107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

107 Cookbooks

broadest category of postings

Real Vegetarian Thai: Spicy Goodness

mussaman curry paste, mussaman curry with seitan, rice noodles with broccoli, cucumber salad, coconut ice cream

MussamanCurryI love Thai food, but I’ve always assumed that it’s difficult to make: so many unusual ingredients, plus the effort of making your own curry paste. I’ve had Real Vegetarian Thai sitting on my shelves for years, and it looks like in that time the only dish we’ve tried is the Pad Thai, which Scott prepared (with the marginal note “double everything”). So with the holiday weekend ArbolChiles2approaching, I decided it was time to throw a dinner party, invite a few people who haven’t been here for the last few blog efforts, and put together some Thai food.

I leafed through the book and decided to make a cucumber salad, a noodle dish, a curry, and dessert. I made a list of ingredients I’d need, and was CorianderCumin2impressed to find that the only thing I hadn’t found locally before was lemongrass, which would be a base for the curry paste. I canvassed the stores in the neighborhood; no lemongrass. A few shopkeepers said “sometimes we have it, but not now.” I finally found some at an organic store in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that I was passing on my way to do something else, and my shopping Lemongrass2list was complete.

I began with the coconut ice cream. This is a dairy-free dessert, and very simple: You cook coconut milk with some sugar, then let it cool, then churn the mixture into ice cream. After I’d chilled the mixture I was startled to find that it had separated into thick solid and liquid, but with some effort I was CurryIngredientsable to break up the solid part enough that it would blend well in the ice cream maker. I set that going and proceeded with my next effort, mussaman curry paste.

Curry pastes are the bases for curry sauces in Thai food. The basic ones are green curry, yellow curry, red curry and mussaman; mussaman is basically red curry CurryIngredients2with some additional spices that import a little more of an Indian flavor, the name deriving from the Muslim traders who brought goods from elsewhere in Asia. I began by breaking the tops off about 15 red arbol chiles, shaking out as many of the seeds as I could, and then soaking them in hot water for about 20 minutes. While they soaked, I chopped my lemongrass stalks into small MussamanCurryPaste4pieces and put them into the bowl of the mini-food-processor attachment for my mixer. To this I added chopped shallot, cilantro, ginger and garlic. Now it was time to dry-toast some cumin and coriander seeds, then grind them in a spice grinder with some peppercorns. I zested a lime and added that to the mixture, then added some cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and Cucumbersalt; these are the spices that make the difference between red curry and mussaman curry. I drained the chiles and added them to the bowl, and pureed it all into a thick paste, adding a bit of water as necessary to keep the blades moving and grinding. I offered it to Scott to smell and he didn’t want to give it back.

I put the curry paste into the RedOnion2fridge and prepared the marinade for the cucumber salad: sugar, salt, vinegar and water, boiled together and then allowed to cool. Closer to dinnertime, I peeled and chopped a couple of cucumbers, minced a red onion, and chopped some cilantro, then mixed these together and added the vinegar mixture. The bowl went into the fridge, and I chopped some peanuts and pulled some cilantro CucumberSaladleaves to garnish them with just before serving.

For the curry I was going to need seitan balls. The cookbook gives a recipe for old-school seitan, mixing a flour paste and then rinsing away the non-gluten part. I don’t have the patience. I mixed some vital wheat gluten flour with some nutritional yeast flakes, garlic powder, soy sauce and Seitan2water, following a recipe I use for my Thanksgiving vegetarian feast; I kneaded the spongy mixture briefly, then shaped it into chunks, and browned them in olive oil. I set them aside.

Closer to mealtime I began the other dishes, starting with the mussaman curry. I did my vegetable prep: two diced sweet potatoes, two diced white RiceNoodlespotatoes, and some chopped onions and garlic. I heated 2/3 cup of coconut milk in my big Calphalon pot; when it was warm I stirred in two tablespoons of the curry paste and cooked it together for a few minutes, then added more coconut milk to total two cans, some vegetable broth, the vegetables and seitan, and some spices including cilantro and cardamom pods. I brought the CucumberSaladPlatedmixture to a boil and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. Then I stirred in some peanuts and let the mixture sit keeping warm. Technically I was supposed to let it sit 5 minutes, but I forgot to start the rice cooker until it was nearly dinnertime, so I let the curry mixture sit a little longer while the rice finished cooking. We served the curry with rice, and warned guests to be careful RiceNoodlesWithBroccoli2about the difference between cardamom pods and peanuts when chewing.

The last dish was the noodle dish, which was pretty simple. I soaked some dried rice noodles in hot water to reconstitute them; while they soaked I sauteed garlic, mushrooms and broccoli, then set those aside and added fresh oil to the pan. I drained the rice noodles and sauteed them. At this point I was supposed to add beaten eggs and cook them, but one of our guests was a vegan and I decided to just skip the eggs. Once the noodles were sauteed I returned the vegetables to the pan and added a mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar, and vegetable broth, and tossed it all together.

I brought out the cucumber salads first, garnished with peanuts and cilantro, then the noodle dish. The rice was ready about 10 minutes after that, so we brought out the curry and dug in. Everyone loved the food; the noodle dish was especially delightful, and we were all tempted to fill up on it without leaving enough room for curry. But the curry was tremendous. It wasn’t overly spicy, though I think if I made more for just me and Scott I’d add a little more curry paste to the sauce mixture. We ate so eagerly that we were a little worried about having room for dessert, but the coconut ice cream was light and refreshing, a perfect end to the meal.

Verdict: Success. I’ll be using the mussaman curry paste again, and making other dishes from this as well.

Sorry for the delay; new post later this week

I’m a bit behind with things; I made great Thai food last week but haven’t had the chance to write it up yet. We’ve had a chaotic time here behind the scenes and I will not be back in the cooking and writing groove for a few days more. Sorry for the lapse.

The Classic Carrot Cookbook: Cake Wrecks Edition

sour cream carrot cake

CakeWreckThe Classic Carrot Cookbook is a 1982 production of the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs. It’s plastic-comb bound (orange comb and cover, of course) and set in Courier type that may have been printed from a word processor, but may have been produced on the small-type ball of an IBM Selectric. The copy I have was sent by a friend; it’s a thrift-store find and she sent it for my GratingCarrotsRecipes of the Damned collection, largely because of recipes like ‘Nana Salad (colby cheese, canned pineapple, carrots, gelatin and bananas, to name but a few ingredients) and Bugs Bunny Bake (carrots and Velveeta).

I leafed through this book on several occasions, hoping I could find something I’d be willing to eat that I could cook in warmer PeelingBlanchedAlmondsweather (boeuf en daube was out), and wondering if I would be taking the easy way out by making carrot cake. No, I decided; I’ve never actually made carrot cake, so it’s not cheating to do what seems like the obvious thing.

Clearly I had no idea what I was in for.

GroundBlanchedAlmondsI bear some of the blame. I didn’t read the recipe through with complete attention before I began cooking, so I didn’t realize some of the problems until it was too late to choose something else. It seemed straightforward at a glance: divide 7 eggs, grate carrots, grind up some almonds, mix it all together with sugar and spice and lemon juice and flour. The sour cream would be part of CakeIngredsa cooked topping, a sort of sour cream custard that looked simple enough. So I went about my day and got caught up in various tasks, and finally started cooking, only to realize that I had some time-consuming things to do for this cake. If I had made the cake in the morning I could have dealt with some of this more smoothly; of course I also wouldn’t have gotten out of the apartment until EggSugarAt2Minsafter 2, so there are always tradeoffs.

The first time-suck was the almonds. I needed blanched ground almonds. Two and a half cups worth. Have you ever blanched almonds? It’s pretty simple: pour boiling water over your (shelled) almonds and let them sit for a few minutes, then drain, and slip off the skins, which EggsSugarAt4Minsshould come off easily when you rub the nuts in your fingers. There are a lot of almonds in enough to make two and a half cups of ground almonds, and slipping off the skins takes time, especially if it takes you a while to figure out that if a given almond is refusing to shed its skin you should set it aside to blanch again, not work hard at it. Finally I had the almonds peeled and AddedCarrotsput them into the food processor to grind. I pulsed repeatedly, anxious to get fine crumbs and not almond butter. After a bit, the food processor stopped working. I checked the plug; I checked the little lip on the container that needs to be engaged for the machine to run; I checked the toggle between high and low to make sure it wasn’t stuck in a AddedNutsnebulous middle. No; the machine was done. I don’t know if it’s just given up the ghost or if it’s simply thrown a belt, but since it’s a fairly cheap department-store brand that I think may have been a wedding present, it’s probably dead.

I had a bowl full of almond chunks the size of macadamia nuts, and was not sure what to AddedEggWhitesdo. The blender? Doubtful; I was sure the blender would turn it into almond butter instead of crumbs, and anyway I hadn’t checked it since I nearly burned it out on the failed Oaxacan pepian sauce. Then I remembered that my hand mixer has a little mini-food-processor attachment that I’ve never used. I assembled the pieces, and even though I had to do it in three batches, I very BatterInPansquickly had all the almonds nicely ground.

I readied my other ingredients, and came to the second puzzler. The recipe says to add sugar to the egg yolks and beat for 20 minutes. Really? I read it again. “Beat egg yolks and sugar for 20 minutes.” By hand or with a mixer? The recipe did not say. I began to read more carefully. The BatterInSecondPanrecipe was close-mouthed on other issues as well. What consistency should the egg yolks and sugar be after 20 minutes? What consistency after all the other ingredients go in, before adding the egg whites? What about the baking pans — should they be greased and floured, lined with parchment, anything? No guidance. I was out of parchment, but decided against using wax paper SourCreamAndSugar— I don’t really like that for oven baking. I decided to grease and flour the pans, hoping that would be enough to keep the cake from sticking.

As for the egg yolks and sugar, I decided that beating for 20 minutes probably meant by hand; I had a feeling 20 minutes with the hand mixer would only add to SourCreamAndSugarCookingmy appliance death tally. So I beat the egg yolks and sugar for 2 minutes, stopped and examined the consistency. Nicely blended and aerated, smooth. I had a hunch this was enough. Maybe 20 was a typo? I went ahead and beat the mixture 2 minutes more, saw no appreciable difference, and decided that I was going to move on with the recipe. I added grated carrots, then the almonds, SourCreamSauceFailthen some spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and clove), then some lemon zest and juice, and finally a small amount of flour. Now it was time to add the beaten egg whites; I folded them in carefully and divided the mixture between my baking pans. They were pretty full; belatedly I thought, are these 9-inch pans or 8-inch? I pressed on and put them in the oven.

DoneLayersWhile the cake baked, I began to work on the topping. When I was prepping my ingredients earlier I noticed that I had only enough fresh eggs for the cake, but still needed 3 yolks for the sour cream topping. Wait, I thought, I have egg yolks in the freezer! I’ll just rest the container on some warm water until they’re thawed enough to scoop out 3, then float that bowl on some warm water DoneLayerCloseUPuntil they’re thawed. Microwave thawing, I reasoned, might go too fast and cook them. Um, guess what: So can warm-water thawing. I returned to my resting yolks to find worryingly solid bits at the edges. Well, I thought, mostly this is liquidy yolk, and I can spoon out the solid bits before I add it to the sour cream mixture. So I set to work: I mixed a cup of sour cream with a cup of CakeWreck2sugar and brought the mixture slowly to a boil. Then I added the beaten yolks. And despite my best efforts, little boiled-yolk bits made themselves evident, and began to multiply. Desperately I added grated carrot and chopped nuts, but the yolks continued to cook rather than to blend in. I had a dismal, unappealing mixture. Sighing, I pulled it off the heat. I would let it cool so I CakeWreck3could discard it; in the meantime, Scott and I would go pick up some eggs and something to eat, then I’d make a new batch of sour cream topping with fresh, non-pre-cooked yolks.

In the meantime, I had been enjoying the developing smell of the cake as it baked. The recipe said to bake for 50 minutes in a 375-degree oven, but at about SadScotthalf an hour I peered in and noticed that the cake looked very brown and solid on top. Could the baking time be off as well? I checked the cake with a toothpick; it came out clean. This cake was done; if I left it in another 20 minutes I would have bricks, not layers. So I pulled it out to cool.

After dinner, I returned to the CakeWithIceCream3kitchen and decided that before I began a new batch of sour cream topping, I’d turn the cake layers out of their pans. I ran a knife around the edge of the first pan, encountering some resistance along the way. Not a good sign. I inverted the pan onto the cake plate and tapped the bottom a few times, then lifted. The cake did not budge. Cautiously, I began to work around the RecipePageedge again, and chunks of the cake began to come out. Not exactly the clean layers I had been aiming for. Had I been wrong about the baking time? I sampled a piece; the cake had a nice consistency and terrific flavor. No, the cake was nicely done, on the verge of overdone; it just refused to come out of the pan. I extracted the rest of the layer and packed the pieces into a plastic SectionDividerstorage container, then tried the second layer to see if it would hold together any better. It didn’t. I had a cake wreck on my hands.

So I abandoned my plans to make the sour cream topping. Instead, we had chunks of cake with the vanilla ice cream I made last weekend. The cake was delicious.

Verdict: Cake wreck. I think I’m done with this cookbook.

Extending the deadline again; in praise of improvisation

I took a hard look at my remaining row of cookbooks and realized that there is no chance that I will cook something from all of them by the end of Labor Day weekend. And it wouldn’t be sensible anyway. It would be too much food for the two of us, and I am not inclined to host another party until the weather has cooled considerably. Also, a lot of the things I’d be making would not be seasonally appropriate.

And this is a season where it doesn’t make sense not to take advantage of the market bounty. With tomatoes, eggplant, corn and peaches abundant right now, it would be a crime not to load up and make as many fresh, simple dishes as I can.

Last Saturday I took a class from the Institute of Culinary Education called “Cooking in the Moment.” We met instructor Richard Ruben (author of The Farmer’s Market Cookbook) at the Union Square Greenmarket and spent a little over an hour going through the market shopping for fresh goodies. He showed us how to select ripe fruit, how to judge herbs, how to choose a watermelon, and how to think about combining ingredients. Corn, tomatoes, peaches, plums, scallops, lemon cucumber, sorrel, hot peppers, yellow watermelon, husk tomatoes, baby eggplant, okra, a smoked duck, raspberries, red carrots, and far more went into our bags. Then we went to the Institute and decided as a group what to make with our haul.

With Richard’s guidance we chopped onions, minced peppers, sliced beets and radishes on a mandoline, shredded sorrel, and stirred together batters. The result was a fabulous menu: duck fritters, apricot chutney, scallops wrapped in shiso leaves and grilled, watermelon-habanero relish, okra and eggplant saute with cherry tomatoes, corn salad, green beans, sauteed radishes, pattypan squash with cheese, and a “high-end cobbler” of peaches and plums topped with a simple cake batter, served with a white chocolate topping. Richard also surprised us with a limeade that started with corncobs boiled in water with enough sugar to balance the lime juice. We didn’t come away with recipes, but rather with an understanding of how to shop for good food, what kinds of flavors work well together, and how to use a creative eye when judging what’s in season.

And that’s the way I like to cook, really. I like to improvise, to play. I like to tweak the ingredients to come up with new combinations or take advantage of what’s available. The best cookbook recipes help make this possible, but there are so many recipes out there that just instruct without informing. Good recipes help you learn how to do it yourself; bad ones just expect you to follow orders. I’m too ornery to do that very often. I may do it the first time I’m trying a recipe, especially if it calls for ingredients, techniques or equipment I’m not familiar with. But once I know how the food or the equipment performs, once I know what happens when I’ve followed the steps, I like to take a freer hand.

We just bought an ice cream maker. (It was discounted on Amazon; I practically had to do it.) So today we went to the neighborhood Greenmarket and got peaches, and later today we will make peach ice cream. I’ll also make the custard base for vanilla ice cream and let it chill overnight, then finish and churn it tomorrow. And from those two recipes I expect to learn how the machine functions and how the different ingredients work together. Having mastered that, I plan to play with ingredients and flavor combinations. I’ll keep looking for recipes but I will not assume that if I don’t have a recipe I can’t figure it out for myself.

So I’m going to keep playing, and I will also work in the remaining cookbooks on a more gradual basis. I will learn from them what I can, but will not let myself feel limited by them. And from time to time I’ll post about the non-cookbook-collection cooking I do, especially if I learn something from it.

I’d also love to hear about your adventures in cooking, so please feel free to chime in with comments.

The Whole Soy Cookbook: Speedy Sloppy Joes

soy sloppy joes

SloppyJoeOnBuns3We’re in the dog days of August, and I’ve been falling behind on the cooking. There are a few reasons for this. It’s too hot to cook, for one thing. We’ve been making salad and pasta, or eating leftovers. And we had a few leftovers from Lidia’s Italy to take care of too. So it’s been a challenge to get it together for the blog.

SloppyJoeIngreds2I thought that soy sloppy joes might be pretty easy, though. The Whole Soy Cookbook has a lot of quick recipes, but many of them are similar to things I’ve done before. I’m not sure I’ve made sloppy joes since high school, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

This is a very easy recipe to prepare. The only chopping required is one onion. I heated PouringTomatoJuicesome oil in a skillet and sauteed the chopped onion with some soy ground-beef-style crumbles (3 12-ounce packets), letting them cook for about 5 minutes until the onions were soft and translucent. Then I added a cup of ketchup, 2 cups of tomato juice, 2 tablespoons of mustard, and some salt and pepper. I stirred the mixture together and let it simmer for about 20 minutes, BrowningOnionsSoySausagestirring fairly often.

Then I scooped the mixture onto toasted hamburger buns. I began with my husband’s plate, spooning soy beef mixture onto the bottom half of each sandwich.

“That’s only half,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

AddingSauceIngreds“We always had it on the top of the bun, too,” he said.

“Really?” I looked at his plate. In my family we had sloppy joes as sandwiches. And they inevitably fell apart, hence the name. Why not serve them open-faced? I spread the filling across both halves of the bun and dished up some corn on the side.

MixtureCookedThe sloppy joes were good; the soy ground beef had a good texture, and the sauce was tomatoey and satisfying. It would have been better with a fresh tomato sauce instead of the combination of ketchup and tomato juice, but it was all right as it was.

Verdict: Success. Easy and simple.

Lidia’s Italy: What to Do With a Greenmarket Haul

smothered eggplant and summer vegetables, Anna’s spaghetti and pesto Trapanese

AddingBasil2Lidia’s Italy is another cookbook I bought through a club and hadn’t used until now. Lidia Bastianich is a cookbook author, TV personality and restaurant owner (most notably New York’s Felidia), and it is clear she knows her way around Italian cuisine. The book is organized by the regions of Italy, with a wonderful range of flavors and ingredients within each chapter and from region to SpaghettiWithPesto2region.

I chose two recipes from the chapter on Sicily. This seemed appropriate; the Sicilian climate is hot and intense, which meant the summer selection of Greenmarket produce would find good use here. I wanted something I could make ahead, because I was having friends over for a sewing party, so I wanted to spend most Eggplants2of my time out of the kitchen once they arrived. I opted for a caponata or eggplant dish, which I could offer as a snack while we worked, and a fresh tomato sauce for spaghetti, which I could add to noodles when we were ready for dinner.

The smothered eggplant dish took a bit of preparation. I began with the eggplants, three modestly EggplantChunkssized beauties from the Greenmarket, which I cut into chunks about an inch wide and two inches long. More or less. Quite a few chunks were closer to an inch and a half or an inch, but I didn’t think that would matter. I tossed the eggplant chunks with some kosher salt and put them in a colander for the excess moisture to be drawn out and drained away. Next, I cut about OrangePlumTomatoes3two pounds of plum tomatoes into wedges, scooped out the seeds, and put them in a sieve for their excess moisture to drain as well. The tomatoes were orange, a lovely but unexpected color. I also chopped up some onions, celery and green olives, drained a jar of capers, and plucked and rinsed 12 large basil leaves and set them aside.

CeleryOnionsOlivesI took a few minutes to set up the flavoring syrup: I combined half a cup of red wine vinegar, half a cup of water and two tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan and brought the mixture to a boil, then let it cook until it was reduced by about half. This was easy to do, but I quickly discovered that it’s a bad idea to be downwind of the gust of steam from a pan in which you are CaponataIngredsboiling vinegar. That is one intense smell. My sinuses sterilized, I moved to the other side of the stove and set about frying the eggplant, which I had rinsed and dried after its salting time was up.

I put about a cup of canola oil into a large pan — the cookbook says to use a skillet, but I thought my big Calphalon pot would be a FriedEggplant3better choice — and heated it to medium, then added the eggplant and fried the pieces, stirring often to ensure even cooking and coloration. I removed the fried pieces to a dish lined with paper towels and let the excess oil drain off; I then discarded the cooking oil, wiped out the pan, and added a smaller quantity of olive oil to heat. When it was warm, I added the onions and celery and a AddingOlivesCapersbit of salt, and cooked them until the onion had softened and just begun to brown, about 8 minutes. Then I added the olives and capers, and stirred the mixture until the new ingredients began to sizzle a bit. I added the tomato wedges and a little more salt, stirred everything up, and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

AddingTomatoes2At this point I added the eggplant back to the pan and mixed it in, then poured in the vinegar syrup. I let this mixture cook for a few minutes, then drizzled in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and let the mixture cook for about 10 minutes more. When the timer went off, I turned off the heat, tore up the basil leaves and added them to the pot, and pulled the whole pan aside to cool to room temperature. I also began AddingEggplant2to rethink my serving plan. I had expected the vegetables to fall apart into a softer, more indistinct mixture, based on comments in the introduction such as “use it as a sauce for pasta or as topping for bruschetta.” The chunks in the pan were certainly soft, but still far too large to make an effective topping for bread or crackers. I decided to postpone any further PestoIngreds2decision until the mixture was cool, and turned to my other dish.

Pesto Trapanese is a much faster dish to make. I rinsed and dried about three-quarters of a pound of globe tomatoes, and put them into a food processor with 12 large basil leaves (clearly a popular quantity), one clove of garlic that I’d peeled and crushed with the flat of a knife blade, 1/3 PestoPureedcup of toasted almonds, a pinch of red pepper flakes and about half a teaspoon of kosher salt. I processed the mixture until it was a smooth liquid, then drizzled in about half a cup of olive oil and kept processing until the puree was a bit thicker and even in texture. I think it may have been meant to be thicker, but my tomatoes were a little larger than the cherry tomatoes called for in SpaghettiWithPestothe recipe and probably had a bit more liquid in them. If I had been making the pesto closer to dinnertime I could have just set it aside, but since I was working ahead I put it in the refrigerator.

Not long afterward, my friends arrived and we sat down for a snack before turning on the sewing machine. The eggplant mixture was indeed too chunky to easily spread on bread or a cracker, though we tried. But it tasted phenomenal. The flavors of the individual vegetables came through, and the overall mixture had a great tangy undertone (from the vinegar syrup, no doubt) and a richness, with a thick base from the portion that had broken down a bit. I think that if I were to make this again and wanted to use it as a dip or bruschetta topping, I’d throw it in the food processor and give it three or four pulses to break it down just a bit more. But in its chunky form I’m itching to try another of the suggestions from the recipe header: “use it as a sauce for pasta.” That’ll be Wednesday night, I think.

When we were ready to have dinner I cooked a pound of dried spaghetti. I realized while the water was coming to a boil that I was supposed to have brought out the pesto earlier so it could come to room temperature. Luckily it was fairly warm in the kitchen, and the sauce wasn’t really cold by the time the spaghetti was done. I drained the noodles and put them into a large pasta bowl, then added the pesto sauce and tossed the mixture together until the spaghetti was evenly coated. I passed around a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano and a microplane zester, and invited people to add cheese if they wanted it. Everyone raved over this one, including me. I know it’s bad form to praise your own cooking, but I didn’t feel I’d really done that much, just followed excellent and simple instructions. I’m going to have to make this one again and again. In fact, I may have to do a serious Greenmarket run and make a large batch to freeze in portions. I don’t know how well the sauce freezes; we didn’t have enough left over to find out. But I think this deserves to be in weekly rotation for as long as tomatoes are in season.

Verdict: Success. Both the work-intensive dish and the easy one were well worth doing again.

The Kellogg’s Cookbook: Cheez-It Souffle

Cheez-It souffle

SouffleBaked2Yes, you read that right. Tonight’s cookbooks is The Kellogg’s Cookbook, and that means recipes with things like Cheez-Its, Rice Krispies and Special K. When I wrote this up for Recipes of the Damned, I made fun of a recipe that involved sauteed shrimp and Corn Pops. To be fair, the recipe sounded very good without the Corn Pops.

CheezItSouffleIngreds2This is what makes this cookbook worth perusing: Many of the recipes seem quite reasonable. This is because many Kellogg’s products are pretty simple: Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, All Bran. I’ve made cornflake-crusted oven-baked chicken before, and probably everybody who’s not a vegan or a don’t-ask-don’t-tell vegetarian has eaten Rice Krispie treats. But some of the recipes CheezItsPreCrush2are rather silly, either because they try too hard (for example, specifying Kellogg’s Stuffing Mix when any croutons would serve) or because the product they require is inherently silly. Like Cheez-Its.

Don’t get me wrong. I really like Cheez-Its. They have a good strong mainstream cheddar flavor, and they’re an excellent CheezItsCrushed3salt delivery system, which is very important to me in a processed snack food. But in a souffle? I had my doubts, so I decided to find out.

The recipe is fairly simple, though might be daunting to an inexperienced cook. (Of course, if you’ve gotten past the word “souffle” you’ll probably be just fine.) I began by preheating the SeparatedEggsoven and measuring out a cup of Cheez-Its and then crushing then in a plastic bag, using a rolling pin. I poured the crumbs back into the measuring cup; they now reached about 2/3 of the way to the top. I’d expected them to lose a lot more volume. I set them aside and separated six eggs, then beat together the yolks slightly. I also grated about a teaspoon’s worth of a fresh onion.

MilkSauceThickenedNow it was time to move to the stovetop. In a heavy saucepan, I heated one and a half cups of milk and half a stick of butter for about two minutes, stirring constantly, until the butter was melted. Then I added the grated onion and about half the Cheez-It crumbs and kept stirring, cooking for about five more minutes, until the mixture had begun to thicken and was close to boiling. Here the TemperingYolksCheez-Its are functioning much like the flour in a roux; although the ingredients come together in a different order, this is essentially a bechamel sauce. With cheddar cheese flavor and quite a bit of salt.

Now I spooned out a bit of the hot bechamel and added it to the egg yolks, mixing them together to warm up the yolks; this is SauceWithYolks2called tempering, and it keeps the yolks from curdling when they’re added to the pan. Yolks tempered, I added them to the saucepan. They did not curdle. I kept stirring, letting the mixture cook for about three more minutes, then removed it from the heat.

It was the egg whites’ turn now. Using an electric mixer, I beat the BeatingEggWhiteswhites until they were stiff but not dry, which took less than two minutes by my estimate. (I wasn’t really looking at the clock; I was looking at the egg whites.) I then carefully folded the egg whites into the Cheez-It sauce. This is the tricky part, because you don’t want to overmix them, but you want to make sure you don’t have big pockets of unblended egg white or sauce. I AddingWhitesToSaucefolded in the rest of the Cheez-It crumbs, poured it all into an unbuttered baking dish, and put it in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes.

While it cooked I finished up some kitchen tasks: I made salsa with fresh tomatoes and poblanos from the Greenmarket, and I washed a bunch of dishes. I found myself working gingerly. It FoldingInMoreCheezItsoccurred to me that a sufficiently loud noise or heavy vibration might knock the whole thing down. And boy, did my kitchen seem loud. The fridge cycling down with a thump; the poorly set drawers lurching into their grooves; a tomato rolling off the cutting board and into the sink. Outside noises sounded amplified as well: kids playing, motorcycles driving past, neighbors slamming SouffleToBakegarage doors. I half expected someone to pull into the alley in a bass-thumping boom box masquerading as a car.

But my worries were groundless. The baked souffle had risen, and stayed puffed, though it began to sink gradually once it came out of the oven. And when I dug into it with a spoon it quickly deflated. I spooned up some of the mixture SouffleDish4and we carried it away with salad. I’m not sure if I got the consistency exactly right; it was somewhat soft and I didn’t know if it should be firmer and keep its puff more solidly. But it was a pleasing texture, and it tasted good. It tasted exactly like Cheez-Its. This is not a bad taste, though it’s a little weird in a souffle texture.

SouffleSunkVerdict: Success. But this is another silly recipe. I want to make a real souffle at some point, but I think I’ll wait until the weather has cooled a bit more. The elegant puff seems like it might be a lovely way to present a fine chocolate or a really great cheese. But if I want Cheez-Its, the crunchy cracker is good enough for me.

The Food and Life of Oaxaca: Holy Mole!

amarillo (thick yellow mole), frijoles negros colados, arroz con tomatillos, basic corn tortillas

DinnerPlateI’ve had The Food and Life of Oaxaca for a number of years, but have never cooked from it until now. This is partly because when I lived in Portland, I wasn’t sure where to find the authentic Mexican ingredients. Then I was supposed to use it in November, but November sort of spun out of control. And in fact I made the dishes nine days ago, but by the time I was done that night I didn’t have time to format and load my photos and start writing before I had to get my suitcase packed and get to bed for an early morning flight. So here I am, better late than never.

Ingredients3If you are coming to Oaxacan food, it is better to do it late than never. This stuff is amazing. I have only last Sunday’s dinner to judge by, I admit; I have never been to Mexico (though I’ve been within shouting distance a couple of times, but was too well-mannered to do that), so I have never had Oaxacan food in Oaxaca cooked by Oaxacan cooks. I think I need to do something about that before long.

For those who don’t already know, Oaxaca is a state in Southwest Mexico in the area Tomatillos2where the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico draw near each other. It features rugged mountain ranges and fertile valleys, and was home to the Zapotec people starting thousands of years ago; they dominated the area until the Aztecs and the Spanish made their conquests. I learned all this from the introduction to this cookbook, which is a rich resource for both history and cookery.

Because Oaxaca’s growing areas range from tropical lowlands to cool mountains, the variety of food available is immense, and the recipes offer a vast range of choices: meats, seafood, rice, corn, beans, fruits, vegetables. It was hard to choose what to make, though I was able to narrow the selection down right ToastingJalapenos3away by the constraints of our dinner party. One guest is lactose-intolerant, one is vegetarian, and Scott avoids shrimp because it exacerbates his gout. I ruled out meat-centered dishes, food that called for cream or cheese, and a surprisingly vast list of items made with ground dried shrimp. I bet they were good, but with me gone for three days, Scott would have nobody to tend him while his foot swelled, so I struck those off the list.

ToastingVegs3Fortunately, I did not have to rule out any mole sauces, the heart of Oaxacan cuisine. Most Americans are probably familiar with mole as a spicy sauce that contains chocolate, but in fact the key to a mole is ground dried chiles, and only a few of the sauces presented include chocolate. Author Zarela Martinez dances around the difficulty of defining mole — it can mean many things to many cooks — but suggests that a mole will be a sauce that has a large number of ingredients, most especially dried chiles, that can be used to give depth and flavor to a broad range of ingredients. The cookbook gives recipes for the sauces and meats or seafood to go with them, but notes that any sauce can be used with any suitable meat, vegetables or seafood.

ToastingAvocadoLeavesI decided to try five dishes: a mole, a pepian (similar to a mole but with pumpkin seeds), refried black beans, rice with tomatillos, and corn tortillas. I made a list and set out in the neighborhood, prepared to go to several stores to find all the things I would need. I didn’t have to do that. I started at Key Food, where I had seen a section of Mexican ingredients. Guajillo, ancho, and arbol chiles, dried? There they were. Dried avocado leaves? Check. Masa harina? Several sizes of bags. Fresh tomatillos and jalapenos, dried black beans, cilantro, all were ready to hand. The only things I still didn’t have when I left that store were a hard green tomato (but I decided a standard hard red supermarket tomato was essentially the same thing), epazote in either dried or fresh form, and a tortilla press. I found dried epazote at Penzey’s, and with garlic, onions and rice already in my pantry, I was ready for a busy day.

EpazoteAndBeansI read through the recipes and saw that the prep was far more elaborate than the actual cookery in most cases; the stovetop time for a complete dish was far shorter than the time spent getting all the ingredients ready to combine. So I just tied on my apron, emptied the sink and got started. I was cooking black beans from scratch, so I washed and picked through a bag of dried beans, then put them into a pot with a whole onion, a head of garlic, and some dried epazote, an herb similar to but not quite like cilantro, which apparently is standard for cooking dried beans. It’s going to be for me from now on; the green flakes had a delightfully grassy and savory flavor.

ToastingDriedChilesWhile those cooked, I started to on several rounds of skillet dry-roasting. First up were the dried chiles; for each dish that called for them, I rinsed the appropriate dried chiles, shook off the excess water, then pan-toasted them for a minute or so on each side, until the remaining water droplets had disappeared and the chiles began to release their scent. I then DriedChilesDrainedpulled off the tops and extracted the seeds and pith of each dried pepper, as best I could; this turned out to be easier than I expected. I put the peppers into bowls (grouping each recipe together), poured boiling water over them, and let them soak for about half an hour.

SeedingChoppingJalapenosThe next things to dry-roast were the fresh vegetables. Jalapeno peppers, an onion, tomatillos in the husk, that not-truly-green but truly hard tomato, and garlic cloves in their peels all spent some time in that dry skillet. I turned them periodically to give them even charring or discoloration. When each item was done I removed it to a bowl (again, grouped by recipe), and removed the husks or peels. The jalapeno peppers actually went into a paper bag to rest for a bit before peeling; this was supposed to make the skins easier to slip off but I probably needed to roast them longer.

DicingTomatillosThe other key item of vegetable prep was to soak and then dice some tomatillos for the rice. Tomatillos have a center pulp that can be sticky, which works well for some dishes but not for others, and the rice dish called for its removal. So I pulled off the husks and quartered four tomatillos, soaked them in cold water for about half an hour, then cut away the center pulp and diced the flesh.

AllspiceClovesOreganoOften when I’m writing these blog entries I will say “at this point I did X,” but that’s a bit tricky to do here. I was working constantly, and I hadn’t made a cooking plan — and if I had, I would have been way off it within half an hour because I’d never done most of these things before and didn’t really know how long any given task would take. So I just kept working and paid attention to my timers to keep up with when I needed to drain off the soaking water for chiles, when I needed to add salt to the beans, when I needed to lower the heat. Now that I’ve made these dishes I could probably write an accurate cooking plan for the next time I do it. For the purposes of this blog entry, I’m going to shift now to describing how each dish is made in turn.

PepitaBlendFailI’ll start with my dish of failure, pepian con pollo, which was going to be pepian sin pollo anyway because I wasn’t going to use chicken. A pepian is a pumpkin-seed sauce, and you don’t have to gut a pumpkin to get its seeds; retailers in many areas, certainly in my neighborhood, offer both hulled and unhulled seeds. And this is where I went wrong, because I didn’t double-check the recipe when I made my list and I bought unhulled seeds. The recipe required hulled seeds. The difference is not unlike that between peanuts in the shell and peanuts out of the shell. So imagine making peanut butter with peanuts in the shell. I realized my mistake at a fairly advanced point; I had toasted jalapenos, and ground cloves and allspice berries and oregano, and was ready to throw it all into the blender with the seeds and some broth. Hmm, I thought, the balance seems pretty liquidy; perhaps I can go ahead and blend it and then sieve out the hulls. This was the wrong answer. Within about 10 seconds my blender began to make unhappy grinding noises and I could smell its motor overheating. I turned off the blender, dipped in a spoon and tasted the liquid. Absolutely inedible. I felt very Iron Chef (“I was going to have five dishes but one of them didn’t work out”) as I disposed of the chalky, salty slurry.

MoleIngredsInBlenderFortunately, the mole went much better. Amarillo mole takes its name from the deep orange-yellow color, and mine would have been a bit yellower if my tomato had been genuinely green. In a blender I combined three tomatillos, pan-roasted and husks and stems removed; one onion, pan-roasted and peeled; two garlic cloves, pan-roasted and peeled; one hard tomato, BlendingMole2pan-roasted and peeled; three dried guajillo chiles and one dried ancho chile, rinsed, dry-toasted, seeded, soaked and drained; and 10 peppercorns and 8 cloves, ground together in a spice grinder. I put on the lid and hit puree, and within a few minutes I had a gloriously deep orange, smooth, thick liquid. At this point I was supposed to force the sauce through a medium-mesh sieve, CookingMolebut I didn’t have a medium-mesh sieve, only a fine one, and I was running out of time and patience as well. I then heated some oil in a saucepan (the recipe recommends lard but when you are cooking for vegetarians that’s not happening), then added the sauce and covered and cooked it for about 10 minutes. While it cooked I mixed two teaspoons of masa harina with some water; MolePlusMasaHarinawhen the 10 minutes were up I added it to the sauce and whisked it in. At this point the recipe says to whisk constantly for another 15 minutes, but I was far too occupied with the other dishes coming together to do more than occasional whisking, and it turned out just fine. The sauce was done ahead of the other dishes, which was my goal; I set it aside and kept going.

BeansAvocadoLeavesChiles2The beans were the next focus of attention. I had started cooking my dry beans, and after they’d been cooking about 30 minutes I tested them fairly often for doneness, because this can vary depending on how old the dried beans are. These took probably an hour to cook, maybe a tad longer; it’s possible they’d have been ready a little sooner if I had waited longer to add the salt, which I think made them slightly tough, but they softened after a while. I drained the beans, reserving about 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid and discarding the onion and garlic. BeansPureedWhen they were cool — or, more accurately, when I had time to pay attention to them again — I put the beans into a food processor (I was giving the blender a rest after the pepian disaster) and added three dried arbol chiles (pan-toasted, soaked and drained) and 12 dried avocado leaves (pan-toasted and crumbled). I pureed these until they were an even consistency. I was supposed to push these through a sieve too, but I had decided by this point that if things were a bit coarse I would call it “rustic” and invoke Julia Child’s admonition to never apologize. I set aside the pureed beans and sliced three large onions into thin rings; I heated some oil and cooked the onions in it for about 8 minutes. Then I scooped out the onions and added the bean puree. I was supposed to discard the onions, but I had a qualm about wasting them, decided that rustic is as rustic does, and added back perhaps one-third of the onions. I mixed it all together, covered the beans and turned down the heat, and let them cook for about half an hour, stirring when I thought of it. Which was at least twice.

TomatillosCilantroThe arroz con tomatillos also required some food processing. I took the tomatillo flesh that I had diced and put it in the processor with a chopped onion, a chopped clove of garlic, and about half a cup of fresh cilantro leaves. A few whirs later and I had a lively green puree. In a saucepan, I heated some oil, then promptly forgot about it until I smelled it scorching. I pulled the pan away and put it on the windowsill to cool. In a different saucepan I heated some oil and paid attention this time; when it was hot but not scorching I added a cup of long-grain dry rice, stirring it for several minutes until it began to color and smell nutty. The recipe says it should “sound like sand as you stir it,” and this is surprisingly accurate; I can’t improve on the description. I added the tomatillo puree and stirred the mixture for about three minutes more; then I added 2 1/4 cups of vegetable stock, covered the pan, reduced the heat, and let it cook about 18 minutes.

MasaHarinaBalls2Now it was time for the final piece, the one with the least prep time and most cook time, for a change of pace: corn tortillas. (I took a few minutes to cut up some zucchini and green peppers to saute with mole, but I ended up delegating the cooking on that to a helpful guest.) Corn tortillas are easy to find in grocery stores; really good ones, not so much. The cookbook advises finding RusticTortilla2fresh masa, ground from lime-treated corn, which can be obtained from tortilla manufacturers. There is one in Queens, but not in my neighborhood, so I opted for the second-best step, combining masa harina (not cornmeal) with water and shaping it into balls. Once you have a tortilla dough ball, you are supposed to flatten it with a tortilla press, but I didn’t TurningTortilla2have one; the book says that you can use a flat-bottomed pan instead, which after my hardest pressing turned my corn dough spheres into inch-thick round slabs. I decided to roll them flatter from that point with a rolling pin, and was able to produce tortillas with a fairly consistent thickness but jagged edges. Pardon me, rustic. Once I’d flattened the tortillas (which I CookedTortillas2stacked in layers of wax paper to keep them from drying or sticking together), I heated some oil in a skillet and cooked each in turn, about 90 seconds on the first side and 60 seconds on the second. The first was not quite the best texture but the remaining 11 were pleasantly toasty. I toasted and turned while Scott and our friends set the table, cooked the zucchini and peppers, and plied me with lemonade. The tortillas were not flexible enough to roll as for soft tacos, but they made a very nice flat base for the other dishes.

VegsInMoleFinally the food was all cooked and we were ready to eat. I was worried that the dishes wouldn’t be good enough after all my labors, and maybe they wouldn’t have passed muster with a Oaxacan cook, but everything tasted fantastic to us. The beans were rich and savory, with a good smooth texture even in their rustic un-sieved condition. The rice was really delightful, fresh and bright and nutty. The tortillas had a deep corn flavor that put them far beyond store-bought. And the mole, oh, the mole! It was remarkable. Despite the dominance of chiles the sauce was not so much hot as complex and multi-layered; it had smoky and sweet overtones.

Verdict: Success. (Even despite the pepian failure.) I will be cooking from this cookbook again.

Taking an Incomplete, Getting an Extension

Today was supposed to be the final day of the 107 Cookbooks effort. By the end of the day I had intended to cook at least one thing from each of the 107 cookbooks in my collection. I didn’t do it. With my writeup of Saturday’s whiskey experiment, I have reached 82 — still a respectable average of more than 6 cookbooks each month, and a higher recipe count since I made full meals from a number of books, but not 107.

I want to complete the list, though. So I’m extending my deadline to Labor Day. That’s still a bit of a stretch, 25 cookbooks in about 67 days, but it’s not impossible.

Once I’ve made it through the 107, I’ll continue with the blog, setting a goal of preparing at least one new recipe per week from any source — the 107 books, the few other cookbooks I have on hand that didn’t make it into the count for a variety of reasons, the year’s backlog of cooking magazines I’ve built up. But until then, I’m going to keep plugging away at the list.

Cheers.

Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices: Nobody Knows How to Do Anything These Days

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

how to make Canadian type whiskey

I’m at a loss how to classify Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices. Grizzled loner? Disgruntled former employee? The book, by George Leonard Herter and Berthe E. Herter, was published by the Herters in Waseca, Minnesota, in the 1960s and features recipes, photos and opinions galore. There are numerous recipes for game, seafood, soups, sandwiches and wines, as well as helpful Whiskies2hints ranging from “how to keep eggs from sticking in a stainless steel copper bottomed frying pan” (let the pan rest for a few minutes away from the heat) to “Indian method of quitting smoking” (basically, leave a small amount of leaf tobacco in your mouth until the desire to smoke leaves you) to “In case of a hydrogen bomb attack you must know the ways of the wilderness WhiskiesMaskedto survive.”

I thought that last one might be a bit too complex to try out for the blog, but I was drawn to the recipe “how to make Canadian type whiskey.” You would need to do this, explain the Herters, because Canadian whiskeys are superior to American but “are so high priced, however, that no one can afford them in this country

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

any more.” But fear not: you can duplicate the smooth, drinkable Canadian Club by simply adding some port wine to your cheapest American whiskey, shaking it up and letting it sit for three hours, and voila:

You then will have as smooth a drinking and tasting whiskey as any made in the world, regardless of price. In fact, it will taste so much like the famed Canadian-made Canadian Club Whiskey that is so smooth and free of irritants that it can be drank [sic] without any diluting at all. Your American whiskey with the port wine added, you will find, can also be drunk with no diluting at all and will have no bad alcohol taste or fumes.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

So of course I had to try it. I bought my supplies: a bottle of Canadian Club ($24 for a liter), a bottle of the cheapest American non-bourbon whiskey I could find on the shelf (Bellows, not a brand I am familiar with, $9 for a liter), a bottle of port ($12), and some little plastic shot glasses ($3 for a few dozen). Once I got home, I rechecked the recipe and found that the magic formula is to add 1 1/2 ounces of port to a fifth of whiskey. I double-checked that a fifth is 750 ml and poured off 250 ml to set aside; this was handy because it meant I could have another point of comparison. Then I poured in the ounce and a half of port (3 tablespoons), closed and shook up the bottle, and masked the three whiskey samples with white paper so that I could subject our party guests to a blind comparison test.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

When the guests were ready, I explained the rules: Each participant would taste whiskey from bottle A, bottle B, and bottle C (or, strictly speaking, mason jar C). They would then tell me which one was smoothest, which had the best flavor, and which they liked best overall. We began with A, which the other guests tasted before I had the chance to sample mine; they all found it harsh and hard to swallow, as did I. Whiskey B went down much easier; we debated a few minutes about whether that was because A had already killed what taste buds were susceptible, but decided that B was in fact objectively a smoother drink. C was not quite as smooth as B and had a distinct after-kick that gave the drinkers pause, but was still not as great a shock to the system as A. People liked B the best.

Now it was time to fill the subjects in on the experiment. I read aloud the passage from the book, and then surprised everyone by announcing that whiskey A was the Canadian Club. They quickly deduced that whiskey B was the doctored Bellows and whiskey C the set-aside, unadulterated American brew.

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

photo by Harris Graber, used with permission

I was as surprised as anyone. I really expected the Canadian Club to be the best, and the doctored whiskey to be harsh and weird-tasting. Granted, I am not a connoisseur, nor did any of the guests claim to have particularly educated palates. It’s possible that someone who really knew his stuff would have responded differently and been able to pick out the impostor. It’s also possible that the way the whiskeys were stored made a difference; there was more air inside the bottles of doctored and undoctored Bellows than in the full bottle of Canadian Club, and maybe the liquids reacted with the greater amount of oxygen during the three hours they sat “maturing.” (Though if that was a factor, the port still made a difference, because the air-to-liquid ratio in the mason jar of undoctored Bellows was much greater than in the doctored bottle.) It’s also possible that if we’d randomized the tasting so that someone started off with B or C instead of A, we’d see different responses. And of course we had only four drinkers, hardly a scientific sample.

Verdict: Success, and surprise. Still, now we have a very drinkable hybrid, and a whole lot of whiskey left in general. I think I’d better see if any of the cookbooks left for the project have recipes for cocktails.