Monday, September 17, 2012

From Those Who Know

You may or may not know this, but I have a problem with cookbooks.  Collecting  cookbooks, to be more precise.   There are some of you out there who may be afflicted with the same malady.  It used to be worse...much worse.  Dozens and dozens of them taking up space on the bookshelf.  I would buy them willy nilly because one recipe, maybe two, caught my attention.  They languished on those shelves, rarely being used.  Every once in a while I'd halfheartedly weed through the collection and put a couple in the Goodwill box, but invariably replace it with at least one more...and the cycle continued.

A couple of years ago, I was brutal in cleaning up the collection, keeping only those that I thought I would really use.  On occasion, I did come home with another cookbook, but I made sure that it would be a book that would be consulted over and over again.  Then the vintage collection began.  I can probably pinpoint that fateful moment to a weekend trip to Palm Springs about 5 years ago.  It was an old paperback from the 1950's in really poor condition, but I loved the graphics, and for less than a dollar, how could I leave it?  A year or so ago, I had the notion to make notecards with recipes from old cookbooks.  That justified the purchase of more cookbooks...more raw materials needed.  After I brought the books home, I realized that I loved looking through them...for the pictures, for the copy, for the sheer enjoyment of recipes that you don't see today.

Where it all began.

I starting wondering about how well those recipes would hold up today.  I was thinking about how great it would be to find a book of tried and true recipes.  Then it hit know those cookbooks that are put out by churches, women's groups or schools for fundraising?  Spiral-bound, Times Courier font, no-frills books full of recipes handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter, passed from neighbor to neighbor with all the kinks worked out over the years.  So...guess what I did.  I bought myself a few.  A lovely little lot of five.  I've perused them over and over again since I received them last week.  I love seeing each recipe credited with its contributor.  I love seeing the occasional mention of 'oleo' in the ingredients list and the sage advice in the directions:  'Allow plenty of time for this.'  Know what?  I can see myself making a lot of the recipes in these books.  It took me no time to try the first one.  A recipe for bread that seemed so easy, I had to make it.  I was not disappointed in the outcome.  It was easy and delicious and no doubt will be in rotation regularly.

So...I want to say 'thank you' to the Dinwiddie County Junior Women's Club for gathering their winning recipes together, and especially to Ann H. Jarvis for her English Muffin Loaf.  This is fabulous right out of the oven, slathered with butter, but I actually think I liked it better the next day.  You can slice this really thin.  Think about it for a cocktail party...use it as you would cocktail rye bread.  I also topped it with a spread of cream cheese, feta, and roasted red pepper.  This is a keeper.

Next time you find yourself at a yard sale or flea market, don't turn your nose up at these books.  They may not have the splashy color photos or be written by the latest Food Network star, but I'll bet you'll use it over and over, because, well...they know.

English Muffin Loaf
Courtesy of Ann H. Jarvis
Makes two loaves

6 cups unsifted flour
2 pkg dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
corn meal

Combine 3 cups flour, undissolved yeast, sugar, salt and baking soda.  Heat milk and water until very warm (120-130 degrees).  Add to dry ingredients and beat well.  Stir in remaining 3 cups flour to make a stiff batter.  Spoon into two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inch loaf pans that have been greased and sprinkled with corn meal.  Sprinkle tops with corn meal.  Cover; let rise in a warm place, free from draft, 45 minutes.  Bake 25 minutes at 400 degrees.  Remove form pans; cool.  Slice and toast.  Freezes well.  

The Source

The Result

A Sampling of 'The Collection'

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Holding onto Summer

You know as well as I do that when Labor Day hits on the first Monday in September, there's a shift in the season.  Despite the fact that the first day of Autumn isn't until September 22, you invariably start packing up the vestiges of Summer.  If you have kids, they go back to school and you begin to pack up the fun.    The days feel less carefree and dusk begins to arrive a few minutes earlier every evening.

But look outside...the weather isn't giving up it's heat, humidity, or beating sun just yet. September can be notoriously hot.  So, while part of you may be thinking about apple pies, hot chocolate on a chilly fall evening, or a whiskey to warm you up on a rainy Saturday afternoon, there's another part of you that doesn't want to let go of the bright, cool tastes of Summer.

The past three weeks of 90+ degree weather here in Los Angeles has made me want to put as little effort as possible into cooking.  I've baked way less than I have in months, and I am happily still in an eating rut of sandwiches where the closest thing to cooked is toasted bread and salads multiple times a day is okay by me.  The fruit bowl on the dining table has been overflowing this Summer:  plums, peaches, nectarines, berries, and melons have abounded.  I've been perfectly content standing over the kitchen sink, biting into a ripe peach, trying to keep the juices away from my shirt.  I'll think about making something more substantial, and find myself grabbing a plum and calling it a meal.

I was able to pick up cantaloupe a few days ago for practically pennies.  I think they were three for a dollar.  Since I can't resist an excellent price, I bought them.  I can easily eat half a melon sprinkled with a little sea salt and be a happy camper, but with three melons in the fridge, I knew I'd have to do something else with them.  After making July's cucumber soup, sometime over the past month I came across a recipe on Pinterest for a chilled cantaloupe soup.

Obviously, it took a few days to get the motivation up to make it.  I cut up the cantaloupe a couple of days ago with every intention of making it within hours...but as I mentioned before...this heat.  It makes me lazy.  It makes me wish I could just lounge by the pool drinking sangria.  (I don't have a pool, but I did have sangria.)

Well...I finally made it.  It was worth the wait.

Cantaloupe Soup
(Adapted from a recipe on
Makes 4-5 cups

2 medium cantaloupe melons, cut up (about 6 cups)
1/4 cup almond milk
Juice of one lemon
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lime
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced
2 tablespoon jalapeno 
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a blender, add half the cantaloupe and all ingredients except the sour cream and feta.  Blend until pureed and continually add the remaining cantaloupe.  Blend until  no chunks remain.  In a small bowl, mix feta and sour cream  until the consistency of cake frosting. 

Pour soup into bowls and top with a dollop of the feta cream.  You can also serve it as an appetizer in shot glasses (or any small glass).