Friday, May 27, 2011

A Toast of Chocolate to Uncle Jim -- German Chocolate Cheesecake

It had been much longer than I cared to admit since I’d visited my Uncle Jim who’ll be 95 years old this year. He’s my uncle by marriage; he was married to my father’s only sister, my Aunt Mary, whose sensational cooking inspired me to want to be a good cook.

I was grateful when one of my sisters suggested a day trip to his nursing home in Pittsburgh, punctuated by lunch (Church Brew Works) and shopping (Trader Joe’s and McGinnis Sisters.) Grateful and just a little apprehensive.

Like many people, I suppose, I was afraid that he wouldn’t be as I’d remembered him. Of course he wouldn’t!!! Another niece who lives close by and who has been his primary family contact for the last ten years had prepared us for the fact that he was frail and confined to a wheelchair and losing his memory more but was still usually in good spirits.

All my fears were allayed when we found him in a TV room and after we finally approached him and I said, “Hey, Uncle Jim! It’s Rosie!” and gave him a kiss.

I could see in his pale eyes that he did indeed recognize me and he grinned with his typical little chuckle and said “Rosie, kiddo! How are you?” Anyone in their fifties loves to hear themselves called “kiddo.”

We caught him on a pretty good day. We could see that he wanted to be the same gracious man he’d always been. He apologized that he couldn’t stand up to greet his company. He wanted to participate in lively conversation, just as he always had. Well-read and opinionated, with a wry sense of humor, he loved conversation and was a great raconteur himself. But he was always interested in what you thought and what you had to say, too.

He tried to keep up with conversation, he tried to remember all the people and events in the pictures we shared, but became a little frustrated and would drift off and shake his head with a smile that so reminded me of what my mother did as she aged, too.

As I recounted to him how my husband still talks about the lovely evening the three of us once had when he took us out to dinner at his club and dawdled over too many Manhattans and ate the best turtle soup, his eyes sparkled with a little memory and he started breaking apart the Cadbury chocolate bar my sister had given him. He needed a little help and gestured that each of us should have a piece.  He then raised his piece in a toast gesture and we followed his lead and raised our pieces of chocolate,too,  a toast to the memories of family and to the connections that should never fade.

I’m sure that Uncle Jim would have liked this cake. Or at least he would have said so. He was the beneficiary of my aunt’s very best baking and cooking. And he always seemed to swoon over what she made. Her biggest fan. She probably wouldn’t have made this cake because it starts with a mix and she loved baking from scratch. But I didn’t get her baking genes, so this jazzed up cake mix that my sister-in-law Liz first made is something I can do. (This will be my birthday cake, won't it, Liz?)

For you, Uncle Jim.

German Chocolate Cheesecake
This really isn’t a cheesecake; it’s a cake with cheese, but delightfully chocolatey and rich all the same!
from Taste of Home, submitted by Kathy Johnson, Lake City, SD

1 package German chocolate cake mix
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
For frosting:
1 cup sugar
1 cup evaporated (not sweetened condensed) milk
½ cup butter, cubed
3 egg yolks, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup flaked coconut
1 cup chopped pecans

Prepare cake batter according to package directions. Set aside. In small mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs; beat at low speed until just combined.

Pour half of cake batter into a greased 9 x 13 x 2 pan. Gently pour cream cheese mixture over and smooth with spatula. Then gently spoon remaining cake batter on top and spread to the edge of the pan.

Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 70 to75 minutes, until toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on rack for at least one hour before frosting.
For Frosting:
Combine sugar, milk, butter and egg yolks in heavy saucepan. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and a thermometer reads 160 degrees. Stir in vanilla, coconut and pecans. Cool until frosting is spreadable.

Makes 16 servings

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chicken Tetrazzini -- Scaled Down

If the title of this post has led you to believe that this is a low calorie version of said tetrazzini, I apologize. It’s scaled down in size only, so that Mr. Rosemary and I wouldn’t completely gorge ourselves on one of our all-time favorite meals. As it was, I still had to freeze a couple portions, which will probably end up as the base for a frittata one night next week, as we’re scrambling to get ready for the annual walleye fishing trip to Ontario. (Or maybe that’s something I’ll look forward to after seven nights of cooking fish!)

The first time I made tetrazzini was years ago after one Thanksgiving, to use leftover turkey. Since then, I’ve looked forward to post-Thanksgiving meals more than the real deal, just for this casserole.  And although it is a great way to use leftover turkey, I find I like it better with chicken.  I have that around much more often.  This time, though, I used rotisserie chicken from the supermarket.  I like to mix both white and dark meat, too. I probably make this just a couple times a year, it’s that rich. But for some reason, it beckoned the other evening. Perfect to go with the roasted asparagus.

(I know it doesn’t look like asparagus in the picture. Your eyes are not deceiving you. That is indeed broccoli. The asparagus was completely consumed, the whole pound, by two people. That’s what roasting does to asparagus. Forces one to substitute another vegetable for blog picture taking the day after.)

Giada makes a great chicken tetrazzini dish, but this one is different from hers – she uses peas, no Swiss cheese, adds onions, cooks the mushrooms -- and for the life of me, I can’t recall exactly where I first got this recipe. I copied it onto an index card, gave no credit to its originator and keep it in a little box, where I keep all the old stand-bys. It’s actually one of like sixteen places where I store recipes. Organization and I have a love-hate relationship.

And I’ve tweaked the original recipe many times over, as my little notes and scratch outs and other hieroglyphics on the well-used card will attest, so maybe it’s morphed into my own after all. Actually, I don’t need the card anymore. I can make this blindfolded.

Did you know that tetrazzini is someone’s name? I didn’t. It’s the last name of Luisa Tetrazzini, a famous early twentieth century Italian opera singer. Apparently, the dish was created by a chef to honor her, a common practice back then. Like Eggs Benedict.  Tetrazzini has come to mean any cream sauce, cheesed-up or not, over chicken and pasta.
But enough rambling. Here’s the recipe. Tweaked and re-tweaked. Buon appetito.

Chicken Tetrazzini

½ pound angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup half-and-half
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon Marsala
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, or 3-4 scrapes of a fresh nutmeg
2 cups cooked chicken, or turkey, broken into bite size chunks
1 cup sliced mushrooms
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup seasoned, bread crumbs
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Start boiling water for the pasta. Cook pasta al dente – won’t take long – and drain. (It will keep okay in the colander until you mix it with everything else.) Melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Blend in the flour. Add the broth and the half-and-half, increase the heat and cook stirring constantly until thickened. Lower heat.  Add the cheese and stir until melted. Add the nutmeg and the sherry and blend. Remove from heat. Add the cooked pasta, chicken and mushrooms. Fold together until well mixed and then turn into a casserole that’s been buttered or sprayed with vegetable spray. Mix together the Parmesan and bread crumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle over the casserole top. Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes. Makes about six generous servings.

A little post script:  The gorgeous red plate was part of my Mother's Day goodies from Amy. There's more to come!  Thanks, honey!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kumato and Chevre Pie and Trader Joe’s

My bags were bulging with delectable goodies after my first in-person trip to Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks ago. I got quinoa, wasabi peas (love’ em!), kumatos, avocados, teeny, tiny new potatoes, mascarpone, fresh herbs, several cheeses, flavored vinegars, fish sauce:  you get the idea. I had a ball! If I would have brought freezer packs, I would have bought some of the fish --oh, the scallops! -- and the meat  --lamb! -- I was drooling over. But I was still a couple hours away from home and a little wary of what traveling might do to my precious cargo.
I love my life in the country and I can pretty much get all the things I really want to cook with, if I plan ahead, if I rely on friends and family to get some things for me, if I order stuff via the internet sometimes. (Pretty big ifs.) I have to admit even to myself that I have collected a pretty odd variety of pantry fare that gives Mr. Rosemary an opportunity to pretend he’s a comedian just rummaging through sometimes.

But that kind of shopping doesn’t satisfy my desire to do some cooking spontaneously. And every once in a while, there ain’t nothing like the real thing!  Like picking up a magazine as opposed to just reading the on-line version.  Seeing, touching, smelling. So inspiring! I felt just a little bit like a wide-eyed country bumpkin and I got a few sidelong glances as I’d pick something up and go, “Wow!”

I loved my trip to Trader Joe’s because of the variety and the value. Nothing seemed outrageously priced, even to the frugal me.

But now I had to do something with all the stuff I bought without a plan!

The kumatos ($1 for a box of eight!) were pretty ripe and had to be used first. A tomato pie has always been on my “wannamake” list and after looking around a bit, I was inspired a tomato and cheese tart from The Meaning of Pie. Kelly’s tart was elegant looking, with homemade pastry using lard. My pie (sans tart pan) was more rustic looking and lacked the pretty touch and sensuous taste of basil. (At the store I told myself that was one thing I could get at home often enough, and anyhow, I’d be growing it soon.) But it sure tasted good and was head and shoulders above what I imagined some of the other mayo-ed recipes I’d looked at would be.

So here’s my “Kumato and Chevre Pie.” (I’m calling it chevre instead of just goat cheese, so maybe my mother-in-law won’t wince at the word. I doubt she’ll cozy up to the quinoa.) Shame on me for not making my own pastry, but I still had some dough in the freezer, so this is a Sandra Lee version.

Kumato and Chevre Pie
Inspired by The Meaning of Pie

One sheet of refrigerated pie crust
6 ounces of goat cheese
3 to 4 kumatos (or use tomatoes)
extra virgin olive oil
salt and cracked black pepper
fresh basil leaves, if you are lucky

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the tomatoes, core them if needed, and lay them out on paper towels. Lay paper towels on top of them and press down very gently. Leave the tomatoes this way for a few minutes. The paper towels will absorb a lot of moisture and seeds.

Place the pastry in a pie pan and finish edges as you like.

Take the goat cheese and crumble it into the bottom of the tart pan. Place the tomatoes on top of the goat cheese in a slightly overlapping pattern. Lightly drizzle olive oil on top of the tomatoes, and season them with sea salt or kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper.

Bake until the edges of the pie are golden, about 45 minutes. Place on a wire rack and allow it to cool a bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spiced Nuts and the Road Not Taken

I was supposed to be making these spiced nuts to take on a trip this weekend, but I’m going empty handed. Seems I have a horrible tendency to underestimate the amount of stuff I can get done in a given amount of time. Am I stuck in this rut? Is it too late to change my ways? Why do I try to cram too much into a day (or week, or month, even years)?

Thoughts to ponder as I do not munch on nuts during the five hour car ride (ten both ways, of course.)

Renae got me turned onto spiced nuts at Christmas time when she shared a sampling of three different ways she’d spiced the nuts. I was planning to make the rosemary-ornage version for this trip. And when we visited Renae, Dan and Emma a couple weeks ago, a tray of spiced nuts had just come out of the oven. Heavenly aromas! And irresistible to taste, even (especially?) warm.

This recipe, though, comes from The Teacher Cooks, who was inspired by Shutterbean.

Spicy Maple Glazed Walnuts
from Shutterbean and The Teacher Cooks

Makes 2 cups

1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 cups walnuts

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, black pepper, cayenne, ginger and cinnamon with the maple syrup.

In a large nonstick skillet, toast the walnuts over medium-high heat, stirring or shaking the pan constantly, until they are hot, about 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn. Immediately add the nuts to the maple syrup and toss to coat. Stir in the spice mixture until the nuts are evenly coated. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Let cool completely before serving about 20 minutes.