29 September 2015

Yogurt Culture

 We have never been big on milk around here, so yogurt was never at the top of our list of fave foods or ingredients for that matter.  But we have come around. While we still shy away from pulling a container out of the fridge and snacking away, we are growing partial to it.

One problem is the yogurt one finds in the grocery store. Until very recently, much of that stuff in those little containers was so filled with sugars and artificial crap that it was crime to even refer to it as yogurt.  A recent commercial for a gigantic "yogurt" producer praised themselves for removing high fructose corn syrup from their yogurt.  If it had high fructose corn syrup in it, was it really yogurt?  Is yogurt milk with a bit of culture added?  Does yogurt really need a candy topping? Enough said.

It is now possible to find an actual yogurt on the market, though one must wade through a sea of brightly colored, sugar filled, cookie infused impostors.

Cheryl Sternman Rule published Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World's Healthiest Food.  She also tells you how to dip, lick, dine, and slurp, but clearly that would have made the title way too long. It will give you an idea of how the book is divided to make your yogurt consumption easier.

Sometimes yogurt is the star as in smoothies,soups, and sauces. Other times it is an unseen ingredient as in cakes and breads.  Sometimes it is a supporting character, as a pillowy base for compotes. And sometimes, it is as its best just slightly dressed, like this.

Greek Yogurt with Lemon Vinaigrette

2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably whole milk
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
¼ teaspoon za’atar*, or few leaves of fresh parsley, chopped
Warm whole-wheat pita triangles for serving

 *Za’atar is a type of wild thyme often mixed with sumac (a brick-red, sour spice), salt, and sesame seeds. Look for it in Middle Eastern markets.

In a large bowl, beat the yogurt until light and smooth. Scrape it into a shallow, wide serving bowl. And smooth with the back of a spoon to create a wide indentation.In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk the oil and lemon juice until emulsified; season well with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the yogurt so it floods the indentation. Sprinkle with pine nuts and za’atar or parsley. Taste, adding a bit more salt, if desired. Serve with warm pita.

Now that's a fine appetizer with little fuss and big rewards.

If you are terrible ambitious, there are several recipes to make your own yogurt, so you can skip that tutti frutti isle at the grocery.  Either way, yogurt might just be the most versatile ingredient in your kitchen and Rule can show you some of the best ways to use it.

25 September 2015

Dinner With Jackson Pollock

When I think of Jackson Pollock, I rarely think of food.  It's funny, but I don't think of artists as being great cooks. Maybe it is the paint-stained hands, or the chemicals, or just some weird bias on my part. Writer in the kitchen seems right but artists.... Needless to say when I saw Robyn Lea's book, Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature, I was intrigued.

Turns out that after a busy day of splatter painting, Jackson headed into the kitchen.

number 14 (Gray), 1948 by Jackson Pollock

Who knew?

The cookbook features recipes from Pollock, Lee Krasner, and various artist friends who hung out in the Hamptons. (The pre-99% Hamptons where struggling artists could still find a home.) Pollock and Krasner took advantage of the seafood and local produce. Much of what the pair knew of cooking came from their parents. Pollock's taste ran to the Midwestern fare ate at his mother's table. While they often hosted other artists, Stella made several appearances in the kitchen.

Lee Krasner, Stella Pollock, and Jackson Pollock.
One of the most charming items uncovered by Lea was Stella Pollock's handwritten recipe book.  A familiar site in many family kitchens. Her son built on her recipes in an attempt to become a better cook.

His biggest culinary passion was baking. Given Pollock's reputation for being erratic and boisterous, it is interesting to think that his kitchen exploits gravitate to the precision and patience required for baking. His signature baking accomplishment was his apple pie.  It won first prize at the Fisherman's Fair. It became so popular that every year, people bid to buy his pie site unseen. The recipe for the crust was written out by Stella on the back of a recipe book.

Jackson’s Prize-Winning Apple Pie


4 pounds granny smith apples, or any combination of tart apples
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar, or less if desired
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, sifted


2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1 level teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups cold butter
2 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg for egg wash
½ cup cold milk, plus more as needed

To prepare the filling: Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Stew apples in a pot with the water (add enough to cover the fruit), plus the sugar and spices, until just cooked. Chill the apples in a little of the juice. When cold, sift the flour over the apples and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450°F. To make the pie crust: Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until mixture is crumbly. Add egg yolks and mix with enough milk to make a dough. Roll out dough lightly. Place the pastry in a greased 10-inch round pie dish, allowing pastry to overhang the edge of the pan by about 1 inch; trim away excess dough, roll it into a ball, and set aside to make the top crust. Be sure there are no cracks in the bottom crust; seal them by pressing edges together with fingers. Pour the apple mixture into the pie shell and distribute evenly.

For a simple top crust, roll out the remaining dough, slide the pastry sheet onto the rolling pin, and unroll it on top of the apple pie filling. Allow top crust to overhang the edge of the pan by about 1 inch; trim away excess dough, then pinch the top and bottom crusts together all around the rim to seal the pie. Prick the top crust with a fork in about a dozen places, or slice a few small openings with a knife, to allow steam to escape. Brush the top pastry with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with a pinch or two of sugar. 

For a more elaborate lattice-style top, roll out the remaining dough, cut into ½-inch strips, and weave strips across the top of the filling. Brush the lattice strips with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with a pinch or two of sugar.
Place the pie in the center of oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 325°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes more.

Funny how something as simple as an apple pie can change the way you look at art.  Thanks to Robyn Lea, I will never look at Jackson Pollock the same way. Art and recipes! What a combo.

24 September 2015

Collards: A Southern Tradition From Seed to Table

We love esoteric, scholarly books. And cookbooks. So when we find a scholarly, esoteric book about one of our favorite food; a book that has recipes, too...we are plum ecstatic!

Edward H. Davis and John T. Morgan have written the definitive book on the history of collards in Collards: A Southern Tradition From Seed to Table. The journey they take is part mystery, part geography, part horticulture, part folklore, and great recipes.

Now if you are like most people, you think of the collard as a Southern dish. As with many Southern dishes, like rice, okra, and watermelon, one might think that the collards origin is from Africa. One of the most fascinating finds in Collards is that the Southern collard is most probably not from Africa but from jolly old England. I, too, was surprised.

As the plant was dying out in England in favor of cabbage, it was finding new life in the old South. Davis, who writes about collards on his blog, Collard Geography, inaugurates it with this personal tale:
"I grew up without collards because my mother (Lucy Claytor Davis) hated (and still refuses) to cook them. It is the smell, of course.  In fact she won’t allow anyone else to cook them in the house.  Instead, she offered me many kinds of green vegetables – peas, green beans, lettuce, broccoli… But I was worse than your typical child on this subject – In spite of persistent nudges (in fact, daily doses – it seemed like medicine to me) I would not allow anything green into my mouth. "

Collards got a bad rap from their rather pungent smell during cooking. Some people, like Davis' mother, simply refuse to cook them in their house. One also runs into the socioeconomic stigma of collards -- they are the food the poor folks ate. The section on collards in the history of cookbooks is an area we were drawn to.  The earliest cookbook by and African American woman, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, by Abby fisher contain not a single recipe for collards.  

Mary Stuart Smith's Virginia Cookery-Book doesn't contain collards either and even cabbage gets a short shrift.  
"This vegetable, so staple and article of food among out-of-door workers, has fallen into general disuse with the upper classes on account of the disagreeable odor it emits, permeating every corner of an ordinary constructed house from garret to cellar."

 It wasn't till the early 1970's that Southern Living published a recipe for collards. It was the first big wave of Southern cooking going mainstream in the form of Soul food which, "members of the jet set ...have discovered." 

Fresh Greens

1/4 pound salt pork
1 large bunch turnip, mustard, or collard greens
1/2 cup boiling water
Salt to taste

Cook the salt pork in the water for 10 minutes, add washed greens, and cook until tender. Salt to taste. Don't overcook. Serve with vinegar.

Not much water if you want a lot of potlikker, but it was a start. And now, you can't trow a stick at Southern Living without hitting a recipe for greens.  Collards, not just our favorite side dish, but a book whose time has come.


22 September 2015

Kitchenette Cookery

From 1917, Anna Merritt East's Kitchenette Cookery. Perhaps what we like most about this little book is the "kitchenette" on the cover. It has that walk-in closet feel and in an age when we see the entire first floor of many houses as an extension of the kitchen, seeing one that could be easily shut away behind doors is kind of nice.

East states:

"...I offer this little book to you, friends of the business world, who must needs eat and mayhap, too, love to cook rather than sit forever around a boarding-house table."

Two things strike me from this beginning of the introduction.

1. The way that rents are rising, I am not sure that boarding houses shouldn't make a big comeback.

2. I am quite sure that "mayhap" should be resurrected into modern language.   Its definition from the Urban Dictionary:
A term combining the best qualities of the terms "maybe" and "perhaps" into a single superior word. Often used when planning something mischievous or pretending to be British.
"mayhaps I'll go get fucked up instead of writing this paper"
"care for a spot of tea?"
"mayhaps a bit later" 
But I digress... 

East offers up a list of the modern conveniences that one would want in their kitchenette and some rather enlightening prices such as:

1 gas stove                                $28.00
2 asbestos mats                              .10
2 anti-splashers for faucets             .05
Vacuum ice-cream freezer            2.50
10-piece earthenware set               .85

While I am pretty sure they no longer make asbestos mats, I want a pair of anti-splashers!
East has an entire chapter devoted food that comes in a can. While she advocates the use of canned foods, she finds that cooking a whole can of any one item is simply too much food for one person to consume.  Her chapter is aptly named  "Half-a-can Recipes." Using the "saved" half-a-can for a salad later in the week is her favorite trick.  One can then look forward to lima beans and corn in a French dressing. Or asparagus and pimientos in a French dressing. Or beets stuffed with cream cheese in a French dressing.  Clearly, French dressing is a favorite.

Her recipes for midnight snacks are included in the chapter, "A Bite to Eat at Bedtime." She will include a half-a-can here and there for bedtime included in several rather complicated dishes. This one takes at least 30 minutes to prepare and could offer up some intense dreams.

Shrimp Wiggle
1/2 cupful cooked rice
1/2 can of peas
1 can shrimp
1 onion
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cupful cream
1/2 teaspoonful salt
1/4 teaspoonful paprika
Brown the sliced onion in the butter;add the cream, rice, and peas; let cook up, and add the shrimp, salt,  and paprika; simmer over hot water for fifteen minutes, and serve on crackers.
i don't know about the shrimp, but I am sure if you eat this right before bed, you will be the one wiggling! 

10 September 2015

Eating Appalachia

In an era when we talk extensively about "American" food, it is funny that much of what in on the plate is not American at all. Where is that food that is indigenous to our country. Darrin Nordahl set out to find some of that food in his book Eating Appalachia.

As you know, I live in Appalachia, so I don't find these ingredients to be quite as mysterious as Nordahl does. It is funny, when someone makes a big fuss over something you have eaten all your life.

Look at ramps, for instance.  A favorite anecdote during ramp season in West Virginia says that children were sent home from school because they reeked of ramps. Nordahl states that the Smithsonian (Full Disclosure--an organization I often work for) blames Martha Stewart on the proliferation of ramps into mainstream culture.  When she included a ramp recipe in a 1996 Martha Stewart Living, ramps became a thing. Now those poor kids in Appalachia could barely afford ramps as most of them are shipped off to New York City! Damn you, Martha.

While the ramp might be the golden goose of Appalachian produce, there are many others that Nordahl features. There are paw paws, persimmons, and various nuts.  The butternut is the bane of my tire's existence. When one says, "it is a tough nut to crack," they have no doubt tried to crack the butternut. Why don't we see more of these American beauties? As Nordahl will tell you, "Because they are a bitch to crack..." Yes, they are. Everyone in West Virginia has a sure fire way to crack them that they learned from their granddaddy. These are family secrets. Trust me, you will never go into any one's home and find a big bowl of butternuts sitting on the table.

If you can find a way to extract the sweetmeats inside, this is a good way to use them.

American Indian Cream of Butternut Soup

3/4 cup finely ground butternuts
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the ground butternuts and chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat another pan over medium heat, add the butter, and saute the onion and celery for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the sauteed vegetables and milk, salt, and pepper to the simmering butternut stock and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve. 

With no television, iPads, nor video games, American Indians of yore had lots of time to crack those devilish butternuts for soup. If you keep up with food trends, you know that Appalachian cuisine is going to be the next "BIG" thing. Eating Appalachia is a good primer.

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