Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Retro Recipes, Part Two

Would someone please just kill me if I buy another cookbook? 

With the collection I have, it's criminal to think about buying more.  I've often thought there are really no original recipes left (unless you count molecular gastronomy, which doesn't compute in my kitchen).  Yes, there are techniques and versions of recipes, but at the end of the day, fried chicken is fried chicken. 

Which leads me back to that retro collection of cookbooks I mentioned in the last post.  Most of them have languished on my bookshelves for so long that they are encrusted with dust.  That's about to end.

I began by pulling out my old Maida Heatter cookbooks.  Remember her?  She was the feisty, down-to-earth baker from south Florida who took no crap from anyone.  Her recipes were (and still are) winners.  I could bake everything in her books and never, ever need another baking cookbook.  I heart her.  I hope she's still alive.

Let's talk about her book "Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts."  As soon as I picked it up, I remembered her "Bulls Eye Cheesecake."  Back in my younger days, I attempted to make it.  I didn't have much patience back then, so while the finished product tasted good, it didn't have that "WOW" presentation factor.  Oh, but I SO nailed it this time.  If you really want to know the truth, I am dancing up and down right now over how I nailed it.  Hell yes, I rocked it!!

So can you.  Just follow my directions and have some patience.  Prepare for major accolades.

BULL'S EYE CHEESECAKE  (from Maida Heatter)

32 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 extra-large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 teaspoon powdered espresso, dissolved in 1 T. hot water
2 teaspoons good cocoa powder (I used Valhrona)
1/4 cup crushed cookie crumbs (I used Pepperidge Farms Milano)

In electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth.  Beat in the sour cream, extracts and salt.  Beat well until no lumps remain, scraping down bowl frequently.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. 

Remove bowl from the mixer.  You wil have about 6 cups of the mixture.  Place half of it (3 cups) into a separate bowl.

Add the granulated sugar to one bowl and the brown sugar to the other.  Mix each well with a rubber spatula. 

To the brown sugar mixture, add the dissolved coffee and the cocoa powder.  Stir well to blend.

Now to form the design:

Butter an 8 x 3-inch cake pan.  Line bottom with parchment and grease well.  Pour a scant cupful of the chocolate batter in the pan.  Let it spread, then pour a scant cupful of the vanilla batter over.  Take your time and pour it very slowly, so that it forms an uniform circle over the chocolate batter in the pan.  Repeat with remaining chocolate and vanilla batters.  Remember, patience is a virtue here.

Carefully transfer the pan into a larger pan filled with warm water.  Place in oven preheated to 250-degrees and bake for 1 hour or until just set and middle is still slightly wobbly.  Remove from heat and place on a rack to cool.  Chill.

To remove from pan, dip briefly in hot water.  Shake pan to loosen, then turn out onto a sheet lined with parchment or plastic.  Press cookie crumbs over then invert onto serving dish.

Yield:  8 servings (or 12 if you are feeling stingy).

This may be the most spectacular dessert I have ever made.  Seriously!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Retro Recipes, Part One

Drinking bird.  Retro enough?

I think it started last weekend when we were in Florida.  My mom is from St. Pete and we visited every summer when I was a kid living in the northeast.  I also went to school in Tampa and lived/worked there for several years thereafter.  Visiting last weekend was a true flashback for me since I hadn't been there in years.  I made poor Henry drive for miles (he was really gracious about it) so I could re-visit all those places that held memories for me.

Here's a picture of my grandparents' house.  It wasn't fancy, but we had great times there, playing Kanasta on the back porch and eating simple, delicious food.  My grandmother was a great cook (I'm sure that's where my "cooking gene" came from) and she was the original farm-to-table advocate.  She had a huge peach tree, an avocado tree, a mango tree and a grapefruit tree.  As a kid, I loved nothing more than walking around with her as she carried her basket and selected only the ripest, juiciest fruit.

I started cooking when I lived in Tampa.  I had two cookbooks which were my bibles.  I made everything from cheese fondue (c'mon, it was the seventies!) to roasted turkey and chocolate souffle.  Not everything was a huge success, but I taught myself a lot and created the backdrop for a lifelong joy of cooking (yeah, I had that book, too).  Too bad the guy I was married to then subscribed to the "eat to live" philosophy instead of my "live to eat" credo.  Guess that marriage was doomed from the start!

Alright, I'll get to my point now.  (Sorry for the ex-husband rant).  When I got home, I pulled out those old cookbooks and thumbed through them.  I came across the butter crisp cookies I used to make from the McCall's Cookbook.  I decided they would be my next experiment.

Mind you, the original recipe was good enough.  But I tweaked it a little and now it's even better.  These are crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and not crumbly like shortbread.  When you bite into one, you get the crunch of the sides and bottom, a hit of the mace (crucial to this recipe) and just a teeny-weeny hint of salt.  I substituted vanilla paste for the vanilla extract and it resulted in a little extra crunch of "vanilla bean-i-ness."  If you can't find the paste, pure vanilla extract will do just fine.

BUTTER CRISPS (adapted from The New McCall's Cookbook)

1 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Sift flour and mace together.  Set aside.

In electric mixer, beat butter, salt and vanilla paste until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  Scrape down bowl often.

Gradually beat in sugar, the flour mixture.  Beat just until smooth.

Flatten dough into an oval, wrap in plastic and refrigerate until chilled.  Using a 1-1/4-inch ice cream scoop, form dough into small balls.  Place on a baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours (note:  you can keep these, well-wrapped in the freezer for up to six months).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silpat.  Place frozen balls on baking sheet, spacing them 2-inches apart.  Bake for 12 minutes or until sides are just golden but tops are still pale.  Cool slightly, then remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Yield:  approximately 2 1/2 dozen cookies

Please don't overbake these (that seems to be my mantra recently).  When you take them out of the oven, they should be slightly puffed and just golden on the sides.  If you wait until the tops are golden, then you have blown it!

BTW, there is a freshly baked batch of these sitting in my kitchen right now.  Oy veh.  Will she or won't she?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pig Heaven

We are just back from a quick trip to Tampa to celebrate the birthday of one of my oldest and dearest friends.  I'm working on some additional posts, but for now I had to share this with you.

We drove down there on Saturday and it's about a 7-hour drive from the ATL.  Breaking up the drive with a lunch stop seemed like a good idea.  Except, we were on an interstate in southern Georgia which is pretty much a culinary wasteland.  Burger King, anyone?

That would be a negative.  But I will throw some of my standards out the window and eat at Chik Fil A.  I can easily make a meal out of a chargrilled chicken sandwich and a diet lemonade.  Of course, we're not going to talk about sustainability or anything else related to the way all that chicken is processed.  We won't talk about chemicals, either.  Still, if you're on the road, it's one of the better fast-food options.

Our stomachs told us it was time for that lunch break right around the time we hit Cordele.  We exited the highway and passed every fast food place you've ever heard of (and some you probably haven't) except ...  Chik Fil A.  Alrighty then.  No McDonald's or Taco Bell for us.  Onward to Tifton!

The 30-minute drive to Tifton gave us time to plan a new strategy.  Surely we could find some good local barbecue!  I unearthed my iPhone from the bottom of my purse (no driving and texting for me) and shook up the Urbanspoon app.  A few shakes and we hit on Hog-N-Bones Bar-B-Que.  With a name like that how bad could it be?  We found it and were relieved to see cars in the parking lot.  Then we realized it was a fast food joint with nary a smokehouse in sight.  Crap.

Back to the app and we came up with Pit Stop Bar-B-Q and Grill.  By now, I didn't have high hopes for anything, but we called and it was open so we backtracked a highway exit and found the place.  It looked pretty ordinary but by this time we were famished and needed to get out of the car.  And then we spotted their smokehouse in the back.  Done deal.

People, we got lucky!  The pulled pork was delicious - tender without being too fatty, with lots of those little burned, smoky bits that make it delicious.  The sauce was good, too.  Tomato-y, but not too much so, just a hint of sweetness (I loathe sweet barbecue sauce), good acidity and just spicy enough.  What a find!

The woman who owns it spent a fair amount of time at our table, telling us about the history of the restaurant.  She and her husband started it 15 years ago.  They take great pride in everything they do and she spends a lot of time in the dining room, talking to everyone to make sure they are happy.  (Trust me, they are)  Sadly, her husband died a few years ago, but she continues to take great joy in running the restaurant, in part because she wants to carry on his legacy.  She's doing a great job of it.

Oh, but check out their T-shirts!  I couldn't restrain myself and bought three of them (look out Andy & Eric, guess what's showing up in your respective mailboxes?)  Hilarious!

So if you find yourself on I-75 near Tifton and need a decent barbecue fix, remember this place.  Pit Stop.  Exit 63-B.  You won't regret it.  We liked it so much that we stopped in on our way back from Atlanta yesterday and bought a couple pounds of their pulled pork to bring back with us.  Had to get-us some!

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Nasty Little Pie Crust Secret

Remember those brownies I told you about the other day?  Have you tried them yet?  If not, get in gear and make them! Yeah, they are that easy.

Because of that, it gave me the time to make another dessert to take with me the other evening.  I made my favorite Individual Pecan Tarts with Jack Black.  Like the ones I used to make when I worked at Watershed here in Atlanta.


First though, I need to make a confession.  I always have a supply of homemade pastry dough in my freezer.  I also need to confess that it really isn't pastry dough at all.  It's shortbread that you press into the pan and pretend you have just made the most incredible pie dough in the world.  No rolling out, no transferring to the pan, no nothing except a little fingertip action.  It turns out flaky and delicious, you will get rave reviews and no one will ever know this is pie crust for dummies. 

Okay, I feel better now that you know the truth.

This pecan tart recipe comes from my dear friend Scott Peacock and you can find it in the book he wrote with the late, great Edna Lewis, "The Gift of Southern Cooking."  Someday, I will tell you the story of how she taught my son Andy to make biscuits and pie crust when he was about twelve.  For now, I will just tell you to raise a glass of Jack Black to her as you add it to the filling for this recipe.  Here's to you, Miss Edna - we are better for having known you.


For the dough:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put butter in electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment.  Mix on medium speed until softened.  Add sugar and increase speed to medium high.  Mix until well-blended and sugar no longer grates on bottom of bowl.

Reduce speed to medium low and add flour and salt in two parts.  Increase speed to medium when mixture starts to get mealy.  Continue mixing until dough comes together. 

Place dough on a sheet of plastic wrap and flatten into an oval.  Wrap well and refrigerate.  Dough may also be frozen - it will keep for several months.

Butter eight 4-inch tart pans with removable bottoms.   Cut off small pieces of the chilled dough and grate on the large holes of a box grater.  Press dough shavings on bottom and along sides of tart pans.  Make sure to press in well so that dough is thin enough to be crispy but thick enough not to fall apart.  Level top with the blade of a sharp knife.  Chill well before proceeding with recipe.

For the filling:
3 eggs (I use extra-large)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup dark corn syrup (Karo)
1/2 cup white corn syrup (Karo)
3 tablespoons Jack Black Kentucky bourbon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Whole pecans (approximately 8 per tart)

Preheat oven to 35-degrees.  Beat eggs lightly with a whisk.  Add sugar, butter, salt, corn syrups, bourbon and vanilla.  Whisk until all ingredients are well-blended.

Layer whole pecans decoratively in unbaked tart shells (don't overlap too much).  Spoon filling mixture over each one, filling almost, but not quite, to the top. 

Bake for 15 - 17 minutes or until golden but still soft in the middle.  Remove from oven before you think they are done as they will continue to cook when you remove them from the oven.

Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then gently remove sides of tart pans.  Carefully slide a long, thin knife underneath tarts to remove bottom of tart pans.  Handle gently as these can break easily.  Place on a baking rack to cool completely.

Yield:  8 individual tarts

You can also make this into one 9-inch tart but you will need to increase baking time.  You could also gild the lily and serve these with whipped cream, but I prefer them straight up.

And if you have any dough left over - freeze it, baby, freeze it!  It will then be available to you on a moment's notice and no one will ever know the difference!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Toffee with Fleur de Sel

Woo hoo, I love it when people ask me to post specific recipes!  I found out recently that some of you have requested my toffee recipe.  I actually posted it last December, so here's the link for you.  It's another one of those easy but fabulous recipes.  I hope you enjoy it and don't hesitate to let me know if you have any questions.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Liz's Dump-it-in-a-Pan, Quick and Dirty Brownies

We went to a lovely cocktail reception last night in memory of a wonderful man, Ken C., whom we all affectionately called "Daddy."  Daddy recently passed away from a number of illnesses but it was peaceful, he was with his family and he managed to beat the odds for a very long time.  Godspeed, sweet Daddy.  You will be missed and always remembered.....

On the upside, we saw good friends there whom we never see often enough.  Heck, we never see them, period.  Before I knew it, we finessed an invitation for dinner at their house tonight and I offered to bring dessert.  Of course.

But then I got up early this morning and realized I had a jam-packed day ahead of me.  No complaints, but I needed to figure a way to get something baked.  Cake mix, anyone?

Uh ... no.  Not just no, but HELL NO!  Sorry if I offend anyone out there, but you will never find a box of the stuff in my house.  It's bad enough that I have to send canned frosting along with those homemade mason jar chocolate cakes I send to our troops every month in Afghanistan.  Apart from that, I categorically refuse to make anything from a mix.


I did the next easiest thing.  Yeah, brownies once again (are you sick of them yet?) but not the kind that require a lot of work.  These require practically no work.  You don't even have to be precise in cutting them, like with those peanut butter bars. 

These are very similar to the ones we made at Star Provisions, they are soooooooo easy and they will blow your socks off.  Rich, dense, chewy and melt-in-your-mouth.  AND they will keep for a week or so in your fridge (although that isn't necessarily a good thing). 

So I am sharing my favorite, tried and true recipe here and you will probably think I"m a big fraud because these are so ridiculously easy and after all, shouldn't a former pastry chef  have a more complicated recipe?

Not necessarily.  Less is more.  Let me repeat that.  Less is more.  Just watch your baking time.  It would be criminal to overbake these.


1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1/2 good cocoa powder (preferably Droste or Vahlrona)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with heavy duty foil.  Allow foil to overhange edges and grease well with softened butter.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Remove from heat and add rest of ingredients.  Stir well with a spatula or wooden spoon to blend.  Do not use an electric mixer.

Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Bake for 25 minutes.  DO NOT OVERBAKE.  (If the surface cracks, then you have baked it too much).  It will not look completely done when you take it out of the oven.

Cool on a baking rack then refrigerate for at least 3 hours.  Remove from pan, remove foil and cut into bars or squares.  Store, covered, in refrigerator for up to one week.

Serves 10-12

Now really, how bad could this be?  Chocolate, sugar, butter and vanilla.  Basic food group, if you ask me.

Leftover scraps.  I wanted to eat them, but I restrained myself.

Garbage disposal gets the chocolate high instead of me.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


For now, Lucy has stabilized and seems to have re-gained most of her motor function.  She's a bit wobbly but is still very much "here" (those watchful eyes again) and present.  She's eating reasonably well, too.  I'm not one to prolong the inevitable and I'm trying hard not to be in denial, but even my vet says it's not time yet.  So for now, we're taking it day by day.  Sincere thanks to all of you who took the time to email me and send your good wishes.

Okay, let's get back to the business of baking.  Let's talk about shortbread.  With salt.

I know, I know, I eat way too much of it.  Not shortbread (heads up, I'm the person who gives all my baked stuff away ... those of you who were the recipients of my peanut butter bars the other day know that), but salt.  As you know, I love the stuff.   I am probably a heart attack waiting to happen.

Remember the chocolate sorbet I told you about recently?

As we Jews say, "Dayenu."  That means "it would have been enough."  But when I threw an impromtu dinner party recently, I forgot that.  It's me.  That meant chocolate sorbet wasn't enough.  I wanted something to pair with it.  C'mon, you can never have too many desserts.....

So I decided shortbread would be just the thing.  Then I decided I should dust it with salt.  Oh yeah, I'm the decider!

I decided well.  It was pretty damn good.  The recipe I'm giving you is a basic shortbread recipe and you can use it for just about any adaptations you can think of.  You could add citrus zest or rosemary or ginger or cinnamon or chocolate.  Salt on top is optional.  Oh, but it's SO good!


1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 pound granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 pounds unbleached, all-purpose flour
Specialty salt for sprinkling

Using electric mixer, beat butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes, scraping bowl down several times.  Add flour and mix briefly to blend.  Turn out onto a piece of plastic wrap and form into a large disk.  Wrap well and chill for at least two hours.

Divide dough into two pieces.  Roll out one piece between two pieces of plastic wrap to a 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut into desired shapes with your cookie cutter of choice and sprinkle with salt (I personally like Hawiian pink sea salt) then place on a parchment-lined tray.  Refrigerate.  Refrigerate scraps as well.  Repeat again with second piece of dough. 

Roll out refrigerated scraps and repeat process.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Place cookies on baking sheet lined with parchment, spacing 1-inch apart.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until just slightly golden.  Remove to a baking rack and cool before storing in an airtight container.

Depending upon how you cut them, this can yield 24 -48 cookies.

Just don't keep these around your house.  Give them away.  Unless you want to gain 5 pounds.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Good Times, Bad Times

It's been a really crappy week. 

My dog Lucy will probably not make it much longer.  She's had my back for sixteen years now.  She's been with me through two bouts of breast cancer and the death of my dad.  She has been my loving, non-judgmental caring companion and I don't quite know what I will do when her watchful eyes are no longer upon me.  Her legs kept collapsing today and she refuses to eat.  Sadly, I know what that means.....

Other crap going on as well.  Friends sick, friends dying and so many of us with financial woes.  And I cannot even watch the evening news with those poor pelicans drenched in nasty, black viscuous oil.  Can someone just please make it all better?

However, there is some good news to report.  This is a picture of the house across the street from us which has been empty for the last two years.  (Well, okay, there were some renters there in the interim but that really didn't count).  But this week, a great family moved in and they have two young sons. This afternoon they held a birthday party on their front lawn with lots of noisy, energetic, happy kids.  We love that there is life and activity over there now!

(Of course, when I took this picture of their house, I did it through the windows of Henry's man cave.  I didn't want to scare them off by standing in front of their house with a camera!)

So when new neighbors move in, if you are me, you will knock on their door and take some kind of gift in terms of baked goods.  That meant peanut butter bars.  Like the ones we used to make when I worked at Star Provisions.

(Hey, Amy - this is for you!)

PEANUT BUTTER BARS (adapted from Star Provisions)

For the base:
6 oz. butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 cups graham cracker crumbs

Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with foil and grease well.  Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Sprinkle evenly in pan and press down well.  Bake in oven preheated to 350-degrees for 10 minutes.

For the chocolate layer:
32 oz. good quality chocolate
2 cups heavy cream

Place ingredients in heavy saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.  Set aside to cool.  Pour over cooled graham cracker base and refrigerate until set.

For the Peanut Butter Layer:
6 oz. unsalted butter
8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
32 oz. creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

Melt butter and chocolate in a large bowl set over simmering water.  When mixture is smooth, add peanut butter and whisk well until mixture is smooth and homogenous. 

Remove 1 cup of the mixture to a small bowl.  Sift confectioner's sugar over and whisk well to blend.  When mixture is smooth and without lumps, return to rest of chocolate/peanut butter mixture.  Stir well then pour
over cooled chocolate layer.

Refrigerate overnight, then cut into bars as desired.

Yield:  24 bars if you cut them like I did.  That's because a) I am lazy and b) the bigger version looks better in a photo.  However, you should probably cut them in smaller portions as THESE THINGS ARE LETHAL AND VERY, VERY RICH.    Less is more.

Now, a couple of things.

Using a 13x9x2-inch baking pan is perfectly fine.  However, I prefer to use an extender for this recipe.  What's that? Well, it's basically a rectangular pan without a bottom and with expandable sides.  The concept is kind of like a springform pan in that you just remove the sides and voila! your baked product slides right out.  I'm not suggesting you buy one, but if you do, here's a link that might help you out:


Another tip is this - make sure you press your graham cracker crumb mixture down FIRMLY.  If you don't, it will simply come apart on you when you cut this into bars.  I use a fondant smoother (pictured above) to do this because it's rectangular and it can get into the corners.  If you don't have one, no worries - fingertips work pretty well, too.

Now let's talk about cutting these into bars.  As you can see from the photo, mine look pretty good!  Here's  the trick - after each cut, dip your knife into hot water and wipe it off.  Make sure that you cut straight down and don't bring the knife back up again.  Then dip it, wipe it off and cut again.  Oh, and be sure to trim all of the edges beforehand (cook's treat!)  Yes, it's laborious.  Yes, it's a pain in the ass.  But it will make your peanut bars look as good as mine - worthy of being in the pastry case at Star Provisions!