Saturday, December 30, 2006

Does This Seem Right to You?

To avoid the aluminum transfer (and unpleasant metal taste) that often occurs when lasagna or a casserole is covered with foil while it bakes, try this restaurant trick:

Simply cover the dish tightly with clear film, or plastic wrap, before covering with foil. The film will not melt under the foil, yet will protect the flavor of your dish by avoiding prolonged contact with the foil. This works for oven temps up to 450 F.

I do this with everything I cover, even in the fridge. No metal taste for me.
I often have the problem of having the foil kind of dissolve when it comes into contact with acidic foods, such as the sauce in a lasagne. My solution also has been to put a plastic wrap covering under the foil. However, I always go back and remove it for fear of it melting in the oven. Has anyone else used or heard of having plastic wrap used in the oven like this?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Iced Tea and Human Nature

When our sister, Caroline, was in first grade, she sold this iced tea outside the front door of our house, on East Bay Street, where she exhibited a precocious understanding of human nature. When she made change for dollar bills, she'd fumble around in her change box, pick up a nickel, and ask the customer, "Is this a quarter?" "Keep the change, dear" was most often the answer to that question. Not surprisingly, Caroline has grown up to be a sociology professor.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tuesday Greens

One of the most astute things we ever heard said about food, southern or otherwise, was offered at the Southern Foodways Symposium in Oxford, Mississippi. The late Bill Williams, a cofounder of Glory Foods (the southern-style canned goods company he helped build into a multimillion-dollar business), said that when he launched the company with seasoned collard greens in a can, a friend told him he'd never succeed. No one would buy canned greens, the friend said, because they'd be comparing them to the greens they cook on Sundays, when they have the time to slow-simmer them with a smoked hog jow. "I'm not selling Sunday greens," Williams replied. "I'm selling Tuesday greens."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day

No, don't get the gloves out. If you have read as many old British mysteries as I have then you have come across Boxing Day. If not, then here's the scoop.
The tradition of Boxing Day began in 19th-century England under the reign of Queen Victoria, although the exact origin of its name is unclear. One theory connects it to the tradition of clergy opening the alms boxes on the day after Christmas to distribute money among the poor. Another suggests that the name came from the practice of merchants handing out boxes of food or clothing to their apprentices the day after Christmas as a sort of Victorian-era bonus. In any case, the tradition of charity remains at the heart of the holiday. It's celebrated each year on December 26 -- unless that date falls on a Saturday or Sunday, in which case the holiday takes place on the following Monday.

Many modern Brits associate Boxing Day with yet another tradition -- Christmas leftovers and family gatherings. This custom, too, can be tied to Victorian England,when servants worked on Christmas and headed home to their families the following day with boxes of the upstairs family's leftovers
Cooking Light, Dec. 2005


Friday, December 22, 2006

13 Symbols of Chrismas

Throughout Provence, the gros souper on Christmas Eve usually ends with the famed 13 desserts. Though the phrase may bring to mind a table laden with creamy gateaux or rich pastries, the reality is more austere -- and rife with symbolism.

The presentation of the 13 desserts, a tradition traceable to the 18th century if not earlier, is said to represent Christ and the 12 apostles. Among the "desserts" are figs, raisins, almonds, and walnuts, each of which reflects the robe colors of the four mendicant religious orders -- Franciscan, Dominican, Carmelite, and Augustinian, respectively.

There are also two types of nougat: soft white for the white penitents and brittle dark for the dark ones (some say they represent the forces of good and evil).

Dates stand for Christ himself, and seasonal fruits like mandarin oranges, pears, apples, and winter melon usually round out the assortment, along with a specialty item that varies from town to town. In Allauch, for example, it is the round bread called pompe a l'huile; in Aix en Provence, it's the popular orange blossom-flavored almond confections called calissons.

Custom holds that all the desserts, generally accompanied by vin cuit, a sweet wine, must be served at the same time and that everyone must sample at least a little of each one. They are usually offered again after midnight mass and left out for three days, to be shared with visitors and, some say, the spirits of one's ancestors and the Holy Family.

The FoodBlog Blog

A fascinating way to blog hop to food blogs you never heard of ... give it a try. From the couple who talk about every recipe over at What We're Eating, which also is well worth a look.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Now Serving Hot Links


Monday, December 11, 2006

Hot LInks Comin' Up

All the scoop is here.

And it all looks delicious! Check it out.

The Traveler's Lunchbox reviews this new cookbook in her usual inimitable style. As she lived in New Orleans for a few years she can judge the recipes better than most.

This isn't a new link but definitely worth checking out. Cookthink reviews it quite thoroughly.

The Old Foodie has what is possibly the quintessential look at Gingerbread Through the Ages. Fascinating info about a treat that has been around for longer than you might realize.

A perfectly decadent looking recipe that may well do us for Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Doboschtorte - New and Improved Technique

I'm reposting this to share the improved technique for getting even cake layers with less fuss. Much thanks to Rich for the photo and all the scoop.

For those who were drooling over Hannah's Birthday Cake, here is the recipe from Time Life Foods of the World: The Cooking of Vienna's Empire. As I mentioned I didn't make the top caramel layer but just frosted it all with the chocolate filling. No one complained. However, I am giving the complete instructions here. This may look daunting but is simple although it does require a candy thermometer ... and enough time to not rush through anything.

The Cake
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar by beating them together against the side of a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs, then stir in the flour and the vanilla extract. Continue to stir until the mixture becomes a smooth, firm batter.

(Classic layer technique from cookbook)
With a pastry brush or paper towel, butter the underside a 9" layer cake pan, then dust it with flour. (I can never get 7 layers out of the 9" pan so I always use 8" pans.) Strike the pan against the edge of a table to knock off the excess flour. With a metal spatula, spread the batter as evenly as possible over the underside of the pan to a thickness of 1/8". Bake in the middle of the oven 7 to 9 minutes, or until the layer is lightly browned around the edges.

Remove from the oven and scrape off any batter that has dribbled down the sides of the pan. Loosen the layer from the pan with a spatula, put a cake rack over it and invert. Wipe the pan with a paper towel, butter and flour it again and repeat the baking process with more batter. (You may, of course, bake as many layers at a time as you have cake pans.) Continue until all the batter is used. You should have 7 exactly matching layers.

(Improved technique for easier cake layer execution as well as increased number of layers -- thanks to Rich for this.)

I just get a suitable pan or bowl to mark an 8-9" circle and two cookie sheets.

Butter and flour the cookie sheet, then turn the bowl upside down, place it on, and give it a slight twist to mark a circle in the flour.

Then, with a spatula (I have a fairly rigid plastic one that I fond works better for this than rubber ... metal is even more accurate), place a dollop of cake batter in the middle of the circle, and spread it out with the spatula. Just keep spreading with a circular motion until the circle is filled.

(I find placing the initial dollop with a bit of a thump helps it stick so I can spread it.)

Then - and this is the trick - keep using the spatula to scrape the layer down to a uniform thickness. You can get it very thin this way! Just use the same circular spreading motions, but return what sticks to the spatula to the batter bowl.

The last layer is a bit tricky, as you don't have much excess material to work with, but you've just had practice, so it's not too bad. It'll end up being a bit thicker than the others, and makes a good bottom layer.

The layers won't exactly match, but they'll be quite close. You can cover that up with the filling and break off any bits that stick out more than they should. The result looks and tastes fine!

By keeping two cookie sheets going, I can prepare one while the other bakes, thereby getting one layer done every 8 minutes.

Actually, it takes be about 10-11 minutes per layer, and if you make them thin, 7 minutes is all the cooking time they need. so the last one has to come out a few minutes before the next one is ready to go in.

The other advice I have is to lay each layer on a perfectly flat surface while it cools, before stacking it. This reduces the amount of ripple in the layers tremendously.

And if you make more layers, you have to use thinner layers of filling (obviously), so it helps to press each layer flat with a small cutting board or something after placing it on.

The Filling
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2/3 cup water
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (1 pound) unsalted butter, softened

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, cream of tartar and water. Stir over low heat until the sugar is completely dissolved, then turn the heat to moderately high and boil the syrup without stirring until, if tested, it registers 238 degrees on a candy thermometer, or until a drop of the syrup in cold water forms a soft ball.

Meanwhile, in a mixer, or by hand with a rotary or electric beater, beat the 8 egg yolks for 3 or 4 minutes, or long enough to thicken them and lighten them somewhat in color.

Pour the hot syrup into the eggs, continuing to beat as your pour in the syrup in a slow, steady stream. If you are using a mixer, beat at medium speed until the mixture cools to room temperature and changes to a thick, smooth cream. This usually takes from 10 to 15 minutes. (If you are beating by hand, set the mixing bowl in a pan of cold water to hasten the cooling and add the syrup a little at a time.)

Continue to beat until the cream is cook, thick and smooth, then beat in the cocoa and vanilla extract. Last, beat in the butter, adding it in small pieces until it is all absorbed. Refrigerate while you make the glaze.

The Glaze
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water

First, place the most attractive of the cake layers on a cake rack set on a jelly-roll pan, then mix the sugar and water together in a small heavy saucepan. Without stirring, cook until the sugar dissolves, boils and begins to darken in color. Swirling the pan, continue to boil until the caramel becomes a golden brown, then pour it over the layer. With a buttered knife, quickly mark the glaze into 16 equal wedges, cutting nearly, but not quite, through to the bottom of the glaze. This mirrorlike layer will be the top of the Torte.

Assembling the Torte
Place a cake layer on a serving plate and, with a metal spatula, spread chocolate filling over it to a thickness of 1/8 inch, then top with another cake layer. Continue with the other layers, finishing with a layer of filling and the glazed top. Use the rest of the chocolate filling to cover the sides of the cake, smoothing it on with a spatula and refrigerate. To serve, slice along the lines marked in the glaze.