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Welcome to Fare Exchange, where the news is almost always good, and that is thanks to you.

Nicholas Aspen has taken up the pen at the desk in his kitchen. Though his wife is the cooking expert, he is evidently joining her team.

"I am looking for a cookware set for the gift-giving season. Might even need two. Ours is an old and well-loved Circulon set, but the company no longer makes the type/model we have. Our daughter has the same set that she got as a wedding present. We both have cast-iron skillets and other pieces we use, but a standard multipiece set is what I have in mind. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of sets out there at myriad price levels with confusing and often contradictory reviews. What sayest thou?"

So, then, what sayest YOU?

Secondly, Mr. Aspen is looking for chili recipes; he has a memory of chili on a page in a Girls Preparatory School cookbook. Now, he needs the cookbook itself. (And surely he would appreciate your favorite chili as well.)

 

HOMEMADE CRACKERS

Today we are cracking the code for homemade crackers, with more to come. Frances Kington found a couple of cracker recipes from "Southern Heritage Bread Cookbook" published in 1983. Here's one of those, with an intriguing title.

Maryland Moonshine Crackers

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons lard, melted

2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg white

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Beat egg until light and frothy. Add milk, lard and butter; beat well.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl; stir well. Gradually add egg mixture, beating well. Chill dough at least 2 hours.

Roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut with a 1 1/2-inch biscuit cutter. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Brush tops with egg white, then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes.

Yield: about 5 1/2 dozen.

 

SEARED SCALLOPS

Carolyn Fox recommended this heart-healthy use for scallops with an accompaniment of couscous or rice.

Seared Scallops With Snow Peas and Orange

1 cup couscous or rice

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil

16 sea scallops (about 1 1/2 pounds)

Kosher salt and black pepper

1 orange

3/4 pound snow peas, halved lengthwise

Cook the couscous or rice according to package directions.

Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the scallops dry, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook until opaque throughout and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate, and cover to keep warm; wipe out the skillet.

Using a vegetable peeler, remove 4 strips of zest from the orange; thinly slice the zest.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the snow peas, orange zest and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, tossing, until the snow peas are just tender, about 2 minutes. Serve with the scallops and couscous or rice.

Tip: The orange zest in this dish complements a variety of green vegetables. Instead of snow peas, try green beans, asparagus or sugar snap peas (cooking times will vary). You can also use shrimp in place of scallops.

 

STORIED DIP

More than a recipe, the next contribution will help you make a white bean dip like the one at Back Inn Café. Mr. and Mrs. Sunday summarized their method: "Blue Cheese White Bean Dip" tells us the two primary ingredients. We could have easily developed a recipe, but we'd rather arm folks with how to do it themselves. Simple, really, if you break it down into manageable steps." And of course that is true with more than recipes.

So arm yourselves, folks.

Blue Cheese White Bean Dip

You'll need:

Blender (stick/immersion or jar type is fine)

Paper and pen to keep track of how much of what you've used

Beans (cannellinis have soft skins so work very well. You could cook from dried, but canned are fine. We like Goya but most will work.)

Liquid to blend the beans (water is OK but adds no flavor; same for neutral oil. Strong oils like olive or sesame will distract; bean taste is delicate. If you use wine, you'll need to boil it down some to kill off the raw alcohol taste. We'd use chicken stock or milk/cream. You could use the bean cooking liquid, but that adds no flavor and can be salty. Put the liquid in a measuring cup so you can tell how much you used later.)

Strongly flavored cheese ("Blue," Roquefort, Stilton, Liederkrantz, Limburger), cut into 1/2-inch dice

Aromatics (more on this below)

Drain and rinse the beans, and place in blender jar.

Add just enough liquid to let the blender blades whirl. You can add more later to adjust thickness.

Blend until smooth, then add the cheese one cube at a time. After blending, taste to see if the level of cheese funk is right for you. Yes, count the cubes.

Now blend in aromatics to add depth of flavor. You don't want much or it will start to dominate. Add a little at a time. The goal is not to taste the aromatics but to cause people to say, "I wonder what else is in there?" Common choices (you don't need all of them):

Pepper — White if you're wanting a pure white dip, black for specks to add visual interest.

Alliums — Onion, leek or scallion whites, shallot, garlic, etc. Use powdered versions (preferred), or cook before adding.

Celery — Juice is best, followed by cooked or finely minced white part or celery seed powder.

Mushrooms — Powdered or cooked (white part only) button mushrooms add earthiness and umami.

Spices — Use a very light hand, and watch out for speck and distraction. Coriander seed powder is a little dark but compatible, and fenugreek powder will hint at curry if overdone.

When you're done with aromatics it's time to do final adjustments. Taste the dip with whatever you're planning to dip into it. If that's already salted you may not need additional salt (canned beans are often already salted, and there's salt in many cheeses). Try adding tiny amounts of a colorless vinegar to brighten the dip before reaching for the salt shaker. White wine vinegar or rice vinegar would be our first choices, but plain old distilled vinegar will work also.

Write it all down so you can easily make the dip next time, and when you get it perfect, share it.

Thank you, Sundays, for this trip to cooking school, right here at home. And thank you all for coming. Make it a habit, how about it?

 

REQUESTS

* Advice on cookware

* Chili recipes (one from the GPS cookbook a plus)

 

TO REACH US

Fare Exchange is a longtime meeting place for people who love to cook and love to eat. We welcome both your recipes and your requests. Be sure to include precise instructions for every recipe you send.

Mailing address: Jane Henegar, 913 Mount Olive Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750

Email: chattfare@gmail.com

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Jane Henegar
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