Saturday, July 4, 2015

Lemons, Berries, and Summer Sun

Hey there!  It's been awhile.  A couple of months awhile.  As it usually goes, the time away wasn't planned or intentional.  But it happened, and it does happen every once in a blue moon.  Let me show you why I took a break and found my hands full.

Yep...I became a kitten mamma.  I brought in two feral litters that were born around the building I live in.  Originally, there were seven.  Unfortunately, I lost I still have five kittens who are growing, eating huge amounts of food, and learning how to get into everything (and driving the older cats crazy!).  It's been a learning experience for sure and as soon as they are up to date on vaccinations, and have been spayed/neutered, four of them will be finding new homes.  Yes, I have a favourite who is staying with me.  He's a scrappy little piece of fluff who I always found curled up by my neck every morning the first couple of weeks I had them inside.  Meet Sonic.  (As in the Hedgehog)

Since I managed to skip most of Spring on here...let's jump right into Summer, shall we?  Being Independence Day, it's the perfect excuse (not like I need one) to bring out the lemonade.  From my last produce co-op exchange, I brought home a huge amount of lemons since it seemed that everyone with trees had a bounty to cull from.  And what's better to make from lemons than lemonade, except maybe lemon curd?  An even nicer touch to lemonade is how it can easily go from a refreshing Summer drink to adult beverage with a little alcohol.

I took it a step further by adding blueberries, because I am a sucker for any lemonade with berries added.  So when life hands you lemons and blueberries...make lemonade.

Have a happy and safe Independence Day!  And keep your pets safe when the fireworks go off tonight!

Blueberry Lemonade
Adapted from a recipe on
Makes about half a gallon

1 1/2 cups sugar
8 cups water
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1 5 oz clamshell blueberries

In a medium saucepan, add one cup water with the sugar.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.  In a small saucepan, add the washed blueberries and a scant 1/4 cup water.  Bring to a low boil, breaking berries with the back of a spoon until you have a thick fruit syrup.  

In a container large enough, add the blueberry syrup, lemon juice, simple syrup, and the remaining water.  Chill and serve over ice.  

To make an adult beverage--add a shot of vodka to a 12 oz glass of lemonade.  And maybe a spritz of tonic or club soda.  


Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's in the Stars

Do you fancy chilies, ginger, horseradish, or mustard?  Or maybe you have a fondness for lavender, aniseed, or caraway?  So...what's your sign?  I'm not trying to pick you up with a cheesy line, but I might guess that if you love spicy foods you could be an Aries; and if you sometimes start your mornings with a taste of anise in your espresso, you might be a Virgo (and also Italian!). 

I'm kind of a sucker for astrology.  Every morning I read my horoscope.  The cookbook, A Taste of Astrology, by Lucy Ash is my pick for #tbt.  From 1988, this book breaks down each astrological sign in typical ways (ruling planet, elements, characteristics, et al), but also includes the flora, herbs, spices, and cell salts for each sign.  Ash also writes about the sign from the perspective of the kind of cook and the kind of dinner guest you could be.  Of course, it wouldn't be a cookbook without recipes, so you'll find recipes for sides, appetizers, main courses, and desserts.  

With the upcoming birthday weighing on my thoughts, I dug right into the Taurus chapter looking for something to try.  I wasn't feeling the urge to do anything complicated or time consuming, so I decided to try the Baked Spinach Creams.  I even made it twice, since I wasn't entirely pleased with the first try and figured I shouldn't cut too many corners and stick more to the original.  

Not that the first attempt was bad, because it wasn't, but I thought it could be a great little dish if I didn't tweak too much.  What I learned from the first dish to the second--the right amount of cream is really, really important--and don't skip the pureeing part.  You can skip the croutons if you decide that garlic toasted sourdough rounds spread with nduja before being topped with baked spinach cream makes half of an awesome dinner, though.    

Baked Spinach Creams
Adapted from 'A Taste of Astrology: The Cookbook'
Serves 2

6 oz frozen chopped spinach
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, one minced, one peeled and whole
5 fl oz heavy cream
2 tbsp Parmesan, grated
6-8 rounds of sourdough from a batard, thinly sliced

Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees,  In a medium saucepan, add frozen spinach and a pinch of salt, with enough water to cook spinach through, about 5-7 minutes.  Drain water from spinach and saute with a tablespoon of the butter and the minced garlic.  In a small skillet or frying pan, heat the olive oil and rub each side of the bread with the whole garlic clove.  Toast both sides of each slice to preference and set aside.

Add heavy cream to sauteed spinach and mix well.  Puree in a food processor until spinach breaks down.  In a small baking dish, or two ramekins, pour spinach puree into dish, topping with grated Parmesan, the remaining butter, and a healthy pinch of cayenne.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until cheese melts slightly and spinach bubbles.

Spread on rounds and serve hot.  

Note:  If you don't want to serve it on toasted bread rounds, you can make croutons with the bread of your choice, about 1/3 cup worth, add them to the pureed spinach and bake it all together.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and Sometimes, the Ugly

I don't know what went screwy with cooking in the 60's and 70's.  I almost came to you empty-handed this week, admitting failure to find a recipe from the 70's.  I spent the past few days going through not one or two, but five cookbooks, looking for something.  It was not easy.  My friend in Ohio graciously put up with my texted photos of dishes from the 'Better Homes and Gardens Salad Book', where there's a chapter called, 'Salads from the Freezer.'  And despite her insistence that I make a frozen salad...I just couldn't.  I couldn't.  But...hey, it's not summer yet, I may be inclined give it a go in a month or two...we'll see.

The decade strikes me as a time of brown food.  I know I've mentioned it before.  Look through any illustrated cookbook from then and tell me if you don't agree.  Everything has a brown or overly warm tint.  A very unappetizing tint, like they were trying to coordinate with every kitchen done in paneling and full of appliances and kitchenware in avocado green, mustard, or chocolate brown.  

After trying to find a feasible recipe in book after book, I pulled the 'Tassajara Cooking' book down from the shelf.  It even has a brown cover!  Released by the Zen Center of San Franciso, it is a vegetarian cookbook that is more guide than traditional step by step recipes.  From the first page, the laid back attitude is in evidence:  'The way to be a cook is to cook.  The results don't have to be just right, measuring up to some imagined or ingrained taste...Just feed, satisfy, nourish.'

The recipe I chose is the Bulgur-Tahini Casserole.  (Casseroles are so 70's.)  As written, the ingredient list and directions barely make a full paragraph, with an additional two longer paragraphs of variations!   So I varied.  I substituted red winter wheat berries for the bulgur.  The dish is not an attractive one once ready.  It was very brown from the wheat berries.  I'm tempted to try again using rice or millet.  It's got a quiche-y kind of consistency from the eggs, but has a chewiness from the wheat berries.  The tahini is a winning ingredient, because sesame is one of my favorite flavors.   Serve with a salad and you're good to go.

If you decide to give this a try, I would LOVE to see photos or hear what you think of it.  

Wheat Berries-Tahini Casserole
Adapted from the Bulgur-Tahini Casserole recipe in the Tasajara Cooking book
Serves 4

1 cup wheat berries (dry)
3 cups water
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup tahini
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk

Bring water to a boil in saucepan, add wheat berries, and cook over a low simmer until done to chewiness.  Drain any remaining water.  Grease a casserole pan (I used an 8 inch round Pyrex baker), and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute onion and garlic in pan until translucent, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.  In a medium bowl, crack eggs and beat lightly.  Add milk, tahini, and salt, whisking until relatively smooth.  Add onions and garlic, mixing well, then add wheat berries, stirring to thoroughly combine all ingredients.  

Pour mix into casserole and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cook for a few minutes before serving.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Right On Time

If I had stayed on schedule with the 'Throwback Thursday' posts I started in February, I should be posting a recipe from the 1980's this week.  Everything happens for a reason though, right?  Maybe it's not a coincidence that there were a couple of hiccups along the way and the week I cover the 60's is the same week that the final episodes of 'Mad Men' begin to air.  I am a huge fan of the show and well, I have yet to fully admit to myself that after these last seven episodes, it will be over.  Sometime in the near future, you may find me in a darkened room, bingeing on the series all over again.

This recipe is exactly the kind of dish I could see Betty Draper making as part of dinner where Don brings home a client to sweet talk into letting Sterling Cooper run their next advertising campaign.  She'd be wearing something pastel with a coordinating chiffon hostess apron--a cigarette in one hand, a potholder in the other as she opens the oven door and pulls out a Pyrex casserole filled to every nook with onions, golden and baked to perfection.  Simmering in a sauce of stock, honey, lemon, and butter, baked long enough that the onions keep their shape, but soften to the point where they practically melt in your mouth with each bite.  A dish so simple to pull together, just right to serve with roast chicken.  No...scratch that.  Not chicken.  Cornish hen.  Each guest made to feel special by having their own.  The kind of special gesture that convinces you that Don is your man.

The Spice Islands Cookbook, originally published in 1961, is a perfect example of a cookbook from the 60's.  Kitschy graphics, helpful charts, and lovely recipes such as Eggs in Aspic.  I wish I was kidding about that one.  I'm not.  But don't hold that recipe against the book.  It was the 60's, after all.

Baked Onions
Adapted from a recipe in The Spice Islands Cookbook
Serves 2-4

2 large yellow onions
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp lemon zest, grated
1/4 tsp paprika
2 tbsp panko bread crumbs
1 tsp black sesame seeds

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Peel outer skins from onions and slice in half.  Place in casserole of baking dish, large enough to hold onions, but not so small that onions are crowded.  In a small bowl, whisk together the stock, one tablespoon of the butter, salt, honey, paprika, and lemon zest.  Once mixed, pour oven onions.  Cover baking dish with foil and bake until onions are tender, 50 minutes to an hour.  In a small skillet, melt the remaining butter, adding the panko and sesame seeds, heating until slightly toasted.  Remove foil from baking dish, sprinkle bread crumbs over onions, and bake uncovered for an additional 10-15 minutes, until crumbs turn golden brown.

Serve on their own or over rice.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nothing in the House But Eggs

After being a little under the weather last week, where food was the last thing I wanted to think about, I am here and ready to tackle the next decade for the culinary #tbt series.  This week's cookbook is 'Potluck Cookery' by Beverly Pepper (appropriate for a cookbook author, no?) from 1955.  With the promise of being full of 'delightful ways to make a royal meal from leftovers or whatever you have on hand,' there are 320 recipes of what to do with leftover poultry, leftover vegetables, cheese, eggs, or cereals.

Recipe No. 305.  Eggs Parmentier, under the 'Nothing in the House but Eggs' section.  Parmentier.  You may have seen a similar recipe called Hachis or Hache Parmentier, looking vaguely like Shephard's Pie, with mashed potatoes and roast beef.  Keep the mashed potatoes, ditch the roast beef, add an egg or two, and you've got Eggs Parmentier.  You also have a perfect weekend brunch dish, just add a salad and mimosas.

Eggs Parmentier
Adapted from 'Potluck Cookery'
Serves 2

3 medium potatoes, peeled and boiled
2 eggs
2 slices prosciutto, chopped and crisped
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp grated Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
pinch paprika

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly grease a small baking dish or pie plate (about 6 inches in diameter).  Boil peeled and cut potatoes until tender, about 8-12 minutes, depending on size.  Drain water from potatoes, add 1 tbsp butter, salt, and 1/4 cup of the milk.  Mash potatoes by hand or with electric mixer.  Spread potatoes in baking dish, making two wells for eggs.  In a small frying pan, crisp the prosciutto, draining any excess fat.  Crumble prosciutto over potatoes and in wells.  Crack an egg in each well (don't worry if the whites spread over the potatoes a bit).  Sprinkle cheese and paprika over potatoes and eggs.

Bake until eggs are set to preference and edges of potatoes begin to brown, about 15-20 minutes.  

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Household Seal of Approval

Part of the attraction for me to vintage cookbooks and vintage books in general is the incredible amount of care that went into the designs.  Think of pulp fiction novels from the 50's.  The enduring attraction, to some extent, is the cover artwork.  Vying for attention from shelves and newsstands of years gone by, they are brightly colored, titilating, and suggestive.  Some cookbooks of decades ago hold that same attraction for me.  So many cookbooks have amazing graphics and design--from embossed covers of intricate detail to illustrations with mid-century style and swagger.  While surface beauty wasn't the only factor that led to this week's cookbook pick, it did make me linger a little longer over my choice.

From 1941, The Household Searchlight Recipe Book came out of Topeka, Kansas.  I did a little research on The Household Magazine and discovered that it was pretty prolific for its time.  In 1931, it had a subscription circulation of over 1 million readers.  The Library of Congress even has an issue from 1926 in its digital archives, which is a treat to look through.  The recipe book has an extensive index of options, with recipes tested and given the 'Searchlight Seal of Approval,' which must have been the Topeka version of the Good Housekeeping seal.  The 'Sandwiches' section alone provided a plethora of options, which is what made it win out over the Trader Vic's cookbook that was also under consideration.  A lot of ingenious combinations, a lot of downright odd combinations, all under the categories of open faced or closed sandwiches, with gentle suggestions on what bread to use and whether to keep crusts on or off.

I could have chosen Pineapple Peanut Sandwiches, Baked Bean Sandwiches, Black Walnut Sandwiches, or even Coconut Sandwiches.  But I didn't.  What I did choose was the Fig Nut Sandwiches and the Carrot Sandwiches.  With some of the choices available here, your next tea party would be anything but ordinary.

I took liberty with the recipes since both called for a specific salad dressing to mix in.  I used what I had on hand, or just shaved enough off the recipe to make it still work without having to make anything more.

Carrot Sandwiches
Adapted from The Household Searchlight Recipe Book
Recipe courtesy of Eulalie Weber, Marysville, KS

1 large carrot, washed, top and root end trimmed
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
Arugula, washed
2 tbsp tahini dressing
2 slices whole wheat bread, toasted

In a food processor, grind peanuts to fine consistency, but not peanut butter.  With the shredder blade, add the carrot and pulse to combine.  Add dressing to bring to spreadable consistency.  You could easily use the same amount of vegetable or olive oil in place of the dressing.  Spread on one slice of toast with arugula, top with second slice and cut into triangles. 

Fig Nut Sandwiches
Adapted from The Household Searchlight Recipe Book

1 cup dried figs, about 8 or 9
1/4 cup almonds
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp mayonnaise
pinch of salt
baguette, sliced thin and grilled

Grind almonds in a food processor until minced but not ground too finely.  Add figs and grind until combined.  Add remaining ingredients and process until it becomes the consistenly of a chunky spread.  Spread on bageutte slices.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

#tbt Hiccup

Order is once again restored...and here I am.  Remember when I mentioned earlier this year that I knew 2015 was going to start off rough?  Well...I may have underestimated just how rough.  On top of a lot of little things that have just been piling up, I've been fretting over an upcoming surgery (which occurred this past Monday---I'm home, healing, and it was good news).  Of course...I really did bake last week with the next recipe (it was a good distraction for a few hours), I just didn't feel like having to sit down and write about it.

So, I am.  Originally, I thought I may have been mistaken and didn't have any cookbooks from the 1930's.  But I did have a Sunset magazine or two, both containing recipes, and I had even chosen which one I was going to make.  Then...then I was tagged on Instagram (because there are people on there who know my love of vintage cookbooks and happily point out ones they think I may be interested in).  Turns out, it was for a cookbook I actually already have!  And the date was posted!  1934!  Serendipituous!  Right on cue!

My copy came off the bookshelf and after a flip or three through the pages--extremely worn, stained, torn, and battered pages-- I found the recipe for Coconut Ice Box Cookies.  You know the great thing about ice box cookies?  Anyone can make them.  Anyone.  And they'll be good, if not great.  These are also the best cookie to stash a batch in the freezer and when you have friends stopping by, pull it out, slice what you want, bake, and voila!  Cookies!  Buttery, coconut-ty, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside.