As I mentioned before, the Frenchified ’70s vibe of the Junior League of the City of New York’s New York Entertains is ideal if you’re hosting a retro ladies’ luncheon, a benefit for the Philharmonic, or perhaps a key party.  However, any cookbook that suggests cream of scallop soup for a tailgating menu just does not have its finger on the pulse of the sporting community.

Sure, it’s not trying to, so I don’t fault it for that.  And besides, I did truly enjoy reading all the menus, which were very much a product of their time, and very entertaining in that regard.  But I needed baseball-watching food this week, and as it would turn out, comfort food as well.  Things turned out poorly for my Dodgers.

While what I was able to round up wasn’t perfect, and certainly wasn’t very Manhattan at all, I did get one very good recipe out of it, and had an opportunity to pull out an old favorite.

This first recipe comes from a menu for “An Election Night Celebration for Twelve”:

Beef With Beer

Beef With Beer

Beef With Beer

6 pounds top round of beef, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup bacon drippings or peanut oil
6 cups thinly sliced onions
4 tablespoons flour
4 1/2 cups each light and dark beer
Tied in a cheesecloth: 2 teaspoons whole allspice, 2 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon thyme, 6 peppercorns
4 pounds whole mushroom caps
Salt, freshly ground pepper
12 to 16 slices French bread
Seeded French mustard
Butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dry meat with paper towels and brown in hot drippings in a heavy pot. Remove meat and set aside. Add the onions to oil in the pot, and cook until browned, then sprinkle with flour and stir in beer. Return the meat to the pot and simmer gently, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Add the cheesecloth bag of spices, and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Uncover, and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Add mushroom caps 20 minutes before end of cooking time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread one side of the bread with mustard, and butter other side lightly. Pour beef into a deep, heavy, ovenproof casserole, put bread on top buttered side up, and put in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes to toast lightly. Serves 12 to 14.

beefwithbeer1

Now, I’ve made many pot roasts and beef stews and beef braised in Guinness in my day, but never once did it occur to me to serve it with good mustard.  Silly, really, because nothing tastes better with tender, cut-it-with-a-spoon beef than mustard.  It’s almost a slightly more refined take on the open-face hot roast beef sandwich.

A couple of notes on the preparation.  For my dark and light beers, I used Guinness and Pilsner Urquell, but play around with your own combinations.  And we don’t care for mushrooms in any form at the Potts-McCoy house, so I omitted them.  If you’re not planning to eat all of this in one night, I might suggest only baking the beef with as much bread as you plan to eat in one sitting.  Otherwise, the bread will mush up your leftovers.

For a side dish, I made a leeks vinaigrette so utterly unremarkable and undelicious that I won’t bother posting it here.  And what I made for dessert is also sort of unremarkable – lemon squares.  But who doesn’t like a lemon square?  They remind me of bake sales and Little League games, and for my purposes, they were just the thing.

Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 pound butter (2 sticks)
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together 2 cups of flour, butter, and 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar. Press into a 9 by 13-inch pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes, until pale gold at edges.

Mix eggs, granulated sugar, and salt, then blend in lemon juice and grated zest. Sift remaining flour and confectioners’ sugar onto egg mixture and fold in. Pour egg mixture over crust and return to oven for 30 minutes. Sift confectioners’ sugar over top and loosen edges with a spatula. Cool, then cut into squares. Makes about 48 1 1/2-inch squares.

Who can argue with that?  Keep an eye on the lemon squares in the oven, as I found mine to be a little over-browned on top when they came out, but otherwise, it’s pretty unscrew-up-able.

Since my highly invested baseball-watching has come to an end for the year (especially if the Fall Classic winds up a match-up between the odious Yankees and the villainous Philies), I just don’t know if I have the heart to pursue my MLB postseason-themed cooking for another week.  If the Angels pull it off, I will totally dust off the Junior League of Newport Beach’s cookbook.  But otherwise, next week, I’ll be looking for a cookbook from a city that doesn’t even have a baseball team, or at least, doesn’t have one that’s broken my heart in the past five years.

As I continue with my theme of MLB postseason cooking, this week, I looked at cookbooks from the Junior Leagues of New York City, Philadelphia, and Orange County (of course, I’m saving Los Angeles for a later date).  All three of the cookbooks I had access to had similar drawbacks.  All were published in the 1970s, and presented recipes that were, at that time, considered quite upscale (i.e. not food you’d want to eat while watching a baseball game).

Additionally, both NYC and Philly presented the recipes in their book in menu format, which I don’t like, for two reasons.

First, the circumstances surrounding these menus, such as “A Theater or Benefit Supper for 12” or “A Derby Day Luncheon for 16” rarely come up in my life.  I am simply not that influential, well-connected, or possessed of a living space that can graciously entertain more than 6 at a time.

Second, they tend to wind up presenting many variations on what is more or less the same recipe.  One Junior League cookbook I’ve looked at, and which shall remain nameless, contains virtually nothing but recipes for cheese balls and meatballs (let’s just say that it comes from a certain Rust Belt city of which I am fond… and that they’ve gone on to produce better cookbooks).

Though the Junior League of the City of New York’s New York Entertains (1974) is guilty on both counts, it did represent a unique opportunity.

How do you cook a meal that is representative of a city’s cuisine when that city is New York?  You could cook for a year and not get close.  You might not even get out of Queens.

And that’s where New York Entertains comes in.  I’m not saying that it’s not a good cookbook.  In fact, it embodies one of my favorite things about older cookbooks:  it’s a time capsule.

It takes us back to a time when the popular view in cooking was, “If it’s not French, it’s crap.”  There is also little place for ideas like comfort food, fun food, or simple food.  Here, food is a performance, and probably in many cases, a show of status.

There is an entire menu devoted to offering guests a selection of six different kinds of quiche and salad.  Even some of the “earthier” menus are not entirely accessible, like the one for a tailgate party, which suggests cream of scallop soup, or a menu for “moving day,” which offers duckling and wild rice a l’Orange en Casserole.  My personal favorite was the menu of “Hearty Fare After Touch Football in Central Park for Eight” which includes a salad of curly endive, sliced red onion, and tomatoes with vinaigrette and pumpkin souffle.  While ethnic foods make a few appearances, they are very much relegated to novelty “theme night” dinners, and are not an integral part of the cuisine.

Reading this cookbook, I began to understand the joke in 80s movies where characters go to a fancy party, and are incessantly offered:  “Pate?””

So, my challenge was clear:  to go through this cookbook, and find at least three recipes appropriate for serving during the viewing of a contemporary sporting event.

It was not easy, but I found them.

Recipes to follow, but in the meantime, the Tiny Banquet Committee has made an insightful dip into this cookbook, with some great images, to boot.

View recipes and photos from the Junior League of the City of New York’s New York Entertains (Beef with Beer, Lemon Squares)

meet_us_in_the_kitchenThe Dodgers pulled off a sweep of the Cardinals yesterday, making them the first team to advance to the next round of postseason play, and making this week’s meal from the Junior League of St. Louis a victory meal.  As my father put it, “You’re eating their food, and they’re eating crow.”  Or as Brady put it, “The Dodgers ate the Cardinals’s lunch, so we’re eating St. Louis’s dinner.”

But enough with the gloating.  Not only do I like and respect the Cardinals as a team, but I’m quite the fan of their city.  Almost exactly halfway between Madison, Wisconsin and Memphis, two cities that we once spent a lot of time travelling between, St. Louis made a good stopping place.  Better yet, it was the home of one of our favorite people from college, a scholar and a gentleman who was always incredibly generous with his couch and his bourbon, and also knew all the best neighborhood cafes.

St. Louis is an interesting place.  Southerners think it’s a northern city.  Northerners think it’s part of the South.  The city’s culinary traditions are a product of its diverse population, which includes African Americans and the descendants of Irish, Italian, and German immigrants who came to the city in large numbers during the 19th century.  But the thing that strikes me most about St. Louis is that it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, but feels more like a loosely knit collection of small neighborhoods rather than an urban center.

And it was that last aspect of St. Louis that helped to decide my menu this week, a big city meal with a small town feel.  The kind of meal you’d make for company, if your company was more like family, something homey and comforting, but just a little bit elegant.

There were a couple of intriguing possibilities for entrees this week.  I was running them by Brady, and when I read off the name of this dish, he said, “Ooo!  That one!”

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

A delicious make-ahead pasta dish suitable for company.

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 medium white onion, cut into long thin strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (8-ounce) package frozen green peas
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound ziti, cooked and drained
4 ounces prosciutto, minced
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
Bread crumbs

Saute the asparagus, onion, garlic, and green peas in the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until tender. Add the red pepper flakes. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine. Saute for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and cream. Cook until liquid is reduced by one third. Season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta and mix well.

Layer the pasta mixture, prosciutto, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese 1/2 at a time in a baking pan greased with olive oil. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. May prepare ahead and chill, covered, until serving time. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is brown and the cheeses are melted.

Serves 4

While I had mixed feelings about the peas, the ziti was otherwise delicious, with a crisp, cheesy crust and layers of vegetables, delicate sauce, and pasta beneath.  Nothing was too soggy or overcooked, and the prosciutto tastes absolutely heavenly with the mozzarella and asparagus.  I did deviate a tad from the recipe by lightly sauteeing the prosciutto in a skillet to crisp it up before layering it into the ziti.

Ever since my little sister shamed me about the lack of vegetables and greens in our meals, I’ve tried to do better.  However, this tasty side dish could almost pass for dessert.

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

Serve this very festive-looking dish at Thanksgiving or any other holiday.

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante

1 pound carrots, thinly sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 cup sliced almonds

Cook the carrots in 1/2 inch of boiling water in a large saucepan for 8 minutes; drain.

Combine the raisins, margarine, honey, lemon juice and ginger in a small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium for 1 minute or until the margarine is melted; mix well. Add to the carrots and toss to coat. Add the almonds and toss to mix well. Spoon into a 1-quart baking dish.

I don't have a microwave, so I made the sauce stovetop.  And I loathe margarine, so I used butter.

If I wrote the SATs: microwave is to stovetop as margarine is to butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serves 4 to 6

Besides being very very pretty, these carrots are quite tasty.  The flavor of the raisins, ginger, and honey reminded me a little bit of Moroccan food, and it occurred to me that vegetarians might throw in a couple more types of vegetables and serve this over couscous as a main course.  The carrots were tender, yet firm, and despite the sweetness, the whole thing tasted very wholesome.

Instead of a dessert, I decided to make bread to go along with our meal.  It wasn’t that I was skeptical of this recipe, I just had absolutely no idea how it was supposed to work without yeast.  Would it taste like a biscuit?  A quick bread?  Would the texture be too heavy?  The result was a pleasant surprise.

Parmesan Herb Bread

This moist bread is a wonderful accompaniment to Tortellini Soup and a fresh green salad.

Parmesan Herb Bread

Parmesan Herb Bread

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon minced onion
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Grated Parmesan cheese to taste
Italian seasoning to taste

Combine the sour cream, milk and butter in a small bowl and mix well. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese, onion, and 2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning in a large bowl and mix well. Add the sour cream mixture and stir until moistened. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 minute or until smooth. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Shape each portion into a round loaf. Place the loaves on a greased baking sheet. Brush the tops with egg white. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning to taste. Cut an “X” 1/2 inch through the top of each loaf. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.

parmesan herb bread1

Makes 2 loaves

The egg wash and cheese gives each loaf a crispy crust, and the inside, is dense and chewy, but not heavy.  It’s something like a cross between a biscuit and a cornbread, and the combination of herbs in the Italian seasoning (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil) is quite nice.  While we enjoyed it with our meal, I can imagine it would be very, very good indeed with some kind of vegetable soup.

The whole time I’ve been cooking, eating, and writing about this meal, I’ve had the radio on in the background, and have been treated to an Angels sweep of the Red Sox, a Yankees sweep of the Twins (which is too bad because a) the Yankees are a force for evil, and b) I’ve really been eager to try out the cookbook from the Junior League of Minneapolis-St. Paul), and now, a fierce arctic battle between the Rockies and Phillies.  Seeing as I’ve already done Denver, next week, it’s looking like a meal from New York City, Orange County, or Philadelphia, if they play their cards right.

This weekend, the Dodgers head to St. Louis needing only one more win against the mighty Cardinals to clinch the National League Division series.  Right now, it’s the top of the 7th, and Dodgers lead 5-0.

Which raises the question I hardly dare ask:  will tomorrow’s meal from the Junior League of St. Louis’s Meet Us in the Kitchen be a victory dinner?

Only time will tell.  Until then….

View recipes and photos from the Junior League of St. Louis’s Meet Us in the Kitchen (Layered Ziti with Asparagus and Prosciutto, Honey Ginger Carrots Elegante, Parmesan Herb Bread)

The O-Dog in action

The O-Dog in action

As I sit here, listening to the Dodgers postgame on KABC 790 after a disappointing 5-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, I find myself unable to hold too dear a grudge against the fair city of Phoenix.

After all, two of my favorite Dodgers did spend quality time there.

After suffering a seemingly career-ending wrist injury last season, Orlando Hudson left the D-Backs a free agent and was signed by the Dodgers for this season.  Their loss was our gain.  The irrepressible O-Dog, recently named the “Chattiest Player” in Major League Baseball, is an absolute joy to watch on the field, at bat, or in an interview.

AND!  He also runs the nonprofit C.A.T.C.H. Foundation (Curing Autism Through Change and Hope), an organization that seeks “to enable children with autism to enjoy a normal life through the funding of outlets for proper therapy, education, and extracurricular activities.”

'Dre enjoying his unlikely off-season vocation

Phoenix's clutch-hitting, food blogging export

And then, there’s Phoenix’s native son, Dodger right fielder, and king of the clutch homer and walk-off hit, Andre Ethier.  Whenever I see him step up to the plate, I always find myself thinking, despite the fact that I’m only a few years older than he is, “What a nice young man!”

And when he’s not knocking balls out of the park, Ethier is, of all things, a total foodie.  Last season, he started writing a food blog, Dining With ‘Dre, where he explores the ethnic cuisine of Los Angeles and his native Phoenix.

It hasn’t been updated in quite some time (dude’s been busy!), but in his last two posts, he figures out why Mexican food in Phoenix is the best (it’s the Native American influence), and  takes his grandma out to lunch at her favorite Phoenix restaurant.

What a nice young man!

And then, there’s the southwestern feast Brady and I enjoyed the other day, courtesy of recipes from the Junior League of Phoenix‘s Pomegranates and Prickly Pears (2005).

In the forward to the book, Barbara Pool Fenzl, owner of Les Gourmettes Cooking School, writes,

“As a young bride, I loved to cook and try new dishes by inviting our friends for dinner.  As I worked my way through many, many cookbooks, I soon realized that the Junior Leagues’ were the best.  They always had delicious, doable recipes that were perfect for entertaining.  As I traveled about the country, my mission became seeking out the Junior League cookbook from each city I visited.  I knew the dishes would work because they were used by busy, accomplished women who loved to host memorable parties but didn’t want to slave in the kitchen all day.”

pomegranates and prickly pearsExactly!

And I absolutely love that way that Pomegranates and Prickly Pears is organized.  Instead of the typical “Appetizers-Breads-Side Dishes-Main Courses-Desserts” arrangement, the recipes in the book are arranged in terms of how a busy home cook might use them.  Sections include “It’s a Dry Heat” (light and casual summer dishes), “Eat with Your Hands” (kid-friendly recipes), “Just the Two of You” (recipes for romantic dinners at home), and “Valley Glow” (hors d’oeuvre and recipes for festive entertaining).

For this week’s menu, I pieced together recipes from a few sections because there is no chapter in any cookbook for “Things to Cook When Your Husband Has a California Wildfire-Induced Sinus Infection and Can’t Taste Food.”

Lots of spicy chile dishes coming up this week, as well as an elegant, tasty salad, and a dessert that involves a culinary torch!

Go Dodgers (and D-Backs)!

View recipes and photos from the Junior League of Phoenix’s Pomegranates and Prickly Pears (Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado, Jicama Green Leaf Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing, Ancho Chile Cheese Enchiladas, Lemon Creme Brulee)