Posts Tagged ‘Jan Weisblat’

Art Week at Home: A Divine Dip

Sunday, May 10th, 2020
I’m not really cross-eyed, but this was a selfie, and I was trying to keep both eyes on the camera. Sigh….

I was scheduled to teach a hands-on cooking workshop today for Art Week, a culture-filled annual event here in Massachusetts. Obviously, no one will be coming to my home to cook and tell stories this afternoon, but I’m sharing one of the recipes we were planning to make as part of Art Week at Home.

I wish I could do the cooking online, but the internet here is weak. So please just pretend that you’re with me, singing and cooking and telling stories around my great-grandmother’s old oval table. I’m going to walk you through one of the recipes I planned to make today.

In this crazy time, I am grateful every day for the natural beauty around me. Each time my dog Cocoa and I walk down the road, it seems to me that we observe a new sign of spring … another flower in bloom, another tree starting to bud, another tuft of grass springing up greener than the one before it.

We actually had a little snow yesterday, but it has fortunately departed, leaving everything even greener than before.

The color green is my theme these days. It’s a color of hope and renewal. It’s a theme indoors as well as out. Spinach is coming into season, bringing with it vitamins and minerals and that gorgeous deep color.

I eat spinach and cook with it a lot … in quiches, in quick sautés, in salads, in scrambled eggs. Like the cartoon character Popeye, I feel “strong to da finich ‘cause I eats me spinach.”

A few years back, I devised an onion-dip recipe loosely based on my mother’s formula for French onion soup. I love commercial dips and dip mixes, but I feel a little queasy when I read some of the ingredients on their labels. I don’t like to put foods in my body that I can’t pronounce.

My dip contained only normal foods. And caramelizing the onions for it made my house smell delicious.

With spinach on my mind, I recently decided to add a little spinach to the onion dip. The addition was a success. The spinach adds vitamins, a hint of flavor, and a lovely green color.

The recipe takes a while, between caramelizing the onions and letting the dip’s flavors meld in the refrigerator. Most of this time isn’t hands on, however, so you’ll have plenty of leisure to do other things while you’re cooking. Just make sure to keep your nose active while you’re caramelizing the onions.

Make the dip early in the day, and honor your mother with it by evening. My mother isn’t with me anymore, but I love to remember her on Mother’s Day. Making a dip inspired by one of her recipes gives my family a delicious way in which to enjoy the memories.

 

My Mother in 1968

Spinach and Sweet Onion Dip

If you happen to have fresh parsley and/or dill in the house, you may add sprigs of them before blending the dip at the end.

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, cut into thin slices, with each slice cut in half (sweet onions are best, but any onion will do in a pinch)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 generous splash dry sherry
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
salt and pepper to taste (start with 1 teaspoon sea salt and three grinds of the pepper mill)
1-1/2 cups sour cream (half of this could be Greek yogurt if you want to be healthier, and if your onions are really huge you may increase the amount to 2 cups)

Instructions:

Combine the butter and olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter melts stir in the onion slices. Cook them slowly over low to medium-low heat, stirring every 5 to 10 minutes or so, until they are reduced and turn a lovely golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour and may take as long as an hour; they will be ready when they are ready. Add a little water from time to time if burning seems likely.

When the onions are almost ready stir in the mustard, and continue to cook, stirring, for at least 5 minutes. Add the sherry and the spinach and cook, stirring, until the liquid disappears and the spinach wilts.

Sprinkle salt and pepper over the vegetables and remove them from the heat. Allow them to cool to room temperature.

Place the vegetables in a food processor and combine them briskly; then add the sour cream and mix well. If you don’t have a food processor, an electric mixer will do, but you will have bigger chunks of onion and spinach. My food processor is broken so I used my mini-chopper. I had to chop the vegetables a little at a time, they were chopped.

Place the dip in the refrigerator, covered, and let the flavors meld for several hours. At least an hour before serving taste it on a neutral cracker to see whether you want to add any additional flavors (more salt and pepper perhaps?). Bring the dip to room temperature, and serve it with raw vegetable strips or chips. Makes 2 to 3 cups.

The Trick to Easy Entertaining

Monday, September 17th, 2018

My Parents in the 1960s

Summer is waning fast, but I still like to entertain on my screen porch. Sitting out there in the evening with family or friends, I now need a little extra light—but it’s still a lovely room and a lovely place in which to visit with people.

My parents loved to entertain. To them, cocktail or dinner parties represented a delightful way in which to get to know new people or cement old friendships. Sharing food with others led to sharing lives.

I have inherited their love of inviting people to drinks or dinner. I have also inherited one of my mother’s tricks for parties. She didn’t like to spend a lot of time away from her guests. So she would make one showy dish in advance and then put out of a lot of easy-to-make foods to complement it.

My current “go-to” showy dish isn’t hard to make, but my guests still appreciate it. I like to whip up homemade tortilla chips. They taste great. And they impress my guests (who generally don’t realize how very simple they are to prepare). I made them last week on Mass Appeal—along with my favorite guacamole—and I plan to serve them again to company soon.

One can make tortilla chips two ways, baked or fried. Fried chips are showier. They’re also more perishable; they tend to get a big soggy after a few hours. I often fry up just a few and then bake A LOT.

Neither chip recipe is really a recipe so I’m just going to talk you through them!

First, divide either corn or four tortillas into segments. I usually make 8 to 10 pie-wedge-shaped segments from large tortillas and 6 segments from small ones.

For Fried Chips:

Place the tortilla segments in between pieces of paper towel and leave them for at least 15 minutes. This removes any extra moisture from the tortillas and helps them fry better.

Pour about an inch of a neutral oil (I use Canola) into a skillet. Heat the oil until it reaches about 350 degrees.

Using heatproof tongs, pop a few segments into the hot oil. Let them fry for a minute or so and then flip them over. When they are brown on both sides (this is a remarkably fast process) place them on paper towels (I use the same ones I used for wrapping them earlier) and sprinkle sea salt on top.

Let them drain and cool for a couple of minutes and then they’ll be ready to eat. Remember to eat them as soon as possible for optimal crispness.

For Baked Chips:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. With your finger rub a very small amount of olive oil on both sides of each tortilla segment. Place the segments on baking sheets (rimmed sheets work best, but use what you have), sprinkle them with salt, and bake them for 7 to 8 minutes. (Try to bake only one sheet at a time.)

Remove the sheets from the oven and flip the segments over; then bake them on the other side for an additional 7 to 8 minutes. I have noticed that as my oven stays on for a while the baking time decreases. Let your senses of sight and smell determine how long to bake your chips. The chips should be golden brown and should smell crispy but not burned.

Let the chips cool briefly before eating them. If you are making them in advance, store your cooled chips in a sealed plastic bag.

You can see some of this process on the video below. (I also include the video for the other recipe we made, easy apple scones, just for fun.)

Happy entertaining!

And now the videos….

Tinky Makes Homemade Chips and Guacamole

Tinky Makes Easy Apple Scones

Cooking with the Dear Departed

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017

from left to right: My Mother, Buddy Carlin (above), My Father, and Bobbie Carlin

I’m writing this on October 4, a day that resonates with me for its connections to people I loved who are now dead. My father died on this day. His friend (indeed, a great friend to our whole family) Buddy Carlin was born on this day.

This time of year marks yet another special anniversary for me. My late mother Jan, a.k.a. Taffy, would have turned 99 last week!

So when I appeared on Mass Appeal on Tuesday, I made a memorial dish: Taffy’s succotash. My mother adored this dish, which came into season around her birthday. My father and Buddy enjoyed it as well.

I don’t feel morbid remembering people by making foods they savored. To me, this act is a tangible (and delicious!) way in which I can pay tribute to, and recall, them.

The other dish I made on TV wasn’t one of their favorites, but they would have loved it. It was a seasonal sundae using fresh apples and the sauce King Arthur Flour recently dubbed “the ingredient of the year.” Or maybe the ingredient of the season (I can’t find the press release from KAF, but I know I read it): boiled cider (a.k.a. cider syrup).

As you can probably gather from the name, this is cider boiled down and down and down until it reaches a syrupy consistency. The process is rather like making maple syrup. I’ll learn more about it soon when I visit the place from which the syrup I used originated, Wheel-View Farm in Shelburne, Massachusetts. I’ll report back in after my trip there.

Meanwhile, here is the sundae recipe. (The succotash recipe may be found here.) I hope you all have as much fun remembering loved ones as I do….

As you can see, I was pretty cheerful while remembering the dear departed.

Apple Sundaes with Candied Walnuts

Ingredients:

for the candied walnuts:

1 cup walnut halves or pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
a splash of maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt

for the apple sundae topping:

6 crisp apples
2 tablespoons butter (plus more if needed)
6 tablespoons cider syrup (plus more if desired)
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

First, candy the nuts. (Do this several hours before you want to serve your sundaes.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, and grease the foil with cooking spray.

Place the nuts on the pan. Roast them until they begin to smell nice, about 10 minutes, stirring twice.

While the nuts are toasting, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar, the syrup, the cinnamon, and the salt.

When the nuts come out of the oven, toss them in the butter mixture. When they are evenly coated, return them to the baking sheet, and bake for another 10 minutes, again stirring twice.

Let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet before transferring them to an airtight container.

When you are ready to make your sundae sauce, sauté the apples in the butter until they begin to caramelize, adding a little more butter if you need to.

Add the cider syrup, and toss to coat the apples. Turn off the heat, stir in the salt, and serve over ice cream with glazed walnuts on top.

Serves 4 to 6.

And now, the videos:

Tinky Makes Taffy’s Succotash on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Apple Sundaes on Mass Appeal

Cooking and Thinking in Provence, 1970

Friday, December 6th, 2013

30book "Provence, 1970" by Luke Barr.

I review a lot of books for my local newspaper. I can’t remember the last one that spoke to me as Provence, 1970 has.

Subitled “M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste,” the book was written by Luke Barr, an editor at Travel + Leisure and Fisher’s nephew.

(M.F.K. Fisher, in case you haven’t read her, is another great read, perhaps the first American to write culinary essays that were taken seriously by both food lovers and literary critics.)

The book hones in on a few weeks toward the end of 1970 when six food luminaries converged in the South of France. In addition to the three writers in the subtitle, Barr writes about Simone Beck, Julia Child’s friend and the co-author of Child’s pioneering volumes on Mastering the Art of French Cooking; Richard Olney, an American writer and artist who wrote meticulously researched books about traditional French country cooking; and Judith Jones, the influential editor who worked with most of the writers involved.

Jones is the only major character in the book who is still alive. At 89 she is still cooking and writing and is a former judge at my very own hometown’s charity pudding contest, which will return in 2014.

Working from letters, diaries, and memoirs, Barr examines individuals and cultures at a defining moment. Most of his American characters had made their reputations (and built much of their lives) paying tribute to traditional French cuisine. At this point in their lives Child and Fisher in particular were beginning to feel ever so slightly oppressed by the Old World and their old lives in France … and to look forward to a new beginning in the New World.

Barr argues that this moment in food history, the time his characters spent together in Provence late in that year, marked a turning point in the way Americans write about food and consequently in the way we cook. Instead of trying to duplicate classic French modes of food preparation, we began to explore our own culinary possibilities.

Much of the food culture we now take for granted followed—including our renewed interest in local, fresh food; the status of chefs and food writers (although not this food writer yet, alas) as icons of popular culture; our curiosity about new, varied flavors; and what Barr calls the “moral dimension” of cookery in contemporary America.

Barr is careful not to overstate his argument; he doesn’t claim that these encounters in Provence CAUSED the way we cook today. He does convincingly maintain that his characters and their interactions “provide a unique, up-close view of the push and pull of history and personality.”

Provence, 1970 takes the reader on a thought-provoking, delicious tour of a remarkable time, place, and group of people. My favorite moment in the book comes when Julia Child and James Beard are improvising a simple supper in the kitchen at la Pitchoune, the small house built by Child and her husband Paul in rural France.

Julia Child and James Beard in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Julia Child and James Beard  at la Pitchoune in December 1970, taken by Paul Child. Used with permission from/courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

For them, as for most of us who love to cook, the preparation of a meal is a balancing act between the knowledge and tradition they have built up over the years in the kitchen and the demands of the unique foodstuffs in front of them. It is an opportunity for creativity and for camaraderie.

I treasure Provence, 1970 for scenes like the one in the Childs’ kitchen and also for its implicit message that change can come at any age. All the main characters are middle aged, ranging from Richard Olney at 43 to James Beard at 67. Yet all are preparing for new chapters in their lives and new chapters in books.

Above all, I love the book for Barr’s sensitivity to the enduring connections that food can forge between people who care for one another and for the preparation and consumption of meals.

His words about his mother near the end of the book speak to the impulse that made me call this blog In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens.

It was my mother, who died a few years ago, who taught me to cook. And when I make something she made for me, or with me, I feel her presence—not in any literal or even ghostly way, but in the form of an atmospheric shift, an emotional warmth. It is striking how cooking binds us to the past, and to the people we love, even when they’re gone.

As Christmas approaches, I raise a glass and lift a fork to Luke Barr and to the historical figures he brings to life in his book. And of course to my own late mother—and to you and those you love, dear readers.

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

Taffy and Tinky in 2009

P.S. If you have already purchased Provence, 1970 for a food lover on your gift list and are looking for other book suggestions, a bookstore, Amazon, or I would be more than happy to sell you a copy of my own Pulling Taffy or Pudding Hollow Cookbook. (If you order from me, you may get your copies signed—and you will be supporting THIS middle-aged food writer!)

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In Memoriam Pimiento Cheese

Friday, July 13th, 2012

The ingredients before mixing…….

Last Saturday my family and I gave a gala party to celebrate the life of my mother Jan (a.k.a. Taffy), who died in December. We delighted in good food, good drink, and good company.

Being basically lazy, I asked guests to bring food, which they did in abundance. Pam brought tea sandwiches, Debbie brought potato salad, Trina brought the biggest green salad I have ever seen, Ruth brought shrimp, Peter brought MORE shrimp in a salad with artichokes and cilantro pesto, Mary Stuart brought quinoa, Leslie brought delicate cookies, Mardi and David brought watermelon, and so on.

SOMEBODY brought champagne. (I have no idea who, but it was very nice indeed.)

My family supplied tubs of Bart’s ice cream with homemade sauces and tested a recipe from our friend Lark Fleury for pimiento cheese.

Lark tells me that after fried chicken this cheese is the most popular funeral-related food among her neighbors in coastal Alabama. (I wasn’t about to mess with fried chicken in hot weather!)

Her recipe is quite different from my usual one; the mustard, onion, and relish add complexity to the spread. I gave most of the cheese to our friend Pam to put in some of her tea sandwiches, but my family also tried a bit on crackers. I know my mother would have approved.

If you’d like to read more about the party, visit my non-food blog for a full report.

Lark’s Alabamian Pimiento Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (it won’t surprise regular readers to learn that I grated it rather coarsely, I’m sure)
1/4 cup of grated onion
1 4-ounce jar diced pimentos drained (I may have used a little extra pimiento)
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1/2 cup sweet pickle relish
1/4 cup mayonnaise (more or less)
a dash of pepper

Instructions:

Combine all the ingredients, beginning with just a dab of mayonnaise and adding more until the cheese is spreadable.

Spread on bread/crackers or make small sandwiches. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Makes about 1 quart.

I THOUGHT I had taken a photo of the cheese in its final state, but it’s not in my camera. So here’s a better picture, of the day’s honoree, taken last year….