Jell-o pudding this is not

I found this little beauty the other day at a bake shop in the Publick House Inn in Sturbridge, Mass.

indianpudding

Old Fashioned New England Indian Pudding. I don’t think you see this very much, really. I’m not sure I’d ever tasted it until one day I was out to dinner at this old school Italian restaurant. I ordered their prix fixe menu (it was more like “need fixe”) which came with a mandatory choice of three desserts, two of which were sort of sad-sounding items, like “cranberry cobbler” and “flan” (again, this was an Italian place, so it was probably not exactly flan, but, you get the idea). I was in the mood for neither, so I went for the last remaining option, the indian pudding.

I wasn’t expecting to like it. Doesn’t it sound like something they served in the Catskills in the 1960s? I just figured, hey, stuff tasted good in the ’60s too. It was described to me by our salty waitress as a thick, sweet, molassesy concoction, which sounded pleasant enough. It was tasty. I filed it away for future knowledge, and I pulled it right out of my head when I saw this can sitting in the Publick House bake shop.

It turns out they did serve Indian pudding in the ’60s – the 1660s! And even before that. According to whatscookingamerica.net, documented recipes for an English version of the dessert (referred to in those days as “hasty pudding”) date to 1599, and it was soon to be brought here by the first colonial settlers. Back then, it was a more rudimentary cornmeal and molasses mush, but it was later refined to include sugar and spices.

The following recipe was posted on the aforementioned website, though it is just one variation.

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup molasses
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Preheat oven to 275. Lightly grease a 6- or 8-cup soufflé or baking dish with butter (you can use margarine, but DON’T use non-stick sprays).

In a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat, scald the milk. While the milk is heating, pour the cream into a medium to large bowl, add the cornmeal, sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger. Add this cream/corn meal/spice mixture to the scalded milk. Cook, whisking constantly, over medium-low heat until the pudding has thickened to the consistency of syrup (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat.

In a bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Temper the eggs by adding 1/2 cup of the hot cornmeal mixture to the eggs while whisking rapidly. Vigorously whisk the egg mixture into the remaining cornmeal mixture. Add butter, one piece at a time, stirring until melted.

Pour mixture into the prepared soufflé dish, and place dish on a shallow baking pan on the center oven rack.  Pour enough HOT water into the shallow baking dish to come 2/3 of the way up the outsides of the soufflé or baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, a tester inserted close to (but not in) the center comes out clean, usually about 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and remove from the water bath and let cool slightly.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream or heavy cream.

Here’s what it ideally will look like when done. If apple pie is the quintessential American dessert, this runs a close second. This recipe is a bit ambitious, but try to lay your hands on some this winter.

indianpudding1

Advice: buy them blanched

I was having another of my “kitchen sink” moments the other day. Meaning, I take stock of food I have in my kitchen, and because I’m too lazy or it’s too cold to go to the market, I concoct something based on what I have.

On this occasion, I was in the mood for a cookie, and I had some almonds to play with. I usually like to keep a nut in my kitchen. Sometimes it’s a walnut, sometimes a pistachio, sometimes a pecan. I hadn’t had a good almond cookie in a while.

A lot of almond cookie recipes call for almond extract or almond paste as a flavor enhancer, but I did not have either of these, so I searched for a recipe that relied strictly on almonds for the flavor. I found the following:

1 lb. unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 cups finely ground blanched almonds
3 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 vanilla bean
1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

Preparation:
Cream butter until light; gradually add sugar. Add finely ground almonds and flour and mix thoroughly. Chill dough for several hours. Pinch off bits of dough about the size of walnut. Place on ungreased baking sheet and press each with bottom of glass until about 2 inches in diameter. Bake at 325 for 12 minutes or until cookies are pale beige. Meanwhile, cut vanilla bean in half and scrape. Mix with the sifted confectioners’ sugar. Sift lightly over warm cookies. Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies.

A simple recipe, notable by the absence of some common cookie ingredients, namely eggs, vanilla, baking soda, and salt. I was curious as to how they’d turn out. I had a hunch they would be very buttery and a bit dense as well, since, among other things, eggs add structure and leavening to baked goods. I wasn’t sure about the almond flavor either.

One thing I did NOT bargain for was self-blanching my almonds. Blanched almonds are almonds without their brown skins. You can buy them pre-blanched, but, sadly, I did not have the foresight to do that. I had to blanch them myself.

Anyone out there ever done this? It’s a good, old-fashioned pain in the rump! You pour boiling water over your almonds and let them stand for about a minute. Drain, rinse with cold water and pat dry, and then here’s the good part: you take the almonds, one-by-one, and peel the skin off. It’s not hard. The skin comes right off. But, see, almonds are small. And to produce 2 cups worth of (ground!) almonds? That’s a lotta nuts.

I cut the recipe in half so that I only had to do one cup of almonds. It still took a good 45 minutes to get that cup. It would have taken me less time to go to the market and buy blanched almonds! It was tedious, but I got it done.

Production of the rest of the batter was quicker and I suppose more relaxing. I refrigerated it for about 3 hours, which seemed to be plenty of time, because the dough was pretty solid when I removed it. They did take pretty much 12 minutes to bake up, and they turned out roughly as I expected – buttery, not too dense, with a definite, though not overwhelming, almond flavor.

I also decided to skip the powdered sugar sprinkled on top, since most of the cookies were just going to be thrown in my freezer. They did need a dose of pizzazz, so instead I drizzled some melted chocolate over them.

The finished product:

almondbuttercookie

The moral: buy your almonds already blanched, if the recipe calls for it, unless you’ve been bad and need a punishment.

Tea posing as juice

And now, for the Trader Joe’s Random Food Product of the Week!
juice
I like to buy my juice at TJ’s. It’s because I believe that most, if not all, their juices are 100% natural, meaning that they don’t contain junk like high fructose corn syrup (although if you believe this Corn Refiners Association commercial, maybe you don’t mind so much).

Here is what it does contain:
juiceingrds

An odd collection of ingredients, to be sure. I don’t remember if I read this carefully before I purchased the product. Probably I didn’t. If I had, I might have thought, “Hmm. Most of this stuff might taste pretty good in hot tea. But as a cold juice? Really?

And my instincts would have been right. On the tongue it’s got some lemon and honey notes, and there’s a definite gingery zing, especially in the aftertaste, but combined with the apple and grape juices, it doesn’t work that well.

As an experiment, I heated it up and tried it as a “tea.” Much better! Plop in a cinnamon stick, you’re good to go. Plus, it’s got built-in echinacea, which is my signature cold prevention trick.

Drink this product as a tea when you’ve got the sniffles. Not recommended for breakfast with your toast and cocoa puffs.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Joes. joefoxjoefoxjoefoxjoefoxjoefoxjoefox

Obamenu

Anyone out there watch that inauguration the other day? If you were anywhere near a TV or a computer, it was pretty much unavoidable. I’m an NBC guy myself, but you could have been watching ABC, CBS, CNN, HGTV, Food Network, Animal Planet, Telemundo, Golf Channel, SoapNet, Sundance, QVC, or Logo. They all had it covered.

Three quick observations from me (your go-to source for political commentary) before I get on with this post:

  1. Chief Justice John Roberts totally did that on purpose. Clearly, he’s not qualified to be chief anything.
  2. Michelle was trying too hard with that gold dress. Just seemed a bit flashy for the occasion.
  3. A friend commented that Dick Cheney, in his wheelchair, looked like Mr. Potter from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” You think Obama, and especially Joe Biden (who apparently detests Cheney), didn’t restrain a chuckle at the sight of this?

21norris_190

Anyway, while watching the coverage of the inaugural luncheon (I’m aware of how odd that sounds), I learned that the luncheon menu was posted on the official inaugural website, and that this was the most visited page on the website.

The menu is as follows:

First Course
Seafood Stew

Second Course
Duck Breast with Cherry Chutney
Herb Roasted Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffing
(it’s not clear whether there was a choice of fowl)
Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes
Winter Vegetables

Third Course
Cinnamon Apple Sponge Cake

[My first thought is, that’s a lot of food, of rather diverse protein and fiber and spice content. What happens if it doesn’t sit well with some of those older senators? Or Obama? Is it embarrassing if you have to run to the men’s room? And what is the bathroom like in Statuary Hall?]

You can find the full recipes on that website if you like, but I’ve posted the Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes here for your convenience. It is by far the least convoluted – easily doable without a lot of fuss, so if you want to sample what all the VPs and VIPs ate in the minutes after the inauguration, here’s your shot.

3 large sweet potatoes (about 3 lbs.)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. kosher salt
¼ cup orange juice
½ tbsp. brown sugar
1 tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tbsp. maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast until easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Peel the skin off of the sweet potatoes while still hot. By hand or mixer, smash potatoes until all large chunks are gone. Combine the potatoes, butter, salt, orange juice, brown sugar, cumin, molasses and maple syrup in a large bowl. Continue to mix all together until all lumps are gone. Adjust any of the seasonings to taste.

Squash this

Today, I have a squash.

squash

A beautiful, butternut squash. Along with Acorn, Spaghetti, Buttercup, and, yes, even pumpkin, it is a variety of “winter squash,” which is not to be confused with “summer squash,” which is more like zucchini.

Winter squashes are hard – if one falls on your head, it will hurt. But they’re simple to prepare.  One preparation that I enjoy is to slice it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, put some butter and brown sugar in the cavities, and bake it for about an hour at 400 degrees. Mash up the flesh with some more butter and brown sugar or maple syrup, and you’ve got a side dish that’s almost like a dessert. For you calorie counters out there, that may be a little much, so in honor of you, Mr. or Mrs. Watching Your Weight, we’re just going to do a lighter braised squash that will allow you to have your oreo brownie sundae or your deep fried twinkie later on.

Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything.”

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. garlic, minced
1-2 lbs. buternut squash, cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
1/4 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable broth (or water)

Heat oil and garlic in a large skillet until garlic begins to color. Add squash and broth, with some salt and pepper. Bring to boil, cover, and turn heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender (about 15 minutes).

Uncover pan and turn heat to medium high. Cook until liquid is evaporatred and squah begins to brown (5-10 minutes). Turn heat to low, and cook until squash is as brown and crisp. Season with salt and pepper.

Cod help me

And now for a photo essay on the making of my dinner last night. What do you do when you have a nice, thick piece of cod fillet? The thought of it just sends me into a tizzy.

You can do a lot of things with cod, from baking it with a crumb topping, to broiling it with some butter and paprika. Last night I was in the mood to saute it with a nice, crispy crust. So easy, and delicious. Here’s how:

You start out with a beautiful cod fillet. Any other thick white fillet will do. This was mine. I actually bought it a couple of weeks ago and froze it. If you’re not into going to the market every day, when you are there, just buy a bunch of fish and freeze it, and stick it in the fridge the day before you’re going to cook it to defrost.

cod1

Cut the fillets to about a half-pound in size. Season with salt and pepper, and dredge in flour.

cod2

Yikes – if I’m going to do photo essays, should I get better lighting in my kitchen?

Then dip it in a beaten egg, then bread crumbs. The egg acts as a glue to help the bread crumbs stick. I happened to use matzo meal I had left over from my matzo ball soup. This will give the fish the nice, crispy crust. For a bit of a softer crust, leave out the egg and bread crumbs, and just use the flour.

cod3

Heat a skillet and add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. When hot, drop in the fillets, and cook until you achieve a nice, golden brown on each side. The fish is done when its lost its transluscence and a thin-bladed knife passes through the fish with little resistance. The general rule of thumb is it will take 8-10 minutes to cook per inch of thickness.

cod4

I garnished with a sweet potato and some broccoli, and gave the fish a shpritz of lemon to finish.

cod5

Devil of a night

Last night, I was out to eat at a lovely restaurant called Gargoyles on the Square. This might be my new favorite place, although that title seems to change with many of the new restaurants I try.

Interestingly, I wasn’t even supposed to be there; I was supposed to meet up with my smokin’ hot date at another place, but, well, things happen, and it turned out she couldn’t walk the extra few blocks down to our original spot (there was a shoe incident). So we decided on Gargoyles (closer to the scene of the incident), which was fine with me, because I’d never been there, and I wanted to check it out.

Everything on the menu sounded fabulous, though I think our primary purpose was to, um, take the edge off a little. But we had to eat too, and I wanted to try everything! If you haven’t checked out the menu on their website, supplied above, please take a moment to do so.

Ready? Did you see the lobster salad deviled eggs? We got those. They were delicious, but, the thing about deviled eggs is that the “bowl” area of the egg is not that big, so there’s not much lobster salad that fit in there. But, no problem. Deviled eggs are not meant to be your main course (although last night, they kind of were, because we spent most of our time taking the edge off).

But they are simple and fun to make. At your next party, instead of the usual veggies and dip, Cheetos, cheese balls and Cheez Whiz, give these a shot (Cheez Whiz does have its place, however.).

This recipe, according to The Amateur Gourmet, is “loosely adapted from [Food Network personality] Anne Burrell.” If you want more eggs, adjust the ingredients accordingly.

3 hard boiled eggs
1/2 – 3/4 cup mayonnaise
1-2 tbsp. mustard
Juice from half a lemon
cayenne pepper (optional)
Smoked paprika

Slice each egg in half vertically. Remove the yolks to a bowl. Take 1/2 cup of mayo and stir into the yolks. This is the filling; if you want the mixture creamier, add more mayo. Add mustard, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. If you like it spicy, add a bit of cayenne. Pipe, or spoon, the mixture into the whites. Dust the with smoked paprika.

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