Saturday, March 16, 2013

Stuffed Flounder Casserole

DSCN2038I have found out a great deal more about the Rumford Complete Cookbook since I posted last.
“In 1816, Benjamin Thompson (1753-1814), also known as Count Rumford, a British physicist, inventor, and social reformer, bequeathed an annuity of $1000, a reversion of a $400 annuity he bequeathed his daughter, and his residuary estate, to Harvard College for the establishment of a professorship to "teach regular courses of academical and public lectures" in the field of the practical sciences.” (Reference found here.)
Another source clarified that Thompson was born in America, but emigrated to England:  “In 1753, Benjamin Thompson, an American born in Woburn, Massachusetts, escaped from "political complications" in this country by moving to England. There he served in the English army until 1784 when he entered the service of the Elector of Bavaria. For the following 14 years, Thompson devoted his time investigating ways of supplying nutritious foods at the lowest possible costs to the State. For his brilliant success in this endeavor, he was knighted "Count Rumford." “  The same source indicated that in 1854 Harvard Rumford Professor Eben Horsford joined with George Wilson to found the Rumford Chemical Works in Rhode Island (or Massachusetts, depending on where the state boundaries are drawn!).  Their most popular product was “Horsford’s Acid Phosphate”, and was marketed as a remedy for “mental and nervous exhaustion” and a myriad of nondescript ailments.  It was to be stirred into water or milk, and drunk as a “tonic” refresher.  (I want to insert here that having grown up in Southeastern Mass, what is today known as “soda”, “soda pop” , or just “pop” is still commonly referred to as “tonic” in that geographic area.  I suppose this history may be why that is.) I believe this may have preceded, or introduced the popularity of sugary flavored drinks with “fizz”, such as “cherry phosphate”, “lime rickey”, etc.  I don’t know why they are now carbonated instead of phosphate, though.   rumford_baking_powder(With special thanks to, from whose home page I “borrowed” this picture.)
Eventually the company marketed a mixture of calcium acid phosphate, sodium bicarbonate, and cornstarch:  originally Horsford’s Baking Powder, and later (and to this day) Rumford Baking Powder! (For more on baking powder, read this.  As a biochemist, I find this fascinating, but I don’t expect everyone to feel this way….)DSCN2020
Now, about the cookbook:  as far as I can tell, the first cookbook was published in 1908, although there were pamphlets before then, most likely promoting the use of Rumford Baking Powder.  I was thrilled to discover that they employed recipes of Fannie Farmer, of the Boston Cooking School.  (I am on the lookout for an old edition of her cookbook, that would really shine in my little collection.)  After her death, they employed the expertise of  Lily Haxworth Wallace, a home economist who emigrated from England, and lectured all over America, on domestic science topics in the early part of the 20th century.  (Oh, how I would love to have been in the audience!)  In my research on the cookbook, I discovered that there were printings from 1908 into the 1950’s, and there are many fans and collectors out there!  I feel so lucky to have stumbled across this one.  (And it’s a crime that I got it for a quarter!)DSCN2043 - Copy
As a coastal-dweller, I always try to serve fish or seafood on a regular basis, both for the health benefits, and to support the local economy.  It does take a little more planning, as it does not keep well, and it’s best to prepare and serve as fresh as possible.DSCN2043.

Well, this time they had a little markdown on flounder, and having never had flounder (I usually serve haddock, cod, or tilapia), I decided to give it a go.  I wish I had taken pictures of the process, but frankly it didn’t occur to me that it was a blog-worthy topic until I had a dish ready to serve to my guinea pigs family.  With the above suggestion for stuffing as my inspiration, I made the following:

Stuffed Flounder Casserole

This was inspired by my vintage "Rumford Complete Cookbook", in a section describing how to bake fish, and giving a stuffing recipe. Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 35 min
Serving size: 6
Calories per serving: 498 Ingredients:
2 pounds (approx) flounder filets
cooking spray
3 slices stale bread (I used a torpedo roll, torn up)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup instant potato flakes
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1-1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 sweet onion
1/4 stick  butter
Directions: Prepare a large (9"x13") baking dish by spraying generously with cooking spray. Wash and pat dry the flounder fillets. Lay most of the fillets in the bottom of the dish, aiming to create a uniform thickness layer of flounder. This will take more than half of the fillets. Tear up the bread into small pieces and put in a bowl with the milk, allowing it to soak while you measure out the other ingredients. Add potato flakes, parmesan cheese, egg, pepper, onion powder and cilantro. Mix it up with a fork. If it is soupy, add bread crumbs to thicken. It should be a little like pancake batter. Layer this stuffing all over the fillets, spread it evenly. Lay the remaining fillets over this stuffing layer. Mix together the bread crumbs and grated cheese, and sprinkle about 2/3 of it over the top layer of the fillets. Slice the sweet onion into rings, and separating them, scatter them on the top. Sprinkle the rest of the crumbs and cheese, dot with butter, and sprinkle with paprika.
Bake in a preheated 375 deg oven for 25 minutes. Then broil for 8- 10 minutes to brown the topping and caramelize the onion rings.
Serve with lemon slices for garnish. Recipe formatted with the Cook'n Recipe Software from DVO Enterprises. DSCN2041
I over-broiled it by a minute or two, so it looks scorched, but I must say that my finicky family found my flounder fresh, flakely and flavorful, not foul or “fishy”. (Forgive me, if I have failed to be funny.)
I steamed some broccoli rabe (which I had never done and will likely not do again, as it was terribly bitter) to serve with it.  That is the green stuff in the RevereWare saucepan above.  Pretty but not too tasty.
Are you still awake?  Thanks for reading all the way through this long post!  Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rumford Complete Cookbook, 1926

DSCN2048I showed a glimpse of this old cookbook the other day.  I loooove reading old cookbooks.  DSCN2020There are so many hints to the past, so many “why?”s answered about how we came to do things the way we do today.  And sometimes they afford us a personal view into just one life, or household.  Remember this cookbook, when I found the movie theatre schedule?  This "Rumford Complete Cookbook" had a little offering for us too:
And I didn’t know about the potential benefit of waiting before placing my cake in the oven.  That’s especially good to know if you forget to pre-heat your oven.
I especially love the cookbooks that have come from the test kitchens of the companies that made the ingredients.  I figure they were motivated to have the most successful recipes where their products will really shine.  Have you ever visited the King Arthur Flour website?  Beware if you are a carb-a-holic like me, you can bake yourself into a carbohydrate coma!  (If you have hours of time to dispose of, go take a look at all the recipes for the Easter and St. Pat’s baking you could be doing, Hot Cross Buns, anyone?)  And they have on-site classes.  One of these Decembers, I’m going to sign up for Christmas Cookie Baking, or Gingerbread House Making.  I bet it is quite an experience.
The Rumford Cookbook doesn’t tell you baking temperatures, yields, or nutritional information.  It uses phrases like:  “Bake in a moderate oven, about 45 minutes”, and  “…cook very gently one and one-half hours”.  There are recipes for Ox-tail Soup and Mutton Broth.  There is a whole chapter on Recipes for the Sick, including such tasty offerings as “Barley Water”, “Junket Eggnog”, and “Wine Whey”, and when you can progress to something with a little more thickness, there is “Corn Meal Gruel” and “Arrowroot Gruel”.  I don’t know where one procures Irish Moss, but perhaps if you are sick this weekend, you could have someone make you the following:
Irish Moss
1 small handful Irish moss
3 cups milk (surely whole milk was intended)
1 level tablespoon sugar
1/3 teaspoon vanilla or other flavoring (do you own a 1/3 teaspoon measure?  I don’t)
Wash and pick over the moss carefully, add it to the milk in a saucepan, and simmer the two till the moss begins to dissolve.   A double broiler is preferable as it prevents too rapid cooking.  In about twenty minutes, if the moss is dissolving, strain through cheese cloth, add sugar and flavoring, and turn into wet moulds or cups to cool.  Serve with cream and sugar.
Well, this post is getting long, so I will end.  Next time, I will share my adaptation of a recipe for stuffed fish.

Edited to Add:  I found some very interesting information about the use of Irish Moss for medicinal and nutritional purposes here.  I will be looking about in the coastal rocks for this stuff now.  It apparently is basically a seaweed, and functions like a thickener (it is a source of carrageenan, as used in ice cream), and the result of the above recipe will probably be like a jelly or custard.  Probably easier just to make tapioca!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How much is my knitting worth?

DSCN2030Years ago, a dear friend of mine, who had taken up knitting, asked me why, if I was going to put precious time and effort into knitting, was I using acrylic yarn instead of something really beautiful like wool or silk.  Now I am talking two decades or more ago, before there were soooo many beautiful fibers readily available.  At the time, I remember feeling a little embarassed, and as usual, I had little of any substance to say.  I had come from a lifetime of scrimping and saving, but by then I was earning a considerable income, and even after paying considerable student loans, I could have afforded finer materials.
I pondered the question she posed, and explained to myself that I was just trying out patterns, and if I liked something enough, I could always make it up again in a finer yarn.  Kind of like in sewing, it was like testing a pattern by making a muslin (or toile, for our British friends) to check fit, drape, etc.
In the years since my friend posed the question, I cannot recall a single time that I worked up a pattern in a “cheap” yarn, and then chose to do it again in something luxurious.  Not once.  Now, I haven’t done a lot of knitting (which is too bad, when I consider how much yarn I have bought and stashed).  I seem to be more intrigued with making little swatches to try new techniques, like lace, or double-knitting.  I have made socks, all in acrylic, but not just because one of my sons breaks out in a rash when wool touches his skin.  I have always felt like I was still on the sock learning curve.  That, and I thought they would wear better over the long haul.  And I’ve made a shawl, and an afghan, but never in expensive yarn.  I think the truth is simply that I am a cheapskate.  Is that too harsh a judgment?  Perhaps I should just say “tightwad”.  No, I guess that isn’t any more genteel.  But the truth is the truth, I am frugal.  Maybe I feel like I can justify good, durable materials to stock on-hand for projects that bless my family without involving any kind of sacrifice.  I suspect the next step for me is to commit to making something really special for someone, and invest in the best materials, and have something really lovely to give.  It’s scary, though, as it seems it may be habit-forming.  DSCN2024In the meantime, I am going to try to use up this kind of nice, but kind of yucky yarn.  (I sneaked in a picture of the coffee mug that goes with the Evergreen Ernie dinnerware I spoke of in this post.)DSCN2027I worked up a gauge swatch, holding the yarn double (which was a nuisance, as the yarn is already quite “splitty”.   This took me quite a long time, and here’s why.  Like many Americans, I have always knitted in the “English” style, where you carry your working yarn in your right hand.  I recently watched a tutorial on double-knitting, and the instructor recommended using the “Continental” style for double-knitting.  Well, introducing a new handiwork technique is like telling me the cookie jar is full and there is cold milk in the fridge.  I had to try it.  I knit (and purled) the whole swatch in the Continental style.  It was quite a challenge for me.  Apparently, when I get better at it, it is faster than the English style.  For me, I think that it will take a lot of Continental knitting before it is faster for me than English, but I like having a new technique under my belt.
DSCN2025I found it more difficult to keep a steady tension, and my stitches don’t look quite so regular and even.  I tried to show how loose some of it looked on the back, but I’m not so sure the picture below shows it well.  About 1/3 of the way down from the top on the left side of the pic, you can see 2 rows (a couple of rows apart from each other) that look a little darker – it is because there is a big gap between the rows, where I knitted a loose row halfway across.  I watched  some continental knitting video tutorials on YouTube, and learned that Continental does tend to be looser than English. (I recommend this one from like a fine-gauge fabric, and would have knit it up single, but I was afraid the lacy parts would get a little lost.  Even held double, this is still a pretty fine gauge.  (4”x4”:28 sts and 39 rows).  It is a little larger than the called-for gauge, but I’ll use it anyway, where this is a scarf, and the final dimensions are not critical. DSCN2028
The pattern is free and I found it here on Ravelry; it is shown made up in alpaca, and linked to Ravelry by the Toft Alpaca Shop in the UK.
I took all of the above pictures in the sunniest room of our house, but it’s quite overcast right now.  I slipped on my Bean Mocs, and stepped outside to show you why the sun isn’t shining here.DSCN2036This picture tells the story.
DSCN2031It is very windy, too.  We’ve had a lot of wind with our storms this winter.  See the granite post below?  That is supposed to be a lamp-post!  The wind blew the lamp right off of it about 3 weeks ago.DSCN2035Here is a pine tree in our side yard:  see the bough lying on the ground?DSCN2032DSCN2034
The birch on the right is a gratuitous picture, I just love birch trees.  This one is across the street.
Spring starts officially in less than two weeks.  I just keep telling myself that.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Marching into Spring

Hi All!  As I blog-hop about, I am ever so aware that everyone, everywhere is so done with Winter!  And psychologically I am too, but climatologically – not so much.  We had the 3rd snowiest February on record, and my yard is still quite covered with white.  Which actually helps when you are taking photos indoors on a partly cloudy day.  So, I know my little Snowpeople salt-and-pepper set won’t meet much enthusiasm.  They are from a dinnerware line I treated myself with this January.  With the after-Christmas sales, the prices were quite reasonable on the Pfaltzgraff website (and they gave me 15% off for signing up for e-mails, most of which I just delete without reading).  The line is called Evergreen Ernie, and features pastel blues and greens and snowflake motifs without anything Christmas-y, which is perfect for the several weeks of snowy weather which prevails in my area.
But wait, Mr. Cottontail wants to make his presence known!
Lest we forget Easter’s impending arrival later this month!
And BTW, the lovely lacey doilies (which in my mind resemble snowflakes, but not so much that they aren’t suitable for year-round use), are made by tatting.  I have done a little tatting and find it fascinating, but never anything large, just edging and one time, a bookmark shaped like a cross to use with a Bible.
I want to share with you a book I have read nearly cover-to-cover.  Over the years when I have frequented homemaking/housekeeping blogs, I have seen references to this book: Home Comforts:  The Art & Science of Keeping House, and I would think, in passing, “Maybe I should see if they have it at the library/bookstore/Goodwill…”.  One day last summer, I picked it up at the GW Outlet for a quarter!  It is worth sooooo much more.  I won’t do a review of it here.  I’ll just say that it was hugely inspiring for me and endlessly informative.    Cheryl Mendelson holds a similar philosophy to mine, and I so appreciate her eloquence in putting it into words.  (That sounds a little overstated, to say that I have an actual philosophy when it comes to homekeeping, I should just say that it is important to me, I don’t do it well, and I am helpless to resist the drive to improve.)  This has been a consistent interest, and in my earlier mothering years when I had my children in a daycare, and I was working very hard and long hours, I was suppressing my desire to be in my home, and discounting the importance of the home environment in the life of the family. 030513-04Can you see the  title of the first chapter, under “BEGINNINGS”?  It is: “My Secret Life”.  She tells her story of being in academia, and then a corporate law practice, but maintaining a strong interest in the ancient and dying art of domestic management.  I immediately identified with her.
Even in this day of rampant social connectivity, I would venture to say that few, if any of my former professional contacts, either colleagues or acquaintances are aware of the side of my life I share in my blog.  Even now, when women have so many opportunities and choices, it seems like professional life and domestic life are mutually exclusive.  At least in this place, at this time. 
One of my favorite things is to read vintage home-ec books, cookbooks, etc.  Anything instructing the housewife of an earlier time how to do the things that need to be done around the house.  It helps me to set my standards and implement the practices to attain them.
One practice that I think is very quaint, but also time-tested, is to have certain tasks for certain days of the week, and I am vaguely following the pattern for the week, trying to establish new routines, to make certain tasks automatic.  For instance, yesterday, (Monday), I tried to get all my laundry done.  I didn’t get it all, but I can say I got most of it done, and I‘m finishing up today.  It is very unusual for me on a Tuesday morning to have most of what I have laundered, actually folded and put away.  Today, I have my ironing board set up….030513-07
and I will likely get all the clothing that needs it ironed and hung in the proper closets.  I know not everyone feels this way, but I love to iron.  I love the smell, the feel, and the satisfaction of straightening out wrinkles and the feel of having the smooth cloth under my hand.  For years, I have simply put my husbands shirts on the hangers however they came out, and often they looked “good enough”, and if they didn’t, he was on his own to pass the iron over them in the morning. 
When I was a little girl, around 7 or 8 years old, I showed an interest in ironing, and my mother taught me on my father’s white cotton handkerchiefs, and her linen dish towels.  Later, I graduated to my father’s white shirts that he wore with his suits to work.  I got paid a nickel apiece, and I was very proud when my mother told my father who had placed all the crisp white shirts in his closet.  In those days, we didn’t have a clothes dryer, and used a clothesline.  Nothing beats the smell of clean clothes from a clothesline.
I will not likely get to the table linens this week.  But that to me is the beauty of the system.  If you don’t finish everything this week, you have a protected time next week to hack away at it again.  I want to get to where we are using cloth napkins most of the time, and significantly decrease our paper napkin waste.030513-05
A peek at some of my collection.DSCN2020This is the one on top.  Another 25 cent purchase from GW Outlet!  It’s a hit-or-miss way to shop, I often find treasures.  More from this one another time.
Come on Spring!  We need warmer days to melt the snow away, and give my bulbs a chance.