Thursday, February 17, 2011

The New Era Cottage Cookbook

For the last couple of days I’ve been working on the New Era Cottage Cookbook, a project that I’ve undertaken with Bruce, the brother-in-law of a good friend, whose Michigan cottage I’ve visited every year, save one, since 2002. Bruce and I began gathering a collection of the recipes that have been cooked at the cottage over the years, including several from family members who are no longer with us. Coach’s Potato Salad and Rudy’s Hot Fudge to name just two. It is an act of love for both of us, perhaps a gift to the next generation of cottage-goers who want to know more about the food that nourished their moms and dads on steamy Michigan evenings.

But, as my regular dinner guest pointed out a couple of nights ago over spicy meatballs with sour cherries, rice, and tzatziki, working on it is also a distraction from writing my cookbook, a project that is both intimidating and exciting. I’d like to think that I’m learning something about doing my cookbook from organizing New Era. But actually I think his assessment is correct. I’m overwhelmed by my own project; this one seems manageable. Is there a way to make my cookbook project more manageable? Now that’s a really good question.

While I’m mulling that over, the following blog gives you two of the New Era recipes. They have been cooked a multitude of times—but not by me. I only just made the Hot Fudge last night for the first time—and I can report that it is every bit as good as I remember from the cottage. Let me know what you think.

New Era Recipes

Coach’s Potato Salad

6 Idaho potatoes
5 hard-boiled eggs
1 small onion
Salt and pepper
5 kosher dill pickles
2 cups Hellman’s mayonnaise (Grandpa insisted on Hellman’s)
Note: Check out Bruce’s suggestion below for substituting light mayo, buttermilk or yogurt for some of the Hellman’s.
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
1 tablespoon sour cream

1. Boil potatoes and cool to room temperature. Peel and dice.
2. Chop eggs and mince onions. Stir together potatoes, eggs and onion in a bowl and chill. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. To make the dressing, chop pickles and combine them with remaining ingredients. Chill.
4. Combine chilled potatoes and dressing and return to fridge. Check for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Best after several hours in fridge when flavors have had a chance to combine.

Bruce’s notes:
*While this salad is beloved in the family “as is,” we all realize the 2 cups of mayo contains a lot of fat and cholesterol. I have successfully “lightened” the salad by using “light” mayo, reducing the total mayo by at least ½ cup and upping the vinegar a little bit. Another possibility, but not tested, would be the addition of low fat buttermilk in place of some of the mayo and probably eliminating the sour cream.
*I also have added more mustard. Grandpa always used to ask “Is there enough mustard in the potato salad?”

Serves 6
Created by Lester – his signature dish
Made at the cottage by Lester, of course, and by Bruce many times

Rudy’s Hot Fudge

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and cocoa.
2. Return to heat and slowly add evaporated milk, stirring constantly until mixture comes to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring constantly for 10 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Sauce will be quite thin but will set a little as it cools.

Katharine’s notes:
*You can also use 1½ cups heavy cream if you’d like instead of the evaporated milk.
*I added ¼ teaspoon salt because I think sweet things are always helped by a bit of it. There is a physiological reason for that but we don’t need to go into it here.

Makes about 2 cups
Created by Ruth and made at the cottage numerous times

Green String Farm in Petaluma, CA

Last Saturday, on a gorgeous late winter day, Katherine and I decided to take a drive to Green String Farm, a teaching farm about 17 minutes from Sonoma, whose philosophy is “to focus on aiding, rather than fighting, natural processes to grow healthy and happy fruits and vegetables.”

The program began with a short presentation by Michael Dimock, the head of Roots of Change (ROC), an organization dedicated to creating a sustainable food system in California by 2030. Dimock is an enthusiastic spokesperson for ROC, for sustainable agriculture and for the work Green String is doing to educate young people. Check out his web site. It is very impressive and his ROC e-newsletter is great as well.

Bob Cannard who owns and runs Green String Farm (and has been supplying Chez Panisse with lettuces longer than most of the farm’s interns have been alive) was up next. He immediately requested questions. What he was asked and the detailed answers he gave were way beyond my level of gardening expertise or interest. I’m probably not going to restore minerals to my backyard by grinding up volcanic rocks, for example. But his tip to hold off working my home garden until the soil has the chance to dry out was great. Working wet soil compacts it and makes it impossible for plants to grow. OK, I get that.

It was just fine to hear these two guys talking about care of the land and our food. I’m right there with them on the issues and principles. But I must say that it was the farm itself and the people who had come to visit it that truly captured by heart and gave me hope for the future:

The goats, the chickens, and some two-week-old ducks being hustled along by a young man who seemed devoted to their safety and well-being.

The beautiful vegetables and jams in the farm store and the beet floats, kim chi and jam samples being offered by the people who grew the produce and made the food.

And most of all by the number of young people and families with young kids who were there to support a new kind of agriculture and a new way to provide food for themselves and their communities, and who really wanted to understand the intricacies of sustainable farming. “Beyond sustainable,” as a sign at the entrance reads. While the older generation can provide inspiration and precious experience, it is the younger ones who will put this system to work on urban and suburban homesteads and on local farms across the country. Hurrah for them!

Lemonade from Lemons, Ice Cream from Ice: A Memorable Dinner in New Orleans

The best travel days are uneventful. The worst are long, tedious, and aggravating with bad food and annoying airport announcements. The day I’m about to describe was neither of these. It was completely unexpected, outside of the usual travel assessments. And it ended, as most adventures should, in a celebratory feast.

We woke up in Berkeley at 3:45am on Thursday February 3 with an email saying that our flight from Houston to Miami had been canceled because of a freakish ice storm descending on Houston mid-afternoon. San Francisco to Houston was fine. Not knowing what else to do, we traipsed off to the San Francisco airport only to be told that yes, it’s canceled, then no, it’s not. In Houston, we got the definitive word: yes, it’s canceled. And what’s more, the next plane to Miami is on Saturday afternoon. Unacceptable, given that Katherine’s mother and Jacoba were already in Miami awaiting us.

Katherine speedily determined that New Orleans was warmer than Houston by a few crucial degrees. If we could get there, we could fly to Florida on Friday. With Katherine at the wheel of a quickly arranged rental car, we left the airport at 1:20pm, racing to stay ahead of the storm. Which we managed to do for about five minutes. From that point on and for the next five and a half hours, I was busy (and anxiously) watching the ice build up on the windshield wipers and the side mirrors and taking full advantage of my IPhone’s technological capabilities, as I munched on tiny bags of Fritos snatched from the Continental Lounge. Comfort food. Maps supplied us with a route, mileage and the exact location of our airport hotel. kept us apprised of current temperatures (33-35 degrees). Zagat helped locate a possible New Orleans restaurant. Phone calls to and emails from the travel agent in Berkeley who found us a hotel and a flight for the next day. And texts to my niece, Beth, who lives in New Orleans, inviting her to join us for dinner. Relieved, exhausted, bleary-eyed, and hungry we drove into our hotel parking lot in the rain just a little before 7:00pm. It was 37 degrees. The windshield wipers and mirrors had melted. We were meeting Beth for dinner at 8 at the place she’d booked, Restaurant August. We’d done it!

Restaurant August, which specializes in contemporary French food with a focus on southern Louisiana ingredients, is housed in a lovely old building right next to the French Quarter in the Central Business District. Beth and Taylor, her boyfriend whom we had never met, were waiting for us at the bar when we arrived. It became apparent that Beth who works for a wine distributor knew nearly everyone on the staff. And moreover it was clear that we all shared a fondness for good food, wine and conversation. The evening began with a bottle of bubbly. The weary travelers started to revive. As the food started to appear and Taylor started to answer our flurry of questions, we sensed that this was going to be a very special dinner, a “meant to be” kind of occasion. As the night went on, we were sure of it. Here is a sampling of what we ate.

Sabayon cream in a tiny egg shell for our amuse bouche.

Organic greens with pumpkin seed brittle which arrived in a large square, ready for me to break into bits.

Gnocchi with a blue crab sauce.

Wild boar ragout. Maybe the tastiest of them all.

Mississippi flounder in a crispy crust with various veggies.

Our pre-dessert dessert. A tiny lemon tart with fruit and a smear of pistachio paste, I think.

A mini-version of beignets, a classic New Orleans pastry, with "chocolate salad."

 Yellow cake with caramel Banana's Foster filling. Just luscious.

Goat cheese cheesecake on a bed of almonds. I can't remember the smear--and by that point in the meal it's a miracle that I remember anything.

A chocolate layered affair that had the most amazing mouth feel.

All this and I haven't even mentioned what we drank besides the bubbly.  I must confess, I don't know. Except to say that the bottle of red wine was superb and the late harvest red dessert wine made from granache or gamay was fantastic. Maybe Beth or Taylor can assist their addled auntie.

So there you are: 3:45am in Berkeley to San Francisco to Houston to surprise! New Orleans for one of the best meals I’ve ever had with three of the most delightful dinner companions I can imagine. A “meant to be” kind of occasion. My very first time in New Orleans. I think I have to go back.

Joyful Muffins

Pear/Mango/Candied Ginger and Pecan Muffins
In Japan some forty years ago, I acquired two 6-cup Joyful Muffins Pans. Check out the photo below. Don’t you love it? I smile every time I reach for them. These muffins are really nice. Even though they should be eaten on the same day they’re baked, I found that splitting them in half and toasting them in the toaster oven allowed me continue eating them for days and days. Almost all 18.

½ cup buttermilk
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 egg
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2¼ cups unbleached flour
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup diced dried pears, mangoes, candied ginger or a mixture
Note: I especially like some candied ginger in the mix but then I love candied ginger.
1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously butter or spray the tops and cups of a 12-cup muffin pan or two 6-cup pans.
Note: This recipe turned out to make 18 muffins in my smaller Joyful muffin pans (see below). So be aware that you may need another 6-cup pan unless yours are bigger than mine.
2. In a 2-cup or larger measuring pitcher, combine the buttermilk, sour cream, egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Whisk until blended.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder together into a large bowl. Add the salt and sugars to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Add the butter and cut it in with a pastry cutter or your fingers until it is the size of small peas. Mix in the dried fruits and pecans.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the wet ingredients. Gently combine, taking care not to over mix the batter.
5. Fill the prepared muffin tins until the batter just peeks over the top of the pan. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins are golden brown, firm and springy. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Unmold the muffin onto a wire rack to cool.

Makes 12-18 muffins depending on the size of your muffin pans
Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective’s The Cheese Board Collective Works

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Comfort Food: Pancakes and Pasta

Everyone’s definition of “comfort food” is different. When I was sick as a child, all I wanted was creamy oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar. Warm, soothing, with a hint of sweet. The following two recipes hit the mark for me as well. Freshly made pancakes with warm real maple syrup or homemade apple sauce. The perfect way to start a day when you know the afternoon will hold a nap. And the creamy garlic-infused pasta that calls out to be eaten on a chilly day when the rich fulsome sauce encourages you to give into your desire to snuggle under the covers with a good book after consuming a bowlful.

These really are wonderful pancakes. I started making them in Japan when my first son, Franz, was a baby and continued making them through the boys' teen years, mostly for breakfast but sometimes for dinner when I was down to eggs and milk in the fridge and flour in the cupboard.

¾ cup white flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
2 eggs
3 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon molasses

1. Sift the flours, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. If you don’t have a sifter, place all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well.
2. Pour the milk into a measuring pitcher.
3. Separate the eggs, dropping the whites into a small mixing bowl and the yolks into the milk. Add the oil and molasses to the milk mixture and stir to combine.
Note: The molasses will slip right out of the tablespoon if you use your tablespoon to measure the oil first.
4. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir lightly until just blended.
5. Beat the egg whites, until they hold a soft peak. Gently fold into the pancake mixture.
Note: If you want to get some exercise beating your egg whites, use a whisk or an old-fashioned eggbeater. If not, use a hand-held electric mixer.

6. Pour about ¼ cup batter into a lightly greased large frying pan or griddle on medium high heat. You can probably cook about 3 pancakes at a time with room to turn them over easily. Cook until bubbles form in the pancake and the edges are set. Flip and cook until the bottom is brown and the pancake is cooked through.

7. You can keep the first pancakes warm in a 250°F oven for a short period of time while cooking the rest.
8. Serve with warm maple syrup, applesauce, jam, yogurt—or whatever you fancy.

Makes 10 regular-sized pancakes
Handwritten from a cooking notebook I kept while in Japan, 1971-73
As you can see from above, I added a photo to the page just recently.

A Creamy, Calming Pasta Dish with Sausage

4 heads of garlic or an equivalent number of garlic cloves
Note: Most supermarkets now-a-days have plastic containers of peeled garlic in the produce department. If you are pressed for time, this is the occasion to use them.
2 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 springs of fresh thyme
1 pound dried shell or tube-shaped pasta [I used Delverte’s No. 32 Penne Rigate]
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
4 fresh sweet uncooked Italian sausages
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped and chopped

1. Place the unpeeled whole heads of garlic or the equivalent peeled garlic cloves in a small baking pan. Drizzle with oil and thyme and place in a 400ºF oven. Roast the garlic until the cloves are very soft and sweet, 50-60 minutes for the heads and much less for the cloves.
2. Cool the garlic heads and then tear them apart and squeeze out the contents of each clove into a small bowl. [This step took nearly all of my considerable patience and is the reason I devised a simpler method.] Or place the peeled cloves in a bowl. Mash them into a paste, adding a small bit of your 2 cups of cream to help the process.
Note: You can use a mortar and pestle, a Japanese suribachi, a potato masher, a small food processor or a fork to smash and mash the garlic. You do not need to make it perfectly smooth unless you want to.
3. Put your pot of salted water (for cooking the pasta) on the stove on high. Bring it to a boil while you are working on the next two steps.
4. Warm the garlic paste in a sauté pan over moderate heat, pour in the cream, whisk the garlic and the remaining cream to combine, bring to a simmer, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for several minutes.
5. Skin the fresh sausage, crumble the meat into a frying pan and fry until done.
6. Cook the pasta in your pot of boiling salted water until it is al dente. Drain in a colander, saving about ½ cup pasta water to use in the sauce as needed.
7. Tip the pasta and drained sausage into the cream, toss gently and heat until all the elements are warm and the cream is gently bubbling. If the sauce is thicker than you like it, add a bit of the reserved pasta water to thin it out until you reach the consistency that is right for you. Add more salt and pepper if needed. Ladle into plates or bowls and garnish with fresh thyme leaves.

I serve this pasta with steamed spinach; I like its bracing flavor up against the richness of the cream and pasta.

6 servings
Adapted from Nigel Slater’s Appetite

Just in the Nick of Time: A Last Crab Feast

Fresh Marinated Cracked Crab
I wanted to include this fantastic crab feast before crab season is over. I love crab with melted butter but I must admit that this marinated version has won me over. It is lighter and perfectly complements the crab. Hurry. You don’t want to have to wait until next December.

This is what one crab looks like.

3 Dungeness crabs, cooked and cracked

6 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 bunch Italian flat parsley, washed, leaves coarsely chopped
Sprinkling of crushed red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup olive oil

Provisions for the table:
Plenty of paper napkins or paper towels to wipe off your face and hands.
Bowls for the shells.
Crab-eating utensils (crackers, forks, picks) so that you can get in the little tiny crevices for the best parts of the crab.

1. Drain your cracked crabs of any water that has accumulated in the plastic bag or wrapping paper. Stir all of the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl and toss in the drained cracked crabs. Refrigerate for several hours.
2. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. Transfer to a large platter and place in the middle of the table. Have at it.

I love to serve this crab with warm bread and a nice crisp green salad, perhaps with grapefruit sections and pomegranate seeds.

Serves 6 moderate crab lovers. If you are serving extreme crab lovers, you may need to purchase a crab for each of them and increase the marinade accordingly.
Adapted from Peggy Knickerbocker’s Simple Soirées