Saturday, March 31, 2007

Cookbook Spotlight #3: The Life of a Steward for Me

For "Weekend Cookbook Challenge #13: Cook From Your Newest Cookbook" I selected Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook by Paula McKenna and made some absolutely sinful walnut bars. I also waxed poetic about the big iron ore freighters that ply the Inland Seas. There is something majestic and beautiful about these working boats (yes, they are called "boats" on the Great Lakes). I grew up literally chasing them down the beach as they would come in close to shore off my parents house before they made the turn into Whitefish Bay and headed down towards the Soo Locks. On foggy or stormy mornings, I would wake up and look out my window to see two or three of these grand ladies at anchor waiting out the weather. On mornings like this, the lake would play tricks with my eyes and it would almost look like I could stand on our dock and touch them.

So I was very excited when Paula McKenna contacted me after reading my post about Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook and accepted Sara, the lovely mind behind I Like to Cook, Weekend Cookbook Challenge, AND Cookbook Spotlight, and my offer to be the featured cookbook for Cookbook Spotlight #3. We sent 10 copies of the cookbook to fellow food bloggers and we'll be hosting a round-up next weekend. But, being a co-hostess (and having blogged about SGLC already) doesn't absolve me of my duties to cook from the book for this event. Besides, it wasn't that hard to find a whole bunch more recipes to try.

Like many of my fellow Cookbook Spotlighters, I noticed that quite a few of the recipes in the book could feed an army or in the case of this book a very hungry crew of 32 on a freighter like the MV George A. Stinson (now the American Spirit) or the crew and passengers on a lake crossing ferry like the SS Badger. There have been mentions of 30lbs of chicken and 12 cups of flour for some recipes. And while I too wish that these recipes had been reduced for us home cooks (or maybe even shown in their original format AND then reduced), I understand the purpose is to show how much food is required to keep a ship running. I have a good friend who sails and he tells me that a ship doesn't run on fuel but on the crew's stomachs. After reading the list of ingredients for the now retired US Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw's Italian Steak Wraps (20lbs of beef strip loin, 3 lbs provolone cheese, 1/2 gallon of mayonaise...) I think I believe him. But beyond that one little thing, the rest of the book is a wonderful mix of stories about tall ships, freighters, American and Canadian Coast Guard ships, passenger ships, and museum ships as well as the recipes served on board.

Since I had already made one dessert for WCC #13, I decided to try my hand this time at making a whole meal from the Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook. On the menu tonight: Sour Dough Bread and Oven Roasted Baby Red Bliss Potatoes from the Schooner Manitou (I fed the Yeast Beasts this week so this was a "no brainer"), Braised Beef Ala Mode from the MV English River, and for dessert, I decided to test my rusty fractional math skills a reducing a recipe for Chocolate Brownies from the galley of the MV Ogelbay Norton. The sour dough bread and potatoes were out of this world. In fact, the little boule of sourdough bread I made was one of the best I've ever made so that recipe is a definite keeper.

I liked how simple the potatoes were to prepare too. Just toss them with olive oil, rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper and roast them in a 450 degree oven for about 40 minutes. MBH thought the braised beef ala mode was pretty darn good as well. I found the recipe to be a bit fussy and there are some confusing parts as the steward of the English River apparently did reduce the ingredients for the cookbook (with the exception of the beef which calls for 10lbs) BUT then left the large format instructions (ingredient list calls out 3 carrots then instructions tell you to cut up 12). All that aside, the beef was tender and flavourful. As for the reduced brownie recipe, I will have to wait for MBH to tell me how they turned out. I made them for his snacks this week while I am in Connecticut but they smell and look awful good and the batter was yummy...

Chocolate Brownies
From the MV Oglebay Norton
Note: the original recipe makes one baker's sheet pan. My reduction makes an 8 x 8 x 2 pan or about 9 brownies.

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 stick butter, melted
2 oz bitter or unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 cup bread flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Combine eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla and mix on medium low speed a stand mixer for 10 minutes. Combine melted butter and melted chocolate and add to egg/sugar mixture and mix for 2 more minutes. Mix bread flour and walnuts (if using) and add to batter and mix on low speed for 3 minutes. Pour batter into prepared 8 x 8 x 2 pan and bake for 25 - 30 minutes.