Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare

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Casseroles make some of the most practical and delicious all-in-one meals. When you have a dish like lasagna, you really don't need sides, the lasagna takes all the attention. The thing that makes lasagna so popular is its ability to bring joy to everyone who eats it. I've never met a person who didn't like lasagna. It has to be all that cheese and sauce melted together between layers and layers of pasta. Most people would agree that lasagna is Italy's answer to comfort food. Not to mention it's practically a sanctified Italian-American specialty.

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bruschettabrieboard.jpgBruschetta and crostini? What's the difference?

They’re both wildly popular, easy-to-make Italian appetizers of toasted bread with toppings.

In my family, bruschetta was toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, tomatoes, and basil, while smaller slices of toasted bread with various toppings were called crostini.

I wanted to provide you with a more thorough explanation of the difference between the two, so I explained to Jeff that we needed to take a trip to Italy to conduct research for my blog. However, out plans fell through. So instead I just Googled it.

Brushcetta, from the Italian "bruscare," which means "to roast over coals," refers to the bread, not the toppings. Rather large slices of bread are grilled, rubbed with garlic, then drizzled with olive oil. They are usually topped with tomatoes and basil, though other toppings from meats to vegetables can be used.

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orange-mousse-016b-1024x682Many years ago, my mother-in-law’s niece made a trip to England. She brought two gifts back for my mother-in-law — a Bone China tea cup and saucer and a cookbook. I was the lucky daughter-in-law who got both of her English treasures after she died.

I pulled “Cook in Your Castle” off the shelf this week. After paging through the section on desserts, I finally decided on 10 Downing Street Frozen Orange Mousse, a recipe from Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister at the time the book of recipes was compiled.

There were a couple of things about the recipe that worried me a bit. First, I noticed it called for gelatin. I don’t use gelatin very often. The recipe didn’t explain how to dissolve it before adding it to the mixing bowl.

I wound up putting 2 tablespoons of cool water into a custard cup. I sprinkled the packet of gelatin over the water and mixed it with a fork. The gelatin immediately absorbed the water and became an ugly, clumpy mass. I left it sit for 5 minutes and, in the meantime, heated some water in a small saucepan on the stove. Just before the water came to a boil, I removed the saucepan from the heat and set the custard cup holding the clumpy gelatin in the water that came halfway up the sides of the bowl. As I stirred the gelatin mixture, it began to dissolve and become liquid. Smooth and lump-less liquid. The mousse turned out perfectly light and lovely.

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stewedwhitebeans.jpgI love beans. There I said it. I mean, don't you love them too? Beans can stretch any meal far beyond the usual menu ideas.  There are countless sauces and toppings that can be incorporated with beans and served over rice and pasta. Let's not mention the affordability of this very fine staple.

I do suppose there are those who suffer lots of intestinal-distress when consuming beans, luckily, I am not one of them. Too much information? Maybe.

Anyway, these white beans in tomato sauce, scented with rosemary, are even better a day or two after cooking. They make a great side dish and are easily reheated. My favorite way to eat them is with a generous helping of freshly, grated Parmesan cheese. It melts all over the warm beans and it's just fantastic.

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altWhen my friend Sara from Culinerapy visited Concord, Mass. last year, she made a reader’s pilgrimage to Orchard House, the historic home of Louisa May Alcott. Since Sara and I (and half the women we know) share an abiding love for Alcott’s 1868 novel Little Women, she sent me a thoughtful souvenir: the author’s recipe for Apple Slump. It’s a homey, deliberately simple dessert, comfort cousin to fruit buckles, bettys, cobblers, grunts and pandowdys. Still, reading the calligraphy-script recipe, I could see where I might tweak it. And I thought, who am I to edit Louisa May Alcott?

Not editing, really. Finessing. Alcott may have mastered prose at the desk, but in the kitchen she was likely closer to Jo March, for whom the “bread burned black” and the “cream turned sour.” Making Apple Slump would be like cooking with Ms. Alcott’s domestically-challenged ghost, and while I cored and sliced I considered my years reading and rereading the March girls, picturing Amy’s limes, Meg’s vain high heels and lonely Jo in the attic with apples, writing and cursing scarlet fever, the villain that stole Beth. I regretted that my little tweaks – dash of vanilla, an extra apple – could not make Laurie come to his senses and dump Amy. Pecans would add crunch but they would never make Jo marry Laurie, nor bring Beth back. They’re a matter of personal taste, like my feelings about Meg wedding that dull John Brooke, and while they won’t change the story they can at least enhance Ms. Alcott’s kitchen legacy, and certainly perk up the Slump.

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