Friday, March 9, 2012

Creamed Turnips

I love shopping at my local city farmers' market.  Every Saturday morning as my coffee is brewing, I ruffle through my kitchen drawers, searching for my sturdiest reusable bags, prepping for the 20-minute hike out to the market.  I definitely have a "go-to" bag: a beautiful, sturdy cotton shoulder bag with a gaudy image of the New Orleans French Market on the side.  I love this bag because it reminds me of sunny mornings in the French Quarter when the perfume of jasmine is fresh in the air.

With my to-go mug and reusable bags in hand, I set off to the Durham Farmers' Market with a pep in my step.  More often than not, I am energized with the anticipation of hunting for the best vegetables and experimenting with what ingredients are in season.  Recently, I've been cooking a lot with turnips.  My market has a beautiful array of turnips, and I couldn't pass up these eye-catching root vegetables.  I put them to excellent use with Lena's intriguing recipe for “Creamed Turnips:"

6 white turnips
Juice of 1 lemon
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1 ½ cups of milk
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika 

       Pare 6 white turnips and dice them.  Cook 15 minutes in boiling water to which the lemon juice has been added to make it rather acid.  Drain and set away to cool.  Mash the yolks of 2 hard-boiled eggs and blend with flour.  Then add warm milk gradually, and cook over hot water until thick.  Add seasonings.  Add the diced turnips and simmer for a few minutes.  Remove from fire and add a teaspoon of lemon juice.  Serve at once.

I started off this recipe by boiling the eggs.  I used my mother's full proof technique:
I put two room temperature eggs (extra large) in a pot, and covered with water to 1 inch above the eggs.  I placed the pot over heat and brought to a boil uncovered.  Then I turned off the heat, covered the pot and let sit for 12 minutes.  I drained the eggs and rinsed them in cold water to stop the cooking.

While the eggs were cooling I diced the turnips. 

I placed the turnips in a soup pot, filled the pot with water until the turnips were covered and added the juice of 1 lemon, making sure to catch the seeds.  I brought the water to a boil and cooked for 25 minutes.  

Meanwhile, I created a double boiler over top of the soup pot of turnips.  I mashed the two egg yokes with 2 tablespoons of flour in a saucepan.  I heated 1 ½ cups of milk in the microwave for 1 minute and 30 seconds.  Then I slowly added the milk to the saucepan, continually stirring until the cream sauce became thick (about 15 minutes).  Then I added the salt, pepper and paprika to the cream sauce, which turned a rosy pink color.

I removed the cream sauce from the heat, drained the turnips and added the turnips to the cream sauce, folding to coat. 

Then I finished the dish with the juice of ½ a lemon, folding to incorporate.

The dish had a subtle flavor with wonderful smooth texture to the cream sauce.  I was pleasantly surprised at the creaminess of this sauce without using any butter.  

This dish would be a perfect side to a holiday meal as it comforts the belly and warms the spirit!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Devil's Food Cake

For my birthday, I decided to make Lena’s “Devil’s Food Cake” recipe.  As a child, I used to refuse to eat any cake with an ounce of chocolate in it.  I much preferred the simple flavor of vanilla, but now I have a soft spot for the rich and decadent flavor of chocolate baked goods.  Lena's extremely light, yet rich Devil's Food Cake is wonderful and well worth the time investment:

2 cups sifted cake flour
1 teaspoon soda
½ cup butter
2 cups sifted brown sugar
3 eggsunbeaten
6 squares unsweetened chocolate (melted)
1 cup sweet milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

            Sift flour once, measure, add soda, and sift together three times.  Cream butter thoroughly, add sugar gradually, and cream together until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time and beat well.  Add chocolate and beat well.  Add flour, alternatively with milk, a small amount at a time.  Beat after each addition until smooth.  Add vanilla.  Pour into three greased layer cake pans and bake in a moderate oven (325° F) for thirty minutes.  Spread cooked frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.

This was a serious baking project for me, and whenever I bake something from scratch I bring out my grandmother’s hand mixer.  There is something about this egg-colored plastic appliance that make me feel enveloped by my grandmother’s protective embrace.  As long as I have this mixer on hand, I feel confident that I can accomplish what has been set out in a recipe.  Step one: set the oven to 325°.

After sifting the flour and then the flour-soda mixture together three times, I creamed my butter and added sugar, whipping until the sugar dissolved.

I then set up a double boiler on my stove over medium high heat.  I melted 6 squares of unsweetened chocolate, stirring occasionally.

While my chocolate was melting, I added three eggs, one at a time, into my butter and sugar mixture and beat until smooth.  Once the chocolate was completely melted, I added it to the mixture and beat to combine.  Then I alternated adding 1 cup of whole milk and the flour-soda mixture to the bowl, beating each time until the batter was smooth, finally finishing by adding and incorporating the vanilla.

I used two 8 inch cake pans for this recipe, rather than the three that Lena calls for in her recipe.  I turned to a modern convenience and greased the inside of my cake pans with non-fat cooking spray for baking.  Then I filled my cake pans ⅔ full and pushed the batter to the sides of the pan so that the cake would rise more evenly as Lena instructs in her “Miscellaneous Information” section.  Lena suggests that you prepare your cake pans as follows: “Grease with unsalted fat.  Sift flour into greased tins, then shake out surplus.”

I have a thermometer in my oven because the digital thermometer on my range cannot be trusted (my oven tends to be 25 degrees lower than the range says).  After reaching 325 degrees, I place my cake tins on the middle rack.  After thirty minutes, the center of each cake was still jiggling slightly.  I kept a close eye on the cakes, and after a total of 40 minutes they were ready.  I tested the center of each cake by sticking a sharp knife in the center (which came out clean).  While the pans were still hot, I placed my cakes on a rack to cool.  Then I prepped my kitchen to make Lena's "Fudge Frosting."

Fudge Frosting

I cannot tell you how excited I was to try Lena’s "Fudge Frosting" recipe.  After successfully completing her Devil’s Food Cake with success, I was anxious to whip up a delectable icing to pair with Lena’s sinfully chocolaty cake.  If only my experience with Lena’s icing had gone as smoothly as making the cake batter...

Here is the recipe for her cooked Fudge Frosting:

2 heaping tablespoons cocoa
⅔ cup cold milk
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dash of salt

            Add cocoa to milk and place over low flame.  Cook until mixture is smooth and blended, stirring constantly.  Add sugar, salt and syrup and stir until sugar is dissolved and mixtures boils.  Continue cooking, without stirring, until a small amount of mixture forms a very soft ball in cold water.  Remove from fire, add butter and vanilla.  Cool to lukewarm.  Beat until of right consistency to spread.

The first time I tried this recipe, I followed the directions to the best of my ability, even forgoing the use of a candy thermometer while I made the fudge.  I heated the milk and cocoa on medium low, stirring constantly.  

Then added the sugar, salt and syrup as the directions stated.  Then things got a bit tricky.  The sugar dissolved, and I increased the heat to medium to slowly bring the fudge-concoction to a boil (in hindsight, I believe my heat was too high, and my boil too strong).

Unsure as to what Lena meant by “a very soft ball,” I lined up 5 glasses of cold water along my counter and would occasionally spoon a dollop of the fudge into the cold water.  I tested the consistency of the fudge every minute or so, but did not receive the intended results until after about 10 minutes of boiling the fudge-concoction.  I finally got the fudge to form a soft ball in cold water after about 13 minutes.  I took the fudge off of the heat and added the butter and vanilla.  As the fudge frosting cooled, it thickened, and I celebrated my success (perhaps a bit too hastily).

When I returned to my kitchen 15 minutes later, my warm gooey fudge had turned into hard candy!  It appears that I overcooked my fudge-concoction, and would spend a good 45 minutes scrubbing out my pot (a few days later, my mother informed me that I could have just reheated the candy and it would have “slipped” right out of the pan).  I like to think that I was learning some sort of valuable lesson having to scrub that pan so diligently, slowly scraping off the layers of candy I had accidentally made.  I will have to get back to you on what that particular lesson might be.

A few hours later, I tried the recipe again.  After adding the sugar, salt and syrup, I slowly increased the heat to bring the fudge-concoction to a slow boil (less vigorous than the previous time).  Slightly petrified from my last attempt, and somewhat exhausted from the 2.5 hour history seminar I had just attended, I opted to boil my fudge for 5 minutes.  Although my fudge-concoction did not form a soft ball when placed in cold water, I didn’t want to overcook my fudge again.  I admit it, I overcompensated, and my fudge was not as thick as desired.  Nonetheless, I pulled my fudge off of the heat and added the butter and vanilla.  I let the fudge cool (it did not turn to hard candy...phew!) and actually placed it in the refrigerator for an hour so that it thickened to a more spreadable consistency.  After an hour, I pulled it out of the refrigerator, used my grandmother’s hand mixer to whip it for a minute or two and then carefully spread the icing on top of one cake, placing the other cake on top, and then iced the top and sides of the complete layered cake.  

The icing smelled heavenly, and the sight of the fudge icing dripping over the sides of the cake was a sight to behold after such a trying experience in the kitchen!