Archive for the ‘Appetizers’ Category

The Orange or the Green?

13 March 2009
Katherine Scott Hallett circa 1890 (Courtesy of Bruce Hallett)

Katherine Scott Hallett circa 1890 (Courtesy of Bruce Hallett)

A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
A few days ago I decided to get ready for Saint Patrick’s Day. I foraged in the basement for my light-up shamrock (which a neighbor whom I shall not name says makes the house look like a low-rent tavern). I affixed it to a window and went into the closet to pull out green clothing. My mother looked at the green shirt, glasses, and hat I extracted and said, “Your great grandmother would have been appalled.”


Indeed, Katherine Scott Hallett was not a person known for wearing green on March 17. Born in 1860, she died long before I was born, but I have heard stories about her all my life. To say that my mother disliked her grandmother would be an understatement. Mad Katie (as we sometimes call her in the family) had no tolerance for little girls with spirit. My mother was chock full of spirit.


They couldn’t even make it through greeting each other without getting into a fight. Katie only wanted to be called “Grandmother,” deeming any less formal name beneath her dignity. She also believed that the word “hello” was sacrilegious. In her view it was just an excuse for saying “oh, hell” backwards. Of course it gave little Janice a great deal of pleasure to arrive at the red brick house in Clyde, New York, and holler, “Hello, Grandma!” at the top of her lungs. Things went downhill from there.



My Great Grandmother's House (the painting is signed "B. Christian")

My Great Grandmother's House (the painting is signed "B. Christian")


What, you may ask, does this have to do with Saint Patrick’s Day? Katie came to this country from Canada, but her family was Scots-Irish. They took part in one of the waves of Irish settlement by Protestant Scots. These settlements were encouraged, even sponsored, by the English. For centuries the rulers of England deluded themselves with the belief that if they kept bolstering the Protestant portion of the Irish population they would eventually weaken the hold of the Catholic Church and subdue the will of the Irish to rule themselves.


As a Protestant Irishwoman, Katie believed in wearing orange on Saint Patrick’s Day to celebrate the victory of Protestant William of Orange over his Catholic father-in-law, James II of England, in the battle of the Boyne in 1690. This Irish victory helped ensure that William and his wife Mary sat on the throne of England, Scotland, and Ireland. It also ensured that Protestants would have the upper hand in Ireland for centuries to come, leading to violence and resentment on both ends of the Irish religious spectrum.


To Katie wearing Orange on Saint Patrick’s Day was a tactic in the ongoing battle between Catholics and Protestants. This battle remained vital to her family long after they settled on this continent.


In many ways, I have sympathy for Mad Katie. Far from most of her family after moving to the United States, she lost her husband to pernicious anemia at a relatively young age. In her middle years the rigidity of her personality morphed into dementia. She became even more alienated from those around her.


I have a feeling that at some level she had a genuine affection for my mother, who by all accounts was a pretty cute child. (Today she’s a cute old lady.) Sadly, Katie was unable to express that affection.


So—what am I going to wear for Saint Patrick’s Day? I hesitate to don either orange or green at this point for fear of reigniting the war Katie kept fighting well after it should have been over for her. I could try to emulate the Irish flag and wear a bit of both, throwing a little white in between. I’m not sure that color combination would do much for my figure, however.


At this point, I think I’ll bow out of the orange-and-green wars and wear blue. This color was originally associated with Saint Patrick; there is actually a color known as Saint Patrick’s blue. Of course, I’ll probably still have to don a shamrock or two.


Happily, I can pay tribute to both Irish Catholics and Protestants by whipping up some traditional Irish dishes in my kitchen. My great grandmother may have hated her Catholic neighbors. Nevertheless, she was as partial as the next Irish-American girl to such foods as soda bread and Irish stew.


I dedicate this year’s Saint Patrick’s Day-related posts to her memory and to the Irish heritage that many Americans share.





Irish Stout Cheese Spread


I have to admit to a secret love for processed cheese spreads. There’s something comforting and just plain yummy about them. I hate to read the labels on the commercial ones, however. So I’m making my own instead. This spread has all the creaminess of store spreads, but I know what’s in it, which is reassuring.


If you want to make this savory spread even prettier, use a yellow Irish cheddar to create a golden dip. A note to food-processor neophytes like me: if you use the food processor, don’t try to scrape the spread off the blade with a rubber spatula. We ended up with a “secret ingredient” in our first batch: red plastic!




1 head garlic

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (for roasting garlic)

salt and pepper to taste (for roasting garlic

6 ounces stout

1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated

1 8-ounce brick cream cheese at room temperature

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning




First, roast the garlic. You won’t actually need the entire head of garlic, but it’s silly to roast less than a head. For instructions on roasting garlic see the “Springtime Irish Stew” post below.


Allow the stout to flatten a bit (you may do this while you roast your garlic if you like).


In a food processor or electric mixer, blend the cheeses and 1 tablespoon of the stout. Add the 1 teaspoon garlic, the Worcestershire sauce, the mustard, and the Creole seasoning. When they are well blended slowly pour in the remaining stout.


Let the cheese spread mellow in the refrigerator for 2 hours or more before serving. Makes at least 1 quart of spread.






An Oscar Nibble

17 February 2009


A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.
For many years I regularly wrote a food column just before the Academy Awards. I made a point of seeing most of the nominated films (certainly all of the nominees for best picture) and coming up with a suitable recipe for several of them.


Sometimes I replicated food actually consumed in a film. More often I created a dish that merely worked thematically with a picture. For example for Traffic I created poppy-seed dressing to reflect the film’s focus on drugs. For Titanic I made North Atlantic salmon on a bed of lettuce—iceberg, of course! I loved putting together these recipes and articles.


In addition to writing about the Oscars, I used to celebrate them in a big way. My guests in Hawley-wood weren’t necessarily as well dressed as the ones in the big theater in Hollywood, but we probably had as good a time—and we had a lot less traffic to combat.


I festooned my living room with movie posters. One year my local video merchant even gave me a few cardboard promotional cutouts to add to the décor. One of them drove my little dog crazy. I just couldn’t keep the poor creature from trying to defend me from the big guy in the living room with a gun (Bruce Willis advertising Last Man Standing).


Nowadays, however, I hardly make it to the movies AT ALL—and I’m on the road too much to plan an Oscar Soiree. I still love to watch the Academy Awards, however, and I wanted to acknowledge them, however briefly, on this blog. So I’m posting a simple recipe in homage to this year’s feel-good nominated film Slumdog Millionaire, a rags-to-riches romance set in Mumbai.


I SHOULD make Pani Puri, the popular Indian snack both mentioned and consumed in the film by the young hero Jamal (Dev Patel). Pani Puri is a delectable bite—a small fritter-like substance deep fried and filled with spice. It’s the sort of snack it’s more convenient to buy than make, however. So instead I’m making a nibble my family always enjoyed when I lived in India as a teenager, spiced cashews. (I give a batch to my brother David every year for Christmas.)


They’re simple and tasty—and if you happen to be hosting an Oscar party they’ll come in handy.


As for my own Oscar party, there’s always next year. Meanwhile, I’ll be glued to the TV on Sunday evening……….


(Courtesy of AMPAS)

(Courtesy of AMPAS)

Slumdog Millionaire Indian Cashews




2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon cumin seeds (if you have a mortar and pestle, grind the cumin a little to release the oils)

1 teaspoon garam masala or curry powder

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound raw cashews




Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.


In a bowl combine the salt, cumin, and curry powder. I have made the nuts tasty but mild; if you want more flavor, add more cumin and curry! Mix well.


In a frying pan melt the butter. (I prefer to use a large cast-iron pan that can go straight into the oven.)


Add the cashews and stir to coat them thoroughly. Sprinkle on the spices and toss well. If your frying pan is ovenproof and large enough to accommodate a single layer of cashews, place it in the oven. Otherwise, transfer the cashews (and all their flavorings) to a cookie sheet. Place the nuts in the oven. Bake them for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.


Remove the cashews from the oven and allow them to cool completely on paper towels. Store them in an airtight container until they are all gone. (This doesn’t take long in our house!)


Makes about 1 pound.

The Festival of Lights (and Latkes!)

23 December 2008

Chic Cousin Jane Shows Off the Latkes

Chic Cousin Jane Shows Off the Latkes

A Note to Readers:
This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of all the old ones (even this one!), please visit me at the All-New IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS.

Sunday evening my family celebrated the first night of Hanukkah. Our cousins Jane and Alan joined us for a laughter-filled evening, and we made latkes, something we do only once a year. (They’re too fattening and too special to make more often.)

Because we make them so rarely I have to recalibrate my potato pancakes each time I make them. The recipe that appears below is therefore a little vague. Adjust your latkes as you need to; I always do!

It’s traditional to use vegetable oil in these cakes, but I love the flavor that good olive oil imparts. The oil should, after all, star since Hanukkah celebrates oil that burned for eight days and eight nights more than 2000 years ago.

You may ask why I’m mentioning both Christmas cookies and Hanukkah pancakes on this blog. I was brought up doing a little bit of everything by my Jewish father and Unitarian mother. Even if I weren’t a religious mutt, I think I’d probably want to make foods for many different holidays. I love learning about different culinary traditions–and I embrace any excuse for food, fun, family, and friends.

Once a Year Latkes

2 large baking potatoes

1 large onion, more or less finely chopped

1 egg, beaten (you may use another if you really need it)

2 to 4 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

freshly ground pepper to taste (we like lots)

extra-virgin olive oil as needed for frying


          Wash the potatoes well and peel them if you want to (the skins are nutritious so don’t feel you have to). Grate them. This takes a really long time with a box grater so we prefer to use the grater attachment of our food processor. We only get it out for latkes, and we never quite remember how it works, but luckily my sister-in-law Leigh kept the instruction book. Even more luckily, Sunday night Cousin Alan remembered how it works!

          Do not use the main blade of the food processor as it will make the potato pieces small and wet.

          Wrap the potato shreds in a clean dishtowel. Carry it to the sink, and wring out as much liquid as you can. Leave the wrapped shreds in the sink to drain while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (and maybe have a cocktail or two).

          In a medium bowl, combine the potato pieces, onion, egg, 2 tablespoons flour, salt, and pepper. In a large frying pan, heat a few tablespoons of oil until the oil begins to shimmer. Scoop some of the potato mixture out of the bowl with a soup spoon, and flatten it with your hand. Pop the flattened potato into the hot oil. It should hiss and bubble a bit; if not, wait before you put more pancakes into the oil.

          It’s just fine if your latkes are a little ragged around the edges; the potatoes are the main event, after all, and you don’t want them too homogenized. If they don’t hold together and are hard to turn, however, you may want to add a little more flour and even another egg to your batter.

         Fry the potato cakes a few at a time, turning each when the first side gets golden. Drain the cooked latkes on paper towels; then pop them into a 250-degree oven to stay warm until their cousins are finished cooking. When you run out of batter (or feel you have enough for your family!), light the menorah and serve the latkes. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

Michael and Cousin Alan Light the Menorah

Michael and Cousin Alan Light the Menorah

 Here are a few more photos of our evening:

At the Food Processor

At the Food Processor

Sister Leigh at the Stove

Sister Leigh at the Stove


Happy Hanukkah!

Happy Hanukkah!

Cheese Blobs

19 December 2008


          A note to readers: This blog has moved. For newer posts plus copies of the old ones (including this one!), please visit me at the new IN OUR GRANDMOTHERS’ KITCHENS. See you in the kitchen……….


          Not everyone on my gift list has a sweet tooth so I like to make some food gifts that aren’t sugary. This year I decided to try some cheese straws. I’m not the world’s most talented slicer, however, so my straws are actually blobs. If you’re good at food presentation, yours should look better. If not, don’t worry. They will taste so deliciously cheesy no one will mind the way they look!


1 cup flour

1 teaspoon Creole seasoning

1 pinch dry mustard

2 teaspoons paprika

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold sweet butter

1-1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce


          In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, seasoning, mustard, and paprika. Set aside.

          In a food processor, pulse together the butter and cheese. Pulse in the Worcestershire sauce; then add the dry ingredients, and pulse until the mixture forms a ball (you may have to stop and push down the dough on the sides with a spatula).

          If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter and cheese into the dry ingredients and then add the Worcestershire sauce. But you’ll work much harder.

Wrap the ball of dough in wax paper, and refrigerate it for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On a floured surface, roll out the dough until it is quite flat (about 1/8 inch thick). Cut the flat dough into small slices, and braid them or crimp them quickly to make interesting shapes. .

          Bake the cheese straws on cookie sheets covered with parchment or a silicone mat until they are firm and a little brown, about 20 minutes. Makes 3 to 4 dozen blobs.