November 22nd, 2015

What a Throwback!

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Right now, I’m sure many of you are forming your Thanksgiving plans–choosing recipes, composing grocery lists, plotting your course to the Thursday feast. I am too; we’ll be driving to DC to spend the holiday with my daughter, son-in-law, and precious grandson. Plenty to be thankful for, in that one sentence alone.

We live in uneasy times. I think we always do–it’s in matters of degrees. The impact of global unrest, of violence, fear, loss and anguish has felt extreme to me of late. We all feel it, its heaviness, its power to constrict. I remind myself to keep an open mind, and even more so, an open heart. We’re all connected, part of a great family living on this planet. An open heart keeps those darker forces at bay, keeps the creative compassionate flow vital and moving between us.

Before I sign off, and wish you all love and peace, I want to share this totally retro recipe.

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It’s similar to Swedish Meatballs, although there’s no nutmeg or allspice in the mix. It’s more of a Stroganoff–the meat seasoned with grainy mustard and Worcestershire. The beefy gravy is folded with sour cream. So 1960s. I can remember my mom making these, serving them in a chafer for festive gatherings with frilly toothpicks. On the flipside, I also remember the ghastly 1970s boxes of Hamburger Helper with a stroganoff version that she would simmer in a skillet for supper.

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I hadn’t thought of them, these meatballs in sour cream, which, despite their “throwback” quality, are really quite delicious. I was reminded of them by a woman in a cooking class that I teach at Magdalene House. We were discussing what we could prepare for our December class, and she asked if we could make them. (potato latkes, too!)

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Why not? Last week, I resurrected my recipe, jazzed the sauce with oyster mushrooms (!) and tested ’em out at our potluck. I served the stroganoff meatballs over a bed of buttered egg noodles.

Woo-hoo! Everyone went crazy, devouring every last one. “What inspired you to make them?” “My parents used to serve these at every party.” “Oh my goodness, I haven’t eaten this in years.”

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The dish is hearty and potent, triggering memory, delivering comfort and taste. Well-worth bringing back—from time to time. You might like to serve a batch at a festive gathering of your own.

Here’s my wish, which is for myself, as much as for you:
As we move into the season of plenty, but also a time of rush and stress, remember to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Savor the moments together. Breathe deeply. Express gratitude. Feel joy. Be light.

Nancy

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MEATBALLS STROGANOFF

The Meatballs
3 pounds ground chuck
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
4 eggs
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Using your hands, mix and mash everything together until well-incorporated. The beef mixture will feel lighter and have a glossy look when that is achieved.

Form small (as in smaller than a golf ball) meatballs (again using your hands, or a small ice cream scoop) and arrange them on baking sheets.

Place into the oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove and set aside while you make the sauce.

(After they cool, you could place them into freezer bags and freeze for later use.)

Makes 6 dozen meatballs

Stroganoff Sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, diced
8 ounces oyster mushrooms, torn or chopped
1/2 cup cooking sherry
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 quart beef stock
1+ cup sour cream
1 bunch green onions or chives, chopped

Place large pot on medium heat and melt the butter. Saute the onion until translucent, then add the mushrooms. Saute until golden. Add the cooking sherry and stir well. Let the sherry reduce, then add the flour. Stir vigorously to coat the mushrooms and onions.Let the flour gently “cook” for about a minute. Pour in the beef stock, stirring well. Season with salt, coarse ground black pepper. The brown gravy will begin to thicken.

Add the cooked meatballs. Simmer for 5 minutes. Fold in the sour cream, making sure it melds into the gravy. Taste for seasoning. Garnish with chopped green onions or chives.

Serve over a bed of egg noodles.
Serves a crowd–15 or more guests

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Casseroles, Meats/Poultry, Pastas, Recipes | 22 Comments »




May 4th, 2014

Ebinger’s Legendary Blackout Cake

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My cousin Cathy emailed me a few weeks ago, with a link to a story on NPR that stirred vivid memories for both of us. It told of a special dark dark chocolate cake that was the signature dessert of a beloved and long-gone bakery, Ebinger’s.

If you grew up in one of the New York boroughs before 1972, no doubt you were familiar with the Ebinger name. The family bakery opened on Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue in 1898; over its three-quarters-of-a-century life span, that 1 grew into a chain of 50 dotting neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn and Queens.

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Our grandparents were Ebinger devotees. Whenever Cathy and I went to visit them at their Jackson Heights apartment, we knew we’d be treated to something special that Nana had purchased from the extraordinary bakery: Crumbcake showered with powdered sugar. Butter-rich danish. Yeasted almond rings. Chocolate domed cupcakes. Mocha buttercream torte with its name elegantly scripted across the top.

We’d gather around the dining room table in the morning for warmed coffeecake and milk. In the evening, after dinner, we’d enjoy a slice of one of the Ebinger cakes, sometimes with a scoop of ice cream. In between, that dining room table served as a stage for our art projects. I have a dim memory of us crafting fancy paper hats; Cathy remembers me scrawling “Felix the Cat” (my fave cartoon character at age 7) allover the hat rim.

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When Ebinger’s shuttered in 1972, (overexpansion, then bankruptcy) it left a rift in Nana’s world. She had no choice but to buy from the competition, Entenmann’s, and it simply wasn’t as good. Our subsequent visits were always marked with Nana’s lament of Ebinger’s demise, as she served up pieces of the less wonderful confections.

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Ebinger’s most famous, and universally longed-for dessert is the Blackout Cake–so-called for its deep dark chocolate flavors, its name further harkening to the wartime blackouts of the ’40’s. The three-layer beauty is distinguished with a rich pudding filling, bittersweet chocolate frosting, and a fourth layer that is crumbled to coat its top and sides.

NPR included a link to the recipe, as published in the New York Times in 1991. It’s been deemed the original. (although I have since found other, slightly different ones, while perusing the ‘net.)

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Cathy and I decided to make it—in part, nostalgia, in part, curiosity–next time we got together. Lucky for us, that opportunity soon arrived.

While not difficult to make, you need to allow at least two hours for the project. (For some secrets to great cake baking, check out this link at Cooking Light: 10 tips to ensure the desired results.)

There are three parts to the recipe, with many more steps. Cathy’s husband John, I’m happy to say, documented the process while we cousins collaborated. Cathy whipped up the batter with her old school electric hand-held. I stirred the pudding until it burped and bubbled. We chopped and melted a mound of Belgian chocolate, whisking in as much butter for the silky icing. So much chocolate! So much butter!

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And, when the time arrived–cake layers, cooked filling and frosting all sufficiently cooled–we assembled.

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It occurred to us that the curious crumbled layer could have been the result of a split layer gone awry: cracking and falling apart. Perhaps the Ebinger baker could not bear the waste, and created the distinctive crumb coating instead. Ingenious!

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When at last we sliced and served the cake, (after a marvelous meal, celebrating both Cathy’s and Bill’s birthdays) Cathy glimpsed a snippet of the past, of eating the Blackout cake with Nana at that dining room table.

Post-dessert verdict: What an indulgence. We decided that the name applied to the food coma you enter after eating a piece. Yep, you could black out.

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NOTORIOUS LEGENDARY EBINGER’S BLACKOUT CAKE
Serves 12 to 16

Cake
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3-4 tablespoons boiling water
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened slightly
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Filling
1 tablespoon plus 1 3/4 teaspoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Frosting
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup hot water
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

THE CAKE

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
Place the cocoa in a small bowl and whisk in the boiling water to form a paste.

Combine the chopped chocolate and milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate melts — about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk a small amount of the hot chocolate milk into the cocoa paste to warm it. Whisk the cocoa mixture into the milk mixture. Return the pan to medium heat and stir for 1 minute. Remove and set aside to cool until tepid.

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and the vanilla. Slowly stir in the chocolate mixture. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon, slowly add the flour mixture to the chocolate mixture. Fold in until just mixed.

In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 15 minutes. Gently remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool.

THE FILLING
Combine the cocoa and boiling water in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar and chocolate. Add the dissolved cornstarch paste and salt to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and butter. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover and refrigerate until cool.

THE FROSTING
Melt the chocolate in a heavy-bottomed saucepan set on medium heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, one tablespoon at a time.

Whisk in the hot water all at once and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the corn syrup and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 15 minutes before using.

ASSEMBLY
Use a sharp serrated knife to slice each cake layer horizontally in half to form four layers. Set one layer aside.
Place one layer on a cake round or plate. Generously swath the layer with one-third of the filling.
Add the second layer and repeat. Set the third layer on top. Quickly apply a layer of frosting to the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble the remaining cake layer. Apply the remaining frosting to the cake. Sprinkle it liberally with the cake crumbs. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 21 Comments »




September 30th, 2012

Pimiento Cheese, Please

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Pimiento cheese was an unknown in my world until I moved to Nashville Tennessee. A young picky eater, and native New Yorker: there was no way that I could have ever encountered that uncanny meld of grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and pimientos. A visit to a Nashville grocery in 1965 provided my first glimpse of the product, bilious orange, in a small tub.

To its credit, it was (and still is) locally manufactured under the Mrs. Grissom’s label. Grace Grissom was a smart businesswoman who launched a time-saving product for post-WWII housewives. It was well-loved by many, especially when spread on soft Wonder style bread.

I was not one of them. Mixing cheese and mayo together with those pieces of red peppers seemed wrong. Really wrong.

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It wasn’t until I was an adult–a seasoned one, in fact—that I came to appreciate the very goodness of pimiento cheese. Not the Mrs. Grissom’s way. It took my catering staff’s insistence to try our own! Hard-formed thought-patterns are hard to break. But, made by hand with extra sharp cheddar ( at times, a combo of white and yellow sharps ) a dab of good mayo, garlic, red onion, and roasted sweet red peppers, pimiento cheese can be a veritable art form.

Evidently this is catching on beyond the Mason-Dixon line, as regional Southern food is becoming embraced all over the country. We’re hot! Recently, my daughter visited Point Reyes CA based Cowgirl Creamery’s outpost in Washington DC, where she purchased a small tub of their pimiento cheese. She brought it, along with other select farmstead cheeses, to our home. My-oh-my. Spread some of this onto a cracker! Swoon-able stuff, I tell you.

So when I discovered that my garden’s alleged yellow bell pepper plant was instead a pimiento pepper plant, what else could I do? I had to roast those ripe-red beauties, dice them, and fold them into some gourmet for real pimiento cheese.

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Compared to red bell peppers that you usually find at the market, pimientos have a thicker, sweeter flesh, and a tetch more piquancy. They also have a rather endearing heart-shape. Dried and ground, this is what makes Paprika. If you can’t locate one, you can use a red bell in its place. Roasting intensifies the sweetness.

If you must, you may use a jar of prepared pimientos. The result will be good, certainly, but won’t have that same soulful tang.

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As with most recipes that have very few ingredients, using the best will insure the best outcome. Key is a top-notch sharp cheddar. I’ve made this with Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheddar, a locally made sharp, and I’ve made it with Cabot Vermont Cheddar. Both are excellent. Successful, tamer versions can be made combining sharp cheddar with Monterey Jack cheese–but really, Sharp is what it’s all about.

If I were a true Southerner, I’d insist that you use Duke’s Mayonnaise. But, Duke’s isn’t available everywhere–and Hellman’s, my other mayo of choice, is. Use whichever you can, and carry on.

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I like grate the cheese by hand. Once you’ve roasted and peeled the pimiento, it doesn’t take long to whip up a batch. The simplest way to enjoy it is, in down-home Southern fashion, spread onto humble sandwich bread. I prefer pimiento cheese tea sandwiches, (small bites!) or served with crackers, shown here. I set out condiment bowls of honey-tomato jam and red jalapeno jam to shake things up a bit.

You can get creative, like many chefs, and slather pimiento cheese onto a burger, fold it into grits casserole, or make a very decadent grilled cheese. All are fine ways to break up an old thought pattern, and savor this taste of the South.

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FOR REAL PIMIENTO CHEESE
1 large pimiento or sweet red bell pepper: (roasted, peeled, and diced to make 1/2 cup)
olive oil
sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 lb. sharp white cheddar (like vermont cheddar)
1 quarter of a red onion, minced (to make approx. 1/4 cup)
4 tablespoons Hellman’s or Duke’s mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place pepper halves onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven until skin is blistered-about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and chop. Place pieces into a small bowl and add a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Set aside.

Shred the cheddar and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add mayonnaise, minced red onion, granulated garlic, black pepper and prepared peppers.
Fold the mixture until the pimientos are laced throughout the cheese, and the mayonnaise has moistened and helped bind the cheese.
Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Serve with crackers, on finger sandwiches, or dolloped onto a burger. DEE-LISH.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Gluten Free, Recipes | 31 Comments »




April 13th, 2010

Red Snapper

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The new seafood vendor at our farmer’s market had red snapper fillets for sale, and it triggered a food memory, my first taste of this fish: a revelation. As a former poster child for Picky Eater’s Anonymous who wouldn’t eat fishsticks let alone something fresh from the sea, I credit red snapper caught in Saint Andrews Bay, Florida and grilled outside, at the nearby piney campgrounds as the first unraveling of years of food fear and loathing.

I was sixteen years old, thrilled to be a guest of my best friend Pat McNellis and her family on a spring break camping trip to a secluded beachtown on the Florida panhandle. It was rare for the McNellis’ to plan such a vacation and Pat’s parents, Martha and Maurice, extended an invite to her friends. Jean and I accepted.

Likely the availability of a neighbor’s pop-up camper sparked the trip. It slept four and was an easy hitch onto the McNellis Bel-Air station wagon. We were told to pack light, shorts and tops, and be sure to bring a towel, bathing suit, and pillow.

Maurice intended to fish; he hadn’t used his reel in years but was certain he’d hook a bucketful of good eating from the Gulf Stream waters. Most of the gear packed up with the camper, luggage strapped onto the Bel-Air roof.

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Maurice drove, with navigator Martha and youngest McNellis daughter Laura in the front seat. They folded down the back seat, and bedded it with quilts for us four teens. Pat, sister Lynn, Jean and I each placed our pillows on alternating sides, stretched out and settled in for the long drive to the Gulf of Mexico.

Plan was to leave in the early afternoon, but getting the remaining McNellis household, Pa, the dogs, and Aunt Margaret, situated before heading out took longer than expected. Maurice didn’t aim the Bel-Air South until seven pm. “McNellis time,” Pat reminded. “People are bumping.”

No matter. It was my first spring break trip to Florida, my first camping trip too. We were all looking forward to seeing the ocean, and escaping the grind of high school—although we were saddled with English homework—a rare combination of reading absurdist plays and writing the answers, chapter by chapter, to 200 Huckleberry Finn questions.

Of course, we considered ourselves to be cutting-edge cool in 1971.
While Martha pointed out road signs and Maurice considered his casts off a long jetty, we were in our own world, spread out on quilts in the station wagon rear. Discussing the existential nature of life, the bleak vision of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, the stunning long strawberry blonde locks of heartthrob Casey George was our passion, not fishing or camping or the searing tedium of the Huck Finn homework.

Somewhere between Montgomery and Dothan Alabama Pat and I began writing our own play, “Rest Area No Restroom”

What should have taken eight hours to drive took all night. We awoke glazy-eyed on a side road where Maurice had pulled over to give his eyes a rest, about an hour from our destination.

After unpacking, we spent a lazy day on the beach. Martha set up her camp-kitchen and Maurice headed off to the jetty, tackle box in tow.

It was rough go for the man; he’d lose footing, slip on slick stones, the irregular jetty rocks more treacherous than he’d remembered. His legs got banged up pretty bad.

By early evening, Maurice emerged, knees and shins jagged rock-cut and bloody, but ruddy face beaming as he held up a string of beautiful red snapper.

prepped for the grill

We learned later that it was a bit of a ruse. Poor Maurice never caught a thing. Battered but determined, he bought some off of some other fishermen and strung ’em up on his line.

Martha had a grill ready, along with foil packets of sliced potatoes and onions. She cleaned and prepped with fish simply with salt, black pepper, paprika, and lemon, then wrapped them in foil too. After placing all pieces strategically on the grill, she joined Maurice for a Salty Dog cocktail: vodka, grapefruit juice, and little salt. Surely that would salve his wounds.

Some time later, we were called to supper, set out on a long picnic table beneath tall pines, the night sky twinkly.

both off the grill

I was hesitant, but hungry, and so took a forkful. Wow. The snapper was delicate yet firm, sweet, almost nutlike. There was light smokiness from the grill, delicious, with bits of lemon cooked onto the fish added surprising tang. It felt good to be eating something so fresh, so immediate. The potatoes and onions had charred up brown and smoky in their foil packets, too. It was a great beginning to our camping adventure.

The grueling 200 Huckleberry Finn questions were left for the ride home.

Grilled Red Snapper with Lemon and Chives
1 lb. Red Snapper fillets, boned, with skin on
Olive Oil
1 large Lemon, sliced into rings
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 long strands of fresh Chives
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Paprika

Rinse off the fish and pat dry. Lightly rub the whole piece with olive oil. Over the flesh side of the fillet, rub in the minced garlic and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Lay out the lemon rings and use the chives as strings to secure, tying them like you would a package around the lemon.

This can be done in advance.

Prepare your grill or smoker. If you are grilling foil packets of potatoes and onions—do those first. The potatoes take time–about 45 minutes.

The snapper fillets can be laid out directly onto the grill and with lid lowered, cooked for 10 minutes. Placed in foil, they will take longer.
These are thin fillets and you don’t want to overcook them.

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Posted in Fish/Seafood, Recipes | 18 Comments »