Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dear Margaret,

Last night I had a cake craving and thought I'd satisfy it simply and easily with Bishops Cake from the white Silver Palate, an old standby that never disappoints. However the book "fell" open to Chestnut Cake and in a moment of abandon I decided to try it out.

As you know, the recipe calls for a cup of wine which you cautioned me against. Since you never texted back with an acceptable alternative I threw in with Rosso and Lukens and went for it with some A to Z Pinot Grigio. This all went well. The batter had an unusual flavor, sort of Italian tasting, like you might want a biscotto to taste.

It baked up nicely and then things got dicey. First, the cake pans have sloping sides. Why would someone make cake pans with sloping sides? Why did I buy them? They gave the unfrosted cake the shape of Marilyn Monroe.

The recipe calls for chestnut puree on the top. Imagine my delight when I discovered a can of it in the cupboard. Imagine my disappointment when I opened it to discover that 8 years in the back of the cupboard had given it the flavor and texture of play-dough.

Oh well, more chocolate frosting can't be a bad thing. Unless you are making it with organic confectioners sugar that has lumps in it that are impervious to the sifter. They bounced around in the bottom of the sifter and the harder I cranked, the more of them flew out of the sifter and across the room. Pemba thought this was a big improvement on the usual game of fetch but it wasn't getting me any closer to frosting. The night was getting longer and my temper was getting shorter.

I ended up putting the sugar in my mini food mill and whirring the shit out of it.

I had to make 2 batches of frosting. Two rounds of whirring. But the frosting was great. It's on page 289 of the book, and I happen to know it makes excellent fudge.

The end result was an excellent cake. It would be interesting to try the batter as upside down cake with toasted almonds and brown sugar in the upside down part. Maybe I'll start earlier tonight.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Black Bean Soup for Book Club by guest blogger, Mom

My book club has a strict rule limiting food served at meetings to soup, bread and cookies in the winter and salad, bread and cookies in summer. For the January meeting at my house, I decided on black bean soup, hearty fare for a cold, snowy night. I combined recipes from several cookbooks and substituted canned beans for dried ones. It seemed simple enough. Fortunately, I made the soup a day ahead. To my horror, the initial result was watery and bland – disgusting and embarrassing. My daughters, both such good cooks, sometimes tease me that they must have been adopted – this idea was mentioned on the Sisters Cook blog when Margaret discovered that I didn’t own a spring form pan. I was beginning to think they might be right – I really was a hopeless cook.
Panic-stricken, I called my friend Abby. Abby owned a restaurant for many years and now has a catering business. She’s an excellent cook.
Abby’s advice (good for a wide variety of culinary disasters):
1. Calm down.
2. Add 3 more cans of black beans.
3. Add some tomato paste and more salt.
4. Gently sauté more onions and garlic, and add to the soup.
5. Cook it down a little.
6. Taste it, taste it, taste it!
I was a wreck, my hands were trembling, but I followed these instructions, and by the next morning, the soup had improved enormously – almost like magic, and what a relief! I was still a little rattled, so Abby (a great friend as well as a great cook) came over to taste the final product and reassure me that it was actually very good. And it was delicious, a big success. Nearly everyone had second helpings with only a cup or two for leftovers. To go with the soup, I made Fanny Farmer’s Rich Corn Bread and the Silver Palate Three Ginger Cookies. People left the meeting asking for recipes, always a good sign. Perhaps those girls weren’t adopted after all . . .
The book was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck.

Black Bean Soup for 12

1 c. olive oil
7 c. diced yellow onions
16 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
10 cans black beans
2 smoked ham hocks
12 quarts water
5 TB ground cuminseed
2 TB dried oregano
6 bay leaves1 TB salt
1 1/2 TB salt
1TB ground pepper
2 or 3 large pinches cayenne
12 TB chopped parsley
2 medium sweet red peppers diced
1/2 c. dry sherry
2 TB brown sugar2 TB lemon juice
2 or 3 TB tomato paste
Chicken broth
Creme Fraiche or sour cream

Heat oil in a soup pot. Add onions, cook over low heat until tender about 10 minutes. For the last few minutes add the garlic.

Add ham hock and water. Stir in 4 TB cuminseed, the oregano, bay leaves, salt, pepper, cayenne and 2 TB of the parsley. Bring to boil, reduce heat and cook uncovered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Liquid will theoretically be reduced by 3/4.

Remove ham hock to a plate. Cool slightly, then pull of any remaining meat with your fingers and shred fine. Return meat to pot.

Add beans, cook covered about 30 minutes.

Add remaining parsley, sweet red pepper, remaining cuminseed, sherry, brown sugar, lemon juice and tomato paste.
Simmer another 30 minutes.

Add some chicken broth if the soup seems too thick.

TASTE the soup! Correct seasoning (salt, pepper, cayenne, perhaps more cuminseed.)

Serve very hot in heated bowls. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream. Serve guacamole and grated cheese as optional garnishes.

Guacamole from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

4 ripe avocados
3 Tb fresh squeezed lemon juice
8 dashes Tabasco
1/2 cup small-diced red onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 medium tomato small-diced (I made this in winter so I substituted small diced sweet red pepper.)

Halve the avocados, remove the pits and scoop the flesh into a bowl.
Immediately add the lemon juice, Tabasco, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. Toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are diced. Add the tomatoes (or peppers.)

Mix well. TASTE for salt and pepper.

Rich Corn Cake from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Butter a 9 x 9 pan.

3/4 cup yellow corn meal or polenta
1 cup flour
2 Tb sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 tsp. salt

Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl.

2 eggs well beaten
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup whole milk
4 TB butter, melted

Combine eggs, sour cream, milk and melted butter together in a separate bowl. Mix well.

Add quickly to dry ingredients. Stir just to mix. (Don't worry if there are a few streaks of dry ingredients.) Spoon into pan. Bake 20 minutes.

Three Ginger Cookies from The Silver Palate

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 TB finely chopped fresh ginger root
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Cream butter and brown sugar in large mixer bowl. Beat in molasses, then the egg.
Sift flour, ground ginger, baking soda and salt together. Stir into butter mixture with wooden spoon. until blended.
Add fresh and crystallized gingers. stir until well mixed.
Refrigerate dough at least 2 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease cookie sheets with butter.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheets.
Bake until browned, approximately 10 minutes. Cool a few minutes on sheets for easier removal.
Remove to wire rack to cool completely.

3 1/2 to 4 dozen cookies

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hample Pie


Here I am with all these apples,
And this eternal ham is ample.
You might think this state me baffles,
But I will fill my pie with hample.

Oh hample pie, oh hample pie,
I say your name with croon and sigh.

The crust is brown and butter-dappled,
A pie of blithe and pure example.
Neither boudin blanc nor lowly scrapple
Can match the true empyrean of hample.

Oh hample pie, oh hample pie,
Your humble looks such yum belie.

This merry mix, this sublime couple,
On sanctity of marriage tramples,
With flavor so sublime and supple,
Blessed miscegenation—hample.

Oh hample pie, oh hample pie,
You can make a strong man cry.

A rapt silence, an awe substantial
Will start and spread when pie you sample.
That first taste is consequential,
The paradigm shifts when you add hample.

Oh hample pie, oh hample pie,
My appetite you sanctify.
Now let’s apply our hungry eye to hample pie.

Toss 3 cups diced apple with 1/4 cup each flour and sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Mix in 2 1/2 cups diced ham and 8 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese. Mound into pie crust, top with second crust. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes then at 350 for an additional 35 minutes.

love, Margaret

Sunday, January 1, 2012

We begin as we mean to go on

New Years Day

I am drawing the line at bringing a dark haired First Footer over the threshold before any others in the new year. I don't know about VA but here in the mountains it's just me and A and neither of us qualifies. I did manage not to take anything out of the house today but that's due more to laziness than superstition. And I smooched my sweetie at the turn of the hour - never mind that the hour was 10 PM. Midnight in Times Square, we told each other as we trundled off to bed.

However the superstition I am really attached to is the one about New Years foods. What you eat on New Years day sets the tone for the year to come. Noodles for longevity, rice and other grains for prosperity as they swell when cooked. A few years ago I made Hoppin' John. This year it's lentils.

Lentils are meant to bring good fortune in the new year, as they resemble coins. Given the state of the economy I choose green ones for a little extra assurance.

Sauté 2 strips of bacon, chopped. Pigs are good for the new year because while chickens scratch backwards and cows stand still, a pig roots forwards. Fatty meat is also symbolic of fattening wallets. I guess this means we'll be moving forwards this year.

When the bacon is about done add a carrot, peeled and sliced, 3 hefty cloves of garlic, and 2 shallots, chopped. Cook til the shallots are soft, add a cup of green lentils and 3 cups chicken broth. You can use homemade if you'd like.

Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes. When the lentils are as soft as you'd like, add a few handfuls of spinach and cook til wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

Cookies for desert. We begin as we mean to go on...