Cooky Shortcake

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Almost exactly one year ago, I put forth this blog’s very first recipe. It was old-fashioned; it was fairly simple; it was, by all accounts, not much to look at.  But it was also satisfying in a homey, comfort-food sort of way, the way only something that’s homemade (and looks it) could be.

Which brings me to our 52nd (!) recipe: a dessert presented in Nonnie’s cookbook as “Cooky Shortcake,” a name that reveals just about nothing. Is it a cookie? Is it a cake? Is it short? The answers, in order: no, yes, and yes. Continue reading

Shrimp in Beer

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When I was 10 or 11, my family took a trip to Club Med. It was my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary (!); to celebrate, they brought their whole brood—four sons, three daughters-in-law, a whopping 12 grandchildren—down to Florida, where we enjoyed a week of sun, sand, and scheduled group activities.

Years later, I can only remember bits and pieces from the trip: the thrill of taking a ride on the flying trapeze, my cousins’ brief but passionate obsession with bocce ball, seeing a group of leotard-clad women (who were either much younger or much older than I am now) perform a passable rendition of the “Cell Block Tango.” (I think I laughed pretty hard at “Lipschitz!”) Continue reading

Camembert Jack Cheese Ball

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Throughout the nearly 12 months (!) I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve crafted a duo of tuna casseroles, a full chicken with a can of pineapple dumped on top, and a jello mold that wasn’t really a jello mold.

Yet the glorious creation you see before you (the very first recipe that appears in Nonnie’s cookbook, in fact) might be the most proudly retro thing I’ve made so far—a onetime party platter staple that’s largely gone the way of crinoline and bomb shelters. Unless you’re someone who gets her recipes directly from Kraft’s website, maybe, or the sort of person who will eat what’s essentially a cheese ball if and only if it has a fancy French name and does not come in the shape of a ball.

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Which, actually, I get. Because you know what? “Ball” is not a very appetizing term, especially when it follows the word “cheese.” There’s a reason the phrase has taken on a negative connotation since the days of Betty Draper. After I made one, though, I realized that one of the things I liked most about it was the fact that my cheese ball lived up to its name. It was completely unsubtle, both in shape and in flavor (cheese + butter + nuts = profit!); it was proudly old-fashioned; and, like the best dad joke or corny pop song, it was also surprisingly charming.

Suddenly, I could understand why cheese balls were so popular back in the day; what I didn’t get was why they ever fell out of favor in the first place.

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Camembert-Jack Cheese Ball

2 cups grated jack cheese
2 oz. camembert cheese [I had to eyeball this amount, since the only pieces for sale were obviously much larger than this; I ended up using about one quarter of a half-pound piece of cheese]
1/4 cup butter [Yes, that would be half a stick. It’s fine; you’re having a party! You’ll want it to be pretty soft, btw.]
1/3 cup dry sherry [because it wouldn’t be a Nonnie recipe without some misplaced sherry]
1 teaspoon grated onion [Yes, that is a teensy amount, and it’s a pain to grate an onion; I ended up with a teaspoon of mush even on my grater’s largest holes. You have my permission to skip this step]
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

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Mix all ingredients together and blend well. [Do you use the rind from the camembert? I ended up going with “no,” because it didn’t seem from Nonnie’s instructions like you were supposed to actually mix this using a blender; I tried to make up for the bit of weight lost via chucking the crust by adding a bit more cheese innards to the mix.]

Chill. Form into a ball, and coat with a sprinkling of curry powder or nuts. [My preferred balling method: scoop the goopy room temp cheese ball mush together, dump the whole thing onto a piece of saran wrap, gather it together in the middle of the wrap, refrigerate for at least an hour, and voila—you’ll be left with a firm yet supple dairy concoction that takes beautifully to hand-balling.

Oh, and as you can tell from the pictures: I went with nuts over curry powder, toasting up some walnuts, chopping them finely, and rolling the ball around in them gently so they’d adhere. I ended up with maybe a quarter cup of leftover walnut parts, which made a great addition to a salad later that week.]

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The verdict: I won’t lie to you: the recipe as written is pretty sherry-forward, as I feared it would be. (P.S. As of Operation Cheese Ball, I am officially out of sherry. A whole bottle of it was used in service of this blog. I’ve also used up more than one ginormo bottle of Crisco vegetable oil. Should I feel… proud?) Thankfully, the overwhelming taste was easy enough to mitigate; all I did was add in more cheese, a scotch more camembert and about half of the jack I had leftover after grating up two cups.

With that simple taste adjustment, I ended up with a real thing of beauty—a retro-fabulous appetizer that served beautifully as the centerpiece of my Olympics Opening Ceremony party spread, and one that got almost entirely devoured over the course of the night. Which made me feel proud, not only as a food blogger, but also as an American—because what’s more patriotic than snarfing down monstrous amounts of fat as you criticize the bodies and outfits of people infinitely more athletic than you? USA! USA!

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Broiled Salmon II

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If my mom had a mantra, it would probably be “I forgot my mantra,” à la Jeff Goldblum in Annie Hall.  Her true mantra, though, would be something a little more quotidian and practical: “All I want, when I sit down to dinner, is a big salad and a simply-cooked piece of fish.”

She’s fibbing, of course. She really wants a bone-in ribeye with shoestring fries, and when she’s finished with the steak, she wants to pick up that bone with her bare hands and gnaw every morsel of meat from it, maybe sucking out the marrow at the end as a grand finale. But because she is not Don Draper—and because keeping kosher means most of the time, when you eat at home, it’s just easier to leave meat out of the equation altogether—more nights than not, she ends up with a big salad and a simply-cooked piece of fish. Continue reading

Blueberry Mold

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And so it’s come to this: And Such Small Portions’s very first jello mold.

Well, sort of. When I picture a jello mold, I see this: a shapely mound that stands independent and proud on its very own platter, shiny and semi-transluscent and filled with some sort of canned fruit, quivering softly in the light filtering through a brown-and-yellow glass lampshade. I don’t picture a tupperware filled with blue gloop, gloop that’s been folded together with an heroic amount of whipped cream to create something that’s sort of like blueberry yogurt, but richer and less… good. Continue reading

Pie Crust Cookies

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And now, for a break from our regularly scheduled programming (appropriate, since I’m later with this post than I’ve ever been before): This is not a recipe you’ll find in Nonnie’s cookbook. This is not even a recipe, really. This is more of a method, a technique, a way of life. A practice that will keep you from throwing away errant scraps of pie dough ever again, provided you’re, like, the kind of person who is always making pies and letting them cool on the windowsill. Continue reading

Chicken Tostada

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This is what you think of when you think of Mexican food, right—iceberg lettuce, red wine vinegar, parsley? Oh, the parsley! Just like I remember from Teotihuacan!

Nevertheless, Nonnie’s take on a chicken tostada—which, it must be noted, appears in the “salad” section of her cookbook, lolololol—is a lot tastier than I thought it’d be. After all, it’s pretty tough to mess up cheese, beans, and chicken; Taco Bell has built a vast fast food empire on that very principle. And it’s even harder to mess up those things when they’re smeared on top of a freshly fried tortilla, one that tastes even better because you made it out of nothing but a regular tortilla and brawn.

All in all, it makes for a satisfying meal that’s relatively light in Nonnie terms (despite, you know, the fried tortilla and melted cheese)—at least, if you only eat one. Which might have flown in the ’60s, but probably doesn’t fly today. Continue reading