Thursday, March 25, 2010

World's Easiest Bread: Herb "Rolls"

As those who check my blog or my newspaper column might have noticed, I don't do much baking.

But there was a simple type of roll, really more of a biscuit, that I've been thinking about for some time. I first heard about it years ago. It's from Southern country cooking, possibly from high school home economics classes in the old days.

The original was called "mayonnaise biscuits" if dropped onto a baking sheet or "mayonnaise rolls" if made in a cupcake pan. It required only three ingredients and almost no technique.

Sometimes the name "Smith House" is associated with these quick breads, but articles about the famous Smith House in Dalonega, Georgia do not show anything quite like them.

The original ingredients were self-rising flour, mayonnaise (for the egg and oil) and milk.

Here's my variant, in which I put some herbs, spices, or cheese. I use self-rising White Lily flour, which makes incredibly light baked goods.

Real mayonnaise is required, not a low- or non-fat variety, since the shortening -- though there's not much of it -- in the recipe is from the mayonnaise.

Easy Herb Rolls

2 1/4 cups White Lily self-rising flour
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dry dill weed, savory, or oregano, or 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh herb
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, optional
2 tablespoons grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, optional
1/4 cup mayonnaise ("real" type)
1 cup milk

Set oven for 400 degrees. Use spray oil a 12-cup muffin/cupcake pan.

Mix flour and seasonings are used in bowl. With fork, lightly mix in mayonnaise.

Stir in milk just until moistened. Mixture will be somewhat lumpy.

Drop by spoonfulls into prepared pan.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan onto cooling rack, so edges dry.

Serve warm.

Friday, March 19, 2010

This Sautéed Cabbage is more German than German

If this dish isn't German, it ought to be.

It is said that fiction can have more truth than does recorded fact. Well, at least English teachers say that. But in the big scheme of things, I accept it as valid.

The dish I'm describing is so German, to the extent that I have experienced true German cooking, that if it is not in fact German it should be. It certainly has the essence, if not necessarily the fact, of Germanness. But my German cookbooks, of which I have over a dozen, show nothing quite like it.

One Sunday recently I was at the supermarket hunting for meat to cook in an interesting way with the partial head of Savoy cabbage and the boiled potatoes I had in the fridge. By chance, someone was demonstrating a new new product, a frozen Springer Mountain chicken burger from Gainesville, Georgia.

It seemed like something I could work with, so I bought some. I'll point out that this is not an endorsement of these Georgian chicken burgers, as excellent as they turned out to be. A juicy burger of beef, pork, or turkey would also have served well as a base for my dish.

The creation I came up with was "informed" (that's trendy research jargon meaning "influenced") by a traditional Czech-German manner of cooking kohlrabi (a cabbage cousin) with cream and by a shredded Brussels sprouts and apple dish I was testing during the winter.

Cabbage lends itself well to caramelizing, as does onion. I took advantage of both. I used no herb or spice seasoning, other than a little black pepper, which is consistent with German cooking. The flavors emerge from the vegetables themselves and are mellowed by the sour cream.

I served the cabbage as a topping on the fried, and lightly salted and peppered, chicken burgers. I'm convinced that turkey burgers, pork burgers or beef burgers, if juicy, would also have worked well.

The accompaniment was fried, seasoned slices of previously boiled potatoes. I presume that hash browns, french fries, or (as my grand kids would advise) "Tater Tots" would also do.

I recommend accompanying the dressed burgers and potato dish with non-yellow mustard and horseradish.

We had a dry but not particularly distinguished California Cabernet Sauvignon with this because it was already open. But on principle, an off-dry (Kabinett level of ripeness) German Riesling would go with the meal better, as would a good lager beer.

The recipe provides toppings for six large burgers.

Sauteed Savoy Cabbage and Sour Cream

3 tablespoons shredded shallot or onion
Half a small Savoy cabbage, quartered, cored and shredded
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Water as needed
6 tablespoons sour cream

Prepare the vegetables.

In a medium-sized frying pan, fry onion in oil over medium heat, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown.

Add cabbage. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Fry gently, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown. Sprinkle lightly with salt several times during frying.

Add 1/4 cup water. Stir, and simmer, with pan covered, until tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in sour cream. Simmer, covered 2 to 3 minutes. Stir, taste, and add salt, if needed.

Keep warm until served.

Spoon generously over burgers.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Polish Easter Sausage

When I was a kid, my best friends had grandparents from Poland. I was exposed to many regional dishes, since their grandmother visited often and was a good cook.

I also worked with my friends' parents, who did catering, especially for Polish-American weddings.

A "must-have" wedding dish, but also an Easter dish, was what they called "Polish Easter Sausage," a savory combination of lightly smoked kielbasa sausage braised in a tomato-tinged sauerkraut and cabbage mixture.

The dish is Polish American, more than old-country Polish, I have learned, but became a mainstay specialty in Polish-American communities.

In Poland -- and among Polish Americans -- the typical drink with this meal is beer. But an off-dry German Riesling (Kabinett level of ripeness) or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner would also accompany the dish well.

The recipe serves 4 to 6.

Polish Easter and Wedding Sausage

1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 pound (half a small head) cabbage, quartered, cored, shredded
1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon whole caraway seeds or 1/2 teaspoon juniper berries
1 small (14-ounce) can shredded sauerkraut, juice squeezed out
1 small (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, unflavored
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound kielbasa sausage cut in 2-inch lengths on a slight angle
Sour cream for serving, optional

In stainless steel or enamel pot, gently fry onion in oil, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to brown.

Add cabbage, and raise heat. Fry, stirring often, until starting to brown.

Add water, pepper, and caraway or juniper berries. Cover, and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, or until cabbage is starting to become tender.

Add drained sauerkraut and entire can of tomatoes. Simmer 20 minutes, covered but stirring occasionally. Add a little water if becoming dry.

Add sugar, salt and kielbasa. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste cabbage. Add salt, if necessary.

If desired, sour cream can be spooned on when serving.

Serve with boiled, salted potatoes. Accompany with horseradish mustard or Dijon mustard.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A Brightly Flavored Chicken Curry

Way back, when I was single and before I lived in Asia, an Indian colleague, Pravan, invited me frequently to dinner with his family. Indu, his wife, was a brilliant cook.

Her seasonings were amazing, even when she made a chicken curry. She was a strict vegetarian, but would cook chicken for her family. That meant getting her Thai neighbor to cut the bird -- she couldn't face it -- and estimating her spices and salt right because she would not taste something with meat in it.

She taught me to make my first real curry, from scratch, with no premixed spice powders. I've since had fairly extensive exposure to Indian cooking, in Southeast Asia, in India and Pakistan, and in North America.

My seasonings have become more intense than Indu's, who being Gujarati had a delicate hand with aromatic spices and chilies. But other than the more Punjabi style of seasoning, the dish below is what I first enjoyed at those friends' home.

Split chicken breast halves are often on sale at the supermarket, and are generally economical. Spices are cheapest at natural food stores.

The recipe makes enough for six, probably with leftovers.

I serve this with rice. Indu made her own chapatis, which require considerable skill and experience.

Chicken Curry, North Indian Style

3 pounds split chicken breasts, with skin and bone
2 medium onions, chopped
1/4 cup canola oil -- not olive
8 whole cardamoms
8 whole cloves
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled, sliced thin, stacked and shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup part-skim yogurt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish, if desired

Cut off excess fat and part of skin from chicken. With sharp heavy knife or cleaver, cut chicken through the bone into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Set aside.

In heavy pan, gently fry onion, cardamoms and cloves in oil, stirring frequently, until onion starts to turn golden.

Add ginger and garlic. Fry 1 minute, stirring. Add dry spices. Fry gently, stirring frequently, until fragrant, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.

Add yogurt, water and salt. Mix and simmer a minute.

Add chicken. Over low heat, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pot, cook until chicken loses raw color. The gravy will be thick, but will thin as the chicken cooks further. Simmer, covered, stirring every few minutes, until chicken is tender, 30-35 minutes.

Like all curries, this dish is richer if made in advance and reheated to serve.

Serve with unsalted, or very lightly salted basmati rice. If desired, sprinkle with chopped cilantro.