Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Essay!

Got aspic on the brain? Then you will want to read my new essay just posted over at Connotation Press. It's called Take Two Calf's Hooves.

Pictured is the photo that inspired the whole piece. Of course it is from The Culinary Arts Institute. A little cookbooklet called Dishes Mother Used to Make. In fact I think I wrote about it in my second post. It's a real delight.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Peanut-Butter Nut Bread

There are a million reasons I shouldn't eat bread. Okay, maybe twenty-five and one or two others, but sometimes I just get a taste for coffee cake. I really love waking up on a Saturday morning, making a pot of coffee or two and sitting down to a hot, sweet piece of coffee cake soaked in butter. In a pinch muffins will do, but coffee cake is a real treat. This weekend I made "Peanut-Butter Nut Bread" from 250 Breads, Biscuits and Rolls (1953). While it doesn't explicitly say coffee cake, it only takes a quick peek at this recipe to divine the intention: sugary, nutty bread.

"Peanut-Butter Nut Bread" has two cups of flour and one cup of brown sugar, making for a sweet, molasses-colored bread. But the real charm is the topping. Made from brown sugar, butter, and nuts spread in the bottom of the pan, these simple ingredients turn to a carameley, gooey, topping when the pan is inverted. Yum! The batter was so wet, I was sure the thing would never set, but sure enough 60 minutes later, coffee cake as tasty and homestyle as any hipster bruncheon place.

The caption reads: "Youngsters sing with all their might. Hooray! It's peanut-butter bread tonite." You bet they'd sing. A cup of sugar is enough to make any child sing!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


So, here's the thing...It's like Matt Weiner is in my head, or next to me in bed reading over my shoulder. Monday night I was watching the new episode of Mad Men where Don and that girl, and Betty and Henry were all coincidentally out to dinner at the same restaurant. And what was that restaurant, you might ask. Well, it was Barbetta. I know this because that's what the menu said. But the clever Mr Weiner put that there for a reason. He leaves little presents around his show for those who are interested. I can't imagine how interesting the show would be if I knew more about advertising than what I learned from The Deceivers.

Every now and again Gourmet reviews an old or established restaurant--and that's from the early '60s. Of course I Google them, and some of these restaurants are still around. Sadly, some I've just missed by a year or two. When a restaurant is 128 years old, missing it by a half a decade or so doesn't seem so long. When Barbetta was reviewed in the February 1963 issue, it was celebrating it's 55th birthday and a name change--it had been called Barebetta's. The article focuses on its remodel and the new management by Laura Maioglio who took over for her father. Although the review is excellent, it reveals its early sixties viewpoint: "She has created something, and it is hardly to be doubted that she has the qualities--rarely seen in a woman--which could make her name a byword in the New York restaurant world..." Well, Ms Maioglio still runs Barebetta and it looks to have a delightful outdoor dining area. Lamar Hoover is a dick and new to the job having replaced the queeny old reviewer, Alvin Kerr. Although this new reviewer is also queeny, he is not charming as Mr Kerr was, this guy's just a jerk.

Anyway, it seems to me that Weiner must be reading these old Gourmets because I keep bumping into articles I've read. Certainly Don and Betty are keeping up with the happenings in the New York restaurant scene. I mean that scene could only plausibly happen because at that moment, after 55 years, Barebetta was HOT HOT HOT. I plan on visiting sometime this winter. Maybe I'll see Matt Weiner there, or even better, Betty Francis.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ladies Invited

I was reading through a November, 1955 Gourmet and ran across this ad for Gourmet's Guest Club. This is actually an ad for a credit card offered to Gourmet subscribers. This was way back in the Diner's Club days. But what I find most interesting about this ad is that it is directed toward the "lady executive" who might feel uncomfortable, or more likely, her male luncheon guest might feel uncomfortable, with the woman paying. As it says in the ad, "No money on the table, no battling over the check."

This is particularly interesting because as I read through all these old restaurant ads it becomes clear that many restaurants restricted the hours in which women could dine. For example, The St. Regis on Fifth Avenue has an ad that reads, "ladies are invited after 4 o'clock." This says to me that ladies are definitely NOT invited before 4. So what do you think is going on there during lunchtime? Pissing contests? Dancing girls? No, I think what's going on there is business and drinks. Okay, and maybe cussing, but the point is that the whole idea is exclusionary and presented a real hurdle to business women.

When I first moved to Chicago I worked at the Chicago Sports Bar and Grill, a real shithole in the financial district of the Loop. I think they hired me because I was white. The place was right out of an old movie, electricians and contractors came in for lunch and drank until we closed at 8. Cops ate free and there was this one cop who, in uniform, would do this joke which involved him HANDING ME HIS GUN! and then dropping his pants. Once in a while this group of men in suits came in before we opened, like at 9:30 or something. I wasn't allowed to speak to them unless they spoke to me first. They gave me a 20 every time I brought them a round. As you can imagine, very lucrative. Anyway, there was this geezer who came in all the time and drank his lunch and told me about the good ole' days when the Berghoff (contentiously Chicago's oldest restaurant) had a men's only bar and women had to have their cocktails at a booth. That is, of course, until "those feminists ruined it."

So I was really impressed by this ad that came out almost 50 years before my tenure at The Chicago Sports Bar and Grill and how forward thinking they were, how sensitive to the difficulties of the needs of female executives. And it was an untapped market, of course. American Express bought them out, which I still think of as the credit card of the businessman.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cooking with--Soda Pop!

I don't usually re-blog, but over at Mostly Forbidden Zone (Thanks Nick!) they posted a link to a blog called and everything else too. Folks who read 250 Potato Possibilities will be interested in the collection of cookbooklets that feature cooking with soda pop. You might remember that we briefly visited this idea with guest blogger Stephanie (Pulled Pork, March 2009) who wrote of the "Secret Southern Ingredient," Coke, which now after reading this blog seems a little middle-of-the-road. (No offense, Steph.)

Pictured here from Cookin' With Dr Pepper is a pot roast made with Dr Pepper. Although according to their website, no prunes are harmed in the production of Dr Pepper, it's that pruney base flavor that has given Dr Pepper the reputation for being prune-derived. Or maybe it's that vaguely medicinal "Doctor" in the title. For last winter's Culinary Arts Institute Dinner, I made pot roast with prunes and it was super yummy, and come to find out from America's Test Kitchen, also based on a traditional German Jewish dish. So I guess this means pot roast with Dr Pepper is a natural, right?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

You Know It's Summer...

My friends Patty and Sarah had a fabulous party last Sunday. The sun was out, there were lots of friends, writers, wine. I was expecting a good time so I made what has come to be my signature summer party dish, Pigs in Blankets. The first time I made these had to be more than ten years ago. I thought it would be fun so I bought tons of hot dogs and spent the day rolling and baking. When I got to the party someone made a crack about my dish, something about it's nutritional quality. But I'll tell you, by the end of the day, there wasn't a single Pig in Blanket left.

For those of you who haven't made these before, they are just hot dogs wrapped in "crescent roll" dough. Following the rule that smaller things are always cuter and taste better is what makes these party dogs so popular. Cut the hot dogs in half and also halve the crescent roll triangles. This yields two-bite size piggies and they are ever so cute. I always make a meat dog and a veggie dog. Serve with a big dish of yellow mustard.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Secret Recipe (Shhhh)

Last time I was in Everett, my mom and I took a trip to the supermarket. We were getting pantry items and something for dinner. My mom offered to make her fabulous crock-pot pot roast and I can't tell you how excited I was. I love pot roast.

Anyway, my mom told me the story of her awesome dish came to be. Seems she used to work with this fellow who made an amazing pot roast. He'd bring it to all the office luncheons. His co-workers loved it so much, they begged for the recipe, but he would never give it to them. Turns out it was an old family secret. On his last day, my mom got him to give it up. And finally I got my mom to give up his recipe, but only after I swore that I wouldn't tell and especially not post it on my blog.

So we get to the store to get our "secret ingredient" and what do we see when we pull the box of Lipton onion soup mix from the shelf? Right there on the front of the box: "Great for Slow Cookers" with a recipe for pot roast on the back. So here's the recipe, sprinkle onion soup over the pot roast. Way to keep a family "secret."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Salad Nicoise

This week I had some stray green beans left from my produce box and I wasn't sure what to do with them. Coincidentally, we also had some leftover boiled small red potatoes. You what I was thinking? I was thinking Salad Nicoise! Composed salads are great fun and also an excellent way to use up extra veggies. Plus composed salads look awesome and you can serve them to guests without it appearing you are serving leftovers. (Heads up to future guests. If you see a composed salad, you are seeing last night's dinner.)

When I make a composed salad, I always just use my everyday vinaigrette, which I usually have on hand. But I wanted tonight's dinner to be special, so conjured all my inner Frenchness and made a nice vinaigrette with lemon, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, shallot, and then I added the oil slowly while whisking to emulsify. It was great. It might even become my everyday dressing.

I took at peek at Mastering the Art of French Cooking for salad pointers and mine was pretty spot-on with Julia's but hers had anchovies, so I added them to mine and I have to say, they made all the difference. I wish every meal of leftovers could be so luxurious. Another of her pointers that I've taken to heart is always use tuna packed in oil. She's right about that one. Tuna packed in water tastes like dust.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Plum Sorbet

I don't know quite when it happened, but I have become extremely frugal around food. My fridge is filled with beautiful organic produce and dairy, high quality meat, homemade condiments and pickles, so it isn't exactly that I'm cheap. I just cannot bare to throw ANY food away. In fact, I never do. Tonight's leftovers are tomorrow's lunch. I save my chicken carcasses and vegetable scraps and make stock. Seriously, we don't throw anything away. But every now and again I am faced with a surplus of something. For example, last week in my produce box I got kale. Well it was like 95 degrees last week and the last thing I wanted was a hearty winter green. So I made kale pesto and froze it. Now some night when I'm tired and haven't planned anything for dinner, I can boil up some pasta and pull out the pesto and Viola! a lovely dinner.

The same thing with some plums. Serena was going to make plum pie (yummy!) but then we got busy and it didn't happen. Honestly, I'd forgotten all about the plums until I was digging through the fridge looking for a snack and there they were, only days from expiration. I had no idea what to do with them, that was until I picked up the next issue of Gourmet, August 1962. And what is on the cover? You guessed it, plum sorbet.

We've got a workhorse of an old Kitchen Aid that my friend Daniel gave us as a housewarming present. In fact it looks exactly like the Kitchen Aid advertisement in that same issue of Gourmet. A couple of years ago for Christmas I asked my mom for the ice cream attachment and now we make our own ice cream. It's really good and easy. As for the sorbet, I followed the recipe pretty closely. (Click on the picture to make the recipe bigger.) I only made a couple of changes. First, I used pasteurized egg whites because I was sure I'd be feeding this to guests. Secondly, following the advice of America's Test Kitchen, I added a bit of booze to the fruit so it wouldn't freeze solid. Good thing I have like a pint of that Luxardo left over.

The sorbet tasted great and my friends ate it up. I will certainly make this again, and will use it as a template for other sorbets. Good stuff.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gourmet: The Magazine of Good Living

I have fallen down the freakin' rabbit hole. This food and nostalgia research project has been great fun and is yielding rocking essays, but once in a while I feel as if I am losing my grip on reality. A couple of months ago my friend Martha gave me a 1961 issue of Gourmet Magazine that someone had left at her restaurant (that I've mentioned before, where I used to work called The Sisters). Anyway, I was completely enthralled. Despite its stinky mustiness, I read every single page. Cover to cover. Including the ads. Immediately I got on eBay and bought a full five years: 1961-1965 including index.

Honest to god, I swore I wasn't going to blog about this. It was too easy. Too nostalgic. The magazine is rife with juicy tidbits. There could be a whole blog just about this.

I have now read all of '61 and of '62. The thing is, when you immerse yourself in the media and culture of a specific era some of it rubs off. We've heard this argument a million times about pornography and violence. Well, I hate to stand here in the camp of Andrea Dworkin, but after what must be two years of reading Culinary Arts Institute cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961), and now two years worth of Gourmet, I find myself inured to the likes of aspic (see picture).

Other things are happening too. I decant my half and half into a glass container. Organ meats, which I loved as a child, are now regaining their appeal. We use only cloth napkins. And as I've mentioned aspic has started to look appealing. Perhaps it is too much Dick Van Dyke Show.

Oh, and did I mention that I bought all of 1948 in a single bound volume. Do I see an intervention?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Maraschino Cherries

If everyone else jumped off a bridge, I probably would too. Over the last few months I've run across a couple of articles on homemade Maraschino Cherries--one in The New York Times and one on NPR. What's weird is that I hate Maraschino Cherries, but for some reason these have been calling to me.

The recipes are really simple: take some berries and dump some booze on them. I used the recipe where I heated the booze up. And I sterilized the jars, as you would for canning. Including prep time, the whole project took about a half hour and yielded about 5 pint jars. Although easy, it was expensive for all those cherries and that big bottle of Luxardo. I'd never really had a call for cherry liqueur before this, but I still have half a bottle of this stuff left over, so if you have some suggestions, let me know. Perhaps I'll use it to make ice cream.

The end result is beautiful and homemade, but the thing is I'M SCARED TO EAT THEM. They've been in my fridge three weeks now. The should be ready. Foods that "cook" or are preserved without heat freak me out. I feel this way about ceviche and cold smoked pork as well. I should just eat one. How much harm could it do?

Harry: Dog with Big Eyes

When I was a little girl my grandparents gave me a set of prints for my bedroom. They were really popular at the time, by Keane or Gig or Bucky or one of those other painters who painted dogs, cats, children and other household pets with pitiful big eyes. The kind of thing you might see in old Brady Bunch or Family Affair episodes. There were two: A cat in an alley with a trashcan and a fish skeleton. It was skinny and starving. A dog tied to a chain link fence that was also skinny and starving. At night when I was trying to fall asleep I would lay in bed and look at them and cry. If I awoke in the middle of the night, I would try to keep my eyes closed so I wouldn't have to see them. One night my mom came in and I was crying. She looked at the pictures, took them down, and I never saw them again. Sadly, I couldn't find images of my original pictures, so I stole these off the interweb. They'll give you an idea.

Here I am an adult with my first rescue dog. He was seriously abused and it's hard work to rehabilitate him. Serena and I take pleasure whenever he does something a regular house dog would do, even if it's bad--like steal a piece of popcorn off the floor or squirrel away a pair of underwear. I can't help but wonder if I didn't grow up and love animals just to rectify the wrong I saw in those paintings. Also I have to ask, What were people thinking in the 70s?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cake is Frightening

My friend Nicholas found this photo while he was on vacation and immediately thought of me. He is right, this is one of the scariest cakes ever made. But the real curiosity is the rubber stamp on the back.

Fort Lewis Sentinel
Fort Lewis, Wash.
This Photograph Must Not Be Photographed Without
Permission. If Permission is Granted, Credit Line Must
Be Given As Follows.

Additional Photos May Be Obtained & Mailed C.O.D. By
Referring to Neg. No. 7496 3

I wonder if I sent away, if they would send me a copy. I can't imagine what this photo was for.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Chinese Cook Book

A while back my dear friend Stephanie gave me a cookbooklet that belonged to her aunt Gingie, The Chinese Cook Book (1936). When she handed it to me, I was surprised to find that I didn't recognize it. It clearly says "culinary arts tested" on the front and on the back it says "Culinary Arts Press, America's Largest Cook Book Publisher," located in Reading, PA. Frank Daniels on his cookbook website says that this is a precursor to The Culinary Arts Institute books I know and love.

There are lots of interesting recipes. It took me forever to figure out what "Chinese Sauce" was, but then I read the introduction and it says that is soya sauce. Duh. It's an old cookbook so all of the recipes are written in paragraph-long narratives. One that struck me was CHINESE PINEAPPLE SALAD: Boil one pound bean sprouts in pineapple juice. Cover with mayonnaise dressing, flavored with Chinese sauce. Sprinkle with chopped nut meats and garnish with sliced kumquats or crushed pineapple. (Doesn't sound too authentic to me.)

This evening I made radish salad. It looked pretty tasty.

RADISH SALAD: Wash and trim with care one dozen fresh radishes: do not peel, but cut in half. Lay the halves face downward on a clean table or board and lightly crush each piece with the flat side of a knife or some other heavy instrument. Make a sauce of one-half teaspoon of vinegar, one-half teaspoon of sugar, one-half teaspoon of soya sauce, and one-half teaspoon of olive oil. Place the halves face downward in the sauce, and let them remain thus 15 minutes before serving.

Although this sounded easy, I found myself stuck at a particular part of the recipe. After I'd cut all the radishes, I pressed down on one with the side of the blade to crush the radish. It didn't crush. I got a bigger knife. It didn't crush. I pounded it with the butt end of a good sized chopping knife. It didn't crush. I chose not to crush the radishes. They tasted pretty good. Nothing spectacular. Usually I serve my radishes on a bed of coarse salt. And if you didn't notice by my profile picture, I prefer them to look like rodents.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Mr Blanding's Dream House(s)

Last week I was in Everett visiting my mom. We had a great time, and one of the high points was a visit from my friend Margaret. I'd met her when I was just a schoolgirl and as our city library's historian, she helped me research a paper I was writing on prohibition and the history of Everett's speakeasies. She showed me a tavern where back in the day the proprietors kept a caged bear in its interior courtyard so the liquored-up longshoremen could wrastle and gamble away their leisure hours. Later, I worked at that same library. Needless to say, I credit Margaret for my love of history and perhaps even its intersection with popular culture, though I'm not sure bear wrestling counts as popular culture.

I was telling her about the essays I've been writing about nostalgia, the domestic, and popular culture that isn't so popular anymore. And guess what? She'd just finished writing an article for about the real world houses that were built to support the release of the film Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). The same film was remade in 1982 and titled The Money Pit, which starred Shelly Long and Tom Hanks. Now in case you missed this classic, it stars Cary Grant and the always charming Myrna Loy. Every time I indulge the fantasy of building my own place or undertaking some kind of gut rehab, I just watch this movie and the whole fantasy disappears. I love this movie and I still feel sorry for Mr and Mrs Blandings and all the money their house costs even though I know that 62 years later that rolling spread in Connecticut near the commuter rail line is probably worth more than I will make in the remainder of my lifetime.

Despite my best efforts, I can't convince Serena to buy one of these "Blandings Homes." I've told her that it would be a great investment and that we would be living in the midst of history, but no luck. I did, however, notice that on the interwebs there are copies of the Blanding floorplan. So maybe if I won the lottery we could build our own from the ground up. But then, they made a movie about building this exact same house, now didn't they?

Please, do, read her essay.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I know I talk a lot about the book Manly Meals and Mom's Home Cooking but the thing is that this book really got me to look afresh at domestic actions I had taken for granted. Now I'm not a complete fool, I've always understood that a recipe on the back of say a can of Campbell's cream of chicken soup was only there to get me hooked on cream of chicken soup. In fact, I used to eschew any recipe that called for specific brand at all. Manly Meals discusses this idea of brand name sponsored recipes quite a bit. But somehow, instead of making those sorts of recipes even less appealing, I've found myself gravitating toward this sort of recipe. It makes me feel part of something larger. As if many homemakers before me have opened a cookbooklet from, let's say, Worcestershire Sauce and made one of the dishes.

Lately as part of my resolve to put off buying a car for another year or two, I've started having my groceries delivered by Peapod. It seemed really exspensive at first, but I've been keeping track. It actually costs me less. I think this is because I order every two weeks on the nose. I make a menu plan for that two weeks and I never impulse buy. It's working, at least for now.

A while back with one of my orders, they delivered a little brochure of recipes featuring Peapod's store brand, Our Family. I made a commitment to try at least one of them. This tuna dish has become a staple for lunches. I don't make it with avocado--mostly because I don't usually have any on hand, but also because this dish is comprised mostly of canned ingredients and that seems a waste of good avocado. It's an excellent pantry meal if you omit the fresh basil. You can make this the night before and chill it up. I add a little extra vinegar and package the tuna in a leak proof container and the salad in separate containers. That way I can just dump the tuna salad on the greens and it makes a lovely lunch that feels fresher than it is.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pop Tarts + Ice Cream = Fun!

The end of the semester signals library research day for all of my classes. I stay in a glowing fixed spot and they orbit around the many floors of the library diligently researching their topics. Or maybe they're at the Starbucks next door or perhaps smoking out front of the building. Who knows? But anyway, I'm there for three hours for each of my three classes. At some point there is always down time. This semester I turned my attention to the magazine American Home. Columbia College has only about ten years of them. I went through that ten years with a fine tooth comb. Later, when I went to look it up on the interwebs, I found that I'd done this research before. The confusion came because I'd been reading the old issues from the '20s. Columbia has only '65 to when they went under in '77, give or take.

Wow, that was a lot of back story. Anyway, there's no big scanner at the library so I just took a picture with my phone for my friend Andrew. I thought it was CRAZY to sandwich ice cream between Pop Tarts. In fact, I laughed out loud at this ad and thought Andrew and I would have a good chuckle together. Well guess what? I was watching Hulu and saw a Pop Tart ad that totally resurrects this idea. Can you believe that Pop Tarts is still selling this idea? It seems painfully old fashioned. But then again, who am I to say? I wouldn't eat a Pop Tart even without ice cream.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Good Housekeeping's Appetizer Book

My old friend Krista was in town last week for a conference. It'd probably been fifteen years since we'd seen each other. I know her from Seattle, back in the day. We saw the Dead Kennedys together. She was with me when I broke my foot at a TSOL, Fartz, and Fastback show. We saw Iggy Pop for our 15th birthdays. Lock down. Cops came. Mom saw me on the news. It was all very punk rock. Anyway, she sent me a couple of cookbooklets she had kicking around. We are both strikingly less punk rock now.

Good Housekeeping's Appetizer Book is the non-Culinary Arts Institute cookbooklet she sent along. First off, the cover is great. I have never considered using a pillar candle as a holder for kabobs. Genius! Sadly, some of the recipes are pretty gross. Lots of bologna. Katsup and peanut butter. But there are also some smart suggestions for relish trays. When I started this project I thought relish trays were stupid, but I've come around. Still, there is a limit to how much time a modern gal can spend transforming vegetables into other objects.

It has become obvious that I don't post during the semester, only on school break. I'll work on that. But for now I'm off for the summer and have a backlog of awesome recipes and cookbooklets. It'll take me three months even to catch up.

(p.s. The recipe on the right refers to "French Dressing." It took me forever to figure out that at one time French Dressing meant vinegrette. I have no idea how the corn syrup and katsup mess that is now called French Dressing came to that moniker, especially since no French person would ever eat such slop. Just think vinegrette when you read that term.)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Soup and Bread

This past Wednesday I was flattered to be one of eight soupmakers in this week's Soup and Bread. In case you're not familiar, this is a weekly wintertime fundraiser hosted by The Hideout. Its founder is the super fabulous Martha Bayne, who writes amazing articles about food, and Chicago, and food in Chicago, and Chicagoans and their access to food, local food, slow food (and I don't mean your server's been smoking weed). Soup and Bread has been very successful raising money, but also in raising awareness for local charities that fight hunger. The proceeds from my Wednesday night benefited First Slice.

For my turn at the ladle I made Black-Eyed Pea, Kale, and Chorizo soup. Usually I make this from scratch, with dried beans and homemade chicken stock. But since I was feeding a crowd, I had to make two gallons of it. I don't have two gallons of homemade chicken stock on hand, so I had to go with canned. The nice thing about this recipe is that it is readily adaptable to convenience foods. Off and on for ten years, I worked at The Sister's Restaurant in Everett, Washington. They taught me to cook, and specifically to make soup. We served this soup there and it was always really popular. Of course, at The Sisters the soup stock was homemade, but Hey, we do what we can, right? What follows is my version of The Sisters' soup.

Black-Eyed Pea, Kale, and Chorizo Soup

2 49oz cans of chicken stock

5 15 oz cans of black-eyed peas (well-rinsed)

one large onion

1.5 to 2 pounds chorizo

2 large bunches of curly kale

olive oil

Bring chicken stock to boil, add black-eyed peas in large pot. Reduce heat. In a skillet, sauté onion in olive oil. Add to pot. In the onion skillet, cook the chorizo though, but not until dry. (When using chorizo in natural casing, you may press it out a little at a time into balls. It’s not so important that they be round, but you’re aiming for little bites of chorizo in your soup and not have it turn out crumbly like ground beef.) Brown chorizo in batches. Do not crowd pan. Drain on paper towel. Add to pot. Simmer on low for two hours stirring occasionally. A half-hour before you intend to serve your soup, skim any accumulated chorizo fat from the top. Chop kale into pieces and add to pot. Serve when kale is cooked, yet still bright green.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Christmas Cake (4 of 4)

The final cake we made was The Heirloom Noel Cake. This cake was REALLY fucking difficult. We stacked the cakes atop one another and by the time we started frosting it became apparent that the cake listed distinctly to one side (my fault). But somehow this didn't really matter because this cake was crazy looking. It was like a Dr. Suess cake. It took as long to assemble The Heirloom Cake as it did the other two combined. This cake was weird, but it is also the only cake I'd make again. It looked completely fake. It was nutty and really when you get down to it, it's just chocolate cake with vanilla frosting.

1 (18.25-ounce) box spice cake mix
2 (19.5-ounce) boxes chocolate cake mix OR Store-bought un-iced cakes: 2 (10-inch) chocolate cakes, 2 (8-inch) spices cakes, 2 (6-inch) chocolate cakes, and 1 jumbo chocolate cupcake (top cut off)

4 (16-ounce) containers creamy white frosting
1 (1-fluid ounce) bottle green food color

1 cup white chocolate chips
4 drops green food coloring
1 sugar cone
1 (6.4-ounce) can white decorating icing (recommended: Betty Crocker-Easy Flow)
1 package red licorice whips, 6 cut into 6-inch lengths, 6 cut into 8-inch lengths, and 6 cut into 10-inch lengths
1 (6.4-ounce) can yellow decorating icing (recommended: Betty Crocker-Easy Flow)
1 (6.4-ounce) can red decorating icing (recommended: Betty Crocker-Easy Flow)
16 birthday candles

Mix and bake 2 (8-inch) cake layers according to spice cake package directions. Cool completely.

Mix the 2 boxes of chocolate cake together according to package instructions. Bake 2 (6-inch) and 2 (10-inch) cake layers and 1 (7-ounce) ramekin. Cool completely.

Cone Tree:
In a medium bowl combine white chocolate and 4 drops of green food coloring. Place bowl in microwave and heat at 50 percent power in 20-second intervals until white chocolate is melted and smooth. Dip the sugar cone into the chocolate and spin it around so that it is evenly coated. Remove from bowl and let excess chocolate drip off. Place on a plate lined with waxed paper and let dry.

In a large bowl stir together frosting and about 10 to 12 drops of green food coloring. The icing should be a pale green color. If too light in color, add a few more drops of food coloring. Transfer the icing to plastic releasable bags or a pastry bag. Cut 1/2-inch off the corner of the plastic bags and set aside.

Cut off the top of each layer so that it is flat and even. To assemble cake, place 4-inch by 12-inch strips of parchment paper around the edge of the cake plate or stand. Place 1 (10-inch) cake layer on cake stand on top of the parchment paper. Spread a layer of frosting and top with remaining 10-inch layer. Frost cake with icing.

Place 1 (8-inch) layer on cardboard cake round. Spread an even layer of frosting and top with remaining 8-inch layer. Frost cake with icing and place on top and in the center of the frosted 10-inch cake.

Place 1 (6-inch) layer on a cardboard cake round. Spread with a layer of frosting and top with remain 6-inch layer. Frost cake with icing and place on top and in the center of the frosted 8-inch cake.

Place the small cake that was baked in the 7-ounce ramekin (or the jumbo cupcake) on top of the 6-inch layer and frost with the icing. Place cone tree on top.

To decorate the cake, first carefully remove the parchment paper from underneath the bottom layer. Using the can of white decorating icing fitted with the star tip make small rosettes around the top and bottom edge of each cake tier and the bottom of the cone tree. Place a small rosette at the top of the cone tree.

Drape the licorice whips like "garland" around the bottom 3 cake tiers using the 6-inch lengths for the top layer, the 8-inch lengths for the middle layer and the 10-inch length for the bottom layer. Using the yellow icing can fitted with a star tip, pipe rosettes where the garland strands meet. Place 1 small rosette on top of the cone tree. Using the red icing fitted with the round tip randomly place small red dots around the cake. Place candles in the yellow icing rosettes between licorice garlands.

This was my favorite Sandra Lee cake. As Terri aptly pointed out, this cake looks like it’s straight out of a Dr. Seuss book – playful, charming, lopsided form. You really don’t have to be precise on this cake. About halfway through the recipe, Terri decided to just look at the picture and go from there. It was a good choice. Just stack, ice the hell out of it, and decorate. Suggestions:

* Using vanilla buttercream frosting instead of store-bought frosting
* I loved Twizzlers as a kid, but these things taste nasty. Instead, I would use real garland, or, if you’re good at cake decorating, just making red curves with a round decorating tip.

Hanakkuh Cake (3 of 4)

There seems to be a continuity problem with The Food Network. The cakes were all referred to in different ways depending on where on the site you were located. The worst offender was the Star of David Angel Food Cake, referred to as The Star of David cake and later on another page as The Star of Hannukah [sic]. I think they need a copy editor.

In Lee's description there's no discussion of making the cake kosher. I'd always thought that marshmallows could never be kosher, but come to find out there are kosher (and vegan) marshmallows right there at The Jewel. Andrew and I didn't bother with the kosher element, because Lee didn't. This was the easiest cake to make. The blue color was really pretty.


1 (10 to 12-ounce) angel food cake
10 large marshmallows
1 (12-ounce) container fluffy white frosting
Blue food coloring
Special Equipment: wired pearl strands

Place cake, wide side down, on a serving platter. Fill hole in center of cake with marshmallows. Place frosting in a medium bowl. Stir food coloring, 1 drop at a time, into frosting until desired color is achieved. Spread frosting evenly over top and sides of cake to coat completely.

Bend pearl strand into 2 Stars of David, leaving 2 inches of wire hanging down from bottom of each star. Place 1 Star of David inside and perpendicular to second Star of David, creating a 3-D effect. Stand Stars of David atop cake. Drape another pearl strand around base of cake. Remove pearls before cutting and serving.

I love the color of this cake. However, this is the nicest thing I can say about this flavorless cake (sugars in various forms and blue dye). I like the idea of a Star of David in the center, but constructing it took more time than assembling the cake. Like the Kwanzaa cake, the idea of frosting an angel food cake seemed weird to me. It sure does look pretty, but it makes cutting the cake more difficult. Maybe Sandra consistently chooses angel food for its appealing shape instead of a flat, round cake. My coworkers didn’t touch this one because of the color. To which I say: What’s wrong with a blue cake?!?

Kwanzaa Cake (2 of 4)

This is the cake that started it all. It must have been sometime last summer that Andrew forwarded to me a YouTube clip of this cake. After that, I was hooked. It is this cake that inspired me to start writing about "semi-homemade" and the meaning of "from scratch." This is the cake we started with on our cake odyssey. It wasn't hard at all, but I had a hard time finding black tapers and didn't have the balls to go The Afrocentric Bookstore to buy some. We went with just red and green. It tasted gross. But I LOVE LOVE LOVE Corn nuts, what Lee call "acorns," so all is well.



1 angel food cake

I can vanilla icing

2 Tbs cocoa

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

1 can apple pie filling

1 large bag “acorns” (Corn Nuts)

pumpkin seeds

7 taper candles (3 red, 1 black, 3 green)


Cut cake in half.

In a mixing bowl combine icing, cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla. Mix well.

Frost center of cake. Replace top.

Fill center with pie filling.

Frost exterior of cake. Top hole with pie filling.

With a knife make holes in top of cake for the 7 taper candles and insert the candles (3 green, 1 black, 3 red).

Place acorns around bottom of cake. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds over top, then more acorns.

Contrary to Lee’s philosophy, “keep it simple,” this assemblage was all over the place – the flavor, texture, and presentation; the cake was fluffy, the brown icing was thick and rich, and the whole, salted nuts were abrupt. Many of us agreed the nuts were too much and should have been finely chopped or taken out. I took leftovers to my job, and everyone liked the apple-filling element; while it’s hard to argue taste, I think the idea of having these unexpected things together creates a sense of “gourmet” or uniqueness without being gourmet. The taste of the cake becomes secondary. While still using step-saving products, here are my suggestions of re-imagined fall harvest cakes:
  • Spice cake mix in bundt form, filled with apple pie filling, garnished with finely chopped nuts, like pecans or blanched hazelnuts. No icing or a light chocolate glaze?
  • Angel food cake served with fresh caramelized apples and whipped cream on the side
  • Doughnut cake with vanilla-cinnamon or maple frosting

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Semi-Homemade Cakes! (1 of 4)

A few months back I wrote an essay about Sandra Lee and the atrocity of her semi-homemade holiday cakes. Well my charming friend Andrew, himself a lover of the "assembly" approach to cooking, agreed to join me for a day of the Sandra Lee method. We made all three cakes: Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and the Heirloom Noel. As we did with the Culinary Arts Institute Party, we invited our loved ones to join us. At this point I think these people might eat anything.

It took all day to make the cakes. They were unbelievably expensive and time consuming. To tell you the truth, as we were putting the finishing touches on the final cake I was a little curt. In the picture you can see my eyes are blood shot. Andrew ate a lot of frosting and got a kind of sick. It was a friendship building experience. Serena was a real trouper fabricating a 3D Star of David out of wire and ball garland. The whole thing would have tasted better, been faster, and cheaper if we'd made them from scratch.

When it was all over and the cakes were done, I felt unbelievably proud. But I felt sad, too. Writing about Sandra Lee and thinking about her stupid tablescapes and crappity crap dinners had brought me to this idea of simplicity and communion with friends and family. The cakes, one of which was inedible, were so wasteful, so costly and I was ashamed to be so privileged to make food as a joke.

But then our friends came. Lara and Dominic, Nick and Andrew, Serena and me. We had a good time, ate cake, drank wine, and all was right with the world.