April 29, 2011

Thrift Store Folly

I was minding my own business on Saturday morning, sipping Jasmine tea and wandering through the latest Facebook updates while yawning copiously and contemplating what to eat for breakfast. One of the local thrift stores posted a picture of books and two words "...more cookbooks." You know I couldn't resist.

I got three of the Grand Diplome Cooking Course collection. The entire set has twenty books and I already had one, which I got a duplicate of on Saturday. It was a set of three or none; I opted for a duplicate. Perhaps the other 17 will show up at thrift stores in the future?

I also picked up a copy of the Golden Rule Cook Book by Mrs. Ida Cogswell Bailey Allen from 1921, the Ann Sather's Restaurant 50th Anniversary Cookbook, and the Mystery Chef's Own Cook Book.

There was an amazing amalgamation of pamphlets:

  • Merry Meals Recipe Book from the Altoona Mirror
  • Sauces & Relishes from Eatmor Cranberries company
  • Cooking With Velveeta
  • The Golden Spoon Guide to a richer way of cooking from the PET milk company
  • Kraft's Main Dish Cook Book

I'm fond of the following pamphlet titles:

  • June Frost's Recipe Book "Frozen Foods Are Better Foods" touting that's "It's More Patriotic to Use a Locker!" 
  • Food Is Fun from the American Gas Association asserting that "Cooking is like Dancing!"
  • Pies Men Like published for General Motors Men and Women by the Personnel and Employee Relations Staff. When was the last time your place of employment offered you cooking tips?  
I particularly am intrigued by the hand-written recipe that fell out as I paged through a pamphlet. The recipe is for Tomato Soup Cake that truly contains one can of tomato soup, and this blog tells the story of the depression era cake while offering a life-to-cake comparison. The cake baker in our family is my sister, so perhaps I'll send the recipe over to her to try it out on my nieces and nephew.

I can tell you that I walked away from several packages of additional pamphlets. summer's coming and I'm looking forward to receiving fresh produce on a weekly basis from the Swier Family Farm. But first? I'm going to take a look at The Passionate Palate and Cook & Tell - two cookbooks I've had forever, but rarely cook from. Should be tasty!

April 25, 2011

Life and Memory Through Food

Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We EatI hesitated to review Life, On The Line as there's so much that's already been said, and I didn't want to repeat what many already know. Grant Achatz has had a meteoric rise to the top of the culinary cream, and Alinea is one of the best restaurants in the world. The story of how passionately and single-mindedly Achatz pursued this goal, combined with the innumerable details of creating a dining experience (Alinea is not merely a "restaurant" in the traditional sense) provided by business partner Nick Kokonas, is fascinating.

And yet, it's been sous-vided, plated, garnished and served before. Certainly it's an inspiring story of dogged dedication and, though reading Achatz's account of cancer treatment is harrowing, it felt like something was missing. The story didn't leap off the page and make a new statement. In fact, it reminded me of a Behind The Music special from MTV: small town boy works hard, achieves success, struggles with throat cancer, and survives to cook again.

Regardless, one bite caught both my attention and imagination, and gave me a glimpse into the mind of a culinary master. Discussing the creation of a new menu item for the opening of Alinea that incorporated flavors of the sea, Achatz perfected each step of the dish, and then followed a leap of the imagination:

"...it occured to me that we should include the scent of spring flowers to enhance the dish and reference to spring. Quickly I settled on hyacinth as the flower that was needed. I had no idea why...I poured hot water over the flowers -- instant spring in the middle of winter." 

Co-workers didn't understand the significance of the smell of hyacinth's to Achatz, and he writes, 

“...as soon as I smelled the sweetness of the shellfish along with the musk and sweetness of the flowers I was transported back to my childhood. Until that moment I had no idea why I wanted to pair this fish with flowers. But once it was all together, I remembered a day when I was twelve years old, fishing for walleye with my dad in the late spring. We would tuck in along the shore and eat lunch among the wildflowers. Fish and flowers made sense to me not for any culinary reason, but for a sentimental one. Scent is powerfully tied to memory." (p. 233)

Remembrance of Repasts: An Anthropology of Food and Memory (Materializing Culture)The role that memory played in the creation of the dish led me to reminisce about a book I'd read before starting the blog that focused on the power of memory and food. "How" we remember is a fascinating subject, and via extensive self-analysis, I've learned where I store things, what I hide, and what I display to the world. "Remembrance of Repasts: Anthropology of Food and Memory" by David E. Sutton caused me to contemplate how food can serve as a jumping off point to reveal long-hidden memories. Why, for example,  can an Alzheimer patient remember words to a poem or song, or a meal from long ago, and yet not remember where they live?

I'd never really thought about memory in terms of food until I read Sutton's book. The academic study documents how food plays a role in the construction of memory, and focuses on the Greek Island of Kalymnos where islanders remember meals from long ago. Exploring holidays, rituals, recipes, and more, the small book thoroughly examines the intersection of food and memory.

While reading, I tasted by memory meals from my past, recalled how I was taught to cook, and considered why I choose the foods I do. Likewise, as a genealogist, I'm equally fascinated with the past and memory – what kind of food did my ancestors eat? Why do thoughts of my grandma Wallace's chocolate fudge send shivers of excitement through my taste buds and tummy? When I fix a simple breakfast of eggs and toast, why does it remind me of mornings at Aunt Marg's house? Peanut butter on warm toast does the same thing.

Yes, I still want to eat at Alinea. But I also want to revel in the memory of dinner with family sitting around the table handmade by a great-grandfather, and celebrate summer with a festival of corn, zucchini, and tomatoes. These edible touchstones reflect our history in ways that we are only beginning to understand. By tapping into the memory of scent, Achatz has also opened the ever-flowing sap of the memory of experience.

April 22, 2011

Legends of Pancakes

At any restaurant, there are so-called "famous" recipes that the chef is known for and that guest return over and over to order. I asked a friend who lives near Asheville for the food that she'd recommend from Tupelo Honey Cafe. She immediately gave me two suggestions: Pimento Cheese and Sweet Potato Pancakes.

Looking over the recipes for both cheese and pancakes in the newly released Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook, I felt compelled to attempt the pancakes. The cheese was easy enough with shredded cheddar, mayo, parsley, roasted red peppers; it did, however, call for three different types of mustard - not my favorite condiment by any stretch. I passed on the Southern-styled pimento cheese and embrassed the pancakes. I am still embracing them today.

This is a multi-step recipe. This is also a recipe that you want to make over and over. Here are the parts:

  • The pancakes
  • The peach butter
  • The spiced pecans

The night before tackling the pancakes and peach butter, I prepared the needed baked sweet potato and spiced pecans. I mixed authentic Tupelo Honey and little cayenne and salt in a small bowl. Then I melted butter and added the honey mixture and chopped pecans. This was cooked for 10 minutes or so - you're looking for the pecans to become caramelized. When they reached that point, I removed from the heat and stored in the open where I could nibble at will.

In the morning I pulled a package of frozen peaches out and let them thaw on the counter.

Inspector Ivan
I re-read the directions with more care and realized that I'd need to let the pancake batter stand for one hour, so I got on the batter right away. I pulled the skin off the sweet potato and mashed the potato with Tupelo Honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

I pulled out my largest bowl and began to mix up the pancakes. I combined flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder together and mixed in the mashed sweet potato and spices.

In another bowl I cracked three eggs...

Added three cups of buttermilk and some melted butter...

And combined...

And combined until smooth.

While waiting for the pancake batter to do its thing (whatever that thing is) I made the peach butter. I combined unsalted butter at room temperature...

with about 3/4 cup thawed and finely diced peaches, sea salt, and peach nectar (that's peach juice.)

After repeatedly tasting to be sure the peach butter was satisfactory (for quality assurance purposes naturally,) I moved on to cooking the pancakes.

It had been years since I cooked pancakes. And I had to cook them three at a time in my Calaphon pan as I don't have a griddle. It took a little longer, but I got all of the batter cooked in the end.

Bubbling Pancakes

Pancakes Flipped

Oodles of Pancakes
Before I started with the recipe, I had been planning to make a half batch. The recipe is designed to make large pancakes to serve four people, and there's no way I would ever eat that much. I searched online for information about freezing pancakes, and discovered the Freeze Happy website. Following the advice given, I can report that my oodles of pancakes freeze and reheat beautifully - particularly if they are smaller sized pancakes like I made. And I made the full recipe.

But was it worth it?

Sweet Potato Pancakes
I'm salivating just thinking about eating these tomorrow for breakfast. With a little real maple syrup, you've got a feast for your tummy and taste buds. I plan to heat those pancakes up in the microwave, add a very generous dollop of peach butter (which also keeps well,) and sprinkle on some spiced pecans. I may do the same thing for dinner!

April 19, 2011

Havarti Me Timbers

I'm cooking from the brand new Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook and here's one of the easy recipes. Like most of the recipes, though, the Tupelo Honey chicken Sandwich with Havarti Cheese and Cranberry Mayonnaise does require some marinating time - preferably overnight. Otherwise, it's an easy and tasty recipe.

The Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook has a section called "Larder" where various and sundry staples used throughout the book are located. The recipe for Tupelo Honey Chicken marinade is in that section, and it's a piece of cake. Very tasty cake.

I mixed up some pineapple juice...err, crushed pineapple because I couldn't find any actual pineapple juice at my local store. So, I dumped crushed pineapple, olive oil, soy sauce, and minced garlic into a plastic bag and threw in two boneless skinnless chicken breasts. Then I mushed the bag around to get all ingredients mingling. I let that sit in the fridge all night (though I'm sure you could cut that time down.)

Marinating Chicken
The next night when I got home from work, I sauteed the chicken until nicely done. Actually, too done - it was dry and chewy. Cooking meat until perfectly done has always been a challenge for me. I sliced the chicken and set it aside.

The rest of the sandwich was a breeze. The cranberry mayonnaise is made with equal parts canned whole cranberry dressing and mayonnaise. This would be fabulous on a after-Thanksgiving sandwich.

Cranberry Mayonnaise
To finish the sandwich, I sliced some bread, added butter, spread the cranberry mayonnaise, added the chicken, sliced Havarti cheese, and added another dollop of cranberry relish. Beautiful!

Chicken Sandwich

April 16, 2011

Sweetness, Peaches, Almonds - Sigh

I have a sweet tooth.

Correction, I have one whoopin' humongous sweet tooth.

Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville's New South KitchenSo the description and photos of Peach Cobbler with Candied Almonds in new Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook had me at hello. How could I say no to a recipe that insists I serve it over vanilla ice cream?

I was surprised by the end result in that it didn't remind me of a traditional cobbler. I was imagining some warm fruit (which there is) and a floury-buttery-biscuity topping (which there isn't.) It didnt' matter.

Like several of the recipes I tried from Tupelo Honey, this requires a couple of steps - all that can be done before you actually want to eat the food. I recommend making the candied almonds the night before.

I combined vanilla, water, and cinnamon, added blanched sliced almonds and stirred. Then they went into a skillet until simmering and the liquid was reduced. After that, they headed into the oven for a few minutes until the moisture was gone. And after that, they sat around for me to munch on.

But first taste told me something wasn't quite right. I like cinnamon and vanilla, but if these were supposed to be candied almonds, shouldn't there be sugar involved? I consulted the recipe but no sugar was called for.

How can the almonds be candied without sugar? They didn't taste candied. Before the almonds were cooled off, I stirred in about a half cup of sugar. And THEN I had candied almonds. I couldn't stop eating them.

Candied Almonds
The next day I worked on the peaches. As the book recommends, I used canned peaches; perhaps in the summer I'll try fresh. First you have to take peaches and put them into the oven for 10-12 minutes until they and the juices are bubbly. If you would like bubbling juices, be sure to turn the oven on first. It's most helpful. Otherwise, like me, you will be waiting for a long time.

No Boil Peaches
So I turned the oven up to the recommended 300 and waited. I wanted a half hour for boiling. No bubbles. I waited a little longer, learned the words to Uberlin from the new R.E.M. release, and checked Facebook. Still no boil.

Instead of waiting longer, I took the peaches out of the oven, put them into a pan on top of the stove, and boiled along with some reserved peach juice. We're talking a simple sugar here, not rocket science.

After this torture, the peaches were still not properly prepared for cobbler. Nevertheless, they were drained and placed into a 4-cup baking dish. Now I don't know about you, but I had no clue what size pan would be a 4-cupper. I poured four cups of liquid into a 9x9 pan and had my answer. The peaches look rather pitiful, don't you think?

I combined some reserved liquid, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and poured over the peaches. The peaches still looked sad.

The peaches went into the oven for 20 minutes, and looked much more promising.

They were then topped with the reserved candied almonds for an additional 3-5 minutes until the almonds were looking slightly toasted. And after that?

Vanilla Ice cream. Warm peaches and candied almonds.

Need I say more?

April 14, 2011

Tupelo Honey, Fennel, and Me

Tupelo Honey Cafe: Spirited Recipes from Asheville's New South Kitchen I got home Monday night intending to prepare the Pork Tenderloin with Peach Fennel Salsa from the new Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook. The tenderloin was thawed and ready to go. I, however, was feeling lazy...on Sunday. And as a result of staying up too late reading Saturday night, I was too tired on Sunday to do much of anything. I could have done some prep work for this Peach Fennel Salsa.

It's not like it's a hard salsa to pull together, but there are some steps that need to be done ahead. It's not one of those throw-it-together-and-head-to-the-table salsas. You need to make some garlic oil (20 minutes plus cooling time) and have peaches unthawed. Or ripe and ready to go, which does not happen in Michigan in March unless you feel PC about using peaches from Chile. I just couldn't buy them, though I didn't hesitate with asparagus from god knows where - definitely not from a farm less than 20 miles away (that's coming from the Swier Family Farm this summer.) So I had no peaches unthawed; instead, they were rock solid and frozen in my freezer.

And the other thing about a good salsa that I've learned. If you' put it together, it's good to give it some time to get together. That is give the flavors time to tango. No time for flavors to dance on a Monday night... I looked at the ingredients for the Peach Fennel Salsa and decided to roast the fennel with some red bell pepper.

I used Joy of Cooking to assist my recipe coup d'├ętat, and The Flavor Bible for help getting the flavors just right. I kept my fingers crossed.

I threw in some salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, and just a touch of lemon peel. I mixed it all up with that fancy Whole Fruit Persian Lime olive oil and spread it on a baking sheet. It went into a 375 oven for awhile. I have no idea how long, I just kept watching until it looked roasted and toasted.

Fennel and Red Pepper
The pork tenderloin was a breeze. I have found that for one person, a very small size of pork tenderloin works. I take a typical package from the store and chop the tenderloin in two and freeze. That way I always have a tenderloin in the freezer.

I combined the pork tenderloin with rosemary, olive oil, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and set aside while I worked on Tupelo Honey-Glazed Carrots for a side dish.

I bought a bag of cut carrots, and sliced the carrots into smaller pieces. Then the carrots were blanched in salted water and drained.

The pork tenderloin went into the pan for about 15 minutes - and that's often enough to cook it through. I turned the pork out onto the cutting board and let it rest a bit.

The carrots went into a pan along with butter, salt, pepper, and tupelo honey. Yes, you must use tupelo honey specifically. It takes like springtime in the South, like unfurling flower buds on your tongue.

Tupelo Honey-Glazed Carrots
I also checked on the fennel and red pepper. It appeared to be done so I pulled it out of the oven.

Roasted Fennel and Red Bell Pepper
 In no time at all the carrots were done. I sliced the pork tenderloin, and placed carrots and fennel onto a plate.

The pork tenderloin was lovely. The carrots sublime. And the fennel and red pepper that I concocted on the fly? Fabulous. The dish and the roasting method made me a fennel lover.