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Thursday, June 9, 2011

'Cooking for Two', Cookbook from 1929

This was a lovely find at the local Goodwill Bookstore.

     I will have to dedicate an entire blog post to cookbooks soon I think. Do you know that there are people who buy cookbooks JUST to read them, they may not even cook, ever. Cookbooks stack up on their night stand and pile up on their coffee table never to get milk splashed on them or to find spices in their creases and notes written along the margins. I confess, I can be one of these people easily and sometimes I am, but I do like to cook occasionally. To adequately write a retro food blog it's necessary to collect cookbooks from as far back as I can find them. I classify this under 'necessary research' in order to spend hours digging through stacks of old books at thrift stores. I recently found, 'The Seducer's Cookbook', so be watching out for a sultry recipe and some advice on the lost art of seduction coming soon. Anyway, back to searching for cookbooks. An interesting note on cookbooks,one of the oldest ever discovered to date is from the reign of King Richard II some 600 years ago. It contains a collection of 150 recipes from delicacies for the royal family as well as meals for servants. Items such as peacock, swan, and puff pastries. However there have been recipes found from as far back as Roman times.
      Modern cookbooks are a whole other story though, they really didn't come into popularity until the 1950's. My current Goodwill find, 'Cooking for Two' was published in 1929 by Janet McKenzie Hill. The subtitle is; A Handbook for Young Housekeepers. I especially like the Forward; "The best things are nearest...Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things of life."
     I've noticed with older cookbooks that the recipes are not laid out as we are used to seeing them today, a list of ingredients with step by step directions. Instead, they are in paragraph form and very often missing pertinent pieces of information such as temperature of oven, how many of something to make, and how long to cook it, just to name a few. But what they do often include...handwritten notes!! I ADORE handwritten notes, whether it is nothing more than adjustments to the ingredients or personal notes on the front cover...I love, love, love them. 'Cooking for Two' has two such notes. The first, how to clean silver...aahhh, very helpful in 1929 but no so much now. The second, this book was given to a daughter by her father and he wrote her a silly little note. (You can click on the picture to enlarge.)

The Recipe -This recipe is meant to be used with leftovers of chicken and mashed potatoes. 

Chicken Bechamel in Potato Patty Cases
1 1/3 cups left-over shredded or cubed chicken
2 Tbls. of butter
2 Tbls. of flour
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of paprika
1/2 cup of chicken broth
1/2 cup of heavy cream or milk
3 cups of seasoned mashed potatoes (salt and pepper)
1 yolk of egg

What you need:

 The left over potatoes should be room temperature or warmed and moist enough to flow through a pastry bag easily. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, butter a cookie sheet or put down parchment paper. Spread rounds of potato 1/2 an inch thick and 3 inches in diameter.

Add the rest of potatoes to a pastry bag. (No pastry bag? Use a sandwich bag and just cut off a corner.) Pipe potatoes around potato disk and build up the sides, forming a basket or bowl shape.

The directions say to brush outside of baskets with a lightly beaten egg yolk, I did this but I don't think it is necessary.

Place in preheated oven and bake until browned. This portion didn't go so well for me. I think if I had left it in the oven longer, at least 15-20 minutes, it would have browned. But I was rushing and it wasn't browning quickly enough so I turned on the broiler to brown it. Which it did, but it also melted down the basket shape and turned it into a big blob of potatoes browned on top.

Now on to the chicken: 
Melt your butter, add in flour and whisk, add in broth, mix well and add in milk. Continue to whisk until thick like a gravy. Add in salt, pepper, and paprika. Essentially this is what is called a 'bechamel' sauce or 'rue'. It is used as the base for many sauces such as cheese sauce for macaroni and a gravy base for breakfast sausage gravy. 

Fold in your shredded chicken.

Fill potato baskets with chicken mixture.

The Results

     Okay, so I am the first to admit these really do not look very appetizing. It was difficult to even get an acceptable picture of them. But they tasted great! Eternally hungry husband and I really like it. There was something very comfort foodie about it. Eternally hungry husband suggested chives in the potatoes might be a good idea and I concur, it would add another layer of flavor. 
     I didn't use leftovers, I used a rotisserie chicken and made fresh mashed potatoes and the recipe was very easy and quick to put together. I know, I know, piping potatoes with a pastry bag! Take my word for it, easy schmeasy, it really doesn't take much effort. 
     We'll be making this again and I hope YOU give it a try!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

You CAN have your cake and eat it too!

Yellow Cake with lemon curd and lemon frosting.

    No retro woman in her right mind would be without a homemade cake recipe...memorized, naturally. A cake recipe is the kind of recipe that is passed down from mother to daughter on the daughter's wedding day. It is the quintessential versatile recipe that will be used more than any other. It will bring smiles to faces at birthday parties, celebrate promotions and achievements of all kinds, and even dry tears during emotional struggles. The cake will follow a family through all of its most memorable times, it will be decorated to suit each recipients likes, it will be photographed, it will be remembered. 
    I'm not one for corny metaphors and such but when it comes to a homemade cake I am up to my eyeballs in frosting with corny metaphors. Making a homemade cake "takes the cake", it can be "a piece of cake", you CAN have your cake and eat it too! This is the one and only time when I believe that you actually bake your love into what you are cooking, in fact, your love is an essential ingredient and those who eat it will feel it. 
    So don't be intimidated, this recipe is fool proof, roll up your sleeves and start baking!

Yellow Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter at room temperature
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup of whole milk at room temperature

Baking Time at 350 degrees: Two 8 inch rounds, 25-30 minutes.
                                               Two 9 inch rounds, 22-25 minutes.
                                               One 9x13 inch, 25-30 minutes
                                               24 cupcakes, 15-20 minutes

What you need:

Butter your pans and line bottom with parchment paper, then butter top of parchment paper as well. I know, I know, it seems like a lot of steps but it is worth it in the end when your cakes easily lift out of your pan with little or no crumbs to impede the frosting process.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

Using electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high for 2-3 minutes until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then eggs one at a time.

Reduce mixer to low. Add the flour mixture in 3 additions and the milk in 2 additions; begin and end with flour. Mix until JUST combined, do not over mix or you will have a tough cake...a major no-no in the retro kitchen!

Transfer batter to prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 15 minutes, then turn onto rack and cool completely.

Use your time wisely! While the cakes are baking and cooling you can be preparing your lemon curd which will need 2 hours in the fridge to set BEFORE it goes onto the cake.

Lemon Curd
If using just as a filling, you can easily half this recipe.
4 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 tablespoon of finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, cut into pieces

 What you need:

In heatproof bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice, and salt. 
No zester? Well what kind of cook are you? Get yourself to the kitchen store and get one immediately. Nothing adds flavor to a dish like fresh zested citrus! 

Don't let those seeds get into your juice, lemon curd should be smooth and silky.

Add butter to bowl with lemon mixture and sit over (not in) a saucepan of simmering water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture has thickened to consistency of pudding, 12-15 minutes.

Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve into bowl. 

Place a piece of parchment or wax paper directly on the surface of the curd and refrigerate until completely cool, about 2 hours. (can keep in fridge for 2 days)

Lemon Frosting
**1/2 this recipe if using a different filling for cake center (such as the lemon curd)**

2 cups (4 sticks of butter) at room temperature
1 lb. (3 1/2 cups) of confectioners' sugar
2 Tablespoons of lemon zest 
pinch of salt

**for vanilla frosting instead of lemon, omit lemon zest and replace with 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract**

What you need:

Using electric mixer, beat the butter on high until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Reduce mixer speed and gradually add in sugar, then salt and lemon. Beat until smooth and creamy.

Now to assemble:

Put your bottom layer down with the rounded top of the cake down against the plate, thus leaving the top of your cake nice and even. Spoon on a layer of lemon curd and smooth almost to the edge.
Place just like this into the fridge for approx. 30 minutes to set the curd.
Put on your top cake layer and spread frosting ( I only used frosting on the very top of the cake and not around the edges because lemon curd was peeking out between the layers and looked wonderful as is.)

A fine cake indeed, BUT...this cake was made to be a birthday cake and therefore required a little something special.

Candied Lemon Slices
3/4 cup of water
3/4 cup of sugar
1 lemon

In small saucepan bring water and sugar to a boil until sugar dissolves, lower heat to a simmer.
Thinly slice lemon and place slices in simmering sugar mixture until tender and translucent, 5-7 minutes.
Drain and let cool on rack completely before placing on cake.

Place slices over spoon handles to add curve.