Warm Beet Salad

April 7th, 2014

beet saladweb

I know beets haven’t arrived in farm stands yet—but I’m looking forward to them! Here is a very fattening but a very fun, delectable, and showy way to use this colorful vegetable.

The recipe comes from my dear friend Michael Collins, the chef at the now closed Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. Michael and his partner Tony Palumbo are hoping to open a new Mexican restaurant, Mi Vida Loca, in nearby Shelburne Falls soon. I can’t wait to eat there—and I’m hoping the new eatery will have room for a piano so I can perform!

If you have high-speed internet, you can watch Michael prepare the beets with a little help from me by clicking “play” on the video below the recipe.

Just in case you can’t watch videos (I can’t at home in Massachusetts!), I have provided the recipe.

beetsweb

Ingredients:

3 small beets
a small handful of pine nuts
a small, flat bowl lined with all-purpose flower
1 egg
panko bread crumbs as needed
olive oil as needed for light frying
a bed of red-leaf lettuce
a few tablespoons fresh, soft goat cheese
the juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly ground pepper
fresh chives to taste

Instructions:

Quickly wash the beets and immerse them in boiling, salted water. Return the water to a boil, turn it down, and simmer the beets until they are fork tender (about 40 minutes). Drain the beets, rinse them in cold water, and quickly remove their skins and ends. If you wish, you may do this first step early in the day and finish preparing the salad just before you want to serve it.

When you are almost ready to serve the salad, toast the pine nuts in a small iron skillet until they start to smell lovely and begin to brown. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Place the flour in one bowl, the egg in a second bowl, and the panko crumbs in a third bowl. Add a small amount of water to the egg, and whisk the egg and water together.

Slice each beet into four slices. Dip the beet pieces first in the flour, then in the egg mixture, and finally in the crumbs.

Pour oil into a 10-inch skillet (enough to cover the bottom). Heat the oil over medium heat. When it is hot, add the breaded pieces of beet and cook them quickly until they are golden brown, turning once. (This will take less than 5 minutes.)

Place the lettuce on a plate, and arrange the fried beet pieces on top. Top each beet with a small amount of cheese; then squeeze lemon juice over all. Sprinkle pepper and freshly cut chives on top of the salad.

Serves 2 elegantly.

Memory Lane Brownies

February 27th, 2014

Keith browniesweb

I just realized that I haven’t posted on this blog in February. Luckily, I just made something that was definitely blogworthy so I will squeak in a February post.

Wednesday evening I spoke to a group in Alexandria, Virginia, about my book Pulling Taffy. The fun, interested and interesting crowd included one of my college dorm mates, Jo-Ann McNally (as gorgeous and peppy as ever); a man who had known and loved my darling  honorary godmother Dagny Johnson; the wonderful Joan Sutton, my mother’s geriatric adviser; and a number of people who had lived through dementia care themselves. I had a wonderful time and came home with a gift from my hosts as well as money from book sales. (I love money!)

Family members also came—and I wanted to have something easy yet tasty on hand to serve them after the program. It was snowing the morning, and I really didn’t feel like taking the Tinkymobile to the grocery store to purchase any exotic ingredients. Fortunately, I thought of Keith Brownies.

This brownie recipe may be found in a book called Treasury of Tennessee Treats, published by the Keith Memorial Church in Athens, Tennessee, home of my college roommate Kelly Boyd. I wish I had a photo of Kelly and me at Mount Holyoke to show you, but all of those photos are in another state. Picture two long-haired, short, slightly plump, astronomy-and-film-loving young girls with big smiles, and you won’t be far off.

Kelly and I made these brownies back in the day—and a couple of years ago when I asked her for the recipe she sent me her late Aunt Lucile’s copy of the cookbook. Lucile Mitchell made the first and the best cream candy I ever tasted, and I am honored to have her cookbook in my collection.

In addition to the brownies and many other dishes, the Keith Cookbook features one of those charming, sentimental “recipes” for a good life favored by community-cookbook committees in generations past. (The copy I have, the book’s second edition, was published in 1962.) I’m sure the ladies wouldn’t mind my reprinting it. Its message is sappy but inspiring.

Recipeweb

To tell you the truth, the brownies didn’t QUITE live up to my memory of them. (It’s very hard for anything to live up to a memory.) They were still extremely tasty, however—somewhere between fudgy and cakey in consistency—and no one seemed to have any trouble eating them!

Best of all, they took no time at all to make and used ingredients I ALWAYS have in the house. I will definitely keep them in my repertoire. I hope you enjoy them, too.

fudgy batterweb

Keith Brownies
Adapted from Treasury of Tennessee Treats (Aunt Lucile’s copy)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch pan. Cream together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs; then stir in the remaining ingredients.

Bake for 25 minutes. Cut into bars. The original recipe suggested cutting 16 squares, but I cut about 30! I love serving tiny treats and then allowing for seconds.

Keithweb

Souper Bowl of Dip (with Chips!)

January 29th, 2014

dipweb

I have a confession to make. I have always had a weakness for dip made with packaged onion-soup mix. When I was little and my mother made it (very occasionally, I must add) it seemed like a miracle that all that flavor could come out of one small package stirred into some sour cream.

As a grownup I’m more skeptical about packaged foods than I was as a child, when they were a novelty. And I have to shudder when I read the side of an onion-soup package. I don’t really think a creamy dip needs things like partially hydrogenated soybean oil, caramel color, corn syrup, and disodium inosinate. I don’t know what that last item is—and neither does my computer’s spelling program—but I’m pretty sure it’s not what one could call a food, let alone a healthy food.

I do still love onion dip, however. And it’s an easy, tasty snack for the Big Game—or the “Superb Owl,” as The Colbert Report calls it since the NFL threatens to sue anyone else who uses the official terminology.

As this football event approaches I am concocting a more natural version of my childhood guilty pleasure. This dip starts with the base my mother used for her cordon bleu French onion soup—caramelized onions, mustard, and wine. She used red wine, but I was darned if I was going to open a bottle of wine for the minuscule amount I wanted so I used sherry. If you feel like drinking red wine, by all means substitute it for the sherry.

I can see adding additional ingredients another time—a little Creole seasoning for kick, some herbs (parsley? dill? thyme?), and/or a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. On Sunday as I watch the Broncos and the Seahawks battle it out, however, I plan to serve it just as it is below. This onion-dip recipe takes a little more time than the package-based version, but it’s by no means difficult. The resulting spread tastes fresh yet mellow, and highly satisfying—like French onion soup on a chip.

It tastes best with homemade vegetable chips. We made sweet-potato chips yesterday. I won’t tell the Culinary Recording Angel if you go out and buy some, however.

Mustard is added to caramelizing onions.

Mustard is added to caramelizing onions.

French Onion Dip

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, cut into thin slices (my slices could have been thinner!), with each slice cut in half
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used mustard with a little garlic, which lent a lovely flavor)
1 tablespoon dry sherry
salt and pepper to taste (I used about 3/4 teaspoon sea salt and three grinds of the pepper mill)
1-1/2 cups sour cream (half of this could be Greek yogurt if you want to be healthier)

Instructions:

The dip is best prepared early in the day or the night before you wish to serve it. It needs time in the refrigerator to let its flavors blend and mature.

Combine the butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter melts stir in the onion slices. Cook them slowly, stirring every 5 minutes or so, until they are reduced and turn a lovely golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour and may take as long as an hour.

When the onions are almost ready stir in the mustard, and continue to cook, stirring, for at least five minutes. Add the sherry and cook, stirring, until the liquid disappears.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the onions and remove them from the heat. Allow them to cool to room temperature. If you want to avoid having strings of onion in your dip, chop them a bit once they have cooled.

Put the onions and sour cream in the bowl of an electric mixer and stir briskly to combine.

Place the dip in the refrigerator, covered, and let the flavors combine for several hours. At least an hour before serving taste it on a neutral cracker to see whether you want to add any additional flavors (more salt and pepper perhaps?). Bring the dip to room temperature, and serve it with vegetable chips.

Makes about 2 cups.

in oilweb

Cold-Oil Sweet Potato Chips

My sister-in-law Leigh and I actually made two kinds of chips to go with our test dip—one batch fried and one batch baked. HOWEVER, I’m only giving you the recipe for the fried batch because we were so busy eating the fried chips (they were AWFULLY tasty) that I forgot to time the baked ones. They are obviously healthier than the fried version.

I’ll tell you how we did the baked ones, but I won’t officially publish the recipe until I make them again! Basically, one slices the sweet potatoes just as one does below for the fried chips. One combines extra-virgin olive oil (about 1 tablespoon) and sea salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) in a bowl; then one stirs in the slices of sweet potato until all are coated with a tiny bit of oil. The slices go on cookie sheets in a preheated oven (325-ish) until they finish cooking; I THINK this is about half an hour. One should stir/turn the potatoes after 10 minutes and check on them frequently.

Now for the FRIED version. Leigh has a mandoline slicer, which made creating the chips a breeze. I got the idea for cold-oil frying the chips from my friend Devany Vickery-Davidson in Charleston, South Carolina. Apparently, cold-oil frying is very chic, but I had never heard of it until Devany wrote about making French fries this way. It is less messy than hot-oil frying and a lot simpler.

Leigh works her mandoline magic.

Leigh works her mandoline magic.

The Chips

Ingredients:

1 sweet potato, peeled and sliced thinly
canola oil at room temperature as needed
sea salt as needed

Instructions:

Place the pieces of sweet potato in a deep, heavy skillet or saucepan. Spread them out as much as you can. Cover them with oil; then add a little more oil. Place the pan on medium heat. Stay by the stove.

In a few minutes the oil will begin to bubble. Stir the potato pieces a bit and keep heating them. As the potatoes cook stir them every minute or two to keep them from sticking together—and to monitor them. In a very few minutes they will brown and crisp up very quickly.

Use a skimmer or tongs to remove the chips from the oil. (Don’t forget to turn off the stove!) Drain them on paper towels, and sprinkle salt on top.

Let the chips cool for a couple of minutes; then serve them with dip. Makes about 20 chips. (The number depends on the thickness of your slicing.)

cudipweb

Pumpkin Puffs

December 23rd, 2013

angelsweb

A while back I wrote about the ways in which cooking and music can both be viewed as folk practices. We start with a melody (or a recipe) that has been handed down for generations and put our own little tweak on it, allowing it to evolve.

As Christmas approaches and we’re surrounded by holiday music, I’m struck by another way in which cooking and music resemble each other.

My neighbor Alice Parker, a composer and conductor who excels at getting groups of people to sing with all their hearts (even if they don’t think they can sing!), often exhorts her singers to leave the notes on the page behind.

Music, she says, isn’t notes on a page. It’s what fills a room when singers and instrumentalists lift their eyes off that page and start interpreting the emotions behind the notes.

Music is something concrete plus a group of people coming together plus a little bit of magic.

That description also applies to cooking—particularly at this time of year, when we frequently cook alongside our families and neighbors.

This recipe came together in a group. My apartment complex in Virginia hosts cooking demonstrations from time to time. We thought it might be fun to try a holiday cookie swap. It took place last weekend. Community members brought their own cookies and recipes. As they munched and we talked I threw together a couple of batches of cookies (including my seasonal illumination cookies).

I naturally wanted to try baking something new … or at least new-ish. Those of you who read a lot of my writing will recognize the concoction below as a combination of two formulas: a basic pumpkin pie and the cranberry cream puffs I made a couple of years ago.

I wasn’t sure it would work, but it seemed worth trying. Luckily, I had lots of help filling the puffs from my fellow apartment dwellers.

(I wish I had photos of the event, but we were too busy cooking to remember to take them! I did take one of the final product and one of the filling.)

In end, we decided that this “new” holiday recipe was a definite keeper. So I offer it to you, along with my wishes for a delicious Christmas and a healthy, happy, peaceful new year.

pumpkin puffsweb

Pumpkin Cream Puffs

I know it sounds as though this recipe has a LOT of steps. You can do much of the preparation in advance however. The custard may be done the day before and refrigerated. Ditto the caramel sauce (and you can always skip that and just dust a little confectioner’s sugar on top of your puffs).

Even the cream puffs can be made in advance and frozen for a day or two. Refresh them by baking them, lightly covered with foil, at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. If you prefer to purchase frozen cream-puff shells, feel free to do so. The filling is the important part of the recipe.

Ingredients:

for the custard:

1-1/2 cups pumpkin or winter squash puree
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger or allspice (or a bit of each)
1 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup water
2 eggs

for the cream puffs:

1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1-1/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs at room temperature (place them in warm water for a few minutes to achieve the right temperature)

for the optional caramel sauce:

1 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

for the filling:

2 cups heavy cream
confectioner’s sugar and vanilla to taste (we used about 2 tablespoons sugar—maybe a little more—and 2 teaspoons vanilla)

pumpkin fillingweb

Instructions:

for the custard:

Make the custard early—ideally the day before—so it will have plenty of time to cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and grease a 9-inch pie dish. Combine the custard ingredients, and place them in the pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes; then reduce the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until firm. Allow the custard to cool to room temperature; then cover it and refrigerate it until you are ready to assemble the puffs.

for the optional but good caramel sauce:

In a heavy, wide-bottom pan that holds at least 2 quarts slowly melt the sugar over medium-low heat. You may push the sugar in from the edges with a heavy spoon or heat-resistant spatula, and you may shake the pan over the heat. Try to avoid stirring the sugar, however. Be very careful; melting sugar can be extremely hot.

When the sugar has melted and turned a lovely caramel brown, remove it from the heat and whisk in half of the cream, followed by the other half plus the salt and vanilla. The sauce will bubble furiously.

If for some reason the sauce seizes (that is, the sugar hardens and doesn’t get absorbed by the cream), put it back over low heat until the sugar melts. Set the sauce aside. If you are making it in advance, cover and refrigerate it when it gets to room temperature so that it will last until you are ready to use it.

for the puffs:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets or line them with silicone.

In a medium saucepan bring the water, butter, and salt to a rolling boil. Throw in the flour all at once. Using a wooden spoon stir it in quickly until it becomes smooth and follows the spoon around the pan. Remove the pan from the heat.

Let it rest until it is cool enough so that you can stick your finger in and hold it there for a few seconds (this takes very little time).

Place the dough in a mixer bowl, and beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating vigorously after each egg. Make sure you continue beating for 1 minute after the last egg goes in. The dough will be stiff.

Drop teaspoonsful of dough onto the cookie sheets, leaving enough space between them so the puffs can expand to golf-ball size in the oven.

Bake the pastries until they puff up and begin to turn a light golden brown—about 15 minutes.

Remove them from the oven and quickly use a sharp knife to cut a small slit in the side of each puff. (This keeps the puffs from getting soggy.) Return them to the oven for 5 more minutes. If the puffs seem in danger of burning, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.

Remove the puffs from the oven and cool them on wire racks.

for the filling:

Just before you are ready to assemble your puffs, whip the cream until it is thick and forms nice peaks, adding the sugar and vanilla toward the end of this process.

Use a whisk to break up the pumpkin custard. Gently fold it into the whipped cream.

for assembly:

Carefully cut open each puff in the middle; you will find that each of them has what King Arthur Flour (from which I slightly adapted the puff recipe) calls a “natural fault line.”

Decorate the bottom of each puff with the pumpkin-cream mixture and replace the top. Drizzle a little caramel sauce on top if desired. (If you prefer a little confectioner’s sugar, go for that.)

This recipe makes about 40 cream puffs. You may make fewer puffs by making them a little bigger—or even more puffs by making them smaller.

Merryweb

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Cooking and Thinking in Provence, 1970

December 6th, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

I review a lot of books for my local newspaper. I can’t remember the last one that spoke to me as Provence, 1970 has.

Subitled “M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste,” the book was written by Luke Barr, an editor at Travel + Leisure and Fisher’s nephew.

(M.F.K. Fisher, in case you haven’t read her, is another great read, perhaps the first American to write culinary essays that were taken seriously by both food lovers and literary critics.)

The book hones in on a few weeks toward the end of 1970 when six food luminaries converged in the South of France. In addition to the three writers in the subtitle, Barr writes about Simone Beck, Julia Child’s friend and the co-author of Child’s pioneering volumes on Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Richard Olney, an American writer and artist who wrote meticulously researched books about traditional French country cooking; and Judith Jones, the influential editor who worked with most of the writers involved.

Jones is the only major character in the book who is still alive. At 89 she is still cooking and writing and is a former judge at my very own hometown’s charity pudding contest, which will return in 2014.

Working from letters, diaries, and memoirs, Barr examines individuals and cultures at a defining moment. Most of his American characters had made their reputations (and built much of their lives) paying tribute to traditional French cuisine. At this point in their lives Child and Fisher in particular were beginning to feel ever so slightly oppressed by the Old World and their old lives in France … and to look forward to a new beginning in the New World.

Barr argues that this moment in food history, the time his characters spent together in Provence late in that year, marked a turning point in the way Americans write about food and consequently in the way we cook. Instead of trying to duplicate classic French modes of food preparation, we began to explore our own culinary possibilities.

Much of the food culture we now take for granted followed—including our renewed interest in local, fresh food; the status of chefs and food writers (although not this food writer yet, alas) as icons of popular culture; our curiosity about new, varied flavors; and what Barr calls the “moral dimension” of cookery in contemporary America.

Barr is careful not to overstate his argument; he doesn’t claim that these encounters in Provence CAUSED the way we cook today. He does convincingly maintain that his characters and their interactions “provide a unique, up-close view of the push and pull of history and personality.”

Provence, 1970 takes the reader on a thought-provoking, delicious tour of a remarkable time, place, and group of people. My favorite moment in the book comes when Julia Child and James Beard are improvising a simple supper in the kitchen at la Pitchoune, the small house built by Child and her husband Paul in rural France.

Julia Child and James Beard in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Julia Child and James Beard  at la Pitchoune in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission from/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

For them, as for most of us who love to cook, the preparation of a meal is a balancing act between the knowledge and tradition they have built up over the years in the kitchen and the demands of the unique foodstuffs in front of them. It is an opportunity for creativity and for camaraderie.

I treasure Provence, 1970 for scenes like the one in the Childs’ kitchen and also for its implicit message that change can come at any age. All the main characters are middle aged, ranging from Richard Olney at 43 to James Beard at 67. Yet all are preparing for new chapters in their lives and new chapters in books.

Above all, I love the book for Barr’s sensitivity to the enduring connections that food can forge between people who care for one another and for the preparation and consumption of meals.

His words about his mother near the end of the book speak to the impulse that made me call this blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

It was my mother, who died a few years ago, who taught me to cook. And when I make something she made for me, or with me, I feel her presence—not in any literal or even ghostly way, but in the form of an atmospheric shift, an emotional warmth. It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they’re gone.

As Christmas approaches, I raise a glass and lift a fork to Luke Barr and to the historical figures he brings to life in his book. And of course to my own late mother—and to you and those you love, dear readers.

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

P.S. If you have already purchased Provence, 1970 for a food lover on your gift list and are looking for other book suggestions, a bookstore, Amazon, or I would be more than happy to sell you a copy of my own Pulling Taffy or Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you order from me, you may get your copies signed—and you will be supporting THIS middle-aged food writer!)

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