Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Ballet Cook Book Dinner, Part II



Check out the wonderful Antonio Carmena's latest performance, as he stars in this frenetic video of the second in our series of dinners from the 1966 Ballet Cook Book.   I know it's in fast motion, but the meal prep truly felt just as fast (over several hours, no less)!

Watch him roll out the pie crust!  And the way he formed the ice cream into quenelles -- how elegant is that!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Pie Crust Games (Book One)


As many of you know, I've been playing a losing game with pie crust for years.  But all that changed on Saturday night when I learned the secret from -- of all people -- Antonio Carmena, soloist for the New York City Ballet.

Antonio was in my kitchen preparing the second in the series of Ballet Dinners -- meals created from the recipes of ballet dancers published in the 1966 Ballet Cook Book and conceived by Ryan Wenzel, dance editor of the Brooklyn Rail and author of the Bodies Never Lie blog.  For this dinner, we were cooking the recipes of Diana Adams, a native of Tennessee and so dessert, naturally, was pecan pie.

I won't lie -- I fretted about the pie crust from the beginning.  It was daunting to have to make a pie when there were so many other time-consuming dishes (shrimp bisque, fried chicken in cornmeal spoonbread, yam pudding and hush puppies, not to mention vodka lemonade) to prepare. I was going to make it myself in advance, but I'm glad I didn't.

The pecan pie recipe (below) simply said to place the filling in a pre-baked 8-inch crust.  When Antonio arrived, he knew a crust recipe by heart: Two cups flour, one stick cold butter cut into small pieces, and one teaspoon each of salt and  sugar.  He mixed the dry ingredients in the food processor and added the butter. Once the fat was incorporated, he added some ice water until the crust came together.  He formed the mixture into a ball, covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator.  (And then turned his attention to the rest of the meal.)

After an hour or so, the magic began.  Antonio rolled the pie crust out between two pieces of plastic wrap, eliminating the need for extra flour which, in addition to making a mess, can sometimes toughen the crust. Somehow, he formed a near perfect circle.  He removed the top layer of plastic wrap and carefully (and perfectly, I might add) placed the crust in the pie plate.  And then -- because we had to bake the crust first without the filling -- did something I couldn't imagine would work.   He kept the sheet of plastic wrap on top of the crust, using it to carefully press it into the pan. He then proceeded to fill it with dried beans (which prevents the crust from puffing up during baking). "Oh, no," I exclaimed, thinking the plastic wrap would melt on contact in the 400 degree oven, filling the kitchen with noxious smoke.  "I have parchment paper for that."

Antonio reassured me that he had done this many times, even using the same brand of plastic wrap that I had.  (Hello, Costco.) Let's just say that I was astonished this worked and his novel method is now mine. It is fool-proof, even for a timid game contestant like me.

The pecan pie was magnificent, even better than the one I've used for years.  As usual, dessert was the best part of the meal.  No need to wait until Thanksgiving to try this -- just pretend you're a ballet dancer from Tennessee.


Antonio holding his masterpiece, below.


PECAN PIE
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar (we used light brown sugar)
3 eggs
l cup dark corn syrup
l cup broken pecans
l tsp. vanilla or sherry (we used sherry)
l tsp. salt
l 8-inch baked pie shell (we used a 9-inch pie shell)

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir
in corn syrup, pecans, flavoring, and salt. Fill pie shell and
bake at 375° F. 30-40 minutes or until a knife inserted in
pie comes out clean.

(A big shout out to Antonio who not only made the entire pie but saved it from burning after I had turned off the timer, lest the noise disturb out dinner conversation.  Even after a lot of scotch and vodka lemonade, he proved himself the real kitchen pro.)

Below, is the dinner's main course, fried chicken in buttermilk spoon bread.  Doesn't it look like the chicken is trying to claw its way out of the pan?



Thursday, April 19, 2012

Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies


Yesterday was a big day for the DH -- not only was it his 39th birthday but it was the publication of his memoir, a wonderful book called Leaving Story Avenue about growing up in a New York City housing project and eventually landing a job as a reporter for the New York Daily News.

The DH does not care for cake; he's more of a cookie man and so he requested peanut butter cookies for his birthday.  I do not care for peanut butter cookies, but I like to make him happy.

I found a promising recipe in my collection -- it seemed simple and possible, a big bonus among all these handwritten cards whose results are by no means guaranteed.   Best of all, these cookies were fantastic. Instead of the sandy texture of many peanut butter cookies, these are melt-in-your-mouth delicious (so I was told).

If you want to try your hand, here's some instruction.  Recipe card at the end.

Make sure the butter is soft and place it in a mixer with the peanut butter.  I used some fancy schmancy organic peanut butter from the corner store, but any type will do.  Add the sugars and then the beaten egg.  Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt)  in a bowl and simply pour into the mixer.  Blend until incorporated but don't overdo it, lest your cookies become tough.


If you have time, refrigerate the batter.  If not simply roll into one-inch balls and place on the baking sheet.  Working with cold dough is a bit easier, as this is a bit sticky.



Press each ball down with the tines of a fork, making a criss-cross pattern.  Not essential, but a nice and traditional touch.


For shortening, I always use butter for its flavor.  Check out the original oven temperature instructions on the second card!



The DH enjoying his birthday cookies. And his gifts!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Titanic: The Cookie


Like many, I've held a longtime fascination with the Titanic and when the book, Last Dinner on the Titanic was published in 1997, I attended the opening dinner -- where we were served the April 14, 1912, first class menu that was to be the last meal of many of the passengers.  (And one of my favorite afternoons ever was spent in Walter Lord's apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side -- he wrote A Night to Remember, the best book about the Titanic -- where I interviewed him for a story and he signed a 1955 first edition of his book for me.)

And so, to commemorate the centennial of the ship's sinking, I baked a dessert on the second class dining saloon menu that last night, published in the Last Dinner book.  Coconut Sandwiches sounded great -- a creamy filling between two coconut cookies, like re-imagined homemade Oreo, using coconut instead of chocolate.

But like the ship, these sunk.  Not in flavor -- they are quite delicious -- but the process to make these was a bit frustrating.  (And the fact that my oven is barely working added to problem and explains why the cookies above look so different from one another.)

But before we get to baking, I'd like to encourage everyone to visit the South Street Seaport Museum's new exhibit about the Titanic.  The luggage tag, below, was printed at the Museum's Bowne & Co., Stationers, a letterpress shop where everything is done the old-fashioned way.  Bowne is also open -- do visit, watch printing at its best and buy some lovely gifts there to support the Museum.



So if you feel like throwing caution to the wind, and paying sweet tribute to the great ocean liner, you can make these unusual and wonderful (at the end) cookies.



Don't worry if the mixture looks like it's breaking (above).  Just keep combining and it will come together beautifully (below).


The dough is nearly impossible to roll out, as called for in the recipe.  You can just roll the chilled dough into balls and press them down with the heel of your hand.  And do make more filling than the recipe says, or you won't have enough.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Enter the Birthday Cake Baking Contest on May 6th!


All of my New York readers are invited to enter a fabulous and fun birthday cake baking contest.

Henry Street Settlement is hosting a 145th birthday party for our founder, Lillian Wald, from 12 noon to 3 p.m. on May 6th at 265 Henry Street on Manhattan's Lower East Side.  A highlight of the celebration will be the cake baking contest.  We have some amazing judges:  Food Maven Arthur Schwartz, Rozanne Gold (of the Recipes 1-2-3 fame), a food editor from the Ladies Home Journal, the owner of Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a wonderful bakery on the Lower East Side, the founders of TheLoDownNY and more!


Birthday Cake Contest Rules
Limit of 20 entrants; one cake per entrant
Cakes must be dropped off at event by 1 p.m.
Any size or shape permitted
A list of ingredients must accompany the cake
Cakes will be judged on appearance, originality, taste and interpretation of the birthday party theme. 
Advance registration is required by May 3rd – email info@henrystreet.org with CAKE CONTEST in the subject line.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover Woodchucks


At my house, Passover is all about freedom.  And desserts.

This year (actually, just today), I had planned to bring you a number of perfect Passover desserts. I took yesterday off work, intent on baking.  But it was not to be. By 10 a.m., my expensive electric wall oven was failing.  By 11 a.m., I administered last rites.

I do have a fantastic c. 1950 Chambers stove (which has never died), but its gas oven is a bit unreliable for baking so I didn't make the fancy meringues and tortes on my list.  Instead, I found a recipe for Woodchucks, a rather unappetizing name for what turned out to be a delicious and unusual cookie.  It was in a spiral bound cookbook published by the Akron chapter of B'nai B'rith Women in 1970.

They are a bit like coconut macaroons, but even better because of the addition of nuts, dates and brown sugar.

Because Passover is a long holiday, you have plenty of time to make these.  But let's get baking:  Mix chopped walnuts, dates, coconut, brown sugar and an egg in a bowl.


Form the mixture into oblong rolls. This is a messy process, best accomplished by wearing latex gloves.  Roll them in some coconut and place on a cookie sheet.


My Chambers kind of burned the bottoms a bit, or perhaps I left them in too long.  But the DH said he liked the burnt flavor and if you just remove (and eat) the most egregiously burned portions no one will be the wiser.


These aren't the most gorgeous cookies -- I'm sure the meringues would have looked a lot better --  but they are wildly addicting.  I only made half the recipe, the latest among my many regrets. Make the full recipe; you'll be happy you did.  And happy Passover.



Below is the old reliable Chambers, and below that is the fourth wall oven I've had in 15 years.  Proof that they just don't make them like they used to.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hot Cross Buns, Vintage Style

A Repost: Finally Got the Date Right!


Hot Cross Buns...in January?


Have you ever been shocked to discover that everyone else seems to know a common fact (embarrassing examples below), but that fact has somehow evaded your brain?   It's almost as if you were absent from school the day that particular thing was taught, and never had an opportunity to learn it again.
That's why I made Hot Cross Buns in January -- I was absent from school the day everyone else learned that these are a Good Friday-specific baked good. (Also, in my very weak defense, I'm a Hebrew school graduate.)

At top, hot cross buns in "bun formation"

It all started when Kristen Brown of the Park Slope Patch stopped by one morning last week to do a story about my blog.  It was too early to serve cake, and who can resist a sweet bread hot from the oven?  I found a recipe for hot cross buns that sounded good, and I was especially anxious to follow the instruction: "Put on a sheet in bun formation."  As if bun formation was part of everyone's knowledge base!

Before rising

And after

As with many yeast doughs, this was very satisfying to work with and yielded a terrific result if you ignore my kindergarten-style crosses on the top.  Next time -- which will be in the spring -- I'll use a pastry bag.
No one at work seemed to mind these out-of-season buns.  And one person (who was raised in a very Catholic home) proved even more clueless than me: When she saw the buns, she asked:  "Is it Lent?"   Come on, even I know that Lent is NOT in January!






Since you got all the way down here, the embarrassing examples are:
1) Until I was 25, I thought the phrase "all intents and purposes" was "all intensive purposes,"  a fact pointed out to me by my first editor in New York in a not very nice way.
2) While accompanying me as my "spouse" on a business trip to Washington, D.C., my former roommate returned to the hotel after a day of sightseeing to announce:  I didn't realize the Capitol and White House were two separate buildings.
And I'll post more, as I remember them.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hamburger Buns in 30 Minutes


My dear friend Kris* was coming to dinner and I needed to whip up something -- and fast.  So when I discovered a recipe called Hamburger Buns in 30 Minutes, I couldn't resist.  (I could have walked to the corner bodega and purchased a package of buns in about five minutes, but what fun is that?)

Like most things in life, shortcuts in baking don't always yield the best result.  And so it was with these buns.  The big surprise was that they even worked.  If you ever find yourself on a remote island or in a country house miles from the nearest grocery store, this unusual recipe may come in handy.

Mix warm water, oil, yeast and sugar in a large bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes.


It should "grow" and look like the mixture below.


Add the flour and other ingredients.  Mix well.  Do not knead.  Do not wait for it to rise.  Forget everything you've ever learned about baking with yeast.



Form this mixture into "the size and shape of a hamburger patty" instructs the recipe.  Let rise about ten minutes.



Bake for ten minutes and voila.  You have hamburger buns, sort of.  (Actually, I baked them for way longer than ten minutes and then toasted them.)

If you've added up the time required as stated on the recipe, it's 35 minutes, which leads me to believe that the author of this recipe is as math challenged as I am.



I meant to take some pictures of Kris "enjoying" the hamburger buns, but we had wine and got distracted.   But even better, below are two paintings by Kris, a wonderful and imaginative artist who left Brooklyn more than a decade ago and now lives in Rhode Island.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fool's Dessert: Fried Egg on Toast


I despise duplicity and deception (but apparently not alliteration) except on April Fool's Day.  So, I bring you a delightful kitchen-born practical joke -- and a delicious one!

The fried egg on toast pictured above is trompe l'oeil at its best.  In fact, it is a canned half peach surrounded by whipped cream on a slice of sponge cake.  I found this gem of  a recipe in a 1956 spiral bound cookbook (simply called Cook Book) published by the women of Circle "B" of the First Brethren Church.  


I'm not publishing a sponge cake recipe because the one I made did not come out well.  Very low rise, which is fine in jeans but not in cake.  If you want to fool friends and family, I think a slice of pound cake would do nicely.  (Meantime, I'll be baking my way through dozens of sponge cake recipes in my collection until I find one worthy of 2012.)

Today's April Fool's joke is reminiscent of a trick I played on my son when he was in middle school (and that I recreated below).  Instead of his usual bacon and eggs for breakfast, I served him bacon and gummy candy fried eggs.  (He didn't complain -- candy for breakfast was quite a treat!)