Friday, October 28, 2011

"Frankfurters take on new glamour..."

My mom had many cookbooks and even more clipped recipes—big paper bags and boxes full of recipes from newspapers, from can labels, from cream cheese packages, from friends….usually not from magazines because the New Yorker and I.F. Stone’s Weekly are short on cooking tips. They were stuffed into baskets in her bedroom, in various drawers of various dressers all over the house, sometimes mingled with the clippings on local transportation issues that she also saved obsessively. (How she would have loved to ride the Sounder train to Seattle.) I found many hundreds more in the attic after she died. It was hard to toss them in the recycle, but I but I knew I would never look through them all. And of course now we have the Internet, so a personal copy of an interesting recipe is not so important. I kept that ones that actually made it to the kitchen, so I can recreate her salmon mousse and Yule log cake, and I know from apprenticeship how to make her one-egg omelet, her peerless mushroom soups and beef stews.  

A crown roast of wieners
I also kept her New York Times Cookbook, The American Heritage Cookbook, the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, and of course Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vols. 1 and 2. I already had a Joy of Cooking, though I mourn the loss, somewhere along the way, of her wartime edition with its many tips to deal with rationing. But up in the attic I found another tome I’d never heard of-- The Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedia of Cooking and Homemaking, from 1940. This consists of 17 pamphlets, bound together on a metal comb, comprising more than 5000 recipes, plus menus and household tips, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, who got her start in the recipe business by teaching nutrition in immigrant settlement houses.

Since I’m old enough to remember as simply dinner (or school lunch) the retro foods people laugh about now, I had a pretty good idea what kind of recipes I’d find. We had lots of those elaborate Jello salads when I was a kid, the ones with cauliflower and carrot slices shimmering inside.  The Edgemont School cafeteria served up truly awful scalloped potatoes and beans with Vienna sausage. And I still fondly remember making and eating the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts that accompanied the martinis at New Year’s Eve.  I figured I knew about the fare promoted by “one of America’s foremost organizations devoted to the science of Better Cookery.” 

I was right about a lot of that. Some of the suggestions are mind-boggling, and I want to thank Mom right now for never bringing them to the table: “Frankfurters take on new glamour in this gleaming aspic,” reads one photo caption. “Whole hard-cooked eggs in this jellied tuna loaf add a gay and decorative note,” is another. There is a whole section in the Snack chapter on “balls on picks,” including one called Burning Bush--cream cheese and chopped onion rolled in minced dried beef. (That one we may actually have had.) But as usually happens when we start feeling superior to our forebears, further study turned up complications. Though I might not want to make a frozen fruit salad topped with maraschino cherries,  I was surprised that it was to be served on a bed of chicory. Tossed salad suggestions included “lettuce, chicory, spinach, chives,” “watercress, dandelion greens, spring onions,” and “spinach, chervil, chopped onion, parsley.”

The vegetable section is full of varieties that we tend to think of as our own foodie discoveries, ferreted out from more authentic locales: salsify, kale, kohlrabi, fennel, collards, broccoli raab, dasheen, leeks, and more. There are five recipes just for salsify and several for cooked radishes. Desserts include persimmon meringue, ground cherry and elderberry pies, and avocado cranberry sherbet. 

The meat section shows how to debone and stuff a chicken, with photos that brought back the duck scene from “Julie and Julia,” minus the hysteria, as the Encyclopedia admits no qualms, only chipper uncomplaining efficiency whether the challenge is a freshly killed bird or an almost empty larder:  “A crown roast of wieners is an ideal solution for guest problems when the budget is low.”

"Use a skewer to pull out the tendons one at a time."
Furthermore, whatever cut you may be faced with, it’s got you covered: Maryland stuffed hog maw; beef heart with prune stuffing; calf brain rissoles; stuffed goose necks. It has a moose recipe, though I have to say that the one I’ve used (it’s Pot Roast with Hazelnut Barley in Winter Harvest) is better. It explains in the detail that I needed when we first did our own butchering, how to pluck and clean a chicken.  Should I really have been surprised that a generation where at least a quarter of the population had grown up on farms would know about dandelion greens or have the backbone to tackle a goose neck? 

What is strikingly lacking in the Encyclopedia is the array of spices, herbs, and other condiments we, or at least I, take for granted in cooking. Salt, pepper, parsley, occasionally celery seed—that’s about it, except for ginger and nutmeg in cookies. Ambitious hostesses evidently focused on elaborate presentations—carved vegetables, piped cream cheese decorations on aspic, diamond-shaped tea sandwiches—instead of on fusion flavors. 

Another thing missing is the sense of enjoyment in the kitchen that comes from Joy of Cooking and from Mastering the Art… There are no chatty introductions to the recipes, and the captions focus more on the satisfaction of a job well done than on the pleasures of  the table. From what I’ve read, Berolzheimer herself, though a formidable organizer and community activist, was not much of a cook. No doubt the tone also reflects the reality that her readers mostly had to cook three squares a day whether they liked it or not, being in the generation after household help was common but before box food and takeout were ubiquitous.

I’ve yet to cook from the book myself. I’ve been too engrossed just looking through it. But I’m going to hit the candy section this Christmas season to see if I can recreate my Great Aunt Gertrude’s divinity. (As Gertrude aged, her packaging got a bit sketchy.  We stopped eating her candy the year we found mothballs mixed in with the bonbons, and I’ve waited a long time to let that memory fade before trying my own.)

The Encyclopedia went through several more editions, though the Institute itself is long gone from its Chicago offices. I see that the 1988, and final, edition is in stock on Amazon. I don’t know what’s in that one.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pear Squash Soup

This started out as a recipe on, developed by Leah Koenig. Hers suggests chicken stock and crème fraiche, and it was delicious that way.  I’ve been fiddling with it and am also happy with this vegan version. If you prefer to head in the other direction, I think this could be an example of the unknown (to me) omnivore’s advice about the original Moosewood Cookbook: “Take any recipe and just add some bacon.” 

I used the sugar loaf delicata variety pictured here. Any flavorful winter squash would be fine. Do keep in mind if you have delicatas that they, like acorn squash and most pumpkins, are the same species (Cucurbita pepo) as summer squash like zucchini. They don’t hold their flavor nearly as well as the Hokkaidos, butternuts, kabochas and their ilk. So if you have a harvest of both, use the delicatas first. 

It’s also easy to have too many pears this time of year, since they tend to ripen in a rush. This could be a good recipe to make in quantity and freeze, or have friends over for Soup Night.

I just figured this one out, so it is not in the Winter Harvest Cookbook. My friends and I have decided that at my current pace of a revised edition every 20 years, the 2030 Winter Harvest will be the Winter Puree Cookbook as we’ll mostly be in our 80s. This would fit right in, not that I intend to wait that long to make it again.

Pear and Squash Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ cups chopped onions or shallots (I used leeks and yellow onion)

A bout 2 cups baked winter squash.( I used the Sugar Loaf Delicata variety pictured)

About 2 cups ripe but still firm pears, peeled, cored, and chopped

About 1 cup chopped potato (Suit your taste on the peel. If you want a smoother purée, then peel it; if you like a bit more texture, just give the spud a scrub)

½ teaspoon dried or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar (the choice depends in part on how much you may want to cut the sweetness of the squash and pears)

4 cups vegetable stock

2 teaspoons miso (I used yellow miso)

1 teaspoon paprika

Salt and pepper

Maple syrup (optional)

Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook 3 or 4 minutes until they are limp. Stir so they don’t stick. Add chopped potato, cook another 2 or 3 minutes, and add chopped pears for another few minutes. Onions should be soft. 

Add roasted squash, stir in thyme, add vinegar and stock, stir again, and bring to a simmer. Put miso in a small cup. Ladle out some stock and mix with the miso to liquefy. Add to the pot and simmer until potatoes and pears are completely cooked. 

Remove soup from heat and purée to taste. I used an immersion blender. Stir in salt, pepper, and paprika.

Drizzle a bit of maple syrup over each serving if you want.

Note: I nearly always roast squash no matter what the original recipe says. It’s a hassle to peel a winter squash, especially a ribby one like an acorn squash, and I like the caramelization that happens in roasting, as I’m not generally a fan of ultra-sweet vegetables.  Also, it’s much easier to deal with excess if it’s roasted. Just scoop it into a container and freeze it; that’s it. I also intend to try drying the roasted purée, an old treatment I saw somewhere. I'll report when I have more information.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Beet Goes On

I’ve been doing some editing and research for Binda Colebrook as she prepares the 5th edition of the estimable Winter Gardening in the Maritime Northwest, (look for it next year from New Society Publishers) and she is paying me partly in produce. 

Among my takings was a big, really big Robuschka beet. Robuschkas are a rare variety, at least in the U.S.  A  bit of Googling did bring up dozens of references in German. A lot of people hate beets, and even those who like them often avoid the great big ones, fearing they will be woody and not sweet. But Robuschkas are known for consistent sweetness, and this one was bigger than a softball and firm and fine-grained all the way through. 

First we made borscht. It was wonderful. Here is my friend Gale Lawrence’s  recipe:
            Grate or chop in matchsticks:  beets and carrots
            Mince onions
            Sauté onions briefly in canola or other unflavorful oil.  Add a small amount of fennel seeds and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add grated beets and carrots and continue to sauté on low for 5-10 minutes to develop flavor.
            Add vegetable broth and simmer for 15 minutes or until beets are almost tender.  Add diced potatoes and/or chopped cabbage and cook an additional 10 minutes until soft.
            Add honey (not much if beet is very sweet), juice from 1/2 lemon and chopped beet greens. Cook about 10 minutes more.  Add salt, etc.
                Serve hot or cold with yogurt or sour cream and chopped parsley or dill.

We had it hot. Gale’s note was that this beet was so sweet that very little honey was needed to balance the flavor. It was delicious borscht, and we made a lot of it, but there was still more than half the beet remaining.

Next I cubed a bunch of it and roasted it along with onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, and mushrooms. That was OK, a bit on the sweet side for my taste despite a liberal hand with the soy sauce. And there was still a hefty chunk of beet.

A few days later I made beet risotto, a suggestion that came originally from Mike DeArmand in Seattle (thanks, Mike!).  I used at least a cup of the grated beet, along with some of the greens and a couple of cheese ends—fontina and romano. It was bright magenta and really delicious. I ate it for dinner, and for lunch the next two days. And there was still lots more of that beet. I was beginning to think it had arrived from a fairy tale, along with the endless cup of mead and the love that never dies. Or maybe it has a sort of beet Midas touch; everything it encounters in the vegetable drawer turns to Robuschka.

I was getting ready to make a dessert for a potluck, my never-fail carrot/date bars from Winter Harvest, when I remembered that at least one of the other guests avoids gluten. So I switched from wheat flour to coconut flour. Coconut flour is great for folks who are allergic to gluten and/or tree nuts, as the coconut is a different botanical family as walnuts and their ilk.  But as a baking medium, it has the problem of being very dense and very dry. Dishes made with it tend to crumble and lack that moist lusciousness we want from our pastry treats. Enter, Robuschka. I grated in a hefty chunk of beet along with the carrots and dates. It was hit, but the beet remains.

I do have a recipe for a luscious beet/hazelnut/chocolate cake (Also in Winter Harvest, see below), but I’ve finally whittled my monster down below the necessary for that one. Instead I’m going to braise it with some red wine and a red onion my across-the-street neighbor gave me when I came over to buy eggs. And I’d better get on that, because today when I went out to get the next installment of my produce pay—leaf lettuce, spinach, lettuce, pears, chrysanthemums—I also got another Robuschka.

Robuschka beet seeds are available from Turtle Tree Seed:   Lutz Winterkeeper is another good variety for large, sweet beets

Nutella Pudding Cake
Rich, dark, moist, non-dairy, and gluten-free, this treat delivers one of my favorite flavor combos—chocolate and hazelnut—with the hidden surprise of beets, which provide the texture and tint of an old-fashioned velvet cake. It is a fine use for the great big, overwintered beet varieties, and a reminder that sugar beets used to be a major crop in the Pacific Northwest. It’s modified from a recipe by Elana Amsterdam, author of The Gluten Free, Almond Flour Cookbook and the Elana’s Pantry blog, Elana’s motto is “simplify, satisfy.” In this case you could probably add, “seduce,” rich and silky as it is.

2 ½ cups chopped, peeled beets
¾ cup agave syrup
½ cup water
4 eggs
½ cup light oil (canola or grapeseed)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup cocoa powder
½ cup fine-ground hazelnuts (I use a coffee grinder)
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Pour the syrup in a medium saucepan, add the chopped beets, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until beets are soft, about 30 minutes. Purée the mixture until it’s as smooth as you can get it. Mix in the eggs, oil, and vanilla. Mix the nuts, cocoa, and salt, into a large bowl, add the beet mixture, and stir thoroughly.

Pour batter into a greased, 9-inch cake pan and bake until a knife in the center comes out clean—30-40 minutes. The sides will puff up a bit and the center will stay moist.