Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chee Whiz

Everyone has some dirty food secret.  Some processed nastiness they can (or more than likely cannot) admit to liking.  I don’t care what kind of food hipster you are, you’ve got a hang up:  Kraft mac-n-cheese, Hostess pink plastic sno-balls, baloney on Wonder bread, a Taco Bell addiction, something.  Children, however, are less discriminating.
Last summer I promised the kids ‘junk food Saturday’.  If you read this blog regularly you know this is breaking all the rules for me. But the great thing about kids is you get to re-live some of your own childhood and rediscover some of the confections you may have forgotten on your way to middle age.  Jim was out of town on an annual business trip to Chicago and I was looking for a new angle on entertainment.  The mid-summer 98 degree heat certainly did not encourage the kids to get out their bikes and ride around the park.  So ‘junk food Saturday’ was christened:  the kids were each allowed one manufactured snack they are normally prohibited from eating and two movies.   The PJs would stay on and after a heathy breakfast the sloth would begin!
First we had to pick their poisons and these selections did not come easily.  Picking which item of forbidden junk takes an epic amount of time and emotional investment.  Apparently, over the past 30+ years, I had failed to see that the grocery store is nose to tail filled with Vegas style flashy food crap. The kids almost had nervous breakdowns from the pressure.  There was nail biting, bargaining and almost tears.  It was UN negotiation worthy. Finally after the threat of no junk food Saturday decisions were made.  The results: our son picked some waxy brown rectangle imitating a pastry and our daughter selected two tone pop tarts of a flavor not found in nature.  I selected crab chips.  
A couple months ago the kids started trash talking what they were going to eat for junk food Saturday this year.  Our son had even remembered the actual date and placed it firmly on his mental calendar.  The lists started to get long, clearly they had been thinking about this for the past eight months, like a Christmas list, only oddly more detailed than their Christmas lists.  As the train picked up momentum Jim could hold back his inner Ohio no more.  He chimed in, ‘Well, we are going to change the date of junk food Saturday this year so I can participate!  We’ll do it the week before I go to Chicago AND I am going to pick out the best stuff, not that old lady stuff you amateurs select.  Oh yeah!  In fact,’ He was revving up now ‘In fact, this year we are all going to be allowed to get two things instead of just one!  Yup.’  He beamed from across the table with a grin that said ‘I’ll show you who knows how to have a good time’.  He had upped the ante and affectively lost his mind.  Squeals of delight.  
‘Well then, I’m sure you will be happy to take the kids on that trip to the grocery store.’ I guess I got wrapped up in the emotion as well because I continued with ‘And I’ll place my order now: EZ cheez and a bag of Chex mix.  And I plan to take that EZ cheez and squirt it into a ball and roll it in the Chex mix and pop it in my mouth.  That will be my snack.’  Three sets of eyes blinking at me from the dinner table. Finally our daughter offered a very small ‘Ew?’ Followed by our son ‘Yeah, ew.’ and Jim ‘Who are you?’  ‘EZ cheez, it’s delicious.  Kids do you know what it is?  It’s a can and you squirt it like, well, like a whipped cream can and a cheese product comes out.  Some people squirt it on crackers but some people...’ Jim finished my sentence ‘squirt it directly in their mouths.’  Larger ‘Ews’ all around.
EZ cheez was my Dad’s dirty little processed food secret. I can honestly say with the exception of the EZ cheez I have never seen my Dad eat anything more processed than a pretzel.  My Dad is no hippie, he missed that generation by a generation and he certainly doesn’t buy in to all this slow food (as he would say, ‘horse-shit’), but he is the original whole foods man. And it’s probably and quite simply because when he was a kid such things did not exist.  If he wants a snack he eats peanuts or pistachios.  He doesn’t even eat cereal.  But he likes EZ cheez.  He has a traditional pastime of sitting on the couch drinking wine while writing a book about wine and watching Monday Night Football with the cat on his lap squeezing that EZ cheez onto a club cracker, and of course, occasionally straight in to his mouth.  How could you resist?
And the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.  The other day I made the mistake of going to Trader Joe’s hungry.  I came home with something called ‘Pub cheese’.  It should have been called ‘tub cheez’ because that’s what it was; a tub of EZ cheez with some horseradish.  It was de-freaking-licious.  Jim had a hard time staying out of it too.
So I have a very easy cheese recipe, but it’s elegant and comes with a Jaques Pepin pedigree. I came across this in Food & Wine years ago and it solves many problems.  First; what to do with all those tiny bits of leftover cheese in the fridge.  And second; how to make a ‘wow‘ appetizer in no time.  I find it works best with part stinky cheese, like blue, part creamy, like goat or fontina and a little salty cheese, like parmesan or feta.  But any combination of cheese scraps will work fine.  
Frommage Fort - from Jaques Pepin
1 cup cheeses, shredded or crumbled
3 garlic cloves (I roast mine first because I do not like the sharp taste of garlic)
1/4 cup dry white wine
Roast the garlic. I place them in a 350 oven tossed with a little olive oil and roast for 15 minutes.  Mince the garlic.  Place cheeses, wine, pepper and garlic in a food processor and process until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Fill two 4 ounce ramekins with the mixture, place on a cake sheet and place in the broiler for about three minutes or until bubbly and browned.  Serve with table water crackers or crostini.
Click here for the original recipe.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Haussner's Hon

I have said it a thousand times, I’m not a sweets person.  But there are two desserts from my childhood that I find myself craving.  Both are from storied old school Baltimore restaurants; the fabled pine nut roll at Tio Pepe’s and the strawberry pie from Haussner’s.  The truly frustrating part is it’s very hard to find a recipe for either on the magic eight ball of the internet.  This, of course, only intensifies the mystique surrounding them and my desire to eat them.  
My Dad was a member of both the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Wine and Food Societies and he would host a dinner for each about once a year.  These parties were a big deal, well, they certainly were a big deal to a little girl.  Prior to the party we would move the dining room furniture in to the living room (more space) ‘Don’t hit the walls Morg.  Careful, careful.  Goddamnit. I hit the wall.’ The silver also had to be polished and the decanters had to be washed, these were my jobs while my Dad handled dinner.  The dinner menu went like this: the main course was shad roe if it was available, if not, cornish game hens or beef tenderloin served with asparagus or green beans and a side of either wild rice or potatoes.  The appetizers were always a selection of cheeses and pate from Charlie at the Cross Street Market and these were assuredly served with stone ground wheat crackers in the sky blue box. And the dessert was always, always the pine nut roll from Tio’s and the strawberry pie from Haussner’s.  
Around five o’clock we would climb down to the wine cellar where my Dad would excitedly make his selections.  Making proclamations about who he could fool with what wine during the blind tasting part of the evening.  “Old so-and-so won’t know what hit him, oh yeah boy! Won’t know what hit him!  Woo!’  Then I would assist my dad in decanting his wine selections. And for the record, sometimes he cheated and used a Melita coffee filter.  ‘Don’t say anything Morg!  Dear God!  Some people say it changes the taste of the wine, it’s malarky! Malarky!’ Then I would wait, not so patiently, for the guests to arrive.  I would help gather coats and greet people.  Once everyone had arrived I could perform my parlour trick of sniffing and blind guessing a wine to my father’s beaming pride.  Then it was off to bed to the smell of shallots and meat juices and to the sound of clinking glasses and laughter.  
In the morning, while my Dad was still sleeping off all his hard work, I would come downstairs to the wine stained kitchen and help myself to the leftovers for breakfast.  Nothing says bachelor dad like sitting on the kitchen counter eating pate and strawberry pie for breakfast.  A great breakfast and one I always looked forward to, it was only improved when I was old enough to drink coffee with it.  What made this pie so special were the contrasts.  A buttery crust with a creamy vanilla under layer hiding beneath sweet and tart fruit with crispy almond slivers on top.  It was hard to stop eating, especially when interspersed with bites of pate on stale stoned ground wheat crackers.
Haussner’s closed years ago, taking the pie with it.  That pie was part of Baltimore.  I feel like they should have at least given the recipe to the Maryland Historical Society.  Research didn’t really help, none of the recipes I found on the internet felt right, they were either missing the cream layer or loaded in fake flavoring or color.  And while I don’t doubt Haussner’s may have used artificial enhancers, I could not.  I decided I would have to make my own version; more of an ode to the Haussner’s pie rather than a recreation.  A trip to the farmer’s market last week had beautiful tiny strawberries, tart and precious, nothing like red behemoths at the grocery store, these were my inspiration.  Three things were imperative: creamy filling, crispy almonds and glazed strawberries.
So before I dug in to this pie I was a little hesitant.  It certainly wasn’t a pretty pie.  I don’t have a piping bag. I just sort of squirted the whipped cream of all over the place, which is obvious from the picture.  I also made a couple junior mistakes, like forgetting pie weights until 1/2 way through baking the pie shell.  And there was a good level of improvisation that shouldn’t happen when baking.  But when I took my first bite I surprised myself, it tasted a hell of a lot like childhood.  There was an eye roll followed by an expletive and I gobbled down the rest of my piece. And I was kicking myself for not purchasing pate instead of Spanish chorizo at the farmer’s market the day before.  
If you too miss Haussner’s strawberry pie, give it a try.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  
Haussner’s inspired Strawberry Pie - Serves 8
Pie Crust - Adapted from the Bouchon Cookbook
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks or 16 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/4 cup ice water
1/4 cup toasted almond slivers, ground in food processor
Make the dough a day ahead.  Place 1 cup flour and salt in standing mixer with dough hook attachment, turn on low and add the butter a handful at a time, in about 4 batches, increase to medium speed and when butter is incorporated, stop machine, scrape down sides or dislodge dough from mixing arm, turn on low again and slowly add in remaining flour, followed by the water, mix until just incorporated.  Remove and divide in to two, wrap one disk in plastic wrap and freeze for later use.  Return the other half to the mixer and add in the ground almonds, turn on low until incorporated.  Shape in to a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Roll it out on floured surface to about 12” in diameter.  Place in a pie pan, top with parchment or aluminum foil and place pie weights or dried beans on top.  Bake at 350 in the center of the oven for 45 minutes or until lightly browned at the edges.  Place on a wire rack and cool completely.
Pastry Cream - Adapted from the Baltimore Sun
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
This can also be a day ahead. Scald the milk in a sauce pan, set aside.  Meanwhile whisk together the egg yolks and sugar.  Temper the egg yolk mixture by slowly adding the milk, whisking until incorporated.  Return the mixture to the sauce pan and working over a medium heat continue to whisk.  The mixture will begin to thicken, it may look lumpy, keep whisking.  I found my mixture to be done when it had a pudding like consistency and appeared to ‘breathe’ when I stopped whisking it for a moment. Remove from heat. Add the vanilla and butter and stir to incorporate.  Cover the surface with buttered wax paper.  Allow to cool to room temperature before putting in the fridge.
Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whip together the cream and vanilla to desired consistency. 
Strawberry Topping
3 1/5 cups strawberries, hulled, and sliced if necessary
2 tablespoons strawberry preserves
1/4 cup almond slivers, toasted
Spread the pastry cream in to the bottom of the pie shell with a spatula.  Top the pastry cream with the strawberries.  Microwave the preserves for about 30 seconds.  Using a pastry brush, gently brush the preserves on to the strawberries.  Let cool in the fridge for a couple hours.  When ready to serve, pipe the whipped cream around the outer edge of the pie and sprinkle with the almond slivers.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Starting Over

I’m back.  Yet another winter delay.  However, even if I had found a way to light the blog I’m not sure I could have found the time; Jim and I have been quite busy the past 6 months.  We have been to Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana, Illinois, California, Germany, France, Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands and Florida

And you know we ate our faces off everywhere we went. Hamburgers in Mississippi. Restaurant August and La Petite Grocery in New Orleans. Frogmore stew with the family in South Carolina. Spiny lobsters, snapper ceviche, plantains and the ubiquitous conch fritters in Tortola.  Macarons in Luxembourg.  Sausage this, currywurst that, a pork chop here and a pork loaf there, and, yes, lots of beer, in Germany. 

We also bought a new house in the interim as well.  Moving created some culinary challenges.  Well, to be honest, I created them for myself.  Just to add a little thrill factor to the challenge of moving at some point I stopped going to the grocery store.  I was determined we would eat as much of our existing pantry as possible, lest we have to pack and move it.  Everyone was warned ‘If you bring it in this house you better eat it.’  I also found out in the moving process that apparently I am a condiment hoarder.  My refrigerator door contained exactly 2 tablespoons of condiments from about 30 countries. Of course these condiments were not housed in 2 tablespoon vessels.  I managed to break up with my condiment collection.

Needless to say with all of this going on I haven’t really been cooking like myself.  And I don’t know what that means, I just know I haven’t been doing it.  So I am ready to refocus, or as Jim likes to call it ‘Summer of I have to wait 10 minutes for my dinner to be photographed before I can eat it.’  

So, I started with an old favorite that I have not made in about a year. After Jim patiently waited for the photography he deemed it ‘a tasty little snack’.

Grilled Mango Bruschetta – Makes 16-20 pieces

1 Baguette
2 Mangos
2 Garlic cloves, sliced in half lengthwise
1 ½ cups Fontina, grated
¼ cup Basil, chopped
Olive oil
Honey or Agave Nectar
Maldon, Fleur de Sel or some type of sea salt

Pre-heat the broiler.  Set up a charcoal grill for direct heat grilling.  Oil the grill grate.  Slice the baguette on the bias.  Peel the mango and slice in to large chunks to keep them from falling through the grate of the grill.  Toss the mango with about 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil.

Place the bread slices on a baking sheet, rub them with the garlic halves then brush lightly with olive oil.  Place them in the broiler until lightly toasted, this was 1.5 minutes for my broiler but I recommend checking the bread every 30 seconds to make sure it does not burn.  Remove the bread from oven and set aside.  When the grill is hot, it takes my grill about ½ an hour to get hot (we use a Weber kettle with mesquite briquettes) put the mango on and grill for about 2 minutes per side until nice char marks appear and the mango is slightly cooked but not falling apart.

Remove the mango from the grill and slice in to ¼” slices.  Place 2 slices of mango on each toast, top with Fontina and return to the broiler for another 90 seconds (or whatever it take for the cheese to become bubbly).  Remove from the oven and top with basil, drizzle some honey or agave nectar then sprinkle with a bit of sea salt.  Serve immediately.