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02/11/2016

~ Back to Basics, Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread ~

IMG_2305I found myself chewing on some dried, pitted dates yesterday.  Nothing unusual in that.  We were visiting my parents and my mom stepped out to go to the hairdresser.  I volunteered to organize her refrigerator and freezer for her while she was gone.  That might sound odd, but, I like to organize everything and my mom gives me carte blanche to organize whatever the h*** I want when I'm there.  I found dates in the her refrigerator.  The mind works in mysterious ways.  

Dates yesterday, a vintage date-nut quick-bread recipe today.

IMG_2242Recipes for Date & Walnut Bread started being published in the 1920's and became very popular with housewives during the 1930's and '40's.  My grandmother, a great cook, would have been 23 years old in 1930, and, since she was married at the age of 14, math tells me that her recipe, which likely got clipped out a  McCall's or Woman's Day magazine, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 87 years old.  She passed away 10 years ago today, at the age of 97, so, 2016 minus 1930 = 87.  Yep.

IMG_2246Being Eastern European, dried fruits (currants, dates, raisins, prunes, apricots) were staples in her pantry, and as for walnuts, she felt that "everything tasted better with walnuts added".  That said, plenty of housewives, in all cultures globally, baked and cooked with many a dried fruit back then because:  the marketplace only had a limited selection of fresh fruits, which in general have a relatively short shelf life, based upon what was in-season and available within a limited delivery area.

Dates grow in clusters on, and are the sweet fruit of, the palm tree.  The word "date" comes from the Greek word "daktulos", which means "finger", and, they range in size from 1"-3" long.  Drying dates increases their already high sugar content and keeps them from spoiling.  A dried date is plump, soft and a bit sticky.  I find them in the produce section of our grocery stores and buy them pitted in tubs, and, do my best to use them within a couple days of purchase.

A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit puree, vegetables, vegetable puree and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles all fall into the quick-bread category too!

IMG_2316Nothin' fancy, just ordinary ingredients from the pantry:

IMG_22506  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

3/4  cup sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1/2  cup applesauce

1/2  cup sour cream

3/4  teaspoon apple pie spice

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract, not imitation

1 3/4  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2 - 2 1/4  cups sliced dates (Note:  1, 10-ounce tub will yield a little more than 2 cups and I use the entire tub.)

1 - 1 1/4  cups chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts (Place in a shallow baking pan on center rack of preheated oven for 6-7 minutes until lightly-browned and fragrant.  Cool completely.)

IMG_2252 IMG_2261 IMG_2264 IMG_2269~Step 1.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and eggs until smooth, 45-60 seconds.  Add applesauce, sour cream, apple pie spice and vanilla extract.  Over medium-low speed of mixer, combine ingredients, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until uniform in color, another 45-60 seconds. Add all of the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Over low mixer speed, fold in the dry ingredients until a thick, uniform in color, quick-bread batter forms, 45-60 more seconds.

IMG_2275 IMG_2276~ Step 2. With spatula, fold in dates & walnuts.

IMG_2280~ Step 3.  Spoon mixture into an 8" x 4" loaf pan sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_2286 IMG_2287Step 4.  Bake on center rack of moderate 345-350 degree oven for 42-45 minutes, or, until a cake tester inserted several places into the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool, in pan about 15 minutes prior to inverting out of pan and cooling completely prior to slicing, about 1-2 hours.

Cease, desist & resist the urge to slice before cooled! 

IMG_2298Date-nut quick bread today, toast for breakfast tomorrow:

IMG_2331Back to Basics,  Plain & Simple, Date & Nut Bread:  Recipe yields 1, 8" x 4" loaf, and about 12, 1/2" slices or servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 8" x 4" loaf pan; cake tester; cooling rack

IMG_1298Cook's Note:  For another one of my grandmother's "dried fruit, walnut and apple pie spice" combinations, you should try my recipe for her ~ Old-Fashioned Oatmeal-Raisin-Walnut Cookies ~.  The recipe  is in Categories 7 or 12.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016) 

02/09/2016

~ Maurice Salad Dressing and Mel's Maurice Salad ~

IMG_2195Who was Maurice?  Most people will tell you he was the chef or a chef at J.L. Hudson's (a famous Detroit department store that later became Marshall Field's), because it is, more-likely-than-not:  true.  Sadly however, there's no written record of a chef named Maurice or which in-store restaurant his salad debuted in.  As a culinary history buff, I hate it when details like that fade into obscurity -- I'm still lamenting taking a pair of scissors to their classy-looking credit card when Macy's took over and issued me a new card with their logo.  Great memorabilia lost.  Sigh.

Th-3That said, there's no disputing that the Maurice chef salad (which could have been named for a customer, a relative, a salesperson, etc.) was the #1 selling menu item in the history of all the Field's Michigan restaurants.  The dressing, a lemony, onion-juice-laced mayo concoction containing tiny bits of hard-cooked egg was, and is, amazing.

Luckily, the recipe for the Maurice salad, the Maurice dressing, and, many of their famous recipes are documented in The Marshall Field's Cookbook.  I bought my copy, a first printing, in 2006 (there are used copies available on the internet). I fell in love with it immediately, especially the history contained in the first twenty-one pages.  Here's my favorite excerpt:

IMG_2132Much of what is current standard practice in department stores everywhere was pioneered at Marshall Fields.  A few Field's firsts:

the bridal registry

the women's restroom

fixed, guaranteed pricing

satisfaction guaranteed returns policy

fully-realized scenes in window displays

the bargain basement

a European buying office

food service

The Maurice Salad is nicely-composed, partially-tossed & plated:

IMG_2235Besides the amazing dressing, and trust me, this salad is ALL about the dressing, the thing I like best about this salad is:  the dressed, julienned, freshly-roasted ham and turkey, Swiss cheese and sliced sweet pickles are placed atop a bed of crisp, shredded, undressed iceberg lettuce.  I have taken to serving many of my chef-type salads in this fashion because I'm never at risk of the lettuce getting even the slightest bit soggy.  Not in their salad recipe (on page 33 of their cookbook), I added a sliced, hard-cooked egg to each portion because I like it, and, because it complements the egg in the dressing so well.  One item noticeably absent from their recipe, and added by me because it deserves mention:  The Maurice salad was always accompanied by freshly-baked, warm French bread slices and sweet cream butter -- no croutons please. 

IMG_2136For the Maurice Salad Dressing (yields 1 1/2 cups):

2  teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/2  teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 1/2  teaspoons bottled onion juice*

1 1/2  teaspoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/4  teaspoon dry English mustard

freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper, to taste (Note:  I use 10-15 coarse grinds of salt and 20-25 coarse grinds of pepper.)

1  cup mayonnaise

2  tablespoons finely-chopped parsley

1  hard-cooked egg, finely-diced

*A bit about about bottled onion juice:  If you have a juicer, like any other fruit or vegetable, it's easy to extract juice from an onion, and, for centuries, onions and their juice have been used for nutritional and medicinal purposes.  All that aside (I don't use enough of onion juice to juice onions), I've been buying it for years, and, like Worcestershire sauce, when you are looking to amp the flavor up in many a dish or beverage, it's a great "secret" ingredient to have on-hand in your pantry.  Trust me, it's available everywhere but not always easy to locate -- sometimes it's in the aisle with salad dressings, sometimes it's in the juice aisle, and, sometimes its tucked in with the spices.  Most times, it's just easier to ask a clerk, "where do you keep the onion juice!"

IMG_2137 IMG_2140 IMG_2145 IMG_2147~Step 1.  In a small bowl place vinegar, lemon juice, onion juice, sugar, Dijon and dry mustards. Whisk until sugar and dry mustard are completely dissolved.  Whisk in the mayonnaise and season, to taste with freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper (I use a peppercorn blend).

IMG_2153 IMG_2156 IMG_2161 IMG_2162 IMG_2172~Step 2.  Finely-chop the parsley and stir it into the seasoned mayonnaise.  Finely-dice the hard-cooked egg and stir it in too.  

Tip from Mel:  Even when I am making egg salad, I chop the white and yolk separately.  It's easier to control the texture of them both, and, it makes for a prettier presentation too.

~ Step 3.  Transfer to a 2-cup size food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for several hours, overnight and up to three days.  Prep the ingredients for the salad as directed below.

Maurice Salad = julienne not dice & iceberg without exception!

IMG_2173For the Maurice salad (yields 6 servings):

1  pound julienned ham, preferably not deli-style luncheon meat (Read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.)

1  pound julienned turkey breast, preferably not deli-style luncheon meat (Read my Cook's Note at the end of this post.)

1  pound julienned Swiss cheese

1/2  cup slivered sweet gherkin pickles

1  large head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 6 wedges, each wedge sliced into thin 1/4"-1/2" chiffonade (thin strips or ribbons)

6  hard-cooked eggs, cut into wedges, 1 egg per portion, for garnish (optional)

12-24  pimento-stuffed green olives, 2-4 per portion, for garnish

freshly-baked, French baguette slices and sweet cream butter, for accompaniment

IMG_2179~ Step 1.  Julienne the ham, turkey and Swiss cheese.  My julienne strips are a about 1/4" thick and 2 1/2"-3" long.  Yes, julienne is a bit (not a lot) of extra effort, but, the Maurice salad was never diced, so, stick to the recipe or be prepared to feel guilty.  Slice the gherkins into the thinnest slivers you can.  Place each ingredient in a large, shallow bowl as you work.  Add 3/4 cup of the dressing and gently toss until IMG_2189ingredients are lightly coated.

~ Step 4.  Make a bed of two generous cups of shredded iceberg lettuce (again, stick to the recipe, it's gotta be iceberg for it to be a Maurice salad) on each of 6 plates. Neatly portion and mound dressed ingredients in the center of each lettuce bed and garnish with olives and optional egg wedges.  Serve with additional dressing to the side, warm French bread and butter.

In the event you've never sat down to a Maurice salad...

IMG_2202... I can tell you, the first forkful will be a memorable one!

IMG_2222Maurice Salad Dressing and Mel's Maurice Salad:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups of Maurice dressing and 6 generous main-course servings of salad.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; large, shallow salad bowl and salad servers

IMG_1411Cook's Note:  I roast a turkey breast almost every week.  I do it for the sole purpose of making sandwiches and salads -- two of my favorite things.  You can find my simple (much easier that roasting the entire bird) recipe, ~ Mel's Perfectly-Roasted Rosemary Turkey Breast ~ by clicking into Categories 2, 3, 18, 19 or 20.

6a0120a8551282970b017c36773853970bAs for the ham, I usually only have baked ham around the holidays (Christmas and Easter).  That said, I'm never without a ham steak in my freezer.  It thaws in about 30 minutes and cooks up in a skillet with a bit of butter in 5-6 minutes.

Once cooled and chilled overnight, both the turkey breast and the ham steak are ready to trim, slice and use as directed in all sorts of sandwich and salad recipes. 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

02/07/2016

~ Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini-Crusted Sirloin Steaks ~

IMG_2092Fact:  I will not stand outside and grill if the temperature is below 40 degrees.  Fact:  It is below forty degrees.  Fact:  I am cooking steaks indoors today and the line forms to the left of the stove.

Great steak dinners & our original hunters and gatherers:

IMG_1661I'm guessing mushrooms have been paired with steak, since, um, fire was invented?  I imagine a big hairy guy, standing in a cave, yanking a hunk of red meat off a sharp spear and throwing it on an open fire to cook.  Meanwhile, an equally-hairy but less imposing woman picks a few mushrooms (growing up through the cracks of her cave-kitchen floor) and tosses them on top along with some wild onion grass for good measure. Voila: The first mushroom and herb topped steak recipe, straight from The Cave Network Kitchen.

 So easy even a caveman can do it!

IMG_1941For the steaks:

4, 1 1/2" thick top-loin strip steaks, at room temperature, about 16-ounces each

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

8  tablespoons salted butter, divided

2  tablespoons olive oil

IMG_1945 IMG_1948 IMG_1951 IMG_1969~Step 1.    Liberally season the tops of the steaks with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, melt 4 tablespoons butter into 2 tablespoon olive oil.  Place two steaks in the skillet, seasoned sides down and season the tops of the second sides.

IMG_2051~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high and sear, 6 minutes on first side and 4 minutes on  second side, turning only once, or until the steaks reach an internal temperature of 110-112 degrees when an instant-read meat thermometer is placed into each one of their centers.

~ Step 3.  Transfer steaks to a 17 1/2" x 12 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and set aside.  Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into the pan drippings from the first two steaks and repeat this process with the remaining two steaks.  Set all four steaks aside.

IMG_1984For the mushroom crust:

all of the pan juices from pan-searing the steaks

12  ounces crimini mushroom caps, sliced into 1/4"-thick strips (about 4 cups)

4 ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

2  tablespoons minced garlic

1/4  cup dry sherry

3/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

6  4"-5" fresh thyme sprigs

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2002 IMG_1987~ Step 1. Heat pan juices from steaks over medium. IMG_1993Add the mushrooms and saute for about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, leaving any liquid remain in the skillet.  Walk away.

IMG_2003 IMG_2006 IMG_2013 IMG_2017 IMG_2024~Step 3.  Return the still hot skillet of drippings to the heated stovetop. Add onions and garlic.  Cook until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add sherry, and using a spatula, deglaze pan by scraping browned bits from bottom of skillet.  Continue to cook for about 30-60 seconds.  

~ Step 4.  Add the cream and the thyme sprigs and adjust heat to simmer gently, until nicely thickened, about 4-5 minutes.

IMG_2032 IMG_2037 IMG_2045~ Step 5.  Add all of the cream mixture, including the thyme sprigs to the food processor containing the mushrooms.  Process the mushrooms and cream mixture to a pasty mix of small mushroom bits using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula about half way through the process.  You will have 1 1/2-1 3/4 cups of mushroom topping.

IMG_2059 IMG_2056~ Step 6. Spoon and distribute the topping evenly over the steaks, stopping short of the edges around the perimeter (meaning you don't want it drooping down over the sides of the steaks) and mounding it slightly towards the center.

~ Step 7.  Place pan of topped steaks on center rack of 400 degree oven for exactly 6 minutes. Remove from oven, plate and serve immediately.  If you have followed this recipe as written using 1 1/2"-thick steaks, you will have four medium-rare steaks topped with a golden, slightly-creamy sherry-laced mushroom crust:

IMG_2074Oh my perfectly-cooked fair-weather-girl indoor steak!

IMG_2119Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini-Crusted Sirloin Steaks:  Recipe yields 4 large servings. 

Special Equipment List:  12" nonstick skillet; instant-read meat thermometer; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; large spoon; nonstick spatula; food processor; rubber spatula

IMG_2111 IMG_2081Cook's Note: Along the same lines as today's recipe, only using filet mignon and wrapped in puff pastry, my recipe for ~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons ~, along  with my step-by-step instructions and photos, can be found in Categories 3, 11, 21 & 26.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)