Thursday, May 28, 2015

"Cooking for Cher" - Shrimp Borracho (Drunken Shrimp) and Vibrant Verde Rice - for Cher's Birthday!

Date I made these recipes:  May 22, 2015 to celebrate  Cher's Birthday on May 20.

Cooking for Cher by Andy Ennis with a foreword by Cher
Published by:  A Fireside Book Published by Simon and Schuster
ISBN:  0-684-81493-5
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipes:  Shrimp Borracho (Drunken Shrimp) – p. 91 and Vibrant Verde Rice – p. 171

So May 20th was singer and actress Cher's 69th birthday, and once again kids, I had a Cher cookbook in my collection.  Had not my favorite radio station, 89.3 The Current, played some of her songs in her honor, I might have missed the opportunity to use the book, but details, details.  As it was, I could not make a dish on her actual birthday but caught up two days later.  So – Happy Belated Birthday, Cher.

For reasons that I cannot explain, I've had one of Cher's later releases – Believe – "Do you believe in life after love" – rolling around my head ever since I heard it was her birthday.  This surprises me because she and former husband, Sonny Bono, started cranking out the hits long before that song came along in 1998.

First up, Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down), released in 1966.  I was pretty young in 1966 so I'm guessing that the radio stations started playing it when some of her other songs were released:  You'd Better Sit Down Kids (wow—talk about an oldie but goodie) (1967); Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves (1971) and Half-Breed (1973) just to name a few. 

As to the last two songs, it occurred to me that Cher might have been having an identity crisis at the time she wrote them because one minute, she's complaining that "gypsies, tramps and thieves, we'd hear it from the people of the town, they'd call us..." but then the next minute, she's all "Half breed, that's all I ever heard."  Cher, honey, you can't have it both ways.  As one of my favorite community band directors once told our tentative trumpets when they balked at a few measures of difficult music -  "Just kiss and commit!".  So there you go.

In addition to Cher's solo releases, hopefully you'll also remember that she was "Cher" of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, a variety show that ran from April 1971 to August 1974.  At the end of each show, Cher flipped her very long hair (a signature move of hers) and she and Sonny sang their most famous song, I've Got You, Babe.  Little Chastity, now Chaz, Bono used to make an appearance prompting my mother to start wailing "Why are they bringing that little girl out on this show? She looks scared!" every single time.  Every time.  My mother did not think much of introducing a child that age to the American public. 

By the time the show limped to its final show in 1974, Sonny and Cher's marriage was over and Cher ramped up her solo career both with solo song releases and appearances in movies like Mask, Silkwood and, my favorite, Moonstruck.  As an aside, a couple days ago, my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary and we so loved how Moonstruck, released a few years before our wedding, ended with the song "That's Amore," that we decided to use it as our wedding recessional song.  Besides, I'm half Sicilian and the portrait of Cher's family hit so close to home that we just had to go there.  Cher may have won an Oscar for Best Actress (and she was good) but the supporting cast stole the show. 

So anyway, there you have it, a summary of Cher in song and in the movies.  So let's talk about this cookbook and the dishes:  loved the cookbook, loved the dishes.  Cher's chef (and book author), Andy Ennis, created a lot of healthy yet delicious dishes for Cher and it was really hard to select just one.  So in our case, we selected two because he said the rice was a perfect accompaniment to the shrimp and it was!    For those concerned about alcohol, the amount of tequila used here is small and my guess is you could leave it out and still retain the flavor.  Although a Nutritional Analysis is provided at the end of each recipe, it doesn't read like a diet book at all, something I appreciated. 

As to serving size, I halved each recipe because there are only two of us and it was the perfect amount.  Plan to spend some time in the kitchen chopping the vegetables.

My only complaint, and it's small and not even related to this cookbook at all is that I cannot get "Do you believe in life after love" out of my head. It's been days now.  This must stop!  Really.  Maybe if I watch Moonstruck again, I'll start singing "That's Amore" instead in order to – and I'm quoting Cher – "Snap out of it!" ;)

Shrimp Borracho – serves 4 as an entree, 8 as an appetizer with Vibrant Verde Rice – serves 8
For the shrimp dish
2 teaspoons butter
4 green onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup minced garlic
1 ¼ pounds plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 ¼ pounds (about 14 to 16 medium) tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed and diced, or 1 can (28 ounces) tomatillos, drained and diced
1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme
1 ½ teaspoons crushed dried Mexican oregano
Pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon all-purpose seasoning, such as Spike or Veg-it
1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (or parsley) plus extra for garnish
1 ½ pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined (16 to 18 shrimp)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons tequila
Garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
For the rice
3 fresh poblano or other mild green chiles (about ½ pound), roasted, peeled, and seeded
¾ cup chopped parsley
¾ cup chopped cilantro
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 ½ cups raw white rice
½ teaspoon ground cumin or cumin seed
5 cups low-sodium chicken broth or water
½ teaspoon salt

To make the shrimp
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté the green onions and garlic about 1 minute without browning.  Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, thyme, oregano, cayenne, all-purpose seasoning, and cilantro.  Cook about 5 minutes, or until the tomato mixture is softened and juicy.

Add the shrimp, cover the skillet, and cook about 3 minutes until the shrimp begin to turn pink.  Stir in the lime juice and tequila and continue to cook, covered, another 4 to 5 minutes.  Remove lid and adjust the seasoning, if necessary, with garlic salt and black pepper.

Neatly arrange the shrimp on plates with the accumulated sauce spooned over them.

Nutritional Analysis per serving (based on 4 shrimp per serving):  Calories: 303; Protein: 39.1 grams; Carbohydrates: 21 grams; Fiber: 4.7 grams; Fat: Total 5.8 grams, Saturated 1.77 grams, Cholesterol 336 milligrams; Sodium: 579 milligrams

To make the rice
In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, puree the chiles, parsley, cilantro and garlic cloves.  Reserve.

In a wide pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onions over medium heat until softened, 5 to 7 minutes.  Add the rice, cumin, and green chile puree.  Stir to coat the rice.  Add the chicken broth and the salt.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.  Cover the pot and simmer slowly until all the liquid is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, 5 to 10 minutes more.  Fluff the rice with a fork.  Serve hot.

Nutritional Analysis per serving (8 servings total): Calories: 236; Protein: 6.96 grams; Carbohydrates:  52.5 grams; Fiber: 2.87 grams; Fat: Total 3.06 grams, Saturated 0.925 grams, Choesterol 3.12 milligrams; Sodium: 625 milligrams

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Over 300 Delicious Ways to Use Your Bundt Pans" (by Nordic Ware Kitchens) - Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Poppy Seeds

Dater I made this recipe:  May 18, 2015 – our wedding anniversary

Over 300 Delicious Ways to Use Your Bundt Pans by Nordic Ware Kitchen/Northland Aluminum Products, Inc.
Published by Northland Aluminum Products, Inc.
© 1973
Recipe:  Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Poppy Seeds – p. 45

Well, they don't plan weddings like they used to.

In 1991, when we got married, you would have thought dinosaurs roamed the earth.  Weddings were simple all the way around and when it came to cake, there were only a few choices.  And yes, we had a few cake sampling appointments, but for flavor, we were pretty limited to chocolate, vanilla, maybe a layer with a swirl of each, and that was that.  And your frosting choices were just as limited; if memory serves, we had to work hard to find a buttercream topping.

Naturally, I wanted something else, something different but something that also didn't cost a fortune (and my lord, do they ever cost a fortune).  I pulled several very prettily designed, very ahead-of-its-time cake photos from various wedding magazines and took them to every bakery we visited, only to have every single designer shake her/his head and say "It's gorgeous but we can't do that."  Fast forward to today where everybody is recreating those designs and more. 

So after searching high and low for a cake designer, we stumbled upon a guy who made us what we wanted and that is how we ended up with a lemon poppy seed wedding cake with buttercream frosting.  I so wanted to put little toothpick holders on the tables so people wouldn't be caught on camera with poppy seed stuck to their teeth but nixed that after realizing my mother would likely frown – and then some – on that idea.  This is a woman who coordinated her wedding outfit down to her fingernail polish.  Putting toothpicks on a table, even in jest, would have rendered her speechless although when she recovered, she probably would have said "That's tacky, Ann."

For the record, my mother did not "do" tacky. 

Despite those pesky poppy seeds, mom was quite happy with our wedding cake.  It was simple, it was really tasty and it was different.  But, and I may have mentioned this in a prior post, it wasn't decorated like I thought it would be and that bugged me for quite some time until a sister-in-law showed me a photo and then it dawned on me:  the cake should have been decorated on all layers with fresh flowers.  But something got lost in translation and the flowers ringed the bottom layer only.  Oh well.

I might have also mentioned that our venue was insistent Andy and I cut the cake immediately after the ceremony and before anyone sat down for dinner as they needed time to cut the rest of the cake to serve it for dessert.  I tried to argue otherwise but lost that battle because that meant that nobody but the photographer and the immediate wedding party got to see us cut the cake.  As these things go though, this was not the end of the world unless you were my cousin's two year old son who was very upset to see the cake he'd been eyeballing during the ceremony being whisked away.  We were such a mean bride and groom, were we not?  PS—he eventually got to have his cake and eat it, too.   

When I made this version of our wedding cake the other night, I intended to frost it with a buttercream frosting and then changed my mind and my husband got the same look on his face as my cousin's son:  major displeasure, near tears.  It's just that this cake is pretty delicate and I just didn't see the point of frosting it with a heavier frosting.  Of course, I could have just made the frosting anyway seeing as how I'm a frosting person rather than a cake person, but just decided to leave well enough alone.  We are enjoying (still) every morsel of our walk-down-memory-lane-wedding cake.

Happy Anniversary, Andy!  I saw the date coming so I baked you a cake.  Enjoy!

Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Poppy Seeds – makes 1 12-cup Bundt cake
1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1 (8 oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups sifted flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
¼ cup poppyseed
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
¼ teaspoon vanilla

In small bowl, combine filling ingredients and set aside.  In large bowl, cream butter or margarine and cream cheese until light and fluffy; add sugar and vanilla; beat well approximately 5 minutes. (Very important to cream well!)  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Sift together flour and baking powder; add to creamed mixture.  Stir in ½ cup walnuts and raisins.  (Ann's Note:  I didn't use walnuts but I did use raisins, although I could have left them out and it would have been fine.)

Grease Mini-Bundt Pan or Fiesta Party Pan (Ann's Note:  or use a 12-cup Bundt pan i.e. the "original") and coat inside of pan with remaining finely chopped nuts.  Spoon ½ of batter into prepared pan, sprinkle filling mixture over batter; top with remaining batter.  Use knife and swirl through batter.  Bake at 325F for 65-70 minutes or until cake tests done.  (Ann's Note:  I baked mine for about 75-80 minutes to ensure all the dough was cooked.)  Cool in pan 10-15 minutes; turn out on wire rack to complete cooling.  Wrap cake tightly in plastic wrap and foil and store in the refrigerator for 2 days to improve flavor.

A "Mad Men" Finale Repast, with recipes from "Sardi's - The Story of a Famous Restaurant;" "The Colony - Portrait of a Restaurant..." & "Tanqueray The Perfect Entertainer"

Date I made these recipes:  May 17, 2015 – Mad Men Finale

Sardi's – The Story of a Famous Restaurant by Vincent Sardi, Sr., and Richard Gehman
Published by:  Henry Holt and Company
© 1953
Purchased at Kitchen Arts and Letters, NYC
Recipe:  Chicken Tetrazzini – p. 223-224 with assistance from Betty Crocker

The Colony – Portrait of A Restaurant And its Famous Recipes by Iles Brody
Published by: Jarrolds Publishers (London) Limited
© 1946, 1st edition
Purchased at Julian's Books, NYC
Recipe:  Haricot Beans A L' Itlaienne – p. 164

Tanqueray® The Perfect Entertainer – A Collection of Recipes for Cocktails, Canapés & Hors D' Oeuvres
Published by Barron's
© 1984
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  (Tanqueray®) Martini – p. 26

As the saying goes, "All good things must come to an end," and so endeth the fabulously entertaining Mad Men TV show.  Most people I know who watched and loved the show said some variation of the same thing:  "It was like watching my childhood (or young adulthood) all over again." 

The thing I loved most about the show is that it stayed true to form of telling a story that fit the ages and didn't change it just because people wished it otherwise.  As an example, women had a hard time then (and now) making headway in the marketplace.  Harassment was rampant and I could tell you chapter and verse of some of the things I witnessed in the workplace.  Smoking at work was definitely a cool thing and drinking during hours was not seen as the next step to heading to AA.  In fact, during the early 80's, my boss used to take my department out for liquid lunches every quarter.  In the first years of the show, many people – my guess men and women a lot younger than me – complained that all of this seemed unreal.  It wasn't.

When the character Sal, the art director left, some people thought the world would end and "surely he'll be back, right?"  He wasn't.  In real life, it was rare for someone to leave a company and then return and if they did, they often left shortly thereafter for the same reasons that drove them from the place in the first place.  I was glad that creator/director Matt Weiner didn't cave in to popular demand.

I could spend hours writing about how I loved this show and how the research and dedication to costuming and set design and props and character development and music is something we will likely never see again but the point of this particular writing is, of course, to talk about cookbooks.  So let's talk!  (As an aside though, a friend watched all of two seconds of the next to last episode and commented that the tie was wrong. Apparently, that was his only take away.  But I'm here to tell you pilgrim, the tie was NOT wrong!  Every article of clothing, down to the "unmentionables," was researched to the nth degree.  The tie was correct.  End of rant.)

During the course of the seven year run, Matt Weiner also talked about how he envisioned how the show would end pretty much from the moment he wrote the first script.   I too, thought about what to make for the "last supper."  And so I selected three books that I thought would be a good fit:  Sardi's cookbook, The Colony cookbook and the Tanqueray® cookbook – two venerable NYC restaurant cookbooks and one from the makers of Tanqueray® gin.  The gin book was thrown in at the last minute but it's fitting seeing as everybody on the show was drinking like fish and smoking like chimneys.

Out of all the restaurants featured in Mad Men during the seven-year run, Sardi's is perhaps the most famous. (Check out Season 2, Episode 5 where Don dines with (character) Jimmy Barrett and his hell-on-wheels wife, Bobbie.) Opened in 1927, it became famous for all the celebrity caricatures that continue to adorn the walls.  Back in the day, if your visage was on that wall, you had definitely made it!

Unbeknownst to me, Sardi's is listed as the "birthplace" of the Tony Award and Broadway stars continue to frequent the place which is still in business after all these years.  I'm going to have to add a visit there to my NYC bucket list. 

This cookbook, acquired a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, is not exactly a cookbook but rather, the story of Sardi's and how it became such an "it" destination. Recipes don't appear until Chapter 14 – Some Sardi Specialties – and even then, only a select few.  Many of them, like the chicken tetrazzini, call for sauce "in a can," a product Sardi's created and sold – see page 209 for details. I imagine that back then, Sardi's Jiffy White Sauce was likely all the rage, but I tell you what, trying to duplicate that sauce (no longer sold) for this recipe took some doing and I must confess to you that I cheated and called upon Betty Crocker for assistance.  What would we all do without Betty? By the way, and I just have to say this, my nose turned up when I read about white sauce in a can because...ew?

So that's the skinny on Sardi's and now you probably want to know about The Colony so I'm going to tell you (thanks to Wikipedia).  The Colony opened its doors in 1923, four years before Sardi's and operated until 1971.  Unlike Sardi's which was located at 44th Street (Times Square area), The Colony operated on the city's Upper East Side at 61st and Madison ("Mad Ave!").  According to Wiki, once the Vanderbilt's discovered it, it rocketed to fame.  Another interesting tidbit was that restaurateur Sirio Maccione (well-known in NYC but perhaps not so much elsewhere) served as The Colony's bar captain from 1960 to 1970 before leaving to found the equally famous Le Cirque in 1974. 

The Colony cookbook is similar to Sardi's in that the story of the restaurant comprises most of the book, but unlike Sardi's, there are a lot more recipes to play with.  Still, each recipe takes up the tiniest of space in the book (usually, a paragraph) and so instruction is lacking (and good luck with the ingredients as well).  

And then there's the Tanqueray® gin cookbook about which I just must rant:  call me crazy, but wouldn't you expect a Tanqueray® cookbook to include Tanqueray® in every recipe?  I would, I did and yet not one single recipe for appetizers, etc. contained gin.  Well this was disturbing!  And try as I might to get excited about some of the recipes, I just couldn't and so finally gave up trying to make a dish from the book and focused instead, on my very favorite drink – a martini.  And this is so "Mad Men" that it just all worked and now I can get on with my life.

Before I get into the gist of the recipes, let me just say that I loved Mad Men's ending.  Loved it.  And without giving anything away – in case you haven't seen it yet – there was an "ending" and then there was another ending, one last scene that just tied everything together.  My husband and I clapped at the first one and then after that one last scene, just screamed "It's perfect!  It's just perfect!"  So thank you, Matt Weiner! 

Chicken Tetrazzini – the original recipe with modifications to follow – Serves 4
4 ounces spaghetti
1 can white sauce (Ann's Note:  this product no longer exists)
¾ cup of milk
1 cup cooked diced chicken
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 three-ounce can chopped mushrooms

Okay, so.  Since white sauce no longer exists, I had to decide whether or not to make a basic white sauce, coming up with proportions equal to the can – size unknown – or whether to "cheat" (such a Don Draper thing) and modify the recipe to something that was easier on everybody.  I modified it by following a Betty Crocker recipe that I got off the internet that uses cream instead of white sauce.  You could also make up a white sauce (recipes are everywhere) and then add the milk as directed.  Since we are a two-person household, I opted for the cream rather than keep milk in the fridge that neither of us will drink.

Boil about 4 ounces of spaghetti to taste and drain it.  Set aside in a colander.  To one can of white sauce add three-quarters of a cup of milk, bring it to a boil, and smooth with an egg beater.  Add one cup of cooked diced chicken, four tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, and a three-ounce can of chopped mushrooms and their liquid.  Mix the ingredients well.  Put the spaghetti in a buttered baking dish.  Pour over the sauce.  Shred over it more Parmesan cheese and dot with lumps of butter.  Brown under the broiler.

My modifications come to you from Betty Crocker as follows (serves 6)
1 package (7 ounces) spaghetti, broken into thirds
2 cups Green Giant™ frozen sweet peas (Ann's Note:  many modern-day tetrazzini recipes call for peas.  We like them so why not?)
¼ cup butter or margarine
¼ cup Gold Meal™ all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup Progresso™ chicken broth (Ann's Note:  and wouldn't you know, that's the chicken broth I had in my pantry)
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons dry sherry or water
2 cups cubed deli rotisserie chicken
1 jar (4.5 oz) Green Giant™ sliced mushrooms, drained
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Ann's Note:  butter + flour + milk = white sauce.  This recipe called for 1 cup of cream instead of 1 cup milk making for a richer white sauce.  That said, although the dish started out being oh-so-creamy, the sauce dried out a bit after baking, leaving me to think that making approximately 10 ounces of white sauce and then adding the extra milk was really the way to go.  Lesson learned.

Heat oven to 350F.  (Ann's Note:  the original recipe asks you to use your broiler to finish the recipe.)  Cook and drain spaghetti as directed on the package, adding peas during the last three minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in flour, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring constantly.  Boil and stir for one minute.  Stir in sherry/water, spaghetti and peas, chicken and mushrooms.

Pour mixture into an ungreased 2-quart casserole.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake uncovered about 30 minutes or until bubbly in center.

Ann's Notes:  No way was this all going to fit into a 2-quart casserole (are they kidding me) and so I used two, two-quart casseroles.  And then I am iffy about the 30 minute cooking time uncovered because the dish wasn't creamy like I expected and that disappointed.  It was all good, but I think it suffered from baking without a lid.  Next time around, the lid goes on and instructions be damned!

Haricot Beans A L' Italienne – serving size not given
1 quart (approximately) 1.5-2 pounds haricot vert (a fancier form of green beans)
1 tablespoon butter (approximately)
1 pound butter (2 sticks)
1 ½ - 2 cups hot stock
1 egg yolk
Juice of one half lemon
Parsley, finely chopped (for garnish)

Ann's Note:  once again, I found myself having to translate this recipe into something more modern.  It was almost a disaster until we got the amount of stock to use right.  The numbers given above – 1 ½ - 2 cups – is an approximation.  I think I might have used two cups but am not sure.

Here are the original instructions:  Parboil a quart of beans, drain and finish cooking them in a pan with melted brown butter.  Stir well and serve with the following sauce poured over them.

To make the sauce, melt a pound of butter, stir in an ounce of flour till it is smooth, add enough hot stock to make a sauce, and bring it to a boil.  Strain the sauce and put it back on the fire.  Stir in the beaten yolk of an egg, the juice of half a lemon, and some fine chopped parsley.  Serve very hot.

Tanqueray® Martini – serves 1 (Ann's Note:  I am a huge fan of Blue Coat gin, but Tanqueray® will do)
2 ounces (1/4 cup) Tanqueray® Gin
¼ teaspoon dry vermouth
1 olive or twist of lemon

Place a shaker in the freezer for 1 hour before beginning.  Place Tanqueray® gin in shaker with vermouth.  Add 2 or 3 ice cubes.  Stir well then strain into Martini glass.  Either drop in an olive or dangle a twist of lemon on the rim of the glass.  Serve very cold.

Okay, folks, here in my Martini recipe:  Pour gin of any amount desired into a shaker.  Skip the vermouth all together if you want a dry martini (I do) otherwise, measure out ¼ teaspoon as directed (and this made me chuckle—"a quarter teaspoon?") and add it to the gin.  Add an olive(s) that are either pitted or stuffed with pimiento and most certainly not the gorgonzola-filled ones which are precocious and nasty.  Do NOT add lemon, not as a garnish, not as anything.  Sip.  Breathe out.  Relax.  Rinse and repeat.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Cook As I Say, Not As I Do" - Mother's Day Pizza Margherita

Date I made this recipe:  May 10, 2015 – Mother's Day

Cook As I Say, Not As I Do by Margaret Sullivan
Published by:  Chicago Press Review
ISBN: 1-55652-224-X
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  "Pizza I Would Name After You If I Didn't Think It Already Had A Name" – p. 87 a/k/a "Pizza Margherita," made using "An All-Purpose Pizza Dough for Mother's Day" – p. 85

I seem to be on a roll of finding cookbooks oriented toward younger and budding chefs but this one especially seemed appropriate for Mother's Day.  I mean, the title – Cook As I Say, Not As I Do - says it all, does it not?  (For the record, my mother was one of those women who did not do what she wasn't supposed to do but alas, I cannot say I was like her in that respect.)

Like a lot of people, I posted a couple pictures of my mom on Facebook that day, one of which was me "photo-bombing" my mother when she was making something in the kitchen of a house we rented when I was very young ( we called it "The Little House" – NOT on the prairie).  One of my friends commented that the photo "looked like a very Betty Crocker moment" but that is somewhat misleading.  And that's because my mom was very selective about how much time I spent in the kitchen and on what projects I got to play her assistant.

In my early years, I probably "helped" a lot—until I became a nuisance, that is.  And then there was a good long stretch where I was only allowed to lick the beaters, something many kids of that era remember fondly until early iterations of the salmonella scare ruined everything!

For several years, my mom left my culinary education up to the Girl Scout leaders who taught us how to cook over an open fire.  No doubt my mom thought that if I had to burn something down, it was best to burn down the school that hosted our
Girl Scout Day Camp than her kitchen.  She had something there.

Somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, I got on a roll making a very easy applesauce recipe.  Lots and lots of applesauce that we froze in small, neatly-labeled containers – her handwriting, not mine.  Mom handled the canning and/or freezing of all other fruits and vegetables from our garden.  I got to watch. 

One of the things that most fascinated me was my mom's pressure cooker.  A few years ago, they came back in vogue but my mom had a veritable lock and load on both the lid and the process; you do not want to mishandle a pressure cooker, especially the lid, or you will end up with food all over your ceiling.  I let my mom drive the big rig.

So all told, my actual kitchen time at home was limited, and what little cooking I did was in 7th and 8th grade Home Ec classes (LOVED the cooking part.), along with a bit here and there in high school and then nothing  until my junior year in college.  That year, I moved to an apartment with three other women and my mom gave me an updated version of her favorite cookbook – Better Homes and Gardens.  My roommates and I cooked the hell out of that book.

Years later, I am pretty handy in the kitchen and also have a "thing" about my kitchen – it's my turf.  My mother was the same way; upon finally getting a kitchen of her own when she got married, she never let up off the throttle until the day she died.

When it came to pizza, my non-Sicilian mother relied on Chef Boyarde's pizza kit that came with the dough mix, canned sauce and even canned cheese.  We didn't have that too often though since my dad's mother, Vita, made the real deal.  The only problem was that she was miles away in New Jersey while we were in Michigan.  So we got our proper Sicilian-pizza fix on once a year and that had to do.

This recipe is very similar to my grandmother's pizza and with a few tweaks, I made it even more so.  When my grandmother taught me and my cousin, Mary Pat, how to make pizza (a disaster on many levels given that most pizza dough should not contain large, gaping holes) she taught us her way:  lightly oil the bottom of the pan, put the mozzarella on top of the dough, sauce on the top, drizzle olive oil on top of the sauce and bake.  Easy as a pizza pie!  And delicious.  I've told my husband, Andy, a million times that if you make it like that, you can eat the pizza cold and it will taste delicious because the cheese remains wonderfully moist instead of congealing into something that could be used as a drain plug. (In my opinion.)

Now because I'm somewhat lazy, I didn't make the pizza dough as directed in this cookbook, instead picking up a small dough from Broder's Cucina Italiana where I used to work.  I don't "do" yeast and this recipe calls for yeast.  Why stress myself out on Mother's Day?

And then – and this was my fault – instead of picking up what I thought was "regular" basil from Lunds & Byerlys, I accidentally grabbed Thai Basil which is similar and yet not. And if I am allowed to vent for a moment – what the heck Lunds and Byerlys?  I had never seen Thai Basil in any grocery store outside of an Asian market ever and the day I shopped, there it was front and center?  The nerve!  So rather than risk ruining my very traditional Italian pizza, I used dried basil, adding it to my sauce to allow the flavors to mellow.

I am happy to report though, that the mozzarella made it through the entire process unscathed.  Well, what was left of it after I nibbled on it the entire time I was cutting it for the pizza. 

And that really, was that.  I could have done a roast, I could have made some toast but instead, I made a quick and easy pizza that reminded me of all the good times spent in the kitchen with all my female relatives, all of whom are greatly missed, Mother's Day and always.

An All Purpose Pizza Dough for Mother's Day – makes 1 12-inch pizza
1 to 1 ½ cups water at bath temperature
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried yeast
2 cups flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Add a little of the warm water to the sugar and yeast, and let it express itself, the way you say you never got to.  It will get foamy when it's ready.  Meanwhile, sift your flour, cornmeal, and salt together.  When the yeast water is ready, combine everything, and knead thoroughly; ten minutes is good.  Leave it covered for an hour to rise.  Then you knead it again.  Some Mother's Day, huh?  At this point, all the handling you do is just for fun.  You could be glamorous wiht it like your Dad and twirl it over your head, but I just move it into a 12-inch round and place it on a pizza pan greased with the olive oil.  Bake according to the pizza recipe you are using.

"A Pizza I Would Name After You If I Didn't Think It Already Had a Name" a/k/a Pizza Margherita – makes enough sauce for 1 12-inch pizza
"Don't buy tomatoes from just anybody."
All-Purpose Pizza Dough for Mother's Day (above)
4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded, and minced
1 white onion, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup olive oil
12 thin slices mozzarella
12 leaves of basil
Ground white and black pepper to taste

Start your oven at 450 degrees.

Make the sauce by frying your tomatoes, onions, and garlic in most of the oil.  (Ann's Note:  Sautéing the mixture is better than frying and use only enough oil to coat the pan or you will have a very oily sauce.).  When the onions are transparent, the sauce is ready.  Spread the rest of the olive oil on the dough and then spread the sauce on top of it.  Next apply the slices of mozzarella and basil in an artful fashion, as only you know how to do.  Bake for 15 minutes.

And now a word about this cookbook:  it stinks.  I don't mean that the recipes are bad, I mean that it smells as if it fell into a vat of perfume and stayed in it for a year or so. And this is not the first time this has happened with some of the cookbooks I've purchased leading me to wonder just what on earth these women are doing with their cookbooks anyway?  I've tried my usual methods to get the smell out to no avail (a baking soda "bath" then wrap it up in a plastic bag or letting it sit in the sun) and so I spent just about zero time looking for a recipe.  It appears that the author writes "mom" letters of advice to her kids and breaks out the sections by food group and by kid but that's all I can tell you.  'Tis a shame, really, but my nose is already running and all I did was look at the book for two seconds to get clarification on something in the recipe.  Since I have now taken to storing many of the books I've already used for this blog, this one is going into cold storage, still wrapped in plastic, still showered with baking soda because I'll be damned if I let it contaminate my other books! (Or worse, stink up my garage.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

"The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook" and "The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook" - Cucumber Boats and (Blueberry) Muffins

Date I made these recipes:  May 5, 2015

The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook by Kate Macdonald; illustrated by Barbara DiLella
Published by:  Oxford University Press
© 1985; ISBN 0-19-540496-3
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe"  "Cowcumber" (Cucumber) Boats – p. 9

The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook compiled by Gretchen Anderson; illustrated by Karen Milone
Published by:  Little, Brown and Company
© 1985; ISBN 0-316-03951-9
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe: (Blueberry) Muffins – p. 6

Every so often, my husband heads out of town to do "guy" things, and when he does, I usually call up my friends to see who wants to go out for drinks and dinner.  This year, I decided that while the cat was away, this mouse would also enjoy a home-cooked "chick-lit" dinner and so selected one item each from The Anne of Green Gables Cookbook and The Louisa May Alcott Cookbook.  Not that Andy wouldn't have appreciated the food I made – tuna salad in cucumber boats and muffins – but it wasn't exactly "guy" food, you know?

Part of the inspiration to use these two cookbooks came after reading the sad news that the actor who played Gilbert Blythe in the Canadian Broadcast Corporations' version of Anne of Green Gables, died at age 46.  That is very sad news.  For Anne fans, Gilbert played the nemesis, later true love of our heroine, Anne Shirley.  As soon as the news hit, Anne of Green Gables fans hit Facebook and Twitter full force to express sympathy and to console each others.  Books can be so powerful, can't they?

At the risk of sounding like I'm at an AA meeting, I am an avid reader, always have been, always will be.  In my younger days, at Sacred Heart Catholic grade school, I do believe I read every single Nancy Drew book in the school's tiny library. I also read all of The Bobbsey Twins, pretty much every Cherry Ames nursing books and countless other "young adult" fiction.

In junior high school, I realized early on that I would major in English (literature) in college because I enjoyed every single book or story we read, even if, by the time I graduated, I ended up reading some of them several times.  The Greek classic, Antigone and King Lear come to mind as books I never wanted to read again but alas, guess what some of my college English classes listed as required reading?  Yup—those two books.

I also managed to read and re-read some of the following:  Jane Eyre, The Red Badge of Courage, Candide and Animal Farm.  (On a 10th grade English quiz, my teacher asked us the name of Mr. Rochester's horse  - Mr. Rochester was a character in Jane Eyre - and I wrote very snarkily "I don't know.  Trigger?"  Hopefully, some of you are old enough to understand the reference to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans!) And then once in college majoring in English, I took classes in British Literature, American Literature, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton and endless others which required me to read and re-read some of the favorites all over again.  I even had to write and then recite Chaucer's Prologue to the Canterbury Tales as well as Hamlet's soliloquy which was fine but not exactly impressive to my dates:  "Hey, you want to hear me recite Hamlet?"

BUT.  I am almost certain that I never, ever was required to read Anne of Green Gables or Little Women.  Well, this puzzles, does it not?  I can see where the Anne of Green Gables series might have fallen through the cracks (it takes place in Canada – not that there's anything wrong with O Canada) but Little Women?  Or Little Men?  (But mostly Little Women?).  Years later, I still feel cheated!

Lucky for me, my Aunt Mary and Uncle Bud, gave me a copy of Anne of Avonlea for Christmas in 1972 so I was somewhat acquainted with Anne Shirley but still.  I loved that book though and still have it.  Even better, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation created a miniseries of all the Anne books which of course I watched, and Little Women was made into a movie several times over, my favorite being the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo.  Thank goodness for the "silver" screen or I would have completely missed out on these stories.  Completely.  Is it to late to write to my hometown board of education and/or my undergrad alma mater?

If you ask me, and you didn't, both of these books were way ahead of their time in writing such strong female characters – Anne Shirley and Jo March, most especially Jo March.  Louisa May Alcott published Little Women in 1868, just after the Civil War ended and methinks that more than a few eyebrows were raised about what a tour de force Jo March was.  That said, Jane Austen led the way with all of her female characters in her books that were written almost 50 years earlier so there is precedent but women authors writing strong female characters were not the norm unlike today's authors.

So a bit about these two classic books and classic characters:  In Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley is an orphan who was taken in by a brother and sister – Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert - who sought to adopt a boy to help with their farm but ended up instead with Anne.  As expected, Anne's arrival didn't exactly set them on fire and Anne was constantly mixing it up with Marilla (played by Colleen Dewhurst in the CBC series).  Anne fell in love with teaching and with Gilbert Blythe and their romance and coming of age is chronicled in all the Anne books.

Little Women follows a similar plot although instead of teaching, Joe March wants to be a writer.  In the story, Jo (my favorite) is one of four March sisters who are all helping out their mother during the Civil War while their father has gone off to fight.  Like me, Jo was interested in reading and writing and ultimately (although not like me) was employed as a contributing writer to a newspaper.  And this is good—I like women characters who refused to become the traditional housewife and mother as was expected all women at that time.  That said, in 1979, an Australian movie, My Brilliant Career, was released starring Australian actress Judy Davis and New Zealand actor Sam Neill and I temporarily changed my mind on the whole career before marriage thing. The movie is set in 1897 and Judy Davis is yet another woman determined to have a writing career.  She almost derails that plan after meeting the very handsome Sam Neill but then dash it all, comes to her senses and refuses to marry him, instead wanting what the title promises – My Brilliant Career.  Refused to marry Sam Neill – what?!  I remain peeved to this day that she didn't give up her career. Seriously.  Well, you know—every rule has an exception and this was mine.  For the record, I would have gladly married him even if it meant I had to live in the Australian outback.  I think (read:  probably not).

But I digress.  Let's talk about the recipes and these books.  Each book is targeted toward kids rather than adults (which means the recipes are a snap) and it was a challenge for me to find two items that I could cobble together for my chick-lit meal.  Each book is heavy also on the sweets and not so primed for the savory items but at last, I decided to make Anne Shirley's "cowcumber" (cucumber) boats and Louisa May Alcott's muffins (mine were blueberry) and I have to tell you that they were not half bad.  Instead of making cucumber boats though, I diced up a cucumber and added it to the salad as it was just easier that way.  And I loaded up the muffins (which are not super sweet at all) with blueberries after careful contemplation of blueberry alternatives in the fruit section of my grocery store.

At the end of the day, I had my chick-lit food, I had my waltz down memory lane of these two classic books, ruminated about the writer I might have been had I put any amount of effort into it (I didn't), and with that, just stretched out and relaxed while enjoying my latest in modern-day chick-lit thrillers which I probably shouldn't read when home alone because ew, some parts are just gruesome and spooky, but do it nevertheless because I enjoy the genre.  There's a time and place for Shakespeare, folks, and this ain't it!

And THAT is how you have a chick-lit evening and a chick-lit repast.  Enjoy!

"Cowcumber" (Cucumber) Boats – makes 6 "boats"
1/3 cup elbow macaroni
1 7-ounce can tuna
1 medium carrot
1 medium celery stalk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
3 medium cucumbers
*Ann's Note:  I decided to forgo the cucumber boats and instead made up the salad as directed, but added chopped cucumbers to the mix.  It was so much easier this way!  I increased the macaroni to about 1.5 cups (how much you make is up to you) and increased most of the other ingredients accordingly.  I also added a pinch of sugar to offset the lemon juice.

Put about 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt into the small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Add the elbow macaroni gradually and boil until tender – about 8 to 10 minutes.  Drain the macaroni a wire strainer and put it in a mixing bowl.

Open the can of tuna and drain it in the wire strainer.  Add the tuna to the macaroni.

Wash and peel the carrot and grate it into the bowl.  Wash and dry the celery and chop it into tiny pieces on the cutting board.  Add it to the macaroni and tuna.

Measure the mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Add to the bowl and stir with the fork.

Peel the cucumber with the vegetable peeler and cut off the ends.  Cut each cucumber in half,  lengthwise.  With the spoon scoop out and discard the seeds and watery flesh.  Fill each cucumber boat with tuna mixture.

Muffins – makes 18 muffins (Ann's Note:  12 if you heap the muffin pan)
3 ½ cups flour
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ¾ cups milk
1 egg well beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter
½ cup cranberries, dates, apples, berries, or nuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease the muffin pans.

Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar) into a large bowl.

Add the milk, egg, melted butter, and optional ingredients.  Stir until smooth.

Pour into greased muffin tins.  (Ann's Note:  The batter was way too sticky to pour so I used a spoon and spooned the mixture into the pans.)

Bake for 25 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  I really heaped my muffin tin cups so if you do that, bake until the center is cooked through.  I think I went about another 10 minutes.)