Saturday, July 30, 2011

Preserving and Sharing Family Recipes PDF from Family Tree Magazine

I thought I would pass along an offer I received in my email today.  Family Tree Magazine has a sale going on for some research guides that cover all kinds of genealogical research.  One of the PDFs  by Karen Edwards is the Step-by-Step Guide: Preserving and Sharing Family Recipes. You can order it for  $4.00 and it's downloaded to your computer. 

While I haven't talked about recipe cards on this blog, obviously they are an important family heirloom. Consider taking some time to preserve them and share them with others so that your family food traditions can be passed down.

There is also one other cooking related PDF on this flyer, which is History Matters: Utensils.

**Disclosure: I am writing a book for F + W Media which publishes Family Tree Magazine.  I have purchased many F + W Media products over the years.  No one asked me to post this article.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Food Friday: You Say Stuffing, I Say Dressing

Today's Food Friday is unseasonal but it shows an aspect of community cookbooks that can be important to genealogists.  Some cookbook, allow contributors to write a line or two about the origin of the recipe they are submitting. Such is the case with today's post from the Corpus Christi: 50 Years in the Baking church cookbook.

Unfortunately, I can't tell you too much about this cookbook. There is no publish date, though my guess is it's within the last 10-20 years.  They mention Pacific Palisades in the introduction, so it appears to be from a parish in Pacific Palisades, California. This volume has lots of images, and places where contributors have talked about the recipe and where the recipe has been served, influences, etc.

Which brings us to today's recipe for Grandma Hannah's Thanksgiving Dressing by Carolyn Highberger whose recipe came via her mom who stood by her grandmother to record the recipe.

Not all community cookbooks follow the formula of only having a name with a recipe. While even that little information provides us with rich information, there are community cookbooks that include much more.

Team Pork Rides Again

Having made delicious celeriac skordalia to accompany the ass-kicking steak, I naturally wanted to eat more of it. Team Pork worked so well the last time I thought I'd give them another shot. Called them up to the big show. Sent a bus ticket. Made a phone call. Talked their folks into letting them skip college.

I cut nice big slabs of bacon and browned them in a skillet. Poached the sausage to firm it up prior to slicing and browning so the pieces would hold their shape. Worked fantastically, I'm a goddamn genius. I diced a small apple and half an onion and cooked them along with the team. I also cooked a couple of tomatoes in the skillet to serve as a garnish, and they browned nicely in the rendered fat.

I started the plates with a base of celeriac puree, added Team Pork, the tomatoes and some fat leaves of basil and mint from the alley. The alley has been kicking ass lately. Italian basil is producing leaves as big as a shoe and both Thai basil and mint plants are going buck wild. The pepper plants are healthy and heavy with budding peppers, but we won't have any to harvest for a few weeks yet.

The plate was coming together but looked a little under-dressed, so I made an aoli to spiff it up a little. I pureed a clove of garlic with the microplane and emulsified it with an egg yolk, some sesame oil, freshly grated horseradish, rice vinegar, Siracha, salt and pepper. It came out a nice subtle orange color, and when I drizzled it on the plate with some olive oil, the colors made the whole plate look better. The garlic in the celeriac skordalia was still pretty strong, but the peppery spice in the aoili made a nice contrast.

The Electrons made the playoffs again, and unless the league starts testing for alcohol before games we're probably looking at the makings of a dynasty. This summer is developing a nice head of steam for both the Electrons and Team Pork.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fuck it, I'm Fixing a Steak

On my last trip to Paulina Market I spotted some beautifully marbled strip steaks and instantly nabbed them. There were six of the little beauties and I got four just in time, as one of the butchers then emerged from the back and set the other two aside, I'll assume for himself but maybe a favorite client. These steaks were fantastic looking. Three inches thick, ruby red meat capped with sturdy ivory (not yellow) fat, and veins of it running through the meat like a great Nile delta of flavor. This is what I talk about when I talk about steak. I had the butcher wrap two of the steaks separately so I could freeze them, intending to deal with the other two as soon as I got home.

Most of the red meat I've eaten recently has been grilled by Tim Mydhiett in his back yard. He masters a beautiful ceramic egg barbecue oven and tends to rub things on his meat* before sticking it in there*. Lately he has been using a rub of finely-ground espresso, salt, pepper and sumac, and it has been exceptional every time I've had it. I generally dry age beef a few weeks in the fridge before cooking it, but the rub is a pretty good approach for meat being cooked without aging. I wondered if I could incorporate some of the flavors of the rub into the aging process to make the meat even more flavorful, so I set up a little experiment. I intended to cook two steaks, one rubbed and grilled immediately and one rubbed and aged prior to cooking. I made the rub of espresso, salt, black pepper, cinnamon, mustard powder, turmeric, chile de arbol and cardamom seeds ground together in a mortar and pestle, and coated the steaks with it. I didn't have any sumac so I used the other spices for a whiff of the exotic. Yma Sumac was a Nice Jewish girl from the Bronx named Amy Camus anyway.**

As fortune would have it, the Myddiette-Hunter household was planning a dinner of grilled meats and ice cream, so I had an opportunity to try my rub a-la-minute. I say they were planning, but really I called and suggested they make such plans. Sue me.

The grilled steak was excellent, and proved the merit of grabbing good meat the moment you spot it.* Cinnamon by itself doesn't play particularly well on beef, bringing to mind the watery horror that is Cincinnati chili, but when made into a kind of masala with hot pepper and other strong flavors it does wonders. Tim has been working on his ice cream chops and fuck me he makes some delicious shit. He made a pearl green mint-basil-pepper ice cream and a ruby red sorbet of raspberry, cherry and lime juice with some way back mint that both blew my mind. Complex and satisfying, they made me lust after one of those countertop freezers and Tim's ninja skills.

So the first part of the experiment was a rousing success. Meat cooked over fire is delicious, even if you put coffee on it. After sleeping off the effects of the meal I settled into a normal life while the other steak rested and matured in the fridge. When aging beef in this manner there are a couple of things to be aware of. You need to keep the meat elevated so air can get all around it or you risk anaerobic activity and potentially lethal poisoning of yourself and guests. I do this by arranging a couple of skewers or chopsticks on a plate in a grid pattern to make a little rick, and resting the steak on top of it. You need to rotate the steaks a couple of times a month so the juices redistribute and you don't end up with rawhide leather on one end and mush on the other. You need a kitchen towel or something under the meat to absorb the condensation and sweat runoff, and you need to change it frequently or your fridge will smell like a corpse. It will smell like a corpse anyway, I just put that in there so when your fridge smells like a corpse you won't freak out, you'll just change the towel and let the steak do its thing. One of the things it does is smell like a corpse.

Time passed, I learned some things about myself and other people and had a couple laughs. I got a haircut, then a trim of the same haircut and finally a trim of the trimmed haircut. I noticed my eyebrows are still pretty bushy, but have a lot more grey in them than I remembered. I wondered if men go bald in their eyebrows like they do on their heads. There's basically no baldness in my family line. My father, his father and my maternal grandfather all went to their graves with full heads of black hair. I never thought to check their eyebrows. For the better part of a month, I basically forgot I had a beautiful steak in the fridge waiting for me to cook it.

Then out of the blue one evening I was struck with the desire to eat a big fucking steak, and remembered that I had just such a thing waiting in my fridge, smelling like a corpse covered in coffee, and resolved to cook the son of a bitch and eat it. It was big enough that I could feed Heather with some of it and still stuff myself with the remains.

I love eating mashed potatoes with steak, but earlier in the week I had bought a giant celeriac bulb and thought it would make a nice accompanying dish, since mashed potatoes weren't JP. I sweated half a sweet onion and some garlic in olive oil, then added the celeriac and a small apple, both peeled and diced into half-inch cubes, and enough salted water to simmer them. While they were cooking I tended to the steak.

If cooked indoors, I prefer the finish of broiled steaks to any other method of cooking, but I've found that a thick, cold steak cooked under the broiler generally stays cold in the center, and that can make for an unpleasant sensation in the mouth. I have taken to starting the steak in a skillet, then finishing it under the broiler, and the meat comes out nicely rare. I cooked this beauty just like that, with a couple of minutes on top of the stove in olive oil, then another three or four under the screaming hot broiler on each face. I slid a couple of halved tomatoes into the skillet for both episodes of the cooking process to serve alongside the steak.

When the steak was done, I removed it from the skillet and let it rest on the cutting board. This step is critical for aged beef because the peripheral meat can easily dry out if served hot from the fire. I used the resting period to finish the celeriac. I buzzed the contents of the pot (celeriac, apples and onions) with the stick blender until smooth and tasted it. It was good, but I was a little concerned that the strong flavors of the steak would overwhelm it and it would end up being just a kind of neutral matter on the plate. I decided to make the puree into a kind of skordalia by adding some strong olive oil and a couple cloves of fresh garlic. That turned out to be a really good idea. I plated the puree and was about to nestle the tomatoes in it when I remembered that the alley basil had recently bulked up, so I ran out into the alley and grabbed some fat leaves to set the tomatoes on. Little leaf boats. Adorable. I cut the steak into pieces, laid them into the celeriac and drizzled olive oil over them. A little cracked pepper and sea salt and the plate was done.

This meal was exactly what I needed to break the rice-and-greens monotony of the JP diet. A big fucking steak, colored purple and red by the aging process, seared and crackly on the outside, stinking like bleu cheese in a wet sock, on a pillow of savory puree that stung my eyes with its garlic breath. The fat had dried into a kind of cheese, and when I bit through the crust of seared rub and beef essence it bathed my tongue in an unctuous, marrow-like butter. Even the tomatoes were terrific, hot, astringent and wet, they acted like both a salad and steak sauce. I horked the whole plate into my gut like I was trying to impress somebody and lay down on the couch feeling like a fucking emperor. I was asleep in minutes.

Did the rub make any difference in the aged steak? Hell I don't know. A thick, quality steak like this with a couple of weeks dry age on it is so incredibly good you could probably empty out Dave's shop vac on it and it would still rule.

*You heard me.

**No she wasn't.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Food Friday: Perfection Salad

Couldn't everyone use a little Perfection Salad?  One recipe for it, shown below, comes from the Klamath Falls Ward (LDS Church), Klamath Falls, Oregon from their cookbook Our Favorite Recipes (1959).

Community cookbooks often have other types of advice or recipes aside from things to cook.  Mock recipes like "How to Cook a Husband" offered advice in a lighthearted way.  Cookbooks also featured household tips and healing advice.  The front pages of Our Favorite Recipes provides some household tips that provide ideas to make life easier, not just how to clean your house.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vegetable Pilaf with Prosciutto Ribbons and Egg Yolk

The difference between what I would call a pilaf or a risotto is almost the difference between a salad and a soup. Risotto is served pretty wet, with the starch and liquid elements creating a kind of sauce that binds the rice, and risotto can hold its own as an entree. Pilaf has distinct grains and usually accompanies something else. Heather was hungry, but I didn't want to tie myself up in the kitchen for half an hour making a risotto, so I decided to split the difference and make a pilaf with some extra crap on it that would be substantial enough to serve as a meal.

I started by making a sofrito of onions, garlic and carrot and sweating it in some olive oil. Then I added the rice, vegetable stock (did I mention I made stock? It's awesome) and a mashed chipotle pepper and brought it to a boil. Once the stock was boiling, I dunked a plum tomato in it for a few seconds, then retrieved, peeled and chopped it. If you add fresh tomato at the beginning of cooking something like this it mutes the bright flavor and the skin tends to slough off, turning nice tomato pieces into a rubbery rude confetti with bits of mush. I wanted the tomato to be a fresh element, so I reserved it to add at the end of cooking.

Dropping the tomato into the stock immediately lowered the temperature to a simmer, so when I took it out I lowered the fire to compensate and keep the rice at a steady light simmer. I let the rice go for about 12 minutes, then shut it off and let it rest with the lid on until finished, which only takes a couple of minutes. I stirred the diced tomato and reserved juice into the rice and plated it, plopping an egg yolk in the middle of the rice. The hot rice denatures the yolk slightly, changing it from a runny liquid to a capsule of creamy, rich sauce, which I imagined Heather stirring into the rice after making a flattering "ooh" sound. She probably didn't make the sound, but imagining it is what keeps me going some times.

We had some very nice imported prosciutto from Paulina Market, so I cut a slice of it into ribbons and draped them over the pilaf, then sprinkled some chopped alley parsley and alley mint over the whole plate. A quick drizzle of olive oil, some fresh cracked pepper and crunchy sea salt and the plate was done. The rice itself had much of the flavor of the stock and sofrito, the yolk made itself into a rich sauce, the prosciutto was prosciutto and therefore awesome, and the herbs, tomato, olive oil and pepper added a bright vegetal top note.

I made two plates, one for Heather and one for me, and when I stirred the egg yolk into the rice I made a little "ooh" sound, in imitation of the sound I imagined Heather would make when she did the same. This bit of business allowed me the satisfaction of inducing an "ooh," even if it was a self-satisfied one and not the genuine article. I'm too old to care about such distinctions and sometimes I just "ooh" at my own food. Fuck it, nobody's listening.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sausage Dumplings in Gravy

I had a blowout on my hands. A band was scheduled to do a one-day session, during which they intended to record and overdub three songs, an ambitious amount of work to do in a day even under normal circumstances. Over the course of a couple hours at the start of the day, two tape machines and the air conditioning unit for studio A all took a dump. Given that we were short-staffed, moving a third tape machine in from the second floor would take a long-ass time and the studio was getting uncomfortably warm, so the band decided to pull the plug. I felt awful about the studio letting the band down, so I offered them an additional day on the house so they would have enough time to get done what they wanted without feeling rushed. The whole thing put me in a rotten mood, and by the time everyone split it was early evening, so I decided to invent something for dinner to take my mind off it. I had been thinking about boiled dumplings, and wondered if I could enrobe something in a dumpling dough to make a more complex, less stodgy dish.

Don't get me wrong, I love plain dumplings in soup or stew, but I wanted something less solid, and with surprises inside. We still had a couple of fresh bratwurst from Paulina Market, and sausage is a pretty good surprise*. Instead of mixing uncased sausage into a forcemeat filling, I decided to cut the sausage into little nuggets and surround them with minced vegetables inside the dumplings. To firm them up prior to cutting into portions, I put them in a pot of cold water and turned on the fire. While they were coming up to temperature, I made the vegetable portion of the filling.

I had made lunch for Heather to take to work the day before, some little rice paper parcels full of mixed greens, which I decorated by including some colorful herbs, vegetables and apple. I only needed a half-dozen slices of apple for her lunch, so I sliced and dressed the rest of the apple for future use. I made a vinaigrette of rice vinegar, mustard, sesame oil and some left-over steak rub containing ground espresso coffee, yellow curry powder, salt, pepper and ground chile de arbol, and coated the apple slices with it. After marinating overnight, they were slightly pickled and chutney-like. I diced the apple slices fine, and did the same with some slices of carrot, ginger, red pepper and plum tomato, then mixed them all together with the residual apple dressing and a couple of mashed garlic cloves.

The sausages had come up to a simmer, which was enough to make them firm, so I took them out of the water and let them rest and stabilize until time to make the dumplings and turned my attention to the dough.

Since rice flour has virtually no gluten (the rice flour marked "glutenous" is actually a nearly pure starch useful primarily as a gelling agent), I needed to bind the dough with something to keep it together. Normally I'd use eggs, but the fat in the yolk tends to weaken the dough. The interior of these dumplings was going to be lumpy and wanted a pretty sturdy casing, so I used a couple of egg whites instead, mixing them into a mixture of rice flour and brown rice flour. This also had the effect of keeping the dough a pure white. When the dough had come together I let it rest for a moment while I cut the sausages into inch-long segments.

For each dumpling, I patted the dough into a circle, then filled the middle with a spoonful of the vegetables and a sausage nugget, then pleated the dough closed and rolled everything together into a smooth ball between my hands. The dough was barely holding together, and if I tried anything more decorative it was likely to tear or puncture. I placed the dumplings in simmering salted water and let them bob around until done. The hot water cooked the egg whites and stabilized the shape so the dumplings were sturdy enough to manipulate once they came up to temperature.

While the dumplings were poaching I made the gravy. I started by putting the remaining vegetable compote in a skillet with some olive oil, and when everything had caramelized slightly I added some vegetable stock and some leftover saffron rice. Once everything was cooked soft, I ran a stick blender through it. The rice thickened the gravy without the pasty effect a refined starch can leave in your mouth. After seating the dumpling in the gravy I dotted the bowl with some Siracha for spice and color, snipped some nori shreds over the bowl with scissors and scattered some black volcanic sea salt. I was happy with the result.

The next night I made another gravy for the remaining dumplings using apple, tomato and onion, but the leftover rice was gone, so I used a roasted red pepper to provide body instead, and the gravy came out a nice deep red color. I made a quick mayonnaise with olive oil, mustard and fresh horseradish, and dotted the sauce with that in a kind of photo-negative mimic of the Siracha.

I got so wrapped up in making the dumplings I totally forgot I was in a rotten mood. I hear that's why alcoholics drink booze. I hope I don't have a problem.

*Really? That's where we're going with this?

Monday, July 18, 2011


Since she started up with the JP, I have been trying not just to make dinner for Heather, but some kind of portable lunch when possible so she doesn't have to go off script if she gets hungry at work. I know what she likes, but sometimes it's hard to make something portable. Tupperware tubs of soup can be hard to reheat or serve from, and a lot of what I make is only really presentable when served hot. The one solution has been spring rolls, but mercy, how many damn spring rolls can a girl eat without feeling put upon. It was time to try something new to keep the spark alive.* Hyachacha.

I like the effect of bitter greens being tempered by a sour dressing or tart fruit, so I decided to make some little rice paper parcels with greens and a savory dressing, but I shuddered at the thought of Heather confronting a drab hockey puck of cooked greens staring up at her from a plastic tub. Hulk Smash mint out in the alley had come into flower, and I thought I could use the buds and leaves to add some visual interest, with a slice of apple framing them inside a contrasting background.

The Greens were pretty standard. I wilted kale and leeks with some sliced garlic in some bacon fat and a splash of vegetable stock, and once they were cooked I mixed in some fresh basil, mint and parsley leaves from the alley. While the greens were cooling down I made the dressing. The dressing was also pretty standard, some sesame oil, Siracha, chopped garlic and hot mustard whisked together into a quick vinaigrette. The hot elements contrasted nicely with the cool herbs and the acid complimented the bitterness of the greens, making the effect savory and complex rather than rude.

Also drank a shot of the pot liquor. Fuck me delicious. Somebody's gonna make a fortune off pot liquor.

For each parcel I soaked a square rice paper sheet in hot water and laid it out on a damp kitchen towel like a baseball diamond, then arranged a mint bud or other leaf and a slice of golden apple as decorations, occasionally accenting them with some shaved carrot strips or sliced tomato, then mounded the greens on the apple slice and doused them with the dressing. When bound up in the rice paper the visual effect was gauzy and muted, which had the rather nice effect of making the parcels seem less clinical, less like botanical specimens.

Look, I know this is a kind of trick. It's basically a spring roll in a different shape, and the decorations don't really change the eating experience, but cut me a little slack here. I'm trying to make it so Heather doesn't get bored or have to hide in her office eating some mud-colored putty while everybody else is whooping it up with pizzas and caramel macchiati.** 

That's what they do there. They whoop it up.

*Attributed to unspecified woman, possibly an actress.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Food Friday: Woman's Relief Corps of the Grand Army of the Republic

Sometimes, especially with female ancestors, we forget that  they may have been involved in a membership organization. Many different kinds of women's auxiliaries, organizations and clubs existed.  One example is found in this community cookbook, simply titled Selected Recipes.

This book published by  the Joe Spratt Woman's Relief Corps (Watertown, New York)  is filled with recipes, none of  which are attributed to anyone. (The Woman's Relief Corps was an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic.)  However, the real value is in the advertisements. Most likely this booklet has more ads than recipes but it gives us a great way to reconstruct the community.  This cookbook and its ads almost seem like a city directory.

This cookbook appears to be from the early 20th century, there is no date, and while it contains no names of the members of this branch of the Woman's Relief Corps it does tell us much about their community. One of the interesting aspects of the ads is that they include a page with the names of different men running for public office.  A great idea on those politician's parts taking advertisements out in a cookbook.  My guess is this cookbook might have been published around 1920, when women were granted the right to vote. Additional research will help me pinpoint an approximate date.

If you Google "Joe Spratt Woman's Relief Corps" you will find additional information about this group through sources like Google books and newspapers found on the website Old Fulton Post Cards .

The recipe I chose for this Food Friday is one that illustrates one of the important aspects of researching cookbooks.  Women wrote in their cookbooks.  They made comments, made changes to the recipe, gave information about the contributor and wrote their experiences with the recipe. Some women stored newspaper clippings, other recipes and even letters in their cookbooks. Unfortunately, this cookbook owner didn't put her name on the book, but we can see what she thought of this doughnut recipe.

My guess is this recipe might not be very good.  Try it at your own risk.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Food Friday: Roast Rabbit or Squirrel

This Food Friday comes from the cookbook, Pittsburgh Tested Recipes, Prepared by the Ladies of Trinity ME Church (Smallman and Twenty-Fifth Streets). 1885.

One of the recipes in this collection is for Roast Rabbit or Squirrel (p. 152). The first thing you might  notice about this recipe is the lack of directions and measurements. While there is a mention of a tablespoon of butter, the rest of the measurements are lacking. We also aren't told how long to cook the dish for. Cookbooks during this time period assumed that you knew "basics" of cooking  so the recipes did not provide this information.  Later, cooking instructor/cookbook author Fannie Farmer among others start adding measurements and exact directions in recipes, allowing women to follow a recipe and end up with the type of dish that the recipe gave instructions for.

This lack of instruction is very obvious in the next recipe found on the same page for Cookies.

The recipe for rabbit/squirrel is also a good reminder that our ancestor ate what was available to them. In an age where eating organic, local food wasn't a fad but a part of life, eating things that were native to your area and that provided an easy food source was a necessity.

Cluster Genealogy Points to Other Localities

The other thing to notice about the rabbit/squirrel recipe is that it is provided by a woman in Kentucky. This  recipe found in a Pennsylvania cookbook most likely indicates that the contributor had lived in the Pittsburgh area at one time or had some sort of connection to a person in this church (maybe she was a sister-in-law or is a sister to one of the women). A good reminder that sometimes our ancestors are listed in places other than the locality where they lived.

An example of being listed in a resource in another locality that we as genealogists are more familiar with is obituaries.  An obituary may be placed in the newspaper where the person lived and also in other newspapers around the country where a close relative lives or where the deceased lived at some point in their life.

Community Cookbooks are the City Directories of Women

Community cookbooks are much like city directories. They are a listing of a community of women, sometimes from a church, civic organization, membership group or a town. But aside from just the women, businesses are also listed, giving you a snapshot of that town during that time period.  Those listings can be helpful in finding other documents in manuscript collections relating to your ancestor.  Knowing the name of the local doctor, midwife, and funeral home can lead you to records that those people left behind that may mention your ancestor and their family.