23 March 2011

Crazy For Casseroles

As I mentioned earlier, Harry Lowe, gifted me with the worlds best casserole dish and I have been vigorously using it. There are few food things that Southerner's know better than a good casserole. So naturally one should turn to fellow Southerner, James Villas for tips on that classic. It is said that every great Southern hostess has several casseroles carefully frozen in the freezer just in case someone were to die and a quick funeral dish was needed.

As Villas points out, the 1970's were not kind to casseroles. (Frankly, I am not so sure that the 1970's were kind to much of anything, but I digress...) Some canned soup and crumbled cereal do not a casserole make. In Crazy for Casseroles, Villas gives the reader a staggering 275 casserole options. That is a lot of casserole action. Many of the casseroles will be familiar, many of them are derived from friends and family. Villas has a lot of friends and it is amazing how many of them have a fave casserole. This one was inspired by a casserole from David Page's restaurant, Home.

David’s Chicken, Ham, Artichoke, and Pasta Casserole

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium-size onions, minced
2 large celery ribs, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups milk
1 cup diced cooked ham
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
4 large artichoke hearts (cooked fresh or bottled), quartered
1/2 cup sour cream
1 pound rigatoni, cooked according to package directions and drained
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 3- to 3 ½ -quart casserole.

2. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over low heat, add the onions, celery, garlic, and nutmeg, and
stir till softened, about 7 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the top and stir 2 minutes longer. Add the
wine, increase the heat to moderate, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the milk and stir till thickened,
about 3 minutes. Add the ham, chicken, artichoke hearts, and sour cream and cook for 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and cheese and toss till everything is well blended.

3. Transfer to the casserole, sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top, drizzle the melted butter
over the crumbs, and bake till bubbly, about 30 minutes.

I say, stick that tuna casserole in the freezer for your next funeral and serve this one up in a festive celebration.

16 March 2011

Picasso & Pie

I love the kismet of blogging. Case in point. I recently picked up this odd little cookbook. I liked the title. It seems that there was "The Ladies Social Library of Blue Hill" in Blue Hill, Maine. The ladies formed a library in 1796. In the 1950's they held fundraisers for the Library. One particular fundraiser involved rather "avant-garde" paintings. They entitled their fundraiser "Picasso & Pie." The "pie" was so popular that the Blue hill Buffet was established. A collection of recipes was gathered and later put into a nice hardback format. Just like the one I bought.

So, because I procrastinate extensively, I put the book into my pile of cookbooks to blog about. You can imaging my surprise when I was reading one of my favorite blogs, The Down East Dilettante. He had a quiz which included the following questions:

How are this unknown lost mid-century building...

Robert Motherwell...

Blueberry Pie...

Quincy Marketplace...

and my local library, all connected?

The answer was in an article in the New York Social Diary. When I clicked on the article I found EVERYTHING I would ever need to know about Picasso & Pie by Lynne Thompson and so much more.

Here is their signature dish from Lynne, The Down East Dilettante and Cookbook Of The Day:

Blueberry Ambrosia

2 1/2 quarts of water
thin cut peel of one lemon
small amount of tangerine rind (if possible)
small stick cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Simmer the blueberries, lemon rind (and tangerine rind) in the 2 1/2 quarts of water until the berries are soft.

Strain and put the berries through a sieve or puree them finely in ta blender. Return to strainer juice. Mix the 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in about 1/2 cup water and add to mixture.

Simmer 5 minutes.

Chill to iciness and serve with whipped cream which has been sweetened to taste. Dust the cream lightly with cinnamon.
Enjoy the recipe but not without The Down East Dilettante.

07 March 2011

Feast-Day Cakes From Many Lands

There is something celebratory about cakes. My family used to bake a cake every couple of days, depending upon how fast the cake was eaten. But for me, they always seem like some type of celebration. I love this little book by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Feast-Day Cakes From Many Lands. I love the idea of Feast-day cakes. It seems a great way to tell time. If it's Simnel Cake it must be Lent.

Traveling the world, Spicer brings cakes and cookies that are, for the most part, cooked for a specific day of the year. (Though where she got the idea to include hush puppies in this mix I will never figure out!) Still, this is a wonderful book for those of us who love holiday history and cake. Since Easter is upon us, here is her history of a Czechoslovakian Easter cake.

"Bábovka is also a coffee cake, rich with eggs and chopped blanched almonds and baked in a round pan with a hole in the center. This feather-light delicacy is served with hot coffee for the Easter Sunday feast in Czechoslovakia.

Easter in this country is unthinkable without quantities of eggs. Housewives need them for the holiday breads and cakes. Some eggs they decorate and sell at the village market. Others they paint for the feast-day table. Boys want eggs for the Easter Monday sports. Girls, especially, require eggs, since custom decrees that they inscribe them with sentimental couplets and present them as love tokens to favored lads.

On the fourth Sunday in Lent, a group of girls lead a flower-crowned queen through the streets and chant little verses to announce the spring. Some songs include requests for eggs to make Easter cakes and end with threats such as this:

Far back behind the kitchen stove
Your hen sits on her nest.
We see her white eggs rolling
And ask you to share with us.
But if you are ungenerous
And order us away
Take care!Your pretty daughter
Shall have no wedding day.

Great Friday and White Saturday, the Friday and Saturday preceding the holiday, are favorite times for decorating eggs. Most of the designs are traditional to certain villages or regions, since both patterns and coloring secrets are handed down from mother to daughter for generations. Some eggs are hard boiled and decorated for table use; but often people bore a hole in each end of the egg, blow out the contents for cooking use, and decorate the empty shell. Roots, vegetables, and grasses make interesting dyes. Onion skins, for example, produce beautiful soft tones of yellow and rust, while beets give pleasing reds and pinks.

Wax from homemade tallow candles, a stout needle or sharp knife, and a small lamp to heat the metal point, are the crude implements for creating a kraslice, or beautiful egg. The women decorate most eggs by a laborious process that resembles batik. First, they dip the egg into the wax. Then they etch a design on the shell with the needle or knife point. Next, they plunge the egg into a cold dye bath. They now cover the colored surface with wax and draw on another pattern. The process is painstakingly repeated many times before the exquisitely executed, glowingly colored egg finally emerges-a triumph of century-old peasant craftmanship.

All Czechs do not decorate their eggs in these traditional designs. Young girls often paint their eggs by hand, inscribe them with love messages and present them to sweethearts on Easter Monday. Easter Monday, or Pomlazka, the Day of Whipping, is Czechoslovakia's greatest youth festival. Boys braid willow branches into whips, which they ornament with flowers and colored ribbon streamers. The lads then roam about, to carol for eggs and whip the village girls "so they won't be lazy or have fleas." This symbolic custom, which probably originated in pre-Christian purification rites, supposedly brings good luck.

In return for their whippings-which are the measure of a young woman's popularity-the lads receive decorated eggs and generous portions of holiday coffee breads and cakes."

And here is the recipe.


1 envelope active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup sifted all purpose flour
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks, well beaten
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 cup chopped blanched almonds

Dissolve yeast in warm water, stir in 1 tablespoon sugar, and set aside to rise for 15 minutes. Then add 1 cup flour to yeast mixture and let rise for 30 minutes, or until spongy and light. Meanwhile, cream butter and sugar, and beat in the egg yolks. Sift together remaining 2 cups of flour and salt and add to butter- sugar- egg yolk mixture. Combine with yeast mixture. Fold in vanilla, beaten egg whites, and 3/ cup almonds. Blend thoroughly. Spoon into well-greased and floured 9-inch tube pan. Sprinkle top with remaining chopped almonds. Let rise in warm place until double in bulk. Bake in moderate oven (350° F.) for 45-50 minutes.

I am so happy that my chickens are back laying their lovely "colored" eggs. They are being very generous as am I.

05 March 2011

9 X 13 The Pan That Can

I know!!! If I don't start posting more, you are going to stop reading. What happened to me posting every day? Well, life gets in the way. I'm sorry. but I digress...

Harry Lowe read a review in Cook's Illustrated about the very best 9 X 13 baking dish.

He set out to order them for Christmas presents. Unfortunately, the pans were sold out and back ordered for quite some time. I received a lovely box with a note saying I would get my Christmas pan as soon as they were back in stock. Well it took some time but I finally received my pan this weekend while I was in D.C.

I stopped by a favorite used book store and there sitting on the shelf right before me was a copy of The Better Homes and Gardens 9 X 13 The Pan That Can. Clearly, it was an omen and clearly I bought the book. IF you read this blog or my other blog you will know that I need NO help in figuring out what to put in a 9 X 13 pan, but again, one cannot fight omens.

I must say, I find the recipes rather long and complicated for cooking in 9 X 13 pan. One would think that these recipes would require a whole compliment of dishes. Actually, many of them are adapted from other Better Homes and Gardens publications. For some the main difference in the recipe is changing the word "pan" to "9 X 13 pan." Still, there are over 300 recipes that you can make in that 9 X 13 pan or any other pan you might have. Here's one. Just a note, you will need another saucepan for the green beans and several containers to put everything in to refrigerate. Frankly, I would rather eat this hot that chilled for 24 hours.

Fennel Lime-Crusted Beef Tenderloin

1/2 cup lime-infused olive oil (1/2 cup)
1/4 cup fennel seeds
1/4 cup snipped fresh tarragon
1/4 cup finely shredded lime peel (need 5 to 6 limes)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3-pound center-cut beef tenderloin
1 pound peeled onions (such as cipollini onions, pearl onions, and/or yellow onions)
3 cups sliced fennel
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

1. In a small bowl combine 6 tablespoons of the oil, the fennel seeds, tarragon, lime peel, pepper, and salt. Coat the tenderloin with seed mixture. Place meat on a non-reactive tray; cover loosely with foil. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place meat on a roasting rack in an ungreased 9 X 13 pan or baking dish. Return any coating left on tray to meat. Insert an oven-going meat thermometer into the thickest portion of meat. In a medium bowl, toss together onions and 1 tablespoon of the remaining olive oil. Place onions on half of the pan or dish alongside meat. Roast, uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, toss together fennel and remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Stir onions and add fennel to other half of roasting pan alongside meat. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes more or until thermometer registers 135 degrees F for medium-rare doneness.

4. Transfer meat to cutting board; cover with foil. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes. The temperature should register 145 degrees F for medium-rare doneness. Wrap roast tightly in plastic wrap; chill for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours. Transfer onions and fennel to separate bowls. Cover each bowl tightly; chill for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

5. For sauce, pour drippings from the baking pan or dish into a small saucepan, scraping out and including the crusty browned bits. Add red wine to the saucepan; cook until bubbly, stirring constantly to
dissolve browned bits. Transfer sauce to bowl. Cover; refrigerate until serving.

6. To serve, cook green beans in a small amount of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain. Rinse with cold water until chilled; drain again. Toss green beans with the sauce. Arrange on serving platter. Thinly slice tenderloin and arrange on top of beans. Serve your tenderloin platter with roasted onion and fennel.

OK, you can chill the whole thing. On second thougth it might just make an excellent picnic item!
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