Saturday, June 28, 2014

Shrimp Paste (Gluten Free)

Having left a certain number of seafood dishes as yet unmade in the Northeast section, I moved on to the South. I selected Shrimp Paste because it looked easy.  Bob wasn't terribly happy about it, but he went along. At times like this, I usually buy him some kind of pate. At the last minute, when I was serving the appetizer, I forgot what I had done with the pate. Luckily, I was able to whisk it out of a shopping bag and set it on a plate in time for any potential hurt feelings to be assuaged.
Shrimp Paste is easy. Buy cooked shrimp, readily available in the supermarkets, run it through the food processor, mix it with  soft butter (soft is key), onion juice, (I used minced onion, not knowing how to procure onion juice,) ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, etc, mold into a loaf pan and chill.
Verdict? It's kind of bland. There was a good deal left on plates, although Alex, the eight year old, ate his without complaining. The cook could jazz this up with liberal applications of Tabasco sauce, horseradish or possibly shrimp cocktail sauce instead of ketchup. If you want to use shrimp cocktail sauce, add it slowly and taste the result to make sure things don't get too spicy. However, if you are serving people who A. eat shellfish, but B. have timid little palates, this might be just the thing.

Shrimp Paste

2 pounds shrimp, cooked, shelled and deveined
6 tablespoons softened butter
3/4 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon onion juice, or one tablespoon minced onion
1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Juice of one lemon
salt to taste
Tabasco sauce to taste

1. Put shrimp through a meat grinder twice, using the finest blade. Modern translation. Run it through the food processor twice.
2. Cream the butter using a fork, add shrimp and the remaining ingredients except lettuce and mayonnaise. Blend with a wooden spoon until mixture is the consistency of mayonnaise. Mold with hands into a loaf and press into a six-cup loaf pan. Refrigerate six hours. Unmold and slice in one-quarter inch slices. Serve on lettue with mayonnaise. Makes six to eight servings.

Grilled Pig in a Blanket

When my son the lawyer was in college and was a big aficionado of steak houses, we used to joke that his favorite restaurant was the All Meat Meat House. Well, pig in a blanket is definitely a dish that would be on the menu at the fictitious All Meat Meat House. Readers should know it has nothing to do with hot dogs wrapped in bacon, dough or any other substance. No hot dogs period.
Pig in a Blanket is a pork loin wrapped with a sheet flank steak or round steak, sliced into rounds and grilled on the barbecue. My son would have loved it. I did not cook it for him and his wife, however, but for Mary and Bill,  and Joe and Katherine, old friends of ours who came to dinner. Joe and Katherine brought their 8 year old son, Alex, who has had the good taste to grow up to be a baseball fan. He brought along his collection of baseball cards for me to admire.
This is an easy main course to prepare, except for the grilling. I always have issues with the barbecue. Like many Americans, I once assumed that more was better in the charcoal department. Just load on those briquettes and go to town.  What you get in that case is charred, leather-like meat. Then, I became a Girl Scout leader. The Girl Scouts are the repositories of much terrific information, how to put up a tent, how to make a fire, how to grow into adulthood without becoming a teen queen, but for my money, the best piece of information is, that every charcoal briquette generates 25 degrees of heat. Of course, then, you have to give the meat time to grill.
So, in theory, one can precisely set the temperature of the grill by putting in the number of briquettes multiplied by 25 that results in the temperature at which you want to cook your food. So, if you want to "set" the grill at 350 degrees, you put in 14 briquettes, because 25 X 14 = 350. Well, that doesn't take into account the time taken up with drinking beer and chatting while the charcoal burns down, so your setting is somewhere around 200 degrees by the time you actually are ready to put the meat on. That is what happened to me. I took the top off the grill and was chagrined to find my 15 or so briquettes vastly reduced in size and covered with ash.
So, throwing Girl Scout training out the window, I crumpled some newspaper and put it on top of the smoldering briquettes and tossed another handful of briquettes on top of it. Don't try this at home, boys and girls. The newspaper flared up and sent charred fragments flying through the air, but it did ignite the new briquettes. When I finally took the meat out, it was probably somewhat more rare than indicated, but no one rejected it, or got sick in the intervening days.
The guests really liked Grilled Pig in a Blanket. If you want to make it, I advise putting in 15 to 20 briquettes, watching them closely to catch the moment when they are lit, but not burned down, and putting the meat on the grill at that point. Give yourself about 45 minutes to grill the meat, checking it at intervals. Don't get wrapped up in the conversation and forget to check.  If you have a gas grill, just set it at 350 or 375 degrees. If you have a crew of meat eaters, it will be a popular dish.

Grilled Pig in a Blanket

1 length of pork tenderloin, about eleven inches long
1 thin sheet flank or round steak, about 7 by 11 inches (about three pounds)
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper.
juice of one lemon
1/4 pound butter, melted
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
mushrooms au beurre

1. If pork tenderloin is not available, trim out the eyes of six small pork chops. If the tenderloin is used, wrap it carefully in the steak. Skewer with six skewers equally spaced. Slice between the skewers to provide six servings. Or, if the chops are used, roll each piece of meat with a length of steak trimmed to fit.
2. Place the meat on a grill over hot coals. When seared on one side, turn and brush the top of each serving with oil. Sprinkle the seared side with salt and pepper.
3. When the meat is cooked through, transfer to a hot serving platter. Squeeze half the lemon juice over meat. Squeeze the remaining juice into the butter and stir in the parsley.
4. Spoon the hot butter sauce over the meat and serve immediately. Garnish with mushrooms au beurre. Serves six.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Mango Chutney

Last week, I began to feel that I had better crank up recipe production or give up the blog. My hits were shrinking. I had churned out a pathetic number of posts for this year. Not good. Summer is always a good time for canning, so I looked through the Miscellaneous section of the cookbook to search out some relish or pickle or something. To my glee, I ran across Mango Chutney.
When I was growing up, mango chutney was one of the most exotic foods that came across my radar. Now, if you have read this blog at all, you will know that there were no exotic foods served on the farm in the Berkshires in the 50s and 60s. Baked beans were an exotic food (and not served on the farm.) But every so often, after we had leg of lamb, my mother would take the left over lamb and make curry. Bland curry, but curry nonetheless. Of course, curry requires chutney.
The chutney came in a bottle with an exotic looking label. It was imported from India and my recollection is that it was called Soonji Patterji Major Grey's chutney. Please don't be offended, all you hundreds of readers from the subcontinent. Just correct my spelling, if you would. I used to read the ingredients out loud at the dinner table. I didn't even know what mangoes were, but they sure sounded exotic and different.
Wikipedia tells us that Major Grey, the supposed inventor of the chutney of the same name, probably never existed. Wikipedia did not tell us if chutney was invented by the white man, or was original to India. Chutney was exceedingly popular in the US, I can tell you that. There are no fewer than three recipes in the southern section of the cookbook, lime chutney, peach chutney and mango chutney  New England boasts apple chutney, and so on.  Much chutney.
So last Friday, I went out and bought the ingredients for two preserve thingys, mango chutney and peach melon conserve. A week later, I got down to business with the mangoes. The recipe says that the mangoes should be firm and underripe. Out of the four mangoes, three were still firm. One was definitely ripe and slippery with juice.  I ended up ditching the ripe mango and cutting up the other three. Something that everyone may not know about mangoes is  mangoes have a seed, to which the flesh clings like grim death. When one cuts up a peach into slices, the slices come away from the seed and the cook is left with neat segments. Not so with the mango. You have to cut pieces off the sides and then cut them into strips.
The other piece of info that might come in handy regarding the ingredients is about green ginger. Green ginger seems to be just regular ginger root, with a light green tinge. Also, about the cheesecloth bag. Somewhere, hidden away in a drawer, we might have some cheesecloth. However, it is much easier to put your mustard seeds in a tea ball and throw said tea ball into the chutney to be fished out at the end of the process. No special trip to the hardware store to buy cheesecloth, no hours spent constructing a cheesecloth bag. Works for me.
It took about an hour to assemble the ingredients in a stainless steel pot and begin boiling them. I doubled the recipe because three to four pints is not many after all the work of making the chutney. The directions say to simmer 30 minutes or until the syrup is thick and fruit is clear. I simmered for about 45 minutes. The fruit became translucent, but the syrup never became thick. Don't know what to tell you here. Just be aware that after 45 minutes, your syrup is unlikely to become thick. I went with watery syrup. It's not as good as Soonji Patterji, but it was pretty good.
If you are canning your chutney, you must immerse the jars and lids in a boiling water bath to sterilize them. When the chutney is done carefully ladle it into the hot jars. Using tongs, put on the lids and rings, and submerge back into the boiling water bath. Leave the jars in the boiling water for fifteen minutes. Then remove them and put them on the counter to cool.

Mango Chutney

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
2 cups malt vinegar or cider vinegar
1 pound (about 2 to three) underripe mangoes, peeled and sliced
1/2 pound currents (one cup)
1/2 pound raisins
1/2 pound blanched almonds
1/3 cup sliced green ginger or one half cup chopped preserved ginger
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon white mustard seeds, tied in a cheesecloth bag or tea ball
1/2 cup chopped onion
12 cup chopped green pepper
1 teaspoon chopped hot chili pepper or red pepper flakes

1.  Combine the sugar and vinegar and bring to a boil.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer thirty minutes, or until syrup is thick and fruit is clear. Discard the spice bag, or tea ball. Ladle the chutney into hot sterilized jars and seal. Cool and store in a cool dark dry place. Makes three to four pints.

Hot Chicken Salad (Gluten Free)

Hot Chicken Salad comes from the Midwest section of the cookbook. It is a dish that one would expect to find at a hot dish supper. We're not talking grand cuisine here. It's simple, fast and amazingly tasty. Of course, I would say that because I consider mayonnaise, one of its chief ingredients, one of the major food groups.
I made this for dinner for the two of us, and we polished  the whole thing off. No leftovers here. The mayonnaise, the croutons and the grated cheddar cheese all blend into an unctuous soothing mouthful.  I served hot chicken salad with the first green beans to come out of the garden. A great dinner, in spite of the fact that I sat down in the middle of the oregano patch as I was cutting some tarragon. My husband Bob had to come pull me out.
If the cook can get it together to poach a chicken breast in the morning, the prep time on this dish is not more than 10 minutes, and the cooking time is 15, so Hot Chicken Salad is a genuine half hour dinner dish. To make it gluten free, use squares of toasted gluten free bread, or gluten free croutons.

Hot Chicken Salad

2 cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon grated onion
2 cups diced celery
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar Cheese
1/2 cup buttered croutons

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Mix together all the ingredients except the cheese and croutons and turn into a greased baking dish.
3. Combine the cheese and croutons and sprinkle over top. Bake fifteen minutes. Makes four servings.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Fannie Farmer's Watermelon Pickle

Even though pickled watermelon rind is a quintessential American food, appearing in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy, The New York Times Heritage Cookbook does not have a recipe for it. Go figure. However, since a half watermelon had been lurking in our crisper since June 2, and both my husband and Laura, who lives in our basement, go nuts over pickled watermelon rind, I decided to put the rind to good use.
Canning seems to have increased in popularity among the younger foodies out there, so there should be an audience for this. As pickle recipes go, it is moderately time consuming. The rind needs to soak for three hours if you add lime water (more on this later) and all the cutting, peeling, and boiling takes about three more hours. It also requires a fairly substantial outlay of cash on canning equipment. You will need a canning kettle for the boiling water bath, equipped with a rack so the jars are not sitting on the bottom of the kettle, and jars, lids and rings. These things are now available at your local hardware store. If you make the expenditure, you will be able to enjoy canning vegetables, fruits, jams and pickles for the rest of your life.
I chose this particular recipe, among several out there, including one in the always popular Joy of Cooking, because it did not call for hard to find ingredients such as oil of cloves and oil of cinnamon. The Fannie Farmer Cookbooks were a staple in our house when I was growing up. My mother had the 1941 edition when she embarked upon her married life and actually had to learn how to cook. I used to pour over the menu section, drooling over such highlights of entertaining as the smorgasbord, the young children's party and the buffet. By the time I cleaned out my parents' house, 20 years after their deaths, the 1941 edition had virtually crumbled into oblivion. I did keep my sister's copy, the 1965 edition, its pages slightly singed from the time she fell asleep and burned up the cabinets in her New York apartment. This recipe comes from that cookbook.
Watermelon pickle is the original "Use it up, wear it out, make it last or do without," recipe in the spirit of the Depression. The cook is making use of a part of the fruit that would ordinarily be thrown away. I wanted to use up the half watermelon, but as I looked at it, and at the recipe, I decided that one half watermelon would not be enough. So, Thursday, after yoga, I found myself in the odd position of buying a food product so I would have enough material so as not to let leftovers go to waste. I lugged my new watermelon home on the bus, along with two pounds of sugar and two quarts of white vinegar.
After lunch, I started cutting, peeling and boiling. For some reason, this recipe, along with many others written before 2000 suggests that the cook boil the watermelon rind and then peel it. That always seems dumb to me. I find it easier to peel vegetables first, and then boil them. For one thing, it is easier to peel a cold vegetable than a hot vegetable. You need a good peeler to peel watermelons. The peel is tough. Remember to peel away from you. I forgot this elementary safety tip and took a hunk of skin the size of a navy bean off my left thumb. Blood began flowing everywhere. I wrapped my thumb up in a kitchen towel and went back to work. It was a moderately serious injury. By dinnertime, there was a collection of bloody towels worthy of Sweeny Todd lying at the foot of the basement stairs.

By four o'clock, I had cut up my left over watermelon and half a new watermelon, boiled it, cut what was left of the watermelon fruit off the rind, and put it to soak in lime water, or its modern equivalent. Last week, when I was looking into making watermelon pickle, but decided I wasn't up to canning, my husband Bob came back from the hardware store with a jar of something called Pickle Crisp Granules. This is the chemical calcium chloride. Lime is actually calcium oxide. The label on the jar of granules says it works three times faster than pickling lime. So, if I had read the directions, I would have had to soak the rind only one hour instead of three. But, I didn't read the directions. Pickle Crisp Granules are available at your hardware store, and possibly at your local supermarket if you live in an area that does a lot of canning. I don't expect much from my supermarket.
While the rind is soaking, make the pickling syrup. Fannie's quantities turned out not to be sufficient for an entire melon, so I am increasing the proportions by one-fourth. The result is spicy, not too sweet, and a beautiful, translucent gold. Bob pronounced the finished pickles up to standard.

Watermelon Pickle

Rind of one watermelon, about the size of a basketball

Pickling Syrup

5 cups white vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
5 cups sugar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 1/2 sticks of cinnamon
1 tablespoon allspice berries

Put all the ingredients of the syrup in a large saucepan and boil until the sugar dissolves. (About five minutes.)

1. Cut the watermelon in the traditional crescent shaped slices, remove the flesh of the melon, and peel the rind. Cut the rind into six inch pieces and boil it for five minutes. Scrape the remaining melon flesh off the rind, and cut the pieces into cubes.
2. Cover the cubes with water in which Pickle Crisp Granules have been dissolved and soak for one hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the pickling syrup, wash your jars and sterilize them and the lids and rings in the boiling water bath kettle.
4. Drain the melon rind, rinse it off, and cover with fresh water. Simmer until the melon rind is tender.
5. Drain off the water, and cover the melon rind with the pickling syrup. Simmer until the rind is clear (translucent, really) and the syrup thick, adding water if necessary.
Note: My rind became translucent after about 40 minutes of simmering, but the syrup did not thicken. I just went ahead and canned the pickles at that point.
6. Pack the hot pickles and syrup in the hot, sterilized jars. Put on the lids and rings, and submerge the filled jars in the boiling water bath. The pickles should stay in the boiling water for 15 minutes.
7. Lift the hot jars out of the boiling water bath with the rack and leave them to cool.
Makes seven pints.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Apricot Pie

Our daughter's barbecue was a two pie occasion due to my husband's feelings about rhubarb. (See Rum Rhubarb Pie) I figure if we have enough people to warrant extra desserts, go for it. We actually ended up with three pies, because one of the guests brought lemon meringue pie. I chose apricot pie because June is apricot season. They are in the supermarket briefly now, more or less for the month of June, and then that's it.
Apricot pie is pretty easy if one avails oneself of what the British call mod cons. (Modern conveniences.) The chief mod con in this pie is premade graham cracker crust, which does away with the need to crush crackers, baste them with butter and press them into a pie crust shape.
So my advice is to skip all that stuff about the crust, and get a premade one. You will be happier, and no one will be able to tell the difference. The overall pie is sweet, but tangy, due to the grated lemon rind. If you like lemon flavoring, use more. To peel the tiny apricots, drop them in boiling water and leave them there for two minutes.
This pie involves several tricky judgment calls. First, there is cook until mixture thickens. (How long, for God's sake?) Next is, cool until mixture starts to set. Well, if you misjudge this one, you get a pie with a funny consistency, like it has jello cubes of filling floating in an egg white mixture. So, my expert advice is, don't make this when you are distracted. Give it your full attention, especially, the cool until mixture starts to set part. You want to prod the mixture every five minutes or so to see if it is starting to set, or jell.
About the cook until mixture thickens part, I did not spend long minutes over the stove, mainly because I didn't have those long minutes. I wanted to go to bed. I cooked the mixture in a double boiler, which is a metal or glass bowl sitting over a saucepan of boiling water, for around ten minutes, and figured "Close enough for government work." I say this a lot when I don't want to do whatever it is I am doing any longer.  It is somewhat hard to judge thickness, because the apricot pulp makes the filling seem thick. Ten minutes should be okay.
 The guests enjoyed the pie. Definitely a worthwhile effort.

Apricot Pie

Graham Cracker crust
16 graham crackers, crushed
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
 1/4 cup melted butter
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups apricot pulp made by skinning and pitting ripe fruit and blending in an electric blender
1/4 teaspoon graded lemon rind
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
6 ripe apricot, peeled and halved
whipping cream

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. To prepare crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and melted butter and mix well. Press into the bottom and sides of a nine-inch pie plate.
3. Bake eight minutes. Cool.
4. To prepare filling, beat the egg yolks with one-half cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the apricot pulp, lemon rind and salt and place in the top of a double boiler.
5. Heat, stirring, until mixture thickens. Soak the gelatin in the water and add to the hot mixture. Stir to melt gelatin. Cool until mixture starts to set. (Watch like a hawk, here.)
6. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar and fold into the cooled apricot mixture.
7. Pour into the cooled shell and chill. Garnish with the apricot halves and whipped cream.
Makes six servings.

Sour Cream Potato Salad (Gluten Free)

I am, as I mentioned last week, a purist as to the kind of potato salad I like. My dream potato salad is mayonnaise based, with celery and hard boiled egg mixed in. Drizzling a little vinegar over the cooling potatoes helps.  Most important is the texture. The salad should hold its shape when scooped out with an ice cream scoop. I still haven't found a recipe for DPS. When I go to make potato salad without a recipe, I get something that tastes alright, but has totally the wrong texture. Clumps of boiled potatoes, whether drizzled in vinegar or not, swimming in mayonnaise, are no substitute for the real thing,
Well, I am happy to announce to all you readers, who seem to be slowly crawling back in your tens, that Sour Cream Potato Salad is as close as I have come to making a potato salad of the proper texture. Obviously, given the title, it is not mayonnaise based. But assuming you are an African American, or perhaps a Midwesterner, this potato salad is pretty close to the kind of thing your grandmother used to make for church picnics. (If you want to dispute this, I wish you would. I would love to get a debate going on potato salad recipes.)
I made this for the barbecue hosted by my daughter during her week long return from the UK. Given that considerate guests had brought a big tub of supermarket potato salad and we only had around 14 people, this potato salad seemed pretty popular.
Since the salad contains hard boiled eggs, the cook is well advised to do his or her hardboiling in advance. Boil them eggs the night before and set them aside to cool. You could make the whole salad the night before and have time to sit down and sip a glass of wine before the guests gather, since the instructions say to chill for several hours before you put on the sour cream and flavorings. I was busy making pies so I made the potato salad after church for a 2:00 barbecue. The fact that I did not chill the potatoes for several hours with only the French dressing did not seem to affect the taste.
One more thing. Peel and dice the potatoes before you boil them, not the other way around. You cut down on cooking time and avoid burnt fingers that occur when you try to peel hot potatoes.

Sour Cream Potato Salad

4 cups hot cooked and diced potatoes
1/4 cup homemade French dressing (Scroll down to find recipe.)
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons chopped scallions, including green part
1/4 cup chopped sweet red pepper
2 tablespoons chopped dill pickle or sweet pickle
3 hard-cooked eggs, sliced
1 tablespoon Dusseldorf mustard (I used Gray Poupon.)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream

1. Place the potatoes in a bowl, pour the dressing over and toss. Refrigerate several hours.
2. Add the celery, scallions, red pepper, pickle, and eggs to potatoes. Combine remaining ingredients and stir into the salad. Chill at least one hour before serving. Makes four to six servings.

 Southern California French Dressing

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste

Combine the lemon juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco. Beat in the oil and add the remaining ingredients.  Makes about one-third cup.