Archive for April, 2010

Sip and Sing Along!

Friday, April 30th, 2010

 
I’m not from a horsy family so I didn’t watch the Kentucky Derby as a child.
 
This annual ritual began for me in graduate school. Each year my friend Dan Streible gave a Derby party at which guests wore colorful hats (well, this guest did, anyway), sipped mint juleps, and sang “My Old Kentucky Home” along with the folks at Churchill Downs.
 
We also watched the horse race.
 
Dan is a darling person and a terrific scholar. He was also smart enough to marry my friend Teri the Renaissance Woman. I think of him every time I watch the Kentucky Derby, sip a mint julep, or sing “My Old Kentucky Home.”
 
 

Dan at his recent Orphan Film Symposium, obviously getting ready to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" (Courtesy of the Orphanistas)

 
Like other tunes by Stephen Foster such as “Hard Times” and “Old Black Joe,” the state song of Kentucky is nostalgically sentimental and easy to sing.
 
The act of crooning it and watching the VERY brief horse race (which often seems shorter than the song) always starts May off with a bang for me.
 
The song is traditionally played at the Derby by the University of Louisville Marching Band.
 
I was lucky enough to find a recording of the band at the Kentucky Derby Information site (which also provides a little history of the relationship between the song and the race, as well as a look at some outstanding Derby hats and of course a few recipes!).
 
I used it as background for our sing-along. Click on the sheet music below to start the recording and then minimize your audio player so you can read the lyrics and sing with me. That way you’ll be in good voice for the Derby tomorrow.
 
I’m still working on the recording technology; my loud voice may sound a little fuzzy and faint. I think I messed up a couple of notes and lyrics. And frankly if I’d been in charge of the band I would have asked the musicians to play the song a little faster and a little higher.
 
If you drink a couple of mint juleps before listening, none of those things should bother you, however.
 
Here we go……..  
 
 
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home.
‘Tis summer, the people are gay.
The corn top’s ripe, and the meadow’s in the bloom
While the birds make music all the day.
 
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy, and bright.
By’n by hard times comes a knockin’ at the door.
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.
 
Weep no more, my lady. Oh! Weep no more today.
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home, far away.
 
 
Dan’s Mint Juleps
 
I asked Dan for his julep recipe and then immediately changed it just a little bit by adding mint directly to the simple syrup to make the concoction more minty.
 
He was vague about amounts of syrup and bourbon. Basically, you should make this drink to your taste! Here I’m giving you the proportions my family uses, along with his instructions, slightly modified.
 
Ingredients:
 
for the simple syrup:
 
2 large sprigs very fresh spearmint, slightly crushed
1 cup sugar
1 cup boiling water
 
for each julep:
 
lots of shaved, finely crushed, or snow ice
(You can see from the picture above that I wasn’t the most thorough crusher in the world, but luckily the glasses still ended up frosty as we sipped!)
about 1 ounce simple syrup
about 2 ounces Kentucky bourbon whiskey
(Dan says, “There is no such thing as Tennessee bourbon. Don’t make the mistake of using sour-mash whiskey.”)
2 sprigs very fresh spearmint
 
Instructions:
 
The day before the Derby (that’s today!) prepare the simple syrup. Combine the mint with the sugar, and pour the boiling water on top. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool and refrigerate overnight.
 
The next day make the julep.
 
Pack a julep glass with ice. (No julep glass or cup? Use a highball glass if you must.)
 
Drizzle simple syrup over the ice. Top off the glass with more ice if needed.
 
Pour the bourbon over the sweetened ice until the glass is nearly full.
 
Add sprigs of very fresh spearmint. Stir slowly. Sip slowly, with a straw or not. Be sure to get a snootful of mint as you sip. The longer the bourbon blends with the mint oils the better.
 
Do not drive or operate heavy machinery. 

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Cookie Emergency

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

 
Uh oh!
 
I realized a couple of days ago that the month was fast a-waning and I hadn’t yet published a “Twelve Cookies of Christmas” recipe for April.
 
So I had to make cookies. Naturally, my family was devastated. Nevertheless, we valiantly forced ourselves to eat them.
 
I recently ordered some cinnamon mini-chips from King Arthur Flour for making scones (that recipe will be posted next week). I threw some into a basic cookie recipe.
 
The resulting treats were lovely. The chips are so tiny that the cinnamon flavor is a bit subtle—but I love subtle! Next time I may try them in oatmeal cookies.
 
This version would make a tasty addition to any May Basket you might be planning to deliver to a special someone on Saturday!
 
Cinnamon Chip Cookies
 
Ingredients:
 
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour (I used half all-purpose and half white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup cinnamon mini-chips
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
 
Cream together the butter and the sugars. Beat in the egg and mix thoroughly.
 
Beat in the baking soda and salt; then stir in the flour, followed by the vanilla and the chips.
 
Drop teaspoons of dough onto an ungreased (or parchment covered) cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the cookies brown around the edges.
 
Makes about 20 cookies. This recipe may be doubled.
 
 

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Bewitched, Freud, & Caesar Salad

Monday, April 26th, 2010

 
Ask a historian for a catchphrase about American television in the 1960s, and you’ll probably hear the words “vast wasteland.”
 
The phrase was coined in 1961 by Newton Minow, John F. Kennedy’s appointee as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, at a meeting of the National Association of Broadcasters.
 
Minow suggested that broadcasters sit down and watch their own programs.
 
“I can assure you,” he intoned, “that you will observe a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, Western badmen, Western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials–many screaming, cajoling, offending….”
 
(This link will take you to the text and a recording of the speech.)
 
In general, critics and historians have concurred with Minow’s assessment of television in the 1960s, contrasting that decade with the 1950s in particular.
 
In the early ‘50s, American TV was finding its way. Weekly filmed programs vied for air space with spectacular events designed to sell television sets, personality-based shows inherited from radio, and the live dramas that epitomized the medium’s golden age.
 
Television wasn’t always good, but it was varied and often thought provoking.
 
By 1960, economic and regulatory pressures had streamlined the industry. The three networks, or companies affiliated with them, were the main source of programming.
 
That programming tended to consist of inexpensive, filmed shows designed to attract the most viewers and offend the fewest.
 
Controversy and ethnicity, which had characterized much of 1950s live drama, were weeded out. To a great extent, the decade of the 1960s was indeed one of blandness and inanity in television programming.
 
Why, then, are programs of the 1960s still popular? Today cable networks recycle such perennial favorites as Gilligan’s Island, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Bewitched. Most continue to attract new fans.
 
The secret of their longevity and vitality lies in the slippery nature of censorship.
 
Freud argued that whatever we repress in our personalities returns in disguised form to haunt us.
 
Similarly, controversy erased from the plots of popular television programs of the 1960s returned to them in symbolic form.
 
Network programmers anxious to placate advertisers avoided airing programs dealing, for example, with race relations or with the rumblings of feminism.
 
These themes resurfaced in disguise.
 
Programs like The Addams Family, The Munsters, and My Favorite Martian represented exercises in dealing with the “other” in mainstream American culture. If we couldn’t have black, Hispanic, or gay others, we could have oddballs and aliens.
 
The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres dealt with the ever present split between rural and urban America, the contrast between the agrarian ideal and commercial values.
 
Similarly, a feminist undercurrent flowed through Bewitched (1964-1972). This series presented weekly stories in which female power was constantly but impermanently quashed by an insecure patriarch. 
 
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. (although luckily I have one) to perceive the show’s implicit argument that women should be freed from household drudgery and allowed to explore their powers.
 
It is unlikely that the program’s producers were aware of making that argument, which sprang from a sort of collective American unconscious.
 
In this series, benign witch Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) dwells in the suburbs of Connecticut with her mortal advertising-executive husband, Darrin (Dick York, replaced in 1969 by Dick Sargent).
 
The fundamental rule of their marriage is that Samantha, who could clean the house and cook a banquet in five seconds just by twitching her nose, is not allowed to use her powers of witchcraft but must spend each day doing housework.
 
Samantha tries valiantly and cheerfully to live up to her side of this bargain. Of course something always gets in the way of her vow to be witchcraft free; otherwise, there would be no story. Often, the something that gets in her way is one of her relatives—primarily her mother Endora, played with glamorous panache by Agnes Moorehead.
 
endoraweb
 
This mother-in-law to end all mothers-in-law cannot fathom her daughter’s choice of a husband, an attitude with which the program invites viewers to sympathize.
 
Samantha is beautiful, intelligent, fun, and generous. The best one can say of the nebbishy Darrin is that he works hard at his job and never looks at another woman.
 
Luckily for the storyline, Samantha ends up twitching her nose to resolve the conflict in almost every episode, although she is always careful to allow Darrin to continue to delude himself that he is in charge of his home, his marriage, and his career.
 
The program thus both pays tribute to the power of the housewife of the era, who was proverbially smart enough not to let her husband know just how smart she was, and exposes the system that kept her from stretching her wings.
 
The popularity of Bewitched goes beyond its unconscious feminist message, of course. The show survived because of its engaging star, talented writers, and excellent supporting cast.
 
Recurring guest stars included the great Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans as Samantha’s father, Montgomery herself as Samantha’s semi-identical cousin Serena, and Paul Lynde as the young witch’s Uncle Arthur.
 
In the episode that spurred this post, “Samantha’s Caesar Salad,” Tony-award winning actress Alice Ghostly took center stage as Samantha’s hapless maid, Esmeralda.
 
The episode dates from the program’s sixth season. Darrin has finally relented and allowed Samantha to employ household help since she is pregnant with the couple’s second child.
 
Endora has recommended Esmeralda, a timid witch whose powers are erratic.
 
When Samantha leaves Esmeralda in the kitchen with the ingredients for a Caesar salad the maid decides to take a short cut. The ensuing spell accidentally brings Julius Caesar into the Stevens home—and he is in no mood to return to ancient Rome.
 
Samantha’s surprise at this turn of events is a tribute to Elizabeth Montgomery’s acting skill, particularly since Uncle Arthur had pulled a similar stunt with pastry and Napoleon Bonaparte just the year before in the episode “Samantha’s French Pastry.”
 
Although my Napoleons are worthy of an emperor they’re horrendously fattening. For the moment I’m sticking to Caesar salad.
 
Bonus appetitus, as Julius himself might have said. (He might not have. My Latin is a little rusty!)
 

 
 
I’ve always loved Caesar salad, although I tend not to make it often. It’s a fair amount of work, and then there’s the vexing question of the egg yolks: is it okay to serve them raw (or almost raw; you’ll see from the recipe that they get cooked a little and also whisked with lemon juice to help fight bacteria)?
 
If you’re really worried about the egg yolks you may omit them and make a simple vinaigrette—but they do add depth to the salad.
 
Caesar salads were beloved in the 20th century by many chefs because they are best assembled at the table, preferably with panache.
 
Whenever I see one being put together I think of the wonderful Jules Munshin in the film Easter Parade. His “Salad François” isn’t quite a Caesar, but it shares many of the same elements, plus a little Munshin ham.
 
YouTube Preview Image
 
Ingredients:
 
for the croutons:
 
2 cups cubed French or Italian bread (slightly stale bread is best, but use what you have!)
a splash or two of extra-virgin olive oil
a dash of sea salt
 
for the dressing and salad:
 
1 large head romaine lettuce
2 cloves garlic, slightly crushed
2 eggs, as fresh as possible (pasteurized are best, but I can never find them)
4 anchovies, cut into small pieces
1 splash Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 small handfuls freshly grated Parmesan cheese
lots of freshly ground pepper
 
Instructions:
 
First, make the croutons. (This may be done the day before you make the salad.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium cast-iron skillet (8 to 10 inches) place just enough oil to cover the bottom. Toss in the bread cubes. Splash in a tiny bit more oil, and stir to coat the cubes as well as you can.
 
Bake the oiled croutons until they turn golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes, tossing them every 5 minutes or so. Remove the croutons from the oven, toss on the salt, and allow them to cool completely.
 
If you don’t plan to use them immediately, store them in a plastic bag or a tin until you need them.
 
For the salad wash and trim the romaine. You should have pieces that are easy to eat but still substantial looking.
 
Rub the garlic pieces on the inside of a wooden salad bowl to spread their oil; then discard the garlic.
 
Bring the eggs to room temperature by placing them in warm water for a few minutes. Drain them, and pour boiling water over them. Allow the eggs to sit for 1 minute; then drain them again and immediately bathe them in cold water to cool them off. This is called coddling the eggs lightly.
 
Separate the egg yolks from the whites, and discard the whites. Set the yolks aside briefly.
 
Place the anchovies in the salad bowl and mash them with a fork or a pestle. Use a fork to whisk in the egg yolks, followed by the lemon juice and the Worcestershire sauce. Continue to whisk for 2 to 3 minutes; then add the salt.
 
Add the oil, a few drops at a time, whisking constantly, followed by the first handful of cheese.
 
Toss in the lettuce leaves, and top them with the pepper and the rest of the cheese. Add the croutons, toss, and serve.
 
Serves 4.
 


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Herbed Cherry Tomato Salad

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

 
My last few posts (and consequently meals) have been rather heavy so I’m in the mood to post a couple of salads, beginning TODAY.
 
I can hardly wait for local tomatoes to come into season. (Soon! Soon!). Grocery-store cherry tomatoes may not be able to compete once that season starts, but in the meantime they offer little bursts of flavor as well as gorgeous color.
 
This simple Greek-inspired combination uses them to excellent effect.
 
The Salad
 
Ingredients:
 
for the dressing:
 
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (If you are lucky enough to have fresh oregano, put 1 teaspoon of it into the salad instead.)
 
for the salad:
 
1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup chopped pitted Greek olives
1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion
1 small cucumber, chopped into tiny chunks
crumbled feta cheese to taste
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh chopped parsley
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh chopped basil
 
Instructions:
 
In a small jar combine the dressing ingredients.
 
Drain the tomatoes, which tend to be a bit wet, particularly when cut in half. In a bowl combine the tomatoes with the remaining salad ingredients. Toss with dressing. Serve immediately.
 
Serves 4 as a side salad or 2 as a main dish.
 
 

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Upside Down

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Here's our cake. Don't you love my sister's new cake plate(from Williams-Sonoma, http://www.williams-sonoma.com)?

 
Yesterday was National Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Day.
 
I’m not a slave to food holidays. So many of them were created by commercial interests. (I can find no evidence that Mr. Dole invented this one, and yet I can’t help but wonder…….)
 
Nevertheless, pineapple upside-down cake has long been a favorite of mine.
 
It’s a dessert with many associations. The pineapple itself has long symbolized hospitality and elegance.
 
To me fresh pineapple is a magical fruit—a perfect blend of sweetness and acidity. I know the pineapple we get in the northeast can’t compare with its cousins in their native climes. Nevertheless, if left to ripen for a few days a fresh pineapple can give us Yankees the illusion of living in a tropical paradise.
 
I generally eat the fruit plain—but I’ve been known to put it in fruit salad or salsa.
 
Pineapple upside-down cake is a simple comfort food I remember with joy from my childhood.
 
Even made with canned pineapple it delights eaters. When I worked as a demo cook at Bloomingdale’s I kept canned pineapple on hand for days on which I was uninspired. A quick batch of upside-down cake made even the most fussy of customers happy.
 
The cake is even better when made with fresh pineapple. To tell you the truth, the flavor isn’t terribly different. By the time you bake fresh pineapple pieces they taste a lot like canned ones. Nevertheless, I love having more substantial chunks in the cake than one can achieve with canned pineapple.
 
I think it would taste even better with a little rum added along with the vanilla, but I couldn’t find rum in the house so I don’t know for sure.
 
If you’re interested in the history of pineapple upside-down cake, take a look at the Food Timeline’s copious notes on this item, which include vintage recipes.
 
If you’re interested in making your family happy, bake this cake!
 

 
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
 
Ingredients:
 
for the upside-down topping:
 
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
3/4 cup brown sugar (I used dark brown as that is what I had, but light brown might look prettier)
2 cups pineapple, cut into chunks
 
for the cake:
 
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 pinch salt
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
 
Instructions:
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
First make the topping (which goes on the bottom!).
 
Melt the butter in a skillet—a 9- or 10-inch cast-iron skillet, if possible. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until it melts and bubbles—3 to 4 minutes.
 
If you’re using the cast-iron skillet you may continue with the recipe at this stage and cook the cake in the skillet. If not, transfer the brown-sugar mixture into a 9-inch round cake pan. Spread it through the bottom of the pan. Arrange the pineapple pieces on top as artistically as you can.
 
In a separate bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the baking powder and salt.
 
Add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the vanilla.
 
Spoon the batter over the pineapple in the cake pan or skillet, and place the pan in the oven. Bake until the cake tests done (in about 40 minutes).
 
Let the cake stand for 10 minutes; then invert it onto a serving plate. You may need help with this if you use the cast-iron skillet as it feels a bit heavy during the inverting process.
 
This cake is best served slightly warm with or without a little whipped cream.
 
Serves 6 to 8.
 
 

Colonial Williamsburg created this lovely pineapple wreath. http://www.history.org/

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