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The Returned: How to Cook a Wolf

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

If I’m making amends for the sins of abandonment committed against my cookbooks here, it seems extra appropriate to do right by a book that isn’t even actually mine but rather one I borrowed from a neighbor and then proceeded to bury under an ever-growing pile of unread Lucky Peach issues. (Okay, I have a problem. We’ve clearly established that at this point.)

If you’re unfamiliar, How to Cook a Wolf (published originally in 1942) is a quick read, part rallying cry and part cookbook designed to aid and inspire home cooks in a time of stress and limitation. When I started the book, I was immediately struck by how much the ideas M.F.K. Fisher had about economics, nutrition, and making do had to say (adjusting for inflation and accounting for the proximity of war) to me sitting in my living room arm chair in 2014. My appreciation for her outlook only grew as the pages turned, as did my trust in her advice and appraisals after acknowledgements such as this one, crediting her sources for a “Cream of Potato Soup” that follows a bit of a tirade on doing things “correctly” vs. “eating according to your own tastes.”

However, there are compromises that can be admitted, whether you approve of them or not. Here is a recipe, a combination really of Escoffier’s Soupe à la Bonne Femme and one I found in a calendar published by the gas company in the Canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

Hear, hear! That’s a world-aware outlook and a flexibility of approach I can get behind. (It’s also probably why I can’t really hang with the Cook’s Illustrated folks, but that’s a convo for another post.)

Canned Tomato Soup

Think of it as adding a little Warhol pizzazz to your baking?

I’m personally satisfied to report that I have now finished the book and returned it to its rightful owner, along with a portion of a cake from its pages that I just had to try out: Tomato Soup Cake. Also known as Mystery or Conversation Cake due to its surprising secret ingredient (which I doubt any taste tester would be able to ID), this is one of those recipes that seems to trace back for a lot of people to grandma’s special version and holiday family gatherings (and probably an advertising pamphlet produced by Campbell’s Soup!). It’s a spice cake that uses no eggs and only three tablespoons of fat, making it easy on the pantry and easily vegan to boot. You can dress it up with the mix-ins and spice combinations that best suit your guests and top it (maple cream cheese frosting, anyone?) however you like. I’ve included my version below, but as Fisher says, you should make yours “to you own tastes!”

Tomato Soup Cake: Ready to Bake

Tomato Soup Cake
from How to Cook a Wolf

3 tablespoons shortening (or butter)
1 cup sugar
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon mixed spice (I used 1/4 teaspoon of each of the following: ginger, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg.)
1 1/2 cups nuts and fruit, roughly chopped (I used 1/2 cup of each of the following: raisins, walnuts, and dates.)

Optional topping:
3 tablespoons powdered sugar dusted over top

Heat oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan (line bottom with parchment if you are extra nervous about cake removal—I did and don’t regret it, but it was perhaps overkill for a cake of this texture). Set aside.

Measure flour and spices into a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream shortening and sugar together until well blended and fluffy.

Stir baking soda into the soup and mix well. Add this and the flour/spice mixture to the creamed sugar in several alternating portions, mixing until fully incorporated. Fold in nuts and fruit.

Spoon into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top (batter will be quite thick). Bake for 45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes in the pan and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Top as desired.

Cake stores well and pleased even my non-spice-cake-liking friends, for what it’s worth.

Tomato Soup Cake from How to Cook a Wolf

The Countdown: The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake

In Wonderland Kitchen, recipe research almost always equals Google searches and Evernote-taking. I rarely crack an actual, physical cookbook when looking for knowledge and inspiration, and yet I cannot seem to stop buying them! And those that don’t arrive on my doorstep via UPS show up skillfully wrapped in the hands of generous friends or as orphan cast-offs schlepped home from some musty church basement book sale.

Now, here they all sit in precarious stacks around my office, their beseeching gaze rivaled only by the CDs I have yet to split the cellophane on and review for work.

And so, as a 2014 self-improvement project that does not require public exercise, I’m on a mission to review each book in turn, to sit down and get to know it a little, and select a recipe which I will make and share here with my kitchen crew. Which is to say I’ll be doing this for me, but hopefully you’ll get something out of it, too.

Real world cookbooks present challenges

Real world cookbooks present challenges

I’m starting out with The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook. Now, this is honestly a very lovely book featuring beautiful but not-too-precious photographs and charming writing. But while I follow their blog, lust after their farm house, and appreciate a balanced collection that won’t break my toe if it slides off the counter, really it’s leading out of the gate because my awesome mother-in-law gave me an autographed copy for my birthday and I still haven’t made anything from it!!!

…Ahem.

Baking pan ready for action

Now then, this is one of those books helpfully (if you’re into that kind of thing) arranged by season, starting with winter and a cozy list of baking projects. Though the recipe for “Snow Cream with Sweetened Condensed Milk” was tempting, I’m not sure that there’s any snow in Baltimore I’d feel safe serving to guests. As I paged through my options, I did appreciate that the desserts each seemed possible to execute without a professional pastry chef on stand by. A few of the recipes included commercial candy, which is not something I’d ever considered, and so usually being all DIY and kale and whatnot, I decided this was the way to go. Malted Milk Chocolate Cake: come to mama!

The cake came together just as easily as the one-page recipe implied, and the 9×13-inch pan serving 12-16 is no joke—this is a homey yet decadent chocolate cake-brownie of a treat, so you may want to keep your pieces quite small. I didn’t find it dry in the least, but offering coffee or a tall glass of milk to balance out the richness would not be amiss.

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake: Unbaked

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake
from The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook

1 1/3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup malted milk powder (I could only find chocolate flavored, and just went for it)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups AP flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup coarsely chopped malted milk balls
(If you can promise not to eat more than three balls before baking, you can buy the 5 oz box. All others might want to consider purchasing more. I roughly halved the milk balls and just gave the pile an extra whack or two at the end for minimal rolling-to-the-floor.)

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan and line the bottom with parchment. Butter the paper as well and flour the pan. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Measure out the milk and add the malted milk powder and the vanilla. Stir to combine.

Into a medium bowl, measure out the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Run a whisk around the bowl several times until evenly incorporated. Set aside.

Using a hand or stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugars on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, thoroughly mixing in each addition and scraping down the bowl as needed. Lower the mixer speed and add the remaining dry (excepting the milk balls) and liquid ingredients in several alternating portions, starting and ending with the dry. Scrape down the mixing bowl and make sure all the ingredients have been evenly incorporated. (I failed a little here–learn from my mistakes!!)

Pour the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and even out. Sprinkle the milk balls across the top.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until a cake tester (I’ve been loving using left over kabob skewers for this) comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the pan edge.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cake can be served from and stored in the pan.

Malted Milk Chocolate Cake

Mad Hatter Tea Party: Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits

You may have noticed something of an overarching theme in this site’s construction, but while Alice in Wonderland comes up here and there, I have yet to post any recipes for roasting Jabberwocky or to offer any advice on adding pepper to soups.

That being said, when I came across this now out-of-print cookbook riffing on the classic tale, it seemed like a match I surely could not ignore. It was easier to ignore it once I caught the triple-digit price tag on existing copies, however. Still, even while I waited for a version more within my budget, there were a few treats from the book posted online, so I decided to see where that rabbit hole would lead.

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits: Tray

Whether you’re plotting a grand tea party for six or it’s just you and your cat, the recipe for these Very Dry Tea Biscuits is simple enough to whip up any time. No worries. As long as you don’t over-bake them, they are not too dry at all, neither are they terribly sweet, though bright hints of lemon and the rich scent of nutmeg accent them beautifully. This recipe turned out about 40 two-inch biscuits for me, and they store perfectly in the freezer. I like having them on hand to pull out at a moments notice when curious guests suddenly arrive and are in need of snacks.

Now that I’ve had a taste of Wonderland cooking, I must admit that roasting Jabberwocky sounds kind of intriguing. Maybe we’ll have to follow this white rabbit a bit more often.

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits: Process

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits
from The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion by John Fisher

1 stick butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 ounces flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest
a pinch of salt
a very generous scratch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk, as needed

Heat oven to 325°F

In a medium bowl, measure out flour. Add lemon zest, salt, and nutmeg and whisk to combine.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add egg, and continue mixing until incorporated. By hand, stir in mixture of flour, lemon zest, salt, and nutmeg. If dough remains too dry, add just enough milk to pull it together.

Roll out dough on lightly floured counter and cut out desired shapes. Place each biscuit on a parchment covered cookie sheet (you can squeeze them fairly close–they will not spread much) and prick each with a fork. Bake 14-16 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Store tightly covered (in the freezer for an even longer shelf life).

Bon Attempt*: Dishes to Try (and Try Again)

Pickled Turnips

So, things have been going in Wonderland Kitchen, they just haven’t been going “OMG, I totally have to tell you about this ah-maze-ing cookie recipe I just invented” great. That, or they’ve been going “this other person’s recipe is awesome and I posted about it last year” (so repeat as needed).

I’ve also been doing a good bit of cooking for real people beyond my husband (or unintentionally for my cat, when my back is turned, the little sneak!). It seemed rude to stick a lens in a guest’s face during an 8 a.m. breakfast, but in hindsight I’m feeling less shy, so beware future visitors!

Anyway, this being Sunday, I thought perhaps a little confession time was in order–air the laundry and wipe off the counters for the week ahead–and so in no particular order, some recipe takeaways for when the CSA first slams back into the rotation and houseguests make last minute visits. What have you been cooking as we slide into summer?

A Reminder that You Can Pickle For Tomorrow What You Can’t Consume Today

Turnips with Beet

Since the crisper drawer was already bursting with greens, I picked up a couple bunches of these white turnips and pickled them according to David Lebovitz’s recipe. Here I thought I was innovating, but hardly! I did however get distracted and ended up with an overly salted and garlic-y finished product. Will have to try this one again, because the beet slices resulted in an amazing brine. And I do have a soft spot for pink food.

A Reminder to Prep Guest Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Granola and Refrigerator Oats

I’ve posted about this Little Blue Hen granola before, which I like especially because it includes an abundance of nuts and seeds with nary a spec of dried fruit in sight (though I’ll cop to offering the guests a handful of DIY raisins at their discretion, because come on). I also like to make little cups of refrigerator oats before heading to bed (I substitute kefir for the milk and yogurt) and then just pass out the jars and spoons in the a.m. Haven’t had an unfinished portion yet.

A Reminder to be Brave with Your Summer Soups

Spring Asparagus and Broccoli Soup

I have been having a lot of luck lately with those “use up five things from the in-house stock” on the fly dinners, and this has been especially helpful now that there’s a lot more produce around. As we crawl towards the end of the week and another pick-up looms, sometimes the stuff just needs to be used up. That’s how I ended up with asparagus, broccoli, and spring onions in a soup pot, simmered with just enough veggie broth to cover, and then pureed with the last of the dill and the remaining 1/4 cup of cream in the bottle. A light spring soup, tasty both hot and cold.

A Reminder to Double the Doctor Kracker Knock-Offs

DIY Seeded Crispbread

Fair warning that these are very crisp crackers, but they are just like the ones that come eight to a box in the grocery. If your family is as addicted to them as mine, you have come to the right place for the knock-off recipe. But be sure to hide a few for your own eating: this was the lone piece of cracker left in the bag when I went back to take a picture and have a snack.

A Reminder to Not Burn Your Hand When Baking Life-Changing Bread

My New Roots: Life Changing Bread

This is the pre-baked look of My New Roots’ much-discussed Life-Changing Bread. The first loaf I made with really beautiful Bob’s Red Mill oats and specially purchased hazelnuts and thought it was a neat breakfast item but not necessarily life changing. The second time I was way more chill about it, just used the walnuts and the somewhat crappier instant oats I dug out of the pantry, and also tossed in all the seeds left behind in the bag of the above-mentioned seeded crackers. Aside from the accidental seering of the back of my hand on the oven while flipping the bread over, I’m enjoying the second batch even more. I keep it sliced and frozen and simply defrost a piece each morning in the toaster.

A Reminder That Not All Baking Need Exhaust Your Patience

Joy the Baker: Sweet Berry Lime Cake

Short version: I needed a cake for company, and I had about an hour to make it happen. Joy the Baker to the rescue!

A Reminder That Sometimes the “Failures” Are Still Pretty Tasty

Tomato Basil Popovers

I always have excellent results with this King Arthur popover recipe, so I used that as the base when–for some reason–I started dreaming of breakfast treats flavored with tomato. My first effort included 1 tablespoon tomato powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, a handful of chopped basil, and about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. They were good, but not quite what I’m looking for just yet and I lost most of my usual pop (I’m guessing the weight of the cheese didn’t help). A work in progress.

A Reminder That Not All Failures are Failures If You Adjust the Frame

Cottage Cheese Fail

I got it into my head after the cream cheese making that DIY cottage cheese would be no. big. deal. I researched a few available recipes and thought things were going pretty well, but my curds didn’t survive the straining process. I’m guessing I didn’t cook my curds long enough. Proper looking curds or no, the cheese still tasted fantastic and I used it like a rich ricotta on toast and pizzas with much success. The curd skills will come another day. There were also fresh peas at the market, which meant it was time again for smoky tahini peas!

Peas and Cheese Crostini

*With apologies to Bon Appétempt, whose kitchen antics are funny and whose dishes look awesome. However, as I have never eaten at her house, it’s her blog name that I’m particularly enamored with–so much so that I felt only minor guilt in kinda stealing it for the title of this post! That acknowledged and confessed, onward into the kitchen…

Sugar Rush: DIY Raisins

DIY Raisins

I’ve never been much of a dried fruit fan, and I think I can trace the root of this back to those little red boxes of raisins so frequently tossed onto my elementary school lunch bag. In my memory, the raisins always ended up packed tightly into the bottom of the box, requiring precision coaxing to remove them from their cardboard shell. They may very well have been nature’s candy, but I would just as well have skipped dessert altogether.

Considering the marketing tag line that raisins are just “grapes and sunshine,” DIYing your own might not seem all that necessary or cost effective, and I would give you that. Still, I had read some things about how lovely homemade could be and wanted to try it out before those really amazing grapes I can never stop myself from purchasing in large quantities hit the farmers market this year.

I ended up being very glad I did, because even though the process is rather obvious, the taste was something of a surprise. I have always found commercial raisins to be small and papery bits of sugar that practically dissolve on the tongue after one or two bites. However, the Red Magic seedless I dehydrated last week, for example, offered a subtler though richer sweetness and more complex flavor overall. I don’t mean to get all wine snob on you–though, admittedly, I just used writing that description as an excuse to eat a few more handfuls–but as you might expect, different varieties will net different flavor profiles.

DIY Raisins

Grape Types

Most commercial raisins are made from sultana, a.k.a. Thompson Seedless, grapes. Dehydrating your own opens up your options and is perhaps the biggest reason to do so. For those who have their own vines, another big motivator may be managing a sudden yet bountiful harvest. Either way, you will likely want to select a seedless variety, unless you’re game to de-seed them yourself (I’ve done this for other projects and will never, ever do it again) or chew through seeds in your dried fruit.

One thing I noticed when purchasing fresh grapes to dehydrate is that some are treated with sulphur dioxide as a food preservative, while the raisins in my pantry specifically say “sulfite free” (not the same thing, but related). Point being, if additives are of concern, be sure to read your labels/chat with your farmers.

DIY Raisins: Dehydrator Trays

Before You Dehydrate

The dehydration of fruits and berries with a waxy skin is more efficient if they are blanched or “checked” for about a minute in hot water so that the skin develops cracks through which moisture can better escape. I have also read that following that up by freezing the fruit for a few hours before dehydrating aids the process, but I’ve never taken it that far.

Dehydrator vs Oven (vs Sunshine)

I find that using a dehydrator is the most efficient way to make raisins at home with less chance of over drying. However, realizing that not all readers have that option, I also tried a batch in the oven at 165°F with the fan on (if you have a convection option) and the door cracked a couple of inches (I use a old wine cork wedged in over top of the oven light switch on the door). The higher temperature resulted in faster drying, but required diligent tossing and more careful babysitting.

Sun drying is also an option once the weather is offering high heat and low humidity. Even if the steamy summers here in Maryland would cooperate, I doubt the pests in my urban lot would let me get very far with this method, however, unless I also developed a screened-in drying cage that could fight off attacks by land and air. But by all means, make use of the free sunshine if you can. This method will likely require at least a few days.

DIY Raisins vs Commercial

Commercial (left) vs. DIY Raisins

The Verdict

This is a DIY project I would say is all about unique taste and quality rather than cost–at least until the season hits locally. What began as two pounds of grapes (@ $5.98) reduced to approximately six ounces after drying. To put that in perspective, I can buy 20 ounces of standard commercial raisins for $3.19. Still, as a former raisin-despiser, I have now found a dried grape product so attractive to me that it seems quite worth the occasional time and expense.

DIY Raisins

DIY Raisins

Obviously, amounts are not crucial to this process. However, two pound batches are easily managed when blanching and, at least in my case, that amount neatly fills one dehydrator tray, so it makes for a useful base volume. Simply scale up as needed.

 grapes (variety of your choice)

Wash grapes and remove their stems. Discard any spoiled fruit.

Blanch grapes for one minute (30 seconds if the skin is thin) in a pot of simmering water and then immediately transfer them to an ice bath to halt cooking. Drain grapes and transfer them to drying trays.

If using a dehydrator: Follow your machine’s suggested temperature guidelines (likely around 135°F). Unless the grapes are very small, the process will likely take at least 24 hours. Once the fruit has dried, allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag.

If using an oven: Adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and set temperature to lowest possible setting (between 140 and 170°F if possible) and crack the door open with a wooden spoon or old wine cork. Use convection setting if available. Transfer grapes to two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper and place in oven. Monitor the grapes throughout the drying process, tossing them every few hours for even drying. Once the fruit has dried, allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/04/diy-raisins/

National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day: Peanut Butter & Pickle Variation

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich

National Mustard Day (August 5)? National Split Pea Soup Week (the second week of November)? The volume of so-called “national food holidays” tends to make me uncomfortable in the same way that overly sentimental greeting cards do–the thought is largely inoffensive, but the meaning generic and diluted. (Though maybe not when it comes to National Margarita Day. That one I think I’d keep in regular rotation.)

I would have overlooked National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day today, except that it seems to have stirred up the conversation around the peanut butter and pickle variation and this is a sandwich I feel compelled to advocate for. It being my snack of preference as a picky-eater kid, I was honestly shocked to discover how many people think this is a dish entirely too gross to even consider tasting. For me, it carries the memory of sneaking in late from high school dates and hanging out in the quiet of the kitchen, all the ingredients laid out on the counter while I made my preparations by the dim glow of the stove’s overhead light. Inevitably, my mom would hear me clanking around and get out of bed to ask how my night had been. Then she’d shuffle back to her room, wondering aloud why I hadn’t bothered to eat properly while I was out.

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich: Makings

Was my PB&P just a passing teenage infatuation? While for some reason I had largely abandoned this childhood sweetheart when I left Ohio, our reconnection was as delicious as I could have hoped for. A suspicious “what are you eating?” inquiry and taste bite request from my husband had him making his own before my plate was clean. Should you wish to take a pass on this sweet and savory treat, well, the more for us. But you won’t know what you’re missing.

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich: Slices

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich

Peanut Butter & Pickle Sandwich

rye bread (seeded preferred)
peanut butter (a sweet variety is best, for balance)
kosher dill pickle slices (though some prefer the sweetness of bread and butter style)
potato chips (thick ridged variety, if possible)

Toast the bread and spread both slices with a generous layer of peanut butter. Layer pickle slices over one slice and crush chips over the other. Sandwich together and slice in half.

Plate with additional chips and pickles if you’re feeling fancy; eat over the sink at 2 a.m. and don’t clean the crumbs off the counter before you go to bed if you’re feeling rebellious.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/04/national-peanut-butter-and-jelly-day-peanut-butter-pickle-variation/