Friday, December 24, 2010

Spekulatius or Speculaus

The Christmas Cookie Book, by Virginia Pasley, 1949

Yay, Christmas! One of my favorite holidays, thanks to the food! Cookies, eggnog, pies and cakes, hot toddies, chocolates… oooooh I’m drooling in preparation for tonight!

Since everything else tends to the rich side this time of year, I decided to do some lighter, yet still quite yummy, cookies. I actually had these cookies last year in a gift basket from a client – and this is one of the only times I have ever had something packaged that I was able, later, to find a printed recipe for! And this simple recipe is quite possibly even better than the ones I had from the package.

This book caught my eye originally because the author is a (excurse the expression!) dead ringer for my late grandmother. So much so, that looking at the photos actually disturbs me, and on top of the physical similarity (see photo!), they share the same name: Virginia. Naturally, I had to have it. What I like best about it is that, despite the age, she calls for things I can generally procure, which I think comes from the fact that she has included many “old world” or traditional European recipes that used basic ingredients. I did have to add corn starch to the regular flour to make cake flour, but everything else was quite standard. And tasty, give them a try – they are plain, almost biscuit-like. Perfect with coffee!

Spekulatius or Speculaus

½ cup butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg
Grated rind of half a lemon
1 tsp cinnaomon
½ tsp salt
2 ½ cups cake flour
½ tsp baking powder

Cream butter and sugar, add egg and continue beating. Then mix in grated rind and sifter dry ingredients. Chill for several hours before rolling out and cutting into fancy shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Notes: The old German recipe for this cookie (which is believed to be of Dutch origin) called for an ounce of cinnamon for this much dough, typical of the heavy hand with spices of the old recipes. It also specified that the butter, sugar, flour and eggs be stirred all together at once, the dough stored overnight and the baking powder sprinkled over it and kneaded into the mixture the next day before rolling out.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Elegant Apricot Sweet Potatoes

“The Gourmet Foods Cookbook” by Chicago’s Culinary Arts Institute, 1955

Most of the recipes in this adorably illustrated little pamphlet call for things I don’t use, (and when I say “I don’t use”, that is a euphemism for, “they make me gag”) like lard and MSG, and call for nothing but canned fruits and vegetables, so I thought for the most part I would just enjoy it for the delightful drawings. But I came across this recipe that looked almost like a modern side-dish, and decided to try it out for Thanksgiving.

The recipe called for pre-baking the yams, and boiling dried apricots to re-constitute them, and then to slice them all up and lay them in beautiful strie, to be covered with orange-zested melted butter and sprinkled with brown sugar before baking the whole thing. However, both my yams and apricots ended up looking ugly and a bit too broken up when sliced. I decided to remedy the situation by turning the whole mess into a puree, which I then topped with crisped bacon bits and walnuts (instead of pecans, which are too sweet). The overt saltiness of the bacon (which was perfect in such a teeny amount) cut the sweetness of the apricot/yam puree, and it ended up a delicious dish! I fully intend to make this again beyond the holidays. (Actually I made so much I put some in a seperate container to freeze for later!) Note to self: Yams can be yum!

I should also point out that this recipe is written in a style once quite popular: paragraph form, (but with random punctuation). Here, ingredients are introduced as needed, rather than all in a top section, and steps are listed out as if a story were being told. Good luck with that – see if you don’t find it as maddening as I do!

Elegant Apricot Sweet Potatoes

A shallow 1-qt. baking dish will be needed.

Wash thoroughly and put into a saucepan ½ lb (1 ½ cups) dried apricots

Add 2 cups hot water

Allow apricots to soak in covered pan for 1 hour. Cook in water in which they were soaked, simmering, 40 min., or until fruit is plump and tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat. Cool and drain all, reserving the liquid.

Meanwhile, wash and scrub with a vegetable brush 6 medium sized (about 2 lbs.) sweet potatoes or yams
Cook 30 to 35 min., or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes and peel; cut into lengthwise slices about ½ in. thick.

Lightly grease the baking dish.

Set out 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar. Arrange a layer of the sweet potatoes in the baking dish. Cover with a layer of apricots. Sprinkle with one-half of the brown sugar. Repeat layers of sweet potatoes and apricots and sprinkle with remaining sugar.

Blend thoroughly ¼ cup of the reserved apricot liquid and 3 Tbsp melted butter, 2 tsp orange juice, 1 tsp grated orange peel; Pour mixture over the layers.

Bake at 375 F about 45 min., basting occasionally with liquid in bottom of baking dish.

About 5 min. before sweet potatoes are done, top with ¼ cup (about 1 oz.) pecan halves.

(6 to 8 servings)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Italian Egg Nog

Galliano advertising recipe pamphlet, undated (early 70s)

Do you ever find yourself in the position of having purchased a vast quantity of something to use in just one recipe, and then wonder what to do with the rest of it? Having recently purchased a bottle of Galliano for use in my FAVORITE, the Harvey Wallbanger Cake, I perused a 1970s pamphlet from the makers of said elixir and saw “Italian Egg Nog”. It being “the season” and all, I thought: PERFECT!

Also, this is an EASY egg nog to make. There is no separating of eggs, no aging for weeks in the fridge, and no 2-stage pouring/mixing. Plus, it features shaved chocolate on top – how could I go wrong when combing these important food groups: Dairy, Booze, Chocolate!

Hah! The thing is, it was delightfully easy to prepare, but tasted nasty! And I am a fan of egg nog, but I think… different egg nog. This is not sweet at all, nor can you even enjoy the milky goodness or the daring of consuming a raw egg. First of all, the chocolate shavings were awkward and wanted to be inhaled, so I could not savor the drink’s aroma. Second, they were a textural impediment to my sipping the beverage! Finally, once I had chewed up each mouth-full and could actually taste the concoction, it was not so good. Think: licorice in milk, with chewy bits. An acquired taste, perhaps? I wondered what I could do to “doctor it up” to make it drinkable, but was struck dumb. So, I inhaled it. And THEN, suddenly, I thought it was Grand!

Note to self: save that booze for more cake!

Italian Egg Nog

Beat together 1 c. milk and 1 egg. Add 1 oz brandy and 1 oz Galliano. Pour into snifter and chill in fridge. Garnish with chocolate curls or chopped nuts.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tangerine Walnut Toss for Mid-Century Pot Luck

Better Homes and Gardens “So Good With Fruit”, 1967

The other day, I got out this cook book because I was looking for something fun to take to a pot-luck. Not just any pot-luck, mind you, this was my great friend Karen’s Annual Holiday Mid-Century Pot Luck! This pot-luck, and the divine lady hostess, meant Business – Food entries were supposed to have been created from a mid-century cook book, preferably with color photos. And there were prizes awarded for the entries, based on several criteria, including (but not limited to) tastiness! So I couldn’t just bake some random cookies and call it a day. I wasn’t going to be home all day prior to the party, though, and didn’t want to risk a hot or baked dish. I needed something simple, so I (California-raised once-vegetarian that I am) called in the fruit: Cheerful! Festive! Colorful! Healthy! Oh yeah, and Tasty!

May I point out that, for the first few of these parties, I went to Great Lengths to create something that was not only 100% authentic, complete with serving pieces as shown in the photos, but I also picked the most disgusting recipe I could find, and actually spent the money and time to assemble it. Past entries have included a salad dressed with tequila, another salad served in pineapple rings made of ham and mayonnaise, and the worst, and most memorable: shrimp and onions concealed in lime Jell-O! (Yes, actually! Though I did not even eat One Bite of that one.) And these were all published recipes, that we assume at least One person thought good enough to write, and at least One other though good enough to publish! However, with both time and money being tight this year, I wanted something colorful yet edible, and quick.

Several changes had to be made to the recipe as given (below). First, white onions are just gross raw, so I substituted scallions. Second, I didn’t have time to peel tangerines, so I used canned (and drained) mandarin oranges. (Shhh, don’t tell! I know, I should be celebrating fresh California produce! The City of Berkeley will be disowning me for Sure!) And finally, I didn’t use anywhere near 7 cups of lettuce (really, is that how much is in one head of lettuce? How big were heads of lettuce in 1967?) Instead, I laid a few leaves in the bowl and plopped the other ingredients onto them. Who needs lettuce, anyway, when there are mandarin oranges!?! Otherwise, I did make the “croutons” and used Paul Newman’s Light Italian dressing. On the whole, not bad at all! Worthy of a re-make, possibly to include spinach leaves and crumbled gorgonzola next time.

Tangerine Walnut Toss

7 cups torn lettuce (about 1 head)
2 cups tangerine sections
½ mild white onion, sliced and separated in rings
1/3 cup Italian dressing
Walnut croutons

Toss lettuce, tangerine sections, and onion rings with Italian dressing. Top with walnut croutons: Melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ cup California walnut pieces. Stir till walnuts are crisp and butter-browned. Serves 6 to 8