or Los Angeles for a party.

I am kicking off a week of cookbooks from Alabama and while Susan Mason has been based in Savannah for years, she was raised in Dothan, Alabama, so she is slipping in on a technicality. Mason fondly remembers a sign at the local country club that read, “No Pea-Shelling By The Pool.” Amusing as it is prophetic. If you get peas from Susan mason you can rest assured they are shelled by hand – though not by the pool.

Mason learned to navigate a kitchen from her mother and grandmother. They practiced a long-standing Southern tradition of having a grand Sunday Dinner*. I learned from my mother and great-aunts. Our Sunday Dinners were required social events. As a teenager, I loathed them, now I long to re-create them.

It was interesting to flip through Mason’s book, as many of her recipes are old Southern classics. They are not what one might think of as “catering” foods and yet Mason makes them seem extraordinary. At sit-down events, Mason loves to serve this crab salad. The key is to use the finest lump crabmeat.

Jumbo Lump Crabmeat with Pink Sauce

Pink sauce

2 cups mayonnaise
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brandy


8 to 10 ounces mesclun greens
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, drained
100 toast points

Make the pink sauce by combining the mayonnaise, ketchup, and brandy in a small bowl and mixing well.

Arrange a bed of greens on a platter. Mound the crab on the greens and pour the pink sauce on the top.

Serve with toast points.

What a gloriously simple yet sumptuous first course. Girls from Alabama know how to party.


* For the great-unwashed Yankees among you, “dinner” in the South is “lunch” and “supper” is dinner. In my family, dinner was at high noon, unless it was Sunday when dinner was moved back an hour so everyone could arrive from church. Supper was at 6 o’clock PM. There was never a variation. My Father (a great unwashed Yankee) once delivered my Mother and I to a grand dinner celebration in our honor, hours late. He was told to arrive for dinner and made sure we there hours early – for supper. Dinner was practically over by the time we arrived. It was the last time he made that mistake.

16 January 2010

The Fallingwater Cookbook


This should come as a huge shock to you, my faithful readers, but for Christmas (and other gift giving opportunities) I often get cookbooks. Truth be told, I don’t really need any sort of special occasion to get cookbooks, but I digress…

This Christmas, my friend Ann, went to my wish list and came up with a couple of real winners. The Fallingwater Cookbook is one of the most interesting books I have come across in recent memory. At Lucindaville, I did a large post on Fallingwater, inspired by this cookbook. I hate to repeat myself, but…

Fallingwater is often considered the greatest house of the twentieth century, but it never appealed to me very much. Wright was never known for his fabulous kitchens, in fact on the majority of his house plans the kitchen is described as simply, “work space.” So I was very interested to read about someone who spent years cooking in one of Wright’s work spaces.

Elsie Henderson began working at Fallingwater in 1947 and stayed until it was given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy in 1963. For several years she worked off and on for the Conservancy and when Edgar Kaufmann jr. died in 1989, she returned to receive 125 guests for his funeral.

While the kitchen stayed basically as Wright had envisioned it, Henderson made one considerable improvement. The original coal-burning Aga stove was replaced with a newer stove to allow for more refined baking.

When Henderson wrote out the recipe for this chili, she used the French word for sugar, sucre. For seven decades she read recipes and translated many from French, so she would often switch between French and English when listing ingredients. At the age of 94, Henderson decided to study the French language more fully and enrolled in classes at the University of Pittsburgh.

Lamb and Rosemary Chili

1 pound ground lamb
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 1/2 cups home-canned or commercial tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sucre (sugar)
1 large can (about 19 ounces) white kidney, or cannelloni, beans

In a large frying pan, cook and stir the ground lamb, onions, and rosemary until the meat is brown and the onion is tender. Season with the salt, white pepper, and chili powder. Add the tomato sauce, sugar, and white beans.

Heat to boiling, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency.

If you love food, you’ll love this book. If you love food and architecture, you will absolutely love this book.

15 January 2010

The Colony


Several bloggers including Cachagua Store, Lost City, Off The Presses, and Restaurant-ing through history
have mentioned The Colony by Iles Brody in the past year, so I dragged out my copy to give it look. The book is part history, part cookbook of the kind that gives you recipes in a simple paragraph.

In 1920 The Colony was a bit on the disreputable side. 667 Madison Avenue led to the bistro, a gambling hall and a somewhat secret maternity home. If you ventured through the door, it was assumed that “dinning” was the last thing on your mind. But many of the gamblers and their shady ladies were the cream of the society crop. They often told wives and associated about the food at The Colony and before long, people ventured to 667 Madison expressly for the food. One of those people was Reginald Vanderbilt who recommended it to his relatives and friends and soon The Colony was" The" place to dine.

The colony was filled with Kings and Dukes, actresses and bankers, and favorites of ours like Elsa Maxwell and Elsie de Wolfe. Each table had four waiters to do the customers bidding and one patron was notorious for tipping each waiter $100 (which is about $1000 in today’s economy).

Recently we have been offering up recipes for unusual vegetables and The Colony featured a recipe for chicory that we have never seen. Generally chicory is thought of as a cheap coffee alternative or in New Orleans a necessary coffee additive. At The Colony, it shined on its own.

Cream of Chicory Colony

Parboil a pound of chicory, drain and stew it for a half-hour in a lump of butter and juice of one lemon. Now mix one and one-quarter pints of Béchamel with it, and finish the cooking very slowly. Rub through a sieve, add some consommé, heat, and add some cream before serving. Garnish with chicory cut in fine strips, stewed and well drained.

I don’t know about you, but I am headed to the Farmer’s Market to find some chicory.

14 January 2010

The Pleasures of Slow Food


In his introduction to Corby Kummer’s The Pleasures of Slow Food, Eric Schlosser lays out the premise for the Slow Food Movement. It stands, he tells us:
“…in direct opposition to everything that a fast-food meal represents: blandness, uniformity, conformity, the blind worship of science and technology.”
The Slow Food Movement began in 1980 with a band of activist who wanted to celebrate the country foods that were in danger of being lost as artisans gravitated to industrial jobs. The spokesman was a fun loving Italian named Carlo Petrini. Passionate about saving foods that were quickly becoming undervalued or extinct and equally passionate about the globalization of fast foods, Petrini became a food warrior.

Today Slow Food counts seventy thousand members in more than forty-five countries. Kummer’s book highlights the movement for Slow Food, the artisans who make the food and the cooks who incorporate the passion of Slow Food into their cooking.

This recipe comes from renowned pastry chef Elizabeth Prueitt featuring the herbs and locally produced milks and cheeses in the San Francisco area.

Gougères


1 1/4 cups nonfat milk
2/3 (1 1/3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
5 eggs
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs, such as thyme or chives
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350F. butter a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the milk, butter and salt. Cook over medium heat until the batter has melted and the mixture comes to a boil. Add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir vigorously until the mixture is a smooth mass and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about three minutes.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously until each is completely incorporated before adding the next. Fold in the black pepper, herbs, and three-fourths of the cheese.

Scoop out tablespoonfuls of the batter and place them 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks and cream together. Brush the egg mixture over each gougère and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Bake until puffed and golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm.

Carlo Petrini’s manifesto for Slow Food was finally translated into English and published by Columbia University. Slow Food: The Case For Taste is a must read for anyone interested in the local production and sourcing of food.

13 January 2010

Lorenza’s Antipasti


Lorenza de’Medici runs famous cooking classes at Badia a Coltibuono. There is always an afternoon break featuring a glass of white wine and an antipasto. She reminds us that no matter how it has been mistranslated, antipasto is NOT something you have before pasta, but something you have before the meal. Of course, she is not opposed to you eating antipasto as an appetizer, a lunch, or even a midnight snack.

The history of antipasto traces back to the ancient Romans who featured antipasto as a stimulant before the main meal. It evolved from two very different cultural conditions – extreme wealth and the poverty of necessity. The wealthy use the antipasto as a prelude to a multi-coursed banquet. For the poor, antipasto was a street food eaten while working or shopping.

Lorenza’s Antipasti is filled with recipes to fulfill your antipasto needs, whiter that is a little snack or the beginning of a grand meal. After going through the recipes in the book, you will probably want to fore go the banquet and instead, make a long table full of antipasti. This recipe involves two of my favorite things, cheese and pears.

Tartufi Di Pere E Formaggio

300g/10 oz gorgonzola cheese
300g/10 oz/1 1/4 cups mascarpone
2 Bosch pears, not too ripe
Juice of 1 lemon
120g/4oz/1 cup freshly grated parmesan

Mix the gorgonzola and mascarpone cheese together until well blended. Peel the pears, then core and cut the flesh into small dice. Sprinkle with juice and combine with the two cheeses. Using a spoon, form the mixture into walnut sized balls then roll them in the parmesan to coat well. Arrange on a platter and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.


White wine, a roaring fire, Tartufi Di Pere E Formaggio, what could be better.

12 January 2010

The Cheese Course


I would rather have a cheese course at the end of a meal rather than dessert.

Janet Fletcher wrote The Cheese Course for those of you have never served a cheese course or eaten a cheese course. This book is a good basic primer, including how to pick cheese, how to serve it, and what to drink with it. If you eat cheese, you probably know how to do all this. Perhaps its best feature is just showing what a cheese course can look like.

The Cheese Course is about the cheese and the recipes are a kind of afterthought for accompaniments such as breads, vinaigrettes, marinades, and fruits. The recipes usually feature a single cheese with an accompaniment like this one.

Basque Sheep’s Milk Cheese with Poached Quince

2 quince (about 1 pound)
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds, crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
2 cups water
1 pound Pyrenees sheep’s milk cheese

Quarter, core, and peel the quinces. Cut each quarter into 4 slices. In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cardamom, and water. Over moderate heat, bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the quince, cover and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the quince are tender and rosy pink, about 2 hours. Let cool in the liquid, cover, then refrigerate.
Divide cheese and quince evenly among 8 individual plates.

Quince is a favorite fruit to accompany cheese. The French like prunes in Armagnac. I make figs in Cointreau. What ever you choose, skip that sweet dessert and have a cheese course instead. OK fine, have the cheese course and then, HAVE dessert. That may be the best plan.

11 January 2010

Boulestin’s Round-the-Year Cookbook


A meal worth eating must take at least an hour and a half; apart from that fact that it is not healthy to eat quickly, there is the point of view whit which we are concerned – the point of view of the pleasure of the table, to which leisure, anticipation, enjoyment contribute equally.

X. Marcel Boulestin


X. Marcel Boulestin began his career in France as a ghostwriter, followed in short succession as a writer, translator and collaborator. Though a Frenchman, he was a lifelong anglophile, finally moving to London. He moved away from writing and followed his other passion, cooking.

In November 1911 Boulestin opened his first restaurant, Boulestin's in Covent Garden. He became a forceful restaurateur who almost single handedly popularized French cuisine in the English-speaking world. His knack for writing came in handy as he authored numerous cookbooks, including Boulestin’s Round-the-Year Cookbook. In 1937, he became the first television chef, appearing on an experimental BBC program.

Here is a recipe for an often-overlooked vegetable featured in his January offerings.


Salsifis Sautés

Take a bundle of salsify, scrape them, wash them well in cold water and a little vinegar. Put in a saucepan a handful of flour, add water, little by little, mixing all the time. When you have enough liquid to cook your salsify, salt and cook on a moderate fire for about half an hour. They should be soft, yet firm. Drain them well and fry them in butter for a few minutes. Add salt, a little lemon juice, and finely chopped parsley.


As for the newer fashionable, shorter dinners, Boulestin says,

"One dish above all must be a star turn, the shining center against the proper background, the climax of which other things, discreetly and effectively, prepare the entrance, increase the value – a dish which your friends will gracefully remember, reverently mention for ever after, and possibly try to imitate in their own houses. “My dear, you must give me the recipe…”

Try making this salsify your star for January.

10 January 2010

River Run Cookbook


One of the best Southern restaurants in America is in Plainfield, Vermont. The man behind the restaurant is from Brewer, Mississippi. Jimmy Kennedy met his wife, Maya, in New York City, but they didn’t find their true calling until they moved back to Maya’s hometown of Plainfield and moved into the Post Office.
Well, the Post Office was gone by then, actually they just moved into the building.



There they opened up River Run, served up a mean breakfast, gained a loyal following and wrote a cookbook: River Run Cookbook. River Run is a hard place to describe. It is tiny, filled with two dozen mismatched chairs and a few tables. The main meal is breakfast, Southern breakfasts including fried green tomatoes, jambalaya, fried potatoes, and even traditional granola and pancakes. My favorite is the fried catfish with grits, eggs and biscuits.

Many times after breakfast, Jimmy would turn the restaurant kitchen over to someone else who would keep cooking into the evening. I can’t recall ever going to Vermont with out going to River Run. It is a great hang out for writes, too. Lorrie Goldensohn, who wrote one of my favorite books about the poet, Elizabeth Bishop is a regular. Two other regulars contributed to the River Run Cookbook, David Manet wrote the foreword and Howard Norman wrote the afterward.



Southerners love their casseroles, a fact that surprised Maya Kennedy on her first Christmas in Mississippi. This is Jimmy’s mother’s casserole and a holiday favorite. My mother made a similar variation every Christmas.

Corn & Oyster Casserole

4 cups crushed saltines (about 90 crackers, or 1/2 box)
2 pounds canned creamed corn
1 pound fresh or canned oysters
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Set oven to 350 degrees.

In a 1 1/2 casserole dish that is abut 4 inches deep, sprinkle some crumbled saltines-just enough to cover the bottom. Then, ever so gently, spoon or pour some of the corn over the crackers, just enough to cover. Next, place the oysters an inch or so apart on top of the corn. (If the oysters are really big, cut them into chunks.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat this layering process until you reach the top of the dish, making sure you finish with cracker crumbs. (You may have a bit of creamed corn left over.) Dot with butter.

Bake until the top is browned and the sides are bubbling a little, 35 to 45 minutes. (A glass dish will take the longer cooing time.)

Don’t even think of going to Vermont without going to River Run. If it going to be a while, you can order River Run Sauce online. And when you go, cross the street to visit Ben Koenig’s Country Bookshop.

09 January 2010

Pears


My favorite fruit is the pear. As a child we lived in many a cold and inhospitable climate. There were weeks of long frozen days and nights. Each year, my Father’s sister sent a box of pears from Harry & David. They came in a thick two-part cardboard box that was almost as exquisite as the pears. Each pear was wrapped in a lovely deep forest tissue paper. Pears are the best fruit to mail as they ripen off the tree. When the pears arrived, they were hard green globes that needed days to sit and ripen. It was almost more than one could bear, waiting for those pears to ripen.

Linda West Eckhardt wrote a small, exquisite book, Pears, about my favorite fruit (well, she didn’t actually write it because of me, though I like to claim it). Pears are extremely versatile. The make great desserts, they are the best in preserves and chutneys, they provide a lovely accompaniment to meats, and they are an unexpected side dish. On of my favorite was to use pears is to lighten up a potato gratin.

My love of pears is matched by my love of mashes and purées. Most cooks limit their mashes to potatoes with a bit of milk. Don’t get me wrong, I love mashed potatoes, but there are a myriad of other choices. Try this one the next time you have pork.

Pear and Spinach Purée

2 pounds spinach, stemmed
2 large dead-ripe Comice or Bartlett pears, cored, peeled, and quartered
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground nutmeg to taste
1/2 small ripe Comice or Bartlett pear, cored, peeled, and cut into a fan shape with the stem intact, for garnish

Fill a 4-quart soup pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Drop all the spinach in by the handful and stand and watch the pot. Yes, it will boil, at which moment you should instantly dump the spinach into a colander and run cold water over it until it is cool. Use your hands to squeeze out all the excess water. Place the spinach and pears in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender and purée.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet until it foams, then add the spinach purée. Cook and stir until it begins to boil, then add the half-and-half and season with salt and nutmeg.

Serve in a cut glass crystal bowl, swirling the top. Garnish with the fanned pear half.

Serve this up as a side dish and your family will rave.

08 January 2010

Nela’s Cookbook


Another Stolen Post From Famous Food Friday

Famous Food Friday today is featuring Nela Rubinstein. OK, fine, she is not a household name and her fame comes from being married to Maestro Arthur Rubinstein, so maybe we will call today’s endeavor, Near Famous Food Friday. What ever you call it, Nela Rubinstein can cook. I am sure Arthur Rubinstein was no big box of chocolates to cook for or to live with for that matter. (I am always leery of men who refer to themselves as “Maestro”.)

Robert Redford, Sydney Pollack, Nela and Arthur Rubinstein

Nela Rubinstein was a friend of the noted hostess and publishing heir, Blanch Knopf. Knopf sent Rubinstein a contract for a cookbook that she refused to sign for 37 years. It was not as easy as pulling out her box of recipes and transcribing them. Growing up with a Lithuanian mother and Polish father, Nela Rubinstein had recipes not only in her native tongues but also in Russian, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and English. Measurements ran the gamut from “cup” and “teaspoon” to “garniec” (a kind of bucket) to “une bonne poignée d’ail” (a good fistful of garlic) and she insists on referring to “1/2 cup” as “1 deciliter”. After much transcribing and testing, the recipes ended up in the capable hands of Judith Jones.



Here is a simple fruity chicken dish. Rubinstein tells us that the easy and fragrant dish combines three simple ingredients that improve each other in the cooking – chicken, prunes, and butter.

Chicken with Prunes

1 roasting chicken, about 4 pounds
Salt and pepper to taste
8 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup (1/4 liter) chicken broth or use 1/2 Knorr chicken bouillon cube dissolved in 1 cup water; plus enough additional broth to cover prunes and raisins.
24 dried prunes
1/2 cup (1 deciliter) raisins
Rice


Wash and dry the chicken, and salt and pepper it inside and out. Put a 2-tablespoon lump of butter in the cavity and truss the bird. Place it in a low-sided roasting pan greased with the oil. Add the cup of chicken broth to the roasting pan.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Into a medium bowl pour enough boiling chicken broth to cover the prunes and raisins and let them soak. Roast the chicken for about 45 minutes or until half done, basting it often by rubbing it with the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter, the later spooning pan juices over it. Turn the chicken when basting it, so that it will color evenly.

When the chicken is half done, add the soaked prunes and raisins to the pan with their soaking liquid, basting the bird well and often then and thereafter. When the chicken is done, in about 1 1/2 hours, the pan juices should have the consistency of a light syrup. If they don’t, siphon off the juices and boil them down rapidly.

Carve the chicken and serve it over plain boiled rice surrounded by the prunes and raisins, with the pan juice pored over.



As for cooking she said "I was a frustrated artist and it was my way of creating."

What beautiful creations they are.



Arthur Rubinstein, Nela, and Their Children Eva and Paul, 1942
Moïse Kisling (French and Polish, 1891-1953)

07 January 2010

Flavors of Chile



Someone gave me a small promotional cookbook that was produced to highlight the cuisine of Chile. Flavors of Chile is a kind of a glorified church fundraiser cookbook in a slick format.

There is no exposition and a few typos, but basically, it is quite a nice little cookbook, featuring some easy and interesting recipes. It makes me want to eat more Chilean food. The book is heavy on seafood, but offers a good mix with vegetables, and sweets. The plain little translations of the recipes are a bit funny.

Sometimes, you find some really nice little cookbooks in the guise of a publicity brochure. This apple dessert is an easy take on a tarte tatin and really deserves a better moniker than "apple dessert". Keep in very thin and serve with a bit of cream.


Apple Dessert
Postre de manzana
6 cups apples, peeled and cored and in thin slices
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 a lemon, its juice
2/3 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted frozen butter, in lumps
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup grated coconut
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Pinch of salt

1. Preheat oven to high heat. In a bowl, mix the fruit with half the cinnamon, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon sugar. Pour the mixture into an 8 inch square or 9-inch round baking tin.
2. Place the rest of the ingredients in a food processor, including the remaining cinnamon and sugar, and process for a few seconds until coarsely mixed. Spread the mixture over the apples in the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden and the apples are cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature.


You just never know where you might find nifty little recipes.
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