FRS Cookbook

A collection of recipes developed while leading the Princeton University freshman seminars in Mammoth Lakes CA. The challenge is finding recipes that scale up well (a black art), are popular with a large hungry crowd of students, and use common ingredients. While spectacular, Mammoth is far from the culinary center of California.

Appetizers

Yolamato
Mushroom Almond Pâté
Tomato Flan
Smoked Whitefish Dip
Scottish Oatcakes
One-Shot Tomato Soup

Main Courses

Choucroute
Barbecued Ribs
Grilled Spaghetti Sauce
The Enchanted Broccoli Forest
Broiled Polenta
Cornbread Dressing
Chicken Curry
Chopped California Salad
Tamale Pie
Carmalized Butternut Squash

Desserts

Fudged Brownies
Turtles
Southern Chess Pie

A Note On Safety

Yolamato
(From a discovery by
Yolanda Whitman McPhee)

1 package grape tomatoes (usually 8 ounces)
1 cup pitted Calamati olives
1 large grapefruit
round toothpicks

When shopping, try to find grape tomatoes and pitted Calamati olives of the same size. With a sharp knife, cut both the tomatoes and the olives in half along their long dimension. Cut off a thin slice of grapefruit skin from the stem end of the grapefruit to stabilize it.

Skewer half an olive and half a tomato on a toothpick (cut sides together) and poke the end of the toothpick into the grapefruit. The idea is to have the two halves look like a little bicolor miniature fruit called a Yolamato. It looks cute if half of them have the black side facing out and half have the red side out.

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Mushroom Almond Pâté
(Source: Belvedere Winery,
Sonoma County, CA)

1 cup of almonds
1 clove garlic
1 small onion
3/4 pound mushrooms
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. thyme
dash of Tabasco
2 Tbsp. Salad oil

Toast almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven until lightly browned. Watch closely after 10 minutes. Let cool.

In a food processor, using the metal blade, chop the garlic and onion together and set aside. Put the mushrooms in the food processor; pulse the food processor until the mushrooms are coarsely chopped.

Melt margarine in a frying pan. Add garlic, onions, mushrooms, salt, thyme, and Tabasco. Cook over medium-high heat until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Put the toasted almonds in the food processor; pulse until coarsely chopped. Set two tablespoons of the chopped nuts aside. Process the remaining nuts to form a paste. Pour oil down the feed tube of the food processor and process until creamy. Add the cooked mushrooms and process until the pâté is smooth. Blend in the reserved chopped nuts with one or two quick pulses of the food processor.

Cover and chill overnight.

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Tomato Flan
(Modified from The New York Times)

one 8-ounce can of tomato sauce
6 large basil leaves, plus optional leaves for garnish
3 or 4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slices
1/4 cup olive oil, preferably extra virgin
4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (about 1 1/3 envelopes)
salt (optional)
freshly ground pepper to taste
vegetable oil for greasing molds
sliced country-style bread, olive bread is especially appropriate

Put the thinly sliced garlic cloves and the olive oil in a small pan over low heat until the garlic just starts to brown. Heave into a blender or small food processor the tomato sauce, basil leaves, gelatin, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Blend at high speed for 2 minutes. Pour into an oiled small mold, a soup bowl, or individual espresso cups and refrigerate one hour.

To serve, warm the bottom of the mold in hot water, and unmold the flan onto a plate decorated with basil leaves. Serve with thinly sliced bread.

Alternative: The original recipe called for 2 cloves of garlic, minced and uncooked. The result had a rather harsh taste, which led to cooking a doubled amount of garlic. However, in a comparison taste test, my European guests preferred the raw garlic.

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Smoked Whitefish Dip
(Source: Yolanda Whitman McPhee)

1 to 1 1/2 pounds of smoked whitefish
1 medium onion
1 to 2 Tbsp. horseradish
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream (not the light variety)
2-3 Tbsp. mayonnaise

Remove head, fins, and skin, remove the meat from the bones, break meat into chunks.

Blend everything but the fish in a food processor. Taste to adjust the amount of horseradish. Add the whitefish meat and blend briefly. Top with fresh chopped chives.

Pareve Version

1 large whitefish, up to 2 pounds
3 cans albacore tuna in water
3/4 pound margarine
1/2 cup mayonnaise
horseradish and onion are optional

In the 1980's, the chief cook in the university kosher kitchen made a whitefish pate that everyone loved. However, she ran a private catering business on the side and was secretive about her recipe. Just before she left the university, she prepared the whitefish pate for graduation dinner and turned in her grocery receipts for reimbursement. We went to the grocery store and back-shopped her receipts. ("Pareve" means that the dish can be consumed with either milk or meat.)

Remove the whitefish skin, keeping the skin intact. Separate the meat from the bones, discard the bones. Open the tuna, rinse briefly in running water. Everything goes into the food processor. (It helps to bring the margarine to room temperature.) Blend until smooth. Stuff the whitefish skin with the pate. Surround with parsley or other ornamental vegetables.

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Scottish Oatcakes
(Source: The Scottish Lion,
North Conway NH)

1 cup flour
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups quick rolled oats
1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1/2 cup milk

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and rolled oats. Cut in the butter with a fork or with a pastry blender until the mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir until dough is formed. At first, the dough will seem stiff, but the oats begin to absorb the milk and it turns into proper dough. Place the dough on a greased baking sheet, cover it with a sheet of waxed paper, and roll to 1/8 inch thickness. (If you don't have a rolling pin, a wine bottle or beer bottle will do.) Remove the waxed paper. Use a rolling pizza cutter to divide the dough into 2-inch squares. Bake the oatcakes in a 375-degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until slightly browned.

Good with almost any dip. Great with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

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One-Shot Tomato Soup

After you taste this version, commercial tomato soup tastes like tomato gravy. There is a lot of flour in canned tomato soup.

Fill a mug 3/4 of the way full with POMI brand strained (not chopped) tomatoes, sold in waxed paper cartons with no salt added. Add a teaspoon of dry onion powder and fill the rest of the mug with canned chicken broth. Even the "low sodium" chicken broth contains enough salt for the whole dish.

Heat in the microwave. Mine takes three 35-second passes, with stirring in between.

Suggestion: I pre-chill the strained tomatoes and the chicken broth in the refrigerator before opening them. It's to stretch the keeping time to about four days.

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Choucroute

4 slices bacon
1 medium onion
1 head Savoy cabbage
2 bottles dry white wine (riesling, traminer, chenin blanc)
    or a bargain double bottle
8 whole peppercorns
12 juniper berries
4 sausages, such as bratwurst or weisswurst
4 smoked pork chops or 4 half-inch slices of Canadian bacon
2 dozen baby potatoes, about one inch diameter

Cut the bacon strips crosswise into 1/8 inch strips (I use scissors). Saute bacon in a 4 quart or larger saucepan. (After the bacon begins to brown, you can pour off the fat if you wish.) Add the onion, thinly sliced and cut into strips shorter than one inch. Saute until the onion softens.

Quarter the Savoy cabbage, cut off and discard the coarse portions near the core. Save one quarter for cole slaw another time. Slice the cabbage quarters thinly, using a sharp knife or a mandolin. Cut the thin slices crosswise to make strips about an inch long. Add the sliced cabbage to the pan with the onion and bacon, along with the wine, peppercorns, and juniper berries. Bring to a slow simmer for 4 to 6 hours. The liquid should be just enough to cover the cabbage. Check occasionally and add water or chicken stock to keep the cabbage just barely covered.

About an hour before serving time, taste to see whether you want to add salt, then bury the sausages, pork chops, and potatoes in the cabbage.

Serve by piling the cabbage in the center of a bowl or large plate, surrounded by the meat and potatoes. This is a festive one-pan supper. Almost all the work happens four to six hours before serving time. A delicious alternative is to use salmon as the meat, but the salmon has to be cooked separately. This recipe serves four generously. You can easily scale up the recipe for a larger crowd.

"Choucroute" means "sauerkraut." Sauerkraut, meat, and potatoes was the traditional lunch for the Rhine River customs agents at Strasbourg. This recipe avoids the salt associated with commercial sauerkraut and I think it tastes better.

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Barbecued Ribs
(Inspired by the British Virgin Islands)

4 racks baby-back ribs

for the dry rub:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup paprika
1 tablespoon cumin, preferably freshly ground
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

hickory or mesquite wood chunks, about a dozen chunks up to 2 inches in diameter. bottled barbecue sauce

There are two secrets. Most of the flavor goes in from the dry rub, the barbecue sauce is slathered on during the last half hour. An electrically heated water smoker allows a long slow cooking process without drying out the meat. An electric water smoker, made by Char-Broil, sells for about $80 at Home Depot. The Char-Broil version is underpowered for cold weather, I keep an old blanket to wrap around it in the winter. Hickory gives a milder flavor than mesquite. "Baby-back" has nothing to do with the age of the pig; they are simply the smaller end of the ribs. I pay extra for the baby-backs because most ladies prefer the smaller nibbles.

The night before:

  1. Place the wood chunks in a pan or tray and flood them with water until they almost float. (I stand the chunks with the grain vertical and let the water soak up from the bottom.
  2. Mix up the dry rub ingredients. The amounts given above are only for a start, you can vary them to your taste. In particular, more spicy ribs result from increasing the chili powder and/or adding red pepper flakes. Cut the ribs, between the bones, leaving about one-third uncut in the center. Put the dry rub on both sides of the ribs, and work some of the dry rub into the cuts. Store in the refrigerator overnight in a pan or tray until ready to cook.

Four or five hours before serving time, load the water smoker from the bottom up. Space the wet wood chunks adjacent to (but not touching) the electric heater element. Boil about four quarts of water on the stove and fill the water pan in the smoker with boiling water. Put the ribs on the cooking racks (the Char-Broil comes with two racks) and turn on the electric heat. When the temperature gauge on the top gets to "ideal" turn the electric heat down a little to keep it in the "ideal" range. After about three hours, peek to see whether the water pan has run dry or is getting low. If so, add some boiling water to the pan.

About a half hour before serving, slather the ribs with a coat of tomato-based barbecue sauce. I use the plain Kraft Original barbecue sauce because in this recipe the dry rub supplies almost all the flavor. Before serving, cut the center third to separate the ribs.

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Grilled Spaghetti Sauce

2 pound, economy package of chicken thighs
2 carrots
3 sticks celery
6 red sweet bell peppers
3 large onions, Vidalia onions if possible
6 large tomatoes or canned tomatoes
1 tsp. dried basil, or chopped fresh basil
2 small cans tomato paste (in reserve)

On an outdoor grill, cook the chicken until done. Let cool about 15 minutes. Deconstruct the chicken. Transfer the skin, bones, and any disreputable looking bits of meat into a stockpot. Chop the meat into bite-size chunks and refrigerate. Add the peeled and sliced carrots and sliced celery to the stockpot. Add just enough water to cover, bring to a boil, skim off any foam, and let simmer for about 2 hours. Strain the liquid stock into a saucepan and discard the solids.

Cut the red peppers in quarters; remove seeds and membranes. Cut the onions in 1/2 inch thick slices, discarding the ends. Put the onion slices on the cooler part of the grill or on an upper shelf. Grill the red peppers skin side down until they start to blacken, turn and grill another 3 or 4 minutes on the inner side. (Some cooks prefer to blacken thoroughly the skin side of the peppers and then peel off the black stuff.) Turn the onion slices once. If you have a covered gas grill, you can turn the fire very low, put the lid down, and let the onions continue to cook slowly for a while. Chop the grilled red pepper and the onion into 1/2 inch pieces.

Peel the tomatoes. Spear the stem end of the tomato with a fork, immerse in boiling water for about 20 seconds, cut the skin at the blossom end and the skin peels right off. Cut the peeled tomatoes in half along the "equator", discard the seeds and clear juice, and remove the tough material around the stem. Chop into inch-size pieces.

Now for the fun part: Put the tomatoes, chopped pepper, chopped onion, basil, and one cup of the defatted stock in a large saucepan or stockpot and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 1/2 hour. Add more stock if the liquid is insufficient to cover the other ingredients. Transfer about half of the sauce to a smaller container and either puree it with a hand blender or puree it in batches in a container (Waring-type) blender. Return the puree to the pot with the other half. Add the chopped chicken meat. Serve over spaghetti or other pasta. Freeze leftover sauce in serving-size portions.

Vegetarian variation: Use canned vegetable stock instead of the chicken stock and grill Portobello or other mushrooms instead of the chicken meat.

Hint: Have two small cans of tomato paste in reserve. If the sauce is too watery at the end, add tomato paste one can at a time.

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The Enchanted Broccoli Forest
(Vegetarian version from
the Moosewood Cookbook)

1 leftover turkey with at least a pound of meat
2 carrots
1 large onion or 2 small onions
2 cups brown rice
8 tablespoons margarine
6 Tbsp. flour
1/4 pound cheddar cheese
1/2 cup almonds
2 heads of broccoli
1 lemon

Sometimes the Mammoth Lakes group enjoys an early Thanksgiving dinner. Whole turkeys are cheap, but the real reason is to promote this best-in-class recipe for leftover turkey.

Remove the meat from the turkey and put the turkey skin and bones in a stockpot. If there is any juice under the turkey, add it to the stockpot. Peel and slice the carrots and onion and add to the stockpot. (Usually the turkey comes with a neck and a packet of miscellaneous parts. Refrigerate these while baking the turkey, but remember to add all of them except the liver to the stockpot.) Add just enough water to cover, bring to a boil, skim off any early scum, and simmer for 2 to 4 hours. Strain the stock into a container and discard the solids. While the stock is simmering, chop the meat into bite-size pieces and refrigerate.

Follow the package directions for cooking the brown rice, but use turkey stock instead of water for cooking the rice. It is perfectly all right to stop the cooking with the rice still al dente. Cooking brown rice usually takes 30 to 40 minutes. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet, toast in a 350-degree oven until they begin to brown, about 15 minutes. Pay attention! It is easy to burn them black. Almonds are expensive. Trim the broccoli into little trees, each about 1 1/2 to 2 inches high, but keep the crowns of the trees small enough to be bite sized.

In a large saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons of the margarine and stir in 6 tablespoons of flour. Cook the mixture over a medium flame until it smells done (like a baked cookie) or until it starts to brown slightly. Add 2 cups of the turkey stock, raise the heat and stir until it starts to thicken. Lower the heat; continue to stir until the sauce thickens completely. Add the cheddar in thin slices, stir over very low heat until the cheddar melts into a thick sauce. Add the refrigerated bite-size chicken meat. Stir in the cooked brown rice. (It said "a large saucepan" at the head of this paragraph.)

Spread the rice-meat-sauce mixture into a baking pan, about 10 by 14 inches by 2 inches deep. Sprinkle the "rocks" (the almonds) over the top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of margarine and stir in about a tablespoon of lemon juice. Dip the top of each broccoli "tree" briefly in the lemon butter; then plant it in the forest. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 1/2 to 3/4 hour in a 350-degree oven.

Vegetarian variation: Use milk or vegetable broth instead of the turkey stock. Hold the turkey meat.

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Broiled Polenta

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup milk
2 cups water
3 Tbs. butter, preferably unsalted
1/2 tsp salt (none if butter is salted)
1 tsp dark brown sugar
2 squirts Tabasco; from atop the Avery Island salt dome
4 ounces fontina cheese, from the Val d'Aosta

In northern Italy, polenta has many variations. This one produces bite-size pieces for dipping into a fondue.

(My grandfather brought the Deffeyes surname to America from the Val d'Aosta. Don't accept imitation fontina from anywhere else.)

Place the cornmeal and half of the milk in a saucepan, or in the top half of a double boiler. Stir until the mixture is smooth; get all the lumps off the bottom. Add the rest of the milk, 2 cups of water, the butter, the optional salt, and the Tabasco. (If Italians knew about Tabasco, they would love it in this recipe.) Cook over direct heat, but only until the chunk of butter is almost melted. If you are using a double boiler, place the top into the lower part containing boiling water. If you lack a double boiler, place the saucepan in a larger pan of boiling water. Give it a stir about every 5 minutes. At about 40 minutes, the cooked cornmeal will begin to stick together when you stir. It will tend to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Add the fontina, either grated or sliced thin, and stir until the cheese melts. Now, that's polenta.

Lightly butter a sheet of aluminum foil on top of a cookie sheet. Spread the polenta in a layer about a quarter-inch thick on the foil. Chill the polenta in the refrigerator for a half hour or more. Use a rolling pizza cutter to divide the polenta into 3-inch squares. If you wish, you can brush the top lightly with melted butter. Place the sheet on an upper shelf under the oven broiler and watch it until the top begins to brown. Turn the 3-inch squares over; then use the rolling pizza cutter to subdivide them into 3/4 inch squares. Put it back under the broiler to brown the other side.

The resulting pieces are suitable for spearing and dunking in a fondue.

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Cornbread Dressing
(Source: Ken's Mother,
with later help from Simon & Garfunkel)

2 cups cornbread
2 cups white bread
3 boiled eggs, chopped
1 to 2 cups water, vegetable broth, or canned chicken stock (see below)
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp. salt (optional, see instructions)
1/2 tsp. parsley
1 Tbsp. sage
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. thyme

Combine all the ingredients except the liquid and the salt in a large bowl. If you are using this as interior stuffing for a turkey, use water for the liquid. If it is to be baked separately, use chicken stock. Add the liquid in stages until the mixture is a slightly sticky mush. Taste, add salt or additional seasoning if desired.

Turn into a baking dish. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 40 minutes. If used to stuff a turkey, add additional baking time for the turkey.

Vegetarian option: Use vegetable stock for the liquid

Carnivore option: In a skillet, brown thoroughly one pound of bulk sausage meat. Drain to remove fat. Add to stuffing before adding the liquid.

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Chicken Curry
(Source: Knife, Fork & Spoon,
1939 cookbook)

2 or 3 pounds chicken thighs (often available as bargain packs)
3 average onions
2 tsp. sugar
4 Tbsp. chutney, preferably mango chutney
1/2 cup dried currants (raisins will do)
1 pound almonds
1/2 cup milk
1/2 clove garlic
8 whole peppercorns
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. curry powder
juice of 1/2 lemon
flour for coating
margarine for frying (roughly 3 Tbsp in all)

Put the chicken pieces in a pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, skim foam from the top as it starts to boil. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces, leaving the liquid in the pot. Allow the chicken pieces to cool for about 30 minutes. Separate the meat, toss the skin and bones back into the pot and leave it simmering. Chop the meat into 1/2 inch pieces. (Depending on your schedule, the meat could be refrigerated at this point.)

Toast the almonds on a cookie sheet in a 350-degree oven until they turn a darker brown, about 12 minutes. When they are cooled, chop them in a blender or food processor to the size of coarse sand. Roll the chopped chicken meat in flour, brown in a skillet with a small amount of margarine. Put the meat in a second pot; big enough to hold all the curry ingredients. Chop the onions and garlic to 1/4 inch size, brown in the skillet with a small amount of margarine. Add to the curry pot.

Now is the magic moment for launching the curry. To the meat and onions in the curry pot, add the sugar, chutney, almonds, milk, peppercorns, and ginger. Add just enough chicken stock from the stockpot to cover the other ingredients and bring the curry to a boil. Reduce heat to a very gentle simmer. Add half of the curry powder, let it cook for 1/2 hour and taste. Add more curry powder to bring the strength up to your preferred firepower.

Preferably the curry spends most of the day simmering without a lid, with occasional stirring, and with additions of chicken stock if the curry gets too thick. Adjusting the heat takes some attention. Too hot and it burns easily on the bottom. Too cold: one lady in Princeton sent her entire guest list to the hospital from a chicken curry that spent all day in an under-heated hotpot.

Just before serving the curry, stir in the juice of 1/2 lemon.

There is an enormous variation in commercial curry powders; mainly in the ratio of pepper to the aromatic ingredients. My preference is to search for aromatic curry powder and to serve finely chopped habaneros (Scotch bonnet peppers) on the side for my guests who insist on a higher muzzle velocity. (Cuidado! Habaneros have to be handled with rubber gloves, wiping your eye causes intense pain.)

The curry is served with white rice and an assortment of condiments. Cooking rice for 25 healthy appetites is a problem. Without implying any endorsement by the Trustees of Princeton University, I find Uncle Ben's Converted Rice to be well behaved. Once it boils to the point where no free water is standing on top, reduce the heat to low and stir it occasionally.

The assorted condiments are set out for the guests to select. The two essential flavors are chutney and dark-roasted peanuts; everything else is personal taste. Here are my favorites:

mango chutney, regular
mango chutney, extra spicy
peanuts: "cocktail" salted peanuts, available canned in the grocery store, roasted at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet until very dark brown, and chopped to about 1/8 inch size.
hardboiled egg, chopped
chopped raw onion
dried currants, plumped by bringing briefly to a boil in a small amount of water
chopped sweet red bell pepper
coconut, grated, from a fresh coconut if you have the time

The proper sequence is to put rice on the plate first, curried chicken on top of the rice, condiments on top of the curry, spade together with a fork and enjoy!

Vegetarian Curry
(Source: "Instant India" bottle wrapper)

Although I had tasted some delicious vegetarian curries, my first half-dozen attempts to produce a vegetarian curry were unmitigated disasters. Success finally came when I learned of a commercial product, called Instant India, which contains curry, onion, and other essentials. One of the recipes on the bottle wrapper calls for 3 tablespoons from the bottle, plus 28 ounces canned tomatoes, two drained cans of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), and four sliced zucchini. My only criticism is that their curry is a tiny bit too peppery. I'll confess that part of my attraction to their recipe is that I can keep it simmering while I pay proper attention to my chicken curry.

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Chopped California Salad

green leaf lettuce
red bell pepper
Kalamata olives
tomato
cucumber
garbanzo beans, drained
Mozzarella* cheese
Salami (served on the side)

Everything except the garbanzos gets diced into squares just about the size of the garbanzos. Drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette (see recipe).

*The original Mozzarella cheese was made using milk from herds of water buffalo in Italy. We use authentic water-buffalo Mozzarella, when available, mostly for the fun of explaining this bit of trivia to the students.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup Dijon-style mustard
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup salad oil
4 tsp. fresh minced garlic

Blend together the vinegar, honey, garlic and mustard. Continue blending and slowly add the oils. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keeps well in the refrigerator.

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Tamale Pie
(Source: modified from Sunset Magazine)

For the filling:

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 or 4 Poblano fresh peppers, substitute one large green bell pepper if necessary
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 8-oz. can of tomatoes, preferably whole pear-shaped tomatoes
1 small can of whole-kernel corn
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup pitted black olives, chopped
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup water

For the topping:

1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. margarine
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
2 shakes from a Tabasco bottle

Poblano peppers are the mildest of the Mexican-style peppers. Cook the peppers over a grill, a gas flame, or under a broiler until the outer skins are partially or completely black. Under cold running water, remove the blackened skin. Chop into 1/4 inch pieces. In a large skillet, sauté the meat until browned, drain to remove fat, and set aside. Use the vegetable oil to sauté the onions and garlic until they begin to brown. Add the drained corn, drained tomatoes, salt, cumin, and the reserved meat to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes. Mix the cornmeal into the water; add to the skillet and simmer 10 minutes more. Add olives. Transfer to a baking dish, about 9 by 13 inches. You can save some of the olives in sliced or chopped form and spell out, or draw, something on the surface of the topping.

For the topping, mix the cornmeal with the cold milk in a saucepan. Add the salt, Tabasco, and margarine. As in the polenta recipe, stir over a medium flame until the margarine has melted. Place over or in boiling water and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until the mixture thickens. Add the Cheddar cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and blended. Spread the topping over the filling and bake uncovered in a 375-degree oven for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes under an aluminum foil cover before serving.

Vegetarian option: hold the beef. The cheese, milk, and cornmeal give protein.

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Carmalized Butternut Squash
(Source: The Barefoot Contessa)

2 medium butternut squash, 4 to 5 pounds total
2 Band-Aids
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter (or somewhat less.)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Peel squash by cutting in half at the top of the bulb, put the cut side down on a cutting board and slice off the skin with a sharp chef's knife. (Your fingers come out looking tobacco-stained.) Cut into one-inch cubes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the cubed squash in a single layer on a cookie sheet. (A black cookie sheet helps it caramelize.) Put the butter, brown sugar, salt, and pepper on top and place in the oven. After the butter melts, stir occasionally. Cook for 45 to 55 minutes, or until caramelized.

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Fudged Brownies
(Source: NYTimes Magazine, Nov. 2, 2008,
modified by my daughter)

This recipe has become our official family brownie recipe, in part because of an allergy to nuts. It's a great excuse to use quality chocolate, preferably around 60 percent cacao.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
14 ounces chopped semi-sweet chocolate, about 2 1/2 cups
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brewed espresso
    (or 2 tablespoons instant coffee and 2 tablespoons water)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup plus one tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan, or a 9-inch circular pan. Melt about half of the chocolate (1 1/4 cups), along with the butter, sugar, and coffee in the top of a double boiler and stir to combine. Remove from the heat and cool. (If you are impatient, fill the bottom of the double boiler with cold water and stir occasionally.) When cool, stir in the lightly beaten eggs. (If you add the eggs right away to the hot mixture, the eggs cook instantly.)

Combine the flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl. Add them to the wet mixture until just combined; do not overmix. Stir in the remaining 1 1/4 cup of chopped chocolate. Pour the batter evenly into the buttered pan and bake for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. Our family prefers to eat them with a fork.

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Turtles

13 ounces raw almonds
16 ounces high-test chocolate

Today, chocolate is sometimes labeled by the country, province, and even the hacienda where the beans are grown. A high cocoa content is a source of pride, although the 95 percent version is so bitter as to be inedible by itself. Bittersweet chocolates with cocoa contents from 60 to 70 percent seem to me to work best in this recipe. "Turtles" traditionally are peanut-chocolate clusters. However, the Hershey company learned long ago that almonds have the highest affinity for chocolate. This recipe requires patience. Have something else to do. If you just stand by the stove, it takes forever.

Toast the almonds on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes at 350 degrees, but check after 12 minutes and remove the almonds from the oven when their color darkens slightly. (Being lazy, I use the toaster oven and its timer.) Let the almonds cool to room temperature on the counter. Nibble a few after they cool.

Melt the chocolate slowly in a double boiler. Bring the water in the lower section to a boil, turn off the heat and put the chocolate in the upper section. About a half hour or an hour later, bring the water to a boil again and turn off the heat. After the second or third heating, the chocolate is soft and melted. We're trying not to lose flavor by overheating the chocolate.

Add the almonds to the chocolate, stir to coat the almonds. Using a tablespoon, drop clusters onto waxed paper lining a cookie sheet. Transfer to the refrigerator for an hour or two. When cold, move the clusters to a covered container and keep refrigerated.

Warning: If the clusters are more than a half-inch thick, you feel as if you were biting into reinforced concrete. It's OK, if you break a tooth, I get a 10 percent kickback from your dentist.

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Southern Chess Pie
(Source: Jason Morgan's family,
Savannah GA)

1 ready-made piecrust
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated (white) sugar
1 Tbsp. flour
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup melted butter
1 1/2 to 2 cups pecans

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix together sugars and flour. Beat in thoroughly eggs, milk, vanilla, and melted butter. Fold in nuts. Bake 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with whipped cream if your guests can tolerate the cholesterol.

This is a thinner, crisper alternative to the usual thick gooey pecan pie.

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A Note On Safety

Whenever we cook, bacteriological safety is important. Food needs to stay hot-hot or cold-cold. Cooking for a large group enlarges the problem. Large pots can take over an hour to heat up and several hours to cool down to refrigerator temperature. Cycling a large container of food back and forth from the refrigerator to the stove can have the unintended effect of holding the contents near room temperature for hours. It helps to plan a preparation schedule to avoid cycling food from hot to cold. (One executive chef of the university always had a thermometer sticking out of his jacket pocket.)

A goodly number of students today prefer not to eat red meat. As a consequence, these recipes dress up poultry in a lot of different costumes. Unfortunately, the cook has to presume that all chicken arrives contaminated with unpleasant bacteria. Handling raw poultry in a minimal space and an immediate cleanup of the workspace (and the cook!) helps minimize the problem.

I am happy to report that our freshman seminars have gone through 12 years and 8 different cooks without having an incident of food-caused illness.

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