Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Robin Cunningham's Virginia Peanut Soup

Robin Cunningham - Big Band singer extraordinaire! She is the reason I started this blog and it is about time I posted one of her beloved recipes! I met Robin when I was singing with the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra. Robin's husband Tom has a fantastic band and challenged Bill Elliott to a "battle of the bands". OH what fun we had!!! We played in a restaurant in the D.C area that was shaped like a rectangle, and had bandstands set up on both ends. There was a big wall of glass on the street end of the restaurant and I remember it being completely steamed up because it was SO cold outside....but inside it was JUMPIN! Man! Between the musicians blowin and the dancers dancin and the people eating, we were generating some heat!!  It was a great night and I only wish we could do it again. Robin is a fantastic singer and it is my pleasure to call her my friend.

So....I asked her for one of her favorite recipes and she responded with this. She said she makes it every year at Thanksgiving, and because we just celebrated Thanksgiving, I decided to make it too. It is Rich and Creamy, and Delicious!  Not sweet, but savory - a perfect soup starter for a Fall meal.

That's Robin on the far left with the boa! 

Thank you Robin....for this recipe and for your beloved friendship.

2 stalks celery, chopped
1 small to medium onion, chopped
1/2 stick butter (1/4 C)
2 TBS flour
2 C chicken broth
1 C milk
1 C heavy cream
(or 2 C light cream)
1 C peanut butter (unfortunately, organic does not work in this recipe - the final product comes out "grainy")
salt and pepper to taste
chopped peanuts for garnish

Lightly brown celery and onion in butter.
Add flour - cook long enough to get rid of the raw flour taste - a couple of minutes.
Stir in broth and bring to a boil to thicken. 
Add milk and cream  - reduce heat to simmer.
Blend with immersion blender (or use can use a regular blender, doing this step in batches, then return to pan)
Stir in peanut butter until smooth. 
Simmer 5 minutes; serve immediately.
Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Monday, November 28, 2011

"End of the Year Fundraiser" for Society of Singers 

Society of Singers is a non-profit organization which provides financial assistance to professional singers in times of need. Please help me give to SOS by contributing to this "End of the Year Fundraiser", by giving ANY amount to my foundation here at GiveBack! Your donations will help to provide funds for things like FOOD, RENT, UTILITIES and MEDICAL BILLS for countless singers who are in the middle of very difficult times right now.

Click on the "Donate Now" sign to give.
Thank you SO much.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Faye Elder's Upper Peninsula Pasty

I met Faye (her name was Nesbitt then) when I was singing at Knott's Berry Farm - my first professional job out of high school. It was a great time in my life - a wonderful learning experience about how challenging it can be to do 5 shows a day at a theme park, but how good it is to be employed!

Faye played the "madam" in the Calico Saloon Show. If you've never been to Knott's Berry Farm, there is an old "Ghost Town" area where there is a perfect replica of an old saloon, and on one side there is a stage. BUT....the stage is only a few feet wide AND it is on the 2nd level up. In the show there's a small band, two can can dancers, a shoot out and also a male singer (Michael Whitney in this picture). It's fantastic to be watching the show, but to be UP there, singing and moving around can be dangerous. Faye was the queen of that show and she did it beautifully. I think I got to sub in once for her....I honestly don't remember much about it except that I didn't think I was very good and I remember being really frightened of falling off the stage. 
Here's Faye (in the middle)!

Faye now lives in her beloved Michigan and has sent me this fabulous recipe for Pasty pies. She says it's a regional favorite and one she makes all the time.
This is her quote:
A favorite for generations, men working in the mine would actually put hot ones from home in their pockets during the Winter, before heading off to work. The pasty is still a beloved meal to share and especially covered in ketchup!


The crust:
1 cup lard
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk and milk to fill cup
2 cups cold water
Mix and cut together, roll out into flat football shapes appx. 6x3 in. makes appx 8 to fill with below:

Pasty ingredients:

10 lb ground beef, quarter size pinches
20 lb potatoes cubed
5 lb carrots chopped
2 rutabagas chopped
3 lb onions cut
salt and pepper

Chop and mix all ingredients together...fill half of crust, fold over and crimp end. brush top with egg white. Bake on cookie sheet at 425 for first 15 min then 350 till done. Have a cold beer as your side dish! See photos for examples but know that you really can't mess this up! No rules here in da UP!

Robin Whitmore's Cranberry Salad Family Recipe

I met Robin when I was touring with Perry Como. She has such a beautiful voice, and a spirit to match. I'm thankful for the time I had with her on the road - she's the salt of the earth. Love her.
This is a recipe she says, "was given to me by my Mother-in-law right after I got married. This was one of Marc's favorites for Thanksgiving/Christmas when he was growing up so she wanted me to have it. I have made it every year since we have been together cause I love the flavors in this. There are not many real measurements on things, so it's kind of up to the individual's tastes but it's VERY simple so it's hard to mess up no matter how much you put in. "

1 bag of fresh cranberries
1 bunch of fresh grapes (preferably green for color)
1 C of sugar
about 1/2 bag mini marshmallows
1 carton of fresh whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla

The night before, you grind up the bag of cranberries in a food processor till small bite size. Put them in a small mixing bowl and add the 1 C of sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight so the cranberries absorb the sugar. The next day there will be a lot of juice, so pour most of that off. Then, halve the bunch of grapes and add to the berries. Add the mini marshmallows. Beat the whipped cream with a mixer, adding the vanilla as you go. You may not need all the cream. Fold the cream into the berries until you have the desired color of pink for the salad. It's a wonderful mixture of flavors, very easy and tastes great. Goes really good with pork, turkey or chicken."

Robin is in the dark blue on the left hand side of the picture. Ah....good times!

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

I love soup! and when Fall comes it's one of my favorite choices for dinner. A bowl of warm soup, a green salad and a piece of crusty bread and I'm good for the night. I wanted to find a butternut squash soup recipe and there were many that looked appealing to me, but this one CALLED to me. It was probably because of the Italian Sausage listed in the ingredients. yum. This is a recipe from Emeril Lagasse. He includes a recipe for Roasted Parsnip soup to be served WITH this, in the same bowl...a sort of half and half or yin/yang soup. However, I didn't have the patience to make both, so I just went with the Butternut. It is deeeeelish.

1 (1 1/2 lb) butternut squash, peeled seeded and rough chopped
3 TBS olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C Italian sausage, removed from the casing
1 C onion, diced small
1/2 C carrot, diced small
1/2 C celery, diced small
1/2 C leek, diced small (about 1 leek, white part only)
2 TBL minced shallots
1 TBL minced garlic
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
2 teaspoons maple syrup
1 tsp fresh chopped sage leaves

Preheat oven to 425.

Place the chopped squash in a medium bowl and drizzle with 2 TBL olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper (I used a bit more pepper because I like that). Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil and place the squash on the pan. Roast the squash for 30-40 minutes or until lightly caramelized and tender.

Remove the squash fro the oven and set aside. Place a large pot over medium heat and add the remaining 1 TBL of oilive oil to the pan and render the Italian Sausage. Cook, stirring often until the meat is caramelized and has released most of it's fat, about 3 minutes. Add the onions, carrots, celery and leeks into the pan and sweat, stirring often for 5-7 minutes. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan and sweat for 1 minutes stirring continuously. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar and add the chicken stock. Place the squash in the pan and the maple syrup and sage.

Bring the pan to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook the soup for 30 minutes or unitl the vegetables are all tender. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup to a smooth consistency and velvety texture. Alternately, you can puree the soup in batches using a blender. Taste the soup and re-season if necessary with1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper. 


Friday, November 11, 2011

Buckingham Palace Shortbread

Butter, flour and sugar. The 3 major food groups.  Wait....maybe not, but they are heaven when they all get together to make shortbread. This recipe is a bit different from others because it contains cake flour and cornstarch, which helps with the amazingly light, and sort of "melty" way this shortbread tastes when you eat it. Don't get me wrong, I love the slight crunch and crisp that a regular shortbread cookie has....but THIS takes shortbread to a whole......novah.....levoh ("whole 'nother level" - a very obscure reference to one of my favorite TV characters on a show that is no longer televised, MadTV).   

I digress. I made this recipe last night and have eaten exactly 6 pieces. IF you make this (and I know you will), be prepared to just give in to it because resistance is futile (another obscure reference - email me if you don't know that one).

The recipe for Buckingham Palace Shortbread comes from a cookbook entitled, "Holiday Baking" by Sara Perry. She says the recipe was given to her by someone who insists it is the very recipe made daily for the Queen's afternoon tea. 


Buckingham Palace Shortbread

2 C cake flour
3/4 C plus 1 TBL cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 C unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 C granulated sugar
up to 1/4 C superfine sugar for sprinkling 

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt until well blended.

2.  In a stand mixer set on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy. Beat in the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of bowl as necessary. On low speed, add the flour mixture in two or three additions until it forms a soft dough. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

...outta the bowl

...into the fridge.

3. Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or leave ungreased.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out to a 3/4 inch thick slab, about 5 X 8 inches. (I used a large frosting spatula to get the edges into shape). Transfer to the baking sheet and bake until lightly golden and firm to the touch, about 40 minutes. 

Into the oven with you.

Slip the parchment paper with the shortbread onto a hard surface. Immediately sprinkle the shortbread heavily with the superfine sugar. While still warm, use the spatula (or other straight, flat tool) and a paring knife, pointed straight down, to cut the shortbread into 1 - 1 1/2 inch pieces. Let cool completely. The shortbread tastes best at room temperature.


(Superfine sugar is also known as "Baker's Sugar" and can be found in supermarkets. For a quick substitute, simply whirl granulated sugar in a blender or food processor for about 20 seconds).