Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Bocuse's Regional French Cooking" - Vegetable, Basil and Garlic Soup (Soupe au pistou) for Le Tour de France

Date I made this recipe:  July 26, 2014, the final day of the Tour de France

Bocuse's Regional French Cooking by Paul Bocuse
Published by:  Flammarion
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Soupe au Pistou (Vegetable, Basil and Garlic Soup) – p. 68

Well o-la-la- folks, yesterday the Le Tour de France wrapped up three weeks of heavy-duty racing and hill climbing and now what are we supposed to do?

My answer:  celebrate regaining control of the remote.  My husband's answer:  go out on more bike rides (although not in France).

And there you have it!  And congratulations to this year's winner, Chris Froome for his impressive victory. 

As is usual and customary though, we observe the end of this race down the Champs Elysees by making a French meal and this year's selection was a good one – the famous Soupe au pistou – a dish that slow simmers on the stove (thankfully, no oven involved) and is rich with beans and vegetables and all kinds of other goodness.

This dish hails from Provence, in the south of France, and although I've been to that region twice, I never had it before so it was kind of nice to close that circle.  I love how it makes use of so many summer vegetables and just flat out looks healthy to eat! 
And actually, my version of this was totally vegetarian since I left out the [raw] pork rind in the recipe, mostly because I couldn't find it but also because the cheese used for the toppings wiped out my budget and I wasn't in the mood to find a substitute so we went without and it was fine.

So.  Paul Bocuse, our chef/author, is considered by many to be one of the greatest French chefs ever and one of the first chefs to unveil a French "nouvelle cuisine" menu. Traditionally, French menus are heavy on the sauces, heavy on the wines and just plain heavy.  Nouvelle cuisine focuses on light sauces or broths and fresh ingredients, particularly fresh vegetables. The soup recipe definitely falls into the nouvelle cuisine category.

Hailing from Lyon, Chef Boucuse is now 89 years old and – interesting factoid - in 1969, was one of the chefs preparing the menus for the maiden flight of the Concorde, an airplane that made the journey from France to the US in three hours.  C'est tres "cool."  Unfortunately, I never got to travel on it and taste his cuisine because the cost of the flight was tres cher (very expensive) but I flew on Air France once and was amazed to be handed a beautiful menu of all the food served on the flight, including perfectly poached salmon (and I hate salmon), bread and lots of it and wine!  For free!  Classy outfit, that Air France.

This book is divided into recipes by region:  Lyonnais; Provence; Bordelais; Perigord; Brittany-Normand and Alsace.  And each region's section features foods found in that region, as follows:

Lyonnais – Cabbage soup; pumpkin soup; cheese, eggs and sometimes sausage entrees and the famous Boeuf Bourguignon.  I thought about making a macaroni and cheese dish (gratin de macaroni) but that was too heavy for summertime and required the oven.  Mais non.  (But no.)  

Provence – I love Provence.  Love it, love the food, love the little towns, love.  Today's featured recipe, Soupe au pistou is Provencal and it was very good.  Besides, I loved walking around the house pronouncing it because it just sounds so French!  Go figure, right! (Word of warning:  speaking French will give you lockjaw.  I had to "rehabilitate" my jaw and mouth after both of my trips.)  Other recipes that sounded fun were olive and caper spread a/k/a tapenade; Nice-style salad a/k/a Salade nicoise and several fish recipes including Bouillabaisse (Provencal Fish Stew). 

Bordelais – This area if French wine country, home to the famous Bordeaux wines.  It also borders the Spanish Basque country, a region of northern Spain that is a mix of French and Spanish cultures.  Because of that, you'll find Basque-influenced dishes like Basque-style cod and Basque-style chicken along with the famous French cassoulet, a dish that combines many meats and sausages with beans that is baked in a casserole.  Since I'm not big on duck or lamb which are two of the main ingredients, I passed on that dish and besides, it requires slow-cooking and that was not going to happen on a day it was 90 degrees outside.  Non.

Perigord – is in the south-west region of France, an hour's drive from Bordelais and here, the recipes feature preserved meats like duck and pork as well as the world-famous and often controversial Foie Gras (basically fatted duck liver). There's also a recipe for Garlic Soup, a dish I've heard about but have never eaten or made – yet.

Brittany-Normandy– This region, made famous during WWII when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy, is heavy on seafood seeing as how it sits on the opposite side of England on the British Channel/Atlantic Ocean.  Dishes like Mussels in White Wine; Coquilles Saint-Jacques (Brittany-style Scallops); Stuffed Clams and [Holy] Mackerel take up the front half of this section while veal recipes finish it off.

En fin (Finally), we have the Alsace region, sometimes referred to as Alsace-Lorraine, famous for various savory and sweet tarts.  This region borders Germany and so there are also dishes for sausages and sauerkraut for you to try.

And so that concludes our culinary tour to complement the bicycle tour that just took place in France (and Belgium and Spain) this week.

I liked the Soupe au Pistou a lot as it was easy, used next to no heat (you simmer it for two hours), and it was easily halved.  Since we are only two, I often cut a dish in half to ensure we don't have endless leftovers.

In the "If I were to make this again" department I have just two minor things:  1) I think I would have cooked the beans all by themselves for a while to avoid having mushy vegetables and 2) I might have added pancetta to the recipe to add a bit of fat and flavor but like I said, I just didn't want to spend more money on the recipe than I did and felt it was essential to have the cheese for topping rather than the meat.  And perhaps if I went to an actual butcher I might have found the required [raw] pork rind but that was just too much effort for a hot day.  I love summer – bring on the heat – but it is wilting to go from store to store.

And so there you go: Viva la France, Viva le Tour, Viva la Soupe au Pistou!

Vegetable, Basil and Garlic Soup (Soupe au Pistou) – 6 servings
Ann's Notes:  1) Pistou is a mixture of garlic, basil, olive oil and tomatoes that is added just before serving.) Pistou is made by grinding the garlic and basil with a mortar and pestle.  I don't have one and tried to improvise and that was fraught with peril.  In the end, I decided to use my mini food processor and that was okay but not the best.  Search the internet for other solutions. 2) You will need to soak the beans overnight; cooking time is 2.5 hours. 3) As mentioned above, good luck finding raw pork rind.  I couldn't even find a substitute on the internet.  Were I do to this again though, I might use pancetta as it is pretty fatty and should yield the flavor Chef Bocuse was looking for. 

½ pound fresh or dried pinto beans
½ pound fresh or dried white beans (like navy beans)
½ pound green beans
6 carrots
2 medium potatoes
1 white onion
1 leek
2 zucchini
3 quarts water
½ pound pork rind
3 ½ ounces shell-shaped pasta
For the pistou:
1 pound ripe tomatoes
6 cloves garlic
10 stems basil
¾ cup olive oil
For serving:
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese

If using dried pinto and white beans, begin soaking them a day in advance.  Place them in a large mixing bowl, add enough cold water to cover and let soak overnight.  The next day, drain thoroughly.

If using fresh pinto and white beans, they need only be shelled.

Trim and string the green beans and cut into ½-inch lengths.

Peel and dice the carrots, potatoes, and onion.  Trim of all but the white park of the leek, rinse thoroughly under cold water, and dice.  Rinse the zucchini (but do not peel) and dice.

Place the water in a large stock pot, add the pork rind and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam that rises to the top.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the beans and diced vegetables and simmer over low heat for 2 hours.  Ann's Note:  Since I didn't use pork rind, I added the vegetables and let that mixture come to a boil before turning the heat to low.  If I had to do it over again though, I would have added just the beans, brought them to a boil and then simmered them for a bit before adding the vegetables.  The beans were fine but some were a bit chewy.

As the soup cooks, prepare the pistou:  Peel, seed and chop the tomatoes and place them in a colander to drain.  Peel the garlic, place in a mortar and crush with a pestle.  (See Ann's Note above.)  Remove the leaves from the basil, chop and add them to the mortar.  Remove a few pieces of the cooked potato from the simmering soup with a slotted spoon, drain and add to the mortar.  Work all the ingredients in the mortar together, grinding them with the pestle to obtain a smooth paste.  Season with salt and pepper.

Add the olive oil a little at a time, starting with a very thin stream and whisking after each addition until thoroughly incorporated, as for a mayonnaise. (Ann's Note:  even when I cut the recipe in half, I felt like that was too much olive oil so yes, I added it a little at a time and very carefully as well!)

When the mixture is blended, add the drained tomatoes. 

About 15 minutes before the soup has finished cooking, add the pasta and cook until tender.  Remove the pork rind.  Add the pistou mixture and mix well.  Cover a tureen (if you are using one) and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Place the Parmesan and Gruyere in separate bowls and pass to sprinkle over the soup.

Ann's Note:  The price of Parmesan cheese has gone up considerably such that I have taken to going to a few stores that I know sell it by weight and search until I find the cheapest block.  You do not need all the cheese called for in this recipe, not even if making a half recipe.  And Gruyere cheese has always been pricey so again, I looked until I found an inexpensive block and used that. 

The search for the cheapest cheese reminds me of "Mousier" Keith, a friend of my friend, Susan, who was living in Paris when Susan and I went to France in 1988 (Oh my God, what a hilarious trip that was).  At any rate, Mousier Keith was a starving artist and told me and Susan about how he always scrounged around the French markets, pricing potatoes (in the same way I did my cheese).  When Susan later left Paris to go to England to visit her mother's family, Keith and I went out for dinner which I bought because the poor man was starving.  But to this day, I regret swapping out my very lovely vegetable salad for his seafood salad (in oil as is customary) because I took pity on him.  And by the way, Susan and I always referred to him as "Mousier Keith" because he kept trying to call us to set up a meeting time and when the hotel gave us the messages, they always said "Mousier Keith t'a téléphone hier soir!  (Mr. Keith called while you were out!)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"All Star Feast Cookbook" &" [Minnesota Twins] Home Plate Hits" - Artichoke Spread and Chicken Parmesan - Celebrating MLB's All Star Game

Date I made these recipes: July 21, 2015 – one week after Major League Baseball's All-Star Break

All Star Feast CookbookOver 130 Star Athletes Reveal Their Favorite Recipes,  Benefiting the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis and the Women's Sports Foundation compiled by Wendy Diamond
Published by:  Global Liaisons, Incorporated
ISBN:  0-9647316-1-4; ©1997
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  (Derek Jeter's) Double-Play Chicken Parmesan – p. 70

(Minnesota Twins) Home Plate HitsRecipes from the Kitchens of the Minnesota Twins' Wives, Players, and Staff
Published by:  Waldman House Press
ISBN: 0-931675-27-1; ©1994
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Ace Artichoke Dip from Sherry and Rick Aguilera (former pitcher) – p. 5

Whew, there is so much to discuss about these recipes, I cannot tell you!

So last week was MLB's annual All-Star Break baseball games between the American League and the National League.  Although we sometimes watch the game, this year it was competing with the Tour de France and my husband, who loves to bike ride, takes over the remote controls and never looks back.  And so we watched the Tour, quel dommage (what a pity)!

Also?  It was ridiculously hot and humid last week, and the thought of turning on my oven remained just that – a "thought."  No way was I going to heat up my house just to make a dish.

Finally, it took me until yesterday morning – July 21 – the day I actually made these dishes to make up my mind because I just could not commit to any one thing from the Twins' cookbook until the very last second. But since the dish was a [home run] hit, I'm glad I vacillated.

So:  in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you thanks to my late father, a New Jersey native and lifelong NY Yankees fan, I too, have been rooting for my Yankees for...forever.  I went to my first game in New York in 1974 and can still recall the thrill, even if they lost to the Milwaukee Brewers.  Since then, I've been to several games, both in NYC as well as here in Minneapolis when they play the Twins and it never gets old.  I've had the pleasure of going to the "old" Yankees stadium, the new one that was just built and in 1974 when the stadium was under renovation, we watched that game in the old Shea Stadium.  For the record, even though I am not a Mets fan, I'm still calling their old home Shea Stadium because that's where my baseball memory happened.

Favorite Yankees game memorable moments are:
  • Buying and eating pizza by the slice from a vendor at Shea Stadium.  Only in New York.
  • Taking the train then a bus then a subway to Shea Stadium – easily accomplished on the way there – and then reversing the order on the way back which was fraught with peril (too many people trying to squeeze onto the subway) but memorable nonetheless.
  • One year Andy and I went to the game with friends, and every time I went up to get a bottle of water and/or to use the restroom (one follows the other), the Yankees scored a home run so the guys started yelling at me to stay back for a while so the Yankees would continue to score. I am SUCH a good luck charm!
  • One year a a drunken man fell in the stands, knocking over a woman, injuring her such that the EMT's had to come up in the stands to assist.  When the cops came up to our section and asked "Who did this?" the crowd turned on the man in a New York minute and said "He did it!" while pointing straight at him.  And people think New Yorker's turn the other way – ha! 
  • Being at the new stadium the day Hideki Matsui (Japanese player, former outfielder and designated hitter "DH") retired.  It's an odd thing to see so many people in kimonos rotting for the guy.  Yet another "only in NY" moment.
  • At the same game, seeing Derek Jeter come off the DL (disabled list) only to hit a homer at his first at bat of that game.  In New York, the fans always yell "Der-ek Je-ter" followed by five claps.  (Go to YouTube, enter "Jeter Chant" and there'll you have it.)
  • The year my dad who lived in Michigan, my home state, came to Minneapolis so we could take in a Yankees game against the Minnesota Twins.  We ended up in quite the Yankee fan rooting section and we had an absolute blast.  A few months later, he attended a Yankees game with my brother in the new stadium but it wasn't the same because my brother is a Detroit Tigers fan so...

I've also managed to be in NYC a couple of times when they were in the pennant race and one year, when they won the World Series, I even went to the ticker take parade and am here to tell you that is something I would never do again, not because it wasn't fun but because I, along with hundreds of others, were nearly trampled to death near the parade route.  I'll spare you the details because it's a long story, best told over cocktails, but it made for one, frightening moment.   

Now then, although I am loyal and true to my boys in blue (and gray and white), that does not mean that I don't care about the Minnesota Twins.  I do – so long as they are not playing my Yankees.  And it was impossible not to get caught up in Twins' fever when they were in the pennant race (which they won) in 1987 and 1991.  Somewhere in this house, I still have my "Homer Hankie," created and distributed by our local newspaper, the StarTribune. 

Like my Yankees, I also have fond memories of when the Twins won the World Series.  In October 1987, my best friend, Carol, and I took the train to Chicago for a long, birthday weekend.  When we stopped off overnight in Milwaukee to stay with her brother, we all watched the playoff games on his tiny (and I mean tiny) TV.  And then in Chicago, we interrupted our sightseeing and shopping to take in a day game in a sports bar somewhere in the Loop, along with a ton of other people interested in the outcome.  And then in 1991, we were swept up once again in World Series fever, and this time, my friend came over to our apartment and we watched the final game together.  As Carol said "It was tense.  So tense."  But great fun.

And I will say that although I saw the Minnesota Twins play several times at the old Met stadium, former home to the Minnesota Vikings, where the Mall of America now stands, as well as the Dome (and that was an experience, best forgotten), their new/newish stadium downtown is beautiful, absolutely beautiful.  Plus, we can take the light rail to it, no sweat!  I simply love door to (stadium) door service.

Speaking of no sweat," it was a little warm yesterday but luckily the artichoke spread from the Minnesota Twins' cookbook was made on the stovetop leaving the oven for the chicken parm which only took 20 minutes.  Cooking in the summer is fraught with peril and I often reschedule the making of a particular dish until the weather cools a bit. And this is why you are getting these recipes a week after the All-Star Game.  Needs must, people.  Needs must.

Okay then, so let's talk about our two cookbooks, both of which yielded some yummy recipes and used minimal oven time, be still my heart.

As the name (and cover photos) suggests, the All Star Feast Cookbook does not just feature baseball players, it features players and coaches from just about every sport we love to watch and/or play:  football, basketball, hockey, baseball, tennis, boxing, golf and so on and so forth.  That said, I pretty much eliminated half the book just because I didn't like a particular athlete and/or team (Yes, I'm bitchy that way) and then further culled the herd by eliminating foods I didn't like such as fish and then hmmm....suspiciously and perhaps in a Freudian way, that left me with...well what do you know, Derek Jeter?  How did that happen? ("Der-ek Je-ter, clap, clap, clap, clap clap!")  And actually, I liked his recipe because it was quick, easy, Italian and from a baseball player and seeing as how I planned this blog dinner around the All-Star Game, it worked perfectly.

Now if you don't like baseball, and some people don't, there should be plenty of other recipes to float your "All-Star" boat. In fact, there's a recipe from Bruce Jenner (and ex-wife, Kris Jenner) long before Bruce became Caitlyn.  And can I just say I'm disappointed that Arnold Palmer's recipes don't include one for his famous Arnold Palmer drink (of ice tea and lemonade and then maybe or maybe not some alcohol?). 
As to the Twins cookbook, like I said earlier, sheesh it was hard to pick a recipe to go with the chicken.  I had several pages marked throughout this book, pretty much one in every category that included:  Warm-Ups; Hey Batter Batter Breads and Soups; Play Ball!  Main Courses; Short Stops Salads  & Sides and Sweet Spot Desserts so there was that problem.

The next problem I had was that since I'm a Yankees fan, I had next to no idea who some of the Twins' players were and not that I couldn't have made something from somebody I didn't know, but I wanted to sort of tie it in together.  And I have to tell you that several of Kent Hrbek's recipes (former 1st baseman) were in the running until I decided that they were really meals all by themselves and therefore too heavy to put with my chicken parm.  And then I considered a Shortstop Beef Casserole (because Derek Jeter played shortstop) but again, that dish was just too heavy to pair with the chicken parm.  And sure, I could have made another dish from the All-Star cookbook but my theme was baseball so everything else had to revolve around that dish, period.

Well, after much contemplation, I went back to the beginning to the appetizer section and made a split-second decision to make the artichoke spread and it was delicious and easy and I even knew who Rick Augilera was so there you go.

Both of these dishes are home plate hits so there you go and so batter up!  Your kitchen dugout awaits you.

Ace Artichoke Dip – serves 8-10  (Ann's Note:  I made half this recipe and that was still a lot of dip!)
1 cup mayonnaise
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon garlic salt
2 6-ounce jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained and diced
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
12-14 slices wheat bread, toasted and cut into fourths

In small saucepan, combine mayonnaise, cheeses, and garlic salt.  Cook and stir over low heat until cheeses melt.  Stir in artichokes.

Add chopped parsley.  Remove from heat and arrange on serving dish with toast points.  Have a knife handy for spreading.

Double-Play Chicken Parmesan – serves 6
6 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1/3 cup flour
2 egg whites, slightly beaten
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 cups prepared spaghetti sauce
6 thin slices mozzarella cheese

Dredge chicken with flour.  Dip in egg whites until coated.  Combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Roll chicken in bread crumb mixture until completely covered. In a frying pan, heat oil.  Saute onion and garlic for about 2 minutes.  Add chicken and cook about 5 to 6 minutes per side.  Transfer to a baking pan.  Top with favorite spaghetti sauce and one think slice of mozzarella cheese.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until tender.

Anns' Notes (and lots of them):
  1. They don't make chicken breasts like they used to because man, the ones I bought were huge and probably double the size needed.  So after frying them up in the oil, I microwaved them for 10 minutes before putting them in the oven so that they wouldn't end up raw in the middle.  This turned out to be the perfect solution as the breasts were quite tender.  You might want to cut the breasts in half when you make them but if not, just remember that athletes need protein!
  2. Derek doesn't mention oil at all in his ingredient list (it shows up in the instructions) so I coated the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil and even then, probably could have added more. 
  3. Also MIA in the instruction department was what, if anything to do with the garlic.  I couldn't see the point of sautéing an entire garlic clove so I minced it.  Missing or incomplete instructions (or ingredients) are such a pet peeve of mine that is usually ticks me off but this is Derek Jeter we're talking about so...
  4. Derek, Derek, Derek! One "thin" slice of mozzarella only?  Silly rabbit.  I used almost the whole ball of hand-pulled mozzarella I purchased from Kowalski's (I've never had hand-pulled before) and then promptly ate what I didn't use.  There is no such thing as too much mozzarella and no such thing as a "thin" slice.
  5. In the interest of time, I succumbed to using jarred sauce as directed by on any other day, I would have made up my own family's recipe for authenticity. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

"Weiners Gone Wild;" "Serve It Cold;" "The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook;" "A Month of Sundaes" - 4th of July hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans and ice cream toppings

Date I made these recipes:  July 5, 2015 for a belated Fourth of July!

Wieners Gone Wild by Holly Schmidt
Published by: Running Press
ISBN: 978-0-7624-4727-5
Recipe:  Sloppy Dog (hot dog + Sloppy Joe) – p. 49-50

Serve It Cold by June Crosby & Ruth Conrad Bateman
Published by:  Gramercy Publishing Company
© 1968, 1969
Purchased at: Eat My Words used bookstore, Northeast Minneapolis
Recipe:  French Potato Salad – p. 108

The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook by Mary Donovan; Amy Hatrak; Frances Mills; Elizabeth Shull
Published by: Praeger Publishers
© 1975
Purchased at Bloomington Crime Prevention Association (BCPA) annual book sale, 2014
Recipe:  Boston Baked Beans – p. 30

A Month of Sundaes by Michael Turback
Published by: Red Rock Press
ISBN: 0-9669573-8-5
Purchased at Bonnie Slotnick's Cookbooks, NYC
Recipes:  Classic Chocolate Syrup – p. 43; Classic Caramel Syrup – p. 54; Fluffy Marshmallow Sauce – p. 54, served over (store-bought) vanilla ice cream

Well, as always, the 4th of July came and went and such is life.  Still, we kept the party going on Sunday, July 5th, by having my husband's aunt, a cousin and his mom over for dinner.  I had already planned to make this menu for just the two of us but having more people added to the fun and cut down on the leftovers.  A great time was had by all.

In my book, and maybe yours as well, the 4th of July is not the 4th of July without a hot dog.  I changed this up a bit this year by making a Sloppy Dog, basically a hot dog topped with Sloppy Joe mix.  Well that works, doesn't it?  This cookbook has a lot of very creative recipes although I am not sure how well the "Lasagna Dog" recipe on p. 146 would work.  Seems rather messy.  Other dogs though, seemed kind of fun like a "Quesadilla Dog" – p. 131 or the "Rasta Dog" – p. 139 or a "Soul Dog" on p. 93.  I hated to choose just one but given that I love, love, love Sloppy Joe's, that one won the day.

The 4th of July is not the 4th of July without some potato salad but since Andy does not really care for potato salad (it's all about the mayo), I had to work a bit to find a substitute that he would like and thus Serve It Cold saved the day.  Now I have to tell you that the gelatin-covered fish dish on the front cover almost dissuaded me from using this book because I consider that to be "rude food," but luckily there's a wide range of options, from things like "Spinach Mushroom Salad" – p. 102 or an "Antipasto Salad" on p. 103, not to mention entrees, sandwiches and desserts that are all served cold but my mind was set on "potato."  And really, since France gifted us Lady Liberty, it would be very rude not to invite them to the table, oui?

As to The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook, my baked bean selection was a no-brainer because hot dogs, potato salad and baked beans are almost a national requirement on our big holiday.  In fact, I should check the fine print of Declaration of Independence because I'm sure it's in there, way down at the bottom.  Way down.  "Get a magnifier" down.

Recipes in this book are divided by northern colonies; middle colonies and southern colonies.  Let me see if I can refresh your memory:  Northern Colonies – New Hampshire (often overlooked, am I right?); Massachusetts; Rhode Island and Connecticut.  Middle Colonies – New York; New Jersey; Pennsylvania and Delaware.  Southern Colonies – Maryland; Virginia; North Carolina; South Carolina and Georgia.  So there you go and give yourself an A+ if you remembered them without me telling you (because I sure didn't and I minored in history in college!).

Finally, no 4th of July repast is complete without ice cream, preferably hand-cranked but since I don't have an ice cream maker, and most assuredly not an old-fashioned crank one, I decided to make sauces and just buy the ice cream.  That said, Andy and I laughed at how many ice cream options there are and why is this anyway when all we wanted was vanilla?  (Yes, but what kind of vanilla?????)

This book is very fun because it has all kinds of recipes for sundaes and other sweet ice cream confections but I wanted to keep things rather generic in case somebody didn't like a flavor of ice cream I might serve.  And you might think that three sauces is a lot but they were all very easy to make.  Well almost:  I burnt the caramel the first time around (do not look away while making this, do not!) and started over.  I put Andy in charge of the marshmallow cream and then I finished up with the chocolate sauce.  Again, a big hit with this tough crowd! 

And that concludes our 4th of July meal and it was fabulous.  Even better?  Andy's Aunt Betty is 86 years old and was in town, along with 10,000 other athletes to participate in the National Senior Games, held in various venues around the Twin Cities.  Betty has been participating for many years in various events, but for a while now, she's been focusing on archery.  And so Andy and I and Andy's cousin, Sandy, went to watch Betty and her fellow archers in these games and well, color me impressed!  When I was a teenager, my dad let me use his bow and arrow set and I am pretty sure that the first two times "at bat," the bow flew out first, followed by the arrow!  The arm strength needed for this is incredible and here were 134 participants age 50-96 (the oldest man!) shooting arrows like it was no big deal.  Betty won a medal in her age class as did the 96 year-old man who stood alone in his age category.  As one of Betty's friends joked "Sometimes it helps if you're older as there are less competitors!"  Regardless, we are very proud of Betty and learned a lot while watching.  It felt like a very patriotic thing to do the day after the 4th.

Sloppy Dog – serves 8
1 ¼ pounds ground beef
¼ large onion, finely chopped
½ green pepper, seeded and finely chopped, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup ketchup (store bought or use the recipe on page 23)
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon mustard powder
1 tablespoon tomato paste (buy a tube if you can so you don't waste a can)
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (the larger amount makes for a spicy Sloppy Joe, so use the smaller amount if you don't like heat)
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 potato sub rolls or hot dog buns (store bought or use the recipe on page 15)
8 hot dogs
8 ounces Muenster cheese, grated

Ann's Note:  at first I just made a little less than half of the recipe but that was too stingy so I made up another batch.  One must not skimp on Sloppy Joe mix.)

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the ground beef.  Cook, breaking it up with a spoon, until the meat is universally brown.  Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and set it aside in a bowl.  Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan, add the onions, all but 3 tablespoons of the green pepper, and the garlic.  Saute the vegetables until they are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the ketchup, brown sugar, chili powder, mustard powder, tomato paste, Worcestershire, red pepper flakes, and ½ cup of water.  Stir to combine and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.  Add the salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a second large skillet or grill pan over medium heat.  Butter the insides of the rolls and toast them in the skillet.  Set the rolls aside.  Cook the hot dogs according to your preferred method and place them in the rolls.  Top each hot dog with the Sloppy Joe mixture, some grated Muenster cheese, and some of the remaining 3 tablespoons of green pepper. 

French Potato Salad – makes 4 to 6 servings
"The French trick of pouring a little white wine or stock over warm potatoes before adding the dressing is a good one to know.  Less oil is absorbed by the potatoes, they are lighter, more flavorful.

2 pounds small boiling potatoes
Salt (for the potato water)
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons light consommé
½ cup Sauce Vinaigrette (to follow)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon and chervil, mixed (or 1 teaspoon dried fresh herbs) Ann's Note:  I used dried Herbs de Provence
2 tablespoons minced shallots or green onions
1 tablespoon minced parsley
For the vinaigrette
¾ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, crushed with the salt, optional
Pinch dry mustard, optional
3 to 4 tablespoons [white] wine vinegar
¾ cup salad oil or olive oil (or a mixture)
Generous grinding of black pepper

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender.  Drain, peel while warm and slice about ¼ inch thick.  Mix wine and consommé and pour over them.  Let stand until liquid is absorbed.  Beat vinaigrette* into mustard until smooth.  Add herbs.  Sprinkle shallots, parsley and dressing over potatoes.  Toss gently until mixed.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Cover and chill only until flavors blend.  Serve cool but not icy, in a pretty glass bowl.  Sprinkle with more parsley if you wish.

*Vinaigrette recipe:  You may combine all ingredients and shake vigorously in jar until blended, but we like to beat it with a wire whisk to a soft creamy emulsion.  The flavor seems richer, mellower.  With whisk, beat salt, garlic, if used, and mustard into vinegar, then beat in oil, in small portions, until sauce is smooth and lightly thickened.  Season with pepper.  Use at once or store in bottle and shake vigorously before using.  Ann's Note:  don't forget to beat the vinaigrette into the mustard – see above.

Boston Baked Beans – serves 12 (Ann's Note:  please note how much this full recipe makes!  I made half a batch. Also note that you will need to soak the beans overnight and then bake the mixture for 4-5 hours.  In other words, plan in advance!)
4 cups pea beans (a/k/a navy beans)
1 large onion, studded with cloves
½ pound salt pork (Ann's Note:  if you can't find salt pork, trying using a thick slab of bacon)
1 cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ cup dark molasses

Soak beans overnight.  Drain.  Cover with water and cook until the skins burst when blown on.  (Ann's Note:  What the hell does that  - "cook until the skins burst when blown on" – mean?  This is not a proper cooking instruction.  So I Googled "cooking navy beans" and found I needed to cook the beans between a half hour and an hour.  So honestly—was that hard?)

Drain and ladle the beans into an earthenware bean pot.  Press the onion into the center of the beans until barely covered.  Cut salt pork 1 inch deep every ½ inch and splay out to cover a larger surface.  Push salt pork slightly below the surface of the beans.

Over pork and beans, pour mixture of ¾ cup (leaving ¼ remaining) brown sugar, mustard, salt, pepper, and molasses.  Pour 1 cup boiling water over the beans; slowly stir with a large spoon.  Add enough boiling water to cover the beans.  Cover the bean pot and bake at 250 for 4 to 5 hours.  Uncover for the last half hour.  Sprinkle with the remaining brown sugar to brown and crisp the pork.  Add water as needed during baking.

Classic Chocolate Syrup – makes 1 cup
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
½ cup evaporated milk
¼ cup water

Melt chocolate in top of a double boiler.  Gradually stir in evaporated milk, and continue stirring until sauce is fully blended and smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in water until smooth.

Syrup may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.  To reheat, set over a double boiler and stir until smooth.  If re-heating over direct heat, use very low flame, and be careful not to let the sauce bubble or burn.

Classic Caramel Syrup – makes 1 cup
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy cream

Combine sugar and water in a heavy medium-size saucepan.  Stir constantly over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a boil.  Stop stirring and boil until the mixture turns a deep caramel color (6-12 minutes).  Watch carefully to make sure mixture doesn't get too dark.  (Ann's Note:  and this can happen in a heartbeat unless you are vigilant.  If you start to "smell" the sugar, yank it off the stove or it will burn.  I ruined the first batch because I was not quick enough on the draw!)

Remove from heat and add cream (Caution:  mixture will bubble up fiercely).  Return pan to high heat and boil, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and pour into a glass measuring cup or other heatproof container.  Allow to cool to desired temperature.

Fluffy Marshmallow Sauce – makes 3 cups
2 large egg whites (Ann's Note:  I keep powdered egg whites on hand for baking because it's easier and cheaper to use than buying fresh eggs that I never use up in time.)
1 cup sugar
½ cup water
16 regular marshmallows
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in a mixing bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 2-3 minutes.  Set aside.  Combine sugar and water in a medium-size saucepan and place over medium heat.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Stop stirring and allow sugar/water mixture to come to a boil.  Boil for 3 minutes without stirring.  Reduce heat to low, add marshmallows, and stir until they are completely melted and mixture is smooth, about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and, using the electric mixture at slow speed, beat hot marshmallow mixture into the egg whites.  Continue beating for 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Serve warm or cold.

Sauce may be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.  To re-heat, microwave on low power for 30 seconds, or until warm.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

"Flavors of Italy - Sicily" and "Made In Sicily" - "deconstructed" Lasagna and Blood Orange Jelly (Jell-O) for Father's Day

Date I made these recipes:  Sunday, June 28, 2015 – a belated Father's Day repast

Flavors of ItalySicily by Mariapaola Dettore
Published by: Time Life Books
ISBN:  0-7370-0012-0
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores
Recipe:  Lasagni a Palermitana – Pappardelle Palermo-Style – p. 30

Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli with Sheila Keating
Published by:  Ecco – An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
ISBN:  978-0-06-213037-2
Recipe:  Gelatina di arance sang-sang – Blood Orange Jelly – p. 377

As often happens, Father's Day and other holidays, fall on days when I have something planned that prevents me from making dinner on that exact day.  This year, the first day of summer fell on Father's Day as well making for a double angst moment.  Luckily, cookbooks and their recipes, keep for a long time without spoiling!

This Father's Day, my husband and I spent the afternoon watching bicycle races in the nearby town of Stillwater.  This pro racing series comes to town at this time every year and we often take in several events over the course of the weekend.  But the one in Stillwater, the last day of the North Star Bike Festival (formerly Nature Valley), is very cool because all the bikers – pro women, elite amateurs and pro men (and this year one pro woman raced with the men – woot!), have to ride up this killer hill in Stillwater – Chilkoot Hill (18% grade) 22 times over the course of the course.  Every year we go, we walk up that hill maybe 4 times max, never mind riding up it = whataminuts?

Well that was all very exciting and I could not help but think of my dad that day because one of our family's favorite movies is Breaking Away, about a young man who is obsessed with Italian bike racing and so talks his friends into forming a team – The Cutters – so they can compete against the Italians when a bike race comes to town.  This movie is just so cute and so funny and we just hooted when we watched it.  The best thing about this movie though, is seeing Dave, the leader of the Cutters, and the one who is obsessed with the Italians, pretend to be and speak Italian so he can impress people.  When he rides through the town on his bike and yells "Ciao Papa!" to his dad, played by the late Paul Dooley (Sixteen Candles), my dad really laughed because in our later years, I called my dad Papa or Pop, in the same way my Sicilian-American father addressed his dad, my grandfather, Arcangelo. 

So in memory of Pop and (Grand) Pop, I made some Sicilian dishes from two of my Sicilian cookbooks and took yet another walk down memory lane because as I read through these books, laden with all kinds of fish recipes (Sicily is an island after all), I thought about how much I hate fish and how this pained my dad.  In fact, much about my attitude about Nature and Nature's bounty (my motto: Nature is NOT your friend) pained my dad.  My dad loved nature was a noted wildlife research biologist, specializing in white tailed deer.  Although fishing wasn't exactly his deal, that didn't mean he didn't appreciate fish and seafood; visits to my grandmother in dad's home state of NJ, were not complete without a major raw clam feast.  But me?  Nah.  Most fish is either too bony (go figure) or tastes like fish (go figure, part 2).  I particularly hate smelt which is fun to catch but just inedible if you ask me and you didn't!  I'll eat shrimp and scallops and lobster (kind of boring) or crab but it takes a lot to convince me to go with fish.  My dad would just sigh every single time we ate out and worse, would rail against my delicate (?) palate to these rest of the family thusly:  "Daughter of a wildlife biologist and you hate [insert item here]?  I can't believe it."

Disclaimer:  Although I am not fond of anchovies, my grandmother would put them on half a pizza, cut into tiny pieces, and I would eat one slice of it to satisfy her and my dad.  Many recipes in this book called for anchovies and while tempted, I didn't want to buy a can just to have the rest of it sit for...decades?...before I got around to using them.

Anyway, clearly my dad thought that because he was in love with Nature and Nature's bounty, I should be too.  Silly dad.  Also on the list of "Not touching it" was Swiss chard (so bitter and yet so ingrained in the Italian/Sicilian culture); lamb (gah!  That smell!!); tripe (I mean what?! Ew!); any other part of an animal that offended me and my stomach like offal.  Being a farm boy, my dad ate the fruits of that farm and that meant using up all parts of the animal.  Plus, he grew up during the Depression so there you go.  But I didn't and so no need to go down these roads, right?

Still, dad's voice was prominent the day I started perusing these books, making it damned hard to find something both he (in absentia) and I would like.  Page after page, I mouthed "No, no, oh hell no," until finally, I decided on the recipe for basically deconstructed lasagna and the blood orange jelly.  And let me tell you, I think I deserve the "Make Papa happy" merit badges that the Girl Scouts hand out.  Wait...what?  They don't.  Oh.  My bad.

Whatever you want to call the pasta dish, it was delicious.  It's basically pappardelle noodles or other fat noodles with ricotta cheese and a meat sauce.  Easy, peasy.  Shopping though, was a challenge.  I've only found one grocery store in town, Kowalski's, that sells ground veal (a travesty that I likely will never be able to remedy), but they sold it prepackaged in a one pound container and I only needed 5 ounces (1 ½ cups).  And so I substituted the veal for grass fed ground beef and it was fine. 

Then there's the pappardelle noodles and those can be hard to find as well.  Trader Joe's carries them so that worked out, but if you can't find them, I suggest cooking lasagna noodles and cutting/breaking them in half.

Then there's the "salted ricotta cheese" which I know to mean "Ricotta Salata" but if you can't find it, use feta or queso fresco instead.  As it is, while I didn't have any trouble finding it, I sadly found more than I needed in each package and at a price I didn't want to pay.  Same thing with the Pecorino Romano.  You only need a bit of it for the topping and yet everybody sold it in big blocks.  If I had a larger family, we would polish this off easily in one sitting but I don't but Whole Foods once again saved the day.  You should know that you can get your cheese sliced to order at Broder's Cucina Italiana in south Minneapolis where I used to work, but that was out of our way this particular Sunday.

Okay, once I got over those hurdles, I had to shop for the Blood Orange Jelly and you should know folks, that timing is everything as it is now nearing the end of the blood orange season and nobody had them.  Nobody.  Nobody even had frozen blood orange juice –oh wait, someone did and it was something like $13.00.  I don't think so!

Once again, Whole Foods – amazingly – saved the day.  Mr. I Know My Oranges at Whole Foods told us that if we were looking for flavor and a brighter color (not blood orange but oh well), then Valencia oranges would do the trick and he had one bag left of organic Valencia oranges at $5.99 a pop.  I tell you what, I regret that we didn't just stay in Spain when we last visited and for a split second thought it might just be easier to fly there, get the damned oranges (blood oranges as well) and leave!  But no.  But we checked out the juice section and they had a jug of freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice at a decent price so we bought it and used that instead.  Okay then, we're off and running.

So I set out to make this jelly and folks, once again, instructions stymied.  For this recipe, you need two envelopes of gelatin.  The instructions then say "Soak the gelatin in a bowl of cold water and ice for about 10 minutes, then squeeze."  Lacking here is any indication of how much water to use, plus it seemed that they wanted me to use gelatin sheets even though the instruction said "2 envelopes gelatin."  So I used about a cup of water and added ice cubes and what a mess.  There was no way I could "squeeze" the gelatin as it was just too liquidy.  So I tried again, this time using two new envelopes and about a half cup of water and it was better – still not perfect – so I used that.  When it set up, it was still rather springy which is perhaps how it should have been but I wasn't sure.

As to the rum - wow!  This recipe calls for 2 ounces plus two teaspoons and that was a lot of rum.  My first taste after it sat overnight just about knocked me back.  Besides, I was somewhat surprised that this Sicilian recipe called for rum, seeing as how that is not something I suspect many Sicilians or Italians enjoy on a regular basis but what do I know?  We ate it anyway because "When in Rome Palermo..."

So that's my Father's Day story and I'm sticking to it.  By the time I got around to writing this, the 4th of July is looming.  What can I say, summers are busy!  Enjoy.

Pappardelle Palermo-Style – Serves 4

In a fairly large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, sauté the meat in the oil over a moderate heat, using a fork to break up any lumps.  When the meat is lightly browned, add the tomato paste mixed with the wine.  Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer of a  low heat for 40 minutes. 

Bring plenty of salted water to a boil and add the pappardelle.  While the pasta is cooking, use a fork to break up the salted ricotta into fairly small, crumbly pieces.  When the pasta is nearly done mix the fresh ricotta with 2 tablespoons of the cooking water in a large heated serving dish.

Drain the pasta and toss with the fresh ricotta and meat sauce.  Sprinkle with the salted ricotta and pecorino cheese and serve.

Blood Orange Jelly (Jell-O) – serves 4-6
2 envelopes (2 scant tablespoons) gelatin (Ann's Note:  you might want to try two sheets of gelatin)
2 2/3 cups blood orange juice (Ann's Note:  we are nearing the end of blood orange season so substitute Valencia oranges instead)
Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup plus 2 teaspoons superfine sugar
3 ounces plus 2 teaspoons rum
Pistachios (to decorate – optional)
Orange slices (to decorate – optional)
Ann's Note:  the author does not tell you how much water to use.  After starting with 1 cup – to no avail – I threw that out and used ½ cup instead and that seemed to work better.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lay the pistachios you are going to use for decorating in a single layer on a baking sheet and put into the oven for about 8 minutes.  As long as they are in a single layer, you don't need to turn them.  Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn.

Soak the gelatin in a bowl of cold water and ice for about 10 minutes, then squeeze.  (Ann's Note:  good luck with that!  I did not squeeze.)  (The ice helps retain the properties of the gelatin.)  Mix the orange and lemon juice together, then measure ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon of this and put into a pan with the sugar.  Heat (to 176 degrees F if you have a thermometer) until the sugar dissolves and remove from the heat.  Then add the squeezed gelatin, stirring until it melts, and mix in the rest of the juice and the rum.

Pour into a mold and put into the fridge until set, then turn out onto a plate and garnish with orange slices, if using, and the toasted pistachios.