Monday, March 30, 2020

Tuna Sauce.

image from Zingermans, my favorite source for tinned fish
Everyone is making tuna salad these days.  From NYT's food editors, to my favorite chefs and bloggers. For good reasons, it's cheap and you probably have most of the ingredients in your [quarantine] pantry. Today I'm sharing my favorite way to enjoy that can of tuna, and it doesn't include a salad or a sandwich (although any leftovers would make a damn fine sandwich).

As with most food blogs, there's a back story to this recipe. I could tell you about my favorite neighborhood restaurant in Boston where I first fell in love with Vitello Tonnato, a traditional Italian recipe of cold sliced veal with tuna sauce. Or I might share how I ordered it several times a week while traveling in Italy last fall. My favorite memory of eating Vitello Tonnato is from our last night at Il Pellicano, on the edge of the Argentario coast. The veal was so tender it melted in my mouth, and the sauce was so creamy and elegant that I asked the chef for an extra side of sauce - which I proceeded to dip my bread in, and then finish with a spoon..... You get my point.

I am keenly aware that some people have an issue with veal. And even if you don't, veal isn't the easiest thing to find at a typcial grocer. Thankfully tonnato sauce is just as delicious served with pork. I prefer pork tenderloin, but it is equally as tasty on a chop. I've also been known to smear it on toasted bread as an aperitivo.
tuna sauce on grilled pork tenderloin
photo my own

tuna sauce on toasted sourdough - pairs beautifully w a negroni
(photo my own)

My favorite recipe is from Marcella Hazan, found in the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I've tweaked it a bit for efficiency (store bought mayo is fine ;).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Southern Cake for the weekend.

This is a special cake. It is in fact one of the better cakes I've enjoyed in a long time. My lovely friend Marty Townsend made this cake, a Lane Cake,  for a recent dinner party at which our book group discussed the classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. We don't often pair menu items with the book du jour, but I'm so glad that Marty chose to resurrect this vintage recipe for our gathering. With her permission, I am sharing her very thoughtful and eloquently presented research and reflections on this recipe.  The recipe is also below, and I encourage you to bake THIS cake this weekend.  There is plenty of time.

"Some background on my request to do our dessert course this Saturday:  inspired by reading about Lane cake in To Kill A Mockingbird, I thought it would be fun to attempt making one for our final course on Saturday.  Another book-related tie-in, yes, but nothing so elaborate as our Titanic dinner.  Commentary below is borrowed freely from NPR and Wikipedia. 

You may recall that a Lane cake is given as a welcome gift to Aunt Alexandra by Miss Maudie Atkinson. The narrator, Scout, reports, "Miss Maudie baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight.” ("Shinny" is slang for liquor.)  Many different recipes existed for Lane cake.  Ours will have shinny.  

Later, Miss Maudie bakes a Lane cake for Mr. Avery, who is severely injured in an attempt to put out a fire in her home. “Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”

Lane cake is often found at receptions, holiday dinners, or wedding showers in the South.  It's a white sponge cake with a filling of candied fruit, raisins, pecans, coconut, and bourbon. The original recipe for Lane cake called for 1/4 cup Bourbon added to the filling mixture only, although the bourbon was sometimes replaced with grape juice by cooks who didn't want to use alcohol. Whisky, wine, and brandy are mentioned in some recipes.  

Recipes for Lane cake vary because many Southern cooks who made it fiercely guarded their recipes. Some lucky cooks used a recipe passed down from generation to generation, while others relied on vague instructions and a variety of sources in an attempt to recreate the family tradition. 

The cake's creator, Emma Rylander Lane, thought the cake tasted best when made a day or two ahead of time. She included this advice in the original recipe that appeared in her cookbook Some Good Things to Eat, published in 1898.

Lane was likely a native of nearby Americus, Ga. According to legend, she moved to Clayton when her husband was transferred there as an employee of Georgia Railroad Company. It's where she created the cake and published the recipe in Some Good Things to Eat after she entered it in a baking competition and won first place.

Since that time, recipes have been difficult to find.  The Lane cake may have suffered a fate similar to its sometimes-maligned cousin—the fruitcake. In "A Christmas Memory" by Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote, a child and his relative collect ingredients like dried fruit, pecans and whiskey to bake fruit cakes for Christmas in rural Alabama. "Lane cake is actually a lot like fruit cake in a way... in terms of texture and taste,” one food researcher says. "I wonder if it's just fallen out of vogue."  "
- Martha Townsend

photo by Catherine Baker