Saturday, January 29, 2011

Whack What?

I’ve written before about how difficult it can be to maintain a blog. Oh, it’s easy enough when you first get started and have lots of ideas and lots to say. You blithely post about everything you can think of, then suddenly … you come up dry at the well. You’ve pretty much ripped through your repertoire of ideas. Even worse, you think of something to write about, but then peruse your blog archives only to realize you already wrote about it last year. Why didn’t I remember that? Is the beginning of Alzheimers? Well, crap.

I started thumbing through my favorite (and not-so-favorite) cookbooks to try and come up with ideas. “Catchy name,” I thought. I was looking for something which to inspire both me and you, my wonderful blog readers.

Big Zero, however, unless we want to talk about making Thomas Keller’s Oysters and Pearls. Not likely. Someday I will tell you about the time we went to The French Laundry and I was so sick that I couldn’t eat anything, repeat ANYTHING that was served to me. Tragically, I am not kidding. I poked around at everything, then made Henry eat my share. Food Police in reverse. He will probably never, ever get that lucky again.

Here's the menu I missed.  Sigh.

In the midst of my writer’s block, I got a Facebook message from a friend. “Hey Liz, I’m going to make the Wacky Cake that's in your cookbook. Does it need frosting?”

You may remember I have a home-grown, self-published cookbook that I created for my kids. Over the course of the last several years, I have also given copies to people I love. Our friend Shana was one of those recipients. When I got her message, I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had never made the recipe in the book.

Now in my own defense, I thought the recipe sounded good and since this book was intended for Andy and Eric only, I wasn’t overly concerned with testing recipes. Still, I didn’t feel comfortable giving Shana advice without having made the thing. So, I threw it together at 11pm. Turns out it was pretty easy. Turns out it was pretty good! And, if you care about these kinds of things, it is a vegan recipe.

Thanks, Shana! I appreciate the inspiration. As I posted on your wall, this cake is good “naked”, but even better if served with some softly whipped cream (maybe with the inclusion of a little cinnamon) or premium ice cream (coffee, perhaps?). I hope you made it for your dinner party and I hope it was a success!

WACKY CAKE (from Gale Gand)

1 ½ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Grease and 8 x 8-inch square pan.

Place the dry ingredients in a bowl. Make three small holes in the mixture. Pour the vanilla in one hole, the vinegar in another and the vegetable oil in the third. Pour water over the top and mix.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes until center is puffed and a cake tester comes out clean.

Cut into squares, as desired. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 8 - 10

This is a very moist cake, kind of like a very “cakey” brownie, but lighter. It’s delightful as a snacking cake, with a glass of cold milk, late in the afternoon, especially if you are curled up on a chilly day with a good book.

I dusted mine with powdered sugar and yes … I ate a piece of it before I gave it away and got it out of my house. So much for my efforts to limit carbs and sugar. At least I abstained from the ice cream. Still, I guess I will never be a skinny cook. I guess that’s why you can continue to trust me!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Impress. Your Guests.

Everyone here in Atlanta is still talking about our recent ice storm, but the truth is, most of our stories are similar.  Suffice it to say, I can only imagine how many closets, drawers and basements were cleaned out last week.  In my case, it was the pantry.  What the heck else are you supposed to do when you can't leave the house for days on end?

Imagine my surprise when I unearthed a big box of amaretti cookies from deep within the bowels of my pantry shelves.  Well, well, well.  I started casting around for recipes which incorporated them.  But wait, it didn't really matter because what I was really after were THE PAPERS THEY ARE WRAPPED IN.

No, I'm not kidding.  No, I am not suggesting that you eat these papers or use them to roll up with something illegal.  I am, however, going to share an amazing trick you can do with them; one that will make you the hit of any party and cause you to kick yourself everytime you think of all the times you have thrown these things in the trash before you knew "the secret."

Here's the back story:

The year was 1959 or so.  Henry (about 8 years old) was having dinner with his family and their friends, Larry and Hilda Peirez at Andre's, which was apparently a fancy restaurant in Great Neck, NY.  As dinner came to a close, the check arrived, along with amaretti wrapped in "those papers."  Larry Peirez ate his cookies, then rolled the wrapper up like a cigarette and stood it on end.  He pulled out his lighter and much to the horror of everyone seated around the table, calmly lit the paper then watched impassively as it started to burn fiercely in the middle of the table. 

Just as the tablecloth was about to catch fire (and panic about to set in), the burning cylinder gracefully ascended and floated high above the table, almost to the ceiling.  Then, totally burned out, the charred remains drifted ethereally back to the table and its wide-eyed occupants.  Henry was mesmerized.  One can only imagine what the waitstaff must have been thinking!

So, now you know.  My suggestion is to get out there and buy a package of Amaretti Lazzaroni ASAP.  The next time you have to attend a stilted dinner party, tuck a few in your pocket and light 'em up at the table.  Yours hosts may be horrified, but you will save everyone from boredom and you will be a rockstar for the evening!

Yes, we have lift off!

Up, up and away!

 If you can't find Amaretti Lazzaroni locally, here is a link:

Now that you have used all of the papers, what are you going to do with those poor, homeless cookies?  Here's my recommendation:

CHOCOLATE AMARETTI CAKE (adapted from Giada De Laurentis)

¾ cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup slivered almonds
2 oz. amaretti cookies (10 small cookies)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 orange
4 eggs (I used medium-large)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and place in refrigerator to chill.

Melt chocolate in a small pan until smooth. Set aside to cool while you proceed with the other steps.

Combine almonds and cookies in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground, then transfer to a medium bowl. Place the butter, sugar and salt in the processor and blend until creamy and smooth. Add the orange peel and pulse briefly to combine. Add eggs, one at a time and blend until incorporated. Scrape sides down and blend again. Add the reserved nut mixture and melted chocolate. Pulse until blended, scrape downs sides again, and blend until combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake until the center puffs, about 30 – 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove sides of springform. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

As usual, here are my "post-recipe" comments.

*  I was pretty wary about using a food processor for a cake.  Normally it doesn't work, but since this recipe has no flour, it's perfectly okay.  You don't want to  incorporate air in this mixture, anyway.

*  The cake will rise in the oven, then fall when you take it out to cool.  No worries.  It will also look somewhat lopsided.  No worries about that either.  It contributes to the rustic look and it has no effect whatsoever on the taste or texture.

*  Do yourself a huge favor and slip a cookie sheet or pan under the springform as it bakes.  I don't care how secure you think your pan might be, it will leak.  Spare yourself from having to clean the oven after you bake this.

*  If you want to gild the lily, you can serve this with softly whipped cream, or even ice cream.  I have to say though, I think it is pretty stunning in its simplicity, so I serve it "naked" and unadorned.

I wish you could have been here last night as I was trying to light these things and photograph them at the same time.  Challenging, at best.  At least I didn't burn the house down!  Haha, and if you try this and burn your house down, I absolve myself of all liability!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One Big Cookbook

I keep saying that I really don’t need any more cookbooks, but somehow new ones just seem to keep creeping onto my overloaded bookshelves. As you know, I recently acquired “Baked Explorations” and “Baked – New Frontiers in Baking” from that hallowed place in Brooklyn, as well as David Lebovitz’s “Ready for Dessert.” Now comes Molly O’Neill’s “One Big Table.”

Molly O’Neill is well-known in the food world, having been a food columnist for the New York Times and the host of “Great Food” on PBS. She has written several books, including the “New York Cookbook” which of course I own and use frequently. In fact, it’s the source of those matzoh balls I make every year at Passover. I had the pleasure of meeting her years ago when she came to Atlanta to promote the book.

Over the past decade, Molly crisscrossed the country to amass recipes from cooks throughout America. She collected over 10,000 recipes and this book contains about 600 of them. Here is what she writes about her inspiration:

“I’ve never known a food-obsessed person who did not have someone in a cotton apron – a grandmother or mother, an uncle, a father, a neighbor, a teacher – standing behind them who could turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one and make the world seem larger, full of heart and bursting with possibility. But these American cooks had been forgotten over the past several decades as ‘cooking’ morphed into ‘cuisine.’ I wanted to find them and cook with them and get a taste of their America.”

Her words resonated with me. In my life, those people in the “cotton aprons” include both of my grandmothers (they really DID wear cotton aprons; my maternal grandmother used to sew her own out of lace and gingham), my dad and my mom, both of whom I have written about here before. I like to think I am that person for my sons Andy (who loves to cook) and even Eric (who is much more interested in a good meal and proficient in the kitchen than he would like to admit). Who was that person for you?

In any event, you can expect me to post a few recipes from this wonderful book. I can’t wait to try the marinated feta, original deviled eggs, 3-generation olive salad, West Indies crab salad (I loved this when I lived in Mobile as a teenager) and chocolate-sauerkraut (really?) cupcakes. I’ll keep you posted.

I made the following soup when we were captives in our house last week. It was just the ticket as it was warm, comforting and hearty enough to sustain us throughout the ice storm. I'm just happy we didn't have to rely on it for more than five days!


6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound white mushrooms, coarsely chopped (see note)
2 medium onions, chopped
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups water
2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons paprika, preferably smoked (see note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

In a Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and onions and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are soft. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring, about 1 minute until incorporated.

Slowly whisk in the water, stock, milk, dill, tamari, paprika and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened.

In a small bowl, mix the sour cream with ¼ cup of the warm soup to temper, then stir mixture into the soup along with the parsley and lemon juice. Taste to adjust seasonings and serve.

Serves 6

*  While the recipe calls for white mushrooms, I used criminis (baby portobellos) because I like their "meatiness" and heartier flavor.

*  I think smoked paprika really does add another element of flavor to this soup, so I would encourage you to use it.  You can also use smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika), which is what I did.  If all else fails though, you can use sweet paprika.

*  Want to make this vegetarian?  No problem.  Just substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

*  Feel free to play around with quantities of dill, tamari (or soy sauce, which is what I used) and lemon juice.  I ended up using a little more of each, but that's just my taste.

Naturally, there is a story behind the acquisition of this cookbook.  It was purchased for me by my sister (in-law, but we don't look at it that way) Barbara, who lives in NYC.  She gave it to Andy (who also lives in the city) and insisted he schlep it on the plane to Florida where he was meeting us right after Christmas.  Since it weighs over 10 pounds, he wasn't thrilled, knowing he would either have to lug it in his backpack or exceed the weight limit on his luggage.  He asked why she didn't just order it from Amazon and send it directly.  Her response?  She wanted to support the local bookstore in the West Village so they can hopefully stay alive in the midst of those big-box booksellers.  Gotta love that!

Or at least I did until it was my turn to drag it back on the plane to Atlanta.  Thanks, Barbara!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snowmageddon Days Three and Four

Complete.  Carb.  Overload.  That's how I am coping with the fact that I am still a captive in our house.

Obviously, we Southerners are clueless when it comes to snow and ice.  What's the first thing that happens when there is a mere whisper of anything white in the forecast?  The grocery store shelves get completely emptied of milk and bread, that's what.  This week was no different.  In fact, I just saw on the local news that stocks still have not been replenished.

I can't do anything about our diminishing supply of milk, but bread?  I'm all over that!  With nothing else to do, baking a couple of loaves sounded like a good plan.

Now bear in mind, I try to limit carbs during the week.  At least when things are "normal" (whatever that is) around here.  But these last four days have been anything but, so food scruples have flown out the window.  Needless to say, Henry is not disappointed by this.

I started with Oatmeal Wheat Bread.  This recipe produces soft and delicate loaves, which are lovely and not too heavy.  I toasted some slices for breakfast this morning (since my egg supply is almost depleted) and it had a lovely, crunchy crust.  I may never buy bread in the supermarket again!

OATMEAL WHEAT BREAD (Adapted from “Gourmet Today”)

2 cups whole milk
1 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking), plus additional for sprinkling
½ warm water (105 – 115-degrees)
3 packages (1/4 oz.) yeast
½ cup honey
4 tablespoon (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash

Heat milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and stir in oats. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until cooled to warm.

Stir together the warm water, yeast and 1 teaspoon of the honey in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. If mixture doesn’t foam, discard it and start over with new yeast.

Stir yeast mixture, melted butter and remaining honey into oatmeal.

Place the flours and salt into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Blend briefly to combine. Add oat mixture and blend again to combine then let sit for 10 minutes. Turn mixer on low speed and mix for 10 minutes, until dough gathers on the beater.

Remove dough to a well-oiled bowl or container and place in a warm, draft-free place for 1 – 1 ½ hours until doubled in size. Grease two 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pans.

Punch dough down and knead briefly. Divide in half and pat or roll each half into a 10 x 6-inch rectangle. Starting from long side, roll up each rectangle tightly. Pinch seam to seal and place dough seam-side-down in pans, gently tucking ends under to fit. Place pans in a warm, draft-free place and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 375-degrees.

Lightly brush tops of risen loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with oats. Bake until bread is golden and loaves sound hollow when tapped, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove bread from pans and transfer on a rack to cool completely.

Yield: 2 loaves

*  I did not have whole milk, so I used 1 1/2 cups of my usual 1% milk, then added 1/2 cup of half-and-half.

Haha, but after I made these loaves, I logged on to my Facebook account.  Two of my very talented friends (Bobby and Don, you know who you are) had sent me a recipe for beer bread.  Beer bread?  I went back to my recipe files and unearthed my dinosaur recipe for it that called for Bisquik.  Uh, I think not.

This recipe, though, called for self-rising flour.  And an entire stick of butter.  Now really, how bad could it be?  Besides, I know these two and they really GET food.  I took the plunge.


4 cups self-rising flour (see note)
1 1/2 cups (1 12-oz. bottle) warm beer (I used Sweetwater 420)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Do NOT preheat your oven.

Grease a 6-cup ovenproof bowl (I used a 6-cup souffle dish which measured 6 3/4-inches in diameter and was 3 1/2-inches high).

Combine flour, beer and sugar in a medium bowl.  Pour into the greased souffle dish (or whatever you are using) and pour the melted and cooled butter over.

Place in the cold oven and put a bowl or pan underneath to catch any dripping butter.  Turn oven on to 325-degrees.  Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours then remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes.

Remove from pan to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Serves 12

Bobby and Don's ideas for flavor variations:

Italian - add 1 tablespoon each fresh basil and oregano, 2 minced garlic cloves and 1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese
Herb - add 1 teaspoon each of chopped fresh rosemary, oregano and thyme
Spicy - add 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar and 1/4 can green chili peppers, chopped
Seeds - add 5 tablespoons poppy, sesame or caraway seeds

They also suggest experimenting with different beers.  A darker beer will give a deeper, fuller flavor, while a lighter beer will taste less robust.

And of course, I have a few comments....

Don't have any self-rising flour in the house?  No worries (I didn't either).  Just use all-purpose, unbleached flour and add 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for every cup of flour.

I have to say that in terms of overall effort, the beer bread wins hands-down.  It was SO easy, no yeast, no kneading and no drama.  Yes, my Oatmeal Wheat Bread was delicous, but not so much that it was worth the work as compared to the effortless and delicious Beer Bread.  Interesting.....

And although I've been indulging in carbs (I won't tell you about the whipping cream pound cake I made yesterday, unless of course, you ask me for the recipe), I got my workout today.  We live on a cul-de-sac at the top of a very long hill.  The bottom of the hill doesn't get much sunlight, so there was a tremendous amount of ice build-up.  It also dumps out onto a very busy road, so sliding your car down there into tons of oncoming traffic is not a good idea.  Henry rallied the neighbors today and lots of people showed up to hack up the ice and clear the road.  That included me, although my real contribution was a couple dozen freshly baked, warm chocolate chunk cookies.  Thanks, neighbors!

My hands are so sore from wielding that shovel today that I can hardly lift my wineglass.  I'll manage, however.  Here's to tomorrow's escape!