Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Real Irish Dessert

Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle.  Every year, when friends - both local and online - start talking about all their green food for St. Patrick's Day, I start jumping up and down and shouting, "That's Not Irish!!!!!"  My Irish Grandmother never made a green pie, green cake or green mousse for dessert.  My half German mother may have slipped green jello onto the table, but that's another story.

Bailey's Irish Cream, often used in "authentic" Irish desserts, wasn't even invented until the 1970's.  Creme de Menthe is a French liqueur.  And limes and other citrus grow much better in tropical climes than they do on the Isle of Erin

What are traditional are more basic, earthy, homey treats.  Bread Pudding, Seed Cake, Apple Cake. Oh yes,  Apple Cake!  But of course, I wanted to gussie it up and modernize it a bit.  I found a fabulous recipe in The Irish Spirit by Margaret M. Johnson.  The cake was perfect, but the sauce was more caramel than toffee, and I was really looking for a deep toffee flavor.

Many of the old timers from the food message boards have seen the standard by which all other toffee recipes are measured.  Marilyn's Toffee is is the ultimate candy, but I wanted a sauce.  So I referred to Cookaholics for Marilyn's candy recipe, then added cream to turn it into a sauce.  This is the dessert you have to make on St. Patraig's Day.  This is really Eire on a plate.

 Recipe after the jump...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Long Lost Favorite

The 1980's were a different era.  Big hair.  Shoulder pads.  Dress for Success.  Business people were still having cocktails at lunch and cigarette smokers were not yet relegated to the alley for a fix.  It was a time of conspicuous consumption, and most upscale food trends were decidedly French.

One of those upscale restaurants lived in the lobby of my office building.  Well, not my building - but you know what I mean.  Rising star Ed Janos was the Executive Chef, and Helen Baumgartner was the Pastry Chef.  I ate there at least 3 times a week, usually for lunch but sometimes for dinner.  After work, we'd wander in for drinks - champagne was my usual choice - it was, after all, the 80's.  Sometimes on a slow weeknight, I'd just ask Ed to 'make me something to eat', and he'd create some wonderful off-menu dishes.  The Money Tree is long gone.  I don't know where Helen is today, but Ed and his wife are doing well in Denver at their new place, Cook's Fresh Market.

I had many wonderful meals at The Money Tree, but three things stand forefront in my memory after all these years, and I have finally come up with acceptable representations of all three.  This is the last of the three, and this one took a long time to find. Helen made a very simple, yet elegant almond cake topped with nuts and caramel.  On the menu it was called Bundernuss Torte.  Now I have searched high and low for years for a recipe for bundernuss, but I keep finding that bundernuss is a tart, not a cake.  It's usually a nut crust, filled with almond paste, and topped with nuts and caramel.  But it definitely looks like a little pie or tart.  Nothing I could find remotely resembles a rich almond cake.  At least, not until SousChef's sister moved.

The kids were all grown, her husband had recently died, and she downsized from that big old house in the country to a smaller place closer to the grandkids.  She found a shelf full of old cookbooks at the bottom of her pantry, and none of her kids wanted 'those old things'.  So I inherited the treasure.  It's taken a while to browse through all of them, but I discovered something that turned the entire haul into a jewel.  In a 30 year old copy of Ford Times Favorite Recipes was Helen Baumgartner's Almond Cake.  It was a compilation of recipes from restaurants in all the towns in which Ford had plants and offices.  It showed a picture of the restaurant, a short story about the chef, and a featured recipe.  And there was The Money Tree - and the cake!  I just had to try it.

I had to adjust the recipe some.  You could tell she was working in large quantities, (the recipe was for several cakes) and the instructions were a little loose, (bake til done!) so I've made some adjustments here.  But the flavor was exactly what I remembered. 

Recipe after the jump.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

More Lessons Form New Orleans

When I was growing up, Italian food meant very few things.  Pizza at Rinaldo's.  Mom's skillet spaghetti.  Lasagne and ravioli from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.  That was about it.  We didn't know anything about real marinara, bolognese, or red gravy.  The only Italian cheese I ever had was the powdered sawdust in the green can.  Mozzarella, Ricotta, Marscarpone, Romano, Provolone and the wide variety of exquisite cheese were a whole 'nother world.  Northern Italian?  Southern Italian?  Scicilian?  You mean there was a  difference? 

As an adult, as I began my journey through different worlds of food, I learned a bit about Northern Italian food.  It was similar to French with its wine and cream based sauces.  It was within my comfort zone and I learned to love it.  It was a far cry from my mother's spaghetti.  But I never learned to embrace Southern style Italian, which still seemed to me just noodles and tomato sauce with cheese in various forms.  Sure, I made the occasional lasagne or spaghetti, but I never went any further.

On my trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, I had the opportunity to work with Roseann, a REAL Italian cook, in her restaurant kitchen, Red Gravy.  What an enlightenment!  Two dishes in particular were so fabulous that I've tried to reproduce them at home.  The first was the wonderful Ragu of Short Ribs that I posted about in March.  The other  -  ohhh, the other  -  is a crunchy/creamy dish called Arancini.  Often called 'rice balls', the name just doesn't do them justice.  They are a ball of risotto, stuffed with cheese and other things of your choice, breaded, and deep fried.  Whoa!  When your fork (or your teeth) breaks through that crust and the filling oozes out, it's food porn on a plate.

Roseann makes food for her restaurant in quantities that I could never use (Thank goodness - if she only sold small quantities, she'd go broke!).  So, I worked with leftovers.  I had some risotto from 2 days ago, and braised beef from yesterday.  When my tomatoes finished coming in last month, I made many jars of tomato sauce.  Everything I needed!  The result?  Almost as good as hers. 

Maybe I'll have to take another trip to New Orleans to see what else I can learn!

Recipe after the break - click on 'Read more'.