Thursday, December 25, 2014

Birthday cookies from grandma's recipe box

More than 20 years ago, I inherited a recipe box that documented a life’s work in a tidy Ohio kitchen. It belonged to Tim’s grandmother, Luella Fugate, who passed away just after Christmas 1991, about two week’s shy of Graham’s first birthday. We spent an unforgettable night in her apartment on that visit, Graham snoozing in her arms while we all told stories and ate cookies. 

Her recipe collection is a treasure. It’s a basic wooden box with rich grain marks, tongue-in-groove corners and an inside label that looks like a train car and reads Swift Service (SLR18552). Most of the cards show her familiar looping handwriting and scant directions, relics of an era where precise details were not needed as all housewives knew their way around a kitchen. There are a few typed recipes, perhaps from revolutionary friends, newspaper clippings from Heloise and cut-outs from packages, such as the Jell-O chocolate chip pudding cookies.

While most recipes are filed alphabetically, there is a special tab for cookies. Among its time-honored contents are cookies she would bake every year for Christmas. Since Tim was born on Christmas Eve, that means they were ever present in his birthday memories.

I dropped the box several years after receiving it and was horrified to see its contents tumble from once carefully filed sections. I never had the nerve to see how badly I messed up years of careful collection.

This year, Tim took good advantage of house rules to pick whatever sort of cake or pie you want for your birthday. He wanted his grandmother’s cookies – notably, the ones I knew as Bevington Orange Cookies, a sweet and tender carryover from her own childhood.

Lucky for me, the cookies Tim most craved were still tucked into the very front of the box, as if ready for her hands to draw them out and set on the counter. Though her handwriting has faded to the point that I had to call my mother-in-law for interpretation – and I substituted her beloved “Crisco or oleo” for unsalted butter – the results were unmistakably sound.

“My grandmother’s cookies!” Tim exclaimed upon seeing the familiar orange cookies dripping zest-filled icing from cooling racks. The flavors took me back to the card table in her apartment, where coffee tins repurposed as cookie containers would appear as faithfully as angel's wings upon the ringing of bells.

I had intended to make pecan tassies, too. These tiny, two-bite pecan pies were my own favorite, but I didn’t quite get to them in time. It’s even more proof to me that she was a tireless and exceptional baker to make so many varieties of cookies to delight her family year after year.

Orange Cookies
Makes about 30 cookies

1 cup unsalted butter at room temperture
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup whole buttermilk, such as Mapleview Dairy
4 cups flour
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

1 large orange, zested and juiced
16 ounces powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream soft butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg at a time, blending well.

Measure flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl; stir to combine. Add to creamed mixture and combine by stirring with a spatula. Batter will be fairly soft.

Using a small cookie scoop, drop onto parchment lined baking sheets about two inches apart. Bake for 12-14 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges.

While cookies are baking, pour powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Zest the orange over the bowl, then add its juice. Whisk until icing is smooth.

When cookies are done, transfer to cooking racks; place parchment or wax paper under the racks. Spread about a teaspoon of icing over each cookie while still warm. Dripped icing can be scooped up and added back to the bowl, if needed.

Cool completely. If not serving right away, pack in airtight containers between layers of wax paper.

Date Swirls
Make about 4 dozen

8 ounces dried dates
¼ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 tbsp. Cointreau (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp. lemon extract
½ cup sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups cake flour

Pour sugar over dates and chop well. Transfer to small sauce pan. Add ½ cup water and simmer about 7 minutes, or until water is absorbed and mixture is jammy. Remove from heat. Stir in Cointreau, if using. Cool completely.

Cream butter; add salt, baking soda and lemon extract and blend well. Add egg and mix well to combine.

Stir in flour. It’s easier to bring together with your hands toward then end. Pat into a rectangle. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut dough into two rectangles. Roll lightly on floured surface until about 6x8 inches. Transfer to parchment paper and continue rolling until about 8x10 inches. Spread or crumble about half of the date-nut mixture over the dough, leaving about an inch of bare dough along one wide end. 

Using the parchment paper, roll dough over from the opposite wide end, covering the filling. Continue to roll dough, using parchment paper to tuck and keep the roll tight. Roll finished dough log in the paper, tucking in short ends, and return to the refrigerator for at least two hours. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Unroll cookie log from paper and evenly cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet about one inch apart and bake about 8 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer to cookie racks to cool.

Cool completely. If not serving right away, pack in airtight containers between layers of wax paper.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Debbie Moose celebrates tasty traditions in ‘Southern Holidays’

Debbie Moose, author of 'Southern Holidays,' a new volume in the Savor the South series from the University of North Carolina Press, will be the guest speaker at the 7pm Wednesday meeting of Culinary Historians of Piedmont North Carolina (CHOPNC) at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill. The gathering also will be a holiday potluck, so feel free to bring your favorite seasonal snack.

Debbie Moose remembers leaving a plate of cookies for Santa at her childhood home in Winston-Salem. Since her mother wasn’t much of a cook, they were usually store bought and set out with a tall glass of milk.

“My dad would hover around the corner say, ‘I’d rather have bourbon,’” quips Moose, author of the new Southern Holidays cookbook from UNC Press.  

One year, her mother surprised them both by announcing she would bake wafer-thin Moravian cookies from a recipe she’d seen in the newspaper.

“My mother dragged a rolling pin out of the back of a cabinet somewhere. I didn’t know she had one,” Moose says dryly. “Those are not easy cookies. The more you work with the dough, the worse it gets. My mother said things. It’s the one and only time I saw her make cookies.”

Moose does not include a recipe for Moravian cookies in Southern Holidays, but she does acknowledge her Triad community’s impact on her holiday thinking with a classic Moravian sugar cake. As challenging as the cookies are for a novice baker, the cakes are a breeze; plus one batch yields three cakes.

“Mine is a little different. I wanted it to be thicker and more cakelike, and I use a ton more cinnamon,” says Moose, who has several tucked in her freezer to share with neighbors and take to parties. “It’s great for if you get invited somewhere at the last minute.”

Moose covers a full-year range of traditional religious observances and all-American July 4th, as well as such distinctly Southern occasions as Mardi Gras (brandy milk punch and coconut king cake), the Texas emancipation celebration of Juneteenth (smoky red rice) and – perhaps her favorite – March Madness.

Debbie Moose
“Elaine Maisner, my editor, agreed with me. We were of sisterly mind on that,” says Moose, who welcomes likeminded friends with Smokin’ Mary cocktails for round-ball parties at the Raleigh home she shares with her husband, whose own childhood inspired some of the Jewish recipes in the book. Moose’s Chipotle Brisket is standard Hanukkah fare; her kicked-up Cajun matzo balls will make their annual appearance during Passover.

“It’s a small book, so really it’s just a snapshot of how we celebrate in the South,” explains Moose, who also wrote Buttermilk. “There are so many food festivals, and a lot of them are in the summer. I tried to pick ones that reflect cultural and historical things, like the Blessing of the Fleet. Any coastal community has a blessing of the fleet celebration when the fishing season starts. I chose to focus on the Gulf Coast because so many of the fishermen are Vietnamese.”

Tucked into the spring chapter, the section includes Vietnamese spring rolls and a seafood gumbo with oysters, crabmeat and shrimp. Other featured festivals leave a reader pining for peaches, Greek chicken from Raleigh’s Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and creamy cheese blintzes from Savannah’s Shalom Y’All food fest.

This week, Moose will be turning her attention to Hanukkah, which begins at sunset on Tuesday. In part, the holiday commemorates the occasion where a single day’s supply of oil miraculously burned for eight nights.

“It’s a lot of fried stuff. Who doesn’t like that?” Moose says. “I have a recipe for sweet potato latkes, which I really love. I kept trying to make them grease-free until my husband point out that the oil is what it’s all about.”

Moravian Sugar Cake
Reprinted with permission of UNC Press from 'Southern Holidays,' a Savor the South Cookbook by Debbie Moose.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has a Moravian community that goes back to the 1700s, when members of the church founded Old Salem. Moravian breads, which come from the German baking tradition, are wonderful, and this sweet yeasted coffee cake was a holiday favorite of mine growing up.  Today, I follow the lead of my neighbor, Cathy Hedburg, who bakes and freezes sugar cakes in disposable foil pans for Christmas gifts. They’re great for breakfast on Christmas Day.

Makes 3 sugar cakes

For the cake
2 (¼-ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup plain, unseasoned mashed potatoes (see NOTE below)
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
3½ to 4 cups flour

For the topping
¾ cup brown sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter three 9-inch cake pans.

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in ½ cup warm water. Set aside until it foams, about 10 minutes.

In the bowl of the stand mixer, combine the mashed potatoes, 1 cup hot tap water, and the butter, shortening, sugar and salt. Mix on low until the ingredients look like watery scrambled eggs. Stir in the eggs and dissolved yeast. Gradually stir in the flour until the dough resembles heavy but not too dry muffin batter. Cover bowl with a lint-free tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1½ hours.

Punch down the dough, then divide it evenly among the three prepared pans. Cover the pans with your trusty tea towel and let the dough in each pan rise in a warm place until it reaches the top of the pan, about 30 minutes.

Prepare the topping by stirring the brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter until combined.

Use your thumb to make indentations all over the top of the dough in each pan, about 1 inch apart. Push all the way down to the bottom of the pan. Drizzle the topping evenly over the three cakes.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or longer until light brown. Serve warm or cool completely, place in airtight plastic freezer bags, and freeze.

NOTE: If using leftover mashed potatoes, be sure they contain no butter, milk or salt. You can use instant mashed potatoes, but be sure to buy the unseasoned variety.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Let's Lunch: Green bean casserole revisted

I’ve always been a sucker for a traditional green bean casserole. I don’t care if the sauce is made from condensed mushroom soup or if the tin of fried onions is so shelf stable that it can be sold three years from now. It’s one of the flavors of the holidays.

It just wasn’t the flavor at our house. My mother faithfully made a green bean casserole for special occasions, but it looked nothing like the one I saw wholesome families dig into on TV this time of year. You know, the ones where the hostess doesn’t mind that three guests each brought one, 'cause gosh darn it, who can resist?

I’m not sure if my mother’s version was influenced by the many Italian families in my New Jersey neighborhood or if was a nouveau inspiration from one of the ladies magazine to which she subscribed. Regardless, our green beans swam in a hearty jar of spaghetti sauce along with shredded mozzarella cheese. The cheese to sauce ratio was so high that a spoonful could practically stretch across the table.

It’s a dish I never make but one that seemed perfect for today’s Let’s Lunch theme is non-traditional holiday foods. I upscaled it slightly, using fresh green beans instead of frozen ones, a large can of chopped tomatoes and a ball of fresh mozzarella cut into little cubes. It was pronounced delicious at dinner last night, but it lacked the gooey charm of the original. I’m including the cup of fresh ricotta that I’dd add next time.

Green Bean Casserole
2 lbs. fresh green beans, stemmed
1 28-ounced jar diced Italian tomatoes
½ jar Marinara sauce
1 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella, diced and divided
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a 9x12-inch casserole dish with vegetable oil spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add canned tomatoes (with juice) and Marinara sauce; stir to combine. Mix in half of the mozzarella cubes and the ricotta. Pour mixture into casserole dish, the sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for about 10 minutes, until cheese is melted. If desired, finish with a quick broil to brown the cheese. Serve with napkins.

NOTE: Let’s Lunch (#LetsLunch) is a Twitter-based virtual lunch club where anyone interested can join this monthly "lunch date." A topic is posted at least a month in advance, and all posts are made on the same day by a group of bloggers who range from amateurs to best-selling cookbook writers. Anyone can join at any time. Search for #LetsLunch on Twitter or Let's Lunch on Facebook.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tupelo Honey Café opens Raleigh outpost at Cameron Village

Once the dreamed-about destination of Triangle vacationers in Asheville, Tupelo Honey Café has opened a handsome new outpost in Raleigh's expanding Cameron Village.

The eighth and—at 180 seats, including an outdoor patio with fire pit—second-largest operation in the Tupelo chain served dozens of invited guests from an abbreviated menu during a soft opening Saturday night that continued on Sunday. It officially opened Monday afternoon.

The Carolina Peach Mai Tai and Tuna with Edamame
Pine Nut Salad (Indy Week photos by Justin Cook)

Executive Chef Brian Sonoskus was spotted helping recently promoted Chef Tim Bess manage the new open kitchen, where at least 10 cooks could be seen busily prepping meals. Many of Tupelo's crowd-pleasing standards were available during the event—notably, grits creamed with goat cheese and the brunch- or dessert-friendly (and plate-filling) sweet potato pancake.

Our cheerful waitress implied that some tables had different menus, suggesting they were trying to pace orders and not overwhelm the kitchen. Among the new dishes featured on our version was the New York Strip with Red Wine Bordelaise; the online menu also boasts Mountain Trout with Marinated Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, a Grilled Pork Chop with Braised Figs, and Atlantic Salmon with Orange-Cranberry and Spiced-Pecan Quinoa.

"We never thought we'd have quinoa on the menu, but there it is," says Elizabeth Sims, marketing manager and co-author of two Tupelo Honey cookbooks, who was in from Asheville. "We're a Southern-flavored restaurant, but like the rest of the South, we've become a global South. There are many influences creeping in and making it interesting."

The bar features many of the new elements, including a selection of California's Stone Brewing Co. beers. None were poured during the event, but the house Tupelo Honey Rye Ale was appealing. The bar will feature 22 taps, with several dispensing local brews, as well as locally distilled spirits. A new cocktail is the Big Red Wolf, a Bloody Mary that nods to neighboring N.C. State. Finished with Raleigh Brewing Company's Hidden Pipe Porter, bacon salt, pickled okra, pimento-stuffed olives and maple pepper bacon, it's practically a meal in a glass.

Those craving an alcohol-free beverage should try the refreshing Sparkling Blueberry Punch. It's a complement to the luscious blueberry compote offered with warm biscuits, along with a jar of namesake honey.

While Tupelo Honey Café uses some locally sourced ingredients, it isn't a strict adherent of the the farm-to-fork scene—which is fine with fans who appreciate access to hearty, homestyle favorites regardless of season.

We started with Appalachian Egg Rolls, a recommended appetizer that cleverly tucks savory pulled pork, braised greens, pickled onion and carrots into a crispy shell. The Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca covers a chicken breast with melted Havarti cheese topped with a generous sprinkle of country ham. It's served with tender-crisp fresh asparagus and mushroom Marsala gravy. Exercise afterward is not advised.

The Smoked Jalapeño Fried Egg BLT missed the mark. While the slab bacon was substantial, there was no discernible whiff of smoked jalapeño and the fried egg was overdone. The discs of home fries were slick and a side of Cheesy Mashed Cauliflower, which usually elicits sighs of satisfaction, was underdone.

All of this must be taken with a grain of salt, as it were, given that the purpose of soft openings is to work out any kinks that might trouble paying customers. With the exception of optional bar tabs, all guests dined free.

While parking may remain a challenge, Tupelo Honey's premiere location will make it a particular favorite of the college crowd and residents of new condos above it and across the street. Patrons will appreciate the special touches that make the Raleigh space unique, including Raleigh artist Matt McConnell's playful honeycomb chandelier with drippy globs of glass honey that hangs above the hostess station. A painting by Amy C. Evans, former oral historian at the Southern Foodways Alliance, celebrates our passion for pork.

Managers stopped by to make sure diners were content—a hostess saw me sneeze and discreetly offered a stack of soft cocktail napkins—and the wait staff was hustling. Our server embodied the country charm that typifies the Tupelo Honey experience. When she asked if I enjoyed the blueberry punch, I replied that it was perfect. "Innit?" she replied happily.

This article first appeared in Indy Week with the headline "Bringing the mountains home."

Celebrating pisco, the national drink of Peru

Pisco Sour
(Indy Week photos by Justin Cook)
John Anton is counting on you feeling a bit sluggish after celebrating Thanksgiving, one of America's richest culinary traditions. His remedy is pisco, a potent palate cleanser from Peru.

Pisco ("peesco") will be the starring ingredient of a special dinner Sunday (Nov. 30) night at Mandolin restaurant in North Raleigh. Anton, the wine and beverage director, and chef-owner Sean Fowler are collaborating on a four-course meal that will feature Peruvian dishes and paired cocktails, including the classic Pisco Sour.

All beverages will be made with Campo de Encanto Pisco, a premiere label whose product is first fermented into wine and then distilled into a clear brandy. The company's president, Walter Moore, who grew up on the Outer Banks and is a graduate of Duke University, is scheduled to attend.

With Moore's support, Anton has become something of a pisco expert in the two years since he first tasted the white spirit. He's traveled to Peru twice, most recently in September, at Moore's invitation.

"It was an absolute crash course," Anton says of his first trip. "It was a lot of fun, but it also was a lot of work—with copious amounts of pisco consumption thrown in."

Campo de Encanto (Land of Enchantment) brand pisco is made in the Ica Valley of Peru, a bumpy six-hour bus ride from the capital city of Lima. Anton won the chance to learn the ropes there through a cocktail contest, where he was one of eight national winners—and the only representative from the entire East Coast. The following trip in September resulted from an impromptu invitation from Moore, who was impressed by Anton's work ethic and passion.

"The thing I really love about pisco is its sense of place," Anton says. "It's like drinking fine wine and understanding where it comes from, even if you're never been there. I felt that way immediately about pisco, and I feel it even more deeply now that I've experienced the process of blending and distilling it in Peru."

Campo de Encanto is almost entirely handmade using sustainably rustic techniques. Not a drop of water or sugar is added and the product is distilled only once to retain its essential flavors.

The process is not far removed from the method of local villagers who started making it in the 1600s, including stomping sticky grapes with their feet. Pisco's popularity, Anton explains, was rooted in political oppression. Ruling Spaniards taxed local wines to increase consumption of their imported casks. Industrious farm hands discovered they could distill wine and create something that not only skirted the tax but was more potent and appealing.

"It became the drink of a nation," Anton says. "Once you try it, you'll understand why."

Pisco is sometimes confused with grappa, a distillate made from salvaged byproduct of the winemaking process. Compared to pisco's lightly floral note imparted by whole moscatel grapes, grappa can be a bit biting. "It tastes like paint thinner," Anton says dismissively. "It's purely a digestif; not something you'd want to sip."

At around $40 a bottle, Campo de Encanto's top-shelf Grand & Noble is a costly bar pour. Fine pisco is well enjoyed straight, at room temperature, or chilled without ice. Anton believes its clean flavor makes it an ideal cocktail component, such as his winning Mandolin Winter Pisco Punch. Made with pineapple juice, rosemary and a syrup of vanilla beans and charred jalapeños, it is a popular choice among Mandolin regulars.

"Pisco is extremely versatile. You won't make a Pisco Martini, per se, but you could make a Pisco Vesper," Anton says, substituting pisco for gin or vodka in the cocktail spiked with lillet, a type of dry vermouth famously favored by James Bond. "If I didn't firmly believe it was going to be one of the next great white spirits, I wouldn't put this kind of time in it."

The Pisco Sour is unquestionably the king of pisco cocktails. While its origins are contested among Latin Americans, especially Peruvians and Chileans, it is generally credited to an American bartender, Victor Vaughen Morris. Morris owned a bar in Lima in the 1920s that catered to upper-class Peruvians and English-speaking foreigners.

Anton says the drink is a "point of honor among bartenders in Lima," where it is celebrated as a national holiday the first Saturday in February. "It is," Anton adds, "one of life's great treats."

See step-by-step photo
instructions online at Indy Week.
Pisco Sour by John Anton, Mandolin
2 oz. Campo de Encanto Grand & Noble Pisco
1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 egg white at room temerature (roughly 1 oz.)
Angostura Bitters

  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for roughly 10 seconds (dry shake).
  • Add a small amount of ice to mixture and 5) shake again for roughly 2-3 seconds (wet shake).
  • Double strain mixture into a rocks glass (no ice!).
  • Pour two drops of Angostura Bitters into the bottle lid, then carefully pour into the center of the drink.

This post first appeared in Indy Week