1960’s Josephines (a great hors d’ouvres)

josephines

Join me on a journey to the mysterious wonder-world of childhood foods; we can all relate to the thrilling memories of our particular favorites from mom’s best.  These captivated our young hearts with taste thrills in our mouths, as well as simultaneous, soft sensations in our stomachs.  When faced with like foods today, we instantly return to these initial impulses from our treasuries of early experiences.

Such comes to me double-fold: not only did my mother supply these rich impressions, but my father, also a great cook, left indelible culinary marks on my soul.  Mom applied her expertise to the hosting of dinner parties, while Dad skillfully prepared food in our family’s restaurant, where we ate all our meals while I was growing up.

Both parents were self-taught.  My mother lacked the normal advantages of learning cooking from her mother, who died of cancer when Mom was 11 years old (her father passed on two years later).  Hence being raised by Catholic nuns at a boarding school, she didn’t receive the normal, gracious “passing-down” of womanly skills, rather these were hard-won for her.

Everything Mom put her hand to, however, she mastered, for she knew the importance of “pressing-in” ardently (a trait I learned first-hand); this included cooking in which she particularly excelled.  I grew up amidst the flurry of her entertaining many guests with gourmet foods.  She was always baking Irish oatmeal bread to go with her many feasts, often with foreign themes; this at a time when America was eating Spam, jello, canned vegetables, and the perpetual, “miraculous” Crisco.  (the history of shortening is in 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, 2017/10/30, while that of canning can be found at Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad, 2017/10/02.)

On the other hand, my grandparents, on my father’s side, lived in a small house just behind our home, allowing for their constant, close presence.  Grandma was a fantastic cook, accomplishing all by a sense of feel, with no recipes needed-a handful of this, a pinch of that.  Nevertheless as with Mom’s maternal experience, Dad didn’t learn his methods from her, but rather his schooling was provided by a gigantic industrial cook book, brought to our restaurant by a traveling salesman in the early 1960’s (see Buzz’ Blue Cheese Dressing, 2016/08/25).

Today heart-imprints, established as a result of my father’s disciplined efforts, literally soar when I encounter light buttermilk pancakes, exceptional potato salad, or a good doughnut, for these were institutions in his establishment; thus, such soul foods provide me with a quick transport back to the mid-twentieth century.

For me these Mexican-inspired Josephines carry this same weight, with recollections from Mom’s culinary domain.  Hors d’ouvres were always a part of her feasts; this being one of our favorites.

As mentioned, 1960’s cooking employed lots of canned foods, with this recipe being no exception, as it calls for canned green chillies; originally this vegetable made its way from America to Europe, and beyond, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Chilli peppers were first introduced in India by the Portuguese, where they added heat to curries.  Curry is actually an English name, derived from the Tamil word kari, meaning “sauce”; thus, our English word indicates the basic Indian method of preparing food, utilizing their ever-present sauces.

Red and green chilies have long been present in both Hindu Indian and Muslim Pakistani cuisines.  These social groups existed together in Kashmir for most of the 400 years prior to the 1947 formation of Muslim Pakistan; here both cultures relied on the basic dish of rice and either kohlrabi or a vegetable similar to our spring greens, which was flavored with red and green chilies.  The Muslims enhanced this with garlic, while the Hindus added hing (asafoetidfa), distinguishing the two styles of preparing this food.  A more marked difference in their diets, however, resided in the ratio of meat to vegetables, with Hindus eating far more vegetables than meat, while Muslims did the opposite.

This American receipt calls for chillies, long present in world cookery; not being fresh, these reflect the popularity of canned goods in the 20th century.  Enjoy the ease of this hors d’ouvres with its great taste-my niece Cammie retains our family’s fond memory, by creatively using goat cheese and gluten-free bread here, to meet her dietary needs.  One way or the other, you will never forget this taste-treat!

References:

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p, 271.

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), pp. 87, 88.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chili_pepper

https://cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/65202/what-was-indian-food-like-before-the-arrival-of-the-chilli-from-south-america

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir

finished product

Josephines  Yields: about 1 1/2 dozen.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 25 min/  baking time: 20-25 min.  Note: may make cheese/mayo mixture ahead, to have on hand in refrigerator.

1 c aged, grated cheddar cheese  (It is preferable to not use packaged shredded cheese; Mom always grated Sharp Cracker Barrel; I use imported, aged cheddars.)

1 c mayonnaise  (Best Foods has the highest quality.)

1/2 c butter, melted

1-7 oz can diced green chillies

Tabasco sauce, about 8 vigorous shakes, or to taste

easy grating of cheese with food processor

3/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is so important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 loaf French bread  (Trader Joe’s sells an ideal, organic 11.5-oz baguette for $1.99; this spread is enough for 2 baguettes.)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grate cheese by hand, or with grating attachment for food processor (see photo above).
  3. spooning chillies/butter on loaf

    Mix cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl, set aside.

  4. Melt butter; mix in drained chillies, Tabasco, and salt.
  5. Split loaf of bread in half lengthwise, place halves on cookie sheet split-side up, and evenly spoon butter/chillies on these surfaces (see photo).
  6. Proportionately spread cheese/mayo mixture on top of buttered loaf (see photo below).
  7. bread spread with cheese/mayo mixture

    Bake in hot oven for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).

  8. Cut and serve.  These are dynamite!

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)

laban bil bayd and tabbouleh

This last of my Middle Eastern receipts laban bil bayd calls for eggs, baked in a thickened yogurt, which is seasoned with mint and garlic cooked in ghee.  This delightful dish is commonly used as part of the mezze, or the first course of appetizers.

Vegetable oils are almost 100% fat, while butter is an emulsion of 80% fat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids; vegetable fats are most commonly used for sautéing, due to their high smoke points-temperatures at which they burn.  It is misinformation that adding oil to butter raises the latter’s smoke point.  The flavor of butter is important in this recipe; thus, it calls for ghee, with the smoke point of about 400 degrees F (200 C), as compared to 250 degrees F (150 C) for regular butter.

Ghee is a form of clarified butter; these two differ in that the first is heated just a little longer, browning the milk solids, thus producing a subtle nutty flavor and aroma, with great resistance to rancidity.

The most common form of clarifying butter, the one used by most restaurants, varies from the more efficient method suggested here for home use, which is actually the preparation of ghee.  Because such large quantities are clarified in commercial kitchens, it is easiest to gently heat the butter to the boiling point of water; the water then bubbles to the surface, where the foaming milk proteins form also.  The water eventually evaporates, the bubbling stops, and the froth dehydrates, leaving a skin of dry whey protein; this skin of dry milk solids is next skimmed off the top.  Finally, the pure butterfat is ladled out, to remove it from the dry casein particles, which have sunk to the bottom of the pan.  This technique, however, brings much wasted product, when preparing small quantities, because this means of  separating the fat from the top and bottom milk proteins also scoops up the butterfat.

Therefore it is best to follow this quick, traditional method for making ghee, when clarifying little amounts of a pound or less of butter at home.  This takes the above process a step further, by raising the final heat, browning these sunken whey proteins; then, separating them from the pure butterfat by straining.  In this way, the resultant clear fat is completely isolated, by easily pouring it through a coffee filter, or layers of cheesecloth.

The word ghee in Sanskrit means “bright”.  In India, it was traditionally made from butter churned from soured, whole cow or buffalo milk, known as yogurt-like dahi; this preliminary souring improved both the quantity and flavor-quality found in this clarifying process.  Today, industrial manufacturers usually start this procedure with cream; nevertheless, it is said that sweet cream produces flat-tasting butter, which affects the character of the ghee.

Ghee is prevalent both in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.  My first encounters with it were in my early catering and teaching days during the 1980’s, when I was preparing East Indian foods, such as curries and dal (lentils).  Presently I like to make large batches of it, for storing in my refrigerator where it keeps for months; thus, it is readily available for frying eggs, searing meats and vegetables, making sauces-such as hollandaise-and popcorn, as well as using it as dips for lobster, crab, and artichokes.  It greatly enhances the taste of all these foods.  Note: it is helpful to utilize high grade butter-such as a European-especially in using ghee for a hollandaise sauce, as the flavor will be better.  This is due to the higher butterfat content in this European product (82-86%), contrasted with 80-82% in that of its American counterpart.  (But I find the Trader Joe’s brand of unsalted butter is adequate, with its good quality, for most of my needs; all their dairy products are hormone and additive free.)

Join me in the great discovery of cooking with ghee, by first making this simple, seemingly innocuous egg dish that surprises with it powerful pleasure!

References:

Harold McGee, On Food History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 36, 37.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/how-to-clarify-butter.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/08/clarified-butter-recipe.html

https://altonbrown.com/clarified-butter-and-ghee-recipes/

finished product

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)  Yields 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45-60 min (the length of time depends on if you prepare ghee with recipe, make ahead, or buy a ready-made version)/  active prep time: 25-40 min/  baking time: 20 min.  Note: may make third of the recipe to serve two, using a 5-oz carton of plain Greek yogurt.

1/4 c ghee, or clarified butter  (A prepared version is available at Trader’s, or follow step 2, to quickly make your own in 15 minutes.)

2 lg cloves garlic, minced

initial foaming of butter

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint.)

2 c plain Greek yogurt  (Greek yogurt makes this recipe; it is important that milk products are whole and organic for optimum health.)

1 lg egg white, beaten to froth

2 tsp corn starch

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

White pepper, to taste

6 eggs

  1. foam subsides, just before raising heat

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. May use a prepared version of clarified butter (an 8-oz jar is available for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s), or make a batch-or two-of ghee by melting 1 c of high quality, unsalted butter in a small, heavy-bottom saucepan over low heat.  Raise heat to medium and cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo in list of ingredients).  Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, about 3 minutes, temperature will be 190 degrees (see photo above).  Turn heat up a little, cook until second foam rises (2-3 more minutes, or until it reaches 250 degrees), and butterfat is a golden color, see photo below-this process may be easily done without using a thermometer.  Ghee is finished at this point; watch carefully, as the dry casein particles, settled on bottom of pan, will brown quickly.  Gently strain butterfat, through a coffee filter-or 6-8 layers of cheesecloth-into a heat-proof dish (see photo at very bottom).  Cool and transfer to an air-tight container, keeping out all moisture; store in refrigerator; lasts for months.
  3. ghee finished, as it foams a second time

    Chop garlic and mint, if using fresh.

  4. Measure ghee (samneh) into a small saucepan, heat on med/low, add mint and garlic, and cook until garlic is golden brown.  Stir this frequently, watching carefully so as not to burn.  Meanwhile proceed to next step.
  5. Beat egg white until frothy (see photo below); an electric mixer hastens this process.
  6. Place yogurt in a heavy saucepan, adding salt, cornstarch, and foamy egg white, to which a final beat is given (if making a smaller recipe, be sure to use correct proportion of whites).  CAREFULLY STIR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, until thoroughly combined.
  7. egg whites beaten to froth

    Continuing to stir in the same direction, cook over medium heat until it starts to boil.  Lower heat and simmer gently until thick, about 3 minutes.  Greek yogurt thickens more quickly than regular yogurt; if making a smaller portion, this will thicken very fast!

  8. Pour hot yogurt in an oven-proof dish (or evenly divide into

    separating milk solids from ghee through a coffee filter

    individual oven-proof bowls); spread out to completely cover the bottom; break eggs on top of this mixture, spacing them evenly in a larger dish; pour flavored ghee over eggs.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are hard; see photo of finished product at top of recipe.  Serve immediately for an incredible palate-pleasing experience!

Tabbouleh (Lebanese parsley and burghul salad)

tabbouleh

Tabbouleh is the second in this series of three recipes, coming from my 1980’s cooking class on Middle Eastern cuisine.  Our 21st century food processor affords an easy preparation of this healthy, traditional taste-treat, a recurrent dish in my kitchen.

For all 32 years I have lived in Oregon, I have been indulging in this treasured salad at the Mediterranean establishment Nicholas’, one of my favorite Portland restaurants.  Presently it has three locations in our metropolitan area, with my current choice being the upscale version on N.E. Broadway, with its comfortable decor.

Nicholas’ original place on Grand Ave-Portland’s first Middle Eastern restaurant-was, however, a mere hole in the wall, until the late-nineties when it was first remodeled.  The owners opened its two other locations in 2003 and 2010, with the exact same menus and prices, but with much more modern, “posh” environments.

When I started going to the original eatery on Grand, before its remodel, I would be instantly transplanted back to the romance of the small cafes I knew in impoverished Peru-there I had the opportunity to study Peruvian food for three weeks in 1985 to augment my food history business (see Bolitos de Chocolat y Coco, 2016/11/28).  Even though I like more comfort now, it was actually this original Nicholas’ restaurant on Grand that thrilled my heart the most, with its quaint poverty contrasted by incredible food-oh the glorious, abundant food!

Back then, with pride in my city, I always took my out-of-town visitors to my three favorite restaurants: Bread and Ink, The Original Pancake House (listed as one of James Beard’s top ten in the nation in the 70’s), and finally Nicolas’-all of these have been serving great food since my 1986 arrival.  Hands down, my guests always proclaimed the exquisite, poorer Nicholas’ as by far the best.

In those early days, our order always remained the same: humus, tabbouleh, and falafels, all of which came with their ever-present, gigantic, hot-from-the-oven pita bread, crowding the entire center of the table.  Though only consisting of three individual servings, this elegant, vegetarian repast was so abundant that if there were less than four of us, we took leftovers home-all for a pittance.  My guests marveled at the quality of both the food and experience, for it was definitely like being transported to a Third World country.

Age has mellowed me some, for today I love to frequent the more dignified Nicolas’ on N.E. Broadway.  Still wowing my guests with its exceptional food, I now order their incredible chicken kabobs, humus, and tabbouleth, of course, while ending with their exceptional baklava.  This amply pleases my friend’s great expectations, which I have encouraged, for there is great romance here-though perhaps not as pronounced as that of their captivating 1980’s café.

Tabbouleh is mostly widely known as a Lebanese recipe, though it is popular throughout the Levant, the large area east of the Mediterranean Sea, including such countries as Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, present-day Israel, etc.  The Levantine Arabic word tabbule is derived from tabil, which means “seasoning”; its literal translation is “dip”.  This salad is traditionally a part of the mezze, or first course of appetizers; it originated in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, where they have favored qadb, or edible herbs, in their diet since the Middle Ages.

One of tabbouleh’s main ingredients is burghul, or bulgur, an ancient preparation of wheat-usually durum; it is made by partially cooking wheat berries, then drying them, producing a glassy hard interior.  Next, they are moistened again to toughen the outer bran area; then, ground into large chunks, removing the bran and germ in the process, while leaving the endosperm.   These pieces are then sifted and classified according to grade.  Coarse bulgur (to 3.5 mm across) is commonly used in pilafs and salads, while a fine bulgur (o.5 mm) is utilized in making sweets, such as puddings.  This particular wheat product is most prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa.  It has both long-shelf life and a quick-cooking features, thus making it is an ideal, basic ingredient for this time-tested salad.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/topic/bulgur

http://cobornsdeliversblog.com/2015/02/03/demystifying-ancient-grains-bulgur/

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 468.

finished product

Tabbouleh (Lebanese burghul and parsley salad)  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 35 min plus 1 hr for chilling.

3/4 c burghul, bulgur wheat  (Available in bulk at our local Winco, or organic bulgur may be found at the national upscale New Season’s.)

2 c chopped curly parsley, 1 lg bunch  (Organic is best, which is only slightly more expensive.)

1 bunch green onions, chopped

2 firm, ripe med tomatoes  (May use organic Roma tomatoes, which are relatively inexpensive.)

Scant 1/4 c fresh lemon juice  (2 small lemons needed.)

1/4 c olive oil  (Avocado oil will also work; good olive oil, however is really healthy, when not heated to high temperatures, which makes it carcinogenic.)

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint, or to taste.)

1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper, or to taste

  1. juicing lemons the easy way

    Boil 1 1/2 c water, stir in burghul, set aside to cool.

  2. Clean parsley, onions, and tomatoes with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide).  Let sit for 3 minutes; then, rinse well in a sink full of water three times.
  3. Juice lemons, by first rolling them on counter, pressing down hard with hand, to loosen meat; extract juices; set aside.  (See above photo of easy hand-held juicer, available at our local Bob’s Red Mill.)
  4. Break stems off parsley and place in a food processor.  Chop small, by repeatedly pressing the pulse button-this may also be done with a knife, which is more laborious.  Place in a large bowl.
  5. Chop green onions (may include the green part, in addition); add to bowl.
  6. For ease in slicing, cut tomatoes with the skin side down (see photo below).  Mix in with parsley and onions.
  7. chopping tomatoes so to conserve juices

    Place lemon juice in a glass measuring cup (should be a scant 1/4 c); fill the rest with olive oil to measure 1/2 c.  Add mint, salt, and pepper; beat well with a fork.

  8. Drain burghul when cool, add to vegetables, pour beaten dressing over top, and blend well.  Chill for 1 hour before serving (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  This is so healthy and good!

Munazalla (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)

munazalla

This prized dish came to me in the early 1980’s, during my initial catering days in Billings, Montana; there I taught this recipe, the first in this series, in one of my cooking classes, as part of a complete Middle Eastern dinner.  It still graces my table today, especially when I am trying to impress guests, as it is par excellence.

Its origin is Syrian; thus, recently I was excited about serving it to company, with an Assyrian heritage, not understanding that these are two very different cultures. Research proved their distinct differences: Syria, officially known as the Syrian Arab Republic, is a nation in southwestern Asia, on the eastern Mediterranean coast, with the capital of Damascus.  This delicious dish is from that republic, which was birthed in 1946; it was originally part of an ancient country by that name, of western Asia, that also included Lebanon and the Palestinian region.

On the other hand, Semitic Assyria was an ancient empire, which was by far larger than the early country of Syria.  This was considered to be the greatest of the Mesopotamian empires, which had its start at the beginning of creation, as accounted for in the second chapter of Genesis.

This Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato recipe, calls for well-known cilantro, which is the leaf of the plant Coriandrum sativum, while the spice coriander is its seed.  Cilantro, sometimes botanically referred to as coriander, is said to be the most widely consumed fresh herb worldwide. As a native to the Middle East, its seed was found in the tomb of King Tut (I got to see the tour of these ancient Egyptian remains in Seattle in the mid 70’s).

Early on, this plant was taken to China, India, and Southeast Asia, and later to Latin America, being highly favored in all these regions.  In the New World, cilantro replaced culantro, Eryngium, its relative with a similar taste which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The latter has larger, thicker, tougher leaves, than those of the cilantro plant, with its rounded, notched, tender greenery; nevertheless, the flavor in both is almost the same.  Culantro, or saw-leaf herb, is still used in the Caribbean, but is most commonly found in Asian cuisine, especially that of Vietnam.

Coriander leaf, cilantro, is sometimes described as having a soapy aroma; for this reason, it is not very popular in traditional European cooking.  The main component of the aroma is a fatty alehyde, decenal, which is very reactive; thus, this herb quickly looses this sense-element when heated.  As a result, it is used most predominantly in uncooked preparations, or as a garnish.

This low-cholesterol herb, which is a good source of dietary fiber, has a practically non-existent caloric value, and it is high in minerals (including potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium) and vitamins (such as A, C, K, E, and B vitamins).  Its health benefits are highly acclaimed by experts.  Among many health-promoting characteristics, it is said to: rid the body of heavy metals, lower bad-while increasing good-cholesterol, help reduce swelling caused by arthritis and rheumatic diseases, lower blood sugar levels, and provide antioxidant, antiseptic, disinfectant, and antibacterial properties.

As with the Europeans, this leaf’s pungency is offensive to me; thus, for flavoring in our munazalla, I give the option of substituting ground coriander seed, with its simultaneous flowery and lemony tastes.  Who knows?  This superb receipt may even excel more with fresh cilantro, for those who love it.

References:

The Holy Bible, KJV, Genesis 2:14.

Harold McGee, pp. 390, 407, 408.

https://draxe.com/cilantro-benefits/

https://articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/cilantro.aspx

Munazzala (a Syrian lamb, eggplant, and tomato dish)  Yields: 5-6 servings.  Total prep time: 2 1/3 hr/  active prep time: 1 hour/  inactive cooking time: 1 1/3 hr.

10 large minced garlic cloves, or the equivalent

1 lb ground lamb  (Our local Grocer Outlet generally has a great deal on lamb.)

1/4 tsp allspice

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 1/4 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt can be found in bulk at our local Winco.)

2 tbsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic when heated to high temperatures.)

1 lg onion, chopped

2 lb eggplant

4 med tomatoes

1/3 c cilantro, chopped  (May substitute 1 1/2 tsp ground coriander, or to taste.)

  1. forming meatballs

    Spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3 % hydrogen peroxide).  Leave spray on for 3 minutes; then, rinse well.

  2. Mince garlic cloves by hand, or in a food processor; set aside.
  3. Using your hand, combine: lamb, 1/4 of minced garlic, allspice, pepper, and 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl; form meatballs the size of cherry tomatoes (see above photo).
  4. Over medium heat, fry meatballs in 1 tbsp hot oil, stirring with spatula until they stiffen.  Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown; drain fat and set aside (see photo).  Deglaze pan with 2 tbsp water-scrape fond, or

    cooked meatballs and onions

    cooked-on juices, off bottom of hot pan with a spatula.  (Note: a coffee measure is 2 tbsp.)  Set aside.

  5. Chop eggplant in small cubes (see photo below).  Heat remaining tbsp of oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.  When a small piece of eggplant sizzles in oil, mix in remaining eggplant; add 1/4 c water, cover, and cook until pieces begin to soften, stirring occasionally.  Be sure to cover pan.
  6. Cut tomatoes in small chunks, chop cilantro-dried coriander may be substituted.
  7. chopping eggplant

    Mix meat, remaining garlic, tomatoes, cilantro, and 1/2 tsp salt into partially cooked eggplant.  Cover, reduce heat to med/low, and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  (After cooking for 1 hour, if preparing for company, you may wish to set this mixture aside, before the final 15-20 minutes of cooking).

  8. Raise heat to medium, adjust seasonings, and cook uncovered for 15-20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.  (See photo of finished product at top of recipe.)
  9. Serve with pleasure!

The Best Corned Beef

corned beef and cabbage

In Ireland, they do not celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage, but rather lamb or bacon, on what has long been a religious holiday there. Why therefore does the rest of the world, in particular the U.S., count this dish synonymous with this day that has become so filled with frolic?  It was through numerous developments that the Irish immigrants in America adopted this tradition, with its actual Gaelic roots.

These immigrants first arrived here when fleeing the Great Famine, which was brought about by the European potato blight that desperately hit their homeland, starting in 1845.  They disembarked knowing only “about” the corn beef of their forefathers, and that differing greatly from what they began to eat in the U.S.

This dish has a complicated history.  Beef was originally not regarded as an option in the old country, but rather pork and bacon provided the rare meat at a meal (pig is still their favored animal bred only for food).  From ancient times on, the common Irishman regarded the cow as a work animal, consuming only its milk products, not its flesh; this latter was primarily reserved only for the wealthy few, and even for them, merely on celebrations and festivals.  Salting was their typical means of preserving this meat.

When the English conquered this country in the 16th century, the cow turned into a food commodity.  Since the time of Roman invasion, the English have had a voracious appetite for beef, hence their need to outsource for this.  After their conquest of the Gaelic land, tens of thousands of live cattle were exported yearly across the Irish Sea, until the mid-17th century, when a series of Cattle Acts enacted by the English Parliament put a stop to this export; thus, providing the fuel that ignited the Irish corned beef industry.  These Cattle Acts left Ireland with an inundation of cows, bringing meat prices down, and making it affordable and abundant for their salted beef production, their means of preservation; thus, now even the peasant could consume this food.

It was around this time that the term corned beef became popular, because of the large size of the salt crystals used to cure it, as they looked like a kernel of corn.  The word kernel is derived from the Old English crynel, meaning seed or kernel, a diminutive of corn.

Subsequently Ireland became known for its abundant, high quality salted beef, now called corned beef, which tasted more like salt than beef.  In addition to the overflow of cows due to the Cattle Acts, they also had access to the highest quality of imported salt, as their salt tax was one tenth that of England.  (In good corned beef, the quality of salt is almost as important as the cut of beef.)  The demand for this best-on-the-market Irish corned beef soared in Europe and the Americas, spiking the price so high that the common Irishman could no longer afford to eat it; thus, the potato, which the English had introduced in the 1580’s, became their major food source.

This high demand for Irish salted beef continued until the end of the 18th century, when the North American colonies began producing their own; the glory days of Irish corned beef came to a close over the next 50 years; hence, the economy in Ireland was affected greatly.  This coupled with the Great Famine-brought by the European potato blight starting in 1845-resulted in great destruction in this land, as this latter completely destroyed the Irish food source.  As a result, about a million people sought refuge in America; being the land of plenty, they could now afford meat, a first in their lifetimes.  That which they chose happened to be the affordable corn beef.  Here, however, it greatly differed from that of the corned or salted beef of their ancestors 200 years prior.

These immigrants settled in the urban centers of New York and Philadelphia, next to their Jewish neighbors, who had kosher butcher shops, where the Irish bought this product.  The Jewish butchers used brisket, a kosher cut of beef, for this.  Being a tougher cut, it called for the salting and cooking processes that rendered the extremely tender corn beef, with its exceptional flavors, such as we know today.  The Irish paired this with their beloved potato and the inexpensive vegetable cabbage.  This “Jewish” corned beef then became the celebratory meal for the American Irish on their religious holiday St. Patrick’s Day.  Time transformed this hallowed feast day into its present, grand celebration of Irish heritage.

Today this beef brisket cut is generally cured or pickled by injecting seasoned brine (this brisket cut comes from the area just above the front legs; it rests on top of the shank cut, which is immediately above these legs in the forefront).  Hence today most of our savory corned briskets never actually touch any salt grains, the size of corn kernels or otherwise, like that of the famous salted beef of old.

Laura Kumin in The Hamilton Cookbook, 2017, cites Richard Briggs’ 1792 recipe “To Stew a Brisket of Beef”, from The English Art of Cookery: “a pint of red wine, or strong beer, a half of pound of butter, a bunch of sweet herbs, three or four shallots, some pepper and half a nutmeg grated.”  At the end, browned, boiled turnips were added to the thickened “liquor”, or gravy.

The following is my sister’s modern recipe, which calls for braising, resulting in super tender morsels of meat.  Enjoy this effortless receipt, while wearing-the-green this year.

References:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/is-corned-beef-really-irish-2839144/

http://www.foodandwine.com/fwx/food/complicated-irish-history-corned-beef

http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/CornedBeef.htm

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 289-291.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 2004, 1984), p. 175.

Laura Kumin, The Hamilton Cookbook (New York, Nashville: Post Hill Press, 2017), p. 81.

glazed meat

Corned Beef Brisket  Yields: 6-8 servings.  Total prep time: 7 1/4 hr for 3 1/2-lb brisket/  active prep time: 30 min/  cooking time: 7 hr (or 2 hr for each lb of meat).

3 1/2 lb corned beef brisket

1 lg yellow onion  (Organic vegetables are best.)

8 extra lg cloves garlic, or the equivalent

6-8 red or Yukon gold potatoes, cut in halves

1 1/2 lb green cabbage, cut in sixths or eighths, leaving root on

1-1 1/4 lb carrots, cut in large pieces

2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

Yellow mustard

Brown sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s or Costco.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; take veggies out of refrigerator to warm.
  2. preparation for initial braising

    Rub spice packet on brisket.  Place in oven-proof stock pot with onions and garlic.  Barely submerge in water (see photo), cover with lid, and braise for 1 hour in oven at 375 degrees.  Then lower temperature to 325 degrees if normal size (3 1/2 to 4 lbs); if brisket is larger, only lower heat to 350.  Cook meat for 6 hours for 3 1/2 lbs-the TOTAL cooking time should be determined by figuring 2 hrs per lb (which includes the replacement of vegetables for the meat for the last hour of cooking).

  3. 1 1/3 hour before serving, spray vegetables with an inexpensive, safe, effective vegetable spray (a mixture of 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse really well.  Scrape carrots with a sharp knife (this preserves vitamins, as opposed to peeling); cut in halves or large pieces; peel the potatoes; cut in halves, if large.  Cut cabbage in sixths or eighths, leaving the root on, and set this aside separately.
  4. 1 hour before serving, remove brisket from braising water, place in a baking dish, covered with tin foil, and set aside.  This should be extremely tender; if not, put a little liquid in bottom of dish, cover well with foil, and place back in oven while veggies are cooking (see photo below).
  5. preparing brisket for further cooking if needed

    Turn the heat up to 375 degrees.  Add potatoes, carrots, and salt to hot broth, cover with additional water, and return to oven to cook until tender, checking periodically.  As vegetables are done, remove to a baking dish, with small amount of broth in bottom, cover with foil, and place in oven to keep warm.

  6. Add cabbage to pot 30 minutes before serving if you like it soft; for a crisper version, add 20 minutes before dinner.  (Be sure to check vegetables to see if cooked, remove to baking dish as needed, and return to oven to keep hot.)
  7. About 30 minutes before serving, prep the glaze, by generously spreading yellow mustard over brisket, sprinkle with brown sugar, and place in oven at 375 degrees.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until it bubbles and glaze is formed (see photo at top of recipe).
  8. Cut meat, cover with foil, and place back in oven, if not ready to serve yet.  When all cooking is done, turn oven down to 200 degrees for keeping meal hot.
  9. To serve, place on platter or plates and surround with vegetables (see top photo).  This dish is best accompanied with Irish Soda Bread, last week’s post.

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread

It is an understatement to say that my mother Pat, who now resides in heaven, loved her Irish heritage while sojourning on earth: I grew up, during every March, with a month’s worth of corned beef and cabbage; on St. Patrick’s Day itself, sometimes there were scrambled eggs colored with green food dye, or toilet bowl water tinted likewise, and always a mandatory wearing-of-the-green.  (She would have to dash in the bathroom to revive the toilet water following each use.)  Mom will always be remembered by all, for her passion for green; year-round she favored this color in her clothing, home decorations, and above all God’s splendid paintings in nature.

I am honoring her during her month, by sharing our family’s recipes for Irish Soda Bread and of course, corn beef and cabbage, which will be next week’s entry.  Irish soda bread is a quick bread, traditionally made without fat; it calls for soft flour-made from soft winter wheat berries-which is marketed as whole wheat pastry flour.

There are two varieties of wheat flour: soft and hard.  This recipe uses the soft whole wheat pastry flour, with low-gluten content; cake flour, which is the other soft flour, is even lower in this mixture of plant proteins.  Hard, all-purpose, or bread flour is the other variety, which is high in gluten.

All wheat flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which combined form the gluten.  When dough is initially mixed, these proteins are mangled and knotted together in a relatively unorderly fashion.  Kneading lines these up; bonds are developed between neighbors; thus, gluten chains form, creating the surrounding substance within which the dough can develop.  In this way strength and structure are established, which trap gases and allow the dough to rise; this process is critical in producing a good loaf of yeast bread.

Unlike yeast bread, such manipulative action is minimal in its soda counterpart, providing for little  gluten development; its soft flour, being comparatively low in these proteins, produces a quick bread with its own appeal, which is a fine, tender crumb.  Being fast to prepare, it must be eaten with haste as well, as it becomes stale swiftly.

Irish soda bread has simplicity and a basic composition; it is leavened with the rapid-acting chemical baking soda, and as it has been said, brief mixing minimizes its gluten development.  This luscious loaf may be enhanced by adding either raisins or currants (see Mor Monsen’s Kaker, 2017/11/27, for the history of currants).

References:

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 521-523, 537-538, 549-550.

https://www.thespruce.com/the-science-of-kneading-dough-1328690

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_flour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kneading

http://www.sodabread.info/history/

bread with Kerrygold butter from Ireland

Irish Soda Bread  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 20-30 min.

3/4 cup milk  (Alternative milks will do, or may purchase buttermilk.)

4 squirts from plastic lemon ball, for souring milk

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour  (Bob’s Red Mill flour is ideal; may grind 1 1/3 cup organic soft winter wheat berries, to make 2 cups fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s, or more inexpensively, in a 10-lb package at Costco.)

4 tbsp butter, softened

1/2 cup raisins or currants  (Currants available in bulk at upscale grocers, such as the national chain New Season’s.)

Spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil is ideal; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

  1. cutting butter into flour until mealy

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. If grinding fresh flour, begin to do so now with 1 1/3 c soft winter white wheat berries; wait to preheat oven with this option.
  3. Sour milk by placing it in a medium bowl, squeezing about 4 squirts from lemon ball over surface; set aside.
  4. In a large bowl blend flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar, with a fork.
  5. Cut 3 tbsp softened butter into flour mixture, until mixture is mealy and butter is well incorporated (see above photo).
  6. dough after kneading for 1 minute

    Stir in soured milk and raisins or currants.  Knead dough gently for 1 minute; if necessary flour counter and hands to keep dough from sticking.  (Note: if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let dough sit in bowl, covered, for 45 minutes before kneading, to absorb excess moisture present in the coarser fresh-grind.)  See photo.

  7. Form into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with oil.  With a sharp knife, cut an X on top of loaf about 1/2-inch deep.  Dot with softened butter (see photo below).
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes (a fresh-ground loaf takes about 30 minutes to bake), or until golden brown and there is a hollow sound when tapped on bottom; see top photo.  Cool on rack.
  9. loaf ready to be baked

    This is best served with imported Irish Kerrygold butter-this treat is available many places, but the best buy is at Costco, when in stock.

Prune Cake, A Cake to Be baked in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It)

prune cake

My mother loved to entertain; she went to elaborate ends preparing for her dinner parties, many of which had international themes-for these foreign affairs, she often employed recipes from the Time-Life Books collection Foods of the World, which came out in 1968.

Though I don’t know its origin, this prune cake was among my favorite desserts that Mom served to her many guests.  I recall her making it in the sixties; perhaps she acquired it from beloved friends, while we were living in Tucson, Arizona, during several winters in this decade.

Its subtitle boasts: A Cake to Bake in Secret (Keeps Well if You Hide It).  How true this is, for this confection melts in one’s mouth, with its butterscotch glaze seeping into the entire cake; thus, it stays moist for weeks, if you don’t eat it first.

In Biblical times, in the hot Mediterranean countries, drying was the most expedient way for preserving fruit and vegetables; grapes became “raisins of the sun”, plums became prunes, dates and figs likewise intensified in flavor as they shriveled up.  There, this basic technology employed the powerful sun, with either spreading the juicy produce out on trays or the rooftop, or burying it in the hot sand; this latter means of preservation became apparent at the beginning of time, with naturally dried fruit, which had fallen from trees and vines in the hot dessert.

Such sun-drying methods didn’t work well in the cooler climates of Eastern Europe; thus, more sophisticated means of dehydrating developed here.  Beginning in the Middle Ages, in Moravia and Slovakia, special drying-houses were filled with wicker frames, on which prepared fruit was laid out; constantly-burning stoves, underneath these frames, produced the necessary dry heat to transform the food.

Medieval Scandinavia discovered that cool, crisp air, aided by a stiff breeze, could be utilized to dry Norwegian stokkfisk-cod that had been gutted and hung to dry on wooden racks.  This dried ailment provided these people with an almost indestructible, cheap food reserve.

During this time, means for food preservation were also developing in England.  The rich Englishmen, however, had cool stillrooms, where they candied nuts and citrus peel, bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered inl the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats (this last, in Webster’s, is any delicacy made with a sweetening agent; “meat” here refers to food-sweet foods-such as candied fruit).  Indeed, the English employed the art of candying, or preserving with sugar, although they adhered to many alchemical superstitions and “secrets”, such as walnuts should be preserved on June 24th, St. John’s Day.

This memorable cake calls for dried plums that have been resuscitated.  These stewed prunes, along with the rich butterscotch glaze oozing into the whole, allow for an incredibly moist dessert that keeps for weeks, providing it is hidden from sight.

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012), pp. 218, 219.

Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), pp. 54, 180, 181.

prune cake

Prune Cake  Yields: 12 servings.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 30 min/  baking time: 1 hr.  Note: this recipe calls for a 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.

2 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal; may grind 1 2/3 cup organic soft winter white wheat berries, to make 2 c  fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is important for optimum health; an inexpensive Himalayan salt is available in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 1/2 tbsp cinnamon  (Our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-store has an excellent organic Korintje cinnamon in bulk.)

1 1/2 tbsp nutmeg

1 1/2 tbsp allspice

1 c oil  (Recipe calls for corn oil, but I used grapeseed oil, as it can be heated to high temperatures without damage.)

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 c sugar  (May substitute coconut sugar, which has a lower glycemic index.)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, PITTED prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (May be done ahead, see step 3.)

1 c walnuts, chopped

Hot Butterscotch Glaze

1 c sugar  (Cane sugar is important here; organic is best.)

1/2 c buttermilk

1/4 c butter

1/4 c lite Karo syrup  (For easy pouring, rub measuring cup with butter first.)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp vanilla

  1. 1980’s nutmeg grinder

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. If using freshly ground flour, begin grinding wheat berries now.
  3. Pour boiling water over prunes; let sit for 13-15 minutes, or until soft, but not mushy; drain, cool, and cut fruit in halves.  Note: unsulfured prunes will take longer to cook.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices.  (This recipe calls for LOTS of spice; freshly ground nutmeg is superb; see above photo for my 1980’s nutmeg grinder.)
  5. Mix oil, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 1/2 c sugar together in a large bowl; beat in eggs, one at a time; mix in flour mixture and buttermilk alternately.  Stir in the prune halves and nuts.  (If using fresh ground flour, know that it is a coarser grind and thus absorbs moisture more slowly; therefore, if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let batter rest in bowl for 45 minutes before baking, to absorb liquids.)
  6. glaze at soft ball stage before rolling together with fingers

    Pour batter into an ungreased 9” tube pan, with a removable bottom.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean, and cake lightly responds when pressed with finger.  Meanwhile get ready to cook the glaze.

  7. In a medium saucepan, measure the ingredients for the butterscotch glaze.  Set aside, until 10 minutes before cake is done.  After cake has been baking for 50 minutes, boil glaze over medium heat, until a candy thermometer registers 235 degrees F, or a soft ball is formed-using a clean spoon, place a small amount of the cooked sugar in a cup of cold water; then, squish together with fingers to form a soft, pliable ball that doesn’t hold its shape (see photo above).
  8. Immediately pour hot glaze over hot cake; piercing it repeatedly with a skewer or toothpick, so it can easily soak up glaze (see photo below).
  9. piercing glazed cake with skewer

    After cooling on rack, slide a knife down all sides and under removable bottom; then, gently transfer pastry to plate.

  10. Remember this is a cake to be baked in secret, for it keeps a long time, if you hide it.