Cheesecake

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Yes, you’re not seeing things: this is a cheesecake being sliced on top of a paper bag, which is itself perched on top of a blanket, on top of some grass, on top of some dirt, and so on. Because when you think “late-summer afternoon picnic,” you obviously think “dairy-based dessert that must be refrigerated for hours before being served,” right?

You know what, though? Having brought a cheesecake to a picnic (my version of bringing a gun to a knife-fight, I guess), I can say now that the decision really wasn’t that weird—eating it at the park was sort of like eating ice cream, but, you know, ice cream made of cream cheese and bordered by crumbled graham crackers that can only be consumed using a fork or your own dirty fingers. Continue reading

Gazpacho

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“Good news, everyone! You don’t have to eat meat! I made enough gazpacho for all—it’s tomato soup, served ice cold!!”

Poor Lisa Simpson is ridiculed and dismissed for offering a giant bowl of gazpacho to the carnivorous residents of Springfield at her father’s BBBQ. But I know what Lisa knows: the ‘spach is one of the most delicious things you can possibly eat, provided two things are true: one, that you have some really excellent, peak-summer (or early fall!) tomatoes, and two, that you’re making it correctly. Continue reading

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

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Is anything else as gloriously retro as a pineapple upside-down cake? The very name invokes visions of Betty Draper in an A-line dress, covered by a tiny, impractical apron, proudly brandishing a golden-brown, can-born concoction that she didn’t actually bake herself. (Justice for Carla!)

Even the origins of this cake are kitschy: apparently, it entered the American lexicon only after some genius at Dole figured out a mechanical way to slice the tropical fruit into perfect, even rings. Replace the humble apples of a French tarte tartin with the processed, sugar-soaked slices sold by a capitalist supercorporation, and boom: pineapple upside-down cake. Hell, it may be even more American than apple pie. Continue reading

Beef Ribs and Cole Slaw

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See that, up there? That charred, vaguely carcinogenic square of bone and gristle? That is not, I think, what Nonnie had in mind when writing up her recipe for beef ribs. Beef ribs should look like this: caramelized, glistening, Flintstonian. They should yield meat tender enough to fall off the bone; they shouldn’t be shriveled and tough and sad-looking.

You know what, though? It is nigh on impossible to buy beef ribs in this day and age. Really! I tried! I spent a sweaty summer afternoon trudging from fancy Brooklyn butcher to less fancy Brooklyn butcher, on a quixotic quest to track down the kosher-style protein of my dead grandmother’s Semitic dreams. (Maybe if I’d said that to them, the meat-slingers would have been more accommodating.) I went to four—count ’em, if you happen to have a map of Cobble Hill/Brooklyn Heights handy!—places, all told: two told me I was SOL, one was closed, and one said that it would have beef ribs eventually, but not until the fall. Because… that’s when… a cow loses its baby ribs? I don’t know. Continue reading

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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