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Things a Monkey Could Cook Menu Coordination for Beginners by Jean Stites Copyright 2012, Jean Stites. All rights reserved. Smashwords Edition, License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only and must not be resold. If you'd like to share this book with other people, please purchase additional copies. If you're reading this and didn't purchase it, please support and respect the work of this author by going to Smashwords.com and doing so. To Grandma Hazel, who was a natural in the kitchen, And to Aunt Norma, who told me I should write a book, And of course to Mom, who—God love her—fed us all. On the Menu Chapter One: Introduction and Helpful Tips Chapter Two: Chili and French Bread Chapter Three: Crab-stuffed Mushrooms with Garlic Bread Chapter Four: Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice Chapter Five: Meatloaf with Twice-baked or Oven-fried Potatoes and Chilli Sauce Chapter Six: Oven-fried Chicken with Peaches, Biscuits, Gravy and Green Beans Chapter Seven: Pizza, Calzones, and Pizza Rolls Chapter Eight: Shrimp Eggrolls with Fried Rice or Ramen Noodles Chapter Nine: Spaghetti and Meat Balls with Veggie Sauce Chapter Ten: Beef and Bean Burritos or Tostadas Chapter Eleven: Stuffed Flounder with Tomato and Zucchini Casserole Chapter Twelve: Chicken Parmesan Subs and Green Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing Chapter Thirteen: Scallops au gratin with Deep-Fried Potatoes and Cole Slaw Chapter Fourteen: Spinach Manicotti and Stuffed Mushrooms Chapter Fifteen: Shrimp Cocktail and Green Salad with Ranch Dressing Chapter Sixteen: Chicken Chimichangas Chapter Seventeen: Macaroni and Cheese with Applesauce and Steamed Broccoli Chapter Eighteen: Roast Turkey, Stuffing, Almond Green Beans, and Ambrosia Chapter Nineteen: French Toast, Strawberry Jam, and Sausage Chapter Twenty: Mushroom and Cheese Omelets Chapter Twenty-One: Cinnamon Rolls Chapter Twenty-Two: Strawberry Shortcake Chapter Twenty-Three: Chocolate Chip Cookies Chapter Twenty-Four: Boston Cream Pie Chapter Twenty-Five: Half-Moon Cookies Chapter Twenty-Six: Strawberry Cake Roll Chapter Twenty-Seven: Brownies Chapter Twenty-Eight: Classic Cherry Pie Chapter Twenty-Nine: Carrot Cake Chapter Thirty: Cream Puffs and Eclairs Chapter Thirty-One: Rainbow Birthday Cake Chapter Thirty-Two: Chocolate Cream or Chocolate Mousse Pie Chapter One Introduction Greetings to you, who longs to throw together tasty treats that can’t be beat, right there in your own home sweet home! Originally the title of this book was Timing is Everything, but I felt it would be far too dull. Nevertheless, the original point of this tome is to help those already comfortably constructing a sandwich to get an understanding of how to get an entire menu full of complimentary recipes to simultaneously hit the table at the peak of perfection. The monkey thing was just a cheap lure to get you inside the cover, but was also intended to create the impression that cooking can be fun and relatively simple—which it is. Yes, I’ll bet there’s definitely a contented ape somewhere who can go beyond making a sandwich, and if he or she can do it, surely you can too! At least I think so... What, I must ask, do you have to lose? Not as much as you have to gain, I assure you, if you’ve been living on fast or frozen food. Expect an immediate trade up in terms of sensual experiences and to get a lot more value out of your food dollar. Just make sure you’ve got a fire extinguisher handy.... While I'm only joking, of course. Or not, perhaps, in the case of those just beginning to monkey around in the intimidating jungle of cuisine.... So anyway, at first this book was all about meal coordination for the beginning cook, and then I realized that of course I had to throw in a lot of desserts at the end to really make it a party—although those of you who already throw perfect parties aren’t going to learn much from me. On the other hand, if you suspect that any primate could throw a better one, I’m going to try to spare you a lot of pain and suffering by telling you in perhaps excruciating detail just what to do when and why. Please remember that this is only my way of doing these things, and I keep changing my mind. Cooking, like everything else, is enhanced by personal style, and you’ll develop your own tastes—for example, in seasonings—as you gain experience. In actual fact, I hardly ever make anything quite the same way twice, since the experienced cook will constantly be making allowances due to issues like the quality of the ingredients or the tastes of those headed for the table. Of course, precision in measurements has to do with the complicated chemistry of cuisine, and is much more crucial in baking than in, for instance, salad making. On the other hand, playing fast and loose with ingredients in any recipe is also a recipe for disaster. The main thing to remember when experimenting with something like a pasta sauce or a salad dressing is that in cooking—as in life—balance is everything. The fundamental rule is that no specific ingredient should shout out its identity from the finished dish. Think circumspect elegance. Think smooth.... It’s just like Chopin tossing off a nocturne: if you’re really good, nobody will be able to tell exactly what's in there, while the extrasensitive may be reduced to tears.... You can do it! It’ll all be worth it too, because you truly are what you eat, as they say, so eat good; while in terms of ingredients, I sincerely hope you’ll find at least a few things here that suit your dietary taste and needs, as I try to throw a relatively healthy and happy party. Also, bearing in mind that a lot of beginning cooks may be watching their budgets, I’ve tried to choose recipes made from things that aren’t too expensive and are readily available in most American groceterias. As a matter of fact, I briefly considered calling this book Dirt Cheap Dining, since—having chosen to spend my life in nurturing occupations—I’ve always lived fairly close to the edge of destruction, and so was forced by my almost insanely demanding personal standards to learn to cook nearly everything my family loves from scratch in my sleep. There are worse fates! You are what you eat! Cooking is the first—and in some respects still the finest—of art forms, as it can nurture both and soul. My Grandmother—to whom this book is principally dedicated— was so good at it that she seldom bothered to write measurements into her recipes, which is one of the reasons why my personal standards became so high in the first place. Yes, the pathetic, almost unnatural craving I still have for her long-lost chocolate pudding is one of the things that inspired me to write this little book for her great- grandchildren and you by extension, so that she and I can continue to conjure up tasty treats for everybody from the Great Beyond.... I feel, you see, almost a cosmic duty. For instance, my Aunt Norma—a victim of the very same craving as my own—was once foolish enough to try to duplicate the chocolate pudding recipe, over and over and over, in a truly tragic case of creeping insanity. May God have mercy on us all! Amen. Helpful Safety Tips And now, here’s the first round of what will surely be several important safety tips, inserted throughout this book in a somewhat maternal fashion, because I just can’t help myself. First of all—in the spirit of prevention—I’ve come to feel that those who yearn to cook are often also creative, right-brain types who cringe at the realization that survival in the kitchen requires third-grade math skills, and so I begin with the following equivalents: * 3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon 4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup 5 1/3 tablespoons = 1/3 cup 1 quart = 2 pints = 4 cups * This should be especially helpful when doubling recipes; and I realize that readers outside the USA may be thinking metric, and so apologize that there’s no such equivalents in the recipes. I’m sorry, but being a right-brainer, I just hate math.... Next: please remember that a great kitchen—like a great mind—is usually a clean and calm place as well, so tidy up along the way and yours will be more efficient, healthier, and less accident-prone. Better to compulsively wash and dry everything than to spread germs and slippery havoc wherever you go. Go buy a package of cheap bar wipes, rather than spend a small fortune on paper towels. Julia Child always had a kitchen towel hanging from her apron, and when I noticed that my life got a lot easier. And then, when learning to slice and dice—and forevermore—never, never, never take your eyes off the knife once it’s in your hand. This is dangerously bad form comparable to taking one’s eye off the ball in games of sport, with potentially much more serious consequences. For instance, once little Chopin’s parents realized that he was destined to be one of the greatest pianists that ever lived, he was thereafter forbidden to even touch a knife.... And on that note, we come to the most important safety tips of all: keep that knife way out of reach of your toddler and leave those pot handles turned at angles that can’t be bumped; while if you feel yourself moving too fast, you’re probably asking for trouble. Watch out, in particular, for cats and kids underfoot.... Keep cool, as a rule. While another classic way to ask for trouble is to turn the heat on anything all the way up. You really don’t need to do that to achieve a vigorous boil or bring oil to frying temperature, while the highest of heat equals the greatest potential for things to start moving too fast. Contrariwise, don’t turn the heat down too low. If it’s not bubbling at all, the magic of kitchen chemistry is not kicking in. And speaking of heat, although these days almost all ovenware is relatively indestructible, should you decide to keep something on hold in the refrigerator before baking—and you’re using some cool, perhaps inherited, glass or ceramic cookware— please be very sure that your treasured bakeware can go cold into a hot oven without cracking, or you’ll be so very sorry on a multitude of levels.... Similarly, if you decide to freeze something like leftover applesauce in glass jars for long-term storage, remember to leave a little headroom in those jars for expansion, since we all remember from science class that water expands when it freezes; and if you didn’t pay attention in class—and you still haven’t learned to pay attention to me—well then, you’ll just have to learn the hard way, and the rest of the class won’t feel sorry for you, now will we? Let’s see: what else...? Ah, here’s a good one: never serve anything that requires dunking of any kind to a crowd unless you’ve removed all the furniture and carpeting from the room. Even then —especially if there’s children present—there’s bound to be at least one laundry-related tragedy. Ditto anything remotely runny or easily crumbled—like tacos—where the potential messiness factor goes right through the roof, because if that stuff drips on somebody’s shirt, it may just stay there forever.... While in a similar vein, here’s an especially important tip for beginning bakers: flour + an open window + a delightful summer breeze = disaster. Plus, here’s something that I was in denial about for years, but which is actually very important for those of you who plan to cook for crowds: be aware that—in terms of your personal health—tasting this and that all day long for testing purposes can actually amount to eating another entire meal if you’re not careful. Especially if you start indulging in a nice big spoonful, when you know very well that a tiny taste is all that’s needed, because—well, it just tastes and smells so good... And mulling over the subject of healthier cooking now brings me to the subject of parchment paper: a minor miracle that’s always been available to chefs—now to be had in my groceteria; and if you can find it and afford it, I strongly advise you to line your bakeware with it. Not only does it turn even the most antique of pans into a truly non- stick surface, it takes a major chunk of fat out of your diet, while making everything brown correctly. Now that I finally have access to it, the hours I used to spend scrubbing bakeware have begun to seem like nothing but a bad dream.... However, memories linger, to the point where I myself am old enough to always be suspicious of the phrase non-stick cookware—especially when it comes to the delicate art of baking. Nevertheless, even back then—occasionally up to the elbows in the slimy fallout of some amateur meltdown—I knew what I’m once again telling you now, which is that all this bubble, bubble, toil and trouble is well worth it. You can do it! Would I lie, just to sell a few books? Trust me, I want life to be a party for my loved ones and the rest of creation by extension, and a party—as everyone knows—just doesn’t really feel like a party without great food.... Well all right then, let’s go monkey around in the kitchen! Chapter Two Chili and French Bread Well, way back in the Pleistocene Era, when I first started keeping house, one of the best friends I ever had told me with divinely reassuring conviction that any fool can make chili, and she was right. If I were going to actually try to teach a monkey to cook something, this recipe might be it. Hopefully, the ease of chili-making will then leave your mind free to learn how to bake bread if you’ve never tried it before; but if you’re intimidated or bored by bread-making, just go buy a loaf or some flour tortillas and you’ll still find plenty of satisfaction. However, if you’ve begun to think that this cooking thing is kinda fun and you get really excited by the aroma when you drive by a bakery, then you’d be doing yourself a big favor by learning how to bake bread. I’ve cranked out thousands of loaves, and had a great time spoiling my family with it to the point that I’ve come to feel the need to leave this book behind, if only to prevent them from going into some sort of withdrawal. Plus, I hope I’m correct when thinking that I’ve also saved thousands of dollars that were much better spent at the bookstore, while eliminating at least a few cryptic chemicals from our diet.... So why not give it a try? The next time you find yourself with a cold winter’s day and nowhere to go, fill your home-sweet-home with the smell of this meal and by dinnertime everyone will be your slave. The longer the chili simmers, within reason, the better it tastes. Plus, you can make vast quantities and freeze the leftovers for a fast and just-as-good-as-the-first-time treat. While in terms of timing, this is a menu that can take all day, or as little as three hours if you shorten the process by using the canned kidney beans; but if you do it’s really not such a good idea to buy something labeled chili beans, since they may already contain added flavorings. Otherwise, this whole thing takes about seven hours, but the first four are just a soaking period for the beans, during which time you could go rob a bank or something and come back. This is an especially good idea if you plan to also buy your bread at a bakery, since a little extra cash will come in handy in that department; plus you get to run two errands at the same time, so you see it really pays in so many ways to cook from scratch! Live and learn... Well anyway, after the soaking period, you start the beans and chili simmering away on the stove, and then go to work on the bread, where rising time will vary according to the air temperature in your kitchen. However, during both the rising and the baking you’re once again free to do something else—just checking in once in a while to stir up the chili and make sure that it’s still bubbling away in a low-key sort of way. I’d have to ask Betty Crocker to tell you why, but for some reason it’s one of those things that just tastes better if it simmers away—blending those flavors nice and slow—for a really long time.... And then, this recipe will feed four of the aforementioned slaves, who may trample you when the bread comes out of the oven. Don’t stand between them and it while trying to explain that—to really be at its peak—the bread needs to cool off for just ten minutes or they may turn on you. You think I’m joking, don’t you? I just hope you have the good sense to grab the best piece. Sequence of Events For best results, start soaking the dry kidney beans about 7 hours before you plan to serve. After about 4 hours, proceed with the chili recipe. Mix up the bread once all is bubbling away on the stove, leaving everything to simmer and rise for about 1 hour. Shape your loaves—letting them rise again for ½ hour, and then it’ll need another 20 minutes to bake. Once the bread’s done, let it cool for about 10 minutes before slicing—and at this point your meal can wait for hours if necessary, since the chili will only be improved by a long, slow simmer, while the bread can be briefly refreshed in the oven. Chili * ½ cup dry kidney beans 1 pound ground beef 1 large onion, chopped ½ teaspoon salt 2 to 4 tablespoons chili powder 2 large cans = 1 to 1½ pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped * Attention parents: if your child flees in terror at the mere mention of an onion, be sure to chop it into very large pieces, which will reduce in size, but still be large enough to be easily found and removed, as compromise rules. * Wash the beans, place them in a small saucepan, pour boiling water over all, cover and let them soak for about 4 hours. You may recall that in the previous chapter I said you could shorten this time if necessary, but in this case you want your beans to remain intact, so extra care is called for. You may also recall that traditionally you soak beans in cold water overnight, but.... Drain the beans into a colander, rinsing both them and the pot. Return them to the saucepan, cover with water to ½ inch above the surface of the beans, bring to a boil, and then let them simmer over medium-low heat for about an hour; and also unlike the previous chapter, you aren’t thinking in terms of fork-tender here. That happens later, after they’re added to the chili mixture, which comes next. While the beans are simmering, in your biggest saucepan, begin to brown the beef over medium heat, but don't break it up too much, because you want to end up with recognizable chunks. Also, the amount of fat in this recipe depends on the grade of meat you’re using; and I know that there are those who claim that the flavor of the fat is essential, and who would certainly be appalled as I now advise you to pour off most of it into a cup after the initial browning—discarding it after it’s cooled, rather than pouring it down the drain, which is a very bad idea on both practical and ecological levels. The best thing of course, when one is strapped for cash, is to just pay for ¾ of a pound of the good stuff. Once it starts to turn color, stir in the onion. When the beef is browned and the onion translucent, add the salt and the chili powder. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes, and then add the tomatoes—breaking them up a little with your spoon if they’re coming from a can. However, they’ll break down a lot more as they cook, and once again, you want to end up with a few recognizable chunks. Bring everything to the boiling point, then lower the heat to simmer for about ½ hour. This is the best time to mix together the bread dough; but if you have all afternoon and would like to simmer the chili longer for maximum tastiness, just start the bread about 2½ hours before you plan to eat. Add the precooked beans with their liquid, and simmer for at least another hour—being sure to stir it periodically; and if you’re using beans from a can, now’s the time to toss them in. Your bubbling brew will of course get thicker as it simmers, while thickness of chili is a matter of personal taste. Some who think of chili as a relatively soupy dish throw in a cup of water along with the tomatoes, and if you feel you’ve let it go too long, you can always similarly water it down. French Bread Well I have at least a dozen recipes for French bread and no two are the same. One says 2/3 cup milk, and another says never ever put milk in it or a large, unhappy man in a French chef’s uniform will come knocking on your door bent on teaching you a lesson. One says oil is unthinkable and another says use melted shortening, which may actually send chills up the spine of the aforementioned man in uniform. One says roll the dough into a rectangle first; another says shape it gently with your hands. Some say bake over steam, some say glaze the loaf with egg white, and some say bake on a cornmeal-sprinkled sheet. What's the true recipe? You tell me. Well, I estimate that I have baked several thousand loaves in almost every combination of these directions, and nine times out of ten, here's what I do. Occasionally I’ll use the egg white wash to make some sort of seed stick to it. Sometimes I’ll even throw some toasted sesame right into the bread; but I soon gave up on trying to save fat and duplicate that bakery taste by using cornmeal, since it began to feel like luxury not worth the time, mess, or expense. * 1½ cups very warm water 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon = 1 package yeast 2 teaspoons salt 2 tablespoons optional light oil or toasted wheat germ 5 to 6 cups bread flour * Officially, the water needs to be about 110 degrees, but for practical purposes: if you wouldn’t want to swim in it, neither will the yeast. As a rule I only put the oil in there if I need to keep it overnight, but if you so desire, use olive, canola, or vegetable oil. However, when I can afford luxury items I often add the wheat germ—a tasty addition that replaces some of the fiber that’s lost when flour’s processed and also has a bit of oil in it; while if you want to get rid of the refined sugar, you can substitute honey. Bread flour’s the best of course due to its superlatively glutinous rising propensities, but you can get swell results with unbleached white all-purpose if necessary, while up to half of the flour can be whole-wheat, but only add it after you’ve started with white, and don't use it for kneading. Also, for some reason I now want to climb up on a soapbox and say that I don’t know why anybody uses bleached flour anymore. Hopefully some equally incensed crusader will soon explain it to me. Put the sugar and the water into a large bowl and sprinkle your dry and dormant yeast over the surface. In a few minutes it’ll have sunk to the bottom, eaten the sugar, and come back to life—proving itself with an entertaining show in the form of foamy blobs rising back up to the surface. If it doesn’t proof, your yeast has gone beyond dormant and has instead expired. Once your yeast has proved itself, add the salt, 2 cups of flour, and optional oil or toasted wheat germ. Beat well until it’s very smooth and elastic with a wooden spoon, fork, or the dough hook of a heavy-duty mixer. Start adding more flour until the dough forms a cohesive, slightly-sticky ball. If you're using whole-wheat flour, alternate it with the white—being sure to only use white for the kneading and shaping soon to come. Knead your dough on a well-floured surface for about 10 minutes—using as little additional flour as possible, hoping to achieve the lightest of loaves, while for those of you who may be new to this technique, I shall now attempt to describe it. Kneading Bread Now once any bread recipe has reached the point where your dough hook or wooden spoon has met its match, you’ll have a blob of semi-sticky dough that’s ready to be kneaded into something you can work with—much like it’s a ball of clay. In order to do this you must now distribute a little more flour throughout the dough by pushing and squeezing it for a while, as you also help the growing yeast begin to develop it into a glutinous framework. First, heavily flour your hands and whatever roomy flat surface you have— carefully dumping the dough onto it. While you're kneading it will of course continue to take on flour, and so you’ll probably need to add more to the board to keep the dough from sticking. Also, keep a wide-bladed table knife or metal spatula handy to help you scrape up anything that might nevertheless stick to the board—an implement you’ll later use to divide your dough when shaping. I myself went over to the mall and bought a French pastry scrapper about thirty years ago because Julia Child told me it was the easy road to success, and I’m now telling you the same thing. You’ll also need a light touch at first to keep it from sticking to your hands, as you now plunge into the process. Please remember that mine’s a right-handed approach, and then push into the center of the dough with the heel of your left hand. Next—with your right hand—swiftly fold the upper right-hand corner of the dough down and in toward the center, while turning it about a quarter-turn to the left. Do these two motions over and over—basically trying to push the outside to the inside. Once you become practiced, it should take about 5 to 10 minutes for the dough to come together. Now, after acquiring some experience, you may even think of a better way to get results than mine. For example, some people just keep picking the dough up and hurling it back down on the board, although I’ve never been able to get results when performing that particular experiment. Some people just squeeze and squeeze and squeeze; but the main thing—whatever method you end up using—is to start thinking deep thoughts at this point, as the repetitive and rhythmic movement that constitutes kneading starts to take hold.... Eventually it’ll become a very cohesive, smooth ball, while still appearing slightly wrinkled—a seeming contradiction in terms that experience will hopefully clarify; and the most important aspect of this entire process is that of elasticity. The idea is to stretch and develop the gluten fibers soon form a balloon-like framework which traps the gas that’s being released by the multiplying yeast. Once the bread hits the hot oven the yeast die, while the balloon dries and solidifies into a loaf of yummy goodness.... You know it’ll be worth it! It’s the staff of life! However, at first you may wonder if you’ve made a major mistake here—thinking you could actually learn to make bread—as this amorphous, growing blob that lies before you just seems reluctant to turn into a ball.... But I’m telling you: if you just keep punching and folding, eventually you’ll get your own method and rhythm going; and I promise that once you know how to do this, your whole life will change. Your children and your children’s children will rise up and call you blessed. Birds will sing, and the scent of roses will be in the air.... Plus, when discussing bread I feel I should note here that many of my books give me the impression that the only real difference between basic French bread and basic Italian bread—which may seem a more appropriate choice for some of this book’s menus—is the amount of flour you use. Yes, it’s my understanding that during the kneading process, one takes French bread just to the point where it no longer sticks to the board; while when thinking Italian bread, one forces as much flour into it as it will take. It my case it all depends on the kneading surface I have to work with, the kind of flour I’m using, what I intend to use the dough for, and what sort of mood I’m in. Do what thou wilt—within reason, of course. Then, once your alien blob’s been tamed into a non-sticky, elastic ball it’s ready to rise until doubled in size—which can be as much as two hours, depending upon atmospheric conditions; and if your kitchen’s cold, for best results you should go to the trouble to put it back in the bowl, cover it with a warm, damp towel and nestle it into a cozy place in the time-honored fashion—and not a barely warm, turned-off oven either, which might at first seem like a good idea. No, if you have a roommate, they’ll turn the oven on when you’re not in the room; or you’ll be delayed by something, while your dough rises over the top and creates one of the biggest messes you’ve ever seen.... On the other hand, if it erupts onto a countertop, you really can just knead even the most intimidating of amorphous blobs back into the neat little ball of dough you left behind. Rising time and the lightness of your loaves is also dependent up on the amount of flour you end up using when you knead. If you have a great surface like my precious marble slab and a practiced hand, you’ll use less. The classic test for a proper rise is to gently push two fingers into it. If the dough doesn’t spring back into shape, it's ready to rock and/or roll, which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1½ hours, depending on atmospheric conditions. It’s ready when it doesn’t spring back into shape when you poke a couple of fingers into it. Punch it down and knead as much air out of it as possible. Let it rest for 10 minutes to relax the gluten for easier shaping, while you improve your baking sheet with the miracle of parchment paper if possible, or otherwise coat it lightly with shortening; and if you really have a problem with shortening you can use butter, but oil just won’t work—although you might try cornmeal. Cut the dough into two or three pieces and knead them into smooth balls. Then roll them carefully with your hands out into long, evenly shaped loaves. Try not to tear the dough. Tragedy will not strike if you do, but the finished product won’t be as nice; and if you mess up, you can always knead it back into a ball and start over. For that matter, at this point you can take that ball of dough and turn it into any shape you desire, starting with the simple round loaves you see below. It’s your call, which is half the fun. Lay those loaves on your baking sheet and let them rise again for about 30 minutes, until almost doubled. Some recipes also suggest that you make several diagonal slashes in the top of the loaves with a sharp knife to help them rise nicely and look especially spiffy. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, and then bake your bread for about 20 minutes until it’s golden brown—deeply golden for larger loaves—and then cool it on a rack for at least 10 minutes. You can then freeze this bread and later warm it back up in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, although the odds on having any leftovers are pretty slim. Chapter Three Crab-stuffed Mushrooms with Garlic Bread Well those of you who love mushrooms already know why we find this humble fungi enhancing almost every cuisine on Mother Earth, and may furthermore agree that they may be at their very best when stuffed and baked in a wide and wonderful variety of ways. Here we have them complimenting the sweet sophistication of crabmeat—one of those semi-divine foods that tastes so good all by itself that true seafood lovers are often demonically tempted to just stand there and eat it all, right out the can.... However, I can tell you with almost complete assurance that you’ll be glad you didn’t after devouring the even-more-absolute divinity to be found through this recipe— heavenly as well because it’s so easy that even the most hesitant of primates should feel free to invite their mother-in-law/boss/God Almighty to dinner. Ready in about an hour, they even make swell finger food on an appetizer tray if you make them out of tiny mushrooms instead of the bigger ones, although I’m more likely to put them on a plate next to something like a couple of the dinner rolls to be found in the chicken parmesan chapter, or maybe some of the oven-fried potatoes I put on the meat loaf menu, while this time I went for the garlic bread to be found below—making a menu that served three generously. Also, you can use any kind of crab—lump or claw, fresh or frozen—depending upon your budget and/or taste; while for the true beginners among you, I now feel the need to embark on a brief digression concerning the crumbling of bread. Bread Crumbs Now this recipe calls for fresh bread crumbs: an ambiguous term intended to indicate not completely dry—or even toasted—which actually means that you should pulverize some bread left over from yesterday, which further implies that you had some left over in the first place. The best thing to do when short on crumbs is to buy some sort of high-end bread that’s on sale because it’s about to expire, and then proceed to pulverize. Now for most of the recipes in this book, those on a budget—or not wishing to invest in a food processor—can probably get by with what’s known as coarse crumbs, which have been achieved since the dawn of time by mangling and mangling this leftover bread by hand. Those especially frustrated with the universe may actually find it therapeutic, if time consuming, while you’ll also find this method enhanced and less inclined to make a mess by leaving your bread inside its plastic storage bag while mangling. However, for the kind of fine bread crumbs so often expected in gourmet recipes you’ll have to rely on machinery. Otherwise, one must dry the bread slowly in a warm oven, and then crush it with a rolling pin, which takes—believe me—longer than forever, and can make a mess the size of Cleveland.... Also please bear in mind that the bread you choose to crumble is very important, since it will lend it’s flavor to your meal. For instance, rye bread might be swell for a poultry stuffing, but maybe not so great for what we’re about to make next. Time for your inner chef to kick in, while something bland like plain French bread is usually my choice. Whenever I buy bread for dinner due to time constraints or the urge to expand my horizons, the leftovers always become bread crumbs stored in the freezer for spontaneous, time-saving use. Sequence of Events Cut the butter for the garlic bread into little pieces so it can soften up while you prepare the main dish. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whip up the stuffed mushrooms and pop them into the oven. Finish up the garlic bread and put it into the oven as well, after the mushrooms have been in there about ten minutes. Keep warm in a low oven, if necessary. Plus, perfect party-planning is only enhanced by the fact that everything can be taken to the point of baking and then refrigerated for some time; while quantities here are for three to four. Crab-stuffed Mushrooms * 12 medium-to-large mushrooms 1 pound crabmeat ¼ cup minced celery 1 cup fresh bread crumbs ½ cup grated parmesan cheese the juice of one lemon ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon dried basil ¼ cup mayonnaise * Wash and dry the mushrooms—removing the stems. Prepare a nice roomy baking utensil that’s either truly non-stick, lined with foil, or lightly brushed with the cooking oil of your choice—canola being the best in this case because it lends no possibly conflicting flavor, while being high on the healthy list. Put the crab into a large bowl and check it for pieces of shell; and although this is a standard direction in all of my cookbooks, beginners should feel no cause for alarm, since I have to say that these days I hardly ever find any. However, better safe than sorry. Wash, dry, and mince the celery very fine. Add it to the bowl. Mix in the bread crumbs and cheese. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix very well, and equally distribute this stuffing mixture atop your awaiting mushrooms. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and then bake those fantastic fungi for about 30 minutes, until they’re nice and brown.... Garlic Bread * 10 cloves garlic, minced very fine ¼ cup softened butter 1 loaf bread of choice, split in two * Now of course—garlic cloves and people’s tastes being anything but uniform—one should feel free to vary the amount. Ditto the butter, depending upon one’s propensities. * Mix the garlic into the butter, and then spread it all over the cut side of any bread on the planet, although something like the French bread to be found just a few pages back in the previous chapter is usually the first choice for most. Put that garlic-buttered bread on a baking sheet and then into your preheated 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes—which of course, in the case of this menu, would mean about ten minutes after the mushrooms go in. It’s done when a bit of sizzling ensues and things have reached the point of crunchiness you prefer. Enjoy! Chapter Four Sweet and Sour Pork with Rice Now those reading this entire book may recall from the eggroll chapter that back when I was a ravenous resident of your average college dormitory—where the selections at the cafeteria often looked suspicious at best—those of us who might’ve found fish bones in their lasagna like I did were often waiting up into the wee hours for the blessed manifestation of the eggroll man, who’d bring whatever hadn’t sold at his restaurant that night right into the lounge, where we’d then pounce upon with the last of our pocket change.... Thus began my love affair with rice and all the tasty things that can sit beside it— starting with your classic sweet and sour pork. Ah, memories! And so over the years I've collected recipes. One book I own claims that if you haven't tasted this dish, you haven't lived; and while this is going a bit too far in my book, you can see that it must be a potential crowd-pleaser well worth the effort. Also—being a classic recipe—even those cautiously new to oriental food have probably already heard of it, and so won’t suspect you of actually trying to poison them with tainted eel or something.... Plus, this is a pretty silly attitude when you stop and think about it, because if you really wanted to poison them, you’d serve them something they especially love! Go figure. Also, those new to this splendifabulous style of cuisine soon come to understand that you can deep-fry almost anything, put it under a sweet-and-sour sauce next to some rice, and make most people relatively happy; and so I wish to make it perfectly clear that you can instead use chunks of something like chicken, shrimp, or fish to achieve similarly spectacular results. Of course, what you choose to fry will affect your timing a bit, while those quick with a knife can probably put this together in about an hour; and in terms of party planning, you can even do some of the preparation in advance if necessary. For instance, the marinade, batter, and chopped veggies can wait in the refrigerator for some time. However—like almost all oriental dishes—once the food hits the fire you must keep going and serve immediately. After you start the rice and the oil you’ve got to stay with this from stove to table to afterglow for maximum effect. This recipe yields two servings, with fortune cookies highly recommended as an encore. Sequence of Events Prepare the rice for cooking and let it soak. Marinate the pork and refrigerate. Mix up the batter and refrigerate. Wash and cut up veggies for the sauce. Start the rice, which will take about 20 minutes, while simultaneously heating the oil for deep-frying. Meanwhile, make the sweet-and-sour sauce. Check on the rice, which should be done right around the same time that the oil is hot enough to begin frying. Fluff it and leave it on hold over lowest heat. Fry up the pork cubes, mix them with the sauce, and serve immediately. * By the way, you may not see why the meat and the batter need to be refrigerated since they’ll shortly be exposed to searing, bacteria-exterminating heat, but in point of fact one of the secrets to success here is to have the food very cold when it hits the hot oil. Also, it’s my understanding that small lumps in the batter are actually a good thing for creating this particular coating texture too; and I should now probably go refresh my memory as to exactly why the cold and lumpy thing works the way it does, so I could then properly explain it to you, but—Lord help me—I’m afraid I just don’t feel like it.... Go figure. However, because so many people imagine making simple rice as terribly tricky, I feel the urge to reassure them with the perhaps excruciatingly detailed discussion of same to be found by beginners at the end of this chapter. Sweet-and-Sour Pork Now this is one of those dishes that can be done a number of ways, and is the sort of thing demented chefs probably fight over. Should you stir-fry your vegetables, steam, or simply parboil them for that bright, just-fork-tender perfection? To marinate the pork or not? And then, does one dip it into batter, or roll it in cornstarch—or even flour—to achieve the absolute maximum in crunchy, yet juicy, pleasure? Well, trying not to be overwhelmed by controversy, I’ve done it all, and here's what I now do most of the time—starting with the theoretically optional step of marinating the pork, which became no longer optional to me once I tried it. Marinate the Pork * 1 pound boneless lean pork 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons sherry * Any kind of cooking-grade sherry will do, and mine is necessarily cheap from the vinegar section of the groceteria. I don't imagine they use cider vinegar in the sweet-and- sour sauce in China either, but I am one of humble circumstance.. * Stir together the soy sauce and sherry in a medium bowl. Cut the pork into 1/2 inch cubes and mix it with the soy-sherry. Batter * 1 egg ½ cup flour ¼ cup water ¼ teaspoon salt * Beat the egg lightly with a fork in a small bowl, add the other ingredients— mixing well, until only slightly lumpy—and let the batter develop in the refrigerator; and while both the marinade and this batter can wait in the refrigerator for some time, I’d say more than two hours would be pushing the envelope. Deep Frying the Pork Well right here in the second chapter I’ve already decided to risk potential violation of the premise of this book by including deep-frying—one of the most serious operations in the kitchen, since what’s bubbling away in your pot is even more dangerous than boiling water. For instance, when making pasta, you eventually have to carry a kettle full of said water from the stove to the sink, but I would never under any circumstances suggest that you even try to move a kettle full of boiling oil. However, this otherwise truly simple recipe was just too tasty to leave out! Very important safety tip: just don’t let the oil overheat and smoke, or everything will be ruined. Don't even leave the room if you can help it, especially if you have children around; and don’t try to funnel your oil back into the plastic bottle for disposal while it’s still hot or you’ll have a major meltdown on your hands.... Which might make you ask yourself: why risk a meltdown at all? Why not skip this whole scenario entirely? However, I’m telling you: it’s not all that bad, and it’s so darn tasty.... Deep-frying is a technique that seals in the juices to produce one of the most superlative of dinning experiences, which is why chefs all over the world employ it. Plus, done properly, it can actually put less fat into your food than the pan-fried alternative. Of course you can do it! I do it in a wok, but you can get by with a large, deep, heavy kettle. Some fortunate people own actual deep-fryers, but I’m not telling you to go buy one. Just use something that sits very stable on your burner—preferably with two good handles that can be securely grabbed with potholders in a hurry. * Fill your wok or heavy kettle with canola or vegetable oil to a center depth of approximately 4 inches; and if this seems low, please remember that the food’s going to make this level rise—a lot like dropping ice cubes into your drink—except that in this case the overflow’s dangerously flammable and makes one of the biggest messes you’ve ever seen; so if the oil appears to make your utensil more than half-full, you may be flirting with disaster... Place your fryer over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes, until it reaches approximately 350 degrees; while if you don’t own a thermometer, you can place a sample of whatever you’re cooking into the oil to test it—in this case, a drop of batter. If vigorous bubbling ensues, it’s time to proceed. Safety tip number two: stay on red-alert for splash-back when dropping things into oil, while remembering that putting the food in a little at a time helps to keep the temperature constant. Mix the batter into the pork cubes. Don't drain off the marinade that’s left in the bowl, while it’s alright if those cubes don’t seem to be completely coated after mixing very well. Carefully drop half the pork cubes, one at a time, from a fork into the hot oil. Use another fork to push the cube off and into the oil—working close to the surface to avoid splashing. When they float and have turned a pale golden color, use tongs or a slotted spoon to lift them carefully from the oil into a wire basket or colander to drain. I myself usually use a wire sieve on the end of a wooden handle that came from the oriental groceteria. Fry the other half likewise. Give the oil about 3 minutes to reheat, and then gently put all the pork cubes back in together for about 2 minutes more. Mix the pork quickly with the sauce and whisk everything to the table with amazing dexterity in the heady exhilaration of accomplishment! Sweet-and-Sour Sauce * 1-2 cups vegetables, chopped or sliced into small-bite-sized pieces 1 tablespoon peanut, canola, or vegetable oil 1 clove minced garlic ¼ sugar ¼ cider vinegar ¼ cup water 1½ tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water * Now, what vegetables you use are really a matter of taste and availability, but half a red or green sweet pepper, a small carrot, and a small onion or a couple of green onions is pretty standard. I usually throw in a couple of thinly sliced mushrooms—as well as a few bamboo shoots, snow peas, water chestnuts, or perhaps pineapple chunks—should I find these entertaining items on sale. However, you’ve only got two cups to work with here, so there’s really no way you can use everything. Just ask yourself what you’re in the mood for—or better yet: what looks truly fresh at the market; while those who might be worried about the amount of fat already in this recipe could always steam their veggies instead and add them after the sauce has thickened. Also, those not reading straight through should be aware that they may have already seen this recipe at the end of the shrimp eggrolls menu, lest they be experiencing some sort of déjà vu.... * Wash, dry, and chop your veggies into slightly less than bite-sized pieces. Mix together the sugar, ¼ cup water, vinegar, and soy sauce. Coat the bottom of a small saucepan with the oil. Put it over medium heat for about 30 seconds, and then add the garlic. When it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the vegetables and stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until they're slightly softened and their color brightens. Add the sugar-liquids mixture—stirring constantly until it reaches a boil. Add the cornstarch-water paste and stir briskly as it thickens. Remove from the heat—covered to keep it warm—contrary to when making this sauce as a dip for something like eggrolls, where it’s better to let it cool all the way down. Basic White Rice * 1 cup uncooked white rice up to 2 cups water up to 1 teaspoon salt * The ambiguity here when it comes to the water has a little bit to do with the type of rice you’re starting with, but more to do with the type of pot you use. A mechanized rice cooker may only need 1 cup of water because it’s so tightly sealed, and so if you don’t own one, then you search for the saucepan with the best-fitting lid. You also want it to be as deep as possible, since the loss due to evaporation is proportionate to the amount of surface area. In general, you want the water to come about ½ inch above the level of the rice after it’s been soaking for a while, when you turn on the heat. Eventually you’ll get to know your pot, and how different kinds of rice cook up inside it, and live happily ever after. And because I’ve always feared becoming vaguely hypertensive, I’ve also always left out the salt. Plus, I feel that once it’s on the plate the rice is about to blend with the flavors of the main dish anyway, so to me it often seems somewhat redundant as well. However, if you prefer yours in a bowl on the side, you may find it too bland if you leave out the salt entirely. Rinse your rice in a strainer under running water until the water runs fairly clear— moving it around with your fingers to rub the grains together to get rid of excess starch, among other things. This is an optional step often discouraged by those who know that in the case of fortified rice from the USA this also washes away legally mandated nutrients, but I do it anyway because I think it sticks less, and because I wash absolutely everything I can—not being willing, I’m afraid, to trust the food industry on this point. Stir the rice, water, and salt together briefly in a medium saucepan that must have a tight-fitting lid—setting it aside to soak for at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook it. It’s even better if it sits there for an hour, which is why it should usually be the first thing you do whenever you’re making a meal that has rice in it. It’s important for superior results, since the moisture slowly penetrates almost all the way to the center of the rice kernel before the agitation provided by adding heat starts stripping away the surface, which can turn the outside mushy before the inside’s tender. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stir, cover tightly, put the heat as low as it will go, and leave it alone for 15 minutes. If it boils over, stir and cover it again, but it probably means that your pot’s too small. Stir your rice lightly but completely to fluff it up a bit and to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Turn off the heat and cover it again for another 10 minutes. It’ll stay warm longer than that if you leave the lid alone. Contrariwise, some people say that at the end of the 15 minute cooking time you should just turn the heat off and not open the lid for 10 minutes—then fluff and keep it on hold—but I usually want to just compulsively take a peek. Once again, you’ll have to be the judge. Decisions, decisions.... Chapter Five Meatloaf with Twice-baked or Oven-fried Potatoes and Chili Sauce Simple and satisfying in the meat-and-potatoes tradition, this is one of the first things I learned to make by watching Mom; and it’s high on the list of primate capability, because all you have to do for the main dish is mix it up and bake it. Plus, if you really want your life to be easy, just leave the potatoes in the oven for the whole time and be content with your basic baked spuds topped with sour cream— skipping all the elaborate playfulness of higher cuisine. Of course, this lazy and pedestrian approach will only invite amused scorn from smug sophisticates like me, but what do you care? Also enhancing this approach is the fact that you can mix up and refrigerate the meatloaf well ahead of time, which means that all the complicated cooking you need to do at the last minute is working with the potatoes—which will take about twenty minutes, no matter which method you choose, and needs to be done about forty-five minutes before dinnertime. However, in my universe something green like the simply steamed broccoli to be seen in the photo is often wanted on the plate as well, and when steaming a veggie—or perhaps throwing together a salad—one has the option to do much of the slicing and/or dicing earlier in the day, or at the last minute while the rest of the menu finishes roasting. Plus, timing will vary considerably depending up which potato recipe you choose. The twice baked potatoes we call fluffy-whips can take up to three hours—depending upon the size of your vegetables—but if you do a lot of the initial preparation in advance, there will be periods during the baking part where you can instead set the table or commune with companions. On the other hand, the oven-fried alternative conveniently cooks alongside the main dish, and so the whole thing can be pulled off by the even those relatively inexperienced two hours or less. And then I feel most people tend to want something like ketchup or steak sauce on top of their meatloaf, but if you can't imagine this menu without gravy, I refer you the chicken with peaches and biscuits chapter for basic gravy-making technique—using drippings from the pan, and canned beef broth or water for the liquid—while advising you that using too lean a grade of ground meat might actually leave you with no drippings at all. However, whenever possible, I myself always go for the inherited chili sauce recipe to be found at the end of this chapter, while all quantities in this family-style chapter are for four. And if there suddenly seems to be a crop circle manifesting out on the lawn, the only thing that can’t wait on hold would be something like a steamed veggie—making this a good thing to serve if you’re not sure when people are going to show up. Just leave your loaf and taters in the oven—turned down to warm—and don’t start steaming until you’re sure everybody’s available. Plus, leftover meatloaf can make a nice sandwich the next day. Leftover baked potatoes can be diced and fried in a little butter or even bacon drippings to go with the eggs and toast at breakfast—another tradition that was apparently started back in the days of horse-drawn sleighs, where the hostess would provide her departing guests with nice hot baked potatoes, which would then be clutched within their mittens to keep their hands warm during the frosty ride home. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.... Sequence of Events First, those making chili sauce should set it to simmering. Then, if choosing the fluffy-whip scenario, bake the potatoes for 1½ hours while you mix up the meatloaf and assemble everything you’ll need to finish the potatoes. Remove those spuds from the oven and put the meatloaf in, and proceed with step two of the f-w recipe. Or, if choosing to oven-fry your potatoes, prepare them simultaneously with the meatloaf, put both dishes into the oven together, and then the dinner bell will ring in slightly less than an hour. After everything’s baking away, proceed with whatever further side dish you might crave. Meatloaf * 1 pound ground beef 1 egg 1 cup fresh bread crumbs 1 teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon black pepper 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce ½ cup optional minced onion * If your accompanying topper has a lot of onion in it like the chili sauce—or if you’ve given up on persuading someone you nevertheless love that onion will not kill them— you may want to leave it out of the meatloaf; while those not familiar with the phrase fresh bread crumbs may wish to read my brief lecture on the subject to be found back in the crab-stuffed mushrooms chapter. Also—although Mom never did this—I frequently view using half ground beef and half ground pork as an improving variation. I tried it once with all-pork, but it failed to satisfy. You may feel differently of course, while I’ve yet to make this with something like ground turkey, which certainly seems like a healthy idea.... Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl, and then pat this mixture into a roomy foil-lined baking pan—preferably a loaf pan, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t even have to line it with foil if money’s tight; but if you don’t, be sure to soak your pan in soapy water as soon as you take your finished dish out of it, or you’ll end up with a dried up test of your patience. Also, many experienced cooks insist on mixing this with their hands in order to achieve a truly complete merging of the ingredients, and I’m one of them, but am willing to admit that it may be merely a symptom of creeping insanity. However, to be sure, you should probably ask my familiars.... Then—if following the fluffy-whip scenario—put your meatloaf into the 350 degree oven when the potatoes come out for step two. Bake until well browned: 45 minutes, more or less, depending on the size and depth of your pan. Or—if planning to oven-fry your taters—bake the meatloaf alongside them in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. When you remove it from the oven there may be a certain amount of fat accumulated in the bottom, which you should pour off and discard unless you’ve decided to make gravy. Mini Fluffy-Whips * 12 small new potatoes, or 4 medium bakers ½ cup milk 4 tablespoons butter ½ teaspoon salt 2 to 3 cups grated cheddar cheese * The type of cheddar depends upon your personal taste. You can, of course, use any cheese you desire—Swiss for example—but I feel something with a fairly strong flavor works best in this recipe, and I usually go for the traditional choice as a flavor preference, while in my neighborhood it often also has the added advantage of being the most economical. Also, contrary to tradition, I often bake a bunch o’ tiny taters, treat them in similar fashion, and call them mini fluffy-whips. As a matter of fact—especially when the potatoes are nice and fresh—I’ve actually come to prefer them over the big guys; and should you choose to do this, plan on using 12 new potatoes of uniform size—baking them anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending upon how large they are. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash the potatoes, cut out any questionable-looking spots, and pierce them a few times with a sharp fork to allow steam to escape because—although I’ve never actually witnessed this—they say that once in a while a baking potato with its skin entirely intact will actually explode, and I’ve cleaned up enough kitchen disasters to be more than willing to take their word for it. Bake for up to 1½ hours, until fork-tender. Remove them from the oven and let them cool down slightly while you assemble everything else you need to proceed. And you’ll probably need an electric mixer to achieve that fluffy-whip lightness we’re after here. I of course realize that for the fairly athletic it’s possible to whip potatoes with a whisk—and perhaps also simultaneously whip myself into shape in the timeless tradition of the classic chef, but I’ve declined. Go figure. Slice your still-hot spuds in half length-wise, and scoop the insides out of their skins with a well-rounded spoon into a large mixer bowl, taking care to leave the skins intact. Add the butter, milk, and salt. Whip those taters on medium speed until all is very smooth and light. Scoop this mixture back into the skins, place them in a baking dish, and carefully top with the grated cheese. Return them to the oven for another 20 to 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and beginning to brown; while at this point, if you’re distracted by something like the aforementioned crop circle manifestation, they can be held in a slow oven for quite some time. Enjoy! Oven-fried Potatoes * 12 small new potatoes, or 4 medium bakers 2 tablespoons olive, canola, or vegetable oil * And although the olive oil is usually my choice—since I perceive it to be the healthiest—it also has a distinct flavor that may or may not blend or clash with whatever you plan to put on top of your meatloaf. When in doubt, go for canola, which is essentially tasteless, and therefore more versatile. Wash the potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces, which is of course a matter of opinion, and which will therefore affect your cooking time. If you like your taters crunchy like I do, think small. Let them soak briefly in cold water to remove some of the starch, and then drain them into a colander; while those new to cooking should remember that the drier you get them the better, since cooking with wet vegetables always yields marginal results. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking utensil with foil—something like a 9 x 13-inch cake pan—or a sheet with sides, such as those used for cake-rolls. Pour the potatoes into the pan, drizzle them with the oil, and stir it all up with a rubber spatula to coat them completely. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, until they reach your desired crispness— removing them briefly halfway through the process to toss and turn them to prevent sticking and promote even browning. Salt and pepper to taste, and a lot of people sprinkle on their choice of herbs and spices at this point as well. I myself usually sprinkle on nothing at all, since I’ve been looking for ways to cut salt without sacrificing flavor for what seems like a zillion years, and because I learned long ago from the farm folk populating my childhood that a truly fresh vegetable really needs no enhancement at all. However, for this meal, I of course rely whenever possible on the ancestral recipe for chilli sauce that the women this book is dedicated to so lovingly in their turn passed on down to me.... Chili Sauce Now this is a sweet-sour relish sort of sauce, with the emphasis on the sweet; and despite the name, it’s not hot. Apparently the chili part of the name doesn’t even refer to the humble chili pepper—even though there’s red sweet pepper in it—but rather designates the fact that it’s intended to be served chilled, as my mother is quick to remind me. However, in most cases, I try to bring it to room temperature before serving. For generations my family preserved vast quantities of this marvelous mixture during mid-summer when the garden vegetables peaked. However, canned tomatoes are an adequate substitute, and I hope the result will still pleasantly remind you of July when winter winds blow. During the season of harvest I make fairly vast quantities when I see fresh tomatoes on sale, and then it stays tasty in the refrigerator for several weeks— tightly sealed in the canning jars I used to actually process and seal in the old boiling- water canning rig I inherited, back when I was a more serious gardener. It’s also one of those things that’s even better after it’s had a few days to set up, as the ingredients synergistically merge their flavors into something even finer than the already exquisite fresh veggies you started with.... * 2 cups tomatoes, peeled and chopped ½ small sweet red pepper, chopped ½ medium onion, chopped 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 1 tablespoon cider vinegar ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon * Mix everything together in a medium saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes—stirring frequently until it's as thick as you want it. Traditionally it’s not a very thick condiment, but you don’t want it too watery either. Frequently how thick I make it depends upon what I plan to do with it next, but as a rule, this yields about 2 cups. Cool to at least room temperature before serving. Chapter Six Oven-fried Chicken with Peaches, Biscuits, Gravy, and Green Beans When I was first married, I pestered my mother-in-law until she unearthed this forgotten favorite from my husband’s childhood, which he recalls her clipping from a newspaper; and if you’re intimidated by the idea of baking biscuits, you can always use the canned dough that can be found hibernating inside cardboard tubes in the refrigerated section of your groceteria like she did. Also—in a similar vein—this recipe is a lot easier for the beginner than frying chicken on top of the stove, and I hope you’ll agree that the peaches add an interesting and delicious touch. Now these days—because after years of added fat and still-encrusted bakeware I finally have nifty high-tech non-stick pans—I get to cut a lot of the shortening out of this old recipe, and you can achieve essentially the same results—while also saving in a big way on clean-up—by lining older pans with aluminum foil. Then—if you’re especially concerned about fat intake—you could theoretically go even further by using skinless chicken, but you’ll need to cover it with foil as well, and you may still have a problem with it drying out, while you’ll definitely have a problem with the lack of drippings for the gravy. You can skip the gravy entirely, of course, but opinion in many households will be that there’s absolutely no point to biscuits without gravy. I know my family would most certainly look at me as though creeping insanity had finally taken its toll.... Your call. Plus, of course, there are the biscuits themselves, which are also all about shortening; but what can I say, except that old-fashioned taste requires old-fashioned ingredients? I like to think that the simply steamed veggie provides both culinary and nutritional balance. Ready in about two hours, this is a hearty chill-in-the-air meal that serves four, but it may not be a good thing to fix for a dinner party, since it’ll require a fairly constant presence in the kitchen. Enjoy! Sequence of Events Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while you begin with the chicken. Once the bird’s underway, prepare the biscuits for baking and the green beans for steaming. After about 50 minutes, take the chicken out to acquire drippings for gravy-making, arrange the peaches on top, and then bake for another 15 minutes. Remove your finished dish from the oven, and raise the temperature to 450 degrees in anticipation of biscuit-baking. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil to keep it all warm; while afterwards you might re-use this relatively clean piece of foil to wrap up leftovers, although there probably won’t be any. More likely—if there’s enough hungry kids at the table—you’ll be called upon to fairly divide the last biscuit. Start the gravy and the green beans, while the oven heats. When the temperature hits 450, put the biscuits in; and then call in the company while those flaky delights are baking, because you want everyone seated when they come out of the oven and you whisk everything to the table. This kind of chow—especially any steamed vegetable—has a particularly narrow window of perfection. Oven-fried Chicken with Peaches * about 3 pounds split chicken breasts = 4 pieces up to ¼ cup shortening—optional, depending upon your pan 1 cup flour 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning, or ¼ teaspoon each black pepper, sage, and thyme + pinches of marjoram and nutmeg 1 large or 2 small cans peaches * Now, if you’re on a really tight budget or don’t cook very often, and therefore don’t want to pay for pricey seasonings that you may never use up, it’ll still taste good—just not as interesting—with only salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 13" x 9" x 2" pan well with the shortening; and at this point, if your pan’s truly non-stick or lined with foil, I recommend brushing just the bottom with a light layer of shortening in order to give your finished dish a hint of that old-fashioned fried-chicken flavor you so crave. Wash the chicken pieces well under cold water. Put the flour, salt, and seasonings into a plastic bag. Close it tightly and shake it to mix things together. Add the chicken pieces to the bag one at a time. Shake to coat them with the flour mixture. Then place them skin side down in your pan. Save the extra flour mixture to thicken and season the gravy. Bake uncovered, in the center of the oven, for about 50 minutes, during which time you’ll be making biscuits and slicing green beans. Remove your pan from the oven temporarily, tip it a little so that the drippings run down into one corner, and carefully spoon out ¼ cup for the gravy. Turn the chicken pieces over, drain the liquid off the peaches, and lay them all over the chicken. Return everything to the oven for 15 minutes. And then as you may recall, when this dish comes out of the oven it’s best to cover it with foil to keep it warm while everything else finishes up. However, if you plan to take it to the table, put it on a platter before you cover it, so that nothing slows you down when the biscuits come out and your delicate veggie reaches its peak, while making sure that the following gravy is actually the last thing you remove from the heat. Gravy * 2 cups milk ¼ cup seasoned flour, reserved from coating the chicken ¼ cup drippings, removed from baking pan * I use 2% milk; and if I don’t have quite enough, I just use water for the rest of the liquid. Those having a problem with milk can make this gravy with chicken broth or entirely with water, but it won’t be the cream gravy you may picture poured over the fried chicken of your dreams. * Over medium-low heat, mix the flour into the drippings in a medium saucepan and stir about 3 minutes, until it just starts to bubble and turn color, but don’t let it brown. You’ll find a whisk and heatproof rubber scraper helpful here—two inexpensive, nearly essential items that all aspiring cooks should acquire, since the trick with something like this, of course, is to keep the lumps out of it. Don’t think that you can use a regular non-heatproof spatula. It won’t be pretty. Gradually whisk in the milk and bring your gravy to a slow boil. Whisk and scrape the bottom and sides of the saucepan almost constantly for about three minutes as all those molecules interlock and everything thickens up. At first you’ll see little shiny ribbons of fat running through the mixture; and once they’ve all disappeared, your mission is complete. All you have to do is have a strong arm and stay on it until it comes together. You can keep it nice and warm over lowest heat—whisking once in a while—and then make sure that it’s the last thing you take to the table, or your whole meal will be a bust. Biscuits Of course, I have a pile of recipes for biscuits, and no two are the same. They all start with the same amount of flour, but the amounts of salt, shortening or butter, milk, and baking powder all vary. Some have sugar and some don't. Some are a million years old, and some are quite new and theoretically improved, and I’ve tried quite a few, while here’s what I eventually settled on. * 2 cups all-purpose flour ¾ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons sugar 1 tablespoon baking powder ½ cup shortening 2/3 cup milk * Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder into a medium bowl. If you don't own a sifter, just mix your ingredients really well with a fork, but serious bakers should try to lay their hands on one. For instance, if you notice that your finished biscuits have little brown spots, there’s a good chance that the baking powder’s not evenly distributed. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter until this mixture—so many of my books say—resembles cornmeal, which assumes that everyone knows what cornmeal looks like, which they don’t. For that matter, I don’t even think it resembles cornmeal. Well, those authors probably use this marginal example because they can’t think of a better one, and unfortunately neither can I.... Now a pastry cutter’s a tool you ought to own if you love biscuits and pie crust, because it’s cheap and—for this purpose—practically indispensable. It has a straight handle the width of your hand, with several U-shaped wires suspended from it that make short work of fat incorporation. Otherwise, you have to use two table-knives—rubbing them together as you cut into the flour and shortening to blend them together into tiny balls of flour-encased fat—a process that works even better if whatever fat you’re using is nicely chilled. Prepare a large floured surface for kneading and rolling. Traditionally, I was taught to cover both the rolling surface and the rolling pin with a cloth to achieve the least additional flour; but I confess to being far too lazy to do this, and simply rolled the dough out on my floured breadboard most of the time. Then I traded up to a high-tech countertop, while just lately providence has sent me my precious marble slab that almost refuses to stick to anything. I’ve also got a swell black marble rolling pin. Before that I had this big white ceramic rolling pin that I inherited from Aunt Phoebe, who used it everyday to crank out piles of pie for the farmhands before dawn.... If you don't own a rolling pin you can pat this dough out with your hands, or perhaps roll it out with a broom handle; but if you intend to move on to pie crust, you’ll have to invest. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees; and at this point you can put everything on hold if necessary. However, once you next add liquid to anything with double-acting baking powder in it, a reaction kicks in that needs to be followed by the next phase of contact with heat as efficiently as possible for the lightest of results. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture by pushing it up the sides of the bowl. You want to almost see the bottom, so that when the liquid goes in a lot of the flour falls in on it from the sides, making for swift and even mixing. Pour in the milk all at once—combining everything as quickly as possible with a fork. It should come together pretty fast into a ball that’s just slightly sticky to the touch. Classic technique calls for working the dough as little as possible because it’s got to be completely and evenly blended, but you don’t want a lot of gluten developing that ball into your classic rubber biscuit. Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead lightly for about 30 seconds. Although you employ basically the same push-and-turn technique used for working with bread dough, you only want to assure that it’s fairly uniform, so you can roll it out. It's not going to be as smooth as bread dough and will tend to stickiness; and this is where a swift and skillful touch really pays off, because the less extra flour you’re forced to use, the lighter your finished product will be. Roll it out to about ½ inch thick. You’ll have to turn it over at least once to get it to roll out evenly, while you keep the board lightly floured to prevent sticking. Dip a 2-inch round biscuit cutter into flour and then cut circles straight down into the dough. Don't twist the cutter, which will create an edge that doesn’t want to rise. Then you reknead and reroll the scraps of dough, and each time you do so you’ll be adding flour and reducing quality, so try to space your cuts as closely as possible. Place your biscuits slightly apart on a non-stick baking sheet. If you don't own a high-tech surface, you may need to brush yours lightly with shortening, or—better yet, of course—use parchment paper if you can find it and afford it. For instance, my family thinks I’ve gotten light-years better at biscuits lately, but it’s mostly just the paper and modern, high-tech bread flour.... Pop those biscuits into a preheated 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes until golden brown; and then whisk them straight to the table—where the chicken sits waiting. Steamed Green Beans Wash and sort 1 pound green beans—discarding those past their prime that won’t snap in two, which is something you can usually do initially at the market as well. Trim off the ends, and cut them into 1-inch lengths. If you like you can also French them, which involves first splitting them lengthwise individually with a knife, and which I usually think is worth the trouble. * Also, please be aware that these beans could easily be replaced on the menu by some other steamed green veggie that either more suits your taste or looks especially fresh at the market, while those already used to steaming veggies might want to skip the following rant on the subject. * Place your beans into a steamer basket which is itself inside a roomy saucepan, with water added almost up to the bottom of the steamer; and if you love veggies, but don't own a steamer basket, I advise you to go get one right now. Don’t even wait until tomorrow. I don’t care what time it is. This steamer basket I command you to purchase is a collapsible metal platform full of holes that stands on little legs and conforms to the size of your saucepan. After it’s in there you just add water up to the bottom of the platform and put whatever cut-up vegetables you’ve got on top. Alternatively, you can always boil them in an inch of water, but I feel the results are not nearly as tasty or healthy, since a lot of the flavor and nutrients end up in the water. Exactly how you cut them up depends of course not only upon what sort of produce you’re working with, but also upon what you intend to do with it next; and so instruction will be found in recipes, but the main thing is to cut your veggies into pieces of uniform thickness. For instance, in this case one might French the beans not just for the effective culinary sophistication, but also to reduce cooking time; while for broccoli, one would remove the tough lower stems, split the secondary stems, and cut the larger flowerets in half to achieve even doneness. Cover, bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, and steam for 15 to 20 minutes, until those beans are bright in color and test tender under your fork— having reached that glorious peak of perfection which stands between crunch and mush. Salt and pepper to taste, and at this point one could add all sorts of other enhancements—perhaps melting on a little butter, or adding seasonings correspondent with the meal, or maybe even throwing in some toasted nuts—depending upon the rest of the menu, although when placing any sort of steamed veggie on a plate with a powerful sauce or gravy like what we have here, I often inclined to add very little or nothing at all. As most vegetarians will be quick to agree, a truly fresh vegetable—even all alone in its natural simplicity—is a sweet treat that can’t be beat; while steaming can often be the way to go as well when hoping to cut fat in complex situations. For example, I might steam veggies destined to become ingredients in a sweet and sour sauce, even though the original recipe I began with years ago called for stir-frying them, depending on the fat content of the rest of the meal. Ditto something like green peppers and onions for something like a topping for the chicken parmesan subs to be found elsewhere in this book, which could be steamed or fried depending upon what else is on the plate, the dietary needs of those at the table, or simply the mood of that particular evening.... So go out and buy a steamer basket right now. I don’t care what time it is. Serve immediately, or perhaps sooner, because this is also a prime example of a situation where timing truly is everything. If a crop circle forms in the yard after the steaming has started, your delicate dish will almost certainly be ruined if you forget about it while running outside to take a look. Chapter Seven Pizza, Calzones, and Pizza Rolls Now pizza’s a real crowd-pleaser: a great thing to serve to guests whose tastes are uncertain—especially if there’s kids among them. Nothing will stop two embattled ten- year olds from ruining a family gathering faster than the introduction of a pepperoni pizza; while all elementary school teachers know that the promise of a pizza party will induce compliance with a difficult task faster than any force known to man. I don’t mean to brag, but the UN has consulted me about using the smell of my pizza as a strategy for getting diplomats to crack and come to terms.... Why can I make this staple of modern society in my sleep? Because like every other baby-boomer, once I discovered the stuff, I couldn’t get enough of it. As a matter of fact, pizza fever is the reason I took up breadmaking in the first place. And because pizza’s just a slab of basic bread—baked with almost anything tasty on top—timing here depends on how quickly your dough rises, which in turn depends on the air temperature in the room. Yeast thrives on warmth, and at the height of summer that dough can be up in as little as thirty minutes, while in the depths of winter it can sometimes take well over an hour. Also—in terms of party flexibility—pizza dough can be made in the late afternoon, placed in a very large bowl, and popped into the refrigerator, where it will rise more slowly in the cool temperatures; while when really pressed for time you can also skip simmering up some marinara sauce and use something from a jar. However, when rushed I prefer simple crushed tomatoes—sprinkling on a few seasonings like basil and/or oregano—maybe some red pepper flakes. Summertime affords the luxury of sliced fresh tomatoes instead of sauce, but I caution against using anything but prime produce. And in terms of produce, everyone knows that you can pile vegetables on a pizza, although some might instead wish to toss up a nice green salad like the one to be found enhancing the chicken parmesan. If you go for salad, you’ll have opportunity to throw it together while the pizza’s baking, but try to remember to wash your greens at around the same time that you mix up the dough, so that they have ample opportunity to dry and crisp in the refrigerator. Plus, you could also take a salad like this to the point of dressing well before the party starts and hold it in the fridge. For that matter, if someone’s caught in traffic, an unbaked pizza can hold in the fridge for a short time if necessary. If they call you after you’ve already put it in the oven, take it out when the cheese just begins to brown, and then return it to the oven to sizzle back up once everyone’s comfortable. However, under normal circumstances, this meal takes approximately two hours. Quantities given here are for four average humans or two really hungry young men—perhaps more if you make an enormous salad. Red alert: don’t try to bake too many pizzas at once just because you’ve invited the entire marching band to dinner. You can’t put one on the upper oven shelf and one on the bottom to save time. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Promising people homemade pizza, and then not delivering, can result in riots, injury, and other similarly gruesome fates.... On the other hand, once you’ve learned to do this your loved ones will nominate you for sainthood, while you’ll also discover the secret to world domination, should you be so inclined. Enjoy! Sequence of Events Mix and knead the dough. Set it aside to rise for 1 hour. While the dough’s rising, throw together some marinara sauce, and simmer it for about 30 minutes—recipe to be found within the chicken parmesan chapter. Simultaneously pre-cook any sausage, ground-beef, or chicken toppings, and then let them cool down before using. Shred cheese. Wash and cut up vegetables for topping or green salad. Shape the crust and add the toppings. Bake the pizza and dress the salad. Pizza Dough * 1 cup very warm water 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon dry yeast 1 teaspoon salt 3 cups bread flour * Dissolve the sugar in the water, and sprinkle the yeast over the surface. Don’t stir it in, but instead just let it sink down to the bottom where it’ll be enlivened from its dry and dormant state by the warm water and begin to eat the sugar. In about 10 minutes gas released by its rapid growth will send foamy clumps rising to the surface: a blessed event called proving the yeast to be sure it hasn’t expired, and a pretty neat show. When bread rises this gas is trapped in the elastic framework created by the fibrous gluten of the dough, as though inflating an edible balloon. Stir in the salt and 1½ cups flour with a fork, spoon, or a heavy-duty mixer’s dough hook until it all appears smooth and slightly elastic. Gradually add flour until the dough forms a cohesive ball, reserving the rest for kneading and rolling. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes until it no longer wants to stick to your hands—a technique described for the uninitiated in the middle of the French bread recipe, itself to be found back in the chili chapter. Let it rise in the bowl in a warm place until it’s doubled in size; while the classic test for true readiness is to gently push two fingers into the dough, and if it doesn’t spring back into shape, it's ready. However, beginners should remember that those who might be delayed—due, perhaps, to aliens landing on the lawn— can still knead even dough that now resembles an erupting volcano back into the unintimidating ball they left behind. Toppings Sausage or Ground-Beef * Quantities obviously depend on how many different things you picture on your pizza, but if choosing only one of these ingredients, you’ll need around ½ pound. Fry it up over medium-low heat—breaking up all the clumps—until it just turns color. You don’t want it too well done, because it’ll be finishing up in the oven. * Chicken * Once again, expect to use about ½ pound. Shred it thin, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a small frying pan, and stir- fry your poultry until it just turns color. * Of course during the rising period you also need to prepare any other toppings you plan on using: shredded cheese or cheeses, ¼ pound of thin pepperoni, or maybe just a lot of freshly sliced veggies. And should you choose to use fresh tomatoes instead of sauce, I recommend that you add a sprinkling of salt and red pepper, along with a few seasonings. Basil, oregano, and thyme are the fresh—and therefore the first—choices available to me; and while playing around with various combinations, please remember that too little is frequently better than too much. Almost anything goes of course. This is pizza-making: one of the best opportunities in the culinary arts for radical expression of the individual taste. Yes, think of that slab of dough as a canvas, waiting for you own very special inspiration to turn it into the truly sophisticated experience you so crave.... While in terms of cheese—which is also a matter of taste—a pound of mozzarella will usually do one pizza, and then one can sprinkle something stronger like Romano, Parmesan, or even Feta over the top. Occasionally I’ll mix some cheddar in there, and those with plenty of disposable income should feel free to go with any more exotic mixture you care to imagine. For instance, the girl with the purple hair at the deli really seems to like goat cheese, while others might enjoy a few blobs of ricotta here and there—especially inside a calzone. For that matter, some people skip the sauce and toppings entirely and call the end result cheesy bread, which you see pictured below, and which participated in a New Year’s appetizer party that also featured the chicken nuggets located within the chicken parmesan chapter, along with a the green salad with ranch dressing to be found elsewhere in this book, alongside the shrimp cocktail. However, I can’t tell you how much of any of the toppings to use because it obviously depends on how many things you choose to combine and your individual taste. Just remember: don't load a pizza too heavily. If you do, not only will you be unable to pick it up, but the crust may not be done properly in the center either. Getting it Together Make a fist and punch down into the center of the dough to deflate it. Turn it back out onto your floured surface, and then knead as much air out of it as possible. Let it rest for about 5 minutes to relax the fibers for easier shaping while you prepare the pan. Coat a round or rectangular baking sheet lightly with shortening or line it with parchment paper, which is highly recommended not only for ease of clean-up and fat elimination, but also because the crust will bake up more evenly unless you’re using the most pristine of pans. Roll the dough out to about ½ inch thickness with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface—turning it over at least once during the process to stretch it properly—and try not to care if your circle or rectangle isn’t perfect. Believe me, nobody will be looking at it for long. However, don’t despair if you don’t own a rolling pin, but you won’t be able to use parchment paper unless you have the patience of Job, because you must instead just press your hand-flattened dough into a shortening-coated pan with your fingertips, while being careful not to tear it—a fairly tedious process that’ll still give tasty and interesting results with all the little hills and valleys in the finished crust, but also one that’s pretty tough to pull off on paper. Sorry, but I can't tell you how professionals throw the thing into the air. I’ve tried it a few times, and it’s never been pretty.... Transfer the dough to your prepared baking sheet and cover it with Marinara Sauce to within about ½ inch of the edge. You need to leave this margin uncovered so that it’ll rise a little higher to keep the toppings from spilling over during baking. If you're using a sheet that doesn’t have raised sides—or if you love a thick crust to grab on to— you should deliberately work the dough into a higher edge. Layer on the shredded cheese, followed by the rest of the toppings. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes in the center of the oven. Calzones Well of course, in terms of crowd-pleasing, one of the fun things about serving calzones is that they can be—like the people destined to eat them—as individual as snowflakes, since whatever can go on top of a pizza can also go inside a calzone—with one significant difference: all meats and veggies must be precooked. This means that even pepperoni should be briefly fried, while veggies should be similarly treated in a pan thinly coated with olive oil or briefly steamed—a technique described for the uninitiated back in the green beans section of the chicken with peaches chapter. * First, divide your dough into 4 pieces—kneading each into a tidy ball. One at a time, roll each into a circle about 8 to 10 inches in diameter and proceed as follows: Spread ¼ of your toppings—mixed together, without the sauce—over half of the dough in semi-circular fashion. Fold over the other half to cover, pinch the edges of those semi-circles together to seal them, and poke a small hole in the top of your calzone to let the steam escape. Bake as for pizza—about 20 minutes, at 425 degrees. After they come out of the oven, my husband and I like ours with the sauce on top, while I then always crave a slightly sinful amount of grated Romano or Parmesan cheese for enhancement. On the other hand, my daughter likes her pepperoni and mushroom calzone with the sauce in a bowl on the side for dippin’, while my son prefers above all the following cheesy chicken filling, with absolutely no sauce at all.... * ½ pound boneless chicken, shredded 2 tbs. olive oil 1 tbs. minced garlic 1teaspoon dried oregano = 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped a pinch of salt, and a generous grinding of black pepper 2 cups = 1 pint ricotta cheese 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese * Heat the oil in a small pan over high heat. Add the garlic, and when it sizzles fry the chicken until it looses color. Stir in oregano, salt, and pepper right before the end. Turn this mixture into a bowl and let it cool down for about 10 minutes before you mix in the cheeses. Pizza Rolls Once in a while I mix the shredded cheese together with the precooked topping, throw in teaspoon or so of oregano, and distribute this mixture by ½ cupfuls onto eggroll skins—wrapping and frying them up in the same manner as I’m about to fry actual eggrolls in the next chapter; so I now refer you there for further instruction in technique. We generally prefer to dunk them into the marinara sauce to be found in the chicken parmesan chapter , which sits on the plate in a small bowl next to a salad; but when I want them to go over big as finger-food at a party, I instead throw a large can of tomato paste right into the cheese mixture to supply the expected flavor, along with a teaspoon of dried basil, and maybe some diced and fried onion, peppers, and/or mushrooms—should salad also seem inappropriate. Chapter Eight Shrimp Eggrolls with Fried Rice or Ramen Noodles These popular appetizers become dinner in our house when placed on a plate next to a pile of fried rice—or just some simple, yet tasty ramen noodles: a truly inexpensive item that even a monkey could cook, which can now be found in the form of little square packets in the soup section of almost every groceteria on the planet. Yes, this meal really satisfies while sitting in front of a movie or in the company of a good book; and because no diversion at all is needed when in the company of a good friend, quantities here are for two. I myself first discovered these yummy delights while living in a dormitory, loosing weight rapidly in light of the fact that—having found fish bones in my lasagna—I could no longer walk into the campus cafeteria. However, the proprietors of the restaurant down the street had long ago figured out that they could show up on campus at midnight and easily unload the day’s leftovers, where ravenous hordes of young people like myself were anxiously waiting to hand their precious pocket change over to the eggroll man.... Ah, memories! Now I’m going to give you a recipe for sweet-and-sour sauce, but I have to admit that I usually buy something more exotic if I can afford it—violating both my intention to keep everything in this book dirt cheap whenever possible, and also that of using ingredients still readily available outside the average American hive. However, I love this meal, so I put it in here anyway, and if you can’t find eggroll wrappers and plum sauce— sometimes also known as duck sauce—I apologize. I also buy hot mustard when in the mood, but if you’re in a pinch, you can make a simple version by mixing powdered mustard with water to your desired consistency. Also, I’m bending the theme of my book here a bit because the eggrolls require a bit more than simian skill, and the results really depend on how good you are with a knife. Success here requires the celery in particular to be shredded as thinly as possible, and it’s worth taking the time to learn to do it if you’re a beginner because your food processor can’t really do it for you. A skilled oriental chef can slice a mushroom no bigger than a marble into seventy-two slices—using a meat cleaver the size of a fire-axe, while standing on his head—and with only several years of practice you can surely do the same, so what’re you worried about? However, don’t let me make you overly concerned. As long as everything’s reasonably thin, your filling will surely come together enough to be rolled up and produce that yummy taste—theoretically so well worth the trouble. The point of getting everything so thin is to eliminate lumps that might poke a hole in the wrapper, while making a more compact filling that helps the finished product hold together when you bite into it. So anyway, presuming that you’re fairly adept, this meal will take you about two hours start to finish. Plus, the filling can be held in the refrigerator after stir-frying for a couple of hours, should you care to do the messiest and most tedious part ahead of time. If you like, you can even fry up the eggrolls before your guest shows up and keep them warm in a slow oven for few minutes without too much loss of their endearing crispiness. Then all you have to do at the last minute is cook the ramen, although I remind you that for the best results with delicate oriental cooking, keep going on schedule and serve immediately—if not sooner. Sequence of Events Stir-fry the filling, and cool it down for about 30 minutes. Make the sweet-and-sour sauce and let it cool down to room temperature. Roll the eggrolls and prepare to fry. Stir up the fried rice and/or ramen, before you finish up the eggrolls and then keep both warm, covered, over lowest heat. Fry the eggrolls, and if necessary, you can also hold them for a short while in a slow oven, but they won’t be quite the same.... Basic Sweet-and-Sour Sauce * ¾ cup water ¼ cup sugar, white or brown ¼ cup cider vinegar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 tablespoon soy sauce 2 tablespoons water * Now this is the same stuff that I poured over the sweet and sour pork a few pages ago—should those reading straight through think that they’re experiencing some sort of déjà vu or something as I repeat myself here.... * Bring the ¾ cup water to a boil in a small, covered saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves and return to the boil. Stir in the vinegar, and once again return to the boil. Mix together the cornstarch, soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons water to form a smooth paste. Add this paste to the boiling mixture—stirring constantly, as it will thicken rapidly. Cool it down to room temperature before serving. It’s a moment of yin-yang, sweet-and-sour perfection achieved! Shrimp Eggrolls Buy small shrimp for this because not only are they less expensive, they’re actually more suited to the recipe. Also, it’s fine if the bean sprouts come from a can, in which case you won’t need to scald them, just be sure to drain them dry. Helpful tip: this careful elimination of excess moisture is one key to success whenever stir-frying—and perhaps most especially here, where the filling should be kept as dry as possible throughout the whole process, so be sure to wash and dry all your veggies well before moving on to the shredding and slicing. Don’t forget to squeeze those spongy mushrooms, and in this case you should even forcefully roll the celery in a paper towel after shredding it for maximum results. * 1 pound shrimp, shelled and chopped into ¼ inch pieces 1 teaspoon cornstarch ¼ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons sherry 3 cups celery, shredded very thin, and then cut into 2-inch pieces 1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced 1 pound bean sprouts 6 tablespoons peanut, canola, or vegetable oil ½ teaspoon sugar ¼ teaspoon salt pre-packaged eggroll wrappers more oil for frying, the amount depending upon your pan * The sherry can be cooking sherry off the groceteria shelf or something more authentic, as your budget and resources allow; and if you can’t justify the expense, just leave it out and your food will hardly suffer at all except in terms of exotic flavor. And in case you’re wondering why I’m not telling you how to make your own eggroll wrappers—since I appear to be a person obsessed with cooking everything from scratch—it’s because—like bagels, pita bread, and puff paste—having devoted countless hours to the art of dirt-cheap cookery while minding my sweet children, I finally conceded—deciding that for the truly delicate results I’d come to crave out there in the culinary world, I’d sadly be forced to leave these things to those with more sophisticated equipment. * Mix the cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the sherry. Then add the shrimp until well coated. Shred the celery and slice the mushrooms. Scald the bean sprouts and drain them into a colander—scalding being the process of pouring boiling water over them and then letting them sit for a minute or two, until the color brightens. Measure out the oil, sugar, and the rest of the salt—making sure all your ingredients are within easy reach of the stove and ready for split-second stir-frying action. Once all are assembled, take a deep breath and put your pan over medium-high heat for 30 seconds. Swirl about half of the measured oil into the pan. Wait 1 minute. Add the shrimp and stir-fry 2 minutes—until they loose translucency—and then remove them into a bowl. Immediately add the rest of the measured oil to the pan. Sprinkle in the salt, and add the celery. Stir-fry 2 minutes, and then sprinkle it with the sugar. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the bean sprouts and mix everything well. Return the shrimp to the pan just long enough to thoroughly combine all ingredients, then turn the mixture into the colander to drain and cool before proceeding. Time to Rock and/or Roll Now before you begin, in addition to the filling mixture and the eggroll wrappers, you’ll need a small bowl of water for sealing purposes, a damp towel to keep your fingers clean, and a roomy plate to place your rolls on—don’t stack them, or they might stick together—and then.... Lay an eggroll wrapper on the countertop and try to imagine this square within a clock face, with the points at high noon, three, six, and nine…. Place about ¼ cup of the filling mixture along a line from eight to four. Fold up the bottom corner to partially cover the filling. Fold the right and left corners over the filling. Carefully roll your eggroll up toward the top corner, enclosing the filling as tightly as you can without tearing the wrapper. Moisten the inside surface of this top corner with a fingertip dipped in water before you slightly pinch the surfaces together to seal them. Frying the eggrolls: once rolling is complete, heat about ½ inch of oil in a roomy frying pan over medium-high to about 375 degrees. Test it with a thermometer if you’re fortunate enough to own one; otherwise, test it by carefully lowering the corner of an eggroll into the pan: if no sizzling commences, take it back out and wait a bit. Fry 3 or 4 eggrolls at a time—without crowding the pan—turning carefully once with tongs, until they’re golden brown. Drain well on paper towels. Fried Rice Simple and satisfying, I’ve always felt that fried rice makes the perfect thing to complement a pile of eggrolls—or perhaps the sweet and sour pork to be found elsewhere in this book. Plus, sometimes I just double this recipe, add about a ½ lb. of simply stir- fried, diced chicken, shrimp, etc. and make a fast, one-dish supper out of it after a long day at the salt mine; while beginners should note that the vegetables are also interchangeable, although the onion is usually a given. For instance, if I were to throw in some shrimp, I’d probably also throw in some celery. Time to listen to your inner chef... Ditto this scenario with the onion, where I’d use whatever looks especially fresh and value priced at the Farmer’s Market this week—with the nice sweet onions of the late spring as my first choice, some fresh green onions coming in second during the rest of the year, with the relatively imposing, crispy red onions of the dead of winter coming in third. Or if the almonds had been too pricey, I probably would’ve gone instead with walnuts, which are plentiful here in my corner of the universe, while those not partial to nuts should feel free to leave them out entirely. Furthermore, cooks desiring compromise can do what I did when my kids were little, which is to add all sorts of exotic stuff like toasted nuts—or marginally healthy things, like going heavy on that high-sodium soy sauce—after serving a less intimidating version to those in need of it. I myself always use low-sodium soy and never add salt or even black pepper in addition, although many standard fried rice recipes do. And then, whatever enhancements you choose, the key to success here is to have your rice truly cooled off before proceeding, which is why one usually starts with precooked rice that’s been in the refrigerator for a while. Ideally, it’s leftover from last night of course, but as a rule I end up boiling up my rice toward the middle of the day, refrigerating it, and then frying it back up at twilight. Simple and satisfying, quantities here are for two if served alone. * 4 cups cooked, completely cooled rice 2 eggs, slightly beaten ¼ cup chopped onion 1 cup chopped mushrooms ¼ cup sliced almonds, optional 4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil 2 tablespoons soy sauce * Now the only real difficulty here arises when you have to break up the rice, which is likely to be semi-fused into sticky clumps. Some people do this in the pan during the frying process, but I’ve come to feel that one’s better off doing most of it by hand ahead of time. The trick is to keep your fingertips slightly damp, so the rice won’t stick to them, and yet you don’t want to get water all over the food.... I use a bowl to dip my fingers into, just like I did a minute ago when rolling the eggrolls, but you may think of something better, while you’ll find that the stickiness factor—as well as the subsequent quality of your finished dish—will be improved by both carefully boiling the rice to its minimum point of doneness during the initial stage, and by using either a well-seasoned wok or a truly high-tech pan as your frying utensil. * Wash, dry, and chop the vegetables. Break the eggs into a small bowl, and beat slightly. Measure out the almonds. Place all ingredients next to the stove. Turn the heat under your wok or a very large frying pan to medium high, wait 3 minutes, and then swirl in the oil. Add the onion and stir-fry until slightly translucent. Add the almonds and stir for about a minute. Add the mushrooms and fry 3 minutes. Add the rice gradually, stirring constantly. Make a well in the center of this mixture, pour in the eggs, scramble them until they begin to set, and then stir them into the rice. Sprinkle on the soy sauce and mix well, and at this point it can be kept warm over low heat for a very long time, but it is of course at it’s peak when served immediately—if not sooner. Ramen Noodles Now ramen noodles are the true beginner’s starting point because there’s really nothing to cooking them, while those living within access to more authentic forms of ramen should definitely trade up and use them. I start with the little soup packages here because of the no-brainer, if marginal, seasoning factor—and because they do seem to be so readily available all over the planet. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil per package. Add the noodles—breaking them up into smaller chunks, lower the heat, stir them to completely break them up, and then simmer them for three minutes. Drain into a colander and season either with the contents of the flavoring package—which I always cut in half because I worry about salt—or just add a little soy sauce. After that I usually throw in some stir-fried onion, often along with a few sliced mushrooms, or perhaps some toasted almonds; although one could also add some lightly stir-fried meat or seafood, just as for fried rice if so desired. Time yet again for your inner chef to be the judge. Enjoy! Chapter Nine Spaghetti and Meat Balls with Veggie Sauce Now this is the sort of classic dish that, if you ask me, no two people make quite the same. In contrast to the precise chemistry of baking, with a thing like pasta sauce the individual has more leeway—making it a terrific opportunity for those wishing to become more creative in the kitchen. Once you learn to play with pasta, the door is open to personalizing a lot of other dishes as well, which in so many ways becomes the payoff for stepping into the intimidating waters of the kitchen in the first place. For instance, if you don’t care for meatballs, you might instead top your sauced pasta with some shrimp sautéed in olive oil, or grill up a bit of designer sausage or marinated chicken—maybe crumble up some bacon; or you could even simply fry up your ground beef, throw it in with the simmering veggies, and then you have meat sauce.... You get the picture, I’m sure. However, no matter what eventually ends up on the plate, it’ll probably be enhanced by a nice loaf of some sort of bread, which I of course recommend baking yourself if possible. The one you see in the photo is the French bread from the opening chili chapter. Plus, pasta sauce is one of those wonderful dishes that can freeze and be just as good the second time around. Suppose you arrive home only to discover that your best friend is bringing the ambassador from Zuria over for dinner in thirty minutes: if you’ve got a frozen vat of this recipe and a bakery next door, you’re home free. Perfection achieved—at least for me, since this is what little Jeannie always wanted for her birthday dinner, back then, during the Pleistocene Era, when I was young.... Oh, yes. Now timing here is extremely variable, although it’s generally agreed that a long, slow simmer of the spaghetti sauce is preferable for smooth and tasty blending of flavors. I wish I could tell you scientifically why this is so, but in my experience it does seem to be true, so count on spending your twilight time in and out of the kitchen for optimum results. However, if you choose to buy your bread, during this simmering of the sauce you’ll have about an hour where you merely need to stir it a bit from time to time; and then the only thing you have to do at the last minute is cook the spaghetti, so this is a really great thing to have perfuming your home when guests arrive on a cold winter evening. Also, should you wish to vary this menu by adding a salad, it’s a simple matter to leave all the vegetables except the garlic out of the sauce—instead throwing together a salad while the bread’s baking, before you start cooking the pasta—and the chicken parmesan chapter has a salad that goes well with this meal. However, please remember that the quantities given there—as well as in the French bread recipe—will feed four, while quantities here are for two. Enjoy! Sequence of Events Make your sauce and bring it to a simmer. Mix up the meatballs and start them cooking. Then, those baking bread should make their dough and set it aside to rise. Add the finished meatballs to the sauce, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally. Shape the loaves and set them aside for a second rising. When the bread goes into the oven, begin heating the water for the pasta. After the bread comes out of the oven, let it cool down while you cook the pasta; or at this point you can hold off on the pasta and then dinner can wait for some time until everyone’s arrived. Veggie Sauce * 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves minced garlic 2 cups sliced vegetables 6 cups fresh = 2 large cans tomatoes ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon black or crushed red pepper 1 teaspoon chopped fresh = ½ teaspoon dried basil * The vegetables literally can be anything you like in endless combination, but I advise beginners to choose at least two of the following: any kind of onions, mushrooms, green or red sweet peppers, celery, carrots, or zucchini. Whatever you use, slice them according to their density. For example, mushrooms have so much water in them that one needs to slice them thickly, or in half, because they’ll really reduce in size as they cook. Ditto the zucchini; but on the other hand, the onions, peppers, celery, and carrots are pretty heavy-duty vegetables that should be sliced very thin. Ideally of course you should be using the freshest of plum tomatoes, hand-picked by colorful villagers from the sunny slopes of Italy, which is why those who truly love pasta should try to make a vat of this sauce when the last of the produce hits the farmer’s market in the fall—freezing some for a major wintertime treat * Coat the bottom of a large saucepan with the olive oil—being sure it’s big enough to accommodate not only the sauce, but also eventually the meatballs. Place over medium heat and fry the garlic until it just begins to brown. Add the vegetables, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes until their color brightens, but don’t let them get too soft, since they’ll soften some more and reduce in size as everything simmers. Crush, and then add, the tomatoes. Add the salt, pepper, and basil; and you can always throw in some other seasonings as well to make things more interesting—usually dependent upon what you plan to put into the meatballs—like 1 teaspoon chopped fresh = ½ teaspoon dried oregano, or perhaps 1 teaspoon fresh = ¼ teaspoon dried thyme; while remembering to apply caution because, of course, too little is frequently better than too much. Cover your sauce and bring it to a slow boil over medium heat. Then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for up to 2 hours, or even much longer if you wish. Theoretically, it only improves with time as the flavors blend, but be careful not to turn the stove so low that it stops bubbling entirely. Conversely, should you be in a hurry, leave the heat on medium and stir it more frequently; but watch it, since of course the thicker it gets, the more likely those veggies will settle to the bottom and burn unless you keep things moving—which just means that you have to stay in the kitchen, but you don’t have to stand over it. Meatballs * 1/4 pound ground beef 1/4 pound ground pork 1 egg ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs ¼ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese ¼ cup optional minced onion ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon dried oregano and/or ½ teaspoon dried thyme * Now not everyone can routinely find ground pork in their neighborhood groceteria, so feel free to use just ground beef for equally tasty results; while beginners should note that the misleading phrase fresh breadcrumbs actually means not dried or toasted. In this case, they can easily be made without machinery by crumbling up a chunk of compatible bread that’s a day or two old; and by compatible I mean a loaf whose flavor will not conflict with those already on the menu. Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl with a fork, spoon, or your hands; and you might as well use your hands and get it over with, because not only is it the best method for total fusion of ingredients, but you can’t avoid getting slimed anyway in the next step. Divide the mixture into approximately 10 balls—shaped by gently rolling them between your hands, while I imagine some of you have already noticed that what you see pictured here is in fact a doubled recipe. I usually freeze the leftovers—perhaps slicing them thin and putting them on a pizza. Bake them on a rack set inside a baking pan in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or fry in a non-stick pan on a burner until nicely browned. Add them to the simmering sauce. Simmer all for about 30 minutes for optimal results, although one could serve immediately if desired. Pasta Well, no matter what part of the planet your noodle comes from, you’re going to cook it the same way: by putting it into a pot of boiling water for a certain amount of time. How long depends on things like what sort of flour it’s made of, what you plan to do with it next, and of course what shape it’s in, so you always refer to the instructions on the packaging for timing. For instance, elbow macaroni works best for the macaroni and cheese recipe, but it alone comes in several sizes; and although the obvious choice for your classic spaghetti and meat balls recipe is spaghetti, plenty of other fun shapes work just as well—like spirals, vermicelli, or even those big ones that look like vacuum cleaners.... While people argue about how much water you need to use, but the main thing is to use the largest pot you have—filled about ¾ full with water. If it’s too small you’re going to have a major boil-over problem, and so most official recipes and package directions will tell you to bring a large, covered kettle containing at least 2 quarts = 8 cups of water to a rolling boil over high heat. However, I feel beginning cooks are unlikely to own a truly enormous kettle, and so must often learn to compromise. Some recipes add a few drops of oil to help to prevent boil-over and the pasta sticking together, but I confess to never doing this. Throw in about ½ teaspoon salt if you like, cover it, and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat; and the only reason I’m telling you about the salt is because most recipes have it in there. I myself leave it out, since I’m always looking for ways to cut salt out of our diet without sacrificing flavor. Stir in 8 ounces = 2 servings = ½ of the smallest package of pasta likely to be found on your groceteria shelf. Cover the pot only until the water’s bubbling again. Uncover, stir, and time according to package directions. Pour it carefully into a colander in the sink to drain—watching out for the steam —and at this point chefs debate: to rinse or not to rinse? Some feel that removing the starch also removes the ability of the sauce to bind to the pasta, but I nevertheless rinse it quickly with very hot water, which to me gives it a cleaner taste. I must admit, though, that I do it while in the throes of self-doubt.... This burning issue I leave in your lap. Deal with it. Chapter Ten Beef and Bean Burritos or Tostadas These ubiquitous Americanized versions of classic South-of-the-border treats make a tasty menu for a night when you’re not going to have much time to be in the kitchen right before dinner, or when your meal might need to be kept waiting over low heat for someone’s arrival. Not only are they truly easy to make, but in terms of party planning, you can do almost all of the initial preparation well in advance. Just be sure to invite those who won’t be embarrassed by a little messiness, because although these are of course meant to be finger-food, you might want to keep some forks handy anyway, since the odds are good that even the most perfectly constructed tostada is still going to break apart once in a while when you bite into it. Pleasure, I’m afraid, usually has its price. Believe me, people won’t mind the mess, while in terms of successful crowd- pleasing, the customizable quality of these things is another thing that really makes them a hit. When dealing with picky eaters or situations where tastes are varied and unknown, you could actually go so far as to simply let everybody make their own, just the way they like it.... Now you have to start soaking the dry pinto beans at least four hours before cooking them for approximately one more, but the rest is very fast, while all you have to do during the cooking period is stir them occasionally. Otherwise, you’ll be free for unrelated party preparations or helping with homework. Technically the best thing to do with dry beans is to leave them in cold water overnight, which is much more important when aiming to keep your beans intact, but in this recipe I feel that one gets nearly the same result by pouring boiling water over them while making tea as the morning twilight slips away, and then simmering them slowly while it creeps back in at night.... Plus, there’s all kinds of flexibility here, since they’ll hold over low heat for a very long time, can be refrigerated and reheated, and they even freeze well—you name it. It’s a miracle! However, if you think messing around with dry beans is just not your thing—despite the obvious cost-cutting and inevitable tastiness factors—or you simply don’t have that kind of time, you can always go buy a can of refried beans and warm them up. The seasoned beef is by balancing contrast very fast, but if absolutely necessary it can also cool it in the fridge or freezer to be warmed up later, while the cheese and lettuce can also just chill out until called upon. Important safety tip: don't forget to buy some sour cream, just because it’s not listed in the recipes. God help you if you do, that’s all I can say.... Also, please be aware that my methods are by no means authentic. My beans are simply mashed and seasoned, not refried; and because the ancestral chili sauce I use is not a hot salsa, for fire I rely entirely on the chili powder in the meat. However, when using a bottled salsa like you probably will, I might lower the amount of heat in the beef in correspondence—also possibly throwing on a little chopped onion, tomato, and/or green pepper along with the lettuce—veggies otherwise in my family’s special sauce recipe, which can be found back at the end of the meatloaf chapter. Once in a while I try a new salsa recipe, but to be perfectly frank, it usually has some sort of specialty ingredient in it that I’m reluctant to pay for. It all depends, of course, on where you live.... For instance, I was brought up in a bread-based culture, which is why I’ve baked several thousand loaves of bread, but I can’t tell you how to make your own tortillas from scratch, which would of course be highly recommended. I keep thinking that I’ll buy a tortilla press and learn how to do it, now that I live where the ingredients can be found at reasonable prices. However, I suspect there’s a good chance that I’ll still let someone else’s machinery make them for me most of the time. Plus, you can skip frying the tostadas if you have access to pre-packaged ones at the groceteria, which are almost as tasty and a whole lot easier in terms of last-minute preparations and cleanup. For that matter, you may now be wondering why I left the humble taco out of this chapter, and it’s not just because frying them by hand is really tricky, because the pre-packaged ones are fine. No, it’s really because I like beans and they work better on a tostada, and because—in terms of potentially crumbling into fork- food—tacos are frequently even worse. I buy them once in a while anyway because they’re such fun, but be advised that they pose plenty of potential party peril! And now, speaking of fork-food, some of you might like to know that I occasionally take a burrito to the point of rolling, but without the sour cream, lettuce, sauce, and open- end—instead encasing just the beans, meat, and cheese by folding over both ends and securing them with toothpicks. Then I pan-fry it like the eggrolls of the previous chapter in about ½ inch of oil until golden brown—turning once—remove the toothpicks, put the chili sauce and sour cream on top, and end up with my version of a chimichanga. This meal feeds four average human beings or two young men generously. Sequence of Events For best results, 5 hours before party time, start soaking the beans. While the beans are cooking, simmer the chili sauce alongside them. Then, about 30 minutes before party time, prepare the meat filling, while the beans finish up and the sauce cools down. Shred about ½ pound of Monterey jack or cheddar cheese and ½ a head of any kind of lettuce you enjoy. Preheat the oven for the white tortillas. 15 minutes before serving time, put the white tortillas into the oven and/or fry the corn tortillas. Build your burritos or tostadas with lightning speed and astonishing dexterity. Serve immediately, if not sooner. The Beans * 1½ cups dry pinto beans ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon ground cumin seed ¼ teaspoon black pepper * Now those already familiar with this type of recipe may think at first glance that I left out the lard, or bacon drippings, or whatever. I took the fat out of there years ago for health reasons when nobody at my table seemed to care, but if you like you can fry up a couple slices of bacon and throw the drippings into your beans for more authentic flavor. You can even crumble up the bacon and throw it in too. I did this for quite a while— throwing the actual drippings away, trying for a healthy compromise.... I might even do it again some day, now that the idea’s back in my head, but not likely. Equally unlikely is the possibility of my melting one of the aforementioned fats in skillet, adding the smashed and seasoned beans, and lightly cooking them until they turn into refried beans—a misnomer apparently devolved from a word meant to imply well- fried beans—which some of you might’ve been expecting. * Spread the beans out on a countertop for close inspection, and then remove the broken and imperfect ones. There may actually be some tiny rocks in there as well, and this time I’m not joking. Wash them under running water in a colander. Put your pintos into a roomy saucepan, pour plenty of boiling water over them, stir, cover, and let them soak for 2 to 4 hours. They’re going to almost double in size, so make sure to use the biggest saucepan you’ve got, and watch out for any bad ones you might’ve missed that will now rise to the surface. After soaking, drain the beans into the colander, rinse briefly, and then return them to your also-rinsed pot—an optional step that I always do. Some will say that I’m also pouring off some nutrients, but then others argue that doing this makes them more digestible, so you’ll have to be the judge on this one. Add water to a level ½ inch above the beans, cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir, put the heat on low, recover the pot, and simmer for about 1 hour—until the water’s been absorbed and the beans are fork-tender. Stir them once in a while with a wooden spoon throughout the entire simmering period, as they slowly bubble away; and if they don’t seem to be done, but the liquid’s all gone, add a little more boiling water to just cover them, and then simmer a bit longer. However, if you’re really pressed for time you can turn up the heat and start mashing them periodically—a bit prematurely—with only marginal damage in terms of cuisine. And should you be distracted by a crop circle suddenly manifesting on the lawn, forget about them, and they consequently dry up, it may be possible to dislodge even what appears to be super-glued to the bottom of the pot—as long as it’s not actually burnt, which you’ll easily be able to discern from the hideous and demoralizing smell— by simply adding some boiling water, stirring, and being very, very patient.... Mash those pintos with a potato masher, fork, or the back of a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients, cover, and keep them warm over low heat. The Beef * 1 pound lean, ground beef ½ teaspoon salt 2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder * Fry up the meat in a roomy pan, breaking up clumps, until browned. It’s worth paying for really lean burger here, or else be prepared to pour off a lot of fat—along with some of the flavor—before you add the seasonings. Stir in the salt and chili powder. You can increase or decrease the amount of chili depending on your personal taste. Plus, please remember from a few paragraphs back that I make this filling quite hot, because my chili sauce is not. Cover and keep warm over low heat. Roll That Burrito Wrap your stack of tortillas tightly in foil and warm them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes to make them flexible. You don’t have to do this—it just makes everything easier, while taking the chill off the tortillas if they’ve been refrigerated. Imagine your tortilla as a clock face, spoon on a line of beans from 8 to 4 o'clock, and then a line of meat above the beans. Throw on some cheese, salsa, sour cream, and lettuce. Fold over 4 o'clock to cover one end of the filling. Fold up 6 o'clock toward the center and keep rolling, leaving one end still open. Of course, you could fold over 8 o’clock too, and have the whole thing enclosed if you prefer. Build that Tostada Heat ¾ inch canola or vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Fry tortillas, one at a time, turning frequently, until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Of course, theoretically, if you bend the tortilla as you fry it, you'll get a taco shell, but my early attempts to do this were such miserable failures that I just never bother. Then, after all are fried, just make layers on top of your tostadas in this order: beans, meat, cheese, salsa, sour cream, lettuce; while the obvious trick here is to get those layers nice and thin without pressing on the tortilla to the point of breaking it, as I’m once again reminding you that when rolling, layering, or perhaps even giving cooking advice, too little is often better than too much. However, this time it’s especially important, because if things get too heavy both the food—and perhaps the cook—may just literally crack up.... Go figure. Chapter Eleven Stuffed Flounder with Zucchini and Tomato Casserole Well, first of all: any kind of fairly thin whitefish will do for this recipe. I just picked flounder because that’s what I had access to when I first wrote it down, and I’m leaving it that way now because I feel very strongly that of all the fish names in the world, flounder may actually be the funniest. So just use whatever looks fresh, but the thin part is fairly important. I make this dish whenever something appropriate pops up on sale. However, there’s really no substitution for the fresh tomatoes in the baked veggie casserole. Yes, this menu makes a nice supper for the height of summer despite the fact that both of these dishes are baked; and on an especially warm evening, the thing to do is to assemble both of them, pop them into the oven, and then go hang outside the back door with some cool cat while it’s hot in the kitchen and the purr-fectly divine perfume of fresh seafood begins to waft out the window.... Plan on being out there for about sixty minutes of baking time. The veggies need twice as long as the fish, so you’ll have to go back inside briefly to attend to that; while if you’re in a hurry you could put them into the oven right away, and then finish throwing together the fish. However, when following the hang-with-cat plan this meal takes about two hours from garden to table; but—should you suddenly long to linger outside and enjoy the sunset—it can be kept warm in a slow oven for a little while if necessary. Quantities here are for two, and party plans will only be enhanced by the fact that both of these dishes can be assembled in advance and held in the refrigerator for an hour or so if necessary. Be sure to use baking dishes that can safely go from the fridge into the oven, and then let them lose their chill again if possible before they meet the heat. Now you can make this meal in the winter as well with groceteria veggies, but this zucchini dish is absolutely wonderful made with summer produce, and can even be frozen to provide a nostalgic and tasty treat when winter winds blow. It’s even good cold —making it a swell addition to a picnic. Sequence of Events Cut up all the vegetables and crumble the bread. Assemble the stuffed flounder and refrigerate. Assemble the zucchini casserole. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and bake the veggies for 30 minutes. Put the fish into the oven as well, and bake everything for 30 minutes more. Stuffed Flounder * 1 pound flounder/whitefish fillets, fresh or frozen 2 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing the fish 2 tablespoons butter, for the stuffing ½ cup minced celery ½ cup minced onion the juice of 1 lemon ½ teaspoon dried basil ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon black pepper 2 cups crumbled day-old bread * Now something like last night’s leftover French bread would be the ideal choice to provide crumbs for both of these recipes, but whatever bread you use, crumble it up by hand, because the food processor is going to pulverize it past what you hope to achieve: a pile of little pieces of fairly dry bread destined to form a crunchy, textured topping for the veggies, and to soak up the juices of your baking seafood like tiny sponges. Rinse your fish briefly under cold water—checking for stray bones. Pat it dry and set it aside. Wash, dry, and mince the celery and onion; while the onion to be seen enhancing the photo is a nice red one, fresh from the farmer’s market. Melt the first 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. When it sizzles, add the celery and the onion, stirring, until the celery’s color brightens and the onion becomes translucent. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, basil, and lemon juice; and if you plan to refrigerate this dish before baking, allow this mixture to cool all the way down at this point before proceeding. Mix in the bread crumbs. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the other 2 tablespoons of butter. Then brush about half of it all over the inside of an 8 to 9-inch square or round baking dish that’s at least 1 inch deep. However, any small baking dish will really do as long as it’s deep enough and can be tightly covered at first, while beginners planning to refrigerate should remember to use ovenware that can safely go from a cold fridge to a hot oven without tragic consequences. Next, use half of the fish to form a layer on the bottom, cover it with about ¾ of the stuffing mixture, and then top it with another layer of fish. Don't worry if some of the stuffing’s exposed, but if a lot of it’s exposed—or half of your seafood doesn’t really form a layer—your baking dish is probably too big for best results. Brush the top layer of fish completely with melted butter and then sprinkle it with the rest of the stuffing. Cover the dish with a tight-fitting lid or foil and bake for 15 minutes. Then uncover for about 15 minutes more, until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, and serve immediately. Purrrrrr-fection achieved! Zucchini and Tomato Casserole * 2 medium zucchini 1 large onion, preferably sweet 4 medium tomatoes up to ½ teaspoon salt and black pepper up to 1 teaspoon dried oregano and/or basil 1 cup crumbled day-old bread 2 tablespoons butter * Peel and remove the seeds from the tomatoes—slicing them ¼ inch thick. Slice the zucchini also 1/8 inch thick, and the onion as thinly as you can. Starting with half of the zucchini, then the onion, and finally the tomatoes, make layers in a large baking dish—sprinkling each layer with the salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. Be sparing with the seasonings, since of course too much is frequently worse than too little; and if you’re so fortunate as to have access to fresh herbs, double the quantities and prepare for a major veggie experience. Cover the top layer of tomatoes completely with the breadcrumbs and dot with the butter, which means cut it into very small pieces and place them at intervals all over the top. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake your casserole, uncovered, for about 40 minutes until it’s bubbling, the zucchini tests tender with a fork, and the crumbs are browned. Chapter Twelve Chicken Parmesan Subs and Green Salad with Vinaigrette Dressing Well now, this one’s pretty tricky because it’s all about the art of breading and frying, which can be kinda messy and tedious and involves a bit of careful knife-work.... And so it requires patience well beyond simian capability, while taking some time— up to three hours if you bake your own bread—so I almost didn’t put it in the book, only to eventually realize that I instead absolutely had to, since it’s a top ten favorite with my family, who are of course the principal target of this tome. Believe me, it’s worth the trouble, because we’re not just talking about one recipe here. If you don’t want chicken, you could perhaps substitute a nice piece of fish—or even slices of eggplant—because I’m just going to try to explain how to seal the juices of anything inside a coating made of flour, egg, and bread crumbs, while gently frying it to mouth-watering perfection. After that, if it’s large, you melt some cheese on it if you’re so inclined—which we always are—and then you can put it on a roll. Any kind of bread will do for a chicken parm sub, depending upon what you want to achieve. For instance, these rolls I’ve included here are fairly soft to the bite, while if you want something more akin to the traditional, you could also use the French bread recipe to be found way back in the chili chapter—forcing as much flour into it as possible if you’re craving that chewy, more authentic experience that comes with a dough tough enough to take a tossing by those apprentice chefs over at Pizza Heaven. Either way, you then shape your dough into tiny loaves that theoretically remind one of tiny submarines, sized to be individual servings, which of course depends upon who you are. As a rule, one should bear in mind that those rolls will first double in size during their second rise, and then expand a bit more in the oven.... So think small, or the balance of your sandwich may be ruined; and speaking of balance, although I highly recommend putting your sub on the plate next to something like the green salad featured here, occasionally I just fry up some veggies into a sandwich topping—confessing to a proclivity toward high-end chips on the side. Plus, most will want to whip up some marinara sauce as a condiment—at which point those wishing for a more elegant scenario could even turn their bread dough into dinner rolls, putting the chicken right on the plate next to some pasta, topping with the sauce and fried veggies, and sprinkling on some grated parmesan to produce the more traditional Italian feast you’ll so deserve. While finally—for the truly ambitious—there’s always the chicken nugget scenario, where one goes to the trouble to fry the chicken in bite-sized pieces. Diners may often then expect to alternatively dip them both in the marinara sauce and in ranch dressing, which can be found adorning another green salad alternative in the shrimp cocktail chapter. Sequence of Events Take the bread recipe as far as the first rise. Whip up some marinara sauce, if desired, and let it simmer. Prepare your salad up to the point of adding the dressing, or perhaps cut up some vegetables to the point of frying; while when doing the nugget thing, I often prepare some fresh veggies for dippin’ along with them, making this also be the time to mix up something like ranch dressing. Thinly slice ½ pound mozzarella cheese and grate ½ cup of parmesan. Once the bread’s second rise is underway it’s your cue to start breading and frying the chicken, which will take approximately the same time as the rising and baking. Theoretically, you’ll be popping your sheet of cheese-covered fried chicken into the oven right after the bread comes out for its cool-down. Place those fried chicken pieces on a baking sheet, cover with the mozzarella, and sprinkle with the parmesan; and lining your sheet with parchment paper or foil at this point—while not mandatory—will most certainly make your life a lot easier. When the bread comes out of the oven, put the chicken in, wait five minutes, and then turn off the oven—leaving your precious poultry in there until the salad has been dressed and the rolls have cooled down enough to be handled; and although there are those who insist that bread should never be sliced while still warm, try telling that to whoever’s been hanging around sniffing the air while it baked.... Sandwich or Dinner Rolls * ¼ cup warm water 2 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon dry yeast ¾ cup warm milk 1 teaspoon salt ¼ cup softened butter or shortening 1 egg 3 to 4 cups bread flour * Now technically, any dough can be shaped into a roll, but when it comes to burgers, the term usually brings to mind something soft and rich like this one, which is a lot like the cinnamon rolls featured further on in this book, but easier on the sugar and fat. If you can’t get bread flour, unbleached white flour will provide more than adequate results. You can even throw in some whole wheat flour if you want to, but you’re going to cut down on the soft-and-squishy factor if you do. Also, of course, after a bread dough like this has been punched down, you can usually shape it almost any way you wish; and while this particular recipe’s great for sandwiches, it’s also swell for filling the cups of a lightly greased muffin tin half-full with little balls of dough—resulting in dinner rolls meant to enhance something like macaroni and cheese. The main thing is that they be uniform for even baking, and then you can be as creative as you like. For instance, when serving them next to some sort of fork food, I often shape mine like the Statue of Liberty—or perhaps the state of Maryland. Dissolve the 1 teaspoon of sugar in the water and sprinkle on the yeast. Wait about 10 minutes for it to proof—where your dried and dormant yeast now comes to life, eats the sugar, and starts to reproduce at terrific rate—rising to the top in the form of big foamy blobs that will soon come for you, puny human, should you be so foolish as to turn your back on them.... Add the milk, salt, butter, egg, and 1½ cups flour. Beat with a fork, wooden spoon, or the dough hook of a heavy-duty mixer on low speed until smooth and elastic. Continue adding flour until the dough holds its shape. Knead it on a well-floured surface for 5 to 10 minutes until it forms a smooth ball, while those seeking instruction in kneading technique will find my perhaps feeble, yet heartfelt attempt provide it in the French bread recipe to be found in the chili chapter. Let your dough rise until doubled—the timing of which depends upon atmospheric conditions, so start early if you decide to whip these up in the winter. This is a fairly heavy dough, so it’ll probably take at least an hour. Lightly grease your baking sheet, or deploy the miracle of parchment paper for better browning and easy clean-up. Punch down your dough, knead out the air, and then roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about ½-inch thick. Cut approximately 4 inch circles—trying not to twist the cutter for a better rise. I use an English muffin ring to cut mine; but if you don’t have anything to cut with, you can divide the dough into 12 pieces, roll them into little balls, and flatten them by hand or with a rolling pin. Let your rolls rise until doubled and light. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. You can store them in plastic bags, of course, after they’ve cooled completely, but there probably won’t be any left. Breaded Fried Chicken * 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves 1 cup all-purpose flour 6 cups fresh bread crumbs 2 eggs + 2 tablespoons water olive, canola, or vegetable oil for frying * Quantities here are for four, and unless you possess a truly enormous frying pan, you’ll have to fry your chicken in stages, and so timing will vary. I myself finally possess such a utensil in order to crank out steaming heaps of family chow, but those who don’t could always use two pans at the same time. Wash and dry the chicken pieces, and usually they’ll be big enough that you’ll have to slice them through the thickest part of meat—either lengthwise to make two long strips, or horizontally to turn that section into two separate slices—and since we’re making subs, I would in this case go with strips, which will eventually work better in a roll. However, for the Italian feast, I’d probably go for slices, while those aiming for bite- sized nuggets should err on the side of caution, since they’ll be a bit larger after breading. Lots of chefs instead pound it thin with a meat mallet—something that I also possess and use if what I’m working with looks nearly thin enough already.... And so it’s your call this time. Also, the slicing scenario is the careful knife-work I referred to earlier, but once you get your mind around what I’m talking about it’s not difficult, and if you don’t do it there’s a good chance that your chicken will need to be almost burned on the outside in order for the inside to be completely devoid of color. Place the chicken pieces in a plastic bag, throw in the flour, close the bag, and shake it until your poultry’s coated. Make sure the bread crumbs are in a nice big bowl, and if you’re enough of a beginner to be wondering what exactly I mean by the phrase fresh bread crumbs, you might wish to read my expanded chat about same, way back in the crab-stuffed mushrooms chapter. * Beat the egg and the water until foamy in a bowl big enough to accommodate both a large chicken piece and a certain amount of splashing. Using a fork, dip your flour-coated pieces—one at a time, of course—into the beaten eggs, and then roll them in the bread crumbs; and for best results, be sure to let the egg drip a little before moving on, followed by gently shaking off excess bread crumbs and laying them on a roomy plate that’ll soon be placed by the stove. Put a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat and fill it 1/3 full with the oil of your choice. Olive oil is expensive, but deliciously authentic in this case, as well as the very best choice in terms of beginner success rates because it smokes at a higher temperature than many others. Canola oil is almost tasteless, which can often be a good thing. Vegetable oil is nearly the same, and a fine choice for those on a budget. After about 5 minutes, test the oil by dropping in a few bread crumbs to see if vigorous sizzling ensues. Once it’s ready, add the chicken pieces and fry them until you can see the edges on the bottom turn nice and brown. Turn them and fry similarly—the goal being of course to get the inside done before the outside burns. This is something, you may recall, that won’t be a problem if you did your knife-work correctly. Remove your perfectly fried chicken on to paper towels to drain—resisting the urge to just eat it right then and there.... Place it on a baking sheet, cover with cheese, and then put it into the oven just long enough to melt the cheese. Marinara Sauce * 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 clove minced garlic 1 large can = 4 cups fresh, peeled tomatoes ½ teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon dried basil = 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped 1 teaspoon dried oregano = 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped * A teaspoon of crushed red pepper can be a nice addition to a main dish that features something like a veggie, chicken, or ground beef topping, where spiciness is not supplied by a hot sausage; while beginners will find some helpful tips concerning garlic and tomatoes in the salad recipe immediately following this one. Coat the bottom of a roomy saucepan with the oil and put it over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir it around until it sizzles, but don't let it brown. Crush the tomatoes and add them to the pot with the salt and basil. Cover and cook until the mixture begins to bubble; and then simmer your sauce uncovered over low heat—stirring more frequently as it begins to thicken. And of course, it needs to cool down a bit before you spread it on the dough—a process speeded up by pouring it out of the lingering heat of your saucepan into a bowl. Green Salad Vinaigrette Well, the main thing to remember when new to the art of salad-making is that you should dry off every vegetable you wash before proceeding with any recipe. Unless you’re just going to steam your veggie anyway, you’d better get it nice and dry, or else you might as well add water to the list of your recipe’s ingredients, while expecting consequently marginal results. After all, everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, so shake those greens over the sink to remove some of the water, and then wipe each leaf gently with a paper towel if you really want to get it right. If you have time, they’ll really profit from a brief refrigeration to further dry and crisp them. Also, of course, you can put whatever you like into a salad: any kind of greens, onions, mushrooms, peppers, cucumbers, celery, carrots, olives, plutonium, etc. For instance, I live where walnuts are relatively inexpensive, and as soon as I moved here I noticed that everybody was putting them into their salads, which my personal taste decided was a swell idea. However—when recipes call for it—I find that if you leave out the fresh garlic due to economy or sloth, it just doesn’t pack the same punch.... Garlic salt or garlic powder are simply not the same. Ask any vampire. Yes, so many recipes on Planet Earth call for this punch provided by pulverizing garlic: a process simplified by first crushing your peeled clove with the flat side of your knife—carefully leaning on it with the heel of your hand, while the blade’s turned away from you—before chopping it to smithereens.... Also, be sure to tear—not cut—those leafy greens into pieces, but please don’t ask me why. As a matter of fact, I suddenly realize that I’m almost neurotically afraid to tell you otherwise, since every book I own seems to contain this direction, so that’s what I’ve always done, lest the cooking police come to my door demanding an explanation. Cuisine being an art form, I suspect it may actually turn out to be all about appearances.... Well, we can at least be sure that you should buy several copies of this book, just out of sheer pity for my obvious and pathetic need for psychotherapy. Thanks a lot. Next you should slice things like onions, green peppers, mushrooms, celery, or carrots very thin, while cutting something like broccoli or a tomato into half-a-bite- size pieces, so that each forkful of salad will surely be a mix of several veggies clinging together in various and interesting combinations. Beginner tip: if you immerse truly fresh tomatoes in boiling water for thirty seconds, their skins will slip right off. If they’re not truly fresh it may take a bit longer, unless they’re some sort of mutant, probably flavorless, object bred for durability and cosmetic allure. Then you should usually get rid of the seeds, although it’s not like green peppers or apples where it’s pretty important to do so. A few tomato seeds in a salad won’t kill anybody. At least I don’t think so.... Cucumbers ditto. It’s just bad form. * 8 to 10 cups vegetables, with about 2/3 of them leafy greens 1 clove minced garlic 4 tablespoons olive oil 4 teaspoons red wine or balsamic vinegar ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese ½ cup chopped walnuts, optional pinches of oregano, and/or celery seed, and/or thyme, and/or basil * Now, if you want to mix the kind of simple vinaigrette dressing we’re talking about here ahead of time, which can sometimes be a good thing—allowing the garlic to marinate, or the other flavors to blend—then put all the ingredients into a glass jar and shake it from time to time; while you don't need to refrigerate it unless it's going to be several hours until the meal. Just don’t toss it into the salad until party time. However, this approach may upset many purists who—especially in the case of oil and vinegar dressings—often insist it’s best to add the ingredients individually at the last minute, starting with the oil, and then the vinegar, the salt, the pepper, the plutonium.... As a matter of fact, I’m usually one of them, while in terms of optional seasonings, you could also add, according to taste, a pinch of dry mustard, or oregano, or celery seed, or thyme, or basil, or even sugar—this list could go on for quite some time.... While of course, the main thing is to shoot for balance. For instance, if there’s celery in the salad, then putting celery seed in the dressing would probably be overkill. Then, crumbled feta cheese or grated parmesan—really any shredded cheese— can almost always become a tasty addition; while these days I’m also prone to throw in some broken nuts like walnuts, or perhaps toasted almonds. Plus—since no two heads of lettuce are the same—measurements in all dressing recipes are approximate, and you should feel free to play around with them a little until you find a blend that suits your taste. It's your salad. Just remember that—when maintaining the delicate balance of high cuisine—no particular ingredient should scream out at you from the mixture, and that too little is frequently better than too much—a piece of advice that I hope I’m successfully imprinting like a dogma upon your brain throughout this book. Believe me, I have only your best interests at heart. Chapter Thirteen Scallops au gratin with Deep-Fried Potatoes and Cole Slaw Now to me, this meal is so delicious that—should my fortunes improve—I’ll most certainly be making it a lot more than I do now; so please go buy several copies of my books immediately for your friends, relatives, and their pets in order to make little Jean’s sweet dream a reality.... Thanks a lot. However, these days I frequently substitute lower-budget small and frozen shrimp for the admittedly-more-delicious, but depressingly expensive, fresh seafood. If you do this, treat them like they’re small scallops and all will be well. While the only difficult thing here is the actual deep-frying of the potatoes, which can be dangerous; and because one can’t afford to monkey around in this instance, I know it pushes the premise of my little book here, but.... It’s just so tasty that those in pursuit of cuisine should surely proceed with caution where so many have gone before. Contrariwise, I’m now telling those of you who may think that deep-frying is just too much trouble—or maybe even a little intimidating at this point—to simply oven-fry your potatoes along with the seafood by using the recipe to be found in the meatloaf chapter. However—for those worried about fat—believe it or not, if you do this right, deep- frying is really much better, because almost all of the fat stays right there in the fryer. No, it’s actually the seafood that’s full of butter and cheese.... Go figure. Well anyway, your total kitchen time’s not likely to be more than two hours, but timing here’s extremely variable, because cole slaw is something that’s generally considered to taste better after having spent some time in the refrigerator. It’ll take about thirty minutes to throw it together, and if you do it early in the afternoon, it’ll be perfect by dinnertime. Both the scallops and the potatoes take about twenty minutes to cook, so the best plan here is to assemble your seafood casserole, which can then wait while the oven and the oil preheat simultaneously and you prepare the potatoes for frying—about an hour for this whole phase. Quantities here are for two. Enjoy! Sequence of Events Mix up the cole slaw, and give it plenty of time in the refrigerator if possible. Please remember that this is much more important if you’re working with regular cabbage than if you’re using the nappa cabbage I’m about to recommend. Prepare the scallop casserole for baking. Preheat the oven and the oil for deep-frying, while cutting up the potatoes. Fry the potatoes and bake the scallops simultaneously. Have the slaw waiting on the plates and alert all diners, so that when the fries are done they can go down next to it while still sizzling, as you then whisk your seafood from the oven, and everyone gets it while it's hot. Cole Slaw * ½ a small head of cabbage or napa, thinly shredded: about 3 cups 1 small carrot, grated 2 tablespoons minced onion ¼ cup sour cream 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 1½ tablespoons cider vinegar 1 teaspoon sugar ¼ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon dry mustard ¼ teaspoon celery seed ¼ teaspoon black pepper * Mix everything together well, in a roomy bowl, and refrigerate for several hours. If you’re nearby, stir it up again from time to time for maximum flavor blending, while if you’re using nappa you can serve this recipe almost immediately, as the nature of this fairly exotic vegetable will tend to make your slaw seem to somewhat resemble a tossed salad as well. I always use napa if I can get it—although it’s likely to be a bit more expensive— because it makes for such an elegantly light texture; but whatever cabbage you use, the thinner you shred it, the better—this being one of those instances where practice makes perfect; and while there’s always the food processor, mine is such a pain to clean up that I always just use my trusty knife that’s become like a part of my hand after all these years. You on the other hand, may feel differently.... Also, these days I often use low-fat sour cream—which of course, if you want to get technical, probably isn’t really sour cream at all—but nevertheless seems to taste just fine. However, I can’t say the same for low-fat mayonnaise, which will never darken my door again. Scallops au gratin Helpful safety tip: take a really good look at your scallops before you buy them. They shouldn't give the impression that they've been exposed to the air for quite a while —as the word slimy now comes to mind. Of course, I have several books that say to check the smell, which isn’t exactly easy to do at a groceteria. For some strange reason they don’t want you going behind the counter and sniffing everything in the seafood display.... Also, officially there are two sizes of scallops—bay and sea—and I take issue with what seems to be the general consensus that the smaller bay scallops are necessarily tastier, and have also come to follow the oft-given direction to cut the big ones in half on a case-by-case basis. The twenty minute cooking time given here is for your average sea scallops, and should be adjusted down toward fifteen for the small ones. * 1 pound scallops 4 tablespoons butter 1 cup fresh bread crumbs ¼ cup parmesan cheese a pinch of salt and a generous grinding of pepper * Now of course beginners may recall from the hopefully helpful bread crumb lecture back in the crab-stuffed mushrooms chapter that in this case the word fresh actually means not toasted, since you make them by breaking up bits of bread which are in fact at least one day old in your food processor. If you don’t own machinery, crumble them up by hand—it just takes forever—but you can’t substitute bread crumbs from a can and expect to get the same results. * Place the scallops in a colander and gently rinse them under cold water. Let them drain while you melt the butter over low heat. Turn them into a medium baking pan, drizzle them with half the butter, and stir until all is well coated. This pan can be a casserole dish or anything not too large, where the seafood can be contained tightly as a single layer. Mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese, and the rest of the butter. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. You could do this before you start to assemble your dish to save time of course. I’m just telling you to do it now, because in this case you’ll be heating up the oil for the potatoes at the same time. Bake for about 20 minutes until the bread crumbs are golden brown— remembering that if they’re small they won’t take quite as long, while if they’re excessively large you might actually need to add a few minutes. Timing is everything here, since they’ll tend to toughen up if overcooked. They need to be taken to the point where they’ve lost their translucency, and if necessary, you can carefully peek under the edge of the breadcrumbs to check, while you can see from the photo that I solve this problem by using a glass casserole. Deep-Fried Potatoes Well ever since Thomas Jefferson brought the recipe home from Marie Antoinette’s kitchen, Americans have been in love with the deep-fried potato, which is why I’m once again testing the limits of the premise of this book by including the semi-dangerous operation of deep-frying; and those of you new to this sort of thing might wish to check out the helpful safety tips included within my first bending of this premise, way back in the sweet and sour pork chapter. Two large baking potatoes are the best candidates for this treatment, although you can use any kind—occasionally I even use sweet potatoes. Wash your spuds well, cut them into strips ¼ to ½ inch thick, and let them soak in a large bowl full of very cold water for about 10 minutes to remove excess starch. If they’re in good condition, merely cut out any questionable spots and enjoy that total tater taste; but if they look green under the skin, you’ll need to peel them. Preheat 4 cups canola or vegetable oil in your fryer, kettle, or wok over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes; and remember, please, that it’s dangerous to fill your fryer more than half full. Drain your fries well in a colander. It might even be a good idea to dry them a little further by swishing a paper towel through them as well, because if they’re not pretty dry when you put them into the hot oil you may be attacked by flying fat. Some people actually dry each one individually, but these poor souls are, I’m afraid, certifiably insane. The oil is ready when it reaches 350 degrees, and if you don’t have a thermometer, dip the end of a test fry in there to see if it really starts bubbling on contact. Carefully submerge and evenly distribute your potatoes in the hot oil using metal tongs, and then leave them alone until they begin to float: about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove them to a bowl lined with paper towels to drain briefly, salt lightly if desired, and whisk to the plates. Chapter Fourteen Spinach Manicotti with Stuffed Mushrooms Well whenever it’s truly spring, I advise you to soak in the fresh air, sunshine, and overall invigoration to be found at your local farmer’s market, where you’re also likely to find some really, really, really nice veggies. This year, on my particular part of Planet Earth, the spinach turned out to be especially fine. Then—several salads later—I finally took the trouble to make spinach manicotti— popping the simple stuffed mushrooms you’ll also find here right into the oven alongside it for added enhancement, while baking up a nice loaf of the French bread from the chili chapter for balance, and you should too. However—for those seeking quick and easy— just pick up an appropriate loaf on the way home and even feel free to forgo the side dish, because this spinach manicotti can stand alone. Yes, whip it up, throw it in the oven, and go do your thing while the old homestead fills with that certain special aroma that only comes from taking the trouble.... Plus, in terms of party planning, it’s one of those things like macaroni and cheese that can wait in the fridge after assembly—or even be warmed back up—while beginners are reminded to beware of inherited, possibly treasured old cookware that may not survive quick changes in temperature. Also—in an effort to be of service to all—I’ve included recipes for both your basic meat sauce and your basic marinara sauce, since—at least when it comes to the success of a manicotti recipe—it matters not which path you choose.... Not only that, but if someone you love has a problem with spinach, you can easily make them a couple of plain old cheese manicotti before you mix in the sophistication. Flag them with a toothpick or something after all is assembled—should you suspect you won’t be able to tell them apart when your dish comes out of the oven. And with that in mind: quantities here feed four most generously. Sequence of Events Start your sauce of choice simmering away on the stove. Next, for those baking bread, now’s the time to make your dough. Then you’ll be shaping the loaves and letting them rise again while everything else bakes. Pop them into the oven when the main dishes are done—keeping said dishes warm under foil on top of the stove during the bread baking. Finally, while your loaves cool down, return the manicotti and mushrooms briefly to the oven. Assemble the manicotti and/or the mushrooms for baking, because in this case it doesn’t matter which one you do first. They both go into the oven together. Bake both dishes simultaneously for 40 minutes, while both can be kept warm at this point in a slow oven for some time if necessary. Spinach Manicotti * 12 manicotti = 8 ounces = one small box 4 cups tomato sauce of choice 3 cups fresh spinach 15 oz. = 1 average groceteria container of ricotta cheese ½ pound = approximately 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese ¼ pound = approximately 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese 2 eggs 2 teaspoons dried oregano ½ teaspoon. salt ½ teaspoon black pepper * Blanch spinach 30 seconds. Drain. Roll in paper towels to remove excess moisture. Chop. And for those of you new to blanching: the idea is to briefly expose something that’s usually destined to become an ingredient in a larger recipe to boiling hot water, just long enough to soften its texture. In this case, I recommend placing your freshly washed greenery into nice big bowl; after which you pour in boiling water to cover, wait until the color brightens, and then drain it into a colander. Mix together the spinach, cheeses, eggs, and seasonings—using only ½ cup of the parmesan. Put 8 cups of water into a kettle and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat; and although this is a fairly standard direction for pasta, if you don’t have a pot that big, use the biggest one you have—filled about ¾ full—and simply do very few at a time. Boil the manicotti tubes until just tender—only about 6 minutes, because it will of course soon be finishing up in the oven; and it’s still usually wise to cook only a few at a time—no matter how big your kettle is—to avoid crowding the pot and help maintain the boil. Drain that pasta in a colander and let it cool—spread out on non-stick surface if possible, for easier handling. Layer about 1 cup of your chosen sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking pan; and unless your utensil’s truly non-stick, I’d advise lining it with aluminum foil. Stuff the manicotti with the spinach-cheese mixture and lay them oh-so- attractively out in your sauced baking pan; and although one can theoretically stuff them using a spoon, I confess that I usually end up doing most of it by hand. Pour over the remaining sauce to cover those tubes and then sprinkle all with the other ½ cup of parmesan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cover your assembled dish with foil and bake it for 30 minutes. Then, remove the foil and bake for about another 10 minutes—until bubbly and brown. Meat Sauce * ½ lb. burger 4 cloves garlic minced 4 cups = 2 large cans = 8 cups fresh, crushed tomatoes ½ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper 2 teaspoons dried basil = 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped 2 teaspoons dried oregano = 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped * Brown the burger over medium heat—taking care to completely break up any and all clumps. When it just begins to turn color, throw in the garlic. Once the meat’s completely cooked, add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a bubble, lower the heat, and simmer—uncovered and stirring frequently—for about 30 minutes. Marinara Sauce * 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves minced garlic 4 cups = 2 large cans = 8 cups fresh, crushed tomatoes ½ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper 2 teaspoons dried basil = 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped 2 teaspoons dried oregano = 2 tablespoons fresh, chopped * Coat the bottom of a saucepan with the oil and put it over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir it around until it sizzles, but don't let it brown. Add the tomatoes to the pot with the salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Cover and cook until the mixture begins to bubble; and then simmer your sauce uncovered over low heat for about 30 minutes—stirring more frequently as it begins to thicken. Stuffed Mushrooms Now some might wish to bake their mushrooms in something like a ½ inch of the marinara sauce, or else without as pictured and explained here: soon to become the perfect side dish for the already-saucy manicotti or perhaps even really swell finger food for party-time munching, while we often choose to use a few more of the smallest of mushrooms for that scenario, which are then speared with a fork and dipped into an awaiting bowl of the marinara. * 1 pound mushrooms 1 small sweet or red onion 4 tablespoons butter 3 cups bread crumbs 1 teaspoon dried basil ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon ground black pepper ½ cup grated parmesan cheese * Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wash and dry the mushrooms. Remove the tough ends of the stems and then mince them. Put the caps upside down into a lightly buttered, foil-lined baking pan. Mince the onion very fine. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and when it sizzles fry the onion and the minced stems until the onion begins to brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the bread crumbs, seasonings, and cheese. Fill the mushrooms caps with this mixture and bake for about 40 minutes until nice and brown. Chapter Fifteen Shrimp Cocktail and Green Salad with Ranch Dressing This menu makes for a great dining experience on a hot summer night, and if you’re shooting for informal elegance on the patio under the stars, it can't be beat. I myself almost always put this shrimp and salad on a plate next to a nice loaf of French bread— the recipe for which can be found way back in the chili chapter—while some of you might actually prefer the softer dinner rolls enhancing the chicken parmesan. However if you don't want to heat up the house at party time by baking bread you can always concede and go buy a loaf from those fine folks who sweat it out down there for all of us at the bakery. Should you choose to do this, your meal will be practically foolproof—making it something that truly comes close to simian capability.... Better still, of course, is to bake your bread and cook the shrimp in the cooler hours of mid-morning—leaving you with nothing to do before dinner except throw yourself into the salad and the casual kitchen communion so often featured at the best of parties. Now this is basically a three hour meal because after the first step the shrimp’s usually chilled for at least two hours, although it’ll take you barely twenty minutes to actually cook them. While they’re chilling you’ll be working with the bread; but if you've purchased bread, then there’s only the salad, which takes you about twenty minutes as well. You can even do most of the knife work for the salad well ahead of mealtime, and have nothing to do at the last minute except toss in the dressing. Even the dressing itself can wait next to the cocktail sauce in the fridge, but it’s not a good idea to leave anything in there overnight; while of course, one never puts the dressing on a salad until ready to serve. Being able to do so much ahead of time makes this a terrific thing to serve a special guest you’d prefer to focus on, or for those times when you might be wearing clothing that could be ruined by a kitchen calamity. With this in consideration, quantities here are for two. Enjoy! Sequence of Events Cook the shrimp and chill about 2 hours. Make your bread dough of choice and let it rise for 1 hour; and if you wish to get as much done ahead of time as possible, you could do the initial salad preparations and mix up the cocktail sauce during this first rise as well. Shape the loaves and let them rise another half-hour—another possible time for salad prep. Bake the bread for 20 minutes and let it cool on a rack for at least 10 minutes. During this cooling period, actually dress the salad. Boiled Shrimp * 1 pound medium to large shrimp, in shells 4 cups water ¼ cup salt * Now this is your basic formula for boiled shrimp, and there’s a plethora of things that people throw into the water to flavor their seafood such as a rib of celery, a small onion or carrot, a clove of garlic, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a tablespoon of vinegar, or a pinch of thyme. You can add a couple of these things as your individual taste so inclines you, or add nothing at all. I’d be careful about combinations and amounts though —moderation usually being the key to success—because these flavors might conflict with the rest of your menu. Also, those worried about salt can do what I usually do and cut it way back down to next to nothing.... Also, fresh shrimp often have a dark vein running down their back. It's harmless and debatably tasteless, but if you wish, for appearance and pristine presentation you can shell them and remove it after cooking. Removing the shell before cooking will sacrifice flavor, but if your raw shrimp have already been shelled, cut the salt in half. Best of all—if you can get them and afford them is to buy shrimp that still have the shell on, but someone or something has nevertheless carefully cut down the back and removed the vein. You can do this yourself, of course, with some kitchen shears and the patience of Job. Wash the shrimp with cold water; and if they’re actually frozen you’ll have to add some extra time to your scenario to at least partially thaw them in a bowl of cold water, or things will not be the same when you proceed. Later on, you’ll be needing another bowl of ice water to plunge your steaming shrimp back into to stop the cooking. Bring the water in your largest covered saucepan to a rolling boil over high heat, add the salt, and then the shrimp. Cover again until the water returns to a boil. Then uncover and cook for no longer than 5 minutes, depending upon the size of the shrimp. Watch for boil-over—indicating that your pot’s too small—in which case you'll have to lower the heat until you reach a compromise. Guard against overcooking. They’re done when they turn pink, lose translucency, and just begin to curl up; and unless they’re especially large, they may be done at the moment the water returns to the boil—even before, if they’re very small. Immediately pour them into a colander in the sink to drain, and then plunge them into the awaiting bowl of ice water. Drain, remove the shells, and refrigerate. After this it’s traditional to leave them in the fridge for a couple of hours, although you can actually eat them immediately if you like. How cold you serve these shrimp is a matter of personal taste, but most will probably prefer them nicely chilled. Cocktail Sauce * ½ cup tomato ketchup 2 tablespoons horseradish 1 teaspoon lemon juice * Now wherever you buy your shrimp you’ll likely see something like this for sale in a bottle in the immediate vicinity, but I’ve always felt that if you go to the trouble to mix it up, it’s probably going to be a lot tastier. It’s the same money either way, except that fresh really is best most of the time, and so I keep on feeling guilty as I throw away half- used bottles of expired horseradish.... Green Salad with Ranch Dressing * 5 cups torn-not-cut greens + 2 cups veggies, sliced thin 2 cups buttermilk 1 cup mayonnaise 1 clove garlic, peeled and mashed ½ teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon black pepper ½ teaspoon dried or 1 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme 2 teaspoons lemon juice * Now I’m afraid that my relatively thin homemade dressing will only vaguely resemble the incredibly thick version that comes from a bottle. This recipe’s an amalgam of several people’s attempts to duplicate an experience that can really only be had through the mysteries of modern chemistry, but the flavor at the bottom of it all began down on the farm with buttermilk. Ranch dressing is really just buttermilk thickened with mayo to the consistency you desire—while some recipes accomplish this partially or completely by using sour cream —but I would have to double the mayo here to make it even close to what might be expected by some, which I’m not inclined to do. And so I go light out of personal preference—also when it comes to salt, and so you may want to increase that a bit too. I even used low-fat buttermilk this time, which turned out to be pretty good. Then you’ll find a wide range of opinion about what provides enhancement, but the salt, pepper, and garlic are pretty standard. A lot of recipes put a fat pinch of parsley in there, and I might’ve done it too if I’d had any out there in my little herb garden, which constitutes a serious hole in my defenses.... * Mix the dressing ingredients together and refrigerate; while this is one of those swell things that only improve with a bit of time spent developing in the fridge, so you can easily make it way ahead of the party. Just don’t put it on the salad until the last minute. Use any combination of leafy greens and enhancing vegetables you like; and those new to the art and craft of salad-tossing should seek instruction in the chicken parmesan chapter, where you’ll also find the chicken nuggets so often enhanced by dipping into this very same ranch dressing. Wash them and get them as dry as possible. Toss your salad well until evenly coated. That’s it! Time to head on out to the patio, where the setting of the hot summer sun only means that the fun has just begun.... Chapter Sixteen Chicken Chimichangas Well now, I had a fairly pleasant stay in Atlanta for almost thirty years, and if I recall correctly, about halfway through it these things called Chimichangas started turning up in all the Mexican restaurants—the proliferation of the deep-fryer having originally proliferated them as well into the restaurants of the Tex-Mex community during the 1950’s. Yes, apparently a chimi is nothing but a burrito that some southwestern restaurateur either accidentally or on purpose dropped into deep fat, and people predictably argue about exactly who got the idea first, but I’m willing to bet that it really was just one of those happy accidents---much like Chicken Marengo, which was invented out of whatever Napoleon’s possibly desperate chef could find in today’s newly conquered hamlet, along with a little cognac borrowed from the general’s flask... However, we do know that a century and a half later—just like yours truly— chimichangas came into contact with American popular culture shortly after World War II, and then spread far and wide because they are so very tasty. Stuffed with almost anything to be found in your average Tex-Mex kitchen, in mine lots of cheese is always a given—usually a sharp cheddar if I’m making a beef-based filling, while the more subtle flavor of a chicken-based filling might incline me more toward a nice chunk of Monterey jack. Then, most of my family likes their cheese enhanced by my alternative to refried pinto beans, although my daughter prefers her chimichanga without them, which is one of the swell things about a dish like this, where customizing as desired or required is simple. Once in a while I think about putting some rice in there, while the veggies are always in whatever sauce or salsa I decide to put on top; and now I must confess that the salsa you see pictured here was not made from scratch, but was instead purchased—contrary to my general rule, because it’s the dead of winter. Any other time of year I’d be hitting the farmer’s market and whipping up something of my own—frequently my family’s traditional chili sauce: a sweet-sour concoction to be found in the burrito chapter, in which case I’d probably increase the chilli powder in the recipe below to give my overall dish its expected heat. Also in that chapter you’ll find a beef-based filling you might wish to use instead— along with my pinto bean recipe. Quantities here vary according to the size of your tortillas, but you should generally plan on two per person. Also, these things will warm back up pretty nicely as leftovers, while my son eats ‘em cold, right out of the fridge.... Chimichangas * 1 pound boneless chicken, shredded thin 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon dried oregano 1 teaspoon chili powder ½ teaspoon ground cumin seed ½ teaspoon salt 1 pound shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese 4 cups refried or simply simmered and mashed pinto beans 1 package white tortillas canola or vegetable oil for frying * And I put the toothpicks into the actual ingredients list here, since otherwise a few people might not remember that they need them until the last minute, and consequently be forced—perhaps humiliated—into downscaling to mere burritos, and therefore traumatized for life. Also, alternatively, one can dice their chicken as well—which is a little easier for those new to knives—but I personally feel that the thinnest of shredding seems to achieve the finest of results. * Coat a frying pan with the oil and place it over medium high heat for a minute. Begin with the garlic and fry it, stirring, until it just begins to brown. Add the chicken and cook until it looses color. Toss in the oregano, chili powder, cumin, and salt. Mix well and then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, if necessary, wrap your stack of tortillas tightly in foil and warm them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes to make them more flexible. You don’t have to do this—it just makes the next step easier, while taking the chill off the tortillas if they’ve been refrigerated. However, if my tortillas are reasonably fresh I usually just bring them to room temperature and proceed. To Stuff a Chimichanga Lay a tortilla on the countertop before you and then spoon about 2 tablespoons of beans into the center, followed by about 4 tablespoons of cheese on top of them, and then 2 tablespoons of the chicken mixture. Now white tortillas come in a wide variety of sizes, and you should shoot for the ones that are about 10 inches across. Then you may find anywhere from 10 to 15 packaged together, and so you basically just divide your components between them. After you’ve done it a few times you’ll easily be able to judge amounts, but in the beginning you might find it helpful to spread the all the tortillas out on a countertop at once in order to educate the eye. Imagine the tortilla as a clock face, and fold the 3 and 9 o’clock sides toward the center. They should overlap to essentially cover the filling. Fold up 6 o'clock toward the center and secure with a toothpick, followed in similar fashion by 12 o’clock, until all the filling is enclosed. To Fry a Chimichanga Heat about ¾ inch of oil in a deep frying pan over medium-high heat for about 5 to 10 minutes. Now more original recipes call for traditionally deep-frying in a bigger pot with more oil than this, but I dislike using a lot of oil when I feel I can get by with less, and so you’ll once again have to be the judge here. Beginner tip: if you’re new to this sort of thing, you can buy a thermometer which will let you test for a frying temperature of approximately 375 degrees. Alternatively you might break off a tiny piece of tortilla to see if it sizzles when it hits the oil before you put your chimi in there. Fry those chimichangas, starting with the toothpick side up, until golden brown on the bottom. Turn and fry likewise on the other side. Drain on paper towels, remove the toothpicks, and serve immediately with your favorite sauce or salsa and sour cream as desired. Enjoy! Chapter Seventeen Macaroni and Cheese with Applesauce and Steamed Broccoli Question: what did yours truly and the legendary Princess Diana of Wales have in common? Well, aside from beauty, charm, and modesty we’re both celebrated in our intimate circles for our macaroni and cheese recipe. No doubt she used it frequently to soften someone up before attempting to further her political agenda at some cheesy aristocratic hot-dish suppers; and I’ll bet if she also baked her own bread, she probably came out a winner every time. Maybe she got so good at it because it was her favorite dish, or perhaps she learned it on a lark because it’s so easy, while there’s even an outside chance that it happened—like it did to me—while attempting to get calcium into kids reluctant to drink milk. The world will never know.... Or maybe it will.... Anyway, how long this meal takes to throw together depends on whether you intend to go all the way by making your own applesauce and baking your own bread. If you do the whole thing, plan on being in and out of the kitchen for about three hours; but if you take your bread and applesauce from storage or the groceteria, you can knock it all off in less than two. You can make the applesauce—which requires about an hour start to finish—way ahead of time. It really should cool down to room temperature before serving, and even tastes good when slightly chilled, so making it first and early in the day might be preferable if you have the time. Plus, it can be refrigerated for days, and frozen for weeks. Trust me, once you’ve forced yourself to stand over the sink and peel all those apples you’ll understand why people do it. Start with really fresh fruit, and you’re home free, while those on a budget should remember that bruised fruit which has been marked down at the farmer’s market just because somebody dropped it will work just fine in this case. And now, although those of you who’re actually reading through the whole book may be getting pretty tired of listening to me encourage you to bake bread, I’m nevertheless going to do it again: bake your own bread once in a while. It’s easy and you’ll love it. The recipe for French bread, of course, is back there in the chili chapter; and if you choose to bake it, please recall that timing may vary depending upon the room's air temperature. Or, the dinner rolls from the chicken parmesan chapter would also be pretty tasty in this situation—although the French bread can similarly be formed into rolls in any way you like. For instance, you could fill the cups of a greased muffin pan with 1-inch balls of dough, or you could just shape them like toads and lay them out on a sheet. However, should you choose to use bread from the bakery, freezer, or groceteria, put it into the oven next to the macaroni and cheese for about ten minutes to refresh it. Quantities this time are for four. Sequence of Events Start the applesauce. Next, those baking bread should mix up their dough, which then rises for about an hour, while the applesauce cooks. Meanwhile, assemble the macaroni and cheese and start it baking when the applesauce appears to be done. At this point it should also be time to shape the dough into loaves—letting them rise again while the macaroni and cheese bakes. When it comes out, the bread goes in, as you keep the main dish covered on top of the stove to keep it warm. When the bread’s done, return your casserole to the oven and let it briefly reheat on the lowest setting while the loaves cool and you steam the broccoli. Contrariwise, those skipping the bread-baking should start steaming their veggie after the casserole’s been in the oven for about 15 minutes. If you’re delayed for some reason, macaroni and cheese will wait in a slow oven for some time without too much damage, so this is a great meal for a night when you’re waiting for someone to make it through a blizzard and show up hungry. Yes, start steaming your veggie as soon as they get their coat off, and by the time they finish their inevitable weather and traffic report, your meal will be ready! Plus, you can freeze leftover macaroni and cheese in little foil packets that can be warmed up in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes—great things to have around for kids, or for nights when you drag yourself home from work reluctant to face the kitchen. Applesauce * 6 to 8 medium apples ¼ to ½ cup sugar * The apples can be any variety you enjoy, but as a rule: the sweeter they are, they juicier they will be, and therefore they’ll reduce a bit more when cooked, so you might want to throw in a couple more if yours are especially sweet. Plus, applesauce made from truly fresh and sweet fruit is almost insulted by the addition of sugar at all. Taste it after it’s been cooking for a while to see how it’s all turning out, and then add a little sugar if you find it lacking. * Peel, core, and chop the apples. Put them into a roomy saucepan, add water to half the depth of the apples, and stir in the possibly optional sugar. Cover and bring to a boil, and then cook over medium heat, uncovered— stirring occasionally—until the apples are soft. Mash them—leaving chunks if you wish—and continue to cook, stirring more frequently, until it’s the way you like it. Pour your applesauce into a serving dish, and cool it down a bit before refrigerating. If you’re going to make it well in advance—or in vast quantities for long-term storage— pour it piping hot into jars that you’re sure are absolutely clean; and you can basically sterilize them by filling them first with boiling water. Then, if you plan to freeze it, please remember that the apples themselves are really mostly water and correspondingly leave space at the top of the jar for expansion. Macaroni and Cheese Now for maximum efficiency in this case, one should begin by precooking the sturdy macaroni, which of course needs to be softened up a bit first to be ready for the task at hand. Meanwhile, you stand over the sultry cheese sauce, which needs especially careful handling to be brought to a slow boil.... Soon the two of them will be united in blissful union in a 1½ quart baking dish—or larger—because it’s going to bubble up a bit in there as it bakes, so don’t try to get by with a dish that’s filled right up to the top. If you don’t own this size casserole, you can really bake this stuff in any kind of pan, and if it isn’t truly non-stick you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by lining it with aluminum foil. Also, those new to pasta cooking may wish to obtain further enlightenment from the larger discussion of it back in the spaghetti chapter, but the main thing to remember here is that even simple elbows come in a wide variety of sizes, so boiling times will depend upon your selection. * 8 ounces, dry elbow macaroni 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 2 cups milk ¾ pound sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small pieces 1 cup fresh bread crumbs * Put 8 cups of water into your largest kettle and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the macaroni, cover, and return to a boil. Remove the cover, simmer and time according to package directions minus a couple of minutes, because it will of course soon be finishing up in the oven. Therefore one must cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender. Drain your pasta into a colander, rinse it quickly under hot water, and return it to the still-warm saucepan to await the cheese sauce. Cheese Sauce * Melt the butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Blend the flour into the butter with a wire whisk, scrapping the bottom and sides with a heatproof rubber spatula—something that I couldn’t survive a day in the kitchen without. Add the milk, gradually, whisking until smooth. Turn up the heat to medium and cook—whisking or scraping the sides of the pan constantly—until it just begins to bubble. Don't let it boil. Turn the heat as low as it will go, and whisk in the cheese until melted. Final Assembly * Preheat the oven to 350 degrees; and remember, if you’re baking bread at this time the oven will be at 400, and you’ll need to turn it down. Combine the macaroni and the cheese sauce in the saucepan you used for the pasta, and then pour it all into the baking dish. Cover the top completely with fresh breadcrumbs. Bake, uncovered, in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes until very bubbly and golden brown; but if you find that your schedule is off, turn the oven all the way down when you first see signs of bubbling and browning, and it’ll wait in there for a long time if necessary. Steamed Broccoli Now those of you inexperienced with steaming vegetables may care to read my hopefully helpful elaboration on this subject in reference to green beans back at the end of the chicken with peaches chapter. Otherwise, proceed as follows. * Wash your veggie, trash the lower stems, split the secondary stems and cut the larger flowerets in half until you have uniform, bite-sized pieces. Place into a steamer basket inside a roomy saucepan, with water added almost up to the bottom of the steamer. Cover, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and steam for about 15 minutes, until it’s bright in color and fork-tender. Enjoy! Chapter Eighteen Roast Turkey, Stuffing. Almond Green Beans, and Ambrosia Of course, like so many before and after me, I learned the fine art of turkey-roasting from my mom, who’s so good at it that my big brother was often driven mildly insane with anticipation—beginning his fast well ahead of time in preparation for our Thanksgiving feast. No doubt he now personally supervises the preparation of this bountiful bird—yielding precious leftovers, which he may then hide under the bed until the guests have gone; and I tell you this tragic story to make it plain that if you undertake this recipe, you can’t hold me responsible for any psychiatric fees incurred as a result. Now my sweet peach of a mother used to buy the biggest turkey on Planet Earth— staying up long after the dinner dishes were dry to stuff it, and then dragging herself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning in an awe-inspiring display of familial devotion to start the roasting, in order to have it hit the table by mid-afternoon; and so you see, party- perfect timing simply depends upon the size of your bird, which should be roasted at 325 degrees according to this basic timetable. * 25 minutes/pound for stuffed birds up to 6 pounds 20 minutes/pound for stuffed birds over 6 pounds 5 minutes/pound less for unstuffed birds * Please remember that these times are necessarily approximate, and that you must add about half and hour in terms of when dinner will actually hit the table, because turkey profits from standing a bit before being sliced. After it comes out of the oven you’ll be whipping up the gravy and steaming the beans while it collects itself. Also of course, there’s no such thing as a six-pound turkey, so the chart in this case would apply to those roasting only a turkey breast; while when pondering just how big a bird to purchase, once must consider the company. Convention holds at a pound per person without leftovers, but I myself once served what I thought was a nice big bird to a couple of really, really hungry young men, and the leftovers I was expecting to make their lunch out of the next day were nowhere to be seen once they’d laid waste to the thing.... So it’s your call; and when only roasting the breast I usually place it on top of the stuffing in a foil-lined pan, wrap the foil up around the sides to protect and exposed meat outside the skin, and resign myself to making a somewhat less satisfying gravy without drippings. Even if you bake the stuffing separately for about an hour in a buttered baking dish—which you should also do with whatever wont’ fit inside a whole bird—you still won’t find much in the bottom of the pan to use for gravy. Tip for beginners: don't even think about turning up the oven to speed everything up. Patience is the only road when roasting anything, and if you think that you’ve really messed up the timing, everything but the beans—and possibly the guests—will wait until that bird is brown. Contrariwise, if you think your turkey’s almost done, but nobody’s made it through traffic yet, you can just turn the oven off and leave it in there for some time. The gravy can be kept similarly warm over very low heat, stirring it occasionally. Just don’t start steaming the beans until everyone’s ready to come to the table, and then all will be well.... Take a chill pill, Phil—after all, if you’re going to the trouble to do this in the first place, it’s probably some sort of special occasion, so try to relax when it comes to that enormous fowl that by now seems ever-present on your mental desktop. And in this spirit of trying to enjoy it you also want to make the ambrosia as early as possible—preferably the night before—and not only so it can be off your mind, but also so it can set up, as the flavors synergistically merge. Plus, even a chimp could put it together in ten minutes, so it’s just a matter of remembering to do it. Also, I thought about including mashed potatoes in this meal because I think many will expect them to be there, but the stuffing has always been enough for my taste. However, if you want them, just look at the fluffy-whips recipe in the meatloaf chapter, and then only take it as far as whipping the taters—leaving out the twice-baked part. If you decide to do this it won’t affect your timetable very much, and they too can stay warm over a slow burner while your turkey reaches perfection.... And finally: a brief, non-humorous, safety lecture, since you've got to be especially on guard against spoilage with turkey, both before and after dinner. If it’s frozen, thaw it in the refrigerator if you can, which will take a couple of days at least, depending on its weight, just how frozen it actually is, how cold your fridge is, etc. If you can't do that, thaw it immersed in cold water—changing the water frequently. Just don't let it sit around on a countertop at room temperature. Then, roast it immediately after you stuff it, because nasty microorganisms think poultry stuffing is paradise; and at this point you may be wondering about the fact that my mother put her stuffed turkey in the fridge, went to bed for a few hours, started roasting it at sunrise, and nobody died, so why am I still telling you to roast immediately? Well let’s simply say that I’ve read enough warnings to feel obliged to tell you that she might’ve just been lucky.... After dinner, wrap any leftover stuffing in foil—separately from the turkey—and it’ll keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Reheat it in the foil in a moderate oven for about thirty minutes, while you mix the turkey and the gravy together in a saucepan, cover it, and bring your yummy leftovers to a simmer over low heat. While this is happening you could steam up another veggie, find the last of the ambrosia that you hid in the vegetable crisper, and soon you’ll have almost an instant replay of yesterday’s fantastic feast. Of course you can make other things like a sandwich out of the turkey, but whatever you envision, it's best to put safety first by taking it off the bone and properly wrapping it up right away. Sequence of Events Make the ambrosia at least 12 hours in advance and refrigerate. About 30 minutes before roasting time, preheat the oven to 325 degrees while stuffing your turkey, and then start it roasting. One hour before dinner, prepare the beans for steaming and set the gravy ingredients by the stove. When the turkey tests done, remove it from the oven, and steam the beans while you make the gravy. Ambrosia * 2 large, 14 to 20 ounce cans pineapple chunks 2 large, 11 ounce cans mandarin oranges 1 cup shredded coconut 2 cups sour cream * Of course, if you have the energy and resources, fresh fruit is even better. This has now actually become a somewhat traditional recipe for many, coming to us from my husband’s childhood—a time when pulling off the trick of fresh fruit during turkey- roasting season was still often a luxury few could afford. As a matter of fact, should you remember this recipe from your childhood as well, while sensing the absence of something, I’ll now relieve you of the psychic pain of an unanswered riddle by telling you that this yummy ambrosia used to have miniature marshmallows in it, at which point I felt compelled to draw a line.... So anyway, all you do is drain off and discard the liquid from the fruit, mix everything together, and refrigerate tightly covered—preferably overnight—so it can set up: another ambiguous cooking phrase, meaning in this case that the fruit juices have plenty of time to seep into the coconut while chemically becoming one with the sour cream, etc.... Serve in little bowls—or right on the plate if you don't mind a bit of run-off mingling with the rest of the meal. You know, my husband feels quite strongly that a holiday meal without a properly prepared vat of ambrosia may not actually be a holiday at all, so I never forget how much is riding on my remembering to do this the night before. Weeks ahead of time I write myself a series of helpful notes, leaving them stuck to conspicuous objects like the refrigerator and my toothbrush. It being nearly October, I probably ought to go write myself one right now.... Basic Bread Stuffing for a Mid-sized Turkey * 6 tablespoons butter 2 cups chopped celery 1 cup chopped onion 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon dried sage 1 teaspoon dried thyme ½ teaspoon dried marjoram ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg 8 to 10 cups day-old bread, torn into small pieces * Now if you don’t own a stock of relatively expensive herbs and spices—with no wish to acquire one—the cheaper alternative of 1 tablespoon poultry seasoning + the salt and pepper will be perfectly acceptable in this case; while if you’re fortunate enough to have fresh herbs available, double their quantities. Melt the butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. When it begins to sizzle, add the celery and onion, and stir-fry about 5 minutes, until the celery’s color brightens and the onion’s translucent. Turn off the heat, stir in the seasonings and then add this mixture to the bread pieces—letting the stuffing cool down before proceeding, while you preheat the oven and prepare the poultry. Wash your turkey, inside and out, and pat it dry. There’s likely to be giblets in the body cavity, which I generally put into a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer for an hour—an optional step, which yields a nutritious broth that also adds flavor to the gravy. Pour it through a strainer into a measuring cup and trash the solid remains. Put most of the stuffing into the large body cavity of the turkey and the rest into the wishbone end. Don't pack it too tightly, because it’ll expand a bit; and while opinions vary when it comes to tying the legs together, tucking the wings under or tying them to the body, sewing or skewering the openings closed, I now confess to almost never doing any of it. For one thing, I don’t care if it looks photogenic on the table, while I’ve come to suspect that letting everything hang loose might actually help the heat reach the denser dark meat down there toward the bottom. However, Mom did it, so perhaps I’m just in denial about being lazy; although—now that I think about it—maybe it’s really all about that little bit of stuffing at the opening that gets all crunchy and inviting, which I now realize I probably subliminally wait to grab as my secret reward, as I myself succumb to the creeping family dementia.... And I guess this means that if I turn up missing, it’ll probably be because the cooking police have finally come for me. Go figure. Place your stuffed bird into a roomy foil-lined baking pan with pretty high sides and, preferably, easy-to-grab handles—due of course to the heftiness factor, because the main thing is to be completely comfortable manipulating something that’ll soon become as hot, heavy, and dangerous as spring romance. Some people start with it upside down to increase the keeping-the-white-meat-juicy factor, but although I often do this with a chicken, flipping that enormous turkey when it’s red-hot is on my list of things where I choose to pass in spite of my never-ending quest for cuisine. As a matter of fact, this may actually be the trickiest part of the whole meal; and if your turkey’s especially large, you might want to put a wide, long, and doubled strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil underneath it before you first set it into your roasting pan, and then you’ll have something to grab on to when it’s time to lift it back out. Also not essential is the conventional practice of roasting something large on a rack placed inside your pan, but it does come highly recommended, since it makes for the most even of browning. Your finished bird’s eventual removal will go more smoothly as well, while all those precious drippings you need for the gravy will be rendered easily accessible down below. However, if you don't own a pan and a rack that’ll work together, don't worry too much about it—just be sure to hold that turkey up over the pan for a while and let it drip before you put it on a platter. Brush the skin lightly, but completely, with melted butter or oil, and then baste it every half hour or so during the roasting by brushing it with drippings from the pan—especially if you’re looking forward to eating the skin—although some turkeys are self-basting and don't require this step. However, this whole basting procedure is something that’s yet again not absolutely essential, and if you were to forget about it entirely, dinner would not be ruined. People do this primarily to combat the principal issue of turkey roasting, which is keeping the low-fat white meat from drying out near the surface before the denser dark meat is done, while the interior stuffing must reach 165 degrees for safety purposes. Another tip for beginners: in my humble opinion you can’t completely encase roasting poultry with something like foil in an effort to keep it juicy because one ends up steaming it instead, which is fine I guess, but not exactly the experience I seek. However, with turkey the top usually gets too brown and threatens to dry up the breast before the dark meat tests done, so one covers it loosely with a tent of foil once it looks appetizing; and if there appears to be a really big difference between the top and the bottom of your bird, maybe it’s not really in the center of the oven. Roast that bird, uncovered, according to the timetable; and while many high-tech turkeys now come with pop-up timers that are certainly helpful, I feel that they’re not infallible. There’s many classic tests for doneness—like moving the drumstick around a little to see if it gives easily—but the best thing by far is to invest in a meat thermometer. When you begin to suspect it’s time, you insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone, and then you wait until the internal temperature reaches 185 degrees, while some put the thermometer deep into the stuffing and wait for 165. Carefully lift the turkey onto the serving platter, and then use the drippings for making gravy. Mom taught me to do this right in the roasting pan itself on top of a burner, but these days I line my pan with foil for easy cleanup and do it in a saucepan instead. Gravy * ½ cup fat + ½ cup flour + 4 cups liquid = 4 cups gravy Salt and pepper to taste * Multiply this formula as needed, depending upon the number of people at the table. You’ll need a minimum of ½ cup gravy per person, so if you’re serving eight gravy lovers or crave leftovers, you still might want to double the recipe. Of course, in this case, fat means what you’ll clearly see rise to the top when you pour the drippings from your roasting pan into a glass measuring cup. The precious essence of turkey that lies below it becomes part of the liquid, which will be even tastier if added to broth that came from simmering the giblets rather than just plain water; and if you like creamy gravy, enhance it further by using milk for part of the liquid as well. Some people actually use chicken broth for some of the liquid, but I’m not much for mixing metaphors and would only do this in the breast-with-no-drippings scenario, where I’d also be forced to use butter. Some prefer to use cornstarch instead of flour, which should first be dissolved until smooth in a bit of water before it’s added to the pan; while I go easy on the salt and would tell you to think in terms of up to 1 teaspoon. * Put your measured fat into a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and blend well with a whisk, scrapping the bottom and sides periodically with a spatula—a heatproof rubber spatula, I once again remind beginners. Add the liquid slowly, whisking constantly. Bring to a boil—whisking and scrapping—for about 3 minutes until it thickens. You may notice shiny ribbons of fat running through the mixture which will disappear when it’s finally come together. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper if you wish—perhaps adding a pinch of whatever you put into the stuffing as well. Lower the heat as far as it will go, stir that gravy occasionally until you’re ready to serve, and make it the last thing to hit the table. While if someone’s going to be delayed for a very long time, turn the heat off entirely and just keep it covered until you resume. Green beans Now in this recipe the beans are first partially steamed, and those with limited experience with this technique might benefit from the more detailed discussion of it back in the chicken with peaches chapter. Then they’re finished up in a bit of butter; but if you think that adding any more fat to this meal may just kill you, steam them for twenty minutes, season them with salt and pepper, and then simply sprinkle on the almonds that have been briefly toasted in a small pan in the oven. * 1 pound green beans 2 to 4 tablespoons butter ½ cup slivered or sliced almonds * Wash the beans, remove the ends, and cut them into one-inch pieces. You can also go even further and split them lengthwise in the French style, which is more trouble, but there’s reason people bother to do it. Put them into a steamer basket in a roomy saucepan with enough water to come to just under the bottom of the basket. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and cook only 5 to 10 minutes until the color brightens and they’re just tender when tested with a fork. Melt the butter over medium heat in another saucepan. When it begins to sizzle, add the almonds and stir constantly, until they just begin to turn color. Toss in the beans, continue cooking in the same manner for about 2 minutes, and serve immediately. Happy Holidaze! Chapter Nineteen Mushroom and Cheese Omelets Now in our tiny universe, no one eats breakfast at the same time anymore, but we still love those eggs, so about once a month—one of those semi-comatose, hard day’s nights when nobody really even wants to walk erect, much less cook—well, we go get some nice, fresh bagels and make omelets for dinner. Yes, if you ask me, since the dawn of time the humble—yet somehow elegant— omelet has had it all: cheap, easy, fast, relatively healthy, goes with almost anything a human being could toast.... A caveman classic—cuisine truly within the capability of even the lowest of sapient primates; while the reason that I say relatively healthy is that I really can’t remember anymore whether eggs are supposed to be good for you or not. I’m old enough now to have seen opinion change so many times that I just no longer pay all that much attention.... Also—as we all know—most people actually eat their omelets in the morning, and when we do this I usually leave out the mushrooms, since the finger food destined to be on the plate along with it will most likely contain something sweet. For instance, an omelet goes really, really well with the cinnamon rolls to be found further on in this book. Mushroom and Cheese Omelet * ¼ cup grated cheese of choice 2 medium mushrooms 1 teaspoon butter 3 eggs 1 tablespoon water a pinch of salt 1 teaspoon butter * Now those who possess precious and well-seasoned cast-iron cookware or high-tech, truly non-stick pans might theoretically eliminate all of the butter entirely for dietary reasons, although—in my opinion—eggs done like this lack a certain characteristic, crusty flavor without it. On the other hand, if your utensil is worn or antique, you might actually need to increase the butter to prevent sticking. Ditto the salt, which can go entirely for diners with health issues, while those who especially love it may find my pinch inadequate. Plus, you can substitute something else for the mushrooms or add to them: maybe a little chopped green onion, or red sweet pepper, or whatever you can imagine; while of course one’s inner chef also gets to begin this whole adventure by playing fast and loose with the wide, wide world of cheeses. * Grate your cheese of choice, and set it aside. Wash, dry, and slice the mushrooms very thin. Melt the first teaspoon of butter in your pan and sauté the mushrooms until they begin to brown. Remove them from the heat and set aside; and if you don’t own an actual omelet pan, just use a medium frying pan about 8 to 10 inches in diameter. Mix the eggs, water, and salt together lightly, but completely with a fork, whisk, or spatula. I myself really enjoy almost over-doing this part with my Aunt Phoebe’s going- on-one-hundred-years-old egg-beater, which still works perfectly. I just love finding reasons to use it.... Melt the butter over medium-high heat—making sure to spread it all around until it coats the bottom of your pan and just begins to sizzle—and then pour in the eggs; and if you time this correctly they won’t stick, no matter what sort of pan you’re using. Beginner tip: never put the heat under any kind of eggs until the toast is also underway, because they require a quick, light touch at the very last minute to be truly magnificent. However, never fear: this omelet will still be edible should your toddler suddenly decide to chase the cat through the mud outside the kitchen door, and then you have to warm it back up some considerable time later.... Once your omelet begins to have a firm foundation, start slightly shaking or moving the pan around—so that the unset egg on top is distributed evenly—until it’s almost completely cooked. Distribute the mushrooms all over those eggs, followed by the grated cheese. Carefully loosen the entire circumference of your omelet, which should just be starting to brown underneath. Then carefully place your spatula under one side and gently fold it over—toward the middle, but not quite in half—while I have to admit that I don’t have a clue what the point is to not folding it neatly in half, but suspect that it may all be about presentation. Go figure. However, it may instead be all about interesting cuisine, because you should end up with a lopsided semi-circle, encasing the last of the almost-cooked eggs, which ends up giving your omelet the creamy texture in the center that forms the basis of its character. Turn off the heat, butter that toast, and then slide—rather than lift—your omelet onto the plate next to it. Serve immediately, if not sooner. Repeat this process as necessary, since quantities here—I imagine you’ve already figured out—are for one. Enjoy! Chapter Twenty French Toast, Strawberry Jam, and Sausage Now of course French Toast is really just your standard eggs and toast in a more sweetly beguiling disguise—should one be needed—and I’m thinking primarily about those of you out there who for one reason or another are begging skeptical children to eat some eggs. It’s also a bit more elegant, some might say—should sophistication be your desire; and it can wait around for a little while—in the oven, on its lowest setting—if your schedule is uncertain, where many other breakfast dishes are not so versatile. The easiest of the butter-and-syrup set, it’s is also great with fresh fruit, preserves of any kind, or even old-fashioned cinnamon-sugar—made by mixing ½ cup granulated sugar with 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon—but because it’s spring, I’m slathering this toast with fresh homemade strawberry jam. Which reminds me: another great thing about this recipe is that you can keep the fat at next to nothing, if you wish, when your pan or griddle is truly non-stick. If your cooking surface isn’t non-stick you’ll have to be sure to brush it with melted butter whenever you start a new slice, and there are those who’d say that this traditional buttery taste is what French Toast is all about, so make your choice. The confection you see pictured here is indeed being prepared in my nifty new high-tech pan, but I brushed a little butter on it anyway to achieve the aforementioned flavor enhancement. Plus, this is a breakfast that whips up fast in about thirty minutes, depending upon your experience. If you choose to include the sausage in your menu, start it first, so it can cook slowly and thoroughly while you concentrate on the main dish. Quantities are for two big, or three small, primates. Helpful tip: serve yourself last, after all is done, or you’ll have to keep leaping up during your meal to tend the toast. Keep your share of the sausage warm in the oven on its lowest setting, make sure your beverage is fresh before you lay on the last slices, and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses—or whatever else may be in bloom today outside your kitchen window.... Sequence of Events Start the sausage, whether baking or frying. Meanwhile, assemble the French Toast ingredients within reach of the stove. Preheat your pan or griddle. Check on the sausage. If it seems nearly done, turn the heat all the way down. Start the French Toast—calling all breakfasters to the table while it’s cooking, because they’ll be happiest when this gift from heaven is coming straight off the griddle into their expectant clutches—a moment of triumph for you, where I highly recommend asking people for favors. Breakfast Sausage Now, while frying is the traditional method here, I’ve come to feel that baking is probably the healthiest way to go—especially if your sausage is pork-based—since more of the fat theoretically stays in the pan and out of your diet; so I’ll tell you how to do it both ways, and you can decide. Of course, you can also broil sausage, but because it involves such very high heat it can be more dangerous if you’re distracted, so I seldom feel it’s worth the trouble. * To Fry: Place about 6 oz. of sausage patties or links into a cold frying pan. If this pan isn’t non-stick you’ll have to turn the sausage over shortly after the pan’s really hot to prevent sticking, and then again halfway through the process. Put the pan over medium-low heat. The idea is to be able to ignore it for the most part while you do other things—in this case, you’ll be conjuring up the French Toast and preheating the griddle. In about 10 minutes they’ll be sizzling away and filling the air with the aroma of breakfast. Turn them over, lower the heat, and tend to the toast while they finish up. * To Bake: Lay the sausages on a rack in a shallow baking pan, and the best thing to do, if you can afford it, is to line your pan with aluminum foil—making clean-up so easy that you might actually be able to talk somebody else into doing it. Also, if your sausages are progressively low-fat, you probably won’t really need the rack, while the foil will help keep them from sticking. Place the pan into a cold oven, and then turn the heat to 400 degrees. Small amounts do well in toaster ovens. You should turn the meat once, about 10 minutes into it, to prevent sticking and promote even browning, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Bake 20 minutes, and then turn the oven down to warm, where it can wait on hold— if necessary—for quite some time. French Toast * 6 slices day-old bread, sliced about ½-inch thick 4 eggs 2 tablespoons sour cream * Now traditional versions are going to use milk or regular cream instead, while you can use just about any kind of bread on Mother Earth, but the loaf I felt I must use was your classic French Bread left over from last night. * Beat the eggs and sour cream together with a whisk or an eggbeater until completely blended. Be sure to use a roomy bowl, because soon you’ll be dipping bread slices into it. Preheat your griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. The cooking surface is ready when drops of water sprinkled on it dance about—admittedly an ambiguous statement, but that’s the standard way of describing it. If they appear to be vaporizing instead of dancing your surface is probably too hot, and you should lower the heat a notch and wait 5 minutes. Plus, remember: if your pan isn’t non-stick you need to melt a few tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan at this point, which will then be brushed on to your cooking surface every time you start a new piece of toast. Either that or you can do what I actually do most of the time, which is to hold a stick of butter by the wrapper, peel back part of the paper, and then simply run the end of the stick over the surface of the pan before laying on new slices. Safety tip: beginners may end up burning a slice or two before getting the picture, which means that they may also have some burned butter still clinging to their pans. If this happens to you, grab the handle with the most substantial potholder you own, carry your pan to the sink, and get ready to recoil from a hot steam bath when you wash it. Cleaning a griddle is even worse, so maybe you’ll get lucky, remember this paragraph, and be so careful that you’ll never burn anything.... Also, I feel that this is a clear example of my saving you lots of pain and suffering— serving in turn as a swell reason to buy several copies of this book to share with your friends, relatives—even strangers in the street, since what could possibly be a better way to serve your fellow man? Forget about donations to cancer clinics, this one’s a no-brainer.... Next—carefully using a fork—dip a slice of bread into the egg mixture—giving it a few seconds to absorb the liquid, before turning it over to coat the other side. Transfer this slice to your dancing cooking surface, and this step is where we really separate the humans from the lower primates, because if incorrectly executed your toast will fall apart. If the bread’s not substantial enough, or you let it soak in the mixture too long, it may not make it to the pan in one piece—which is why truly fresh bread doesn’t really work in this recipe. However, if this happens, just cook the pieces. Believe me, they’ll still taste great, which is, of course, the main thing. Grill those slices slowly—carefully peeking underneath after a couple of minutes, until you see that they’re golden brown—and then turn them to brown similarly; while once you’ve turned that toast, it’ll be done in a jiffy, so it’s time to call people to the table, who—unless devoid of a sense of smell—won’t be far away. Ah, the thrill of victory! Strawberry Jam * 4 cups fresh strawberries 4 cups granulated sugar * That’s it: just fruit and sugar. There’s no pectin to help it gel up, there’s no lemon juice.... Of course, the only reason I leave all that out is because I’m not intending to preserve it, but rather to only whip up a batch while the fruit’s at its peak, and then keep it in the refrigerator for a few weeks to provide enhancement to lots of other things, like a bagel sitting next to an omelet, etc.. No, now that I’m old and living in California—the land of the near-perpetual strawberry—I no longer preserve vast quantities in keeping with my family’s farm-based tradition, but I used to do it as a matter of course—initially actually sealing my jam with paraffin as I was taught when a child. However, eventually I traded up to water-bath preservation upon inheriting a canner, and if you want to learn the finer points of it all you might wish to do what I do—just like my mother, and her mother before us—which is to consult the good folks at the Ball Company—provider of lids, exotic recipes, and even altitude charts. * Wash, dry, and hull those strawberries. Place them in a roomy saucepan or small kettle—they’re going to boil up considerably pretty soon. Mash them with a potato masher, or perhaps the back of a wooden spoon—or just pick them up and crush them by hand, which is not pretty, but nevertheless effective, while possibly therapeutic. Stir in the sugar—and now I also confess that if my berries are really fresh and sweet, sometimes I cut the sugar back a little bit. The older I get, the more conventional recipes often strike me as too sweet, while the delicate balance of preservation or resulting thickness isn’t an issue for me in this case. Plus, for French toast, I usually like jam a little thinner, which I like to think helps it spread all over without using sinfully excessive blobs of the stuff. Cover the pot and bring this mixture to a rolling boil over medium heat. Remove the cover, lower the heat a notch or two, and cook the jam, stirring—almost constantly toward the end—until it thickens up to your liking. It’s going to thicken up a lot more as it cools, and I usually watch the color as much as any thing else. It needs to be nice and dark for a well-blended jam. Skim off the pink foam that rises to the top as it boils, but also remember that this is largely for cosmetic purposes, and so don’t be worried about the little bit that you can’t seem to get.... Ladle your jam into truly clean jars while still hot, and seal those lids on tight. They don’t have to be real canning jars like what you see here unless you’re going to go all the way, but it’s not a bad idea in terms of investment if you plan to do this sort of thing a lot, since with good jars you can be absolutely sure that all will be cool in the fridge the way you intend. Plus—even though I’m only shooting for short-term storage, I often pour boiling water into my jars to semi-sterilize them first for added protection, since it’s such a simple precaution to take. Enjoy! Chapter Twenty-One Cinnamon Rolls And now: a more complicated selection from the what-goes-with-warm-beverages category; and while I just had to put this recipe in here because my family loves them to distraction, I warn you that dealing with dough can at first be intimidating; so I’m not going to pretend that this is easy, which is why I’m not encouraging you to cook anything else in conjunction with it. Just keep telling yourself that until recently plenty of people routinely baked their own bread, and they weren’t all rocket scientists. It might take a little time and practice to turn out a decent cinnamon roll, but it’s not particularly difficult to understand. Yes, when learning about bread—as with anything baked in your home sweet home —it's important to remember that unless you make a truly colossal mistake, your end result—while perhaps not too visually appealing—will probably still taste light years beyond anything you can go out and buy, unless you have the good fortune to live five minutes from a bakery and plan to pound on its door at sunrise. Plus, there’s that wonderful build-up, where everyone in the house becomes intoxicated by the smell of it baking.... And so I feel free to assure you that this is all going to be worth it. You're going to end up with about a dozen of these delicacies, while you should expect this glorious process to take anywhere from two to four hours depending upon your experience and the weather. Yeast loves warmth, and in the heat of summer bread will rise like crazy; but in the winter, one must put it in a warm spot, and it’ll still take its own sweet time—especially a heavy dough like this. As a matter of fact, if you wish, you can mix and knead it the night before—putting it into a very large, covered bowl, followed by the refrigerator, where it’ll rise slowly while you sleep. You still have to get up with the sun—to set it out on the countertop, where it must warm back up before you can work with it—but you can then return to dreamland for about an hour as it does so; while if you oversleep, only to discover that it’s metamorphosed into some sort of alien blob—tumbling out of the bowl and on to the countertop—you can probably just knead it all back into itself and proceed anyway, unless it’s already crept all the way to the floor, where it now appears to be walking erect and straight toward you—having already made short work of the toaster.... Also, I suppose you could substitute honey for the sugar in the dough without many problems, but if you use oil instead of the solid fat—or whole-wheat for even part of the flour—your rolls just aren’t going to be the soft and tender treat most people will be expecting. While if you feel an almost dutiful need for fiber, you might throw in a couple tablespoons of wheat germ, but let’s face it: these things are for celebratory mornings— not just because they take forever to make, but also because they’re full of sugar and fat, which is of course what makes them so tasty.... Well, I plan to eat them once in a while anyway as part of my continuing effort to die happy. May God have mercy on us all! Amen. Sweet-Dough * ¼ cup very warm water (not hot: about 110 degrees) 1/3 cup sugar 1 tablespoon = 1 package dry yeast ¾ cup barely warm milk 1 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup softened butter, or shortening 1 egg 3 to 4 cups bread or unbleached all-purpose flour * In a large bowl, dissolve one tablespoon sugar in the water, and then just sprinkle the yeast all over the surface of it. Let it sit undisturbed for 5 to 10 minutes until it has a foamy appearance, which is of course called proofing: making sure the yeast comes back to life from its dormant state; and when you buy yeast, be sure to check the expiration date, lest it be more than just dormant. If you've never done this before, keep watch or you’ll miss the cool part where it suddenly explodes into growth. Add the rest of the ingredients except the flour. Mix well. You can do this part with an electric mixer if you like, but eventually—unless your appliance has a dough hook—you're going to have to put some muscle into it. Purists generally say to mix it with a spoon, but I confess to using a fork when producing small quantities. No doubt, the pastry police will soon arrive at my door. Add 1½ cups flour, and beat very well, until smooth and elastic. Continue to add flour until the dough forms a ball. You want to keep it in the bowl until it’s not too sticky. Knead the dough on a well- floured surface for about 10 minutes until it no longer wants to stick to your hands; and if you’re new to kneading, perhaps you’ll find enlightenment in my attempt to explain it in the middle of the French bread recipe—way back at the beginning, in the chili chapter. Let your dough rise for as long as 2 hours, depending upon atmospheric conditions; while some may recall from the sandwich roll recipe—to be found at the base of a chicken parmesan sub—that because this kind of dough’s so rich and heavy, rising can take some time when the room’s cool; and if this is the case, cover it with a warm, moist towel as well, while looking around for something like a sunny shelf to park it on. Unfortunately, this can be especially tricky during the depths of winter, when one is of course most likely to crave these particular goodies we’re dealing with here. However, some of you may also recall from my kneading chat that—although a turned-off, draft-free oven might seem the perfect spot for this sort of coziness—I can tell you from experience that if you get distracted to the point that your dough actually spills out of the bowl, you’ll soon be confronted with one of the biggest messes you’ve ever seen.... Remember to add ten pain points if your bowl is plastic, your room-mate doesn’t know it’s in there, and so she just routinely turns on the oven for some reason, only to open the gates of hell.... So it’s best to find someplace where nobody—including the cat—is likely to go. Filling * 4 tablespoons softened butter 1/3 cup granulated sugar 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon * Take the butter out of the fridge as soon as you set the dough to rise, so that it’ll be nice and spreadable for this next step. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon. An easy way to do it is to put them in a closed glass jar and shake it. Make a fist and punch into the center of the dough to deflate it. Remove it from the bowl and knead as much air out of it as possible. You may need a little more flour on your countertop as you do this step and the next, but try not to use any more than you need to prevent sticking. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes to relax the gluten for easier shaping, while lightly coating your shiniest baking sheet with shortening or unsalted butter. However, life will be much sweeter if you can afford parchment paper. Knead the dough a bit more, and then roll it out into a thin rectangle: about 12"x15". It’s important to do this gently: stretching the dough without tearing it. Turn it over at least once after it begins to flatten out, dusting the work-surface with flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Use a small spatula to spread the softened butter over the entire rectangle. Sprinkle it with the cinnamon-sugar. Roll the dough up—as though it’s a towel—carefully from the 12” side, pinching the edge together with the body of the dough to seal it. Roll this tasty log around a bit to relax it, while also letting it a get little shorter to achieve uniformity from end to end. Cut into about 12 slices about ½ inch thick, and space them evenly apart on your baking sheet. I do this with my pastry scraper—a thin square of metal about 3”x4” that’s attached to a wooden handle—that I would be reluctant to live without. Wait for the second rise: at least 30 minutes; while you’ve got to be patient at this point and give those rolls the time they need to double in size—even if some frighteningly hungry horde hovering nearby appears to be on the brink of fresh-baked- goods-fever—since these monuments to classic cuisine absolutely must be light to bake and taste correctly. Once they’ve nearly doubled, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and then bake on the center rack until they’re golden brown: about 15 minutes. Watch them carefully —once again because this is a relatively dense dough, and so there’s a pretty fine line between when the center’s done and the bottom’s burned. Unless your baking sheets are in great shape, the bottom’s probably going to be darker than the top, so once again I say these magic words to you: parchment paper, which will make your rolls act like that sheet’s almost brand new.... Let them cool about 10 minutes before you try to ice them or eat them. However, if the aforementioned hungry horde has been circling, my advice is to waive the ten- minute rule and just get out of their way—grabbing the best-looking one for yourself on the fly. You’ve earned it! Icing * 1½ cups confectioner's sugar + 2 tablespoons milk * Mix this up and drizzle on to taste; while when in mixed company I put it into an attractive bowl and place it on the table, where people can spoon it on and have it their way. Now, wasn't that worth all the trouble? Chapter Twenty-Two Strawberry Shortcake Well, the first thing we should clear up in this chapter is that—just like Boston cream pie is really a cake—this traditional favorite is also technically not a cake, but rather an enormous biscuit. Go figure. That said, this is a fine thing to make for a special spring or summer dinner where you’re aiming for classic elegance. The great thing about working with fresh fruit is that the rest of the dessert is just a frame for Mother Nature’s already splendid picture, and for maximum effect I advise eating it outdoors, at sunset, on the first truly warm evening in May.... This is easy to pull off at a party, because another other great thing about this swell sweetie is that so much of it can be made well in advance. You can slice the berries, sugar them lightly if necessary, and refrigerate them for a few hours. You can prepare the biscuit dough to the point of oven readiness, refrigerate it, and then just pop the pan into the oven to achieve the desired classic and dramatically warm contrast with the whipped cream at serving time. Shortcake needs to be warm if possible—not just for theatrical purposes, but also because biscuit dough always tastes best right out of the oven. Also, the whipped cream can oh-so-conveniently be made before the party starts and stored in the fridge if necessary, but of course it’s at its peak when freshly whipped, so the best of all scenarios is to make it as soon as your shortcake emerges from the oven. Strawberries * 1 quart = 2 pints = 2 small groceteria baskets of fresh strawberries ¼ to ½ cup granulated sugar, optional * Wash and dry them, remove the stems, and slice. Now, if your berries aren’t in prime condition they may benefit from being mixed with a little sugar—the amount being dependent upon their sweetness—but if they’re really fresh, you shouldn’t need to use any at all. However, there are fans of this dessert who feel that the juices generated when strawberries meet sugar are an essential part of the experience—adding it to even the finest of fruits, which then metamorphose while the shortcake bakes into something that will not only top their expectant biscuit, but soak into it as well.... You be the judge. Shortcake This is a biscuit dough that’s a little heavier on sugar and lighter on fat than the one you’ll find in the chicken with peaches chapter; while if you want to roll and cut it into individual biscuits, I refer you back there for instruction. I used to go to this trouble in pursuit of perfection until my son told me he actually preferred it this way—a win-win for yours truly, since doing it like this is really easy. * 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon salt 4 teaspoons baking powder 1/3 cup shortening or softened butter 2/3 cup milk * In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder with a fork—although actually going to the trouble to sift them together is always best. For instance, if your biscuits come out with little brown spots, it may be because the baking powder’s not evenly distributed. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture with a pastry blender—a relatively inexpensive tool comprised of a handle with several U-shaped wires suspended from it. It you don't have one, use two table knives to cut through the shortening and into the flour by rubbing their surfaces together until the mixture resembles cornmeal—and you may recall from the other biscuit recipe that I find this traditional description inadequate, yet am at a pathetic loss for words that can do better.... Working quickly, stir the milk into the flour mixture with the fork until well blended. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface, just until it comes together; and I attempt to describe the kneading process in detail back in the French bread recipe in the chili chapter, should you seek instruction; but it’s important to remember that in this case you don’t want to work this slightly sticky dough any more than necessary to reach relative uniformity. You’re not trying to develop the glutenous qualities of the flour into an inflatable balloon like when kneading bread. No, in this case, over-kneading will instead result in your classic rubber biscuit. Cultivating a light and rapid touch results in the least amount of extra flour being taken on, and a correspondingly light texture in your shortcake. Pat the dough evenly into an 8-inch cake pan that’s been lined with parchment paper or lightly brushed with shortening. If your pan’s truly non-stick, you may not even need the paper or the shortening, but when using cake pans I advise caution. Preheat the oven the 450 degrees—which, by the way, is hot enough to set off your smoke alarm if you’ve been negligent about cleaning up whatever might’ve previously oozed out onto the oven floor—something that will kill your elegant atmosphere even more quickly than appearing before guests with confectioner’s sugar all over your outfit because you opened the window to let the smoke out, and then tried to pour powdered sugar into the whipped cream while standing in a stiff breeze.... Bake 15 minutes until it’s very lightly browned. Cool it in the pan on a wire rack for a few minutes while you whip the cream. Now theoretically at this point—if you’re clever and want something beautiful to carry to the table—you can forget about the warm-biscuit-meets-cool-cream thrill and instead carefully split a well-made, completely-cooled shortcake into two layers with a large knife, put a layer of strawberries in the middle, and the cream on top. I myself have yet to go to this trouble, and so wish you luck.... Plus, I’m so very fortunate as to be able to say that once anything smelling like a biscuit comes out of the oven in my kitchen, there’s usually someone nearby who’s not all that interested in letting it cool off long enough to contemplate even the most beautiful of culinary creations. Whipped Cream Time now to discuss something that finds its way into almost everyone’s dessert recipe sooner or later, and this formula below will make plenty for four people, which is also enough to fill and top a cake, or cover a couple of pies. And for the very best of results, everything involved needs to stay nice and cold, so you’ll find it helpful to put your beaters and a large mixer bowl into the freezer for about ½ hour ahead of time. * 2 cups = 1 pint heavy whipping cream approximately ½ cup confectioner’s sugar, to your taste * Pour the cream into the bowl and beat on medium speed at first so that the cream doesn't spatter. As it begins to thicken, turn the mixer up to high. Once it starts to hold its shape, add the sugar gradually on medium speed, and then turn the mixer back up to finish it off. Refrigerate, of course, until serving-time. * Now, when I was young I whipped cream by hand with Aunt Phoebe’s eggbeater, but as soon as I could, I traded up. Not only was I getting enough exercise chasing toddlers, but you just can’t get cream that holds its shape for very long without machinery unless you’re Napoleon’s athletic chef— whisking away in a perhaps desperate search for something that will impress even the most demanding of diners.... Plus, don’t think you can pull this off with a small bowl or you’ll get an even bigger surprise than the one that’s in store for you if you throw in too much powdered sugar too fast with the beaters still on high speed. Remember to add ten pain points if an open window’s letting in a nice breeze, and another ten if you’re wearing your favorite outfit or trying to impress your mother-in-law. Chapter Twenty-Three Chocolate Chip Cookies A classic recipe and crowd pleaser, this one’s special for me too, since it was the very first thing I ever did in the kitchen all by my little self. Believe me, if I could do it way back then, you can do it too. I still remember the enormous mess I usually made…. However, if all goes well, it’ll take the inexperienced about two hours to make them —less if you have the self-control of a chimpanzee and are therefore dumb enough to eat a lot of the dough right out of the bowl. This is, of course, a bad idea on a multitude of levels, and I speak once again from personal adolescent experience. Ah, memories! Plus, not only are these treats easy and popular, but if you have a strong arm and a wooden spoon to match they can actually be made without machinery; and unless your mixer’s heavy-duty, you’ll have to add the last of the flour mixture by hand anyway, because this cookie dough is just so thick, and so rich, and so.... Don’t start eating it! What did I just tell you? Now, because this dough tastes so good from beginning to end, it may also be about the easiest thing in the book in terms of timing, since the only way you can really end up with something inedible is if you burn them; so prepare your baking sheets properly, remember that timing is everything, and all should be well. Also please remember that parchment paper’s expensive, but is especially helpful when cookware’s no longer new and shiny. Otherwise, coat your baking surface lightly with butter or shortening by using a pastry brush, the corner of a paper towel, or two fingers. Substituting oil just won’t work; while if you think your nice new baking sheets are truly non-stick, you may not need to do anything, but be careful. Whether or not a cookie needs a greased surface to keep it from cementing to the sheet depends on its fat content—something that’s deliciously high here, so you’ll probably be fine. Plus, when laying the dough out on the sheet, fat content also determines how much it’ll melt down and spread. Also, the chopped nuts in this recipe are of course completely optional. As a matter of fact, once in a while I even throw in a little oatmeal instead, or in addition, with results that seem to please. Beginner tip: when recipes call for chopped nuts, the simplest thing to do of course, is to buy them already in pieces—as long as they’re nice and fresh. Then there’s only a few left to break up—plus they’re even cheaper that way. However, should you care to do it yourself, tightly grip the dull edge of the largest knife you own with your fingertips. Then carefully chop up and down into the nuts—remembering to never take your eyes off the knife. Now if this makes you nervous, using a food processor may only pulverize them beyond what your recipe calls for if you’re not careful, so I’ve come to feel that unless one requires mass quantities it’s really easier to just break them up by hand. It doesn’t take all that long, and there’s no clean-up—a glaring example of modern technology only appearing to be an improvement. * 2¼ cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda ½ to 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup = 2 sticks butter ¾ to 1 cup brown sugar ¾ to 1 cup granulated sugar 1 extra-large or 2 small eggs ¾ to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans 12 ounces (1 large package) semi-sweet chocolate chips * In a large bowl, cut up the butter into very small pieces, to allow it to soften. In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Add the brown and granulated sugars to the butter, and beat well at medium speed for about three minutes until well blended and light, scraping the sides of the bowl periodically with a heavy-duty spatula. Beat the egg and vanilla into the creamed mixture in like fashion. Stir the dry ingredients on low speed until all is well blended. Add the chocolate chips and the chopped nuts, distributing them evenly. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. * Drop rounded tablespoons of dough on your baking sheet—leaving plenty of space for it to melt down and spread out—and then flatten the tops of these little walnut- sized balls slightly to make for even browning. If these cookies run together while baking, they’ll probably separate and be fine when you take them off the sheet—just not as pretty. They’re not going to be perfectly round anyway, since you’re not a machine. Bake for 8 minutes, one sheet at a time, in the center of the oven; and sorry, but you can’t put two in there at once to speed things up. Those cookies will be done when the tops look completely set–-a relative term at best. The bottoms should be well browned when you peek under them, but if you’ve made them too thick or your sheets are too dark, they might end up with burnt bottoms and marginal tops. Lucky for you, unless you truly burn the bottoms, after they cool off they’re still going to be edible and taste pretty darn good, since of course the dough tastes really great even before you bake it.... Stop eating that dough! Then, when they’re done, carefully lift them to a wire rack with a flat-bladed spatula; and be careful because they’re still very flexible at this point, but they’ll soon solidify into the expected finished product as they cool. Put the second sheet on into the oven, but wait for the empty sheet to cool down a bit before laying out the next round of dough—being sure to brush off the crumbs and lightly re-grease. After those crowd-pleasers have been out of the oven for about five minutes you can let anyone who has been hanging around sniffing the air at them. Otherwise, don't put them in bags or cookie jars until they’re completely cool, where they’ll keep so well that you can bake them two days ahead for a party. Plus, they ship fairly well if packed carefully, or you can freeze them for a month—maybe more. I don't know because ours have never lasted that long. Chapter Twenty-Four Boston Cream Pie Now the first thing that needs elucidation here is that although this traditional treat is called a pie, it is in fact a cake, and I sure wish I could tell you why, but I did find out that the French chef who probably dreamed it up in the kitchen of the Parker House Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Planet Earth ended up drawing a bigger paycheck than the president of Harvard University. Not that I’m surprised, because this monument to cream and chocolate was the second thing I learned to make all by my little self; and if you haven’t noticed it yet, you’ll soon understand that I have an almost unnatural craving for chocolate plus anything. Well, maybe not anything.... And although you never know, I do know that if there’s anything creamy attached to dark chocolate I’m probably a goner, and this recipe’s got it all—surrounded by tasty layers of golden cake that go heavy on the vanilla.... So if this all sounds swell, I beg you not to be intimidated by the idea of desserts that involve things like layering, but to rather remember that I pulled it off way back then when I was still snapping plastic spatulas in two by getting them caught in my mother’s long-suffering mixer. Also, in this case, you’re going to be baking a small cake in just one 9 x 1½ inch standard layer pan—instead of the two-pan scenario for your standard layer cake—and very soon I shall attempt to explain my mom’s neat trick for splitting this layer into two without needing to own the kind of extraordinarily long knife wielded by professionals. Once your cake is split, you fill it with the chilled pastry cream that you made while the cake was baking. Then you glaze it with a barely liquefied chocolate frosting to literally put the icing on the cake. Basic Vanilla Cake * 1/3 cup butter, softened ¾ cup granulated sugar 1 egg 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder ½ teaspoon salt 5/8 cup milk * Cut the butter into small pieces and let it soften up in your mixer bowl while you prepare the pan and measure everything out. Grease your pan by using a pastry brush or paper towel to spread a thin layer of butter or shortening over the entire baking surface. Then sprinkle it with a little bit of flour, shake it around until the surface is coated, and then tap it upside-down over the sink to remove excess. This process is made even better by additionally covering the bottom with greased and floured parchment paper for more even browning and ease of removal. * Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla to the butter in your mixer bowl. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a separate bowl and set aside; and if you don’t own a sifter you can just mix things well by hand, but serious bakers should invest in one for superlative ingredient distribution and its subsequent superlative results. If your baked goods don’t seem to rise evenly or have little brown spots all over them, it’s probably because the leavening agent’s not properly incorporated. Measure out the milk and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until well blended on low speed. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and then cream on medium-high until all is light and fluffy. Add about half the flour mixture on low speed, then about half the milk, then the rest of the flour, followed by the rest of the milk. Once all is blended, beat on medium-high for about 3 minutes, and timing’s important here. It’s all about putting just the right amount of air in there, so watch your watch. Back in the mid-1800’s when this tasty treat was invented, cooks still routinely relied on whisks and sheer athletic ability to lighten their cakes without the benefit of modern baking powder technology. Pour the batter into your prepared pan, make sure it’s nice and level, and then bake it in the center of the oven for approximately 30 minutes. When it’s done it’ll be golden brown and will feel firm to the fingertip in the center, where an inserted toothpick should come out clean. Cool—still in the pan—for 5 minutes on a rack, and then place another rack on top of the pan, grab on tight with potholders or kitchen towels, and flip everything over so that your cake is now resting on top of rack #2. Remove the pan and re-flip—so that your cake is now right-side up—and then let it cool completely before moving on. Pastry Cream/Custard/Pudding/Filling Call it what you like, this yummy stuff is what you get when white sugar mixed with flour or cornstarch and a pinch of salt meets milk or cream over medium heat until it bubbles and binds. Then egg yolks are added for color, richness, and shine, along with various flavorings—usually starting with vanilla, and in my case frequently continuing on to chocolate. People argue, of course, about how much to use of what—whether to use cornstarch, flour, or a combination; how much sugar and how many eggs; whether to add butter at the end.... Well it all often depends upon what you intend to do with it next, but I find that the following works fine for the recipes to be found in this book, where you’ll also find it inside the cream puffs —and where you’ll similarly find this recipe repeated, word-for- word, for the convenience of us both. My version’s a little sweeter than some and heavy on the vanilla. * ½ cup sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch a pinch of salt 2 cups milk 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten 1 tablespoon vanilla 2 oz. optional, melted semi-sweet chocolate * Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a roomy saucepan. Gradually whisk in the milk and place over medium heat. After this, in terms of technique, it works just like the preceding sauce recipe, where you bring your milk mixture to a slow boil, while constantly whisking and scraping —with a heatproof spatula—for about 3 minutes, until it thickens into something a bit more substantial that will eventually just barely hold its shape after it cools all the way down. Take it off the heat and pour in the egg yolks in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly. Return it to the burner and boil, stir, and scrape for another minute. Remove your custard from the stovetop, stir in the vanilla and the optional chocolate, and then pour it into a bowl to cool. As soon as it’s lukewarm, you can put it into the refrigerator to speed things up, but don’t proceed with any larger recipes until it’s truly cool and all set up. BCP Construction Once both your cake and cream are completely cool, start melting the chocolate and put some water on to boil for the glaze. Meanwhile, place your cake on a serving plate and then split it into two layers; and to do this, most people find the longest knife they own—preferably serrated. Then you gently lift the top of it over to another plate temporarily. However, those with no access to enormous knives could instead employ the aforementioned neat trick my mother taught me: you get a nice long piece of sewing thread, wind it around the ends of your index fingers, carefully align it with the side of your cake, and then use a slight sawing motion to break through the crust—after which you’ll be able to easily pull the thread right through to neatly split your confection in half! And if your hand shakes and it looks depressingly uneven, rest assured that it really won’t matter on any level except the aesthetic, because the cream that’s going inside will soon become a great leveler. Plus, even if you dropped it and it’s completely fallen apart, you could still spoon the cream on top of your poor mangled cake, drizzle it with the icing, and I feel most will still be anxious to take it off your hands. As a matter of fact, maybe at this point one could sprinkle it with powdered plutonium, think up a clever name for this new dessert they’ve literally, accidentally created, and then might be able to sell this exciting new recipe to the good folks who publish Pastry Planet magazine—opening the door to a wonderful new career.... Or maybe not. Next of course you cover the bottom layer with the pastry cream, replace the top layer, and drizzle on the following glaze. Refrigerate if not serving immediately, and although I imagine that this was originally a room-temperature dessert, we’ve come to prefer it slightly chilled. Chocolate Glaze * 1 ounce = 1 square unsweetened chocolate 1 teaspoon butter ¾ teaspoon vanilla 1 cup confectioner’s sugar 3 tablespoons very hot water * Melt your chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over very low heat, while bringing some water to the boiling point. You don’t absolutely have to use boiling hot water, but it’s a good idea. Add the vanilla and half of the sugar slowly, and then half of the water until nice and smooth. Then add the rest of the sugar, followed by the rest of the water—perhaps a little more or less than 3 tablespoons as needed to achieve your desired consistency; and what you’re aiming for here is not a frosting you can spread, so much as something that will actually flow as you pour it over the center of the cake—ideally having a consistency that makes it reach the edge and no further. This refinement of technique is not to be expected on one’s first try of course; and if it drips a bit down the sides, or you have to spread it out a little with a metal spatula, tasty perfection will still be achieved. Chapter Twenty-Five Half-Moon Cookies Well here’s something else I don’t see in bakeries the way I did when I was a kid, and since my daughter also loves them so, here’s also an attempt to keep another old favorite alive. I got this recipe from a cousin-in-law, who got it from somebody else, who might’ve even gotten it from the Rose Bakery in Auburn, New York, USA, Planet Earth, since that’s where they came from back during the Pleistocene Era when I was young.... And the reason that kids like us love them so much is also the reason that they’re called half-moons, because they’re big, fat, soft sugar cookies—iced chocolate on one side, and vanilla on the other, to resemble you-know-what—making them a lot like your basic holiday cookie in many ways. For instance, the extra step of icing is something that takes a little more time, but could also be wonderfully enhanced by kid participation— yielding of course that experience so much sweeter than any mere confection, known to many nurturing types as the payoff. * 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder ½ tsp. salt 1 ½ cups granulated sugar ¾ cup shortening 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup buttermilk 1 teaspoon baking soda * Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside; and while combining them well with a spatula or spoon will do, aspiring bakers should also aspire to obtain a sifter for even ingredient distribution and its best results. Cream the sugar, shortening, and the eggs in your mixer bowl on medium-high speed—stopping midway to scrape the bottom and sides—until all is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and mix well. Stir the baking soda into the buttermilk. Add half of the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients on low speed, then half of the buttermilk, followed by the rest of the flour, and finally the rest of the milk. Beat on medium speed for a minute or two until all is well blended; and those with some baking experience may notice that the result is something a bit lighter than your typical cookie dough—leaning in some respects toward resembling a thick cake batter that just holds its shape.... Drop your cookie batter by heaping tablespoons, about 2 inches apart, on an ungreased, non-stick baking sheet, although enhancing your pan with parchment paper is of course highly recommended. You won’t be able to fit a lot of cookies per sheet, and so you’ll probably need 3 of them altogether. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes in the center of the oven. You want those sweet treats to be just golden brown on the outside, while done all the way through, so don’t make them too big unless you’re a person who likes everything toasted. Remove them to a cooling rack with a wide-bladed spatula. Be careful, because at this point they can be fairly fragile. As a rule, most cookies are easier to handle after they’ve reached room temperature. Once they’ve gotten a grip, call the kids to help you ice the nice flat bottoms of your cookies to resemble a half-moon, with one side chocolate and the other vanilla. Cool! Vanilla Decorator’s Icing * 1 cup confectioner’s sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 ½ tablespoons milk * Mix all together in a small bowl with a spatula until of spreading consistency, adjusting the amount of milk accordingly. Chocolate Decorator’s Icing * 1 ounce = 1 square unsweetened chocolate 1 cup confectioner’s sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 tablespoons milk * Melt the chocolate in a small saucepan over very low heat. Watch it carefully or you’ll burn it. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a small bowl, add the chocolate— using a heatproof spatula—and then add the milk until of spreading consistency. Chapter Twenty-Six Strawberry Cake Roll Well when spring has finally sprung and the fresh strawberries have finally come back, I myself am likely to get excited enough to crank out this crowd-pleasing cake roll because—not only is it majorly tasty in your classic berry/cream tradition—you can also freeze it way, way ahead of the party of your choice. As a matter of fact, if you want it to come out looking like the photo you must freeze it, because it’s really tough to slice it so thin when it’s fresh. Also, in respect to this, I want to make it plain that this confection is just as delicious if you eat it right away, or if it’s refrigerated for a few hours, etc.—it’s just more versatile if you freeze it. For instance, small households can make one of these things during a break in the action, and then just cut slices off of it at their leisure. Meanwhile, those throwing celebrity luncheons can slice it very thin, lay it out on the requisite attractive plates, and it’ll be thawed to perfection when the party commences. While in similar terms of presentation: a lot of experienced bakers—aiming for something unsliced and beautiful to form the centerpiece of a perfect party display—will often trim off the rough edges of their baked cake before filling it, or use a lot of powdered sugar on the rolling towel, or save some berries and cream to perch on top…. Time for your inner chef to kick in, if you like, while all I wanted this time was something simple-yet-elegant to slice at dawn when my sweet cat purrsuades me to start the day—destined to enhance my second cup of tea when she finally settles into my lap— our morning chores behind us.... Meanwhile, those who don’t care for strawberry cake make this cake and fill it with anything creamy that suits their fancy: plain whipped cream—with some other sort of fresh fruit as adornment, perhaps—or even bake up the chocolate variation you’ll find included in the recipe and fill it similarly. Some people just fill a cake roll with something like the strawberry jam you’ll find included after the French toast recipe, and then simply dust it with lots of powdered sugar, which yields your classic jelly roll. You can even fill it with the pastry cream to be found inside the cream puffs.... It’s your call. Cake roll fillings are tons o’ fun and only limited to the imagination. For instance, last Christmas somebody gave me a pint of high-end chocolate ice cream that I correspondingly wished to split between four people, and so I baked up a cake roll. However, I’m afraid it’s now time for me to confess that this is probably a recipe that no one should monkey around with unless they’ve got some experience in the kitchen, but of course I put it into this little cookbook anyway because it’s so special to my family. It’s a fairly simple recipe, but also a fairly delicate operation when it’s time to remove this sort of cake from the pan.... And this pan you must bake it in is called a jelly-roll pan: 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 inches— which looks like a large cookie sheet with sides—while success or failure in this endeavor depends almost entirely upon whether it’s properly prepared, so people argue of course about how it should be done. Everyone agrees that it should be lined with parchment paper, with aluminum foil coming in as the second choice, and the old-fashioned standard of wax paper a distant third. Be sure to extend the liner up over the edges of the pan—snipping into the corners diagonally with scissors, making the paper overlap to fit neatly—so you’ll have something to grab onto when it’s time to remove your confection. Plus, you don’t want the edges to get baked into the cake, which can be a real nightmare at peeling time.... Then, to be absolutely safe, one lightly brushes both the pan, and then the paper that will now stick to it, with either butter or shortening, while there are those who also next coat their greased liner with a dusting of flour in the traditional manner to produce an even more foolproof surface, but I’ve never done that. No, as a matter of fact, it’s time now for me to tell you that—despite conventional wisdom—all I did to produce the succulent strawberry experience pictured at the onset was to put the parchment in the pan, and then the batter right on top—being careful, you’ll remember, not to let the edge of the paper get baked into it—and it really did peel off without many anxious moments. This made me happy of course, since I then had what I’m really after, which is a confection where the fat content is limited to the cream. Frozen Strawberry Cake Roll * 1 pint = 1 small groceteria basket of fresh strawberries ¼ cup granulated sugar 3 large or 4 small eggs 1 cup granulated sugar 1/3 cup water 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 2 cups heavy cream, whipped with ½ cup confectioner’s sugar up to ½ cup confectioner’s sugar, for decorative dusting * For the chocolate variation: transform the 1 cup flour into ¾ cup all-purpose flour + 1/3 cup cocoa powder. * Wash, dry, and slice the strawberries very thin. Mix them with the ¼ cup of sugar and then let them develop in the refrigerator while the cake bakes and cools. However, if you’re planning to serve this cake immediately—or only refrigerate it for a couple of hours—you can actually forget the sugar-soaking scenario entirely and simply slice your berries thin right before you whip the cream. The sugar’s a necessary component of successfully frozen fruit, and if you’re not going to freeze this, you don’t really need it unless your berries are themselves lacking in sweetness. Put the eggs into a large mixer bowl so that they can come to room temperature while you get everything else ready to go. Some bakers separate their eggs at this point, feeling that independent beating of the egg whites yields a finer product, and although I’ve tried it that way a few times, I’ve come to feel there’s a debatable difference, which usually makes me disinclined to go to the trouble. Measure out the sugar and set it aside. Combine the water and the vanilla and set them aside. Sift together the flour, optional cocoa, baking powder, and salt into a separate bowl and set it aside; and here a sifter is especially recommended for even distribution, since there’s minimal mixing involved once the dry ingredients are added. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs on high speed for about 5 minutes, until very thick and foamy. Think in terms of a spongy framework of air-filled bubbles that you aim to keep as light as possible. With the beaters still moving, add the sugar gradually—a few tablespoons at a time—and then beat for about a minute thereafter. Turn the speed down to low and add the water mixture. Then add the flour mixture—a few tablespoons at a time—until just blended. Pour your batter into the prepared pan, spreading it into the corners until it looks evenly distributed. Bake for up to 15 minutes—peeking in at 12 minutes, and then waiting until it’s golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Grab the edges of the liner and fearlessly lift that cake out on to a rack. Check the edges all the way around to be sure they’re not sealed to the pan before you do it. Place a clean kitchen towel—slightly larger than your cake—on the countertop next to the rack, and sprinkle it with a thin but thorough coating of confectioner’s sugar. Give yourself plenty of room, because when you do the next step a certain amount of sugar will inevitably go flying. Carefully flip your cake on to this towel, so that the paper ends up on top and the surface of your cake is now in contact with the powdered sugar. Not only does this help keep your cake from sticking to the towel while it cools into shape, but it also makes the eventual outside of the finished roll look inviting. However, if you don’t have, don’t like, or don’t want to mess around with powdered sugar, you can always turn this cake out on to another piece of parchment as pictured below. The main thing is be sure it’s free of the baking surface before you roll it up. Also, this one pictured below as been baked in a cake pan prepared in the traditional manner, as I advise you perhaps err on the side of caution on your first attempt—fat free results aside. Peel off that paper— very carefully—watching out for those edges that might’ve gotten baked into the cake.... Fold the edge of the paper or towel over the narrow end of the cake, and then roll them up together. Don’t make it too tight, and do it while your confection’s still warm. Let that cake cool completely before proceeding—about an hour. * Whip the cream with the ½ cup confectioner’s sugar; while those of you new to this technique might wish to turn back a few pages to the strawberry shortcake recipe for elucidation. Drain off whatever liquid has accumulated around the berries in a colander. Unroll the cake, spread the whipped cream over the entire surface, sprinkle the strawberries evenly on top, and then roll your cake back up; and while spreading the cream, don’t take it quite all the way to the edge, lest it exit the ends of your masterpiece upon re-rolling. If not serving immediately, wrap it in plastic wrap or foil and freeze or refrigerate. When ready to serve, slice this cake thin while it’s still frozen, and then let it thaw completely on the plate for about an hour for best results. If you eat it before it’s completely thawed the strawberries will be icy, so resist the temptation to do so. Remove yourself to another planet if you have to, while I picture most people slicing it before they whip up the rest of dinner, although young mothers should probably wait until it’s almost time to send their little ones off to dreamland.... Enjoy! Chapter Twenty-Seven Brownies Valentine tip: serve someone warm brownies in front of a good movie on a cold winter night and they’ll be forever in your power.... Or, if you need a favor, now’s the time; while if you want to borrow money, it might be a good idea to put a scoop of real vanilla ice cream on top; and although those in need of funding might view this as an expensive gamble, you only need one scoop, and warm brownies are so good that you can surely think of it as an investment. Ready in an hour—start to finish—they’re perhaps the easiest of sweets, and I especially like this old recipe. I can’t remember where it came from, but I suspect that by now those involved may be beyond caring if I use it. Plus—like the chocolate chip cookies—brownies are a good thing to mail, freeze, or make in advance. However, beginners should be warned that timing is especially important with simple-yet-delicate brownies, where just five minutes can take them from an uncooked center to a burned crust. Watch the clock, and don’t be rendering it useless by letting out the heat due to repeated peeking—possibly destroying your dreams of chocolate paradise. * 1/3 cup butter 2 ounces = 2 squares unsweetened chocolate 2/3 cup all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 2 eggs 1 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans * Now if you have a five-year-old who accuses you of putting nuts into everything, you can leave them out in the interest of domestic harmony, or just sprinkle some on top of half of the batter before you bake it. It won’t be quite the same, but it’ll be just as good in its own way, which is of course so often the rule when orchestrating the rewarding complexities of family life. Also, should you be a beginner wishing further instruction on how to deal with nuts, for the kind you can eat I refer you now to the hopefully helpful beginner tips back in the chocolate chip chapter; while for the kind you can’t eat, I refer you to God Almighty. * Melt the butter and the chocolate in a small saucepan, stirring occasionally, over the lowest heat. Watch it carefully, as chocolate can burn easily. Let this mixture cool until it’s no longer hot to the touch. Generously butter the entire inside surface of a 9" x 9" square baking pan, says my old, chocolate-stained recipe card; and the Betty Crocker of my youth would probably tell you to grease your pan the modern way with shortening, while Julia Child might gasp in horror at anyone who could possibly abandon the far-superior butter.... However both of them would probably ditch the added fat entirely if they had access to non-stick cookware lined with parchment paper, and so should you. * In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Measure out the sugar. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the eggs for about 3 minutes on medium-high speed until light and fluffy; and if you don’t own an electric mixer, those with a strong arm can just use a whisk or an eggbeater at this point. Gradually beat in the sugar, a few spoonfuls at a time. Stir in the cooled chocolate-butter, the vanilla, the flour mixture, and the optional nuts—periodically scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Spread the batter evenly in your prepared pan and bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven. Remember to check the time when you put them in. When they’re done they’ll be dry on top, almost firm to the touch, and will have pulled slightly away from the sides of your utensil. Cool them in the pan on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before cutting into them—a bit longer if you intend to sweeten the deal with ice cream. Enjoy! Chapter Twenty-Eight Classic Cherry Pie Time for a picnic—featuring your classic Cherry Pie: suitable for all festive summer occasions, as this fabulous fruit falls from the trees just in time for the Fourth of July.... Now I’m going to admit that this is a fairly difficult—but also most impressive— dessert, because you’ll now be stepping into the intimidating waters of making pie crust, and if you've never done this be prepared to have your first attempt fall apart. Put it on the plate anyway, and please remember that even the most primitive attempts will probably still taste pretty good. In this day and age, people are unlikely to reject a homemade pie just because it has a dent in the crust. More likely, they’ll put a dent in you trying to get at it.... Of course you can do it! For one thing, until recently, plenty of people did it as matter of routine—for instance my Aunt Phoebe—whose rolling pin I inherited, and who cranked out several hundred pies every morning at the crack of dawn for a herd of hungry farmhands; although consider yourself warned: once you’ve made pie, your inner child—as well as those you love—will make it plain that there’s no turning back. For better or for worse, my friend, you are a cook! After that odds are good that you’ll be topping it with whipped cream, while beginners wishing instruction in same will hopefully find it back at the end of the strawberry shortcake chapter. Cherry Pie * 5 cups = 2 pounds dark sweet cherries 1 cup granulated sugar 5 tablespoons flour ½ teaspoon almond extract 1 tablespoon butter * Now I used to just mix everything except the butter together, pour it into the pie shell, and then let it bake until it all bubbled up in the more traditional manner I was taught; but still—even with foil to protect the edge of the crust to lengthen the baking time—even then it was still kinda runny.... So here’s what I do now, while suspecting that Aunt Phoebe might’ve done it this way too—being famous for her prizewinning pies, and almost certainly not having had access to aluminum foil. Wash, dry, and pit the cherries; and you can make this pie with sour cherries, but you’ll have to increase the sugar in proportion to how sour they actually are—up to 1½ cups. Place them in a roomy saucepan, stir in the sugar and flour, and bring this mixture to a slow boil over low heat for just a few minutes—stirring constantly— until the cherries soften, some of the juice has evaporated, and it almost holds its shape. Remove from the heat, stir in the almond extract, and let your filling cool down while you roll out the crust. Pie Crust * 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup shortening ½ cup ice cold water * Now two things are essential to remember when making pie crust: you must measure accurately, and you must cultivate a light touch, as over-handling develops the gluten— just like when you knead bread—and correspondingly toughens the finished product. Also, not having access to hydrogenated shortening out there on the farm, Aunt Phoebe actually chose to use lard because it made her crust so flaky; while those wary of shortening might instead agree with the spirit of Julia Child, who’d probably be quick to argue that starting with a properly chilled slab of premium butter is really the only way.... Combine the flour and the salt with a sifter for best results, or mix them together with a fork; and if you’re a beginner and really serious about baking, I’d invest in a sifter. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or two knives—rubbing their surfaces together to blend the ingredients, just until your mixture resembles coarse meal. The tiny bits of shortening that remain contribute to the flakiness—to the point where some say that a food processor can really blend the dough too well for this type of pastry; so if you really love pie and other sinfully delicious shortening-laden delights, you’d also better break down and buy a pastry cutter: a fist-sized handle, with U-shaped wires suspended from it, that’s not very expensive. Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, mixing rapidly with a fork until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough in half. Lightly shape and smooth one of the balls of dough with your hands until it feels truly cohesive, and then pat it into a smooth, flat round. Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle that’s 2 inches larger than the diameter of your 8 or 9-inch pie pan—starting from the center, and lifting the pin slightly upon reaching the edge. Turn it over at least once during the process, being sure to keep the surface—and possibly your rolling pin, if it’s wooden—well-floured. Even-up the edges as you go, but don't worry if it's not perfectly round, because you’ll be able to redistribute it a little bit after it's in the pan. Fold the rolled crust gently in half. Lift it carefully into the pie pan and unfold. Press it firmly, without stretching, into the pan—from the center out—to get rid of air pockets. Even-up the pastry around the rim; and if your circle is really off, you may need to trim it with a knife. Pour the cooled cherry mixture into your awaiting shell, and then dot it with the butter—which means to cut it into tiny pieces and distribute them evenly over the fruit. Roll out the second ball of dough as for the first, and then lay this second crust on top of the fruit. Tuck the edge of this upper crust under the edge of the bottom crust and pinch to seal them. Then some cooks press this edge with a fork into a decorative pattern, while others flute it with their fingertips into a raised, wavy pattern. Make several little slits in the upper crust or prick it generously with a fork, to let the steam escape as it bakes; while one sign your pie is done is that you’ll see the juices bubbling up through these vents. Now at this point some may wish to cover just the edge of their crust with a band of foil to keep it from getting too dark—something you may recall I used to do before I started pre-cooking down the filling, and so it took a lot longer for the fruit to thicken up in the oven. However, using this method, I find that all is well without the collar. Once again, your call—not to mention the fact that to complete this classic confection, you must next also consider your opinion of the equally classic phrase golden brown. Bake for about 50 minutes, in the center of the oven, until golden brown. Beginner tip: some people place their baking pie on a baking sheet as well, just in case the crust breaks and some of the filling starts dripping out, since it’s a major pain to remove from the oven floor; and if I were you.... Cool completely—in my opinion—before serving; especially of course if you plan to top it with whipped or iced cream. Chapter Twenty-Nine Carrot Cake Well, this recipe’s been in my little yellow box for at least six hundred years, and if I could remember which magazine I ripped it out of, I’d give credit where credit is due.... Yes, it was a brand new dessert when I was a kid, and despite our initial skepticism that any baked good with a vegetable in its name—not to mention cheese in its frosting— could possibly be turned into a tasty snack treat, we eventually went for it in a big way. Then, as time went by we all became calorie-counters and therefore tried telling ourselves that with this particular confection we were in fact eating something a little healthier because of all those carrots—and because of the oil instead of shortening—but it's still loaded with sugar, and then it’s just gotta have that frosting.... Compromise, right? * 3 cups finely grated carrots 2 cups all-purpose flour 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 cup cooking oil 4 eggs * Of course, like most cakes, you can bake this one in either a 13" x 9" x 2" sheet cake pan, or two 9" x 1 ½" layer pans for the sake of more universal frosting distribution and sophisticated presentation; but if you're new to baking I strongly suggest that you spare yourself the anxiety of building layers—especially if you're hoping to impress someone, and because that thick layer of frosting on top of the sheet cake may actually be the experience they’re anticipating. However, if it's someone's birthday—or after you’re comfortable with cake-baking—you should definitely give layering a try. Oh, the thrill of it all.... First, unless circumstances permit you to line your pan with the miracle of parchment paper, you must next carefully grease and flour it, or your cake will stick to that utensil as though super-glued, and the party will be over. Even then, layering requires one piece of paper for the bottom of the pan, and then you either grease and flour the side or cut another strip to lay flat against it, because using just one piece of paper for the whole thing will result in wrinkles in the side that are likely to tear your cake apart— either when you try to remove the paper, or when you apply the frosting. * Thinly coat the entire inside surface of your pan with shortening, using a pastry brush, a paper towel, or just your fingers. Oil will not work. Before there was shortening cooks used butter, which is fine if you have a problem with shortening for health reasons, but I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason why everybody switched over, even if I can’t explain it.... Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of flour into the pan. Turn it around and sideways and whatever until the shortening’s completely coated with a thin layer of flour. Hold the pan upside-down over the sink and tap it lightly to remove any excess flour, and be sure to stand right next to the sink when you do this, so that the flour will get all over you—providing much-needed comic relief for whoever may be hanging around watching. * Next, one performs the fairly tedious task of washing, drying, peeling, and grating the carrots before pumping precious energy into the oven. After that it’s all quick and easy. * Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the carrots, oil, and eggs until well blended. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, and then beat for about 4 minutes at medium-high speed. Try to be fairly accurate about this, as overbeating or underbeating affect volume and texture. What this means, in practical terms, is that if you don’t beat some air into it, your batter will not bake up into the delicately light confection you crave. On the other hand, if you put too much air into cake batter—or if your pans are too small—it’s going to expand, ooze out over the top, hit the floor of the oven, and make one of the biggest messes you've ever seen in your whole life. Pour the batter into your prepared pan and then bake in the center of the oven for 50 to 60 minutes for the sheet cake, or 40 minutes for the layers. Timing, of course, can be slightly variable from oven to oven, and so one tests for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean, your cake is baked. If you don't have a toothpick, press gently on the center, and it should spring back into shape. It will also be a deeply golden brown and have pulled slightly away from the sides of the pan. Cool it completely on a rack before frosting. When it first comes out, leave it in the pan for about 10 minutes. Then put a rack over the pan and invert everything, so that the cake is now resting on the rack when you lift off the pan. This is good enough for cooling purposes, but the delicate top of the cake may still stick to the rack—damaging the frosting surface—so to be truly correct you should immediately get yet another rack, and flip everything back over—especially when doing layers. Cream Cheese Frosting * 3 ounces cream cheese ¼ cup butter 1 teaspoon vanilla 2 cups confectioner's sugar * This amount will do nicely for a sheet cake. When layering and therefore frosting the sides as well, you’ll probably need more: * 4 ½ ounces cream cheese 3/8 cup butter 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla 3 cups confectioner's sugar * Warm the cream cheese and butter into a more pliable state in a mixer bowl at room temperature while the cake cools off. Add the vanilla and beat well on high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, and when making frosting it’s especially important to pause periodically through the entire process to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to properly blend your ingredients. Gradually add the sugar and beat on high until of frosting consistency—an ambiguous instruction found in most of my cookbooks meaning—in the olden days— until your arm feels like it may fall off. Even when employing modern technology, you should still expect it to take as much as 5 minutes. Next, of course, you spread the frosting on the cake, and perhaps a monkey actually could do the trick of simply spreading this frosting on a sheet cake, although layers are a little bit trickier. First, place one layer upside down on your serving plate, top it with about 1/4 inch of frosting, and then carefully put the other layer on right side up. Next frost the sides, as thinly as you can, and you’ll find a metal spatula really helps if you have one. Put the remainder on top, and at this point some like to chop up a few walnuts and lightly press them in as an optional topper. Happy Birthday, Harvey! Chapter Thirty Cream Puffs and Eclairs Now here’s a time-honored classic that doesn’t last long in our house—even if I’m the only one there. It’s that pastry cream which so reminds me of my childhood and subsequently tempts me to abandon all thought of balanced nutrition until every last one of those tasty treats is gone.... So if you live alone, I guess you might want to cut the recipe in half; while contrariwise, if you have a very large family you might actually need to double the recipe in order to get any at all. With the quantities listed below, you should expect to end up with somewhere between one dozen big fat puffs or two dozen little ones, while making 5 x 1 inch shapes yields éclairs—something I actually still do occasionally, even though I no longer own a pastry bag designed for piping purposes, to have their unique experience. However, taste-wise there’s very little difference, and so I usually just stick with your basic blobs. Either way, if I were you, I’d forget about counting and just try to make them all approximately the same size. If they’re too big, they may not puff properly, as the outside may burn before the inside dries out; while if they’re too small it’s harder to fill them with cream. Better too small than too big, though, because the whole idea is to get the inside almost all dried out before the outside turns unappetizingly dark, which is of course, a matter of opinion. People also disagree about what temperature to bake them at, and for how long—just like every recipe also seems to differ over the perfect balance of ingredients—but here’s what I usually do. Cream Puff Pastry * 1 cup water ½ cup butter 1 teaspoon sugar ½ teaspoon salt 1 cup flour 4 eggs * Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Bring the water, butter, sugar, and salt to a rolling boil in the biggest saucepan you own over medium heat. If it won’t hold at least 2 quarts, you may be in for trouble. Remove it from the heat and add the flour, all at once, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon; and there’s an actual reason that you need to use a wooden spoon instead of a metal one, and I sure wish I could remember what it is. I’ve seen recipes where people use heatproof rubber spatulas instead—sometimes switching to an electric mixer for maximum lightness when adding the eggs—but I’ve always just stuck with the spoon…. Return it to the heat, stirring constantly for about a minute, until it forms a ball. You’ll notice traces of a thin white film on the sides of the pan at this point. Cool it down on the countertop for about 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, with continued vigor, intent on incorporating as much air as possible, until it all comes together into a smooth, shiny paste; and every time you do this, it can at first cause slippery and intimidating lumps to form that soon disappear. Some people add all the eggs at once, which also works fine, but it’s more difficult because at first it seems like a monument to sliminess. Place 12 mounds of dough about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet, which doesn’t need to be greased, but it should be pretty shiny in order to avoid those nasty over- browned bottoms, while the whole process is of course enhanced and simplified by sheets of parchment paper. Bake approximately 30 minutes, until golden brown and dry to the appearance. Then—if there’s no toddlers about—you might want turn off the heat, but still leave them in the oven with the door cracked open to enhance the drying agenda. You’re aiming for slightly crispy here, which is traditionally part of the thrill. If you take them out too soon, they may collapse and even appear squishy, but they’ll probably still taste mighty fine. Cool them completely before filling. Pastry Cream/Custard/Pudding/Filling Call it what you like, this yummy stuff is what you get when white sugar mixed with flour or cornstarch and a pinch of salt meets milk or cream over medium heat until it bubbles and binds. Then egg yolks are added for color, richness, and shine, along with various flavorings—usually starting with vanilla, and in my case frequently continuing on to chocolate. People argue, of course, about how much to use of what—whether to use cornstarch, flour, or a combination; how much sugar and how many eggs; whether to add butter at the end.... Well it all often depends upon what you intend to do with it next, but I find that the following works fine for the recipes to be found in this book, where you’ll also find it layered into the middle of the Boston cream pie—and where you’ll also find this recipe repeated, word-for-word, for the convenience of us both. My version’s a little sweeter than some and heavy on the vanilla. * ½ cup sugar 2 tablespoons cornstarch a pinch of salt 2 cups milk 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten 1 tablespoon vanilla 2 oz. optional, melted semi-sweet chocolate * Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a roomy saucepan. Gradually whisk in the milk and place over medium heat. After this, in terms of technique, it works just like the preceding sauce recipe, where you bring your milk mixture to a slow boil, while constantly whisking and scraping —with a heatproof spatula—for about 3 minutes, until it thickens into something a bit more substantial that will eventually just barely hold its shape after it cools all the way down. Take it off the heat and pour in the egg yolks in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly. Return it to the burner and boil, stir, and scrape for another minute. Remove your custard from the stovetop, stir in the vanilla and the optional chocolate, and then pour it into a bowl to cool. As soon as it’s lukewarm, you can put it into the refrigerator to speed things up, but don’t proceed with any larger recipes until it’s truly cool and all set up. Final Assembly Next, of course, one generally fills their puffs with either the preceding pastry cream that most are going to expect—especially in an éclair—or just simple whipped cream, although you can put ice cream or even plutonium in there. Yes, it’s your puff, while those new to whipping cream should check out the strawberry shortcake chapter. Plus, if you make the pastry cream right after those puffs go into the oven, it should be reasonably cool when they’re at their peak. Gently remove the top of each puff, spoon in some filling, and replace the top; and at this point perfectionists craving crispy often remove whatever still seems to be damp inside, but I’ve just never gone there. Also, those so fortunate as to own the previously mentioned piping equipment can instead neatly inject the filling through a hole, enhancing both appearance and ease of munching. Dust with confectioner’s sugar if you like or—as is expected with éclairs— improve upon perfection by slathering on the following chocolate icing. Refrigerate or serve immediately. Chocolate Icing * 1 ounce = 1 square unsweetened chocolate 1 teaspoon butter 1 cup confectioner’s sugar 2 tablespoons steaming hot water * Melt your chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over very low heat. Add half of the sugar slowly, and then half of the water until nice and smooth. Then add the rest of the sugar, followed by the rest of the water—perhaps a little more or less than 2 tablespoons, as needed to achieve spreading consistency. Chapter Thirty-One Rainbow Birthday Cake Well here it is: your basic black and white, waiting-for-that-scoop-of-ice-cream birthday cake—in this case, with a fairly dark chocolate on the inside and rainbow candy sprinkles enhancing the balancing vanilla outside, since we like that sort of kid stuff around here. You know, light years ago, when my kids were truly little, I once actually tried to duplicate the candy-house cake that beckoned to my titillated birthday child from the pages of Betty Crocker’s cookbook.... Not pretty, I assure you; and all I can say is that the partygoers forgave me and thankfully did not die of sugar overload, while I soon learned my limits when it comes to festive food decoration—hence the rainbow sprinkles here, which were in fact a last- minute inspiration generated by my sweet little girl—all grown up now—as we baked this one together for a friend. Enjoy! Rainbow Birthday Cake * 3 ounces = 3 squares unsweetened baking chocolate ½ cup butter 1 cup granulated white sugar ½ cup brown sugar, packed firmly into the measuring cup 2 cups all-purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda ½ teaspoon salt 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 ¼ cups buttermilk * First, place the chocolate to melt in a small pan over the lowest heat. Check on it after about 5 minutes, stir it up with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula until it’s just melted, and then take it off the burner so it can cool back down a bit. Next, cut the butter into small pieces, so it can soften up in your largest mixer bowl while you prepare the pans and measure everything out. Now traditionally, one greases a cake pan by using a pastry brush or a paper towel to spread a thin layer of butter or shortening over the entire baking surface. Then you sprinkle it with a little bit of flour and shake it around until the surface is coated—tapping it upside-down over the sink to remove excess. However, to obtain the results pictured here: lightly grease two fundamentally non-stick, 9-inch round cake pans by rubbing them with the end of a stick of butter, and then line just the bottoms with parchment paper. Some cooks then grease the paper and furthermore flour the whole thing to be absolutely sure of even browning and ease of removal, and I’m going to tell you to make your own call on that one, based on the condition of your pans. Lightly mix together the white and brown sugars and set this aside. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt and set aside; and if you don’t own a sifter you can just mix things well by hand, but serious bakers sift for superlative ingredient distribution and its subsequent superlative results. If your baked goods don’t seem as pretty as the pictures or perhaps have little brown spots all over them, it might be because the leavening agent’s not properly incorporated. Measure out the buttermilk and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the sugar to the butter and cream at medium-high speed until all is light and fluffy—stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl frequently, of course—now and throughout the entire mixing process—to make sure all is completely fluffed. Then add the eggs and beat similarly. Next, blend in the vanilla and cooled chocolate at low speed. Finally, add about half the flour mixture—still at low speed—then about half the milk, followed by the rest of the flour, and the last of the milk, until all is well mixed. Beat hard at medium-high for about 3 minutes; and timing’s important here because it’s all about putting just the right amount of air in there, so watch your watch. Divide the batter evenly between your prepared pans—making sure it’s nice and level—and then bake those layers in the center of the oven for approximately 30 minutes. When done, they’ll feel firm to the fingertip in the middle, where an inserted toothpick should come out clean. Cool them—still in the pans—for about 5 minutes on a rack. Then remove them from the pans and let them cool completely on the rack before frosting. Beginner tip: always be sure to loosen the edges of cake layers like these with a dull knife before turning them out onto a cooling rack; and then—in order keep their more delicate tops from sticking to the rack—they need to cool right side up. This actually involves a two-step flip, done with three racks, in the following manner: First, place rack #1 on top of one of your layer pans, grab on tight to both pan and rack—with potholders if necessary—and flip everything over, so that the top of your cake is now resting on #1. Next, remove the pan, place rack #2 on top your newly exposed bottom, grab hold of both racks—and the cake, which is now between them, of course—and re-flip—so that your cake is now resting right-side-up, on top of #2—this time grabbing as lightly as possible, so as to not press cake into the wires. Remove rack #1; and then repeat this process with the other layer by reaching for rack #3. Once all is cool, place a layer upside-down on an attractive plate and spread it ¼ inch thick with the frosting to be found below. Then put the other layer on top of this—also upside-down; although you don’t have to do the upside-down part—it just makes the surface more uniform in presentation. It looks swell the other way too, but the more delicate top of your cake may correspondingly be more likely to tear, so be careful. Spread frosting all around the side of your cake, also about ¼ inch thick; while beginners will probably find this to be the trickiest part. Work with small quantities of frosting, and spread it from the top down to avoid getting a lot of it on the plate. Top your cake with a nice even layer made of the remaining frosting and then sprinkle it with whatever your imagination and heart desires; while if you’re not serving right away, refrigerate it. Plus—if layering just doesn’t work for your party plan—almost any cake batter like this one can instead be baked in a parchment-paper-lined, 9 x 13-inch pan at 350 degrees for about an hour; or turned into cupcakes by spooning it into a greased and floured muffin tin—filling its cups about half-full, and baking for only 15 minutes. Creamy Vanilla Butter Frosting * 3 cups confectioner’s sugar 3/8 cup butter 2 tablespoons vanilla 1/2 cup sour cream * Take the butter out of the refrigerator when the cake comes out of the oven, so that they can reach room temperature together. Cream the softened butter at medium-high speed for a minute or so, and then add the sugar gradually, at low speed. Once they’re mixed, turn the machine up to medium-high for about a minute. Stir in the vanilla, and then add the sour cream—back at low speed—scraping the bowl frequently, of course—until all is well blended. Whip at high for about 3 minutes, until very light and of spreading consistency —stopping at least once along the way to scrape the bowl. Happy Birthday to you! Chapter Thirty-Two Chocolate Cream or Chocolate Mousse Pie Now this is the most difficult—but also the most impressive—dessert in the book because you’ll once again be stepping into the intimidating waters of making pie crust; and as I said back in the cherry pie chapter, if you've never done this be prepared to have your first attempt fall apart. Just remember, it’s going to taste the same whether it’s pretty or not. Your friends will not run screaming in terror. Plus, those who may still be intimidated or are simply not fond of traditional pastry may be pleased to find below its modern counterpart: the ever-popular graham cracker crust, a fine alternative for those unable or reluctant to employ a rolling pin. Then, either crust can be filled with anything edible in the universe, and in this case one has their choice between the lightness of chocolate mousse or the more pudding-like texture of chocolate cream; while those who might now be wondering if any piecrust might be beyond their reach should remember that both of these fillings can be spooned into dessert dishes to make a simpler, yet also swell, end to any sweet occasion. Whichever one you choose, you’ll be topping it with whipped cream, and beginners wishing instruction in same will hopefully find it toward the end of the strawberry shortcake chapter. Sequence of Events Bake your pie shell of choice and set it to cool on a rack. Now those making the mousse pie should wait until the shell is completely cool before filling and refrigerating. On the other hand, those making the chocolate pudding that forms the bottom layer of the cream pie, should pour it into the shell, wait until all is no longer warm to the touch, and refrigerate at least 2 hours before topping that chilled, somehow expectant chocolate with whipped cream. Graham Cracker Crust * 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs ½ cup granulated sugar 6 tablespoons butter * Now you can buy your crackers pre-pulverized, or you can let your food processor do it for you. You can even do it without technology like I did way back in the Pleistocene Era when I set my sights on black-bottom pie with a gingersnap crust that I made by putting those snaps into a heavy-duty plastic bag, where they were subsequently bashed over and over and over again with this little bitty hammer somebody with my best interests at heart had somehow left behind in my kitchen.... * Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Mix in the sugar, and then the crumbs. Gently but firmly press this mixture onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie plate, while you may recall that this is the tricky part. Start with the bottom, work from the center out, and be aware that my crust is thicker than average. Bake 4 to 5 minutes, until set and slightly browned. Cool completely on a rack before filling. And now—to warn those of you who may worry about déjà vu—I shall be repeating —almost word-for-word—the pie crust recipe also featured elsewhere in this book, with minor changes stemming from the fact that this is a one-crust, pre-baked pie shell. Traditional Pie Crust * 1 cup all-purpose flour ½ teaspoon salt 1/3 cup shortening ¼ cup ice cold water * Two things are essential to remember when making pie crust: you must measure accurately, and you must cultivate a light touch, as over-handling develops the gluten— just like when you knead bread—and correspondingly toughens the finished product. Also—nearly a century ago now—not having access to hydrogenated shortening out there on the farm, my Aunt Phoebe actually chose to use lard because it made her crust so flaky; while those wary of shortening might instead agree with the spirit of Julia Child, who’d probably be quick to argue that starting with a properly chilled slab of premium butter is really the only way.... * Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Combine the flour and the salt with a sifter for best results, or mix together with a fork. Cut in the shortening with a pastry cutter or two knives—rubbing their surfaces together to blend the ingredients, just until your mixture resembles coarse meal. The tiny bits of shortening that remain contribute to the flakiness—to the point where some say that a food processor can really blend the dough too well for this type of pastry; so if you really love pie and other sinfully delicious shortening-laden delights, you’d better break down and buy a pastry cutter: a fist-sized handle, with U-shaped wires suspended from it, that’s not very expensive. Sprinkle the water over the mixture one tablespoon at a time, mixing rapidly with a fork until the dough forms a ball. Lightly shape and smooth the ball with your hands until it feels truly cohesive, and then pat it into a smooth, flat round. Roll the dough on a well-floured surface into a circle that’s 2 inches larger than the diameter of your 8 or 9-inch pie pan—starting from the center, and lifting the pin slightly upon reaching the edge. Turn it over at least once during the process, being sure to keep the surface well-floured. Even-up the edges as you go, but don't worry if it's not perfectly round, because you’ll be able to redistribute it a little bit after it's in the pan. Fold the rolled crust gently in half. Lift it carefully into the pie pan and unfold. Press it firmly, without stretching, into the pan—from the center out—to get rid of air pockets. If you stretch it, it's going to buckle when you bake it. Even-up the pastry around the rim, and then press all around with the flat side of the fork to make a decorative pattern and seal it to the pan. You can shape this edge into any attractive pattern that you like, but be sure it adheres to the outer edge of the pan to keep the crust from shrinking. Prick the crust carefully and generously with the fork to get rid of still more tiny air pockets that can expand when they hit the heat. After it's been in the oven for a couple of minutes, peek in at it, and if it's puffing up anywhere, prick it again quickly—trying not to let any more heat escape from the oven than necessary. Bake about 10 minutes, until your piecrust just begins to brown.... Remove it to a cooling rack while you prepare the filling. Eggomania Now no matter which of the following fillings you choose, the first step is to separate some eggs; and please don’t let this scare you, because the eventual thrill provided by this monument to chocolate will almost certainly be worth the trouble of learning how to do it. Plus, once you get the hang of it, you’ll feel so terribly clever you won’t be able to stand it. To separate an egg: first rap it sharply—but not too hard—on the edge of a medium-sized bowl to crack it, rather than smash it. Then hold it upright over your bowl with the crack running horizontally, and as you gently pull the shell apart, most of the white will spill over and fall into the bowl, but the yolk should remain in the bottom half of the shell. Carefully pour the yolk into the other half of the shell, which will cause more of the white to fall. Do this again if necessary until most of the white has fallen, and then put the yolk into another, smaller bowl. The main thing is to not puncture the yolk—contaminating the white, which will then refuse to whip. I own a Mexican cookbook by an amazing blind woman who actually learned to do this by putting the egg into her hand and letting the whites run down through her fingers, so of course you can do it. Start by separating them one at a time over a cup, so that if you mess up you’ve only ruined one egg white, instead of having to trash them all. Buy a bunch of extra eggs, refrigerate your failures in a glass jar, and use them in another recipe. Chocolate Mousse * 2 cups heavy whipping cream ½ cup confectioner’s sugar 6 ounces = 6 squares unsweetened baking chocolate 2 tablespoons butter ¼ cup granulated sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla 6 large eggs ¼ cup granulated sugar * Whip the cream until very stiff, adding the confectioner’s sugar at the last minute. Half of this cream is destined go into the mousse itself, while the other half will next become the topping. Transfer the cream to another bowl and refrigerate. You’re going to need the mixer bowl very shortly to make the meringue, unless you’re so fortunate as to own two of them. Melt the chocolate and butter over lowest heat until just softened. Stir in the first ¼ cup of sugar and the vanilla. Separate the eggs and stir the yolks into the chocolate mixture. Whip the whites on high speed until foamy, then add the second ¼ cup of sugar gradually, with the beaters still moving, until all is very stiff and glossy. Stir about half of this meringue into the chocolate mixture, a few spoonfuls at a time, until it’s smooth and resembles a very thick sauce. In the beginning the chocolate mixture’s going to be very thick, so keep stirring and be patient. Fold this mixture into the rest of the meringue—a difficult process to describe that involves pouring the chocolate evenly over the egg whites, followed by using a spatula to first cut down into the mixture, with the aim of then folding it over onto itself —rather than the circular stirring motion one generally associates with combining things in a bowl. When folding, remember to think about cutting directly into the center of your mixture all the way down to the bottom, with the idea of then folding the bottom over onto the top. Then one rotates the bowl slightly on the countertop and repeats, over and over until all is blended—the principal goal of this technique being to keep from deflating your balloon of meringue as little as possible. Fold half of the whipped cream into the chocolate meringue, pour it all into your completely cooled pie shell, and then top with the remaining cream. Decorate with the shaved chocolate of your choice if desired, and then refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. This thing holds its shape and stays tasty in the fridge overnight if necessary, but is really at its peak if you whip it up during a delightful afternoon and savor it slowly during a romantic twilight. Chocolate Cream Filling Now a cream pie filling is really just an extra-thick version of the sort of simple dessert pudding that’s eaten with a spoon, and those of you who read the introduction may recall my mention of the almost unnatural craving for Grandma’s chocolate pudding that became a source of inspiration for this book, which I feel makes it only appropriate that this be the last recipe, because it represents my attempt to cross what I suspect is her depression-era pudding with my Betty Crocker beginnings—leading after all these years to a hybrid recipe that pleases those at my particular table. Although I’ve never duplicated Grandma’s taste, I do have her recipe, which lacks eggs; but I put some in there anyway, because I feel she probably did it too when they were available. Then I changed her flour into cornstarch, because that’s what Betty did; and I upped the chocolate and vanilla because my family seems to like it that way.... You can do this too! It’s fun; while the odds of actually poisoning someone are astronomical! At least I think so.... Well, you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette, as they say. * 1 ½ squares = 1 ½ oz. unsweetened chocolate 1 cup sugar ¼ cup cornstarch 3/8 teaspoon salt 2 cups milk 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten with a fork 1 tablespoon vanilla * Melt the chocolate in a small non-stick saucepan over the lowest of heat. Stir it occasionally with a heat-proof rubber spatula, and only heat it until it’s soft, because chocolate burns very easily. Combine the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a roomy saucepan; and then add the milk—whisking until smooth. You can do all this with an eggbeater or a wooden spoon like Grandma did, but I imagine if she’d had a whisk she would’ve used it. Place this mixture over medium heat, alternately whisking almost constantly or scrapping the bottom and sides of the pan with the heat-proof spatula, until it begins to bubble. At this point it’s very easy for it to stick to the bottom and burn, so start with a good quality non-stick saucepan if possible—one that also has plenty of room in it, because by the time the pudding comes to a boil it will have also expanded. Turn the heat down to low, and add the chocolate. Pour the egg yolks into the mixture slowly—in a thin, steady stream—whisking constantly. Boil, whisk, and scrape for 1 minute. Remove your tasty pudding from the heat, whisk in the vanilla, and pour it into the pastry shell—letting it cool down on the countertop until it’s no longer hot to the touch. Refrigerate for 2 hours before topping it with whipped cream. * And then, this is where I let myself savor just one great big spoonful of that wonderful stuff while it’s still nice and warm; and suddenly I’m seven years old again— literally tugging on my grandmother’s apron strings as she stirs and stirs and stirs for what seems like forever. Finally, she turns to me with a gentle smile and hands me a warm bowl of heaven— with a little bit of cold milk poured on top, just the way I loved it.... Enjoy! While if you're also hungry for entertainment, you might care to sample some of my fiction at Smashwords.com.
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