Springtime Carrot Cake

May 21st, 2021

Here’s a carrot recipe before I move on to asparagus and rhubarb. I love fruit- and vegetable-based cakes. They are moist and flavorful, and one can delude oneself that one is getting nutrition. (One is, of course, but one is also getting fat, flour, and sugar. Sigh.)

I confess that I have posted a version this recipe before. The previous recipe was slightly different, however, and it made a big cake. I don’t always want a big cake. If you don’t have a six-cup bundt pan, you may use an 8-by-8-inch square pan; just check the oven a little sooner. But I highly recommend getting the smaller bundt pan. I use mine all the time when I’m serving a small family or crowd.

Thanks to my cousin Deb Smith for the original recipe!

The Cake

Ingredients:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter at room temperature
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour
1-1/2 cups grated carrots (about 1/2 pound)

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan. Combine the butter, the oil, and the sugar; then add the eggs, followed by the salt, the cinnamon, and the baking soda. Stir in the flour, followed by the carrots.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool the cake for 20 minutes; then remove it from the pan and cool it completely before icing it with cream-cheese frosting. Serves 8.

And now the video to go with the cake!

Tinky Makes Carrot Cake

Comfort Food at Its Best

April 30th, 2021

This column appeared in our local paper, and I couldn’t resist sharing it with a wider audience!

Sometimes when recipe inspiration doesn’t strike me, I call on friends (or friends of friends) who are good home cooks. Recently, I contacted writer and scholar Martha Ackmann.

I knew Martha would come up with something tasty. I also knew she would be fun to talk to. It didn’t occur to me that she would offer me a recipe from Dolly Parton … but when she did I was thrilled.

Martha is working on a book about Parton. I asked her, “Why Dolly?”

She replied, “My niche is women who’ve changed America.”

Her previous books have chronicled the lives of the Mercury 13, a group of women in the 1960s who were secretly tested as potential U.S. astronauts; Toni Stone, a pioneering player in baseball’s Negro League; and Emily Dickinson.

Martha explained that she has been interested in Dolly Parton since the singer’s early days performing on The Porter Wagoner Show.

“I want to take her seriously,” Martha said of Parton. “I love her music. I think it’s joyous and heartwarming, and it makes me feel better. Even the things she calls her ‘sad-ass songs.’”

“I’ve been spending a lot of the lockdown just doing the basic research, and boy is there a lot of it!” Martha added.

As a former resident of East Tennessee (my friend Bill played in the Sevierville County High School Marching Band with Parton), I, too, am a long-time Dolly fan. I believe Martha is the perfect person to write about this complex public personality.’

“I have always been impressed by her seriousness,” Martha told me.

She noted that Parton’s history has been entwined with food from the start of the star’s life. Martha cited Parton’s origin story, which recounts that father Robert Lee Parton didn’t have the funds to pay the doctor who brought the child into the world and ended up paying for the birth with a sack of cornmeal.

Food production was important throughout Parton’s time growing up poor with a passel of brothers and sisters, Martha informed me.

“Dolly’s family grew their own food not to sell but to sustain their large family,” she explained. “They had a big kettle for cooking hominy and stews, a ‘tater hole’ for storing potatoes and turnips. The walls of their kitchen were covered with nails for drying fruits, peppers, garlic, dill, onions, and beans.

“They grew asparagus behind the woodshed. Had both red and black raspberries. A smoke house for salted pork, ham, bacon. There were cardboard boxes in the cupboard for dried shellie beans, corn, black-eyed peas; and sacks of walnuts, hazelnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts, beechnuts.

“A large garden, of course (tomatoes, okra, lettuce). Chickens, hogs, cows. They also ate a lot of game,” Martha concluded.

She argued that in some ways food has also helped shape Parton’s music. “As a child, Dolly always listened to the rhythm around her: birds chirping, the creak of a rocking chair. She also remembers hearing her mother snapping beans. The rhythm of those snaps sounded like music to her. Food equals music.”

Martha describes herself as “a good, solid, not flashy, evolving Midwestern cook.”

Like Parton, Martha’s Missouri family had rural roots. She recalls her country-born grandparents butchering their own meat in their tiny backyard in St. Louis. Martha is the designated cook in her own household. She was eager to try one of Parton’s signature recipes when I asked her for a dish.

Together, Martha and I selected Dolly Parton’s Chicken and Dumplings, a perfect recipe for our recent cool weather. Like any good home cook, Martha adapted the recipe a bit … and she admitted that she might adapt it even more next time she makes it.

She is considering more vegetables (leeks, beans) and perhaps some herbs (parsley, thyme, bay leaf) to the stock. She told me that the dish was satisfying as it was, however, and that it epitomized comfort.

“The dumplings were easy to make,” she elaborated, “and preparing them gave me an occasion to use my great aunt’s rolling pin! (Beulah Clementine Snook Erdel. Isn’t that a noble name?)

“All the time I was making the dumplings, I thought about Dolly’s mother feeding 11 hungry kids and the Missouri farm women in my own family rolling out countless pie crusts, biscuits, and dumplings. This is a good recipe for remembering hard-working women.” Here is Martha’s recipe. Listen to a little Dolly Parton music as you make and eat it.

Martha with the Rolling Pin (courtesy of Ann Romberger)

Dolly’s Chicken ‘n’ Dumplin’s

(Adapted by Martha Ackmann)

Ingredients:

for the stock and the chicken:

1 3-pound chicken, cut up, or 3 pounds of chicken parts
2 teaspoons salt
pepper to taste
1 onion, peeled but left whole
1/4 cup chopped celery leaves
chopped carrots and celery to taste

for the dumplings:

2 cups flour, plus additional flour for kneading
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup milk

for assembly:
a little parsley for garnish

Instructions:

In a Dutch oven, combine the chicken and the salt with 2 quarts of water. Cover, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium. Toss in the pepper, onion, and celery leaves. Simmer the chicken, covered, until the meat comes off the bones. (This took Martha about 45 minutes.)

Strain the mixture, discarding the vegetables but saving the broth and chicken.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove it from the bones. Cut it into bite-size pieces. Set it aside. Turn the heat up to high, and bring the stock to a boil. Toss the carrots and celery into the liquid.

While the stock is boiling, begin to work on the dumplings. Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.

Cut in the shortening with knives or a pastry blender. Stir in the milk, a little at a time, until the dough is moist. Turn it onto a floured board, and knead it for 5 minutes.

Roll the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Cut it into 1-1/2-inch squares. Drop the squares into the boiling stock. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring gently from time to time.

Return the chicken to the pot. Stir it and heat it until it is thoroughly warm, about 8 minutes.

To serve, place 3 or so dumplings in a shallow soup dish, place chicken to taste on top, and ladle on some stock with carrots and celery. Serve warm, garnished with parsley. Serves 4 to 5.

Courtesy of Christina Barber-Just

Important Changes to Email Sign Up

April 28th, 2021

Dear Readers,

My current email subscription service, Feedburner, tells me it is about to stop sending this blog out via email. I’m in search of a new way to get the word out when I post.

If you currently subscribe to In Our Grandmothers’ Kitchens by email or would like to do so, please email me at ourgrandmotherskitchens AT merrylion DOT com. (I’m not putting in the @ or . for fear of spam, but I imagine you can figure them out!) If I don’t hear from you, your subscription will be canceled.

I will notify you when a new email subscription service is up and running. And of course I will NOT share or sell your email address ever.

Please keep reading! I know I don’t post frequently, but I enjoy the feedback. I plan to share a new recipe very soon.

Warmly,

Tinky

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

March 22nd, 2021

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover is coming. I’ll be making my grandmother’s matzo-ball soup this week on Mass Appeal and talking about her on our local public-radio station, New England Public Radio. Here’s the simple recipe, associated with Jewish grandmothers the world over. Happy Spring!

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, soda water, oil, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the matzo meal. Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Simmer the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and place the balls in it. Simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Marching into Spring with Maple

March 17th, 2021
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association

We New Englanders love having four varied seasons. (Or five, if you count mud season!) I wouldn’t trade our climate for the monotonous sunshine of California or Florida. Nevertheless, at some point during the winter I begin to find the gray skies, snow, and ice a bit tiresome.

Fortunately, at just about that point every year maple season arrives. We have just entered Massachusetts Maple Month. I love maple syrup. Its viscous sweetness adds flavors to a wide variety of dishes, from salmon teriyaki to maple pudding.

I also love Maple Month because even when there’s snow on the ground I know the sap is starting to move through the trees, signaling that spring is on its way. Maple is the first local agricultural product of our year, and I welcome it.

I recently asked Winton Pitcoff, the coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, whether he had any idea what kind of season we can expect this year.

He laughed.

“I like that there’s thing about maple,” he replied. “Nobody asks the tomato growers in March what kind of tomatoes we’re going to have.”

He noted that although it is too early in the season to make firm predictions he is optimistic. The sustained cold temperatures in recent weeks and the snow cover in the woods should help the trees “get some rest and charge up from the sap.”

He added that despite some recent years in which the weather has been less than ideal, the state’s maple farmers have steadily increased their capacity to make syrup. “That’s testimony to the skill of our sugarmakers,” stated Pitcoff.

He noted that this year’s sugaring season will be different from usual because of COVID-19.

Last year, the pandemic hit just as sugaring was gearing up. “It was hard,” he recalled. “It was particularly hard for the sugarhouses that have restaurants. But agriculture doesn’t stop. We still had a very good crop. People sold less during the season but sold a lot over the course of the year.”

People’s increasing reliance on home cooking and desire to support local businesses helped fuel the strong sales of the past year, according to Pitcoff.

This year, sugarhouses will again boil syrup, and maple weekend will take place in some form on March 20 and 21. Some restaurants and farms will be open; others may do curbside pickup and/or make appointments to spread visitors out.

Pitcoff recommended that readers check the association’s website or contact their favorite local sugarmakers to see what is planned as the month progresses.

“Each [sugarhouse] is going to do what they’re most comfortable with,” he told me. “We’re trying!”

Meanwhile, he encourages everyone to continue to support this native agricultural enterprise. “There’s nothing more local and regional than maple syrup in New England,” he enthused.

He suggested that all in the state try to develop new-to-us culinary uses for maple syrup, including adding it to coffee or tea instead of sugar.

I did my part by making maple ice cream. It might seem counterintuitive to make ice cream when the temperatures are still cold, but New Englanders eat ice cream copiously all through the year.

The ice cream is only mildly maple flavored; I didn’t want to make it overly sweet. You may always add a little more syrup. I hope this frozen treat pleases your palate this maple month.

Maple Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup maple syrup
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

Heat the milk until it is steamy but not boiling. While you are heating it use a separate bowl to whisk together the egg yolks and the syrup until the mixture is thick.

Whisk a bit of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Then whisk more, up to about 1/2 or 3/4 cup.  Whisk the milky egg yolks into the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken but does not boil (about 2 to 3 minutes on my gas stove).

Remove the custard from the heat and strain it into a heatproof bowl or pot. Cool thoroughly.

When the custard is cold whisk in the cream, vanilla, and salt. Place this mixture in your ice-cream freezer and churn until done. This recipe makes about a quart of ice cream. It’s lovely served with roasted or candied walnuts or pecans on top.

Here I make the ice cream in a video. And I’m also embedding a couple of Saint Patrick’s Day videos for recipes that have appeared previously on this blog, my favorite Irish Soda Bread and my Irish Cheese Fondue.

Enjoy this special day and month!

Tinky Makes Maple Ice Cream

Tinky Makes Irish Soda Bread

Tinky Makes Irish Cheese Fondue