Monthly Archives: July 2014

Louisville: Then and Now

kybooksIn this post we feature two cookbooks from Louisville, separated by over 40 years in time, and influence-wise, by a couple of continents. The earlier cookbook, The Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book by Lillian Marshall, is culled from the newspaper’s food columns, many from Lillian’s acclaimed predecessor, Cissy Gregg. Fast forward 43 years, and we have Smoke and Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen from Edward Lee, a Korean-American man from Brooklyn, now a Kentuckian-by-choice and a restaurateur in Louisville. The main thing that these two cookbooks have in common is the focus on meat; for Lillian, vegetables are side dishes, and for Edward, meat is simply what people eat.

cjThe Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book dates from when the Courier-Journal was a real newspaper, owned by Kentucky’s own dysfunctional Bingham family. The author-editor of this cookbook was at one point married to my father’s second wife’s brother. We once went to a Thanksgiving dinner at her house. The word was that Lillian was a great cook but left her kitchen a mess; I recall neither particularly amazing food nor an unusually messy kitchen. The Cissy Gregg recipes in this cookbook are traditional Kentucky fare, including “North Middletown Beaten Biscuits” (page 38), which so happens to be my grandmother’s recipe; on the Courier-Journal food page, my grandmother is credited although her name is misspelled. The Lillian Marshall recipes are, for the most part, 1960s Gourmet Magazine wannabes. Years ago, when I first cooked from this cookbook, I had no vegetarian or kashrut qualms, and so could try the meat recipes. I recall the chicken chow mein (page 16), which I made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, a decent meat loaf recipe (page 108), and the recipe for Louisville’s own hot Brown sandwich (page 66). It was a little harder now for me to find recipes from this book to cook, but I did find some, all satisfactory.

kytabLillian walks on the wild side with “Tabooley Salad” (page 46), not standard Kentucky fare in the late 60s. Her tabouli (back to the more accepted spelling) quite correctly uses lots of parsley and less bulgur. There is nothing else of note in her recipe, just what one would expect: mint, tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and lemon juice. In my version of this recipe, I incorrectly used less parsley and more bulgur, just because that was what I happened to have.

shakercarMost people who know of the Little Colonel know the Shirley Temple movie, but the movie was based on the first in a series of books by Annie Fellows Johnston, of Peewee Valley, Kentucky, near Louisville (now the site the Kentucky Correctional Institution for Women). Lillian has a chapter, “Culinary History”, featuring food to commemorate the Peewee Valley Centenary, from which I picked the recipe “Pickled Carrots, Shaker Style” (page 87). Since Edward Lee has a similar recipe in his cookbook, I decided to have a carrot contest between the two cookbooks. To make Shaker carrots. you cook carrots and onions in water, then cook further in a spiced sugar and vinegar bath. For people who like sugar and vinegar, these carrots were good.

tunamargThe name of the dish “Margarella” (page 117) is supposed to be a slurring of “Margaret’s really” as in “Margaret’s really good tuna dish”. The dish consists of tuna, vegetables, chutney, and cream. It is very sauce-like; Lillian suggests serving it with wild rice or fried noodles. I just combined it with some cooked noodles for a tuna fish casserole. I did not think that this dish was that good, although if the chutney I used had been less sweet, I might have liked it more.

kyzuc“Stuffed Zucchini” (page 134) is a classic zucchini-tomato combination with added onion, celery, and green pepper. I tossed some olives in with the other vegetables, although they weren’t in the recipe. Stuffed vegetables are attractive, but there’s no real difference in taste if one foregoes the stuffing business, and just chops up the zucchini to cook with the tomatoes and other vegetables.

potchI am convinced that potatoes will some day make a healthy food comeback. Consider, for example, butter, coffee, coconut, red wine. Thus I continue to enjoy potatoes, although Danny looks a bit askance at the potato dishes I put in front of him. “Au Gratin O’Brien Potatoes” (page 25) were great; so great, in fact, that I had no leftovers to enjoy. One problem I often have with these potato dishes in which sliced potatoes cook in a milky sauce is that the potatoes take forever to cook. Lillian solves this problem by having us partially precook the potato slices with onion and green pepper. The vegetables are then combined with a white sauce and cheese and baked in the oven. Cheesy and starchy and warm from the oven: what could be better? [Go to the recipe.]

spI love Edward Lee’s  Smoke and Pickles even though I cannot make most of the recipes, and the recipes that I did make were not uniformly fantastic. It’s a cookbook that I enjoyed reading: Edward has good stories and he loves food. It’s great fun to read about Edward’s transition from a Korean boy in Brooklyn to a Kentucky gentleman. He embraces every Kentucky tradition that he can think of: from horses, only giving up on riding lessons after being told “we don’t ride [’em], we buy ’em” , to bourbon: “I have never met a bourbon I didn’t like.” He even invents a few traditions such as “Tobacco Cookies” (page 260) which looked intriguing, although also disgusting. He is true to his Korean heritage: there are kimchee recipes, and lots of East Asian ingredients called for in his recipes. There is also lots of meat, most of which is trayf. There is a troublesome photograph of Edward communing with two pigs while munching on a bag of smoked barbecue pork rinds. Is he getting ready to offer some to his porcine, possibly cannibalistic, friends? But all in all, this is too good a book to be restricted to carnivorous gentiles.

jicamasalI would classify “Pineapple-Pickled Jicama” (page 172) as more of a salad than a pickle. This consists of jicama and bell peppers with a vinegar and pineapple dressing. Maybe it is called a pickle instead of a salad since there is no oil in the dressing. This salad was crunchy from the jicama and peppers, sweet from the pineapple, and sour from the vinegar. I had an enormous amount of this stuff, lots more than we could eat. Halving the recipe would yield a more reasonable amount.

squashsoupI have an issue with yellow squash, dating from an incident in which my other grandmother tried to force me to eat some. But no one wants to be controlled by the minor childhood traumas, and so I have a heightened interest in yellow squash recipes. Edward’s “Yellow Squash Soup with Cured Strawberries” (page 190) looked like a possibility, especially with those cured strawberries (strawberries tossed with sugar and salt and left to cure for an hour, no more). This is a simple soup. The yellow squash is cooked with onion and then blended with vegetable stock and sour cream. The strawberries were a nice addition, but without them the soup was fairly tasteless. The soup neither stoked nor cured my yellow squash aversion.

congee“Creamed Corn and Mushroom Congee” (page 205) was a very good hot and comforting dish that would have been even better with a few minor changes. Congee is a rice gruel made by cooking rice for a long time in lots of water. Edward’s gruel is enriched not only with corn and shiitakes, but with ginger and garlic, soy sauce and fish sauce, and an egg. The corn I used was too chewy; a less chewy corn would have made a much better dish. I also would have liked more shiitake mushrooms. By the time I was down to the last serving or two, we had fished out all the mushrooms. Finally, this dish was better when I added more fish sauce. Still, this was a very nice dish, and one that I will make again, with modifications.

bourboncar4Now I know what kind of carrots I am making next Rosh Hashanah when I feel obligated to bring a carrot dish to the table: Edward’s “Bourbon-Ginger-Glazed Carrots” (page 215). In the Louisville carrot cook-off in my kitchen, these carrots decisively beat the Shaker carrots. You cook carrots, young and tender if possible, in butter, then add the ginger and bourbon, along with some sugar and orange juice. Although Danny thought that the carrot taste was obscured, I could very definitely taste carrot. [Go to the recipe.]

jerkmushChewing on strips of salty dried meat may well be an activity we humans are hardwired to enjoy, but a pleasure that kashrut observing, mostly vegetarian people rarely indulge in. Thus “Portobello Mushroom Jerky” (page 239) looked like a great idea. Mushrooms are, after all, closer to meat than to plant. Edward marinates strips of mushroom in soy sauce, olive oil, sorghum syrup, lemon juice, and togarashi, then roasts the strips in the oven. The oven temperature he uses is surprisingly high: 325º, then increased to 375º; some of my mushrooms ended up a little burnt. But more to the point, these mushrooms were not chewy, and so were not very jerky-like. This is a forgettable recipe.

togoccBoth Danny and I agreed that “Togarashi Cheesecake with Sorghum” (page 254) was interesting, but interesting in a very positive sense. Although Edward recalls Junior’s cheesecake in the introduction, this is not a Junior’s type cheesecake. To begin with, Edward uses a ginger cookie crumb crust, not a sponge cake crust. His cheesecake filling is more subtle than lots of cream cheese with added cream or sour cream: his cheesecake is egg-heavy, with some cream cheese augmented with goat cheese and buttermilk, and less sugar than one might expect. The point of this cheesecake, though, is the togarashi, adding a quite pleasing hot accent, and the sorghum syrup drizzled on top. I liked this cheesecake and enjoyed every bite, yet was not tempted to keep eating more and more. Maybe the hot pepper does something to the brain that reduces the impulse to binge.


Cheesy Potatoes Again

Adapted from Lillian Marshall, The Courier-Journal & Times Cook Book

2 large baking potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 jarred red pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk, heated
6 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter a casserole dish.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the potatoes, onion, and green pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain. Melt the butter in another pan. Add the flour and stir until combined. Gradually add the heated milk, mixing until smooth after each milk addition. Add the cheese to the white sauce, then the vegetables, and the salt and pepper. Put in the prepared casserole dish and bake until done. The top will be brown and the potatoes soft. This could take an hour or more.


Kentucky Korea Carrots

Adapted from Edward Lee, Smoke and Pickles

4 tablespoons butter
1 pound carrots, preferably young, peeled and cut into slices or chunks
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons minced ginger
3 tablespoons bourbon
Juice of 1 orange
2 teaspoons salt

Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the brown sugar and ginger and cook for a few more minutes. Add the bourbon and orange juice and cook until the liquid is syrupy, about another 5 minutes. Add the salt and pepper.

Christmas in July

DSC_0148Most holiday cookbooks are just gimmicks: whatever food you eat on a particular holiday is good on other days of the year too, and vice versa. The big exception here is Pesach: most year round food is not suitable for Pesach, and although Pesach food can be eaten at other times, many people, myself included, do not always want to do this. In this post we look at three books of Christmas desserts, and I had no problem cooking from these books in the middle of summer. A few of the desserts in these books are Christmas favorites: gingerbread cookies, meringue mushrooms, or cookies for tree decoration; a few of these desserts are more suitable for winter weather than the heat of summer: heavy cheesecakes or cranberry desserts. But a good dessert is a good dessert, and I am happy to eat one any time of the year. In one of the books of this post there are good desserts galore, but in the other two, good desserts are the exception.

rccPerhaps the best cookie cookbook that I have is Rose’s Christmas Cookies, Rose being none other than baker extraordinaire, Rose Levy Beranbaum. With a few more recipes this book could easily have been The Cookie Bible, a companion book to Rose’s Cake Bible. Instead, however, Rose and her publisher go for the Christmas market, with Christmasy photographs, and some Christmas-themed recipes, including an awesomely over the top gingerbread cathedral. Rose presents her recipes meticulously, with no room for error. She gives us the amounts for her ingredients three ways: by volume, by weight (ounces and pounds), and by mass (grams). I have complete faith in Rose: I fully believe that every recipe of hers is the best possible recipe of its type. I have been baking cookies from this cookbook for for the last 24 years, and intend to keep baking from this cookbook for many years to come.

chcrackPeople should bake crackers more often. They are just as easy to make as cookies, and homemade crackers are much better than their manufactured counterparts. In particular, you can avoid all the noxious additives that abound in cookies from Nabisco, Keebler, and Sunshine. “Savory Cheese Dollars” (page 155) are made of butter, flour, cheese, salt, and pepper, processed, rolled into a log, sliced, and baked. Eating these can deliver all the thrill that eating totally junk cheese crackers can deliver, and only a little of the self-disgust.

carbarDanny described “Chocolate Caramel Chews” (page 100) as “strangely resistible” and I can only agree. The cookies consist of an oat base topped with nuts, good chocolate, and a wonderful homemade caramel topping. They are baked until the chocolate has melted caramel topping is bubbling. So make no mistake, these are good cookies. But somehow, they are too good. With every bite, I was aware of how very caloric they were and how much the less than healthy ingredients buried the healthier components. I think our guests must have agreed, for I did not notice anyone (even myself) slicing off slivers of cookie for seconds, then thirds.

poisinPoison cookies have long been a favorite in our house. These cookies are Rose’s “Mexican Wedding Cookies” (page 51) without the coating of confectioners’ sugar. (And why, one may ask, poison? Because once when I made these, to prevent certain people in our house from eating them, I put signs by the cooling cookies with primitive skull and crossbones.) These cookies are simplicity itself to make: pull out the food processor, and process pecans, confectioners’ sugar, salt, vanilla, butter, and flour. Roll into balls, bake, and you’re done! I did notice that this batch of cookies was not quite as good as usual; I think the problem was the sugar. Instead of Domino’s or sugar from Whole Foods Market, I used some sugar that Shay had left at our house, Our Family brand, which might have had more actual sugar per volume than the sugars I usually use. [Go to the recipe.]

rugRose’s interpretation of “Lora Brody’s Rugelach” (page 126) are the best rugelach in the world. You start with a delicate cream cheese cookie dough, rolled into a circle. Spread the circle with apricot preserves, sprinkle with sugar, nuts, and chopped raisins, cut into wedges and roll up. Brush the crescents with milk, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake. So there is nothing revolutionary about these cookies, but Rose and Lora have worked out the perfect proportions. These cookies are the perfect size too: two bites to nirvana.

doccMarcel Desaulniers has appeared in a previous post with his salad cookbook, Salad Days. The salad cookbook was atypical for Marcel; his dessert cookbooks, focussing on chocolate and death, are more popular: Desserts to Die For, Death by Chocolate, Death By Chocolate Cookies, etc. There is no mention of death in the title of his Christmas chocolate cookbook: I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas, but otherwise this book is vintage Marcel. The book is full of excessive chocolate dessert recipes. Sometimes the excess works, but more often it is just too much. There is little that is explicitly Christmasy here except for the rather stupid and uninformative chapter titles: “Been Nice Sweets,” “Been Naughty Sweets,” “Santa’s Workshop,” to name a few. I only own this book because I found it remaindered. I had never cooked from it until recently, but I am glad that I did, for I found one of the best ever chocolate chip cookie recipes ever. I was less thrilled with the other recipes that I tried.

cccookI made “Chocolate Chip Macadamia Nut Cookies” (page 72) mainly to use as the crust for “Chocolate Orange Cheesecake” (page 161) but also, who can resist chocolate chip cookies? I have noticed that at any potluck, if anyone brings chocolate chip cookies (and someone inevitably will), those cookies will be the first dessert to disappear. Marcel’s chocolate chip cookie dough differs from the usual dough in that he uses all brown sugar (dark brown, at that) and no white sugar. And why not? Brown sugar has a lot more taste than white sugar. He also uses macadamia nuts, a nut of which I am not that fond. They seem too slippery. But I chopped up my macadamia nuts well for this cookie in order to avoid this slipperiness. Although there is a knee jerk response in Cookie World to pair macadamia nuts with white chocolate, Marcel courageously pairs macadamia and dark chocolate. And after the nuts were chopped, the dough was mixed, the cookies were baked (at the interestingly low temperature of 300º), and I finally had a nibble, I was able to categorize these cookies in the top five per cent of all chocolate chip cookies: summa cum laude! The texture was perfect, which the slow baking might have had something to do with, and the macadamia nuts provided a very nice buttery nut taste. Over the next few days, these cookies only improved. [Go to the recipe.]

chcakeI made “Chocolate Orange Cheesecake” (page 161) not for Christmas but for Shavuot. The crust is made up of warm and still soft chocolate chip cookies smushed into the bottom of the springform pan. This is an all cream cheese cheesecake; I prefer the less cloying results of using cream cheese with sour cream. Half the cheesecake batter is combined with chocolate, half with orange juice, zest, and extract; the two batters are marbled together. After baking and cooling, the top of this cheesecake is decorated with a chocolate ganache (not shown in the picture). I ended up spilling more than half my ganache, so instead of piping decorative rosettes, I just poured the ganache that was left on top of the cheesecake. This cheesecake was heavy and none too subtle, but, like almost all cheesecakes, delicious.

“Vivacious Vanilla Ice Cream” (page 181) is vanilla ice cream with a secret ingredient: vodka. Marcel uses vanilla flavored vodka, but I was not about to go out and get some just for this ice cream, so I used the regular vodka in our freezer. This is a custard based ice cream; the amount of vodka (three tablespoons) is reasonable but not excessive. I was hoping that the vodka would increase the creaminess of the ice cream (which is, after all, the whole point of ice cream). This did not happen. What we got was a completely unremarkable homemade vanilla ice cream with just a trace of a nasty flavor lurking in the background.

csGeorgeanne Brennan’s Christmas Sweets is a bad book, and I do not think that I am alone in this opinion. I only own this book because the cookbook book club, The Good Cook, sent it to me for free; apparently giving this book away to unwilling recipients was the only way they could get rid of it. The author, Georgeanne Brennan, is a competent cookbook author and food person; she should be a little bit embarassed to have been involved in this project. The book has only three Amazon reviews, a three star, a two star, and a one star review. So what is so bad about this book? Lots. Unusual for Chronicle Books, the pages are unattractive: distractingly two-toned with an ornate and hard to read font for recipe titles. There are cutesy and unappealing decorating ideas presented in recipe format. “Candy Stick Tree Centerpieces” (page 48) left me longing for a Martha Stewart or even a Susie Fishbein. The photographs in the book are, at best, uninspiring. To be more positive, this book is clearly more Christmas-themed than the other two books of this post, and it is possible that someone looking for a Christmas book might actually like the decoration and gift ideas. The book does not have many recipes, with even fewer recipes that I was interested in, and the recipes I did try were merely okay.

lbI am for calling a pound cake a pound cake, and only a pound cake a pound cake. Georgeanne’s “Lemon Pound Cake with Warm Poached Cherries” (page 28) is a lemon flavored butter cake baked in a loaf pan. It does not have the density of a true pound cake, nor the perfection of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s pound cake from Cake Bible (which is also not a true pound cake, but I will let Rose call her wonderful cake whatever she wants to call it). But this is an acceptable cake; the lemon flavor, from lemon zest and lemon extract, is pleasant. I did not serve this with poached cherries, but rather with a mango dessert from Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris by Clotilde Dusoulier. I liked the cake better plain, which I think would still have been the case even had I made the poached cherries. [Go to the recipe.]

apbarThere didn’t see anything particularly terrible about the recipe “Apricot-Pistachio Bars” (page 70), at least once I decided to omit the icing: 1½ cups of confectioners’ sugar with a few tablespoons of orange juice. And when I made these bars they weren’t terrible, but they were structurally unsound. The cake batter in which the apricots and pistachios lay was too feeble to accommodate such heavy add-ins. When I tried to eat a bar, the cake crumbled and the apricots fell out. I should point out that I chopped both the apricots and pistachios more finely than specified in the recipe. Heavy fruits need a heavy batter; Alice Medrich’s “Fruit and Nut Bars” from her Cookies and Brownies book are an excellent example of how apricot bars should be made.

peartartAfter starting out with a bad attitude about Christmas Sweets and making two mediocre recipes, I was ready to call it quits, but I had already bought the pears to make “Pear and Chocolate Tart” (page 96), so make it I did. Although I was not that wild about this recipe, it was far from a disaster: Danny liked it a lot, and our guests also seemed to enjoy it, especially the chocolate on top. The big problem with pear and chocolate tart was the extremely low taste to trouble ratio. In other words, this tart was a total pain to make with not enough payoff in terms of taste. To begin with, Georgeanne’s crust, which we are supposed to roll out, is unrollable; I had to press it into the tart pan. Then we cook pears for a pear sauce filling; Georgeanne’s instructions for this pear sauce needed a bit of modifying. The pear sauce is topped with sliced pears; peeling and slicing four pounds of pears was not fun. After baking, the tart is glazed with raspberry jam and drizzled with chocolate, neither of which tasks was that onerous, just two more things to do. Finally, this was not an easy tart to slice: the chocolate was brittle, the pear slices did not slice cleanly, and the crust stuck to the bottom of the tart pan.


Poison Cookies

Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum,  Rose’s Christmas Cookies

½ cup pecans
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1¾ cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350º. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Put the pecans and sugar in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until the pecans are almost as powdery as the sugar. Add the salt, butter, and vanilla, and pulse a few times, and then add the flour. Pulse until the dough comes together into a ball. This will not happen immediately, but eventually the dough will start clumping.

Break off pieces of dough, about 1½ tablespoons to each piece, roll gently into a ball, then slightly flatten between your palms. Or do as I do: separate the dough into two big pieces, then each of the 2 pieces into 3 pieces, each of the 6 pieces into 3 pieces, and finally each of the 18 pieces into 3 pieces. You will have 54 pieces of dough; roll into balls and flatten. Place on the cookie sheet, and bake just until the cookies start to brown, about 15 minutes.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Adapted from Marcel Desaulniers,  I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
¾ cup macadamia nuts, very finely chopped
¾ cup  chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 300°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt, then add to the butter mixture, and mix until fully integrated. Mix in the nuts and chocolate chips. Spoon out balls of dough onto the baking sheet; I made 24 cookies from this amount of dough, but you could also make fewer, larger cookies. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The cookies will not brown much, and should still be a little soft when you take them out of the oven. Cool on a wire rack.


Lemon “Pound” Cake

Adapted from Georgeanne Brennan, Christmas Sweets

½ cup butter, softened if possible
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
Zest of 1 lemon, grated
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon lemon extract
1½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Beat the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon zest, vanilla, and lemon extract. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour and milk alternately, in several additions, to the butter and egg mixture, beginning and ending with the flour, mixing to combine after each addition. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until done (toothpick test!), which should take between 45 minutes and 1 hour. Cool in the pan a few minutes, then remove from the pan and cool on a rack.