Christmas and Corn Dodgers

Happy Christmas to one and all.  In Hawaii, a Norfolk Pine, topped or in a pot, serves nicely as a Christmas tree.  This one was interfering with the electric lines, and actually had two tops, so my daughter got one and we got the other.  The branches are widely spaced, which requires some filling in with ornaments and draping stuff  to look decent.

Did you ever watch True Grit and wonder what a Corn Dodger was?   Here is a bit of research, excerpted from America's Best Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget from the Editors of Cook's Country magazine (America's Test Kitchen, 2007). Copyright 2007 by the Editors of Cook's Country:
Abraham Lincoln was raised on these little oval cornmeal cakes, George Washington Carver took them to school, and John Wayne (playing Rooster Cogburn) used them for target practice in the movie True Grit.
Dating back to the 1800s, the first corn dodgers were made from "hot water corn bread," a mixture of cornmeal, pork fat, salt, and boiling water that was formed into small oblong loaves and baked. Similar recipes were given different names depending on how the dough was shaped and cooked. Corn pone have the same oblong shape as dodgers, but are pan-fried in lots of oil. Johnnycakes are flattened into small pancakes, then griddle-fried. Ashcakes are rounds of dough wrapped in cabbage leaves, then placed in the ashes of the campfire to cook. Hoecakes are formed into small pancakes, then placed on the flat side of a garden hoe (really!) and cooked over the campfire.
The original Corn Dodgers were, similar to hard tack, dense, gritty, and hard as a brick.  Which is why they were good for carrying in a saddlebag for days on end, or for pitching at a target as well.  Mine bear no resemblance to their 19th century forbears.  I just like the name.  They are light, moist, tender and as wonderful as the sweet, fresh shucked corn inside.  I wouldn't bother making them with anything else.  And, unless you're having a really rotten Christmas, you won't want to throw them at anything.

For the recipe I used Irma Ronbauer's Corn Oysters, from my old edition of Joy of Cooking.  An extremely simple, easy batter which works marvelously in that new appliance of mine, yes, the aebleskiver pan.

Corn Dodgers
Make batter immediately before using it.
Prepare 1 cup freshly scraped corn
2 well-beaten eggs
6 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, dash cayenne, or as Irma suggests, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons butter

Heat skillet or aebleskiver pan on medium low heat.  When hot add a marble sized piece of butter in each well, or a tablespoon at a time if you are using a skillet and making little cakes.  Swirl the pan a bit to coat, and when hot, sizzling and fragrant fill each well with batter.  Turn when lightly golden brown on the bottom, and brown the other side, turning again if necessary.

I served them as a side with some beef tenderloin, but they would be perfect with barbequed chicken, served  as starters, more party pupus, or for breakfast with a nice slice of ham, YES.


Party Pupus

This quaint cast iron pan, heavier than a truck-load of lead bricks (useful as a defensive weapon), is the latest addition to my growing arsenal of cooking implements.  I was determined however, that it would not be a single use item.  Today we are not featuring the standard product of the Aebleskiver pan, which are naturally, Aebleskivers.  A sort of Danish cross between popovers and pancakes.   We did the Aebleskiver breakfast thing Sunday.  And, they were fun and very tasty, though my expertise in turning and filling left something to be desired.

I have found another excellent use for this cute pan.  Now we can make Cocktail Bondas, or my own version of them anyway.  In Hawaii, as you may have heard, we call them Pupus.  Yes indeed, we do.  Visitors are always amazed we would eat such a thing, or call them that anyway.  Since this is definitely the Season for it, you should try these spicy party nibbles, or before meal starters.

Chickpea Fritters
Pupus, Appetizers, Bondas, or what have you.  This amount makes about 8 of them, so you can increase the ingredients to suit.

3/4 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup water or less (just enough to make a thickish pancake consistency)
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon curry leaves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash hot chili sauce, or a small minced chili pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons shallot or green onion, minced finely
ghee, olive oil or your own favorite lubricant (going with the Indian inspiration, I used ghee)

Yogurt dipping sauce
1/2 cup yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste

Heat the pan on medium low heat.

Finely mince the onion and curry leaves.  Mix the egg yolk with water and add chickpea flour.  Add remaining ingredients.  Whip egg white to soft peaks and fold in well.

Put a raisin sized piece of ghee into each well and heat til bubbling hot.  Fill almost to the top of each with the batter.  When they're getting a bit crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle, carefully turn with a chopstick and cook till nicely golden brown on all sides. The tendancy will be to have them cook faster, but the heat really needs to be lower than you would think.  Be patient.   Serve with the dipping sauce, which can be mixed up very quickly while the fritters are cooking.
Much nicer with an aperitif than opening a bag of chips.  You could vary the herbs and seasonings endlessly, according to what is on hand.  If you make them early, they can be re-heated, wrapped in foil.


Stars of the Chutney World

Carambola, or Starfruit, are one of the fruits currently dropping from trees around here, tangerines, lemons, passionfruit, kumquats and grapefruit being the others.  So far we've done: Banana Starfruit wine, Starfruit Marmalade, Starfruit Lemon Mead, and Starfruit Sorbet.  Now here's Starfruit Chutney, a definite star in the sphere of preserves.  I love chutneys and pickles.  They add such a lovely extra dimension of taste to just about any sort of meal.

There was a time when I considered chutney only as an accompaniment for curry.  Last night we were having Beef Stroganoff, made with some leftover veal scallopine, and this chutney was a fine, complementary side, a zap of flavor to the creamy main event.

Sliced crossways, they're very pretty added to a salad, but for the chutney, they need to be in a finer dice.

Starfruit Chutney

4 cups Starfruits, chopped, seeded, and de-ribbed (the tough edges of the stars)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup wine vinegar
3 minced, seeded, kumquats
1/4 cup raisins
1 red chili pepper, minced, and seeded
1 small onion, chopped
1 thumb finely minced ginger
1 teaspoon salt
5 or 6 Roselle Hibiscus buds (optional) good for the lovely color they add
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cardamom powder

Adjust, substitute the spices as you see fit.  Suggestions only here, and what I did.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until thick, stirring frequently.  This may take an hour or more.  Unfortunately, I didn't time mine exactly.

As you notice, it acquires a nice red color from the Roselle hibiscus, on cooking.  Let cool slightly before bottling.  Keeps a good while, refrigerated after opening.


Roman Style Macaroni and Cheese

That was Mac'n Cheese.  If you have a 13 year old grandson over for dinner, there might not be time for a before photo, or any leftovers.  There's a tiny, wee bit of thin sliced Serrano ham left on the spoon, and some little crusty nibbles around the sides, and that's about it.  Not the boxed version, this is made with a nice Bechamel, lots of cheese (a coarsely grated Fontina brings it up a notch) topped with Parmesan and buttered breadcrumbs.

My original source of inspiration, years ago, was in The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas.  And, as she assures us, "this dish bears very little resemblance to the macaroni and cheese of American convenience foods."  I have added various things to it from time to time, including sliced olives, ham, onions, herbs, but it is basically a very simple, old Roman recipe.  Simply wonderful that is.  And a classic comfort food.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
3 cups Sauce Bechamel
2 lb. mostaccioli pasta (otherwise known as mac)
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3/4 lb. Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (cheddar is fine as well)
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup buttered breadcrumbs
That is the basic recipe, to which I added last night:
1/2 cup roughly cut, thin sliced Serrano ham
1/2 minced onion and 1 minced shallot, lightly sauteed in butter til limp

Bechamel Sauce
3 tbs. butter
3 tbs. flour
2 1/2 cups hot milk
grated pepper and salt
3 good sized sprigs of thyme; 1 bay leaf

Heat the butter til bubbly, then stir in the flour, cooking a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and whisk in the milk, a little at a time, turning the heat back up when flour is well incorporated.  Continue stirring til thickened, adding the herbs, salt and pepper to taste.  Let it cook slowly for 10 to 15 minutes.

While your Bechamel is simmering, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta, and cook it until just al dente.  Butter a nice baking dish.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  As soon as the noodles are ready, drain and put 1/3 of them into the dish.  Cover that with 1/3 of the cheeses, 1/3 of your onions if using, and 1/3 of any other additions .  Top with 1/3 of the sauce and grate on some black pepper, and salt.  Now do 2 more layers in the same way, and sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs over the top.

Bake on a middle rack at 350 F for about 20 minutes, or til well browned and bubbly.  You might think that's a lot of trouble for Mac 'n Cheese, but let me tell you, it is scarcely related.  And, actually can be made very quickly, especially if you forgo the extras.

Just the thing for your tired troops.  Serve with a sprightly salad and a fine Pinot Grigio, or whatever.  Hard cider would go well.


"Old World Rye" for Recipes to Rival

The November challenge on Recipes to Rival, was hosted by Temperance of High on the Hog.  She chose a hearty, Old World Rye bread.  I pretty much stuck to the recipe, except for (you were waiting on that, right?) using my sourdough starter instead of powdered yeast.  I proofed a sponge with it overnight, then next morning, using the remaining ingredients, completed our recipe:

Old World Rye
A World of Breads by Dolores Casella, 1966

2 cups rye flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 T yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp salt
2 T caraway seed
2 T butter
2 1/2 cups white flour or whole wheat flour (I used 1/2 cup whole wheat spelt here)

Combine the rye flour and cocoa. do not sift.
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.
Mix molasses, 1 cup warm water, salt, and caraway seed in large mixing bowl.
Add the rye/cocoa mix, the proofed yeast, the butter and 1 cup white flour or whole wheat flour.
Beat until the dough is smooth.
Spread the remaining flour on a breadboard and kneed it into the dough
Add more flour if necessary to make a firm dough that is smooth and elastic.
Place in buttered bowl and cover. Allow to rise until double (about 2 hours).
Punch dough down, shape into a round loaf and place on a buttered cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.
Let rise about 50 minutes.
Bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes.

I've only recently started using a bread peel with my baking stone (now broken but still usable), and here's something learnt the hard way.  When letting your loaf rise the final time on the peel (is this generally done?), anyway, make sure to put lots of cornmeal under it. Otherwise, when you give it that good shake, which is supposed to slide it nicely off the peel and onto the stone, it won't go anywhere at all, whilst heat is escaping from the oven, and you're standing there wondering what to do now.  Any bakers out there with a better idea??

This bread was very flavorful, with the molasses and caraway being right out front. A bit too much molasses for my taste, to be honest.  The cocoa was not really evident, but I'm sure added to the depth of taste as well as the color.  If you've been wondering how in the world those old German bakers got their dense, dark rye bread, without adding molasses, cocoa, caramel color, coffee grounds, etc. etc., I found a very informative  post on Jugalbandi called "Devil's Fart Bread" - the true meaning of pumpernickel, just so you know. I didn't make that up. A good link to send any adolescent boys in your family.