Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

The Occasional Recipe: beef stew

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It’s almost spring, the snowdrops are out, and our dinner thoughts should be turning to asparagus and lamb. And yet, here in Boston, there are plenty of days when hearty winter fare still feels like the right way to go. Maybe beef stew that’s been in the oven for hours, sending delicious smells through the house and making the kitchen warm.

Here’s an easy one that never fails. It’s from my late friend Dan Murphy, who served it in front of the fireplace with a warm, crusty baguette, a first course of green salad, and a dessert of homemade chocolate pudding. Perfect! He got it from a book called “Cooking from Quilt Country.”

2 lbs stew beef
3-4 potatoes
3-4 carrots
2 ribs celery
3 small onions
1 28-oz. can tomatoes
1/4 c. water
5 tbsp. minute tapioca
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Cut meat into bite-size pieces. Prepare vegetables, cut into about 1-inch pieces.
2. In large heavy roasting pan combine all ingredients except parsley.
3. Bake, covered, for 5 hours without stirring.
4. Add parsley just before serving.

Two notes. First, about the parsley. I have no doubt that it would be a tasty addition. But I have never failed to forget it. Just as I’m cleaning up after dinner I find that little mound of washed and chopped parsley, waiting eagerly for its close-up. (“Is it time now?”) Oh, well. I now consider it optional.

And most importantly, about the direction to bake for 5 hours “without stirring.” I have always taken this to mean both the stew and the cook. So put the stew in the oven and sit down with a good book. Maybe light a fire. After all, it’s only March.

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The occasional recipe: sugared nuts

Thursday, December 17, 2009

As I write this my house smells like holiday cooking. The sugary kind of cooking rather than the potato-pancake-frying kind. I tried a recipe my friend Paula gave me. It’s for sugared nuts, which make good munchies to have on hand, as well as fun little gifts. I put some of mine into small bags and tied them with ribbons as gifts for my neighbors. And if that’s sounding kind of Martha Stewart-ish, keep in mind that the recipe adheres to my usual ratio of easiness to delish-ness.

Here’s what you need:

nuts--about 2 lbs. I used raw pecan and walnut halves
2 egg whites
1 c. white sugar
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. 5-spice powder

Preheat the oven to 275. (I wish I could find the little “degree” circle on my computer. Someone reading this must know.) Whirl the egg whites in a food processor and add all the other ingredients except for the nuts.

Put the nuts in a large bowl and pour the egg white mixture over them. Toss to coat the nuts well. Spread the nuts in a single layer over 3 cookie sheets. They should have enough room so that they’re not clumped together too much. And I covered the cookie sheets with parchment just to make the clean-up easier. Bake 55 minutes. Then lift them from the cookie sheets with a spatula while warm to separate any that are stuck together. I think using parchment makes this step easier, too.

That’s the whole thing. They’re really good and, as you can see, really easy. I doubled the recipe and my second batch just came out of the oven. Only little problem is that now I’m alone in the house with them. Uh-oh.

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It's a dessert, it's a main course, it's...bread pudding!

Monday, September 7, 2009

One of my favorite old-fashioned dessert recipes is nearly illegible, scrawled on a torn sheet of paper and labeled “Aunt Ethel’s.” I wrote it down fast during a phone conversation, intended to rewrite it later, and never did. It’s my friend Fran Godine’s family recipe for bread pudding, the basic vanilla-and raisins version.

I’ve been seeing bread pudding looking newly chic on restaurant menus lately in chocolate and toffee incarnations. And over the years I’ve cut out savory recipes with additions like mushrooms, fontina, and leeks that looked like good alternatives to quiches.

After a little experimenting I found that this is similar to an omelette in ease and in handiness for nights when you can’t think of what to make for dinner with the ingredients on hand. But it’s surprisingly light and almost souffle-like in its ability to look impressive. And it provides the perfect answer for what to do with the rest of a baguette after dinner for two.

So here’s the basic idea. I’ve found that the right ratio is 1 cup of milk (can be low fat) to 1 cup of staled bread cubes to 1 egg. For two people you’d probably want to use 3 cups to 3 cups to 3 eggs. And here’s what you do:
--scald the milk. That’s the term my mother used for heating it just until you get the film of protein deposits on the sides of the saucepan.
--beat in the eggs
--pour mixture over bread cubes. I like to mush it down a little to make sure all the bread is soaked thoroughly.
--add anything (see below)
--bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean. It will be puffed and much lighter than you’d expect.

For sweet bread puddings, you can add vanilla and raisins, chocolate....., maybe even the fruits you might bake into a pie--apples, pears, peaches.

But savory bread puddings are another whole level of flexibility. Mushroom, ham, grated cheese, green onions, tomato, broccoli--put in whatever you might use in a quiche.

And here’s what I love about the bread part. I like to use French bread, so whenever I have any left from a meal, I cut it into large cubes. I usually trim off the crust, but I’m not so sure that matters very much. Then I leave the cubes out to stale overnight and pop them into a bag in the freezer. What could be easier?

Let me know about your bread puddings!

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The Occasional recipe...lemonade syrup

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Here in Boston it’s felt like summer for more than a week now, so I think it’s safe to offer one of my favorite summer recipes--lemonade syrup. Here’s what you do: make up a batch of this and keep it in the refrigerator. When you want lemonade, just add a couple of tablespoonsful to a glass of ice water and--voila--actual lemonade.

The base of this recipe is just a simple syrup, aka sugar water. There was a time when I traveled often to southeast Asia, where a cold drink is always welcome and simple syrup is a ubiquitous sweetener. Either on its own or as lemonade, it’s a good addition to iced tea. I like to add lots of mint, which is rampant in the herb garden about now.

And, while we’re in the garden, try just some cold water with a slice of cucumber and sprigs of parsley and mint as a summer refresher. Mmmm. Reminds me of being in steamy Bangkok, sitting on the verandah of the Oriental Hotel beside the Chao Praya River, with a cool drink and a sweet juicy slice of ripe papaya with lime.

However you are cooling off this summer, I hope you are enjoying it!


Lemonade Syrup

Combine and boil for 5 minutes:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
rind of 2 lemons cut in strips
Cool and add the juice of 6 lemons. Strain. Refrigerate. To make lemonade, add 2 tablespoons syrup (or to taste) to a glass of cold water.

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The occasional recipe...the famous Caryl Kahn peach pie

Friday, June 12, 2009

That’s how it’s known in my family, even though Caryl Kahn is a name from our deep past, a neighbor in our suburban New York town way back when. Does she still make this? Who knows. But she was the source of the recipe and I can’t pass it along without attribution.

But about the pie. Well, it’s hardly a traditional pie. I’ve never seen another recipe like it. You can’t cut it into neat slices and it only has a top crust and even that’s not a “real” pie crust. It’s pretty much just fruit with some batter spooned over it. But it’s delish and dare I say easy as pie.

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Scald, skin, and slice peaches.
Stop--full disclosure--I NEVER EVER do those first two. I just slice them and ignore the skin. Feel free to peel, though, if you’re offended by skin. How many peaches? I just use enough to fill the pie plate evenly and then pile more on top. If the peaches are getting too ripe and I need to use them fast, I may pile on quite a few more. This is a recipe I take liberties with.

3. Sprinkle peaches with mix of 1/3 cup sugar and a little cinnamon.

4. Make batter:
Cream together
1 tbsp. butter
2/3 c. sugar
add
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt
and combine until smooth.

5. Spoon batter over peaches.

6. Bake 25-30 min. until lightly browned on top and baked through.

This is terrific on its own, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or any time in between. Great with vanilla ice cream, too, or a dab of creme fraiche.

Although this is, after all, a famous peach pie, it is possible--even good--to try other fruit. In Maine I use blueberries and it works perfectly. Although I have never made this with apricots or apples or plums or nectarines, those sounds like perfectly good possibilities, too. I hope one of you will try and let me know.

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Oatmeal lace cookies--nutritious, delicious, and ridiculously easy

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Well, the title of my blog promises “the occasional recipe,” so here’s the first. One of my ground rules for the recipes is the effort-effect ratio: it’s got to be easy and yet taste better than the ease of preparation would seem to promise. This one is a real winner. It is one of the simplest cookies I know how to make, but it looks kind of impressive. And, since it’s made with oatmeal, I figure it’s got some food value going for it.

The recipe came to me from Anne Ritter, a friend of my Aunt Alice, who would have been 100 today!  Anne was beautiful, lived in an art-filled apartment on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia with a husband who adored her, and was one of the most effortlessly glamourous people I ever knew. She was a nurse with the Red Cross during World War II--one of that “greatest generation.” Maybe because she had no children she pampered me outrageously, including sending me wonderful cookies when I was away at summer camp. These were among the best.

Oatmeal lace cookies

1 cup quick oats
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 lb. (1/2 cup) melted margarine
2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with foil or parchment. Do not grease. Mix dry ingredients well. Pour melted margarine over dry ingredients and add beaten egg and vanilla. Mix with spoon until well blended. Drop by 1/2 teaspoonsful far apart on cookie sheets and bake about 7 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool completely before removing from sheet. That’s it. If you’re ambitious you can glue two cookies together with a little melted chocolate.

Yum.

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