Food Writer Molly O'Neill Gathers Family Recipes For 'Portrait Of America At The Table'

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(from “One Big Table: A Portrait Of American Cooking," by Molly O'Neill)
(from “One Big Table: A Portrait Of American Cooking," by Molly O'Neill)

Ten years ago, former New York Times food columnist and PBS host Molly O'Neill set out to see if it was true that Americans didn't cook anymore.

Molly went to food festivals, she talked to foodies, and she read through troves of family recipes to discover that home cooking is alive and well in the United States.

In the process, she collected some 10,000 recipes.  She's tested and published 600 in her new book, "One Big Table: A Portrait Of American Cooking."

Below, see recipes from Molly's book, including: Minorcan Fromajardis, the Original Deviled Egg, Truffle Potato, Josie Rea-Tomlinson’s Superior Cupcakes, Hilda Minter’s Spicy Escarole and Cinnamon Halibut.  We've also reproduced the Tuna Casserole recipe from Here & Now host Robin Young's  mother.

Maggi Smith Hall’s Minorcan Fromajardis (pdf)

St. Augustine, Florida

[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]Maggi Smith Hall’s family has lived in St. Augustine for four generations and is happiest when working to preserve the city’s Old-World churches, stores, homes, and history. She relates tales of the Spanish explorers who landed here in the early 1500s, carrying the cattle that would become longhorns, and the missionaries who would attempt to create New Spain in the American Southwest. It was the Spanish, says Mrs. Hall, a former high school teacher, who created the vibrant Florida port, but it was the Minorcans—people brought from Greece, Italy, and the island of Minorca in 1768 and indentured to nearby indigo plantations—who turned St. Augustine into a pan-Mediterranean settlement. Their dishes were united by at least one ingredient: the tiny, hot datil peppers that are still grown in window boxes and kitchen gardens in St. Augustine today. Mrs. Hall was so captivated by the pepper that she created a community cookbook, researching and collecting recipes from the descendants of the original settlers. These Minorcan fromajardis (fried cheese tarts) were traditionally handed out to singers serenading the old neighborhoods on a spring night each year to celebrate the anniversary of the Minorcans’ arrival in Florida. The “Fromajardis Serenade” still continues in St. Augustine the week after Easter. Today, says Mrs. Hall, the zesty little tarts are given most often to those who agree to stop singing. [/sidebar]

For the Dough

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup vegetable shortening
1⁄2 cup water

For the Filling

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄8 teaspoon Datil Pepper Hot Sauce (recipe follows)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

1. Place the oven racks in the bottom and top positions and preheat the oven to 425°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. To make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Cut in the shortening with two knives or a dough blender. Add the water and stir until the dough comes together into a ball. Cover and set aside.

3. To make the filling: In a medium bowl, toss the cheese with the flour. Stir in the eggs, salt, hot sauce, and nutmeg.

4. To assemble the pastries: Roll out the dough on a lightly floured work surface until it is 1⁄8-inch thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into 24 circles. Place a well-rounded teaspoon of the filling on one side of each circle, then fold the dough over the filling to make a half-moon shape. Pinch the edges of the dough together to seal. Re-roll leftover dough to make more pastries with any remaining filling.

5. Brush the pastries with melted butter. Cut two 1-inch slashes in the tops to make a cross. Place on the prepared baking sheets.

6. Bake one baking sheet at a time on the bottom rack about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. The cheese will puff up through the crosses. Transfer the baking sheet to the top rack and bake for 2 to 3 minutes more, until well browned and crisp. Repeat with the second baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 24 pastries, serves 8 to 12

Datil Pepper Hot Sauce (pdf)

[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]It’s easy to double or triple this recipe and adjust the spiciness to individual tastes. The sauce also makes a wonderful companion to grilled fish, poultry, and meat.[/sidebar]

1⁄2 cup olive oil
4 large tomatoes, cored and chopped
2 medium-size sweet onions such as Vidalia or Maui, finely chopped
2 whole datil chiles, stemmed
1 cup water
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, onions, and chiles and cook, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the water, oregano, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours, until thick. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 cups

The Original Deviled Egg (pdf)

Kansas City, Missouri


[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]How deviled food got its name seems straightforward enough. Before refrigeration, food preservation relied for centuries on a number of techniques including hot spices. The word “devil” was in use by 1800 to refer to foods made hot by mustard, cayenne peppers, or vinegar. Deviled foods—particularly eggs—are on the wane in Europe, but in America, after the introduction of mass-produced mayonnaise and mustard, they became essential to picnics and big summer parties. Even the antifat, anticholesterol movement of the late twentieth century failed to extinguish the American soft spot for deviled eggs. To celebrate this, the Southern Foodways Alliance held a Deviled Eggs Contest in 2004. Entries ranged from the simple (from finalist Robert Croft of Kansas City, Missouri, with just “mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, a tad of dry mustard, perhaps a little black pepper, and the salt adjusted depending on the saltiness of the mayonnaise”) to the exotic (Madras curry and shad roe) to the quirky (jalapeños and salsa). Regardless of the variations, modern deviled eggs have one common ingredient: a surfeit of jarred mayonnaise. However, the earliest American recipes for deviled eggs, like this one adapted from Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery (1882), do not use mayonnaise at all.[/sidebar]

6 large eggs, hard boiled, cooled, peeled, and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1⁄4 teaspoon mustard powder
1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon sugar
1 bunch watercress, washed, tough stems discarded and leaves roughly chopped, for garnish

1. Gently remove the egg yolks from the whites and place them in a small bowl. Add the butter and mix to a paste. Stir in a dash of the vinegar, the mustard powder, and the cayenne.

2. Spoon or pipe the egg yolk mixture into the egg white halves.

3. In a medium bowl, mix the remaining vinegar with the salt, black pepper, and sugar. Add the watercress and toss until coated with the vinegar mixture. Arrange the watercress on a serving platter and nestle the deviled eggs onto the greens. Serve.

Serves 6

Leslie Scott’s Twice-Baked Truffle Potato (pdf)

Eugene, Oregon

[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]Like wine, wild truffles require a complicated synergy of soil and temperature, sunlight and air, and just as Oregon produces fine varietal wines, the state produces a wild white winter truffle that obsessed native son James Beard, who declared Oregon’s Tuber oregonense the equal of the legendary Italian variety. In recent decades, however, the reputation of Oregon’s white truffles suffered serious damage, and to restore its rightful glow, Leslie Scott and her partner, the mycologist and truffle scientist, Charles Lefevre, founded the Oregon Truffle Festival. People, said Ms. Scott, were harvesting the truffles all wrong: “They were using rakes, tearing up the ground, pulling them up too early, before they had a chance to develop the remarkable scent that can turn a twice-baked potato into a work of art.” And so while the festival offers the tastings and truffle meals and wine pairings that one would expect, it also offers a two-day intensive for training truffle dogs, like this Lagotto Romagnolo, the Italian dog bred for truffling, who commuted from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee to teach neophyte pooches how to sniff and dig the tubers. Use fresh Oregon winter white truffles in season (December through February) for the full truffle experience. If fresh truffles are not in season, then either Oregon White Truffle oil or white truffle butter may be used in place of fresh truffles. To make white truffle butter, place one large fragrant white truffle in a Ziploc bag with one pound of sweet butter and refrigerate for one week. Wrap in ¹⁄8-pound cubes and freeze until ready to use.[/sidebar]

4 medium-sized russet potatoes, well scrubbed
3 tablespoons olive oil (2 tablespoons Oregon white truffle oil optional)
2 tablespoons butter (white truffle butter optional)
8 large shallots, peeled and sliced thin
2 tablespoons dry vermouth
2 ounces fresh white truffles, half shaved and half grated or finely chopped
1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1⁄2 cup mild fresh goat cheese
1 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
White pepper to taste
2–4 cups cooking-grade rock salt (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pierce the potatoes in several places with a fork, rub with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and bake until tender, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F.

2. While the potatoes are cooling, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the sliced shallots, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté, turning often, until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes. Add the vermouth, stir, and simmer until evaporated, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the shallots and drain on paper towels.

3. Use a sharp knife to cut a thin slice from the narrow end of each potato and then slice each in half widthwise. Scoop out the cooked potato flesh

from each half, taking care to leave at least ¼ of an inch of cooked flesh on the bottom and sides of the potato. Place the scooped potato in a bowl.

4. Combine and whip together the grated truffle, the crème fraîche, and half the goat cheese.

5. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the potato, along with the truffled crème fraiche and goat cheese mix. (Use 1 tablespoon of the white truffle butter or oil at this step if fresh truffle is unavailable.) Use a rice or handheld masher to create a smooth, creamy texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.

6. If using rock salt, arrange in a baking pan; use a teaspoon to fill each shell with the potato mixture and place each into the salt. (If not using rock salt, muffin tins will preserve the potatoes’ shape.) Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the potato (truffle oil or butter optional), spread or thinly slice the remaining goat cheese over each, and bake for 20 minutes. Use the remaining truffle to shave over each potato and serve immediately.

Serves 8

Josie Rea-Tomlinson’s Superior Cupcakes (pdf)

Los Angeles, California

[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]Josie Rea-Tomlinson began baking when she was 7. The 13-year-old has already constructed a wedding cake for 150 and spends as much time reading baking books as she does studying to stay at the top of her class. In an era when the young can be whiplashed by choices, her destiny has always been set. “I’ll go to college and everything, but I’m a baker,” she says. She says of this recipe, “I wanted a perfect cupcake and tried different recipes almost every day one summer. This recipe borrows the best of at least a dozen versions. Equal parts icing to cake is the style in cupcakes today, but I wanted something closer to a glaze. I am not a big fan of numbing by sugar. Those who prefer icing that will mound can add more powdered sugar and soft butter to the recipe. My friends always think they want more icing, but after they have one of these they change their minds.”[/sidebar]

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled until warm, not hot
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Vanilla Icing (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 12-cup cupcake tins with cupcake papers.

2. Sift the flour and baking soda together into a small bowl.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the granulated and brown sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the chocolate, mixing until well incorporated. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended and the batter is smooth.

4. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake tins, filling the cups about three-quarters full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.

5. Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Makes 24 cupcakes

Vanilla Icing (pdf)

1⁄2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1⁄2 cup milk (preferably nonfat, but any kind will do)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Food coloring (optional)

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar a little bit at a time mixing well between each addition, then add the milk and the vanilla. With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat until smooth and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually beat in two additional cups of sugar.  If you prefer a thicker icing, continue to add sugar, beating well between each addition. Use the icing immediately or store at room temperature. (It will set if chilled.) It can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Makes enough for one 2-layer 9-inch cake or 2 dozen cupcakes

Hilda Minter’s Spicy Escarole (pdf)

Birmingham, Alabama

[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]In 1988, Hilda Minter’s husband, Joe Minter, a retired construction worker, received a message from God directing him to create a sculpture park depicting the African American spiritual experience in their backyard in the Woodland Park neighborhood of Birmingham. Their property abuts a historic African American cemetery, and the notion of painting the verse from John 3:16 on the tailgate of a pickup truck or His Word Is Real on a defunct movie theater marquee gave her pause. When her husband paid homage to the American workingman by welding giant rusty wrenches to a cross, Mrs. Minter made her favorite spicy escarole. When Mr. Minter was heralded as a visionary genius, she made bigger pots of the escarole for the busloads who began to make pilgrimages to his sculpture park. “We were put here to make things and give them away,” said Mrs. Minter, a retired nurse’s aid. “People don’t expect escarole to be so sweet and spicy. That’s why I like it; it make me think and I like to watch what it does to people too.”[/sidebar]

3 tablespoons bacon grease or olive oil
1⁄4 pound thickly sliced spicy pressed sausage such as pepperoni, chorizo or soppressata, cut into 1⁄4-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 heads of escarole (2 1⁄2 pounds), dark outer leaves removed, inner leaves coarsely chopped
2 cups diced stewed tomatoes, fresh or high quality canned
1 tablespoon minced oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
Black pepper to taste
Cider vinegar or lemon juice to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease or olive oil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add the spicy sausage and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add the red pepper and stir. Add the escarole in batches and cook. Add the tomatoes and oregano; season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat until the escarole is tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Season with additional salt, pepper, vinegar, or lemon juice to taste and serve with cornbread or beans or both.

Serves 4 to 6

Cinnamon Halibut (pdf)

Halibut Cove, Alaska

[sidebar title="Molly's Note" width="475" align="right"]The Tillions have a fish preparation for every day of the year, most of them simple roasts with olive oil and herbs. The paterfamilias, Clem Tillion, prefers cod (it has more flavor than halibut) and likes it best simmered with potatoes in cream: “I’m very New England.” His family is more adventuresome. In addition to being an artist, his daughter, Marian Beck, a former commercial boat captain, owns the restaurant in Halibut Cove, and ideas and ingredients (such as the cinnamon oil that she uses to prepare shrimp) inevitably drift a few hundred yards upshore to her family’s home."[/sidebar]

1⁄4 cup cinnamon
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons Chinese chili paste, plus more to taste
2 pounds center-cut halibut fillet, skin removed (cod, bass, and other thick, large-flake white fish also work well)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup seeded fresh tomato, fresh or high quality canned, chopped
2 scallions, green and white part, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. The day before serving, make the cinnamon oil: Use water or additional vegetable oil to moisten a paper coffee filter and arrange the filter in a strainer set over a bowl. Place the cinnamon in the strainer. Warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour slowly over the cinnamon. Allow to drain for an hour, occasionally using a rubber spatula to gently push the cinnamon, pressing out any remaining oil. Add the sesame oil and chili paste, and cool the mixture completely in the refrigerator.

2. Four hours before serving, place the cod fillets in a shallow dish. Pour half the oil over the fish, rubbing each side well. Spread the minced ginger over the fish, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.

3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Remove the fish from the pan, scrape off the ginger, and discard the ginger and the oil. Place the fish in a baking dish, season lightly with salt and pepper, and spread the tomato and scallions evenly over the fish. Cover with foil and bake until the fish is firm and flaky, 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Serve with lemon and additional cinnamon oil on the side.

Serves 4 to 6

All recipes above from "ONE BIG TABLE" by Molly O’Neill. Copyright © 2010 by Molly O’Neill. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY

Robin's Mother's Recipe For Tuna'n Chips

(clipped from a magazine, found inside a Betty Crocker cookbook)

Here & Now host Robin Young found her mother's favorite tuna casserole recipe stuck in the pages of a Betty Crocker cookbook. (Jill Ryan)
Here & Now host Robin Young found her mother's favorite tuna casserole recipe stuck in the pages of a Betty Crocker cookbook. (Jill Ryan/Here & Now)

1 No. 1/2 can Star-Kist Tuna (Fancy solid pack or chunk style)
1 cup wide egg noodles
2 tblsps. pimiento (optional)
1 can condensed cream of mushrooom soup
1 4-oz package potato chips

  • Cook noodles in salted boiling water until tender.  Drain.  Fold in STAR-KIST TUNA, including oil.
  • Add pimiento and condensed cream of mushroom soup.
  • To decorate the top, save out a few whole potato chips.
  • Crush the remainder, place in bottom of shallow 1 1/2-quart casserole, pour the tuna mixture over, add whole potato chips.  Heat thoroughly in 350 degree F oven.
  • Serves 6

This segment aired on December 17, 2010.


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