22 April 2015

Donna Bell's Bake Shop


1. I hate, hate, hate this new fashion of preparing dessert that looks for all the world as though it has been dumped from the compost bucket or dropped on the floor, stepped on, swept into the dustpan, and dropped on a plate. Use as many tweezers, pastry bags, offset spatulas as you like, spend hours plating, but truth be told, it looks like compost. I don't want my cake ground up to resemble dirt or coffee grounds(and furthermore, I don't want coffee grounds IN my dessert), I don't want specks of frosting, dots of coulis, tiny squares of jello, itsy bitty bits of candied anything strewn across my plate in a decorative arch.  I want cake, not yesterday's compost.

2.  At sometime during every single day, NCIS is on my television, like right now. My cats love it. I can turn it on, and say, "I can name the killer in 22 seconds...because I have seen each and every one about 20 times...because anytime of the day or night, some channel is showing NCIS.

My bias is noted.

I got Donna Bell's Bake Shop for my birthday.  (Thank you Anne!)  It is the perfect baking book. Look at the cover.  Pauley Perrette is holding a cake. Yes, a cake. We know it is a cake because it has layers of cake, it has an a frosting on the layers, it has whole, recognizable fruit on the frosting. It is cake.  I like cake!  You will probably recognize Perrette as Abby Sciuto from NCIS. She started the bakery along with Darren Greenblatt and Matthew Sandusky. Perrette named her bakery after her mother, Donna Bell, who died of breast cancer in 2002.  Like me, her mother was from Alabama. Like me, Perrette's family moved around quite a bit, but even though she wasn't born there, she considers Alabama home.  

This cookbook is traditional, but don't for a minute think the recipes are ordinary. The book is filled with cakes and pies and cupcakes and bars and muffins and biscuits and cookies and they all look like what they are. Flip through the pages and you will exclaim, "That's a cupcake!" And you will be right though you might find that your cupcake has a homemade turtle topping of pecans, caramel, and chocolate!

There is a wonderful recipe for Lemon Bars, a very traditional and comforting dessert. But there are several great variations on your usual bar cookie, including this one.

Seasonal Magic Bars

Nonstick cooking spray
Shortbread crust
1 cup Reese's Pieces
3/4 cup shredded sweetened coconut
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c sweetened condensed milk
1/2 c evaporated milk

Heat the oven to 350F.  Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with aluminum foil, allowing enough foil to overlap the edges. Spray the foil with cooking spray. Place the Shortbread Crust into the prepared baking pan, making sure to distribute evenly.  Press down on the crumbs to form a crust. Bake until golden brown about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the Reese's Pieces, coconut, pecans, cranberries, white chocolate chips, and semisweet chocolate chips. Remove pan from the oven and immediately spread the chips mixture over crust. Mix the condensed milk and evaporated milk together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Drizzle evenly over the top. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool completely in pan. Grab the foil handles with both hands and lift the pastry out of the baking pan. Cut into 24 bars.then cut into bars.

Shortbread Crust

2 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Place the flour, sugar, and salt into a processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse a couple of times to combine. Add the cold butter butter and pulse a few times until mixture resembles coarse meal. Be careful not to process too long or it will turn into dough.
Or, to make by hand, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt.  Add the cold butter pieces and quickly press between your fingertips to break the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse crumbs.

I don't exactly know why this recipe is "seasonal"  but it sure is good. I made it "seasonal" by replacing the Reese's Pieces with Cadbury Mini Eggs left over from Easter. Whip up a batch today and settle down in front of the television, I'm sure you can find NCIS showing no matter what time you indulge. 

09 April 2015

The Hostess Cooks

We just love us a hostess who can cook.  This is a charmer from the early 1950's.  It seems that after World War II, there was a bit of shift in homelife, especially in England.  The war provided more opportunity for jobs for returning soldiers and for many women.  Women who were once thought to automatically enter the employ of large land owners are servants in both the house and kitchen now saw other opportunities.  A professional class was emerging and the wives of these men faced an empty house that was theirs to tend. 

While it was once considered a necessity to have a cook, it was now more likely that wives would not only be the hostess in the house but the cook in the kitchen. The market was ripe for books explaining how to cook while also serving as a gracious hostess.  The Hostess Cooks by Viola Johnstone is one of those books.

The introduction by Lady Barnett extols Johnstone in a bit of round about way.  "I wish this book had been available when I was a new and inexperienced housewife."  Viola Johnstone was an actress for a time until she met her husband and, naturally, abandoned her career, but not before gathering recipe ideas on her travels.  As Lady Barnett tells us, "The is a vast difference between the information acquired by someone living and working in a country and someone who is there as a tourist."  She is sure, "...this book will do a lot toward solving your problems."

After repeatedly telling us that the author is not a trained cook, that she could barley boil and egg, and that she has traveled and worked abroad, we are then told that cooking or eating Chinese or Indian would be a waste when we could find perfectly good food in England presented by and actress who traveled but came home.

the basic idea behind this book is not particularly revolutionary -- know what you are going to cook.  Plan ahead.  Be gracious.  Rules to live by.

Johnstone is rather fond of chops,  both lamb and pork, but she seems to be a whiz with pork chops.  Her pork chops are cooked with a variety of ingredient that might make you look like the most Continental of cooks or at very least, get you booted off Top Chef.

There are pork chops with gherkins, with peaches, with cherries, with spaghetti, and my personal favorite, fired bananas.

Pork Chops and Fried Bananas

The pork chops can be fired in lard or pork fat.  This is an excellent and unusual accompaniment to pork. The bananas are peeled and sliced lengthwise down the centre, fried lightly in pork fat,sprinkled in very little sugar and served with pork chops.  Cider  may be used instead of white wine. And do not be afraid  to try this recipe with the bananas, it is most highly recommended.  Fried pineapple rings are also very good with pork chops.

All I can say is "be afraid, be very afraid."   As with many of this type of early cookbook, the recipes all fall in upon themselves.  The "Cider may be used..." hearkens back to her earlier recipe for these similar dishes.  In order to cook the recipe before you, one must read the recipes before it to get an idea of how one goes about it. 

That being said, I don't care how gracious a hostess you are, I am not eating pork and bananas!  This may be the rare occasion when one might offer this advice: "Stick to being an actress."

03 April 2015

Will it Waffle?

When I was in Alabama, BFF Beverly's hubby, Ed got a new waffle iron.  We were treated to yummy waffles.  I told him I would get him this book.  So I did.  I am sending tomorrow.  But today, we felt the need to post about it.

The title pretty much says it all.  Will it Waffle?.  The title comes for Daniel Shumski's blog that asked the same question.  And now we know the answer.  Yes, Virginia, it will.

Once Shumski asked the question, everyone and their mother chimed in.  (My personal fave is tater tots in the waffle iron to make hash browns.)

I can't wait to go back to Alabama and find out what other amazing ideas Ed has for our culinary pleasure.  Until then, here's hoping he gets some great ideas!
Waffled Zucchini Fritters
2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 medium-sized zucchini) 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg  
1/4 cup milk 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Nonstick cooking spray
1. Place the zucchini in a strainer or colander and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt.  Let stand for 30 minutes. Rinse well with cold water. Press to remove excess liquid from the zucchini and then blot dry with a clean lint free towel or paper towels.
2. Preheat the waffle iron to medium and the oven to its lowest setting.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and 1/4 cup of the grated Parmesan.  Whisk well to combine
4. In a small bowl, combine the flour,  the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper. Mix well and stir into the large bowl with the egg mixture. Add the zucchini and toss until well combined.
5. Coat both sides of the waffle iron grid with nonstick spray. Place rounded tablespoons of the zucchini mixture on the waffle iron, leaving space between each scoop for the fritters to spread. Close the lid.
6. Cook until lightly browned and cooked through, about 3 minutes, and remove from the waffle iron.
7. Repeat sets 5 and 6 with remaining batter. Keep the finished fritters warm in the oven.
8. To serve, top the fritters with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan.

PS. Don't tell Ed the book is on the way. 

01 April 2015

Vicomte in the Kitchenette

Another oldie/goldie from the shelves.  The only thing we know of the George, Vicomte de Mauduit we learned from the fine folks at Persephone Books.  They reprinted his last book, You Can't Ration These. It seems his great-grandfather, went to St Helena with Napoleon.  The Vicomte himself was an aviator in WWI. No one really knows, but it is assumed that he was captured in France during the siege and probably died at the hands of the Nazis.

In 1934 he published 

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