Cooks’ Exchange: Treats from around the world

October 3, 2018

When October arrives, it becomes a special reminder of how much I appreciate our four seasons here in Wisconsin. Having spent a few years in Key West back in the late 1950s, with everything it offered in a special Cuban-American atmosphere, I remember when autumn arrived and I wondered if leaves changed colors. And when December entered the scene, and little kids were playing barefoot in the street, I longed for cold weather and snow to break the monotony of what that island offered 365 days each year.

October is also the month of my birthday which as a child meant a change in the air and a picnic at Hoyt Park, also known to me as Sunset Point, where family gathered at our favorite fireplace for a cookout and a birthday cake with candles to celebrate the event. Other seasonal gifts in October meant taffy apples, the crunch of leaves under foot, bonfires set in the gutters in front of houses in the neighborhood, squirrels in pursuit of hickory nuts for cold weather meals, and pies made with Snow apples from the tree in our backyard. Everything was a gift from a season I loved, and still do.

Another special gift that arrives each month of the year are issues of Madison Jewish News sent by the Jewish Federation of Madison in appreciation for having members of their community appear in some of my Greenbush…remembered cookbooks. Featured in the September issue was an article describing Rosh Hashanah as the beginning of a new Jewish year with a honey-spice cake recipe symbolizing the traditional sweetness of a new year. Written by Shlomit Ezer, the article also mentioned Shlomit’s grandmother, Ellah, who came from Poland with favorite family Jewish-Polish recipes to enjoy any time of the year.

Ellah’s honey cake

1 cup honey

1 cup brown sugar

¾ cup oil (canola or vegetable)

4 eggs

1 cup strong coffee, preferably espresso

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 ¼ cups white flour

½ teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the sugar, honey and oil. Mix in eggs, one by one, whisking well. Add coffee, baking soda, baking powder, flour and spices. Mix until well combines. Pour into two oiled rectangle cake pans. It is optional to add chopped almonds or pecans on top. Bake for about 45 minutes. Use a wooden skewer to check for readiness; poke cake all the way through and if the skewer comes out dry, the batter is fully baked.

One of the many special blessings of this column are the ethnic recipes passed on through the years that I otherwise might not have discovered. Recently, while conversing with some of my Norwegian friends, someone mentioned lemon bars being a favorite. Here is one, described as being “very rich” from Soupcon II, a favorite cookbook published in 1982 by the Junior League of Chicago.

Norwegian lemon bars

1 ½ cups flour

¾ cup butter

2 eggs

½ cup coconut

½ cup chopped pecans

1 ½ cups brown sugar, packed

¼ teaspoon baking powder

2 tablespoons flour

Dash of salt

1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon butter

Juice and rind of 1 lemon

Mix flour and butter together. Pat into 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until browned. Mix the eggs, coconut, pecans, brown sugar, baking powder, flour and salt. Pour over pastry and bake for 30 minutes more. Combine confectioners’ sugar, butter, juice and rind of lemon. Spread over top of cooled bars. Refrigerate. To serve, cut chilled bars into small squares.

Yield: 24 bars

Bonnie Jean Massoth shared a holiday favorite found in “Recipes4Living” that pleased me because my mother was born in Hungary and I happen to love fruitcake.

Hungarian applesauce fruitcake

½ cup butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups sifted flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 ½ cups applesauce

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

2 cups pecans

½ cup chopped dates

1 cup raisins

½ cup candied chopped cherries

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Cream butter and sugar; add egg. Blend in flour, baking soda, cloves and cinnamon, alternately with applesauce. With spoon, stir in fruits and nuts. Pour into greased angel food cake pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

Note: Massoth substituted cherries for the dates, used Maraschino cherries, and said “very tasty!”

If you happen to have frozen rhubarb in your freezer, here is a local favorite recipe from Donna Klestig.

Rhubarb pudding cake

2 tablespoons melted butter

½ cup sugar

1 egg

½ cup milk

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Pinch of salt

Mix together and put in a 9-inch square pain.

Sprinkle with:

2 cups cut-up rhubarb

¾ cup sugar

1 cup boiling water

Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees.

My friend, Glenn Hovde, recently brought over a box filled with old cookbooks, one being “Festive Foods” soft-cover cookbook compiled many years ago by The Wisconsin Gas Company in Milwaukee. Because gas companies were known for their carefully tested recipes, a decision was made to find one to share with you. All were holiday recipes, with only a few pages featuring holiday casseroles and main dishes. Here is one from the cookie chapter.

Pepparkakor (Swedish gingersnaps)

2 ¾ cups sifted flour

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon ginger

½ cup dark molasses

½ cup brown sugar, sifted and packed (3 ounces)

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup butter

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons dairy sour cream

Granulated sugar

Mix and sift flour, baking powder, soda and spice. Heat molasses to boiling point; add sugars and butter and stir until sugars are dissolved and butter is melted. Remove from heat, add egg, egg yolk and sour cream and mix well. Add sifted dry ingredients, gradually mix and chill in the refrigerator. Roll dough 1/8-inch thick on floured pastry cover and cut with a floured 2-inch round cutter. Place on baking sheets, sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Remove from baking sheets immediately and cool thoroughly on wire cooling racks. Store in a covered container.

Approximate yield: 13 2/3 dozen

If you happen to have ham on hand during the holidays, you might try this one accented with flavors from Hawaii.

Ham Hawaiian

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup Pascal (green) celery

½ cup chopped onion

1 cup cut green pepper

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon curry powder

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/3 cup cold water

1 can (6 ounces) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 can (13-ounces) frozen pineapple chunks, thawed and drained

1 pound (3 cups) cooked ham, cut into thin strips

Cooked white rice

¼ cup sliced, toasted, blanched, almond nut meats

Melt butter in skillet; add celery, onion, green pepper, salt and curry powder and cook until almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add cornstarch which has been mixed with water; add orange juice concentrate and pineapple and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add ham and heat thoroughly. Arrange cooked rice around ham mixture on chop plate; sprinkle with nuts meats.

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