Newsletters: 16 Dec, 2010

Excerpt from the Market Newsletter originally published on 16 Dec, 2010. View the full newsletter for all the photos and links.

About that food…
I’ve been playing with an idea I had awhile ago when I first tried celeriac — I think it would be nice cooked like scalloped potatoes. So I’ve did a little research and discovered that scalloped potatoes — or, more properly, gratin dauphinous (which my limited French and Shakespeare combine to interpret as potatoes topped with crumbles made out of either dolphins or princes… Where was I?) Anyway, the recipes I’ve found all seem to be just potatoes sliced and baked in cream or milk. My sister-in-law made a similar dish over Thanksgiving, Jansson’s frestelse (only it wasn’t really, because she left out the anchovies in deference to my squeemishness), with a mix of potatoes and celeriac and it was pretty good. I can’t get away from the idea that it should have something more… saucelike on it, though — no doubt because I’ve only ever had scalloped potatoes out of a box and if there’s nothing but dried milk in the sauce packet what’s the point of a mix? So the next time my guinea pig… I mean, when my very good friend visits again, I think I’ll try using a basic cream sauce instead.

In the meantime, since it’s December we have to talk about fruitcake (I’m sure I saw that in the rules somewhere).

Fruitcake has become more joke than a treat in these days of pretty mail-order bricks in sugar mortar, but a nice homemade fruitcake, still fresh and soft, kept properly wrapped and cool, is worth the effort. I don’t really associate it with Christmas, though, because my mother always kept some on hand to put in my father’s lunchbox when she ran out of other dessert items. I won’t put the whole recipe in the newsletter because it’s a little long, but you can find it here in the Market recipe pages.*

For actual recipes-in-the-newsletter I have a couple of interesting things I came across while researching the gratin idea.

Leek gratin
6-8 medium leeks, dark green and all but 2 inches of light green removed
1 c heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
Cut leeks in half lengthwise and rinse out any grit. Arrange them cut side down in a baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer; some can be turned on their sides if necessary to fit. Top with cream and season to taste. ake at 375F until the cream has thickened and mostly been absorbed by the leeks, about 35 min., basting leeks with the cream a couple of times and pressing them down to prevent exposed parts from browning and getting tough.
From: Vegetables / James Peterson. William Morrow and Co., c1998.

Pommes Anna
12 Tbsp. (1.5 sticks) butter, clarified
2.5-3 lb potatoes, peeldd and sliced 1/8 inch thick
salt and pepepr to taste
melted butter (optional)
Pour the clarified butter into an 8-inch cast iron skillet (unless you have the special pan designed for this dish) to a depth of 1/4 inch. Set over low heat and arrange potato slices in layers. Build the bottom layer especially carefully so the slices overlap and look nice. Sprinkle each layer with salt, pepper, and more butter as desired. When complete, butter or oil a pot lid slightly smaller than the pan and press in firmly on top of the potatoes. Cover the pan and place in a 425F oven on a baking sheet in case of drips. Bake 20 min, remove from oven and press the potatoes again. Bake uncovered until the sides are brown and crisp, 20-25 min. Pour off any excess butter, holdign the potatoes in the pan with the lid. Invert onto a plate and serve in wedges.
From: Joy of cooking / by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker. Scribner, c1997.

And one more, for those who are already thinking ahead to New Year’s Eve. Here’s something I came across in a book a friend of mine is getting for Christmas (what, don’t you read your gift books before wrapping them? How else can you make sure there’s nothing obscene or offensive in them, like deep-fried Mars bars or cheese sauce on broccoli?):

Chocolate martini
3 oz. plain or vanilla vodka
1.5 oz. clear creme de cacao
2 Hershey’s Kisses, unwrapped
Place vodka and creme de cacao in a cocktail shaker with ice and stir togther until cold. Strain into two martini glasses and garnish each with a Kiss. You can also add half a teaspoon of Cointreau or other clear liqueur of your choice to influence the flavor.
From: The chocolate deck : 50 luscious indulgences / by Lori Longbotham. Chronicle Books, c2005.

Winter reading, winter dreaming
Kristen Suzanne’s easy raw vegan holidays : delicious & easy raw food recipes for parties & fun at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the holiday season / by Kristen Suzanne. Green Butterfly Press, c2008.

Gourmet game night : bite-sized, mess-free eating for board-game parties, bridge clubs, poker nights, book groups, and more / by Cynthia Nims. Ten Speed Press, 2010.

In giving is the true enlightenment.
-Santideva (Sikshasammuccaya : Ratnamegha)-

If you don’t tell me what you want, you will get socks.
-source unknown-

Gifts allow us to demonstrate exactly how little we know about a person. And nothing pisses a person off more than being shoved into the wrong pigeonhole.
-Pam Davis, House M.D., It’s A Wonderful Lie-

A tule fog
fills the sky–
Yuletide. ”
-Michael P. Garofalo, Cuttings-

Do give books – religious or otherwise – for Christmas. They’re never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.
-Lenore Hershey-

“Great bore, Christmas, isn’t it? All the people ones hates most gathered together in the name of goodwill and all that.”
-Dorothy Sayers (Strong Poison)-

*The recipe pages were lost with the old website; I’ll try to dig up the recipe and post it in the blog when I get a chance. dh.


native to: South America

While chocolate’s reputation has improved in the last decade or so, it still falls short of the “eat plenty, it’s good for you” category. The problem is that plain cocoa (the unsweetened powder, not the drink) has lots of good stuff in it, but making it palatable requires a lot of sugar and fat.

Chocolate is a great source of antioxidants (by some measures, better than açai or blueberries), provides lots of minerals, and is a good source of fiber. Its nutrients include manganese, copper, iron, magnesium, calcium, vitamins A, B1-3, C, and E, pantothenic acid, and polyphenols, especially flavanols. It also contains small amounts of caffeine and another stimulant, theobromine. It can reduce insulin resistance and mitigate the impact of cholesterol and protects against heart attacks. It offers some protection against sunburn and sun-induced damage. It improves blood flow to the skin and the brain. It also releases endorphins and offers phenylethylamine and serotonin, which may explain why it’s so good against PMS and the blues.

The easiest way to get all these benefits is to look for quality dark chocolate, ideally with a cocoa content of 70% or higher. One source suggests an optimal dose of 20 grams of bittersweet chocolate every three days. Unfortunately, this isn’t what’s going to show up in the average Trick-or-Treat bag, but what’s life without the occasional wild indulgence and pure sugar high?

Then there’s the bad news. Processed chocolate is full of sugar, corn syrup, milk fats, hydrogenated oils, and other stuff from the “bad for you but tastes good” category. The stimulants in chocolate have been found to trigger migraines in those prone to them, despite the claims of some studies. Also, the copper in chocolate is so abundant and bioavailable that it increases the risk of things like varicose veins, hemorrhoids, aneurysms, bruising, heart disease, stroke, and osteoarthritis. On a less drastic level, high chocolate consumption is linked with sinus problems, heartburn, kidney stones, esophageal reflux (GERD), and PMS.

Read more:
label-style nutrition information for dark chocolate
label-style nutrition information for milk chocolate

Index to all blog posts.

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish.
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.


Just in time to help you break your new resolutions, here is my grandmother’s best chocolate recipe. It’s not difficult, but it is fiddly and can’t be rushed. If you haven’t worked with chocolate before, you may want to read up on it a little before you start.

6 oz. milk chocolate (Hershey’s quality) + about 3-4 oz. for coating
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
finely chopped nuts (walnuts are traditional, but almonds or filberts are also good)

Melt chocolate and butter over hot water. Blend in milk and vanilla (it will go a little grainy, but will smooth out again). Pour into a shallow pan lined with foil and chill for at least 2 hours (if chilling overnight, cover it closely to prevent the top drying out). Roll into balls and rechill briefly while melting chocolate for dipping. Dip balls into melted chocolate (for best results, keep half the batch in the fridge while dipping the other half) and roll in chopped nuts. Place on waxed paper to cool. If your kitchen is warm, they may flatten a little while cooling; to prevent this, return them to fridge to cool.

Yield: not nearly enough. I recommend making a double batch.

If you find some dry, crunchy edges when you roll the centers, you can melt the hard bits between your fingers a little to soften them (or, of course, you can pick them out and eat them, but you may actually not want any chocolate for a few hours after making these).

Avoid subjecting the finished butterboos to sudden temperature changes, especially if you have omitted the nuts; the chocolate may bloom. If you need to ship them, you’ll want to use special coating chocolate (which mostly isn’t really chocolate anymore) or temper the chocolate before dipping (which is better but makes the process even more fiddly).

This recipe has a history:
My father’s parents lived in the little town of Davenport, WA. My grandfather had a gas station and car dealership and for many years they gave out boxes of my grandmother’s handmade candy to their regular customers at Christmas — they finally stopped in the late 1960s, I think because of a new law. By that time she was making something like 100 lbs. of the stuff: peanut brittle, peppermint bark, fudge, divinity, turtles…. She would start right after Thanksgiving and by mid-December her pantry was full of it all. The whole family would help to pack the gift boxes, thousands of little paper cups all over.

By the time Grandma died, my mother had many of her recipes, but not this one. For several years we thought butterboos were out of our lives forever. When I came across it at last, I started giving it to anyone who would take it, to ensure that I would be able to get it back if I ever misplaced my copy.

Yes, there’s a moral to this story:
This slow time of the year is perfect for making sure your children and grandchildren have all those recipes you’re so famous for, and for making sure you have all your favorites from your grandparents and parents while they’re still around to find them for you. In fact, why not get a recorder out and do a whole oral history project while you’re at it?

Versión en español: this post is also available in Spanish
Esperanta traduko: this post is also available in Esperanto, because Dana is a language geek.