Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"My Mother's Secret Recipe File - More than 125 Treasured Recipes From The Mothers Of Our Great Chefs - Sweet 'n' Smoky Chicken - Mother's Day 2017

Date I made this recipe:  May 14, 2017 – Mother's Day

Mom's Secret Recipe File – More than 125 Treasured Recipes from the Mothers of Our Great Chefs, edited by Chris Styler ("A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is being donated to the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children")
Published by Hyperion
ISBN:  1-4013-+0754-X; © 2004
Recipe:  Sweet 'n' Smoky Chicken – p. 207 (submitted by chicken magnate, Jim Perdue)

Ann's Note:  I had another recipe on deck for Mother's Day, a Caramel Cake from the cookbook/essay  In My Mother's Kitchen.  Alas, while on my third attempt to make caramel for the caramel sauce, I burned my left hand something fierce and one week later, have not been back in the kitchen at all.  Since I am still in pain (burn is infected), I shall turn my back on the recipe but will talk about the book at the end of the blog.

All right then, this Mother's Day, I had a couple of options in front of me and so finally decided upon the chicken recipe that was really good and a caramel cake that sounded good but is still unmade because of my kitchen accident.  I must say, this will forever be a memorable Mother's Day for me for all the wrong reasons!

Let's focus on the positive and talk about the cookbook Mom's Secret Recipe File.  There is a lot to like in this cookbook and I was challenged to select just one recipe.  Thirty three "celebrity" chefs submitted recipes for this endeavor to aid the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (how apt for Mother's Day), and they include:  Lidia Matticchio Bastianich; Jaques Pepin; Marcus Samuellson; Anthony Bourdain and Nieglla Lawson.  What the Table of Contents didn't include, and which irked, was a list of recipes submitted by all these glorious personnel.  I hate that.  It's a small thing, but would it have killed someone – anyone – to put a name and then some bullet-point mentions of the recipes at the front of the book?  Rhetorical question, no need to answer!

Here were some of the recipes up for consideration:
  • The Perfect Chocolate Dessert – p. 24-25 from Barbara Kafka
  • Spinach and Sun-dried Tomato Strata – p. 67-68 from (editor) Chris Styler
  • Spoon Bread with Smithfield Ham and Cheddar Cheese – p. 122 from Chris Schlessinger
  • Mushroom-Barley Soup – p. 177 from Mollie Katzen
  • Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze – p. 251-252 from Susan Feniger
 Don't these all sound delicious?  Seeing as how I had just cooked from Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen for Earth Day, I eliminated that recipe.  I would have loved to have made the "Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Glaze "recipe as that was my wedding cake, but this was Mother's Day not Ann and Anniversary's Day (May 18th) so that was out.

So there I was debating about the merits of one of these over the others when I looked through the book again and well, the answer was so obvious to me that I can't even believe I overlooked it the first time:  Sweet 'N' Smoky Chicken.

The backstory:  When my mom turned 80, I made her a homemade birthday card (mini scrapbook) of things that made me think of her and one section was called something like "Jobs my mother could have had."  Included in that was the job of an FDA meat inspector because my mother's fear of germs, especially salmonella from chicken, made her scrub the crap out her kitchen lest we all fall victim to such a terrible illness.  In no way, shape, or form, was my mother going to be responsible for her children's food illnesses, no sir!

And this is why if you came over to our house when she made chicken, you'd see her scrubbing away on her cutting board (a wooden cutting board no less) with Comet cleaner afterwards, followed by a ton of dish soap and hot water until she was assured that whatever might be lurking or fixin' to lurk was dead and gone.  I used to tease her about it to no end until I started cooking and lets just say the apple does not fall from the tree.

Given her rigorous efforts to ensure nothing wicked this way came during prep, it should come as no surprise to learn that if raw chicken was the enemy, undercooked chicken was kitchen Armageddon!  If she cooked the chicken, it sometimes bordered on overdone, something that irked my father to no end.  Dad was a wildlife research biologist and a very practical scientist, whose efforts to try to persuade my mom that "It's fine," failed and failed miserably as did "Some gut bacteria is good." 

When my father cooked the chicken, which he did on a tiny Hibachi grill using his own (and fabulous) BBQ sauce, my mother was all over him with her nagging:  "Are you sure it's cooked?  Well did you check?  Well check it again?"  (Note:  This was often before microwaves saved the day.)

Finally my dad had enough and so he wrote on a Post-it that remained on the refrigerator until the day they both died, "Don't overcook the chicken!" 

And this is how this phrase became the running joke in our household.  Let me just say that it didn't end there though as she moved on to steak and hamburger.  My dad (and I) love a rare steak and I mean rare and I also appreciate a rare burger which really, if you think about it, it steak tartare with a little char.  My mother, fearing total contamination, made my father broil her steak or burger to medium if not medium well and wow, that was a source of contention!

"Ah, come on, honey, you're ruining the meat!," dad would bellow.  "I am not."  "It'll be fine, you won't die."  "Well, I might!" (You should know that whereas my dad often sounded like Star Wars character, Chewbacca when he bellowed, my mother had the daintiest of voices sort of like Minnie Mouse, making the whole exchange even funnier.)

And on and on and on they went but it was adorable.  I am happy to report that my dad usually got his way when it came to his steak (a beautiful sirloin that my mom would "special order" – on sale, always on sale – from the butcher) but had to give it all up when it came to the chicken which is as it should be.

This chicken recipe was delicious, but what really sold the deal was the very last instruction to use a meat thermometer to check the temperature (180°F in the thickest part of the thigh) which was bloody brilliant even though today's chefs and home cooks say "Of course."  Back in the day when my family's chicken-cooking efforts were at an all-time high (60's and 70's), nobody thought to use a meat thermometer and we sure didn't have the internet to fill us on advisable temperatures nor a microwave to cook it further, so it was pretty much eyeball the sucker and hope for the best!

The other day I talked to my brother about the hilarity of all this and we both marveled that nobody in my family ever got sick from undercooked steak or chicken.  Not once because really, with my mother, would the germs even dare?  Nope! 

Here then, is a very good chicken recipe that was "perfectly cooked" and would no doubt have made my mom (and dad) happy this Mother's Day!

Sweet 'n' Smoky Chicken – makes 4 servings
1 large onion, sliced
1 whole Perdue fresh young chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into serving pieces, or 4 pounds of your preferred chicken part (Ann's Note:  I used two chicken breasts for half this recipe.)
2 teaspoons hickory-smoked salt (Ann's Note:  you can make this at home by mixing liquid smoke with sea salt and then letting it dry.  I used 1 teaspoon of sea salt and then a few drops of liquid smoke.)
¼ teaspoon pepper
½ cup ketchup
½ cup maple syrup
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared mustard

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Scatter the onion slices over the bottom of a shallow baking pan.  Place the chicken in a single layer, skin side up, on top of the onion.  Sprinkle with the salt and pepper.  Stir the ketchup, maple syrup, vinegar, and mustard together in a small bowl and pour over chicken.  Bake, uncovered, until a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 180°F.  (Ann's note:  if you are using chicken breasts, insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast.)

And now a word about the book I didn't use and the recipe I didn't make.  In My Mother's Kitchen is an essay with recipes.  The book's subtitle is "Writers on Love, Cooking, and Family," and while the essays were great, the recipes were scarce.  I  counted 12 but I'm not sure it's correct as there is no way to cross check; neither the Table of Contents or the Index listed the recipe names.

I had been wanting to make a caramel cake for some time and thought it would go well with the chicken.  In theory, this is correct, in practice, this is now a cake that I will never bake because of my burn.  And not that I want to lecture you on kitchen safety, but one week after the incident, my hand still hurts like hell.  It was such a stupid – nearly comical – event but one with lasting ramifications!  So if you decided you want to attempt caramel for this cake at home, please be careful out there.

Should you want to see the recipe for yourself, here's the information:
In My Mother's Kitchen – Writers on Love, Cooking, and Family – With contributions from Ruth Reichel, M F. K. Fisher, Maya Angelou, Julie Sahni, Joyce White, and Nigel Slater.
Published by Chamberlain Brothers
ISBN: 1-59609-209-2; © 2006
Recipe (that I didn't make):  Maya Angelou's Caramel Cake – p. 22-23, included in her essay titled "The Assurance of Caramel Cake."

Alternatively, it's also included in Hallelujah! The Welcome Table by Maya Angelou.  I have not cooked from her book(s) yet (I have two) although they are always " on my list."

Monday, May 22, 2017

"Rosa Mexicano- A Culinary Autobiography With Recipes" - Guacamole for Cinco de Mayo!

Date I made this recipe:  May 5, 2017 – Cinco de Mayo!

Rosa Mexicano – A Culinary Autobiography with 60 Recipes by Josefina Howard
Published by Viking
ISBN: 0-670-87047-9; © 1998
Recipe:  Guacamole En Molcajete –  ("Guacamole made in a molcajete," a Mexican mortar and pestle) – p. 127

Note:  Rosa Mexicano is a Mexican restaurant that originated in NYC.

I absolutely love the movie, When Harry Met Sally.  Love it.  One of the many scenes that cracks me up is – no, not the deli scene –when Harry and Sally are talking about reading books.  "When I die, I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends." [Harry to Sally]

I always check out the last page first as well but not because I might die.  No, I read it (skim it actually) so I know if it's worth my time to read it.  Yes, I know, call me crazy, but that is how I roll.

And this is why I'm going to cut to the chase tell you how this recipe ended:  It. Was. Awesome!  Awesome!  I've made a lot of guacamole in my day, including a very good pomegranate "guac," but this one was the best of the bunch.

It was so good that Andy keep exclaiming (with his mouth full) "This is so good!  This is just so good!"  He finally had to stop himself from eating the entire bowl because yes, it was that good.

The best thing about this dish though, was that it was so damned easy and when you see the ingredient list you'll say "Of course," but you know, some guacamole recipes have gotten so out of hand that this recipe is a good reminder to keep it simple.  Here's what it in it:  white onion, serrano chiles, cilantro, salt, avocado, tomato, the end.

And now, dear reader, let's see how we got here.

Although I have not long owned this cookbook, I have been aware of the Rosa Mexicano restaurant for some time.  In fact, as I was writing this blog post, I wondered (and not for the first time), whether this was the same Mexican restaurant I and a friend dined at in NYC many years ago (as in 20 years ago), but after doing my due diligence, I'm going to have to say "no."

Here's the thing:  The friend that I dined with has always lived on the Upper West Side, usually in the "80's" and so we usually crawl around that neighborhood when it comes to dining out.  Of the restaurant's four locations, only one is within spitting distance and that is the one at Lincoln Center but Lincoln Center is in the 60's whereas we definitely dined further uptown. It's important to note that in "NYC-speak," the "60's," means that the address is somewhere between 60th Street and 69th Street and not today's high temperature.  Further, when you give an address, you then add things like "between Broadway and Amsterdam," or "at Columbus Circle" so that people know approximately where it is without having to get all the specifics.  And so in conclusion, her restaurant's Lincoln Center address is several  blocks south or where we normally dine and that is why I ruled it out. 

Then there's the decor and while I realize that most restaurants do some kind of redecorating over the course of time, the interior photos on her website look absolutely nothing like the place I remembered so that made me suspicious.

Then there's the menu which I checked out online, and again, even accounting for the time lapse between now and then, nothing rang a bell.  I remember distinctly that wherever it was we dined had pozole on the menu and I ordered it (first time ever – I was intrigued) but didn't like it.  Hominy is like a giant corn kernel only not and it just didn't do anything for me.  This cookbook contains a recipe for Pozole on p. 101, but no way was I going to make recipe because when you see that you are to start making the broth with 1 pig's head and 6 pig's feet, you know you have bigger problems that the size of your corn kernels!

At any rate, based on the above evidence (such as it is), I concluded that I did not in fact dine in a Rosa Mexicano restaurant in NYC some 20 years ago.  Nor did I dine at the one that opened (and then closed) in Minneapolis.  Too many restaurants, not enough time.

Happily, many restaurant owners these days publish cookbooks so that we rank amateur chefs can have at it at home.  I tend to stick to easy recipes with ingredients that I hope we all, wherever we live, can acquire easily, and that don't take up too much prep or cooking time.

This is why I hate to say that while I appreciate good Mexican food, I don't often make it at home because it often requires more work or more ingredients than I a comfortable handling. 

Take for example, the recipe for "Black Mole Xico with Chicken" (p. 262) that called for 30 ingredients including 2 types of chiles and 3 kinds of nuts.  While the recipe looked fantastic, I was fatigued just looking at it and so passed on that.

I considered also both Mexican red rice and green rice but whereas the mole was very involved, these were almost too basic.  I mean anybody and everybody can make these dishes, si?  Si!

For the longest time, "Grits with Pork and Tomatoes" (p. 38) was on deck but then I read through it again and discovered that I was to "reserve the pork for another use."  What?  I love pork and just couldn't see using it elsewhere so that was out.  Also?  What "other use" could there possibly be for cooked pork except to eat it with the recipe in question!  Even funnier?  Once you make the sauce and the grits, you are to serve it with shredded chicken.  Ha!  Hahahahaha, stop it, "you're killing me!"

After considering a few other recipes that look good and that didn't require hours in the kitchen or millions of dollars worth of ingredients, I decided to "Kiss" (Keep It Simple, Stupid), and "make up" with the guacamole recipe and I am glad I did.  I know some people do not like avocado or cilantro but if you do like them, and we do, then this is the recipe for you.

Before I get to the recipe details, let me remind you that this cookbook is really an autobiography that includes some recipes and so rather than review the Table of Contents with you like I often do, I'll just endorse the cookbook as I think you are bound to find something you like even if it isn't the guacamole.

And on that note, and several weeks after Cinco de Mayo, here we go:  Rosa Mexicano's [Holy!] Guacamole En Molcajete!

Guacamole En Molcajete – serves 2
Ann's Note:  a molcajete is a stone mortar and pestle that is used to grind and mix the ingredients.  I do not have one so I skipped that part and the earth did not open to swallow me up so there you go.
3 tablespoons chopped white onion
½ teaspoon chopped serrano chiles (Ann's Note:  I had several frozen jalapeno chiles on hand so used that instead of serrano)
1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
1 ripe Hass avocado
1 small vine-ripened tomato sliced in half, horizontally.  Cut out the stem, scoop out the seeds and center with a spoon, and chop

In a small bowl, thoroughly mash 1 tablespoon chopped onion, the serrano chiles, ½ teaspoon cilantro, and salt with the back of a wooden spoon until it is a juicy paste.  Ann's Note:  I whirled this around in my mini-food processor. Although it didn't quite make a paste as we know it, it diced and mixed the ingredients into tiny pieces and that is what you are aiming for.

Ann's Note:  The next step is to peel then chop the avocado.  You can follow the instructions below, or you can buy yourself an Avocado Slicer made by Trudeau and your life will be so much easier.  This lone tool allows you to slice the avocado open, remove the pit, and remove and slice the avocado "meat" inside.  It's perfect and far less messy than doing it by hand.  But if you are a purist then: Holding the avocado in the palm of your hand, cut the avocado in the palm of your hand, cut the avocado in half lengthwise around the pit with a paring knife.  Twist the top half of the avocado to separate the halves.  Carefully hit the pit with the edge of a sharp knife and twist to remove the see.  Slice it lengthwise into approximately ¼-inch strips and then across to form a grid.  Scoop the avocado out with a spoon next to the skin.  Place in a bowl with the paste.

Stir thoroughly to coat with the paste.  Add the remaining onion, remaining cilantro, and the tomato, and gently fold to incorporate all the ingredients.  Add more chopped serrano chiles and salt to taste.

Serve with freshly made tortilla chips or corn tortillas.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

"Moosewood Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen - Chilean Squash - Food for a very belated Earth Day observance!

Date I made this recipe:  May 7, 2017 – belated Earth Day celebration (April 22, 2017)

Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (Compiled, Edited, Illustrated and Hand-Lettered by Mollie Katzen)
Published by Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 0-913668-68-0; © 1977
Purchased at BCPA Annual Sale (Bloomington Crime Prevention Association)
Recipe:  Chilean Squash – p. 97

Sigh.  There are times when I think I am prepared and ready to go to cook something on a day of significance like Earth Day, only to have it unravel on me at the last minute.  And so in this household we celebrated Earth Day on May 7 and then of course it took me a while to write up this blog, and if I don't get in gear, we'll be staring down the barrel of Memorial Day!

Part of the problem is that when it came to what cookbook and what recipe to use, I was torn between not one, not two, not three, but four Mollie Katzen "vegetarian" cookbooks.  For a while there, I was determined to cook from three of them (the 4th is on a different shelf and is presently AWOL) but happily came to my senses and thought better of that idea.  So then I was back to selecting one and that took me forever and so here we are.  In conclusion your honor....

I don't know about you, but I consider Mollie Katzen to be the mother of vegetarian cooking.  I remember when she published her first book – Moosewood Cookbook - the book I cooked from today, as it was widely celebrated by vegetarians who, at the time, were very much in the culinary minority.  Today, so many people are vegetarians or even vegans that you can't go two feet without finding a vegetarian cookbook or restaurant.  Not so in 1977.

Frankly, I have to admit that vegetarian cookbooks (including Mollie's) scare me because well, a) I'm a meat-eater, b) I tend to raise an eyebrow at classic vegetarian ingredients like tofu (worse, tofurkey—what is that even?), bee pollen, or wheat germ – all ingredients I won't use, and c) most modern vegetarian cookbooks want me to then stock and use said ingredients, some of which are pricey.  I'm willing to go a little bit out of my comfort zone, so long as I don't invest $50 in ingredients that are barely used after purchase.

Happily, Mollie's method was and is to use natural ingredients such as fruits and vegetables.  She also uses real dairy like eggs and cheese for which I am grateful.  In fact, today's recipe was a good mix of vegetables, eggs and cheese, AND it was tasty!  (I'm sorry, I refuse to eat "sawdust" in the form of substitutes.)  In other words, she celebrates the "fruits" of the earth which is what Earth Day and vegetarian cooking are all about.

The recipes in this book are all from her famed Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY.  Interestingly, Google says that this is a "natural foods" restaurant and that is true although that phrase was used early on by restaurants serving primarily vegetarian foods.

Mollie went on to write  twelve cookbooks, three others of which are in my collection: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest; Mollie Katzen's Still Life with Menu Cookbook, and Get Cooking which I shall save for next year.  Well, providing I can figure out where I put the Get Cooking cookbook.  All I will say is that it's got to be here somewhere but where among my 2,368 cookbooks is the question!  (BTW, I once spent over 2 years looking for a book that was smack dab in front of me but pushed back on the shelf so far that I missed it every single time.  Argh!)

As an aside, local restaurant The Good Earth, also advertises itself as a "natural foods" restaurant.  Interesting.  Back in their early years, you never, ever would have found any meat on the menu because that would be a sacrilege.   The menu was all  as all nuts and berries and fruit and veggies, period.  And to my great dismay, back when I started dining there (over 30 years ago), they wouldn't even serve coffee, never mind the decaf coffee I always drink.  Their beverage recommendation was and is their fruity tea which they package up and sell by the boatloads. I know people swoon over that tea but honestly, I cannot stand the smell of it. 

Another local restaurant that changed its menu approach is Spoonriver, owned by Chef Brenda Langton.  Langton's first restaurant, Cafe Kardamena was really the first of its kind (vegetarian) in the area.  Cafe Kardamena eventually morphed into Cafe Brenda which also stayed true to its vegetarian roots before morphing further into Spoonriver.  Although Spoonriver leans still toward a vegetarian diet, it also added locally-sourced meats to the menu and for that I am forever grateful. 

And so hooray, hooray, we are no longer held to "eating a pine tree" (Remember Euell Gibbons?) and I no longer turn tail and run at the thought of eating at a vegetarian restaurant.  That said, I will not eat tofu and there is absolutely no reason on this earth why tofurkey should exist, much less be eaten!

Even back in 1977, Mollie's approach to her restaurant menu and to vegetarian cooking was to keep it simple but well-rounded.  Recipe categories and recipe selections include:

Hot Soups
  • Cream of Asparagus
  • Brazilian Black Bean
  • Lentil
  • Minestrone
  • Split Pea

Chilled Soups
  • Buttermilk Beet Borscht
  • Gazpacho
  • Vichyssoise

  • Carrot-Yogurt
  • Cole Slaw
  • Green Leafy
  • Marinated Vegetables
  • Tabouli (because of course!)

Sauces, Sandwiches, & Spreads
  • Guacamole
  • Humus
  • Grilled Vegetable Sandwiches
  • Pepper & Onion Shortcake (the "shortcake" here is really cornbread)

Entrees (this is a long list!)
  • Broccoli, Mushroom, Noodle Casserole
  • Stuffed Cabbage
  • Cauliflower (4 recipes)
  • Eggplant (7 recipes)
  • Ratatouille
  • Zucchini (5 recipes)

  • Apple-Cheddar Strudel
  • Cheesecakes (4 recipes)
  • Lemon-Honey Mousse
  • Pumpkin Pie

Some recipes I considered before settling on the Chilean Squash recipe were "Best Split Pea Soup," "Cauliflower Cheese Soup," and "Vegetable Stroganoff."  All sounded yummy but for some reason the squash recipe grabbed me.

This recipe is pretty much a piece of cake once you get all your ingredients assembled and you cook your squash.  I liked it because the spices weren't overpowering and it contained a good mix of healthy foods.  I'd definitely make it again with just a few variations as noted below.
Okay then, so this concludes a very belated homage to Earth Day 2017.  If we are kind to Mother Earth, she will be kind to us, and so please do your part to recycle, to support local farms, and to reduce your carbon footprint as much as you can.

Chilean Squash – Makes 4-6 servings – 1 ½ hours to prepare
4 cups cooked squash or pumpkin, mashed or pureed
1 cup chopped onion
1 ½ cups chopped mixed red and green peppers
2-3 large cloves crushed garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 beaten eggs
2 cups corn (fresh or frozen)
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 cup grated cheddar
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Dash of cayenne (more to taste)
Dash of black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Ann's Note: The easiest way to cook the squash is to steam it for 8 minutes.  The easiest way to deal with the squash is to purchase it, fresh or frozen, already peeled and cubed.  I did not do this.  I wanted to save money and so I cut up the squash myself and what a mess.  It also takes a lot of arm strength to cut through it.  Next time, I'm going to just spend the extra couple of bucks and buy it all set and ready to roll.  I've been trying also, to figure out a way to make the squash (or pumpkin) a little more creamy for this dish.  Steamed, plain squash is boring and bland and was a bit too thick for the dish.  Maybe a little butter?

Sauté onion, garlic, and spices in olive oil until onions and garlic are translucent.  Add peppers and salt.  Cover and cook 5-8 minutes.

Add sauté to mashed squash, along with the corn and beaten eggs.  Mix well.  Taste to correct seasonings.  Ann's Note:  How about we don't taste raw eggs?!  I would have and should have, tasted the mixture sans eggs to correct the seasonings. 

Spread into a buttered 2-quart casserole, and top with cheese.

Bake in a 350 oven for 20 minutes, covered, 15 minutes, uncovered.

Ann's Note:  Let the dish cool before serving as the melted cheese is like napalm!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Harrods Cookery Book" - Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds - Queen Elizabeth's 91st Birthday!

Date I made this recipe:  April 21, 2017 – Queen Elizabeth II's 91st birthday!

Harrods Cookery Book by Marilyn Aslani
Published by Arbor House
ISBN: 0-87795-735-5; © 1985
Recipe:  Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds – p. 158

Well hip-hip, hooray, it's "HM's" Birth-day!  Yes, that's right,  Her Majesty ("HM"), the ageless Queen Elizabeth II, just turned 91.  Amazing but true!

Also "amazing, but true" is that the very famous Harrods department store is 183 years old this year.  Wow – twice as old as "HM."  As the Brits would say, that is "Smashing!"

I'm happy to say that Andy and I have been (or "bean" as the Brits say) to Harrods (in October 1994) and it was a fun place although we didn't get to spend a lot of time there.   I do recall us making a beeline for the famed Food Hall as it is possibly more famous than the store itself.  I can only imagine how the Food Hall has grown over the years because when we were there, you could pretty much get your hands on every type of food imaginable from every country imaginable though sometimes at a hefty price.  I do believe we gasped out loud when we spotted a bag of Kraft Marshmallows priced at $5.00 a bag and folks, that was in 1994!  Preposterous!

It should come as no surprise then, that we left the Food Hall sans food but all was not lost as we bought a couple of boxes of Christmas Crackers for the holidays.  Although the name certainly suggests this is a food item, it is not.  Christmas Crackers are paper "firecrackers," i.e. cardboard tubes filled with all kinds of goodies that are wrapped in bright holiday-colored paper and then twisted at each end.  The recipient then pulls on the ends to crack the package open (it actually makes a cracking noise) to reveal what is inside typically, little toys, candy and paper crowns.  The Brits love these things and so when I saw them, I knew I had to bring some back with me to share with my family at Christmas time.  The paper crowns were the best and I have several hilarious pictures of my mom, dad, and brother wearing them (such troopers) during our Christmas dinner.

This then concludes my memories of Harrods except to say we can now check this off list of "Things to see and do in London."  (For the record, we were in England on business and toured a good portion of the country, but had only a few days at our disposal to tour London.  Bummer, that.)

As to this cookbook, well...huh.  Let's just say that despite the fact that Andy and I had some very good meals (mostly pub grub) while in England, British cooking and recipes underwhelm me still, and sad to say, this cookbook and recipe was one of them.

The Table of Contents divides food into categories based on what how the food hall was laid out in 1985 when this cookbook was written:
  • The Meat Hall that includes recipes for meat, fish, and poultry and game
  • The Provisions Hall that includes recipes for cheese and dairy as well as charcuterie and variety meats
  • The Fruit and Vegetable Hall that includes recipes for vegetables and fruit (I don't know why the simplicity of that made me laugh but it did!)
  • The Bakery that includes desserts, biscuits and cakes (please remember that cookies are called biscuits in England), and breads and yeast doughs
  • The Confectionery Hall that includes sweets of all kinds
  • The Panty – you'll find your preserve recipes here
  • Special Occasions that include Christmas, Picnic Hamper, Afternoon Tea, and a Garden Party.  The last two occasions – Afternoon Tea and Garden Party – are just so "vedy" British, are they not?  Quite!

All right then, from these categories, I came up with a mere handful of recipes (so disappointing) and here's what I considered:
  • "Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter" – p. 137 (from the Vegetable chapter)
  • "Scallop Pilaf" – p. 49 (from the Fish chapter)
  • "Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds" – p. 158 from the Fruit [and vegetable] chapter)

And the winner/not winner was....Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds.

Why was this dish not a "Winner, winner, chicken dinner?"  Well, I can't quite put my finger on it except to say that the dish was neither good nor bad, it just was and "was" is not an option.  To put it another way, I just don't think any of the flavors stood out and so what we had was a dish of chicken + mangos + sauce rather than a blended dish of all of these ingredients and more.  These days, I am all about the "and more" in a dish.

I have to say that I was particularly amazed that the mango was not the star ingredient and I don't know why.  The dish sure looked good in the photo but maybe my mango wasn't as ripe as it should be?  Not that I know how to test a mango for readiness but that's another story.

Alas though reader, the mango problem wasn't the only issue as the "seasoning profile" also missed the mark. Both the marinade and the wok sauce contained soy sauce, rice wine and cornstarch and that is not exactly exciting.  The wok sauce contained 1 teaspoon of sugar but that wasn't enough to elevate it, either.

For the longest time after making this dish, I was stumped as to what could have made it work, and I've concluded that Chinese Five-Spice powder might have done the trick.  This flavor marries really well with the mango and also would have punched the dish up a notch as it contains cinnamon, cloves, fennel and star anise.  Sometimes it contains also ginger but this recipe used fresh ginger in the marinade and unfortunately, it was also strained out of the sauce.

I might have also added a half to full teaspoon of sesame oil to the marinade, not that it was called for, but because sesame oil adds flavor.  Sesame oil cannot be used in the wok to cook the chicken (the recipe calls for peanut oil) as it will burn, but a small amount in the chicken marinade shouldn't cause a problem.  Of course, I don't know that for sure, I'm just thinking of ways to make this dish more enjoyable to eat.

Finally, I erred on the side of cooking the chicken a bit longer than directed. "As directed" was about 1 minute, 30 seconds, and I, being my mother's daughter when it comes to chicken, wanted to make sure my chicken was done and not raw and so left it in a bit longer.

After making some rice to go with this stir-fry, I told Andy that dinner was ready.  He often waits until he's done to comment but this time around, he didn't say a word and I think that is indicative of what we collectively thought about the dish.  In summary:  "Huh."  Sadly, the leftovers I had the net day did nothing for me either.

As an aside, I tried hard to find a recipe to make in this cookbook that might please "HM," but I just don't like most of the standard fare that Brits enjoy.  I honestly can't see "HM" sitting down to this dinner but then again, maybe she would.  She's traveled all over the world so who's to say she's not a fan of stir-fry?  I'm just sayin' she probably wouldn't have been a fan of this stir-fry.

As to the cookbook though, you might want to take a gander at it for the sheer novelty of it all.  Harrods is still a must-see when in London and hip, hip hooray for them for standing the test of time!  As to "HM," long may she reign!

Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds – Serves 4 – Ann's Note:  allow ½ hour to marinate the chicken
For the marinade
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white, beaten
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or medium-dry sherry
Ann's Note:  consider adding ½ to 1 teaspoon sesame oil to the marinade.  Consider also adding some Chinese Five-Spice Powder either to the marinade or the wok sauce.
3 boneless chicken breasts, skinned and cut into 1-inch squares
For the sauce
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Ann's Note:  Consider substituting brown sugar for table sugar.  It may not work but I just have a feeling it might have helped the flavors come out. 
Other wok ingredients
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh ginger root
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 large scallions, white part finely chopped and green part cut into pieces
1 large mango, peeled and cut lengthwise into strips
Scallion tassels, to garnish

Mix together the ingredients for the marinade and pour over the chicken.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Ann's Note:  You would be wise to bring the chicken and marinade to room temperature before adding them to the wok.  See below.

Heat a woke over high heat, then add the peanut oil.  Ann's Note:  Before you add the chicken and marinade to the hot wok, bring them up to room temperature first.  The recipe doesn't call for you to do that, but I found the cornstarch in the marinade started clumping when added to the hot oil and that was not a very attractive look. Plus, I don't think the flavor came out as it should have. When the oil is hot enough for a piece of ginger to float to the surface, add the chicken and marinade, and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
Place a sieve over a bowl, and pour the chicken and all of the oil into it.  Leave to drain thoroughly, then return 2 tablespoons of the oil to the wok.  Stir-fry the ginger, garlic and white scallion parts for 30 seconds.  Return the chicken to the wok and stir-fry for 1 minute.  Transfer the chicken to a serving dish.

Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the wok, heat and add the mango.  Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add all the sauce ingredients except the almonds.  Cook for a further 30 seconds until the sauce thickens.

Stir in the green scallion parts and the toasted almonds. Pour over the chicken.  Garnish with the scallion tassels.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

"Voracious" & "The Book Club Cook Book" - Red Flannel Hash and Angel Food Cake for National Library Week (April 9-April 15)

Date I made these recipes – April 9 – April 15, 2017 – National Library Week

Voracious – A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti
Published by Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0-316-24299-8; © 2015
Recipe:  Red Flannel Hash (from the short story "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had" by Pam Houston) – p. 261-262

The Book Club Cook Book – Recipes and Food For Thought From Your Book Club's Favorite Books and Authors by Judy Gelman and Vicki Levy Krupp
Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin
ISBN: 1-58542-322-X; © 2004
Purchased at Arc's Value Village Thrift Stores, Richfield, MN
Recipe:  Mrs. Nesbitt's Angel Food Cake with Lemon Cream from the book No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt -  The Home Front in World War II by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

How is it possible that I just this year learned about National Library Week?  How?  Because I tell you what folks, the title of one of today's cookbooks, Voracious [reader] fits me to a "t."

Not too long ago, my brother commented on how he couldn't believe the speed with which I plowed through my book stacks as a child, and I wish I could show you film because his imitation of me was pretty hilarious.  According to his re-enactment, I would speed read a book, slam it down, pick up another, rinse and repeat.  I wish I had kept track of how many books I read but if memory serves, the answer is "a lot."

My love of books was such that when my 10th grade English teacher asked us to think about a college major, I thought to myself "Well, I like to read and write and so English, final answer."  Three years later, I enrolled at Northern Michigan University as an English major and I never looked back.

Let me just say that the sheer volume of reading to be done as an English major made me happy that I was an unofficial student of the Evelyn Woods Speed Reading method[1]otherwise, I would have died on the vine.  Most of my classes were comprehensive reviews of literature from either a country (American Lit, British Lit) or an author such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, etc.  And by "comprehensive," I mean that we ready everything – everything - by these authors such that to this day, Shakespeare, who is most people's favorite, remains among my least favored, certain works excepted, for example, I loved Hamlet. (And if you ever get a chance to see the movie Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, you must.  In Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are childhood friends of the Prince of Denmark and are only briefly mentioned.  This movie expands their roles and turns them into comedic characters.  My husband and I love this movie.)

Many years after these exercises in torture, I enrolled in law school.  Law school also requires a lot of reading (and analyzing but in a different way) and thanks to some friends who had gone before me, I did not bat an eyelash when each professor assigned 200 pages or more of reading to be done by the next class.  You should know that sometimes "the next class" was the next day.  Since each law school student took four classes a semester (sometimes five), that meant that we read 800 pages a night (4 classes x 200 pages per night).  Yes, you may insert a "wow" emoji here.

Alas, because all this class reading took up so much of my time, reading for pleasure was difficult and my library use decreased dramatically.  That made me sad but it was only a little blip in the scheme of things.  In fact, let's take a look-back at my library history starting with grade school.

Believe it or not folks, my tiny little Catholic school had also a tiny little library.  To this day (many, many years later), I still remember the layout and recall also, that I read every Nancy Drew book there was to be read.  Those Nancy Drew books pretty much got the ball rolling for me and libraries.

My next library was the town's public library that was housed in the combined junior high and high school.  I can't say as I remember too many townspeople coming in to check out books, but I sure did.  One of my mom's friends told her that when her daughter checked out a book about the circus, my name was all over the borrower card. I have vague recollections of the book and wish I could remember it so I could see if I could acquire it after all these years.

By the way, please tell me that you remember "borrower cards?"  Please.  If not, Google that term and you'll see exactly what I mean.  Borrower cards were lined paper cards that were housed in the front of the book in a little - what shall we call it – pouch?  The borrower in question wrote his/her name on the card and the librarian stamped the card with the due date and kept it so they would know when the book was due.  The librarian also stamped the "pocket" with the due date so the borrower knew when the book was due.  When the book was returned, the card went back inside its little pocket all set and ready to go for the next borrower.  It sounds complicated but it was really very easy.

When I was in 12th grade, I became a student librarian, and let me tell you, a lot of power and authority came with the [use of that] stamp!  I loved stamping books!  Loved it.  Stamping [checking out] books was way more fun than shelving them or typing up library classification cards for the card catalog.[2]

In college, and in law school, my semesters were spent reading assigned books for my classes so reading for pleasure (and borrowing from the library) was out of the question.  But once the semester was over, and with apologies to DJ Khaled, all I did was "read, read, read, read, read."  In college, I took perverse pleasure in reading the "trashiest" (my mother's words) novels I could find; my mother's literature selection was pretty tame.  It didn't really matter the book's topic so long as it was entertaining and believe me, after reading serious literature during a 16-week semester, just about everything was entertaining.  I repeated this same process while on break from law school although this time around my "trashy" novel selection was pretty tame and not coincidentally, focused on law or law-enforcement related novels.

These days, I am happy to report that I am devoted to my local St. Paul Library (housed in a beautiful Carnegie library building) and am also a Friend(s) of the St. Paul Library (Friends are donors/supporters).  From time to time, I give to and borrow from the Hennepin County (Minneapolis) Library although the St. Paul system is closer to me.  (Happily, one card serves two library systems as well as the Ramsey County system of St. Paul.)   Right now, I finishing up the second of two books I borrowed and am on the wait list for the latest David Baldacci novel.  I have no problems with putting a book on hold and waiting for it although some authors seriously need to cut down on their pages because it can be a challenge to get through 650+ pages in three weeks! Just sayin'...

And now we come full circle to two cookbooks related to books and reading and I thought it would be perfect to make something from each in observe of National Library Week.  True confession:  I was/am way behind schedule on cooking and blogging, oh well.

Each book's Table of Content includes books that I read (borrowed from the library or purchased) as well as some I wish I had read.  Let's take a look:

Voracious – 23 books read out of 50
A sampling of what I read includes:
  • Pippi Longstocking (Recipe: Buttermilk Pancakes – p. 64)
  • Nancy Drew (Of course!  Note there are 64 N.D. books total) (Recipe:  Double Chocolate Walnut Sundae – p. 19)
  • Anne of Green Gables (Recipe:  Salted Chocolate Caramels – p. 47)
  • Homer Price (This book is a "classic" from the 1940's and recalls fictional character Homer Price's very bad but very funny day working in a doughnut shop) (Recipe:  Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Donuts – p. 53)
  • Lord of the Flies (Recipe:  Nope, not even going to go there.  If you read the book, you can probably guess what the recipe was.)
  • Great Expectations (Recipe: Pork Pie – p. 124)
  • Moby Dick (I hated this book.  During the course of my high school and college English major studies, I think I was assigned this book to read three times, maybe four.  Hated it then, hate it now.  Hate.) (Recipe: Clam Chowder – p. 130)
  • A Confederacy of Dunces (Hil-larious!) (Recipe:  Jelly Donuts which will make sense to you if you read the book – p. 191)

The Book Club Cookbook – a paltry 30 out of 100?  How is that possible?  (Likely answer:  because I haven't been in a book club for a couple of decades?)  A sampling of what I read includes:
  • The Da Vinci Code (Recipe:  Rosemary Spaghetti – p. 85, and Death By Chocolate – p. 85)
  • The Devil Wears Prada (Never, ever did I picture Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly while reading this book and yet it works, right?) (Recipe:  Sun-Dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Pizza – p. 95)
  • The Grapes of Wrath (Recipe: Artichoke-Jalapeno Spread with  Tomato Bruschetta Topping – p. 167)
  • Nickel and Dimed (Recipe: Mozzarella Sticks – p. 300)
  • Jane Eyre (Childhood favorite) (Recipe:  Walnut Cheese Sandwiches – p. 210)[3]
  • My Antonia (Recipe: Spiced Plum Kolaches – p. 281)
  • The Poisonwood Bible (Recipe: Tropical Fruit Salad – p. 353)
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany (Recipe:  Banana Pineapple Smoothie – p. 363)
  • A Walk in the Woods (I have not seen the movie and don't plan to because the book stands on its own.  It's side-splittingly funny.) (Recipe:  Very Yellow Lemon Meringue Pie – p. 473.  By the way, this was a strong contender for a while.)
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Hmong Eggrolls with Hot Dipping Sauce – p. 410)

If you have not heard of or read the last book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, you must get on board right now.  MUST.  It's the story of a Hmong family that includes a daughter with epilepsy.  This family did not understand epilepsy but believed in their hearts that her ailment was because "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down."  For the longest time, they tried traditional Hmong methods to rid the daughter's body of this spirit, but when that didn't work, they sought out western medicine assistance with mixed results.  This book chronicles the family's quest to fix their daughter and the inevitable clash of east meets west.  It was both heartbreaking and enlightening and I loved it.

Even though I could wax poetic about even more books included in these two cookbooks, we'd be here all day so let's get on with my selections:

From Voracious, I selected "Red Flannel Hash."  I love beets (thus, the "red flannel" and I love hash.  I opted not to make the poached eggs accompanying this dish but will include the recipe anyway; the hash itself is very filling. This recipe was inspired by the story, "The Best Girlfriend You Never Had."  I have not read this story, nor am I likely to read it, but this should not dissuade you from trying out both the recipe and the story. 

I have to confess that I also never read the book, Charlotte's Web (I know, I know:  what is wrong with me?  In my defense, this was just not in my children's literature library), and was sorely tempted to make Pea and Bacon Soup – p. 75-77 – but could not bring myself to do so because, you know...bacon.

From The Book Club Cookbook, I selected the absolutely delicious "Mrs. Nesbitt's Angel Food Cake" inspired by the book No Ordinary Time:  Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt – the Home Front in World War II by noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I love Doris and her books but this book weighs in at 759 pages and that many pages requires a time commitment I don't have right now.

I hope it didn't escape your attention that I have not read either of these two writings which is somewhat cosmic and certainly not planned, but there it is.

Before I get into the recipes themselves, let me just say that I think a James Beard Award is in order for the company(s) that decided to separate egg whites and egg yolks and to put each product in a carton for ease in use.  Brilliant!  Smashing! Capital!  Why am I so excited? Well, you need 10-12 egg whites for the angel food cake and the thought of separating all those eggs, never mind trying to figure out a use for the leftover yolks gave me pause.  Pause, I tell you!  You can find these liquid egg whites in most grocery store's eggs and dairy sections. 

Here then are your literary recipes both of which were fantastic.  As to the books, I waxed nostalgic over many of the titles in each but just don't have time to reread them all as I have plenty of books on my "To Read" list for this year.  As always, there are too many books, not enough time.

And although I am terribly behind on posting this salute to libraries, I once again have to commend our public library system and all the librarians and support staff working in them.  "Free" is a good thing – free access, free lending, free classes and services and frankly, free education.  When I was a youngster in 7th grade, I had to give a speech for a class and I'll never forget my theme:  "Reading is your road to learning." (Feel free to quote me!)

Go "learn!"

Red Flannel Hash – Serves 4 generously
For the hash
1 ½ pounds fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 medium beets, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound thick-cut bacon, cut into chunks
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 thyme sprigs
For the poached eggs
¼ cup white vinegar
4 large eggs
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Set a steamer basked over a large pot filled with enough water to just reach the bottom of the basket.  Place the fingerling potato and sweet potato cubes in the basket and bring the water to a boil over medium heat.  Cover the pot and steam the potatoes for 7 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl.

Next, steam the beet cubes for 12 minutes.  (Ann's Note:  You may want to steam all vegetables a bit longer than directed to ensure doneness.)

While the beets are steaming, fry the bacon in a cast-iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat until lightly crisp. (Ann's Note:  I've cooked thick-cut bacon many times but it doesn't crisp the way regular bacon does.  It still tasted great but I don't think it ended up "lightly crisp" and I cooked it a long time.)  Add the chopped onion and minced garlic and cook over low heat.  Once the beets are steamed, add them to the skillet, along with all of the potatoes and the thyme.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are crispy, about 20 minutes.  Discard the thyme sprigs.

To poach the eggs
Fill a sauté pan or skillet with water.  Add the vinegar.  Heat the vinegar-water over medium heat until very hot, but do not let the water come to a boil, or even to a simmer.  You want it to be at the point where bubbles are forming at the bottom of the pan and steam is rising from the surface.

Crack 1 egg into a ramekin and create a whirlpool in the water with a spoon.  Gently slip the egg into the water and let it cook for 20 seconds.  After 20 seconds you can start very gently nudging the white around the yolk.  If the egg is sticking to the bottom of the pan, just use a spatula to loosen it. Cook for about 3 minutes – the white should look cooked, but you should still be able to see the yolk wiggling around inside.  Lift it out with a slotted spoon, place it on a paper towel to drain, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve on top of the red flannel hash.

Repeat with the remaining eggs.

Mrs. Nesbitt's Angel Food Cake with Lemon Cream – Yield:  8 to 10 servings
For the cake
1 ¼ cups egg whites (10-12 eggs) (Ann's Note:  Make your life easier and buy egg whites in a carton found in your store's refrigerator section.  You will need just over one carton for this endeavor so buy two.)
1 ½ teaspoons cream of tartar
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup sifted cake flour
¼ teaspoon salt
For the Lemon Cream
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup confectioner's sugar
½ cup lowfat lemon yogurt

Preheat oven to 375F.  Beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add the cream of tartar, then gradually add 1 cup of the sugar, beating continually, until the whites stand up in peaks.  Beat in the almond extract.  Sift flour.  Sift together the remaining ½ cup sugar, flour, and salt.  Gently fold flour mixture into egg whites, ½ cup at a time, just until flour is moistened.  (Ann's Confession:  I used my Kitchen Aid and might have over-folded by just a bit but it didn't seem to matter as the cake baked perfectly."

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan and bake 30-35 minutes, until the top feels springy to the touch.  Invert the cake pan and stand it on a bottle to cool.

When cake is completely cooled, loosen its edges by running a spatula or thin knife around the edge of the pan.  Gently shake the cake onto a serving plate.  Top with Lemon Cream and garnish with strawberries.

To make the Lemon Cream, beat the whipping cream and confectioners' sugar until soft peaks form.  Fold in the lemon yogurt.  Serve immediately.

Ann's Note:  Damn, this was good! 

[1] Remember Evelyn Woods Speed Reading courses?  When I was growing up, Evelyn advertised her services everywhere – comic books, magazines, newspapers.  I am totally joking about speed reading although I do set a brisk pace when it comes to reading books.  At any rate, those of a certain age will hopefully get this reference.  Please feel free to chuckle.

[2] Three words:  Dewey Decimal System. Loved it then, love it now.  That is all.
[3] First, I am doing you a solid by not requiring that you name all the authors of these books.  You're welcome.  If you were an English major though, it was/is practically a degree requirement such that all these years later, I can still rattle off most authors, even contemporary authors.  And as an aside, I'll never forget reading Jane Eyre for a high school class – maybe 10th grade – and then getting tested on it.  One of the questions asked was "What was the name of Mr. Rochester's horse?" and I wrote "I don't know.  Trigger?"  This was absolutely incorrect but it made my teacher laugh.  Why?  Because at the time, singer and actor Roy Rogers and his wife, Dale Evans, were very famous "Western" stars and Trigger was Roy's horse.  Once again, those of a certain age...