Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"Grace the Table - Stories & Recipes from My Southern Revival" - Country Beef Stew

Date I made this recipe: February 18, 2007

Grace the Table – Stories & Recipes from My Southern Revival by Alexander Smalls
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN: 0060174870
© 1997

Recipe: Country Beef Stew – p. 219

Some of my friends like to tease me about being all “matchy matchy” with my clothing and accessories. What can I say? I just like my earrings and/or bracelets to match the color of my blouse or top if at all possible.

Similarly, I like to “match” a menu item or cookbook to what’s going on in my life. In some of my earlier blogs, I cooked from my selection of Green Bay Packer cookbooks during Packer football season and from some of my politically-oriented cookbooks during election season.

And so, when I recently attended an opera event, I wanted to find an “opera” cookbook.

For the past 54 years, the Metropolitan Opera of New York holds regional and then district auditions for opera singers who are hoping for their chance to hit the big time – a chance to sing at the Met. Every year in February, the district (all upper Midwest states) finals are held, and for the past 10 years or so, my girlfriend, Carol, and I have been front row and center. (And trust me you must come early for best seats). We do so in part to hear the voices (we’re both musicians and I am also a singer who started out being classically trained) and (shamefully) to conduct our own version of What Not To Wear (to An Opera Audition.). In my book, if you want to be a diva, you must dress like one, but trust me, not every singer gets the memo. (I always think of the song from the musical, A Chorus Line“Dance: Ten: Looks: Three.” Let’s just say there’s some work to be done.)

Anyway, the winner of each district competition gets airfare to NY to compete in a semi-final and then the winners of that are showcased in a grand finale concert on the Met stage.

If you’re raising your eyebrows at this point at the mention of “opera,” let me just say that getting onstage to sing a) in a packed concert hall and b) before a panel of judges, one of whom is from the Met, is not for the feint of heart. Opera singers have to be in tip top upper physical strength in order to belt out those hits, day after day, night after night, in front of the bright lights. Even beginning opera singers can sing Brittney Spears or Kelly Clarkson under the table in a heartbeat (not that I listen to these ladies, but I do try to keep up on pop culture). When I first started my lessons, I learned that nothing happens with the voice that doesn’t happen from the diaphragm and as you watch these singers on stage, you can see every muscle in that region working to get those notes out.

Every one of district finalists deserves an Olympic medal but a big shout out to this year’s district winners, Joshua Kohl (tenor) and Lindsay Ammann (a fabulous mezzo-soprano—you heard it here first). Carol and I sat behind Lindsay’s family and you would have thought that Lindsay won an Academy Award as her mom and voice coach were just in tears, jumping up and down with excitement. It inspired me to find just the right opera celebration meal.

Now, you’re probably wondering what a book with the title of Grace the Table – Stories & Recipes from My Southern Revival has to do with opera. Well, children, the cookbook’s author, and former restaurateur, Alexander Smalls, is an African-American opera singer who, among other things, starred in the Houston Grand Opera Production of Porgy and Bess. The book is loaded with fun anecdotes about his life as an opera singer and his culinary adventures while touring with the opera company. Alexander says that this recipe, Country Beef Stew, was created during some down time between gigs. As he said “I still dreamed of greatness on the stage—with a pairing knife in my hand.”

You’ve gotta love a guy who can cook and sing (no doubt at the same time when home alone in the kitchen), and you’re going to love this recipe as well.

Country Beef Stew – serves 8
¼ c. flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds beef chuck, cubed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
6 bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon brown sugar
¼ cup tomato paste
6 cups beef broth
1 large green pepper, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the flour, salt and pepper. Dredge the beef in the seasoned flour. (Note: reserve 1 tablespoon of the flour when finished) Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and brown the beef on all sides. Add onion, celery and garlic. Cook 5 minutes. Deglaze with red wine. Add herbs, brown sugar, and tomato paste and cook 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the dredging flour and mix well. Add beef broth, bring to a boil, and simmer 1 ½ hours. Add vegetables, and salt and pepper to taste, bring to a boil, and simmer for 30 minutes. Serve with rice or noodles. (Note: I served this without rice or noodles as this was a hearty meal in and of itself).
Notes: I just realized as I was writing this that I forgot to add the bay leaves! Oops. Well, it still tasted great without them. I also substituted a red pepper for a green pepper as (go figure this) my grocery store was out of green peppers. (Was there a green pepper cook-off I didn’t know about?). I also ended up adding a lot more broth and wine to prevent the mixture from cooking down too much. This seems to happen anytime I have a recipe that is supposed to “simmer” for a long time. I ran out of beef broth so substituted chicken broth. Nobody was the wiser.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers - Casseroles" - Everybody's Favorite Hamburger Pie

Date I made this recipe: February 10, 2007

Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers – Casseroles – Including Bread
Published by: Favorite Recipes Press, Inc.
© 1965

Recipe: Everybody’s Favorite Hamburger Pie

I knew that this recipe would be a hit when I noted that no less than 18 Home Economics teachers from around the country submitted this recipe. Eighteen Home Economics teachers cannot be wrong. Well, okay, they were wrong to have us 7th graders sew a sleeveless blouse (with interfacing) that not only was a major disaster since I didn’t know how to sew but also garnered me a D+ (What happened to potholders or aprons??). Naturally, the shame didn’t end with the grade: we had to wear our blouses to school after they were finished. The horror…..

But bless their hearts, the instructors were spot on when it came to their recipe selection for the cooking portion of our program. For the record, I earned A’s in those segments and boy, was I relieved.

While all my sewing efforts hit the trash bin a long time ago, I still have the note cards that I wrote up with all my 7th grade (focus on breakfast) and 8th grade (focus on lunch with emphasis on soups and casseroles) recipes on them. And sure enough, there it is on a weathered card from over 30 years ago – Hamburger Casserole - using the same ingredients as the one I made from this cookbook. I’m seriously going to cry….

This recipe is really simple and was a hearty meal for a cold winter evening. Minnesota is such a weird state—two weeks ago, the temperature spiked near 40. Naturally, I washed my car as did everyone in the state as evidenced by the ridiculous line at my local Wash Me car wash. (Don’t everybody run at once…)

But winter is fickle and so one week later, we began the first of what turned out to be ten days in a row of below-zero weather. This is not unusual mind you, but given the warm weather we’d been having this year, it caught us off guard. But not to worry, the temperature climbed to 6 above the other day and we were back to walking around with jackets open and gloves off. We’re just weird that way. After experiencing below-zero temperatures, anything above zero seems like a heat wave.

And so it came to pass on this cold, winter night that I made this. I omitted the monosodium glutamate since it was optional and since nobody cooks with it any more but included the A-1 sauce which added a bit of tang.

Everybody’s Favorite Hamburger Pie – Serves 6 to 8
1 medium onion, chopped
1 lb. ground beef
1 T. A-1 sauce (opt.)
½ t. monosodium glutamate (opt.)
Salt and pepper
2-2 ½ c. cooked green beans, drained
1 can tomato soup
5 medium potatoes, cooked
½ c. warm milk
1 egg, beaten
½ - 1 c. grated Cheddar Cheese (opt.)

Saute onion until golden in small amount of fat. Add meat, sauce, monosodium glutamate, salt and pepper; brown. Mix in beans and soup. Pour into greased 1 ½ -quart casserole. Mash potatoes; add milk, egg and seasonings to taste. Mix well. Spoon mounds of potatoes on meat mixture. Cover with cheese if desired. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. NOTE: Instant mashed potatoes may be used if desired.

NOTE: I love kitchen gadgets and so finally broke down and bought a potato ricer and people, I am in heaven. I’ve never made such creamy potatoes before! I must have a potato cookbook around here someplace…..

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

"Paula Deen's Kitchen Classics" - Paula Deen's White Bean Chili

Date I made this recipe: February 4, 2007

Paula Deen’s Kitchen Classics – The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook and The Lady & Sons, Too! by Paula Deen
Published by Random House (as seen on The Food Network)
ISBN: 1-4000-6455-4

Recipe: White Bean Chili – p. 29

Once upon a time, you couldn’t dynamite me out of bed before noon on a Saturday morning. And then along came The Food Network and Paula Deen, and before you knew it, I had my butt in my easy chair at 9:30 a.m. sharp to catch her show, Paula's Home Cooking.

For those who don’t know, Paula Deen is the new queen of southern cooking. After she got divorced, she started a catering business called The Bag Lady and before you knew it, she had herself a restaurant called The Lady & Sons. And then one day, a book publisher came her way and pretty soon the Food Network called and soon she had her own show (now two shows) and life was looking pretty darned great.

The thing I love about Paula, besides her rags to riches success story is her love of “real” ingredients and by that I mean butter, more butter, some more butter and maybe some sour cream…or cream cheese. I like a woman who accepts no substitutes.

Prior to making her white bean chili, I tried making Paula’s corn bread dressing recipes a couple of times at Thanksgiving (the recipe is in the book but I got it off the internet years ago) and I must say that while Paula doesn’t accept substitutes, I had to. Her dressing is really soupy and so I played around with the number of eggs and cups of broth that she calls for in order to get a firmer dressing. (If you go on the Food Network’s website and look up this recipe, you’ll find I was not alone in my kitchen substitutions but that’s what makes it fun). I also substituted low sodium chicken broth because the first time I made it, I felt like I was eating a salt lick (but that’s just me). I feel I’m this close to nailing the thing next November.

Happily, I didn’t have to substitute anything in this chili recipe although I did use low sodium broth because I am just not a big fan of salt. I also cut the recipe in half since I didn’t feel we needed 10 to 15 servings of this. What we ended up with was just right.

White Bean Chili – serves 10 to 15
1 pound dried navy beans
6 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¾ cup diced onion
1 ½ green chilies (fresh or canned), chopped (NOTE: I bought a can of already diced chilies and that seemed to work out fine).
1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast, finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
¾ teaspoon white pepper
½ bunch cilantro, chopped

Wash beans, cover with water, and soak for 2 hours. Drain. Place beans in large pot with chicken stock. Bring to a boil. In a saucepan, heat butter and sauté garlic, onion, and chilies for 5 minutes. Add to bean pot. Add chicken, cumin, oregano, black pepper, white pepper and cilantro. Lower heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 1 ½ hours. Serve with corn bread.

NOTE #1: Despite making a half recipe, I ended up adding almost all the broth called for in the whole recipe. I had the burner on medium (and even low) but the liquid boiled off very quickly and we can’t have that! If you make a half recipe, keep an eye on the liquid as you go along.

NOTE #2: Talk about timely. The latest episode I watched of Paula’s show was about (football) game food and don’t you know the Super Bowl was Sunday, February 4th. I thought White Bean Chili was just the ticket (no pun intended) for game day and it didn’t disappoint.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

"My Fair Lady Cooks" - Different Pork Chops and Potatoes in Red Wine

Date I made this recipe: January 28, 2007

My Fair Lady Cooks by Emma Dempster
Published by: Peter Glenn Publications, Ltd.
Copyright 1964
Recipes: Different Pork Chops – p. 135 and Potatoes in Red Wine – p. 139

Well, talk about cosmic: just as I decided to select some recipes from this cookbook, the SAG (Screen Actor’s Guild – not to be confused with “sag” as in what some of the women did in their dresses) Awards came on and Julie Andrews was given a lifetime achievement award.

Some of you may not know that Julie Andrews was the original Eliza Doolittle on Broadway in the musical, My Fair Lady. Julie was hoping to reprise the role in the movie version but alas, that went to Audrey Hepburn. But poor Audrey – although her singing voice is actually not too bad, all of the songs were dubbed by Marni Nixon who has been the voice of many a character on a movie soundtrack.

It’s a cold, cruel world out there in stage and television land. That being said, I’ve always thought that Rex Harrison, who played Professor Higgins (make that “Poor" Professor Higgins) had the best songs in the whole thing. Who doesn’t love “I’m an Ordinary Man” (which includes the phrase “but let a woman in your life…”) and “Why Can’t the English?” Poor Rex really couldn’t sing, either, but that was beside the point. He was just hilarious as he “talked” his way through his songs.

This cookbook was written by Emma Dempster. Emma’s husband, Hugh Dempster, played the character of Colonel Pickering in the National Company of My Fair Lady. Emma later spent 14 weeks in summer stock playing the role of Mrs. Higgins, Henry Higgins’ mother. Part One of the book features section called “Why Can’t A Woman Cook Like a Man,” “On the Trains Where We Lived” and “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How To Cook,” all witty take-offs of songs from the musical.

In Part Two, titled “Loverly Cooking & Meet the Movie Stars,” Emma features recipes from various cities the tour stopped at as well as recipes from Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison and other members of the movie cast.

I selected the recipes shown here, in part, because the pork chop recipe called for two pork chops and since we are a two-person household, I’m all about that, and the potatoes in wine were a nice change of pace from the standard, and often boring, baked or mashed. Alas, I did not select a movie star’s recipe but I think you’ll find these recipes absolutely Loverly!

Different Pork Chops – Serves 2
2 pork chops (I used thicker pork chops for this)
1 small can light cherries in syrup (as opposed to “dark” cherries which I ended up using)
½ cup port wine
A few cloves
Salt and pepper
Slivered almonds

Brown chops in just a flick of fat. Pit the cherries and add them to the pan along with a little of their syrup. Add the cloves (or, in my case, powdered cloves since I was out of whole cloves), almonds and port. Season to taste. Cover the skillet and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until meat is tender.

Potatoes in Red Wine
8 medium potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup water
1 cup red wine
Salt and pepper
Bouquet Garni
3 small onions or 1 small can

Wash, peel and quarter potatoes. Melt butter in heavy saucepan. Stir in flour and when it is lightly browned, add water, wine, seasoning and Bouquet Garni. NOTE: Bouquet Garni is typically comprised of fresh celery stalks, bay leaves and thyme which are wrapped in cheesecloth, tied and added to the recipe. I just saw Martha (Stewart) make one yesterday. I didn’t have celery and Lord knows where my cheesecloth went to (I did have it at one time) so I added whole bay leaves and dried sprigs of thyme and then fished them out of the pot when done.

Once you’ve added the Bouquet Garni, stir the sauce until smooth. Add potatoes and the small peeled onions. Cover and simmer one hour. If you use canned onions, put them in after half an hour.

Now then, I cut the recipe in half and all was well until I opened the pot lid partway through and realized that most of my liquid was burning off. The potatoes weren’t done yet so I added more water and wine (likely the same amount called for in the full recipe) and then turned the flame down even lower than I had it and we had a lift-off.

Both items were very yummy and, as the author noted, a nice departure from the usual way of cooking pork chops (plain or with applesauce added) and potatoes (boiled or mashed).