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!

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 (see 1960’s French Dinner, 2016/06/06).

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 the hot Mediterranean countries in Biblical times, 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.

Those in 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 and bottled fruits-present day canning methods were discovered in the early 19th century-and made marmalades, jams, and sweetmeats.  (In Webster’s, this last item 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, or may grind 1 2/3 c 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 critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

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  (The original recipe calls for corn oil, but I use 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, see health benefits at Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24 .)

3 lg eggs, beaten

1 c buttermilk

1 1/3 c dried, pitted prunes, soaked and coarsely chopped  (This 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 optional, 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.
  4. In a sealed gallon-size storage bag, vigorously shake flour, baking soda, salt, and spices, or stir well with a fork.  (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.

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars

nutty/lemon/coconut bars

This recipe for nutty/lemon/coconut bars is from the mid-1960’s, given to me by my beautiful aunt Sheila.  She made them for her family, while living in East Glacier Park, Montana.

A decade later, after moving 90 miles away to Kalispell, this same aunt watched over me like a hen over her chick, as I was recovering from bulimia and anorexia then.  Having overcome much in her own life, she was willing to share her victories.  She approached her covering of me, as a humble friend, coming along side me gently. We spent numerous hours in each others company, usually over food, while we frequently perused the daily reading from her treasured God Calling, an inspired devotional written by two women in England.  How I recall our immense excitement over the accuracy, with which these prophetic, living words touched our souls!

Sheila loved good edibles.  From the seventies on, after her move to the city, however, her delight was to indulge in fine cuisine at restaurants, rather than spending the necessary preparatory time in a kitchen.  Her constant discovery of new establishments blessed us here in Portland, Oregon, where we both resided before she passed away in the 90’s.

Unlike my aunt, for me the height of indulgence in food is found in the strength imparted by the whole hands-on process, from the beginning to end stages, present in receiving nourishing substance.  This starts initially with the act of shopping, it intensifies as I press in over a stove, and it culminates in a grand finale as I partake of pleasures at the table.  For me, each level is essential in the mastery of the art of fine cuisine; likewise all require diligence in their practice,

For instance, shopping can bring joyful breakthrough, i.e., the hunting for specials at Fred Meyer recently benefited me greatly: the produce worker John and I were chatting, while he was doing his work and I was examining artichokes; he suddenly broke out excitedly, “I can teach you how to test this vegetable for freshness.”  He proceeded to show me how to squeeze its middle, instructing that if it flattens out it is past its prime.  Eagerly he promised that when watermelon season arrives, his expertise will be at its prime, for he never misses with this fruit-I can’t wait to share this tidbit with you also.

From the grocery store, I go to my kitchen, equipped with the best.  There I purpose to set my day’s thoughts aside, as I settle into cooking, striving for peace, which is critical, or mistakes get made, and our Father’s intended gratification is lost.

Julia Child comes to mind, with her passion for every aspect of fine food, especially her fervency in sharing her knowledge with the world; this can be seen clearly in her approach to helping young, aspiring chefs.  As with so many others, I was taken under her wings, with five encouraging letters in the 80’s and 90’s.  Her covering was a gift from God, who longs to envelop us with such protective shelter, as he did for me with my aunt in earlier years.  Indeed, I have become who I am today, by humbly receiving such guidance from authorities.

Sheila’s nutty coconut bars satisfy the child within, with their lemon savor; it’s my joy to share these with you.  Bon appetit!

finished product

Nutty/Lemon/Coconut Bars  Yields: about 30 bars.  Total prep time: 1 hr.

1 c plus 2 tbsp flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached white flour is ideal.)

1/2 c butter, softened

1 1/2 c brown sugar  (Organic is preferable, available at Costco, also at Trader Joe’s in an 1 1/2 lb bag.)

1/2 tsp baking powder

2 large eggs, beaten

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 c unsweetened coconut  (This is available in Bob’s Red Mill packages at most grocery stores, where it is also frequently sold in bulk.)

1 c pecans

1 1/2 c powdered sugar  (Organic can be found at Costco and Trader’s.)

1/3 c fresh lemon juice  (3 small/med lemons will be needed.)

  1. baked crust

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Cream butter and 1/2 c brown sugar in a bowl; add 1 c flour, over which baking powder is sprinkled evenly; work together with a fork, until it becomes mealy, like pie crust.  Pat this down firmly in the bottom of an ungreased 9” x 12” pan (this size pan is out-dated; you may substitute the equivalent in square inches, such as 2-8” x 8” pans; 2-9″ x 9″ pans, however, will be too large).  Bake for 12 minutes; then, remove from oven; see photo above.
  3. Meanwhile beat eggs well; mix in vanilla and salt; blend in 1 cup brown sugar, 2 tbsp flour, coconut, and pecans.  Spread this mixture over baked-crust (see photo below).  Return to oven and bake for 25 minutes more, or until golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).  Prepare frosting next.
  4. spreading coconut mixture over crust

    First, place 1 1/2 c powdered sugar in a medium bowl; then, measure and pour lemon juice over sugar; beat with a spatula until lumps are gone; set aside.

  5. When bars are through baking, immediately pour lemon frosting over top; cool before cutting.  How I love these!

Holiday Dips

cottage cheese/apricot/green onion dip

Let healthy, creative dips enhance your holiday entertaining; two of my favorites are made in just minutes, using protein-rich cottage cheese for a base.  One, which only adds salsa, dates back to my profound, childhood experience at a restaurant in Tucson, Arizona (see “About”).  The other was inspired by my recent need for additional potassium in my diet; thus, dried apricots, rich in this element, and green onions make another pleasing combination for this dairy product.

When I lived in Switzerland briefly in the 1970’s, I was captivated by their cottage cheese, which to my amazement was without the coagulated lumps that we are used to in the U.S.  Their smooth, thick, creamy substance was more like our cream cheese, though not as stiff.  These soft, uniform curds were excellent with muesli, fruits, raw vegetables, crackers, breads, and more.  (Some European cottage cheese is dry and salty, not so with my rhapsodic Swiss cottage cheese.)

In trying to learn more about this blessing from Europe, I discovered a good source for making one’s own; this site provides a recipe that produces either the creamy smooth or dry salty versions, simply by adjusting the heating time.  Access this incredible treat, which can’t be found in any U.S. grocery store, at: https://cheese.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-your-own-cottage-cheese-european-way-352742/

Different textured and flavored cheeses are produced by variations in the temperature the milk is heated to, the diverse procedures of draining and pressing the resultant curds, and aging.  For instance, soft, semi-soft, semi-hard, and hard cheeses are often categorized according to their moisture content, which is determined by whether they are pressed or not, and if so, the pressure with which the cheese is packed in molds, as well as upon aging.

“Fresh cheeses” are the most simple of all, in which milk is curdled and drained, with little other processing.  Among these “acid-set cheeses”, cottage cheese, cream cheese, fromage blanc, and curd cheese (also known as quark) are not pressed; when fresh cheese is pressed, it becomes the malleable, solid pot cheese; even further pressing makes a drier, more crumbly farmer’s cheese, paneer, and goat’s milk chevre, for instance.  All are easy to spread, velvety, and mild-flavored.

The unpressed quark/curd cheese is common in the German-speaking countries and those of northern Europe, the Netherlands, Hungary, Belgium, Albania, Israel, Romania, as well as with the Slavic peoples.  It is also found in some parts of the United States and Canada.

Quark is usually synonymous with cottage cheese in Eastern Europe, though these differ in America and Germany, where cottage cheese has lumps (the flavor of German cottage cheese is much more sour than ours).  Curd cheese or quark is similar to French fromage blanc, Indian paneer, Spanish queso blanco, as well as the yogurt cheeses of south and central Asia and parts of the Arab world.

These (fresh) acid-set cheeses are coagulated milk, which has been soured naturally, or by the addition of lactic acid bacteria; this in turn is heated to a 20-27 degrees C, or until the desired curdling is met; then, the curds are drained, but not pressed, such as in the link above.

In America, quark, which is always smooth, differs from our cottage cheese, which has curdled chunks in it.  These lumps are large in the low-acid variant, which uses rennet in coagulating the milk, or small in the high-acid form, without any rennet. In Germany, Sauermilchkase (sour milk cheese) applies to ripened (aged) acid-set cheeses only, not to fresh ones-such as their cottage cheese, which is called Huttenkase.

The world of cheese is a complex one:  I have vivid memories of this smooth European cottage cheese, from my time in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, which has left me with a love for this dairy product.  To this day I frequently employ its American version in my diet.  Enjoy these quick dips!

References:

https://www.thespruce.com/what-is-pot-cheese-591193

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quark_(dairy_product)

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Types_of_cheese#Fresh.2C_whey.2C_and_stretched_curd_cheeses

https://cheese.wonderhowto.com/how-to/make-your-own-cottage-cheese-european-way-352742/

Salsa and Cottage Cheese Dip  Yields: about 1 1/2 pint.  Total prep time: 5 min.

1 pint cottage cheese  (Whole milk is best for your health; Trader Joe’s brand is hormone and additive free.)

1/2 c salsa  (Trader’s Pineapple Salsa is superb here.)

Tortilla chips  (Que Pasa makes an organic red chip, colored with beet dye, available in nutrition center at our local Fred Meyer-Kroger-

ingredients for salsa dip

stores.)

  1. Mix cottage cheese and salsa in a bowl.
  2. Serve with chips.  (Keeps well in refrigerator.)

ingredients for apricot dip

Cottage Cheese, Apricots, and Green Onion Dip  Yields: about 1 3/4 pints.  Total prep time: 15 min.  Note: may choose to refrigerate for at least 8 hr for ideal flavor and texture.

1 pint cottage cheese

1/2 c dried apricots, minced

1 c green onion, including green part, chopped

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste  (Real Salt, pink salt, is important for optimum health; available in nutrition center at local supermarket.)

  1. Mix the above together in a bowl.
  2. Serve with a high quality cracker.  (May use immediately, but this is much better when refrigerated for at least 8 hours-the flavors not only meld, but the excess moisture in the cottage cheese is absorbed by the dried apricots, producing superb texture and taste!)

Nutty Coconut Pie-a Variation of Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie

nutty coconut pie

This nutty coconut pie is my sister’s inspiration from 1980, during her days of running our family’s restaurant, which she did along with my parents and brother; there her food genius produced wonders for the American public that traveled to Glacier National Park, our home.

Among Maureen’s sumptuous creations, this coconut pie was one of my favorites: it is her modification of Blum’s coffee toffee pie-a recipe we received in 1968, when I had a serious eye operation in San Francisco (see Blum’s Coffee Toffee Pie, 2017/08/14).  She ingeniously produced multiple variations of this basic receipt, which likewise thrill; their unique directions will follow over time.  You may make this dessert ahead of the holiday festivities; I prefer it partially frozen, which gives it an ice-cream-like texture.

As a child, I loved coconut: my father’s coconut cream pie, the favored coconut Russell Stover Easter eggs in our yearly baskets, and fresh coconut-to mention but a few of my titillating experiences with that food.

This fruit of the Cocos nucifera has been regarded as the jewel of the tropics; in which it often has been called the tree of life, for their people have depended on it not only for food, but shelter, and much more-every part of it has been used for both culinary and non-culinary purposes.

The powerful coconut originated in India and Southeast Asia; with the floating properties given by its light shell, it apparently was propagated independently by marine currents, on every subtropical coastline, transcending both hemispheres.

Historians also agree that it traveled the world at the hands of men; sea-faring Arab traders most likely brought this treasure to East Africa long ago (they actively were obtaining it from India by the 8th century AD).  These same traders were responsible for its introduction to Europeans on the trans-Asian Silk Road; the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo was among those who encountered this food; he named it “Pharaoh’s nut” in Egypt in the 13th century.  Beginning in the early 1500’s, this prized fruit made its way back to Europe following such explorer-colonizers, as Portuguese Vasco da Gama.

Our prolific coconut evidently floated to the New World shores, where it prospered in its tropical lands; in addition, the European adventurers brought it to the Caribbean and Brazil, from whence it further spread to the American tropics.

For instance, in 1878, the merchant vessel Providencia, carrying this fruit from Trinidad, ran aground the coast of Florida; this resulted in a drastic change in the landscape, which became inundated with palm trees; nevertheless, the coconut didn’t change the economy much here, as was the frequent occurrence in other locales, where multiproducts resulted.

The coconut product, which interests me most, is oil, for I use this extensively in my cooking.  Many believe that this is the healthiest of all oils for our internal bodies, as well as being ideal in external beauty regimens.  Among its helpful health benefits are weight loss, boasting the immune system, and “oil pulling” in detoxifying and cleansing the body.

Here, however, I choose to elaborate on its exceptional cooking qualities, for it has the greatest resistance to oxidation (spoilage), when heated, of any oil on earth; this is due to its 92% saturated fatty acids, which represents the highest percentage in any oil.  This effectual make-up provides extraordinary protection against heat and the formation of free radicals, which are associated with many diseases, such as cancer.  How is this?

Saturated fats are full of hydrogen atoms in their carbon atom chain, giving them a durable molecular structure; thus, they can be heated to high temperatures, resisting oxidation.  They are crucial for maximum health for this reason-among other sound benefits, which I haven’t room to address in this entry.

On the other hand, monounsaturated fatty acids lack a pair of hydrogen atoms, while polyunsaturated fatty acids are missing two or more.  Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids are highly unstable and prone to oxidation, without the durable molecular structure, as found in all saturated fatty acids.

Trans fat and interesterified fat are manufactured fat molecules that don’t exist in nature; they were generated in an attempt to get more solid, stable fatty substances (examples are Crisco and margarine).  Both these types should be avoided all together (for more on the history of Crisco, see 1880’s Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, 2017/10/30).

In a natural way, coconut oil achieves these objectives, which man was seeking by forming these fake fats.  Coconut, as the most saturated of all oils, is superlative both in being naturally stable/solid and in having an abundance of health attributes, over and above all other oils on the market, in my estimation.

As I have always loved the taste of coconut, I additionally find this oil enlarges the flavor of my foods.

Unsweetened dried coconut enhances our already delightful nutty coconut recipe.  By reducing this pie’s over-all sweetness, it allows for the full impact of the fruit.  (This unsweetened flake is available in bulk in many upscale grocery stores, as well as at our local, inexpensive Winco.)

May I encourage you to slow down and smell the roses: allow yourself the luxury of the time required to produce this memorable pleasure-a gift from God, made with the ease of my sister’s foolproof directions.

References:

  1. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 508, 509.
  2. Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973 by Reay Tannahill), pp. 141, 220n.
  3. http://www.coconut-oil-central.com/
  4. http://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/January-2017/Cracking-Coconut-s-History
  5. https://www.livescience.com/54901-free-radicals.html

a piece of nutty coconut pie

Nutty Coconut Pie, a Variation on Blum’s  Yields: 1-9” pie, 8 servings.  Active prep time: 2 hr/  inactive prep time for setting up: 1/2 hr.  Note: can be kept in the freezer for long-term use, cutting off pieces as needed; serve partially thawed for a favored ice cream-like texture.

1 1/2 c nuts, chopped small and roasted

1 3/4 c unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted  (Available inexpensively in bulk at our local Winco.)

1 c unbleached white flour  (May choose to grind 2/3 c organic soft winter white wheat berries to make a total of 1 c fresh-ground flour.)

1/2 tsp salt  (Real Salt is important for optimum health; available in health section at local supermarket.)

1/2 c plus 3-4 tbsp butter, softened

1/4 c brown sugar, packed down  (Organic is best; available sometimes at Costco and always at Trader Joe’s.)

1 oz unsweetened chocolate, grated  (Baker’s will do.)

1 tbsp water

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c cane sugar  (Organic is ideal; best buy is at Costco; also available in a smaller quantity at Trader’s.)

2 lg eggs, at room temperature  (If sensitive to raw eggs, may use pasteurized eggs for extra safety; available at some grocery stores.)

1 c heavy whipping cream

1/3 c powdered sugar  (High quality organic is available at Trader’s.)

Instant vanilla pudding mix, only if needed as a stabilizer  (Be sure to have on hand for quick correction.)

Ganache

1 cup heavy whipping cream

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, or bittersweet chocolate of your choice  (These chocolate chips are available at Trader Joe’s.)

1 tsp vanilla

  1. finished ganache

    If grinding fresh flour, do so now.

  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place nuts on a cookie sheet in hot oven for 7 minutes, watching closely as not to burn; set aside to cool.
  3. Distribute coconut in a pan with edge; bake until golden brown, about 5-7 minutes, stirring mid-way; set aside.  Leave oven on.
  4. Place bowl for whipping cream in freezer to chill; this greatly facilitates the whipping process (keep beaters at room temperature for filling).
  5. Make ganache-see list of ingredients above-by bringing cream to a very low simmer, over medium/low heat (should be very hot-steaming-but not boiling); add chocolate pieces and continue to cook, beating with a wire whisk, until mixture is glossy/shiny.  Remove from heat, add vanilla, set aside, see photo above.
  6. filling beaten to perfection

    Combine flour and salt in a large bowl; blend in well 4 tbsp butter with a fork, until texture is mealy (only 3 tbsp will be needed if using fresh-ground flour).

  7. Mix together with flour: brown sugar, 3/4 c cooled nuts, and 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, which has been grated with a sharp knife.  Blend in water and 1 tsp vanilla.
  8. Butter a pie plate generously; press pie dough in pan firmly with fingers. Bake for 20 minutes in preheated oven at 350 degrees; cool in freezer.
  9. Beat 1/2 c butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until creamy.  Gradually add 3/4 c cane sugar, beating well with each addition.
  10. Add 1 egg; mix on medium speed for 5 minutes; beat in second egg

    layer of ganache on crust

    for 5 minutes more.  (Ideally when done, this filling should be like fluffy whipped butter or soft whipped cream; see above photo. The following makes this preparation foolproof: it is so important to have ingredients at room temperature; if your kitchen is either very hot or cold, this mixture may curdle; this is easily corrected, by beating in 3 tbsp of instant vanilla pudding mix-more may be needed to reach the desired soft, full-bodied consistency.  In this way, you will never fail with this recipe!)

  11. Wash and freeze beaters, along with bowl, for whipping cream with exceptional ease.
  12. Pour a thin layer of ganache on bottom of cooled pie crust-about 1/2 inch thick (see photo above); set the rest aside for garnish (leftovers can be refrigerated indefinitely in a glass jar; great, warmed, over ice cream).  Place crust back in freezer for several minutes.
  13. Fold 3/4 c nuts and coconut into filling, SAVING 1/4 c coconut for garnish.
  14. filled pie

    Spoon filling evenly into pie crust (see photo); let mixture set-up by freezing for 1/2 hour.

  15. Meanwhile, using ice-cold utensils, beat cream until it starts to thicken; add powdered sugar and vanilla; continue beating until stiff.
  16. When filling is set, cover pie with whipped cream; drizzle ganache over top; garnish with toasted coconut (see very top photo).
  17. If keeping for long-term use, be sure to freeze uncovered; then, cover extra well with plastic wrap.  I love serving this partially frozen for optimum pleasure.