Friday, February 22, 2013

Spider Corn Cakes

Maybe I should have waited until Halloween to attempt this slightly creepy sounding recipe but I love corn bread and as does the husband. A spider according to Wikipedia  is “a commonly used cast iron cooking pan … [with] a handle and three legs used to stand up in the coals and ashes of the fire”.  

Spider Corn Cakes
The American Woman’s Cookbook

Beat two eggs, and one-half cup of sugar, two cups of sweet milk, and one of sour, three tablespoonfuls of melted butter, and one and one-third cupfuls of cornmeal, one third cupful of flour and one teaspoonful of soda; mix all ingredients together, heat spider hot, greasing well, pour in the mixture, and bake in a hot over from twenty-five to thirty minutes.
There is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to the ingredients, but once I started prepping everything I noticed that the dry to liquid ratio was a lot different than a usual cornbread recipe. From scratch or using a box of Jiffy to make cornbread, you usually end up with a very thick batter, but for these corn cakes the batter is much more liquid-y, similar to a pancake batter. I lucked out and my cast iron frying pan was the exact right size for the amount. The cooking time is spot on, and due to the consistency of the batter it needs the high heat and time in the oven to solidify.

This was a big hit with the husband, and we've got tons of leftovers, yay!

Here is the recipe with a few minor modifications:

Spider Corn Cakes
Adapted from The American Woman’s Cookbook

2 eggs
½ cup sugar
2 cups milk
1 cup buttermilk
3 tbsp melted butter, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
1 ⅓ cups cornmeal
⅓ cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 450 and place your baking dish in the oven.* Wait until your oven is done preheating before you start the batter. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl beat the eggs and sugar together, then whisk in the milk, buttermilk and melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and gently mix until incorporated. Remove your hot baking dish from the oven and swirl/ brush with butter. Pour in batter and replace in the over. Bake for 25 minutes or until set and starting to brown at the edges a bit.

*I used my 12 inch cast iron frying pan, but any oven safe baking pan could be used or even a muffin tin. Just make sure whatever you use has a good amount of butter to keep the cake from sticking.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Madam Carvill's Vegetable Soup

I’m sorry for not living up to my promise of weekly-ish posts. I’ve got all the usual excuses of X-mas, New Years, house shopping busy-ness, and the flu (poor husband) but the truth is I just wasn’t feeling very creative or energetic. Post holiday blues or something but it took quite a few inspiring blog posts (like this and this one and oh doesn’t this sounds good?) to get my creative juices cooking again. I’ll try to be better... So now onto today’s 100 year old recipe:

Madam Carvill’s Vegetable Soup
The American Woman's Cookbook
Take a medium size piece of soupmeat (knuckle of beef is best), boil for two or three hours; then strain and return to pot. Then take one-fourth head of cabbage, one carrot, two medium onions, one white turnip, two or three stalks of celery, parsley, mix together and chop fine. One half cup of rice, add to broth when soup is near done; add one can of corn; one of tomatoes (strained). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about four quarts or enough for eight persons.

Madame Carvill’s Vegetable Soup seems pretty normal right? Nowadays people generally reach for chicken broth when making most soups, and would probably leave out the animal products altogether when making a vegetable soup, but the addition of a from scratch beef broth adds a nice depth to the soup. I used a small piece of shank and boiled it for three hours. I opted to not chop the veggies too finely because A) I don’t have the knife skills or patience and B) I like my vegetable soups to have some texture. I’ve never added rice to soup before, and didn’t let it cook long enough because I assumed the grain would continue to absorb broth and soften even when the soup wasn’t boiling. I was wrong, so my soup ended up with al dente rice, which doesn’t bother me but the husband didn’t like how it stuck in his teeth a bit (poor baby).

Overall the soup is good. After skimming away a good amount of the fat from the beef shank, the soup is basically just lots of veggie goodness. I’ve never added cabbage or turnips to soup, and I will from now on. Turnips in soup turn into little delicate cubes of slightly sweet goodness and the cabbage added some nice texture and variety. With a few minor changes this soup will likely become a staple during the cold winter months because it’s satisfying but basically just a bunch of veggies (so that means I can eat many cookies a cookie right?).

To go along with the soup I decided to make some bread because soup deserves something to be dipped in it. I’ve had great success with the no-knead boule since it’s beyond easy and you end up with amazing, chewy, crusty, delicious fresh bread. I won’t go into detail about the process but you should read what Deb wrote because she explains beautifully why this process guarantees super awesome bread.  I should have checked that I had all the ingredients because I was all excited to make it and then noticed that I was running low on white, all-purpose flour. I ended up tweaking the recipe a bit by replacing ⅔ cups of white all-purpose with wheat all-purpose flour. I was worried that the heavier flour might slow down the yeast so I mixed in 1 tablespoon of molasses into the water to give the little yeast guys something to get them going, plus I thought the molasses would bring out the wheat-yness.

The bread turned out wonderfully, and had the same chewy texture, but a slightly less crunchy crust. It was so good warm and buttered with a bowl full of Madame Carvill’s Vegetable Soup.

Phoebe’s Vegetable Soup
Adapted from Madam Carvill’s Vegetable Soup
The American Woman’s Cookbook

To make your own beef broth start with a piece of beef shank or another cut that includes a bone that has been cut (so the marrow is exposed) and some meat either attached or buy a little bit of stew meat to include. Put in a large pot and add water. I used an 8 quart pot and filled to almost full. Once it’s boiling, turn down so it simmers, check on it every 30 min or so for 3 hours and then strain.

4 quarts of broth/ stock (homemade or store bought: beef, chicken or veggie)
¼ of a head of cabbage, chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 carrot, chopped into ¼ inch cubes
1 onion, chopped
1 turnip chopped into ¼ inch cubes
3 stalks of celery chopped into ¼ inch pieces
½ cup parsley roughly chopped
1 12 ounce can drained or 1 and ½ cups of corn
1 12 ounce can drained or 2-3 medium tomatoes seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter in large stock pot until it bubbles. Add carrots, celery and onion. Sauté until the veggie are starting to brown a bit. If your pot is not non-stick then you may have accumulated a lovely brown coating at bottom of your pot (I know this has a name, but can't remember it right now). Pour a cup or two of broth in and scrape the bottom to dissolve all that yummy goodness. Add the rest of the broth, cabbage and turnip and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Then add the corn, tomatoes and parsley and cook for another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper. The soup can be served immediately or left to simmer a while longer (15-30 min) to help the flavors meld together more, just try to avoid turning it to mush by cooking too long. Reheats well and can be frozen.

Next Up: Spider Corn Cakes

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

European Travels and Scotch Rolls

Scotch Rolls
The American Woman’s Cookbook

Take four or five pounds of the flank of beef, wash and dry with a towel, spread on the board and dredge with salt and pepper. Make a dressing of a quart of breadcrumbs, moistened with milk or water, and season with two tablespoonfuls of powdered sage, and pepper and salt to taste, mix all well together and spread evenly over the meat. Roll up and tie with twine, put in a pan with a pint of water and bake for two or three hours, rolling over often so as to cook even on all sides.

I was very excited to make Scotch Rolls because I am fairly certain I ate them while visiting Scotland in 2002 and they made an impression. I was on the classic mid-college backpacking trip during the summer between my sophomore and junior years. I convinced my friends Amy and Alex to join me on a five week crazy trip across 6 countries in Europe. Our second to last stop was to visit Scotland.

Alex’s family is Scottish and we were beyond lucky to stay with his family on the Isle of Mull. We also visited Benbecula, Stornoway, and Glasgow but Mull will always be remembered fondly for the food. Yes, I know that sounds weird considering one of Scotland’s most famous culinary achievements is haggis and they have a fondness for deep frying anything, but you have to trust me, they have some really great food. On our last day on Mull there was a large family dinner hosted by Alex’s aunt and uncle. Amy and I still reminisce about how wonderfully delicious that meal was. The Scotch Rolls Alex’s aunt made were tender, savory, sweet and just melt in your mouth good. She added dried apricots to the dressing (stuffing) and the sauce was a thick gravy with (I think) caramelized onions. 

We asked her after the meal how she made the dish and would she give us the recipe, but she is one of those cooks that just knows how to make delicious things, no recipe needed. I have maybe 10 things I can just make, no recipe needed because they're super easy or I’ve got the basic recipe memorized. I occasionally can manage to just create a new meal, using inspiration from cooking shows and blogs. I aspire to become the kind of cook Alex’s aunt is; to have that intuition and understanding of basic cooking principles (This book I got from my sister for Christmas should help). Amy and I tried in vain to recreate the dish when we got home, but it just wasn’t the same. Maybe we got the proportions wrong or used the wrong cut of meat, but I think it is also pretty likely that no Scotch Roll will ever live up to the Scotch Roll of Mull.

When I saw the Scotch Roll recipe in the American Woman's Cookbook I knew I’d have to make them, but 4-5 pounds of meat is a lot for two people. Fortunately with Christmas fast approaching I would soon have a larger group to cook for. My family gathers every year for a few days together in Tahoe for Christmas. I asked/ informed my mom that I would be cooking dinner one night. Since the original recipe is so basic I decided to make two different versions, so that I could try and remake the “Mull Rolls” but still test out the 100 year old recipe. This meant that instead of making one large roll I would make smaller individual rolls, similar to German Rouladen.

Our neighbors ended up also joining us for dinner, which added some extra stress since I would have felt really terrible feeding people (other than my family) potentially inedible food. Luckily, I was pretty happy with the results, but once again there is room for improvement. Both the original recipe and my modified version were tasty since the dressing absorbed lots of flavor from the meat. I’m partial to my version, but the 100 year old recipe stood the test of time.

I braised the rolls for just over 2.5 hours and the meat did become tender, but it was pretty dry. I made sure to turn them every 20 minutes, but either I didn’t put enough water in the pan, or there was no hope for the cut I bought. The Safeway in Truckee was super busy since it was 2 days before Christmas, so I had to make due with thin cut round steak, instead of the flank steak the recipe calls for. After some googling I discovered the round steak is often used to make jerky...

My recommendations for next time are:
  1. Buy better meat
  2. Tie or secure with a toothpick all the rolls (I got lazy and some of the rolls ended up not so roll-like)
  3. Tenderize the meat, to reduce the cooking time
  4. Bake in a covered dish

Scotch Roll of Mull

adapted from The American Woman's Cookbook

4 pounds of flank steak*
4 cups of fresh breadcrumbs (1” pieces or smaller)
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup of milk
3 tablespoons minced fresh sage
3 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 teaspoons salt and additional for sprinkling on meat
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup finely diced dried apricots**
½ cup red wine (nothing too sweet)
toothpicks or butcher’s string
* You can use another cut of beef, just make sure it’s thinly sliced and the pieces are at least 3-4” long and wide and pay attention to the grain of the meat so that when the roll is cut you’ll be cutting against the grain.
** Feel free to skip if you want to keep completely savory or substitute with currants or dried cherries, figs, apples, pears, etc...)
Preheat oven to 400° F. Using a meat tenderizer, pound each piece on both sides Try to get the meat to be about ½ inch thick. Sprinkle both sides generously with salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large sautépan and add 1 cup onions, celery and breadcrumbs. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until onions are soft and breadcrumbs are starting to turn golden on the edges, making sure to stir very often. Place onion-breadcrumb mixture into a large bowl and toss with salt, sage and apricots; then moistened with the milk. The mixture should bind together a bit, but not be mushy.
For the assembly place a small amount of the dressing in the middle along the edge of each piece of meat. Roll up and secure with a toothpick or tie with string. Once all the rolls are ready  heat the oil in the same pan you used for the breadcrumbs. Brown rolls on all sides and then place them in a covered baking dish (like a dutch oven) and fill with hot water so that the rolls are about a quarter-way submerged. Braise for at least 1 hour and up to 3, making sure to turn the rolls every 20 minutes.
While the beef is braising take that same pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and sauté the remaining onions over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the wine and saute until almost all the liquid is gone, scraping any yummy beefy bits that got left in the pan.
When the beef is done remove from the liquid and place on a platter to rest, cover with foil. Spoon some of the liquid from the baking dish in with the sauteed onions and add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon some of the sauce over the rolls and serve the rest with the meal.

Sorry this photo is so terrible!
I served the Scotch Rolls along with a simple cranberry sauce and yorkshire pudding that we made in a large baking dish and then sliced to into wide noodles. Sadly, I didn’t get a photo since I didn’t want to delay dinner for our guests, or be weird and take pictures at the table like an overzealous yelper. I did manage to get one the next day, while I had the leftovers for lunch, but the yorkshire pudding was all gone and instead I had a bit of the excess stuffing on the side.

Once again these did not come close to my memory of the “Mull Rolls”, so I guess I will just have to try again, maybe the next time Amy is in town :)

Next Up: Madam Carvill’s Vegetable Soup