Friday, October 13, 2017

"Cooking with [Winnie the] Pooh - Yummy Tummy Cookie Cutter Treats" - Piglet's No-Haycorn Pizzas - for my Aunt Mary's 96th birthday

Date I made this recipe:  October 10, 2017 – my Aunt Mary's 96th birthday!

Cooking with Pooh – Yummy Tummy Cookie Cutter Treats by Marlene Brown
Published by Disney Enterprises, Inc.
© 1995
Purchased at:  BPCA (Bloomington Crime Prevention Association) Annual Sale
Recipe:  Piglet's No-Haycorn Pizzas ('Haycorn' is Piglet's word for acorns)

"I'm planting a haycorn, Pooh, so that it can grow....up into an oak tree, and have lots of haycorns just outside the front door instead of having to walk miles and miles, do you see Pooh?"

I love Winnie the Pooh and his friends and his stories and his adventures.  I always have, always will. 

These characters, brought to life by A. A. Milne, informed my childhood as I read and re-read many a Pooh story.  I remember being particularly confused and scared about the "heffalumps" until I got old enough to realize that is what Pooh called "elephants."  Ah.  Makes a difference, it does!

The main character (besides Pooh), and the subject of an upcoming movie, "Goodbye Christopher Robin," was Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh's young owner. Christopher Robin was the real-life son of A.A. Milne, Pooh's creator and the movie preview looks great.

In fiction and in real life, Christopher Robin and his bear, Winnie the Pooh had many adventures and were the very best of friends.  When I was a kid, there was a song about Christopher Robin called "They're Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace," that played on Captain Kangaroo.  The main refrain is "They're changing guards at Buckingham Palace, Chris-to-pher Robin went down with Alice..." and even though I heard it as a young child, that song always stuck with me. I loved the Captain, loved the show, loved the song – loved

So speaking of "love," just before Andy and I got married, we bought a greeting card for someone with a quote from Pooh and Christopher Robin.  We loved it so much that we tracked down a second card, found the full quote, and decided to have it be one of our wedding readings. I asked my Aunt Mary to do the honors and  I believe I've written in a pervious blog that she got up in front of everyone, said very solemnly "This is a reading from Winnie the Pooh," and then cracked up laughing.  We did too!

Twenty six years later, my aunt is still with us and in fact, just turned 96 which is a major accomplishment.  We were always close (my birthday is the day before hers) and ever since the wedding, we have grown even closer over our love of Pooh.  Thanks to Hallmark, I am able to find a Winnie the Pooh (original illustration) for about every occasion including this year's birthday card.

The Winnie the Pooh characters in this cookbook/booklet are the more contemporary ones from Disney Enterprises. I have vague recollections of a Winnie the Pooh TV show from my earlier years and these more contemporary renderings were the one in that show.  I must confess though, that I have a fondness for the "original" characters are drawn by E. H. Shepard, and I hope I'm not the only one who found it amusing that both the author and the illustrator went by initials instead of full names.

Unlike the mega-paged The Playboy Gourmet cookbook that I used last week, this booklet contains 10 and only 10 recipes, all of which are intended to be made by kids with adult supervision. Each recipe has the name of a Pooh character and of course, all of Pooh's recipes contained honey, or "hunny" as he liked to spell it.

Since there are only 10 recipes, here's the list:

  • Pooh's Honey Cookies on a Stick
  • Eeyore's Rainy Day Cinnamon Crisps
  • Christopher Robin's Gingerbread Friends
  • Pooh's Best Lunch-Wiches
  • Piglet's No-Haycorn Pizzas
  • Rabbit's Double-Double Chocolate Cookies
  • Tigger's Bouncing Rainbow Animals
  • Pooh's Holiday Ornament Cookies
  • Kanga's Animal Biscuit Surprises
  • Roo's Painted Cookie Friends

As good as all these recipes sounded, I tend to favor savory over sweet and so made "Piglet's No-Haycorn Pizzas." Piglet calls acorns "haycorns," and I wish I could elaborate further on why it's important that this is a no "haycorn" recipe but I can't so I won't!

The pizza recipe is simple and delicious although I did not do two things called for in the recipe:  I did not use "grown-up" help to turn on my oven, and I did not cut out little pizzas with cookie cutters.  I also added an ingredient that wasn't called for in the recipe – Cipollini Onion that were marinated in balsamic vinegar – yum!  They were in the same olive bar from which I got my "ripe olive slices" and figured why not?  I cut them up in small pieces and they were a tasty addition.

Okay, true confession #4:  I did not roll out the dough as directed.  I tried it and it kept sticking to my non-stick rolling pin (How did that happen?) and still got stuck when I tried flouring first the rolling pin and then the dough.  I finally gave up and just pulled the dough into the rectangle desired and then added my toppings.  I'm just going to say again that I do not enjoy rolling out pie or pizza dough but my husband does which is why he is known as the "Pie Guy" and I am not!

I have always wished that my aunt lived closer as we have so much fun when we are together ("You're the best Pooh reader, ever, Auntie Mare!") but I'm pretty sure she would have enjoyed her Piglet Pizza as well as this charming Winnie the Pooh children's cookbook.

Piglet's No-Haycorn Pizzas – makes 12 to 14 mini pizzas or 1 large cookie sheet
1 8-ounce can refrigerated crescent roll dough
A few tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup pizza sauce
12 top 14 pepperoni slices, cut in half
12 to 14 ripe olive slices
½ cup pre-shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese

With grown-up help, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. 

Sprinkle flour on the countertop or a large cutting board.  Remove the dough carefully from the can in two sections.  Unroll one section of the dough on the board; unroll the second section of dough next to it to make a square.  With your fingers press the edges together to make one large piece of dough.  Ann's Note:  The tricky part will be pressing the edges of each crescent roll triangle and then keeping them pressed together.

Put some flour on the rolling pin.  Roll the dough carefully to make an 11x10-inch rectangle.  Dip your cookie cutters in some flour, then cut out shapes from dough.  Ann's Note:  I skipped this part but for those of you who want to use cookie cutters, follow the next steps below.

With a metal spatula, put your pizza cut-outs on the cookie sheet.  Shape the dough scraps into a ball.  Roll it out and cut more pizzas.  Put them on the cookie sheet.

With a small spoon spread some pizza sauce on each pizza.  Put two half-slices of pepperoni on top.  Put one slice of olive on each pizza.  Sprinkle each pizza with some cheese.  Try not to get any cheese on the cookie sheet.

With grown-up help, bake your pizzas for 12 to 14 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the cheese is melted.  With help, take them out of the oven.  Cool them for 2 minutes.  With the metal spatula, take the pizzas off the cookie sheet to serve to your friends.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"The Playboy [Magazine] Gourmet" - Minute Steak, Beer Gravy and Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Spinach - RIP, Hugh Hefner

Date I made this recipe:  October 8, 2017 – in memory of Hugh Hefner

The Playboy Gourmet by Thomas Mario
Publisher:  A Playboy Press Book
© 1972
Purchased at: Kitchen Arts & Letters, NYC
Recipes: Minute Steaks, Beer Gravy – p. 126; Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Spinach – p. 370

Hugh Hefner passed away last week at the age of 91.  For those of you who don't know, Hugh founded Playboy magazine, a rather tame "girlie" magazine that men jokingly said they read "for the articles," (said "articles" were rather well-written), as well as several Playboy [men's] Clubs, and the Playboy Mansion.  "Hef," as he was known, was a pretty savvy businessman who made a lot of money publishing a magazine full of naughty pictures.  At the time of his death, his net worth was somewhere between $50 and $110 million dollars.  (By the way, the Playboy Club in NYC was featured in an episode of Man Men.) 

Because I like to be thorough, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that while many men obviously loved the magazine, many women thought Hefner was the next best thing to a pimp and/or a pervert, "taking advantage" of women by featuring them in all their naked glory in the centerfold.  I particularly remember the outrage ramping up during the 60's and 70's during the women's movement when  independent women everywhere made it clear they had no time for anything or anybody that kept women in their place or cast women in a particular mode.

You might find it interesting that the late actress, Marilyn Monroe, graced Playboy's first cover in 1953.  Marilyn went on to have a movie career (Some Like It Hot is one of my favorites) before dying at age 36 from a drug overdose. 

At any rate, so that's the Cliff Notes version of Playboy magazine.

As I mentioned, "Hef" also created several Playboy Clubs in various cities like New York and Vegas.  These wining and dining establishment were devoted almost exclusively to men and required membership to enter.  Servers at these clubs were usually well-endowed and were dressed in a form-fitting rabbit costume earning them the nickname, "Playboy Bunny."  It is interesting to note that author and feminist, Gloria Steinem, went undercover as a "bunny" in order to write an expose on life as a bunny.  The article was published in 1963 in Show Magazine.  One of these days, I need to read that as it is no doubt enlightening. 

As to the cookbook, once again, timing was everything.  I found this book on Etsy years ago and marked it as a "Favorite," and kept it as a "Favorite" even though the book was sold before I could get my hands on it.  This summer, while at Kitchen Arts & Letters (a cookbook store), in NYC, I saw it on the vintage shelf and purchased it along with some other books.  As always, I shipped it back home which was a smart thing to do given that this book is quite the hefty tome.

As I suspected, the recipes in this cookbook were originally targeted toward men (this book was likely revised many times over if the copyrights [plural] are anything to go by), and so I wanted to find something "manly" to cook this past weekend.  This was not a hard task at all and so let's look at their extensive Table of Contents:

  • Hors d'Oeuvres
  • Soups
  • Seafood
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Game
  • Carving
  • Outdoor Cookery
  • Sauces
  • Casseroles
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Sandwiches
  • Pasta, Pizza and Pancakes
  • Vegetables, Potatoes and Rice
  • Salads and Cold Plates
  • Desserts
  • Coffee
 All told, there are 456 pages of recipes in 18 categories from which to choose which is quite a lot.  That said, there are a few categories I eliminated right off the bat, not because they sounded awful, but because I was looking for a "man's man" type of dish. 
And by a "man's man" dish, I mean your basic steak and potatoes.  Sure, these days men enjoy a wide variety of dishes, but this cookbook was published originally in 1954 (my version is 1972) and that was what men wanted on the dinner table, period. 

This then meant eliminating several chapters that didn't quite fit with the "man's man" image and dear reader, I overlooked the "Soups" chapter, "Game" chapter (yes, it's "manly" but no, I was not about to go hunting), "Outdoor Cookery" just because our weather was really rainy at the time, "Casseroles" (my late father was not fond of casseroles), "Sandwiches," and "Pasta, Pizza and Pancakes."  I remain puzzled that "Pancakes" were added to "Pasta and Pizza" chapter, first because "pancakes do not go with either of those two items, and second, it seems as if they were added to appeal to women; this woman was not amused.

I also scratched "Salads and Cold Plates," "Desserts" and "Coffee," leaving me with "Hors d'Oeuvres," "Meat," "Poultry," "Sauces (only because the recipe I selected might have called for a sauce)," "Cheese (my husband loves cheese)," "Eggs (only if I found a "dinner" egg dish)," and "Vegetables, Potatoes, and Rice."  I must confess I was not thinking about vegetables, potatoes or rice at all until my husband said "So you're going to serve [the steak I selected] with a potato or salad, right?"

"Oh, right.  Totally."

This is why you are getting two recipes from this cookbook instead of my usual and customary one per cookbook.

These were the finalists from those chapters:
  • "Brandied Cheddar Spread"- p. 9 – Hors d'Oeuvres
  • "Minute Steaks, Beer Gravy" – p. 127 – Meat/Beef
  • "Steaks with Onions and Capers" – p. 129 – Meat/Beef
  • "Cheese Soufflé with Brandy" – p. 289 – Cheese
  • "Omelet with Mushrooms in Sour Cream" – p. 307 – Eggs
  • "Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Mushrooms and Ham" – p. 369 – Vegetables, Potatoes and Rice
  • "Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Spinach" – p. 370 – Vegetables, Potatoes and Rice
  • "Pistachio Rice Pilaf" – p. 375 – Vegetables, Potatoes and Rice

And the winners were:  Minute Steaks, Beer Gravy and Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Spinach.  I could have easily gone with "Baked Potatoes Stuffed with Mushrooms and Ham" but felt that our meal was getting a little heavy and so, spinach!

Faithful readers know that the last two at bats with steak have not gone as well as I hoped as I overcooked the meat (the flavors were fine), but this time around, I nailed it and it was all because I asked a butcher a few questions.  I wish I had taken a video because it was pretty funny as follows:

Me:  (Reading from my photocopy of the recipe) "Hi, I need two boneless steaks, 8 to 10 ounces each, cut from the shell.  Do you know what the "shell" means?"
Butcher 1:  "What?  Never heard of that."  [Yells to coworker] "Do you know what steak cut from the shell means?"
Butcher 2: "What?  Never heard of that."

I then showed them the photocopy and I tell you, they kept looking at it and looking at it as if the answer would just magically appear for them; it didn't. Finally, I Googled it and showed the guy the results:  "Ah, it's the loin area. [Calls over to Butcher 2 "Hey, it's the loin area."]

I told him he now had me to thank for this important piece of steak information.

Anyway, he showed me where the loin cuts were and I selected one that Andy and I could split and then I said "The recipe calls for me to cook this in an electric skillet and I don't have one.  I plan to broil it so how long should I broil it for medium rare" and he said "About 5 minutes on each side, then let it rest until it hits 130."  He also suggested that I keep the steak out for a half hour so that the temperature read would be accurate.

It worked like a charm.  Mind you, Andy and I like rare beef but this was perfect.  I'm glad I asked.

The sauce, made up of stout, red wine, stock, shallots, butter and bouillon was very tasty, but I wish I would have left out the bouillon as it made the sauce just a tad salty.  Not overpowering salty, just a little.  I was also supposed to make the sauce in the electric skillet so that I could scrape up the drippings but I didn't and yet I don't think the sauce suffered for it.

As to the potatoes, the recipe served 8 and wow, we would have been eating potatoes for weeks so as per usual, I cut the recipe down, this time into 4ths instead of halves.  This meant that I then had to do cooking math on some of the ingredients and I could have done it but my husband was home and he's very good at math so he did it for me.  It was a total win-win:  He did the math, I did the cooking. 

As a reminder/word of warning, today's potatoes are the size of men's shoes and so the cooking time suggested was just that – a suggestion.  I ended up cooking the potatoes in both the oven and the microwave so speed up the process so we could get on with dinner, already.

All in all, this was a great meal and an easy one to pull together.  I'm glad that I had this book on hand as once again, it was a most timely purchase.  RIP Hugh Hefner.

Minute Steaks, Beer Gravy – Serves 4
4 boneless steaks, 8 to 10 ounces each, cut from the shell (Ann's Note:  look for a piece of loin like strip loin.)
Salt, pepper
¼ cup stout
¼ cup dry red wine
1/3 cup stock
1 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon finely minced shallots or scallions
1 packet instant bouillon (Ann's Note:  I don't know if this is necessary as it added a bit more salt to the sauce than I wanted.)

Preheat electric skillet to 390°.  (Ann's Note:  I don't have an electric skillet so I used my broiler.) Slash fat edge of each steak in two or three places to prevent curling.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pan-broil steaks without added fat until brown on both sides or to degree of rareness desired.  (Ann's Note: I broiled them for 5 minutes per side and then let them rest.)  Remove steaks from pan.

Add all other ingredients to the pan.  (Ann's Note:  I made the sauce in a separate pan.)  Bring to a boil.  Scrape pan bottom to loosen drippings.  Simmer 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour over steaks on platter.

Bakes Potatoes Stuffed with Spinach – serves 8
8 large Idaho baking potatoes
½ cup butter
2 medium-size onions, minced extremely fine
Salt, pepper
11 oz. bag fresh spinach, washed and trimmed
1/3 cup heavy cream
Grated parmesan cheese
Salad oil

Preheat oven to 400°.  Bake potatoes about 1 hour or until soft. 

Wash spinach several times in clear cold water.  Drain.  Place in saucepan with ½ cup water.  Cook, covered, until spinach is tender.  Drain spinach, press to eliminated excess water, then chop spinach fine.

Slice a cap about ¼ inches thick off the top of each potato.  Remove insides of potatoes carefully with a tablespoon, keeping shells intact; a thin layer of potato should be left in each shell to keep skins from tearing.  Put potatoes through potato ricer.

Sauté onion in butter only until onion is barely tender.  Add onion and butter to potatoes.  Add spinach, cream and salt and pepper to taste.  Stuff potato mixture back into shells, forming a neat, smooth, flat mound on top each potato.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Sprinkle lightly with oil.  Chill.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Bake 25-30 minutes.

Ann's Note:   Since I was running late getting this on the table, I didn't chill the potatoes as directed.  Even if I did though, it didn't say for how long. I imagine long enough for the filling to set, maybe 15-20 minutes? Or not!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

"Vietnamese Cookery" - Sweet-Sour Short Ribs - For Ken Burns' "Vietnam" documentary

Date I made this recipe:  October 1, 2017 – For Ken Burns' Vietnam documentary

Vietnamese Cookery by Jill Nhu Huong Miller
Published by Charles E. Tuttle Company: Publishers
© 1968; sixth printing 1986
Purchased at annual Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) sale
Recipe:  Sweet-Sour Shortribs – p. 41

So listen, the first part of this blog is going to be rather depressing because I just have to talk about Ken Burns' most-recent documentary, Vietnam, as well as my recollections of growing up during that period. Can't be helped. 

Let's start with the basics:  Once upon a time, the country of Vietnam was a French colony.  The  Vietnamese wanted nothing to do with the French and so in 1954, the Geneva accord was drafted kicking out the French and dividing Vietnam into North Vietnam which was communist, and South Vietnam that was democratic.

The North Vietnamese wanted control of the south and so they started a civil war shortly thereafter.  The United States which at the time didn't have a stake in the game, decided that it did not want to see the communists take over the south and so we started sending troops to help the South Vietnamese. Prior to that, we were minimally involved in the country.

In 1961, President Kennedy, a Roman Catholic who did not favor the communists, started ramping up the U.S. involvement and thereafter, every president not only sent more troops but helped escalate the border war into the disaster that Ken Burns documented.  The U.S. finally left Vietnam for good in 1975 (under Nixon) utterly defeated as we failed and failed miserably.  Not only did we fail to prevent the communist takeover, but for the first time in a long time, we failed to outright win a war.  This did not sit well with WWI and WWII veterans and military personnel.

That's the dime version.  To get the long version, you should watch Burns' documentary which as always, was thorough and compelling.

When I think about the Vietnam era, here are some impressionable moments from the past that come to mind:

Watching the war on TV.  Yup. As unbelievable as it sounds, at six o'clock every night, my family, along with millions across the country, tuned into CBS News to get updates on how things were going for the U.S.  Answer?:  Not good.  We saw footage from the field, we saw body bags being loaded onto airplanes, and we got daily totals of those killed in action (KIA), missing in action(MIA), and prisoners of war (POW) all relayed to us by the calming voice of "Uncle Walter," CBS News anchor, Walter Cronkite. 

I know, it's weird.  It's actually a little morbid when you think about it, but it was all we knew.

The "Domino" Effect.  The domino effect was how the U.S. justified our ongoing involvement in Vietnam and it went like this:  "If we let South Vietnam fall to those godless communists from the north, then other neighboring countries will fall like dominos to communist control as well." 

Well, this created a problem for many peace advocates like my very-Catholic mother.  She didn't want us in the war, but she didn't want the communists to take over, either.  She was not alone in her thinking which is probably why our involvement in Vietnam lasted as long as it did. 

The 1970 Kent State (University in Ohio) Massacre made an indelible impression on me.  On May 4, 1970, anti-war protests on Kent State's campus escalated such that the Ohio National Guard was brought in.  Although I've read that the guard was supposed to have used rubber bullets (which raises the argument "Why shoot in the first place?"), that didn't happen, tensions escalated between protestors and the guard, shots were fired and four people died leaving nine more injured. One photographer, who later won a Pulitzer Prize for his photographs, took a photo of a woman on her knees next to a man who was laying face down on the ground, her arms out, and her expression one of complete disbelief if not horror.  If you Google "Kent State Massacre," that is likely the first photo to appear.

To put this in perspective, this happened when I was not quite 12 years old and was in 6th grade.  Never mind that I still had six years to go until I started college, I was completely freaked out and decided right then and there that I shouldn't go to college because what if I got shot like those students?  It took me forever and a day to calm myself down and I don't think my parents ever suspected my anxiety over this event.  To make matters better, or worse if you will, the band Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young immortalized that event with their song "Ohio" (1971) which is one of their best songs even though it was about this depressing event.

The "Fall" of Saigon.  The city of Saigon was not only the south's capitol, but it was home to the U.S. Embassy as well.  Although many Americans had already left the area, many were left behind to work at the embassy. These people were ordered to leave and started packing up when things became very dire:  word reached the embassy that the North Vietnamese were advancing on Saigon at which point, the U.S. started making preparations to leave in a burning hurry.

Complicating matters though, was the promise to evacuate several thousand South Vietnamese families, particularly those families who assisted with U.S. war efforts.  You have probably seen video footage of the evacuation and I just have two words to say about that:  widespread and chaos.

Although my husband and I differ slightly on our interpretation of the urgency of the situation, I tell you what:  I will never forget watching this unfold on TV and being frightened that all these people would not get out in time. Once again, this was something that was broadcast on TV and also repeated in the documentary.  I was 16 years old at the time.  What a childhood.

Of the thousands of Vietnamese who were evacuated by the U.S., many came to the United States to live, assisted by Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities.  A good number of Vietnamese refugees relocated to Minnesota, specifically St. Paul, and once they got settled, opened Vietnamese restaurants so that we here in the Twin Cities, could experience the fare they once enjoyed in their homeland.  It was the first win-win of the war.

Today, one of the areas along the Green Line (light rail system) in St. Paul has been dubbed "Little Mekong," named for the Mekong Delta in Vietnam because of the plethora of Vietnamese businesses have set up shop in this area. One of our favorite restaurants on the Green Line in St. Paul is Ngon Vietnamese Bistro, a restaurant that features both Asian and French-influenced food.  Another, Bona, is on the Green Line in Minneapolis in Stadium Village at the University of Minnesota. We love their food and I particularly love Pho (pronounced "Fuh"), a noodle soup that is practically Vietnam's national dish.

This brings us now to this featured cookbook, the only one I have that focuses solely on Vietnamese food.  For those who haven't had Vietnamese food but have had Chinese food, the dishes are similar and yet not.  Vietnamese eggrolls are deep fried, same as their Chinese cousins, but I think are lighter and better.  Vietnamese egg rolls contain bean thread noodles in addition to pork and other ingredients.  The Vietnamese spring roll is very popular and is made with a rice wrapper stuffed with fresh shrimp, Thai basil, mint, and cilantro; this dish is not fried. I have been known to do a lot of damage to a plate of these puppies.

The Table of Contents for this cookbook is fairly brief and you should know that you can probably substitute other proteins for many of these dishes.  The lineup is:
  • Basic Recipes
  • Soups
  • Pork Main Dishes
  • Beef Main Dishes
  • Seafood Main Dishes
  • Chicken & Duck
  • Salads
  • Desserts
  • Hors D'Oeuvres
 Recipes featured in the "Basic Recipe" category include all the essential Vietnamese sauces you will need as well as a recipe for cooked rice.  In the "Soups" category, I considered "Chicken-Long Rice Soup" – p. 37 but thought there were more interesting recipes elsewhere in the book. (By the way, in Vietnam, "long rice" is bean thread noodle which I love.)

Next we have the "Pork Main Dishes" category, and reader, I have a confession to make.  When I photocopied the recipe I made for "Sweet-Sour Pork Ribs" on page 41, I neglected to note that it was from the "Pork" category and so used beef short ribs.  Duh.  That said, the recipe was still delicious.

All the dishes in the "Beef and Seafood Dishes" categories sounded good but I passed on them but when I got to the "Chicken & Duck" category, I added "Baked Chicken" to my list of possibilities.  This dish is chicken marinated in soy sauce and fish sauce, sugar and garlic and then baked  Yum!

In the salad category, the "Cucumber Salad" recipe is one I've seen in Vietnamese restaurants and it sounded great. It's a mixture of cucumbers, boiled shrimp, boiled pork and Nuoc Mam Sauce which is fish sauce plus other ingredients. 

Okay, let me just say that I am seriously starving right now.

In the "Desserts" category we have a lot of dishes featuring coconut and also bananas as well as rice puddings.  I have to say that I don't think I've ever ordered dessert at a Vietnamese restaurant but I could be convinced to try any one of these.

The final category behind "Desserts" is "Hors D'Oeuvres" and here you will find many recipes featuring shrimp.  My favorite item here is "Shrimp Toast" (p. 106) which I could eat and eat and eat to my detriment as these are deep-fried but totally delicious!

Okay, now I'm really, really hungry.  Really.

In conclusion, if you haven't had the chance to watch the PBS documentary, I recommend you do so.  If you are of similar age to me and my husband (or older), it may be hard to watch but it was informative and even a little bit healing.  If you are younger, then definitely watch the show because Vietnam (and also Korea) go in the history books at the war the U.S. just couldn't win. 

And once you've done all that, eat!

Sweet-Sour Shortribs – Four Servings
1 ½ lb. shortribs (Ann's Note:  pork shortribs, not beef.  I didn't catch that and so I used beef.  Still delicious!)
4 cups water
2 shallots (or white part of green onions), thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt
1/3 fresh pineapple or small can crushed pineapple + 1 tablespoon vinegar
2 large carrots, shredded
1 large tomato, cut into eights
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup water
2 tbsp. fish sauce
½ tsp. cornstarch

Slice shallots in thin rounds. Cut lean short ribs into serving pieces.  Place in a large skillet and add shallots, salt, and water.

Ann's Note:  My short ribs were beef short ribs on the bone so cutting them into serving pieces didn't really work for me.  I decided to cook the ribs in a larger pot rather than a large skillet for the length of time listed below and then pull the meat off the bone.

Bring the shallots, salt, water and short ribs to a boil on high heat, cover and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer, covered, for 2 hours.  If water evaporates before cooking is completed, add about 1 more cup.  If all water is not evaporated at the end of 2 hours, bring heat to high, uncover and boil until water is all evaporated.

Clean pineapple, take out core, then cut into small chunks.  (Ann's Note:  These days, most grocery stores have pre-cut pineapple available.)  Squeeze chunks of pineapple between the hands, getting out as much juice as possible.  This will crush the pineapple.  (Ann's Note:  I used a potato ricer.)  Save the juice for drinking, salads, etc.

Shred the carrots, using a vegetable peeler or large section of grater.  (Ann's Note:  Next time around, I might grate the carrots or thinly slice it rather than use a vegetable peeler.)

Cut tomatoes into eights.

Crush the garlic and add to meat in skillet, which will begin to sauté in its own fat. (Ann's Note:  Not really!  Sure, had I cooked the ribs in a skillet as directed, this might be true, but if you did it like I did which was to boil them in a separate pan, then plan on adding some of that fat to the skillet or the pan will be too dry.)

Sauté the garlic and meat (and oil) on medium high.  When the smell of garlic begins to be noticeable, put in the pineapple, carrots and tomato.  Sauté about 1 minute, stir often.

Add the water and fish sauce, stir well, cover and steam about 10 minutes, still on medium high heat.

Take some of the juice from the skillet, mix the cornstarch with it so it won't get lumpy, and stir into the mixture in the skillet.  Let cook about 1 more minute.  Serve hot with rice.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

"The Art of Armenian Cooking" - Baked Cream of Wheat Dessert (With Honey Syrup)

Date I made this recipe:  September 25, 2017 – a late observance of an Armenian festival held on September 16 at St. Sahag Armenian Church, St. Paul, MN

The Art of Armenian Cooking by Rose Baboian
Published by Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1984
Purchased at Talk Story Books, Hanapepe, Kauai, Hawaii
Recipe:  Baked Cream of Wheat Dessert (With Honey Syrup) – p. 83

I have to confess that I know next to nothing about the country of Armenia but that didn't stop me from purchasing an Armenian cookbook a few years back just in case I needed it some day.

I am happy to report that today's that day!  Actually, a week ago was the day but I was busy.

A few weeks ago, I was driving through St. Paul when I noticed a sign that said that St. Sahag Armenian Church was having an Armenian festival on the 16th.  First, I didn't even know this church existed, and second, there was a festival? I love festivals!  Unfortunately, I couldn't attend which is why it was fortuitous that I had the cookbook.

According to Wikipedia, Armenia is sort of a gateway country, with access to Turkey, Georgia and Iran.  Recognized languages are Armenian, Assyrian, Greek, Kurdish and Russian.  You can see a lot of those countries and language influences in the recipes and it was kind of fun for me to look through it because of that.  Interesting factoid about Armenia:  Chess is a compulsory subject in schools.  ( ) I think that's pretty cool except I'm pretty sure I would have flunked it!

Unlike the last couple of cookbooks I used, this one had a large Table of Contents as follows:

  • Appetizers
  • Beverages
  • Breads, Quick
  • Yeast Breads
  • Cakes
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Desserts
  • Eggs and Egg Dishes
  • Main Dishes
  • Poultry
  • Preservers
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Vegetables
 Notice that Dessert("D" for Dessert) comes before meats and salads and soups and this is totally appropriate because of this saying:  "Life is short.  Eat dessert first!"

I would have loved to make "Stuffed Grape Leaves" (Appetizers) except the recipe made 40 and even half that recipe is a few more than we could handle. I wouldn't have minded "Baked Eggplants (Olive Oil)," also an Appetizer, but wanted to see what else this book had to offer.

Under Beverages, you can enjoy either "Turkish Coffee," "Armenian Tea" (flavored with cinnamon and cloves), or a "Madzoon Beverage;" "Madzoon" is a yogurt that should be available in Greek grocery stores.

The [Quick] Breads section showcased a mix of sweet and savory-filled breads and even though I am not a bread person, I was tempted.  Honey is a major ingredient in a lot of Armenian recipes, including the dessert I made.

As I've said before, I don't "do" yeast breads so I skipped over to the Cakes chapter and found a two recipes of interest:  "Madzoon Spicecake" (Madzoon is yogurt) and "Chocolate Madzoon Cake." The only reason I did not make the chocolate cake was because the frosting called for ½ cup of marshmallow fluff and I did not want to buy a container of it just for this recipe.  I looked to see how hard it would be to make at home and the answer was "not hard," but I would have had to buy marshmallows and didn't want to do that, either.  Sometimes recipes get bounced by me because of the ingredients which is sad and yet practical.

The Main Dishes chapter was a mix of stuffed vegetables, lamb dishes (lots of lamb dishes), pilafs, and even a meat pizza.  I pondered a few dishes but once again moved on.

I'd chat more about the other chapters, but that would mean I'd have to spend more time handling the book and unfortunately, I'm starting to break out right now due to my allergies to dust mites.  We all know cooking can be dangerous but so can handling dusty or moldy/mildew books!  The less I pick up this book again, the better. 

And so let's move on to the dish of the day, the dish that "had me at 'hello'" with the main ingredient – Cream of Wheat®.

Cream of Wheat® and Quaker Oats® Oatmeal were the two dishes my brother and I loved to eat in the winter.  I always ate my oatmeal with table sugar (granulated sugar) and milk (and raisins if we had them).  My Cream of Wheat® though, was always topped with butter and a bit of brown sugar.  I'm not sure why we ate them that way although it's probably because that was the "method" suggested on the package.

I must say that while I wasn't expecting to see Cream of Wheat® in an Armenian cookbook, the recipe sounded good and I thought "Why not," and so I made it.  It was good but fair warning:  this recipe is pretty sweet and syrupy, kind of like a sweet Baklava.  It also crumbled quite a bit when I tasted it just after baking which is why you should refrigerator it so that it holds together better.

Before I go, I have to mention that this recipe makes a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan but as is usual and customary, I halved it.  The taste was fine and the recipe was just enough, but merciful heavens, some of these ingredient measurement divisions were too much for my math-challenged brain!  Seeing as how I had no idea how this was supposed to turn out, I was really tempting fate on this one but I think I came out okay.

Baked Cream of What Dessert (With Honey Syrup) – makes a 13x9x2-inch pan.
2/3 cup (1 1/3 sticks) salted butter*
3 tablespoons shortening
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar or omit brown sugar and use all granulated sugar – 1 1/3 cups
2/3 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 teaspoons cloves
1 1/3 cups Cream of What
1 1/3 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup milk
4 well-beaten eggs
For the Honey Syrup
1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice

*Ann's Note:  I only have sweet, unsalted butter in my refrigerator but I found directions online to turn sweet butter into salted butter by adding ¼ teaspoon of salt to every half cup (1 stick or ¼ pound) butter. 

Cream together butter, shortening, sugar and brown sugar.

Mix in cinnamon, cloves, Cream of  Wheat, baking powder, walnuts, coconut and milk.

Stir in the eggs, 2 spoons at a time.

Spread into a well-greased pan.

Bake at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes until well browned.  Let stand for 5 minutes.

To make the honey syrup, mix the sugar, water, honey and lemon juice in a pain and bring to a boil.

Pour Hot Honey Syrup over cake with a tablespoon.  Cover and let stand until all the syrup is absorbed.  Serve cold with sweetened whip cream or just sprinkle chopped nuts, coconut flakes or cherries over honey syrup.

Friday, September 22, 2017

"Hamburgers Plain and Fancy" - Hamburgers stuffed with Onion and Cheese Filling - National Cheeseburger Day!

Date I made this recipe:  September 18, 2017 – National Cheeseburger Day

Hamburgers Plain and Fancy by Ceil Dyer
Published by Grosset & Dunlap
© 1968
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Hamburger (p. 56) stuffed with Onion Cheese Filling (p. 58)

People, I was all giddy with excitement for National Cheeseburger Day, not only because I love cheeseburgers, but I had just purchased this cookbook – Hamburgers Plain and Fancy – from Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in NY and thought myself all set and ready to go for The.Big.Day.

Turns out I was not all set and ready to go for the Big Day.  Why?

Apparently, cheeseburgers are the red-haired stepchild of the burger world and therefore were not included in this 86-page book.  Not one single recipe.  I checked several times under "cheese" and under "cheeseburger" and nothing.  I was gobsmacked.

There were though, a few recipes for cheese-filled burgers and some for burgers topped with several ingredients including cheese slices. Would these do?  I needed to do some research and so to the internet I went.

It took me two seconds to find a "cheeseburger" definition.  Per Wiki, "A cheeseburger is a hamburger topped with cheese.  Traditionally, the slice of cheese is placed on top of the meat patty, but the burger can include many variations in structure, ingredients, and composition."

In the world of cooking, this explanation was sufficient for me to go ahead and explore other cheeseburger options. That said, my choices were still limited.  Let's chat about that by looking first at the Table of Contents where our choices were:
  • Finger Burgers
  • Fork Burgers
  • Filled Burgers
Those were the burger options.  There's a section called Go Withs i.e. side dishes, and then a final chapter of Menus and Meals.

That concludes our look at the table of contents.

The author offers no explanation for "Finger Burgers," but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest to you that he meant hamburgers you can pick up and eat although technically and physically, that would make it a handburger hamburger instead of a "Finger Burger."  Sorry, I could not resist saying that.

Options in the "Fork Burger" category ranged from a "Borscht Burger" – p. 15, to a "Suzy Wong Burger" – p. 19 (There is just something "wrong" about the "Wong" burger!), to a "Gandhi Burger" (cabbage and chutney) – p. 36 to a "Healthy Ham-Burgers" – p. 25

This last one amuses.  Ingredients are mushrooms and spinach leaves which are good and healthy, mixed pickles which are interesting and then ground beef plus a small jar of Smithfield ham spread which are not necessarily healthy.  This recipe's a head-scratcher for sure.

In the "Fork Burgers" category, we have [Hamburger] "Au Poivre" (peppercorns, wine, cognac) – p. 46, a "Sicilian Joe," – p. 52, which is basically a Sloppy Joe recipe with anchovies, and "Cook at the Table Party Skillet Burgers" – p. 54-55

Jumping ahead, the "Go Withs" are all side dishes, many of which sounded great (potatoes, beans, etc.) but we are celebrating National Cheeseburger Day, not National "Go With" Day so there it is.

This brings us back to the "Filled Burger" category from which I selected my recipe. 
There were a grand total of 15 recipes for filled burgers and what the author called "look under" burgers which are burgers with various toppings instead of filling. Let's examine them:
  • Mushroom Filling – mushrooms, butter and cream but no cheese
  • Creole Filling – onion, celery, green pepper but no cheese
  • Roquefort Filling – Roquefort cheese and heavy cream
  • Tomato Olive Filling – green olives and tomatoes but no cheese
  • Bacon Filling  - bacon, sweet pickles, mustard and mayo but no cheese
  • Almond Filling – almonds, cream cheese and cream.  Almonds? I can't even imagine that. Also, cream cheese is not "cheese" cheese as contemplated by the National Cheeseburger people.
  • Onion Cheese Filling – sharp cheese, chopped onion, mayo and Tabasco.  This is the one I made.
  • Walnut Filling – walnuts, horseradish, mayo but no cheese.  Again – walnuts?
  • Feta Cheese Filling – feta cheese, black olives, chives, cream.  This one was tempting but we passed on it.
  • Burgers "Look Under" – 1 – cream, avocado, pimento, topped with Cheddar cheese
  • Burgers "Look Under" – 2 – liverwurst, corn relish, chili sauce and mild American cheese
  • Burgers "Look Under" – 3 – tomatoes, garlic, thyme, other seasonings, Mozzarella cheese
  • Burgers "Look Under" – 4 – raisins, whiskey, other stuff, Gruyere cheese.  Raisins? In a burger? Hahahahaha. (By the way, this is more like a patty melt than a burger.)
  • Burgers "Look Under" – 5 – chopped peanuts, Monterey Jack cheese

Hmm, those are some kind of burger ingredients, am I right?  Shudder.

Now given our theme – cheeseburgers –you would think that I would go with either "Look Under Burgers 1 or 3, as both called for cheese on top, but I just wasn't feeling them so I went with a cheese-stuffed burger instead.  Well, what can I say except it's fun to go rogue!

Although this was one of the easiest recipes I've ever assembled, I had to deduct points from my own efforts for appearance as I did not properly seal the burgers and some of the filling oozed out.  In fact, I commented to Andy that this would likely have gotten me chopped on Chopped!  The taste was great though, and that's what counts.

A slight change I made to the recipe was to comply with Andy's request to sauté the onions first.  He didn't want to taste a bunch of raw onion and neither did I.

This then, concludes my report "What I made on National Cheeseburger Day."  Technically, it wasn't a cheeseburger as we know it, but it was a burger and cheese was involved so there you go.  Enjoy!

Hamburger stuffed with Onion Cheese Filling – serves 8
For the hamburger
2 pounds ground beef
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons heavy cream
For the filling
2 tablespoons crumbled sharp cheese
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2-3 drops Tabasco sauce

To make the hamburger patties, mix meat with salt and cream.  Shape into sixteen patties half as thick as usual.  Combine the filling ingredients until well-blended. Put two patties together with filling between, making eight burgers.  Press edges together.  (Ann's Note:  I guess I did not press mine hard enough before the cheese oozed out.  Not that I'm complaining, but I wish I would have nailed it.  Also, make sure your cheese crumbles are pretty tiny as this will help keep the cheese inside the burger.)  Broil or pan fry as usual.

Split rolls and heat in the oven.  Place a patty on roll bottom and cover with top half of the roll.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"The Firefighter's Cookbook - Award-Winning Recipes From a Fire-Fighting Chef" by John Sineno - Chicken Marsala - 9/11/2017

Date I made this recipe:  September 11, 2017 – 16th Anniversary of 9/11

The Firefighter's Cookbook – Award-winning Recipes from a Fire-Fighting Chef by John Sineno (Engine 58, NYC)
Published by Vintage Books
ISBN: 0-394-74429-2; © 1986
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, NYC
Recipe:  Chicken Marsala – p. 19 – submitted by Jim Sherwood, Ladder 19 (Bronx, NY)

On 9/11/2001, 343 members of the FDNY (Fire Department New York) died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

On 8/1/2017, I purchased this cookbook at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in New York City's West Village with, I have to admit, the intention on cooking from this on 9/11/17, the 16th observance of the fall of the Twin Towers.  It's uncanny how many times over the years that I've discovered and purchased a cookbook just when I need it.

When I noticed that this book was published in 1986 (5 years before 9/11), I decided that I simply had to know if any of the firefighters and related personnel who submitted recipes for this book perished when the towers fell.  I found two similar sources on the internet and so book in hand, I started my search, always fearful that I would find a "match."

I am relieved to report that not a single name in this book appeared on the list.  That said, we continue to mourn the fallen from that horrible, horrible day.

For the record, my small hometown in Michigan has a volunteer fire department.  Although they were best known for putting on a fantastic water fight every 4th of July, they continue to do this work because they love it and really, if you are going to be a firefighter, it is essential that you love what you do!

In 1986 when he wrote The Firefighter's Cookbook, author John Sineno, was a twenty-three year veteran with Engine 58, and a two-time first prize winner in annual cooking competitions among NYC firehouses; he retired in 1992.

Sineno's cookbook is filled with recipes from fellow firefighters across NYC (and a few from firefighters in NJ); administrators such as commissioners, assistant commissioners, and even a secretary to an administrator; a medic; a counsel to the FDNY, and a chaplain.  

As you might imagine, some of the recipe yields in this cookbook are huge as they are intended to feed firehouse staff.  Although I often divide recipes in half, breaking down a recipe that serves 8 or more is fraught with peril.  When you end up using "1/16th teaspoon" of an ingredient, you have to ask yourself "Why bother?"  Sometimes, the taste itself also suffers and I wanted to avoid that which is why I shelved the otherwise delicious-sounding "Tortellini Meatball Soup" that served 16-20 people.  (Apologies to Capt. Pat Buttino, Engine 263.)

Recipe yields aside, I liked this cookbook because it was pretty compact and the recipes all sounded really good.  Your chapter options are:
  • Main Courses
  • Pastas and Soups (I would expect nothing less than a "pasta" chapter of an NYC cookbook)
  • Side Dishes
  • Desserts
Recipes up for consideration were:
  • "Seafood Newburg" – p. 10
  • "New Orleans Jambalaya"- p. 23
  • "Pepper Steak" – p. 29 (This calls for six pounds of skirt steak.  Six???)
  • "Artichoke Pie" – p. 59
  • "Scalloped Potatoes and Onions" – p. 105
  • "Pistachio Mousse" – p. 139
 And honestly, aside from a few fishes dishes (I don't like fish), there didn't seem to be a clunker in the bunch.  That has to be a first.

Initially, I was gung-ho on the "Scalloped Potatoes and Onions" but I wasn't sure I would get the rich, creaminess I am used to with this recipe and didn't know what to make about the inclusion of mayonnaise. 

Then I was thinking about the "Seafood Newburg" but it seemed like too heavy of a dish for what I was looking for plus it was topped with Swiss Cheese and that didn't work for me. In fact, I don't think that is a traditional topping.

So hmmm....what to make, what to make....okay, Chicken Marsala, final answer.  In fact, I was quite chuffed that I selected this because I had Marsala wine on hand so I used it and then realized afterwards that it was "dry" Marsala wine, not "sweet."

This explains much.  I mean, the flavor wasn't bad but it definitely did not taste like other Chicken Marsala dishes I have known and loved.  No worries:  The next day, I stopped at the liquor store, bought the "correct" Marsala and then added it to my leftovers!

Before I go, I wanted to note that 57 firefighters and related personnel contributed to this cookbook. I imagine many, maybe even most, are now retired but it should never be taken fore granted that it takes some kind of courage for these firefighters, and those who lost their lives on 9/11/2001, to run willingly into danger when others are fleeing;  for this, I salute you.

N.B.  Right after I published this blog, I realized that I had my own little fire marshal story to share. 

In 1997 or thereabouts, I worked for Wells Fargo in one of the taller office buildings in downtown Minneapolis.  Wells Fargo needed to have volunteer floor fire marshals for each floor that the employees occupied and so I became one for my floor. I even got an official hat! 

The floor fire marshals' job was to make sure employees left via the stairwell (never the elevator) and to check for stragglers.  Floor marshals were always the last ones to leave.

That year, we had several drills, some planned and some not planned, and actually one microwave fire on another floor that caused us all to exit the building, so I was a busy gal. To help me out, I enlisted the aid of a fellow co-worker, whose name I can't recall but let's call her "Sandy."  Sandy helped me do a sweep of the floor before we both left via the stairwell. This gal was really funny but took her job seriously.  After one event, she no sooner saluted me and said "Perimeter clear, sir," when a guy came running around the corner and down the stairs.

"Hey! You!  Where did you come from!"  She was so mad that she had missed him, sneaky bastard!  

Now, the interesting things about fire drills at this time (pre-9/11) was that all floor marshals were told specifically not to force anybody to leave, and in fact, one guy refused to go because he was in the middle of something. Lucky for him, it was a drill and not the real thing.

Post-9/11, the thought that anybody would remain in place, drill or no drill, seems ridiculous if not downright dangerous. I have to wonder too, if companies have changed their informal policy and now require everybody to leave; I hope so.  Remember when employees in the second tower were told all was well and they should return to their desks? (I believe the "all-clear" command though, came from the building management and not each individual company housed in the tower.) I pretty sure I've read that the vast majority of people who defied that command and kept walking down the stairs to safety, lived to tell about it.

If this happened to me today, I believe I too, would skedaddle, but only after ensuring everyone else was okay, of course.  Once a floor fire marshal, always a floor fire marshal!

Chicken Marsala – Servings: 4 (Ann's Note:  Even half the recipe made quite a lot) – recipe submitted by Jim Sherwood, Ladder 19 (Bronx, NY)
2 pounds chicken cutlets, pounded
½ pound butter
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound mushrooms
1 shallot 1 ½ cups sweet Marsala wine
1 bunch parsley, minced
2 lemons, halved

Clean chicken cutlets, remove excess fat.  Cut into medallion-size pieces.  Melt ¼ pound butter in a skillet and add olive oil.  Dredge chicken in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Shake off excess and sauté to golden brown.  Place chicken in an ovenproof pan and set aside.

Separate mushroom caps from stems.  Mince shallot and mushroom stems, quarter or slice mushroom caps.  Melt remaining butter and sauté shallots and mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms release their juice.  Remove from heat and add Marsala and 1 tablespoon minced parsley.  Season to taste and simmer for 5 minutes.

While mixture is simmering, squeeze juice of 2 lemons over chicken.  Pour sauce mixture over chicken, cover, and cook at 350°F for 15- 20 minutes.  Garnish with parsley.  Serve with noodles Alfredo.