Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Beth Merriman's Cookbook...From Soup to Nuts" - Winter Soup

Date I made this recipe:  January 30, 2013

Beth Merriman’s Cookbook…From Soup to Nuts – Published in Association with Parade Magazine
Published by:  Grosset & Dunlap
© 1968
Recipe:  Winter Soup – p. 9

Whew – saved by the bell!  It’s a rare event for me to cook something every week during a given month but I did it, sneaking in this recipe on the next to last day of January.  I am so proud.

These days, these long winter days, my sole purpose in life is to stay warm.  January weather in Minnesota has been a yo-yo:  one day, we’re at 35 degrees, the next day we are at 5.  This pattern has continued for the entire month and it is driving me crazy.  The only solution is to adapt my cooking to the weather and so, dear reader, last night I made soup to combat our latest cold spell.  That said you have no idea how tempting it was to make “Frosted Meat Loaf” instead of soup but since the book’s title is From Soup to Nuts, I thought I should stay on track. 

Beth Merriman, a 20+ year columnist for Parade Magazine, also wrote The Fondue Cookbook, The Fondue Party Cookbook (is there a difference??!), The Anytime, Anywhere Barbecue Book and The Home Kebob Cookbook:  the Complete Guide to Kebobs From Main Dishes to Dessert.  I do believe I need to get my hands on that kebob book, if for no other reason than the title makes me laugh. 

The thing that I appreciated most about this cookbook is that it doesn’t contain any “weird” food like tripe or pig’s feet, something I’ve been seeing all too often as of late.  Instead, it features the basics like roasts, meatloaf, soups, sandwiches, casseroles, etc.  One of my favorite recipe titles, besides the Frosted Meat Loaf (and just so we’re clear, the “frosting” is mashed potatoes), and Buckaroo Short Ribs is Hootenanny Sandwiches – peanut butter, cream cheese, deviled ham, pickle relish and bread.  The ingredients earn an “ugh” from me (peanut butter and deviled ham????) but the title is indeed a “hoot!”  Side note:  years ago, I was browsing in a bookstore and saw this vintage paperback titled Hootenanny Nurse, published in 1964, that I just  The title alone was worth a snort but the cover photo is hilarious – there’s a nurse in her “dress whites” leaning on a wall watching a doctor in his “dress whites” playing a guitar!  I did not care one whit that it wasn’t a cookbook.  To see the cover and a description of the book, click on this link:  My favorite line from this book has to be (as seen on this blog):  “Julie walked as fast as she dared down the hall, pressed the elevator button, and hoped on the brief ride that she still had a bit of lipstick on.” Julie, I couldn’t agree more about the lipstick and in fact stress about it all the time.

One final note:  When I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, my library’s shelves were filled with every variation of “nurse” story you could get your hands on:  School Nurse, Ski-Slope Nurse,  Jungle Nurse – you name it, we read it.  Back then, women became nurses, teachers or secretaries – all good professions but thank goodness women have branched out.

Anyway…this soup is really good (and just loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C) but it does take a while to make.  The meat has to simmer for 2 hours, then you add most of the ingredients and cook for another 1 1/4 hours and then add the final ingredients and cook for another 15 minutes.  Had I not started this dish at 3:00, we’d be having it for breakfast.  On the other hand, the fact that I could simmer and ignore it for hours at a time meant that I could work on reviewing a commercial lease for a client; multi-tasking is a great thing!

My one little itty-bitty gripe about this recipe, as usual, is my need for specificity with ingredients, instructions or both.  This recipe calls for 1 can tomatoes and okay, fine, but what kind?  Whole?  Diced?  Stewed?  And then should I drain the can?  Not drain the can?  I hate when this happens.  I decided to buy diced tomatoes, pour off only the top liquid and add them to the soup and it was fine (but do add the kidney beans undrained as directed).

So, while you are at home waiting for the spring thaw…in about 3 months…make this soup and get comfy.

Winter Soup – makes 8 to 10 servings
2 quarts water
1 medium onion, quartered
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
1 ½ lbs beef chuck (Ann’s Note:  I used beef stew meat)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups sliced carrots
1 can (1 lb) tomatoes (Ann’s Note: I used diced)
1 can (1 lb) kidney beans, undrained
¼ teaspoon oregano
½ cup pastina (Ann’s Note:  pastina is star-shaped pasta.  If you cannot find that, then use a small macaroni for this soup.  I used alphabets!)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine water, quartered onion, salt, pepper and beef in deep kettle.  Bring to boil; lower heat; simmer 2 hours.  Remove beef; strain stock; measure; add water to make 2 ½ quarts.  Dice beef.  Heat oil in skillet; add sliced onion, garlic, parsley, and celery; cook 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently.  Return diced meat to stock; add contents of skillet, cabbage, carrots and tomatoes.  Cover; simmer 1 ¼ hours.  Add kidney beans, oregano and pastina.  Cook 15 minutes longer, or until pastina is tender.  Stir in cheese; mix well.  Serve at once.

 **I purchased this book at Kaleidoscope Books in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Fun store - check it out if you are in the neighborhood:  200 N. 4th Avenue. (The world-famous Zingerman's Delicatessen is nearby.)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

2013 Inauguration Dinners in two parts: "The White House Chef Cookbook" & "Secrets of the White House Kitchens"

Date I made these recipes:  January 21, 2013 – Inauguration Day

The White House Chef Cookbook by Rene Verdon
Published by:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1967
Recipe:  Shrimp Napoli – p. 102

Secrets from the White House Kitchens – A Celebration of Foods Enjoyed at The White House & the People Who Lived There by John R. Hanny
Published by:  LaMarque Publications
ISBN:  978-0-9829293-0-8
Recipe:  Turkey Hash – p. 32

You would think that after what appeared to be the longest election cycle ever for the office of President of the United States, that I would then keep track of the Inauguration, right?  Wrong.  I am ashamed to say I almost blew it and that would have been sad because I’d have to wait four more years to get to use my two White House cookbooks.

Let me set the stage:  the week before the Inauguration, I attended a Continuing Legal Education Class (CLE) on the topic of how corporate counsel (i.e. lead attorney for the company) should deal with social media in the workplace.  The class was one hour long but it could be one minute and I’d still be chaffing at the bit to get out of there.  I liken these classes to detention:  you sit and doodle and crack your gum and hum a few tunes then after an hour, the principal lets you go home or at least out to play with all your friends.  Sadly, all attorneys everywhere are required to take a certain number of credit hours within a specified period (in Minnesota, it’s 45 hours in 3 years) and so off I went to do my time.

Although the topic sounded interesting (some don’t sound interesting at all and those are the ones to avoid), our class did not get off to a good start.  The moderator introduced four panelists, two of whom work on employment law issues involving the use of social media at work by employees and two worked on corporate website use and issues (also involving social media).  The moderator said that questions were encouraged and by God, right out of the gate, a fellow class attendee, let’s call her “Wanda,” shot her hand in the air and we were off and running.  Wanda was an older lady (you can be older than dirt but if you are still practicing law, you need the credit hours) and I think Wanda was confused about the topic and therefore in the wrong room.  Her first question to the panel was really a statement:  “Don’t employees know that their employment is at-will (i.e. at the will of the employer)?”

Huh?  Wanda, dear, you know this is a class about SOCIAL MEDIA, right?  So what the heck does at-will employment have to do with social media?  (Answer:  nothing).  The panel looked stunned.  Wanda asked her question again.  The moderator said “Would anyone like to take a stab at the question?”  One panelist replied “I’m not sure I understand the question.”  (She was not alone there!).  Wanda said “Employment is at-will, right?”  “Ye…essssss????,” said our still-confused panelist.

Apparently, that was all Wanda wanted to know because she appeared to be satisfied with that answer.  Sadly though, this was not the last we heard from Wanda.  Question two was another brain-bender:  “Why are people using social media at work?  Don’t they know they are supposed to be working?”  Wanda, don’t let anyone tell you that you are not the sharpest tool in the shed because you are.  I’m here to tell you.

Actually, what I wanted to do was throw something at Wanda.  She must have asked at least six more questions in that hour’s time, none of them related to the topic at hand.  Now, I want to tell you that the rush to the exit at these CLE’s is usually pretty strong  but this time around, when that hour was up we had ourselves a stampede!  (And I had myself one credit toward my total but sheesh, what I had to put up with!).

You’re probably wondering what the heck this has to do with anything (kind of like Wanda’s questions) and so I’ll tell you.  I got very bored and brought out my calendar, thinking, as I am wont to do, of what to make that weekend and to see if there were any “themes” I could use.  So I flipped through it and saw that we were approaching Valentine’s Day and Groundhog’s Day and….Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

And this is how I remembered that Obama’s Inauguration was being held on MLK’s birthday this year – ta da!!!  So thank you, Wanda, for allowing me to become so tired of you that I checked my calendar and got today’s theme, Inauguration food, using two of my White House cookbooks.

Let’s start our White House tour with the first book I pulled off the shelf:  The White House Chef Cookbook by Rene Verdon, chef to the Kennedy family who also spent some years cooking for LBJ as well.  Some of you will recall that Jackie Kennedy was very fond of France and French cooking and when she and Jack moved into the place, it was French food, all day, every day.  Actually, while the cookbook is loaded with French food, there are a fair number of recipes from other cultures represented that seemed to have snuck in there – Mon Dieu!

This cookbook was loaded with so many potentially good recipes that it took me a while to choose something.  I finally decided that Shrimp Napoli was what I was looking for and my husband concurred.  But I still had to find a recipe from the second White House book on my list:  Secrets from the White House Kitchens.

This book, written by food consultant to the presidents, John R. Hanny, starts with recipes from FDR’s administration and ends with a few from the Obama 1 administration (Obama 2’s administration started today – January 21, 2013).  As a history fan, I greatly enjoyed seeing food trends and so allow me to give you a sample of recipes from each administration:

FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) – Martha Washington’s Crab Soup; Scotch Broth; Oyster-Stuffed Chicken and the recipe that I made – Turkey Hash
Harry Truman – Macaroni and Cheese; Tuna and Noodle Casserole (; meat loaf and I need to make this some day – Grape and Lemon Jell-O Mold
Dwight D. Eisenhower – Quail Hash; Chipped Beef in Mushroom Sauce (the proverbial and often hated Army dinner); Gettysburg Beef Stew and Brownies
JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy) – Pate of Duck; Consomme Julienne; Cod Chowder; Veal Chausser; Boston Baked Beans
LBJ (Lyndon Baines Johnson) – Broiled Doves; Pedernales River Chili; Roasted Suckling Pig; Pork and Corn Bread Ring; Chess Pie
Richard M. Nixon – Crab Meat in Canape Shells; Pompano (fish) en Papillote (Paper Bag); Sweetsbreads en Brochette; Herbed Cottage Cheese Salad
Gerald R. Ford – French Fried Deviled Eggs; Lobster Thermidor; Ruby Red Grapefruit Chicken; Indian Pudding
Jimmy Carter – Mexican Menudo Soup; Deviled Pig’s Feet; Sweet and Sour Meatballs; Hush Puppies; Seafood Salad
Ronald Regan – Hamburger Soup; Osso Bucco; Roast Beef Hash; Paella a la Valenciana; Crème Anglaise au Kirsch
George Herbert Walker Bush – Roast Pheasant with Brandy and Cream; Sherried Quail Casserole; Onion and Cheese Pie; White House Muffins
Bill Clinton – Shrimp Fried Rice; Lobster Figaro; Cheese and Chili Burgers; Pizza Sandwich; Candied Baked Apples
George W. Bush – Baked Potato Soup; Pressed Duck; Boston Codfish Balls; Cowboy Cookies
Barack Obama – Cheese Puffs; Guacamole; Chicken Soup with Avgolemono Sauce; Roast Pork with Dumplings and Sour Cabbage (and not one danged dessert)

Some observations:  FDR came from a wealthy family and yet his fare, along with Harry Truman’s and Dwight Eisenhower’s is pretty conventional.  That might be due in part to them having survived the Great Depression. Eisenhower’s food was pretty no-nonsense and one would expect that from a Five-Star General who spent a vast majority of his adult life engaged in battle. (Since I love history, I just had to Wiki Eisenhower and then five-star general and it’s fascinating.  Check it out!)

As you would expect with a French chef in the White House, JFK’s was a lot fancier and yet he also added a lot of simple (and beloved) recipes from his home state of Massachusetts.  LBJ seemed to stay true to his Texas roots but Richard Nixon started ramping it up a bit on the fancy food side as did Gerald Ford; we started seeing a lot more lobster dishes on the menu after Nixon took office.

Carter’s food was a mix of regional and “fancy,” as was Regan’s although I have to tell you that the first recipe on the list for Regan, Hamburger Soup, surprised me.  I did not see that coming.  I might have made the Hamburger Soup if not for one thing:  hominy.  I’ve eaten it and don’t like it and if I don’t like it, I will not make it.  At any rate, this recipe was pretty simple fare for a president who gave many people the impression that he and Nancy were living the high life in the White House.  Some of you may recall the White House china “scandal” that erupted when Nancy Regan decided to swap out the White House china with a new pattern of her own.  Apparently this china was paid for by private contributions but that hardly helped the public relations team dealing with the outcry.

By the time we got to the last four presidents, Bush I and II, Clinton and Obama, we saw a lot more personal favorites and a lot more regional food on the menu, perhaps because each president felt more comfortable asking for this food than his predecessor.  Today’s White House chefs also have a much larger culinary repertoire than before to appeal to the tastes of the First Family as well as visiting dignitaries.   My impression of the White House chef of old was that he (now a “she” by the way) was not someone to be messed with but today’s presidents (in actuality, the First Ladies do the majority of the menu planning - still) want what they want when they want it and so they get it.  Did you want to be the one to say no to former President Bill Clinton when he asked for a Tabasco Burger?  I didn’t think so!

So as to today’s recipe selections, once I set my mind on the Shrimp Napoli, then I needed to find something from the Secrets from the White House Kitchens book and that was no easy task.  As I said to my husband, “We’re going to have a hard time pairing something with the shrimp,” and I was right.  Just when I decided the heck with it, just make two completely different dishes, we reviewed the book one more time and Andy suggested the hash and it was a great idea.  Both recipes were similar in nature (one had shrimp, one had turkey), the preparation was about the same, the texture was about the same and neither had spices that would clash with the other.  Perfect!  We enjoyed these recipes and you will, too.

Shrimp Napoli (4 to 6 servings)
6 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups raw rice
¾ cup white wine
2 ½ cups boiling Chicken Broth (this book contains the recipe for chicken broth but I used stuff I had on hand and just heated it until it…boiled!)
1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 ½ teaspoons salt
Pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat 4 tablespoons of butter and the oil in a heavy casserole.  Add the onion and cook until shiny.  Add the garlic and the rice and cook till the rice just starts to take on color.  Add wine and cook over medium heat until wine is absorbed.

Add one-half of the broth and cover.  Cook gently for 15 minutes without stirring.  Add the shrimp, salt, pepper, cayenne, pepper and remaining broth.  Stir lightly with a fork.  Cover.  Simmer until rice is tender.  Stir in cheese and remaining butter.  Serve immediately.

Turkey Hash – serves 6 (Author’s note:  Good recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers)
3 cups diced cooked turkey
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup heavy cream (Ann’s Note:  use 1 cup – I’ll tell you why below)
½ cup soft bread crumbs
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon ground sage
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in the saucepan, blend in flour and cream and stir until thickened.  (As I noted above, you’ll want to use a full cup of cream.  When I added the ½ cup the recipe called for, the cream was absorbed immediately into the flour and started to ball up—which is fine if you are making cream puffs, but not so fine if you are making a sauce.  The additional ½ cup of cream will give you the sauce you are looking for.)

Add the turkey and all other ingredients except the remaining butter.  Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and add the turkey mixture.  Saute uncovered for 25 minutes.  If desired, brown the top of the hash under the broiler before serving.

Ann’s Note:  What you end up with is more like a Thanksgiving stuffing than a hash but that’s okay, it’s the taste that counts.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"The Art of Danish Cooking" - Yellow Pea Soup

Date I made this recipe:  January 12, 2012

The Art of Danish Cooking by Nika Standen Hazelton
Published by:  Doubleday & Company Inc.
© 1964
Recipe:  Yellow Pea Soup – p. 50-51

In mid-December, my eyeglass shop (a very cool shop, by the way), Specs Optical (2204 Hennepin Ave, Minneapolis) held a private party to showcase glass frames produced by Danish company, Lindberg.  I tell you what, folks these guys aren’t fooling around when it comes to glass frames as they are all made with gold, platinum and diamonds.  They were so pretty and so delicate and so cool, I can’t even tell you.  And believe it or not, they were “reasonably” priced given the materials that go into the frame. 

Specs Optical’s owner, John Oliva, had the right idea when he decided to serve Danish food to complement these Danish designs and so he found these two adorable sisters who specialize in Danish food and before you could say (or spell) “smorgasbord,” we were eating ourselves silly with their lovely repast.  John said that they were very specific about how the smorgasbord was laid out:  first you have your bread coated with butter, then your herrings (as in plural), then you had your open-faced sandwiches with thinly shaved pork roast, then your sandwiches with vegetables and cheese and then your nuts and cranberries and your Danish cookies.  Dang, that food was good and I was inspired.

And so it’s time for true confessions:  I attempted to make this soup right before Christmas but it didn’t work.  The reason, I suspect, is that the salt pork I had in my freezer was too old.  The soup didn’t smell rancid per se (not that I have experience smelling rancid food) but it didn’t smell good, either.  And so I threw it out rather than risk food poisoning.  My mother would have been so proud.  (And I also opened the windows in the kitchen – in late December – to get rid of “that smell.”)

Given that Christmas was around the corner, I waited to make this dish again as we had too much food stuff going on. Then I almost made it the week that my Green Bay Packers played the Minnesota Vikings but decided against it for perhaps the oddest (to you) of reasons:  Denmark is part of Scandinavia, Scandinavia is the home of the Vikings and ergo it would have jinxed my Packers to make food from the opposing team’s “turf.”  Yes, Virginia, this is how I rationalize many of my cookbook and recipe decisions!  

Here’s what I know about Denmark (and it ain’t much):  It snows there; they are taller than other ethnic groups (an uncle by marriage was Danish and was very tall as are his kids and his siblings and nieces and nephews); Shakespeare’s Hamlet was the Prince of Denmark (“To be, or not to be…”); their modern-day crown prince, Frederick is rather cute but alas, is married with four kids (this includes a set of twins) and so there goes that opportunity for me to be a princess; and there is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen (author of The Emperor’s New Clothes; Thumbelina, The Little Mermaid, etc.) in Copenhagen.  This concludes what I know about Denmark.

As to the recipe, I have made many a pea soup in my day but never with yellow split peas.  I can’t say as I noticed any discernable difference but that is just me.  I will say that the second batch was much, much better than the first – hooray! 

This recipe calls for salt pork and also says if the salt pork is too salty to soak it for a bit.  Directions like this always make me laugh because how would I know if the salt pork was too salty, hmmm?  I’m certainly not going to lick it or worse, eat it raw! So I did not soak it and although the meat itself was too salty for my taste (so I didn’t add it to the soup), the soup itself was right on point.  Go figure. (By the way, what do they mean “IF the salt pork is too salty?  If it’s called “salt pork” shouldn’t it be salty?  Is this a trick question?) Also, I can’t say as I liked the Vienna sausages as they were too squishy but I wasn’t about to go on a hunt for the Danish sausages that were deemed acceptable substitutes.  I ended up picking the sausage out of the soup and made a mental note to self not to use them again.  Other than coming in a cute, small can, I am not sure what they bring to the food world and don’t need another go-round to find out!

Here then is the yellow pea soup that I did not make right after a Danish party or for a Packers-Vikings game as it is not a good thing to give your opponent the edge.  (Result?  The Packers won!)

Yellow Pea Soup (serving size not given).  Note that the recipe notes say that the meats are served separately, with pickled beets, a good sharp mustard, dark rye bread and butter and ice-cold snaps and beer.  But that’s just a suggestion: in this house, we put the meat in the bowl along with the soup and lived to tell about it.

1 ½ cups yellow split peas
1 quart water (Ann’s Note:  I added more than one quart otherwise you will end up with burned and dry peas by the time you are done)
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound streaky bacon or salt pork in one piece
1 peeled and diced celery root or 1 cup chopped celery
3 sliced leeks or 1 cup green onion tops
6 cups water
3 sliced carrots
3 medium-sized potatoes, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound Danish Canadian-style bacon or Canadian bacon, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 4-ounce can Danish or other Vienna sausages, drained

Combine split peas, water and salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer until tender and very soft – about 1 ½ to 2 hours.  Skim off pea skins as they float to the top.  Force through a sieve or a food mill or puree in blender.  Place bacon or salt pork in a large saucepan.  (If salt pork is very salty, soak in cold water for 30 minutes to 1 hour before using.)  Add celery and leeks or green onion tops.  Add water.  Cover and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours or until meat is tender.  Add carrots, potatoes and onion.  Cover and simmer until vegetables are tender.  Remove bacon or salt pork.  Cut into slices.  Skim fat from broth or chill in refrigerator, remove fat, and reheat.  Stir pea puree into broth.  If necessary, add additional water until soup is the consistency of thick cream.  Add sliced Canadian bacon and Vienna sausages cut into ½-inch pieces.  Heat soup to the boiling point.  Simmer 5 minutes.  Remove Canadian bacon and serve slices with the slices of bacon or salt pork.  Serve soup separately.

Friday, January 11, 2013

"Food for the Soul - A Texas Expatriate Nurtures Her Culinary Roots in Paris" - Macaroni and Cheese Bake

Date I made this recipe:  January 6, 2013

Food for the Soul – A Texas Expatriate Nurtures Her Culinary Roots in Paris by Monique Y. Wells
Published by:  Elton-Wolf Publishing
ISBN:  1-58783-000-0
Recipe:  Macaroni and Cheese Bake – p. 75

I always have my reasons for selecting the cookbooks that I do and today’s might seem lame to you but was important to me:  I wanted a recipe to celebrate my Packers victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the playoff game.  That’s it.  Please understand that I am a) a major Packers’ fan and b) I am now an owner of that team having purchased a share of stock in the organization last year.  Scoff all you want, but the Packers are the only team in the NFL that allow community ownership and for that I am most grateful.  Sure, wearing your team’s colors is fine, going to the games is fine, but to say you own the joint?  Priceless!

Now I knew darned well that this cookbook had just what I needed – macaroni and (oh yes), [Wisconsin] cheese, because that is the recipe that I kept going back to every time I opened this book.  All other recipes sounded good but there is nothing like mac and cheese to cheer on the Green and Gold (despite the fact that I made it the day after the game as a victory dinner). 

Football aside, (GO PACK GO), this is one of my favorite cookbooks because it is just so beautiful.  The artwork is phenomenal, the photos are fabulous - it all works. (Illustrations are by Christiann Anderson; Photographs by Daniel Czap.) And then there’s the story…

Monique Y. Wells is an African-American woman from Texas who moved to France in 1992 and lived to tell the adventures of trying to source ingredients and to cook southern and soul food in Paris.  Right, good luck with that.  Still, she made it work and all of her recipes sounded yummy but I could only choose one so I went with my idea of food for the soul – macaroni and cheese.

This recipe was good and it was simple, two things I always appreciate, but I have to say that if you are looking for an ooey-gooey stack of macaroni coated with cheese, this is not your dish.  This dish is more sublime.  Perhaps it is for fancy Parisians?  And while the French might scoff at the Ritz Crackers on top, oh baby, I loved that added buttery flavor.

You should know that although I cannot remember how it is that I heard about this book, it was one of my “Holy Grails” for a long time and I was happy as hell to finally find it.  It sits in a place of honor on the shelf above my computer and every so often I take it down and just look at it (because again, it is such a beautiful book).  My only complaint, and it is minor, is that I wanted more prose.  Monique’s life in Paris sounds so fascinating and yet the only sense I got of her was from the dust jacket blurb.  I want more!

And I definitely want more mac and cheese; I shoulda and coulda doubled the recipe.  Next time….

Macaroni and Cheese Bake – makes 8-10 servings
12 oz elbow macaroni, prepared according to package directions
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter or margarine
4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 cups milk
¼ cup chopped onion
1 lb. sharp cheese (cubed) (Of COURSE I used Wisconsin – GB Packers - Cheddar!)
3 ½ ounce Ritz crackers, crumbled (one sleeve)
Paprika (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350.  Prepare the macaroni according to package directions.  Drain and put back in the pan.  In another saucepan, melt the butter.  Slowly add flour, stirring constantly to blend.  (Don’t hurry this step or you’ll end up with globs of flour instead of a suspension of flour in butter.)  Add salt and pepper; stir.  Add milk and continue stirring until the mixture becomes thick and bubbly.  Add the onion and the cheese to the pot and continue to stir.  Mix the cheese sauce into the macaroni, then pour the entire mixture into the baking dish.  Cover with cracker crumbs and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl" - Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara (for New Year's Day)

Date I made this recipe:  January 1, 2013

Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vetamae Smart-Grosvenor
Published by:  Ballantine Books New York
© 1970, 1992
Recipe – Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara – p. 199

After a rather rough 2012, I am all about doing things that allegedly will bring me luck and so sure enough, I made blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day.  Legend has it that eating peas, particularly blackeyed peas on New Year’s Day brings luck.  This belief is particularly strong with southerners, especially African-American southerners.  I don’t think there are too many southern cookbooks on my shelf that don’t contain a recipe for black-eyed peas, also known as Hoppin’ John.

This recipe for Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara comes from the book, Vibration Cooking or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl by Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor.  Vertamae, an African American “Geechee Girl” – Geechee being another name for the Gullah people who hail from the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia – first published this cookbook in 1970.  Her book tells the story of her travels, her friends, her finds and even – and I love this part – poultices and home remedies to use to cure what ails you.

In 1992, Vertamae updated her highly successful book and in the introduction she talked about some of the people who influenced her in her life and how many of them had passed on.  One person she spoke of in particular is the famous African-American writer, James Baldwin.    Of his funeral, she said “His funeral was the best homegoing service, the most spectacular farewell I have ever witnessed or heard about…The funeral was so awesome.  I told my friends, ‘Listen up.  If you don’t think you can have a funeral like Jimmy’s keep your Black ass alive.’”

I almost fell off my chair laughing at that one.  After participating in a friend’s most awesome memorial service this year, I told my husband that except for a few changes here and there, this was exactly how I wanted my memorial to go.  Vertamae knows of what she speaks!

As to recipes, part of the thrill (horror?) of reading through older cookbooks is seeing recipes that tell the story of the person, a place or a philosophy about cooking.  For example, it is not atypical of a southern cookbook to include recipes for rabbit, squirrel, possum (um…no?) raccoon or even, in this case, Barbecued Gator Tails.  Right - gotta vote that one down, quite possibly because I don’t live in a gator-friendly climate…for a reason!  People made do with regional foods back then because they had to in order to feed their families while on a tight budget.  Many older cookbooks show also that once upon a time, home cooks used every part of an animal (again, it was more economical to do so) and so it was also not unusual to see recipes for brains or hooves or tripe (part of the stomach).  Now, the very thought of any of those items almost makes me gag and yet the joke is on me as all these things are now making a comeback in fancy restaurants across the country. In some countries like Italy, France and Spain, they never left the menu.  Oh well, to each his/her own.  I tend to like simple and the recipe I selected is about as simple as they come.

Blackeyed Peas a la Santa Clara is a “souped-up” version of your plain old black-eyed peas.  Over time, I have certainly seen my share of “souped-up” variations of this recipe (and by that I mean beyond simmering the beans in water), some adding more or different spices to the mix, some using a ham hock or salt pork to add flavor while others have gone whole hog and used everything but the kitchen sink.  In my household, we had a split vote:  Andy liked the recipe – a recipe that included coriander, oregano and red pepper - “as is” whereas I felt like I could have used even more spice and a few more vegetables to boot.  I also cooked a batch of rice to serve along with the beans and dumplings as some variations of Hoppin’ John also include rice.  It all depends on what you want out of the meal and the basic thing I wanted was to be the recipient of good fortune in 2013; anything after that was gravy!

Here then, is the very simple recipe for Black-Eyed Peas a La Santa Clara.  If y’all want to play with the ingredients, be my guest (I’m sure Vertamae won’t mind) but my blog rule is that I stick to the recipe no matter what.

Happy New Year and may good fortune come your way in 2013!

Black-Eyed Peas a la Santa Clara – serving size not given (but it uses a pound of beans)
1 pound black-eyed peas soaked overnight
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, mined
1 crushed dried hot red pepper (or red pepper flakes)
A touch of cumin (I used about 1 ½ teaspoons and could have used more)
A touch of oregano (I used about 1 ½ teaspoons and could have used more)
Salt (amount not given but be generous to add flavor)
1 cup flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/3 cup milk
¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander)

Soak a pound of dried black-eyed peas overnight.  Discard the discolored ones.  Rinse, drain and set aside.

In a heavy pot, sauté the onion, garlic, hot red pepper, then add the salt, cumin and oregano.  Then add the peas and water and cook until tender.  Ann’s Note:  this recipe didn’t say how long to cook before I achieved “tender” so I Googled “black-eyed peas” and cooked them for an hour.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, egg and milk.  Add about ¼ cup chopped cilantro (coriander).  Blend well and drop by rounded spoonful into the peas.  Cover and cook for another 15 minutes.