Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Taste of Austen

Five months ago I was in Bath, England. During the tail end of my semester in Scotland, I took a week for a little British holiday, during which I toured up to the Isle of Skye and made short stops in Bath and London, where I saw some old friends. Let me tell you, I never thought I'd be old enough to have "old friends," let alone to see them in far-off places like London, but that seems to be the direction in which things are heading.

But anyways, Bath. As in the sometime setting for Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, and the place where Austen herself spent five years of her life. For a Jane Austen fan (like me), going to Bath is a pretty big deal. Not only is Somerset gorgeous, but the city itself is still pretty much as it was during its Georgian heyday. Which means I got to walk the path that Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth walked after they finally admitted they still loved one another, dreamily ambling down the foliage-covered path eating some tasty strawberries and Cheshire cheddar I picked up at the morning market.

Savoury Cheddar scones fresh out of the oven

While I went through the Jane Austen Centre's museum portion once, I had lunch at the upstairs tea room twice. There's just something fun about sitting in an old Regency tea room and making your food selections from a menu of dainties named after Jane Austen characters. My favorite savoury was Mr. Elton's Cheese Scone, which was good enough to momentarily excuse the fact that Mr. Elton is a heel. My favorite sweet? Darcy's Millionaire Shortbread, of course.

I've been wanting to recreate the warm cheese scone served with chive cream cheese for quite some time, and yesterday I finally got around to it. And while there's a little something extra to a scone served in a magical literary place, the homemade version was well tasty, too.

Scones served properly, split with a bit of cream cheese

Savoury Cheese Scones with Chive Cream Cheese
inspired by the Regency Tea Room, adapted from Nigella's How to Be a Domestic Goddess

for the scones:
3 1/3 c all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
4 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
3 oz grated sharp Cheddar
1/4 c cold unsalted butter, diced
2 tsbp shortening, in small lumps
1 1/3 c milk
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar into a large bowl. Stir in cheese. Rub in the fats. Add the milk all at once and mix briefly. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, lightly, to form a dough.
Roll or pat to about 1 inch thickness, then use a cutter or slicer to make 10 to 12 scones. Place on a baking sheet, then brush the tops of the scones with the egg wash. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, until risen and golden.

for the chive cream cheese:
8 oz cream cheese
fresh chopped chives

Beat together the slightly softened cream cheese and chives. Try to make sure the mixture is pretty even, then dish it up into a pretty little bowl and serve with the warm scones.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekend Getaway

My cousins picked me up on Friday evening on their way up to Michigan. Although they both now live and work in Chicago, they call Big Rapids home; my aunt and uncle have a fantastic house on gorgeous property up there, and it's a treat whenever I get to visit. I simply love getting to spend time with family. And not only were the fall colors fantastic this weekend, but simply everything about the weekend was cozy. Now I also have a handful of new additions to my "to cook" list, inspired by the tasty variety in which we partook over the course of the past 48 hours.

-French onion soup
-homemade salsa and chips
-Skyline chili bonanza (3-ways and chili cheese fries)
-homemade apple crisp

-eggs, potatoes, and homemade breakfast sausage
-homemade sauerkraut
-chicken and noodles (my Grandma's recipe, updated... oh, the thesis implications!)
-white chocolate corn puffs

How do these dishes translate in terms of my "to cook" list, you ask?

I'll be making a Cooks Illustrated French onion soup in my Le Creuset as soon as the afternoons in Greencastle have a serious chill. I'll be experimenting with enchilada casserole 2.0, using the homemade salsa in place of enchilada sauce. I'll be recreating the chicken and noodles with the assistance of my crock pot. And I'll be tweaking the white chocolate corn puffs to make them Halloween party-appropriate.

Because if you're going to a party as Betty Crocker, dessert is the perfect accessory.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Inauguration Weekend

Friday afternoon, DePauw officially got a new president. After all the week's pomp and circumstance leading up to the inauguration ceremony, Friday was itself quite relaxing. I attended the ceremony with friends; we went to the lawn reception that followed and tasted desserts I can only describe as quaint because of their littleness; we stared in disbelief at the several open bars available to whomever could produce proof of age, student or otherwise; we sat on my lawn watching a rather impressive 30 minute fireworks display; we went to the Third Eye Blind concert and wondered at just how into the spirit of the day our fellow students felt.

Fireworks over Julian

Yesterday I sat on my porch and watched the Old Gold (equivalent of DePauw's homecoming) parade pass down my street, and after that it was a complete return to regular college life on campus. Translation: lots of work to do.

I think the gold firework looks like a weeping willow or falling stars. A friend things it looks like spears. I'll let you decide.

But I know I can manage because I have a few fun study breaks planned for today. In addition to going to church for the student mass and chili supper (free homemade dinner!), I plan to peruse this Sunday's special food issue of the New York Times Magazine. Oh, and I'll be taking a dessert break to have the leftover piece of marshmallow pie I whipped together Friday evening.

Marshmallow pie in 90 minutes flat

Because who invites people over to watch fireworks and doesn't offer them pie?

Doesn't it look marshmallow-y and wonderful?

Marshmallow Pie

1 ready graham cracker pie crust
2 c whipping cream
8 oz large marshmallows (about 30)
1 oz white chocolate, grated
rainbow mini marshmallows
rainbow sprinkles
8 maraschino cherries
4 squares white chocolate, cut in half diagonally

Pour 1/2 c whipping cream into a medium saucepan. Over low heat, melt the large marshmallows into the cream, stirring constantly. When the marshmallow cream is liquid, remove from heat. Allow to cool back to room temperature.
Whip the remaining 1 1/2 c whipping cream with a hand mixer until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the marshmallow cream and grated white chocolate into the whipped cream. Pour the mixture into the pie crust.
Place rainbow mini marshmallows along the edges of the pie, and sprinkle a liberal amount of rainbow sprinkles on top. Refrigerate for one hour.
Decorate the pie with the maraschino cherries and white chocolate triangles, one for each of 8 pie slices. Refrigerate again until ready to serve, at least one hour.
Note: If you decide you want a pie more than three hours before you plan on serving it, feel free to make your own graham cracker crust. I'm sure it will taste better and make you feel better, too.
Note: If you're like me and don't really give yourself time to run by the grocery store, make and assemble the pie, and chill it properly, go ahead and stick it in the freezer instead of the refrigerator. Worked for me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

An Ethnic Treat for the Masses

This past week has been somewhat of a doozy. To supplement my regular schedule of classes, homework, and work, it seemed all sorts of meetings sprouted up throughout the week. Not to mention the fact that I spent the better part of two days creating, editing, and formatting my poster for this Tuesday's Honor Scholar Senior Thesis Poster Presentation. That's right, everything thesis has been thrust to the forefront of my life.

What goes into a simple dough

For those of you who can't stop by this Tuesday evening (although you should if you can, 6 p.m. in the Julian atrium), let me give you a run down and an update on the status of my project. Right now my tentative title is Pierogi Make Me Polish: Food and Constructions of Identity. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but I'm quite proud of the main title. Alliteration, reference to a fabulous dumpling... what else could make my project more enticing to the (hopefully) hoards of people meandering through the poster presentation?

Oh, that's right. Cookies.

Cherry pastry filling adds sweetness

By pure providence, when my mom brought my grandma's recipe box down here last weekend, I found her recipe card for Kolocky, a Polish version of what seems to be a pretty ubiquitous Eastern European treat of buttery cookie folded around sweet fruit filling. I made a test batch last week, and boy were they good, and especially so for someone who generally frowns upon using fruit as the main sweetener in a dessert.

Did I mention it really is a simple dough?

I'll be making about twelve dozen of these babies over the next few days leading up to Tuesday evening, and I'll have them available alongside my poster. I'm considering the Kolocky the edible embodiment of the three parts of my thesis:

1) Food and Ethnic Identity -- Kolocky are a Polish cookie;
2) Food and Personal Identity -- these particular Kolocky come from a recipe handed down to me via combination of my grandma's recipe card of ingredients and my mom's verbal instructions for making them;
3) Food and Community Identity -- I'll be serving these Kolocky to the Honor Scholar community at large.

This should help you visualize the assembly process.

Okay, so that last one is a bit of a stretch. But I'll have a whole stack of blank recipe cards and informational flyers for interested parties to actually submit their own family or favorite recipes to the Honor Scholar Community Cookbook I'll be creating as a part of my thesis. So really it all balances out.

Ta-da! Tasty Polish perfection.

Before I relay this incredibly simple and incredibly tasty cookie recipe, let me leave you with a few questions to get you thinking about the different parts of my thesis:

How does food help construct your identity?
How did immigrant women respond to new culinary limitations in the US?
How did they create the foods of home in this new land?
How did food serve as both momento and ethnic marker?
At what point do the foods people eat cease to describe what, ethnically, they are and instead describe who they are?
What foods do you cook and eat?
What do they say about you?
What community cookbooks are on your shelves?
Are you a member of these communities?
What are your favorite recipes?

I'd love to hear any and all thoughts on these questions, and again, stop by the poster presentation Tuesday if you're able. Otherwise just enjoy the cookies.

Straight from the recipe box

from the combined knowledge of my grandma and mom

1 lb oleo or butter
8 oz. cream cheese
5 tbsp powdered sugar
3 c flour
fruit pastry filling of your choice (I'll be serving up cherry, raspberry, and apricot)

Bring the oleo and cream cheese to room temperature. Cream them together, then mix in the powdered sugar and flour. Move the resulting dough into a zipperlock pastic bag and let it chill for at least two hours (this makes it much easier to work with).
On an extremely well-floured board or pastry cloth, use an extremely well-floured rolling pin to roll the dough quite thin. My grandma's official suggestion is rolling it "almost as thin as paper." Using a pizza cutter, slice the dough into squares about 2"x2".
Transfer the dough squares to a parchment papered cookie sheet. Using teaspoons or a small spatula, place pastry filling on each square from corner to corner diagonally. Fold the filling-less corners into the cookie's center, creating what looks like a flattened canoli (if you visualize food like other food).
Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Try not to burn yourself as you anxiously nibble an oven-hot cookie.