29 April 2014

What's for Supper on a Rainy Day?

Elizabeth David compiled a collection of her writing in a book entitled, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.  The title essay was an ode to a simple meal. 

It has been cold and rainy here in West Virginia. After getting soaked in the rain doing chores, I took a hot shower and needed a rather easy, yet decadent supper.  So I made a mac & cheese grilled cheese sandwich.  With a nice glass white wine. 

Wish you were here...

28 April 2014

Allium tricoccum

Yes, it's that time of the year.  Ramps abound.  Ramps have been a staple in West Virginia for years.  Now it seems that most of the ramps get shipped to New York for trendy chefs.  We recently saw a review of Jody Williams' cookbook, Buvette.  It contained the following sentence, "The book is packed with classic French cuisine with an occasional New York twist (ramps)."  Seriously, when did ramps become the "New York twist?" 

Like so many things that get appropriated, ramps are now more expensive than drugs in West Virginia, and in New York for that matter.

My three pounds of ramps got turned into a ramp and pecan pesto,

and into pickled ramps.

After hours of work, washing and cleaning and pickling and pesto-ing, we ended up with five tiny jars of pickles and a half-dozen, half-cups of pesto.  Between the ramps, pecans, and Glad containers, we estimated the cost at $12 a half-cup, not including the 3 hours invested.  

Still, we feel accomplished.  Now if we could get David Chang or Sean Brock to invest in our free-range possum farm (it's the NEW, new white meat)...keep watching Kickstarter!

27 April 2014

Eggs Benedetto

We love pizza.

We love Eggs Benedict.

We love planned overs -- 
the deliberate act of cooking something for one meal with the express purpose of using again for another meal.

So when we decided on sausage pizza for Saturday, we knew that for Sunday brunch we would be making Eggs Benedetto.  What are Eggs Benedict of not a doughy bread item, a pork product, a sauce, and a poached egg.  Pizza fulfills three of the four.  Now just add an egg...or two.

You will never eat leftover pizza straight out of the box again!  OK maybe you will, we don't judge.

24 April 2014

We Need Bees -- So do the French

After five years of fine honey, my hive didn't survive the winter.  After five years of heavy lifting, we are trying out some top bar hives this year.  We have been lucky, as our bees stick close to home and we use no pesticides, so they have been safe and happy. Isolated from infected bees, bad chemicals, and cell phones; all thought to be culprits in colony collapse, the bees flourished with little or no help from me.

As every other country on the planet seems to be banning Monsanto's GMO's and their "miracle" herbicide" Roundup, the US is late to the party.  Yesterday my BFF, Beverly, said she could tell there was a "bee" problem.  It seems like a funny commentary, but she has noticed (or more rightly, not noticed) bees, or the lack there of in her yard.  This time of the year in Alabama, there have always been bees doing their bee job of pollinating the flora.  This year, Beverly has seen only a few bees out and about. 

Here is a new dilemma.  Reuters reported this week that beekeepers in France were getting multicolored honey.  When they investigated, they found that a nearby biogas plant has been processing waste from a Mars candy plant producing M&M's.  The residue from bright red, blue, green, yellow and brown shells is being collected by the bees and incorporated into the hive.
While such bejeweled combs might seem lovely, the resulting garish "honey" is unsellable and inedible.  So beekeepers who's hives have survived all manner of assaults are producing honey that is unusable.  Not to mention, there is no way of knowing what it is doing to the bees.
My guess:  You will soon be seeing Mars M&M honey in a supermarché near you.  It will be much cheaper than the fruits and vegetables that have no bees to pollinate them. 

This summer when you see a weed growing in the crack in your sidewalk, reach down and pull it out.  Don't drive to the hardware store and by something to spray on it unless you want apples at $5 each.

16 April 2014

Da Vinci Notebook -- Paper From A Stone

I do love Kickstarter.  There are some way cool people out there with great ideas.  They share their ideas. We fund them.  They get capital. We get the cool stuff.  What is not to like?

Recently, Nick Romer sent me an e-mail and said he had a great idea.  Paper from a stone.  OK.  Is it really thick, heavy paper?  No.  Nick assured me that his "stone" paper would be excellent for recipes because it is waterproof and grease resistant.  He calls his rock paper the -- Da Vinci Notebook.

Sounded good.  As you know from reading this blog, we have a profound love of office supplies and notebooks of any kind -- actually notebooks of EVERY kind.

So we "kicked" in.  Take a look, you might want to add your name to a nifty rock notebook. 

No trees are harmed.

No water is expended.

No bleach is used.

No waste is created.

Check out his video.  The project is fully funded, but there a few days left to go.  Be the first kid on your block to have a notebook made of stone.

15 April 2014

Fruitcake Recipe

 Recently I wrote about dragging out the Christmas fruitcake and how good it was even after several months.  People began to ask for the recipe.  So I decided to write it out with all the cooking info and then I failed to save the document.  Then every day I thought I would replicate it and every day I failed to post because I was so sure I was going to post the fruitcake recipe.  

Now it is April 15 -- and yes, as it has so often this year, it is SNOWING here in West Virginia.  I am not in the garden, so I finally got the info together.  

You will find a very long set of cooking cliff notes.  Since fruitcake can be daunting and time consuming, we wanted to give you a narrative of exactly what you would be going through.  It is not something one just jumps up from the couch and says, "Let's make some fruitcake."   After the tedious notes, you will be prepared for the pared down recipe, which should be easy to follow.

Fruitcake Cliff Notes:

First is “garbage in; garbage out.”  Use really good fruit.  We buy a lot of our candied peel from King Arthur.  They also have a “fruitcake mix” but it includes dates and we don’t do dates.  We do not do nuts, which is why this is a FRUITcake.  We like a mix of raisins.  Regular raisin, sultanas, currants, some companies have “mixed raisins” which work nicely.

Now, you must look at baking a fruitcake the same way you look at barbecue: “Low and Slow.”  If your oven is set above 300 degrees for a fruitcake, you are cooking it way too hot and it will be dry.  This fruitcake cooks at 250 degrees for 3 ½ hours.

We have a soft spot for quatre épices.  There are many slightly different blends but it is basically a mix of ground white pepper, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Some recipes use cinnamon in place of ginger.  We keep of large jar of cinq épices.  Equal measures of ground spice including white pepper, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and a half-measure of cloves, as they can be overwhelming.  So 2 tablespoon each of ground white pepper, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of ground cloves.   Whenever we see a tedious recipe that calls for a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon of ginger and ½ cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon of allspice we just add it up and add in our spice mix.  DO THIS it is a great idea.

OK, lets make fruitcake. 

You want to soak your fruit in a nice alcohol.  Soak it in something you drink – we are partial to Jack Daniel’s, but rum works.  The late, great Edna Lewis used a little red wine.  Soak the fruit overnight on the counter.  If something comes up and you can’t proceed, put the fruit in the refrigerator and let it set for two days or a week, don’t sweat it.

You need to spend time lining your pan.  For the sake of simplicity, we are proceeding with the idea that you are baking the fruitcake in an 11 X 4 tube pan.  (We almost never bake it in this type of pan.  We usually make smaller sizes to give away.  A smaller pan means less oven time, so make adjustments.  You will end up with about 12 cups of fruitcake batter.  Four loaf pans will cook in about 2 hours and 15 minutes) Since the cooking time runs over 2 hours, the cake needs to be protected.  We line all our pans with brown paper, though parchment will work, too.  A light coating of butter or PAM will help hold the paper in place and let the cake release from the paper. After the first 90 minutes of baking, you will want to open the oven and use an extra piece of brown paper to lie across the top of the pan to further protect the cake.  If you are using a thin-walled pan, like an aluminum angle food cake pan, you will want to add an additional layer of paper to the outside of the pan.  (See below.) Personally, we think lining the pans is the hardest part of fruitcakes. 

 Now it is basically cake making.  Add the dry ingredients to a large bowl and give it a quick whisk to incorporate the spice, salt, baking powder and flour.   Cream the butter and brown sugar; add the egg yolks, a little at a time, and finally the syrup.  Start incorporating the flour mixture a little at a time.  When all the flour is added you are going to end up with more of a cookie dough texture than a traditional batter.  At this point, you will need to proceed by hand, as the mixture is too thick and too bulky to remain in the mixer.   You will also need to whip the egg whites, so unless you have two bowls, you will need the mixer.   Add the macerated fruits with their liquid to the batter and mix well.  Finally, fold in the egg whites.  The cookie-like dough will now be a thick batter.  Add carefully to your lined pan and bake.

Once the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let it cool in the pan. When it is cool, you will want to carefully remove the paper.  Now you will need to “doctor” the cake.  You will need your alcohol of choice, cheesecloth, cling film, and aluminum foil.   In a small bowl, add about ½ cup of alcohol and the cheesecloth.  Soak the cheesecloth, then wrap the cooled cake in the soaked cloth.  Wrap the cake and cheesecloth in the cling film; finally wrap the cake tightly in foil.  Every couple of weeks, you will want to unwrap the cake and re-soak the cheesecloth.  Some people swear it last for years!


4 cups candied peel
3 cups of mixed raisins and sultanas
1 cup bourbon or rum + extra for soaking
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Lucinda’s cinq épices
2 1/2 unsalted butter, room temperature + extra to butter pans
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sorghum syrup (or dark karo, or molasses, or honey)
5 large room-temperature eggs, separated

brown paper, parchment, cheesecloth, cling film, foil

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

2. In a large bowl, mix the peel, raisins, and sultanas with the bourbon and let macerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.

3. Line your pans with buttered brown paper or parchment.   You will have about 12 cups of fruitcake.  A large 10 X 4-inch tube pan will make one cake. The smaller the pan, the faster they cook.  (If using several small, individual loaves, cover after 1 hour, check after 2 ½ hours of baking.)

4. Into a large bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

5. In a stand mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar until light and fluffy. Separate the eggs, reserving the egg whites.   Lightly beat the 5 yolks and add to the mixture, beat until incorporated.   Add the sorghum and beat until incorporated.  Add the flour, a little at a time, beating well after each addition.   (At this point, the mixture will be more cookie dough than cake batter. You will probably have to remove the mixing bowl and continue on by hand.)  Stir in the fruit mixture with the all the macerating alcohol and combine well.

6. In a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold the whites gently but thoroughly into the batter.  Spoon the batter carefully
into the prepared pan(s).

7. Bake the fruitcake on the middle of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove and cover it with a piece of brown paper or parchment but NO aluminum foil. Continue baking for about 2 hours.

8. Remove from the oven, and place the cake in the pan on a rack to cool.  When completely cool, remove the cake from the pan and carefully remove the paper.   Cut a square of parchment, large enough to wrap the cake.  Place the cheesecloth in a small bowl and add enough bourbon to soak the cheesecloth.  You want it to be damp, not dripping.  Wrap the cake in the damp cheesecloth.  Wrap the cake again in cling film.  Wrap it the final time in aluminum foil.  Let it sit for at least two week.  Every two weeks you will want to unwrap the cake, re-soak the cheesecloth and re-wrap the cake.  (If you have a cake tin with a tight fitting lid, you can simply wrap the cake in the damp cheesecloth and keep it in the tin, feeding it every couple of weeks.)

Now you are ready for next Christmas.  Send pictures!

04 April 2014

Famous Food Friday -- Victor Borge

Yes, Virginia, we love a good celebrity cookbook.  We especially love those cookbooks written by the obscure celebrity.  Actually, in his prime, Victor Borge was quite the celebrity and his fame continued with a centennial celebration on PBS.  Borge was an accomplish classical pianist, but he gained fame by poking fun of his talent.  His ability to blend high culture and slapstick made him a natural for music hall variety shows of 40's and 50's radio and television. It would seem that encouraging listeners to use Chopin's "Minute Waltz" as an egg timer was quite lucrative.  In later years, he even visited the Muppets.

He invested his money in a farm in Connecticut.  Victor Borge is known in the culinary world as the man who introduced Rock Cornish Game Hens to the American housewife.  The "game" in Rock Cornish Game Hens is a misnomer.  It is a particular breed or rather cross breed of chicken that is killed very young.  The breed occurred when the stocky Cornish game rooster was bread with a Barreled Plymouth Rock hen.  The resulting offspring were had short legs and big breasts and when killed young, they made attractive little single-serve chickens.

Housewives in the 1950's were enamored of the little birds that were quick to cook and made a far more exotic a main dish than "chicken."  While Borge was the "King of Game Hens," his farm also raised pheasants and guinea hens.

Since his birds were "exotic" and shipped from his ViBo Farm, he put together a small pamphlet of a cookbook to provide the harried housewife with ways to cook the Rock Cornish Game Hen.  Here is his favorite recipe:

Victor Borge's Favorite Recipe

Rub the inside of six ViBo Rock Cornish Game Hens with salt and pepper.  Sear in 1/4 lb. butter in Dutch Oven until golden brown -- 10 to 12 minutes.  Add 1 1/4 cups water and let simmer, covered, until tender -- approximately 35 minutes.  Remove birds.  Stir into drippings a paste of cold water and three teaspoons flour.  Add 1/2 cup light cream, salt, tasteless sauce coloring, 1/2 teaspoon sugar.  Serves six.

Ask yourself,  "Which isle is the 'tasteless sauce coloring' in?

03 April 2014

Happy Anniversary -- Scott and Zelda

Everyone went so ga-ga over Baz's The Great Gatsby movie and having "twenties" parties were all the rage.  I had that "been there, done that" feeling.  A few years ago, wait, it was a few lifetimes ago...anyway...Richard Peabody and I threw an anniversary party for Scott and Zelda.  Much like those parties in The Great Gatsby, a good time was had by all. No one was run over by a car or shot because of it, so maybe we didn't have such a great time, but I digress.

During the height of last year's Gatsby roaring twenties overload, the Huffington Post published a list of 12 Things You Didn't Know about Scott and Zelda.  Well, we knew them, but I must confess, it was the first time in years that I had seen the word "furbelows" in print.

In honor of Scott and Zelda's anniversary, I though I would give a shout out to gin...no wait...a shout out to two relatively new books I enjoyed.

Sarah Churchwell's Careless People derives its title from Fitzgerald's assertion that "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy...."  Churchwell delves into a then-famous but now forgotten murder of a married Episcopal minister and his married love interest.  Edward W. Hall and Eleanor Reinhardt Mills died in an abandoned farm house.  The bodies were found with their love letters littered about and the site became a tourist attraction.  The stories of their affair and murder were rampant during the time The Great Gatsby was being written.  Careless People is rooted in the facts of the case, but the case for for it being a large influence on Fitzgerald is quite speculative.  Still if you love the twenties, you will enjoy this book immensely. 

The other book is Flappers, by Judith Mackrell.   I wrote about it in February, so you can check it out, here. One of the six flappers is Zelda.  (Speaking of Alabama, one of the other flappers is Tallulah Bankhead.) 

Zelda died locked in a mental institution.  Scott died broke with his books out of print.  One does hope there is a heaven.  That they are happy and know that we still love them. 

And now...I am off to be careless and drink gin...

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