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Tag Archive | "M.F.K. Fisher"

Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread a Great Duo for Cold Weather


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Fred Thompson’s book, “Hot Chocolate”  (Harvard Common Press, $12.95), has a prominent place on my cookbook shelf, though I’m interested in this topic only a few months out of the year.

Right on cue, cold temps are promised this week as December begins.  Meaning Thompson’s book is officially off my shelf and presenting me with temptations. These include Italian Hot Chocolate with Orange Whipped Cream or the recipe for Ancient Aztec Cacahuatl,  made with a vanilla bean and a fiery dose of pure ancho chile powder.

If you want to make classic American Hot Chocolate, his recipe calls for Scharffen Berger cocoa powder and chopped, 70- to 75-percent cacao, bittersweet chocolate.

Hot chocolate is great with cookies, but another perfect accompaniment is dark, moist gingerbread. This isn’t the crunchy cookie. It’s dark, cake-y and delicious. We enjoyed this treat when our Thanksgiving hosts, Pam and Cecil Flentge, sent some home with us at the end of the evening to have for breakfast. I’m thinking Emily’s Gingerbread, from M.F.K. Fisher’s book, “How to Cook a Wolf,” would also be very welcome on Christmas morning and make good Yuletide gifts for friends, too.

[amazon-product]1558322906[/amazon-product]Here, from “Hot Chocolate,”  are a few tips for making a good, hot cup of chocolate:

  • True chocolate, what you find in chocolate bars or chips with a high content of cacao, will give you a much richer “centerpiece” for hot chocolate than does cocoa powder.
  • To make the best hot chocolate, keep on hand a good chef’s knife for slicing into bars of chocolate (try to shave chocolate rather than chop, as it will melt better). Also, a good balloon whisk and a double boiler for melting are useful.
  • Using water instead of milk to make hot chocolate will give you the most intense chocolate flavor. Using low-fat milk is a good choice if you want just a bit of creaminess.  If you like cream, make it that way — it just depends on how intense you want the chocolate flavor to come through.
  • If intense chocolate taste is your goal, use the higher-end, 70-percent cacao chocolates.

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Edith’s Gingerbread


gingerbreadEarlier this year, John Griffin lent me his copy of “How to Cook a Wolf” by M. F. K. Fisher, an entertaining book written in 1942 during a time of war and shortages. The content seemed particularly timely in light of today’s economy, so the delightful read rang true on several levels. Fisher’s light style and sage advice were only part of the attraction. Several of her intriguing recipes found their way into my recipe collection.

I enjoy recipes that include steps that show me the science behind the cooking. In the recipe for Edith’s Gingerbread, two steps fascinate me. The first is “beat the ½ teaspoon soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy.” I’d not read a recipe that combined baking soda into molasses before, and I had great doubts that the dark, thick goo of molasses could ever achieve a consistency referred to as “light and fluffy.” However, that’s just what happened as I followed the instructions. The second interesting step to me is to then place an additional ¼ teaspoon of baking soda to boiling water. I don’t completely understand the chemical reaction here, but it’s fun anyway.

When our Thanksgiving dinner guests departed this season, I sent each of them home with a small prize for the following day’s breakfast: one of Bonnie Walker’s yummy Raspberry Lemon Muffins and a slice of Edith’s Gingerbread. Comments were quite positive! Be sure to save some for the folks in your house to enjoy. It also freezes beautifully. I’ve added a few notes to help clarify a few points that were fuzzy to me in the original recipe.

Edith’s Gingerbread

¼ cup shortening
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger (Note: If using fresh ginger, use 2 teaspoons peeled, finely chopped ginger root)
Cloves (I used 1/8 teaspoon cloves)
Salt (I used 1/2 teaspoon salt)
1 ¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda in ½ cup molasses
¼ teaspoon baking soda in ¾ cup boiling water
1 beaten egg

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

[amazon-product]0865473366[/amazon-product]Cream the shortening and sugar together. Sift the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt, flour and baking powder together. Beat the ½ teaspoon soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy, and add to the shortening and sugar. Add the ¼ teaspoon soda to the boiling water, and then add it alternately with the sifted dry ingredients. Fold in the beaten egg when all is well mixed. Pour into a greased and floured pan and bake for 20 minutes (Note: I’ve used both a 9-by-9 -inch pan and a loaf pan with good results but needed about 35 minutes baking time. Test with a toothpick and when it comes out clean, the gingerbread is ready). This mixture will seem too thin to make a cake but do not increase the quantity of flour.

Makes one loaf or one pan gingerbread.

From “How to Cook a Wolf” by M.F.K. Fisher

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Griffin to Go: Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?


dsc02193It seems fitting somehow that my copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf” is remaindered, the publishing world’s term for overstock, which is usually marked by a black slash across the bottom page edges to alert those who care about such things that I didn’t pay full price.

I didn’t pay attention to what the book was about when I bought it. I picked it up because Fisher is one of the all-time great food writers and anything of hers is likely to be pure pleasure to read.

Yet I seemed to be waiting for the right time to read it. So, it lingered for the past two years on my too-tall to-read stack.

It was only after I was laid off in March that I picked it up and discovered my timing could not have been more perfect.

That’s because the wolf she refers to is the one that howls outside the door of those in need.

In her case, she was writing about the world of rations and shortages that accompanied the second world war. The same attitude of living frugally, though, applies to many of us today in pinched circumstances.

Fisher didn’t let the war stop her. As she wrote, “All men are hungry. They always have been. They must eat, and when they deny themselves the pleasures of carrying out that need, they are cutting off part of their possible fullness,  their natural realization of life, whether they are poor or rich.”

She devised a series of recipes that stretches the food budget to the point of snapping. Knowing how to boil water leads to the creation of soup. From there you can build to eggs and dishes beyond your tastiest dreams. She even offers some recipes for homemade liquor, because  many would not want to go without that completely, either.

Sprinkled liberally throughout the book are tidbits of the opinionated cooking advice that Fisher is known for. Some of suggestions I wouldn’t follow, yet I enjoyed savoring her every word:

  • “One thing to remember about cooking any fowl, whether wild or domesticated, is that a good scrub with a cut lemon, never water, will make it tenderer and will seal in its flavors.”
  • “Of course, the best gravy is one quite innocent of flour, in spite of what your grandmother would say. It is made by swirling a little boiling stock or water into the rich odorous pan as soon as the roast is removed. It is boiled for a scant five minutes, skimmed slightly, thickened with a little fresh butter, and strained into a hot sauceboat.”
  • “A rolled roast seems more economical at first sight, because you do not buy the rib bones. But you must remember that bones are conductors of heat and make meat cook about six minutes faster to the pound, thus cutting down on the fuel bill …”
  • “Probably the wisest way to treat an egg is not to cook it at all. An accomplished barfly will prove to you that a Prairie Oyster is one of the quickest pickups known to man, and whether you are hungover or merely tired, a raw egg beaten with a little milk or sherry can you feel much more able to cope with yourself, and shortly too. ” (I guess salmonella scares were not so common in 1942.)

Her conclusion was a tonic for her times — and ours: “Now and then it cannot harm you … to enjoy a short respite from reality. And if by chance you can indeed find some anchovies, or a thick slice of rare beef and some brandy, or a bowl of pink curled shrimps, you are doubly bleed, to possess in this troubled life both the capacity and the wherewithal to forget it for a time.”

To do that, I have shaved many items off my must-have list — in addition to reading books I already own, that is. I don’t pour the expensive extra-virgin olive oil quite so lavishly any more. I share bulk packages with fellow unemployed friends, which means less food will go to waste. Potlucks are certainly less expensive than having people over for dinner — and you still get to share their company, which is what entertaining is all about.

I’ve started focusing on foods in season, which really are much cheaper and taste much better.

Most of all, I pay more attention to the foods I grow in my own backyard, from herbs to tomatoes to figs, because they taste far fresher and, consequently, far better than anything I could get even at a farmers market. Try a tomato and basil salad with your own homegrown ingredients, and you’ll see. You don’t even need olive oil with it. Only a dash of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.

An anchovy on the side would certainly be a nice complement. They’re still affordable and a great way to thumb your nose at wolves or whoever else may be at your door.

Need any more lessons from Fisher? “How to Cook a Wolf” is still in print.

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