About Monica Kass Rogers

The "Lost Recipes Found" lady

Pimiento Cheese Cherry Bombs

My mom loved pimiento cheese. She used to make me grate mounds of cheddar to prepare it from scratch, keeping jars of it in the fridge next to pickled jalapenos so hot  even the brine made my eyes water. “Why not?” I thought, “put the two together?”  Which explains this recipe: two kinds of cheddar (extra sharp yellow & aged white), pickled jalapeno juice, chopped jicama & cilantro, plus the obligatory mayonnaise, a big, fat, jarred pimiento diced fine, and some mustard, green onion, & black pepper. Stuff that into home grown tomatoes and serve with more jicama sticks. Thanks, mom!

4th of July: Key Lime Pie

Combine the story of Key Lime Pie and David L. Sloan, co-founder of the Fourth of July Key West Key Lime Festival and you get a mish-mash of lime groves & ghost-hunts, sponge-harvesters & mystery aunts, canned milk and more.

Key limes, those leathery little yellow-green golf balls otherwise known as Citrus aurantifolia, once thrived in the Keys as a commercial crop. That was before lime orchardists discovered running tourist fishing boats was more lucrative and sold off their groves. There are still Key lime trees growing in Key West backyards, but as a crop, the trees are huge in Mexico and other subtropical/tropical countries. In fact, Key limes are the most widely-grown commercial lime crop in the world, popular for their productivity and patience. (The trees do very well under stress.)

Their earliest appearance in anything  Key-Lime-pie-like, according to Key West historian Tom Hambright, came to the Keys by way of sponge hookers. This lot, out on small skiffs for days at a time “hooking” sponges, usually set out with provisions of canned sweetened condensed milk and Cuban bread. When the bread started to go stale, they’d soak it in the milk, adding wild bird or turtle eggs, and curing the protein ceviche-style with Key lime juice.

The segue to pie crust and home kitchens was helped along by an as-yet-unidentified Aunt Sally, who once worked in Key West’s Curry Mansion. Sloan, who came to Key West in 1996 to research ghost stories, saw the recipe card for the pie at the purportedly-haunted Curry home and soon broadened his obsession with spirit hunting to include pie planning, too.

18 years later, Sloan’s still experimenting.: “There is no wrong way to make a Key lime pie,” he sums.  His book “The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook,” is set up to encourage readers to put together their own crust, filling, topping and sauce combinations (up to 150,000 variations) from the recipes in the book, adding their own twists as they go.

Honestly? 150,000 seems like a lot of options, when you consider that classic, basic Key lime pies are made with just a handful of ingredients: The crust? Graham cracker crumbs, sugar & butter. The filling? Sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks & Key lime juice. And the topping? Meringue or whipped cream.

Here then, is the “classic” graham-cracker crust Key Lime pie recipe with whipped cream topper.

Graham Cracker Crust: 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, mixed with 1/3 cup white cane sugar and 6 Tbsp melted butter  Method: Press mixture into an 8-inch pie plate that you have liberally sprayed with non-stick spray. Refrigerate crust-lined pie pan for 1/2 hour.

Key Lime Filling: 4 egg yolks whipped until pale yellow and aerated (about six minutes). One, 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, 1/2 cup Key lime juice. Method: Combine whipped egg yolks with sweetened condensed milk. Slowly incorporate Key lime juice. Pour into prepared pie plate. Bake at 350 for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on a rack. Chill until very cold and set. Top with sweetened whipped cream.

And in the recipe-fields below, I’m publishing David Sloan’s embellished-with-ice-cream-Cheerios-&-cardamom Ultimate Key Lime Pie. Sloan credits Fern Butter–a former Key West boarding house owner–with the idea of adding softened vanilla ice cream to the filling ingredients.

Summer! Sweet-Corn & Bacon Pie

The waitress at Ernie Risser’s family restaurant in Womelsdorf, PA, watches me looking dubiously at the gravy that came with the corn pie I ordered.   “I like to eat corn pie with hot milk,” she whispers, smiling conspiratorily. Whisking away the gravy boat she returns with a little pitcher of milk. Not bad…but I left plotting something better. The result? This recipe: Cut-from-the-cob sweet corn simmered in a peppered white sauce with smoked bacon, onion and little sweet red pepper and baked in an all-butter pie crust. It pairs wonderfully with fried chicken and a green salad. (Try arugula, or mache!) Some vinegary pickles would be welcome on the side, too.

 

Fresh Fig Preserves

My mom grew up eating figs from a large, spreading tree that grew next to her childhood home in southern Texas. Moved by marriage to northern climes, Mom often spoke of that tree, the scent and the flavor of its fruit, the cool of its shade.  So…reading cookbook author Belinda Hulin’s ode to the fig tree that grew 30 feet high and more than 30 feet wide in her mother’s Louisiana backyard, struck a chord. Use this recipe to make Belinda Hulin’s Fig Cake, our  home-made fig “newton” bar cookies and our fig jam tart.

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Strawberries in a Cloud (Fruit & Cream Blitz Torte)

I am a strawberry girl. I eat strawberries out of hand, make pies & jams with them, macerate them, even grill and pepper them. But best of all? Little wild strawberries and cream. Now that Midwest strawberries are in season, I’m in heaven. Join me at the farmers market, buy several pints and what you don’t eat immediately you can set aside to make this sweet, many-splendored cake. It’s really a vintage-recipe blitz torte (minus the traditional almonds & cinnamon) elevated with clouds of whipped cream and a heap of strawberries.

StrawberriesinCloudsingleserve

Like other blitz tortes, this cake puts the egg yolks in the base layer of the cake and the whites in the meringue. Baked together, the layers achieve loads of textural interest: rich, spongy base; airy/chewy meringue.  Vanilla pastry cream goes in the middle; berries and cream crown the top.  I add gelatin to the whipped cream as a stabilizer, so it doesn’t seep, and, because there’s sugar in every other layer, I don’t sugar the berries at all. For best results? Assemble the cake right before service. And for more strawberry indulgence, try our version of Hess’s Strawberry Pie, (here’s version two of Hess’s Pie)  and this strawberry refrigerator cake.

Corn Dogs (Crusty Curs? Pole Pups?)

Corn dogs: Like most other US fried food on a stick, America’s batter-fried weiner wands have state fair connections. Vaudeville actors Carl and Neil Fletcher abandoned their Dallas song-and-dance act tent show in 1938 when the Texas State Fair offered them the chance to operate a food booth. The two had read about a man in the Oaklawn neighborhood of Dallas who was baking corn-battered hotdogs in molds, and the idea intrigued them, so the brothers set out to improve on the product. They perfected their batter-dipped and fried corn dog in time for the 1942 Texas State Fair.

Easy, portable and quick, corn dogs soon became fast food restaurant darlings. Cozy Dog Drive-in in Springfield, IL claims first-to-market status (1946) but restaurateur Dave Barham started selling at Hot Dog on a Stick in Santa Monica, CA, that same year.

Which of these had the “best” corn dog recipe? I dunno. But we are sure fresh-made corn dogs have a taste/texture that frozen reconstituted can’t match. Our recipe is a slight adaptation of the 1981 California rendition the LA Times published in its first-edition LA Times cookbook. You can swap buttermilk in for the milk and add a little spice, but we like them fine plain.Use whatever dogs you like. But note: Choosing a sausage with a tougher casing means you’ll have to chomp harder to bite through.

 

Alt Spanikopita: Kale Pie with Onion & Preserved Lemon

Having fiddled with phyllo to make those beloved butter-brushed triangles of spinach-and-feta-stuffed spanikopita, I can say with no hesitation: I’d much rather put everything in a pie crust. Since we’ve got a garden full of fresh kale, it seemed smart to keep rolling with the variation and swap in kale for the spinach. This lemony kale & onion pie–spiced with a bit of dijon mustard and enriched with French feta, is the result. Since I’ve got preserved Meyer lemon handy, I used that in the filling, but, the recipe works fine with just fresh lemon juice, too.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

Preserving lemons in salt is an ancient practice with delicious results.  My partly-Armenian husband–who is crazed for salted lemon–eats this on almost everything. Slivers of both the salted fruit flesh and soft rind are SO good added to dressings (I use preserved lemon in the soy-cream for my Fennel, Pear, Jicama & Celery salad) stirred into soups, topping lamb shanks, and used in my alternative to spanikopita: Kale & Onion pie.  It takes three weeks for the lemons to cure, so get started now.

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Duck & Andouille Gumbo with Potluck Garlic Bread

Atlanta press calls Chef Ford Fry an “empire builder.” And it’s true. Fry has seven restaurants now open (two on the way) several of which regularly show up on national foodie Best-Of lists.  The first time I talked to Fry we discussed greens (which Ford’s really good at) for a food story I was writing. The second time, we chatted about Southern seafood. And the third?  Recipes that taste just as good as leftovers as they did the first time around.  That’s when Ford gave me this gumbo recipe. It is gutsy, smoky-rich and loaded with flavor–but interestingly enough, doesn’t have any okra in it. Serve it over white rice with snipped scallions and Ford’s Potluck Garlic Bread.

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Kentucky Derby Chocolate Pecan Pie

Was Derby pie named for the hat or the horse race? The horse race. But a hat does figure in the original name of this rich chocolate nut pie. First created in 1950 at the Melrose Inn in Prospect, Kentucky, by Walter and Leaudra Kern with some input from their son George, the pie–first made with chocolate and walnuts–sparked debate in the family, with each family member wanting to name it something else. To resolve the conflict, everybody tossed their favorite name into a hat: The slip that got plucked was inscribed, “Derby Pie.” A huge hit, the pie anchored the Kern family baking business, lasting long after they sold the Inn.  Protecting their rights to the pie, the Kern’s copyrighted the name “Derby Pie” in 1969, and still sue usurpers. But many home-baked  chocolate-nut pie creations have safely circulated under different names in the intervening decades.

We baked ’em all, tweaking and experimenting as we went: some we made with corn starch and bourbon in the mix, others with flour and vanilla. Some with walnuts; others pecans. All are enriched with chocolate. While the version made with cornstarch had a lovely, meringue-like cookie crust on top, Our favorite tested version (below) uses flour instead of cornstarch, plus high-quality chocolate, toasted pecans and vanilla. If you still want that Kentucky bourbon spike? Whisk a little into the whipped cream garnish.

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