Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

National Sandwich Day: Do-it-yourself bread slice guide—Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Owning a bread machine means slicing my own bread. There’s a reason “best thing since sliced bread” became a popular saying. It’s very hard to get evenly sliced bread the same width at the top as the bottom. This is especially true for people who can’t draw a straight line to save their life—like me.

There are a lot of bread slicing guides available on Amazon and other places, and the reviews for all of them seem to be all over the map. It occurred to me that making one by hand shouldn’t be too hard, and I could do it with scrap wood left over from making bookshelves.

Mine consists of five parts—five pieces of wood, plus, of course, however many nails you feel necessary. I measured the width of a loaf from my bread machine, and that became the width of the inner part of the slicing guide. Since the scrap wood was ¾-inch thick and the slicing guide has two walls, the width of the base was the width of a loaf of bread plus twice that, that is, plus 1 ½ inches.1

The space for the guide is the width of my electric carving knife blade. The two sets of walls are that distance from each other. Something you can’t easily see in the photos is that I’ve also sliced a guide partly through the base, about an eighth of an inch deep and the same width as the blade. This allows the knife to go below the bottom of the bread without wearing itself out on the wooden base. I did this by raising the blade on the table saw only about an eighth of an inch, and cutting a groove through the base that way.2

I have neither dyed nor lacquered the wood, because I haven’t found a wood dye or lacquer that I trust to be food-safe. Or which a clumsy woodworker (me) isn’t likely to screw up. The general advice for staining wood to be used on food is to use stain and then seal it to keep the non-food-safe stain out. But that doesn't seem to me to work when you’re using a blade that is going to cut through the lacquer. In this case, it seems to me that an electric carving knife is likely to break through any lacquer or laminate.

The wood needs to be cut into five parts. I used scrap leftover from 7 ¼-inch wide boards.

  • (1) base: 6 ¼ inches wide by 16 inches long with a groove at 10 inches.
  • (2) loaf-side walls: 6 inches long by 7 ¼ inches tall.
  • (2) slice-side walls: 3 ½ inches long by 7 ¼ inches tall.
The Southern Living Cookbook Library—Wednesday, October 3rd, 2018

The Southern Living Cookbook Library is probably the series of books I rely on most when looking for new recipes. I found the first of these cookbooks, the Cookies and Candy Cookbook, at one of the local flea markets about four years ago. It was filled with great recipes; it seemed impossible to make a bad recipe from the book. So when I happened to see the Meats Cookbook in Franklin, Tennessee, I picked it up. And then the Holiday Cookbook a few months later in Birmingham. I then quickly picked up several more on a pre-Hallowe’en run through Franklin and Nashville.

As I came to rely more and more on the books in the series, I picked up new ones whenever I ran across one; of all old cookbook series, they seem especially scarce. I have a feeling that people don’t get rid of these books when they start culling their collections.

I have not been able to find any official list of the books in the series. There are a couple of lists online, but these lists each miss at least one of the books. By my count, which could easily be wrong, there are twenty-two books. I made this count by searching for various permutations of Southern Living cookbooks; there are a couple of collections for sale with the spines out.

Molasses ginger sandwich cookies

Molasses ginger sandwich cookies from the Cookies and Candies book. Easy sandwich cookies, very good. Buttery.

Glazed donuts

Glazed donuts from the Holiday book, made in a bread machine and deep-fried.

Popovers with butter

Popovers from the Holiday book, made in the bread machine and then slathered in butter.

National Sandwich Day: Whole Wheat Sesame Bread—Tuesday, October 31st, 2017

Today might be Hallowe’en, but this Friday, National Sandwich Day is again upon us. So to counter the gooey candies get ready for a fresh sandwich by making this hearty bread.

For anyone who was in Ithaca, New York in the eighties, one cookbook was on almost every shelf: Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. The Moosewood Restaurant was a bit too expensive to be a regular habit for me at the time, but it was definitely an interesting place.

The sesame-lemon bread in Broccoli Forest is also interesting, not least of which because I could pretty much never make it come out. But then, I pretty much couldn’t make any bread recipe come out consistently well until I got a bread machine.

Still, when I tried to make this one in the bread machine, it turned out almost as bad as if I made it by hand. Particularly, when I compared it to some other recipes, the liquid content seems awfully low. So I experimented a bit, and came up with this variation that works in my bread machine and is perfect for toast and for sandwiches.

Toasted sesame seeds

If you have a toaster oven, it is the perfect place to toast sesame seeds. It will take only a minute or so. Err on the side of undertoasting, not overtoasting.

The order of ingredients here isn’t just the standard liquids-first that bread machines require. Most importantly, measure the one tablespoon of oil first so that the three tablespoons of honey will easily slip from the spoon. And grind the seeds dry. Otherwise, they will stick to the sides of whatever you’re using to grind them; once they are ground, add the oil.1

The total sesame seeds in this recipe is a half cup: a sixth plus a third equals a half. So if you are starting with untoasted sesame seeds, you can toast half a cup all at once, and then remove a sixth to grind and pour the rest into the bread machine at the appropriate time.

Sesame Krispies—Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
Cat in a doorway

Cat waits for krispies. His wait is sad and endless. I ate all the treats.

I was in the mood for some sesame candy, and noticed the opened box of Rice Krispies in the cupboard. This semi-sesame candy is just as easy as rice krispie candy.

I’ve also used almond extract or vanilla extract to add to the flavor of rice krispie candies, and I’d bet that just about any flavoring normally used in candies will work well.

I have no photo, because I ate them all before writing this. Nor can I find a free rice krispie candy stock photo. So here’s a picture of a cat in a doorway. That should make this recipe a viral sensation.

The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking—Tuesday, December 27th, 2016
The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking

Yes, this book has seen a lot of use.

The cover of The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking has radishes, sugar-covered filled donuts, what look like cinnamon rolls, green beans with, I think, ham, and some sort of a corn stew.

The author’s photo on the back has Edna Eby Heller wearing very familiar glasses: I remember them from the high school photos on the walls of my mom’s high school, from the year my mom graduated.

This looks, in other words, to be a very good old-school Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook. Lots of good thick vegetable soups, cream of vegetable soups, pea soup, and so on. And recipes with amazing names like hog maw, scrapple, hex waffles, and snavely sticks. And also recipes with names like schmierkase, boova shenkel, kasha kucha, and gschmelzte nudle.

Probably my favorite recipe in here is the cinnamon drop, which is very easy to make. It’s basically a very simple cake sprinkled with brown sugar and butter so that, when cooked, the middle “drops”, making a sweet, chewy, semi-crunchy cake.

I’d like to try the rhubarb upside-down cake. It sounds like it’s going to be caramelized rhubarb with cake on top, like a pineapple upside-down cake but better! Unfortunately I can’t find rhubarb around here. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it in stores; growing up in Michigan, it was always traded by housewives, who grew it around the house.

I’m still looking forward to potato soup, peas and dumplings onion pie… and Montgomery pie, which is “a lemon-flavored molasses custard with a cake-like top”.

I can’t say whether the recipes are authentic or not, but they are certainly good. If you’re looking to add a Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook, I’d take a look at The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking.

Tomato-cucumber sandwich on sweet bread—Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
Tomato cucumber sandwich

Thursday is national sandwich day! So eat a sandwich! This recipe blends Lebanon and Syria in a sandwich.

This sandwich works best with a bread made from sweet dough, a yeasted white flour loaf made with eggs and extra sugar. I like to use a Syrian-style anise bread with mahleb, but any sandwich bread will do, especially breads like the Portuguese sweet bread from the The Bread Machine Cookbook.

Don’t skimp on the butter, do skimp on the salt, since you’re putting it on twice, and raise a toast (pun intended) to National Sandwich Day!

You’ll most likely have slices left over from the tomato and cucumber, so put them on the side with salt or salt and pepper, as you prefer. Drink with iced tea or some other not-particularly-sweet beverage, and relax.

I’ve been fascinated by cucumber sandwiches ever since reading The Importance of Being Earnest, and while this is nothing like that, I did have the urge to make a cucumber-focused sandwich after having some left over from a Lebanese garlic-tomato-cucumber salad. This is pretty much that salad (minus the lemon and olive oil, plus butter) on toast.

In a Persian Kitchen—Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

The subtitle is “Favorite Recipes from the Near East”. I have four recipes from In a Persian Kitchen in my make often list:

  • Hot yogurt soup, from page 38
  • Eggplant sauce with chicken, from page 90
  • Yogurt & curry sauce chicken, from page 101
  • Spinach orange sauce chicken, from page 104

And I haven’t even tried all the recipes that I want to try. This is the cookbook that convinced me not to remove the skin from eggplant.

There’s an amazing-looking squash stew with nutmeg and beef, a peach stew with paprika and chicken that looks like the food of the gods, and many, many more. There are a lot of lemons, limes, and other fruit, and a lot of wonderful spices.

Maideh Mazda was initially raised Persian in Baku, Azerbaijan, back when it was part of the Soviet Union, and returned to Persia when she was still a child. She talks a little about her experiences, but not much; most of the book is filled with wonderful recipes. There are appetizers, soups, stuffed vegetables and fruits, pilafs, sauces for pilafs, egg casseroles, specifically meat dishes, desserts, and salads.

The sauces are basically stews, and have so far been uniformly amazing. Most of the recipes contain beef, lamb, or chicken; the “meat and fowl” section focuses on kababs and meatball-like recipes.

You can pretty much open the book at random and find something enticing and amazing. I just tried it and found a stuffed apple; the apples are stuffed with yellow split peas, ground beef, cinnamon, and so forth. This is one of my favorite cookbooks and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Popular Greek Recipes—Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

From the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society of Charleston, South Carolina, this comb-bound cookbook of Popular Greek Recipes is worth taking a look at even if you normally skip such organizational or regional collections. According to the copyright page, they first published this collection in 1957, it was revised in 1965, and my copy is from the sixth printing in 1970.

I picked my copy up last year at Half Price Books’s annual sale—the same one where I picked up the O’Donnell Angel Food Cookbook and I’ve been slowly going through it. My first attempt was Skordalia, a potato-garlic sauce. I made the mistake beating it with a food processor instead of an electric mixer as the recipe calls for, and ended up with potato goo. Until then, I didn’t know you could overblend potatoes!

After leaving enough time to forget what potato goo tasted like, I tried again, and it’s a great mix. Technically, it’s a sauce, but it’s very good on its own, and even fried into potato patties.

My real favorite recipe from this collection, however, is the rice pudding. This is a creamy, easy-to-make pudding that I’m already getting hungry for just writing about it. It requires standing over the stove for about fifteen minutes, but the result is worth it and I haven’t managed to screw it up yet. I have long been a fan of rice pudding, but my own attempts have been either grainy or runny. This version “cheats” with corn starch, but the result is very much like the rice pudding I used to pick up at Trader Joe’s.

There are also, of course, various stuffed vegetables such as stuffed grape leaves or cabbage, rice dishes such as lamb pilaf, filo candies such as baklava, seragli, and cigaretta. And there is a special section for Greek Lenten foods, which are interesting because the Greek Orthodox Lenten fast is stricter than the Catholic fast I’m used to: some days mean no fish as well as no meat, for example. But,

For occasions other than Lent, most of these foods may be prepared with butter and served with roasts and chops.

There are lots of meat dishes, such as an interesting pot roast where the sauce is used with spaghetti; as a fan of feta cheese, I’m looking forward to trying Chicken with feta stuffing. Many of the stews require “cooking slowly” for one to three hours—they would be perfect for a crockpot.

I keep this cookbook on the short shelf where it’s easy to reach. If you like Greek food, you should definitely take a look.

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