Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Book Thief, final thoughts

In the book, The Four Agreements, we learn that the human mind is like fecund ground where seeds are continually being planted. Those seeds are opinions, ideas and concepts. When you plant a seed, a thought, it grows. Words are like seeds and the human mind is its fertile garden.

Max Vandenburg, speaks about this very same idea in his fable to Liesel. As a child, Liesel had been humiliated because she was illiterate. She knew firsthand how powerless a person could be without words. Through the years she also witnessed Hitler’s grains of fear and experienced the outcome of her country’s cultivated psychosis.

According to “A Course in Miracles,” all minds are joined. While it may appear that I am here and you are over there, on the level of mind there is no place where you stop and I start. We are all affected by everyone else’s thoughts.

The Bible states: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Famed writer and poet, Dr. Maya Angelou, is convinced that words are “things” and she predicts that some day we will be able to measure their power.

I’ve been thinking about the power of words for some time. I believe the words we choose to use leave impressions on the people around us. What do your words say about you and how you want to be perceived?

I had outlined a few more posts for this book but alas my plans had to change. Though, while reading, I created some rather fabulous meals to coincide.




Spaetzle

3 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Beat eggs until foamy and then combine with milk. Mix together flour, salt and nutmeg. Add to eggs and milk a little at a time. The dough will be very stiff and elastic. Fill the square basket of the spaetzle maker and place over a pot of boiling water. As you slide the basket back and forth, the tiny dumplings, or noodles, drop into the boiling liquid. When done, they will rise to the surface (about 2-3 min). Use a large slotted spoon to strain them out in to a large covered bowl. Repeat the process until all the dough is used up. Lightly butter and salt to taste. Serve in place of noodles, rice or potatoes.


Pretzel Rolls

2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm water
3 1/4 cups bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup butter - softened
3 tablespoons baking soda
2 quarts water
1 large egg yolk
coarse salt

In a small bowl, whisk the yeast and 1/4 cup of the water until smooth.

In the bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the remaining 1 cup water, the bread flower, yeast mixture, salt, and butter. Mix at slow speed for three minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the hook as necessary the mixture blends evenly. When the ingredients are well combined, increase the mixture speed to high and continue mixing and occasionally scraping until the dough is firm and elastic (about 8 minutes). If the mixture is too firm for the mixer to handle, finish kneading it by hand. Turn the ball of dough out onto a lightly flowered work surface and let rest for five minutes, loosely covered with a kitchen towel. Line a baking sheet that will fit in your freezer with parchment paper and set aside.Cut the dough into eight equal pieces, approximately 4 ounces in size. Roll each into a five inch long cylinder about one inch in diameter. With the palms of your hands, roll each cylinder into a rope about 12 inches long, of even thickness throughout the entire length. Tie the rope into a loose knot in the center, then tuck the ends under the middle and mold gently into an attractive shape. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

When the pretzel dough is shaped, let it sit in a very warm, moist place to rise until almost doubled in size, about 30 to 50 minutes. Freeze the shaped, risen pretzel dough uncovered on the baking sheet for at least 2 hrs. and up to 24 hrs; the dough should be frozen solid. Before removing the pretzels from the freezer, combine the baking soda and water in a large sauce pan and bring it to a simmer. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the pan from the freezer and, using a large flat skimmer, dip each frozen roll in the simmering water for about 3 seconds, letting the excess water drain before returning it to the baking sheet. Brush the pretzels with the egg and water mixture, then sprinkle coarse salt over them. Immediately place the baking sheet in the hot oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F and bake for 8-12 minutes more. 


German Potato Salad

5 bacon strips
3/4 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp flour
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1-1/3 cups water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
6 cups sliced cooked and peeled potatoes

In a large skillet fry bacon until crisp; remove and set aside. Drain all but 2-3 tbsp of drippings; cook onion until tender. Stir in flour; blend well. Add vinegar and water; cook and stir until bubbly and slightly thick. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Crumble bacon; gently stir in bacon and potatoes. Heat through, stirring lightly to coat potato slices. Serve warm. Makes 6-8 servings.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Book Thief, Part I & An Ode to George

I’m about 200 pages into reading The Book Thief. Liesel Meminger is a young child living in Nazi Germany. She’s already witnessed her brother’s death and has been abandoned by her mother.

Her new foster mother often berates her and beats her. Liesel slowly begins to form a bond with her new dad and with his help she begins a love affair with books and words.

I’m trying to keep this book at a distant. I’m not sure I’ll be able to continue to do so. I probably won’t and maybe I shouldn't. I do believe this book has the power to tear your heart in to little tiny pieces. In fact, on the books cover, A New York Times quote declares that it’s the kind of book that can be “life changing”.

Poland was the first country attacked by Germany. The attack began at 4:40am on September 1, 1939. The entire country and its population were immediately affected. Germany struck out against the armed forces in Poland but also, and primarily, against the civilian population. Their plan was to destroy the country – to break it morally and materially. Poland was to serve as a warning to all other countries. World War II had begun.

Pierogi's are dumplings and they were traditional peasant food in Poland. They eventually spread in popularity throughout all social classes. Polish Pierogi are often filled with cheese, potatoes and fried onions. Ground meat and mushrooms are other popular fillings.

One evening, several years ago, when Tom and I had first started dating, we went to his dad’s house for dinner. His dad, George, had prepared his specialty, “Kielbasa and Pierogi’s”. It was the first time I had eaten kielbasa and it was the first time I had eaten pierogi. The sausage was good but I fell head over heels in love with pierogi.

Tom and I have been married for almost six years now. I have made “Kielbasa and Pierogi’s” many times since that day and every time I do, I think of my father-in-law, George.When I make the dish, like George, I use the frozen pierogi's you buy at the grocery store. They are good. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to these lovely little dumplings being made from scratch.

Last weekend George turned 82 years old. Tom had planned a pretty large birthday party--a lot of people were planning to attend. I decided to make Kielbasa and Pierogi’s for the big event. I made the pierogi’s from scratch. About half way through the process I remember thinking, “What the hell was I thinking"?! Let me warn you, pierogi’s are a lot of hard work but like most times in life, the hard work pays off. One bite and you quickly realize that they are worth it!

The party was on Sunday so I made the filling the day before. One was potatoes with sauerkraut and one was potatoes and carrots. I chose the potatoes and carrot filling especially for George. I had learned that his mother used to make mashed potatoes and carrots for him when he was a little boy.

Early, on the day of the party, I started with making the dough, rolling it out and then using a drinking glass I cut rounds from the dough. Once that was finished I dropped about a teaspoon or more of filling on each round. Next I folded the dough over and using a fork I pierced the dumplings nice and tight. Then, a few at a time, I began dropping the dumplings in a pot full of salted, boiling water. Once they floated I let them cook for about a minute or so more then pulled them out of the water. Finally, I had a warmed skillet ready with sizzling butter and browned both sides of the pierogi's. 

Altogether, with this recipe, I was able to make 82 pierogi's. I had some filling left over and served it up for dinner a few nights later.

The rounds of dumpling dough.

Adding the filling.
Folding and piercing the dumplings.
The final product.
Mixed Candy
Keilbasa and Pierogi's

Potato and Carrot Filling

3 russet potatoes
3 carrots
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried mustard
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp butter
Salt and Pepper to taste

Peel potatoes and carrots. Boil till tender then drain. Add remaining ingredients and mix and mash with a potato masher.

Potato and sauerkraut filling

3 russet potatoes
1 cup of sauerkraut, drained of liquid
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried mustard
1/2 cup whole milk
2 tbsp butter
Salt and Pepper to taste

Peel potatoes. Boil till tender then drain. Add remaining ingredients and mix and mash with a potato masher.

Pierogi Dough

5 cups of flour
1 stick of cold butter
1 egg, plus 2 yolks slightly beaten
1 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup of whole milk

Cut the butter into the flour then add remaining ingredients. Mix and knead to make a smooth dough. Roll very thin (important!) and then cut with round glass. Fill rounds, fold them and prick with a fork to seal them nice and tight. Cook them in boiling water. Once they float, cook for about a minute or so more than remove.

Kielbasa and Pierogi

2 whole kielbasa sausage links
1 onion chopped
2-3 tbsp butter
Olive Oil

Grill the kielbasa till warmed through and charred. Slice up into rounds. In a skillet with 1 tbsp butter, cook the chopped onion till translucent. Add the remaining butter and oil. Drop in the pierogi to brown on both sides. Plate it all together and serve with mustard and sour cream.

George Batcha, the birthday boy.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Separate Peace, Final Thoughts

Although it was a slow read and I often found myself saying “Oh my GOD when is this book going to end”, I can now appreciate it’s message and I am actually glad I hung in there till the end.

Gene Forrester is the main character and narrator of the novel. He’s attending The Devon School, a school for boys located in New Hampshire. The peaceful environment serves as a sharp contrast to the world war that rages in Europe.

As the story progresses you bear witness to Gene’s own internal war with his demons. The story is about his pain filled youth as he travels down the road into adulthood. The book touches on jealousy, envy, and even brutality.

My favorite moment and quote in the book comes close to the end of the story when Gene had made peace with his own war bearing demons. A classmate was suggesting that the war was the fault of generations past and Gene realizes that ... "wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart."

The author delivers a cautionary message. Rather than trying to become someone you are not, just be yourself. That’s a good reminder that anyone should take heed of at any point in his or her life so I come away with an appreciation of the story and the reminders it provided.

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day and I truly love a good corn beef and cabbage dinner. What I didn’t realize is that it’s very similar to the New Englander's boiled dinner and that it’s a regular staple on their winter tables. It’s a very simple meat and potatoes dish but it’s the ultimate primal meal. I found a great quote from Jane and Michael Stern in Yankee Magazine. They said, “When it comes to eating plain and square, we in the northeastern part of the United States have everyone else beat. We've got the plainest, squarest, clunkiest, and most wonderful meat and potatoes meal in America — the New England Boiled Dinner”.

This is my version of the boiled dinner that I adapted from others I had viewed on the web. It’s corned beef plus cabbage plus other vegetables, cooked together and served altogether on the very same plate. I like the addition of using the maple syrup and I think it adds just a tiny bit of sweetness but a lot more flavor to the meat. I will do this again and again. Serve with a side of mustard and horseradish sauce and you and your guest will be mighty satisfied, indeed!


Benighted Boiled Buffet or
New England Boiled Dinner

4 3/4 lb Cured corned beef brisket
4 quarts or more of Water
1/2 c. Maple syrup
1 lb Boiling onions, (20 small) peeled
1 1/4 lb Carrots, scraped and chopped
2 1/2 lb Potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 1/4 lb Turnips, peeled and quartered
1 Green cabbage, cored and cut into wedges

Directions

Place brisket in a large stockpot; add in water. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 2 hrs or until  tender. Remove brisket from pot, and set cooking liquid aside.

Place brisket in a large baking dish; drizzle with syrup. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 20 min.

Add in onions and next 3 ingredients to stockpot; bring to a boil. Cover and cook 20 min. Add in cabbage; cover and cook an additional 5 min or possibly till the vegetables are tender.

Drizzle drippings from baking dish over sliced brisket.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Separate Peace, Part I

It began with maple syrup. I had picked some up during a recent trip to the state of New Hampshire. This was the real deal‑-a pure, high quality, maple syrup.

The syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. It takes about 40 years for maple trees to grow large enough to be tapped. Once they’ve reached the proper diameter, the trees are tapped, the sap is gathered and then boiled at high temperatures to reduce excess water. As the water evaporates the sap gets sweeter and thicker and changes color. Once enough of the water has evaporated the sap becomes syrup. Pure maple syrup contains no additives and no preservatives.

Maple sap flowing from maple trees requires below freezing temperatures at night and above freezing during the day. That’s why the rigidly cold New England states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut account for 57% of all the taps in the United States. Vermont takes the lead in production.

Next, I saw a Facebook post from Blue Ridge Meats, advertising their fresh cuts for Friday and Saturday. Blue Ridge Meats is a local butcher here in Middletown, Virginia. Their motto is “Plain and simple, like it used to be, farm to table”. Owned by Doug and Lois Aylestock, they provide fresh local meats that contain no hormones and I shop there almost every Saturday morning.

As luck would have it, fresh and local Berkshire Pig would be available this weekend. Berkshire pigs are a rare breed that originated from Britain. It’s prized for its juiciness, flavor and tenderness. This pink-hued and heavily marbled meat is suitable for long cooking times as well as high temperature cooking.

My idea for the meal had been born.

I’m reading, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. I’m about half way through the novel. The story takes place in New Hampshire in the 1940s. Gene Forrester, the narrator of the story is attending The Devon School, an exclusive New Hampshire academy. In this secluded, rural environment the students are able to avoid entering World War II but this in turn affects the consciousness of the characters in the story. It’s hailed as an American classic but it’s been a little too slow for me. That and I’m not sure how I feel about Gene, the protagonist of the story. The verdict is still out on this one. I’ll finish up next week with another great tasty treat.

Supper for the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session

Maple Glazed Berkshire Chops with Sauteed Baby Arugula and Pumpkin Quenelles


This is to be eaten slowly -- on your fork get a little bite of pork, get a little bite of arugula and a little bite of pumpkin. Be sure you have a tiny bit of the maple glaze lying in there somewhere and then pop it in your mouth. Chew slowly.

Umami.

Pumpkin Quenelle (Dumplings)
1 sweet onion finely chopped
1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes
1 15 ounce can of pumpkin puree (do not use pumpkin pie filling)
2 eggs beaten
1 tsp salt plus more for the cooking water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 - 1-1/4 cups of flour

Add the olive oil to a skillet and heat. Drop in 3/4 cup of the onion and the red pepper flakes. Cook until the onion has softened and remove from heat. While that cools, in a large bowl combine the pumpkin, eggs, salt, cinnamon and flour. Add the onion mixture and combine together. This will be a very soft dough. Use a soup spoon to scoop out some of the mixture, then transfer to the scoop to a second spoon to help shape the oblong dumpling. Place on a plate and continue until all the mixture has been used to create the dumplings. Refrigerate until ready to cook. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and slide the dumplings off into the boiling water. Don't crowd the pot, do it in batches. Once they float cook for another two minutes. Have a skillet on medium heat with about a tbsp of melted butter. Drop the cooked dumpling in the skillet to form a golden brown crust. Taste to see if you need to add salt and continue on. Once dumplings are finished place them on a cookie sheet in a warm oven until the rest of the meal is ready.

Maple Glazed Chops
4 one inch thick, bone in, pork chops
Salt, Pepper, Garlic Powder

Wash chops, pat dry then sprinkle both sides with the salt mixture. Place on the grill and cook to desired doneness. These cooked for a little over 1/2 hour. They were very juicy and tender. About half way through the cooking time, start applying the glaze to both sides.

Maple Glaze
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup chicken stock

Add the vinegar to a small pot and bring to a boil. Cook until reduced by half. Stir in the maple syrup and chicken stock. Cook over medium heat until thick and syrupy. Use most for the chops but set some aside to drizzle on the plates.

Sauteed Arugula
3 cups of organic baby arugla
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt or more to taste
Remaining 1/4 cup of the onion mixture used in the dumplings

Heat the oil in the skillet, add the garlic, the onion then the arugla. Toss to combine and warm/wilt the arugla.



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brooklyn, Final Thoughts

Reading this book gave me a much deeper appreciation of Brooklyn. Brooklyn has been hailed as the most famous and influential seventy-three square miles in the world. There is also a claim that one out of every seven Americans has roots there. Through this novel I was taken back to the days of The Brooklyn Dodgers and Coney Island at it's peak of popularity.

There were so many delightful recipes I could have selected for wrapping up this noteworthy little book. However, meatball subs was screaming at me -- really from the time I picked up the book in the bookstore I have been thinking about them.

I decided that I would make everything from scratch. Yep, everything ... the meatballs, the tomato sauce and even the bread. There is something about making bread from scratch that I find so alluring and pleasurable. Even as a little girl, I can remember playing with dough many a day and just thoroughly enjoying myself. And as M.F.K. Fisher once said "The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water is indescribable in its evocations of innocence and delight".

Back to Brooklyn - Meatball Subs




Sub Rolls


Ingredients:
5 teaspoons dry active yeast ( 2 pkgs)
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon salt
6 -7 cups all-purpose flour
cornmeal
1 egg white
sesame seeds (optional)

Directions:
Dissolve sugar in water and add yeast to proof. Rest one to two minutes.
Melt butter and stir into yeast mixture.
Mix in salt with flour, 1 cup at a time until desired consistency is reached
Knead for 1/2 hour or more until it's very well developed.
Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until doubled in bulk (approx 40 minutes).

Lightly dust a small amount of corn meal over well-greased pans, roll your dough into long, thin "logs" and place about 3" apart on the pans. Slash each loaf every inch and a half with a knife, brush with egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired. Let double in size. Bake in a 400°F oven until golden brown.

Meatballs 

2 pounds of ground beef
1-1/4 cups roasted garlic bread crumbs
2 onions and 1 tbsp Italian Seasoning pulsed together to a paste in food processor
2 tbsp grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tbsp Ketchup
3 Eggs beaten
Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients together being careful not to overmix. Roll into golf ball size meatballs. Fry meatballs in skillet to brown them finish them off in a 350 degree oven. Bake until desired doneness.

Quick Tomato Sauce

2 quarts of canned, whole tomatoes
4 garlic cloves minced
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 small can of tomato paste
2 tsp of corn starch
2 tsp of water

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and salt, stir to combine. Add the tomatoes, crushing them as you add. Bring to a boil and reduce heat simmering rapidly for approx 15. minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir. Disolve the corn starch in the water and pour in the sauce. Stir to thicken.

Bringing it all together ...

Slice the bread and fill with meatballs. Cover with sauce and some fresh mozerella cheese. Place under a broiler for a few moments to brown. Garnish with some fresh herbs such as a sprig of thyme then serve. Winter Ale from The Brooklyn Brewery is a great drink to serve along side these delicious sandwich meals.