Monday, December 12, 2005

Weekend Cookbook Challenge – Susan Branch

Alicat from Something So Clever and Sara from i like to cook are hosting the Weekend Cookbook Challenge. This month, they challenged participants to cook something from the cookbook they've had the longest. For me, it had to be Heart of the Home by Susan Branch.

Where did I get this cookbook? I have no idea. I think Mom Raisinhater must have received 2 copies one Christmas and passed one along to me. It was published in 1986, and I remember reading it in early high school, so we're likely talking about the late 80s here. Imagine me reading it, hair held back in a scrunchi, oversized Outback Red sweater from the Limited, pegged pants tucked into my socks, and plenty of sparkly blue eyeshadow and frosted pink lips.

I think maybe Susan Branch was the Ina Garten of the 80s - living the charmed life on the Vineyard, extolling the virtues of locally grown produce and locally caught seafood, and hosting gracious lawn parties where all the guests get their own picnic basket. But you also get the idea that she didn't mess around and, like Ina, was probably a fairly shrewd dealer.

Most of Susan Branch's books are handwritten and include her own watercolor art. See…

If I were the author, this would land me straight in the mental hospital. Seriously, she hand wrote and painted every page.

For the challenge, I chose two recipes from Heart of the Home, spinach soufflé and cauliflower casserole.

Spinach soufflé

First, I think it is a bit of a stretch to call this a soufflé. According to the all-knowing wikipedia, a soufflé is "a light, fluffy baked dish made with egg yolks and beaten egg whites combined with various other ingredients and served as a main dish or sweetened as a dessert."

This recipe did include eggs, but there was no separating of yolks from whites, nor fluffing of whites. I would say it was definitely more of a crustless spinach quiche or, better yet, a smooth frittata. Nomenclature controversy notwithstanding, this recipe was SO EASY.

Here's what I did:

Toss the following ingredients into your blender:

1 c cottage cheese,
3 oz. cream cheese
2 eggs
3 T flour
2 T butter, melted
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

Blend until, well, blended. Add the contents (thawed and drained) of one 10oz package of frozen spinach. Give it a quick mix, and stir remaining bits in with a wooden spoon. (Don't go crazy blending once you've added the spinach, or you'll destroy all the spinachy texture.) Pour into a buttered casserole and set the casserole into a pan filled with hot water.

Bake at 350 for 80 minutes (the recipe said 70, but mine needed 80).

See, it doesn't puff like a soufflé, it just sort of gently inflates like a frittata. Now comes the hard part. The recipe sort of glosses over this part, saying something like "remove and serve."

Not so much. I wanted to retain a little of the puffy appearance, so slicing for removal was not an option. I tried to just pop it out with a knife, but nooooo. Next, I inverted it over a plate. Turning the casserole dish (still wet and quite heavy) onto a plate while wearing mittens is not easy. I have no idea how, but (perhaps because I am a clumsy ass) I actually burned my neck, of all places. Yep, my neck. And once the "soufflé" was liberated from its dish, it instantly lost the puffiness that I had scalded myself in an attempt to preserve.

Here it is:

I think it was perhaps a little to floury, and the cheese was extremely mild, but it did have a nice fresh spinach flavor. I used a new brand of organic frozen spinach – not sure if that could've made any difference.

I also made Cauliflower Casserole. (You'd think I was preparing for a church basement potluck supper with these recipes I chose, right? In reality, I was feeling the scurvy coming on and needed some veggies after yesterday's meatfeast.)

The Cauliflower Casserole was easy enough for a monkey, and then I made it even easier by using canned tomatoes.

1 head cauliflower.
1 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup shredded chedder/jack mix
½ cup parmesan
1/3 cup breadcrumbs (panko style)
2 T butter, melted

Steam one head of cauliflower until just tender, and lay in a buttered glass pyrex dish. Top with the tomatoes. Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs, sprinkle over cauliflower. Drizzle with butter. Cook at 375 for 30 minutes or until brown.

Meh, it was tasty, cheesy, and crispy, but not earth shattering. I like my cauliflower roasted with garlic.

The Weekend Cookbook Challenge was great fun, and gave me a terrific opportunity to peruse little-used volumes while doing some disturbing time-travel back to 1988. Ali and Sara – thanks for hosting!


Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for participating! The cauliflower casserole looks very good.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Jeff in NC said...

I'm still trying to figure out how you burned your neck....!

9:46 PM  
Blogger Mona said...

That is sooo cool! I love Branch and all her books. We have them at our house too. Though I must say I can't remember the last time I cooked from them. I just love flipping through them, reading the cute quotes and stories. They're so great! And I always wished I'd come up with some books of my own like that some day.

9:05 AM  
Blogger MeBeth said...

Sara - thanks for organizing!!

Jeff - it wasn't easy. I think I was trying to use my chin like a third hand.

Mona - I'm glad you remember her. I agree, mostly I just flip through the books, its rare that I end up cooking from them.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

The spinach dish sounds similar to something I've made with spinach and feta cheese. I call it breakfast casserole, I guess because I cook it in a rectangular casserole dish. I like the idea of a little cream cheese added.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have that cookbook too. I was listening to a radio show who was interviewing her when the cookbook first came out. She said that she used to have all the recipes in frames hanging in her house. As friends came over and asked if they could have one, she gave some of them away to them and as gifts. They were the originals so the cookbook could never be reprinted. I do not know if it is still true or not, but back in the 1980's it was. The recipe called "Death by Chocolate" has a great hot fudge sauce. I made the sauce but not the cake it goes with.

7:06 PM  

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