Sunday, November 30, 2008

Paradise Cakes

Today with the The Women's Institute of 650 Favourite Recipes, we enter the Prizewinner's section. Happily, we skip past "Kate's Surprise", which contains (surprise!) gelatine, anchovy essence, prawns and cottage cheese. We also miss out on "Secret Salad", which will alas remain a mystery, and we hastily hasten past "Hasty Fish Pie", which appears to actually take about an hour and a half. Hasty, no; tasty, perhaps not given the addition of 600ml/1 pint parsley sauce, AKA Tasteless White Goo With Green Bits In.

No, today our rural repast will be Paradise Cakes, with apologies to John Milton.

First, though, a glossary, because the fruit of that forbidden tree is probably called something different where you live, because the words for ingredients, clothed in reason's garb as they are, differ across the world.

Sultanas are dried white grapes: white raisins. Glacé cherries are crystallized. Currants are not red- or blackcurrants, but are small raisins. (Incidentally, did you know that the currant is named for Corinth, the Greek isthmus and city-state?) If you can't find the precise dried fruit, do just use whatever you have, although plain raisins won't taste of much. Caster sugar you may not be able to find; superfine should do it if you can't. Oh, and I never use margarine for cakes, so butter is fine. And a Swiss roll tin looks like this.

On to the recipe, sadly unaccompanied by a picture today because the cats are both outside and unwilling to assist.

Paradise Cakes

Makes 25-30

175g/6 oz margarine
150g/5 oz caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
100g/4 oz ground rice
75g/3 oz ground almonds
50g/2 oz sultanas
50g/2 oz glacé cherries
75g/3 oz currants
shortcrust pastry, made with 100g/4 oz flour
caster sugar to dredge

Cream the margarine and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs, then mix in the ground rice and almonds. Fold in the fruit.

Roll out the dough and use to line a Swiss roll tin. Spread the fruit mixture over the dough. Bake in a preheated moderate oven (180°C/350°F, Gas Mark 4) for 45 minutes.

Cool, then cut into fingers and dredge with caster sugar.

The thing I love about the sound of this recipe — and the way it fits into our gift-giving theme — is that I'd imagine that one could easily cut them into festive shapes (trees, stars, crescents, bright consummate flowers, Flying Spaghetti Monsters) and decorate the tops as desired. I'd imagine that a good stiff Christmas Cake icing would be particularly delicious with a layer of marzipan. Plus, the shortcrust pastry and the adhesive effect of the baked dried fruits will almost certainly make it shippable.

Quaff immortality, or perhaps tea, and enjoy!
On a personal note, sharing a WI cookbook is particularly poignant for me today, because my dear Great-auntie Helen, a lifelong member and keen blancmange-maker, died this morning. So long, Auntie Helen, and thanks for all the cake.

Cheddar Cheese Fudge; No, really.... cheddar cheese fudge!

You've heard about the cookbooks that are all about sneaking something healthy into food for kids. A spoonful of peas in a plate of brownies, or a tablespoon of grated beetroot in a quart of strawberry milkshakes. Those cookbooks just aren't trying hard enough.

The editors of the Food Journal's Homemade Candy manage to get two cups of nutrition into this recipe. Okay, okay, it's not vegetably nutrition, but still. If you have a picky eater in your house or family, or a wealth of cheese, give it a try.
Popular Cheddar Cheese Fudge

Cheese fudge proves the inaccuracy of the old saying that there is nothing new under the sun. When a state supervisor of the school lunch program made some of this candy for one of our food editors, she moved any question there might have been about why the sweet was so popular with youngsters.

One of the splendid features of the candy, loaded with Cheddar cheese and dry milk powder, flavored with butter, vanilla and cocoa, is that the electric mixer does almost all the work. You do not even cook the fudge. It's ideal for serving to a crowed of youngsters. But pass it to grownups, too, for they'll like its creaminess, sweet chocolate flavor and the way it serves as a snack to satisfy appetites.

Cheddar Cheese Fudge

Cheese flavor is subtle in this creamy, no-cook, protein-rich candy

2 c. shredded Cheddar cheese (1/2 lb)
1 c. butter (2 sticks)
1/2 c. cocoa
1 1/2 lbs. confectioners sugar
1 1/2 c. nonfat dry milk powder (1/2 lb.)
1/2 tblsp. vanilla

Have all ingredients at room temperature; combine in large mixer bowl. Beat until creamy (it may be necessary to moisten mixture with 1/4 c. whole milk).

Put in buttered 9" square pan; chill. When firm, cut candy in 64 squares. Makes about 3 1/2 pounds.

Note: Drained maraschino cherries, flaked coconut, miniature marshmallows or chopped nuts may be added.
...I'm fascinated and appalled, all at once. That's a heck of a lot of cheese, and anything with that much cheese is appealing. Part of me wants to try it out with my 5 year old niece. She's not a cheese eater (the shame!), but she's a great kitchen helper. If you ever need anything added to your mixer bowl, call on Meg. I think she'd enjoy making this, and might even (gasp) eat it, too. At the very least, she could make a plate to give to her fudge-loving grandpa.

Most of my fudge memories are from family celebrations when I was a kid in the 70s. There were always plates of sweets, and the little squares of homemade fudge were my favorites (right up there with thumbprint cookies). Normally, I wouldn't do two such similar recipes from one book, but ... fudge! Fudge for the holidays! There's time enough for sauerkraut candy, divinity, brittles and the like later on this week.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Dark Thick Marmalade

Greetings again from the wilds of Cornwall, where it got so chilly last night that we had an actual frost! The daffodils are starting to come up in the front garden, though, so we're not entirely despairing.

Today with the The Women's Institute of 650 Favourite Recipes we skip past "Gooseberry Swansdown" (a molded jelly, of which there are many), "Sussex Pond Pudding" (a dried fruit and suet steamed pudding that contains precisely 0% pond) and "Pwdin Watcyn Wynne", which is Welsh for "Watcyn Wynne Pudding", because vowels are English, and appears to consist of a similar pudding made of mainly breadcrumbs and suet. Delicious, all of them, I'm certain, and I do so enjoy making a pudding.

(Today's lovely assistant/prop is Ashley the Six-Claw'd Menace, who has had to be forcibly separated from the yarn on the table.)

Whenever I think about cakes, I remember a broadcast of the famous British radio comedy programme I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, where the regulars are impersonating members of the Women's Institute being asked about cake. To paraphrase:
Questioner: Have you been concerned about the recent salmonella scares?
WI Lady 1: Oh, no, dear, we rarely use salmon or any other fish in our cakes.
WI Lady 2: Although we did make a very nice sea-bass meringue pie one year.

We end up on page 262 with Dark Thick Marmalade. Now, I'm very lucky because a Mrs Dingle brings her marmalade to the weekly WI market in the village, and Mrs Dingle's marmalade is possibly the best I have ever tasted, so I've never felt the need to make my own. Of course, as we run up to Advent, a jar of homemade marmalade would make an equally good Christmas present as the fudge Wendy posted about today. That said, for Christmas you can't go wrong with a nice pot of chutney or cranberry relish for the Twelve Days of Leftovers.
Dark Thick Marmalade

1 kg/2 lb Seville Oranges
1 small lemon
2.75 to 4 litres/5 to 7 pints water
2.75 kg/6 lb sugar
25g/1 oz dark treacle (which Google tells me is blackstrap molasses in the US)
225g/8 oz crystallized ginger, chopped (optional)

I rather like the sound of adding the ginger here. This would make great marmalade for having a cold. Hmm, perhaps adding some hot chilis to it as well for a real kick?
Scrub the fruit, then cut it in half and squeeze out the juice into a preserving pan. Remove the pips and fibrous membranes and tie these in a piece of muslin.
You do have a piece of muslin hanging around your kitchen for just such an occurrence, right?

Add to the pan. Finely shred the peel without removing any of the white pith and add to the pan with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the peel is very soft and the contents of the pan are well reduced. Remove the muslin bag, squeezing out the juice against the side of the pan.

Add the sugar and treacle and stir to dissolve, then return to the boil and boil until setting point is reached. Add the ginger, if using. Skim off the scum and leave to stand for 4 to 5 minutes for the peel to settle. Pot as usual.

Clearly, the WI expects the cook to be familiar with things like preserving pans and setting points and how to safely and hygienically pot preserves. (Either that or the brownies later on in the chapter are not your granny's brownies, if you know what I mean.) I'll leave you to research that one on your own.

Homemade Candy, Farm Journal Editors; Kneaded Chocolate Fudge

"How long has it been since you've cut creamy-smooth squares of chocolate fudge to pass on a plate to guests?" asks Nell B. Nichols, food editor of the Farm Journal and editor of Homemade Candy (copyright 1970). The introduction to the book is titled "Everyone Likes Candy!" and this enthusiasm carries throughout. I could come up with some poetic claptrap to talk about why I'm featuring this book now, at the start of Advent, but Ms. Nichols provides a handy reminder:
With the approach of Christmas, when you "deck your halls with holly" and decide on the most prominent spot for your tinseled tree, candy also moves to stage center -- indeed, it becomes a kitchen campaign! The candy treats you make before the holidays are a friendly greeting to relatives and neighbors who stop by to nibble while they talk. Homemade candy also is something special to share with people far away. Packages holding coffee cans, stuffed with love and candy, travel from home kitchens to servicemen and students around the earth."
So, if you're ready to start your kitchen campaign (or if you just share my abnormal curiosity about transforming sugar into candy), let's get started. The book is divided into two uneven sections: a large section on candy, and a much smaller one on confections, "first cousins of candy." Before the recipes come, there's an extended and somewhat tortured metaphor about candy making as theater, but the general tips about what kinds of sugars and other ingredients are used are sound. The biggest thing to remember when making candy that requires heat is this: hot sugar is very very very very very very very very hot. Do not underestimate it. If you get it on you, you will be very very very sorry. Let's avoid the sorts of tears that can come from a kitchen failure and an E.R. visit.
Kneaded Chocolate Fudge

Ideal candy for mailing -- pack unsliced rolls into cans or mailing tubes

2 squares unsweetened chocolate, cut into pieces
1 c. milk
3 c. sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vinegar
2 tblsp. butter or margarine
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. chopped nuts

Combine chocolate and milk in 3-qt. heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until milk is scalded and chocolate is melted. Stir in sugar, corn syrup, and salt.

Place over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves. If sugar crystals form on sides of pan, wipe them off. Cook at a steady, fairly low boil without stirring to the soft ball stage (238°F). Remove from heat. Very gently stir in vinegar. Add butter without stirring. Cool until lukewarm (110°).

Add vanilla and beat until candy loses its gloss and starts to thicken. Stir in nuts.

Pour into lightly buttered pan or large platter. Let stand until cool enough to knead. Knead with fingers about 5 minutes.

Shape into 2 rolls, each about 2" in diameter and about 5" long. Wrap in waxed paper or foil and store in refrigerator or other cool place until ready to use. Slice slightly on diagonal in 1/2" slices, wiping knife during cutting if fudge sticks to its blade. Makes 20 to 22 slices, or about 2 pounds.

Candy Christmas Trees From an Iowa farm kitchen comes this suggestion: Knead fudge and mold in lightly oiled or buttered Christmas tree gelatin salad molds (3 1/2" long and 3" wide in broadest part is a good size). Cool and unmold. With a little encouragement from a knife at the base, the "trees" slip out easily. Decorate simply with white or tinted Ornamental Icing (see Index). Include at least one "fudge tree" in each gift box and one in the center of a plate of candy to promote conversations and compliments.
By all means, let's promote conversations and compliments! I used to make fudge using nothing as precise as this recipe. I remember little about it other than all the cooking was done in the microwave, and it didn't need any kneading. It was no where near as good as proper candy shop fudge, but here's the thing you should know: even bad fudge is better than no fudge. If you try your hand at making fudge, even if it doesn't come out perfectly the first time, it'll be tasty. A lot of people have candy-making fear, thinking it's some sort of old granny magic. Abandon that thinking, and think of it as a chemistry experiment. Temperature and time are important; follow the recipe to the letter in those respects, and you'll do just fine.

Homemade Candy says that the two mistakes people make with fudge is beating it too early, and too little. Wait. Wait. Wait until it's lukewarm. Keep that candy thermometer in the pot, and do not jump the gun. And then, beat, beat, beat. You could beat it by hand. You could. I'd suggest that powered appliances are your better bet here, though.

This week, we'll get lots of homemade goodies you can give to coworkers, neighbors, friends and family. Impress the heck out of them, save money over store bought, and avoid the Chia Pet problem -- no one has to wonder what to do with a plate of candy, after all. We'll also be seeing more goodies from guest blogger John, with the Women's Institute cookbook he's pilfered from his mother's shelf!

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Women's Institute Book of 650 Favourite Recipes, ed. Norma MacMillan; Faggots

Greetings, Take One Cookbookers! I'm John, your British contributor, and I am house- and cat-sitting this weekend for my parents, so I offered to work through some cookbooks of my mother's for you. Here's the first: The Women's Institute of 650 Favourite Recipes. I have no idea why 650; I suspect a Marketing Ploy.

(My lovely feline assistant/prop, Rotunda the Munificent, is a fan of the blog.)

The Women's Institute is a quintessentially British institution. In American terms, it is a Ladies' Auxiliary to, well, Britain. The movie Calendar Girls is a rather good introduction, if you have access to it. As an extra special treat, one gets to see Helen Mirren's baps. (Yes, that means what you think it does.)

Gastronomically renowned for its cakes, biscuits, jams and marmalades, which are displayed in annual summer fêtes inevitably involving contests and rain, this 1980 edition of the WI's 650 Favourite Recipes does provide some spectacular fail in the very best Lileks tradition:

The "Brackenhurst Iced Prawn Curry" sounds utterly foul: a chilled mayonnaise-prawn-curry-powder concoction over rice, all chilled, no actual south Asian affiliation in the slightest.

"Fish Flan" sounds as grim as it is likely dentally unchallenging, and the "Canapés Diane" instructs one to remove fat from streaky (i.e., American-style) bacon. It doesn't specify how one is supposed to do that, nor what it expects to be left of the streaky bacon afterwards.

The Prizewinners (sic) category includes the likely "Low Calorie Tomato and Lettuce Soup", which carries the ever-useful note, "over-ripe tomatoes and mis-shapen lettuce leaves may be used". The recipe itself is, essentially: boil lettuce, tomatoes and onions with stock cubes and marjoram. Serve. Despair. (I may have made the last instruction up.)

I refuse to even look at the Pasta & Rice section, because I grew up mainly in New York with two years in Rome and a year in Beijing, and I would probably cry.

That said, there is much good contained amongst the stomach-churningly dire, and I would use this book as a starting point for any traditional recipe I wished to adulterate in the very best Modern British fashion.

Now, as one might expect given that the British Empire was built on beatings, buggery and organ meats, the Meats section is resplendent with offerings of offal. There's a Gilbert and Sullivan joke in here somewhere, I'm certain. As far as the offerings go, perhaps Brains au Beurre? Fried Tripe? Baked Stuffed Hearts? That's only pages 96-97, of course. Freakout food apart, if I were wondering how to prepare sweetbreads, or any other organ meats I would turn to the WI in the first instance.

So, the third pillar of Empire dismissed, I shall provide a recipe speaking to the second: Faggots. No epithet they: rather, a sort of offal meatball to be eaten with gravy. You may well have seen the Internet picture of "Mr Brain's 4 Pork Faggots in a rich Westcountry Sauce" floating around in joke emails. One can certainly procure a box of faggots (11% pork!) in my local supermarket. (Really, America, you can stop laughing now.)

Instructions for WI faggots, which should serve four, appear on page 97 as follows:

450g/1lb pig's fry (which a careful Google search tells me are sweetbreads, heart, liver and lungs)
3 small onions chopped
75g/3oz fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 pig's caul or veil, soaked in warm water (a caul is the thin, fatty lining of a pig's stomach, while a veil appears to be the same thing).

Ah, a recipe with two offal terms even the Brit has to look up. Marvellous. And it does rather seem to be continuing the British aversion to seasoning, because a total of one teaspoon of fresh herbs seems awfully light for strongly flavoured meat like offal. I would use a good two teaspoons of each if fresh, one of each if dried.

Anyway, apparently one puts the meat and onions in a saucepan, covers with water and brings to a boil, simmering for 45 minutes. Drain the liquid, reserving a little to moisten the breadcrumbs. Mince the fry and onions, then mix in the moistened breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and pepper.

Drain the caul and cut into 2.5 or 5cm/1 or 2 inch squares. Divide the mixture between the squares and shape into balls. Pack the balls closely into a greased roasting tin. Bake in a preheated moderately hot oven (190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5) for 45 minutes or until well browned. Serve with a good gravy and creamed potatoes.

I'm sure it's wonderfully flavourless like much British cooking is to modern palates. It's because of wartime rationing, I should imagine, that we have kept dishes like this in our national consciousness. That said, the key to modern palatability is almost certainly to use half and half ground pork and half and half liver. The caul or veil one can leave out thanks to the exciting modern invention of Teflon and tinfoil (aluminum foil for those of you in the Colonies, and yes, look how I spelt aluminium there!). As I said, I would boost the herbs too, and probably replace the breadcrumbs with oats for texture. I might even increase the levels of oats depending on how tender my faggots turned out. And you can bet your Aunt Nelly (or your nelly uncle) that I'd make proper gravy and skin-on mashed potatoes, rather than "creamed". Oh, yes, and also something green like curly kale or spring greens or even some tiny brussels sprouts. Ah, and almost certainly a good beer — brown stuff you can't see through, none of the yellow rubbish with bubbles.

Next time, we move to cake. Or death. Wait, cake!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cranberry Sauce With Port

I searched through my journal to find a copy of my cranberry sauce recipe. Evidently, I've never tried to write it down. I do have several process-y entries about it, including these snippets from Thanksgiving 2004:
Used food processor, because, well, have food processor, and shredded my Brussels sprouts and grated my Gruyere. Will also use food processor, because, well, have food processor, to slice potatoes for gratin. Will not use food processor for onions, because, well, have pride. ...

Have also made cranberry sauce. Told Mom about it. "Is it good?" she asked. It's cranberries, an orange, port, and honey. What could be bad about it? Also zested the orange, for use in the parsnips. ...

It's 3:19 now, and there's a glass of port in the living room calling to me in a quiet and syrupy way. "Wendy!" it calls. "Wendy! Time to relax for five minutes."

3:20 PM, and still no bra. ...

My cranberry sauce is too tart on its own, but is lovely in company with everything else, and a gravy packet is heresy, but if you use 1 cup water and 1/4 cup port instead of 1 1/4 cup water? The heresy tastes like heaven.
It's cranberries, an orange, port, and honey. Let's write it up a bit more, then.
Cranberry Sauce With Port

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 orange (zested, with zest removed for other side dish use)
1 cup tawny port
several tablespoons honey, to taste

Open cranberries, and wash in a colander. Get rid of any unsavory berries. In all my years of doing this, I've never had a truly unsavory berry pop up, but better safe than sorry. Peel and chop the orange. You can supreme it if you want, or if you have a chefly husband about who needs something to do with his hands and knives and time. Put fruit into a heavy sauce pan, add port and two tablespoons honey, and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the berries have burst and the sauce is starting to thicken. Dip a tasting spoon in the sauce, take out, let cool, and then taste to see if the sauce needs more sugar. Seriously, let the sauce on the tasting spoon cool. You don't need a burnt tongue to make Thanksgiving happy. Add more honey if you want, or don't. Take off heat, pour into the dish you'll serve the sauce from, cover with cling film, and pop it in the fridge to cool and set up some.

Great on Thanksgiving. Great on sandwiches (turkey, or peanut butter, or ham, or cheese...). Tasty tasty stuff.
This year's berries may well have ginger in them, too, because the ginger looked nice at the grocery store last night.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks.

Easy As Pie

Got an extra set of refrigerated pie crusts lurking around? Why not throw together another pie for the Thanksgiving feast? It'll take 5 minutes of prep time, and it's as tasty as it is easy.
Easy As Pie

1 21 oz can cherry pie filling
1 16 oz can whole cranberry sauce
3 T cornstarch
honest dash or five of cinnamon
prepared crust for 2-crust pie

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix together first 4 ingredients. Line pie plate with one of the crusts, fill with cranberry/cherry mixture, cover with second crust. Seal crust, vent, and place in hot oven. After 20 minutes, shield crust edge with aluminum foil. Total baking time: approx. 50 minutes. It'll be golden and bubbly when it's done. Let cool on a rack for an hour or so. Don't cut into it until it's cool, or you'll have messy slices that don't look like pie so much as goop with bits of crust. Still tasty, though.

If using refrigerated crust, total prep time on this pie is less than 5 minutes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Shallots with Bacon

It's Thanksgiving today in the U.S., and I'm going to be off at a good friend's house all day, cooking, drinking, eating, and being merry. Before that, though, I thought I'd share some of my favorite Thanksgiving (and other feast) dishes.

This first one should be prefaced with the statement "I Hated Brussels Sprouts When I Was Younger And These Sprouts Can Convert You To Brussels Sprouts Love, Too."
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Shallots with Bacon

2 lbs Brussels sprouts
1 shallot
6 strips high-quality thick-cut bacon

Preheat oven to 400°F. Take a 9x13 pan and lay out the bacon; nothing should overlap (trim if you need to to make sure of this), and put it in the oven (center-ish rack) for 10-15 minutes. While the bacon renders its fat and starts to crisp up, prepare your sprouts. To do this, peel off the loose and dark outer leaves, cut off the stem, and cut each sprout into quarters. Then, chop up your shallot.

When the bacon has gotten crispy (or, as crispy as you want to let it...I go for "cooked but still pliable"), remove it to a paper towel-lined plate. Toss the sprouts and shallots in the rendered fat in the 9x13 pan, and choose which way you're going with your bacon. You have two options:
  1. Reserve the bacon until right before serving, crumbling it on top of the dish at the last minute.
  2. Cut the bacon into lardons, and toss it back into the dish with the sprouts and shallots before roasting.

I tend to go with option #2.

Put the pan back in the oven, and let roast for 40-60 minutes, stirring once or twice during the process. They should be getting caramelized and yummy-smelling near the end, and a fork should go through them with little resistance.

Easy-peasy, and dirties very few dishes. A great go-to side dish for holiday meals.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pineapple-Buttermilk Sherbet

Thanksgiving reminds me not so much of my father, but of not having my father around. See, he's a Christmas tree farmer, and when we were kids, Thanksgiving was when the tree harvest started up, so he was usually gone for most of the holiday weekend. So, I think of Dad, and of missing him, which happens a lot more often since I'm 3000 miles from him most days of the year these days.

I remember talking with my dad about making ice cream; he brought up memories of childhood and making pineapple sherbet with no fancy equipment, just forks and a pan and a regular freezer. So, in honor of missing Dad at Thanksgiving, here's Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites's take on his fondly remembered treat.
Pineapple-Buttermilk Sherbet

This simple and delightful sherbet requires no special ice cream-making equipment -- just a fork. It has a tangy flavor and gives the illusion of rich creaminess. Pineapple-Buttermilk Sherbet will keep, stored in an airtight container in the freezer, for 1 to 2 weeks.

2 cups nonfat or regular buttermilk
2 cups undrained canned crushed pineapple (20-ounce can)
2/3 cup sugar

In a bowl, stir together the buttermilk, pineapple, and sugar until the sugar has dissolved.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the freezer. After about an hour, when the mixture has begun to harden, stir it with a fork until it becomes slushy. Cover and return to the freezer for another hour or two, until it is very stiff but not frozen solid. Stir it again with a fork and serve. If the sherbet has frozen hard, remove it from the freezer to soften for about 30 minutes before serving or whirl it in a food processor, scraping down the sides several times, for about 2 minutes, until well blended and smooth.

Makes 5 to 6 cups
Serves 8
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Freezing time: 3 to 5 hours
So darned simple, there's really no excuse not to give it a try. And, hey, your turkey's out of the freezer by now, so you have room!

This is the last of the Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites posts for now; tomorrow, it's Thanksgiving dishes from my home, and then we'll start a new cookbook.

Should it be regional? Time-specific? Boozy? Something to help you prep for winter holiday treats? Cookies? Candies? Punches? Something to get you through bring-a-dish parties? Pot lucks? Office shindigs? What do you want to explore in more depth?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


One of the biggest culinary gaffes Chefly Husband and I ever made was mistaking peasant food for haute cuisine; we decided to make a cassoulet and followed a recipe to the letter, buying a hard-to-find and expensive kind of sausage, particular heirloom beans... the fussy list went on and on, and in the end we ended up with a bean casserole that cost $100.

Peasant food shouldn't cost $100. Peasant food shouldn't cost $10. Don't be a slave to a list that doesn't make sense... substitute, substitute, substitute, and use yer brain.

There are no $30 surprises in the list for Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites cassoulet recipe. It's just simple, wonderful, tasty peasant food. As it should be.

Cassoulet is the name for the classic baked bean dish that is popular bistro fare throughout France. Although baking is the traditional method, you can gently simmer our vegetarian version for 20 minutes on the stove top instead.

1 teaspoon olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon minced fresh or dried rosemary
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
3/4 cup diced celery
1 cup diced potatoes
1 cup diced tomatoes
3/4 cup diced pepperoni seitan
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups cooked kidney beans (15-ounce can, drained)
1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (15-ounce can, drained)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350°.

In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic, onions, thyme, bay leaves, marjoram, and rosemary and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the wine, cover, and simmer until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the carrots, celery, potatoes, and tomatoes, cover, and simmer 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the seitan, molasses, mustard, and both kinds of beans. Return to a simmer, stirring gently, just until the seitan and beans are heated through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a casserole dish that has been prepared with cooking spray, cover, and bake for 45 minutes.

Serves 4-6
Preparation time: 30 minutes, if using already cooked or canned beans
Baking time: 45 minutes

Note: Almost any highly flavored seitan will work in the dish, but if only plain seitan is available, we suggest adding more herbs, garlic, and mustard to taste.
See? Simple! Easy as pie ... and you might want to think of putting this together to cook after you done your pies for Thanksgiving. The oven's already hot, why not cook up lunch for the next day? Also, if you have an unexpected vegetarian drop by your feast, you'll be well prepared.

This freezes well. It's a casserole, after all.

I recommend you make a buttery bread crumb topping and sprinkle it on before baking. The crunchy element is great with a cassoulet.

Have a big crusty loaf of bread on hand when you eat the beans. Sop up any liquid, and just enjoy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spaghetti With Onions

And, we're back! The Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society's production of "Urinetown" was a blast, but very time-consuming, and I've spent the time since the show closed to catch up on the rest of life. One big wonderful thing: my kitchen's recovered! I can cook, whenever I like, with a clean kitchen and a shiny sink.

I just had dinner, a simple spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and freshly crushed red pepper (a reminder of this summer's harvest, and the coworkers who have abundant gardens). Last night, dinner was ziti with some doctored up jarred sauce. It's just a few days until Thanksgiving, and this week seems to be about keeping it really simple before the big feast. If you're of the same mind, try this recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites:
Spaghetti with Onions

We modified this recipe from Ed Giobbi, who found it in a very old Italian cookbook. Just as he says, it's a winner.

The pasta is only partially cooked when you add it to the sauce, so as it finishes cooking, it releases the rest of its starch, creating a sauce so thick and unctuous you'd swear it had cheese in it -- a bit of kitchen wizardry at work!

4 large onions
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons ground fennel (optional)
1 pound spaghetti
1 cup skim milk
1 cup canned tomatoes, crushed or coarsely chopped (8-ounce can)
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper to taste

Slice off the ends of the onions. Cut each onion in half lengthwise and remove the peel. Lice each half lengthwise into strips.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

While the water heats, pour the oil into a large skillet or wide soup pot and add the onion and fennel, if using. Sauté, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

Ease the spaghetti into the boiling water, stir, and cover. Cook the spaghetti for just 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the milk and tomatoes to the onions. The milk will curdle, but don't worry. Cover and gently simmer.

When the spaghetti has cooked exactly 5 minutes, drain it and add it immediately to the onion mixture. Simmer the spaghetti in the sauce for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce is smooth. Drizzle in a little more milk if the sauce becomes too stiff. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 4.
Total time: 40 minutes.
Here's for a spaghetti recipe that acknowledges that one pound of pasta is NOT eight servings! Hurrah for a really big plate full of noodles so unctuous the recipe actually uses the word "unctuous."

I'm fond of this recipe in part because of the phrase "don't worry." It's reassuring at a point that most cooks would probably freak out. "Holy crap, it's CURDLING!!!" you might shriek (if you were me) as you then dumped out the entire mess, served the spaghetti with a (large) pat of butter, and uncorking a bottle for a big consolation glass of wine. But no. The Moosewood folks want you to know that you're on the right track, even when it looks like you're not. Good times.

We'll finish up with Moosewood this week, before Thanksgiving. On the big day, I'll share recipes not from a cookbook, but from our table. And then we'll start anew, with a cookbook a week, and a recipe a day.

Take One Cookbook is back!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Show Week; Back Soon

It's show week for me, so Take One Cookbook is taking a short hiatus. We'll be back with more recipes from Moosewood this Saturday.

If you're in the DC area, come see Urinetown!

Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society presents its Fall Show:
The Musical

November 5-8, 2008
8:00 p.m., Hart Auditorium