Archive for July 2006

Mama Sez

I’ve got a new column up at Literary Mama; go take a look!

Easy Summer Cake

This recipe comes from my sister, and it never fails. It comes together in just about the time it takes to slice some fruit, it works with various combinations of fruit (tonight I made it with 5 plums, 2 apricots, 1 nectarine and a handful of cherries), and most importantly, it tastes delicious. The cake is buttery, not too sweet, and develops a nice caramely crust on top while staying moist and tender below.

You want roughly 3-6 cups of sliced fruit. Any stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots, cherries) will be delicious. Apples work well, alone or in combination with pears or rhubarb; rhubarb & strawberries would be nice, too. Cut the fruit up and pour into a gratin or pie dish; sprinkle with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a teaspoon or so of cinnamon.

1 1/2 sticks melted butter
3/4 c sugar
1 c flour
2 beaten eggs

Combine the topping ingrediants into a batter and pour over the fruit. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling up around the edges.

Scrabble with Ben

Ben is starting to read (more about this exciting development another day), but he’s not what you’d call literate yet. Still, when he found the Scrabble set and asked me to play with him, I figured we’d give it a whirl.
He loved the feel of the little tiles, as I do, and was pleased with how neatly they fit on the rack. He was happy to count out his 7 letters, and replace the proper number every time he played a “word.” But he wasn’t particularly interested in building on the words already played. Or in playing with actual English words (although he did ask me for the pronunciation of each word he played, and would report on them to Tony, correcting Tony if he mispronounced the imaginary word). It was a good game.

Summer in the City

We’ve been enjoying some uncharacteristically summery weather here in San Francisco. The fog held off for nearly two weeks, we kept our sweatshirts in the closet, we took evening picnics to the park.

But that’s over. I saw a woman today wearing a typical summer-in-the-city outfit: sandals with socks, long pants, t-shirt, down vest, sun hat, and ear muffs.

Granola Now

I’ve been making granola ever since Trader Joe’s discontinued my favorite fruit & nut combo. I started with a recipe from Nigella Lawson’s Feast, which I posted over on the old blog, but I’ve adapted it so much since then (cutting down the sugar, adding more seeds), I figure it’s time for an update. So this is my granola now:

5 c rolled oats and/or multigrain cereal (Trader Joe’s carries a nice barley-oat-rye-wheat flake mix that I combine half and half with oats)
2 c almonds
1 c pumpkin seeds
1 c sesame seeds
1 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c ground flax meal
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
4-6 oz applesauce (I use one of the individual serving cups that Ben takes in his lunchbox)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 c honey, rice syrup, maple syrup, or some combination thereof
1 c raisins, dried cranberries, or some combination thereof

Preheat oven to 320. Stir together all the dry ingrediants in a large bowl until well combined. Add applesauce, then oil and honey or syrup, and combine well. Pour into two large, greased baking pans (I use two lasagne pans) and bake for 45 minutes, stirring once or twice along the way. Remove from the oven, stir in the dried fruit, then cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

A Peach and Some Champagne

From Peter Gray’s The Mistress Cook (1956), with thanks to my mom for transcribing! (and with apologies for his non-PC reference…)

Pfirche bohle. South Germany has contributed little to the gaiety of nations but this effort makes up for a lot. Take a perfect, sun ripened, peach: skin it and halve it. Place the half in a sundae glass and prick it all over with a fork until it looks like the victim of Chinese torture. Fill the glass with sekt, a dry German champagne. Eat on a hot summer evening with a faint noise of band music in the background.”

Seriously Simple Sandwich Bread

I was browsing buttermilk recipes, looking for a use for the liquid that drained off the ricotta cheese I made last week (most recipes just have you pour it down the drain, but that seemed like a big waste). I knew I could just make pancakes, or really any kind of cake, but I hadn’t made bread in a while, and this recipe, from Suzanne Dunaway’s No Need to Knead is the easiest I’ve ever come across. Seriously, if you think bread is a big production, this is the recipe for you. It takes less than thirty minutes of effort; mostly it just sits around becoming dough, and then bread, all by itself. And the result is just about the tenderest, fine-crumbed sandwich bread I’ve ever eaten, let alone made. It does take a little advance planning, since you need to stir together the sponge the night before. But if you do that before bed, then you’ll have 2 gorgeous loaves in plenty of time for some toast to go with your mid-morning cup of tea.

2 tbsp dry yeast
1/2 c lukewarm tap water
2 c warmed buttermilk (or the liquid that drained off your homemade ricotta cheese)
2 c unbleached bread flour

2 tbsp melted butter
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp salt
3-3 1/2 c unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp olive oil

Combine water and yeast in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add the buttermilk and bread flour
and stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment overnight at room temperature. It may bubble up and then fall — that’s fine. In the morning, it will be bubbly and fragrant.

In the morning, add the butter, honey, and salt to the sponge and mix well. Stir in flour until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Rub your hands with oil and lift the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Knead once or twice. Now let it sit a minute while you rinse out the mixing bowl with warm water, towel dry, and coat with olive oil. Put the dough in the oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise about 1 hour.

Oil two 8 1/2 x 4″ loaf pans. Divide the dough in half and form each into a loaf. Place loaves in pans, brush with oil, cover, and let rise until the dough reaches the rim of the pans, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450. Bake loaves for 25-40 minutes. Check for doneness by turning one loaf out of the pan and tapping the bottom; if it sounds hollow, it’s baked through. If the loaves are browning too much but don’t seem quite done, cover loosely with foil for the final 5-10 minutes of baking. Cool on a wire rack.

The Five Cookbook Meme

This is one that I can’t pass up, even though it is apparently so last summer (check out Pumpkin Pie Bungalow for an exhaustive (exhausting! she’s barely posted since) list of everyone who participated.

Total Cookbooks I Own:
There are (gasp!) 115 on my kitchen bookshelf now. A major element in our kitchen renovation was establishing a home for my cookbook collection, but several boxes still wait to be unpacked. Once Eli has outgrown his pulling-books-off-the-shelf-and-eating-them stage, I’ll fill the bottom shelf, too! Now obviously, some of these are more for reading, or even decoration, than for cooking. I have my mom’s Time-Life Foods of the World up there, for instance, because the covers are gorgeous, and they hold a strong nostalgic appeal for me; I’m certain I’ve never cooked from them. I also have my late mother-in-law’s copy of The Brown Derby Cookbook, because she grew up in Hollywood and the cookbook makes me think of her.

Last cookbook I bought:
I bought Nigella Lawson’s Feast to give a friend. This is a great cookbook to give, of course, as it’s an invitation to share a feast, which this friend and I–and our families– have done many times. I haven’t bought myself a cookbook in quite some time, but I did just buy Kathryn Hughes’ The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton: The First Domestic Goddess, which is next in line after Mansfield Park.

The last food book I read:
Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Everyone should just read this book. It won’t make you feel guilty about eating meat, it won’t make you throw your hands up in despair, there’s nothing to be done, might as well keep eating those Cheetos. No, but it will make you think about your food choices, and you may well grocery shop a little differently. I learned a lot from this book, but I think the main lesson I took away was that every bite matters. It really does.

Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me:
Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow
This was my first cookbook. It lived in my maternal grandparents’ house, and whenever we visited them, I’d page through it and plan elaborate outdoor tea parties where I’d serve Pine Needle Upside Down Cake with Chalk Shakes and Rainspout Tea. It was out of print when Ben was born, but Libby hunted down a copy for me so that his education wouldn’t be neglected. So this is really his, the first of his collection of four cookbooks.

The Peanuts Cookbook, recipes by June Dutton. This is the first cookbook with which I cooked edible food. I made (and spilled a lot of batter on the recipe for) Lucy’s Lemon Squares, Charlie Brown’s Brownies, and Security Cinnamon Toast — 3 solid recipes in a book that only has 40. Plus cartoons!

The Mistress Cook, by Peter Gray. I don’t own this cookbook, and I’ve never made a recipe from it. It was on my mom’s shelf when I was growing up, and I think maybe my sister has it now; I’m not sure either of them has ever cooked from it. But my mom would pull it off the shelf and read from it to me — I remember particularly a recipe that involved a peach and some champagne. This is the first cookbook that made me realize that writing about cooking can be fine writing.

The Moosewood Cookbook, by Mollie Katzen. I don’t really use this one much anymore, but it was a mainstay in college, when I was figuring out how to be a vegetarian. I can practically smell a pot of chili simmering on the stove when I take my tattered and food-stained copy down off the shelf; it transports me instantly back to those days. I have most of the subsequent Moosewoods, too, and cook from all of them (especially New Recipes from Moosewood, source of several amazing cake recipes), but there’s nothing like the sweet line drawings of the original.

Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. The enduring, endearing classic. I have three editions, and I cook from all of them. I aspire to a complete set. I had an idea once of writing a cultural history of the U.S. based on the revisions of The Joy of Cooking, but other projects have interceded. Maybe someday… In the meantime, I highly recommend Anne Mendelson’s biography of Marion and Irma, Stand Facing the Stove.

No offense to my older siblings…

I saw this at Libby‘s blog, who saw it at Lilian‘s, and normally I don’t do these things, but it’s amusing to see how wrong it is. Although, except for the fact that I’m the youngest of 4, the rest of the description is pretty accurate….

You Are Likely an Only Child

At your darkest moments, you feel frustrated.
At work and school, you do best when you’re organizing.
When you love someone, you tend to worry about them.

In friendship, you are emotional and sympathetic.
Your ideal careers are: radio announcer, finance, teaching, ministry, and management.
You will leave your mark on the world with organizational leadership, maybe as the author of self-help books.

Roasted Artichokes

We really don’t have the time to prepare artichokes–there are small children here, after all. So when Tony bought some recently, they sat in the refrigerator for a week. I felt very guilty about this, but every time I looked at them, they just looked like work. I very nearly threw them away, but it turns out that after a week they were still firm and crisp, and I couldn’t let them all go to waste. Even though preparing them for cooking seems like you’re letting them all go to waste, really, you throw so much away. But it was worth the effort and then some.

I’d always just steamed artichokes whole, thinking artichokes were all about the leaves, tiny bites off the leaves on your way to the heart. But the stem’s delicious too, and if you prepare them this way, your very first bite can be tender stem followed by glorious heart. So try this, please; you’ll be delighted with the results. If you’re lucky enough to have a husband who makes aioli, so much the better.

4-6 artichokes
juice of 1 large lemon
4 tbsp white wine
4 sprigs of thyme
olive oil, salt, and pepper

First, prepare the artichokes: snap off several layers of outer leaves. Trim just the end off the stem and slice the top third off the artichoke. Cut each artichoke into sixths and remove the fuzzy chokes with a paring knife. As you work, put the trimmed pieces in a large bowl of water and lemon juice.

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly oil a large baking dish. Drain the artichokes, pat them dry, and place them in a single layer in the baking dish. Toss with enough oil to moisten well, season with salt and pepper, and add the wine and thyme. Cover the baking dish with a layer of waxed paper, then with foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes, or until artichokes are crisp around the edges and starting to brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.