Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fromage Francais

Sometimes, things just all seem to come together. Last week, it was French Week over at EmilyStyle and on Friday, she asked to name our French inspiration. My answer? Cheese! That night I opened my fridge and voila, there was a lovely piece of Brie.

Spoiled creature that I am, I went to Paris for the first time when I was eight.
Don't be taken in by the sweet smile in front of the doors of Notre Dame. When it came to the cheese plate, I took no prisoners. And certainly, it did not take me long to crown Brie my favorite. But alas, back here in the states, only a pale imitation was available. This is partially because in the US cheese is supposed to be pasteurized which means you can't get the delicious French au lait cru (raw milk) cheese unless you have an intrepid cheese smuggler importer.

Over the years, I searched for a Brie replacement. Something creamy and flavorful that would remind me of true French Brie rather than the bitter, bland, dry Brie that has become ubiquitous. Some of the best were (and still are) Reblochon, Camembert and my undisputed favorite of the type - Edel de Cleron. If you have a top gourmet store or cheese monger (as a side note - how much do you love the word monger? Cracks me up. Monger. Monger. Ahem sorry.) you can probably find these, some in their true French form. And you should. Invite friends, have a creamy cheese taste-off. Or you know, don't invite friends. Pour yourself a glass of wine, lock the doors, pull the blinds and keep all to yourself.

But back to the matter of Brie. Wegman's (a major NY, PA, NJ grocery chain) has started putting out their own store brand Brie that is significantly better than much of what is readily available. Look for the label that says INTENSE (this is to warn off the people who want to coat their brie with apricot jam and walnuts or pecans or something else that will completely disguise it's taste and make the quality of their cheese irrelevant). Delicious.

So tell me, do you have a favorite cheese? Are you even a cheese person? Are you still saying monger and giggling?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Send All Your Loving

One of my dearest friendships also centers around food. We love cooking together despite the fact that both of us can get a little irritable with other people sharing our kitchen. These days we often start phone conversations skipping over the usual pleasantries and straight to "I add the onions after the garlic, right?" expecting the other to know exactly what we're talking about. So, it's a little alarming to remember, but when we were just starting out our shared food experiences were a leeetle bit different than they are today. We shared chicken fingers at a local dive bar. At work, we passed back and forth a bag of Combos (cheddar cheese/pretzel). As a side note, if that website doesn't scare the beejeezus out of you, you are probably under 18 or cracked out crazy. Saturday mornings we'd slurp large regular Cokes and nibble on burritos from Anna's Taqueria. Interestingly enough, both of us COULD cook at the time. It just didn't fit the pattern of our lives the way it does now.

But now that we've both grown up (a bit), and into people who show our love through food, we no longer live close enough to do this in the traditional way, at least not very often. And so my dear friend has been sending me love through the mail. She's had a cake delivered, and cannoli from Mike's Pastry, but these teensy tiny cupcakes from Baked by Melissa have been the big winner. They held up very well in the mail, only a small bit of frosting slippage, and each one is a perfect bite. I think my favorite is the Smores, can you see the marshmallowy goodness oozing out? Or maybe the Mint Chocolate Chip.

Do you have any favorite mail order food sources? Who do you turn to when you need to send some sweet loving?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chris Schlesinger's Killer Coleslaw

Summer may have officially started a few days ago, but to me, it's not summer until I'm on Cape Cod. Growing up, my family would pack up the car and head up to my grandparents' house. It was a long drive up the Jersey Turnpike, across the GW Bridge, sitting in the sweltering heat on the highway crawling through New Haven traffic and finally, seeing the Big Blue Bug in Providence, RI which meant the trip was almost over. When we got there it would mean a house stocked with lemon bars, or raspberry squares, warm hugs from my nana and silly songs from my grampy. It meant real, homecooked from scratch baked beans, ice cream for dessert and trips out to whatever our current favorite fried fish restaurant happened to be. Being in New England was (and is) just about the only place to get perfectly fried fish, topped with onion rings. But oh lordy, the coleslaw. It would sit there in it's little plastic cup, sad, sorry limp pieces of cabbage just swimming in gloppy white mayonnaise. Ugh. I would not touch it. I would try it, but it was always an unwelcome accompaniment. Until Chris Schlesinger changed my life. His coleslaw is tangy and creamy and crisp. It's perfect for any summer meal, whether you're on vacation or just stuck at home, reminiscing about your favorite place - where ever it may be.

although I strongly suspect my mother's responsible for the coleslaw mix

1/2 package coleslaw mix, but you have to add at least 2 more carrots, shredded on a box grater because the stuff is way short on carrots.
1/2 C Hellman's mayonnaise
a tad less than 3 T white vinegar
2T sugar
1 t celery seed
salt and freshly cracked pepper

gluten-free note: Hellman's mayonnaise is gluten-free, and distilled white vinegar is as well. As always, check your labels.

In a small bowl, blend mayo, vinegar, sugar, celery seed, salt and pepper. Mix well.
In a large bowl, combine coleslaw mix and grated carrots. Pour dressing over the mixture and blend well.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Stereotyping of men never is at a more fevered pitch than on Father's Day. This is the day when, according to just about anyone who sells something, you should recognize Dad's deep abiding love of golf, fishing, power tools, using the TV remote or, of course, wearing and owning ties. These people have not met my father, because that's practically a short list of things he doesn't like (in fact, more than a few of those items he actively detests). Which is not to say my father is without interests. He is in fact, incredibly passionate about many things: travel, baseball, wine, music, movies and food. Oh yes food. Because when my father is passionate about food, it becomes an obsession. We've hunted all through France for the best tart citron. He calls orchards to hunt down his favorite Northern Spy apples. But there are few things that he is as passionate about as is he about blueberries. In fact, he's tried blueberries from just about everywhere until he's found the best. Because all blueberries are not created equal. Some are delicious and full of berry flavor while others are mealy and slightly bitter. It's not your imagination. So my dad knows exactly which type are the best, and where they are grown and actually has a contact so that he knows when he can get the best kind. And some of the luckier blueberries get to be baked into Jordan's Blueberry Muffins.

Jordan's Blueberry Muffins are somewhat of a New England institution. Or they were until the famed Jordan Marsh department store closed, leaving millions of people full of longing. Recreating the muffin, or finding someone else who can has become something of a quest for New Englanders ever since they stopped being readily available. Over the years, many recipes have surfaced, which surprisingly, are actually all very similar (which lends them some credibility). Here's the one my family has been using to showcase the very best blueberries my father can find.

Happy Father's Day Daddy!

or something pretty darn close

1 stick butter
1 C sugar (plus 1/4 C for topping)
2 eggs
2C flour
1/2 t salt
2 (1/2) t baking powder - the recipe we use calls for 2 1/2 t baking powder but many call for only 2 t.
1/2 C milk
2 C blueberries - you can use fresh or frozen
(1 t vanilla - we've never used this, but many recipes for Jordan's muffins call for it)

Preheat your oven to 375 F.
In a stand mixer (or large bowl) cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and mix until well incorporated. If you were going to use vanilla, I'd use it now. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients - the flour, salt and baking powder. Then add it to the creamed butter/sugar mixture in stages, alternating with the milk. Mix well. Then if you're adding fresh berries, add 1/2 C of them and mix with the mixer, then remove and fold in the remaining berries by hand. If you're using frozen, you can just put them all in at the same time.

There doesn't appear to be any consensus, but I'm all for greasing the muffin tin, including the top so that the muffin tops don't stick. You want to fill each cup to the top and then sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

We've always baked at 375 for the whole 25-30 minutes, but many recipes seem to have the temperature at 450 to start for 5 minutes then lowered to 375 for the remaining 20-25 minutes.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Mom's (and Grandmama's) Potato Salad

You will not likely be seeing many recipes from my Grandmama on this blog. She was beautiful, vivacious, and talkative, but cooking was not her thing. It didn't have to be. She was the youngest of thirteen children. Not all of them needed to learn to cook. She didn't particularly take to people asking about her cooking either. If anyone dared ask her What's for dinner?, she would reply Shit on a Shingle, which is not quite as rude as it sounds, since it's an old army term for chipped beef on toast. (Incidentally, if you ask my mother about SOS, she will tell you how to make it and even about the glass jar the beef comes in that you can repurpose as a juice glass, so consider yourself warned). At any rate, Grandmama's potato salad was a good deal better than shit on a shingle, possibly because this recipe was one also favored by her sisters (including ones that could and did cook well).


4 medium boiling potatoes (I like the red ones or baby new potatoes)
white vinegar
4T mayo
1T Dijon mustard
6 chopped baby sweet gherkins
1t onion salt
1t garlic salt
2 hard boiled eggs
lots of pepper (see picture) and some salt to taste

gluten-free note: Check labels, but you should be able to get gf mustard and mayo.

Cut potatoes into large chunks or leave the babies whole. Bring water to a boil and cook about 12-15 minutes. This is not really science. It depends on whether the water was really at a boil and how large your chunks are. Use that army fork and test them after 12 minutes. If you cook them too much, they fall apart and then you have potato mush instead of potato salad.

Drain and let cool in colander for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with plain old white vinegar. I think this is to keep the potatoes white while they cool, but it could also be to add some tang to all that creamy mayo.
When cool, cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
It is important to wait until the potatoes are cool before assembling the salad or you are back to mush.
Place in a large bowl.
Cut hard boiled eggs into slightly larger cubes. Set aside.
Mix the mayo, mustard, gherkins and flavorings in a small bowl. Mix gently into the potatoes. When almost incorporated. Add the eggs. This is a very delicate operation because if you are too forceful or energetic with the tossing in of mayo, you will get- mush. again. Add salt and plenty of pepper to taste.

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Chinese" Chicken or Rename this Recipe!

Truth - I have been avoiding posting this recipe because it is Chinese chicken, and we've always called it Chinese chicken, I wouldn't know what else to call it. And yet, I can acknowledge, that no matter what the Time-Life Foods of the World Series would have you think, this is definitely not a real, true, chinese recipe. Not even a bit. But it's delicious, easy and great to bring to all those damn summer potlucks, barbecues and backyard parties. So I'm going to swallow the shame that wells inside me for calling this Chinese and give you the recipe. You're on your own when people ask you what it is.

From Time-Life Foods of the World, via Mom (again - thanks Mom!)

8 chicken thighs or 2 breasts (Mom always used thighs, they honestly taste better, but Ryan only eats breasts, so we adapt)
2T soy sauce
1T rice wine
2 scallions, sliced 2" long segments and julienned
4 slices ginger, crushed and minced
if making stovetop
flour for dredging
peanut (or other) oil

gluten-free note: Make on the grill, without dredging in flour and find a gf soy sauce.

If you are using breasts, cut them into 2" chunks; thighs you can cut in two, after removing all the gunky bits. That is why I don't use thighs, but the original recipe called for them. They are easier because you don't have to be so careful of the timing; using the breasts there is a danger of overcooking. Beware.

Mix together the soy, rice wine, scallions and ginger. Set the chicken in to marinate.Marinate the chicken in the mixture for at least 3 hours(Mom has more free time than I do, I marinate for an hour. This also may explain why hers are better than mine) . The original recipe called for the chicken to be floured and fried in peanut oil. Mom made it that way for years and it is delicious. You take the pieces of chicken, and coat them with flour, then shake off the excess flour. Prepare a skillet with some oil (just enough to coat the bottom of the pan), and heat to medium-high. When it's nice a warm, add the flour dredged chicken. The pieces are pretty small, so it does cook up pretty quickly. Watch carefully and flip halfway through. I won't try to give you times, since breast and thigh meat take different amounts.

Then one day Mom decided that was too much oil and too much flour and tried the recipe without the flour and just put the chicken right on the grill. De-licious. It worked like a dream and now that is the way she makes it all the time. I have no grill and have never grilled, so you know, use whatever grill expertise you have to cook the stuff. The best thing about this is that it can be eaten hot or cold or in between. It is an easy do-ahead recipe to take along to a pot luck dinner. Also it goes wonderfully with sesame noodles. Yum.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Maryland Crab Cakes

My mother's crab cakes are to die for. The recipe comes direct from the Governor of Maryland. Of course, probably over 50% of all Maryland crab cake recipes claim to come from the Governor of Maryland. Then again Maryland has had over 60 governors since ye olde Revolutionary War, so hell, maybe all of them are authentic. I mean, if you're even willing to believe the governor himself (rather than his hardworking chef) has anything to do with it. Isn't everyone's enduring memory of Spiro Agnew(MD gov. 1967-1969) that of him carefully forming crab cakes and placing them in a hot pan? I know. There's nothing more confidence inspiring than Spiro Agnew. So with no further ado, a bona fide recipe from the Governor of Maryland.

from the Governor of Maryland or you know, my mom

1 lb crabmeat (use backfin and remove all the cartilage or use jumbo lump which is a bit easier to clean - either way, get Maryland crab, there's no substitute for that.)
1/2C breadcrumbs (unflavored)
1 egg
1t dry mustard
2t Worcestershire
3 drops Tabasco
for cooking the cakes
olive oil

We part ways with the governor, because he calls for 1/4 C light cream which we have never used.

for the sauce (family recipe, not governor's)
3 T mayonnaise
1 t dijon mustard
2 t lemon juice

Clean crabmeat. Mix all ingredients and form into flattened cakes. Pat cakes into more breadcrumbs to form a bit of a crust. I used to fry them in a small amount of olive oil, but lately I have broiled them. Cover the broiling pan with tin foil and and grease with olive oil. Using a spoon, smear about a teaspoon of olive oil on top of each crabcake (which you have placed on the broiling pan). If you fry the cakes, cook over medium heat for 5-8 minutes per side. They should be firm and nicely brown. If you broil them, cook about 5 minutes per side, turning the pan for evenness halfway through each side.

The traditional family sauce has been a mix of 3T mayonnaise, 1t Dijon mustard and 2t lemon juice.


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