Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Good Morning, HAMerica!

From the rooter to the tooter... all things "early American" clearly started with the p-i-g. If you hear me oink soon on this cooking adventure, you'll know why!

On June 21st, the menu consisted of:

- pg. 152 "Unusual Stuffed Peppers" from The Boston Cooking School (pick: Amy Maguire)

- pg. 13 "Rebecca Motte's Mashed Parsnips" from Authentic Colonial Cookery (pick: Melissa Griffin Schuler)

Let me tell ya' - those were NOT the stuffed peppers my mom used to make. Unusual, indeed. Stuffed with ham, split peas, onions, egg, bread crumbs and a hearty serving of butter, these were the tastiest "vegetables" I've ever eaten. The most "unusual" part was that my four-year old actually ate them. Old soul, perhaps.

In 1879, Mary Lincoln started the "Boston Cooking School." In 1884 she published The Boston Cook Book. Many years later, the school gained fame by the subsequent principal, Fanny Farmer. Yep, that's the "Fanny Farmer" name behind the pancake mix or mac-n-cheese that you find in grocery stores today. Strange but true... I guess I wasn't the first to return to my roots!

Speaking of roots... the parsnips were a noble thought but not readily available. I substituted turnips, and the result was a delicious success. What's not to like in a ground root, cream and butter? Yes, Britt ate that too!

Great tasting and a great story. Rebecca Motte was a colonial heroine. Coming to America from England in the mid-1700's, she became a widow at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In fact, the British drove her out of her mansion and renamed the digs, "Fort Motte." In order to get rid of her univited guests, she volunteered to burn down the estate. Who knew a parsnip could lead to such a bold move.

Another meal down. Hankerin' for a sweet now... stay tuned...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Looks May Be Deceiving

As pretty as the petticoats on the colonial streets, my second dish turned out to be a feast for the eyes. Not so much for the belly. Allow me to explain...

- Patricia Sexton selected p. 18: Edward Winslow's Ham and Egg Pie. (Authentic Colonial Cookery).

I'm pretty sure after a long week, this was the perfect dish to provide a quick, savory meal for the family. The only ingredients are eggs, pepper, baking powder, milk, cooked/cubed ham and cheese. Pair that with a nice side salad... and voila! Should be the easiest challenge yet! (After all, I scramble eggs on a regular basis, and I've made quiche before). Why don't I tie one hand behind my back?

Let's pause for a history lesson. Edward Winslow actually made his way from Holland to America via the Mayflower (not the moving company) in 1620. He offered himself up as a hostage at the first conference between the English and the natives to endear himself to the Indians... and later became the first to import cows and a bull to the colonies. Finally, he died at sea in 1665.

I'm pretty sure this cooking adventure was much like a hostage scenario.

Instead of endearing myself to Indians, I aligned myself to the modern culture by selecting pre-shredded cheese and pre-cooked AND cubed ham at the store. Don't worry... I didn't roll out my own pie crust either. I cheated on that one too. Perhaps I disturbed the colonial spirits.

- "Place pie in very hot oven." (475-degrees) No problem, right? I pre-heated the oven and when it beeped, I opened the door to slide in the pie. Only.... since I had broiled (with splattering butter the previous time)... when I opened the door, smoke billowed out! Zut alors!

- Never fear, we have a double oven! But now, I'd lost precious time. Dinner was supposed to be ready in a few minutes. How hot did the oven really have to be? After what I deemed to be appropriate "pre-heat" time... in goes the pie.

- Now for the hostage part. Patiently, my little sous chef (who took the night off), exploded by begging for me to read his new book on rocks and crystals. At the same time, the littlest chef (13-week old Brooks) was crying to be fed. So, snuggled on the couch, I proceeded to feed Brooks, read to Britt and forget all about the p-i-e. Until the timer went off.

What a gorgeous creation! I'm on a roll. I can't be defeated! Paired with a few fresh leaves of romaine (topped with roma tomatoes and vidalia onion vinaigrette) and a bowl of fresh cherries, I might as well call Bon Appetite and apply for a job!

This is where Mr. Winslow, or metaphorically... I die at sea. The first slice into this pie produced footage akin to the BP spill in the gulf. Instead of oil - it was a gushing geyser of semi-cooked egg and ham juice. Yuck. I guess you really can't judge a book by it's cover... or a Ham and Egg Pie. (Alas, I resurrected part of it through a trial and error cooking process in my toaster oven).

In the spirit of early America - I shall perservere. Until next time...

"Sous" Much Fun

Let the games begin! Let the good times roll. What would they say in the 1600's, 1700's or 1800's? Heeyah! (Okay, I promise to work on my early American humor...)

Leaving nothing to chance, I selected the first two facebook responses in this "challenge."

- Chris Salvadori - p. 21: Beef Steak as Fixed for Jonathan Trumbull (Authentic Colonial Cookery)

- Jan Blalock Smith - p. 77: General Winfield Scott's Mexican Corn Bread Deluxe (A Taste of the Old West)

Flashing back to the days in cooking classes at Cornell, I had my "mis en place" ready to go. Professor Pezzotti - eat your heart out! Oddly enough, one of the challenges for this recipe was finding plain corn meal. Not cornbread, not cornmeal m-i-x, not cornmeal flour...just corn meal! Clearly the affinity for 'all-things-processed' had not yet started on the frontier.

With a 45-minute cook time, I began the cornbread first. Britt (my sous chef, and 4-year old son) kept asking, "What does 'deluxe' mean?" Well, the deluxe in this recipe was a layer of grated onion, finely diced red peppers and shredded cheese in-between the top and bottom layer of home made corn bread. 'Deluxe' is clearly the savory, melty, gooey "surprise" that makes this 'bread more like corn pudding. Delicious!

General Scott was introduced to this dish in 1847 during the Mexican War while he was in New Mexico. Can you imagine a culinary find so impactful that you would bring it back home after the war? Even though General Scott was later nominated as the Whig candidate for president (and lost) - his lasting impact lives on in 2010 through this delightful dish! (Okay, he won the battles of Cerro Gordo, Contreras and Churubusco, too... but who is counting?)

Next up - beef steak. Keep in mind that this recipe was from the late 1700's - so when I showed up at our local meat market asking for "one steak" - they were a little dumbfounded why I couldn't give more specifics. Needless to say... you don't need a lot of specifics when you're preparing to pan sear a cut of meat in 1/4 cup of butter in a HOT cast-iron skillet that will then go into a HOT oven to broil for exactly 9 minutes on each side. The steak is then topped with a mixture of fresh cracked pepper, catsup, Worcestershire sauce and... *wait for it*... coffee.

~Sidebar lesson: In case you didn't know - cast-iron is actually i-r-o-n. Even my cute little Le Creuset pan. What does iron do? Yep, that's right. CONDUCT HEAT! So, the all-caps in the previous paragraph pays homage the fact that I touched the handle of the pan (after it was in the oven) not once... (oh, no, since I'm blonde)... but twice. Dang. ~

While Jonathan Trumbull was busy shaking up the colonial political scene by speaking out on behalf of the people's struggle for justice and freedom... he should have been out espousing the cause of this steak! A true hero, he died in 1785 - but this legendary recipe lives on.

A few firsts today, Wednesday, June 16th:

-First time I've ever grated onions.

-First time I've ever made cornbread that didn't come from a pouch or a little blue box.
-First time I've broiled at steak at home. (Who needs a steakhouse?)

-Not the first I've burned my hand. Twice. Might be a habit...

Up next - a colonial tribute to Edward Winslow... Happy trails! (Or would that be entrails...)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Entry 1 - Am I really doing this?

"Area Under the Curve." What's up with the blog title? How does that apply to early American cookery? (And, yes, I plan on making up some words... this is my first "blog" after all...cookery schmookery...)

So the AUC - area under the curve has long been part of my "career" vernacular. It means the total drug concentration in the blood plasma over a period of time. Pretty exciting.

But I started thinking, "What's our LIFE AUC?" How well do we live and explore the area under our own curve of living? How concentrated are our own daily experiences? Or, do we lose the chance to really 'live' because we are smothered in the pursuit of things, status, etc. I know I do!

Alas - on a trip with my family to Fort Pulaski near Savannah, GA... I found this cookbook. Oddly enough, I found a deep calling to simplify a bit, step back in time and explore history and good cooking. I'm learning a lot about history and cooking... but I suspect I'll learn more about myself on this journey.

So... as you know (if you're reading this blog), I invited my facebook friends to select a number between 12 and 157 correlating to a page in the cookbook, and I would cook in their honor. Much like a daily horoscope, it's fun trying to figure out what each selection means about each friend.

Here goes nothing. Well - maybe something - frontier cooking does NOT help shed the baby weight... My first blog. It's all about food, fb folks and fun. (Wait, that's a jingle from McDonalds. I smell irony here...) Thanks for joining me on the journey!