Archive for September, 2010

Two Grandmothers’ Cake

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

My mother celebrated a big birthday a few days ago. I won’t say exactly how old she is, mostly because it makes me feel incredibly old myself. Suffice it to say that she is at an age at which every birthday is a big birthday.
We were visiting my brother and his family and faced a couple of requirements for the birthday cake.
It had to be relatively small since all of us (except my mother) need to lose a little weight. And it had to be simple. My brother was in the hospital at the time. He is happily and healthily home now, but we didn’t want to make a complicated family time more complicated.
I had recently rediscovered my grandmother’s recipe for chocolate cake and decided it might fit the bill.
I recalled this cake well from my youth, when it was one of my mother’s standbys for a quick cake. She called it “Mother’s Chocolate Cake” (on my grandmother’s recipe card it is called “My Favorite Chocolate Cake”) and iced it with cream-cheese frosting. 

My mother’s own version of the recipe had long since disappeared so I was happy to find my grandmother’s. It’s a great cake—and she was a lovely person. Here is she as she looked when I was little. (I do so admire a woman who can wear hats.)


The recipe turned out to be a teensy bit more challenging that I had imagined. 

First, it was just old fashioned enough to be very confusing. My grandmother provided a range of oven temperatures and a range of flour quantities.
Second, she was unclear as to which ingredients were added when.
I standardized it as best I could and proceeded.
In hindsight, it seems to me that one could easily bake this in two layers for a bit less time, but the 8-by-8 inch pan made a nice thick cake that was easy to eat and frost.
According to my grandmother’s recipe card, she used a cooked icing on the cake. I stuck with my mother’s standby cream-cheese version, which is ever popular in our house.
My nephew Michael took charge of decorating the cake. He began with the word “Nana” written in orange lettering. He then went to town with candy corn and sprinkles. At ten, Michael takes the “more is more” school of decorating very seriously. 

The birthday girl was pleased as punch with the results.

Tinky’s Grandmother’s Chocolate Cake
2 ounces bitter chocolate
1/2 cup boiling water
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-by-8-inch baking pan.
Place the chocolate in a small saucepan, and pour the boiling water over it. Stir to dissolve, turning the heat below on very low if necessary.
In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in the baking soda.
Add the flour and milk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the chocolate mixture, followed by the vanilla.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
If you want to be informal and serve the cake out of the pan, that’s just fine. To be a bit more festive, let it cool for 10 minutes and then invert it onto a cooling rack.
Ice with cream-cheese frosting. 

Serves 8 to 10.

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Pizza Margherita

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Tomatoes are still with us, joy of joys, and I was recently inspired by the bounty around me to make one of the world’s simplest and most delicious pizzas.
Pizza Margherita is about as basic as pizza can be—a crust topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves. (One can use tomato sauce when fresh tomatoes are not in season, but the taste of the fresh tomatoes really comes through if you have them.)
This classic Neapolitan pizza was named after Margherita, the consort of Umberto I of Italy. Umberto was the second king of Italy, which was still gathering itself together in the 19th century. In 1889 she asked one of the premiere pizza makers in Naples to make her some pizza, then considered peasant food.
Margherita was delighted with the red, white, and green of this pizza, which reflected the colors of the Italian flag. It is still made in her honor at the Antiqua Pizzeria Brandi in Naples—and elsewhere.
I told my nephew Michael and his friend Carson about Queen Margherita, and they immediately grabbed red, white, and green ingredients to celebrate her pizza.
Pizza Margherita embodies the “less is more” philosophy that I frequently try to espouse when cooking (although I don’t always succeed). The fresh, high-quality toppings really shine here. At this season of the year it’s my favorite pizza. 

Play with it a bit if you will—flavored oil would be nice—but don’t mess with its simplicity.

The Pizza
1 pizza crust, store bought or homemade
olive oil as needed
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese to taste
2 to 3 medium-sized ripe yet firm tomatoes, sliced thinly
salt and pepper to taste
several basil leaves, torn
Bring the pizza dough to room temperature and preheat the oven as indicated in your dough instructions.
Roll and/or stretch the pizza dough out gently (this may take a few tries) so that it forms a 14-inch circle (or a rectangle to go onto a cookie sheet if you don’t have a pizza pan). Use a little flour to help with this if necessary.
Spray your pan lightly with cooking spray and oil it even more lightly. Place the dough on the pan. Spread a very thin film of olive oil on top.
Arrange the mozzarella pieces over the crust, and top them with the grated cheese. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Sprinkle salt and pepper on top, and drizzle a tad more olive oil over all.
Bake the pizza until the cheese is nicely melted and the bottom of the crust turns golden brown. With my crust (from Trader Joe’s) and my oven this took about 20 minutes.
Remove the pizza from the oven, and arrange the basil leaves on top of the tomatoes. 

Serves 4 to 6. 

Queen Margherita (photo by Henri Le Lieure)

P.S. I would be remiss if I wrote about Pizza Margherita and forgot to mention my favorite place to eat it, the Green Emporium in Colrain, Massachusetts. It’s a bit far flung from Naples, but the ambiance and pizza can’t be beat. (The entertainment is pretty fabulous, too!)

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Kate’s Punjab Eggplant

Friday, September 24th, 2010

As regular readers know, I ran a Blogathon a while back. Loving Local was designed to attract bloggers throughout the state to explore the tastes, the politics, the sights, and the comforts of food produced here in the Bay State. It spanned Massachusetts Farmers Market Week in late August.
One reporter unfamiliar with the term “Blogathon” asked whether as organizer I would have to type on my computer for 24 hours straight. Happily, this was not the case, although it was certainly a busy week.
My job was to keep track of and list the different internet essays as people posted them on their blogs. I also encouraged contributors to keep on writing and answered questions via the Blogathon’s Facebook page.
In addition, I posted a couple of brief recipes on my own blog. I would have written more, but I barely had time to cook!
Of course, along the way I found lots of new writers to follow and lots of fun new recipes to try. Here is one of those recipes, courtesy of Kate Carcio of Village Veggies.
Kate lives smack in the middle of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where she and her husband have transformed what used to be a front yard into a huge garden. She began blogging last year. At Village Veggies she shares her adventures, some of her recipes, and the tally of how much food she has put up so far this year. (It’s impressive!)
Kate contributed a local chocolate-chip cookie recipe to the Blogathon, which I will try in the winter, but this recipe really stole my heart because I’m a big fan of both eggplant and Indian spices.
Here is her recipe without a lot of change. (You can see her original post here!) I did mess with it a bit when I made it, using regular salt instead of garlic salt (because that’s what I had), and adding a few different spices as well as a sprinkling of lemon juice at the end. And I only made a half recipe (using three teeny tiny eggplants) since I wasn’t feeding a crowd. I didn’t try the alternate method.

Feel free to adapt the recipe to your taste. Whether you make it your way or as Kate wrote it, it should end up aromatic and satisfying.

The Eggplant
2 medium eggplants
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 large tomato (about 1-1/2 cups chopped)
1 cup rehydrated beans of your choice (Tinky used lentils)
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Slice the eggplants and place them, center down, on a greased baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees until the eggplants are soft to the touch, about 30 minutes. When they cool, scrape out the eggplant flesh, mash it, and set it aside, discarding the skin. (You may perform this step a day in advance and refrigerate the mashed flesh until it is needed.)
Alternate method: You may also chop up 1 of the eggplants and placed it in a greased baking dish. Then roast it at 400 degrees for 30 minutes for broiled eggplant. This way the overall dish will be a little chunkier, but you must roast at least 1 of the eggplants in the manner described above to make a good sauce.
In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and sauté the onion and garlic until tender, approximately 7 minutes.
Add all the spices except the garam masala and continue to sauté another minute until the vegetables are fragrant.
Add the eggplant flesh, the tomatoes, and 1 cup water. Mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil; then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the eggplant and tomatoes have made a thick paste.
Remove the cover, add the beans and the garam masala, and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.
Serve over rice or with naan—or both! If you have a lot of eggplant, double the recipe and freeze some for a later date. The flavors will be better the longer you wait! 

Serves 6.

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Dishpan Cookies

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I recently heard from Ramona Lynam, a reader of this blog who lives in Iowa and write about life, food, family, and books on her own blog, Chances R.
Ramona had just written about her mother’s “dish pan” cookies and wondered whether I could use a recipe for my “Twelve Cookies of Christmas” series.
Could I ever! I’m actually BEHIND on the series, having neglected to post a cookie recipe in August.
Ramona recently put her mother’s recipe on her blog, and I definitely urge you to try it as she wrote it up. Her cookies look lovely and chewy. Ramona thinks their name comes from the fact that a whole recipe (this is only half) could probably fill a dish pan.
I altered the recipe a bit when I tried it. Ramona, this has nothing to do with you, just with my family’s circumstances!
My nephew Michael’s nutritionist has asked him to cut back on gluten for the moment. So I decided to reduce the gluten in the cookies. 

I started out with a fun new product from Trader Joe’s, peanut flour. (I’m sorry about the weird photo; the flour really looks all scrunched up like this when one buys it.)

Peanut flour is basically ground up peanuts that have had some of their fat taken out. It’s a bit lumpy so I was glad Ramona’s mother’s recipe involved sifting the flour. (Note: if you try this with peanut flour, make sure you use a fairly wide sieve. The peanut flour doesn’t go through a tiny one.)
The end result was darker than Ramona’s version and tended to be crunchy rather than chewy. It also tasted a bit like a peanut-butter cookie. We all LOVE peanut-butter cookies in the Weisblat household so this was just fine with us. Michael ate the first one and couldn’t stop smiling.
If you’re thinking about playing with less gluten, or even if you’re not, I urge you to try it.
While you’re munching, think about your own mother or grandmother. Here’s what Ramona had to say about her mom:
She was the sweetest, kindest, do anything for anyone woman you could meet. Probably much like your Mom. When Dad died and we kids were out on our own, she shared her almost daily cooking creations with her neighbors. She lived 66 years on the farm she and Dad moved to after they married in 1937 continuing to raise pigs, cattle and chickens and a big garden on her own when she was widowed at age 59. I miss her every day.
Thank you, Ramona, for sharing your memories and recipe. Your mother sounds like a lovely person, and I enjoyed trying her cookies. (I’m going to try them with regular flour soon!) 

Here’s a photo of Ramona’s mother, courtesy of Chances R. She obviously loved to feed everybody around……

Ramona’s Mom’s Dish Pan Cookies (altered to be ALMOST gluten free)
Regular Ingredients:
1 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (I packed mine, but not super firm)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups peanut flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup oatmeal (Ramona uses quick, but I only had regular, which worked fine)
2 cups cereal—I used rice cereal, which is ALMOST gluten-free, having only a small amount of barley
Optional Ingredients:
3/4 cup coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans or other nuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the oil and the sugars. Beat in the eggs, followed by the vanilla.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir them in to the wet mixture, followed by the oatmeal and cereal. Stir in any or all of the optional ingredients. I used a generous cup of chocolate chips since that was the only option I was using.
The dough will get stiff and a bit hard to stir. Drop teaspoonsful of batter onto greased or silicon-lined cookie sheets. You will probably have to press the individual clumps of dough together with your hands to make them stay together.
Bake for 8 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool for a few minutes before removing them from the cookie sheets. 

Makes about 4 dozen cookies. Eat them quickly; like most low-gluten foods they grow stale quickly.

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Bread and Butter Pickles

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

My friend Cathy in England wrote a while back to ask whether I had a recipe for bread-and-butter pickles. She says she can’t get them in the U.K. but loves them when she’s in the States.
I do, too. These sweet-and-sour cucumber pickles were a staple in our household when I was growing up, as ubiquitous as the bread and butter after which they are named. My grandmother learned to make them from her foster mother, and my mother learned to make them from my grandmother.
SOME DAY I hope to make a version of these with maple syrup. This year, however, I didn’t think about pickling until last week, when cucumbers were suddenly disappearing from gardens and farm stands in our area! 

To get something pickled this year, I’m sticking with my mother’s recipe, which probably came from Fannie Farmer long ago. She’s a Fannie Farmer cook. It’s simple, and the brown sugar gives it a mellow flavor.

The Pickles
6 cups thinly sliced pickling cukes (leave the skin on, but remove the ends)
2 cups thinly sliced onions
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 cups brown sugar (do not pack)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon celery seed
2 cups mild cider vinegar (I used a store brand rather than the more robust version from my local apple orchard)
In a nonreactive bowl combine the cucumbers, onion slices, pepper strips, and salt. Cover the bowl and let the mixture stand for 3 hours to drain some of the liquid out of the cucumbers.
In a large nonreactive pot combine the brown sugar, spices, and vinegar. Bring them slowly to the boil. Boil for 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse the vegetables thoroughly. Add them to the liquid on the stove and heat just until the liquid is about to simmer once more.
Spoon the vegetables into 4 hot, sterilized pint jars, and cover them with the cooking liquid. Fill the jars but leave 1/2-inch headspace.
(If you’re a little short on liquid, add a small amount of vinegar to the bottom of the cooking pot—where there will still be a residue of the spices—and bring it to a boil; then add that to your jars.)
Cover the jars with two-part lids and process them in boiling water for 10 minutes. (For more information on this process, check out the USDA Guide to Home Canning.)
Now, here’s the hard part: wait at least 6 weeks before you open the first jar. We’re counting the days in our house. 

Makes 4 pints.