Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Marilyn Monroe's Stuffing Recipe

Today's New York Times has  a nice piece about a stuffing recipe found in a new book which compiles fragments of Marilyn Monroe's life.  My issue with the article is the authors' astonishment at some of the techniques and ingredients and their conclusions about the possible source of the recipe.

First of all, I'd like to tell them that they are probably right that the recipe comes from Joe Di Maggio's family, because the technique of soaking and shredding bread for the stuffing is definitely a technique I learned from my Italian-American mother and grandmother.  We didn't use fresh bread, however charming the description of Marilyn buying a fresh loaf of bread is. It is a way of utilizing left-over, stale, dried-out bread which is saved for just this purpose.  That's why it needs soaking in water (or milk.) Coming out of the Great Depression and the privations of WWII, this is what people did.  I never in my life purchased boxed stuffing mix and wouldn't have it in my house except that my husband has claimed the stuffing-making duties for Thanksgiving since before we were married.  I much prefer using dead bread.

As for the authors' contention that sourdough bread was not well known outside of San Francisco at mid-century, I say "nonsense." San Francisco is NOT the beginning and end of sourdough, no matter how good it might be. Sourdough traveled west with pioneers and Forty-niners, but it didn't start in San Francisco.  I knew what sourdough bread was as a child in Upstate New York around the time Marilyn was cooking up this recipe. It wasn't until Nancy Silverton's La Brea Bakery Bread Cookbook that I was actually able to make a starter from scratch (using the grapes in my garden) but thinking that sourdough wasn't well-known in the 1950s is pretty naive.

My mother also used Parmesan, bird livers and lots of parsley, but no beef.  Occasionally, chestnuts were added (but I think they might have been hard to come by and I do remember some exploding in an oven once upon a time.)  I agree with the writers that the recipe shows a Sicilian influence with the use of raisins (I'd argue that came  by way of Phoenicia as there's a lot in Sicilian cooking that reminds me of Lebanese food) because my Southern-Italian heritage doesn't use them in stuffing.  My husband always puts raisins in his stuffing, which I find foreign. His Jewish family came from Poland and Russia, but I wonder if the raisins go back to a Middle Eastern origin.


Friday, November 5, 2010

 If you read my other blog, Out of the Darkroom, you know the reason I haven't had time to post much lately is that we moved twice in the past 6 months or so--the first move was back into our rebuilt house and the second was to a much larger house about four miles away.  The old house is not yet on the market, but I hope it will be soon.

The new house has a huge kitchen with some top of the line equipment, although it was probably installed around 1994, after the last big earthquake when the house was enlarged.  At least, that's when the GE Monogram built-in refrigerator was made. That piece of equipment has barely worked since we moved in.  The repair people have been out four times so far (and, yes, we did purchase insurance against such breakdowns) but it still isn't working right.  I see Thanksgiving looming and fear a repeat of my then year old fridge breaking down on me just in time for that holiday.

That's Len and my friend Karen in the kitchen when we did one of the walk-throughs.  There's a center-island with a prep sink and the refrigerator, range, and wall ovens are on the left side of the picture.  There's a skylight/backlit ceiling stained glass of ducks over head (a motif also found in the etched glass of the front door) that's quite cheerful.  And there is a lot of cabinet space, even if I no longer have a walk-in pantry (my favorite thing about the rebuilt old house.)
Fortunately, we brought both the big refrigerator and the one we use for cold drinks with us when we moved. The big one is in the garage where, sadly, there is no water hook up for the ice maker, and the other sits on the patio for the convenience of our guests.  And to give me some extra freezer space because I don't have a working refrigerator in the kitchen.

This has not put a stop to the Sunday Super Supper Squad, which did not miss a beat during the move.  I've been trying new recipes almost every week and the kitchen is big enough that I can extend my dining room table to comfortably seat a dozen people.  We'll have to move it to the living room for Thanksgiving and its full extension for a larger crowd, but that's no big deal.
For Halloween, I made a huge pot of chicken and dumplings (above) which was a big hit and has provided lunch at work all week. It hasn't been nearly cold enough for such comfort food this week, with temperatures in the 90s, but it was cooler on Sunday night.  I'm hoping for a bit cooler this weekend because I've got two large butternut squashes awaiting their squash destiny as butternut squash soup.

I love the Viking range that came with the house--four large burners and a grill.  When I made the lobsters (below) for my friend Gayle's birthday party, I could boil 3 large pots of water so everything was ready at the same time. I don't know why people think making lobster is hard to do when the best way to serve it is so easy.
While the Dacor electric double wall oven would not have been my first choice (I prefer gas and my range had a 5.3 cubic foot oven, much bigger than these), it does a fine job and can take half-sheet pans. I haven't gotten around to making bread yet, but roasted chicken and frozen pizzas made on my baking stones have come out right. I am quite inspired to do Christmas cookies this year.

I will say that I am actually looking forward to Thanksgiving this year.  In the old house, I always dreaded the task of rearranging furniture to make space for the people we would try to squeeze in every year (23 was the most, 16 was average.) We usually had to put our living room furniture outside to make room for the tables inside. Then it was really hard to work in the kitchen because there wasn't really enough room for more than two people and everyone wants to volunteer to help. This year, I fully expect to be able to set the table the night before the actual event, while different kinds of desserts are baking away in the two ovens. And I won't have to stay up all night to do it.  Heaven.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two Days in the Kitchen

Yes, I know how to bake. So why would I sign up to take a two-day baking class at Sur la Table? It sounded like fun and my son Michael expressed an interest in learning more about baking. I signed us both up for the class since I've wanted to learn how to make the always-intimidating puff pastry and brioche and he doesn't drive, so getting to the Farmer's Market would be tricky, even if it wasn't the same weekend as AIDS Walk LA, and streets were blocked all around the Farmer's Market on Sunday.
We had a blast and learned a lot.  Michael now knows how to make pastry cream, butter cream frosting, and chocolate meringues. I can make brioche bouchees, palmiers, galettes, and sorbet. That's him piping meringues in the photo above (making meringues is not recommended on a weekend as rainy and humid as the one in October when we did this.)  He also made the butter cream frosting and the pastry cream filling for the genoise in the photo below.

The class was taught by Vanessa diStefano (photo below.)  I didn't realize she was teaching until we got there. I know Vanessa through her screenwriter beau and we first met at a dinner with Harlan Ellison three years ago.  She worked as a pastry chef at Mesa Grill after graduating from culinary school and before coming out to California.

Here are the finished desserts, starting with Apple Galettes.
Chocolate Meringues with Strawberry Sorbet followed by Ham and Cheese Bouchees, Lemon Tart with Pignoli Crust and Raspberries, and Palmiers.
    Vanessa will be teaching the same workshop again at the end of January at the Farmer's Market Sur la Table in Los Angeles near Fairfax and Third Street.  Here's a link to register at Sur la Table classes. I recommend it.  It is a hands-on class and you are bound to meet interesting people and have a great time.  Vanessa will be teaching a number of other classes, including other types of baking classes in the coming months.  She's knowledgeable and a good instructor.

Note: As of June 2, 2011, I've change the link to the Sur la Table classes because they've updated their website. Check the schedule for the Farmer's Market location to see when Vanessa will again offer this class.  She does it several times a year.