Monday, April 28, 2014

"Entenmann's Big Book of Baking" - Cream Cheese Swirl Coffee Cake

Date I made this recipe:  April 20, 2014 (Easter Sunday)

Entenmann's Big Book of Baking by Orograin Bakeries Products, Inc. (Entemann's is a registered trademark of this company) and Kathleen Robbins, Master Baker
Published by:  Parragon Books, Ltd.
ISBN:  978-1-4454-4530-4
Recipe:  Cream Cheese Swirl Coffee Cake – p. 116

Folks, "giddy" is the word I use to describe the feeling I had when I saw Entemann's Big Book of Baking.  Giddy.  And "nostalgic."  Because be still my heart—there, in living blue and white color, was a compilation of Entenmann's-inspired recipes, all for the home cook. There are no words...

Now I don't know about the Midwest, but out on the east coast where Entenmann's originated, these blue and white boxes with the clear plastic strip in the middle (so you could see the baked goods) were a staple in many households.   Whenever we went to visit my New Jersey grandma who lived with my aunt and uncle, that box (or even better – boxes) was on the counter.  So exiting!   I always felt like I was on the TV show, Let's Make a Deal, where host Monty Hall would ask you to select "what's inside the box," or "what's behind the curtain."  For me, peeking into the top of the box to discover what was inside was a thrill although truth be told, you could always distinguish between the donut box (chocolate donuts – LOVE!) and a coffee cake.  Ah yes, but what kind of coffee cake?  That was a mystery to be solved! (Favorite:  Cheese Filled Crumb Coffee Cake.)

For the longest time, I never saw Entenmann's outside of the east coast but then one day I was in, of all places, my neighborhood Rainbow (your average grocery store to fit all income levels) and right there before my very eyes I saw several Entenmann's boxes.  Several.  Again – giddy!  I bought several boxes.  And every once in a while, when the mood is right, I buy some more boxes.  I mean folks, how could you not?  And okay sure, now they tend to be a little bit more laden with preservatives than the days of old but it's the blue and white box and it's Entenmann's so....

You should know that the inspiration to haul out this cookbook came from none other than Bon Appetit magazine. The magazine recently posted online an article – "The Richest, Most Powerful Families in the Food Business" and wouldn't you know, there was the Entenmann family bio (accompanied by a photo of their chocolate donuts).  Here's what BA said:  "In 1898 German-born William Entenmann opened a bakery in Long Island, focusing on home delivery. When William died in 1951, William Jr., his wife, Martha, and their two sons took the reins and made the leap to supplying supermarkets, building the iconic Long Island baking plant in 1961 to keep up with demand." 

Sadly, the company was sold in 2002 to – get this – Bimbo Bakeries USA.  Bimbo Bakeries?  Well there's a name, am I right?  Bimbo Bakeries also owns Sara Lee, another popular item at my aunt and uncle's house and Thomas' English Muffins.  And here's an interesting factoid for you:  one of my best friends, Susan, is from Totowa, New Jersey and just down the street from her old childhood home was a Thomas' English Muffin factory.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of this factory (not to mention the yummy smell of English muffins baking!). It's odd how everything in this world connects.

Now, had I been more organized on Easter morning (read: not been so lazy), I would have made this for breakfast instead of for dinner. But really—do we care?  No, we do not!  This coffee cake is pretty simple and actually, I made it at the same time as the ham since they shared an oven temperature – multi-tasking/baking is key.  The only thing I did not do was bake this in a Bundt pan (as the recipe called for) because for some inexplicable reason, my Bundt pan is missing.  And I am quite upset about this.  I told my husband "I wouldn't do something so stupid as to throw it out, would I?"  (No, of course not...well, I hope not).  We suspect it's in the house somewhere although the "where" part is still eluding us. I am happy to report though, that we discovered where we stored not one but two fondue pots!

But all is not lost because according to the internet, you can make this coffee cake in a tube pan and I have a tube pan.  Couldn't find the Bundt pan for love nor money but my tube pan?  Oh yeah!

The recipe says to bake for 40-45 minutes.  I went with 45 minutes and it was perfect, absolutely perfect.  The recipe also says to serve it warm (we did) but it is also mighty tasty cold.  And although I didn't have the requisite blue and white box (the cookbook pages are in blue and white, natch), it didn't matter because it was Entenmann's – no further words required.

Cream Cheese Swirl Coffee Cake – serves 9-12
Cream Cheese Mix
1 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
Cake Batter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt
1 cup sugar ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
3 eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease and flour a 9 cup Bundt pan (or substitute a tube pan)
To make the cream cheese mix:  in a small bowl, beat cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until smooth; set aside.

To make the cake batter, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  In a large mixer bowl, beat the sugar and butter until fluffy.  Add the eggs and vanilla mixing well.  Add dry ingredients alternately with sour cream.  Mix well.

Pour half the batter into the pan.  Spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the batter within ½ inch of pan edge.  Spoon the remaining batter over the filling, spreading to the pan edge.

To make the topping combine the chopped walnuts, sugar, ground cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Sprinkle over the batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan.  Serve warm.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"The Cracker Kitchen" and "Southern Sideboards" - Easter Ham (using Coca-Cola), Potatoes au Gratin and Tart Cherry-Pineapple (Jell-O) Salad

Date I made these recipes:  April 20, 2014 (Easter Sunday)

The Cracker Kitchen – A cookbook in celebration of cornbread-fed, down-home family stories and cuisine by Janis Owens; Introduction by Pat Conroy
Published by:  Scribner
ISBN:  13: 978-1-4165-9484-0
Recipes:  Easter Ham (made with Coca-Cola) – p. 6 and Potatoes au Gratin – p. 7

Southern Sideboards by the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi; recipe submitted by Mrs. Frank Byers, St. Petersburg, Florida
Published by:  Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi
© 1978
Recipe:  Tart Cherry-Pineapple (Jell-O) Salad – p. 89

I don't know why or how it is that Easter sneaks up on me every year, it just does.  I blame Christmas and Valentine's Day for this predicament.  With Christmas and Valentine's Day there is no guessing, no sneaking, no near-miss on the date. Christmas is always, always, always December 25th and Valentine's Day is always, always, always February 14th.  But Easter?  Easter is stealth.  Stealth holidays are not my favorite.

Also not necessarily my favorite?  Making a ham because it's expected.  I do like to change it up a bit and hey, if the actual day of Easter can change up from year to year, so should my menu, right?

And so I was all set to do something different such as make a lasagna like I did one year, but then that damned Catholic guilt set in:  "Make a ham.....Make a ham....You know you should make a ham.  Everybody makes a ham....What is wrong with you???"

And so I decided that I would make a half-hearted attempt to find a ham recipe but if I didn't, then I wasn't going to put much effort into it.  It's always wise to find a compromise for guilt, no?

Luckily, this cookbook, The Cracker Kitchen, was prominently displayed among by 1,900 cookbook (and let me tell you, that is no small feat) and there on page 6 was a recipe for ham in Coca-Cola and page 7 had a recipe for Potatoes Au Gratin and well, I win!  I win!  In fact, the ham recipe is titled "Easter Ham."  Be still my heart....

I must confess that when I purchased this book, I thought the title was interesting (The Cracker Kitchen) and I believe a quick glance at the time suggested it was filled with southern recipes, but that information goes out the window when it comes time to select a book.  And so silly me—somewhere down the road, I thought the term "cracker" applied to coal miners but I found out via the internet that the correct term is "coal cracker."  "Crackers" all by itself is often a derogatory term for poor white southerners.  I do believe my high school and college history books glossed over this little items and this is why reading cookbooks is important!  I've learned more about history and culture from reading cookbooks than any of my textbooks.  In fact, had I endless hours available (and I don't), I could probably compile an anthology of the history of the United States as told in cookbooks.  Some other lifetime....

Our cookbook's author though, does a pretty good job giving us the history of the region and the origin of the name and some darned fine recipes in between.  She describes a "cracker" as "...your family lived in Florida for at least three generations, had Southern roots, and among themselves, still talked like raccoons."  (For clarification on the raccoon issue, you'll have to read the book.) And then to make things interesting, she talks about her daddy, a Pentecostal minister who runs a ham radio net called "Ambassadors for Christ."

Again, it appears that selecting this cookbook for Easter, what with it's "Easter Ham" recipe and an "Ambassador for Christ" was a matter of divine intervention.  "And the Lord lasagna."

This cookbook is nicely divided up by seasons so there are recipes and menus for spring (Easter, Mother's Day), Summer (Memorial Day, Fourth of July) and so on which I find helpful when planning something like my Easter Dinner.  I could have gone whole hog (hahahaha) and make the Green Bean Bundles (with bacon) for this meal but decided to hold off in favor of my Jell-O salad.  I can have green beans any time but occasions like this just scream for a Jell-O salad and so I made one – because I could.

Oddly enough, the heartiest (and delicious) food came from a cookbook about "crackers" – poor white folks – whereas the more "common-man" recipe for my Easter repast – Jell-O – came from a Junior League cookbook.  Huh.  "Class, for your essay compare and contrast the social order and economic status of "crackers" with members of the Junior League...."  Two more different classes of people you could not meet. 

I must admit that the purpose of the Junior League has always puzzled me.  If you look at any of their websites (they are in most major cities), you'll see that their mission is to build communities by volunteering.  Okay...volunteering within the Junior League or outside of it?  It's unclear.  But what I do know is that being a Junior League member is not for the feint of pocketbook.  It takes money to join (dues + "tuition" in a mandatory training class) and money to remain a member in good standing via generous donations to every fundraiser the group puts on and there are several. 

In addition to money, and I suspect this is more of a southern thing, you need to know the right people and by "know," I mean that in order to join the Junior League of Jackson, Mississippi, you need "sponsorship" by at least four current members.  So obviously, waltzing into a meeting unattended is frowned upon.  And in certain circles, waltzing in  without hat and gloves is rumored to be cause for immediate banishment to a desert island.  And based on what I've read and heard, who your kin are (or aren't) is of incredible importance to most southern Junior Leagues.  Let's just say a cracker from Florida (poor and without pedigree) is as unlikely to "win" a coveted spot in a Junior League as they are to win the lottery (assuming they play it).  It bothers me greatly that a class system still exists in volunteer ranks (never mind in life) but such is the Junior League way.  Maybe for this reason alone, my Junior League cookbook collection is limited.  I salute that these cookbooks are a great fundraiser for their activities, and some Junior League cookbooks (mostly southern) are highly sought after, especially earlier versions but I don't have the shelf space or interest to collect the "whole set."  But this particular cookbook, Southern Sideboards, did impress, not only for it's size (almost 400 pages, spiral-bound—impressive!) but for the variety of recipes. 

Of interest in this cookbook were recipes for things like "Bull  Shot," which sounds like a Bloody Mary only made with beef broth; "Wassil" (High, Ho, the Merry-O, a wassiling we go!), dove and other wild birds/game (I've never seen dove recipes outside the south); and fruit cakes of every kind and variety.  Other "southern" staples include lots of pork recipes (BBQ ribs, pork chops, etc); relishes and pickles; homemade ice cream and desserts galore.  I'm not sure this group left anything out and sure enough, and bless their hearts, they even included "recipes" for Play Dough, Finger Paints and Soap Crayons.  No task too small or too mundane for a Junior Leaguer! All the recipes were submitted by club members who, as was usual and customary at the time, went by their husband's name.  As I've said in other blog postings, this irks me to no end but it was a sign of the times and so I just have to roll with it.

Now in a total "shut the front door" moment, as I was flipping through the front of this book to look for the copyright, I noticed an Introduction, Of Food and Fellowship, written by Wyatt Cooper.  "Not THAT Wyatt Cooper," thought I.  Yes, THAT Wyatt Cooper—as in father of CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper.  Don't ask me how I know these things, I just do.  (Just like I know that Anderson's mother is Gloria Vanderbilt of THE Vanderbilt family.  Gloria is still alive and well although sadly, Anderson's father, a native of Quitman, Mississippi, died in 1978, just after submitting the introduction.)

So there I was, flipping through this cookbook wondering what I could add to my "cracker" Easter repast and then...Jell-O.  Who doesn't love Jell-O?  (Don't answer that!).  I told my friends that I made it not only because I could (freedom to make Jell-O is a lesser-known Freedom, as outlined in our Constitution) but because I do not recall a holiday where mom didn't make a Jell-O salad.  Like most people, we had our Thanksgiving Jell-O, our Christmas Jell-O (actually, mom rotated between four or five salads), our Easter Jell-O, Valentine's Day Jell-O (made in heart molds) and even green St. Patrick's Day Jell-O.  This "Easter" Jell-O though, is nothing like mom made as it's rather tart but it's a nice change-up for once as some Jell-O salads (like the ones with marshmallows) can be overly sweet and who needs more sweet what with all that great candy the Easter Bunny brought to our homes?

Now before I get to these delicious recipes, let me just say that trying to find a five-pound (or less) ham at Easter time is akin to finding the Holy Grail.  It may exist but you're going to have to go on a crusade to find it!  Luckily, and unbelievably, Target had a 6 pound ham priced at $13.00 and change and it became mine, all mine!  The rest of the stash was all 9 pounds on up.  As it is, we now have frozen ham slices and a frozen ham bone to deal with so you should expect to see some more ham recipes popping up here and there.  Maybe next Easter?  (Pays to plan ahead!)

Easter Ham – serves 8 (Ann's Note:  requires overnight marinating)
One 12-ounce can cola
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
One cooked 5-pound ham

In a large sealable bag, mix the cola and sugar until dissolved.  (Ann's Note:  no need to mix; the minute the Coke hit the sugar, the sugar was a goner!)  Add the ham and shake it around to make sure it's coated.

Marinate overnight in the refrigerator, occasionally giving it a shake to make sure the marinade stays on the ham.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Put the ham in a roasting pan and bake for 1 hour, basting once or twice.  Let it cool a few minutes before slicing.  Serve right away, or later, cold.

Potatoes au Gratin – serves 6
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced white potatoes
½ cup salted butter (Ann's Note:  if you only have unsalted butter, add about ¼ teaspoon of salt; the ration is ¼ teaspoon salt per ½ cup butter)
3 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup sour cream
½ cup whole milk
1 ½ cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Dash of hot sauce

Preheat the oven to 325. 

Fill a large pot with water and put your potatoes in.  Bring to a boil and boil 2 to 3 minutes.  Drain the potatoes.

Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and spread the potatoes in it in a thin layer.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Sprinkle in the flour and stir until blended.  Stir in the sour cream, milk, 1 cup of the cheese, the salt, pepper, and hot sauce.  Cook, stirring, over medium-low heat until smooth, adding more milk to thin it if necessary.

Pour the cream mixture over the potatoes.  Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbling. 

When you take the potatoes out of the oven, top it with the remaining ½ cup cheese and let it sit for 5 minutes, until melted.

Tart Cherry-Pineapple Salad – Serves 8-10
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
Grated rind and juice of 1 orange
1 (16 ounce) can tart cherries (reserve juice)
½ cup water
1 (3 ounce) package lemon gelatin
1 envelope unflavored gelatin, softened in ¼ cup cold water
½ cup sugar
½ cup chopped pecans
1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple with juice

Boil the fruit juices (lemon, orange, cherry) and pour over the lemon gelatin and the softened unflavored gelatin.  Stir well to dissolve. Cool.  Add remaining ingredients.  Spoon into a ring mold or individual molds.  Chill to set.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"Esquire Cook Book" - Shrimp with Rice Fra Diavolo (made for the premier of Mad Men - Season 7)

Date I made this recipe:  April 13, 2014 (Mad Men Season 7 premier)

Esquire Cook Book by the Editors of Esquire (magazine); Illustrations by Charmatz (Bill Charmatz)
Published by:  McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.
© 1955
Recipe:  Shrimp with Rice, Fra Diavolo –p. 114

Finally—Mad Men (Season 7) is back along with Archie, Jughead, Veronica and Betty.  Wait, that's The Archies (1970's TV cartoon based on the comic book).  Correction:  Mad Men (Season 7) is back along with Don, Peggy, Roger, Pete, Joan and a host of other characters including (we hope), Betty Draper, Don's ex-wife.

It is with longing and trepidation that we approach Season 7 as this will be the final run of what I consider to be a great show.  Seven episodes air this spring, seven more follow next spring (2015) and then that's all folks.  And then what will we do?  Why, we'll watch it all on DVD's!  Collect the whole set!  I have.

Mad Men, in case you didn't know, is a story about men and women working at an advertising agency in the 60's.  Season 7 starts in 1969, just after Nixon's inauguration (and my word, won't we be in for a couple of wild years) but some of the characters, like our protagonist, Don, are stuck in the 50's and are trying to keep up with these changing times.  Many viewers commented that Don was still wearing a hat in the first season 7 episode, something that I don't find odd at all:  my father wore a hat to my college graduation in 1980.  Besides dealing with the changing times, each character on the show is trying to deal with a changing life.  It's too detailed for further comment so let's get to the food!

Esquire magazine is a men's magazine, founded in 1932 by the Heart Corporation.  It's still on the newsstand today, a major accomplishment given how many magazines have folded over the years.  I never read the magazine but when I saw this cookbook, I snapped it up.  (I also have Esquire's Handbook for Hosts which I am saving for another day.)

I noted at the top that the illustrations in this book were done by (Bill) Charmartz and they are basic illustrations (i.e. nothing fancy) but definitely charming and a sign of the times.  Many magazines featured artwork by famous (in the industry) illustrators and magazine covers for the longest time also featured artwork.  Today, cover art from Gourmet magazine, Vogue, The New Yorker and the like are highly sought after (and can cost a pretty penny).

As to the recipes, there's a wide variety of recipes, some of which are quite involved and some of which are easy; unless I'm in some kind of weird mood, I opt for easy!  Many of the recipes are from famous restaurants and I only wish I had the time to do some Google searches to see which ones, if any, are still operating.  And, as a sign of the times, frog legs and lobster recipes are prevalent in the Shellfish chapter—although someone please explain to me how frogs are shellfish.  That puzzles. 

After careful consideration, I decided on the fancily-named Shrimp with Rice, Fra Diavolo, Italian for "Brother Devil."  Wait – what? Well anyway, it's supposed to be spicy.  This was not spicy.  It was good, but there were a few problems so let's get to them!

Problem number one:  the recipe requires "1/2 teaspoon pepper."  It doesn't say "red pepper flakes" which is the usual and customary ingredient of this dish, just pepper.  Well, pepper can have a bit of a bite, but not black pepper if this was in fact what they wanted.  The little spice chart at the front of the book was not helpful because it too, listed "Pepper – black or white."  But I'm here to tell you folks, that you need to use red pepper flakes and a lot more than ½ teaspoon!

Problem number two:  To make the rice, you slice two small onions and cook them in ¼ pound of sweet butter.  Not a quarter stick or a quarter cup – ¼ POUND.  This is too much butter.  Way too much.  It might have been fine had the recipe called for two large onions but not two small.  So while the rice was good, it was a bit greasy.

Problem number three:  the recipe calls for one 1 1/2-pound can of plum tomatoes but doesn't tell us what to do with them.  I found the blobs of tomatoes to be just a bit much so I pulsed them in my Cuisinart.  I might as well have just purchased chopped or crushed tomatoes – live and learn.

Problem number four:  what kind of heat are we looking for here?  Simmer?  Low?  Medium?  The only direction was to bring the broth to a boil, then add the rice and cook for 20 minutes.  But are we still at a boil or not at a boil?  And then when you make the tomato sauce the directions say to "cook for 15 minutes" but again – what temperature? I'll do whatever the recipe calls for but it really should call for something!

Now, despite our four problems ("Please identify the four problems then compare and contrast in an essay..."), the dish was tasty.  Not spicy, not hot, and not necessarily spectacular, but tasty.  Can't fault that.  And I do so love shrimp, so there's that.  It was a nice dish for a Sunday night viewing of Mad Men and seemed to fit in with the times – a little exotic ("Frau?" "Diavolo?") a little spicy (this was 1955 after all), very retro and very "Esquire."  And If anybody embodies a 50's (and 60's) male, it is Don Draper.  (The fact that he and his life are a mess is beside the point – watch the show!). (By the way, although "esquire" is used in the US to signify an attorney, in England it is a designation used by certain members of the gentry i.e. well-borne members of a high social class...usually men.)

And that is how we got off to a great start watching Mad Men Season 7 premier!

Shrimps with Rice, Fra Diavolo...from Scribes Restuarant, New York – serves 4, amply
2 small onions, sliced
¼ pound sweet butter (Ann's Note: this is way too much—adjust according to your preference)
1 quart chicken broth
2 cups rice
3 cloves garlic, diced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Ann's Note: again, just a tad much – adjust accordingly)
1 ½ pound can of plum tomatoes (Ann's Note:  I recommend using crushed tomatoes)
½ teaspoon *pepper (Ann's Note:  use red pepper flakes.  Period.  And about 1 teaspoon – or more – should do it)
¼ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
1 ½ pounds peeled, raw shrimp

For the rice:  Slice two small onions and cook them until golden in ¼ pound sweet butter.  (Ann's Note:  use low heat).  Add 1 quart chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Stir in 2 cups rice and cook for 20 minutes to reduce the volume.  (Ann's Note:  I decreased the temperature to medium and even then, almost burned the rice.  You've got to keep an eye on things!).

For the shrimp sauce:  Brown 3 diced garlic cloves in 4 tablespoons olive oil; then add a 1 1/2-pound can of plum tomatoes, ½ teaspoon pepper (Ann's Note:  Last call—use red pepper flakes!), ¼ teaspoon oregano, 1 teaspoon chopped parsley.  Cook for 15 minutes (Ann's Note:  apparently, at a temperature of your choosing!  I chose low), then add the shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes.

Place rice on platter, cover with shrimp and sauce, and serve to 4, amply.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

"The Brewpub Cookbook - Favorite Recipes from Great Brewpub Kitchens" - Wheat Beer Potato Soup

Date I made this recipe:  April 5, 2014

The Brewpub Cookbook – Favorite Recipes from Great Brewpub Kitchens by Daria Labinsky & Stan Hieronymus
Published by:  Time Life Books
ISBN:  0-7835-4906-7
Purchased at Goodwill
Recipe:  Wheat Beer Potato Soup from Hops! Bistro & Brewery, Scottsdale, AZ – p. 58

Some cookbooks I buy have limited shelf lives; this is one of them.  I was putting some new acquisitions aside the other day, thought about it for a second and pulled this one out of the pack.  The hilarious thing is that I don't like beer but my husband does and since we were both in the mood for something lighter (although ha! – heavy cream and beer is not a "lighter") as opposed to this "Beef, it's what's for dinner" campaign we've been on as of late.   Good call.

And speaking of "calls," quite by accident, I made this soup on Saturday night, the night where the NCAA's Final Four fought it ought to advance to the finals.  The entire tournament has been rife with interesting "calls" by the game's referees.  Many a game came down to that one, last (disputed) call by an official and in a blink of an eye, one team went home crushed while the other advanced to the next level.

So on Saturday night, the second Final Four game pitted the University of Wisconsin against the Kentucky Wildcats.  Although Kentucky trailed by eight in the first half, they came roaring back several times over to finally win it by 1 point.  I was not a happy camper:  since both my Michigan teams lost their rounds, I was pulling for Wisconsin but as usual, I backed the team going home. 

Sad to say, this soup might have had something to do with it.  The recipe called for two things that are practically Wisconsin "national" ingredients:  shredded cheddar cheese (as a topping) and hefeweiss (Hefeweizen) beer.  Hefeweiss beer is a German beer and you'd be hard pressed to find someone in Wisconsin who doesn't have a drop or two...or a million...of German blood in them.  In fact, just like Minnesota is home to Swedes and Norwegians "fleeing" the home country, Wisconsin is home to displaced Germans.  Back in the day when my coworkers and I traveled to Milwaukee on business, we saved up all of our per diem money to have dinner at either Mader's or Karl Ratzch's, Milwaukee's high-end German restaurants and it was a treat.  Of course, on our off days, we'd have beer and brats, sometimes while attending Milwaukee Brewers games, courtesy of some of our clients.  And then there's the beer and brats (and cheese) at Packers games.  Ah....

Anyway, in my St. Patrick's Day blog, I mentioned a few things that I know about beer:  there is the awful (PBR, Schlitz, Blatz, etc.) and the sublime (dark beers like Guinness).  This concludes all I know about beer.  And so my trip to the liquor store was somewhat hilarious in that first I had to figure out what a hefeweiss was and then I had to find one that suited this recipe.  And so to Total Wine in Roseville we went! (Don't be fooled by the name as they carry more than wine – a lot more!)

This store, newly opened, is gigantic.  Their beer selections (plural) take up a huge wall.  So I asked one of the employees to point me in the direction of the hefeweiss and then grilled him like a cheese sandwich to learn what it was and what it would taste like in my recipe:  "Is it skanky, like Pabst or Budweiser?"  I was assured it was not.  "Well, is it sweet or is it a bit bitter?"  "Well, it's a wheat beer so...."  " it's not sweet?"

And so on. Let's just say it took us a while to speak the same (beer) language.  (By the way, my husband was way down the aisle, checking out the dark beers.)  What I learned was that hefeweiss is a German beer, made from wheat (as opposed to "barley pop" that is Pabst, etc.) and that it should add a nice flavor to the soup.  Okay, works for me!

So I set off to make this soup and it's pretty easy:  boil the vegetables in chicken broth, blend well in a blender, add cream, add beer and there you go.  But oh, the things you learn while making it.  First, I didn't want my soup blended to the degree it was.  I like a chunkier potato soup so I should have skipped the blender all together.  Second, I was not expecting the beer to foam so much.  And this sounds stupid, I know, but all of a sudden, my already-full pot was in danger of overflowing and all that precious wheat beer would be gone.  Horrors!  And you should know it took quite a long time for that foam to dissipate.

Third, and this was odd, the minute I added the beer, it was if all the bubbles ate away at my potato mixture because it all turned to liquid in two seconds flat!  I really should consult a food scientist about this but a liquid soup was not what I was after.  At least it tasted great so we have that as a consolation, especially since Wisconsin lost.  ;(

As to this cookbook, it's a compact little book, 140 pages in all, showcasing recipes that contain beer and those that don't.  I know this is a silly comment, but I would have preferred if all the recipes from brewpubs contained beer.  Thankfully though, the recipe for homemade whipped cream was beer-free because otherwise – ew!  Since Andy and I wanted something on the lighter side, we bypassed all the ribs and roasts cooked in a beer bath and focused on soups.  Still, I'm kind of wishing I would have made the Stout Cheesecake!

Finally, a word of caution for those of you who may want to use this cookbook as a guide to visiting brewpubs:  this book was written in 1997 and at that time, only one restaurant was included for Minnesota – Mill Street Brewing Company, St. Paul, MN.  A quick Google search revealed that the formal name is Green Mill Mill Street Brewing Company – 57 S. Hamline Ave, St. Paul, MN.  That restaurant however, does not show up on a Google search for "Minnesota Brewpubs."  So there's that.  Happily, the list of brewpubs is growing (and growing) making for some fun dining and drinking (and brewing) experiences.  Huzzah!

Wheat Beer (Hefeweizen) Potato Soup – yield:  8-10 servings
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and diced large
½ pound onion, diced
½ pound carrots, diced
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups hefeweiss
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish:  croutons, shredded cheddar cheese

Boil potatoes, onions, and carrots in chicken stock until soft.  Blend well in a blender.  Reheat mixture, and add cream.  Add beer and salt and pepper to taste.  It is not necessary to strain.  Author's Note:  Wheat beer will get bitter if exposed to a high amount of heat and cooked.  In other words, add the beer and serve it up!