Wednesday, September 19, 2012

"Ladies Who Lunch" - Sour Cream Souffle

Date I made this recipe:  September 9, 2012

Ladies Who Lunch by Ann Reed and Marilyn Pfaltz
Published by:  Charles Scribner‘s Sons
© 1972
Recipe:  Sour Cream Soufflé – p. 40

And then there were two.

For 18 years, I was privileged to belong to a Ladies Lunch group of former co-workers from a data processing company I worked for from 1985-1994.  When I left, a bunch of us decided to meet and greet once a month at various restaurants in the Twin Cities metro area and the Ladies Who Lunch Bunch was off and running.

At first there were six of us, but then three others dropped out leaving me and my friends, Vicki and Arlene.  Of the three, I was the youngest although Vicki and I shared October as our birth month.  Arlene, the oldest of the three, but perhaps the youngest at heart, had just celebrated her 75th birthday in June.  It turns out that our last Ladies Lunch in celebration of her birthday would be our last.  Two weeks after that date, Arlene fell ill and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.  Although the prognosis was initially positive, things took a turn for the worse and she died weeks later on September 3rd. To say Vicki and I and other former co-workers were stunned would be an gross understatement.  Arlene was just one of those people who seemed destined to outlive us all.

When Vicki and I first went to see Arlene in the hospital, we were shocked.  She was in pain, she was defeated, and we tried our best to rally her.  I was so discombobulated by my visit that when I left the hospital, I missed my exit back to my house.  Seconds later, I turned around but missed the exit again and then yet again until I finally gave up and took the longest route home (the one without any more exits), arriving 45 minutes later completely exasperated.  When I told that story to Arlene on my last visit, she laughed.

On our very last visit just a few weeks before she died, the difference in Arlene was astonishing.  She was back to her old self, holding court, laughing and telling stories.  When we worked together, Arlene was the Executive Secretary to our company’s CEO and she also held a command post, and I do mean command post, at the front reception desk.  Nobody worked a switchboard like her and when her always-manicured finger swept across the switchboard, it was like watching an elegant ballet.  For years and years, I teased her about that hand motion and she laughed; during the last visit, she asked me to mimic her so that some other visiting friends could see what she was like.  I did so with the greatest pleasure.

I also teased Arlene about the way in which she would track you down like a dog if you didn’t answer an overhead page.  If a customer called in asking for me and I wasn’t at my desk, she paged me.  At first it was polite – “Ann Verme, line 1.  Ann Verme, line 1 please.”  By the second time around, she was a little bit firmer in her request and oh my god, if you didn’t pick up after that, this is what you got:  ANN. VERME.LINE.1. ANN.VERME.LINE.1…PLEASE!!!!!”  I wouldn’t go so far as to say she was shouting, but you knew you had better haul ass and get the phone, even if you were stuck in the restroom.  The programmers, mostly male, used to joke that they came flying out of the restroom with the toilet paper flying behind them.  This image continues to make me laugh to this day.  

The other story that I told to the friends that were visiting Arlene on the last time I saw her was also one of my favorites about her.  Arlene was told by our company president to keep an eye on the supply cabinet and by god, she did.  As the sole holder of the cabinet key, she held a lot of power and I am not kidding when I say that she often made you show her your old pencil before deciding you were worthy of a new one:  “There’s still a little lead on that pencil,” she’d say or “You can still use that eraser, can’t you?” 

Even after deciding you were indeed worthy of a new pencil, you received one and only one brand new one.  Don’t ever kid yourself that in a wild moment she would give you two.  Several newcomers suffered from such delusions until we set them straight.

The drill when one was about to receive the new pencil/pen/what have you was always the same:  Arlene would put the switchboard on “transfer calls” and then would walk, slowly and stately, to the file cabinet, with the requestor walking behind at about five paces – kind of like the Duke of Edinburgh does with the Queen of England.  Heads were also respectfully bowed.  And then she would open the cabinet a mere crack, just enough to get her hand (never yours) in there and then would ask you again what you needed.  And out came the one pencil and you bowed appropriately and perhaps curtseyed and then she resumed her stately walk back to the front desk.  I tell you what she could have substituted for the Queen as she was just that regal. (And I love the Queen so…)

Well one day, toward the end of my time at the company, Arlene was busier than a bee and she didn’t have time to do the “perp” walk (I’m referring to all of us underlings, never Arlene) and so she handed me the key.  Oh.My.God. I got the key to the cabinet!!!  So I ran over to the programming department and said “You guys, you guys.  Arlene gave me the key!!!!”  And just like rats deserting a sinking ship, they fell in behind me and we ran with lightning speed to the cabinet.  This time around, the doors fell open automatically revealing quite the stash of supplies and let me just say that for one, brief shinning moment I swear we saw a glow and heard the most beautiful celestial sounds.  It was just like Christmas only better: “Look at all those notepads,” we chimed.  “Look at the pens – holy cow!”

You might think that with access to all those goodies we would have raided the cabinet but you would be wrong.  The one thing one did not do at that company was to get on Arlene’s bad side, a side she rarely displayed but you knew you were in deep doo-doo if she went there.  And so out of respect for the woman and out of fear for our work lives, I took the one thing I needed from the supply cabinet and with one last, longing look from me and from my coworkers, I shut and locked the door and walked back, as Arlene-like as I could to give her the key. 

Now some people might have walloped me over the head for retelling that story over and over again but Arlene loved it.  She was the quintessential Executive Assistant—loyal to her boss and to the company, gate-keeper (literally since our building was a secure building and she had to buzz you in if you didn’t have a pass), better than an attorney at keeping secrets and keeping her mouth shut, all-wise and all-knowing and above all, professional.  She would listen to your tales of woe but in the end she would often say quite simply and without a touch of snarkiness – “Well, if you don’t like your job here, perhaps you should find another one.”  Above all, Arlene wanted our workplace to be a happy, harmonious one and those years that we all worked at that company were just some of my favorites.  When we experienced a corporate take-over by a much larger company we grew bigger but experienced a lot of growing pains.  Our work family sort of fell apart and eventually we started experiencing a ton of layoffs, layoffs that Arlene knew about in advance but obviously couldn’t talk about.  A few of the layoffs pained her greatly and it wasn’t too long after I left that she decided to retire.  And out of those "ashes," the Ladies Lunch was born!

Being free from the confines of her Executive Assistant position didn’t automatically make Arlene sing like a canary but over the years, she shared her thoughts and insights with me and Vicki.  She was always so funny about how she did it, usually sweeping her gaze around the room to make sure there weren’t any “enemies” afoot and then lowering her head to deliver the dirt.  She would often start out lunch (really brunch-I cannot recall a time when we actually had lunch) by asking (hilariously) “Who has had a sighting?” By "sighting," she meant “of a former co-worker” and not UFO’s.  Just so we’re clear.  Then she would regale us with tales of work as well as family stories and friend stories that had me and Vicki doubled over.  She never thought she was that funny but she was and we told her that a thousand times over.  Vicki and I also told stories but somehow the stories always sounded better coming from Arlene.

Out of all the things that made Arlene unique, her thoughtfulness stood out as her number one best quality.  When she was invited to a party at my house, she always brought a hostess gift and frequently sent a thank-you note on note cards she made herself.  (She was also well-known for the fabulous jewelry she made after her retirement and at her funeral service, there was hardly a woman in attendance who wasn’t wearing a piece by Arlene.) When my parents died, she sent cards and when I lost one of my best friends of almost 32 years to cancer in March, she sent me a card for that as well.  And when Vicki and I took her out for her birthday lunch, she sent a thank you card out despite having thanked us in person.  It goes without saying that I’m keeping that one.

Now I’ve said before in this blog that I have a cookbook for about every occasion and wouldn’t you know, I already had this book on my bookshelf – Ladies Who Lunch – and so the day after her service, I made this wonderful Sour Cream Soufflé. If Arlene was alive, I know she probably would have tried it at home, likely saying “Well this was just delicious and so easy, too.” 

And so my dear Arlene, Vicki and I will soldier on with our lunches with the heaviest of hearts as we miss you already, and this special recipe is a final homage to you.  I know you were watching when I made it.  And I will never see a supply cabinet or a switchboard without thinking of you.  I do so hope that there’s a huge switchboard in the afterlife and that you are at the center of it all saying “God, line one.  God, line one please.”  It’s only fitting.

Sour Cream Souffle – serves 6
1 ½ cups sour cream
¾ cup sifted flour
1 ¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
2 tbsp chopped chives
½ cup grated (nonprocessed) Gruyere cheese (Ann’s Note:  I have no idea what nonprocessed cheese means!)
5 eggs, separated

Preheat oven to 350.  Thoroughly blend sour cream, flour, salt and pepper.  Stir in chives and grated cheese.  Beat egg yolks until thick and stir into the cheese mixture.  Pour into a 2-qt soufflé dish.  Place dish in a shallow pan of hot water and bake about 30-40 minutes or until puffed and set.  Serve immediately.

Ann’s Note:  I roasted some small yellow potatoes at the same time I baked this soufflé and tossed them in olive oil and sea salt for extra flavor.  I also served the soufflé with asparagus to add a little green to the plate.  Enjoy!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Lemonade for the Lawnboy - The Executives' Wives' Cookbook Committee" & "Corn - Meals & More" & "The Picnic Gourmet" - lemonade, chicken enchiladas and peaches with sweet cream cheese

Still Life: Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger with martini glass

Date I made these recipes:  September 3, 2012 (Labor Day)

Lemonade for the Lawnboy – The Executives’ Wives’ Cookbook Committee by David W. Cook and Janet Letnes Martin
Published by:  Martin House Publications
ISBN:  978-1-886627-14-7
Recipe:  Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger’s Thirst-Quenching Recipe for the Lawnboy –p. 5

CORN – Meals & More by Tastemaker-Award Winning Author Olwen Woodier
Published by:  A Garden Way Publishing Book Published by Storey Communications, Inc.
ISBN:  0-88266-456-5
Recipe:  Chicken Enchiladas – p. 78-79

The Picnic Gourmet by Joan Hemingway and Connie Maricich
Published by:  Vintage Books
© 1975, 1977; First Vintage Books Edition , June 1978
Recipe:  Peaches Stuffed with Sweet Almond Cream Cheese - 279

I don’t care if Labor Day typically signals the end of summer as we know it - when it’s time to make “Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger’s Thirst-Quenching Recipe for the Lawnboy,” it’s time to make Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger’s Thist-Quenching Recipe for the Lawnboy!

My friend, Lolo, gave me this hilarious cookbook, Lemonade for the Lawnboy – The Executives’ Wives’ Cookbook Committee, a while ago and I truly meant to make the lemonade recipe this summer but things got away from me.  So what if the temperature dipped down a bit by the time I made it?  When you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty and nobody appreciated it more than my own “lawnboy,” Andy.

This book is a total send-up of the classic society cookbook and by “society” I am referring to the Junior League cookbooks that have dotted the cookbook landscape for years now.  From Mrs. Biff Johnson to the fake Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger, these ladies have submitted enough recipes to paper many a beach-front condo in Boca and then some while raising money for a good cause.  Good causes are a good thing.

Out of all the society ladies featured in this book, none drew my attention more than Mrs. J.H. who was, appropriately, pictured with her martini glass.  Aside from the fact that her green outfit would not look good against my skin tone, Mrs. J. H. and I could be twins as I do so love my martini.  I also think that the look on Mrs. J.H.’s face is quite similar to the look I wear when I am not amused, and lately people, I have not been amused.  (And this is why gin typically fixes everything.)  Lucky for me, Mrs. J.H’s lemonade saved the day.  It was simple, yet elegant and quite refreshing - quite.

By the way, here is my favorite description of Mrs. J.H –and funny how it describes me to a “t!” (This is from page 5 of Lemonade for the Lawnboy – The Executives’ Wives’ Cookbook Committee by David W. Cook II and Janet Letnes Martin.)

“…If that was not enough, the same week she threw a grand and most elegant birthday party for her dear friend, Mrs. Charles Chatterton.  Her devotion to details was unsurpassed, down to party favors of French crystal martini glasses etched with Mrs. Charles Chatterton’s favorite martini recipe.  Her brilliance and creativity is quite amazing.  It is no wonder she was chosen President of The Executives’ Wives’ Cookbook Committee.”

This lemonade paired quite well with my main course, Chicken Enchiladas.  Now people, I don’t know about you, but I expected this recipe to contain some corn seeing as how it came from a corn cookbook, but alas, no.  I re-read the recipe several times and even contemplated using frozen corn in the enchilada mixture but decided against it and instead opted for corn tortillas.  The book said I could make my own cornmeal pancakes but I had enough going on without having to pull another recipe together. 

While most of us are probably used to the “goopy” cheese-laden enchiladas served in most Mexican restaurants these days, this recipe didn’t call for cheese at all and that’s why I liked it, corn or no corn.  But the inclusion of this recipe in the (corn) cookbok, even if it was under “Ethnic Specialties,” still boggles the mind.

Last, but not least, was a (fresh) peaches dessert recipe taken from The Picnic Gourmet written by Joan Hemingway and Connie Maricich.  Joan Hemmingway is celebrated author Earnest Hemingway’s granddaughter.  (On my list of books to read is A Moveable Feast, written by “Papa” Hemingway in 1961 that recounts his days in Paris in the 1920’s and includes names and addresses of all his watering holes. (Somehow, this was one of the few Hemmingway books this English major did not read in high school or college.)

This book is divided into two parts.  Part one lists picnics by theme and contains menus for a Sunday Ski Picnic, a Boating Picnic (Oh darn, I forgot my boat-bummer) and an Italian Beach Picnic just to name a few.  The second half of the book contains recipe by category – soups, salads, fruit, etc.  As the title Picnic Gourmet suggests, this book does not contain your average Labor Day cook-out recipes of beans and weenies although many people would consider that “high end” picnic food if the beans were a mix of heirloom beans and the weenies were fancy stuffed sausages.  But although the recipes sound high end, many of them are pretty easy, like the recipe for Peaches Stuffed with Sweet Almond Cream Cheese.  Whew. 

All in all, this was a great meal to make on Labor Day and that’s a good thing as neither Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger nor I like fuss or muss when it comes to holiday entertaining.

Mrs. Jonathan Hurlinger’s Thirst-Quenching Recipe for the Lawnboy – serving size not listed
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
5 ounces of reconstituted lemon juice
1 ¾ cups ice water

Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir constantly until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Chill for 3 to 4 hours.  Pour the mixture and the ice water into a tall pitcher and add the lemon juice.  Cut the lemon into thin wedges and put them in a pitcher.  Stir the mixture and pour it into chilled glasses.  Add ice to each glass.

Chicken Enchiladas – yield:  4 servings
1 pound boneless chicken breasts
¼ cup chicken stock, tomato juice, or water
6 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons chunky Mexican sauce (salsa) (mild or hot)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (3 cups)
1 3 ½ -ounce can green chili peppers, chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ vegetable oil
8 6-inch tortillas
1 ½ cups sour cream (optional)
¼ cup chopped chives or scallion greens (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Put the chicken breasts in a skillet, pour in the stock, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Reserve 1/3 cup of the liquid.  Thinly slice the chicken breast.  Blend the cream cheese, reserved liquid, and Mexican sauce together.  Stir in the chicken strips.

While the chicken is poaching, heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion and garlic for 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, chili pepper, and coriander.  Simmer for 15 minutes.

Heat the ¼ cup oil in a skillet and drop each tortilla into the hot fat for about 10 seconds.  This is not to cook them but to make them pliable.  (Note:  this did not work well at all for the corn tortillas as they were too soft.  My guess is that this method would work well for flour tortillas.)

Remove immediately to a baking dish measuring approximately 12” x 9” x 2” and spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture along the center of each tortilla.  Roll up and place seam-side down in the dish.  Repeat until all tortillas and the filling have been used up.

Spoon the tomato sauce over the top and bake for 15 minutes.

Mix the sour cream and chives and spoon over each cooked tortilla.

Peaches Stuffed with Sweet Almond Cream Cheese – serves 6
3 large peaches
½ pound cream cheese
3 good macaroons, crumbled in a blender (or three biscotti or other “hard” cookie)
1 teaspoon ground almonds (grind in blender)
Peach pulp from seed cavities
Fresh mint leaves (optional)

Choose large ripe peaches, and scrub the outside skin.  Cut each peach in half, take out the seed, and enlarge the seed cavity with a spoon.  Reserve the peach pulp taken out.

Mix the rest of the ingredients in a small bowl.  [If going on a picnic] Pack the peaches and filling separately.  To serve, place a teaspoonful of filling on each peach center.  Garnish and decorate the plate of filled peach halves with fresh mint leaves. 

Ann’s Note:  this last line just makes me hoot:  [mint leaves] “These can usually be picked on the trail or at the picnic site.”  Hahahahaha……Hardly.

**Both Corn and The Picnic Gourmet were purchased at the Bloomington Crime Prevention Association Sale held in June.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"It's the Berries!" - Chicken with Strawberry Vinegar and Honey

Date I made this recipe:  August 26, 2012

It’s the Berries!  - Exotic &Common Recipes by Liz Anton & Beth Dooley
Published by:  A Garden Way Publishing Book; Storey Communications, Inc.
© 1988
Recipe:  Chicken with Strawberry Vinegar and Honey – p. 39; Strawberry Vinegar recipe p. 142

If last week’s problem with blog posting was procrastination (i.e. having too much time on my hands), this week’s problem was a concerted lack of time.  I could not carve out even a second or two to write this thing and that was frustrating because this dish is delicious and I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it. And it’s also redemption for the sad meal I made the week before.

I’d love to say that summer is the period where I stock up on fresh (and seasonal) fruit and vegetables but alas, I do not.  I have yet to visit a farmer’s market, operating under my own, personal premise that “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” and I basically ignore everything in my grocery store that screams “Seasonal!”  It’s not that I don’t love fruits and veggies, I do, but it’s just not something that comes to my first thing in the morning.  Coffee comes to mind first thing in the morning, followed by nap, followed by….

Until this past week, that is.  I recently purchased this book, It’s the Berries!, from Arc’s Value Village Thrift Store and while putting it away in my stack, I thought “Huh, maybe this would be a good time to make something from this book.”  I was not wrong.

But I will say that finding the right recipe was a challenge.  Several recipes contained cranberries and it is way too early in the season for that.  I don’t like fruit soups (personal preference) and dessert seemed so clichéd.  But then I spotted it.  Strawberry chicken!  With honey! Strawberry chicken AND honey!  Sweet!  (Pun intended).

And so I made it and so it was good and so I was happy.  I served this up with couscous and asparagus and my oh my, what a fun meal I had. (Well, I overcooked the asparagus but these are the things we must deal with in life.  I ate it anyway.)

BUT.  Let me be clear that should you make this dish (and you should), do not, I repeat, do not use those craptastic things in the grocery store that masquerade as strawberries.  To do so is an insult to the real deal and your dish won’t be as flavorful.  Because folks, the way strawberries are genetically engineered these days robs them of their flavor.  Bite into one and it’s like biting into colored Styrofoam but that is just this gal’s opinion.

I say this to you because people, I’ve had the “Real Deal.”  My parents had a fruit and vegetable garden and all summer long, we feasted on earthly delights such as raspberries and strawberries.  Compared to today’s gigonzo strawberries, our little garden ones seemed so anemic yet they were loaded with flavor.  We had strawberry jam, strawberry compote and frozen strawberries to last us a lifetime.  Ah, such sweet memories!

At any rate, I bought my strawberries at Trader Joe’s and while larger than I liked, they were close enough to the “Real Deal” for me to buy them.  Plus, they were reasonably priced and so that made me feel all the better about skipping out on a farmer’s market excursion to find something comparable to what I had as a child.  So there!

So the order of appearance in this recipe is that you make the strawberry vinegar first and then…uh oh…let it steep for a month, and then use the vinegar in the recipe.  Well I can assure you that didn’t happen!  But I am happy to report that this was no big deal.  In fact, instead of straining the vinegar, I threw some of the mashed strawberries from the vinegar mixture into the skillet and the result was yummy.

As to the authors, Minnesota cook book collectors might recognize Beth Dooley’s name from a couple cookbook s as well as a byline in the Mpls St. Paul Magazine.  Beth’s newest cookbook, The Northern Heartland Kitchen, focuses on seasonal cuisine in this neck of the woods but I first knew Beth when she teamed up with local chef and restaurant owner (and my hero), Lucia Watson, to write one of my favorite books in my entire collection (1,463 and growing) – Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland.   This book also focuses on local cuisine and features the same type of food that is regularly featured as Lucia’s restaurant called, appropriately, Lucia’s in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. (  Beth wrote this cookbook, It’s the Berries, with her mother, Liz Anton and I think it is very cool that mother and daughter got along well enough to put pen to paper to create this cookbook; my sister-in-law loves a photo of me and my mother arguing in the kitchen at Christmastime, 1996.  So there you have it.

As we are now on the doorstep of Labor Day, I urge you to get going and make this recipe!  And get “Real Deal” strawberries and don’t think I’m kidding.  You will thank me later.

Chicken with Strawberry Vinegar and Honey – serves 8
4 pounds of chicken, quartered
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons clarified butter *see notes below
2 tablespoons peanut oil, plus some to sauté shallots
4 shallots, minced
½ cup strawberry vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 cup strawberries, hulled and rinsed or if frozen drained and thawed, sliced

For the strawberry vinegar – makes 5 cups
2 cups strawberries
1 cup of champagne and 1 cup for later (optional)
2 cups white wine vinegar
8 whole black peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon sugar

To make the vinegar:
Mash strawberries.  Heat the champagne, wine vinegar, peppercorns and sugar together.  Pour over strawberries in sterile jar.  Cool, cover and place in a dark place for a 1 month.  Stir occasionally.  Press out strawberry flesh between double cheesecloth, discard the fruit.  Add the second cup of champagne to the vinegar mixture.  Stir to release the carbonation.  Allow to rest in a dark place for 1 month.

Ann’s Note:  I pretty much ignored everything above, some of it intentionally, some of it not.  I mashed the berries, skipped the vinegar and skipped the cheesecloth portion of our program and for sure did NOT let it sit for a month but it was still tasty.  I also cut down the portion size to equal one cup (or so) and it worked fine although I added a little bit more sugar than was called for but that was to satisfy my own personal taste.

To make the dish:
Rinse and dry chicken.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.  Combine butter and oil in large skillet, add chicken and brown.  (Do not crowd pieces.)  When chicken has been browned, remove to a warm platter with pan juices.  Skim fat.  Sauté shallots in a small amount of oil until translucent.  Add strawberry vinegar and honey to pan and simmer.  Return chicken, cook until partially covered for about 20 minutes.  Baste often to glaze chicken.  Toss in strawberries just before serving.

Ann’s Note:  I used boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half, so there wasn’t any fat to skim.  I also added a bit more oil to the pan as well as more honey and more strawberry vinegar (with mashed strawberries) as the sauce was looking like it might stick and burn.  And then I tossed in the strawberries with about 5 minutes left just because I like to go rogue.  The result was phenomenal!