Monday, November 24, 2008

An Appeal to the Ones Who Brung Me

I have to stop the show. I think it needs said that no one has ever mentioned, let alone surrendered the recipe for, The Filling. I know I've lost many of you already, but sit tight, I am coming back for you.

The Filling: This esteemed and shadowy culinary creation comes to us via my Godmother's family hailing from Hazelton, Pennsylvania. It is, all at once, a stuffing, a Frank Stitt style savory bread pudding, and a rich bread casserole. It is airy with custard and deeply eggy with undoubtedly specially considered bread: Saved and frozen from the blessed Easter loaves, maybe. Or gently mixed with challah. It is very hard to say whether the bread is toasted before incorporation or not .or whether there is a ratio of bread to custard or the ladies of Margaret's family make the Filling by feel and with a cadence developed as children.

I should say first, I have not seen The Filling in recent years and there is some good information afoot that I just might see the pillowy eathenware bowl of golden crusty magic this year. This potential event is very much on my mind you see because this is no Stove Top-y looking mongrel. This is the Queen of Holiday Accompaniments. The Holy Grail of Turkey Side Dishes. The Mother of all Good Bread Dishes. And hard as Food Network may try, nothing they have told you about what goes with the turkey is true: They don't know from side dishes. They don't Thing 1 about perfect stuffing. Here is who does: The Sharkeys of Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Write it down. Call your Mom tell her that her hoax is done, she can quit the stuffing masquerade and lay down her slotted spoon. Give her that name and tell her if she can find these ladies, get them to reveal the details of the revered Filling, and return home to recreate it, she will be the envy of all.

Sadly, the Hostess is unable to help you in your Stuffing Grail quest because the Hostess is as in the dark as you. And the Hostess would be questing right along side you through the mysterious peaks and valleys of Pennsylvania heritage cuisine: Through the pickled egg forest, tasty sausage hollows, and remarkable homemade bread hills, but the Hostess is very much at Hostess High Alert. Known in the Hostess' world as Warning Level Red, I am tied to the oven with the baking involved with a holiday cocktail party for 50 which seems to now be precariously hovering around 80. And that's almost as serious as this stuffing enigma, People.

Because I am prevented by other festive obligations from assisting you in this quest, I encourage you to begin a letter writing campaign to the Sharkey's who read here often, issue public appeals in newspaper ads, letters to editors, and cable commercials. Why stop there? A billboard conspicuously located near their routes of travel! Another on your front lawn! A sit in! Do what you have to do, but for the sake of all of us forced to endure seemingly endless Food Network segments on pretenders to the Filling Throne, prevail upon this family to give up the secret!

Happy Thanksgiving and Heritage Recipe Cooking to you all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A rather grand fire and all that followed after

Today at Blushing Hostess Entertains I advised on menus for party planning. Confident and sure footed when it comes to entertaining, not much throws me except the occasional agony resulting from my creative and admittedly questionable genius. It is at these times the Hostess feels very glad she did not give in to the current housing floor plan vogue of an an open kitchen and the Blushing Hostess becomes The Cussing Hostess.

No, indeed! The Hostess believes in the swinging kitchen door and the privacy of a room where cooking trial failures and related events do not become conversational fodder for the guests nor a source of their terror. Not that I would advise you to try anything new in the wee hours before the guests arrive, but it is my role in this funny blog world to do such a thing and report with accurate abandon the results in order to prevent your event from meeting the same fate. Further and to be crystal clear as I relate these foolhardy and uproarious happenings to you: I began the study of the hors d'ourvre in question a full three days before the Sunday supper where they were to have been served. So I was not at all tardy, hasty, or without adequate time to complete the steps involved to complete my hare brained finger food scheme. Let's understand: There was plenty of time to create several fires if need be, not just the one that toppled this porky house of hope.

Disclosures: I did not have a recipe. I was loosely, licentiously, and recklessly following Alinea's concept as recounted by Carol over at Alinea at Home. I looked up several recipes for old fashioned butterscotch, checked the Hostess witch-watch, noted all the other steps I would need to complete, and decided I would indeed have to find a substitute for the butterscotch component.

On Day 1, I dehydrated the pepper bacon. It took hours in a low slow oven.

On Day 2, I made the apple strapping: Baked the apples until soft, cored and peeled them, spread the apple gunk on parchment, dehydrated for hours until it became something similar to an apple roll up.

Then fateful dinner party Day 3 arrived. I cut the apple strapping in long strips to match the bacon size and placed three little butterscotch chips on each bacon length then put them in the oven to melt the butterscotch intending to roll them end to end and pin them with a toothpick creating a dreamy combination of porky, tarty, and sweet -y deliciousness.

Or. A bacon, granny smith, candy chip inferno under the broiler accompanied by many words which do not appear in Amy Vanderbilt's glossary, followed by a hasty scramble to the pantry to snatch up the iodized salt, and a heroic leap back to the oven to douse the flames out. You see, putting out kitchen fires was a routine part of my childhood cooking lessons with Mother (did not care for oven cleaning) and Grandmother (did not always keep track of grease temperatures owing to her assumption that most things had to do with providence and those that did not were watched over fastidiously by the ever-vigilant "Virgin Mother"). Consequently, kitchen fires have always been routine and fire department chiefs always on a Christmas card association level with our family (Hi. Dave! How's the family?).

I am here to tell you that if you are going to light any portion of your house ablaze regularly just before company comes it is a good idea to have sets of double French doors and top of the line fans and vents. One might also consider installing sprinklers. Also. get a Plan B for the food. The latter is not my strong suit. In fact, I am the sort of person so committed to a path that I should introduce myself as follows: I'm Catherine and you should be aware there is no Plan B, period. However, fire after fire has taught me a fall back plan is not always the result of a lack of determination and confidence. Sometimes, it is the necessary result of the inferno behind the swinging door.

When I have ignited or incinerated the finger foods and duly extinguished the remains of the pig, Julia and Dorie are always there with their reassuring directions for puffy gourgeres which I must tell you are a world better than Jacques Pepin's. I can count on them even with only minutes to spare after the fire extinguisher falls to the ground next to my Tod's and I make a mental note that it needs refilled again.

Since I am a Dorie Greenspan devotee I have not adapted the recipe here and encourage you to get a copy of Baking with Julia in order that you may also be saved and keep the food on Dorie's table so I can keep reading...

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Hostess has landed

What a slog. I mean, what a seething vicious mess. Animals, children, pregnancy and I took it all and dragged it up the East coast. That is not to say that I am roughing it: No, no, my idea of camping is the Holiday Inn. Certainly not, it is a big enough truck that everyone has a seat when I deem them worthy, otherwise they are threatened with having to ride on the luggage rack again. And we stopped plenty. It is just the strain of transporting many who are unable to care for themselves nor have any interest in sleeping at night, while I continue to mutter, "I just want to go home." And wonder if GPS identifies the closest sanatorium at any given moment. I mean, can I call onStar and say simply, "I just cannot go any further. Can you help?"

Three sleepless days later, here I am to tell you we all survived, but I tell you, where that darling infernal corgi of mine is concerned, it was not a foregone conclusion. She is a lovely, beautiful, little dense barrel of diabolical genius and we are her patsy's. I mean, victims. No, I mean, companions. Yes, that's it indeed. Never before have I said the work Pumpkin as though it was a heretic curse, but long trips with animals, I have learned over the years, can really change ones perspective on cute things with gentle eyes.

I am not complaining, I passed a million horse rigs headed south for the season and thought, things could indeed be more nerve wracking and exhausting. And have been. Lord, have they ever.

Anyhow, what of the trip? We stopped to look at houses along the way, not to be too scrambled about the subject matter at Entertains but I will show you these pictures only because my adorable alter ego, The Hostess, was so taken with one of them but I need to be finishing the Cocktail Party Diaries first....

So this is a note to say: Not to worry, I made it back alive, my Precious ones, and I shall be updating you further regards The Hostess' antics straight away. In the meantime, as soon as we arrived home I hopped off to Trader Joe's to get the (Organic, D Fortified) milk for Twinkle Toes and the Wild Coho Salmon as a quick dinner because it is remarkably delicious and perfectly buttery. I made a huge meal for five in fifteen minutes flat with the salmon in that super tasty and incredibly easy recipe of mine for Honey Thyme Salmon and served it my Mom's help in making jasmine rice and bread. Lovely thing to come home to, I say.

See you back here in no time after I take several more naps and rustle around for my heavy coat.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Stealing home

Afternoon, Friends.

I might have mentioned that we have been on a journey to the house in North Florida which has reached the end and we are now stealing home to New York for the holidays and all the glorious food that comes with wonderful ethnic texture that is that great city and its environs; not to mention the holidays themselves.

I will ask your patience for a few days as we trek northward swelling with anticipation at a great Northern holiday season: Visions of homemade marshmallows on Mexican hot chocolate swirling in our imaginations as we bid Ponte Vendra and Jacksonville farewell, all the while making nuisances of ourselves at Waffle Houses from here to Fredricksburg, and cursing the traffic from DC on home.

I ask you for your wishes that our tiny family arrives there safely and that the remainder of this pregnancy is without issue so that Baby Face and I can be back here in time to see Josh's ship return from its seven month deployment after the holidays. It is a lot to ask from a couple of months of life: Relative ease. I am hoping for the same for all of you and will see you right back here before you even miss me... Be well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Utensil Void: Individual Cake Chisel Knives

Photo: The offending cake bricks only hours before being used to shore up the foundation of the house in Florida.

Southern Cakes. A book by Nancie McDermott. A highly questionable and occasionally indefensible supposed reference text on many cakes one will recognize and several I have never heard of (but, I have never had dessert in the Ozarks). Also, a moderately effective source of kindling material. And, a means of stumping the Hostess with regard to acquiring a utensil with which one can consume the Mississippi Mud Cake small enough to be placed by each plate and where said mini-chisel or hand saw is properly located around the plate.

This past Sunday night, an evening which saw a lovely dinner for four, began with gorgeres, moved on to Barefoot Contessa's brisket (absurdly delicious), potato souffle, braised cabbage, and ended, confusingly, with this Mississippi Mud Pie. We tried this dessert about one hour out of the oven when I sliced it and it was a fine layered chocolate, marshmallow, and fudgy bar cake : I wouldn't get rich if I slapped a pretentious label on it and hocked it at Neiman's at Christmas, but it wouldn't bankrupt the bake sale that is my life either. Fast forward a few hours while it awaited its fate on the tiered dessert tray and find it hardened into a brick with chocolate marshmallow topping.

Of course, I did not know this change occurred until I put the tines of the Grand Baroque into the corner and had to restrain myself from kicking off my kitten heels, climbing up into my chair with the carving knife and fork, and hacking away at my little square with all the force and intent of Vlad the Impaler. Lordy! I exclaimed to myself. I should get the guests another utensil. But, what? WHAT? This criminal of a dessert laughed in the face of steak knives (as if I could hear myself liltingly explaining the presence of the second knife at the setting, "That's the dessert carving knife! Fun, don't you think?!")! After dinner, I scurried off to the computer to access my bookmarked Grand Baroque tab at and answer the question regards what happens when dessert needs to be carved by each guest.


Nothing. Nothing to assist me with this crazy cake. You are on your own with this one, Pals. You could get a carving set for each place setting which can alternately be used for the dessert moose carving on other evenings. Or, get small handsaws and saw horses for each guest, make a festive table of unfinished cedar planks, and have large buckets of nails as centerpieces. Conversely, pitch the book into the fire because the recipe for Huguenot Torte is also an insult to all we came to know of the dessert by the same name in Charleston, the city of its birth, and instead serve Chocolate Mousse with a spoon.

Your comments, please

This week will mark 180 posts for our little Blushing Hostess and Google is kind enough to inform me that we have a number of readers and subscribers. How it pains The Hostess that most are silent. I adore hearing from you, here in the Comments are below which you'll find a mite easier than emails. Promise me you'll write Comments to me now, won't you?

The Hostess

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Nothing fancy to see here

I love simple tea sandwiches. Okay, sandwiches in general. But first and last, I love a thinly sliced ripe cuke or tomato salted and allowed to lose a bit of water, a tiny bit of tuna or chicken pecan salad, or a bit of egg salad with a blanched sliver of leftover asparagus, each gently nudged between two slices of Pepperidge Farm Thin, or in today's case, a British toasting sliced white bread I found at the market.

For a shower, it's best to trim the crusts carefully and be sure you've no wayward crumby-lines of bread hanging off, use cookie cutters to create different shapes, and edge some in herbs or finely chopped nuts. But at home for lunch or a snack, I still appriciate the easy softness of the bread mixed with the crispness of the middle and the comfort of knowing I don't have to struggle to arrive at a light meal which reminds me of something I am attached to from long ago. Though, I cannot identify what that is by anything more than to tell you I love tiny soft sandwiches in every incarnation.

I don't usually write to you about some small lunch my Tiny Girl and I shared. I realize that to be considered a remarkable blogger, the food needs to be stylized and top-line interesting: Not some little shaved and lightly salted cucumber on good bread, and spread with a paper thin layer of dill butter on each side to prevent the cucumber from saturating the bread. Sure, I realize you may be high minded and find my noting such a thing an obstuse bore. I note it more because I loved these special little sandwiches long ago from some good memory and I feel lucky to have been there as my little girl began her own tea sandwich memories.

Friday, November 7, 2008

So rich and satisfying

Brussels sprouts. Maybe you are already groaning. I was in that club until recently. It is not that I hate Brussels sprouts. I am a practical girl who has learned a lot from our animal company on the planet: It never pays to hate any food, because you never know when you will really need a meal. If the fates align to truly teach one a lesson in never becoming too particular, look out, because whatever you hate will be the last food remaining in nuclear winter. Besides vegetables of all manner are a necessity to good long lives.

I had Edna Lewis' help in developing a cooking means for making every vegetable delicious which I discovered in making her spring onions and applied to all things not tied down since. Now, there is not a vegetable I cook that I am not thrilled to eat if I am using her method. Not only that, I reheat the leftovers and snack on them, they are that good. It might sound suspicious, but all the greatest inventions once did. Go ahead out and crank up that car of yours and bring home stacks of veggies to braise. What a new and wonderful veggie-loving world it will be.

Braised Brussels Sprouts, Loosely
Serves 4

1 pound Brussels sprouts, trilled of outter leaves and tough stem bottom removed
Good water to cover, I use bottled
1/4 cup butter
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a medium-heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Allow to simmer until just about all the the liquid has evaporated and only enough remains to be a sauce. Transfer to a warm bowl, serve. Reheats beautifully in a gentle oven of 200 degrees for 12 minutes or so.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lord Lamington, I presume.

The name sounds British and if the stories are true, the Austrailian governor for whom the Lamington tea cake was named, was indeed British, called Lord Lamington, and was busy about ruling Queensland from 1895-1901.

I looked this up after un-earthing this Lamington recipe from my files. I thought it vastly obtuse to just go off making and munching my Lamingtons while chatting to you and cleaning the kitchen like a mad woman, my Oolong clutched in one hand and the counter spray in the other, and not give a hoot what the name meant or where they came from. So. Consider yourself enlightened in turn.

Also, consider yourself advised that these truly remarkable teacakes are a messy job but worth all the cleaning. What could be better than good soft cake with raspberry filling dipped in chocolate then coconut?

Traditionally, the coconut is not toasted, this is my prefernce. Although the reference recipe advised me in an attached comment to consider chilling or freezing the cakes before dipping them, it is literally imperative that you do so because, unlike the original Lamington, these are made with fresh, not day old, cake.

adapted from this Martha Stewart Living recipe, 2002
Makes 18

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
2 2/3 cups cake flour , (not self-rising), plus more for pans
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
2/3 cup strawberry jam
1 pound shredded sweetened coconut, toasted
Chocolate Icing, below

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter two 9-by-13-inch baking pans; line bottoms with parchment; butter parchment. Dust with flour; tap out excess; set pans aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time; beat until incorporated.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt; add to egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Divide batter between the greased pans pans. Place in oven; bake until the center of the cake bouncees back to your touch, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly on wire racks; remove from pans. Turn out cakes onto racks; cool completely.

Spread one of the cooled cakes with the jam; place other cake on top. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, place in the freezer overnight. With a knife, trim the edges of sandwiched cakes; cut into two-inch squares.

Place the coconut in a medium bowl; set aside. Place the bowl of chocolate icing over a saucepan or large double boiler, filled with simmering water. Place a jam-filled cake square in the bowl of chocolate icing and using forks to turn the square, coat all sides.

Allow excess chcoclate to drip off. Transfer the square to the bowl of coconut. Using clean forks to turn square, coat it with coconut. Transfer coated square to wire rack to stand until coating has set, about 15 minutes. Continue until all squares have been coated.

Chocolate Icing
adapted from this Martha Stewart Living recipe, 2002
Makes enough to coat 24 Lamingtons
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
8 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 cup cocoa powder, sifted

Place the milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, and heat until butter is melted. Add the vanilla extract, confectioners' sugar, and cocoa powder. Stir gently until combined, then allow to come back to temperature for 5 minutes to insure liquidity. The bowl muct be kept over the simmering water for the chocolate to remain a dippable-liquid.

It will come together, keep stirring.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jamaican Iced Tea... or was it?

As I have mentioned before at the Blushing blogs, I have very little patience for Alexandra Stoddard, the Martha precursor, also, and by no accident, from Westport, Connecticut, just down the road from me here. In one of her most grossly braggadocios and uninformative volume, Tea Celebrations (1994) she mentions that while in St. Croix, her hotel packed her a picnic and she was pleased to find iced tea in the mix. And what to her surprise! It was laced with rum! They called it Jamaican iced tea.

Now, here is where the mixologists are invited to intervene, if you look up Jamaican Iced Tea in bar guides and on the internet as the Hostess naturally did, one notes it was not really tea at all.
It seems to be Long Island Iced Tea but substituting dark rum. And, Sweets, there is not a touch a of tea in the stuff. What has caused her befuddlement then, in advising that real iced tea mixed with any good dark rum, is Jamaican Iced Tea (She recommends Gosling's. The Hostess would rather fall on her drink sword than recommend Gosling's.)?


And in case you are wondering: If I do not find uses for Tea Celebrations, I will have to donate it and I hate parting with books even self-aggrandizing nonsense books!