Wednesday, November 21, 2007

T minus 24 hours: it's cranberry sauce time!

Jane jetted off to Tokyo; Andrea's got a date with a sailboat off the coast of Guadalupe. Yes sir, my roommates are living the high life this Thanksgiving. But oh! the poor dears. Las pobrecitas! This year they won't get their starch-and-fat happy meal, their late afternoon turkey coma, their fridge full of leftovers. And so we hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at our house last weekend. It was cozy and wonderful: imagine the sweet autumnal scent of mulled wine and spiced nuts; long-lost friends, some with new loves and some without; a table laden with delicious offerings from as far afield as Williamsburg and the Upper West Side; and everyone happily camping on the floor when the chairs ran out.

I was charged with the bird. I brined it overnight in a humongous Glad-lock bag, inspired by the Pioneer Woman (although I ended up following something close to Alton Brown's recipe). It turned out gorgeous, sexily succulent, the Angelina of roasted poultry.

And for the sake of this project, I laid claim to cranberry sauce duty. Not that anyone was fighting me for the chance to make it. It's not a glamorama dish, like an all-star pecan pie or even some insanely buttery, tasty stuffing. No man will fall in love with the girl who makes a mean cranberry sauce. But it was on my list: American Food Writing includes a 1901 recipe for Sauce aux Airelles from The Picayune's Creole Cook Book (that's cranberry sauce to us yanks).

The ingredients couldn't be simpler: fresh cranberries, water, and sugar, but the recipe runs on for two whole pages because there are a lot of things that can go wrong even when things might at first glance appear so easy.

First, a warning. Creole cranberry sauce is emphatically NOT like Jello-O or any of its forefathers. The cookbook warns against those who would discard the precious fruit, leaving only a humorless gel: "Never strain the sauce. Many do, but the Creoles have found out that cranberry jelly is a very poor and insipid sauce, compared to that of the whole fruit. ... Liquid cranberry is a very poor apology for the dainty crimson mold of the native fruit."

And there are more such no-nos, but time does not permit me to go into them (T-day fast approaches, after all, and I need to get this post out NOW). Suffice to print this one, which we all may know from our grans: "Never cook cranberries in a metal saucepan; nor even in one of agate or the brightest tin. The berries absorb the taste, as they are an acid fruit, and your best efforts will fail in making a fine sauce. Use always a porcelain-lined saucepan."

Since you must (or really should) let the sauce stand overnight, and therefore if you plan on making it for the Big Day you've got just 24 hrs to spare, I must cut this off and hop to the recipes. In addition to the cranberry sauce, I've tossed in a fantastic idea for them leftovers, inspired by a simple, hearty one-pot dish that got me through the last couple crazy days before I left NYC for 2 weeks of food research in the Midwest, including interviews with the women of the Butterball Turkey Talk Line near Chicago and the people who are keeping alive the concept of truly wild rice. More on that later (but in the meantime, forgive me if I slow down on the blogging).

Old-fashioned Ultra-Thick n' Tasty Cranberry Sauce

1 quart cranberries (4 cups)
1 pint water (2 cups)
2 cups sugar

1. Put cranberries and water in a non-metal saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring often with a wooden (or other non-metal) spoon to break up the berries and prevent burning. Cook 20 mins, stirring occasionally.
2. After 20 mins, take pot off heat and stir in sugar. Return to heat, now at medium-low, and cook for another 10 mins, until thick.
3. Transfer to a pretty earthenware mold or simple glass dish, whatever's handy. Let stand until set (preferably overnight) and either remove by dipping mold in warm water or simply serve in dish.

Thanksgiving Leftovers & Wild Rice Delight

2 cups wild rice or wild rice mix (NOTE: directions below for cooking the rice are a general guide, but it's better to follow the direction
4 cups stock or water or cooking liquid from steamed vegs
2 tbsp. butter
1 bay leaf
2-3 tbsp. cranberry sauce (or more, to taste)
3-4 cups of extras: any combination of cooked mushrooms, onions, pumpkin, squash, turkey, chicken, sweet (or neutral) sausage
Plus 1/2 cup of toasted pecans, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts.
Salt and pepper

1. Melt butter in large pot over medium heat, add wild rice, stir to coat, add water and bay leaf and bring to boil.
2. Give it a stir, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and let cook undisturbed for 45 mins.
3. Add all the extras, replace lid, and allow to simmer five more minutes, then let stand 5-10 mins, lid on, so the flavors can blend.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Feel Like Bundtnin' It Up!

Happy Bundt Day, dear friends! In honor of the glorious occasion, I hosted a Big Bundt Appreciation Bake-off. (Suggested listening to get you in the celebratory spirit: "Feel Like Funkin' It Up" by the Rebirth Brass Band.)

And while I had but three entries (a bit sad, isn't it?), I'm simply thrilled with the Bundt love that came my way. (Besides, a little Bundt goes a long way -- it took four days and about twenty people to polish off my Hickory Nut Bundt Cake.) Thank you to Dave, Andrea, and Anne. And to all those who had every good intention of making a Bundt cake but just didn't get around to it: Bundt Day isn't over! In fact, Bundt Day is every day of the year you feel like bringing a big golden crest of love and joy into the lives of your nearest and dearest! And so, on to the entries...

I've learned that Bundt cakes have a peculiar power to reach across generations.

It took the combined efforts of three generations to produce the entry from Ann of Redacted Recipes. Ann's mother dipped into her trusty recipe box and suggested "Barbara Teague's Hummingbird Cake," a pineapple, banana, and nut confection that is delightfully retro and so Southern, y'all. (Btw, I loved Ann's simple but effective Bundt-appropriate update: replacing a citrus glaze with the traditional cream cheese frosting.) Ann's daughter helped her capture the throwback feel in a photo that could be torn right out of a Nixon-era cookbook. Now, you may know that I have a major case of VCA (Vintage Cookbook Addiction), so this was right up my alley!

Faced with a beckoning Bundt pan, Andrea in Brooklyn also dialed "M" for Mother. She adapted a recipe that her grandmother passed down to her mother, and cleverly dubbed the creation "Pirate's Bundt-y" (10 bonus points for the whimsical name). Infused with orange juice and three types of liquers, it had me dreaming of sun-drenched tropical beaches and the brown pools of Johnny Depp's eyes. Great art direction in the photo! (Recipe below.)

And our third contestant passed the love of the Bundt on to a younger generation. David at Luna Pier Cook baked a Sour Cream and Apple Bundt Sort-of-Cake with his son, who's celebrating a birthday today (happy 15th, Adam!). They had a minor mishap of the sort that, honestly, happens to me about once a month. Without baking soda and baking powder, their cake made a graceful pirouette and turned into a torte.

And what a glorious torte it was! It looks moist and dense and simply delicious with that fat dollop of fresh-whipped cream on top. I think the best lesson any young cook can learn is to roll with the punches, in the kitchen and in life, and learn to enjoy your mistakes because they lead to innovation and yumminess never before explored -- and when in doubt: throw some whipped cream on it!

Unfortunately, I had to choose a winner. I decided upon Ann and her Hummingbird Cake because it was a lovely representation of Bundt past and Bundt future. Congratulations! So what'll it be, Ann: apple butter or balsamic ketchup?

Andrea's Pirate Bundt-y

Items to be mixed and put into Bundt pan:
Yellow Cake Mix, Vanilla Pudding Mix, 1/2 cup Vegetable oil, 4 eggs, 4 jiggers orange juice, 1 jigger vodka, 4 jigger of St. Maarten Liqueurs (I carefully selected Spice, Mango, and Almond flavors)

Glaze to be drizzled on top of warm Pirate's Bundt-y:
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 jigger orange juice, 1 jigger Vodka, 1 jigger liqueur.

Cook's note: If one doesn't know what a jigger is, one might want to ask their grandmother.


Monday, November 12, 2007

The Hickory and the Bundt: A Romance

There's something so wonderful about opening a plain brown box, packaged by hand, addressed to you with the handwriting of a person you'll never know. It's been years since the anthrax scare, but still, forced as we are to remove our sneaks just to get on the puddle-jumper to Tallahassee, most of us can't help but feel an irrational distrust of unclaimed luggage and lost packages. The occasional Ebay delivery, swaddled in an overindulgence of packing tape and blockily printed with a Sharpie, is a comforting reminder that not it's not all stranger-danger out there.

My special delivery was hickory nutmeats, of course. They arrived from Wisconsin in a quart-size Ziploc bag nestled in shipping popcorn. My first thought was that there may have been some mistake -- they look so familiar, like miniature walnuts, perhaps they mixed up the orders. But with the first bite -- very crunchy, sweet, with overtones of maple and not a hint of the bitter walnut aftertaste -- I realized that these nuts are better than any I've ever had and worth every penny. (I paid $12 plus $5 S & H for a 1/2 pound, shelled.)

Such a nut deserves a spectacular debut, and what better than the starring role in an Old Fashioned Hickory Nut Cake -- which also happens to be my creation in honor of National Bundt Day? After all, "off all the nut cakes there is none better than this old-fashioned one," or so says Hester Price, who published the recipe in The Good Housekeeping Hostess, 1904. I've heard it said that modesty is a virtue, but I don't believe that applies in cooking, and Ms. Price has reason to boast. I tried the recipe with hazelnuts -- delightful results, as you may recall -- but I've got to hand it to her, the hickory cake blew it out of the water.

Sure, I gilded the lily just a little -- I dribbled a chocolate glaze made with Lindt 70% with Orange and Almonds along the top of the noble Bundt crest, but the hickory nuts were center stage.

All I can say is: wow. I can't wait to make this cake again for my family for Thanksgiving. My advice: go to Ebay, splurge on some hickory nuts, play around, make the recipe below or give 'em a whirl in one of your favorite autumn yummies. Just try these nuts.

And don't forget, you've got a little less than 24 hours left to enter your Bundt cake to my Big Bundt Appreciation Bake-off. I can't wait to see what y'all have come up with! I'll post the results on Thurs, 11/15, National Bundt Day.

Old-Fashioned Hickory Nut Cake with Dark Chocolate, Orange and Almond Glaze

This recipe is big enough for a standard Bundt pan. Divide by half for a loaf pan. This cake is very dense, so you probably don't need to make this much for most occasions -- that is, unless you like big Bundts!

3 cups sugar
1 cup butter
1 & 1/2 cup full-fat milk
5 cups butter, sifted
4 tsp. baking powder
2 cups hickory nut meats, crushed just a bit (you want them to be just split into halves or quarters, not pulverized) and dredged lightly with flour
1 tsp. vanilla
8 egg whites, beat stiff
For the glaze:
1 bar Lindt 70% cocoa bar with orange and almond bits (we don't need the entire bar -- you get to eat one square!) OR 3 oz. dark chocolate with a 1/2 tsp of orange zest and 1 tsp. of slivered almonds, crushed a bit
3 tbsp. water
3 tbsp. butter

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Cream together sugar and butter. Add milk, flour, baking powder, and nuts. Stir until blended after each addition, and then stir until smooth.

3. Fold in egg whites.

4. Pour into a buttered Bundt pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a toothpick emerges good and clean. Let cool 5 minutes, then invert and let cool completely before glazing.

5. Put the chocolate and milk a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about 2 minutes, stopping every 30 secs. to stir. (Or put in the top of a double boiler over medium heat.)

6. When it's just melted, remove from microwave/heat and stir in butter, 2 or 3 pieces at a time. When it's completely smooth, let cool until it'll pour in a slow but steady stream, then pour it over the top of the cake, slowly working around a few times, allowing it to drip prettily down the sides.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Accept no substitutes

Everyone I know is crazy about the cornbread muffins that start off every meal at Jacque-Imo's. The size of chubby child's hand, they have the thinnest, perfectly golden-brown crust that is ever-so-slightly crystallized and sprinkled with a few snips of chive. Pulling it apart, the moist center is the shade of fresh egg yolk, and a powerful aroma, sweet and buttery, sets your mouth salivating. Just how buttery? Less than a minute on a napkin is enough for them to leave a dark imprint of grease behind. This is Nawlins, baby (as the Department of Tourism says), and you best check your diet at the door.

A few years ago, I interviewed Jack Lombardi, owner and head chef, for the arcade, Tulane's student magazine, and asked him if the secret to his food (and cult-like following) was butter. I think I offended him. I certainly didn't mean to. My dirty little dinner party secret? Butter. As any cunning gal will tell you, the more you put in, the thicker the praise. People walk away thinking you've performed small miracles when in fact it was just a simple pound of butter. (What other edible serves as the perfect stand-in for fine Italian marble? Would you be surprised to learn that it is one of my dreams -- unrealized and, indeed, unattainable -- to have my visage carved into an 80-pound block of butter, a la Dairy Princesses of the Minnesota State Fair?)

Thing is, there's a reason you can't spell butter without "but." Lately I've been on a bit of a butter-backlash. I adore Mario Batali as much as the next, but when I watch him toss a pint of heavy cream and a stick of butter into an Andouille sausage something-or-other on Iron Chef, I want to cry, Cheater! I mean, that's not even trying -- the judges can't help but melt like (yes) butter! It's like hiding sweet potatoes in the mac n' cheese and then saying your kids love vegetables.

(That being said, I'd happily gobble up a plate of Mario's something-or-other any day of the week. What can I say, deep down I'm a butter-lovin' fool, although I do find it a diverting challenge to create actually delicious "creamy" soups without cream or butter, and muffins and quick breads with, say, yogurt. Bonus: I still get the applause that, let's face it, I love: my friends lap 'em up with even greater abandon when I declare my creations "[relatively] low fat.")

Clearly I've got mixed feelings about butter, but there's one quick (i.e., yeast-free) bread that you just can't mess with: for the love of all that's sacred, please don't take the butter out of cornbread.

Indeed, in a very early (1848) recipe for cornbread, butter was one of just 6 ingredients, the others being eggs, milk, corn meal, molasses, and salaeratus (baking powder to you and me.) The source is Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide by Tunis G. Campbell. Mr. Campbell had one of those lives that seemed to span more than a century, although he died at 79. Born in New Jersey, one of ten kids to free black parents, he went to an otherwise all-white grammar school where he trained to be a missionary, became an evangelical, preached abolition, and worked as hotel steward to pay the bills (we've all got our day jobs). Later, he made speeches beside Frederick Douglass, co-owned a bakery, and was elected to the Georgia state senate during Reconstruction.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia says that the Hotel Keepers (etc) Guide:
provides practical information for supervising and running a first-class hotel, but the book is more valuable for its instruction in interracial social skills, its insistence that managers recognize the dignity of labor, and its emphasis on the need for workers to be educated, well paid, prompt, clean, and competitive.
Well amen. I'm glad the Guide has all that going for it, because as a cookbook, I have doubts. The measurements in the recipe for cornbread were about as off as can be and try as I might I just can't sort out that it was my mistake. Granted, I did reduce by one-sixth, but I took out a calculator, went through the numbers at least three times, and should have ended up with something wetter than the recommended consistency ("about the thickness of good molasses") because instead of including two-thirds of an egg (4 eggs divided by 6) I put a whole one in there. But no. My batter was dry as month-old chicken bones left out in the yard.

So I just kept adding more of the same -- butter, milk, and eggs -- until I got the batter where it needed to go. Then, following Campbell's instruction, I added one-sixth of a "tea-cupful of molasses" (this begs the question, what size are your teacups? I eyeballed it; oh, about a tablespoon); poured it into a greased skillet, and stuck it in "a good hot oven" for 30 minutes (less than Campbell's recommended "three quarters of an hour" which indicates that 375 degrees is a little too good and hot.)

On a side note: when this project is complete, I'm going to be a veritable expert on the differences between a hot oven, a good hot oven, a naughty oven, a steady oven, a low oven, a quick oven, and a bun in the oven.

Needless to say, I can't offer a recipe this time. I have no idea how much of what went into that batch, except that there was a pound of cornmeal. But there are two lessons from Campbell's cornbread that you might consider if you're hankering for a more authentic version of the American classic. Campbell's recipe uses all cornmeal, no flour, and that making for a very dense, decidedly old-fashioned consistency; the addition of molasses lends a sophisticated flavor without the sweetness of many modern cornbreads. It could have done with some salt (I ended up sprinkling some on top, along with chives, Jacque-Imo's style), and something to jazz it up, possibly buttermilk (a common ingredient in many Southern-style cornbreads, which also have bacon fat and, like Campbell's, no flour.)

To be honest, I wouldn't recreate it exactly even if I could, but it served its purpose -- as a hearty counterbalance to my roommate Jane's very delicious but very spicy "white" chicken and corn chili -- and the leftovers will be reincarnated this weekend in Jane's oyster stuffing for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner. I'm brining the bird and making cranberry jelly from a 1901 recipe published in The Picayune's Creole Cook Book!

Actually, I don't know why I'm knockin' the cornbread. It was good. And how could it not be? It had almost a pound of butter in it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Arroz con leche ... y masmelos!

My Friday evening began just great: a flurry of gossip with BFF Liz over martinis at my Park Slope apartment and the two of us giggling all the way into the city to meet our pals, fueled by a water bottle half-full of more martini (on second thought...). But it ended sadly and prematurely with a desperate and fruitless search for my 40s-glam-meets-noughties-excess fur collar on the floor of "secret" bar and a discouraged subway ride home alone (which resulted in me nodding off and ending up in bumble-youknowwhat, Brooklyn).

Headache and heartache be damned, I awoke early the next morning determined to put some positive memories between me and the loss of that furry little thing (which is just a THING, after all). So: a cardio class at Crunch ... a visit to the library and greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza ... a few hours of hard work on my various projects ... and baking, the ultimate self-medication (believe me -- in my younger years, I tried a few).

What are the sweet things most likely to make both baker and recipient grin wildly with joy? Why, brownies and Rice Krispie treats, of course. But not just any. Oh no. My "signature" brownies are super-fudgy and low-fat, with no egg yolk, a little butter, and applesauce to replace much of the sugar. (Believe me, this works.) The Rice Krispie treats were an on-the-spot innovation -- a REVELATION, if you will. (And I'm not exaggerating to say that these bars have all the makings of a revolution -- if you, dear readers, should join me, bake a batch this weekend, and share them and their recipe with everyone you know, as well as strangers just passing by.)

That's basically how I was recruited to the cause. There's a very talented baker who sells her creations out of a van near the Brooklyn greenmakert on Saturday mornings (forgive me for not knowing her name; I'll get it next time.) Anyway, she has a crispy rice and marshmallow bar that is made about 1,000% better with the addition of dried cranberries, almonds slivers, and flax seed. I recreated it to devastating effect (that's good, by the way). Recipe below.

But hey, wait a minute, isn't this a "historical cooking blog?" Although I could argue that the Rice Krispie treat is an American institution, dating back to 1939, and hence fair game for this project -- the fact remains that Ms. Molly O'Neill did not include it in American Food Writing so it doesn't "count."

She did include a surprisingly funny recipe for "Mother's Rice Pudding," published in 1877 in Elizabeth Stansbury Kirkland's Six Little Cooks. That's her to the left. Don't let the starched collar fool you, this lady had a sense of humor. The book is written as a trite little tale about a fictional Aunt Jane, a cooking dynamo, her simpleminded niece, and her niece's five friends, who really want to be good little wifeys someday but, you know, cooking class is so hard.

I'd like to think Kirkland is actually being rather subversive.

The recipe is: "one cup rice, ten cups milk; bake five hours."

And then it continues in prose: "'Why, Aunt Jane, that is the shortest recipe I ever saw,' said Mabel.
'That's all there is to it,' answered her aunt, 'except that of course any cook would know that there should be a little salt added -- perhaps a teaspoonful. You must wash the rice carefully...'" Aunt Jane continues in this vein for another 30 lines. A nine-word recipe has four paragraphs of footnotes, a parable (I believe) that warns against those who would cook by rote and without passion.

"'Won't you let me write down some more receips [er, recipes], aunty?"' silly little Mabel asks, obviously not getting the point. "'Oh yes, a dozen of them if you want them," aunty replies. Kirkland doesn't describe the smirk on Ms. Jane's lips, but we know it's there.

I followed Aunt Jane's so-called recipe with the same reverence with which it was offered. I had to guess at the temperature of an oven fire that is "steady and slow" (um, 250 degrees?). I went with her offhanded suggestion to toss a few raisins in, and on my own volition, added a few seasonings, too. So without one ounce of facetiousness, I humbly present my pudding "receipt"...

Slow-Cook Rice Pudding

"Pour a half-cup of short or medium grain rice and five cups of full-fat milk into a buttered 9 by 9-inch oven-proof pan. Add a half-cup of raisins, a heaping tablespoon of brown sugar, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of salt. Bake it in a 250F oven for about five hours, until it is firm when jiggled. Serve hot or room temperature or cold, with a dollop of apple butter or a pat of dairy butter or a bit of apple sauce or a swirl of maple syrup -- or plain, as we enjoyed it back in the olden days in Park Slope."

"Why, Nora, that's just about the easiest recipe I've ever heard."

"Why yes, dear, and maybe next time I'll teach you how to make mama's dirty martinis."

Extra Special Rice Krispie Treats

You, too, can be the most popular girl at the party with these no-fail, insanely delicious yummies-for-dummies! Feel free to substitute the Kashi cereal for another whole wheat crispy rice cereal and about a half-cup of almond slivers or crushed pieces -- as well as a tbsp. or so of flax seeds, for that little something extra.

6 tbsp. butter
3 cups Rice Krispies
3 cups Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal with Honey, Almonds & Flax, crushed into itty-bits in a Ziploc bag
6 cups mini marshmallows
2 cups dried cranberries
1 tbps. vanilla

Butter a 9 by 13" inch pan. Melt the butter over medium-low heat, add the marshmallows and stir as they melt. When uniformly creamy, turn off the heat add the cereals, cranberries, and vanilla and stir until blended. Pour the mixture into pan, press it down until firm and smooth on top. Allow to cool before slicing.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Chop it to me

If you can remember the 80s, you can probably remember chop suey, though it was certainly long past its heyday by then. Its arc from exotic favorite of snazzy coastal taste-makers to a safe "ethnic" dish for Middle America's Tuesday night suppers was decades long and has finally reached its end. My sister, born in 1993, has never tasted chop suey and probably never will -- unless, of course, I make her my tasty, almost-vegetarian update of this classic pseudo-Chinese comfort food.

My Grandma Lee, an Italian-American from Chicago who was, frankly, not much of a cook, always brushed off an old recipe for chop suey during my long summer visits. I was ambivalent about the pile of limp, shredded veggies and bits of anonymous meat in a sauce that was satisfying primarily for its saltiness. Chop suey sure wasn't egg drop soup at the local early-bird restaurant or a Chicken McNugget-and-strawberry shake Happy Meal at one of the original McDonald's or Franco mints at the Marshall-Field's in downtown Chicago (my regional favorites), but it was tasty enough to keep my interest for at least six minutes at the dinner table (safely distracted from plotting diabolical pranks that resulted in boxes of puzzle pieces raining down upon the unsuspecting head of my poor grandparents -- and much worse).

The provenance of chop suey (from a Mandarin phrase that translates to "odds and ends") is murky. It may or may not be an American invention; it may or may not have been a cheap eat created for/by Chinese-American miners and/or laborers building the transcontinental railways; it may or may not have been a San Francisco chef's late-night solution to a pack of drunken revelers. One thing we know is true: it was Buster Keaton's "favorite dish," as recorded by the Beverly Hills Women's Club in Fashion in Food in Beverly Hills (1930). This the recipe included in American Food Writing.

My version replaces pork with seitan, a new obsession for me, and chicken with firm tofu (inspired in part by Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, another new obsession). I used chicken broth, though, which kind of ruins the mood, but it's what I had on hand. Instead of three cups of canned mushrooms I sprang for the real thing, a combination of shiitake and cremini (I might have done all shiitake if I could afford it). I should have replaced regular soy sauce with a low-sodium version and/or reduced the amount (a whole cup!).

The result was as salty and soothing as a bowl of chicken noodle soup and lasted my roommates and I a whole week. While yummy and addictive like salty popcorn, it definitely suffered from sodium overload. The recipe below is a reflection of what I wish I had done. And since you sure as hell ain't gonna find this on any Beverly Hills menus these days, if you want your wee children to get a taste of this steaming bowl of melting pot Americana, you'll have to make it at home.

Updated, Almost Vegetarian Chop Suey

2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 balls of seitan, sliced thin (about 1.5 cups)
2 cups of chestnuts, cut into discs
2 1/2 cups bamboo shoots
2 cups baby bok choy, chopped into small pieces (or other Chinese green)
2 cups chopped celery
3 cups mushrooms, sliced thin (I used a combination of shiitake and cremini)
1 cup onion, diced
5 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup chopped tamari-roasted almonds (or plain almonds)
2 tbsp. corn starch
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
1/2 - 1 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 package (about 2 cups) firm tofu, cut into 1" cubes
1/4 cup chopped green onions

1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large pot.
2. Fry the seitan slices until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip over and cook other side. Remove seitan to a paper towel and reserve.
3. Put the chestnuts, bamboo shoots, celery, mushrooms, onion, and bean sprouts in the pot and pour in 2 & 1/2 cups water. Over medium heat, stir vegetables as water begins to gently boil. After ten minutes, lower the heat slightly, cover the pot, and allow vegetables to steam for 30 minutes.
4. Add the stock mixed with corn starch. If it's too thick, add a bit more stock; if it's too thin, add more corn starch.
5. Add soy sauce, starting with just half a cup, taste and increase as desired. Add tofu and seitan. Cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Toss in the green onions just before serving.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I like big Bundts!

Martha Stewart and I have a lot in common. For starters, we've both spent time in jail. We both like playing around with a glue gun. And we both dig a nice Bundt cake.

Last year, in honor of Nordicware's National Bundt Day (Nov. 15), Martha welcomed the grand prize winner of the "Bundts Across America" baking contest to her show. Plus, she's got a killer recipe for Apple-Cinnamon Bundt Cake (now why can't my icing come out like that?).

And if Martha was a blogger, I know she'd be hosting the "National Big Bundt Appreciation Bake-off." But since she's not, the duty falls to me.

The rules are simple: bake a Bundt cake -- big OR small, one that expresses your cooking soul -- take a picture and type up the recipe and the story behind it. Post it on your blog and/or email it to me by Mon. Nov. 12. (nora[at]

On Nov. 15, I'll post the results. And the entry that expresses the purest form of Bundt love -- a combination of enthusiasm and creativity -- will win a jar of my homemade Balsamic Ketchup or my "Kings County Apple Butter," their choice!

PS: Spread the love -- whether you enter my little contest or not, please contribute your cherished Bundt cake memory or recipe to the Minnesota Historical Society!