Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Sandra's Tomato Sauce

Sandra's Tomato Sauce is the next to the last entry in the sauces category. The only thing left is Game Sauce, for which one needs game, after all. My son's friend Jake, the hunter, might come up with some sort of game bird, depending on what he's up to, and I might be able to make the game sauce sometime.
However, I have to say, Sandra's Tomato Sauce is bland and more or less uninteresting. My husband called the spice requirements "timorous." Even with the added pepping up of more spices, the sauce didn't amount to much. We ate it on spaghetti squash, which is kind of peculiar. It looks like spaghetti but it doesn't taste or feel like spaghetti at all.

Sandra's Tomato Sauce

1/2 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 two pound three ounce cans tomatoes in tomato puree
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 leaves fresh basil or one half teaspoon dried basil
1 sprig fresh oregano or one-quarter teaspoon dried oregano

1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the onion in it until tender. Add the tomatoes and cook uncovered one hour or until well blended.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and cook five minutes.
Makes two quarts

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Maple Walnut Bars

This week we had guest cooks on the blog, notably my husband and another family member. The Maple Walnut Bars were made by the other family member, who likes to bake. Unfortunately, the guest cooks did not want to guest write.
The bars used up the last of the granulated maple sugar and a cup of chopped walnuts. They are delicious without being sickly sweet. Don't think maple walnut ice cream. They are also extremely easy. One minute I heard the noise of the mixer and the next minute, the bars were sitting on the counter.

Maple Walnut Bars

1 cup shortening
1 cup soft maple sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
confectioners' sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream the shortening and maple sugar together. Beat in the eggs. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and stir into batter.
3. Stir in the walnuts and spoon into a greased eight-inch square baking dish. Bake thirty minutes. Cool in the dish. When cold, cut into bars and coat with confectioners' sugar. Makes 16.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Stock Pot Soup

Today, I stayed home from school with a case of bronchitis that has fluid rumbling around inside my lungs. The prospect of a whole free day had me thinking about the cookbook. I did do an inventory of uncooked recipes this summer. Even though I had cut the soup and appetizer inventory in half, for example, I still had a long way to go. It seemed like a great opportunity to tackle one of those long involved recipes, like stock pot soup which has to cook for four to five hours. I would rather wait until cooler weather sets in, but I've got the time now, so I decided to fog up the windows with soup steam and turn up the air conditioning.
So after I dropped my husband, who is going to San Francisco, off at the Metro, I went to the supermarket. This recipe has a long ingredient list, and is not cheap. Also, nowadays, it's not easy to find things like beef bones. Meat, as the butcher guys at various supermarkets have patiently told me, is delivered already partially butchered. There are no stray bones at the supermarket. Chicken is the same. I needed a 3 pound whole chicken, and actually couldn't find one at Safeway. It's all prepackaged.
I went first to my local Safeway in the drizzle, but beef bones and the three pound chicken were not to be had. So I drove up to the Westbard Giant on River Road, where I had actually had a conversation with the butcher about veal shanks. They had three pound chickens and beef marrow bones. As far as a veal knuckle goes, the refrain of the butcher guys is, "I haven't seen those in ten years."
This recipe is a reminder of how much food and cooking have changed over the last 50 years. What was 50 years ago basically extra stuff, bones, chicken wings, chicken carcasses, now has to be purchased specifically, or left out because it's not available. I have always preferred whole chickens to chicken parts, and cut up my own chicken. This yields chicken backs, which my husband calls chicken asses, that can be used for soup. A search in the freezer under the refrigerator produced only one chicken ass.
When the kids were young, I could usually count on 4 or 5 chicken asses lurking down there that I could make into soup. But now, since we are down to two diners, and I don't cook as much as I used to, there are fewer asses.
I dragged all the bones, wings, vegetables, etc. home, having to come through the back because a "suspicious package" had been discovered at the local high school, and an impressive collection of fire equipment was parked in front of my house. I dug out the big pot and started tossing in ingredients. One thing about this recipe is, it's long, but not fussy. Only the turnips have to be peeled. We aren't directed to cut anything up. I broke the unpeeled carrots in half so they would fit in the pot. I didn't even peel the onions, although I did stick each of them with four whole cloves, as directed.
The whole preparation process took about 15 minutes. Then, I set it to boil and began emptying the dishwasher. At 2:30 I put in the brisket. I think my stockpot holds at least 10 quarts, but there would have been no room for the chicken. Also, the idea is to serve the brisket and chicken when hot, and right now, there's no one here to eat either one with me.
At 3:45, when I woke up from my nap, I took out the brisket, inspected it, found it not done on the side that had not been submerged in the water, and stuck it back in the pot. Then I turned off the gas and went off to Office Depot to spend my teacher supply money, something I had not had a chance to do since school started. When I got back, the house was full of a wonderful meaty smell. I dredged out the bones and cooked vegetables and drained the soup into two large bowls.
Right now, I'm running the dishwasher to clean the large size canning jars so I'll have something to put my stock in.
While this has a lot of ingredients, some of which are not obtainable, it is not a difficult recipe. Some day this winter, when the weather forecast is calling for a foot of snow, lay in the ingredients and boil away. You'll be glad you did.

Stock Pot Soup

4 pounds, more or less, fresh or cooked chicken carcases, beef bones or veal bones
3 pounds chicken wings
1 veal knuckle
2 beef marrow bones
2 large onions, each studded with four whole cloves
3 cloves garlic
6 carrots
4 leeks, trimmed split in half and well washed
3 white turnips, peeled
3 bay leaves
2 cups dry white wine
6 tablespoons coarse salt
16 peppercorns
6 sprigs parsley
Top leaves and outside ribs of six celery stalks
3 pounds brisket of beef
1 four-pound to five-pound chicken

1. Place the carcasses, wings, veal knuckle, marrow bones, onions, garlic, carrots, leeks, turnips, bay leaves, wine, salt, peppercorn s, parsley and celery in an eight to ten quart kettle. Add cold water to within two inches of the kettle rim. Bring slowly to a boil and skim frequently as necessary. Let simmer so that the broth barely bubbles four to five hours.
2. One hour before the broth is to be removed from the stove, add beef brisket and chicken. Cook until brisket and chicken are cooked and tender. Remove the chicken and brisket, which may be served at this point, using as much broth as necessary.
3. Strain all the broth and store in pint and quart containers. Refrigerate overnight. Skim off all fat, then freeze the stock. Makes five to six quarts strained broth.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Maple Apples

I wanted to make a dessert for our family dinner, but I hadn't done any advance planning. I bought a bar of dark chocolate at Whole Foods, thinking maybe I could make chocolate cookies. Then I started looking through the cookbook and realized that Maple Apples were the perfect dessert for the season. We had all the ingredients, decent apples from the Homestead Farm in Montgomery County, Md. and a small jug of maple syrup that was left over from my sister's Christmas stockings.
I'll let you in on a secret. I don't really like maple syrup on pancakes, so maple syrup in our house lasts a long time. We used to have these little jugs kicking around the house for years. The only problem was, the little jug contained one cup, and the recipe called for two cups. After rummaging through the pantry for ten minutes and not uncovering another little jug, I pulled out the big bottle of Log Cabin syrup and poured a cup of that into the maple syrup. Worked fine. I wouldn't use only Log Cabin, but half and half was an acceptable substitute. The recipe says whipped cream is optional. Don't leave it out. It makes the dessert. The apples turned out puffy, soft and sweet.
The apples simmered in the maple syrup, the ham simmered with the dumplings, the potatoes fried, and the house was filled with wonderful smells. Son told us about his trip to Japan. I was impressed, I'll tell you. When a person one has known all their life, who can't remember to turn out the lights when they leave the house, is representing the United States government with a major trading partner, that's impressive.
This was a great fall dinner, with the weather cooperating and getting down into the 50s at night.
One thing about the apples, they should all fit in the syrup. Since the big pot was taken up with the ham, I wedged in four apples in the smaller pot and put the last one on top, thinking to rotate it. I ended up leaving the last one in for another 15 minutes so it would cook.

Maple Apples

6 tart, firm apples, such as Cortland or McIntosh (Cortland are better. You can get them now at farm stands.)
2 cups maple syrup
2 cups water
sweetened whipped cream

1. Remove the core from each apple, but otherwise leave them whole. Remove the peel from the upper half of each apple.
2. Combine the syrup and water, add the apples and simmer until tender, about one hour. Serve cold, with sweetened whipped cream if desired. Serves six.

Hash Brown Potatoes

I broke out of my New England mode to make Hash Brown Potatoes from Ohio since I've made every New England potato recipe in the book. These are great because they are easy. You just chop the onion, saute it and put the potatoes in on top. They get browned with bits of browned onion sticking to them. I did cut the amount of butter in half. I didn't think they really needed half a stick of butter, and I was right. They were well received by the multitudes.

Hash Brown Potatoes

1 onion finely chopped
3 tablespoons shortening
1/4 cup butter or bacon drippings
6 potatoes, peeled and sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Saute the onion in the shortening and butter or bacon drippings until tender. Add the potato slices. Cover and cook over medium flame stirring now and then until cooked and browned. Season with salt and pepper. Makes five servings.

Schnitz un Knepp (Apples and Dumplings)

The name of this dish is a mystery. Apfel is apple in German, so what is Schnitz? Or Knepp? Since it's from Pennsylvania, I imagine the name is Pennsylvania Dutch, which is really some kind of German. After checking with Wikkipedia, I discovered that snitz means sliced. The dried apples are sliced, so they call it schnitz. Wikkepedia calls it a staple of Pennsylvania Dutch cookery. Anyhow, it's really ham with apples and dumplings. I made it for my son and his wife after he surfaced almost two weeks after coming back from Japan. I allowed him to decide if they wanted fish or not, and he picked not.
The recipe calls for a two pound smoked ham. I asked the butcher at Giant for a bone in ham because I like bone in meat. It has more flavor She came back saying the smallest bone in ham they had was six pounds, so I got that. Possibly my issues with the dumplings resulted from the size of the ham. I bought the dried apples at Whole Foods, and got two containers. I suspect that dried apples are very expensive, because I really didn't get much and the bill was $24. But, I threw the receipt away so I don't actually know what dried apples cost.
I actually left school around 4:00 and was able to get dinner going by five. The recipe said to boil the ham for two hours and then put the apples in and cook for another hour, and at the end, put the dumpling dough in and boil for thirty minutes, making altogether three hours and a half to prepare dinner. That would have meant eating at 8:30, which I know my son doesn't like, so I made an executive decision to cook the ham for two hours and then add the dumplings. Ham is already cooked anyway, right?
I put the ham in the largest pot we had and set it to boil. It took up most of the space in the pot. After an hour, I added the dried apples, which had been soaking, and the brown sugar. The recipe says to add the dumpling dough to the pot. Well, since there was no room, I had to take the ham out of the pot, assisted in this by my son, who had shown up with my daughter in law by that time. We pried it out with some difficulty and left it in the oven to stay warm while I coped with the dumplings.
We did not eat dumplings in my house when I was growing up and I was well into adulthood before I knew what dumplings really were. To me, dumplings were dim sum. So I'm not totally sure how these were supposed to turn out. I suspect they were not supposed to turn out as they did, a sort of messy wet collection of floury lumps. At least one member of the family liked them. The others tried them without comment, except my husband complained that there was too much starch.
My husband suggested that perhaps the water was not boiling properly when I put the dough in. This may be correct. After we took the ham out the water was not boiling, and although I turned up the gas under the pot, it probably wasn't at a rolling boil the way it was supposed to be. The dried apples sort of ended up mixed in with the dumplings, so the ham did not really get the benefit of them. But the ham was good.
Anyone who tries this and has better luck with the dumplings should let us all know.

Schnitz un Knepp

2 cups dried apples
1 two-pound smoked ham ( picnic shoulder or boned butt is ideal)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup milk approximately

1. Day before, cover the apples with water and let soak overnight.
2. Next day, place the ham in a kettle, cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer, covered about two hours. Add apples, soaking water and brown sugar and cook one hour longer.
3. To prepare dumplings, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the egg, butter and enough milk to make a fairly stiff flour.
4. Drop the butter by spoonfuls into the simmering apple and ham mixture. Cover and let cook thirty minutes. Six to eight servings.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Maple Frosting

The maple frosting for the maple sugar cake is boiled icing. The boiling is done by the maple syrup with one-quarter cup of sugar mixed in. The cook is supposed to "boil it until the mixture spins a thread or registers 220 degrees on a candy thermometer." Huh?

Well, as usual, if you really want to know what's going on, consult the expert. The Joy of Cooking will tell you what boiled icing is, and what all this mixture spins a thread stuff is. The first thing the book tells us is, "Never ruin a good cake with a doubtful icing." Now exactly what constitutes a doubtful icing is not explained, but, it's good advice nonetheless.

Boiled icing, Rombauer and Backer tell us, is "Based on the principle known as Italian Meringue,--the cooking of egg whites by beating into them gradually a hot but not boiling syrup." Okay? Clear enough there. Now we get to this "spin a thread" business. "Cook the syrup to 238 to 240 degrees." Now I guess there was a time when every kitchen had a candy thermometer. My mother had one, although she probably only made candy three times in her entire life. It lived in its box in the drawer to the left of the stove, the one that held odd implements like the meat mallet. The box was decorated with gaily colored candies, and I dreamed of being able to make those candies. Alas, it was not to be.

By the time both she and my sister had died the drawer that held the odd implements in my childhood had graduated to holding the good stainless steel knives, forks and spoons, and the candy thermometer was lost in the mists of time. So, while I was doing all this boiling, I lhad no idea what the temperature of the syrup might be. I also feel that we as a family possess enough cooking equipment, so I was not inclined to rush out to the fancy cooking store on Wisconsin Avenue and shell out for a candy thermometer. The Northeast section does contain candy recipes, so I may get one yet, but not today, Roo dear.

Back to The Joy of Cooking. The sugar syrup "will have gone through a coarse thread stage and when dropped from the edge of a spoon will pull out into thickish threads." Well, I didn't exactly notice the thickish threads. However, I continued bravely boiling, since one of the lessons I have learned from this cooking odyssey is don't stop in the middle. It just takes longer than you think.

"When the thick thread developes a hair-like appendage and curls back upon itself, remove the syrup from the heat." A little thread of sugar dries and curls up off the spoon. Eureka!

What you get after beating the maple and sugar syrup into the egg whites (I doubled the recipe because it seemed skimpy,) is a shiny white icing reminiscient of melted marshmallows. It tastes mildly of maple syrup and hardens a little bit. Follow Mrs. Joy's directions about keeping all the utensils "scrupulously clean," because egg whites can be a pain in the ass and not whip if there is any grease around.

Maple Frosting

3/4 of a cup maple syrup

1/4 cup sugar

1 egg white

1. Place the syrup and sugar in a small pan and heat until the mixture spins a thread (see above) or registers 220 degrees on a candy thermometer.

2 Immediately pour the syrup slowly into the stiffly beating eff white, continuing to beat until the mixture is cold. (This takes a while, ten minutes maybe.) Makes about two cups.

Maple Sugar Cake

This recipe reminded me of my sugaring off days. Unless you live in New England, the phrase sugaring off may call to mind the Currier and Ives prints of a pair of oxen harnessed to a sledge with men pouring wooden buckets of sap into a barrel on the sledge. Nowadays the maple sugar producers do it with miles of clear plastic pipe running from the trees to the sugar house where the sap is boiled down into syrup.
In my day, we did it with an old fashioned milk can pushed by a crew of eleven and twelve year olds over the bumpy ground in a baby carriage. Sugaring off was a scheme of my friend Frankie, Mrs. Curtiss's son. In the heyday of the Curtiss's operation, which must have been around 1890, sugaring off was just one of the many things that went on on their property. There was a sugar house, which Mr. Curtiss, always the conscienscous steward of the property, kept in repair, buckets, which some one in the past had unaccountably painted white both inside and outside, the spigots that one pounded into a hole drilled in the maple tree to allow the sap to drip into the bucket, and a huge sheet metal pan with a faucet for draining the sap out once it was boiled down. Everything was there but the oxen and the sledge.
Frankie started planning the sugaring off in the summer. We decided the sugar house wouldn't work, but found an outdoor fire pit where the workers ran a second sap boiling operation. He set us (his sisters and me) to work cutting wood for the fire and persuaded his father to have the fire pit repaired. I remember spending entire days cutting wood for the woodpile. Around 5:30 either Mrs. Curtiss would send me home, or my mother would call, and I jumped on my horse, Daisy, and shambled off down the road home.
When March finally came and the temperature rose above freezing in the daytime, the sap started running and we got to work. Saturdays, Sundays, and the one day a week our school got out at 3:00, we drilled and pounded and poured and emptied and boiled. I became a regular weekend fixture at the Curtisses' midday dinner. I usually stayed to lunch either Saturday or Sunday, but since we were working so hard, I didn't want to take the time to go home and come back.
Once the sap had thickened somewhat, we drained it out of the sheet metal pan and carried it down to Mrs. Curtiss's kitchen. There we poured it into a huge aluminum kettle and it boiled some more. Mrs. Curtiss was much more tolerant of the schemes of her offspring than my mother was. I would have never dreamed of asking my mother if we could boil maple syrup in her kitchen. But Mrs. Curtiss put up with the clouds of steam coming out of the kettle, and the accompanying inconvenience of having at least one of the burners occupied all the time.
The steam had one beneficial result from her point of view. It steamed off the wallpaper, and that summer the Curtisses renovated their kitchen.
We got about 25 pints of syrup for our labors and bottled it in little log cabin shaped bottles. I don't remember bringing any of it home, but I might have. We didn't eat pancakes in our family, so there wouldn't have been much of a use for it.
I started out looking for the maple sugar for the cake this summer, at a farmers' market in Norfolk, Connecticut. The maple sugar producers there did not make maple sugar, and really didn't have much idea where I could find it. Note that the recipe calls for maple sugar, not maple sugar candy, which is that stuff that comes in little boxes in the shape of maple leaves and boy and girl pilgrims. Maple sugar candy has cream in it, which is not what the author of the recipe had in mind, I think.
My husband cleverly went on line and located it in Vermont at It's called granulated maple sugar and has a wonderful evocative smell.
The recipe says use eight inch cake pans. I think ours are 9 inches, and the resulting layers were about an inch thick. I ended up making another batch of cake batter and filling a third cake pan so the cake would be an acceptable thickness.
This is a very easy cake to make. Nothing fussy about it at all.

Maple Sugar Cake

1 cup soft maple sugar (granulated maple sugar)
1/4 cup shortening
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 cup chopped nuts
Maple frosting

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. Cream together the maple sugar and shortening until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks.
3. Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add to the batter alternately with the milk. Fold in the nuts.
4. Spoon into two greased eight-inch layer pans and bake about twenty-five minutes or until done. Cool on a rack before filling and frosting with maple frosting.
Makes six to eight servings.

Crab Bake

Crab Bake is delicious, simple and earth shatteringly expensive. The Chesapeake Bay must be in terrible shape for crab meat to cost $32 a pound. As that price, this simple casserole costs $64 to feed six people, whereas a roast beef or leg of lamb would cost no more than $30. You can bet, however, that if you serve it to your guests, unless they are millionaires or crab fishermen, they don't eat crab very often.
It was a huge success. One of the guests wrote a thank you note and said her husband raved about it all the way home. And, there were leftovers, which, as my husband does not eat shellfish, I got to eat. Yum. The recipe says this serves six. It probably serves eight, so you could stretch it a little farther.

Crab Bake

2 pounds flaked crab meat picked over to remove bis of shell and cartilage
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
few drops Tabasco sauce
3/4 cup buttered breadcrumbs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place the crab meat in a bowl. Combine the sour cream, cheese, lemon juice, onion, salt and Tabasco and pour over crab meat. Toss to mix.
2. Turn into six lightly greased individual shells or ramekins. Top with the bread crumbs and bake twenty-five minutes or until lightly browned. (If you bake it in a baking dish, you can serve eight people.)