Monday, August 27, 2007

"Eat 'til it Ouches" - Funnel Cakes

A traditional distelfink hex sign. (Image: Courtesy of Flickr)

It was ritual. Every July, during a week that always seemed like the hottest of the summer, my grandfather would gather up the family into his car and set out on a three-hour trek west to the rolling bucolic splendor of Pennsylvania Dutch country. This was the rich and bountiful farmland of his youth, most well-known for the uniquely plain-living Amish community, but also home to one of the most distinctive regional cuisines in the United States. It was there, in Lancaster County, that we would attend the farm fair extraordinaire, The Kutztown Folk Festival.

After a full day of roaming around the animal pens, craft stalls and farm demonstrations, we would buy tickets for the big-tent event, a sprawling communal dining hall where bowls and platters were cheerfully and generously served, piled high with relishes, stews, stuffings and slabs of country meats, in the folk tradition of the groaning board. Just when your stomach felt that it could endure not one bite more, out came the pies, dumplings and kuchen. It was an excessively hearty, stick-to-your-ribs meal, that left you wanting nothing ever to eat again for the rest of your life, a common practice in farm communities where the work days are gruelingly long and hard.

As much as I enjoyed sampling many famous foods like shoo-fly pie, schnitz un knepp and chow chow, it was the hand-held treat offered much earlier in the day while we were grazing the fair that fascinated and delighted me the most. The funnel cake is sweetened fry bread most distinctive in its cooking method and shape over its basic recipe, a simple pancake batter made magically laced and crispy by a quick configuration poured into a vat of bubbling, deep fat. While it bears some similarity to the equally, if not more decadent, syrup-soaked Indian jalebi, the funnel cake’s name derives from the dropping of the batter through a funnel, the end of which is blocked or opened by the cook’s fingertip as an elaborately twisted and turned design instantly rises up in the glittering oil below. Literally one minute later, you have a work of primitive art as big as a dinner plate to work through, as gleefully enjoyable to watch being made as it is to bite into.

Growing up, my mother did not usually make funnel cakes for us (they are very rich and tend to spatter), instead offering the breakfast treats of pancakes, waffles and French toast. I never complained, happy for what I had before me, and happy for what would lay before me again, another sweltering July pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors, the land of plenty, where the kitchen is always open, and the hex sign on the barn siding reads “Wilkum.”


Funnel Cakes
(my own recipe)

[Any pancake batter with leavening will work as long as it is neither too thick nor to thin and quick for pouring through an approximately ¾ inch-wide funnel spout.]

Ingredients

1 cup self-raising flour
¾ cup milk
1 egg
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Teaspoon vanilla extract

Flavorless oil for frying, enough to fill a skillet 2 inches deep. Skillets without non-stick finish work best.

Powdered sugar, molasses or syrup to decorate.

Method

In a large bowl, beat all ingredients except the oil until very smooth. Heat 2 inches of oil in a skillet to 375 degrees F or until a small spoonful of batter instantly sizzles when dropped in the oil.

With your finger covering the spout, fill the funnel with batter, then position the funnel as close to the hot oil as you safely can. Starting in the center of the skillet, remove your finger from the spout and draw a spiral or other pattern with the batter as it drops into the oil. Pull away from the oil as you return your finger to cover the spout and move the funnel to the batter bowl. With a long-fork or tongs, carefully turn the cake over when the surface is well covered with bubbles, and the bottom is a medium brown. Fry other side until medium brown, then remove to drain on a paper towel. Transfer to a plate to dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with molasses or syrup.

Makes 4 approximately 9-inch cakes, depending on size of skillet and personal preference. You can make smaller cakes, but do not crowd them in the batter or they will fry unevenly.
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This post is being submitted to Johanna of The Passionate Cook, host of this round of the Sugar High Friday, Going Local, created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess.

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Been There, Done That
Pennsylvania Dutch Rosina Pie

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Food in Film - Rolling the Credits

In the 1972 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, director Luis Buñuel whips his characters around an endless loop of surreal episodes, each an exercise in disjointed, dining frustration. Ostensibly, there’s supposed to be a dinner party going on, but things are never what they appear to be in a Buñuel film, and no one appears to be eating in this one. Guests arrive on the wrong night; a restaurant owner waits for the coroner to collect his body; and the military opens fire on the hapless diners. I would not wish any of those scenarios on anyone, particularly the food bloggers who have generously shared their favorite food films and accompanying recipes for Food In Film. No one likes to wait too long for the red carpet to be rolled out nor the table set. Thank you all very much for contributing your enthusiastic talents to an event that covers most of the genres, from serious to silly; the only one missing was the spaghetti western. Should your entry have accidentally fallen to the cutting room floor, please let the “editor” know, and it will be spliced in right away. Now, lights… camera…action…let’s eat!


::::::::::::::::::::


Once Upon a Time in America

A cupcake crosses the threshold from childlike innocence
into the world of adult drama for which there is no turning back.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

::::::::::::::::::::

Big Night

Art and commerce collide at a failing restaurant yet
there is still a chance for creative cooking to steal the scene.



And

Woman on Top

Conflicted by love and control, a sensuous chef
escapes to a new life of reconciliation.



Ayşe of I Love Turkish Food (2 entries)
Orlando, Florida, USA

::::::::::::::::::::

Pane e Tulipani (Bread and Tulips)

Provisioned with assorted panini, a plumber sets out
for Venice on a mission to find his employer's wife.

Simona of Briciole
Berkeley, California, USA

::::::::::::::::::::

Oliver!

An enduring classic, decorated as a musical -
what more can one ask for?

Marie of A Year From Oak Cottage
Kent, United Kingdom

::::::::::::::::::::


For Henry Hill, tending to the sauce is as
much a priority as belonging to the mob.

New York, USA

:::::::::::::::::

Gremlins

A teacher takes comfort in a bowl of pasta when
her classroom turns into a fiendish scene from a movie.

Wendy of A Wee Bit of Cooking
Inverness, Scotland

::::::::::::::::::::

Ratatouille

The rodent du jour has an early premiere in
an enthusiastic Turkish cook's kitchen.

Süheyla of Dialogue Meals
Istanbul, Turkey

::::::::::::::::::::

Indigènes (Days of Glory)

Bigotry is the salt that is rubbed in the war wounds
of Algerian soldiers fighting for France in WW2.

Chef Farid Zadi of Algerian Cuisine by Farid Zadi
Los Angeles, California, USA

::::::::::::::::::::

American Pie

An abused apple pie takes the cake in
the Portnoy's Complaint for the 90s.

Michelle of Sugar & Spice
Akron, Ohio, USA

::::::::::::::::::::

Bridget Jones's Diary

Her ruined soup, just another thing for the
beleaguered Bridget to cry in.

Lucy of Nourish Me
Melbourne, Australia

:::::::::::::::::::::

American Beauty

Lester Burnham's mid-life crisis is taken seriously
when he seriously smashes the asparagus against the wall.


Elly of Elly Says Opa!
Chicago, Illinois, USA

::::::::::::::::::::

Rocky

An underdog trains with a 1-2 punch of protein in
the opening saga of life in and out of the ring.

Nora of Life's Smörgåsbord
Sydney, Australia

::::::::::::::::::::

SpongeBob SquarePants Movie

Your science teacher was wrong; everyone knows
the Krabby Patty is the center of the universe.

Sarina of Trini Gourmet
Trinidad

::::::::::::::::::::

The Apartment

Jack Lemmon wines and dines the girl of his dreams
even when she's dreaming about some other guy.

Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow
Auckland, New Zealand

:::::::::::::::::::

Mildred Pierce

A pie-making dynamo hits it big but fails to
make a hit with her wretchedly spoiled daughter.

New York, USA

The End


Monday, August 20, 2007

The Mystery of Page 123 - A Tag with a Twist Cardamom Apple Custard Timbales


Our lives are full of mystery. The degree to which one sets out to discover knowledge varies widely, but on some level, we all are challenged and fascinated by the power of a secret. Children wonder why the sky is blue; detectives doggedly hunt for clues to solve crimes; and scientists hunch over microscopes, searching for that miniscule, inscrutable squiggle that will hasten a disease’s cure. Every question that is asked of us, no matter how mundane or profound, begs an answer. I was asked about Page 123.

Page 123 is a meme I’d never heard of until the wise and spiritual Nanditha of Miles to go Before I Sleep!!! passed it on to me several weeks ago. At first I didn’t know what to make of it nor how to fulfill it. The original guidelines of the meme are to discuss the fifth paragraph of Page 123 of the book you are currently reading. This seemed as arbitrary and valid as any other meme presented to me, but I was hard pressed to find focus among the stacks of fiction and non-fiction books I am simultaneously reading in various stages of progress. A cookbook, therefore, was the most natural, easiest choice for me. Since the chief lure of the meme tripped all my wires of curiosity, I selected a brand new volume, one only gotten a few weeks back, its binding uncracked, its thick, 4-color pages smelling like a deck of new cards. Clearly, this cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking, needed to be broken in, spattered and dog-earred, before it was officially mine. Page 123, featuring Caramelized Cardamom Apples with Pistachio Cream, was the perfect landing for the inauguration.


In an effort not to exclude anyone in the community, I offer this meme to whomever is curious enough to take it up, whether in its original format as set forth by Nanditha or as I have transformed it into the equally pleasurable exercise of eating.

If you choose to approach it as a culinary question, you will not know which recipe you will be lead to. It does not matter. You will already know the crux of the answer before you even begin your search. You know you will eat well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Baked Custard Timbales - Inspired by Patricia's Technicolor Kitchen recipe

Ingredients

1 - 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 measures of heavy cream (use the condensed milk can as each unit of measure)
[Regular milk as suggested in Patricia's original recipe, as well as 2% fat milk, are good choices for those watching their fat intake.]
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Method

Pre-heat oven to 375 Degrees F.

Pour all ingredients in a blender and whip on medium speed until fully combined. Allow to rest at least 15 minutes to flatten foam. (Foam causes pockets and bubbles in the custard.)

Coat two 6-count regular-sized muffin tins (silicone works best) with non-stick spray. Set tins into a shallow baking pan centered on middle rack of oven. Evenly divide custard mixture into each muffin cup. Pour very warm to hot water into the baking pan (moderates cooking of eggs to prevent curdling) until water reaches level 1/2 to 2/3 up the sides of the muffin cups. Loosely tent aluminum foil over muffin tins and carefully push rack into place in oven.

Bake at 375 Degrees F for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in custard comes out clean. If custard is very wobbly and wet, continue to bake at 10 minute intervals, checking after each interval. Do not worry if the tops of the custard brown and buckle a bit. The muffin cups will ultimately be inverted, making the tops the base of the timbales.

Remove muffin tins from oven and water pan, and allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Move muffin tins, carefully covered with the foil, into the refrigerator to fully chill and set the custard. It is best to leave them overnight. A cold custard will be firm and much easier to unmold.

Caramelized Cardamom Apples – Loosely adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's recipe
[I have greatly reduced the quantity of butter and increased the cardamom].

Ingredients

4 unblemished baking apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled, cored and diced
Lemon juice to prevent apples from browning
2 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons freshly-ground cardamom seeds
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons crushed pistachio nuts

Method

In a large bowl, toss diced apples with lemon juice to coat. Over low heat, melt butter in a large non-stick skillet, then add the apples and gently stir. Allow apples to cook over low heat approximately 5 minutes. Add spices and sugar to skillet, gently stirring to combine. Raise heat to medium-high and cook for approximately 6-8 minutes, occasionally stirring, until the apples begin to caramelize with a thick and sticky sugar syrup. Continue to cook until the syrup bubbles, reduces and thickens even more. Remove from heat and allow to cool approximately 10 minutes.

Assembly


While apples are cooling, remove custard muffin tins from the refrigerator. If you use metal tins, carefully run a wet knife around the edge of each custard cup to facilitate unmolding. Place a cookie sheet over one muffin tin then quickly and carefully flip so that the cookie sheet is on the bottom. Tap and gently shake the tin to release the timbales. If using silicone, gently pinch then bend back the muffin cups to release the timbales. You do not have to use a knife with the silicone. Repeat with second muffin tin.

Arrange timbales on plates, then spoon caramelized apples around and on top of each. Finish each serving with a sprinkling of crushed pistachio nuts.


Serves 6 - 12 depending on appetite. --


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

This Pie for Hire - Mildred Pierce Peach Pie


Usually it just takes one slug to kill a man, but on this darkest of nights in a deserted beach house, a certain young lady empties the entire contents of a revolver into the cad who scorns her. Of course, the cad had it coming. Infidelity and rejection are a volatile cocktail, particularly after you’ve had too many cocktails to begin with, swelling a head that was already too big to enter a doorway without going in sideways. You could say Veda Pierce was groomed for this moment from the time she was born, to blast six holes into her dissipated, lout of a lover, her old-moneyed, now out-of-money stepfather. You could say it was Mildred’s fault, Veda’s mother, for spoiling her daughter to this exalted ego. But no amount of smothering, motherly love could feed the monster like having the means to live the good life where no expense was spared and every appalling behavior rewarded. Mildred wasn’t a very good mother, but she was a very good business woman who built an empire as well as she could bake a pie.

The year was 1945, and Joan Crawford won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of James M. Cain’s long-suffering survivor mother, Mildred Pierce. Crawford knew a thing or two about making ends meet, steely ambition and a messy personal life. Crawford’s husbands dropped like flies, but Mildred only had two. Two were enough.


Bert Pierce is unemployed and spending far too much of that free time having a fling with a widowed neighbor, so Mildred flings him out. Pride is an honorable thing, but the stack of unpaid bills didn’t go out the door when Bert did. Mildred, a housewife with a gift for baking, has to high-tail it out to get a job. Without any marketable skills, she winds up waitressing at a local restaurant. It isn’t long before she parlays her baking talents to provide the restaurant with an array of popular pies by the dozens. Business at the restaurant is good, and Mildred’s bank account is even better. If only her daughter Veda liked her and didn’t despise her for baking pies and being a waitress. Driven by Veda’s disgust, Mildred maneuvers an old property into the first of a chain of successful restaurants, moving her out of the kitchen and into the boardroom. Along the way, Mildred divorces Bert, then takes up with the town near-do-well, forming a business as well as personal alliance. Monty, of the polo pony set, is down on his dollars, and not too proud to put the bite on Mildred. Mildred, who is used to being bitten by Veda, is only too happy to write checks out to her loafer of a lover.

Then things get a little complicated. By the film’s end, Veda and Monty are both on the outs with Mildred, and her empire is collapsing, but not before Mildred marries Monty and buys Veda a mansion. You would think that everyone would be happy, at least for a little while, but this is a film noir with the Hays Code to appease. After a grueling night of police interrogations and flashbacks, Veda is charged with Monty’s murder. It’s the best thing to ever happen to Mildred. Flat broke and broken, she and Bert, her ex-husband, leave the justice building, silhouetted in the bright beams of sunlight across the marble halls. You know she’s going back home to her pies again. You know she’s going to be all right.

Lottie (Butterfly McQueen) and Mildred (Joan Crawford)


Crumb-Topped Peach Pie

Pie Crust (from the Betty Groff recipe)
(makes 2 bottom crusts or 1 double-crust pie)

2 ½ cups all purpose white flour
½ stick butter
½ cup vegetable shortening
Ice water

Method

Cut or rub between fingers the butter and shortening into flour until it resembles coarse meal. Add ice water a little at a time, tossing & folding with a rubber spatula between additions. As you continue to add, toss and fold small amounts of water, press the mixture with the spatula against the bowl until the dough can easily form a ball. Use as much ice water as you need. It is better the dough be moister than dry; dry dough will not roll out evenly. Transfer dough onto a well-floured rolling surface, gently shaping into an even ball. Cut the ball in half and reserve second half in plastic wrap for another use (you can freeze it). Roll the bottom crust large enough so that you have overhang when you fit it in pie pan. Carefully fold dough in half, then in half again to form a quartered wedge. Position wedge into pie tin, then carefully unfold to lay open the dough evenly. Gently press dough along contours of tin, then decoratively crimp top edge evenly all around.

Peach Filling (my own recipe)

Ingredients

8 medium fresh peaches (white or yellow)
1 ½ cups white granulated sugar
¼ cup corn starch
2 teaspoons very fresh ground ginger

Method

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients until well blended. Blanch peaches in boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from water and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Peel peaches, then slice them into even wedges about ½ inch thick, removing the stone from each. Toss peaches in dry ingredients until fully coated. Set aside while you make the crumb topping.

Crumb Topping (my own recipe)

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal (also known as almond flour)
½ cup white or brown sugar
½ stick (4 Tablespoons) butter or margarine

Method

In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. With your hands, lightly rub and toss butter through dry ingredients until a soft-crumbed mixture is formed, fully incorporating all ingredients. Handle as little as possible. It will look like very coarse meal. Set aside.

Assembly

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Blind bake (bake without the filling) the pie crust shell for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and evenly spoon in peach filling with the juices. Scatter crumb topping over peaches to fully cover.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, or until pie crust and crumb topping are browned. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool on rack in the tin. Pie will slice more easily if fully cool.

Serves 6 to 8. --

This is my entry for the Food in Film event which I am hosting. The deadline is August 22, but since I am putting the round-up together the following week, I am happy to include any latecomers before final posting.

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Been There, Done That

Stone Fruit
Stuffed Baked Nectarines

Pie
Rosina (Funeral) Pie

Monday, August 6, 2007

All God's Creatures - Herb & Walnut Bread

Beauty is a beast. Black Swallowtail working a coneflower.

We live on a remarkable planet that sustains all sorts of fascinating, beautiful and unique species. Just think about it: lions, butterflies, elephants, panda bears, eagles, giraffes…. It would be hard to imagine the fields and forests of the world without these creatures; it is harder still to imagine a kitchen cupboard without… PANTRY PESTS! Nearly everyone has had them at one time or another. It happened to me today. I was humming away in the kitchen, getting ready to bake a wonderful round of crusty herb, walnut and garlic bread. All my ingredients and equipment were assembled and ready to go. Into the bowl, I measured the yeast, I measured the herbs, I measured the flour with all these hideous little dark specks in it. Then came the screech, from a B horror film. It wasn’t coming from the bowl; it was coming from me. I recoiled and hit my back on the sink, then slowly approached the bowl, furtively peeking at the scattered pile of flour inside. It was them, all right. I hadn’t had them in years. I’d felt so lucky for so long. I’d been smug and forgetful. This was one sack of flour I hadn’t transferred to a tightly-sealed container immediately after purchase. Some of the beetles were already dead, but others weren’t; they were still skittering about, having a nice feast for themselves.

I moved quickly after that. I threw out all the flour, then double-checked the cupboards for other boxes and bags of grain I may have let slip. There went the rice and the pasta, which I had just finished organizing the other day, right into the garbage. I took no chances, because chances are, if you have bugs in one unprotected package of starch, you likely have them in more. Pantry pests have a Manifest Destiny of their own. But be still your panicked heart. You can push back their borders with a few simple tricks:
  • Immediately wipe up any alluring appetizers like flashes of flour or other accidental food spills with an environmentally-friendly detergent.
  • As soon as you bring your flour home, open the package and do a quick scan of the contents. If you see any infestation, return the package to the store for a refund rather than a replacement, and go buy your flour elsewhere if it was a recent purchase. It’s likely the bugs are eating well on other nearby items on the same grocery shelves.
  • If all looks clear, dump the entire contents into a large metal strainer, holding the strainer above a large bowl to catch the flour as it sifts through. Any critter sightings? Good. Let’s assume, no. Transfer the flour to a tightly-sealed large container, and cut a small square from the package with the date and lot codes and tuck it into the container. Unless you have a good memory, you may want to also stick a label on the container to identify its contents. If you are an enthusiastic baker, you will have several different flours for a variety of recipes.
Inspecting your groceries right away means you can immediately eliminate or point the finger at the source, the store. Sometimes the beasts can microscopically be in the food chain as far back as the grain warehouse; you can never tell. Pantry pests, however revolting they are, are not an indication that you are a dirty cook or housekeeper. They have scouts who periodically check out your digs, then send their friends and neighbors over to literally gorge themselves like fatted cows. Starches that are not hermetically sealed are a come-hither temptation since they can easily crawl through the seams of boxes and cellophane. Some of them do look like they died happy, but better they do it somewhere else.


Herb, Walnut and Garlic Bread - Adapted from The Herb Companion Cooks

Ingredients

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Tablespoons Rapid-Rise Dried Yeast
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
2 Teaspoons dried basil
2 Teaspoons dried tarragon
(You can also use double the measure of fresh herbs, finely chopped.)
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 Teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water (105 - 115 Degrees F) and additional, as needed
1 cup warm milk (105 - 115 Degrees F)
3/4 cup broken walnuts

Method

In a very large bowl, well combine all dried ingredients. Heat water and milk with garlic to correct temperature, using cooking thermometer for accuracy. (It is important the liquid be warm enough to activate the yeast, but not too hot to kill it.)

Beat water and milk into dry ingredients until well blended and dough is sticky and soft. If dough is too dry, incrementally add 1/8 cups of warm water, beating well until dough is proper consistency. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in warm spot for 30 - 40 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.

Remove plastic wrap from bowl. Sprinkle walnuts evenly over top of risen dough, then punch down and beat until walnuts are well mixed. Transfer dough to greased 1 1/2 quart casserole or 9-inch springform pan. Cover as before and return to warm spot until dough rises level to the top of the baking vessel.

Pre-heat oven to 375 Degrees F.

Remove and discard plastic wrap covering risen dough. Place vessel with the dough in oven and bake for 30 -40 minutes or until a thin knife or skewer tested in center of bread comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove bread from vessel and allow to cool on rack. Serves 8 -10. --



This post is for Weekend Herb Blogging # 95 for Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, the creator of the Weekend Herb Blogging event.