Monday, September 15, 2014

Summer Caesar Salad

There were Caesars and there were Caesars, some I could champion, like Justinian and others whose behavior I find questionable, like the ilk of Caligula.  For example, the invasion of England?  Going to the Senate without undercover armor?  Thumbs down on Christians in the Coliseum?   But I think most would agree that the simple salad in the name of Caesar, made of romaine lettuce, crunchy croutons, parmesan cheese, and a bit of garlic, was one inspired decision and will make Caesar's title live forever!  I have no noble Roman blood or particular right to interpret Caesaric inspiration but certainly I might be forgiven for inviting other subtle flavors to join his loyal legions. Sweet red peppers, firm ripe avocados and subtle red onion add a light piquant note of a patrician nature and a creaminess that melds elegantly with the dressing.  But don't use the red onion instead of white, in the dressing - a pink tinge might be just a bit too feminine and may find you thrown into the coliseum.  Try this untraditional version of a favorite American salad for a change....and if worried about being presumptuous, don't call it Caesar's.

Caesar Salad with Red Pepper and Avocado

      1 large head romaine lettuce, cored and coarsely cubbed
      3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
      1 ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced, about 1/2 inch slices
      1 sweet red pepper, cored and seeded, cut in julienne slices
      1/2 red onion, peeled and sliced veriically in 1/2 inch slices

     -Chill lettuce.  In large bowl, combine lettuce and all but 1/3 
     cup salad dressing.  Arrange salad on large serving platter or 
     on individual salad plates.  Top with croutons.  Arrange 
     avocado, red pepper and onion slices around edge of salad. 
     Drizzle remaining 1/3 cups salad dressing on vegetable slices
     and sprinkle entire plate with grated parmesan cheese  (or
     garnish with a parmesan cheese crisp) and more
     freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

      1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
      1/2 medium white or yellow onion
      1 tab. Dijon mustard
      1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
      1 - 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
      freshly ground black pepper to taste

      -Combine dressing ingredients in food processor.  Blend until 
       smooth and then chill.

     4 cups cubed french bread or baguette
     1 clove garlic, finely minced
     5 tab. finely grated parmesan cheese
     1/3 cup olive oil

     -Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine the 
      garlic, cheese and oil.  Pour onto baking sheet.  Cover with 
      bread cubes and toss to coat.  Bake until crisp, about 10 

Optional:  To make the salad a complete meal, mix cooked shredded chicken into the salad when you add the dressing or place a grilled chicken breast or salmon fillet on the top of each individual serving of the salad.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cookie Salad

The inspiration was a "spoonerism" or if not that, I had a spoon in my mouth while trying to speak.  What came out was "cookie salad".  Cookie Salad - why not?  Who would not be lured to a salad, paired with the name "cookie"!  Fruit was the obvious choice to be paired with cookies and a few lonesome strawberries were still lounging on my counter, waiting for my inspiration of what to do with them.  As they saw their siblings popped into hungry mouths, or pureed to a sauce for ice cream, or floating among clouds of cream on a meringue crown, they must have wondered what was in store for them.  The flavor palette is reminiscent of trifle - strawberries, banana, orange for zing and blueberries.  Which cookies?  That was the fun part - and involved an excursion through the cookie isle. Shortbread is not too sweet and its buttery flavor affably combines with cake and cookies.  The pecans in the shortbread and the coconut of the macaroons added a nutty crunch; the snap of ginger snaps sparkled as a spiced  "crouton" topping.  (Of course, if you have the time and inclination,  homemade renditions of  the cookies are perfectly acceptable.)  What a fun salad for children to make!  They will be doing "spoonerisms" of their own....the kinds where they spoon food into their mouths!

      1 1/2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
      2 bananas, sliced in 3/4 inch slices
      1 cup fresh blueberries
      8 Pecan Sandie cookies cut into 6 pieces
      8 coconut macaroons, broken into large pieces
      6 gingersnaps, coarsely crushed

-Combine cut fruit and cookies in medium bowl and chill for 30 minutes.   Place about 3/4 cup salad on each single serving dish.  Top with 1/4 cup dressing and garnish with gingersnaps.  Serve immediately.  (If salad sits at room temperature for long, the cookies become soggy.  The salad is more visually appealing if the dressing is spooned on top rather than tossed with the salad.)


       3/4 cup cream, lightly whipped
       1/3 cup powdered sugar
       3 ounces softened cream cheese
       1 tab. grated orange rind

       -Combine ingredients until well combined and chill until ready to use.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Strawberry Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream

There were only three plump berry jewels on the rogue strawberry plant that had sprouted among the pachysandra in my garden.  My two-year-old grandaughter thought it a lovely surprise, to discover them dangling under their protective leaves but was disappointed that there weren't more to pop in her mouth. (I pulled up the berry plants a few years ago, weary of feeding the local birds who always beat us to the harvest.)  This plant had wandered from its parent....the child had not. Her mother, my daughter, must have been born with a strawberry in her mouth.  Her choice for birthday cakes always involved the queen of berries: strawberry shortcake, strawberry cheesecake, even her choice for bed sheets and pajamas - Strawberry Shortcake!  Most of us have fond memories involving strawberries - in fact, can you imagine summer without?  Similar to yours, no doubt, my memories include fresh strawberry pie at summer cookouts, freezer strawberry jam for the hot rolls on Thanksgiving, Emma and Mr. Knightly picking berries on Box Hill, picking berries myself in strawberry fields....forever!  And Jordan.  Not many would associate the Middle East with delicious berries - but so it was. Some of the sweetest strawberries I've ever tasted were sold by the itinerant fruit sellers in this arid climate.  In the spring, the Amman Marriott hotel featured a five layer strawberry cake frosted with white chocolate cream, chocolate curls and sandwiched about fresh berries: this cake became the ideal.  Every May, I experimented, tweaked and fussed but couldn't create a cake that quite measured up.  Until I brought these two recipes together....a moist, deep strawberry flavored cake, frosted with a buttery, white chocolate cream and of course, fresh strawberries!

Strawberry Cake:
2 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups white sugar
1 (3 ounce) package strawberry flavored gelatin
1 cup butter, softened
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup strawberries, pureed

3 cups fresh strawberries
white chocolate curls

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 10 inch round cake pans.

-In a large bowl, beat sugar, gelatin and butter until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Mix flour and baking powder and beat, alternately with the milk into the sugar mixture.  Fold in 1 tsp. vanilla and pureed strawberries.  Divide equally into 2 prepared pans.

-Bake 25 minutes in the preheated oven or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes in the pans, then remove from pans and cool completely.

White - Chocolate Buttercream:

1 2/3 cups sugar
7 large egg whites
1 1/2 pounds (6 sticks) butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
12 ounces good quality white chocolate, melted and cooled

-Place sugar and egg whites in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly until sugar is dissolved and mixture registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

-Transfer hot mixture to an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until fluffy and cooled, about 10 minutes.  Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

-Reduce speed to medium-low; add butter by the tablespoon,
beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla and white chocolate.  If not using immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month.  Bring to room
temperature before using; beat on low speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

To assemble cake:
      -With a long serated knife, slice each cool cake in half horizontally.  Insert knife half way through the cake and rotate the cake carefully as you gently saw through the cake.  Set the 2 cake layers aside and repeat with other cake.

-Place one cake layer on cake platter and frost with about 1 cup of buttercream.  Arrange sliced berries over layer of buttercream.

     -Place another cake layer over first layer and repeat buttercream and fresh berry layer.  Repeat one more time.

     -Frost the top and sides of cake with the remaining buttercream.  Decorate top of the cake and around the bottom with more sliced and halved berries and white chocolate curls.  Chill.  Remove from refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving.

*Cook's Comments:  If you don't have cake flour on hand, combine 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup cornstarch and blend well with a whisk.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Navajo Tacos

Until well into my teens, I had no idea that the British had laid claim
centuries before I was born, to the "scone", a dry biscuit concoction
that had to be served with tea just to wash it down.  How could this be,
I wondered and assumed the English were unfortunately mistaken but
then when I considered that an entire Brisith nation was confused,
I confess, I had to question my assumptions about food origins.  In my
search for the truth, I looked inwardly to examine my own culinary 
heritage, a heritage that included pioneers crossing the plains in covered 
wagons with yeast and flour preciously stored in cushioned barrels. 
My mother carried on the pioneer tradition and called these fried, golden
yeast squares, "scones".  As her mother had done before her, she taught 
me how to stretch the dough a bit just before cooking, to ensure
the scones rose with a pillowy puff in their middles as they cooked.
In my imaginings, I could  make it work; the pioneers' encounters with 
Native Americans were for the most part friendly...
perhaps even included exchanges of culinary techniques?  Regardless,
stubbornly I continue to defend my heritage and proclaim scones to be
thinly rolled yeast (roll) dough, cut into squares and deep fried until
golden.  Versatility allows them to be served with butter, or if
in the mood for a sweet version with honey, jam or powdered sugar.
Often, family Sunday dinners are scones and soup, the only variable
being the kind of soup served. (I confess to being a bit of a softy - 
preparing 2 - 3 different soups to satisfy 6 diverse clamoring appetites.)
Which leads me happily to this recipe.  Indian Fry Bread was here
first...and certainly Mexican influence saw taco potential in the
flat round bread... and just as 2 + 2= 4,  Navajo, Mexican and
Scones = Navajo Tacos!  Served at county fairs, amusement parks
and rodeo days concessions in western states they are a creation
worthy of their ancestry - even though the pedigree chart may be
somewhat complicated to follow!
And as to the British scone (which I have ultimately,
learned to savor) I just call them "Tea Biscuits".  Problem solved!

Navajo Tacos

    2 tab. dry yeast
    1/4 cup lukewarm water
    2 cups boiling water
    1/3 cup sugar
    2 tab. shortening
    2 tab. butter
    1 tab. salt
    2 eggs
    5 cups flour, approximately

     -Sprinkle yeast over 1/4 cup lukewarm water in small bowl. 
Set aside for 5 minutes.  In large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups boiling water, sugar, shortening, butter and salt.  Mix briefly and allow to cool to lukewarm.  Stir in dissolved yeast and eggs.  Mix well.  Add flour as necessary to make dough easy to handle.  Knead for 5 minutes by hand or with electric mixer with the dough hook.  

     -Place dough in a large oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit in warm place or in the oven on "bread proofing" setting for about 1 1/2 hours, or dough may be refrigerated 8 hours or overnight. (This longer process allows dough to rise slowly.)

     -When ready to use, punch the dough down and roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness on a floured surface.  Let dough rest 10 minutes then cut into 3 - 4 inch squares, or rectangles.  Let dough rest another 30 minutes.

     -Heat vegetable oil to about 375 degrees in deep fryer or large, deep skillet or dutch oven.  Place dough squares carefully onto hot oil, pulling and stretching slightly just before.  Cook until golden brown on first side and scone puffs up in the middle.  (Sometimes the squares do not puff.....they are still delicious, so serve them anyway.)  Turn squares with tongs to the other side and continue to cook until golden (about 3- 4 minutes total cooking time).  Place on paper towels.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

     To create Navajo Tacos, serve scones with:

          -browned and seasoned ground beef, (season with salt, 
            pepper, garlic powder, minced onion, chili powder and 
          -chili with beans, or pinto or black beans
          -chopped onions, tomatoes, olives
          -shredded lettuce
          -shredded cheddar or jack cheese
          -sour cream
          -peeled and diced avocado
          -chopped cilantro

       -Place warm ground beef and chili or beans on top of
        scone and garnish with toppings as desired.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chicken Tortilla Soup

       A friend once remarked that this was the best soup she had ever tasted.
When I first discovered it at "Fritzbee's" restaurant in the 1980's I felt the
same.  I have watched over the years as various renditions of Chicken
Tortilla Soup have come and gone, most delicious but none measuring up to
Fritzbee's level. Some created their flavor base with tomato sauce; others
were nothing more than chicken broth with tortilla strips on top.  In my
attempts to ensure that even when Frtizbee's closed I could continue to enjoy
their soup, I created a version which relies on the flavor and substance of the
tortilla itself as an integral part of the broth. Providing the structure to the
soup in a similar way that bread does to some Italian soups, the tortilla breaks
down and thickens the soup to a creamy consistency. The toppings (fried corn
tortilla strips, chopped avocado, sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese),
add a crunch and a fresh Tex-Mex bite.
        Now the matter of cilantro....there are two kinds of people in the world,
those that like cilantro and those that don't.  It's like a genetic tendency, that
can't be swayed or convinced otherwise.  Don't try to coax me - cilantro and
I have never been friends.  And my husband is hesitant to eat at Mexican
restaurants worried his food will be laced with what to others, is a staple
condiment.  So if you are genetically inclined to appreciate it, pile on the
cilantro.  If not, you will appreciate my revelation while chopping cilantro
one day in prep for a cooking class: cilantro smells like stink bugs. 
That evening one of my cooking students interjected unprompted,
"You know, cilantro smells like stink bugs." There you have it - proof positive!
Those of us that live on the East Coast have unfortunately become familiar with
this immigrant from Asia over the past few years as these pesky insects have
darted about our heads, clogged up our gas fireplaces, dive-bombed into our
hair during church meetings, fouling the air with their scent. It does not
necessarily follow that they taste the same.....I will leave that up to someone who
likes cilantro
to be the judge!

Chicken Tortilla Soup
4 cups rich chicken stock
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ can chopped green chiles
2 medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
1 ½ cups shredded or chopped cooked chicken
12 corn tortillas
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. ground cumin

     1 peeled, coarsely chopped ripe avocado
     Sour Cream
     Chopped cilantro (optional)
     1 cup Monterey Jack or Cheddar Cheese, shredded 

            -Saute onion and garlic in 2 tab. oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
             Add chicken broth to pot along with green chiles, tomatoes,
             chicken and 8 corn tortillas torn into small pieces.

            -Simmer covered, over medium heat,  about 30 minutes until
             tortillas are broken up and absorbed into broth.  Season with
             cumin, salt and pepper.

            -Cut remaining tortillas into thin strips and fry in vegetable oil
             until crisp and golden. 

            -Serve soup with sprinkling of avocado, dab of sour cream, 
             cheese and tortilla strips.

            -Serves 6

               Cook's Notes:
               -For a heartier version, add 1 cup frozen corn niblets and 3/4 cup black
  beans to the soup when the tortillas are added to the broth.

            -If you do not have a rich, chicken stock on hand in your freezer,
                use boxed chicken stock or canned chicken broth and add 1 tab.
               "Better Than Boullion" paste to develop a rich chicken flavor. 
                Best option -  purchase a whole stewing chicken and place in large pot
               -cover with water and add a whole quartered onion, 3 stalks chunked
                celery, 3 carrots in large chunks, 3 sprigs parsley and salt and pepper. 
                Simmer over low heat 2 hours.  There you have your rich broth and
                chicken for the soup!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Salad Provencale

Popping with vibrant jewel-like colors, this salad is worthy of being "center table" even if
you aren't inclined to eat it!  The breezes of Provence in the south of France,  must be
perfumed with the herbs of this salad, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and tarragon, growing next to fields of sunflowers and lavender in the warm Mediterranean sun.  Or at least I can imagine it so, from pictures and movies I've seen of the region.  So inspired I've been that my kitchen décor is an homage to the colors of Provence, including buttery yellow and pottery blue painted walls, accented with curtains made from napkins purchased in close as I've made it so far. 

 I can more easily imagine orchards of olive trees rooted on rocky, craggy terraces....  I come by that musing from first hand experience, having lived in Tunisia.   This North African, Mediterranean country is not touted as a great producer of olive oil and yet 30% of its cultivated land is dedicated to olive husbandry- which I would attest to having been lost, on
one occasion, among olive trees standing at attention, like wooden soldiers as far as the
eye could see in every direction.  Judging from the position of the sun, my husband was certain he must be driving in the right direction as we bumped about the rows and furrows of the olive orchards for what seemed hours.  The monotony was only broken by an impromptu visit to an ancient olive oil factory we happened upon.  The best field trip ever for our children who were allowed to walk right up next to the workers without a hairnet on and watch as the workers filled round woven baskets with olives, piled the baskets one upon another on the stone press, and then lowered a heavy stone on top of the stack to press the oil from the olives, leaving the pits and pith behind in the woven mesh of the baskets.  The Tunisian workers were delighted to display their skill in their un-mechanized, yet ingenious industry and were delighted to find that anyone, let alone American tourists might be interested.  Alas the Tunisian industry saved the first press, the light pale oil, for export and sold the green, bitter, 3rd or 4th press for the locals and expats who temporarily ate as the locals did.  In this salad recipe, treat these beautiful veggies to an oil fit for their vibrance!

                  Provencal Pepper Salad
            2 large green peppers
            2 large sweet red peppers
            6 ripe tomatoes
            6 hard-boiled eggs
            (24 anchovy fillets - optional)
            3 cloves garlic, chopped
            1-2 tab. each finely chopped parsley, chives, tarragon
            8 tab. olive oil
            3 tab. wine vinegar
            salt and pepper 

            -Herb Dressing: Combine garlic and fresh herbs with oil,
                 vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

            - Prepare peppers as follows: wash and dry whole peppers.
                 Place under broiler, as close as possible to heating element.
                 Cook, turning peppers frequently until skin on all sides has
                 charred. Place peppers in a plastic bag for 10 minutes.
                 Remove peppers and rub off charred skin under cold running
                 water. Cut peppers into strips, 4-6 to each pepper. Wash off
                 seeds and excess fiber; drain.

     -Slice tomatoes thickly and cover bottom of a large flat serving
        dish with slices. Sprinkle with a quarter of the salad dressing;
        add a layer of  prepared green peppers and sprinkle with
        dressing; add a layer of red peppers and sprinkle with 
        dressing. Shell eggs and slice into rings. Cover red pepper
        layer with a layer of sliced eggs and pour the remaining
        dressing over the top. Arrange anchovy fillets in a lattice on
        top. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Persnickety PS:  Techniques used for Peeling Pesky Peppers!
     For all techniques:  If you worry you've burned your peppers, don't throw them out...they're just
                 ready to peel!

     Technique #1: I first learned how to peel peppers from our Tunisian maid - placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner, turning as each surface was charred.  (It worked beautifully but was a messy affair.)

     Technique #2: Garnered from a Mexican cookbook, this became my go-to peeling method for years.  Place the whole peppers on a rack underneath the hot broiler.  Char and blacken peppers on all sides by turning to another side, once the top surface is charred. Takes about 5 minutes per side.  Remove peppers from oven and place them in a plastic bag and set aside for 10 minutes.  Then peel off the charred skin under running cold water.  (It is sometimes difficult to char the peppers evenly which makes it hard to easily remove the peel.)  

      Enter Technique #3:  Currently my method of choice as the flatter surfaces of the pepper, char more evenly and therefore peel uniformly. Cut the pepper into quarters and place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, skin side up about 6 inches under the broiler.  Broil until pepper quarters are charred and blackened.  Remove and place in a plastic bag or in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap and let sit 10 minutes.  Remove charred skin under running cold water.  If the recipe suggests saving the juices from the peppers, peel over a bowl to catch the juices (however, the skin is more difficult to remove without the running water.)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Double Creme Brownies

A French cooking class......experience in rolling cakes.....and a palette for rich, chocolate sweets led me in my culinary pursuits to Bouche de Noel (Christmas log).  A combination of chocolate butter cream, chocolate cake and vanilla crème, layer up to create this French Noel dessert that serves as my inspiration for this brownie recipe.  Charming and appealing variations of "Bouche" were set center stage in the beautiful  windows of the village patisseries of the Alsace region of France.  We sampled an assortment on Christmas day during a holiday visit, one filled with hazelnut buttercream and sprouting meringue mushrooms, but the textures were airy and not sweet enough.  Dare I suggest that my version, though French, is more in line with the American sweet tooth and toleration for rich desserts.  (I have always been puzzled by the "too rich" excuse proclaimed in an air of disgust by finicky consumers.  Is there any such thing as too rich?)  I make one Bouche de Noel each year - a tradition on Christmas Day and though it requires several steps, pots and mixing bowls, it is a labor of love for family and for self.  Could it be my favorite dessert...the pressure is too great to identify just one.  But there are 363 other days in the year....what a shame to relegate this sublime sweet to just one.  And then inspiration, "Why not make "Bouche" more accessible as a brownie!"  It worked beautifully - a layer of ooey-gooey brownie, covered with vanilla creme which temporizes the chocolate then frosted with the chocolate buttercream - the real kind made from eggs, butter and candy syrup.  Powers of description fail me as to how delicious they are - a roll of the eyes must suffice.  Once you've prepared them you'll understand .

Double Crème Brownies

Brownie Layer:
1 cup melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup flour
2/3 cups unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt

-In a large mixing bowl, blend melted butter with the sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Mix in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt and stir just until blended.  Spread the batter in a 13 x 9 inch, greased glass baking dish.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the brownies, just comes out clean.  Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature.

Vanilla Creme:
3 egg yolks                                 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract              ¼ cup flour
1 cup boiling whole milk      ½ cup heavy cream 

-Place the 3 egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla in
             bowl.  Beat until light and mixture ribbons
             when the beater is lifted.  Add the ¼ cup flour
             and blend together.  Add the milk in a stream
             stirring with a wire whisk. 

-Transfer the mixture to a saucepan set over moderate heat; stir constantly until the sauce reaches a boil.  Reduce heat and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes longer.  Remove from the heat.  Cover and cool to room temperature. 

-Whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks.  Fold the whipped cream into the custard.  Chill until ready to use. 

Chocolate Butter Cream:
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate            3 egg yolks
2 oz.bittersweet chocolate            ½ pound soft butter
1/3 cup sugar                                    
¼ cup water 

-Place the chocolate in a small bowl and melt it in microwave for 1 minute at 50% power.  Stir and return to microwave for another 30 seconds and stir again.
If still not melted, repeat for another 30 seconds.  Let cool 5-10 minutes.

-Combine the 1/3 cup sugar and water in a small saucepan.  Boil until the syrup reaches the softball stage (236 to 238 degrees) on candy thermometer.

-Place the 3 egg yolks in a mixing bowl and begin beating with an electric mixer. Pour the hot sugar syrup over the yolks a few drops at a time while
beating at medium speed.  Increase speed to high and beat for 5 minutes, until mixture is thick and pale yellow.  Reduce speed to low and add the ½
pound butter, a little at a time.  Beat until the mixture is smooth.  Add the melted chocolate to the buttercream and beat until smooth.  Set aside.
To Assemble:
     Spread the vanilla crème over the brownies and chill for about 30 minutes.  Spread the chocolate buttercream over the vanilla crème layer and swirl and peak with a spatula or the back of a spoon.  Cover loosely with foil and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Cut into 2 inch squares and serve. (Make be stored loosely covered in refrigerator for several days.  Let sit out for
30 minutes before serving if well chilled to allow the chocolate buttercream to soften.)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Hungarian Gulasche

I was first exposed to the cuisines of the world within the pages of a home economics teachers' cookbook - the type created from untested submissions and then bound with a ring binder and sold to raise funds for the Future Homemakers of America.  It's hard to imagine now, when even the term "home economics" is outdated that I was surprised to discover that the British wrap a hard boiled egg in pork sausage and fry it (Scotch Eggs), or that Chow Mein could be made in the home kitchen and didn't just come from a can, or that Hungarians relished something called "goulash". Neither syllable "goo" or "lash" recommend it but my mother was able to see past the unappealing syllables and after travelling the world with my stewardess sister's Pan Am discount, found it's mildly exotic old world flavors reminiscent of European adventures.  It was a revelation to my naïve culinary sensibilities that every culture has discovered, either in isolation or through the migration and assimilation of wander-lusted types, a soul soothing, stewed combination of seasoned meat and vegetables.  The French have their Beef Bourguignon, the North Africans, cous-cous, the Russian, borscht and the Hungarians, their "gulyas".  Beef (veal and pork are also used) braised with onions, green peppers, tomatoes and the requisite paprika require the standard treatment of cooking "low and slow" for tender, flavor-melded results. With origins in the repertoire of the Hungarian "herdsmen", this recipe was on the short list of dishes I prepared on every visit to Mom's as I stocked her freezer with foods she could fatten up on until I saw her again a few months later version of "Goodies for Grandma's house."

Hungarian Goulash
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 pounds chuck steak or roast, trimmed of fat and cut
        into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup flour for dusting
salt and pepper to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
10 baby carrots, diced
1 can beef consomme
1 tab. "Better Than Bouillon" beef stock paste
5 cups water
1/2 cup red wine
3 tab. tomato paste
1 tsp. sugar
3 tab. sweet paprika
-Place flour, salt and pepper in large bowl and toss beef cubes in mixture to coat each piece of meat.  In a large oven proof dutch oven or casserole, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering.  Add the beef cubes a few at a time in a single layer so that there is space between the cubes and brown over high heat, turning with tongs to sear cubes on all sides.  Remove beef from casserole and set aside.
-Add another tablespoon of oil, if necessary and cook onions, carrots and peppers over medium-high heat, until softened, about 8 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to cook for 1 minute more.
-Stir liquid, consomme, water and wine into the softened vegetables, scraping the bits of beef and vegetables of the bottom of the pot (deglaze).  Bring to a boil, then return beef to pan and stir in tomato paste, beef stock paste, sugar and paprika.  Return to a boil.
-Place in oven preheated to 300 degrees and cook covered for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until meat is very tender.  Remove the lid during the last 30 minutes of cooking to allow the mixture to thicken and the sauce to glaze the meat.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes.  Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
-Serve over wide egg noodles if desired.  Garnish with minced fresh parsley.  Serves 8.
**Be sure you use sweet paprika as opposed to hot - unless you like it very spicy!  If you buy an imported brand, you may want to taste it before using.
**Our Hungarian hosts served guylas as a stew in a soup bowl, rather than over noodles.  Either way is delicious.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Flour Tortillas with Beef and Peppers

After eating my son-in-law's favorite cuisine, Japanese, for several meals in a row, he asked
me what my favorite cuisine is.  Without hesitation, my reply...."Mexican".  I wasn't the only
one at the table to say so, but he seemed surprised and proclaimed it monotonous, using the
same ingredients in every recipe construction.  (At least in the Tex-Mex variety so readily
available here). "Yes" I replied, "that's why I like it."  I love salsas, avocados, tomatoes, corn,
beans, rice again and again!  A burrito by any other name would taste as great.  And then to
place those ingredients on home-made flour tortillas.....(actually, butter, cheese or anything on
warm home-made tortillas, would seal the deal.) Have you ever had the pleasure?  If not, you
must try these. Very simply made, similar to a biscuit dough with less fat and baking powder,
the art is in the rolling.  But even should you fail to execute the perfectly round, 1/4 inch thick
tortilla, don't despair.  Taste will forgive that which offends the eye!  A friend whose parents
hailed from south of the border, proclaimed my tortillas superior to her mother's, an opinion
she was reluctant to admit as she was tutored at my side. I thank Chevy's, a fresh-mex
restaurant - the first one I encountered that prepared fresh tortillas in house, within site of the
hungry patrons outside the window. The beef with peppers (Maria's Beef and Peppers) is
thanks to another friend who shared her authentic family recipe.  Isn't that the basis of lasting friendship - sharing recipes that help us remember - recipes that wink at us from the recipe
box, like the old friends themselves: Sue's Fudge, Chris's Rolls, Jane's Quiche!

Flour Tortillas:

            6 cups flour
            1 tsp. baking powder
            1 tab. salt
            ½ cup vegetable shortening, cut into small pieces
            2 ½ cups warm water

            -Place the flour in a medium bowl and add the baking powder and
                 salt, stirring to mix well.  Add the shortening.  Turn the mixer
                 on low and slowly pour in the water.  Mix on low, for 90
                 seconds or until well mixed.

            -Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface.  Divide
               the dough into 2 equal portions.  Cover with plastic wrap and set
               aside to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes.  Divide each
   half into 8 equal portions.  You will now have 16 dough balls. 
   Lightly flour your work surface.  With a floured rolling pin, roll
   each ball into an 8 – inch round about 1/4 inch thick.  Stack the
   rounds on a baking sheet with plastic wrap between each. 
   Let rest for 10 minutes.

            -Heat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, and
               lightly coat with vegetable cooking spray. Cook the tortillas on
               the griddle or in the skillet for 1 minute on each side, or until
               light brown spots form on the surface. Press with the back of a
               metal spatula to pop the bubbles as they form.  Stack on plate
               and cover with foil to keep them warm until ready to serve. 
               (They may be stored in the fridge or freezer in a sealed
                plastic bag and reheated in the microwave.)

         Maria's Beef with Peppers
        1 1/2 pounds round steak or chuck, cut into small, 1/2 inch cubes
        1 large onion, chopped
        1 large green bell pepper, chopped
        1 large red bell pepper, chopped
         finely minced hot pepper, jalapeno, to taste (optional)
        1 4 ounce can chopped green chiles
         3 cloves garlic, minced
         2 medium tomatoes, diced
         1 ounce can tomato sauce
         2 tsp. Better Than Bouillon beef paste
         1 tab. ground cumin
         salt and pepper to taste
         chopped fresh cilantro or parsley, according to taste
         -Heat 3 tab. vegetable oil in large frying pan.  Brown beef cubes in
           oil tossing, until browned but no overcrowding.  Remove from pan
           when browned.
          -Add chopped onions and peppers to pot and fry until vegetables are
           softened, about 5-8 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another minute. 
           Stir in green chiles, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, cumin, browned
           beef and salt and pepper, bouillon and 4 cups water.  Bring to a boil
             over medium-high heat.  Cover with a lid, and simmer over low heat
           1 1/2 to 2 hours, until meat is very tender.  (Add more water during
           cooking if necessary). 
          -Uncover and cook until sauce is thickened and reduced.  Remove
             from heat and stir in cilantro of parsley.  Adjust seasoning.  Serve
            with shredded jack or cheddar cheese, sour cream and guacamole
            on warm flour tortillas.