Carrot cake recipe here. You won’t regret it.
Carrot cake recipe here. You won’t regret it.
Sunday morning, making waffles.
You can’t do this stealthily if you’re going to use the egg whipper. And you can’t make these waffles without the whipper.
This is the first in a (probably irregular) series of posts that will include sounds and images recorded at the same time and location.
A recipe is a list.
A recipe is a blueprint.
A recipe is a map.
The thing about an old family recipe is how it can help you reconstruct a memory and make it present. How just reading it is like reading a memoir of your own childhood, written as you lived the moment.
A recipe is an artifact.
A recipe is a thumbprint.
A recipe is a photograph.
An old family recipe is a thing. A scrap of paper, an index card, a notebook page. It was scratched out on the back of a paper bag, or on the top sheet of the pad that sat by the telephone. It was ripped out of a magazine. It bears the evidence of being handled. It’s splattered, creased, greased. It preserves your mother’s handwriting, and your grandmother’s annotation: “From Shirl.”
A recipe is a whistle.
A recipe is a signal.
A recipe is a telephone.
The recipe is a practical thing. It directs and points. If it’s a good recipe, it stands by your shoulder and tells you just how much to stir that batter, just how dark to bake that bread, just what shape those cookies should be. Have always been. It tells you when you can trust your own judgement and when you must be exact.
A recipe is a thread.
A recipe is a story.
A recipe is circle.
The old recipe is a connection between the you that was and the you that is, between the people you loved and who loved you enough to cook for you, even when they are no longer here. If you’re lucky, it draws a thread from you back to a person so distant in your past that you never knew her. But she cooked this recipe for her little girl, who maybe grew up to be your grandmother.
An old family recipe is one tale in the long manuscript of things that made you you. It’s a story you recite as you follow it. It’s a story you put into the hands of your own children and tell them, “Eat this. Taste this. Remember this. Tell this.”
My sister and I are working on a project this year. We’re collecting our favorite family recipes, along with those of our extended family, to create a bound memory of tastes. Some of these recipes (like the one on this page) are childhood favorites, and some are ones that we’ve developed as we’ve lived on our own, feeding ourselves, our friends, and our families. If you’re reading this and you’re related to us, you’ll probably be hearing from us; we want your recipe memories, too!
In the meantime, let’s start with our grandmother Martha’s Mandelbrot (also called mandel bread). Mandelbrot is Yiddish for almond bread. It’s a twice-baked cookie, pretty much the Jewish version of biscotti. It’s nutty. Not too sweet. Something you’d make to serve with coffee when the “girls” came over for mahjong. Or something you’d hand a teething toddler. Or something you, if you were me, would bake on one of your wistful days when you could have used a hug from your grandmother.
1 cup whole almonds
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
The mandelbrot will easily stay fresh in a cookie tin for a week. They also freeze beautifully.
* Martha’s recipe makes no mention of toasting the almonds; this is how old recipes change as they travel time, I suppose.
Here we are again, my old friend November. You’re a formidable foe, but you’re on the way out for another year and I’m still writing.
So, here’s to you, November, and your relentlessly grey skies, your bare branches, your frozen water bucket mornings, your summerish deceptions, your early dusks, your inevitable lurch towards winter. I raise a glass to you.
Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
For this Thanksgiving, M concocted a festive little cranberry punch for us, the very which I’m sipping as I write this.
We’ve tentatively named it the “Thanksgiving Cranberry Spatchcocktail” (spatchcocking being an old technique—renewed in popularity recently—for preparing a turkey where you remove the bird’s backbone and flatten it like an open book before cooking it).
M has graciously written up the recipe for us (below). May you drink it in good health. And may it make you pleasantly spineless for an hour or two.
Yield: About 8 drinks
To prepare the drowsy cranberries
Note: If possible, make the drowsy cranberries a day or so ahead of time so they’ll be nice and potent.
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
3 tsp orange zest
3 tsp grated ginger
1.5 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup light rum
To prepare and serve the cocktail
1 bottle Prosecco
Light and dark rum, to taste
Time was, putting food by for us meant making 30 pints of strawberry jam in a day. Or processing quarts of pickles all weekend. It meant picking bushels of apples to turn into sauce.
We had shelves in the basement devoted to our home-canned goods (I believe there are still some pickles down there from several years ago).
I have no idea what we were thinking.
Pure silliness. Egged on by the promise of a plan-free weekend with clear weather, we started a mental to-do list on Saturday morning, once again blind to the difference between the time it takes to say a task and the time it takes to do it.
No matter. It’s a spring weekend. We’re beguiled by opening day at the Farmers Market, warm sunlight, a chance to drive with the car windows down, chorusing morning birds, extra minutes of daylight, and nothing pressing on our calendar. We can do what we want!
So we did. After morning chores, we sped off to the Farmers Market, bustling and busy even this early in the season. We met a six-day old Boer goat, we bought apple turnovers, we bought and ate the most wonderful pierogi I’ve ever had, then we went back and bought and ate some more.
Then off to the co-op for supplies for the various cooking projects we had in mind (tamales, slow-smoked ribs, mini quiche), then a quick stop at a consignment clothing sale in the next town over.
Home again, put the groceries and market treats away.
Visited the bees! This time we were looking for evidence of eggs and we found them. In the black frame cells, you can see small white lines, like grains of rice. Those are eggs. In other cells, there are curled larvae, the next stage. Other cells are waxed over: capped brood. This is where the fed larvae grow, until they emerge as fully-formed bees in a couple of weeks.
This is exciting. Seeing all this evidence of soon-to-be bees means the queen is healthy and doing her work. We haven’t seen the queen yet (since we put her into the hive in her cage), but we know she’s there and we’re hoping to spot her when we next open the hive.
M also noticed at least one worker with full pollen sacs (see the bee with bright yellow “saddle bags” in the middle of that second bee photo?). This means they’re starting to forage out in the world and will become less dependent on our sugar water and will be bringing back wild pollen and nectar. Bee happiness.
On a roll now, we decide to open the goat-milk cheddar that’s been aging in the cool basement since early January and we deem it quite acceptable.
The weekend rolls on and into Sunday. The cooking projects invade the kitchen and the Egg on the porch. We’ve got tamales and ribs in the works, yes. And a new batch of cheddar culturing. And a small pot of rhubarb jam bubbling down to sticky sweetness on the stove. And M saw some beautiful bluefish at the co-op so, after a day of drying in its rub on Saturday, that’s now smoking on the Egg. Meanwhile we’ve promised to make several dozen mini goat cheese quiches for H’s elementary school’s annual Medieval Festival (if you live around here and have kids, you really need to go. It’s a blast and we’re fairly sure that it won’t snow this year…)
At some point, late afternoon, H is at rehearsal for her school’s spring musical and M and I are whirling around the kitchen, busy as bees, laughing at the ridiculousness of how much we’ve taken on, the sink piled high with dishes, every pot used, the oven cranking away.
It’s crazy, exhaustingly wonderful.
By dinnertime, we’re running out of steam. We’ve made all the food to eat (plus a tamale pie, plus other things I can’t even remember) and have just enough energy to pile the plates, open a bottle of prosecco, and fall onto the couch, where we watch Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark” while the evening drapes darkness around the house.
There are still dishes to do, books we were going to read, blueberry bushes we were going to buy and plant, photographs to take, things to write, things to plan, more lists to make.
Ah well. Maybe next weekend.
I’m an Eastern European mutt, descended from grandparents and great grandparents who were born in the tiny, border shifting villages of Romania, Russia, and Poland. At some point, my ancestors may have been Ukranian, or Hungarian, or Bulgarian. We have no records that far back, but considering the politics and the fluid borders of that part of the world, anything’s possible.
I do know that I’m at least half Polish, by virtue of a grandmother born in Warsaw and great grandparents who emigrated from elsewhere in Poland. But, in spite of all that Polish influence, I don’t remember a single pierogi from my childhood. I somehow associate them with gentile Polish cuisine, even though they are just a whisper away from kreplach, the Jewish dumpling that so keenly resembles the periogi (or, for that matter, Asian dumplings and Italian ravioli). Or is it vice versa?
No matter. They all amount to a thin skin of dough wrapped around a precious dollop of flavor. Often a small amount of ground meat mixed with spices, but just as commonly a vegetable mixture, or fruit, or sweetened cheese.
I chose Poland as January’s destination for My Kitchen, My World because I really wanted to learn how to make (and eat) pierogi. It turns out, as with any of these dumplings, the fun (and the real work) is in the fillings. You can stick to the traditional (potato and cheese are popular), or be more exotic. Blueberries, Indian spices, sauteed tofu, spiced apples, chipotle-cheese and salsa, Thai peanut sauce with chicken are just a few of the ideas I came across when researching recipies. In the end, I chose wild mushroom, Moroccan lamb, and sweet ricotta.
Pierogi making is a multi-step process that you can spread out over a few days, or make all in one intensive session (I picture Polish grandmothers, mothers, and daughters congregated in kitchens for pierogi-making afternoons).
Once formed, however, you can defer the cooking and eating part until later by freezing the pierogi until you’re ready for them. The final thawing and cooking makes for an easy week-night dinner accompanied by some kielbasa and roasted brussels sprouts.
I loved all of the pierogi I made, but my favorite were the ones filled with sweet ricotta cheese, and drizzled with a caramel-cabernet reduction sauce that a friend sent us for the holidays. I don’t have the recipe for that sauce yet, but maybe I can trade some pierogi for it.
Yield: 20-40 pierogi, depending on the size you make
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
Sweet ricotta filling
(enough to fill about 1/4 of the above dough recipe)
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
To see the round up of the group’s Polish recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.
In February, we travel to the Czech Republic.
This month’s Let’s Lunch theme is Kummerspeck, a German word that means “grief bacon,” the extra layer of fat one accrues from emotional overeating. This is a condition I’m familiar with, particularly this time of year.
If I’m completely honest, in times of deep trouble, what I often crave most is a bag of potato chips (or crisps, if you’re reading from the other side of the pond). And possibly a tub of french onion dip. Of my own.
But this wouldn’t be much of a post if I wrote, “Go to the store, grab a bag of chips, there you go.” And, yes, I could have gone to the lengths of making my own hand-cut chips (and dip from fresh herbs and homemade sour cream), but that’s pure silliness. When I’m in desperate need of comfort, the last thing I should be doing is getting anywhere near the mandoline blade or a pot of boiling oil.
So what I’ll write about here instead is toast. Because toast can be as simple or complex as you’d like. Because you can make it without risking much harm to life and limb. And because it has the essential components that make it an ideal comfort food: simplicity, speed, crunch, starch, warmth, flexibility, portability.
Toast is a palette, a platform, an edible Zelig that can take the form you need for the moment.
No matter how miserable you feel, within a span of ten minutes, you can make two slices of toast and be back on the sofa, nibbling at the crunchy corners, licking the sweet butter and jam from your fingers, and watching a favorite black-and-white movie.
Toast requires no ceremony, no special implements or equipment (though a toaster does make the process simpler), and no special skill.
You can make it fancy if you want. You can make it in the Catalan style, grilled, then rubbed with garlic and tomato, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt. Or, similarly, as the Italians do, topped with crushed tomatoes, basil, and olive oil, calling it bruschetta.
Or buy a loaf of sliced white bread on your way home from work, and eat a toasted peanut butter sandwich while you stand at the kitchen counter sorting the stack of bills and junk mail.
Or, early in the morning, spread a slice of bread with butter, sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar, put it under the broiler until it browns and turns sugary spicy, then go out onto the porch and watch the dawn rise.
You can carry single-serving packets of Nutella in your backpack on a mountain trail, then stop by a waterfall to spread the hazelnut-chocolate on packaged “toasts” while you scrutinize the map.
You can go to a June field, harvest organic strawberries, cook them down into a bubbling jam, and can them for the toast of future winters.
Or chop clementines into bits, mix with the juice of more clementines, honey, a vanilla bean and some whole cloves, and simmer it down into quick winter marmalade that will refresh a someday sultry summer day.
You can cook bacon with onions, garlic, coffee, vinegar, brown sugar and maple syrup until you can’t ignore the savory waft coming from your stove, pulse it down into a paste, and call it “bacon jam.” And if you have any left over, you can spread it on crusty bread, top it with goat-milk ricotta cheese, and broil it until it’s irresistibly crunchy and brown.
You can bake your own artisanal loaf of bread, or bring one home from the farmers’ market, or the corner store. You can churn your own butter from the creamy top of the quart you milked from your cow this morning, or you can unwrap an unsalted stick you bought at the grocery store last week.
It doesn’t matter, because all toast, in whatever guise, is your friend, a momentary refuge from everything that is difficult and complicated and prissy.
Can I tell you one more toast thing? About my fantasy of owning a little “toast truck”? I’d drive it around town, like the ice cream truck, only I’d serve freshly toasted slices of bread I’d baked the day before, topped with jams or cheeses or spreads that I’d cooked up in the evenings.
And you’d be there on the curb in the morning with your mug of coffee, steam swirling up to your nose, and I’d hand you the slices you’d chosen, and we’d be laughing over some joke you’d made, and you’d brush the crumbs from your mouth with the back of your hand as we talked, and, right there, together we could see the whole beautiful, buttery day in front of us.
Not comforted yet? You should go see what the rest of the Let’s Lunch group craves in their moment of need…
Caramel, Chocolate and Salted Peanut Ice Cream from Lisa at Monday Morning Cooking Club
Pot Stickers from Tammi at Insatiable Munchies
Sabaw ng Monggo: Mung Bean Soup with Bacon from Betty Ann at Asian in America
Dark Chocolate Vanilla Pomegranate Parfait from Linda at Spicebox Travels
Slap Yo’ Mama Brownies from Lucy at In a Southern Kitchen
“Hug-in-a-bowl” noodles from Vivian at Vivian Pei
Evil Grief Brownies from Annabelle at Glass of Fancy
Chicken Noodle Soup from Margaret at Tea and Scones
German pancakes from Cheryl at A Tiger in the Kitchen
Beef Bourguinon with kartoffelkloesse AND maple candied bacon from Karen at GeoFooding
Cold fried chicken and potato salad from Lucy at A Cook and Her Books
I know you don’t need me to tell you how to make toast, so I’ll just share a few links to toast-related recipes I like. If you have a favorite toast recipe, I’d love to know about it!
Jams, jellies and spreads
Cajeta (goat-milk caramel)
Brown sugar clementine marmalade
Chocolate hazelnut spread
Freudenspeck Beef Bourguinon with Kartoffelkloesse plus maple candied bacon from Karen at GeoFooding
True facts about the Florentine…
~ There’s a bakery down the road from here that makes florentines as big as your open hand. No really. If you’re in the neighborhood, you must go get two; one for now and one for later.
~ The genesis of my dream florentine is oranges. Some people make florentines without any candied fruit at all; some people make them with a combination of fruits. But if orange isn’t the predominant flavor, it just doesn’t count as a florentine for me.
~ The florentine name suggests that this cookie is from Italy, specifically Florence. That’s what I thought, anyway. I was wrong. In fact, no one really seems to know where this cookie was invented, though all evidence points to France. If you want to read a little more about the history of the florentine, you should check out this interesting post from Honestcooking.com.
~ H, in utero, was formed from four major food groups: frozen yogurt, fruit salad, bistro ham sandwiches, and florentines. Alas, today, she has lost her taste for all but the first.
~ The recipe for florentines seems long when I write it out, but there are no really finicky steps and it’s easy to break the recipe down into manageable pieces. For instance, when I made them I broke the process into three easy days:
Making the candied orange peels from scratch is the only step that takes much time, and even that isn’t too bad.
~ Florentines stay fresh for a long time; unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they last a long time. It all depends on how well you can hide them. From me.
From Paris Boulangerie-Pâtisserie, by Linda Dannenberg (Gramercy Books, 1994)
Yield: 24 cookies
2 3/4 cups (200 g) sliced blanched almonds
1/3 cup (125 ml) heavy cream
7 tablespoons (100 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (100 g) sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup, lightly packed (50 g) candied cherries, chopped fine
1/4 cup (50 g) candied orange peel, chopped fine [note: I omitted the cherries and used 100 g total candied orange peel; this is the recipe I’ve used for years.]
1/3 cup (50 g) all-purpose flour
8 ounces (250 g) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Stored in an airtight container, florentines will keep for about two weeks.
To see the round up of the group’s international dessert recipes, visit the My Kitchen My World (MKMW) site. (You can also see where the group has already traveled.) To join in, just make a dish (or more) for the month’s country, blog about it, and put a link to your post in the comments on the MKMW page.
Next month, we travel to Poland, my choice! (We were supposed to go in November, but most of us got a bit busy…)