29 December 2007

To the Cat’s Taste

In retrospect, I think I unconsciously created an English (or English Major nerd?) theme this week. First, there were tea cookies (bite- and toddler-sized, in my version), followed by the actual tea on Thursday. Today, I couldn't resist the urge to try something out of To the Queen's Taste: Poached Salmon.

The thing I love about this cookbook is that it includes an original, Elizabethan recipe, as well as a "modern" (circa 1976) adaptation of the recipe by Lorna J. Sass, the book's author. In most cases, the Elizabethan version assumes a high level of self-confidence: cooking time and measurements are subjective, or entirely absent. Thankfully, the author lists her own measurements and times. This particular recipe, as well as being enhanced by modern conveniences like measurements, also could translate just fine to a portable burner.

[Illustration of how to skin a fish, from the late 16th century.]

Sass calls this a "delicate preparation," in which the beer and rosemary end up as the strongest flavors. The salmon tasted light, maybe even a little dry, but it went well with brown or wild rice. And the cats loved it. All three of our clowder were circling the table. Occasionally – though only for mere moments before they were scooped back onto laps – even circling on the table. It's normal for them to beg, as we're all suckers for the Puss in Boots routine, but it's definitely not normal for them to act like we just bombed the carpet in catnip. I guess that makes this recipe people tested and cat approved (hah).

[Once sated, this one just wanted to nap, and didn't much appreciate having her picture taken.]

Elizabethan Poached Salmon

((very slightly) adapted from To the Queen's Taste)

Things raided from the pantry:

¾ cup water

¾ cup beer (dark beer works well)

2 tablespoons parsley

¼ teaspoon rosemary

¼ teaspoon thyme

¼ teaspoon salt


3-4 salmon steaks

  1. Combine all ingredients sans fish in a large saucepan. Bring up to a boil, then down to simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Add fish to pan, ladling liberally with broth, top with extra sprinklings of rosemary, thyme, and parsley.
  3. Cover fish and poach for 8-10 minutes.

Or the original, from The Good Huswives Handmaid (1588)

To seeth Fresh Salmon Take a little water, and as much Beere and salt, and put thereto Parsley, Time and Rosemarie, and let all these boyle togethere. Then put in your Salmon, and make your broth Sharpe with some Vinigar.


27 December 2007

I’ve a Little Teapot

I've never been a coffee person. Tea, I've found, tastes as good as it smells, and goes much better with cookies, smelly cheese, itty-bitty sandwiches, sushi, and curried eggplant. There are at least ten boxes of the usual tea bag suspects in the pantry here at home - from lemon zinger to Irish Breakfast. At school, I wouldn't even want to guess the number. There's maple sugar, chai, and Prince of Wales for sure, plus a delicate Australian tea squirreled away behind the baked beans. I suppose, in my warm and fuzzy love of tea, I'm a pretty typical English major.

For Christmas, among other, non-food related, things, I got this pretty little teapot that will fit perfectly on the crowded workspace of my desk. It came with a packet of black tea (with banana, pineapple, passion fruit, and mango), which lasted for two cups (well, one and a half, because my tea cup was actually a little bigger than the tea pot). Full-bodied and lingeringly sweet, tasting more like flowers than fruit, really. In color, it was a perfect complement to the evergreen I cut from the yard, but it tasted of a tropical summer.

Sometime over break, while I have a full oven and stovetop, I want to try some recipes out of my new cookbooks – The Best Ever Three & Four Ingredient Cookbook and To the Queen's Taste: Elizabethan feasts and recipes. For now, it's off to sushi with my high school friends and time for that second cup of tea.

25 December 2007

Christmas Morning Cookies

I found this recipe weeks ago in Cooking Light and it looked perfect for Christmas morning. The delicate blend of chai spices meets the buttery, crumble-iciousness of shortbread. I'm at home and have a real stove for the next three and a half weeks, which has been a real treat. (Although I have been away for more time than I've been home, this Winter Break.) I'll definitely have to try these back at school in the t.o. sometime to see if these cookies are dorm room ready (or not, they may become muffins, or scones – toaster ovens are picky sometimes). Nothing is better than fresh baked goods on Christmas morning, tempting aromas wafting through the house (and setting off the smoke alarms, twice, though no burned cookies, thankfully).

Chai Shortbread Cookies

Things raided from the pantry:

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of ground cloves
Dash of freshly ground black pepper

¾ cup powdered sugar
10 tablespoon softened butter

1 tablespoon ice water

  1. Combine flour and spices (except sugar), stirring well with a whisk.
  2. Beat sugar and butter with a mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed until combined but still crumbly.
  3. Sprinkle dough with the water; toss with a fork. Divide dough in half. Shape dough into 2 (6-inch-long) logs; wrap each log in plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour or until very firm.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°. Unwrap dough logs and cut each log into 18 slices using a serrated knife.
  5. Bake at 375° for 9 minutes. (Cooking Light says on parchment paper, which keeps the bottoms from burning or sticking, but I didn't have any, and found that the bottoms browned, but didn't burn or stick at all.) Cool on pans 5 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks.

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

13 December 2007

C is for Cookie

I think I may be going soft: I was happy with the dining hall today. I haven't been happy with the dining hall for the past year and a half (coincidently, ever since it came under the management of Chartwells). If there are vegetable options (and not just potatoes and corn, which, frankly, just don't count because of their high starch content) they are soggy and unseasoned. I've pretty much stopped going to lunch and breakfast because the choices are so often the same, and so often super greasy and covered in cheese. Not today.

In about two hours I'll be headed down the road home for Winter Break (who am I kidding, probably four hours, seeing as I have yet to pack anything at all). I didn't really have time to prepare anything for ABS today. And, miraculously, the dining hall came through for me. Exam week is the most extreme week for the dining hall; I've found that the quality vacillates more during this time than at any other during the semester. Like me, they're most likely trying to use up all of their food before we all leave for break. Dinner has suffered – I've been eating French fries and pudding for the past two days. But the cookies, oh the cookies.

Every year during exam week, the dining hall stops serving dry cheesecake and mutilated pie to devote their energies to the Annual Cookie Box. At the back of the main room, they set up a beautiful gingerbread house surrounded by a deep tray that covers one long table. And fill it with deliciousness. And then refill it every lunch and dinner period.

[The lunch shift survivors. Imagine this covered in cookies. Then multiply by two.]

I took these photos at lunch today, after the box had been picked down to bare bones, though Kathy managed to snag the last of the sugar cookies from the lunch offering. Even though they were the last, these vanilla sugar cookies (with cocoanut frosting!) were just as good as the first, and miles above the usual cookie offerings during the rest of the semester. I'm glad I'm going home, actually, because I think I may develop an addiction if I eat any more of these.

Shoremen: Enjoy the cookie box while you can; non-shoremen: Enjoy the holidays!

* ABS will continue to post over the next month, though I won't be able to post on Tuesday (and maybe also Thursday) of next week: I'll be in Las Vegas!

11 December 2007

The Sun's as Warm as a Baked Potato

The king returned tonight to the ABS kitchen, this time in the form of one of my favorite Jewish traditions: latkes. Hanukkah came around early this year, smugly plunking itself down in the eight most hectic nights of my school year: smack dab in the middle of both the last week of class and my entire exam schedule (exams also came early for me this year). My brain right now feels as deep fried and smushed as, well, potato pancakes, really.

I've been in the kitchen before when latkes were made, usually when my dad's family visited for one of the holidays. Hanukkah and Passover, though, were always spent up at my aunt's house, an hour and a half drive up the turnpike into Amish country. My aunt always invited friends from her Synagogue to join us. Most times they were cool – I remember one couple who leapt up on the spur of the moment and just started waltzing – and sometimes they were just… eccentric – like the one who put a (hopefully unloaded) gun on the Seder plate for… who knows what symbolic purpose. Back in those days, I was less interested in food than I was in Nerf guns, or Cannibal the Musical(the title is a quote from the theme song, btw),or any other excuse to escape the weird and wonderful adult society downstairs for the equally madcap world of the cousins upstairs. I know I'm mixing holidays, talking about Hanukkah and Passover in one breath, but I remember less of the actual ceremonies than I do of the people, who are stubbornly refusing to fall into any sort of calendar organization. Although I wasn't as into it at the time, though, the good food is now the part that I want to connect to.

As I said, I've seen latkes made and eaten them fresh from the family kitchen. And I've certainly harped to my friends when the dining hall attempts them (always soggy from those unforgiving steam trays). But. This was the first attempt. And I decided to try them with our leftover sweet potatoes, which are juicier than regular potatoes, requiring more brain cohesion than I've got right now to keep them the right shape. I forgot (though I will never again) that cast iron skillet handles get HOT. I relearned this when I tried to faithfully follow the mash-up of online recipes I'd found, which told me this step was very important. Well, yes, important to add more oil and butter each time, as that wears off, but important to have a spiffy, clean pan? No, that can only end in tears (or a very firm jaw clenching to stave them off, followed by cold water). And besides, I didn't find that my latkes stuck any more often with a dirty pan, so I just couldn't see the point. Oy vey. That's enough griping from the peanut gallery, I'll let you get on to the sweet stuff.

Sweet Potato Latkes

(recipe cobbled together from these two at Epicurious.com)

Things you can snitch from the dining hall:

6 tablespoons butter

½ cup shredded onion

Things you will probably have to buy:

2 large sweet potatoes

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon pepper

2 teaspoons salt

6 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

  1. Using a cheese grater, coarsely grate the sweet potatoes. Chop the onions to roughly the same size as the potato peelings. Combine both in a colander and press out as much liquid as possible.
  2. Whisk together the eggs, flour, and spices.
  3. By hand, work together the drained potato mixture and the egg-flour mixture until mostly mixed, just on the edge of totally mushy. (This process is called 'goozing' in my family.) You should still be able to see individual potato peelings.
  4. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until all the butter is liquefied.
  5. Press goozed potato mixture into a ¼ cup measuring cup, then plop down directly into the boiling oil. Flatten with a slotted spatula.
  6. Fry the latkes for 5 minutes per side, flattening them again (to get out excess moisture) with a spatula when you flip them.
  7. Cool latkes on a paper towel to absorb excess cooking oil.
  8. Add a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil after every batch of latkes.
  9. Serve as they are cooked, hot, or reheat in the toaster oven on warm for later. These sweet potato versions go great with a saltier dip like Ranch dressing, French onion dip, or Salsa


08 December 2007

My Toaster Oven (Which Is Magical)

My toaster oven is my favorite piece in the suite's kitchenette. Our teeny tiny workspace came with a small refrigerator, sink, and microwave. And about one foot of counter space. College juniors and seniors cannot be trusted with ovens or stovetops; we'd obviously be blowing up buildings because we haven't evolved from our high school chemistry days of (intentionally) failed Bunsen burner experiments. On a tour of my future home for nine months in the spring of sophomore year, I started drawing up mental lists. Microwave cart for extra counter space, the unused rice cooker from my parent's pantry, maybe some portable burners, a nice wok, and, definitely, a toaster oven. A BIG toaster oven.

[Wok, wok, wok! P.S. My hand looks really weird in this picture! :-P]

And I got one. It was my main birthday present that summer. It was big enough to fit a nine-inch pizza (which I finally tested this November) or a mini-meatloaf pan. But it also does things that it shouldn't be able to do, magic things.

This is the time of year when I stop going to the grocery store twice per week (I am terrible at planning lists in advance and always manage to forget the ginger root). Instead, because I really don't feel like transporting home ¼ of the refrigerator along with my essentials when I drive home for Winter Break, I try to use up everything perishable. Everything. So I saw this half-bag of cookie dough in the back of the fridge, and thought I'd like to try making more of my cheesecakes with a variation on the crust. The result was passably tasty, as my guinea pig suitemates avow, but seriously skewed my ideas of how toasters ovens actually work.

I started with a thin layer of cookie dough (chocolate chip) lining the tins of a muffin tray, popped them into the t.o. for 6 minutes, and out came… muffin-like things. What? I guess maybe there isn't as much difference as I thought between muffins and cookies. The only other explanation (which makes more sense, considering the incredible variety of food it can cook) is that my toaster oven is magic. I feel like this could easily be true, and maybe not even limited to my own t.o. You see, a similar thing happened to one of my suitemates: she was baking cookies, and got scones. I like to think about toaster ovens as magic, because that would make me a magician. Coolness!

06 December 2007

“Spoon Day”

Last week I heard word that today was Spoon Day, which I thought sounded fun in part because of the utensil's unique inspirational quality. (See Exhibit A: spoons the game, Spoon, spooning). In their own right, spoons are pretty awesome utensils: they're both functional and fashionable (See Exhibit B: strangers on the internet).

I had to know, though, about this "Spoon Day" before ABS promoted it. I had questions: National or International? Soup or tea? Calendarized or Facebook Legend? I couldn't find Spoon Day in International or National or Annual flavors anywhere. As near as I can tell, Spoon Day is, unfortunately, the stuff of Facebook Legend. And it may or may not occur on the last Friday in April, and goes under the alias of National Spooning Day. I am immediately skeptical of Facebook-only fads, however, in this case perhaps an exception can be made. Because they have t-shirts, they must be real.

While the authenticity of Thursday, December 6th as "Spoon Day" has yet to be confirmed, I feel like getting in the spirit. Although, now that I've dithered back and forth over what Spoon Day may be, I feel that I must interject this one point: spoons are sexy (See Exhibit C).

[Exhibit C: Baby Got Back.]

This fact jumped out at me last summer when I first saw the ones I knew I had to have as my own. After a long day of thrift store shopping, I came across three blue bins in the dusty back aisle of the Goodwill. Inside each were teetering piles of unorganized flatware. Some sets were scotch-taped together, but the vast majority of the horde were all jumbled together, spoons with knives, forks running wild. But sticking out of the top of one bin, there was one spoon that caught my eye and winked at me. A thunderous jangle accompanied my tussle to set it free, a struggle made worthwhile by the lovely Art Deco styling of the handle. There were no others like it to make a full set, so instead I set about to find four of each of the three basic utensils, no two exactly alike, to bring to college this semester.

Even if it is not "Spoon Day," and especially if it is, I wanted the excuse to share my extra sexy spoons. I had also thought it would be a perfect lead in to talking about my toaster oven and the other kitchen paraphernalia here at the ABS suite (apparently it is Microwave Oven Day, but microwaves definitely aren't sexy enough). It seems I had more to say about spoons (and Facebook) than I ever thought I'd need to say. Well, my toaster oven (which is magical) next time. Tuesday: sweet potato latkes, just in time for the last night of Hanukkah!

Enjoy (something delicious with a spoon)!

04 December 2007

One Hundred Almond Curry

To celebrate the first day of the last week of classes, last night I led a team of intrepid Children's Lit scholars through a three hour cooking obstacle course. The reward was the best homemade Indian food I've ever had. I got the recipe from The Traveler's Lunchbox, and she got it from Niloufer Ichaporia King's cookbook. When I read Melissa's post and realized that I had almost all of the ingredients in my kitchen (chicken thighs on the bone, coriander seeds, almonds, coconut milk, black peppercorn) and had never tried to make a masala before… I knew it was time. (I'd say it was love at first bite if I didn't realize how ridiculously corny that sounds.)

My feet ache from standing around on the linoleum in my socks for the entire length of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (our marathon cooking background movie). When I exhale, my mouth waters from the rich explosion of spices still lingering in my breath. Imagine the sweet milky scent of almonds commingling with the toasted sting of red chili peppers and sharp, warm cinnamon. Right about now I wish that blogs had smell-o-vision.

(For recipe and a thorough investigation of Parsi cuisine, see original The Traveler's Lunchbox post. Sorry guys, this one is not dining hall-shopping friendly.)


03 December 2007

Roots Part II

My mom sent me these pictures of the farm. The first four are from the late, late eighties or early, early nineties. The last three are much more recent.


Guess who!

My brother, back when pink shorts were cool.

The barn, where there were once pigs. Apparently I, also, stood on the wall outside the pig yard.

This is the farm house from the 1800s. Nobody lives in it anymore, obviously, but it is still standing, which is pretty amazing.

Frank and Aunt Nancy in front of the cabin. You can see how tiny it is.

It's teeny tiny, but the photo is of the "Shatzer Down Lane" sign. (Click for a slightly bigger version.)

Mammaw and Frank talking peaches.

01 December 2007


I feel like I'm going backwards this week. With the method of how I'm going about this impromptu "theme week," I mean. Because today – after starting with a (minimally) involved dinner and following that with a (token) effort in a salad – I just felt like eating my apple. Unfooled around with.

So maybe I should rewind a little further and tell you why I need to not cook with this one, why these apples are special to me. It's not just because of taste. There are other apples I love, of course, (Pink Ladies, last summer's fad fruit for example). But I don't know them the way that I know Winesaps. You could say that Winesaps are in my blood.

I have a little family history story to share. Thanks to le internet and conversations with my grandmother's cousins, I know that in 1779, my maternal family first moved to Washington County, Maryland, starting the farm that I have visited twice a year since I was a child. Although the family didn't purchase the main portion of the land that's the farm I knew until 1831, the original farm house is still on the property, right next to the new(er), lived-in farm houses.

What's not on the website is Frank's crinkle-eyed smile and hugs for the too long absent Baltimore relatives when we make our pilgrimages in peach and apple seasons. Or how the name Elizabeth (who married Jacob Shatzer and lived on the farm in the 1870's) still survives as a family middle name (my mother and I share it). When I was a very little girl, there were still pigs on the farm, which I only remember because my brother Alex walked along the stone wall of their pen while I poked around their corn-cob feed pile. Of course, that story's not as well remembered as the time he got pseudo-electrocuted on the live cow pasture fence. Understandably so.

There are still some cows along the lane – which although it apparently has a real street name, I've always known it by the hand-made "Shatzer Down Lane" sign and prefer that name, honestly – but the main product of the farm these days are summer peaches and fall Winesap apples. Twice a year we journey back to our motherland up near the Pennsylvania border, returning with new histories and at least a half bushel of whatever's in season.

Before I even knew what they were called, I knew those apples as part of my extended family. And tonight they're perfect just the way they are.