October 2010

Before Momofuku Compost Cookies…

..there were Shaker Potato Chip Cookies!  And they were packed with salty sweet crunchy awesomeness!

In all seriousness, though, this recipe from Sister Bertha Linsday in “The Best of Shaker Cooking” (1970) provokes some thoughts about cooking and originality. I’d eaten and baked “Garbage Cookies” (chocolate chip/raisin/oatmeal/whatever) years before David Chang and Christina Tosi started selling their famous Compost Cookies at Momofuku Milk Bar. I thought the idea of adding savory snack foods, however, was truly original…until I came across my Shaker Cooking book.

I made these Wednesday. This week has been crazy (hence the late/short post) but more discussion of baking and originality can be expected soon.

Shaker Potato Chip Cookies (Makes about 48)

1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
1 c. butter (2 sticks)
2 eggs, well beaten
2 c. flour
2 c. oats (“old fashioned” not instant)
2 c. crushed potato chips
1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts work really well)
1 c. raisins or chopped dates
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla

Cream butter and sugar, add beaten eggs. Mix together with all other ingredients and drop by tablespoonfuls on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes.

Sunday Tips: Tribute to Edward Harris Heth

“This is the proper season for baking – wasps buzzing dizzily in last flecks of autumn sunlight, children rattling in leaf piles, the days slower in pace and growing nippy. Ovens that have been grudgingly lighted only when necessary during the sweltering months now are lit with a pop of joy that relief has come. The comfortable baking days are here again . . .” – Edward Harris Heth

This observation is so true (I’m in the middle of my fall baking frenzy), and so beautifully written. I hope I have time soon to read through then entirety of Heth’s “Country Kitchen Cook Book,” which I picked up last week along with a couple of other finds. The recipes in this book are interspersed with essays and musings on food, seasons, and rhythms of rural American life. Immediately fascinated with this pre-Alice Waters local food advocate, I started Googling…and found that Mr. Heth had quite this interesting life. Apparently he grew up in Wisconsin, moved to New York in the 1930s to pursue a career in writing. He moved back to Wisconsin in the 1940s (he seems to have had a breakdown of some sort) and settled in a farmhouse in Wales. With his partner Bill. They lived in Wales until the 1960s: Bill was a successful ceramist, and Heth wrote on food and Wisconsin (sort of a Midwestern M.F.K. Fischer). The couple passed away within 2 years of each other; Heth, sadly, seems to have taken his own life after Bill died. You can read more here.

Roman Fish Scramble

Follow these directions:

A crudo quoslibet pisces lavas, in patina compones. adicies oleum, liquamen, vinum, cocturam, fasciculum porri, coriandri. dum coquitur, teres piper, ligusticum, origanum, fasciculum, de suo sibi fricabis, suffundes ius de suo sibi, ova cruda dissolves, temperas. exinanies in patinam, facies ut obligetur. cum tenuerit, piper asparges et inferes.

…and you wind up with this:

The incredibly appetizing “Patina zomoteganon” (Apicius IV.ii.27)!

This is actually a great starter recipe if you want to dabble a little in Roman cooking: it’s really easy, it doesn’t need too make esoteric ingredients, and the flavors are mild. The directions above translate roughly to: “Put raw fish in a pan. Add oil, liquamen, wine, cooking liquid, a bundle of leeks, coriander. While it is cooking, chop pepper, ligusticum, oregano, leeks, mash the things together, suffuse them with their juice, scramble raw eggs, mix them in proportion. Pour them into the pan and cook until they bind. When it holds together, sprinkle with pepper and serve.”

Liquamen (along with the more famous garum) was a sauce made from fermented fish. Romans used it ALL the time. Roman food actually has a lot of strong flavors – honey, sweet wine, vinegar, fish sauce, among others. When you don’t have a fridge you have to cover up not-so-great-tasting meat, fish, and produce a lot more. Because this recipe is fish-based the fish sauce flavor (I use Thai fish sauce – nuoc nam) doesn’t come through so much. I’ll have to do a full garum post soon: the history of the Roman fish sauce industry is really fascinating.

The other untranslated ingredient above, ligusticum, is an herb. It is apparently some variety of licorice-root. I just use parsley. Here’s a followable version of the recipe above. It’s actually healthy and tasty, and would go very nicely with rice or crusty bread.

Roman Fish Scramble (Serves 2)

1 lb. firm strong-tasting white fish (I used tilapia and it worked great)
4 eggs, beaten
2 small leeks, chopped
1/4 c. white cooking wine
2 tsp. nuoc nam (fish sauce)
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the fish into 1- by 3-inch strips and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a sautee pan over medium heat. Add the leeks, stir for about a minute, then add the wine, fish sauce, and coriander. Cook until the leeks begin to soften.
3. Add the fish. Cook for 1 minute, add the parsley and some ground pepper, turn the fish pieces over, and cook for 1 minute more.
4. Pour in the eggs and scramble as they start to firm up. Break the fish pieces up a tiny bit and cook until the eggs are set. Serve and enjoy the fact that you’re sampling a recipe that’s nearly 2 millenia old!

Baking Double Header

I somehow volunteered to bake for a law school event today: the prospect of trying new recipes and having someone else foot the butter bill was simply irresistible. Prune dumplings are a little esoteric for the usual lecture attendee crowd, so I cast about for some more mainstream recipe and found two in “The Southern Cook Book.”

This book was one of my first acquisitions, and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s a small trade paperback, but is packed full (the print is pretty tiny) of recipes collected from all over the South. Though I know people who would be incredibly offended by this, I must admit I’m pretty happy that the author construed “the South” to include Texas and Louisiana: those states bring in some really fun flavors. Each recipe in the Book comes with an attribution: the brownie recipe I tried, for example, was from Mrs. Frank M. De Friese, of Knoxville, TN.

It can sometimes be surprisingly tough to find vintage cookie recipes. There’s about one awesome cake recipe for every housewife, but flipping through old books really shows that most fancy cookies and bars are pretty recent inventions.

In Tennessee, though, they apparently got a little more creative. To whit: Mrs. De Friese came up with the absolutely awesome idea of melting marshmallows on top of brownies. Her recipe calls for another chocolate layer on top of the marshmallows – frosting or fudge (I’m sure fudge frosting would be perfect too), but I felt this might be too cloyingly sweet. So, I added my third layer at the bottom: I used a graham cracker crust under the brownie and the marshmallow topping to turn these into my very own S’Mores Brownies.

Because I was baking for a crowd I figured one pan of brownies (however rich and gooey) would not quite to it. So, I went in the complete opposite direction…and tried out a Scripture Cake. In a Scripture Cakes recipe, ingredients are set out by Bible verse references so, for example, “cake” is indicated by 1 Kings 19:6, which reads, “Behold, there was a cake baken on the coals.” I was incredibly confused when I saw a bunch of Bible verse citations in my cookbook, so of course I immediately resolved to try the recipe. The internet tells me that these cake recipes were used in the nineteenth century to simultaneously teach girls baking and Bible; the other versions I came across are of the same type as the one in my book – plain cake with dried fruit, nuts, and a little honey. Very Holy Land.

I think you can tell from this picture which bar is which:

S’Mores Brownies (nee Iced Fudge Cakes) (Makes 24 brownies)

1 c. ground graham crackers
6 tbsp. butter, melted
3 tbsp. sugar

1 1/2 sticks butter
4 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate
2 c. sugar
6 eggs
Pinch soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. bourbon*
1 1/2 c. flour
1 bag marshmallows

*(Tip: I always use bourbon in chocolate recipes instead of vanilla. I think it adds depth and is less cloying)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spread the graham crumbs in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan, pour in the 3 tbsp. sugar, and shake around to mix things up. Pour the melted butter over the crumbs, mush it all around to moisten all the crumbs, and pat the mixture evenly across the bottom of the pan. Bake for 8 minutes and set aside.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter together over low heat.
4. Add the sugar and eggs and stir until the mixture starts to lose some of its graininess.
5. Stir in the bourbon, soda, salt, and baking powder. Then add the flour and mix until smooth.
6. Pour the batter over the graham crust and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the outer edges of the brownie are set and crusted and just the middle is still fudgy.
7. Remove from the brownies from the oven and place marshmallows on top. Put the pan back in for about 3 minutes, until the marshmallows are puffed and starting to brown on top.
8. Take the pan out again and turn the oven up to broil. Spread the semi-melted marshmallows around as evenly as possible and put the pan back in the oven for another minute or two until the top gets nice and brown in places.
9. Let cool and enjoy! The topping will be a gooey mess, but if you didn’t know that already and don’t enjoy it, you need to take your inner child out to a campfire sometime really soon.

Now, let’s get Biblical…

Scripture Cake (Makes 24  2″x2″ pieces)

1 c. Judges 5:25 (butter)
2 c. Jeremiah 6:20 (sugar)
3 1/2 c. 1 Kings 4:22 (flour)
2 c. 1 Samuel 25:18 (raisins)*
2 c. chopped 1 Samuel 25:18 (figs)*
1 c. Genesis 43:11 (sliced almonds, toasted)
1 c. Judges 4:19 (milk)
6 Isaiah 10:14 (eggs)
A little Leviticus 2:13 (salt)
2 tbsp. Exodus 16:31 (honey)
1 Kings 10:2 (1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. each cloves and ginger)
2 tsp. 1 Corinthians 5:6 (baking powder)

“Follow Solomon’s advice for making good boys, in first clause Proverbs 23:14 and you will have a good cake.”

I’m not kidding. The book actually says that. Here’s a little more specific guidance, though…

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter and flour a 9×13 pan. A tube or bundt pan would also probably work well.
3. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy (about 2 minutes on high in a mixer). Add the eggs and beat until pale yellow and light in texture.
4. Add the honey, baking powder, and spices and mix well. Keep the mixer on low and alternate adding milk and flour (I usually do each in 3 batches). Mix just until blended.
5. Dump the nuts and fruit in and mix until evenly distributed.
6. Pour the batter into the pan, spread it evenly, and bake for about 40-50 minutes until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

*I substituted a few prunes and some chopped candied ginger with good results – just make sure you have 4 cups dried fruit.

Sunday Tips: Definition Edition

Barbecue (Fr.) Originally the method of cooking (roasting) an animal whole; to dress and roast whole; a social entertainment where the food is cooked outside in the open. – Mrs. Beeton

This just has is all: history, historical take on history, etymology…and atmosphere. A few years back, during my undergraduate archaeology days (before a) I realized I had little desire to do a 9-year PhD, and then b) wound up in law school) I spent a summer digging in Greece and living with the rest of the excavation team in a small village on the Aegean coast. This village didn’t have any real restaurants – just a few bars which served amazing mezze and gyros – but every weekend the local butcher would set up tables on the patio next to his shop and serve lamb. Or rather, serve a lamb. A whole lamb would be stuck on a spit and roasted in an open brick hearth and bits would be hacked off as people ordered. Our dig’s Polish ceramics expert once ordered the head; the butcher happily served it up, eyeballs and all.

If only I had the outdoor space to do a whole-animal roast. I’d totally use the offal to try Mrs. Beeton’s haggis recipe, and have people over for some really old-school revelry. Sadly, I don’t even have the indoor space to prepare something like that: my kitchen is luxurious by Manhattan standards (it has a real doorway!) but I still only have about 1.5 yards of counter space, total, and this amazing article by Bill Buford details the pitfalls of whole-animal butchery in The City…

Getting back to American Barbecue: I really posted this because it reminded me that I’m going to Dinosaur BBQ Tuesday and that I am REALLY excited to dig into a Tres Hombres platter (“A spirited serving of Bar-B-Que pork, Texas Beef Brisket (sliced) & Bar-B-Que ribs”). This will probably feed me for 2 days. Maybe I’ll even look into my Army Wives Casserole Book to figure out what to do with the leftovers…

DUMPLINGS! (OK, German prune ones but still…)

I love all dumpling/bun variants – even the spaetzle type which have no filling. I am not picky – steam or boil a blob of dough and I will go nuts for it. So, when I got an invite to a potluck brunch and then came across a “Dumpling” section in my 1960s Gourmet Cookbook and found some sweet-savory types I went through the roof. And then I calmed down and made…Zwetschgenknoedel!

OK, so technically I didn’t make proper Zwetschgenknoedel: these German dumplings are technically supposed to be stuffed with fresh prune plums. I misread the recipe in haste and bought dried prunes. Thankfully, prunes are the moistest of all dried fruits, so I figured the wrinkly version would do fine. I even soaked them in a bit of triple sec to moisten them up a bit more (you might have noticed I have a penchant for boozy cooking). Google yielded a number of traditional German takes on these plum poppers: some have yeast dough, some use quark or cream cheese…

The Gourmet Cookbook uses a potato-based dough. This is why I love vintage cookbooks: I’m not sure whether this is super traditional or whether this is Gourmet trying, in its 60s way, to be cosmopolitan – whether this is the German equivalent of a Chop Suey recipe. Anyhow, my dried prune potato dumplings turned out pretty tasty. The one problem was they they were stuck in a kind of limbo between Sweet and Savory. I’d advocate adding more spices and maybe rolling the prunes in flour instead of sugar…and then using these as a tasty unusual accompaniment for a sauce-heavy meat dish. They’d go really well with a red wine-based pot roast, for example.

And inside…

Zwetschgenknoedel (Prune Dumplings)

(Makes about 16)

3 medium-large boiling potatoes
1/2 c. flour, plus more for dusting
1 large egg
16 dried, pitted prunes
3 tbsp. triple sec
1/2 tsp. spices (e.g., cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger) mixed with 1 tbsp. sugar

1. Place the prunes in triple sec to soak. In the meantime, peel, boil, and mash the potatoes.
2. When the potatoes have cooled, add the egg, 1/2 c. flour, nutmeg, and salt. Mix with a fork, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead until well combined. The dough should feel smooth, not sticky; add more flour (a tablespoon or two at a time) if it is not cohering properly.
3. Flour your hands. Take a 1 1/2-inch ball of dough and flatten it in your palm to form a 1/4-inch thick disc. Roll a prune in the spice-sugar mix, place it in the middle of the disc of dough, and pinch the edges of the disc shut to form a ball. Repeat until either the prunes or the dough are used up.
4. Cook the dumplings in salted, boiling water for 10 minutes.
5. Drain, toss with a little melted butter, and serve as desired while warm.

Happy Pre-Columbian Day

In honor of the ever-controversial Columbus Day (no longer observed even here at Columbia University) I decided to whip up something Pre-Columbian from Spirit of the Earth, a collection of traditional Mesoamerican and South American recipes (with some awesome bits of history from archaeologist Michael Coe).  It’s Monday and I had yoga this evening, so I had neither time nor energy to do serious feast day food like tamales or mole.  I did, however, turn up a nice egg recipe in the Aztec section of my book.  I love eggs so much that I generally only eat egg whites: otherwise my cholesterol levels would be higher than a Woodstock attendee.  Even greater than my love for eggs themselves, though, is the joy I take in the mild transgression of eating breakfast food for dinner.  This adapted recipe for Eggs Veracruz (which come out in semi-omelet form) came out so spicy and tasty I’m tempted to give up on real dinner food altogether.

Eggs Veracruz (Serves 4)
2-3 Jalapeno peppers, roasted over open flame until charred on the outside
3 Roma tomatoes, roasted over open flame until charred on the outside
2 cloves garlic
1 white onion
1 c. canned nopales (cactus)
8 eggs, lightly whipped with a fork
1/4 c. water
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper
Oil for pans

1. Puree the roasted peppers and tomatoes in a food processor with the garlic and onion. Fry the mixture over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the garlic and onion lose their sharpness. Salt and pepper to taste, add the nopales, and set aside.
2. Cook the eggs over medium heat in a large non-stick skillet until they begin to set; gather them in the center of the pan with a spatula.
3. Pour the sauce and cactus in around the edge of the pan and use the spatula to drag some of the sauce across the eggs to distribute it.
4. Add the water, lower the heat, and simmer for 8-10 minutes until most of the water is evaporated and the eggs and sauce have begun to set together.
5. Turn the eggs out onto a plate, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve with warm corn tortillas.