From a film made in the 60’s to one set in the 60’s, this week we’re taking a road trip to a bucolic little town in Massachusetts where Mrs. Flax (Cher) has taken 15 year old Charlotte (Winona Ryder) and 8 year old Kate (Christina Ricci) for another “fresh start” after yet another failed romance. Mermaids is one of those oldies but goodies from the early 90’s that capitalized on the popularity of its stars Cher, Winona Ryder…and the very “hot” Michael Schoeffling, who as any fan of Sixteen Candles knows played the object of every girl’s desire Jake Ryan! Not exactly full of Oscar-worthy performances, but there are several memorable lines and funny, charming scenes that stuck in our collective memories and ultimately led to it being chosen as our Fall/Pre-Halloween movie …like Charlotte’s hysterical obsessions with both Catholicism and Joe Poretti, Mrs. Flax’s commitment phobia which manifests in her “finger foods only” style of cooking (because according to Charlotte a full meal would be too big of a commitment), and, of course, the mother-daughter conflicts between the very liberal Mrs. Flax and the morally uptight, sexually neurotic Charlotte. Aside from Ouiser Boudreaux (Steel Magnolias), Rina claims that Winona Ryder is her “spirit animal,” while Laura and I are just excited to see Michael Schoeffling in another movie. As we tossed around ideas (and lots of bad puns about nuns and sex), I knew one thing for sure–I wasn’t done with small bites yet. Despite Lou Lansky’s (Bob Hoskins) attempts to forge a new family meal dynamic, the Flax family hold firm to their finger foods model.
But as it is the custom now, let’s start with the drinks. Since the majority of the movie takes place in autumn in New England, I wanted to create something that would play up those fall flavors. What I came up with were two very different drinks, one cold and one hot, both featuring my favorite Bulleit Bourbon. After taste-testing both drinks with my friend Karen (who happily step in as guinea pig), we decided that both were delicious and deserved the spotlight.
The first cocktail is in honor of the vivacious Ms. Flax, which I’ve named The Shoop Shoop after the song Cher sings during the end credits.
Mrs. Flax seems like a woman who can handle a dark, smokey liquor like bourbon, and yet her lively party girl personality makes me think of something bubbly. This cocktail combines the backbone of bourbon with the effervescence of hard cider, balanced with acidity from lemon juice and sweetness from maple syrup and pear liqueur.
The Shoop Shoop
2 oz. Bourbon (preferably Bulleit)
1 oz. Pear Liqueur or Brandy
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Maple Syrup
6 oz. Hard Pear or Apple Cider (chilled)
Combine the first 4 ingredients in a shaker with 3-4 ice cubes. Strain the shaken liquor into 2 glasses, then top off with the cider. Garnish with thinly sliced apple rings and fresh mint sprigs.
The second drink is a white hot chocolate, spiked with bourbon and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla bean named Not Quite A Virgin, in honor of Charlotte Flax, whose dalliance with Joe in the church bell tower forever changed her “lily white” reputation.
Not Quite A Virgin
2 cups Whole Milk
2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/4 Vanilla Bean, scraped
5 oz. Premium White Chocolate, chopped into very small pieces
2 oz. Bourbon (preferably Bulleit)
Heat the first 6 ingredients until just simmering. Take the saucepan off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla pod, then whisk in the white chocolate until smooth and completely melted. Stir in the bourbon. Divide the hot chocolate into two mugs. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and a tiny dusting of ground nutmeg.
After last week’s Octoberfest blow-out for The Sound of Music, I decided to scale back a little and create a menu that reflected the casual, rather “unambitious” culinary style of Mrs. Flax. Don’t worry, no cheese puffs or gum drops were used in the production of this menu.
First up is an hors d’oeuvre with a retro vibe, inspired by Mrs. Flax’s unconventional lifestyle and rebellious streak, in particular her wicked disregard for her Jewish upbringing (eating a ham sandwich and smoking a cigarette in the middle of her parents’ kosher bakery). Mrs. Flax’s Sinfully Unkosher (W)hors d’euvres are dates stuffed with aged blue cheese, wrapped with bacon, caramelized with a sweet and spicy bourbon glaze, served (of course) skewered with toothpicks. It’s so easy that even the culinary-challenged Mrs. Flax can pull them off!
Mrs. Flax’s Sinfully Unkosher (W)hors d’euvres
12 Medjool Dates
3 oz. Aged Blue Cheese
4 strips Thick-Cut Bacon, cut into thirds
2 Tbsp. Bourbon
1 Tbsp. Dijon Mustard
6 dashes Hot Sauce
2 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
3 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
1 tsp. Worchestershire Sauce
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt
Using a sharp paring knife cut a slit into each date and remove the pit. Stuff each date with about 1/2 tsp. of blue cheese, then wrap snuggly with a piece of bacon, tucking the overlapping ends under. Arrange the wrapped dates on a foil-lined sheet pan and bake for about 7-8 mins. in a 400°F oven to begin rendering out some of the fat. In the meantime, stir together the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Brush the bacon-wrapped dates with glaze and continue baking until the bacon is crispy and the glaze is caramelized, about another 4-5 mins. Remove the dates from the oven and bush with more glaze. Cool for a couple of mins., then skewer them with toothpicks.
The next two appetizers pay homage to the main men in the movie, Joe Poretti and Lou Lansky. I used the same luscious flaky cream cheese pastry for both. It’s one of my favorite “go-to” doughs and once you’ve had it, you’ll want to always keep some in the freezer as well.
Cream Cheese Dough
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2-1/2 cups Cake Flour
2-1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
1 tsp. Sugar
1 lb. Unsalted Butter, chilled
1 lb. Cream Cheese, chilled
Whisk together the dry ingredients and set aside. In a mixer, beat together butter and cream cheese on medium speed with a paddle attachment until well-combined. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients on low speed until the dough begins to form into clumps and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Don’t overmix! Divide the dough into two portions and flatten into 1″ thick disks, wrap in plastic film and chill for at least 20 mins. before using. *You can store freeze the dough for up to 3 months if you put it in heavy duty freezer bags. This recipe makes more than enough dough for both appetizers.
The Hot Stuff(ed) Tidy Joes is a play on the traditional Sloppy Joe, but with a decidedly Italian twist, both in flavor and presentation. The filling is meaty and rich, so despite it’s diminutive size, it’s still something a “real man” can sink his teeth into.
Hot Stuff(ed) Tidy Joes
8 oz. Ground Beef (80/20)
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
Sea or Kosher Salt/Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, chopped
1/2 Medium Green Bell Pepper, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/2 cup Dry Red Wine
1 Medium Roma Tomato, seeded and chopped
1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
2 tsp. Worchestershire Sauce
1/4 tsp. Dried Oregano
1 Tbsp. Fresh Basil, chopped
1/2 tsp. Dried Chili Flakes
4-6 dashes Hot Sauce
3 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy skillet on medium heat. Brown the ground beef, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. Add the onion, bell pepper and garlic. Continue cooking for 2-3 mins. until the vegetables begin to soften. Stir in the red wine, then the remaining ingredients. Reduce the heat and simmer until you’ve got a thick rich filling, seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Transfer the filling into a shallow dish to cool completely. While the filling cools, roll one disk of cream cheese dough (1/2 recipe) on a floured surface to 1/8″ thickness. Using a 3″ round cutter, punch out 24 disks, laying them flat on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Chill the disks for about 10 mins. To assemble the Tidy Joes, gently stretch the disk of dough into a slightly oval shape. Spoon about 1 tsp. of filling onto the bottom half of the disk, then dab the just the upper edge of the disk with a little beaten egg. Fold the top half over the bottom half, then pinch the edges together to seal. Using the side of your thumb, roll over the edges at intervals. Brush the surface of each mini “calzone” with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese. Bake the pastries at 400°F for 15- 18 mins., or until they are golden brown.
While the Tidy Joes salute Joe’s Italian roots, The Lou’s are a miniaturized version of the roast chicken dinner Lou Lansky prepares for the Flax girls at his home. In fact, I used a store-bought roast chicken (Costco’s) to make the filling for these tiny chicken pot pies, along with some condensed cream of chicken soup (another nod to Mrs. Flax) and cooked sweet potato. Bound in that tender, flaky cream cheese pastry, The Lou’s would put a smile on Mr. Lansky’s face.
2 Tbsp. Butter + 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, chopped
1 Garlic Clove, minced
1 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves
1 tsp. Fresh Chopped Sage
1 Medium Carrot, small diced
6-7 Crimini or White Button Mushroom, halved and sliced
1/2 cup Frozen Peas
1/2 can Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1/2 cup Dry White Wine or Vermouth
Ground Black Pepper
2 cups Chopped Roast Chicken (skinned)
1 Small Cooked Sweet Potato (skinned), small diced
Heat the butter and oil in a large heavy skillet on medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic with the herbs until the onions are translucent, then add the other raw vegetables and continue cooking until tender. Stir in the cream of chicken soup and wine, season with black pepper to taste. You probably won’t need to add anymore salt since the cream of chicken soup is pretty salty by itself. Remove the pan from heat and mix in the chicken and sweet potato. Transfer the filling into a shallow dish and cool completely.
As with the Tidy Joes, roll the disk of cream cheese dough out to 1/8″ thickness, then using a 2-3/4″ round cutter punch out 24 disks to line the greased mini muffin cup molds. Repeat the process with a 1-1/2″ round cutter, punching out 24 smaller disks to use as the toppers. Keep the smaller disks chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use. Fill each pastry-lined cup with about 1 Tbsp. of filling, then top them with smaller disks. Brush the surface with a little beaten egg and sprinkle with black pepper or ground paprika. Bake little pot pies at 400°F for about 15-18 mins. or until golden brown.
And finally, we have dessert. Again, I was inspired to go retro and create a sinfully decadent dessert that was both tempting and full of cheeky humor. What I came up with pays tribute to a favorite cookie that’s only available from October through March, and is probably something Mrs. Flax would have kept in her cupboard, the Mallomar. My version is a disk of buttery vanilla bean shortbread glazed with a thin layer of seedless raspberry jam, topped with an impossibly pillow-soft marshmallow kiss, then dipped in rich semi-sweet chocolate. Unlike the Mallomar, this cookie is shaped like a breast, which led to all sorts of very racy puns. I wanted to call them “Nun’s Tits” (there is a boob-shaped dessert called St. Agatha’s Nipple) because Charlotte is endlessly fascinated by what goes on under those habits…at one point asking Joe if he knew whether the nuns wore lingerie. And of course, there’s all that Catholic guilt associated with her sexual curiosity. In the end, Rina thought that Charlotte’s Catholic Confession Confection sounded more appetizing than picturing nuns’ tits.
1 lb. Unsalted Butter, room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 cup Powdered Sugar, sifted
3-3/4 cups All Purpose Flour
1 tsp. Kosher or Sea Salt
1/2 Vanilla Bean, seeds scraped
Cream together the butter, powdered sugar and egg yolk until smooth. Mix in the remaining ingredients just until it forms into a dough. Turn out the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, then press down and shape into a 1″ thick disk and wrap tightly in the plastic. Chill the dough for about 20-30 mins. until it is firm enough to roll out.
*For the cookies, roll the dough out to 1/4″ thickness, then using a 1-3/4″ round cutter, punch out 24 disks and arrange on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, spaced 1-1/2″ apart. Bake the shortbread at 350°F for about 12-15 mins. until lightly golden. Spread a thin layer of seedless raspberry jam onto the flat underside of the cool shortbread.
2-1/2 tsp. Unflavored Gelatin
1/2 cup Cold Water
3/4 cup Light Corn Syrup
1/3 cup Honey (or Lyle’s Golden Syrup)
1-1/2 cup Sugar
1/3 cup Water
2 Large Egg Whites
Sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/2 cup cold water; let it stand for about 5 mins. to soften (or bloom). In the meantime combine the corn syrup, honey, sugar and remaining water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. As the syrup is cooking begin beating the egg whites to stiff peaks. Cook the syrup to 245°F, then remove from the heat and allow it to cool to 225° before stirring in the soften gelatin. With the beaters running on medium heat speed, carefully pour the hot syrup in a steady stream down between the side of the mixer bowl and beater. Increase the speed to high and continue beating until the marshmallow is fluffy and cooled to just barely warm. Fill a piping bag fitted with 1/2″ round tip with the marshmallow and pipe generous kisses on top of each shortbread. Refrigerate the cookies for about 10 mins. to help set the marshmallow. *You can store the remaining marshmallow in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use it as marshmallow fluff.
Melt together 6 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate (can also use a premium quality chip) and 1-1/2 Tbsp. coconut oil or organic shortening (I like Spectrum), either in a double boiler or in the microwave (on medium power at 30 sec. intervals). Invert the cookies and dip the marshmallow part in the melted chocolate. Return the cookies to the refrigerator to set the chocolate.