Friday, November 23, 2012

Scallops Mayonnaise

We are great fans of scallops in this house.  It is one of my husband's lasting griefs that he can no  longer eat them. We still remember fondly a trip to Nova Scotia in 1976 where we ate Digby Bay scallops, the signature scallops of the Maritimes, virtually every night.  On the way to the ferry, we saw a sign for Digby  Bay, and pulled off with glad cries, hastening to the local coffee shop where we  wolfed down a plate of fried scallops before saying good bye to Canada and its seafood.
This is a nice appetizer for Thanksgiving or at any other time. Probably it's more of a summer dish,  but no one complained. I almost forgot to buy  them through a complicated set of circumstances and various markets. In order to avoid the stampeding masses in the market on Wednesday  before Thanksgiving, I  did my shopping at Safeway on Tuesday. But,  Safeway doesn't carry scallops. I intended to go to the Fishery, my local fish market, but, on Wednesday, my intention had escaped my memory. Wednesday morning, I went to yoga to limber up my joints for the next day's cooking marathon, and then to Whole Foods, where I had to buy some pate for  Bob and my daughter-in-law, who had expressed a no scallops preference.
Cruising by the seething mobs of Thanksgiving shoppers, my eyes lit on the fish counter. Ohmigod. The scallops. Appetizer disaster averted.
This whole recipe takes about 15 minutes, and could easily be made the night before. Be careful not to overcook the scallops.

Scallops Mayonnaise

1 pound scallops
salt to taste
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon horseradish
1 teaspoon mustard,  preferably Dijon or Dusseldorf
3 tablespoons finely chopped scallions including the green part
2 tablespoons finely chopped stuffed green olives
Tabasco sauce to taste

1.   If bay scallops (the little ones) are used, leave them whole; if sea scallops are used, cut them in half.  Place in a saucepan with water to barely cover. Add salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer three to five minutes. Do not overcook or scallops will be tough. Drain and chill well.
2. Combine the remaining ingredients. Serve scallops with mayonnaise dressing.
Makes four generous servings.

Baked Bourbon Spiced Sweet Potatoes

  These sweet potatoes, from the great bourbon producing state of Tennessee, are a departure from the mashed sweet potatoes covered with marshmallows that have been traditional.  But, in this house, we're all adults, and some of us like bourbon  better than marshmallows. Besides the bourbon, this recipe has several high quality ingredients that never fail to please, such as  butter, heavy cream and sugar. So how can  you go wrong?
As I write this, a guest on the NPR program Splendid Table, is denouncing the Farm Bill and its possible role in contributing to obesity. Okay.  This is not an everyday kind of dish. It's a once a year kind of a dish. If  you want to cook a nutritious sweet potato dish, you can cut them into fries,  brush them with oil and  bake them. Those are full of vitamin A and probably have one- twentieth of the calories of this  recipe.  But we're talking about Thanksgiving here.
One good thing about this recipe is, the sweet potatoes are baked,  as advertised in the title.  You can put them in the oven with the turkey and go out for a walk to clear your head of  turkey fumes before dinner. Then, the crisp skins break open, and you can just scrape the potato out with a spoon. It's practically mashed already, and much easier to deal with than boiled sweet potatoes. I would add the caveat that, if your traditional Thanksgiving dinner contains mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, four servings will probably be more than enough for eight or nine diners. Also  if you don't usually drink hard liquor, get a half pint bottle of  bourbon. You'll use it up faster.

 Baked Bourbon Sweet Potatoes

4 sweet potatoes
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup  bourbon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Scrub the potatoes and bake until tender, about forty minutes. peel and mash into a bowl.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Turn into a greased casserole and bake until heated through, about ten minutes (or more) .  
Makes four servings.

Whole Cranberry Conserve

In the New England section, as one would expect, there are no fewer than three cranberry  sauce-ish recipes. Conserve is technically an old fashioned word for what we would call jam. So this cranberry concoction is a little stiffer than cranberry sauce.
Now, in my house, the occupants or former occupants, have grown past the idea that cranberries have to come in a certain form and any other form is unacceptable. So basically, nobody noticed. Mind  you, there was a time when I bought cranberry jelly for one member of the household, and  made cranberry sauce for the rest of us.  So, if  you are considering this recipe for Thanksgiving, consider your audience.
The recipe says to use a darning needle and pierce each  cranberry.  As old fashioned as I am in many ways, I do not have a darning needle, and never did. So, I rummaged around in the drawer that contains cooking implements and odd junk, and found these mini skewers, that were excellent for piercing the cranberries.  Don't get hung  up on the darning needle.  The picture at left should  be helpful in showing you what the recipe is talking about.
I  sat and pierced for about ten minutes  until I had two cups of cranberries. (  I made half the recipe.)  Bob asked me why the cranberries had to be pierced. My answer, one I concocted long ago when playing  adventure computer games where the player had to actually type in the directions was, "because directions say so." He thought about it for a second and said, "oh, so they don't explode."
This conserve/jam takes about thirty minutes and seems somewhat more tart than the canned stuff, which is probably a good thing for most of us.

Whole Cranberry Conserve

4 cups cranberries                                             
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
juice of one lemon
grated rind of one orange

1. Use a darning needle and run it through each cranberry, piercing the stem end first. (The stem end has a little tiny circle.)
2. Combine the water and sugar and simmer ten minutes to make syrup. Add cranberries, the lemon juice and orange rind and cook over high heat twenty minutes or  until syrup thickens and sheets from spoon in two streams. These are canning directions if you want to make this as jam.  Pour into hot sterilized jars.
  Pour in two thin layers of melted paraffin over. Cool , cover and store in a cool, dark, dry place.  
Makes  four to five eight ounce jars.                         


Flaky Rolls

Thanksgiving morning started with the rolls. We weren't having guests come until 5:00, in part to give the yms time with my co-mother-in-law. But at 9 am, I  began dissolving yeast and scalding milk. I am renowned in my family for serving meals late. Bob complains that no matter what time he comes home, we always eat after 8:30. This time, I actually counted up the number of hours that the dough had to chill, rest, etc. and came up with four. Thus the  dissolving and scalding at such an early  hour.
Flaky rolls are like puff pastry.  The cook rolls out the dough into a rectangle! (As if.)  Then, the cook  divides the dough into three parts, butters the center, folds the edges over the center, butters the edges and  presses the dough to seal. Then comes a succession of hours chilling in the refrigerator, rolling out into a rectangle and folding it up and putting it  back into the refrigerator.
Honestly, if you have never  baked any kind of a yeast  bread  before, I would not choose this to start with. But, if you really want  to, make a test batch before your big day to see how it goes. And make sure you have wax paper. Always the wax paper.
I was permanently scared off  puff pastry or anything reassembling it in the least bit when I was about 12 or 13. My parents  had gone off to something; a wedding? a funeral?  on a hot summer day and given me strict instructions not to heat up the kitchen.  I looked through one of my mother's three cookbooks--I think it must have been The Settlement Cookbook, and  found this recipe for puff pastry. It had the same basic instructions, roll out the dough, spread it with butter, chill it, roll it out again, fold it up, chill it. I had no idea how to roll out dough, or that I had picked the worst possible day for my culinary adventure, since high temperatures make dough sticky and unforgiving.
The dough stuck to everything--to the rolling pin, to the counter, to the table, and to me. I ended up balling up the dough around the  slimy butter and sticking it back in the refrigerator as the oven heated the kitchen to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. My father, who always hated hot weather, was furious when he got home sweating in his suit and tie.
     As a result, I turned the page on flaky rolls for 30  years.  But one's baked goods do improve with experience, and I had had lots of experience, enough to fill in the blanks in the instructions. I  understood, for example, that  when the instructions say "knead  until the dough is smooth and elastic,"  that takes at least five minutes. Then   when it said to roll the dough out into a rectangle, I needed to  put the dough on a sheet of wax paper sprinkled with flour, because, if  I just put it on plain wax paper without the flour, the dough would stick to the wax paper like  billy-o, and have to be peeled off with a knife or a spatula.
I thought I had left plenty of time to  produce the rolls. Indeed I had, if only I had more than one oven. Bob, who has taken charge of the turkey in the last couple of years after discovering the spatchcocking process ,  pointed  out that we couldn't cook  both the turkey and the rolls simultaneously since the rolls had to bake at 475 degrees  and the turkey at 350 degrees. Oh.
"The turkey won't be ready until after 5:00," he said. I didn't say anything, mainly because I couldn't remember what time I had invited people for. It was either 4:00 or 5:00. I have been known to call my guests and ask them what time they were invited to come.
At 2:00,  while the dough was undergoing its last chilling, I drove off to Arlington to pick up my brother George. He normally takes Metro, but I didn't want to trust to Metro's Sunday/Thanksgiving schedule. When I got back, Bob was rolling out sections of dough, cutting the sections into triangles and rolling  the triangles into crescents.
The  rolls came out of the oven forty minutes later. Gluten or no gluten, I grabbed one off the cookie sheet and  ate it in all its hot, flaky, buttery goodness. It was worth the effort.

Flaky Rolls

1 package of active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups white flour
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup scalded milk, cooled to lukewarm
1 cup plus one tablespoon butter
1 egg  yolk
2 tablespoons heavy cream

1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water.
2 . Put the flour and salt in a  bowl and make a well in the center. Into this, pour the cooled milk, the dissolved or softened yeast and one tablespoon of the  butter.
3. Blend well and knead until smooth and elastic.   (This takes between five and ten minutes.)  (If you have never kneaded dough, or want technique tips, look on You tube.)
4. Refrigerate dough on bottom shelf of the refrigerator  ( is this an old recipe or what?) 15 minutes. Roll out on a floured sheet of wax paper into a 12-by-18-inch rectangle.
5. Soften the remaining  butter. (If you're smart, you will put  your pound of butter on top of the stove when you start dissolving the yeast and scalding the milk. So then it will be soft when you need it.) Score the dough rectangle into thirds and spread half the softened butter over the center third. Fold one end of the dough over the  butter. On this spread the remaining  butter. Fold the other end over this and press the edges to seal.
6. Put a 24 inch sheet of wax paper over the dough. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 12- by-18-inch rectangle.  Fold in thirds as  before. Wrap dough  in wax paper and chill one hour.
 7. Roll dough into 12-18-inch rectangle, fold in thirds wrap in wax paper and refrigerate two hours.
8. Roll out dough to one-eighth-inch thickness in a  12- by-18-inch rectangle. Cut into six-inch squares and then cut each square into four triangles. Starting with the wide end, roll t he triangles, then bend into crescents. Place on a  buttered  baking sheet.
9.  Cover with wax paper and refrigerate thirty minutes or longer.
10.  Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
11.  Blend the egg yolk with the cream and brush over the crescents. Bake five minutes and reduce oven heat to 400 degrees. Bake until crescents are golden, a bout ten minutes longer.
Makes 24.      

Thanksgiving Overview

Thanksgiving in cookbook land is all about the side dishes.  I used the recipe for Roast Turkey sometime in the 70s, before I started putting dates next to the recipes.  This year, I mined the cookbook for four separate recipes, not counting the mince pie, made from green tomato mincemeat that I canned in October.  We had Scallops Mayonnaise,  Whole Cranberry Conserve, Baked  Bourbon Spiced Sweet Potatoes, and Flaky Rolls.                                                                  
When the kids were growing up, we had soup as a starter. Last year, when I decided that there would  be deviation from soup, I had to clear it with my son, who seems to get worked up about these things more than other people. People
 Scallops were okay with him. My daughter-in-law, always polite and charming, said she didn't like scallops but he could have hers. So scallops it was.
I was particularly  proud of the flaky rolls. They were a tribute to following directions. They came out exactly as they should.  I  grabbed one off the cookie sheet and ate it warm. Nobody  had seconds  but their plates looked like they had been licked.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Baked Custard (Gluten Free)

Michaela, Bob's old boss, came to dinner Wednesday night. We had corned  beef and  Brussels sprouts for dinner, so I was looking for something light  and easy, not to say gluten free, for dessert. It being the night  before Thanksgiving, it  did not seem like the time for pies.
 I have to say, baked custard is sort of a namby-pamby dessert. It doesn't have much flavor. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was known as invalid food. Mothers fed it to sick children.
The recipe calls for scalded milk. You scald milk  by heating it slowly, until a ring of tiny bubbles form around the side of the pan. The website,  says scalding milk "infuses it with flavor," so the cook can scald milk with vanilla beans, mint leaves or other herbs and spices. Scalding also speeds up the cooking process. If you run across a bread recipe that tells you to scald the milk, you should follow the directions, as scalding milk deactivates the whey proteins in the milk, which can keep the dough from rising properly. (Make sure the milk has cooled somewhat, otherwise when you mix it into the eggs, they will cook.
  I asked Bob to bring home some raspberries, and he inventively made a raspberry sauce in the blender. What you see in the picture is the raspberry sauce. Custard is a very pale yellow.   The cooking time seemed to be off. Hewitt says twenty-five to thirty minutes. It seemed more like 40  to 50 minutes before it solidified.

Baked Custard

3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups milk, scalded
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the eggs with the sugar, salt and vanilla. Stir in the milk. (Make sure it has a chance to cool.) Pour into a baking dish or casserole that has been greased on the bottom. Sprinkle with the nutmeg. Set baking dish or casserole in a pan of hot water and bake twenty-five to thirty minutes, or until a knife inserted in custard comes out clean. Makes four servings.

Red Beans and Rice II

As   you might expect , red beans and rice is from Louisiana.  It is "one of the  most famous dishes in Louisiana," says Hewlett. Humph. I think crawfish etouffe is more famous myself. Or seafood gumbo. However,  I was into cheap last week, before Thanksgiving, so we had red beans and rice. Bob  eyed  the ham hocks in the  beans with disfavor. "Why are we having this again?"  he inquired, meaning the ham hocks. I said we weren't having ham hocks alone again, we were having red beans and rice, which happened to contain ham hocks. The last time we had ham hocks, just a couple of weeks ago, he had reminisced about his Aunt  Hortense, (yes, that was her name, and she was a lovely old lady,)  and how she used to make ham hocks with beans. Turned out it was green beans. Oh.
The alternative for ham hocks is  bacon drippings. It occurs to me that some of  you may  not even know what  bacon drippings are. Bacon drippings are the fat that cooks off when  bacon is fried. It seems like bacon used to  be fattier, because we had a coffee can of  bacon drippings sitting next to our stove when I was growing up. My parents ate eggs and bacon every morning for breakfast, but that was only bacon from 4 slices. It seemed like those cans filled up pretty fast. When they were full, my mother put them into the freezer and put them on top of the bird feeder when the weather got cold. One year, we had starlings in the bird feeder. The starlings flung wads of fat at the house and messed up the aluminum siding. 
 The recipe says to soak the beans overnight. I soaked them for a couple of hours and they were fine. Oh yeah. Hewitt says the  beans are "not kidney beans as many suppose. " She doesn't say what they are, but they ain't kidney beans. Thanks, Jean, old girl. However, it is okay to                             use kidney beans.  Make sure you start dinner in time to let the beans boil for an hour and a half.
 Also, it says to use three cups of water, which would have left the ham hocks high and dry. I used twice as much water to submerge the ham hocks  so they would cook properly, and ended up draining a lot of the water off at the end.    I also threw in some crumbled hot red peppers that a neighbor gave me from his garden. The ingredients sort of stew together and make a  sauce for the beans. It's a very acceptable dinner on a cool night, accompanied by a salad.

Red Beans and Rice II

1  cup dried red  beans, soaked overnight
3 cups water
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
 3 tablespoons bacon drippings or one small ham hock
1 small onion, studded with two whole cloves (I chopped up the onion)
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
 1 rib celery, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 bay leaf,  broken into pieces
1 cup rice, cooked according to package directions

1. Drain the beans and place in a heavy kettle with the water, salt, pepper, and bacon drippings or ham hock.  Bring to a boil and simmer one and one-half hours. Add the onion, garlic, celery, parsley and  bay leaf and cook one hour longer.
2. Serve on hot rice.
Makes f our servings.               


Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Nobody likes fruitcake, right? Sixties talk show host Johnny Carson once called it 'the worst gift. There's only one fruitcake in the whole world, and people keep sending it to each other."   In fact, I don't like it myself. So, why make it?
Well, it's in the cookbook, so here we go. I had thought of making this for the Appalachian Trail hikers when I was in Massachusetts, figuring that they would eat anything. I am glad I didn't because it has a set of ingredients that are A. hard to find and B.  that would then become leftovers, and would require dragging back to DC. But when my husband's church announced that they needed donations for the hospitality hour for their annual celebration in honor of their patron saint, I leapt at the chance. it was time for some major foisting.
 If you want to make fruitcake, this is the season for buying the ingredients. Red and green maraschino cherries have a very short shelf life these days. The supermarkets are out of them by mid December. Also, who knows about things like Brazil nuts?
I handled the ingredient issue by sitting down at the computer and ordering everything I could from This may be a giant corporation for all I know, but the story they tell customers is they grew from a little family nut stand started by grandpa. They ship fast, I'll tell you that. You no sooner order than their box is on your doorstep, without having to pay for next day shipping. I ordered English walnuts, glazed diced orange peel, pitted dates and....Brazil nuts. In the shell. It says so, right here on my receipt. Did I check that and say, Oh, my God, I don't want these in the shell? I did not.
So, when I sat down to make the fruitcake and opened the bag of Brazil nuts, I was horrified to discover them in their enormously hard, triangular shells. So, I went to look for the hammer. Our basement is in more than the usual disarray, due to a dispute we are having with the District of Columbia. We want to install geothermal heating, and some bureaucrat at the DC Department of Consumer Affairs seems hellbent on making sure we do not. So stuff is everywhere, and I could only find a skinny little hammer designed to hammer those skinny little nails used in making picture frames.
 I wrapped the nuts in a dishtowel and began whacking away. I discovered that once I was able to penetrate the diamond like shell of these damn things, the meat still had to be picked out of the remaining shell. It was an arduous task. Then, I had Brazil nut pieces and finally some whole Brazil nuts, but they were still coated with the skin of the nut. Unlike peanuts, the skin does not just slough off.
How to get the skin off? I tried boiling the nuts, which worked sort of, and then scraped the skin off with my fingernails. Fun.
An hour later, I was ready to open the next bag and begin making the fruitcake. Basically, it's all measure, dump and mix. I did one thing by mistake which increased the flavorfulness of the fruitcake. I didn't check the size of the aperture on the vanilla bottle and dumped in at least two teaspoons of vanilla. You do that too. It made the cake taste better.
If you have never made fruitcake before, be prepared for having a lot of fruit (and nuts) and very little cake. The recipe does warn you about this. It says, "Resulting mixture will be stiff." That's what that means. Also, if, like I did, you find that you have too much batter for one loaf pan, prepare both loaf pans at the same time, stir the batter really well, and ladle the batter into them at the same time. What little actual batter there is has a tendency to trickle down to the bottom of the bowl, leaving the fruit on top with a light glaze of batter. My second loaf was more cake like than my first.
I was pleased to discover, when I finally took my unloved creation out of the oven, that it tasted good. (This recipe does not call for rum, which I consider a good thing.)
You may be wondering why this woman is railing on about waxed paper. Well, waxed paper is not mentioned until step 4. At that point many of us would find ourselves with a bowl of fruitcake batter and no time to run out and buy waxed paper. And, thusly, would just decide to do without it. Big mistake. Unless you want to have to dynamite your cake out of the pan, buy waxed paper.
So, if you want to try this, make it for an open house or something, so those that like it can eat it, and those that think they hate it will miss out. And buy waxed paper. And shelled Brazil nuts.


1 1/2 cups shelled Brazil nuts, left whole
1 1/2 cups walnut  halves
1 eight ounce package pitted dates, left whole
2/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
1/2 cup red maraschino cherries drained
1/2 cup green maraschino cherries, drained
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 teaspoon (or more) vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
2. Mix together the Brazil nuts, walnut halves, dates, orange peel, red cherries, green cherries and raisins. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and sprinkle it over the fruit mixture.
3. Beat the eggs until light and fluffy, add vanilla and combine with fruit mixture. Resulting mixture will be stiff.
4. The baking utensil(s) to be used should be greased, lined with unglazed brown paper, parchment paper or wax paper and greased again. (Skip this step at your peril.) Spoon the fruitcake mixture into a prepared 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan or one and one half quart mold or into two prepared one pound coffee cans.
5. Bake loaf one and three-quarter hours and other tins two hours. Cool cake in baking utensil ten minutes; then loosen and finish cooling on a rack. Makes 14 servings.

Cheese Custard (Gluten Free)

Cheese Custard is something like Strata, that all-purpose egg, bread and cheese dish. The bread has been replaced by saltines, or in my case, gluten free crackers.  Otherwise, it is pretty similar. I made it last night while I was cleaning out son's room. First, I put all the ingredients into a baking dish. Then I let them sit while I cleaned. The recipe says to let it sit for 30 minutes. I let mine sit for nigh onto three hours. No ill effects. The point is, if you have a few minutes before the kids come home from school, you can put this together then, put it in the oven 40 minutes or so before you want to eat and eat it at 7:00.
 Son and daughter-in-law have moved to Alexandria, and Bob is on a mission to clean out his room so it can be used for something other than storing furniture. My job was to put all the items on top of the bureau in boxes so the bureau could be removed to the first floor, a way station for the donation truck which is supposed to come Friday.
I assembled a box and began loading it up. There were two china mugs which I kind of felt didn't really belong to son since they weren't imprinted with the name of a law school or some organization that hired lawyers, like the IRS.. There was a boomerang on a stand. That was his. There were several bottles of cologne. There was about $5.00 in change. I responsibly put that into a plastic bag and deposited it in the box.
 I went through a period in my life when every time I needed bus fare (before I finally succumbed and bought a Smart Card that I could load money onto) I would go into son's  room and pick $1.50  in change off the top of the bureau. But, since I'm not working, those days are gone. (Also, he doesn't live at home anymore, so the supply of change is not renewable. )
Around 8:10, Bob called from work. He sounded exhausted, so I offered to pick him up at Metro. I went downstairs and put the assembled cheese custard into the oven. When we got home at 8:50, I looked in the oven, expecting the cheese custard to be done. It was not. Bob took the dish out, stirred it up and put it back in the oven at 350 for ten more minutes. Then it was done. So be warned about the time.
For you gluten free enthusiasts, I bought Glutino crackers, which is what Safeway carries. They are okay for the purposes of making cheese custard. For the purposes of eating, they are pretty much like cardboard. So, if you are new at this gluten free stuff, don't think these will taste like Ritz crackers, which is what they are designed to look like.
This is a good, cheap, basic dinner that takes no skill to assemble and tastes good on a cold night. Serve it with a salad.

Cheese Custard

12 saltine crackers (or gluten free crackers if needed)
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
3 eggs lightly beaten
2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Place the crackers in the bottom of a greased one-quart casserole. Sprinkle with the cheese. Combine the eggs, milk, butter and cayenne and pour over. Let stand 30 minutes (or more, if you want).
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Bake ten minutes, lower the oven heat to 275 degrees and bake about twenty minutes longer, or until custard is set. (My advice is to start it at 400 degrees and then lower the heat to 350.)
Makes four servings.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ham Hocks

Ham hocks are a humble dish. In Spanish, one would call them cucina sin adorno, or unadorned cooking.  If you have never seen or eaten them, they are shaped like miniature hams, wider at the top than at the bottom. The ones I got had been smoked, and like hams, still  had the skin attached. Inside they have a little meat and many tendons. Anatomically, they are akin to the pig's ankles. They are a staple in southern cooking, and also are popular in German cooking.
Bob and I had this for dinner Wednesday night. I went to yoga, and around 4:00 I put the ham hocks into the slow cooker, with instructions to Bob to take them out and boil them for 15 to 20 minutes if he got home before I did. He got home before I did even though I hustled into my clothes after yoga and out to the street, where there were no buses, not in the bus turn around up the street, and not trundling up Connecticut Avenue. I walked home which took about 20 minutes, and no buses passed me at all. We were supposed to have a second storm Wednesday night, but all that fell on me was a few sprinkles.
The recipe says to cook the vegetables for fifteen minutes. My advice is to cook the carrots and potatoes for fifteen minutes and the cabbage for five to seven minutes. Our cabbage was limp and overcooked. This is certainly an easy dish. Anyone can boil their dinner.
I didn't experiment with ways to add more flavor. Boiling is easy, but it does not result in a flavorful dish. One might try boiling everything in chicken broth rather than water, or adding soup cubes to the boiling water. Bay leaves might improve the situation. Use your ingenuity.

Ham Hocks

4 ham hocks
2 teaspoons salt
3 carrots quartered
3 onions sliced
3 potatoes sliced
1/4 large head cabbage, cut into four wedges

1. Place the hocks in a Dutch oven or casserole. Cover with water and add the salt. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, one and one-half to two hours or until tender.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, covered, fifteen minutes longer, or until vegetables are tender. Makes four servings.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Lobster Thermidor

Thermidor was one of the summer months  of the French Revolutionary calendar.   It is also the name of an extremely delicious lobster dish. When I was a child, I remember  my mother serving this once on Christmas Eve, when it was traditional for Catholics to eat fish. At that time I turned up my nose at it because it had sherry in it.
"It has liquor in it," I whined.
Thank God for taste  buds growing up, I say. There are few dishes more delicious than those flavored with sherry and cream. I served this for our Saturday dinner party. Probably because of the storm, it was expensive, a little more than $25 per lobster.
One thing that speeded things up was ordering the lobsters precooked from the Fishery, my local fish store. If  you live in New England, you can probably order steamed lobsters at the supermarket.  Down here in what used to be called the Middle Atlantic states, it depends. It doesn't hurt to ask if your supermarket steams lobsters, but I wouldn't count on it, myself.
Once you get the lobster meat dug out of the lobster, this is not a difficult dish to prepare.  It has only four steps and most of the verbs are "add."The cook is just pouring stuff into a pan and stirring it. But, the cook does have to pay careful attention to the heat. Keep the burner low so the lobster does not get tough, and the cream does not curdle.  Otherwise, if your budget runs to lobster, go for this. For seven people, I ordered four lobsters.  I told the fish store I wanted 1 and 1/2 pound lobsters, but, as usual, they told me "they were a little bigger."  That was plenty of lobster meat. I think three lobsters would have been skimpy. Otherwise I increased the recipe ingredients by one and a half.
The dinner party guests were most impressed. "Why are we having lobster?" one inquired. As in, "What's the occasion?" The occasion is knocking off the lobster recipes. We had a wonderful dinner, talking nonstop about books.

Lobster Thermidor

1/4 cup butter
2 cups cubed cooked lobster meat
2 tablespoons Cognac
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 cup heavy cream, scalded
3 egg yolks beaten
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. Melt the butter, add the lobster meat and cook three minutes. Shake the pan or stir while cooking.
2. Add the cognac and sherry.
3. Pour the cream over the egg yolks and add to lobster mixture. Reheat, stirring until mixture thickens, but do not allow to boil.
4. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne. Makes two servings.

Honey Souffle (Gluten Free)

                                                                                  This gluten free, dairy free dessert was the last course at our Saturday dinner party.  It was created by a guest chef, my husband, because I was too busy talking to our guests.  I came into the kitchen to fill some one's glass and Bob was sifting gluten free flour into the egg yolks.
"I thought we'd better get this started," he said.
 He has a much better sense of time than I do. At dinner parties, we no longer eat at nine, but this was something that had to be done after the guests had arrived, but could not be left too late.
 The original recipe called for flour, but Bob added the same amount of  Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free flour. It seems to be a kosher recipe, as it calls for kosher margarine. I confess, I did not check to see if the margarine was kosher. Most stuff is, like seltzer water. Kosher hot dogs say they are kosher. Well, I don't keep kosher, so it doesn't matter to me so much.  Those who do keep kosher know which margarines are kosher.
Like the Lobster Thermidor, the recipe comes from the north east, New York to be specific. It came out more like a steamed pudding and less like a souffle. It was still good. Bob put in a teaspoon of nutmeg and two teaspoons of grated lemon rind and doubled the recipe since we had eight people at dinner.

Honey Souffle

4 eggs separated
2 tablespoons flour (use gluten free flour if needed)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons cream sherry or sweet red or white wine
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted, soft kosher pareve margarine, melted
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 tablespoons finely ground almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat the egg yolks until light and creamy. Sift the flour, nutmeg and confectioners' sugar together and stir into the yolks.
3. Add the wine. Mix the honey and margarine together and add slowly to the egg mixture. Add the lemon rind and beat until smooth.
4. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into honey mixture. Pour into an ungreased one and one half quart souffle dish. Sprinkle with the almonds.
5. Place dish in a shallow pan of hot water and bake thirty to forty minutes. Makes four servings.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pear Soup

This is a good autumn soup from the great state of Montana. I made it for a dinner party we had Saturday night one week after Hurricane Sandy, and three days before the election. Making it is quite simple. The cook does need to allow about an hour to cook the barley. The recipe says to soak the barley which is supposed to lessen the cooking time. I did not bother. The barley took the same amount of time  to cook as predicted in the recipe after soaking.
The recipe seemed somewhat  bland to me. I    considered adding curry powder, but was talked out of it by my husband, Bob.  The guests seemed to like it  as is, sans curry powder.
If you cook the barley ahead of time,  it takes about ten minutes to assemble the rest of the soup, and 15 to 20 minutes to simmer it  until the pears are tender.

Pear Soup

1/2 c up pearl barley
lightly salted water
4 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
 2 unripe green pears, peeled, cored and diced
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar

1. Day before, cover the  barley with the water and let soak overnight. Next day, transfer to a saucepan and cook until barley is tender, about one hour. Drain.
2.  Place barley, the  milk and baking soda in a pan and bring to a boil. Add the pears and cook until tender. Add the salt and pepper.
Makes four servings.