Sunday, September 6, 2009

By "Cheese" We Mean "Tillamook": Cheddar Cheese Puffs With A Surprise

The Clackamas County Fair is my fair, as I've already waxed quasi-lyrically about, and so you might think that I'd logically take the Clackamas County Fair recipe from The County Fair Cookbook to cap off a week of fair recipes. Well... I would...but...

I'll just say it. I'm sure Mabel Johnson is a lovely woman, but her recipe for sweet and sour kidney beans just doesn't float my blogging boat. It's not even a vegetarian recipe, so I can't be guilted into putting it up to balance out the ham and Spam. I love you Clackamas County, but a little bird tells me the Extension volunteers might put together a cookbook for a fundraiser at some point, and so I'll wait until then to do my proper homegirl salute. But, there should be something from Oregon...

The Tillamook County Fair is held in Tillamook, Oregon, the second week of August -- Wednesday through Saturday. They are home to the only Pig-N-Ford races in the nation, and if you don't know what those are, hop on over to that link and check 'em out. Tillamook, it seems, is more than just beautiful sea views and the world's best darned cheese.

The cheese really is amazing, and now you can get it in the grocery store nearly anywhere in the States, so there's no reason to use anything other than proper Tillamook when you make this recipe:
Cheddar Cheese Puffs With A Surprise
Mildred Davy's late husband, John, worked for many years at the Tillamook County creamery. Their excellent cheddar appeared frequently on the Davy family table. If you can't get Tillamook cheese, use any fine cheddar.

Makes 48 puffs

2 cups grated sharp Tillamook, or other cheddar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
48 small green stuffed olives, well drained

• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
1. Blend the grated cheese and butter. Stir in the flour, salt and paprika. (This can all be done in a food processor equipped with the metal blade.)
2. Mold 1 teaspoon of the mixture around each olive. Chill the puffs until firm, about 30 minutes. Arrange the puffs on ungreased baking sheets.
3. Bake for 15 minutes or until browned. (You can also freeze the puffs, well wrapped, for about 10 days. Bake them, still frozen, until browned.)
Aaaah, cheesy olivey salty goodness. I'd say that 48 puffs serve 4 rabid happy hour folks. I know that a proper cocktail party guide might suggest that each person will have 2-4 olives, but c'mon. There's Tillamook. There's olives. There's heat, blending them together. You're going to eat more than 4.

These go particularly well in the time before the turkey is done on Thanksgiving. You can heat them in small batches in your toaster oven, so that you're not disturbing the rolls, yams, Brussels sprouts, or bird.

You can choose what kind of stuffing you want in your olives. The classic pimento is fine, but if you want to grab the garlic- or almond- or even blue-cheese-stuffed ones from the fancy cocktail section of your favorite store, I won't say no.

Do get Tillamook, though. Chefly Husband came up with a great metaphor for why he, the Wisconsin Boy, could still eat Tillamook without the cheese police coming after him. See, evidently, the Wisconsin cheese is like the very best blended whiskey. Tillamook? Well, Tillamook is single malt Scotch. It's similar in composition, but a completely different beast. Get the single malt of cheese; get Tillamook.

And that's it for The County Fair Cookbook. Next up, perhaps an older book, or perhaps something focusing on a particular country's cuisine...

Friday, September 4, 2009

Super Easy Preserving: Pickled Cherries

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm glad that I posted Hot Spicy Candy, but I just can't stop thinking about these cherries... The County Fair Cookbook doesn't specifically link them to a county fair (ooo, the scandal!), but the nearest one it does talk about is the Long Island Fair in Old Bethpage, New York. According to the Fair's website, the fair's got a good blend of history and activities:
The Long Island Fair is the oldest continuously operated fair in the country having begun in 1842, first in farmers’ fields or empty lots, then in Mineola at the present site of the County Court House complex, and finally moving to Old Bethpage Village in 1970 (History). The Fair features rides, amusements, entertainment for young and old, and agricultural and horticultural competition for cash prizes common to Long Island a century ago and is the only New York State sanctioned agricultural and horticultural fair for Long Island. Prize competition is open to anyone not only in vegetables, fruits and flowers but also for baking, crafts, hobbies and agricultural skills – cross cut sawing and corn husking.
Rock on, Long Island agriculture! The fair runs for eight days in mid-October, so you've got time to plan your trip up to (or down to, or over to, I suppose) Old Bethpage. Old Bethpage: It's closer to civilization than Smithtown. Okay, so odds are the Chamber of Commerce isn't going to hire me to write their new tagline...and really, you have to go even further out on the island to get to the heritage of the next recipe.

Wickham's Fruit Farm is over 200 acres of farmy goodness next to Peconic Bay in Cutchogue. The Wickham family has been farming those acres for about three hundred years. This feels like a good time to say that the first time I came to the East Coast, I was in a cab in Boston, and said to the cabbie, "Today, I saw things that are older than my state!" The cabbie replied, "Honey, in Boston, there are things older than dirt." That's how I feel about saying one family's been doing anything for 300 years in one spot in this country, especially when that family has a very non-native last name. Anyway. The Wickham story is pretty darned compelling, but what you really need to know is this: they make cider, and they make donuts, and I'm betting that means they make...

...cider donuts...

Cider donuts are one of the best things in this crazy world of ours, and it's fall now, so I suggest you hightail it to the nearest place you can, and get yourself some.

But this is a blog about cookbooks and recipes, so let's look at one of the Wickham family recipes.
Wickham Family Pickled Cherries
"No need to process these cherries in a water bath," says Mrs. Wickham. "They'll keep all winter on the shelf. We serve them as an accompaniment to poultry or meat."

Sour cherries (any amount)
Cider vinegar to cover

1. Wash, stem and pit the cherries. Place them in a bowl and cover with cider vinegar. Let stand overnight.
2. Pour off and discard the vinegar. Measure the cherries and add an equal amount of sugar to them. Let stand until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Put the cherries in very clean jars and cover. Store in a cool dark place.
Look at that... preserving without processing! Putting up fruit doesn't get much easier than this, folks.

In step one, I'd suggest covering the bowl with cheesecloth or cling film, and leaving the bowl out on the counter -- not in the fridge. If you're wondering how to get "very clean jars," I'd say that those of you with dishwashers are going to need to run the washer on hot, and let the washer do the drying, too -- don't let 'em drip dry. Heat is your friend for sanitation purposes. For those of you more like, well, me, with only a sink and a dish drainer to help you out, wash the jars well in hot, soapy water. Let dry. Then, sanitize the buggers. I know, I know, part of the charm of this recipe is that you're not processing the jar in a water bath, but sanitizing is your friend, and a big ol' pot of boiling water goes a long way towards ensuring food safety. If you just can't bring yourself to do it with boiling water, or you have any inklings that your jar can't take the heat, use bleach -- 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Soak for 20 minutes, drain. Let air dry. If you want to rinse the jar after that, do so only with boiled water.

Yes, I'm the sister of an Extension employee. Food safety is important. Don't muck about with bacteria.

And, it's STILL the easiest darned preserving method I've seen, other than "put fruit and booze in a jar, let sit for months, then drink." This one even has the benefit of creating food, not, well, booze, so it's ... at least different.

Sour cherries can be hard to find; you can use frozen, I guess, but better to find an orchard and pick your own when you can. When measuring the cherries and sugar, measure by weight, not volume, if at all possible. As it's not baking, I won't yell at you if you don't have a scale, and have to go the volume route.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Exiled No More: Hot Spicy Candy

The Midatlantic section of The County Fair Cookbook has more than its fair share of interesting-looking recipes. It made selecting just one very difficult. Finally, I got it narrowed down to Wickham Family Pickled Cherries, or Hot Spicy Candy. The candy won out, mostly because the recipe is longer, and, well, I'm a fool for candy, and the method seems less prone to error than others. If you've a hankering for easy preserving of sour cherries, however, drop a comment, and I'll post the cherries.

The Sussex County Farm & Horse Show takes place the first week of August, most years, in Augusta, New Jersey. It's one of the larger fairs in the Northeast, evidently. Jane Brodhecker raises lambs, and though I love me some lamb, it's her candy recipe that makes me go "ooo."
Hot Spicy Candy
"The recipe comes from my Indiana grandmother," says Jane. "We made this candy with our children, and now they make it with theirs. Before Christmas everybody comes to the farm and we make batches together in several flavors. We use red coloring for cinnamon candy, black for anise, and purple for spearmint. Then we mix them and put them in airtight containers for gifts. The procedure sounds complicated, but making this candy is really simple." Flavored oils -- cinnamon, anise, wintergreen and others -- can be found at many pharmacies and sometimes at specialty food shops. Intense fruit flavorings are good, too. Paste coloring agents are sold at bakers' supplies stores and craft shops.

Makes about 4 cups

3 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups light corn syrup
1 cup water
Paste or liquid pure food coloring
1 dram (scant teaspoon) oil of cinnamon, clove or peppermint, or fruit flavoring
2 pounds confectioners' sugar (see Note

1. Place the sugar, syrup and water in a large saucepan. Bring slowly to the boil, with a candy thermometer attached to the side of the pan. Heat the mixture to exactly 290 degrees. (This will take 15 to 20 minutes.) Higher, the candy sets too hard; short of 290, it won't set up. Remove from the heat and add the desired color. Paste colors are intense; a dab on a toothpick should give a deep color. Be careful with liquid colors -- too much may dilute the candy mixture and impede setting.
2. Stir in the oil flavoring. Stand back! The mixture steams up and releases strong fumes.
3. Have ready 3 jelly roll pans on which you have places a 3/4-inch-thick fluffy layer of confectioners' sugar. With a finger, trace a large spiral trough in each pan.
4. Carefully pour the liquid into the troughs -- the little walls of confectioners' sugar keep it from spreading. When the candy has hardened and is cool enough to touch -- a matter of minutes -- take scissors and snip it into short pieces, or snap off pieces with your fingers. Roll them in the sugar. Sealed in containers, the candy lasts for months.
NOTE: You can reuse the confectioners' sugar. Between candy-making bouts, store the sugar in a self-sealing plastic bag.
...damn, that DOES sound easy! And far less apt to leave you with hard candy that tastes either of butter or vegetable oil, which always happens to me when I try to make lollipops and I have to grease the molds...

I wonder a bit at the order of the steps, and suggest that you make sure you do the prep for step 3 before you get anything else going. At least do it well before you've got a pot of fully molten sugar and oil ready.

I love old fashioned candy flavors. When I was in Salem, Massachusetts, I practically ran to Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie to stock up on anise and clove candies. I'll admit: most people I know don't care for anise or clove candy. Poor souls! The spiciness combines with the sweet? Delightful! So much more interesting than sweet-on-sweet. Then again, I also love licorice (especially salted licorice), and absinthe, so I may just be a weirdo. And fennel! Love fennel.

After my buttered lollies failures, I'd pretty much sworn off hard candy making. The sugar trough method may bring me back from my candy land exile.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

You Knew It Had To Happen: Midwest Spam Salad

At this point, none of you will be surprised to hear that when I saw this recipe in The County Fair Cookbook, I simply had to post it. C'mon... it's got both Miracle Whip and Spam. SPAM!!! I love Spam with an unholy passion. It's trashy as all get out, but it's so darned tasty.

This recipe comes to us from the Stephenson County Fair, which is held every July -- so you're out of luck for this year.
Midwest Spam Salad
Rosann DeVoe entered her dish in the Stephenson County Fair SPAM contest in Illinois.

Makes 12 servings

1 cup salad dressing (such as Miracle Whip)
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 1/2 pounds frozen green peas, thawed and drained
1 cup diced mild cheddar cheese
1/2 cup chopped bread and butter pickles
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 (12-ounce) can low-salt SPAM, diced
Lettuce leaves, if desired

• In a large bowl, combine the dressing, mustard, sugar and pepper. Add the peas, cheese, pickles and onion. Toss gently to mix. Add the eggs and SPAM and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours. Serve on lettuce leaves if desired.
It's so darned hard to type without including serial commas. Serial commas are good! Serial commas make sense! Serial commas are not to be found in this cookbook.

I find it hilarious that they specify the low-salt Spam. Why not Spam® Garlic? Or Spam® Oven Roasted Turkey? (Yes, that's a real product.) Or, really, Spam® Bacon, for the love of all things bacon-y? I say choose whichever Spam product you have on hand, and embrace it. Whatever you choose, the Miracle Whip and peas will make the salad amazingly homey and not just a little 1970s.

I don't know the last time I had a mild cheddar. I tend to go for the extra-sharp vintage cheddars that have some real bite to them. Say, for example, something from Tillamook, which is the cheese to beat all cheeses.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sheboygan Is Fun To Say: Ethel Holbrook's Ham Loaf

So far, we've had a savory pie, a starchy pudding, and a jammy cake from The County Fair Cookbook. We've looked at Nevada, Maine, and Kentucky. What should we hit today? about Sheboygan, Wisconsin? Just about 50 miles north of where Chefly Husband grew up, the Sheboygan County Fair isn't in Sheboygan proper, but rather in nearby Plymouth, WI. It's held Labor Day weekend, for five days, which means that this year, it starts this Thursday. If you're anywhere near, you can go to an ecumenical church service on Sunday, or a square dance, or you can just indulge in bratwurst done the right way.

The right way, of course, is to boil them in beer with onions, and then grill 'em. If you've never had a brat done right and done by a citizen of the Badger State, you're missing out, I can tell you that for free. They know their processed meat in Wisconsin. With that in mind, let's look at some processed meat!
Ethel Holbrook's Ham Loaf
"It's really my aunt's recipe," says Ethel.

Serves 6 to 8

1 egg
1 1/2 cups milk
3 slices white bread
1 pound ground beef
3/4 pound ground ham
3/4 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 cup pineapple juice

• Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
1. Beat the egg and milk together; soak the bread in the mixture for 10 minutes or longer.
2. Combine the meats with the soaked bread, salt and pepper, mixing them well, but gently so as not to compress the meat. Put into a greased 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.
3. Make the topping. Mix the brown sugar, mustard and pineapple juice together. Spread this paste over the loaf. Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the top is brown and bubbling.
Is it just me, or is it delightful to remember that "meat loaf" can use all sorts of meats, not just those coming from a cow? Odds are, you're not going to be able to find pre-ground ham at your grocery store. If you have the means, grind it at home; if not, chop it up in a food processor, or mince it really, really, really fine. Knife work is very therapeutic. Take out your stress on some ham!

Perhaps the first time you make this, you'll want to try it in a loaf pan. However, I never, ever make meat loaf in a loaf pan. Ever. I like to cook it on a rack on a jelly roll pan, so that fat flows out more easily, and more of the surface gets brown and crisp and lovely. I'd also suggest that if you're going to bother to make meat loaf, especially one that requires you to do your own grinding, that you just double your batch, and make two.

There's nothing finer in this life than a meat loaf sandwich.

Since we've pig two ways, I'd be tempted to either line the pan (if using) with bacon strips, or top the loaves with bacon strips before saucing them up. Your mileage may vary, but when it comes to options, Take One Cookbook is very much in favor of exercising the bacon option early and often. Everything is better wrapped in bacon.

Now, you may take note of the two "to tastes" in the ingredients list, as well as the raw meat. How, you might wonder, are you supposed to do anything "to taste" if the frickin' meat you're seasoning is raw? Unless you want nasty evil disease, it won't "taste" until it's cooked!

...well, yeah. You're solution's right there. Take a pinch of the meat mixture, about the size of a filbert/hazelnut, smoosh it down into a wee patty, and fry it up in a hot pan on your stove. Then, taste it. Is it properly seasoned? If not, adjust. If so, onward! If you've exercised the bacon option, remember that it will likely bring a lot of salt to your mix, so don't over salt. If you do over salt, and you catch it in the tasting stage, add more stuff that isn't salt. More meat. More filler, if you must. Adjust, retest, retaste.

Have I waxed lyrical about my love of cheesy pineapple/brown sugar/ham pairings yet? Suffice to say, I love 'em, and will have to remember to take out one of the Trader Vic's recipe booklets at some point here. I'm pleased to see them come up in this dish, and would suggest that a pinch of ground cloves would be a welcome addition, based on how I spice up my p/bs/h dishes.

I don't want the vegetarians and anti-pig-eating folk to go away from this post empty handed, so I'll say this:

It's terribly fun to say "Sheboygan." Sheboygan, Shebogan, Sheboygan!