Pie from the past

Posted by Anita on 12.02.06 8:10 AM

Grandma Anne with Angel PieApparently, Mom’s been keeping secrets from me.

I never knew until a few years ago, when Mom gave me a few of his carbon-steel knives, that her grandfather, my Great-grandpa Vivaldelli, had been a chef. And, although I knew that Mom’s mom, my Grandma Anne, was a dedicated cook, I never knew a thing about Angel Pie.

Mom and I were sitting around after Thanksgiving, talking about pies in general, and old-fashioned pies specifically, when she first mentioned it.

“Auntie Pat makes it all the time,” she said. “I need to get the recipe from her.”

And then, almost as an afterthought: “I have a newspaper clipping somewhere with a picture of Grandma and that pie. It was her specialty.”

Sure enough, the next morning, a yellowed clipping from the Glendale News-Press appeared at my place at the breakfast table. And there’s Grams, in a shirtwaist dress, cutting a slice of her popular — but, one must admit, rather homely — Angel Pie. The iron trivets now in my mom’s kitchen (and my own) are hanging on the wall behind her, and familiar glass canisters line the counter.

November 14, 1959
No Weighty Problems for Reiks

Imagine a family with no weight problems that can eat all the dessert it wants. This is the case of the Robert C. Reiks and their four children, Nancy, 18; Toni, 15; Bob, 13; and Patty, 12.

Mrs. Reik (Anne), whose father was a chef for leading hotels in Chicago, has taught her three daughters to cook … any one of them can prepare a meal. Mr. Reik, an amateur chef, confines his art to the backyard barbecue.

Mrs. Reik’s current hobby is making braided woolen rugs. She has always collected recipes, and says her Chocolate Nut Angel Pie hits the jack pot [sic]. She keeps copies to offer friends because once a person tastes this dessert, he wants the recipe.

I have to suspect the author took a few liberties. I can’t imagine that Grandma never taught my Uncle Bugs to cook. And — at least by the time I was around — Gramps certainly never confined himself to the barbecue… he was quite an accomplished cook!

But, at least she got the recipe right:

Chocolate Nut Angel Pie
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3 T hot water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Butter a 9-inch pie plate, and set aside.

Sift sugar and cream of tartar together. Beat egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Add sugar gradually, while continuing to beat until smooth and glossy.

Line the prepared pie plate with this mixture. Keep center hollowed out to 1/2-inch thickness, and do not spread meringue on rim of plate. Sprinkle with nuts.

Bake in slow oven, 275º F, about 1 hour, or until delicately browned and crisp to touch. Cool thoroughly.

Melt chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water. Add 3 T hot water to the chocolate, and stir; cook until thickened. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add vanilla, then fold in whipped cream. Turn into meringue shell. Chill 2 to 3 hours, or until set.

baking, dessert, family, recipes


The “no-recipe” club

Posted by Anita on 10.27.06 10:33 PM

apple cake (c) 2006 aecNot quite five years ago, my mom and dad retired to Henderson, just outside Las Vegas. Their neighborhood — a megasized age-restricted community — is one of those places where you can get hopelessly lost among all the similar-looking houses as you whiz past the golf course, the gigantic rec center, the three-story waterfall… You’re miles from the nearest grocery store or restaurant, or anything else other than a few thousand houses that look pretty much like your own.

But — as much as it’s the kind of development where I’d never choose to live — it’s a pretty cool place in one important respect. Since all the houses in their section were built to order around the same time, everybody moved in pretty much at the same time. Many of my parents’ neighbors had left behind friends and relatives in their old hometowns, and were anxious to make new friends.

My mom found her place among a great group of ladies who live on her street and beyond. They moved to Henderson from all over the country (and, originally, all over the world), so there’s a nice assortment of interests and personalities. In various combinations, they shop together, line-dance together, play Pickleball together.

One of the other things that Mom and her friends like to do is cook, so they formed a Recipe Exchange Club: They each take turns hosting a potluck, and everyone brings their dish’s recipe to share. Or, at least that was the original idea… apparently nobody’s brought recipes since the first “meeting”, because they all cook dishes that they know by heart. It’s evolved into an excuse for a casual meal together where the women sit in the dining room and talk about mahjong and their part-time jobs, and the men sit outside on the porch, admiring the view of The Strip in the distance and talking about poker and football.

Mom and I were in charge of dessert for tonight’s gathering. Since most of Mom’s friends aren’t big dessert-eating types, we decided that something fruity, and not too sweet, would fit the bill. Mom tinkered with a recipe she found on All Recipes, and came up with a great dessert that I bet also makes a tasty coffee cake.

After the amazing spread of dishes these ladies made, I wasn’t sure that any of us would have room for cake. But we sat and talked after dinner, and — lo and behold — everyone found space for a slice.

Caramel-Apple Cake
4 apples – peeled, cored and diced (approx. 4 cups)
1 T sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

3 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup applesauce
1/4 cup apple juice
2 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt or angel-food cake pan. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the apples with the 1T sugar and the spices; set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining sugars with oil, applesauce, juice, vanilla and eggs. Beat at high speed until smooth. Fold in flour mixture, then add in chopped walnuts and apples.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely. Serve slices with homemade caramel sauce.

baking, dessert, entertaining, family, recipes, Vegas
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Another busy week

Posted by Anita on 10.19.06 7:36 AM

cauliflower (c)2006 AECAck, I hate it when I look up and realize that (a) it’s almost the weekend and (b) I haven’t written anything since the previous weekend. Chalk it up to a busy week, I suppose.

Which is not to say that we haven’t been cooking — and eating — quite a lot. Saturday we did our usual trek to the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in the morning. Although the light wasn’t as gorgeous as it was the week before, there were still plenty of gorgeous specimens to photograph… many of which you’ll see in the week’s menus.

Saturday evening, we roasted a little chicken from Hoffman, which made us realize — duh! — that yes, Virgina, there is a huge difference between these coddled birds and even the Rosies and Rockys at Whole Paycheck. Just like the pork and beef from Prather, I’d much rather spend the same money to have a little of this kind of chicken than a lot of the commercial stuff. Anyway, sermon over…

I’d also bought a bagful of broccoli di ciccio and turned it into a tasty side dish with orecchiete and sauteed chickpeas. For such a simple recipe, it was incredibly satisfying — and even better the next day for lunch, with some of the leftover chicken meat shredded into it.

The next morning, I got up early and baked a Red Velvet cake from the Lee Bros. cookbook, in preparation for a dinner that evening with friends. Just like every other recipe I’ve tried from that book, it required a bit of interpolation to make it work, but the end result was pretty good… and definitely red! I realized in the process that I hadn’t done much baking at all, in a very long time. That’s going to change — I really miss it!

There’s nothing we like better than puttering around the house, tidying and cooking and getting things ready for a dinner party. In this case, an impromptu meal with our friends Sean and DPaul, who we hadn’t seen for dinner in far too long. They’d spent the afternoon putting up a truckload of preserves, so by the time they hit our living room, they were well ready for a drink… and to sit down!

We drank our Manhattans and ate a plate of radishes with Irish butter and fleur de sel, and listened enviously to their tales of pear butter and other seasonal spreads. Ah, another thing I haven’t done this year — not even a batch of pickles. Sigh.

Dinner was a salad of marinated roasted beets served with bleu cheese crumbles and rosemary-roasted walnuts; the Zuni Cafe cookbook’s mock porchetta — our old standby — with roasted teeeensy potatoes and chunks of fennel; and, of course, that Red Velvet cake.

Monday night brought a soup-and-sandwich supper: The triumphant return of the cauliflower and Stilton soup from a Soup of the Fortnight of yore, paired with BAT (bacon, avocado, and tomato) sandwiches. Yum! So much fun to take good bacon — this time from Prather Ranch — and pair it with pain de mie and one of the last superripe heirloom tomatoes of the season.

And then Tuesday, we ate a very simple dinner of chorizo tacos and soupy beans. Man, those Fatted Calf boys know how to make tasty sausage — I think theirs is even better than my own! Paired with Rancho Gordo ojo de cabro beans and fresh-masa tortillas, I can’t imagine a better quick-weeknight dinner. Or breakfast! We smashed up some of the beans, tossed in some leftover chorizo, doused it all with good salsa roja, and stirred in some of RG’s chips, and sprinkled with queso… chilaquiles on a weekday, be still my beating heart!

More food later… must go pay the bills.

baking, cookbooks, entertaining, farmers markets, meat, Mexican, shopping, Soup o' the Fortnight


Bread, man

Posted by Cameron on 10.16.06 9:34 PM

BreadWhen I was a kid, my mom made bread. There were years when she only made it once in a while and years when she made it every week. Her baking rhythm was inversely proportional to the sophistication of our surroundings. There was a solid year or two when we lived on a 16-acre farm in rural New Hampshire. During that time, we ate home-churned butter on home-baked bread and washed it down with whole, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk (from whence came the cream that spawned the butter).

Mom’s bread was rustic, and not in any big-bubbled, artisanal, sourdough fashionista sort of way. She used whole grains and honey and god knows what else, and one slice would see you clear through marching up the hill and back down again, especially if that slice was carrying a load of cheddar cheese and had just spent some quality time in the toaster oven. Serious stuff, my friends.

Serious, and for a young lad exposed to all the temptations of a modern industrialized society, all too easy to take for granted. You have no idea how I longed for white bread in those days. I dreamed of Wonder bread, layered with Oscar Meyer bologna and processed American cheese, dressed with Heinz ketchup and yellow mustard.

I never really had a chance at being a baker. One summer, while working at a bistro in Portsmouth, NH, one of the part-owners began to teach me how to make croissants. I stuck with him for a while, but I was soon distracted by being a teenage boy in a seasonal vacation town. Hell, Guns ‘n’ Roses Appetite for Destruction went huge that year, and I could never square getting up at oh-dark-thirty to fold dough with late-night dart games fueled by weed and beer.

These days, we buy our bread. The closest thing that we have to a house loaf is the pain de mie that Acme Bread sells at the Ferry Plaza farmers’ market in SF. Despite the pretentious surroundings and occasional bursts of hipper-than-thou attitude from the purveyors, it’s damn good bread. It’s the sort of white bread that I’d imagine my mom would have made if she’d put her mind to it: a tight, even crumb balanced by a crust that’s chewy without being overbearing.

Note: This post is in honor of

baking, family, farmers markets, shopping


Geek cakes, part deux

Posted by Anita on 08.08.06 10:49 AM

Treo cakeI’ll see your meat cake …and raise you a Treo.

The only inanimate thing I love as much as food is my Treo 650. So imagine my amusement when a coworker sent me a link to Engadget’s Birthday Cake Contest. All of the cakes were pretty cool, but the winning entry — a “working” Treo 650 cake, complete with video screen, SD card, functional buttons, and sound — is pretty amazing, both as a pastry project and as geek fetish.

Don’t miss the video.

baking, geekery, levity
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Mmmm… meat cake

Posted by Cameron on 08.08.06 9:32 AM

Vashti Ross meat cakeUntil today, Bill Watterson’s Calvin was the only person who I believed when they called themselves a genius. Or, to properly quote Calvin, a “Super-Genius”. But now, Vashti Ross, I genuflect before your greatness. Let’s listen to the artist’s moment of inspiration in her own words:

He went on to describe his ultimate wedding cake. “I hate that wedding cakes are all girly. There should be like a groom cake to go with the traditional wedding cake. A guy’s cake. Like..made out of meat.”

A lightbulb went off in my mind. “I could TOTALLY do that,” I exclaimed. “A meatloaf! With mashed potato frosting! OH MY GOD!”

Go and be amazed. Props to Don Carne for the tip.

baking, levity, meat


Pantry raid!

Posted by Anita on 11.15.05 5:42 PM

pantry containers (c)2006 AECEvery time I open my pantry, I get a huge kick out of this.

It cost me almost $150 (for the containers — the shelf is three levels deep), but my dry goods are now bug-proof, spill-proof, and organized. I swear, nothing has made me this happy in months.

baking, geekery, kitchen