Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eat Your Veggies

One large cauliflower  --  bloemkool in Dutch (literally “flower-cabbage”)  --  is the main ingredient in Grandma VandenBergh’s recipe for Cauliflower au Gratin. It involves a home-made gratinĂ©e sauce made with flour, butter, and grated cheese.

First step: “Wash the cauliflower, either whole or cut into pieces. Let it sit in salt water for half an hour, to remove insect larvae and other bugs.”

I did a double-take when I translated this first sentence. Insect larvae? Bugs?? We rarely find such beasties in fresh produce from our local supermarket, unless we make a point of buying organic. Because of the widespread use of pesticides, we have come to take it for granted that our fresh foods will not harbor creepy crawly things.

However, when overused, these chemicals may be more harmful than the pests they are intended to protect us from. I picture my grandmother either plucking fresh fruits and vegetables from her own family’s kitchen garden in Loosdrecht, or purchasing them at the local farmers’ market. There were probably little or no chemical residues on them.

But now, in most countries of the world where produce is grown on large industrial farms, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is widespread. Their use is carefully monitored (or should be) by many governments. In one example of monitoring, a study of pesticide residues in fresh fruit, vegetables, and cereals carried out in the Netherlands in 2004 indicated that almost 15 percent of the foods tested showed greater than the Maximum Recommended Level (MRL) of pesticide residues, while 85 percent of the food samples fortunately had no residues or were under the Maximum Recommended Level. (Source: European Commission 2004 report “Monitoring of Pesticide Residues in Products of Plant Origin in the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.”)

More recently, in the United States, an ABC News report on April 21, 2011, cited a study carried out by the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, which looked at the effect of prenatal exposure to pesticides and their long-term effect on children’s IQ. The study found a seven-point difference in IQ at age seven for children whose mothers were exposed to low doses of organophosphates during pregnancy. This study apparently enrolled women a decade ago in order to study the long-term effect of these chemicals on their children. Today these phosphates are largely gone from household cleaning products in the United States, but other pesticide residues may remain on our fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Brenda Eskenazi of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, who spoke on the ABC News report, gave the following advice: Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, with a scrubbing brush if necessary, eat organic if you can, and reduce the use of household cleaning sprays.

That being said, here is Grandma VandenBergh’s recipe for Cauliflower au Gratin:

- 1 large cauliflower (or 2 small)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups milk
- ½ cup grated cheese
- 1/3 cup flour
- ¼ cup butter or margarine (half stick, or a little less)

Wash the cauliflower, either whole or cut into pieces. Let it sit in salt water for half an hour, to remove insect larvae and other bugs.

Set the cauliflower in a large enough pan so as to cover it with (salted) water. I preferred to use my steamer, which may help preserve more vitamins.

Bring to a boil and boil gently for about half an hour. (I found 20 minutes to be long enough.) 

Steamed cauliflower

Remove with a slotted spoon and place in an oven-proof dish.

Make the sauce by stirring the flour into the melted butter over medium heat, and slowly pour in the milk. Continue stirring until sauce thickens; add half the cheese.
Stirring the sauce

Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. I sprinkled it with a bit of paprika as well.

Set the dish under the broiler for a few minutes until golden brown.

And here it is, fresh and tasty from the oven:

Bloemkool au gratin

I had a similar dish at a local restaurant the other evening, which I didn't like as well because it seemed to contain a bit of sugar. I prefer the natural flavor of the cauliflower, with the cheese and milk.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal, and be sure to eat your veggies.  

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Butter the Size of an Egg"

My culinary experiments have been somewhat hampered this week by the demise of my oven. The front door came off. I was roasting . . . potatoes (what else?!) and the creaky oven door, which lately had been difficult to open, now refused stubbornly to close. We had to remove it to avoid further mishaps. I was forced to finish cooking my potatoes in that marvelous 20th century invention, the microwave.

Stove sans oven door
The stove is original to my house, dating from the mid-1950's. When I bought my house nearly twelve years ago, the home inspector warned me that the stove was old and would need careful maintenance. Well, it is only half as old as my cookbooks. Luckily, it dates from an era when warming ovens were a bonus added to the main attraction. To the left of the main oven is a separate, narrower one used to warm bread or leftovers before the invention of the microwave.

So what can I cook in this slimmer cousin of an oven? Maybe something in a loaf pan. I found in Grandma Minnie's cookbook a recipe entitled Farley's Dutch Cake, which brings us to the topic of this week's post: "Butter the size of an egg."

Here's the original recipe:

As with many of Minnie's recipes, you have to read between the lines to sort out the steps involved. But "butter the size of an egg"? I had little idea how much this would be, and experimented with a 1/4 cup and 1/3 measuring cup. The quarter cup appeared to be closest to the volume of a large egg.

Here's the reconfigured recipe:

Farley's Dutch Cake

- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter or margarine (one-half stick)
- 1 cup milk
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/3 cup raisins

Grease and flour a 5 x 8 inch loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 350 F. (325 F. if using glass pan)
In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients and set aside.
In a larger bowl, cream the butter and sugar.
Stir in milk, vanilla, and dry ingredients.
Mix in raisins.

Bake at 350 F. for 35 - 40 minutes (40 - 45 minutes if at 325 F.)
(Reduce the baking time if you use a round cake pan.)

This is almost more of a quick bread than a cake, because the baking powder and lack of egg make the batter almost the consistency of bread dough.

Farley's Dutch Cake Fresh From the Oven

The butter (or margarine), brown sugar, and raisins make it a tasty snack to have with tea or for breakfast:

Ready to Eat!

"Butter the size of an egg" is one of those idiosyncratic measurements that make Minnie's notebook of recipes fun to experiment with. Most of her recipes use the standard measurements in teaspoons, tablespoons, and cups used in the United States, and occasionally a pint or a quart, whether for liquid or a solid such as bran. One recipe, for a white fruit cake, calls for a bowl of sugar, a bowl of butter, a bowl of nut meats --  and a wine glass of brandy or wine  --  without specifying how big a bowl or a wine glass. And a few call for a "pinch" of salt.

Shiny measuring tools
My measuring utensils pictured at left are typical of those used in the United States, although the shiny new tea- and tablespoon set is also labeled for their metric equivalents, and so is the glass pint (approximately half-liter) measuring cup.

In contrast with the typical measurements used in the United States, which measure most ingredients in volume, Grandma VandenBergh's Dutch cookbook uses European  metric measurements of weight. In the introductory chapter, there is a list of kitchen equipment which includes a kitchen scale for weighing ingredients. A footnote indicates that one can save the cost of the scale by measuring with cups and spoons, and gives a few examples: a teacup of water or milk is equal to one d.L.; a level soup spoon of sugar weighs 15 grams; a soup spoon of butter weighs 20 grams; a teacup of rice weighs 100 grams, and so on. At first it was challenging to translate and adapt the Dutch recipes due to the metric weight measurements as well as the language, until I searched the Internet and found a handy conversion calculator, which can be used to convert in both directions.

You may be wondering at this point who is the Farley that gave Grandma Minnie the cake recipe. Here's a family portrait from 1912:

Minnie and relatives - 1912

Grandma Minnie is second from left in the back row; her aunt Minnie Farley is fourth from the left. Minnie must have gotten the recipe from her aunt, after whom she was named. Or perhaps from Minnie Farley's daughter Gladys, who is not in the picture.

How stern they all look! It was a serious business posing for a family portrait a hundred years ago. . .