Food Friday: Presidential Foods

President’s Day is giving some of us a nice three-day weekend. Another day to linger over the papers, to make breakfast and enjoy ruminating about having a little unusual leisure time. And if you have young ‘uns at home, you can have an educational moment and make some of George Washington’s favorite Hoe Cakes for breakfast. Isn’t it nice to know that he didn’t subsist on that mythical cherry pie?

Hoe Cakes were cooked like pancakes on the back of a garden hoe, or on a griddle. Use whatever you have at hand.

Ingredients
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups white cornmeal, divided
3 to 4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Melted butter for drizzling and serving
Honey or maple syrup for serving

Directions
Mix the yeast and 1 1/4 cups of the cornmeal in a large bowl. Add 1 cup of the lukewarm water, stirring to combine thoroughly. Mix in 1/2 cup more of the water, if needed, to give the mixture the consistency of pancake batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 200°F.

When ready to finish the hoecakes, begin by adding 1/2 to 1 cup of the remaining water to the batter. Stir in the salt and the egg, blending thoroughly.

Gradually add the remaining 1 1/4 cups of cornmeal, alternating with enough additional lukewarm water to make a mixture that is the consistency of waffle batter. Cover with a towel, and set aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat a griddle on medium-high heat, and lightly grease it with lard or vegetable shortening. Preparing 1 hoecake at a time, drop a scant 1/4 cup of the batter onto the griddle and cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. With a spatula, turn the hoecake over and continue cooking another 4 to 5 minutes, until browned.
Place the hoecake on a platter, and set it in the oven to keep warm while making the rest of the batch. Drizzle each batch with melted butter.

Serve the hoecakes warm, drizzled with melted butter and honey or maple syrup.

http://www.mountvernon.org/inn/recipes/article/hoecakes/

As long as you are entertaining President Washington for breakfast, you should invite President Lincoln to come along, too, since one of his favorite foods was bacon. I can’t imagine a tastier companion to hoe cakes than a few sizzling rashers of bacon.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/61607/5-abraham-lincolns-favorite-foods

We’ll ask President Jefferson to bring a covered dish of mac and cheese to the cookout we are going to have later this afternoon. He made macaroni and cheese a popular dish, but he also championed Champagne.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/62565/5-foods-thomas-jefferson-introduced-or-made-popular-america

Also coming with his own Crock Pot is President Obama, who is bringing his world famous chili.

http://www.pbs.org/parents/kitchenexplorers/2013/02/21/president-obamas-chili-recipe/

President Franklin Roosevelt, who once served hot dogs to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they toured the United States, has offered to be grill master.

https://food52.com/recipes/12425-yum-dogs

President Theodore Roosevelt is ready to shuck a couple of bushels of oysters.President Van Buren is getting ready to help; he’s making a pile of ice chips.

https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-shuck-oysters-2217269

President Lyndon Johnson is going to flip the steaks, since he had the first White House cookout and knows the ropes.They are a presidential favorite; also eager for a steak are Presidents Grant, Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan:

https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/broiled-steaks-with-parmesan-sage-potatoes

Dessert is going to be easy. Ice cream for everyone. Thank you, President Washington who spent an extraordinary $200 for ice cream during the summer of 1790 (http://www.idfa.org/news-views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-ice-cream/).

President Jefferson built an ice house on the White House grounds to be sure he had easy access to ice cream all year long. We should also thank Dolley Madison, who was married to the fourth president.She had festive White House parties that featured elaborate ice creams. I don’t think TR is going to donate any oysters to her favorite Oyster Ice Cream, but he’ll be happy for a dish of vanilla. http://www.pbs.org/food/features/ice-cream-founding-fathers/

http://www.businessinsider.com/all-44-presidents-favorite-meals-2012-7

Many of the livelier American presidents have enjoyed their cocktails. Jefferson, Madison, Tyler, and Grant were all very fond of Champagne. Which seems like a suitable way to toast President’s Day.

https://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/2017/02/20/drinking-with-the-presidents/

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
– Harry S. Truman

Food Friday: Seeds

Seed packets are so beautiful. On the front there is a romanticized illustration of a freakishly perfect tomato; it is round and looks sun-warmed. So unlike the cardboard tomatoes we have been buying all winter. On the back there are instructions about sowing the seeds after all danger of frost has passed. Hmmm. It’s not even mid-February and I am ready to hang up the snow shovel and start planting summer salads.

I wandered past the seed section of the garden department at the hardware store last weekend. Mr. Friday thought we were going in to buy windshield wiper fluid and light bulbs. Such admirable naiveté! Instead, we walked out with three seed starting kits, and a handful of flower seed packets. I might talk a good tomato game, but I am longing to have hollyhocks and zinnias and armfuls of coreopsis. I am going to run through a Technicolor meadow of cutting flowers this year. Oh, and have a nice little vegetable garden, too.

I have been waiting all winter for this – I admit it. I have been thumbing through seed catalogues and imagining my new and improved raised garden bed, spilling over with cukes, beans, and tomatoes. I have been thinking about all those tender herbs that I will manage to coax along this year. I have pictured the extra little flourish and the modest bow I will take when I humbly present our salad greens at the Fourth of July picnic. Envisioning how I will please, delight, and amaze Mr. Friday when I whip out a fresh, homegrown shallot for the homemade salad dressing.

Last year we over-estimated the number of tomato plants that two people actually need. We started with a dozen small plants, but were completely clueless about how big they would get. It got Tokyo-subway-crowded in that tiny little garden. There is science to be applied, and a lot of math, too, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac: https://www.almanac.com/content/how-many-plants-do-you-need-your-space
Resolve: fewer tomato plants in 2019.

We also planted the basil farm, which is our favorite ingredient, except for garlic. We had half a dozen basil plants, which were well-tended and yielded a hefty amount of basil through the spring and summer. The plants were all pretty leggy by September, but I managed to fill a gallon-sized Baggie with fragrant basil leaves to tide us over the long winter months. You can never have too much basil.
Resolve: more basil in 2019.

The row of nasturtiums was shiny and bright with color for a few weeks. The plants did not self-sow, which was a disappointment to my lazy soul, because I never remembered to plant any more nasturtium seeds. And my neighbor had mentioned once that she just loved nasturtiums.
Resolve: be a better neighbor, and plant more nasturtiums.

I like to have slicer tomatoes sunning on the windowsill. I can always make a happy lunch of a tomato sandwich, Pepperidge Farm white bread and a thick schmear of mayonnaise. With some potato chips, please. There is nothing better than a home-grown sun-warmed tomato. But Mr. Friday is fond of some cherry tomatoes, which he likes to sear under the broiler, and serve with burrata, basil and good olive oil. He might prefer growing some Sungold or Sweet Million cherry tomatoes.

If you do not feel not up to the responsibilities of growing your own vegetable garden from seed this season, now that the snow has paused (Thank you, Punxsutawney Phil!), and the snow drops are popping up every where, please think about supporting your local farmers at farmers’ markets and farm stands and CSAs. They were cool long before Brooklyn with all of its mustachioed, plaid-sporting, artisan, organic, heirloom, microcosmically hip farmers, butchers, chicken farmers, bakers and baristas. We like locally grown and all the virtues associated with it.

I was appalled to see that the cheater’s way of buying lettuce at the grocery store has gotten so expensive – $4.49 today for a single puny bag of pre-washed mixed spring greens! I have had enough! Enough of the madness! I am fighting back. I have just spent $5.95 for 500 lettuce seeds. Let’s see what my actual return on the dollar is, at roughly 1.2¢ a seed…
Here is Burpee’s perky and un-intimidating video for growing lettuce. http://www.burpee.com/vegetables/lettuce/how-to-plant-grow-lettuce-article10469.html If I only get two heads of lettuce I will be slightly ahead.

While I was earnestly researching lettuce seeds I was diverted by the fantasy that I am able to grow hydrangeas, which are my favorite flowers (after violets, daffodils and lily of the valley) but which I can never seem to grow well. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky. I have finally determined where the wet areas are in the back yard, perfect for hydrangeas. I have ordered a Nikko Blue Hydrangea, as well as the lettuce seeds. And pole bean seeds and morning glory seeds. I am crossing my soon-to-be-muddy fingers, and am hoping for an early jump on our summer salads.

“From December to March,
there are for many of us three gardens:
the garden outdoors,
the garden of pots and bowls in the house,
and the garden of the mind’s eye.”
– Katharine S. White

Food Friday: Game Day!

Perhaps you will be entertaining this weekend. There is a nationally televised sporting event on Sunday, but like invoking Harry Potter’s nemesis, Voldemort, mere mortals (or non NFL commentators) are not allowed to call it by its name. But you know what I mean. Football. Big guys. With lots of commercials.

I am not very interested in sports, but a couple of times a year Mr. Friday enjoys watching the odd baseball game or horserace, and considering how many hours of The Crown and Escape to the Country he has endured because of my Anglophilia, I think I can make time for one football game.

When we had our friend over a couple of weeks ago for the Puff Pastry Beef Wellington versus Choux Pastry Cream Puff Smackdown, we served a smallish bowl of WASPy carrots, celery and radishes, along with a big wooden bowl of popcorn for nibbles before dinner. Were we being spare and creative, or had we run out of time to prepare more elaborate fare? Were we balancing the Puritan aesthetics of simple popped-on-the-stovetop popcorn, dressed merely in Irish butter and table salt, with the more elaborate and baroque Beef Wellington, wrapped in a blanket of delicately browned, multi-layered casing, already enveloped in a mushroom and olive tapenade?

The truth is that we ran out of time, and I was out of ideas. Making créme pat can be so exhausting! Doritos did not seem appropriate. And homemade popcorn is so good. And cheap! Heavens. It probably cost about $1.39 to fill that bowl with popped corn. And it was a big, huge, over-the-top, wooden, wedding present-worthy, salad bowl. (Think of a Caesar salad prepared tableside at the Four Seasons back in your mythical Madison Avenue three-martini-lunch past.) And our friend ate practically every kernel. Triumph does not come often to our kitchen, but that was a night of ringing successes.

I have often proclaimed (to those who would listen) that there are a couple of food that exist just so we can indulge our deep insatiable desire for melted butter. Lobsters and popcorn. But we cannot keep a bag or jar of lobster in the pantry for everyday butter cravings. Luckily, there is popcorn.

And there are myriad ways to season popcorn. I think good butter and salt are just perfect. But our Tall One, who is all about smoked meats and real Southern Barbecue, is a fan of this variation: Bacon Drizzled with Creole-Spiced Butter, from, wait for it, Garden & Gun. If you are not worried about heart health, give it a try. https://gardenandgun.com/recipe/bacon-popcorn/?

Here is a good Eastern Shore-flavored popcorn recipe: https://sweetcsdesigns.com/crab-corn/

This one might be a little fancy. I am all for store-brand corn oil and Diamond Crystal salt, which could explain my relatively low number of Instagram followers… https://noshon.it/recipes/margherita-pizza-popcorn/

And where would we be without Martha? Pecorino and rosemary? Hmmm. I guess I’ll have to iron the linen cocktail napkins. https://www.marthastewart.com/1122885/seasoned-popcorn

And of course, our friends at Food52 have an interesting variation on the theme, without being over the top. I like their paper bag idea, too. We can hand out bags of popcorn at this Major Sporting Event on Sunday, and not worry about ironing the cocktail napkins, or letting Luke the wonder dog practice his Hoovering techniques among our guests feet. I like tidy. I like sweet and salty, too. https://food52.com/recipes/2098-salty-sweet-popcorn-for-all-seasons

Have a great weekend!

“Don’t you go to the movies?”
“Mostly just to eat popcorn in the dark.”
― Charles Bukowski

“The problem with winter sports is that — follow me closely here — they generally take place in winter.”
― Dave Barry

Food Friday: A Deft Hand

While Rudy Giuliani is publicly speculating about what inflammatory phrase should be the lasting embarrassment on his grave stone, I have decided upon more humble legacy. I do not wield any governmental influence, which considering my art major background, is a good thing. I do not advise the powerful. I try my best not to lie. I am earnest and true blue. And for one night, I was a deft hand at cream puffs.

Mr. Friday threw down the culinary gauntlet last weekend. He had invited a work colleague to dinner on Saturday. And this business associate is the amiable sort of person who can be trusted to bring along the right bottle of wine for the occasion. The occasion being Beef Wellington. This fancy puff pastry-wrapped entrée was something new (and mid-twentieth century) for Mr. Friday, so how was I to counter it? Baked Alaska? Cherries Jubilee? Floating Island? Nope. Cream puffs.

Cream puffs are light and whimsical, sweet and gooey. I’m sure at 110 Eaton Place they would be eaten with a knife and fork, but at our dining table, after the plating of the Beef Wellington, and the clouds of piped Duchess potatoes, and the spears of asparagus, we would eat the cream puffs with our fingers. I have never tasted anything more delightful, I typed modestly.

Mr. Friday followed Gordon Ramsay’s recipe. https://www.gordonramsay.com/gr/recipes/beef-wellington/ It involved multiple trips to the grocery store, and a lot of mushroom chopping. I made a Duchess potato mixture before I got to the fancy bits of dessert. https://www.homemadeinterest.com/duchess-potatoes/

I researched cream puffs with dogged art major determination. My initial go-to was Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery cookbook. Oh, my goodness! If I ever manage to successfully complete a recipe from this book, I will be a bone fide rocket scientist. Outwardly, the ingredient list for the choux dough seems simple enough. Then come the super sneaky precise measurements:
water – 250 grams or 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons
unsalted butter – 125 grams or 4.4 ounces
salt – 2.5 grams or 3/4 + 1/8 teaspoon
all-purpose flour – 138 grams or 1 cup
eggs – 250 to 275 grams or 1 cup to 1 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons

We do have an electronic scale, and we have an eighth of a teaspoon measuring spoon, so why am I shying away from this recipe? I guess so much precision is intimidating. Ideally, someday, I would like to be the person who can remember the ingredients and their measurements and the time and temperature for baking a dish. I really don’t want to be figuring out the science fair project every damn time. (This is the Cream Puffs recipe from Bouchon Bakery, page 160.)

Instead, while not exactly improvising, I turned from Thomas Keller to Julia Child, another cook and baker who was handy with desserts. She could wing it.

Julia Child’s Cream Puff Paste Recipe:

(Pâte à Choux)

Ingredients
1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon sugar
optional: pinch of nutmeg
1 cup all purpose flour
4 extra large eggs

Directions
Preheat oven to 425° F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Fit a large pastry bag with the largest tip or you skip the bag and use 2 spoons to form puffs.

Heat water, butter, sugar, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat. Once the butter is melted add flour all at once, and beat with a wooden spoon until it comes together and forms a dough.

Now cook stir constantly over low heat for 2 minutes. The dough will start to coat the bottom of pan. Dump this hot dough into a food processor (I used the KitchenAid) with a dough hook and add eggs, one by one, and mix until eggs are incorporated and mixture is thick and shiny.

Forming Puffs

Spoon the mixture into the pastry bag. On the sheet pan pipe out 1 1/2 inch high mounds, makes about 30. Bake 20 minutes, or until lightly brown and doubled in size, and hollow when tapped, turn off oven.

Immediately poke a paring knife in the side of each puff to allow steam to escape; this will help them to not collapse.

Return to tuned off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes.
Cool on rack.

http://labuonacucina70.blogspot.com/2011/02/julia-childs-cream-puffs.html

Then I deviated from Julia Child, and decided to follow one of her colleagues, Jacques Pépin for his Crème Pâtissière recipe, from which I wandered afield, yet again.

Ingredients
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk

Step 1
I used the KitchenAid – a;; that whisking can be exhausting! Whisk together sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl until mixture is pale yellow and “makes ribbons,” 3 to 4 minutes. Add flour; whisk until smooth.

Step 2
Bring milk to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk to egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes. Boil mixture, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl; press plastic wrap directly onto surface. Let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Mixture can be chilled, covered, for up to 3 days.

This is my addition – I was worried that the crème was a little too thick. After cooling it in the fridge for a couple of hours, I whipped up 1 cup of heavy cream with 1 teaspoon of sugar to make a delightfully light bowl of fluffy whipped cream. I folded the cream into the Crème Pâtissière, and combined them until they were one big bowl of deliciousness.

I sliced the cream puffs open, and piped the crème mixture onto the bottom half, and masterfully topped it with the crisp little pastry caps.

After the Beef Wellington feast, we all scarfed down two cream puffs each, finished the wine, and then packed our friend off into the night with a paper bag with four more cream puffs for his healthy breakfast, and then we stashed the rest of the cream puffs in the freezer. Periodically I have been testing them this week. The pastry has stayed crisp and crunchy. The crème delightful and oh, so French.

Cream puffs will become the third of my signature desserts: flourless chocolate cake, Boston cream pie and cream puffs. I am going to switch out the custard filling we have used for centuries in the Boston cream pie for this new (for me) crème pat. I can’t wait until our next birthday celebration! And now that I have tackled the choux, can eclairs and profiteroles be far behind?

https://www.tastecooking.com/we-bow-to-the-master-pate-a-choux/

“Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast. The very idea made one shudder. All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were licking their fingers with that absorbed inward look that comes only from whipped cream.”
Katherine Mansfield

Take that, Rudy!

Food Friday: Winter Salads

It might be a new year, but that doesn’t mean that I am any less inclined to take the easiest way out in preparing dinner. There is nothing like enjoying a lighter-than-air salad for a summer dinner, though in the winter it needs to be much heartier than our summertime frolics with cool cucumbers, airy vinaigrettes, and artful splashes of lemon juice. We need calories and heft now, so we can go outside and do battle with snowy sidewalks, and scrape the windshield while the wind blows and the snow is still falling.

I also like to use up leftovers when I make salad, no matter what time of year it is. This is our new budget in action – less waste! In the summer I will shred leftover chicken and fling it across a bed of crisp iceberg lettuce, with a handful of sunflower seeds and some chunky homegrown tomatoes. This week I warmed up a leftover chicken breast, and sliced it, and nestled it on a bed of spinach leaves. I cooked the last three slices of bacon, and then used the resulting bacon fat for frying the best, and crunchiest, croutons (made from day-old-ish French bread from the weekend). I nestled a couple of still-warm soft-boiled eggs within some of the spinach curls and scattered the bacon over everything. A heavy, homemade vinaigrette, redolent with garlic, was drizzled over the plates. Add candles. Yumsters. A warm, nutritious salad, and an efficient use of leftovers. You could even add a side dish of (canned) soup, if the shoveling has gone into overtime, and you are feeling generous.

Ingredients to keep on hand, in no particular order:
Apples
Avocados
Arugula
Brussel sprouts
Tomatoes
Cabbage
Carrots
Collards
Garlic (always!)
Onions
Cranberries
Grapefruit
Pears
Spinach
Olives
Squash
Roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes
Zucchini
Cucumbers
Oranges, tangerines, nectarines
Broccoli
Endive
Romaine lettuce (wash it first!)
Raddichio
Pomegranates
Cheeses: Goat cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, bleu cheese, Cheddar
Bacon
Walnuts
Leftovers: rice, couscous, quinoa, French bread, chicken, roast beef, steak, shrimp, lobster

Homemade Vinaigrette
6 tablespoons vinegar (use your fancy stuff – the ones you got for Christmas)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
Pinch of ground black pepper
Pinch of nice sea salt

Bacon-fried Croutons
Bacon makes everything better – and you know it!
Cook 3 or 4 bacon slices in a frying pan. Save the grease. (Sometimes I add a little olive oil to make a deeper puddle of cooking grease – use your judgment.) Add a handful of cubed French bread to the frying pan, cooking for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Lightly sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder and Lawry’s Seasoning Salt over the crotons. (This is going to be my million dollar retirement invention: the tastiest croutons in the whole wide world.) Using Lawry’s is crucial – make no substitute – not even for “Slap Ya Mama”.

More ideas
https://www.thekitchn.com/15-winter-salads-to-make-for-dinner-238132

https://stylecaster.com/winter-salad-ideas/slide1#autoplay

“I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on the hearth on a winter’s evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream… I know how the nuts taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider, and doughnuts, make old people’s tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting.”
― Mark Twain

Food Friday: Comfort Foods

We have taken down all of the holiday trappings: stripped the tree, packed away all the fragile paper Christmas decorations the children made in grade school. Strings of lights have been rolled up. Colorful baubles are nestled all snug in their attic boxes. The mistletoe has been scattered into the back yard for the birds to snack on while gliding on their flight paths to and from the dangling bits of suet and peanut butter–slathered pine cones. And the tree has been stashed in a back corner of the garden, turning to mulch and making a little habitat for our visiting critters.

Happy New Year, indeed. It doesn’t feel festive anymore. The fun is over and the Puritans have moved in. Permanently. We are finally (almost) finished with our holiday head colds, but that new-found healthy feeling is most likely enhanced by our adoption of the very smug and annoying Dry January resolution.

For the month of January we plan to eschew alcohol. Which means no cheap white wine during the week. It also means no Prosecco Saturdays. We have turned into the worst kind of boring people. What’s next? Jogging? Journaling? Can kale be far behind?

If this is as good as it gets, it seems like the perfect time to light the stove, and get cooking some warm comfort foods. For his personal railing against the darkness, Mr. Friday made a vat o’spaghetti sauce. He forgot that there are just the two of us now. It was a such a huge, lobster-pot-sized vat, that we had to take a shelf out of the fridge, and re-distribute bottles of milk, pickles, capers, and salad dressing in order to wedge the thing in after dinner. And then we had to get imaginative with that huge amount of red sauce.

Our initial foray into the vat o’sauce was a candlelit dinner of spaghetti with sausage and meatballs (replete with a well-tossed green salad, crusty, butter-dripping garlic toasts, and goblets brimming with conceited domestic tap water). Then we enjoyed a satisfying lunch of leftover spaghetti. Later, a coquette of bubbling baked ziti, and finally a city block of lasagne. Additionally, there are two Tupperware containers of lasagne now residing in the freezer, along with another gallon of sauce and meatballs. This is like money in the bank – emergency meals that are easily re-heated. Bring on the uninvited guests! When Mr. Friday cooks, he wields a force that alters our small universe.

You don’t need to take over the kitchen and cover all the countertops with cooking gear, or use every piece of Tupperware, or grate mounds of mozzarella, or rearrange the entire freezer compartment to make some comfort food. You can roast a chicken, shape a football of meatloaf, make a melt-y croque monsieur. Kraft mac and cheese might fit your bill nicely. Any sort of warm, aromatic or nostalgic food that makes you happy, because winter can be bleak without tinsel and paper chains.

Roast chicken
http://time.com/3484276/mark-bittmans-whole-roast-chicken/

Meatloaf
https://food52.com/blog/21432-oliver-clark-s-meatloaf

Croque Monsieur
https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/croque-monsieur

Mac and cheese
https://www.today.com/recipes/easy-stovetop-mac-cheese-t64241

Lasagne
https://norecipes.com/lasagne-recipe/
https://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Rubirosa-Lasagne

“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.”
― Edith Sitwell

Food Friday: Sick as a Dog

I guess we partied a little too hearty. Mr. Friday came home with a cold just as the Christmas holidays began. And being ever so thoughtful and caring, he shared the germs with me. The cold has mushroomed into massive congestion, sneezing and coughing. There are multiple Kleenex boxes in every room of the house.

Imagine what the holiday was like for poor Luke the wonder dog, as he tied the apron bow, and got out the cookbooks so he could make some chicken soup to hurry our healing process. He’s such a good dog. This is a reminder to be kind to our faithful companions! And since we can’t teach an old dog new tricks, luckily for us, Luke knows his way around the kitchen. These are the words that he dictated to me, as he stood on the stool, chopping vegetables and measuring out cups of rice.

“A word to the wise: you are going to need chicken soup sooner or later this winter. And, no, it will never taste as good as your mother’s. It will ward off the flu, and will ease the aches and pains of that miserable head cold. And soon, you will feel right as rain.” (I wonder if it is only Luke who is partial to clichés or if all dogs are prone, like food writers?)

I can see Maurice Sendak will hovering behind Luke, proudly, as he measures out the rice. And soon we will be slipping on the sliding ice, sipping our own chicken soup with rice. Maybe Luke will end up with Max and the wild things, stirring soup on a well-drawn pen and ink stove.

Luke recommends:

Homemade Chicken Stock

Ingredients
1 deboned chicken carcass, including skin
OR 1 whole chicken (do not give the poor dog a bone, no matter how eloquent he is, or how mournfully he looks at you)
6 quarts water
6 garlic cloves, smashed
2 carrots, roughly chopped
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
4 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Salt

1. Use a large stock pot, and add butter and chicken over medium heat. Brown them a little bit.
2. Add all the rest of the ingredients, and bring to a boil.
3. Boil for 3 minutes, then turn heat down to low.
4. Cover, and simmer for about 3-4 hours, stirring every once in a while.
5. Once it’s a golden color, strain and let cool. Put in the refrigerator overnight, then skim the fat off the top.
6. I am a big believer in Baggies for storage – none of the lid issues that are inherent in Tupperware, and certainly easily dealt with – out they go! Place in the freezer until ready for use.

Chicken Soup (not completely homemade – but sometimes a dog is on deadline and life has to go on)

Olive oil
Half an onion, minced
2 carrots, finely diced
Bay leaf
A sprig of fresh thyme, or a few shakes of dried
2 quarts chicken stock
1 cup uncooked, long grain rice (or, if you are a noodle family, have your wicked way with them)
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken

1. Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.
2. Add onion and carrot, and sauté till soft, 5-7 minutes.
3. Add bay leaf, thyme, and chicken broth, and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce to a simmer and add rice and chicken.
5. Let soup bubble, stirring occasionally, until the rice is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

Note from Luke:
This will be much better than Lipton’s Chicken Noodle dried-powder and freeze-dried chicken bits! And certainly better than Campbell’s. Have you ever looked at those pinkish chicken nubbins? Well, you were probably feverish and anything warm was going to do the trick.

And now, thanks to Luke, you have a nice, comforting stash of stock in your freezer, and you are ready for that rainy, sneezy, sniffling, no-good, terrible day. I remember the glory days, back in elementary school, when I could stay home, bundled up on the sofa with a blanket, a pillow, a box of Kleenex and jelly glass of ginger ale with a bent paper straw. I reveled in spending a feverish day napping in front of the black and white TV. If you are lucky when you succumb to this year’s stay-home-from-school cold maybe Bewitched and The Dick Van Dyke Show will be on the internets!

Luke has taken good care of us. Mr. Friday has almost stopped sneezing and gone back to the office, and I am tottering around the house starting to take the Christmas decorations down. But later this afternoon, Luke and I are going to curl up on the sofa, catching up on the Christmas movies we were too miserable to watch last week. Happy New Year!

“If you are a dog and your owner suggests that you wear a sweater suggest that he wear a tail.”
Fran Lebowitz

Food Friday: From Our Shelves

We are getting ready for the Winter Solstice here in the Spy Test Kitchens. It arrives today at 5:23 PM. Do you have your sparklers ready? It’s going to be a long night. We still have a lot of Yuletide prep work to do as we enter into the dark days of winter. Pour a glass of mead, and let’s get cracking.

We have some Christmas traditions that like Mrs. Rumpole, must be obeyed. And most of our traditions come from our favorite cookbooks.

Eggnog
From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Makes 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes

3 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups milk or half-and-half
1/2 cup rum (optional), or more if desired
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until well blended. Stir in the vanilla, the milk or half-and-half, and rum if desired.
2. Beat the egg whites and fold them in thoroughly. (You need not be too gentle; they should lighten the drink but not be discernible.) Top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.

Christmas Breakfast

To make ahead because who wants to cook on Christmas morning?

Frittata
From The Joy of Cooking

Serves 6 hungry people
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add:
3 to 5 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips (or, use sausage, ham, Canadian bacon, etc.–with cured meats such as ham, there is no need to sauté)
Sauté until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat and add to the skillet:
1 small onion, finely chopped (or a few minced shallots, or green onions, etc.)
Sauté until translucent. Add and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes:
2 cloves garlic, minced
     
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
     
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
     
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
In a large bowl, combine:
12 eggs
     
3/4 cup whole milk, buttermilk, or half-and-half
     
Cheese, in some form, in whatever quantity you prefer (I used leftover cheese bits to equal about 1/2 cup)

• Combine the vegetable mixture and the egg mixture and pour into a greased 9×13-inch pan.
• Bake until set, about 30 minutes.
• Turn on the broiler and broil until nicely browned and slightly puffy on top, about 5 minutes.

http://www.thejoykitchen.com/recipe/frittata-leftovers

Clearly – the folks at Food52 can do this blindfolded.

https://food52.com/blog/21261-how-to-make-a-frittata-without-a-recipe

Christmas Dessert

Flourless Chocolate Cake

From Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts, which is on the shelf just below the one in the illustration.

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick of butter, softened
5 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt

Preheat the over to 350°F. Line a springform pan with parchment paper – it is never pretty. Like hospital corners on the bed, I can never do this tidily.

• Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan, over a low heat, stirring to blend. Be careful not to rush this process! Set aside to cool.
• Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow in color. This can take up to 5 or 6 minutes. Add the vanilla.
• Clean the beaters, and now whip the egg white with the salt until they are stiff.• Fold the chocolate mixture into the yolks, then fold in about one third of the egg white, mix gently. Then fold in the rest of the whites, mixing until there are no more white streaks.
• Pour the mixture into the springform pan and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, test with a toothpick to be sure cake is done. The cake will rise gloriously while baking, and suddenly crash and collapse when you take it out of the oven. Do not worry about this! It will be deliciously and deliriously luscious.
• Cool the cake for about 10 or 15 minutes and then remove the side of the pan. Flip the cake onto a cooling rack. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment. Let it cool completely before adding the glaze.

You cannot change one speck of this magic chocolate glaze! I have been using this glaze since 1989. The cookbook always falls open to this page, which is also the glaze I use for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It is covered with crumbs and splatters from the festivities from the last 26 years.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon
Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides.

And do not forget to feed Santa’s reindeer.

Magic Reindeer Food

1 cup oatmeal
1 teaspoon red sprinkles
1 teaspoon green sprinkles

We would pour the mixture into brown paper bags, one for each deer. They get very hungry.

Merry Christmas from the Spy Test Kitchen Elves!

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
― J.K. Rowling

Food Friday: Christmas Cookies

I have started my annual rite of cookie baking. I baked a couple of batches of gingersnaps on Sunday, so I could tuck a little love in the Christmas boxes we mail. Gingersnaps are sturdy enough to be mailed, and will still taste fine even if they get mashed. I am always reluctant to eat pretty cookies – ones that have been fussed over with finely piped, royal icing snowflake patterns and carefully centered, inedible silver dragees. Give me a misshapen sugar cookie, dripping with kid-schmeared sugar icing and a handful of sprinkles any day, because I’ll remember the joy of Christmas baking alongside my mother and brother.

Gingersnaps are among the good holiday smells that propel me back through time to my mother’s kitchen. When I wore a ruffled apron over my Fair Isle sweater, and stood on the red wood stepping stool, so I could get right into the thick of the baking. I am sure I was very helpful.

Gingersnaps are among the most versatile of cookies. They taste deelish warm from the oven, cold in a lunch bag, and not too bad when they are stale. Even the gingersnaps that can be bought in a sack at the grocery store are pretty good, in a pinch. But these are so easy, and so kid-friendly, that you should just bake some yourself. These are simple, round and wholesome. Well, except for the white sugar, but not everything can be perfect in every way.

Gingersnap Cookies:
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup dark brown sugar (pack it into the measuring cup)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses (oil the measuring cup first, or spray a little Pam – otherwise you will be washing that cup forever, when you could be conducting cookie taste tests)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (I was SHOCKED to see how expensive ground cloves are – $7! I used a half teaspoon of ground allspice and things tasted just fine.)

For dusting the cookies:
1 cup granulated white sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy, I use an electric mixer. Add the molasses, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until well-mixed. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Cover the bowl with Saran Wrap and chill it in the fridge for about half an hour, until it is firm.

Fill a little dish with the cup (or thereabouts) of granulated sugar. When the dough is nice and chilly, roll it into 1-inch balls. Then drop and roll the balls of dough in the sugar, this is the best point for expecting kid interaction and assistance. Put the dough balls on the baking sheets, and use a small flat-bottomed glass to flatten the cookies. Sometimes you will need to dip the glass back into the sugar to get the right amount of crunchy, sugary goodness. Do not squash them too thin, or the cookies will get too dark and brittle. Bake for about 12 – 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. You can also use a small ice cream scoop, instead of making the balls by hand, but really, where is the fun in that?

These gingersnaps from Smitten Kitchen are a little spicier because she adds pepper. Go for it. But all I want to do is remember the warm kitchen, the silly apron and to spend a couple of hours with Mom.
http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2011/11/gingersnaps/

At Garden & Gun Magazine, where everything is stylish and hip, there is a recipe for molasses cookies, which is very similar to my mother’s gingersnaps. You be the judge: https://gardenandgun.com/recipe/molasses-cookies-red-truck-bakery/

Our friends at Food52 have lots of swell Christmas cookie ideas. I like a nice, cookie cutter Christmas cookie. And we have timed this just right. Amanda suggests that we bake these cookies well in advance, so they will be perfect to leave out for You Know Who and his eight tiny sidekicks: https://food52.com/recipes/19858-holiday-cut-out-cookies

The Center for Disease Control has issued its annual doom and gloom warning about eating raw cookie dough. I am passing it along to you in a responsible fashion:
https://www.cdc.gov/features/no-raw-dough/index.html

“To each other, we were as normal and nice as the smell of bread. We were just a family. In a family even exaggerations make perfect sense. “
-John Irving

Food Friday: Impressive Garlic Chicken

In April Mr. Friday and I had dinner with old friends. We chattered and caught up, drinking good wine and eating delicious homemade nibbles. I have always have store-bought hummus. It has never occurred to me to whip it up myself. Get yourself to the kitchen. Start impressing people!

https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/hummus-237832

Dinner was a divine surprise: a garlic chicken casserole. I still have photos on my phone recording the moment when Tom used a large screwdriver to pry apart the dough seal that lined the rim of the enormous cast iron casserole. Cue the FX department. A triumphant march accompaniment would have been appropriate. A hot, streaming cloud ballooned, filling the kitchen with delightful garlic and chicken auras, and then dissipated to reveal a chicken casserole that was worthy of Julia Child. It was deelish.

Tom followed a Dorie Greenspan recipe for Garlic Chicken in a Pot. I always think of Dorie Greenspan as being a baker, so perhaps I need to expand my reading matter. Here is a video of her explaining patiently to television folk about the adaptability of the recipe: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/dorie-greenspan-brings-chicken-in-a-pot-to-the-dish/

Last weekend we faced a conundrum: what to serve a guest for dinner. Actually, it was Mr. Friday trying to find a recipe to cook in his new cast iron, 6-quart casserole dish. He regarded me scornfully when I suggested Vivian Howard’s Chicken Rice meal. Too easy. (I love it, and will be making it this weekend. Here is the recipe so you can make it, too: https://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/scarletts-chicken-and-rice/15591/) Spaghetti, perhaps? More scorn and derision. And as he thought, he remembered our friend Tom’s tour de force dinner from April. And we rooted around the Internets and found the very Dorie Greenspan recipe.

Garlic Chicken In A Pot
By Dorie Greenspan

YIELD 
4 servings
TIME
 1 hour 30 minutes

½ salt-preserved lemon, rinsed well
¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup olive oil
16 small peeled potatoes (white or sweet) or 2 large peeled potatoes, each cut into 8 pieces
16 small onions or shallots, peeled and trimmed
8 carrots, peeled and quartered
4 stalks celery, trimmed and quartered
4 heads garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs Italian parsley
2 sprigs rosemary
1 chicken, whole or cut up
1 cup chicken broth
½ cup white wine
About 1 1/2 cups flour

PREPARATION
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove zest from preserved lemon and cut zest into small squares; save pulp for another use. Bring 1 cup water and the sugar to a boil, drop in zest and cook 1 minute; drain and set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add vegetables and garlic, season with salt and pepper and sauté until brown on all sides. (If necessary, do this in 2 batches.) Spoon vegetables into a 4 1/2- to 5-quart lidded Dutch oven and stir in herbs and lemon zest.
Return skillet to heat, add another tablespoon of oil and brown chicken on all sides, seasoning it with salt and pepper as it cooks. Tuck chicken into casserole, surrounding it with vegetables. Mix together the broth, wine and remaining olive oil and pour it over chicken and vegetables.
Mix flour with enough hot water (about 3/4 cup) to make a malleable dough. On a floured surface, work dough into a sausage; place dough on rim of casserole. Press lid onto dough to seal casserole. Bake 55 minutes. To break seal, work the point of a screwdriver between pot and lid. If chicken is whole, quarter it. Chicken may be served in the pot or arranged with vegetables on a serving platter.

Thank you, New York Times. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1804-garlic-chicken-in-a-pot?

One caveat, our grocery store did not stock salt-preserved lemons. So we had another Internets scramble until we found Mark Bittman’s recipe for a quick salt-preserved lemon recipe. Here is his video: https://www.nytimes.com/video/dining/1248068993504/quick-preserved-lemons.html (If you have problems viewing the video – what I did as the sous chef was – I had three organic lemons [non-waxed], which I washed well. Then I sliced the lemons, removed the seeds, and chopped the lemon slices. I put the chopped lemons in a cute Ball jar I found in the pantry, and added 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1 tablespoon of Maldon salt. 2:1 ratio, in case you are using art major math. And now we have a beautiful glowing jar of salt-preserved lemons on the top shelf of the fridge, which I admire daily.)

And Mr. Friday did play around with the flexibility of the recipe – he added some parsnips that were lingering in the vegetable bin, used only two full heads of garlic – and as it is, there is still a whiff of garlic in corners of the house five days later, in case you wondered. And he used 1 cut-up chicken, because we just couldn’t fathom how to brown a whole chicken in a skillet. Not without incurring some major kitchen disasters…

As sous chef I was also assigned dough preparation, which was much more enjoyable than chopping lemons. It was fun to roll the dough out into a long rope, without worrying if it would rise and be edible, unlike some of my latest bread experiments. It sealed the casserole quite nicely, and Mr. Friday was afforded his own steamy moment of triumph when he took a screwdriver and prised the top from the bottom. Bon appétit, indeed!

“The chicken does not exist only in order to produce another egg. He may also exist to amuse himself, to praise God, and even to suggest ideas to a French dramatist.”
― G.K. Chesterton

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