Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lemonade (Silver Palate)

I don’t think I even need to repeat the adage about what to do if life gives you lemons, because in this case it was my boss who gave them to me! He actually has a very productive tree right here in San Francisco, and I am overjoyed when he brings me bags of lemons, especially today because I had a bake sale / fundraiser for my daughter’s school (Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy in the Castro) and so I volunteered to bring lemonade. Good thing, too, because it was a rare hot day in the city and we drank that up like there was no tomorrow!
Here we are in San Francisco's lovely Dolores Park where we raised nearly $200 to send the 4th graders to camp, yay!

This lemonade is the best you will ever taste, hands down. Don’t even bother with any other recipes. Just don’t. My mom taught me this one, from her (and now my) favorite cookbook of all time, The Silver Palate Cookbook - the 1982 masterwork from Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso, and I guarantee you will have people exclaiming in the street that it is the best thing they have ever tasted. 

The only thing I ever adjust is the tartness. I love it very very tart, but when I make it for kids I do add more sugar. And you want to use super-fine (Baker’s Sugar) because it dissolves so easily. Get some lemons and get happy!
 My daughter ladling out cups for thirsty park goers. Isn't she proud!
I always add some cut up lemons for looks, especially when using an (otherwise un-chic) industrial vat.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Quick Chocolate Cake

I love cake. OHMYGOD do I love cake. And I'll be honest, this is not the best cake ever, but when you just WANT CAKE (and come on, we all know there are times when nothing will do but cake!), this is FAST and YUMMY. Why buy a mix when you can literally throw things into the baking dish itself, bake for 20 minutes, and then happily scald your tongue on home-made cake? I couldn’t say.

Susan Katz’s brilliant 1978 “Just Desserts – Fast but Fancy” is one of my favorites. She has so many ideas that I would like to quit my day job to cook each and every one of them… well, I can dream, right? She even has a chapter entitled Desserts for Dinner. (She has also written a book called “100 ways to use yogurt besides eating it out of a container” – LOVE her to death!). When the sudden NEED FOR CAKE struck me, I turned to her and she did not disappoint.

This recipe – better than cake mix, I swear – is fun in that you mix it right in the baking dish. Seriously people, you are going to have cake SOON, and barely any dishes to wash! GET ON THIS! Even kids can do it, in fact it is perfect for them. Don’t have a mixer? Or are you just lazy? Who cares. YOU can make cake.

The only trick is that she’s not kidding when she says “There must be no delay in baking after adding vinegar” because that will activate the baking soda, and if not baked right away, the cake won’t rise. So be sure to have all your ingredients out in advance. This is as good a way to reinforce the practice of mise-en-place if I ever knew one! There: justification for baking cake: to teach yourself the importance of proper kitchen prep. (Not that you needed any justification.... )
 Dump in the ingredients!
 Mix well - and get into the oven IMMEDIATELY once the vinegar is stirred in!

You can frost this cake with just about anything, or heat up a nice glaze of chocolate, butter and a little grand marnier, or perhaps whisey and black cherries…. Possibilities are endless. You’re welcome. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Whole Grain Wheat Pancakes

Who doesn’t like pancakes? Sunday mornings I pretty much always make pancakes or their cubist friends waffles – unless I’m getting fancier with a soufflĂ© or something. But pancakes! Other than the occasionally interminable flipping, they are easy and can even be healthy. Witness:  this recipe with actual whole wheat. Drown in it enough syrup, and you won’t even know it’s good for you!

I always look for new recipes and since I have a new blender (I have a problem with blenders. I have blown up the motors in about 7 so far…) I turned to my trusty 1967 gem, the “Miracle Blender Cookbook - The Fine Art of Modern Blending” by  “Tested Recipe Publishers”. These nameless Testers were willing to put blender mechanism to the test with whole wheat (or wheat berries, as my grandmother called them) and I did too. After quite a lot of motor screaming and the faint smell of smoke, I will say the texture was rather charming. I might go back to my fave recipe which uses whole wheat flower, but for an interesting change, get out your power mowers – I mean blenders – and try this one!

Above: still life from the book (1967) Mine is not so far off, but sadly I am lacking sheaves of raw wheat. Aww shucks ;)

Naturally pancakes are yummy for breakfast, but if you have leftover batter (and this recipe will give you plenty so you will) just flip them up now and save for later. A delightful snack later with peanut butter, or butter and jam for dessert, or even with meat and veg with dinner! Come on, get creative (man)!

 Look, I even sifted the flour! (Cheater admission: often I just fluff it around with a fork.) But not when I MEAN BUSINESS:
On the Griddle!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Three Interesting Soups

In winter, I often feel like soup, and I love the graphics on the cover of Martin Lederman’s  1956 “Slim Gourmet’s Soup Book – Five hundred soups from five cans” but I had never used it, as his recipes are a bit vague (more on that in a moment) and call for canned soup, which I don’t love. Nevertheless, I decided to try a few because they were all quick recipes I could make after work, and we all need more quick go-to things to whip up while we’re still able to stand after a long day. The more I read, the more fascinated I became with “The Slim Gourmet” and his wheels, which remind me so much of art school! I tried three of the 500 soups, and despite my suspicion of cans, and of sensing a metallic taste in one of the soups (corrected with a couple turns of the pepper grinder), they are quite yummy and he is actually on to something here!

This is a gourmet cooking book that just happens to feature cans, because the time it was written was the dawning of the processed food industry, when we celebrated their glory: Economical! Never spoils! Clean, tidy and measured! One certainly cannot mistake this with “white trash” cookery, because he instructs you to add sherry, minced aromatic herbs and fine cuts of meats (even lobster!) to the cans to create versions of many existing soups, or variations on themes. Mr. Lederman calls this “upbreeding” (!!!) and suggests the idea came from mixing gin with juices to create cocktails, thus raising the gin to a higher level as a new creation. (Ahhh, gestalt theory in food!)
This was the best soup - from the Chicken Soup Wheel: Chicken Broth / Mushroom Soup / Asparagus Tips and (my eternal fave) Worcestershire Sauce. Add a bit of fresh ground pepper and good bread and it tastes better than canned soup, that's for sure!

Mr. Lederman, who is “deeply in love with soup”, presents more of a CONCEPT than a recipe (yeah, man, a concept album…) in which you start with one of 5 cans of soup, match it with ½ from another can and then follow the spokes of the wheel out , adding according to the path you selected from one of five “Soup Wheels” and reducing the quantity by ½ each time. Very clever and artistic as a concept, but totally foreign to someone used to cooking with only fresh ingredients. His very introduction praises the canned soup industry and delights in the fact that 20th century cooks need no longer make their own stocks or soup bases anymore, thus saving time by using cans. His point was very au courant, but now we are in a time of severe processed food backlash, we “revolt” by insisting on performing every step in the cooking, and shun processed food. Hello, generation gap!

This soup was pretty good; Chicken Broth / Sherry / Bacon and Parmesan. I added fresh Parsley as a garnish, which is a restaurant trick to "liven" things up if not super fresh or if lacking in any way. 

 All said, there are very nice organic stocks and broths on the market now, and you can use his concepts to whip up tasty soups very quickly, which was his intended point all along. Add fresh pepper and herbs and quality meats and you have actually many options. I’ve made three of 500, so I have quite a way  to go myself in learning “The Art of Blending Soup”. I’ve only worked with two of his “wheels” : chicken broth and consommĂ©. There other “bases” are tomato, mushroom and vegetable. Let’s get cooking!

The final soup I made began with Consomme and then RED WINE. It was so weird, I still can't quite get over it...
Beef Broth / Red Wine / Asparagus Tips / Mushrooms = JUST WEIRD

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pop Corn Balls

Looking for something fun, cheap and colorful to serve at a party? I was, and I found this in my lovely box of McCall’s Great American Recipe Card Collection from 1973. So long as you don’t mind getting your hands DIRTY, you’ll have fun with these Popcorn Balls!

My daughter and I made them for a holiday party – they’re called Christmas Popcorn Balls – but we felt the subdued colors shown on the recipe card were WAY TOO SUBTLE! So we went heavy on the Jell-O (Jell-O used to provide sweetness and color to pop corn? Oh YEAH!!!) and added a lot (quite a lot actually) of food coloring. Usually I avoid the stuff, but come on – for the holidays? Go crazy. We did!

These balls are fun to make and they have that sweet-salty thing going on that just works, thanks to the aforementioned Jell-O as well as chopped peanuts. I think perhaps I preferred the other flavored popcorns I have made just because there was less mess and goo all over your hands (see recipe for Pink Party Pop Corn here) but they are fun and tasty, and we will make them again. Just plan on spending more time than you thought humanly possible trying to roll the damn stuff into balls, while at the same time scraping it off your hands… this without just giving up and eating handfuls. Actually, I discovered that if the stuff is mostly cooled off it is much easier to form into balls, and then you also don’t burn your flesh with boiling Jell-O.  Um yeah… popcorn balls. 

Ingredients - yes, Jell-O!!!

 Hot Jell-O with food coloring - how can you go wrong???

Here we are at the Christmas party with the Pop Corn Balls! Happy Holidays :)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Lentil Soup

Soup! Winter weather just requires it, and the best thing is, you can make a big pot and have it all week. This recipe from Sunset Books 1977 version of "Favorite Recipes for Soups & Stews" is inexpensive and so easy, there is really no excuse, so grab a bag of lentils and get cooking:

There is hardly anything I need to say because this recipe is just SO easy. One thing is, you will be rewarded right away with delightful smells as the onion and bacon cook. You certainly don’t need to use bacon - you can leave it out if you don’t eat meat. In which case, I’d use a little Worcestershire sauce to make up for the flavor. You could also use pieces of cooked chicken or turkey in this soup, or sausages sliced into bite size bits. A final thing to note is that this makes a big pot, so if you won’t be able to eat it all, plan to freeze serving sizes in plastic zip bags which can be tossed right into your lunch bag to re-heat in the microwave at work. All you need is fresh bread and YUM. 

Lentil Soup

2 cups lentils
2 quarts water
2 slices uncooked bacon, cut in pieces
1 medium-sized onion, sliced
¼ cup chopped carrots
½ cup chopped celery
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 clove garlic, minced or mashed
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
½ tsp oregano
1 can (1 lb.) solid pack tomatoes
2 Tbsp wine vinegar

Wash the lentils and place them in a pan with the water, bacon, onion, carrots, celery, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper and oregano. Cover pan and simmer for 1 ½ hours. Add the tomatoes and break them up with a spoon; add the vinegar and simmer 30 minutes longer. Taste, and add more salt if needed. Makes about 10 servings.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin pie – it’s just not Thanksgiving without it, but once you realize how easy it is to make, you might want it more often. Like for breakfast!

I have to admit to using an old standby, the recipe from a can of Libby’s 100% Pure (canned) Pumpkin (see below) which never fails, though I swap out the evap milk for the same quantity ½ and ½. It’s fast, easy, yummy and familiar. However, one year I decided to do a taste test with one “traditional” pie versus one Bourbon Pumpkin Pie which I saw in Gourmet Magazine. Which one won? The Gourmet version did, and you can say because it has fewer eggs and ads sour cream for a little tang, or is more heavily spiced, or is creamier… or you can just say BOURBON.

First of all, you need to make a crust. Click here for my FAMOUS three minute Cuisinart “no roll” crust and thank me forever. If you’re in a rush, fine. Go ahead and use frozen dough. I will avert my eyes. (Below: my pie crust, right out of the Cuisinart. No rolling! Trust me.)

After you blind bake your crust, let it cool while you prepare the filling, as follows:

1 (15 oz) can pure pumpkin
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
3 ½ Tbsp. bourbon
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground allspice
¼ tsp. salt

·         Whisk together ingredients and pour into cooled shell.
·         Bake until edge of filling is set but center trembles slightly, about 45 minutes (filling will continue to set as it cools). Cool completely.

·         Serve at room temperature. For added depth of flavor, add bourbon to the whipped cream you dollop on top of each slice!
going into the oven - and out of it! (Note in photo below the filling is puffed up. It will settle.)