seasoned with sunSince its publication in 1974, the Junior League of El Paso‘s cookbook, Seasoned With Sun has gone through numerous printings and remains in print today.  And with good reason.  It’s a terrific source for authentic Mexican and Southwestern cooking, and full of recipes that reflect the Indian, Mexican, Spanish, and Anglo influences on regional cuisine.  Although there’s a section of the cookbook devoted to traditional Mexican dishes, recipes with roots in Central and South American cooking such as empanadas, jicama en escabeche, and sopaipillas are scattered throughout the book alongside the usual suspects of the Junior League cookbook — ham puffs, Steak Diane, chicken Jerusalem, cheese balls.

For my cooking this week, I wanted to make two meals, one traditional Mexican, and one traditional Tex-Mex, and Seasoned With Sun gave me many, many options to choose from.  Sadly, I did not have time to make chiles rellanos; however, there are many other Southwestern Junior Leagues, and somehow, I suspect at least one of them will include a recipe.

The reason I did not have time to make chiles rellanos is because I decided to make mole from scratch.  Ironically, I chose mole instead of tamales because I thought the latter sounded “too hard.”  Four hours and half a season of Mad Men into the mole-making process, my shoulders aching, my fingertips afire, and covered in ground chile and chocolate goo up to my elbows, I lamented my decision bitterly.  Five hours in, I took to strong liquor.

And then I tasted the mole.  And all was forgiven.

For those unfamiliar with mole, it’s a name that can refer to many different kinds of sauces used in Mexican cuisine, particularly in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla where they originated.  Though there are many varieties, all are made from a mixture of ground chiles and spices, and sometimes, chocolate.  Red moles – Mole Coloradito and Mole Rojo– are particularly delicious, though it’s hard to go wrong ordering a Mole Poblano, which is what I made. It’s a sauce that has a lot of subtle, complex flavors, which shouldn’t surprise you when you see the list of ingredients, as there are about a million of them. In Mexico, mole is traditionally served for special occasions.  This is sensible, because you would never make anything this labor-intensive and time-consuming for people unless you liked them a whole lot.

Chicken or Turkey Mole

Serves 6

Mole Sauce

This is what the sauce should look like after you've forced it through a sieve or fine-mesh colander.

This is what the mole will look like after you've forced it through a sieve or fine-mesh colander.

30 chiles mulattos
20 chiles anchos
10 chiles pasillas
1 tablespoon mixed seeds from chiles
1/2 cup almonds (not blanched)
1 corn tortilla
2 French rolls
1 onion, peeled
2 peppercorns
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Pinch anise seed
Pinch coriander
1 quarter Mexican chocolate (comes in rounds, marked in quarters)
4-6 cups hot turkey or chicken broth
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch cumin powder
Salt to taste
Pinch powdered cloves (optional)

Wash and dry the three kinds of chiles (all can be bought at Mexican food stores). Place chiles in a dry, heavy skillet and toast lightly. Remove seeds. Soak chiles in water to cover. Toast the tablespoon of chile seeds with the almonds in a dry skillet until brown. Fry the tortilla crisp in a little oil. Cut rolls in half and fry until brown. Grind all ingredients to the consistency of paste. Add a cup or more of broth to the ground chile (enough to strain the chile). Stir through sieve; add broth if needed. Sauce can be frozen in 2 cup amounts.

Mole simmering with shredded chicken

Mole simmering with shredded chicken

1 turkey or 2 3-pound chickens, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons bacon grease
2 cups mole (home prepared recipe or 1 jar commercial sauce)
1 1/2 cups broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash coriander
Dash cumin
Dash garlic powder
Dash ground cinnamon
1 rounded teaspoon peanut butter
1/8 round of Mexican chocolate
2 teaspoons sugar
1 heaping teaspoon raisins

Simmer the cut up turkey or chicken in water to cover until tender, adding salt to taste. Heat oil and add mole sauce. Fry a few minutes; add remaining ingredients and simmer 30 minutes. Add broth if it gets too thick. Place boned turkey or chicken into sauce and heat thoroughly. Serve with hot buttered tortillas.

When making a dish like mole, you will probably spend a certain amount of time in a state of anxious worry, obsessing over the very real possibility that five hours of cooking could end with a phone call to Papa John’s, and the fear that you will never again be able to eat cheese sticks without associating them with failure.

And by you, of course, I mean me.

I started to feel more confident when I got the paste ground up, and noticed that it smelled right.  And once I’d gotten it strained through the colander, it looked right.  And once I adjusted the seasonings a little bit, it tasted right.

By the time I got it plated, I was quite visibly strutting.

It was a little spicy, a little sweet, a little smoky and nutty and chocolaty — just a very good, very balanced recipe, and well worth the effort.

mole3

For breakfast this morning, we fried up a couple of tortillas and a couple of eggs, and served them with a scoop of chicken mole and a spoonful of salsa – a kind of mole, huevos rancheros, chilaquiles mash-up – which was absolutely delicious.  We had the rest with rice for dinner tonight, and I even had a couple of cups of sauce left over, which I froze.

I did make a few recipe adjustments, most notably the fact that I only used one whole chicken, and found that I only needed about three cups of broth to mix with the chile paste before I forced it through the colander, and only needed to add about half a cup of broth to the mole while it simmered.

Also, it may take you less than five hours to make this, especially if you have a food processor that can grind more than two chiles at a time.  But make no mistake, the grinding part of the recipe will take a long, long time, and your shoulders will be screaming by the time you’re finished.  Also, if you find your fingers won’t stop burning hours after you’ve finished cooking, try soaking your hands in milk for a few minutes.  It works wonders.

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pine-bluff-dinnerAs everyone knows, there’s nothing like chicken dinner on a Sunday.  My menu came together fairly easily – oven-fried chicken, jalapeno cornbread, and lemon chess pie were a no-brainer for Pine Bluff, Arkansas week – except for the problem of a vegetable.  I needed something green on the plate to break up all that brown and yellow, maybe some nice sugar snap peas or roasted asparagus.  Unfortunately, every single vegetable dish in Southern Accent involved bacon drippings, a cup of cheese, heavy cream, or a sugary glaze, and this plate already had plenty of those things on it.

In a vague nod to good health, I opted for oven-fried chicken over a traditional deep fried chicken, although to be honest, this had less to do with nutrition than the contributor of the fried chicken recipe.  I just did not care for her tone.

I started with dessert, in order to give the pie time to set up and cool.

Lemon Chess Pie

Lemon Chess Pie

Lemon Chess Pie

1 9-inch pie shell, unbaked
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 2 lemons
5 Tbsp. melted butter

Mix ingredients together, and pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes until mixture is firm and brown on top.

-Mrs. Charles Scarbrough

Much to my surprise, Brady did not know the origins of the name “chess pie,” though to be fair, there are actually three common narratives, all of them rooted in that charming condition known as “South-mouth.”  The first is that because the pie was stored in an ice chest, it came to be known as “chest pie,” shortened by regional dialect to “chess pie.”  The second is that because of the similarity of its filling to the English treat, lemon curd, the name comes from a regionalization of “cheese pie” (though this involves a cognitive leap from curd to cheese that I find messy).  My favorite of the three has probably the weakest etymological leg to stand on, but makes up for it with sheer style.  The story goes that someone came into a diner and asked what kind of pie they had.  The waitress looked in the cooler, and seeing only a plain old custard replied, “Jes’ pie.”

Because you're worth it.

Because you're worth it.

I have strong feelings on the subject of freezer pie crust.  I’m agin’ it.  Making your own pie crust takes next to no time – I had this puppy mixed, rolled, crimped, and photographed in 10 minutes, and as I’m sure I’ve demonstrated quite clearly in previous posts, my love of cooking far outstrips my skill.  Here’s a simple recipe for a single pie crust:

1 cup of flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup of Crisco
4-6 tablespoons ice water

Mix the flour and salt together. With a pastry cutter or a potato masher, mix in the Crisco until the dough is crumbly. Then, add about 4 tablespoons of ice water and give it a few stirs to see if that’s enough to hold the dough together. Depending on the weather, you might need more.  Once the dough forms a ball, turn it onto a floured surface and roll it out. Then put it in a pie pan and crimp the edges.

Tricks:

  • Dough Handling: The first trick to a flaky crust is the ice water. You want to keep the Crisco as cool as possible. This also means that you should try to avoid touching the dough. Basically, if you screw up the crust the first time you roll it out and it tears or something, just start over again. If you have to smoosh the dough back into a ball and roll it out again, you’ll wind up with rubbery crust.
  • Dough Rolling: Pat flour on the top of the dough and on your rolling pin. Once you’ve given it three or four rolls, lift up the edges and scoop more flour underneath the dough. That way, it won’t stick to the counter.
  • Successful Transfer to the Pie Pan: Once the dough is rolled out, wrap it once around your rolling pin. Then gently lift it up and drag it into the pan, unrolling it once you have it centered.
  • Tasty trick: If you’re making a savory pie or a quiche, substitute one tablespoon of white vinegar for the same quantity of ice water.

Anyhow, I don’t expect anyone to share my pie crust mania, but give it a try at least once.  For me.

Next up, I dispatched the jalapeno cornbread, which surely contains several times the recommended daily allowance of bacon drippings for growing boys and girls.

Jalapeno Corn Bread

Jalapeno Corn Bread (behold the almighty 'Ove' Glove in the background)

Jalapeno Corn Bread (behold the almighty 'Ove' Glove in the background)

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
1 (8 3/4 oz.) can cream style corn
1/4-1/2 cup chopped Jalapeno peppers
1/2 cup shortening or bacon drippings

Melt bacon drippings in a 9-inch iron skillet until very hot. During this time, sift dry ingredients in bowl. Add remaining ingredients, plus hot drippings, and mix well. Pour batter into skillet and bake at 450 for 20-25 minutes. Muffin tins may be used, filling half full, and baked 15-20 minutes. Serves 6.

-Mrs. Royce O. Johnson, Jr.

My cast iron skillet is much larger than 9 inches, so I opted to bake the cornbread in a regular round pan (though I did grease it with bacon drippings).  Also, if you wear contacts, wear latex gloves (or in a pinch, stick a sandwich bag over your hand) while you chop the jalapenos, or there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth the next time you put in your lenses.

Oven Fried Chicken

I did not overlap!  I did not turn!

I did not overlap! I did not turn!

3/4 cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 cups dry breadcrumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 fryer, cut up

Melt butter with garlic in it. Combine salt, pepper, crumbs, cheese, and parsley. Dip chicken pieces in butter, then in crumbs. Lay in shallow baking pan. Do not overlap! Do not turn! Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 1 hour. Serves 4.

-Mrs. Jasper Pyeatt (Searcy, Arkansas)

I’d worried that an hour in the oven would be too long, and that the chicken would be tough, but it was moist, juicy, and very flavorful.  Also, I stuck the Parmesan and parsley in the food processor before adding them to the breadcrumbs so they’d stick to the chicken better.  I learned this lesson after once making an ill-fated pecan-crusted tilapia.

And here’s our little red table laid for Sunday dinner, note the centerpiece:

Pine Bluff, Arkansas Dinner

Pine Bluff, Arkansas Dinner

Among its many admirable features, Bob Frank and John Murry’s new record is excellent dinner music, and in fact, promotes stimulating conversation, aids digestion, and takes the sting out of doing the dishes.

yakimaWe’re spending this week with the Junior League of Yakima, Washington, and their gorgeous collection of seasonal recipes, Fresh from the Valley.  It’s a cookbook that proves there’s no reason you can’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, even if you live in Yakima, Washington.

Or even if you happen to be visiting your family in western Pennsylvania, where it actually began to snow two hours after we finished cooking.

The cookbook includes a section for each season, but we decided to do two from spring, one from summer, and one from fall, helped along by my parent’s very well-stocked freezer.  They blanch and freeze corn – often corn they grew themselves – and buy local, hormone-free beef from a small rancher.  And no, my parents aren’t hippies.  As my dad says, “We’re just independent, self-sufficient cusses.”

No, my parents aren’t militia folk either.

The cooking operation this week was like something out of Three Rivers Stadium in 1979.  My folks, my sister, my little niece, all got in on the action, and we put together a darn nice little meal if I do say so myself.  For our appetizer courses, we chose two recipes from the Spring section.

Fresh Fruit Salad with Honey Dressing

This recipe was handed down from Inez Hardy, a Yakima Valley pioneer from the early 1900s.

We are USDA food pyramid poster children.

We are USDA food pyramid poster children.

HONEY DRESSING
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 cup vegetable oil

FRUIT SALAD
1 cantaloupe, cut into bite-size pieces
1 honeydew melon, cut into bite-size pieces
Sliced strawberries
Grape halves
Sliced kiwifruit
Orange sections
Pineapple chunks

For the dressing, process the sugar, dry mustard, paprika, salt and celery seeds in a food processor until mixed. Add the honey, lemon juice, vinegar, and onion, and process until blended. Add the oil in a fine stream, processing constantly until thickened.

For the salad, combine the cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, grape halves, kiwifruit, orange sections, and pineapple chunks in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

Serves 12

This recipe was a shoo-in for our menu, partly because of Inez Hardy, but mostly because, in my dad’s spare time, (i.e. when he’s not installing complicated electrical wiring, farming, working in the garden, inventing recipes, or taking his grandchildren to the library), he is a beekeeper.  Our honey takes Sue-Bee, and kicks it right in the teeth.

When you’re making the dressing, I’d recommend adding only half as much oil as the recipe calls for.  Trust me, it’s plenty.  And if the idea of grated onion on fruit salad makes you uneasy, you can also use this dressing on a mixed greens salad.

Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Bruschetta is Italian for thickly sliced bread that has been grilled, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt.  This recipe is one of the many variations that exist.

Me and My Sis

Me and my sis

1 French baguette
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 very ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut the bread into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Combine the garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is slightly chunky. Remove the bread from teh oven and turn. Place a spoonful of the tomato mixture on each slice. Return to the oven. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm.

Note: You may sprinkle the bread with shredded Parmesan cheese before adding the tomato mixture.

Serves 8

We were not keen on the idea of putting the mixture in the food processor, and just mixed everything together in a big bowl, making sure to mince the garlic finely.

Our next recipe moved us into the Summer section of Fresh from the Valley:

Sirloin Steak with Roasted Corn Salsa

salsa

You need this salsa in your life immediately.

CORN SALSA
3 cups (3 to 5 ears) fresh Yakima corn
4 scallion bulbs, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1 to 2 jalapeno chiles, finely chopped, including seeds

STEAK
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds (1 1/2-inch-thick) sirloin steak
Lime wedges (optional)

ASSEMBLY
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
4 scallion stems, thinly sliced

For the salsa, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Spray the heated skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the corn in the skillet for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove the cooked corn to a bowl. Cook the scallion bulbs, garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder and pepper in but butter in the skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until the scallions are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked corn, tomatoes, and jalapeno chiles.

For the steak, combine the salt, cumin, chili powder and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Rub the steak with the seasoning mixture. Grill over hot coals for 9 to 10 minutes per side or to the desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

To serve, slice the steak. Heat the corn salsa over medium heat. Stir in the cilantro and scallion stems. Spoon the corn salsa over the steak. Serve with lime wedges.

Serves 4 to 6

This dish is amazing, particularly because of the corn salsa, which could be served over pork or chicken, or mixed with black beans and served over rice or in a burrito, or just eaten with tortilla chips or toasted pita.  Yakima corn being unavailable, we made do with some Bodacious that my parents had picked and frozen over the summer.  It has a bold, juicy flavor, which it retains well even after freezing.

So, when all was said and done, the grown-up plates looked like this:

steak

And the kids’ plates looked like this:

macncheese

Eh, whatever.  At least there are some vegetables on there.

However, we did not have to resort to trickery, threats, promises, or substitutions to get my niece and nephew to eat dessert.

Apple Cake with Hot Vanilla Sauce

My 4-year-old niece, hard at work (though she'd tell you she's 4 and 3/4).

My 4-year-old niece demonstrates her impressive apple peeling skills.

APPLE CAKE
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shreded apples
1/2 cup chopped pecans

HOT VANILLA SAUCE
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Do not be alarmed by the very thick batter.

Do not be alarmed by the very thick batter.

For the cake, cream the sugar, butter, egg, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the apples and pecans.  Pour into a greased 8- or 9-inch cake pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

For the sauce, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla in a saucepan.  Cook for 5 minutes over direct heat or for 20 minutes in a double boiler, stirring frequently.  Pour over the warm cake.

Serves 12

Serves 12, my foot.

Serves 12, my foot.

We had a great time working on this Junior League meal together, so much so that my mom has declared that we must do it every time we get together from now on.  She has also declared that next time, my dad and Brady are in charge of the menu.

Next week, it’s back to Los Angeles, and my tiny galley kitchen.  I’m thinking perhaps a nice Springfield, Illinois Sunday supper.

Brady’s family lives in Mobile, so I find myself in the Azalea City at least once a year, and when we’re there, we tend to eat well. Dreamland for BBQ, Wintzell’s for fried crab claws, the Dew Drop Inn for chili burgers, one of the approximately 10,000 seafood places on stilts out along the Causeway for fish and hush puppies, and when we’re not stuffing our faces out, my mother-in-law always has gumbo, jambalaya, or red beans and rice in the fridge.

This is the kind of food that Mobile is known for, but it’s not all the city has to offer. Not by a long shot. The last time were in town, Brady’s parents treated us to a dinner at NoJa, and thinking back on that dining experience made me realize what Bay Tables is all about.  Mobilians love their local dishes because they love good food, whether it’s fried crab claws or poached oysters in a leek fondue with Gruyere “funnelcake” (a NoJa specialty, and so tasty). Elegant food can be fussy and off-putting, or it can be delicious, and Bay Tables is filled with examples of the latter.

So, this week I made dishes that use beloved Mobilian ingredients in slightly more refined presentations.  And I admit, I chose this first dish partly because Carla made shrimp and andouille beignets on part 1 of this season’s Top Chef finale.  Love you, Carla – you were robbed!

If you’re new to peeling crawfish, it’s pretty easy.  Start by twisting the tail off from the body.  Then, peel off the first couple of rings on the tail, squeeze it at the bottom, and gently pull the tailmeat out.

Crawfish Beignets with Horseradish Sauce

I named this one Horace, until the roe revealed it to be a Horacina.

I named this one Horace.

1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup water
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 (2-ounce) jar pimento, drained, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
4 drops Tabasco sauce
8 ounces crawfish tail meat, chopped
2 1/2 quarts peanut oil
Horseradish sauce (below)

Combine the flour, baking powder, water, garlic, pimento, green onions, Tabasco sauce, and crawfish in a bowl and mix well. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Heat the peanut oil to 365 degrees in a large heavy saucepan. Drop the chilled batter by spoonfuls into the hot oil. Deep-fry for 7 to 8 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve with Horseradish Sauce.

Deep-frying:  dangerous, unhealthy, and so worth it.

Deep-frying: dangerous, unhealthy, and so worth it.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Horseradish Sauce

2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons horseradish, or to taste
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Creole mustard
2 green onions, finely chopped

Blend the garlic, horseradish, mayonnaise, and Creole mustard in a blender or food processor until smooth. Spoon into a small bowl. Stir in the green onions. Chill, covered, for 1 hour.

Yield: 1 1/2 to 2 cups

I had a good feeling about this recipe from the moment I found New Orleans Fish Market near Leimert Park.  They get fresh crawfish in every Friday, and though they were sold out of live ones by the time I arrived, the others had just been cooked that morning, and tasted fresh and sweet (they also sold crabs… would that I’d known two weeks ago).

The beignets were slap-your-granny good, to put it mildly.  Hot, puffy, and flavorful, and the horseradish sauce was the perfect accent – a nice kick, but not overwhelming.

For my main course, I wanted to do something with game.  Venison Medallions in Tomato Mustard Cream sounded tempting, but I suspected that I would probably have to sell a kidney to afford venison in Los Angeles.  Duck seemed like a reasonable alternative (in Alabama, duck season is from late November through January).  Still, it set me back a pretty penny, so the stakes were high.

Duck With Blackberry Sauce

Probably overcooked, but try as I might, I am just not a medium-rare kind of gal.

Probably overcooked, but try as I might, I am just not a medium-rare kind of gal.

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 1/4 cups blackberries
1 cup beef broth
3/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
4 boneless duck breast halves with skin
salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a skillet. Add the sugar. Cook for 5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and turns a dark amber color. Add the wine, orange juice, and raspberry vinegar. Boil until the caramel dissolves, stirring constantly. Add the blackberries, beef broth, and chicken broth. Boil until reduced to 1 cup. Strain into a small heavy saucepan. Stir in the Cognac and maple syrup.

Pierce the skin of the duck and season with salt and pepper. Heat an ovenproof skillet until hot. Add the duck skin side down. Sear for 5 minutes or until brown. Turn over the duck. Cook for 3 minutes. Place the skillet in the oven. Bake at 400 degrees for 3 minutes or until cooked through.

Bring the sauce to a simmer over low heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Whisk until the butter is melted. Spoon the sauce onto individual serving plates. Cut the duck into slices. Arrange the sliced duck in the sauce.

Yield:  4 servings

It actually took 13 minutes in the oven to get the duck to the point where it didn’t sit there and bleed at me while I tried to slice it.  In the end, it was probably a little overdone, but it was still tender and didn’t taste gamey at all.  The sauce was also more like a juice – good flavor, but next time, I’ll probably leave some of the blackberry pulp in for texture.

Remember to chew, boys and girls, or those pecan pieces will get you but good.

Remember to chew, boys and girls, or those pecan pieces will get you but good.

Strawberry Pecan Shortcakes

1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, chopped
1 cup pecan halves
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
sugar to taste
3 pints strawberries, sliced
6 tablespoons sugar
sweetened whipped cream

Mix the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a food processor.  Add the butter and process until coarse crumbs form.  Add the pecans and process until chopped.  Place in a large bowl.

Mix 3/4 cup buttermilk and vanilla in a glass measure.  Add to the flour mixture, mixing with a fork, until a moist dough forms, adding the remaining 3 tablespoons buttermilk only if needed.  Drop the dough by rounded 1/3 cupfuls 3 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the top of each biscuit with sugar.  Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Combine the strawberries and 6 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl and mix gently.  Let stand for 15 minutes or longer.  Split the warm biscuits into halves.  Place the biscuit bottoms in individual shallow bowls.  Spoon 1/2 of the strawberry mixture over the biscuit bottoms.  Spoon a dollop of sweetened whipped cream over each and top with the biscuit tops.  Spoon the remaining strawberry mixture over the tops.  Serve immediately.

Yield:  6 servings

This recipe brings up a few limitations of my current kitchen situation.  Though I do have a number of useful culinary tools (good chef’s knives, a cast iron skillet, a Dutch oven), my food processor can barely handle a cup of pecans, and lately, it’s been producing an unfortunate electrical burning smell when I set it to high for longer than five seconds.  I have a hand mixer that my mother bought during the Ford administration, and I work out of a galley kitchen with a 3/4 size fridge, a tempermental oven, and no counter space.

I say this not so you will think my cooking arrangements are all tragic and Dickensian, nor so you will judge me less cruelly when I botch something, but rather, to demonstrate that having a crappy kitchen should not prevent you from cooking.  Sometimes you have to go a little MacGyver on your recipes.

If it says to blend my dough in the food processor until coarse crumbs form, I get out the potato masher (no, I don’t have a pastry cutter, either…).  Waxed paper can pinch hit for parchment paper.  And I would rather spend 10 minutes whipping cream with my Ford administration mixer than eat Redi-Whip, so I do it.

And in the end, that strawberry pecan shortcake turned out just as well as if I had done it in Thomas Keller’s kitchen (which is not to say that my strawberry pecan shortcake is better than Thomas Keller’s, just that a) I don’t need his kitchen, and b) I doubt that he ever makes strawberry shortcake).

In short, it was so good that I horked down my first bite, got a pecan piece lodged in my throat, and spent the next two minutes trying not to cough up a lung.  Tragedy averted, I ate the rest of my shortcake soberly, but with great relish.

It might just be a Mary thing, but I love eating strawberry shortcake with milk poured over it for breakfast, which I did all weekend.  Of course, I left off the whipped cream.  After all, I am a grown-up.

Next week:  I’m going home to western PA, where I’ll cook a meal with my awesome sister, Amy.  We haven’t picked the book yet, but her guidelines are:  1.  “Mary, remember this is Grove City in March.  We don’t have she-crabs here, either,” and 2.  Her kids are really little, and haven’t yet mastered the art of eating pork or beef:  “They chew and chew and chew and just can’t swallow it.”  Then again, she adds, “we can always do a box of mac and cheese for them and make whatever we want.”  Whatever we make, I’m really excited about getting to cook with my little sis.

After last week’s she-crab debacle, I decided that there would be no substitutions, and definitely no going off-book this time. I would respect and honor the explicit instructions of the Junior League of Milwaukee. Yet, almost immediately, I found I was having trust issues with my recipe.

Because, you see, I was making Sauerbraten. After Edward Harris Heth’s elegy to Sauerbraten mit kartoffel-kloese (potato dumplings) in the introduction to Be Milwaukee’s Guest, I did not see any way I could avoid it, despite certain misgivings. Like the fact that Sauerbraten marinates in a mixture of red wine vinegar and baking spices for four days, or the fact that it is served with a gravy containing crumbled gingersnaps. In what universe could this possibly be tasty?

But I figured that if it was good enough for the Junior League of Milwaukee and their families, it was good enough for me. And even I had to admit, it did look awfully pretty when I tucked it in the fridge in its marinade, though four days in a red wine vinegar marinade will do scary-looking things to a piece of beef.

How braten becomes sauerbraten

How braten becomes Sauerbraten

Sauerbraten

Kidney Fat

Kidney Fat

3 pound round steak, cut about 2″ thick
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 onions, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stack celery, chopped
4 cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 peppercorns
1 pint red wine vinegar

Searing the Post-Marinade Beef

Searing the Post-Marinade Beef

1 1/2 pints water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kidney fat
6 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sugar
8-10 gingersnaps, crushed

Wipe meat with a damp cloth; season with salt and pepper. Place in glass or enamelware bowl. Combine onions, carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns, vinegar, bay leaves, and enough water to cover meat. Cover and place in refrigerator to marinate for 4 days.

On 5th day, drain meat, reserving liquid, saute in kidney fat and 1 tablespoon butter until seared on all sides (use enameled vessel). Add marinade liquid and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 3 hours. Melt remaining butter in a pan; blend in flour and sugar and let brown; add to simmering meat mixture. Cover and continue cooking until meat is tender (about 1 more hour). Remove meat to serving platter. Stir gingersnaps into the pot juices and cook until thickened. Pour this gravy over meat and serve. Serves 6-8.

-Sally Webb Ratzsch

"The ugly can be beautiful, the pretty, never." -Paul Gauguin

"The ugly can be beautiful, the pretty, never." -Paul Gauguin

I did not know if I’d be able to obtain kidney fat on short notice, but sent Brady to our local butcher.  Being a southerner who frequently finds himself in need of lard, ham hocks, andouille sausage, and other things you can’t get at Ralph’s, Brady’s become something of a regular at Marconda’s Meats lately, and they’ve never failed him.  So, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when he waltzed through the door and presented me with a pound of kidney fat (and a still-warm beignet – what a guy).  Though my recipe only called for 2 tablespoons, well, it was only $3, and now I have a bunch of kidney fat in my freezer should I ever require it.

My fears were also allayed throughout the course of the afternoon, because, despite its rather inelegant appearance, the Sauerbraten smelled maddeningly delicious.

The arrival of our dinner guest fast approaching, I began work on the potato dumplings. Ms. Ratzsch also provides this recipe in Be Milwaukee’s Guest.

Potato Dumplings

These light, tender dumplings are the traditional substitute for potatoes with Sauerbraten, but prove a delectable companion dish with roasts and stews of every kind.

In case you weren't sure what "farina" is

I always buy this brand, for obvious reasons.

3 pounds white potatoes
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons raw farina
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped cooked bacon
2 cups toasted bread cubes (croutons)
2 tablespoons flour

Peel potatoes and boil until just soft enough to mash. Drain, mash thoroughly and add all other ingredients, mixing well. Shape into balls 1-2″ in diameter. Drop the dumplings into gently boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well. Serve with gravy or melted, seasoned butter.

-Sally Webb Ratzsch

I was just about to get these on to boil when our dinner guest, Leah, arrived.  Leah is a Wisconsin native who actually makes a living doing crafty, awesome stuff.  She can knit absolutely anything, bikes fearlessly in Los Angeles, and in yet another testament to her coolness, took no offense when I put her to work peeling apples for our dessert.

Be Milwaukee’s Guest has a very waste-not, want-not aesthetic, filling extra margins on the page with cooking tips, interesting local facts, and short, simple recipes like this one.

Simple, but satisfying

Simple, but satisfying

Baked Apples

Something special in baked apples… pare, quarter and core 6 cooking apples.  Place them in a pie plate and cover with a mixture of 4 tablespoons maple sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, and 1 cup boiling water, simmered together for 5 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees until apples are tender, basting occasionally.

-Peggy Kuehn O’Malley

As the dumplings boiled and the gingersnap gravy thickened, Brady prepared a cocktail he was first served in Madison, “The Sconnie”: pour 1 oz. Maker’s Mark over ice, and top off with ginger ale. I opted for a Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat, proudly brewed in Chippewa Falls, WI.

And then, we sat down to dinner. Leah brought a leaf from Wisconsin to pretty up the table:

Our Milwaukee Dinner

Our Milwaukee Dinner

And wow, what a dinner it was. The tangy, marinated beef just fell apart on the plate, the gingersnap gravy was a perfect balance of savory and sweet, and the apples were a light, wholesome finish to the meal. Our only criticism was that the potato dumplings didn’t hold together well, and were a little bit bland, but perfectly serviceable with a dollop of gravy.

Three cheers for Leah and Brady, who helped me get the meal together, three cheers to the Junior League of Milwaukee and Be Milwaukee’s Guest, but most of all, three cheers to Sauerbraten, the true hero of the meal.  I’m sorry I ever doubted your deliciousness.