Saturday, January 27, 2007

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #13: From My Newest Cookbook - a Bit o' Lake Fare

For this month's installment of the Weekend Cookbook Challenge hosted by Sara of I Like To Cook, we are asked to cook a recipe from our newest cookbook. If you know me well, you will know this a very appropriate and ironic theme. As a cookbook-aholic, I acquire a new cookbook on average every 5.7 days and every once in a while go on a huge bender! Since Sara posted this month's challenge theme, I have purchased or been given fourteen new cookbooks. Given the speed with which I accumulate cookbooks, I am always in the state of cooking from a new cookbook. Since I couldn't honestly decide which new cookbook to use for this challenge, I gathered the bounty from the past month, tossed them onto the guest room bed, closed my eyes and grabbed one and...

I couldn't have been happier with the winner of my grab-a-cookbook, Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook!

I received the Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook as a Christmas present from my folks this year. This book is about two of my make that passions: cooking and being a boatnerd (a person who follows almost rabidly the comings and goings of Great Lakes freighters or Lakers ). Lakers are famous for their hearty, filling and delicious food. Next to the captain and the chief engineer, the most important person on the crew is the cook (also know as the steward). They feed up to 29 men three full meals a day; no matter the weather or the mood of the Lakes plus make sure there are plenty of treats, snacks, and left-overs so that the crew of these behemoths of the Lakes (average size of a Laker is over 700' long) can always get something to eat. One of the best chocolate chip cookies and definitely the coldest milk I ever had in my entire life came from the galley of the Paul R. Tregurtha, a 1,000 Footer that makes trips during the sailing season (late March until late January) between the iron ore mines along the western shores of Lake Superior to the steel mills located in Gary, Indiana on Lake Michigan and the mills in Ohio along the southern shores of Lake Erie. To learn a bit more about the galleys of Great Lakes freighters you can go listen to an episode of "Hidden Kitchens", a series from the Kitchen Sisters heard on NPR radio.

Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook features recipes actually used in the galleys from not only the Lakers but also from some tall ships that ply the lakes, passenger ships and ferries from a long gone by era, Coast Guard cutters assigned to the Lakes, and "retired" ships that are now museum ships like the Valley Camp and the Mather. Some of the recipes have been cut down to make servings for the home but quite a few are published just as they are written. So a home cook would have to do some adjusting; unless of course you DO want to make 24 servings of the Hungarian Beef Goulash served on the M.V. Canadian Progress or eight loaves of white or rye bread from the M.V. Oglebay Norton (now the American Integrity). There is even a tongue in cheek recipe for the "Best Fruit Cake Ever!" contributed by a wheelsman from the S.S. Courtney Burton (now the American Fortitude) that calls for 1 to 2 quarts of whiskey and has directions like "check the whiskey" every few steps. As the recipe for the fruit cake progresses directions like "add 1 babble spoon of brown uger or what ever colour you can find" followed by another "check the whiskey" begin to appear. Each section of the cookbook features a little history about the ships, the crew, and most importantly the cook on board whose recipes are printed. There are pictures of the galleys, reprints of menus from Thanksgiving and Christmas (the two biggest meals served during the sailing season). Recipes range from very basic soups to extremely elaborate dishes like beef wellington. There are also recipes for quite a bit of regional fare like tourtiere (a French-Canadian meat pie), broiled Lake Superior whitefish, and Miracle Whip devil's food cake.

Trying to find a recipe to cook was hard, but I finally settled on the Walnut Bars from the galley of Dawn Weymouth, the steward on the M.V. Indiana Harbor at the time Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook was published (stewards like most of the crews with the exception of the captains move from boat to boat each season depending on the company assignments).

There are quite a few women who have made cooking for the crews of Lakers their career and Dawn is one of the best known. I made the Walnut Bars to take work for my weekly Thursday engineering meeting. They are a layered bar cookie with a shortbread crust and then a baked topping of walnuts, brown sugar and flaked coconut. After the bar cools, you frost it with an orange/lemon flavoured frosting. I made the bar portion of the recipe on Wednesday and then frosted them Thursday morning before going to work. I doubled the shortbread crust to provide a thicker base for the walnut filling. The recipe was easy to follow and in about one hour I had the bar part of the cookie done. I let the bar cool a bit and since the filling was toffee like, I cut the cookie into bars before I let them cool in their pan completely. These bars are fantastic! They are so buttery and rich but sturdy and the frosting is a perfect flavour foil for the sweet filling and shortbread crust.

I was told after our meeting that in no uncertain terms they were to go into my regular rotation of bribes. After tasting these wonderful treats I can definitely see why the walnut bars are a crew favourite and as the story about the Indiana Harbor's galley says they "don't last long on board either!"

Walnut Bars
From the Galley of Dawn Weymouth, Steward of the M.V. Indiana Harbor

Crust: (I doubled this for a thicker crust)
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter
2 Tbsp powdered sugar

2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup flaked coconut

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp orange juice
1 tsp lemon juice

Pre-heat the oven at 350 degrees. To prepare the crust, combine all the ingredients and press into the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until slightly golden. Combine the filling ingredients and mix together well. Spread the filling over the warm crust. Return the pan to the oven and bake an additional 25 minutes; check after 18 minutes as the bars may be ready. (The filling will be golden brown and look like hardened lava). Let cool about 15 minutes and cut into bars. Let bars finish cooling completely before frosting. To make the frosting, combine all the ingredients and beat until very smooth. Spread over the cooled filling.

Great with a cup of espresso or a tall glass of very cold milk!

Note about this post: A special Thanks! (and a Salute) go to fellow Boatnerd, Dick Lund who let me link to his awesome site for the pictures of the boats and links to the "Boats" mentioned in this post.

1/30/07 Update: I received a very wonderful email this morning from the author of "Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook", Paula McKenna. It was very nice of her to send a note of thanks, especially since she is a fellow cookbook-aholic, boatnerd and publisher of cookbooks as well as a cookbook author (Can you say DREAM Job!) If you are interested in ordering "Ships of the Great Lakes" you can order it from her company's website: Creative Characters Publishing. They are updating the webpage right but there is phone number you can call to place your order.