Thursday, April 30, 2015

"Linda's Kitchen" by Linda McCartney - Chinese Egg Fried Rice - for Earth Day!

Date I made this recipe – April 26, 2015 – Belated Earth Day Celebration

Linda's Kitchen – Simple and Inspiring Recipes for Meatless Meals by Linda McCartney
Published by:  Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 0-8212-2393-3; © 1995
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Store
Recipe:  Chinese Egg Fried Rice – p. 94

In last week's blog, I told you that the title and cover of the cookbook – Len Deighton's Action Cookbook inspired me to use that book.  This week, it was a song that inspired me; luckily, I also had a "matching" cookbook.

So on or around Earth Day this year, my favorite local radio station, 89.3 The Current, played Paul McCartney and Wing's song Junior's Farm.  Yes, after the Beatles broke up, Sir Paul, his wife Linda McCartney, and assorted other musicians formed the band, Wings.

So "Junior's Farm" led me to think about Sir Paul which led me to think of Linda McCartney which led me to think about her great success as a vegetarian cookbook author (and vegetarian product line creator) which led me to think about how vegetables are an important part of Earth Day which led me to think that this would be the perfect cookbook for the day.  The end.

Now I could just launch into a discussion about the cookbook itself but let's talk first about Linda McCartney, nee Linda Eastman.  I had always, always heard that she was related to the Eastman's as in Eastman Kodak (the photo film manufacturers) but according to Wikipedia, this is not true.  What?  Well burst a bubble why don't you, Wiki?  Still, Linda was an accomplished photographer and published several photos of famous rock and roll stars, including her husband.  In fact, she met Sir Paul while on a photography assignment in London

After the Beatles broke up (some fans never forgave Linda or John Lennon's wife, Yoko Ono for that debacle), Sir Paul started the band, Wings, and made Linda part of the group.  We won't go into the controversy (or, as the Brits say "con-TRO-ver-see") over that move except to summarize:  it didn't go over well.  Still, Paul McCartney and Wings was responsible for the following hits:  Live and Let Die; My Love; Band On the Run; Helen Wheels; and, of course, Junior's Farm.  So there you go.

According to Wikipedia, Linda became a vegetarian as far back as 1975 and by 1990, published her first vegetarian cookbook.  The book I used, Linda's Kitchen, was published in 1995.  That same year, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away in 1998 at age 56. 

All of the recipes in this cookbook sounded and looked good although I drew the line at using "vegetarian mince" (meat substitute) or meatless sausages recipes.  I suppose I could have just left that item out but it just seemed easier to find something that was totally meatless.  And because Whole Foods had a special on fresh asparagus, I also added that to the other vegetables she called for.  I love asparagus.

You should know that Linda calls for margarine as a substitute for butter in a lot of recipes, especially desserts, and I get why she would do that, but folks, margarine has been proven to be awful for the body.  So if you decide to try out some of the desserts, see if butter will work just as well—unless, of course, you are truly vegan in which case, never mind!

As to my Chinese Egg Fried Rice, the only seasonings Linda uses are paprika (which I found puzzling) and soy sauce.  Although I used soy sauce sparingly, I did use it as you will need it to add a little punch to the dish.  But talk about feeling healthy!  This recipe calls for green onions, yellow bell pepper, carrots and snow peas and then I added asparagus.  I'm sure you can add more vegetables to this if you choose.

Another tweak I made to the recipe was to use a mixture of dark sesame oil and vegetable oil to stir fry the vegetables.  I love dark sesame oil and I think it enhanced the vegetables but that is just my opinion.  Linda recommends that you can serve this with her sweet and sour sauce on page 153 but I didn't want to goop up my rice with that type of sauce so I passed (but have included it just in case you want to go for broke).

So that's my Earth Day/Paul McCartney/Linda McCartney/Wings/Junior's Farm story.  Enjoy!

Chinese Egg Fried Rice – for 6 (with Sweet and Sour Sauce – optional)
Fried rice:
1 tbsp dark sesame oil
2 free-range eggs, beaten
1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 green onions, finely sliced
1yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 medium carrots, cut in fine matchsticks
1 cup sliced canned water chestnuts (Ann's Note:  If I made this dish again, I would skip this.  Sure, they add crunch but they have no flavor.  None. Try celery instead.)
¼ pound snow peas, sliced diagonally
1-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 cups long-grain rice, cooked
Soy sauce
Sweet and sour sauce (optional and also untried) (makes 1 ¼ cups)
2/3 cup pineapple juice
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce or more to taste
1-inch pieced fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 heaping tbsp cornstarch
Freshly ground black pepper

To make the Chinese Egg Fried Rice, heat the sesame oil in a skillet and pour in the beaten eggs.  Stir a little until they set like a thin omelette, then flip over to cook the other side lightly.  Turn onto a wire rack and cool.  Cut in thin strips.

Heat the vegetable oil in a wok until very hot.  Stir-fry all the vegetables with the ginger and garlic for 3 minutes, then turn the heat down and cook until they are tender but still slightly crisp, about 3 minutes longer.  Stir in the rice, mixing well, and season to taste with soy sauce and paprika.  Finally, fold in the egg strips and it is ready to serve.  Delicious with the sweet and sour sauce on page 153.

To make the sweet and sour sauce, combine the pineapple juice, oil, sugar, soy sauce, gingerroot, garlic, and 2 tbsp of the lemon juice in a saucepan.  Heat until the sugar dissolves.  Mix the cornstarch with the remaining lemon juice, add to the pan, and stir until the sauce is smooth and thick.  Season with pepper.  Simmer very gently about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Len Deighton's Action Cook Book" - Minestrone

Date I made this recipe:  April 19, 2015

Len Deighton's Action Cook Book by Len Deighton
Published by:  Penguin Books (England and Australia)
© 1965
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Richfield
Recipe:  Minestrone – p. 112

People often ask me what prompts me to buy a certain cookbook and I often say that it's the cover art, or in this case, the cover photo.

I mean here we have a James Bond-looking guy and behind him is a woman in a lace negligee stroking his hair while he's removing pasta noodles from a pot.  Well, at least that's what it looks like, right?  Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.  But that's just the front cover.  On the back, the roles are reversed and he's hugging her while she's the one removing the pasta from the pan. Right then, right there, this book was mine!

Then there was the intrigue:  who was Len Deighton?  Thank goodness for the internet or I would not have learned the following:  he's a "British military historian, cookery writer (translated to American English that means "cookbook writer"), graphic artist, and novelist."  Quite. 

Still, I hadn't thought about cooking from this book anytime soon until one day last week when this happened: there I was, scrolling through the "New [Cookbook] Releases" section of Barnes and Noble's website, and suddenly, this book appeared as an upcoming new release.  I mean – what?  Why would this book, published in 1965, suddenly be on a "new release" list?

So I pulled the book off my shelf and believe I found the answer in this statement on the back cover:  "For copyright reasons this edition is not for sale in the U.S.A."  And a quick perusal of the book's details on Barnes' website shows a release date of March 2015.  So hooray, hooray, it now looks like the copyright reasons are no longer in play.  Smashing.

Also smashing?  In addition to resembling somewhat "Bond, James Bond," our man Len could also pass for protagonist Don Draper, on TV's Mad Men.  I made this dish on Sunday and wouldn't you know, Mad Men is on on Sunday nights.  I mean, if Don can't distract you from finishing your pasta, can anybody?

The recipes in this cookbook run the gamut – "Cassoulet," "Caneton (Duck) a l'Orange" to "Chili con Carne," "Low-Calorie Lunch" to my choice, "Minestrone."  All recipes are illustrated, likely by Len himself since he is also a graphic artist and are all fairly easy.  We quite liked our minestrone, especially since the weather turned colder yesterday and it felt like a soup kind of day.

What I liked best about this recipe though, is that he recognizes that minestrone can be a hodge-podge of ingredients, especially vegetables, so you can add things like potatoes, turnips, tomato puree and sweet corn if you want.  You can also use 2 large onions or 1 onion and the white part of 1 leek.  I went with the onion and leek combination for something different.  I also decided to use a mix of chicken and beef broth just to mix it up a bit.  The result was great and made for a great Sunday night dinner before we got down to the business of watching Mad Men.  As the Brits would say – "It was bloody brilliant!"

Minestrone – serving size not given but likely enough for 4
¼ lb. haricot (navy) beans
2 ½ pints stock (veal, chicken or beef)
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
2 large onions – or – 1 onion and white part of one leek, chopped small
1 cup shredded cabbage
½ cup green beans
½ cup celery
Thyme (handful)
Salt, pepper to taste
Basil (handful)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
5 tablespoons olive oil
¾ pound tomatoes
1 cup peas
Pinch sugar
1 – 1 ½ cups tiny pasta (optional)
Optional:  potato, turnip, potato puree, sweet corn (if using potato or turnip, chop small)
Parmesan cheese for serving

Soak the ¼ haricot (navy) beans overnight, strain, cook until they are tender.  Ann's Note:  I decided to make this dish at the very last minute so I didn't use the beans because I didn't have time to soak them.  There are so many other vegetables in this that it didn't really matter.

Stir gently for 5 minutes over low heat the following items:  parsley, onions/leeks, cabbage, green beans, celery, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, basil.

If using potatoes or turnips (optional ingredients), add them into the pot at this time. 

Add the stock, tomatoes, peas, pinch of sugar and (for me) tomato puree, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Ann's Note:  He didn't say what to do with the tomatoes, so after seeding them, I cut them into small pieces and added them to the soup.  Seemed to work!

Once the soup is done simmering, add the beans and the pasta and cook until the pasta is done.  Ann's Note:  it is far easier to cook the pasta separately like I did than to add it.  And if you add it, to the soup uncooked, be sure to keep an eye on it so it doesn't overcook.  The author suggests 15 minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley and lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

Monday, April 20, 2015

"The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook" (Just in time for Tax Day) - Pork Pho (a Vietnamese noodle soup)

Date I made this recipe:  April 15, 2015 – Tax Day!

The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook by Gabi Moskowitz
Published by:  Egg&Dart
ISBN:  978-0-9838595-1-2
Recipe:  Pork Pho (Vietnamese soup) – p. 66-67

So today is tax day and OF COURSE this was the perfect cookbook to use, amiright?  I don't know about you, but we definitely feel quite "brokeass" after tax season. (Self-employment taxes are just so fun!). 

A lot of cookbooks out there attempt to give you low-budget recipes but often the recipes fall flat on flavor.  This is not one of those books.  In fact, there were many, many "brokeass" recipes that sounded not only quite fancy for a budget-conscious cook but tasty, making the final selection somewhat difficult.  (For the record, we considered:  "Ginger-shrimp potstickers with chili-scallion dipping sauce p. 38-39; "Pea soup with scallions, basil , and parmesan" – p. 64; "white bean, leek, and bacon soup" – p. 65 and many, many others, including some I might make for my annual holiday party.)

In the end though, we decided on tonight's soup, Pork Pho a/k/a Vietnamese noodle soup.  Pho is one of my favorite take out items from a Vietnamese restaurant of which we have several in this area.  It's not for nothing that a St. Paul neighborhood along University Avenue is named "Little Mekong" (after the Mekong Delta in Vietnam) as the Twin Cities took in many Vietnamese and Hmong refuges after the Vietnam War ended.  Many of them launched their own restaurants and almost all of them have some version of pho (pronounced "fuh"—as in "huh" but with an "f") on the menu.

Restaurants serving pho usually slow simmer their pho broth in advance (often making it a day ahead), filling the pot with meat (mostly beef) and meat bones and other Asian spices that just give an incredible richness to the entire dish.  In my opinion, a good pho broth is what separates the men from the boys.  If you make this dish at home, try to make the broth in advance and let it refrigerate overnight (plus, leave in everything the recipe tells you to discard.)

The broth then, is the starting point to the soup to which you then add meat (if desired), rice noodles, and then a host of toppings including:  bean sprouts, Thai basil, jalapenos, hot sauce (e.g. Sriracha) and a lime (our author uses lemons but I don't think I've ever seen a lemon wedge on any of my orders; lime works best.)

When we get this dish to take out, all the above ingredients come in separate containers or bags and then I add in what I like.  I always get thinly sliced beef for my soup which comes raw; adding it to the hot broth cooks the meat.

In a word, this is perfection in a bowl.  I love pho.  Leftover pho is so awesome that sometimes I eat it cold just because I am too lazy to microwave it.  And frankly, if it's flavored properly, you don't need to.

While this recipe for Pork Pho didn't come close to what I take out (and I am blessed with numerous Vietnamese restaurants from which to chose), it was fine for a a made-at-home meal.  Like I said, if you get a chance to make the broth the night before, do so.  And if you want to, throw in some meat bones like the restaurants do to really add some flavor to the broth.  

So now that we've had our broth discussion, it's time to discuss the noodles.  Almost every package of noodles I've purchased said to cook them for 10 minutes and that is way too long.  Way.  I've tried 7-8 minutes and that is still too long and so next time around, I'm hoping "5" is my lucky number; I hate squishy noodles.  Lucky for me, packets of rice vermicelli noodles are cheap around these parts.  (There are several Asian grocery stores within a couple mile radius of my house.  Sweet!).

Okay, so, here is the order of assembly:  broth, noodles, meat, if you are adding it, bean sprouts (if desired), then cilantro (or Thai basil) and jalapenos if desired, then squeeze a lime (my preference) or lemon (as much or as little as you want) and then hoisin or hot sauce or both. (The author says to add thinly sliced red onion on top but I have never had pho served to me this way so it's up to you.)  Mix.  Eat.  Slurp.  Done!  I happen to be pretty handy with chop sticks so I eat the noodles with the chop sticks and the broth with a spoon but if you're not comfy with those two little sticks, it's best to use a fork to grab all the noodles.

Besides my overcooked rice noodles (sigh), the pork was also in danger of being overdone.  The recipe said to cook the pork slices for 10 minutes and just like the noodles, this is way too long.  I think I went about 2 minutes and then pulled them out.  Thinly sliced pork cooks pretty quickly and will be tasty if done right, shoe leather if it's not.  Personally, I like beef pho the best and in fact, don't know as I've ever seen pork pho on the menu.  Or maybe I don't look that far down the menu!

Finally, should you be unable to find ground star anise (I found plenty of whole star anise but not ground), you can substitute Chinese Five-Spice powder.

Two other things before I go:  First, although you could just head to a favorite Asian market (as our author suggested), I am picky about where I buy things and so I got my pork tenderloin from Target, some of my groceries from Rainbow, a grocery store that used to have an awesome Asian section – no more, and the rest, including the rice vermicelli noodles, from Shuang Hur, an Asian market located on University Ave near Dale.  The last stop yielded the cheapest ingredients.

Second, although our taxes are not that complicated, last year, I inadvertently put something on the wrong line and ended up having to go in person to the local IRS office to get it straightened out – twice!  The first time I went, the experience was so hilarious that I included the story in my annual holiday letter. Let's just say that when an IRS agent opens with "I don't know what that line is used for," it's never a good sign!  The "line" she's referring to is where I put some of my income as per the IRS instruction booklet! was hilarious and after all was said and done, I actually ended up with a refund.  Yes, that's right, a refund.  Reeee-FUND!  The chances of that happening twice (as in this year) as slim to none so I'm back to my brokeass status.  Bummer, that.

 So take the sting off your own "brokeass" status post-tax day and make the Pork Pho!

Pork Pho – Serves 2-3 people (Her total cost?  $11.75.  My cost?  *$.9.32.)
1 pound pork tenderloin, half chopped coarsely, half thinly chopped.  Her cost (and she's dreaming)? $2.  My cost?  $5.49.
5 cloves garlic, finely minced.  Her cost? $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item
1 small piece ginger, finely minced.  Her cost?  $0.50.  My cost?  $.0.03.
1 teaspoon ground star anise.  Her cost?  $1.50 for 1 ounce.  My cost?  $0 – I substituted Chinese 5-spice powder, found in my pantry.
2 stalks lemongrass, chopped.  Her cost?  $1.  My cost?  (for 3 stalks) $0.24.
1 tablespoon brown sugar.  Her cost?  $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
1 tablespoon salt.  Her cost?  $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
Freshly ground pepper.  Her cost?  $0 – pantry item.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and reserved.  Her cost? $1.  My cost? $0.79.
1 red onion, half chopped coarsely, half thinly sliced.  Her cost? $0.50.  My cost?  $0.64.
1 pound rice vermicelli noodles.  Her cost? $1.  My cost? $0.79.
1 lemon, cut into wedges.  Her cost? $0.50.  My cost (for a lime)? $0.44.
1 green jalapeno, sliced into rings.  Her cost?  $0.25.  My cost? $0.05.
2 cups mung bean sprouts.  Her cost?  $1.  My cost? $0.85.
Hoisin sauce.  Her cost?  $2 for 8 ounces.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.
Asian chili sauce or Sriracha.  Her cost? $2 for 12 ounces.  My cost?  $0 – pantry item.

*With tax (ahem) and license, I saved $2.43 off her already low cost to make this dish. 

Fill a pot with 3 quarts water.  Add coarsely chopped pork, garlic, ginger, star anise, lemongrass, brown sugar, slat, pepper, cilantro stems, and coarsely chopped onion.  Cover, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 45 minutes up to two hours.  Strain broth, discard solids, and return broth to pot.  Ann's Note:  If you have time, I suggest refrigerate the broth, without straining (or maybe strain half) over night to improve the flavors.

In a separate bowl, cook noodles according to package directions.  Ann's Note:  Nope. I guarantee you will have mushy noodles.  Try 5 minutes and see what you think. Drain and rinse.

Bring broth to a boil and add thinly sliced pork.  Cook until pork is no longer pink, about 10 minutes.  Ann's Note:  two-three minutes is best or you will have overdone pork.

To serve, use a ladle to portion broth into bowls.  Use tongs to add noodles and pork to bowls.  Serve with cilantro leaves, sliced red onion, lemon wedges, jalapeno, bean sprouts, hoisin sauce and chili sauce or Sriracha to add in.

Friday, April 17, 2015

"The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking" & "The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book" - Chicken Corn Soup and Coconut Pie for the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War

Date I made these recipes:  April 9, 2015 – the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War

The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking by Edna Eby Heller
Published by:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1968
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Chicken Corn Soup – p. 22-23

The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book by Anne Carter Zimmer
Published by:  The University of North Carolina Press
ISBN: 0-8078-2369-4; © 1997
Recipe:  Cocoanut Pie – p. 165-166

Folks, today marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.  I was pretty young when the 100th anniversary was observed and so have no recall of that.  But when I realized that 50 years have passed since then, I had a total freak-out moment.  How on earth had (at least) 50 years of my life shot by so quickly?  (Rhetorical question, no need to weigh in!).

I don't know what high school students study currently in history classes, but ours was top-heavy on the Civil War, followed closely by WWII, with a smidgen of Korea and – since the Vietnam War was just wrapping up my junior year – a blip about Vietnam.  And since my dad was an amateur Civil War buff, I ate up information on that war like nobody's beeswax.  For a while there, I could have given you chapter and verse on just about every significant battle and in fact, visited several battle fields over the years.  I was such a geek about this stuff in high school.  (But note:  somehow I missed out on getting to Gettysburg, something I must rectify one of these days.)

In a small aside, depending on who you talk to, the Civil War is also known as:  The War of Northern Aggression, the War Between the States or "that unpleasantness."

Out of all the events of this epic engagement, the two most memorable were Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, given in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863, months after the Battle of Gettysburg during which Union forces defeated the Confederates, and the end of the war on April 9, 1865, marked by Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in Appomattox, Virginia.  So today's cookbooks draw on recipes that come from Pennsylvania Dutch country as well as Lee's family cookbook.  This is how I roll:  interest in history + interest in cookbooks = today's dinner!

Let's start with our main dish – Chicken Corn Soup – from the Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook.  The Pennsylvania Dutch are actually German-speaking immigrants who came from several regions in Europe in the late 17th century to settle in Pennsylvania.  At first glance, you're probably tempted to say "Well, then how did they end up with the name Pennsylvania "Dutch" but remember kids, the German word for Germany is "Deutsch" which, when pronounced sounds a lot like Dutch.  Sort of.  It's all in the wrist...

At any rate, I thought it would be fitting to make something from Pennsylvania, seeing as how it played a prominent role in the Civil War and one of the staples of Pennsylvania Dutch – German – cuisine is the dish I made today – Chicken Corn Soup.  But I have to tell you folks, that this dish is not exactly going to wake up your taste buds.  In fact, I couldn't add enough seasoning to it.  I thought that maybe it was just this recipe that lacked flavor but alas, a quick look through the internet showed me that the recipe I made is about as good as it gets.  And I made some adjustments to boot! 

Part of the problem, as I see it, is corn.  It's not for nothing that corn is a starch and other starches – like potatoes or rice – don't have much flavor on their own, either.  Plus, with this recipe, you are pairing the starchy corn with starchy noodles.  And then you add chicken.  And that about concludes your dish.  So while this dish was fine and we ate it, I wouldn't repeat this one.  But if you have a hankering or a desire to check this recipe off your recipe bucket list, then go on ahead.

Now despite me saying endless times in this blog that I make the recipe as stated, I did make a few minor modifications to this one.  First, instead of using an entire chicken, I bought boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  But since the skin is what adds fat and flavor, I used a mix of water and chicken broth to stew the chicken instead of just water.  Also, I had a half an onion already cut and ready to go and so I added that to the chicken while it stewed.  Still, it was only okay.  Luckily, if this recipe is not your thing, there are plenty of other dishes in this cookbook that might float your boat including one for funnel cakes (p. 117).  And that was really tempting but I had already set my sights on making dessert from The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book.

I do believe (and declare) that I bought this book when it came out (1997) and read it cover to cover and that's because even though Robert E. Lee was a very interesting historical figure, never mind that the book itself was filled with family recipes – it's a twofer:  part history, part cooking.

So here's the history part:  a) Robert E. Lee was a top-of-the-class graduate of West Point.  B) although he personally favored keeping the country together (i.e. the Northern point of view), he commanded the southern troops because his home state, Virginia, went with the south. And then there's c) and to me, the most fascinating thing – his wife's family home is located on the grounds of what is now Arlington Cemetery.  The Arlington House a/k/a as the "Custis-Lee Mansion" was actually part of George Washington's family (through his wife, Martha Custis Washington) and then ultimately landed on the Lee's lap via Robert E. Lee's wife, Mary Ann Custis Lee.  That's the short version.  If you go to Arlington, you can tour the mansion and get all up to speed on that fascinating part of history.  But in lieu of a road trip, you can also purchase this cookbook and that will do the trip as well.

You should know that this book is heavy on the sweet stuff and lighter on the savory which was just fine with me.  And you should also know that the author reprints the recipe as she originally found it but then "translates" it so that today's cook can recreate the recipes at home.

For tonight's dinner, I decided to make the Cocoanut Pie recipe (or "receipt" as they used to call them) as it seemed pretty easy and just a nice item to pair with the chicken and corn soup.  You might be tempted to use dried cocoanut but you should not because it's really not hard to work with a whole cocoanut and the results are much better.  Trust me.  Now that said, I used exactly the amount of coconut called for in the recipe and I think it sort of overwhelmed the custard portion of our pie program.  So my pie turned out to be more like a big macaroon or – and this was fine by me – more like a Almond Joy pie (sans the chocolate).  And although the recipe says you can add up to 2 T. coconut extract if you need to, my coconut was perfect so I didn't need it.  The resulting pie was, I think, more true to what Mary Custis Lee would have made and so all the better.

And since we're on a historical journey here, you should know that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated just days after the Civil War ended on April 15, 1865.  Shortly after the assassination, poet Walt Whitman penned "Oh Captain, My Captain," which will be familiar to moviegoers who saw the movie, "Dead Poet's Society."  It is an awesome poem, learned in high school and long forgotten except for the famous first line "Oh Captain, my captain, our fearful trip is done..."  Walt Whitman also penned another "Lincoln" poem, "When Lilacs Last in Dooryards Bloomed."  I'm thinking I need to start reacquainting myself with some of our nation's best poets as re-reading some of this stuff has certainly piqued my interest in the Civil War again. In the meantime though, there's cooking to be done!

Chicken Corn Soup – Serves 8 (from The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking)
1 4-pound stewing chicken, cut up
2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon saffron
2 cups noodles
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

In a large stewing kettle, cover the cut-up chicken with 3 quarts water.  Add the salt, pepper, and saffron.  Stew until tender.  Remove chicken from stock and set aside the breasts and legs for future potpie.  (You can reserve 1 cup of stock also, if you wish.)  Bone the rest of the chicken, cut into small pieces, and return to stock to chill thoroughly.  Before reheating, skim off most of the fat from the top.  Add noodles and corn.  Boil 15 minutes longer.  Add the parsley and chopped eggs before serving.

Cocoanut Pie – makes two 9-inch pies (from The Robert E.  Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book)
1 lb. grated fresh coconut
2 c. sugar
1 stick (1/2 c.) butter
6 large or medium eggs
½ c. whipping cream
Up to 2 tsp. coconut extra if needed (see below)

If you do not have fresh or frozen grated coconut (the dried variety produces a more macaroon-like pie), prepare the meat as follows:  Preheat the oven to 400.  Pound holes in two eyes of the coconut with a large nail or screwdriver.  Drain liquid.  Bake the nut until the shell cracks, about 15 minutes.  Hammer open, pry out meat, and remove dark outer skin with paring knife or vegetable peeler.  Grate the meat on the large holes of a hand grater or pulse in bursts in a food processor with steel blade.

If the coconut yields only about ¾ lb. prepared meat, reduce sugar and butter by a quarter and use 5 eggs instead of 6.  If the coconut lacks flavor, add coconut extract.

Prebake crusts about 5 minutes at 450.  Melt butter, mix in all other ingredients, and pour into crusts.  Bake 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 400, then lower temperature to 350 and bake 40-50 minutes more.  (Beginning baking at 350, which is more authentic, will take a few minutes longer.)

Ann's Note:  I used a frozen pie crust and I'm not happy that I did as it just didn't taste "right," especially given that I used fresh coconut.  So if you have the time, make a simple crust and use that instead.  Note that this recipe makes two pies whereas I cut the recipe in half and made one.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"The Pyromaniac's Cookbook" & "The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook" - Welcome back, Mad Men!

Date I made these recipes:  Sunday, April 5, 2015 – Mad Men resumes...and it's Easter

The Pyromaniac's Cookbook – The Best in Flaming Food and Drink (For People Who Like to Play with Fire) by John J. Poister; Illustrated by Frank Perry
Published by:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.
© 1968
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbooks, NYC
Recipes:  Steak Diane – p. 71 and Cherries Jubilee – p. 7-8

The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook by Ted James and Rosalind Cole
Published by: Bramhall House
© 1969 (MCMLXIX)
Recipe:  Delmonico Potatoes – p. 176

I never thought I'd say that a major holiday like Easter was overshadowed by a TV show, but I speak the truth.  Mad Men, the wildly popular TV show about the life of advertising men and women in the 60's, returned last night for its final six episodes.  Much of the nation is bereft at this news.  And so as between observing Easter and making the requisite ham (we still have leftovers from last year) and getting our 60's/70's grove on with a Mad Men-themed dinner, Mad Men won out.  Easter will come around again next year but this is it for Mad Men.  Sniffle.

Since Mad Men is set in NYC, I just looked to my NYC cookbook shelf (and yes, I try to keep like books together), and pulled out a few options, some of which I'm saving for the finale, some of which I used today.  Like the Waldorf-Astoria (hotel) Cookbook.

The Waldorf-Astoria hotel is probably about the best known of New York hotels.  Located at 34th and Fifth Ave, it is an imposing structure, home and host to some of the world's most famous people.  Although I've walked by the place several times on various visits, I have not yet walked into the joint and that's because I'm not normally dressed appropriately for the place and by that I mean no shorts, tank tops or sandals which represents my usual summer in the city attire.  Even when I do go eventually, I feel this overwhelming urge to wear white gloves.  And maybe a hat.  So some planning is obviously in order.

By the way, although I have not yet gone into that hotel, I have been to the equally famous Algonquin for drinks (witty writer, Dorothy Parker, held court there) and the Carlyle HotelThe Cafe Carlyle, a jazz club, has been host to jazz greats for years, most notably pianist and singer Bobby Short.  Actor/director Woody Allen plays clarinet there every Tuesday night.  But the coolest thing about the Carlyle is Bemelman's Bar, where the artwork of Ludwig Bemelman - illustrator of the Madeline books – is on display.  Years ago, I was in a friend's wedding in NYC, and after the wedding reception, we all retired to Bemelman's Bar for a drink before heading back to the Upper West Side to stay with friends. 
As to the Waldorf, Mad Men fans might be tickled to learn that inside the front cover is a photo of Conrad Hilton. Conrad Hilton factored in mightily in the store lines for Season 3.  Conrad Hilton was also married to Zsa Zsa Gabor, one of three of the famous Gabor sisters (sister Eva played Lisa Douglas on Green Acres).  Actresses Paris and Nicky Hilton are Conrad's great-granddaughters.

Mad Men fans might also remember that Don Draper and company attended the Clio Awards at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel (Season 4) where they run into the obnoxious Ted Chaough who at that time was working for a competing ad agency.  Funny how those things work, right?  Ted is now part of Sterling Cooper & Partners (at least I think that's the name they have now settled on) which merged with McCann Erickson during the first half of Season 7.  It's. just. so. complicated!
Finally, Mad Men fans should take note that the cookbook was published in 1969.  The first half of Mad Men's final season takes place in 1969.  The last half starts in 1970.  And so the recipes that you read about here and the photos you see in this book are all right on point with the period. 

As expected, all the recipes in this book befit the grandeur and image of the Waldorf-Astoria and yet many, like the potato recipes, are geared for the average cook (and the average budget).  And if I wasn't so bent on making a main dish from The Pyromaniac's Cookbook, then I might have made more dishes than just the potatoes (like the "Consommé Hilton" on page 98), but I was on a mission and so Delmonico Potatoes it was.  They were delicious.

The second book I used – The Pyromaniac's Cookbook – is also on point for the Mad Men period.  This book was published in 1968, a period covered in Mad Men in Season 6.  At that time, setting your food on fire (i.e. flambé) was all the rage.  Honestly.  And having it set on fire tableside was the next best thing to going to the circus in that it was the attraction of many a fancy restaurant and hotel dining room including the Waldorf.  (Also of note:  The authors attribute this recipe to Le Manoir restaurant, a Manhattan French restaurant that operated in Manhattan at 56th and Park during the Mad Men period.)

Since I couldn't choose between the Cherries Jubilee and the Steak Diane, I made them both.  And people, if you watched last night's Mad Men second half premier, then how hilarious was it that I unwittingly chose to make Steak Diane?  (I won't spoil the story except to say that one of last night's character was named "Diane.")  I tell you what, I have a knack for this stuff!

I talked to my brother just before finishing up my dishes and he cracked up laughing that I actually had a book called The Pyromaniac's Cookbook (Well, duh...) and warned me to be careful with my flame throwing.  I told him that this was not my first rodeo making Cherries Jubilee. Years ago, a good friend of mine threw a Red and Green party around Christmas.  Not only did we have to wear red or green but we had to bring a dish to share.  I chose the cherries.  So when it came to the whole "Light your cognac on fire," I was all over it.
Neither of the recipes from The Pyromaniac's Cookbook was hard but I do urge caution when cooking the steak so that you don't overcook it.  Per the instructions, you brown each side of your thin steak slice (luckily, I bought mine already thinly sliced) and then you add the cognac, light it on fire and then serve.  If I were you, I would barely brown the meat and then barely keep it in the flame.  Well, unless you like your meat well done in which case, fire away!

All in all, we were very satisfied with our non-Easter meal and the return of Don Draper and company.  Oh—and my ice cold, straight-up very dry martini (with an olive), naturally.

Steak Diane – serves 4 (from The Pyromaniac's Cookbook)
4 prime sirloin steaks (12 ounces each) (Ann's Note:  This recipe calls for you to pound these steaks until thin like a crepe but you might be able to buy your meat already thinly sliced like I did.)
Clarified butter*
½ cup cognac
2 tablespoons chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
¼ cup sherry (optional)

Steaks must be selected with care, and completely free of fat and gristle.  Pound each steak with mallet until it is as thin as a dessert crepe.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

In flaming pan of chafing dish over high heat, add enough clarified butter to cover bottom of pan.  When butter reaches cooking temperature, very quickly brown steaks on both sides.  Pour in warmed Cognac, ignite and blaze.  Remove steaks to heated platter.  Add additional butter, shallots and parsley, sauté lightly and add a little sherry if you wish.  Mix well, then pour hot sauce over steaks.

*Ann's Note:  Clarified butter is butter that is melted and then skimmed so that you remove all the top foam, leaving butter/oil for cooking. 

Delmonico Potatoes – serves 6 (from The Waldorf-Astoria Cookbook)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup scalded milk
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
4 cups sliced cold boiled potatoes
3 pimientos, coarsely chopped (Ann's Note:  you can use chopped red peppers for this dish instead of jarred pimientos as they are basically the same thing).
½ cup grated Swiss or American cheese
½ cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter

Heat butter in saucepan.  Stir in flour; when bubbly, slowly stir in milk.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens.  Remove from heat.

Place half the potatoes in a shallow baking dish.  Sprinkle with half the pimiento and grated cheese.  Cover with half the sauce.  Repeat with remaining potatoes, pimiento, cheese and sauce.

Mix bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle over surface.  Bake in preheated 35) degree oven for 20 minutes or until surface is lightly browned.

Cherries Jubilee – serves 2 (from The Pyromaniac's Cookbook)
2 tablespoons red currant jam
1 ½ cups pitted black cherries
1/3 cup Cognac
1 pint vanilla ice cream

Melt red current jam in flaming pan of chafing dish over direct heat, add pitted black cherries and a very small amount of juice.  When thoroughly heated, pour in Cognac and blaze.  Serve over vanilla ice cream.