Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gender at the Grill: Rumaki on the Hibachi

Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook BookI'm pretty much assuming that anyone reading a rather-colloquial English-language blog in 2011 knows what a barbeque is, and doesn't need a history lesson about the word's French roots or a detailed description of what a kettle grill is. Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook Book makes no such assumptions, coming as it does from that time before blogs and ubiquitous suburban Webers.
The barbecue at home is the aristocrat of outdoor meals. though its mood is informal, food often is as sophisticated and service is as elegant as in a dining room--but much less trouble if plans are carefully made.

This is where women, experienced in the day-to-day organizing of menus and meals, shine. They know the importance of the complete shopping list; of cleaning, or peeling, or otherwise preparing vegetables in advance; of having tools sharp and handy; and of not asking one burner or one oven to produce a whole meal at the same time. There is plenty for everyone to do before and during a big cookout. Most women I know are quite content to concentrate on advance preparations and the duties of a hostess, and leave the more dazzling duties over that hot bed of coals to the males.

...I don't quite know where to begin with this pretty little insight into women's happy role of prep cook. No, really, I don't, because as much as I like to rail against outdated sexist gender role expectations, I have to admit: when it comes time to slap the meat on the grill, I'm usually handing the tongs off to Chefly Husband. So, boo on the gender role expectation that I fully embrace in real life!

If there's a broiler around, though, I'll reclaim the same dishes that otherwise I'd get all Donna Reed-y about outside.

Rumaki on the Hibachi
A delectable do-it-yourself chicken liver appetizer for guests to prepare while host or hostess finishes dinner preparation. Pictured on page 139.

6 chicken livers
6 strips of bacon
water chestnuts
brown sugar

Cut chicken livers in half; slice water chestnuts (about 3 slices per nut). Marinate in Teriyaki Sauce (p. 94) for 4 hr. Drain; cut 6 bacon strips in half. Wrap chicken liver pieces and water chestnut in bacon strip. Fasten with toothpick and roll in brown sugar. Arrange appetizers on hibachi over hot coals. Grill until bacon and liver are tender, 15 to 20 min. Turn often. Makes 12.

Variation: Appetizers may also be baked in the oven. Place on a wire rack over a shallow roasting pan. Bake at 400° (mod. hot) 20 min., or until bacon is crisp. Turn occasionally for even browning.

I remember the first time I had rumaki. It was in a tiny rowhouse on Capitol Hill, in a teeny kitchen that, frankly, looked a bit scary. But my friend Nancy was working magic with water chestnuts and teriyaki sauce, and bacon. Bacon! She popped her liver-less rumaki under the broiler and I was hooked. So tasty. So salty. So sweet. So crunchy.

I like chicken liver, but have never had rumaki with chicken livers. I did find out that some of our good friends are chicken liver fans--Chefly Husband was talking about making a strawberry risotto with grilled chicken livers, and they swooned--so maybe this recipe will come out and play soon.

Cooking the Books: Tomato & Buttermilk Soup and Hard Cooked Eggs

I don't know what's got me on a buttermilk kick lately, but a kick I am on. It's also hotter than heck in DC right now. So, I decided it was time to try Tomato & Buttermilk Soup. Last night, I pulled out two Mason jars. I poured buttermilk in one, up about 1/3 of the way. Then, I topped the jar off with tomato juice. I screwed the cap on, gave it a shake, and put it in the fridge. I remembered it this morning while leaving work -- small miracle, that -- and popped it in the work fridge until lunch.

It was cold. It was delicious. I didn't add salt -- the tomato juice is plenty salty -- or pepper or any such thing. That being said, I can see a couple dashes of Tabasco working nicely here, or a sprinkle of dill, or fennel fronds, or grated cuke, or... really, whatever you have handy that is tomato-friendly.

I drank my soup right out of the jar. I shall do so again tomorrow. It doesn't look like much in this picture here -- if you want a more-vivid color, then use more tomato juice, or try some paprika (ooo, paprika would be good in here...).

The only lunch prep I did for this week that required a stove was boiling up a bunch of hard cooked eggs. Followed the recipe (with mother in law alteration) and once again, ended up with perfect, perfect eggs.

As to the second jar I mentioned up there in the first paragraph, I filled it 1/3 of the way with steel cut oats, and then poured in buttermilk until the jar was 1/3 full. Screwed on the cap. Set it in the fridge overnight. Opened it this morning to fill the jar the rest of the way with fresh blueberries (frozen fruit works, too), and took it off to work where it made one heck of a hearty breakfast. Texture: like Grape-Nuts. And we all know how much I like Grape-Nuts.

Monday, May 30, 2011

7 Rules for Grilling: Controlling Kibitzers & Fire

Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook BookWhile I love the recipes in old cookbooks, I really love the non-recipe content. Odd illustrations, weird apostrophes (figure of speech, there, not punctuation) (though there's strange punctuation, too), and tons of tables, tips, and rules to keep you from killing yourself or others in your quest for keeping folk fed.

It's 95°F here in Washington, DC today, so there's no way in heck I'll be standing over a fire. So, it's virtual barbeque time for me. The steak on coals method isn't for me, but Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook Book has lots of other tidbits to try, and tons of info to help you along the way. This afternoon, let's look into Betty Crocker's fire rules, kicking off with one of Tom Funk's illustrations -- he doesn't exactly put the funk in funky, but his midcentury drawings appeal.

The basic rules for fire building and control that follow will give you a fast start in the right direction, but only by firsthand experience does anyone develop that second sense that tells the expert how to make the outdoor grill produce reliable results.

Rule One: Before you light your fire, collect or have easily at hand all of the fuel you expect to use--and a little more!

Rule Two: Once your pilot fire is kindled and burning well, add as readily as possible all of the rest of the fuel so that it can burn down all at once to an even bed of coals.

Rule Three: Use a little more fuel than actually necessary. Nothing is a wider open invitation to trouble than a fire that is too small.

Rule Four: When necessary to add fuel to a well-established fire--as it sometimes is during a long cooking period--add it at the edges and rake it in when well kindled. Never put the fresh fuel in the center as this reduces heat rapidly.

Rule Five:Allow plenty of time for the fire to reach its proper cooking heat. Half an hour is the minimum for charcoal briquets, and 45 minutes to an hour is safer.

Rule Six: Once your fire is well under way, disturb it as little as possible. Constant poking and raking breaks up pockets of heat and lowers temperature.

Rule Seven: Develop some stern method of kibitzer control. People who would not dream of regulating your kitchen oven seem unable to resist "helping" the oudoor chef by stirring up his fire. They mean well. Indeed, such activity usually shows the first gleam of determination to try outdoor cooking for themselves. But threaten them off with the tongs, if necessary. two firemasters is one too many.
So, the first four rules are Do This; Seriously, Do This; No, Really, Do This; So You Didn't Do What We Told You To....Here's How To Fix. Then, two rules covering Leave Well Enough Alone, Already.

I don't know that I've ever had a small fire be a wide open invitation to trouble before. Large fires, sure. There was a fire pit in Northern Ireland, and that was a wide open invitation to some contemplation. Well, for me, contemplation. For Alex, a teen pilgrim and firebug, I suppose a small fire is in fact a wide open invitation to, if not trouble, at least to a bigger fire.


Here at Take One Cookbook... we like to think thoughts of peace and not of affliction, so I would like you to disregard Betty Crocker's advise to threaten people with tongs. It's not very civil. Plus, you use those tongs on food -- don't muck 'em up on overly eager "firemasters."

Steak on the Coals; Meat Marinade: Impressing At The Grill

Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook BookHappy Memorial Day, folks. We had a huge, beautiful meal of pork with cabbage & white beans last night, followed by strawberry shortcake (the strawberries were macerated with sugar, fig balsamic, and fresh thyme), so we've no immediate grilling plans for today, but my mind goes to the grill nonetheless.

I like cooking over a grill. Anything tastes better after some time above the coals. Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook Book challenges my belief, though, and suggests "above" isn't the way to go.

Steak on the Coals
This method startles those who see it for the first time, but it draws ecstatic praise from those who like an emphatic grilled flavor.

Use a large piece of lean, tender steak, such as sirloin, weighing at least 3 lb., 1 1/2 to 2" thick. Place steak in baking pan and cover with Meat Marinade (recipe below). Refrigerate 3 hr. Turn meat occasionally to thoroughly over with marinade. Drain steak and allow to come to room temperature.

Have a bed of white-hot charcoal briquets about 3" deep. A shallow layer of coals will not serve. Remove the grill. Place the meat directly on the fiery coals. Turn every 10 min. to another white-hot area. Allow 12 to 15 min. per side for the center to become
rare, hot, and juicy. Allow 1/2 to 3/4 lb. per serving. Makes 6 servings.

Ooo, a bonus recipe!
Meat Marinade: Combine in bowl 1/2 cup vinegar; 1/2 cup vegetable oil; 1 small onion, minced; 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. dry mustard; 1/4 tsp. each mace, nutmeg, and cloves; 1 clove garlic, crushed; and 1/2 tsp. Tabasco. Pour over meat. Serve meat with remaining hot marinade.
Before we go any further, let's point out one important thing: you can not serve that leftover marinade unless you cook it. Cook it. Yes. Cook it. I've nothing against a good steak tartare, but I value your health and don't want you slopping raw meat juice over your Flintstones-esque slab o' meat. Food safety: It's not just for 4H geeks.

It's for 4H geeks, too -- just not ONLY for 4H geeks. (Go, 4H!)

I have no doubt that this method of steak cookery will yield a cooked piece of meat. I do, however, doubt that this is the best way to treat your 3 pounds of sirloin. The very phrase "emphatic grilled flavor" sends shivers of horror down my spine. In fact, according to my handy dandy Google-fu, I find that there's only one place "emphatic grilled flavor" comes up in this world of ours, and it's right here, in this recipe, in this cookbook. When phrases occur only once? I think it's because they shouldn't occur again... Ban the "emphatic grilled flavor"! Embrace some frickin' subtlety!

And yet... it does have a primitive sort of allure...

Here's my final take on this: If you have absolute faith in your cooking fuel, and know for a fact that there aren't weird waxes and chemicals and flammable liquids going on, then fine. Try this. But if you're using briquets and a can of fire starter and God knows what else, put some distance between the unknown and your beef.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook Book; Good 'N Easy Potato Salad

Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook BookIt's Memorial Day Weekend, and with Memorial Day Weekend comes summer, gatherings with friends, picnics, barbeques, and all sorts of outdoorsy goodness. That, plus Chefly Husband's newly-started blog (Mastering Wine) has inspired me to grab a cookbook, dream of dishes fascinating and horrifying, and type away.

Welcoming us back into the fold is Betty Crocker's Outdoor Cook Book, illustrated by Tom Funk, © 1961 by General Mills, Inc. This is a great hard cover, spiral bound gem with two-color silly illustrations and four-color glossy pictures of stylish 60s folk, cooking outside. There is a facsimile edition available, but my copy is first edition.

I knew I wanted the first recipe up to be a potato salad recipe, as potato salad and Memorial Day just go together for me. But... which one? Potato Salad, Good 'N Easy Potato Salad, or Potato Salad For A Crowd? Chefly Husband suggested "whichever one doesn't have yellow mustard, because yellow mustard is disgusting."

He has many fine qualities.

And I like yellow mustard.

But I'm leaning towards "disgusting" anyway.
Good 'N Easy Potato Salad

1 pkg. Betty Crocker Scalloped Potatoes
3 cups water
2 tbsp. butter
2/3 cup water
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. prepared mustard
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

Empty potatoes into saucepan. Add 3 cups water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15 min. Rinse with cold water; drain throughly. Put in bowl, cover, and chill. Melt butter. Blend in contents of seasoning pkg. Add 2/3 cup water all at once. Heat over medium heat until mixture boils, stirring constantly. cover and chill. (Lumps are onion pieces.) When cold, blend mayonnaise and mustard into sauce. Fold into potatoes and eggs. 4 servings.
Any time a recipe has to tell you that what you're looking at is intentional and vaguely vegetal, back away slowly...

This may well taste very good. Lord knows I'm not opposed to cooking shortcuts. But if you're going to take the time to hard-cook eggs (and, let's take a moment for three cheers, for Betty Crocker calls 'em as they are: hard cooked, not hard boiled), then you can take the time to boil your own potatoes. Heck, you can boil them in the same pot as your eggs. One pot! One boil! Then you'd be able to identify your own lumps.

As for the mustard issue -- yes, I use yellow prepared mustard in my potato salad. You can use your favorite mustard, be it Dijon or brown or horseradishy, but to be truly 1960s vintage scary, use the yellow mustard, and the boxed potatoes.

If nothing else, file this one away for your next Mad Men theme party. Betty Draper would have had this cookbook.