Friday, May 29, 2015

Everything From Scratch

Eeeek!  I just read about another grocery store product that we shouldn’t be eating.  There are so many new ones everyday that my head is spinning.  Fortunately, if you are feeling the same way—there is an answer.  Make everything from scratch.  Yourself.  In your own kitchen.  That way, you have 100% control over what goes into your food and into your family. 

I know you are protesting that you can’t possibly do that—way too time consuming and, besides, you don’t know how to make mayonnaise, cheese, yogurt, and crème fraiche.  Not to mention all your own jellies, jams and preserves, peanut butter, sour cream, bread, cooked beans, cream soups, sauces—the list is endless. 

Most of these foods really are not too time-consuming, because you make them in large batches and once made, you have it done for quite a long time.  If you use mixes now but are worried about the preservatives and additives in them, you can make your own mixes.  Not only are you feeling good about the health aspect, but it is incredibly satisfying to make your own ingredients and foods. 

Probably my favorite category of foods from scratch is the dairy category.  I don’t have access to raw milk products, so I have to buy homogenized and pasteurized milk and cream.  But, I do have access to milk from cows that have not had antibiotics and other questionable treatments.  In our area, the best tasting milk is the Polka Dot brand.  I use only whole milk—but you can make all of the following products with lower fat milk.  (I have been reading a lot of information that says full fat dairy is better for you).

Yogurt (regular and Greek)

A yogurt maker is a very handy thing to have, especially if you and your family consume a lot of yogurt (we do!)  You can, however, use an electric frying pan, some slow cookers, thermoses and ovens with gas pilot lights.  I have only tried the first two, but have assurances from reliable sources that the others all work.  The only caveat is that if you use a slow cooker, you test it for temperature, since if it can’t stay at 100 or below on warm setting, it will not work.  My yogurt maker is made by Total Chef and I think it was about $30. on line.  I love it because it doesn’t take up much space and I like the jar size. 

When I use my electric skillet, I put small, half-pint jars of yogurt in it so the cover will fit over them.  I put it on the “warm” setting and leave it overnight.  In the morning, put the covers for the screw-top jars on them and refrigerate.    

To make plain yogurt:

2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp yogurt starter (from health food store) or 2 Tbsp purchased yogurt

Rinse large saucepan with cold water to keep heated milk from scorching.  Heat milk in saucepan until it barely simmers or shivers—about 180-190 degrees.  Cool in a sink of cold water until lukewarm.  Add yogurt starter or yogurt, stirring well.  Pour through a small sieve into jars.  Put cover on yogurt maker or electric skillet and turn on.  Leave for at least 10 hours.  Depending on the temperature of the room, it can take a little longer.  Gently wiggle one container to see if it is set.  Cover and refrigerate. 

To make Greek yogurt:

2 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp yogurt starter or 2 Tbsp purchased yogurt
1 Tbsp. instant dry milk powder

Rinse large saucepan as above.  Heat milk until barely simmering.  Cool in sink.  Add yogurt starter and dry milk powder.  Whisk until well mixed.  Pour through a small sieve into jars.  Put cover on yogurt maker or electric skillet and turn on.  Leave for at least 10 hours. Cover and refrigerate.  When yogurt is cold, test its thickness.  If you want thicker yogurt, line a sieve with a damp cheesecloth or coffee filter and place over a large bowl.  Dump yogurt into lined sieve and allow to drain until you are pleased with the thickness.  Don’t throw away the whey (the liquid in the bowl).  Add it to the whey you have from making ricotta cheese (next recipe) or pour it into a container (glass jar or jug) and keep it in the refrigerator to use for making smoothies and in place of buttermilk for pancakes and biscuits, etc.  It is super healthy and delicious and lightens baked goods the same way buttermilk does.  (They sell whey powder for astronomical prices in the store and it’s all the rage for health-minded people)

Ricotta Cheese

Technically, this is not true ricotta cheese because that is made from sheep’s milk and this is from cow’s.

However, this replaces ricotta in any recipe and is so superior to the store-bought product you won’t believe it was this simple to make!! We use this cheese in small balls in salads and to spread on home-made bagels or muffins.  On bagels, drizzle with honey—yum!

2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp white vinegar

Rinse large saucepan with cold water to keep milk from scorching.  Heat milk, cream and salt in saucepan until it comes to a true simmer.  Allow to simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from heat and add vinegar.  Do not disturb for 2 minutes.  Meantime, line sieve with damp cheesecloth and put over large bowl.  After 2 minute sitting time, very slowly stir mixture with a wooden spoon.  Continue slowly stirring until curds separate from whey and you can see the clearish whey.  Carefully pour contents of pan into lined sieve.  Allow to drip about 10 minutes or slightly longer if you want a firmer cheese.  Remove cheese to container and refrigerate.  Pour whey into jug or jar and refrigerate.  If you want a true probiotic whey, pour a little whey from making Greek yogurt into your jug or add a ¼ tsp. yogurt starter to whey, mixing well.   

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Breakfast at the Candlelight Inn

Breakfast will be a highlight of your visit to the
Candlelight Inn.  Lynette is a cookbook and blog
former newspaper food columnist, and is devoted to cooking delicious food from all natural ingredients.  Our three-course breakfast includes unusual fruit starters such as strawberry soup; entrees that include Orange French Toast and Minnesota Wild Rice and bacon Quiche.  Dessert for breakfast? Absolutely!! Yes, you will be treated to "pots de creme au chocolate" or lemon pudding cakes with Blackberry Sauce.  All breads, pastries and desserts are made from scratch early each morning.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Grandma DuBois

I had two grandmothers that I visited every summer.  One lived in North Mankato, Minnesota.  She was a widow living in a beautiful English Tudor home with 4 bedrooms, dining,living, kitchen and sunroom.  Sunrooms used to be very common—they were not like solariums of today—no glass panels or hot tubs.  The room had lots of windows and was open to both the living room and the dining room.  That Grandma worked at Martin and Hoer’s Jewelry store so my cousin (6 months older) and I were on our own during the day.  We were never at a loss for something to do, though; Grandma’s house was full of fun things to keep us busy.  She was a magazine fan and had stacks and stacks of Women’s magazines: Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, American Home, Better Homes and Gardens and more.  In those days, women’s’ magazines were really fun.  We spent hours going through those magazines, cutting out pictures of movie stars that we loved (they were in commercials, usually, such as soap or skin cream or the movies that they were starring in).  Then we took on their personas and pretended.  I was Debra Paget and she was Susan Hayward.

When we tired of that, we turned to games that Grandma had around.  A card game called Touring or Chinese checkers.  Of course, lunchtime rolled around and we were always starving.  A lot of times, Grandma would have told us to walk over town and meet her at Woolworth’s lunch counter.  There we almost always ordered the same lunch:  grilled cheese sandwiches served with potato chips and a dill pickle, a lime phosphate and a big almond cookie.  

When I was there by myself or with my brother (4 years older) I would spend hours playing with Grandma’s china-head pin cushion doll.  Grandma had a collection of handkerchiefs that was stupendous.  They were stored in a small cardboard chest of drawers that sat on a large, regular dresser drawer.  She let me take the small chest and the doll and a bunch of pretty hat pins and dress the doll in thousands (or so it seemed) outfits made up of those handkerchiefs.

Another highlight of the day was going to the corner store.  We could spend an hour looking at all our choices with the nickel we had. There were tons of candy bars and frozen confections like push-ups or popsicles, but, unlike the little store up in St. Louis Park where I lived, this store had ice cream in large bulk cartons where a clerk would dip out a cone in your favorite flavor. After looking at everything and leafing through a few Little Lulu comic books, I would almost always end up with a cone. 

As we strolled back the 3 blocks to Grandmas, we had to pass Koppen’s Farm.  It was a small farm right in the middle of the town—and they had a big barn in front where they sold the produce from the farm.  Mr. Koppen was a large man who wore old-time overalls and spit tobacco all the time—much to my grandma’s disgust.  She didn’t really like us to spend much time there although she would send us down to pick up sweet corn or some tomatoes.  His daughter, Jane was also a large woman who was a friend of my mother.  I remember my mom saying that Jane had served her an onion sandwich for lunch once—I tried it one time after I heard that but our onions were probably stronger than hers—because I couldn’t really eat it. 

That North Mankato house was situated on South Avenue which butted up to large woods.  Right next to the house was a sand road that was bordered on one side by the woods and the other by a neighbor’s house.  We could follow the sand road down to the Minnesota River (about a block or so).  At that time, the river was pretty dirty.  The only fish in it were carp (or so my mother said). When she had been a child growing up in that house, she said the river was full of great fish, like Northern Pike and Walleye.  She and her brothers fished all the time in the summer. Since Mom grew up in the Great Depression, they ate all the fish they caught.  The bathroom in that house (on the second floor) looked out on the back yard and the woods just beyond.  The toilet was situated right next to the window.  Mom said that her brothers took their shotguns with them when they used the bathroom and sat on the toilet and shot squirrels for dinner.  I’ve often wondered if that was really true.

When Grandma came home from work, she was usually too tired to make much of a dinner.  Our favorite supper was waffles.  She had some plates with a little Dutch people and a brown floral background that we called her “waffle plates” because she always used them when we had waffle suppers.  I still make her waffle recipe which I got from her many years later—and everyone agrees they are the best waffles ever.  Though I’ve searched far and wide, I have never found plates like hers—and I would dearly love to have them. 

Grandma’s Waffles

2 ¼ cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 ½ Tbsp. sugar
2 beaten eggs
2 ¼ cups milk
¾ cup salad oil

Sift together dry ingredients. Combine remaining ingredients; add just before baking, beating only until moistened.  (Batter will be thin)  Bake in preheated waffle maker. 

An excerpt from American Home Cooking, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison talks about Brunswick stew:
Raymond Sokolov tells the most common story about the origin of Brunswick stew in Fading Feast (1983).  According to the account, a Virginia slave named “Uncle Jimmy” Matthews created the concoction in 1828 for Dr. Creed Haskins and friends, using squirrels he shot in the woods of Brunswick County.  Descendants of Haskins claimed that the original recipe contained nothing except squirrel, bacon, butter, onions, stale bread, and salt and pepper to taste, making it a meaty ragout.  Cooks began adding other vegetables within a few decades, and around the same time started considering chicken as a viable substitute for squirrel.  In Common Sense In The Household, (1871), Marion Harland, who grew up in Virginia, said you could use either meat, but gave a preference for squirrel (two large gray ones or three smaller critters).  She also put potatoes, tomatoes, butter beans and corn in the pot.  Other popular cookbook authors of the same period dropped the squirrel entirely and threw in extra vegetables.

Sarah Tyson Rorer, from Pennsylvania, called for chicken, ham, and limas, and Massachusetts Native Maria Parloa went with leftover mutton, carrots, turnips, and parsnips, turning a sunny southern stew into a wintry northern hodgepodge.

Here’s a recipe for a modern Brunswick stew using chicken:

½ pound bacon, chopped fine
¼ pound salt pork, chopped fine
2 large onions, chopped
2 ½ to 3-pound chicken, cut up
2 10-oz. packages frozen lima beans
3 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen
28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 ounces fresh green beans, sliced into 1” lengths
2 ½ Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ Tbsp. yellow mustard
1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 large russet potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed

Sweat bacon and salt pork in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When fat is well rendered and meat is brown and still limp, stir in the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 additional minutes.  Add the chicken and cover with 10 cups water.  Cook uncovered for about 1 ¼ hours, until chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken and set aside until cool enough to handle.  Stir in the lima beans, corn, tomatoes, green beans, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pepper, salt, and cayenne, and continue simmering 30 additional minutes.  Shred the chicken into bite size pieces and return to the pot along with the mashed potatoes.  Continue to simmer until the meat and vegetables are quite soft and meld together into a thick stew, another 30 to 45 minutes, stirring up from the bottom occasionally.  Add more water if needed to keep the stew from drying out.  Stew will improve after cooling and reheating.

If you have a few squirrels lying around, by all means use them!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer Cooking Class Schedule

Make your reservation for a Tuesday night at the Candlelight Inn and come early for a cooking class “behind the kitchen door” taught by Lynette from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.  You will still have your evening to enjoy beautiful Red Wing.  Cost is just $35 per participant.  You may take a class even if you do not stay at the B&B.  Class must be paid for at time of reservation.  Class size is limited so reserve early.

Picnics: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

All types of outdoor eating!! What equipment to have, how to cook out, places to picnic, and, of course, lots of good food ideas to put in that basket.

A Frugal Kitchen—Making your own stuff: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Everything from mayonnaise, yogurt, ricotta cheese, yeast breads, granola—many more things can be made by you at home at a fraction of the cost and a real gain in nutritional value and taste.  The difference in cost will amaze you and these foods are really easy. 

Breakfasts: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
By popular request, learn to make a “bed & breakfast” breakfast, with all the secrets to make it delicious and do-able.

Cool Cooking-- Using small appliances: Tuesday, July 20,2014 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
When the temperature goes up, it’s time to get out your small appliances—slow cooker, electric skillet, steamer (or rice maker), blender—anything that will prepare and cook without heating up the kitchen.  Lots of recipes and tastings. 
A Porch Party: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Porch or patio is a great place to entertain.  All kinds of ideas for food and decorations as well as themes and fun ideas for kids parties, too.

 Farmer’s Market:   Tuesday, August 19, 2014 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Shop like the Europeans do:  daily peruse the farmer’s market for the freshest produce available.  We’ll learn how to check for freshness and make lots of dishes using the seasonal best of the day

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Picnic Season

Eating out usually means restaurants but I think eating outside is an even better choice.   The picnic season has begun and it is my favorite eating style.  The dictionary definition—an outing with food, eaten in the open—doesn’t include that special state of mind: the carefree, spontaneous mood.  I would elaborate on the dictionary definition and say a good picnic is a respite from the ordinary, an escape from routine, a time for adventurous feasting.

Maiden Rock, Wisconsin
My mother loved picnics—she would use any excuse for us to pack up some food and go outdoors;   But barring the opportunity to do that, we ate on our backyard picnic table or on the screen porch.  After we moved to Southern California when I was thirteen, we had poolside meals cooked in our outdoor Aztec oven.  It didn’t matter too much what time of day. She would take us to a mountain location (in California) and cook breakfast in the clear mountain air.  We did a fair amount of camping for longer stretches of time, but I really loved the spontaneous outings that Mom dreamed up for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
preferably to a wild and woodsy spot.

She was a great cook, too and the food was extraordinary.  Yes, food DOES taste better outdoors, but only if it is good to begin with.  There was nothing fancy about her menus—traditional fare like deviled eggs, potato salad, grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, sometimes steaks—but the sides were really special and she always packed that old-fashioned stuff like homemade pickles, relishes, crudités (which we called carrot, celery and radishes)  cucumbers in vinegar, extras that were standard then but are rarely seen today.

Sandwiches were always on homemade bread—Mom was an expert bread baker.  They always tasted so much better than the ones I fixed myself at home.  She had the knack for spreading the right amount of butter or mayo or salad dressing, some horseradish, perhaps, or homemade chili sauce.  She filled them full, so there was plenty of middle and not too much bread. 

And dessert! Cookies, cake, coffee cakes or muffins for breakfasts as well as pies, lemon bars and brownies.  There was always a piece de resistance to end the feast.

I love picnics, too and we indulge in them whenever feasible.  Our area sports a great many perfect picnic sites, depending on whether it is a spontaneous lunch for two or a more planned group affair.  A very special delight, except that somebody has to prepare everything, right?  Well, maybe not if you’ve prepared ahead.  

Picnics can be divided into different categories:  picnics to take on the road, picnics for the backyard or porch, cook-outs, boat picnics, party picnics, picnics for two.  
As soon as the weather starts being reliable, I pack my picnic basket and keep it at the ready.  Now, you can stage a very elaborate feast which would entail a lot more than this basket holds, but that takes planning, cooking, inviting, etc.  That’s a great way to entertain, but for our purposes here this basket is packed for two people to have a regular meal at the drop of a hat (of course, yours could be for any number).

I have an old-fashioned picnic hamper that has a top that lifts on each side of center and no insulation.  In addition, I have several insulated bags that will fit into that rather large hamper. Thermoses are nice.  A cooler would work; paper bags work; you don’t have to have fancy equipment. But whatever you use, keep staples inside it. 

            Paper plates or plastic plates
            Plastic or regular flatware
            Cups--Styrofoam or plastic
            A tablecloth and clips to clip it onto a picnic table
            Salt and pepper
            A roll of aluminum foil
            A few paper towels
            A few zip-lock plastic bags
            Moistened towelettes

You may think of other “must-have” items, but this list is a good beginning.

The food for this type of picnic should be easily assembled and prepared from foods in the freezer, refrigerator, and on the kitchen shelves.  Keeping your freezer stocked with prepared sandwiches, fried chicken and other goodies is the key to convenient but tasty dishes.  Of course, you can stop at local delis, sandwich shops, or even the deli section of the supermarket to supply the meal, but you can have a real feast by doing a bit of footwork ahead of time. This is a favorite menu:

Fried Chicken
Marinated Vegetable Salad
Pecan cookies

My favorite fried chicken recipe is delicious either hot or cold.  I got it from a Creole woman friend I met in married student housing on an Oklahoma campus in the late ‘60’s.  She was from New Orleans and taught me to cook Creole style.  The actual directions for this chicken start with “Put the chicken in the batter before church and it will be ready to fry when you get home.”

Janice Howard’s Real Southern Fried Chicken:

1 Frying Chicken, cut up
1-2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
One-half tsp. paprika
One-half tsp. garlic powder (or use garlic salt and reduce salt by one quarter tsp.)
2 eggs
2 cups half-and-half
Canola oil for frying (about 2 cups)

Two to three hours before frying: Put chicken parts in a mixture of half-and-half and beaten eggs in shallow glass baking pan large enough to hold chicken in one layer. Refrigerate two or three hours. 

Prepare Chicken to fry:  Put flour and seasonings into zip-lock bag.  Add 2 pieces of chicken at a time to bag and shake well.  Put on cooling rack to dry.  When all pieces of chicken are coated, leave on rack for 10 minutes.  Shake pieces of chicken in flour mixture again, adding more flour if necessary.
To fry:  Preheat oil on medium heat in 10 or 12-inch cast-iron skillet (can use any very heavy skillet) until bread cube turns brown in 1 minute.  Put pieces of chicken into skillet, largest pieces first.  Make sure oil is at medium heat.  Oil should come half way up chicken pieces; if not, add more oil.  Fry 5 minutes (without covering), turn, fry 5 minutes more.  Add small pieces to skillet, being careful not to crowd chicken. Fry 10 minutes; turn all pieces, fry 10 minutes more.  Drain on paper towels.  Serve immediately or cool, wrap and freeze.  Bring to room temperature before eating if frozen.

Marinated Vegetable Salad

Dressing (mix first)
1 cup vinegar
1 cup sugar
½ cup salad oil
1 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp., pepper
1 sp. celery seed 

Add to dressing:  
1 14-oz can peas drained
1 14-oz can French style green beans, drained
1 jar pimientos
1 green pepper, diced
1 small onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, diced

Chill overnight; use slotted spoon to serve; refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days/

Mom was an ad libber when it came to coleslaw; she just made up a recipe on the spot and it was always a little different, but always good.  I have followed suit to some degree, although I like a little more consistency.  The following recipe is flexible enough for you to ad lib, too, depending on what you have on hand.

Cole Slaw

½ head of cabbage
2 large carrots
½ green pepper
Other vegetables, as desired, i.e. zucchini, celery, sweet red peppers, cucumbers
½ cup mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
¼ cup sour cream (can use full-fat yogurt)
2 Tbsp. vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
½ tsp. celery seed
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Shred vegetables and put in large bowl.  Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, sugar, celery seed, salt and pepper in a blender or a jar with a tight-fitting cover.  Blend or shake until well blended.  Taste for balance; add more vinegar or sugar to taste.  Pour over shredded vegetables and let sit in refrigerator, covered, for at least 1 hour and up to overnight. 

Biscuits (these are the tenderest, lightest biscuits ever)

2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
4 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp. sugar
½ cup shortening
2/3 cup milk

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar and sugar; cut in shortening til mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  Add milk all at once; stir only till dough follows fork around bowl.  Turn out on lightly floured surface.  Knead gently ½ minute. Pat or roll ½ " thick.  Cut with biscuit cutter—do not twist cutter.  Bake on ungreased cookie sheet in very hot oven (450) for 10-12 minutes.  Makes approximately 16 biscuits.

James Beard’s Cream Biscuits (A never-fail recipe)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1 to 1 ½ cups heavy cream
1/3 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425.  Use an ungreased baking sheet.  Combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar in a mixing bowl.  Stir the dry ingredients with a fork to blend and lighten.  Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly.  Gather the dough together; when it holds together and feels tender, it is ready to knead.  If the dough seems shaggy and pieces are dry and falling away, then slowly add enough additional cream to make the dough hold together.  Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead for 1 minute.  Put the dough into a square that is about ½ inch thick.  Cut into 12 squares and dip each into the melted butter so all sides are coated.  Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the biscuits are lightly browned.  Serve hot. 

Pecan Sandy Cookies
This recipe makes a lot of cookies—they are even better than the ones that the elves make. They freeze well and are a perfect cookie to take on a picnic. 

1 cup sugar
1cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
4 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1 cup finely chopped pecans

Beat first five ingredients very well.  Add vanilla, flour, salt, soda and cream of tartar.  Add pecans last.  Chill dough.  Roll dough into balls and dip into sugar.  Bake at 375 until lightly brown.

If you want to stay young-at-heart and enjoy everyday life like my mother did right up until she died at 95, I suggest picnicking—even if it just taking your fast food to a park to eat.  Of course, it’s a lot more fun and healthier to pack something homemade—but the idea is to try some new places, get out in the fresh air and do something good for yourself.  Happy picnicking!!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Compendium of Ingredients

Have you ever had some ingredient on hand that needs to be used up but you’re devoid of ideas for using it?  With all the cookbooks that I have, there are not many that put all the recipes for one ingredient together.  This is my attempt to do just that—hope it helps some of my readers.  I am such a seasonal cook that I may limit the ingredients to those in season but who knows?  If I come across some interesting ideas, I’ll include them here.


Now that you can buy all kinds of produce year round in the supermarket, you can make any recipe you come across, anytime.  This is really great for experimenters or those who are interested in learning how to increase their repertoire of cooking expertise.  Still, there is something about the change of seasons and beginning with a new bunch of foods not used or seen in awhile that strongly appeals to me and, I’m guessing, most people.  There is no dearth of articles on food that begin with “Spring is here, let’s make asparagus”, or “Strawberry season inspires dessert”.  In autumn, we re-fire our ovens and respond to the call of winter squashes, baked with maple syrup and apples in every imaginable guise.  I like it that way. 

Early spring brings the first asparagus as surely as the first robin.  Asparagus, a member of the lily family, is a strange food with an ancient history. It appeared on the menus of the ancient Romans as a delicacy and seems to grow almost anywhere.  It does well in sandy, poor soil which probably added to its cosmopolitan reputation.  It was revered by the South American Indian tribes as a phallic symbol supposedly increasing virility.  It’s been cultivated for over two thousand years.  On the other hand, wild asparagus is not very different from cultivated.  My early memories include my mother and me hunting for asparagus in the spring, out where Southdale is now.  I know I am dating myself, but that really was undeveloped and we who lived in St. Louis Park thought it was “way out of town”.  Later, my mother planted it in her garden and was very proud of her wonderful asparagus, often remarking how one must let the asparagus go to seed every year if you wanted a good crop the next year.

Choose spears that are firm and uniform in size.  Although many people believe that thin is better than thick, it isn’t true, just be sure they are uniform.  The tips should be closed and the stalks crisp without wrinkles.  Forget about breaking them at the natural break and cut the ends off all the same and all at once.  I don’t bother standing them up to cook, as many cookbooks suggest. Just lay them in a wide, shallow skillet and cover with salted water.  Boil briskly, uncovered, for 12 minutes (more or less, depending on the size of the stalks).  Test by piercing with the sharp point of a paring knife; knife should enter easily, but asparagus should not be mushy.  Serve with a classic Hollandaise or just butter and lemon.   Since asparagus does not keep well, it is a good idea to cook it as soon as possible.  If you can’t use it immediately, cooked asparagus is delicious served cold with mayonnaise or in a salad. 
A current way to prepare all vegetables is to roast them and asparagus takes to roasting very well. The intense, dry heat of the oven concentrates and deepens the flavor.  To roast, prepare one and one-half pounds of asparagus as above (peeling outer stalks if tough).  On a rimmed baking sheet, toss asparagus with two teaspoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  I use coarse salt and freshly ground pepper.  Roast about 10 minutes.

A lovely way to embellish the roasted asparagus is with a spring-green sauce.  Serve this at a lovely early spring dinner as the first course.

Sauce Verde

2 cups loosely packed fresh Italian parsley leaves      One-fourth teaspoon pepper
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves                     Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice                                  Two-thirds cup olive oil
1 tablespoon anchovy paste                                       
2 tablespoons drained capers                                      2 pounds asparagus, trimmed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard                                           and roasted with 2 tablespoons
1 garlic clove                                                               olive oil

Combine first 9 ingredients in processor.  Blend until smooth.  With machine running, gradually add two-thirds cup olive oil through feed tube.  Sauce can be prepared 2 days ahead.  Cover and refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before serving.  Divide asparagus among 8 plates.  Spoon sauce over and serve.

Breaded Asparagus Sticks

2 eggs
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
¾ cup dried bread crumbs (preferably panko)
20-30 medium spears asparagus, trimmed

Preheat oven to 400.  Lightly grease baking sheet with olive oil.  Beat eggs with mustard in shallow bowl. Season with salt and pepper.  In another shallow bowl, combine panko and Parmesan; mix well.  Dip each spear first in eggs to coat, then in crumbs.  Place on baking sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden on bottom.  Turn over and bake for another 12-15 minutes until golden brown.  Serve hot or room temperature with lemon wedges. 

Asparagus Fettuccine

1 pound asparagus
1 pound fettuccine
1 large red pepper, roasted and cut into strips
1 pound ricotta cheese, room temperature
¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
1/3 cup chopped scallions
Salt and pepper

Bring large pot of water to boil.  Cut woody end of asparagus and reserve.  Cut the spears into 1 ½ inch lengths.  Add asparagus to boiling water and cook for 2 minutes.  Add tips and cook until tender, about 2 minutes more.  Remove asparagus and keep warm.  Cook fettuccine in the water until al dente.  Remove ½ cup cooking water and set aside.  Briefly drain the fettuccine and return it to the pot, along with the asparagus.  Add roasted pepper, ricotta, cheese and scallions.  Toss well and add reserved cooking water to make a creamy sauce.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot and pass extra cheese at table.

Asparagus Bisque

1 stick butter
¾ cup flour
2 quarts whole milk
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. salt (or more, depending on the saltiness of the stock)
1 bay leaf
3 cups cleaned and cooked asparagus, tips and center only, (cut into ½-inch pieces)
Instant potatoes (use to thicken bisque if needed)

Roux:  In stockpot, melt butter; add flour, stirring constantly so mixture doesn’t burn.  Add 1 quart milk slowly to roux mixture, stirring constantly.  When combined and thickened, add remaining milk and chicken stock.  Add bay leaf, white pepper and salt.  Add asparagus.  Cook soup slowly for 1 hour. 

To serve, top bisque with large sourdough croutons and a dollop of sour cream.  Sprinkle with dill weed.  Makes 1 gallon. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Of Cabbages and Kings

First Gudrais' winter in America;
 Hutchinson, Minnesota March 1951

This has been the winter from hell.  Well, actually, it hasn’t been warm enough to be from there—but in other ways, definitely. The weather has been horrible throughout the country with few exceptions but here in the Midwest (Minnesota) we have really had an unbelievably cold and snowy season.  And, there is no end in sight—below average temperatures are predicted for the next two weeks and this is February 22!!!

Then, somehow, I went from a healthy, active, older woman (read sixties) to being laid low for the first six weeks of the year by a nasty strep/staph infection requiring surgery and antibiotics for 9 weeks.  That keeps me largely home bound.  I suppose there is some consolation in the fact that the weather has been so nasty anyway that I haven’t missed going out that much. 

It won’t come as a surprise to those who follow my blog that the first activity I have tried to do is cooking.  Little by little I have resumed my passion.  So—in thinking about what to write about, I was drawn to something spring-like.  But the spring foods aren’t really in the market yet—at least not at their prime and I checked out the most available foods for February and they are cabbages and bananas.

Cabbage, that versatile, homely, inexpensive vegetable and all its cousins—sounds perfect and oh, so healthy!  First, a little background:  cabbage has been eaten by North Africans, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans for about 4000 years.  It is revered in its various forms by the Slavic and Germanic people.  Northern Americans took to it a little late.  It arrived in Canada on the third voyage of Jacques Cartier in 1541-42.  The American colonists probably planted cabbage, but it was used mostly for stock feed.  There is no written record of it until 1669. 

The versatility and health benefits of cabbage are huge.  It is great either raw or cooked; it can be harvested young and used for salad greens or matured and stuffed, made into kraut or be the mainstay of many a hearty soup.  Even simply steamed and served with butter, salt and pepper, it is delicious. 

Furthermore, it is a nutritional powerhouse.  Vitamins A, B, and C are plentiful and the minerals iron, calcium and potassium are present—as well as a generous amount of fiber.  Studies have shown it to be a giant inhibiter of the development of many cancers, especially breast, stomach, and colon. Its cousins include collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale and kohlrabi and they have the same cancer-fighting properties. 

Most important in my book is that it is delicious.  If your family boiled cabbage to death until it was gray and stinky—it’s time to re-discover this vegetable.  If you eat it solo—don’t overcook it.  Sweat it (cook very slowly) either alone or with some onion or green pepper.  Drain it and pour cream over it (alternatively, add butter) and cook until just hot—don’t boil.  Add salt and pepper—it’s delicious.

Here are a few recipes to try to renew your interest in this venerable vegetable.

Creamy Coleslaw

8 cups shredded green cabbage
3 carrots, shredded
¼ sweet onion, finely chopped
1 ½ cups buttermilk
3 Tbsp. cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. sugar (or to taste)
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
½ tsp. celery seed
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine cabbage, carrots and onion in a large mixing bowl.  Stir together the buttermilk, vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise and celery seed in a smaller bowl until well blended.  Pour the mixture over the cabbage and toss to combine.  Season.  This will become juicier as it stands for awhile in the refrigerator (2 hours).

Asian Cabbage Soup

8 cups chicken broth
¼ cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
6-12 wood ear mushrooms, chopped if large
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¾ pound Chinese noodles
1 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
2 cups diced chicken, or 2 cups diced cooked pork or 1 pound silken tofu, diced.
4-6 cups chopped Chinese cabbage, or a mix of cabbage and greens
1 carrot, julienned
Chinese chili paste with garlic

Combine the broth, soy sauce, rice wine, mushrooms, ginger, garlic and
scallions in large saucepan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Simmer for 25 minutes
Cook noodles in salted, boiling water until just tender.  Drain and keep warm.  Add meat or tofu, cabbage and carrots to the broth and simmer for 10 minutes.  Pass chili sauce as a condiment.

This old-fashioned dish is worth the trouble to make—old world goodness at its best!!

My late mother-in-law, Monika, came from Eastern Europe where cabbage rolls were as common as hamburgers are in America.  She made a great stuffed cabbage dish, but unfortunately, I didn’t get the recipe.  So I re-created it as best I can remember and, after a few tweaks, this comes very close.

Daughter-In-Law Cabbage Rolls

½ pound regular ground beef, not extra lean
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
½ cup chopped celery
2 cups beef stock (divided) 
1 cup water
2/3 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 tsp. Italian seasoning (or use a combination of oregano, basil and thyme)
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 medium cabbage leaves
½ cup (2 ounces) shredded American or Cheddar cheese
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp butter 
¼ cup shredded American cheese

In a large skillet cook meat, onion, green pepper and celery until meat is brown and vegetables are tender.  Drain fat, if excessive.  Stir in 1 cup beef stock, water, uncooked rice, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.  Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.

Trim cabbage and immerse leaves into large pot of boiling water for 3 minutes or until limp, being careful not to crowd the pot.  Stir the cheese into the meat mixture.  Spoon about 1/3 cup meat mixture on each cabbage leaf.  Fold in sides and roll up each leaf, including folded sides in roll.  For sauce:  stir tomato sauce, remaining beef stock, sugar, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Pour half of tomato mixture into 9 x 13 oblong baking dish, sprayed with vegetable spray.  Arrange rolls on tomato mixture.  Spoon remaining tomato sauce over cabbage rolls.  Dot with butter.  Cover and bake in 350 oven for 1 hour.  Check to see if cabbage is tender and sauce bubbling.  Dish may be baked for 15 minutes longer, if necessary.  Sprinkle with ¼ cup cheese before serving.