Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another simple night

Spicy shrimp over green salad...
Sauteed defrosted Whole Foods baby shrimp sprinkled with Goya Adobo seasoning in a pan with a little butter and oil and added Frank's hot sauce until the pan was mostly dry. Since the shrimp are so tiny heating the pre-cooked shrimp in a pan made them a little tough-- but still tasty! Served warm shrimp over green salad with shredded cheese mix. Simply delicious.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Simply delicious

Sometimes the tastiest meals are the simplest to make. Fresh delicious ingredients, seasoned with just salt and pepper. Eye of the round steak tenderized and marinated in Italian dressing; chopped tomatoes with freshly minced garlic and parmesean; and olive oil parm baked-this-morning baguette toasts. Yum!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Art of Subsitution

Boeuf bourguignon The Pleasures of Cooking for One, by Judith Jones
This dish of boeuf bourguignon has gotten a lot of play lately, again, due to “Julie & Julia,” but rather than make Julia’s boeuf bourguignon, I opted to make my single chef version from Judith Jones with some adjustments. Substitution is one of the most fun factors about cooking. If you have picky eaters, or if you're a vegetarian, you can always make substitutions without problem. If you loathe anchovies and a dish calls for them, just substitute a strongly flavored meaty alternative. This is an especially welcome fact if you or your friends have a food allergy, you can always swap out the the item in question for something of equal value. My substitutions in this recipe came largely from the fact that I was unwilling to go out and buy a handful of additional ingredients the night I cooked the boeuf bourguinon.
To begin, the biggest change I made was using white prosecco instead of red wine; it definitely change the flavor the dish, but it was still a delicious end result. I used about ½ cup of the prosecco to 1 & ½ cups of beef broth (had I used red wine, I’d have done the full cup called for to 1 cup of broth). I also used two shallots instead of an onion because it was what I had. Typically I prefer a shallot to an onion because they are more delicate in flavor but still bring the dimension needed. Shamefully, I was also lacking parsley and bay leaves for my bouquet garni, so I sprinkled in herbes de provence which have more herbs than were called for and rather than making a packet with the garlic, thyme and pepper, I added them in chopped/grinded before letting the dish simmer to thickness. Also, as mentioned in "The Single Chef" I added duxelles when the stew beef was cooked and it enhanced the whole stew flavor.
Aside from my substitutions I followed Jones’ instructions to make the stew and it came out beautifully. Again, I was out of carrots, leeks, and potatoes so I didn't add the 'vegetable garnish' she adds to finish the stew, so I served myself the beef over mashed potatoes. The recipe yielded enough stew to have it twice (or to serve two), or as she offers to use it in two additional ways-- adding some of the meat to a Beef and Kidney pie (found on page 34 of her book) and then as a meat sauce using the meat cooked with tomatoes and tossed with pasta. As of right now the leftovers are waiting patiently in my fridge to either be enjoyed as is or perhaps as the pasta dish.
I was very glad to have found Jones' version of this dish I have always wanted to prepare myself (whenever I came home from college I would make my mom cook beef stew for me) but never felt it was worth making for only one. Jones' book is a real gem and I'm so glad to have it come to me at this point in my life when I have only myself to shop for and my own kitchen to cook in.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Single Chef

“Never be daunted in private
-MFK Fisher

Shopping for Christmas presents this year I discovered Judith Jones’ “The Pleasures of Cooking for One.” While the title lends itself to sounding a little cat-ladyish, the contents certainly live up to the word pleasure in the title. Judith Jones, you may now know thanks to her presence in the blog-to-book-to-movie “Julie & Julia,” is the editor who brought Julia Child to light in America. Living alone and being a declared foodie, one of the largest downsides is feeling the futility of grocery shopping and cooking for one when it seems to lead to waste. Jones’ collection of recipes contains a myriad of tips for saving and reusing your leftovers to create a whole new meal. She also includes recipes for meal enhancers to have on hand in the freezer such as duxelles, a rich mushroom sauté (see below). Since it is always less expensive to buy groceries in bulk these tips are also a great way to save money.
MFK Fisher’s found dining to be such an intimate activity she would share meals sparingly and only with a select few. The first letter of her “Alphabet for Gourmets” begins with ‘A is for dining Alone.’ Unfortunately, her foodiedom intimidated gentlemen who might otherwise ask her out to a meal as well as friends who wouldn’t dare invite her to dinner. Reading her entry of how she came to prefer dining alone to dining with a party of ashamed hosts and guests is disheartening. Writing “Alphabet” in the Forties when canned goods and frozen foods were all the rage in modernity it seems MFK Fisher was born in the wrong era. Today she would be an honored guest at a slew of restaurants and many aspiring chefs in restaurants, homes, and even on television would do their best to impress her, seeing serving her as a culinary challenge to be tackled and not shied away from.
However, as far as I can tell from my reading of Fisher, she might feel uncomfortably invisible in our day—but to consider this is to assume someone else would have played the same role she did in recording the American food revolution.

Duxelles A simple mushroom sauté best know for its place in Beef Wellington between the tenderloin and the puff pastry.
Very easy to make and luxurious to have. Chop up a bunch of mushrooms, sweat with salt then dry them, add to shallots sauteéd in butter until the pan juices evaporate and you're done! Simple, rich, and delicious. I made my first batch the same night I made the Boeuf Bourguignon from Jones' cook book and added a spoonful of the duxelles to the end product and you could really taste the mushroom's richness even with the meatiness of the stew (BB entry to follow).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Les Joies du Chocolat-- sans Peur!

Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake Simple French Desserts, by Jill O'Connor, 2000 http://www.jilloconnorcooks.com/cook_books.html

My very good friends Jocelin and Marlie are off to Paris for a jaunt on Wednesday. My other friend and I decided this is an occasion for a little party to show them a proper send off. Jocelin's husband, a former restaurant chef, is taking care of making dinner therefore I offered to make dessert!
I love baking with melted chocolate, its so satisfying. The cake is just one large soufflé as opposed to smaller individual ones which are most often seen in restaurants. O'Connor gives tips on "Fearless Folding" following this recipe in her book which got me to thinking about fear & baking/cooking. Most people who don't cook or pronounce that they cannot cook probably have never done it much and are too afraid to try. Like many of the current eldest generation who fear the computer because they secretly believe they may break it, people who find themselves too afraid to cook are probably afraid they'll get someone sick or light the house on fire! But being fearless is one of the greatest assets a cook can possess. Even in terms of tasting, a fearless taster will develop a wider range of ingredients to select and cook with. The beauty of cooking is that you can always try again. You won't lose all your tools, or even all of the ingredients and every time you screw up a recipe you learn something new! Whether that something new is a more obvious thing such as not to put plastic in the oven or a new trick for next time you make the recipe, you're better equipped to do it again. Soufflés seem difficult or challenging, but all it takes is an understanding of how to make them and the patience to let their beauty rise. Folding is a simple technique and can be mastered in one correct blending. It is the respect of the egg whites you so aggressively beat into those stiff peaks that mustn't deflate when folding, when spooning the mixture into the pan (as opposed to pouring it where it will be toppling all over itself and de-poufing left and right), and when placing and removing the souffle from the oven.

Baking is truly an art and I am happy to be an aspiring artist.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Individual Chicken Potpies

Everyday Food, October 2009, Issue 66, page 98
Second go of making this recipe. First time I doubled it, this time I am making it as is except for dividing it down into 8 smaller dishes. I’m frustrated that I’m not finding 10 or 12oz. baking dishes used for 4 servings. They’re on-line, but not so easily found in stores.
Today I used 6 oz. ramekins and am serving a veggie filled green salad before the pot pies; mixed spring greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, pea shoots, carrot shavings, and Italian dressing. I hope my guests don’t leave hungry!
To add a little extra special something to the pot pies I’m going to sprinkle the filling with shredded mozzarella cheese before I cover them with the puff pastry squares. Should be a little added decadence….
Finished Product:
They came out wonderfully! Its an easy recipe, but they are just so fabulous looking! I will certainly make them again. This size worked out well, and would be especially well as a light lunch (which I will enjoy this week) or as part of a multi-course meal.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

We'll Make the Best of What's Around: Looking Back at Cookery in the Genesee Valley

Spring 2008

Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma tries to tackle the fundamental question of "what should we eat for dinner?" (1). Pollan's discussion can largely be seen as an investigation of nature versus culture -- nature being the actual food we, as humans, eat, and culture being how we find, prepare, and think about that food. In cookbooks this relationship, in a way, has been written out in black and white. Cookbooks can be used as a vehicle to explore the food culture of the past. Since a nation's food culture is a reflection of the nation itself, it should come as no surprise that one of the very first American cookbooks, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons (circa 1796), is seen as a being "in its own way, a second Declaration of American Independence" ("Feeding America").

If one wanted to explore the food culture of the past in one's own area, a good way to begin would be by researching cookbooks from as far back as one can find from one's hometown. In New York State's Genesee Valley, an excellent resource is the Genesee Valley Collection at SUNY Geneseo's Milne Library in Geneseo, NY. The collection contains American cookbooks, many that were published or distributed in the Genesee Valley region. The collection itself serves as a time machine for exploring the history of the area; the assortment of cookery books in addition to the agricultural and farming texts in the collection allows a researcher to peek back in time to see what people were eating and how it was being prepared. This look backwards can turn into a view forward with sights set on returning to locally based eating.

One of the first things a casual browser of the cookery collection might notice is the use of the word "receipt" in cook books of the past instead of "recipe". The explanation for this can be found in Susan S. Kinsey's book Pioneer Cookery of the Genesee Country:

I often wondered about early cookbooks using the word receipt instead of recipe so I found a 19thcentury dictionary and looked up both words. Recipe was defined as "a formulary for making some combination; especially a prescription medicine." Receipt, on the other hand, was "a formulary according to the directions of which things are to be combined; as a receipt for sponge cake." My modern dictionary shows how our language has evolved. Now recipe is defined as a "formula for making a dish in cookery; -- often preferred to receipt."

The change in semantics reveals the cultural shifts in American cookery. Things change over time, and the cookbooks of the Genesee Valley collection attest to this. When leafing through the cookbooks of the collection, they are in fact directions, not formulas. These books are filled with short paragraphs, titled by the dish, with measurements throughout -- unlike the formulaic structure used today where the amount of each ingredient is listed at the top of the recipe and the directions for assembly below.

Another reflection on the change in time is in the language within the "receipts" of the past. Recipes today are very standardized in comparison with the receipts of the past. Before, typical measurements would involve words such as "a few" and "about" as well as measurements unused today such as a "gill," which is equivalent to a quarter pint. Temperature was also discussed in vague terminology, such as "blood warmth." Today the measurements and temperatures in recipes are written out with exact measurements of the ingredients, and the tools used to make those measurements range from small measuring spoons to measure out a pinch to the multiple kinds of thermometers from candy to meat to oven. The differences between the past and the present is a reflection of our American culture -- the need for structure is a means to getting things done as quickly as possible in order to keep up with the fast-paced American life style of today.

The textual differences between cook books of today and of the past is just a beginning; more differences come in the form of what foods were being used. The actual food people were preparing dishes with was different from the food available in grocery stores today. Many of the earliest cookbooks have receipts for different "Indian" dishes, such as Indian Pudding and Indian Cake (renamed Johnny Cake) containing Indian meal, which would equate to corn meal today, but is by no means the same. The corn meal one would purchase in a grocery store today would contain enrichment agents such as niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, and folic acid. Another difference is the variety of meats used in the past. There are many receipts in the old cookbooks using a variety of game animals, such as deer, partridge, cedar bird, also more exotic animals such as terrapin (sea turtle), as well as miscellaneous animals parts such as ox tongue and animal kidneys. The way food is used in these old cookbooks is a testament to the locavore cooking of the past-- that is, eating food grown/produced locally -- as well the way more than just the typical cuts of meat were eaten.

Cooking something out of a modern American cookbook can be standardized across the nation -- someone in New Mexico could make the same thing in Maine using the exact store-bought ingredients and if prepared exactly as the recipe reads, the two products would be almost identical; if attempted 150 years ago this experiment would not even be possible. the national shifting in how food is produced, the increasing scale of agriculture, along with the diversification of modes and speeds of transportation have developed a whole new way of national eating. the nation has become a "fast food nation" on every level -- not only are chain fast food restaurants a norm, the amounts of processed and prepared foods available at any minute are endless. The cookbooks of the past can really teach Americans today about a different way of living, a slower-paced, locally centered, community strong way of living. With the revival of local eating, these cookbooks may become a resource for rediscovering the rich food sources naturally occurring in one's own area.


Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project. "Introduction to Amelia Simmons." http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/html/books/book_01.cfm.  2004.