14 April 2014

Pick A Pickle

You know we love us some preserving books.  We foresee a day when we will have more books ABOUT canning that we will have food that we have canned.  Fine! We exaggerate, but you know what we mean. 

People have been pickling vegetables since the invention of a salt and vinegar.  Grab some veggies, pour a hot brine of vinegar over them -- pickles.  It is not really brain surgery, but way more fun, and if you screw up, no one dies or ends up in a vegetative state.  But it is hard to screw up. 

So why another book?  Well, Pick A Pickle is one of those cookbooks that is not merely a cookbook but a kind of art. It is designed like a Pantone swatchbook. The recipes fan out of their carrying case to reveal a wide variety of recipes.  You have seen designers huddled over their swatchbooks finding just the right color, well we like to think of cooks sitting around pouring over exactly which pickle they will be making. 

Those cooks are in good hands as the chef behind Pick A Pickle is Hugh Acheson, who wrote one of our fave cookbooks of 2011 (and still), A Turn In The South.  Yes, there are recipes in the book that you have seen a billion times: Pickled Jalapeños, Pickled Okra, Pickled Watermelon Rind, and Pickled Beets and so on. But the true test of a good pickle book is this:  Does the author pickle something you never thought of pickling before?  So, alongside those old familiars, Acheson gives us his usual unusual turn in the South.

Are you one of those cooks who cuts out the nice bits of veggies and tosses the rest into the compost?  You will never do that again after this recipe

Pickled Turnip Stems

4 cups small turnip stems
2 garlic cloves
1 sprig fresh thyme
3⁄4 tablespoon pickling salt
1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
3⁄4 cup cider vinegar
3⁄4 cup water

Cut the turnip stems into 1⁄4-inch lengths. Pack the stems, garlic, and thyme into the jars, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace at the top, and set aside.

Combine the salt, sugar, mustard seeds, vinegar, and water in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.

Carefully ladle the hot pickling liquid into the jars, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace in each. Cap with lids and bands, cool for 2 hours, and then either refrigerate or process according to the jar manufacturer’s directions.

The pickles can be refrigerated for 7 to 10 days; if processed, they will keep for up to 10 months.

Yes, Pick A Pickle it is a Hugh Acheson book, but we would like to give a big shout out to Rinne Allen who photographed it and Danielle Deschenes who designed this culinary swatchbook.  Now get out there and get yourself in a pickle.

08 April 2014

Not A Cookbook -- A Web Site

As you know, because you know food, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History acquired Julia Child's kitchen and it was a  good thing. After several years, they removed the exhibit and included it a large one; it was literally moved into a larger context -- Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.  

 Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 is a must pilgrimage for food lovers, but if you can't make it to D.C., here is the next best thing. The Food exhibit has gone on-line with a great new web site.  Check out Food here.

04 April 2014

Victor Borge's Game Bird Cook Book

Yes, Virginia, we love a good celebrity cookbook.  We especially love those cookbooks written by the obscure celebrity.  Actually, in his prime, Victor Borge was quite the celebrity and his fame continued with a centennial celebration on PBS.  Borge was an accomplish classical pianist, but he gained fame by poking fun of his talent.  His ability to blend high culture and slapstick made him a natural for music hall variety shows of 40's and 50's radio and television.  He would go on to be a popular performer even sharing the stage with the Muppets. It would seem that encouraging listeners to use Chopin's "Minute Waltz" as an egg timer was quite lucrative.

He invested his money in a farm in Connecticut.  Victor Borge is known in the culinary world as the man who introduced Rock Cornish Game Hens to the American housewife.  The "game" in Rock Cornish Game Hens is a misnomer.  It is a particular breed or rather cross breed of chicken that is killed very young.  The breed occurred when the stocky Cornish game rooster was bread with a Barreled Plymouth Rock hen.  The resulting offspring were had short legs and big breasts and when killed young, they made attractive little single-serve chickens.

Housewives in the 1950's were enamored of the little birds that were quick to cook and made a far more exotic a main dish than "chicken."  While Borge was the "King of Game Hens," his farm also raised pheasants and guinea hens.

Since his birds were "exotic" and shipped from his ViBo Farm, he put together a small pamphlet of a cookbook to provide the harried housewife with ways to cook the Rock Cornish Game Hen.  Here is his favorite recipe:

Victor Borge's Favorite Recipe

Rub the inside of six ViBo Rock Cornish Game Hens with salt and pepper.  Sear in 1/4 lb. butter in Dutch Oven until golden brown -- 10 to 12 minutes.  Add 1 1/4 cups water and let simmer, covered, until tender -- approximately 35 minutes.  Remove birds.  Stir into drippings a paste of cold water and three teaspoons flour.  Add 1/2 cup light cream, salt, tasteless sauce coloring, 1/2 teaspoon sugar.  Serves six.

Ask yourself,  "Which isle is the 'tasteless sauce coloring' in?

01 April 2014

Books and My Food

Books and My Food.  Is there a title that more accurately describes my life?  This little gem from 1906 was compiled by Elisabeth Luther Cary and Annie M. Jones.  The premise is simple: every day of the year is marked with a quotation from a book and a recipe.  The Misses Cary and Jones were greatly enamored of the English novel and drew most of their quotes from them.  There is Shakespeare and Thackeray.  Some Charles'  Lamb and Dickens.  And they are especially fond of Charlotte Bronté. 

As with most very early cookbooks from the 20th century, there is little direction for cooking, so you are kind of on your own.  Still, it is a cute mix of the culinary and the literary in one place.  Not to mention you have food and literature for every day of the year.

If you were following the cookbook who you be reading today?  A selection from William Makepeace Thackeray's "The Ballad of Bouillabaisse."   Today's meal, it would follow, will be a fine bouillabaisse.  Well, it would be a fine fish stew.  The author's feel that there is really no reason to put all that extraneous stuff Thackeray mentions in the poem. 

April 1st

This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is --
  A sort of soup or broth, or brew,
Or hotch-potch of all sorts of fishes,
  That Greenwich never could outdo:
Green herbs, red peppers, mussels, saffron,
  Soles, onions, garlic, roach and dace:
All these you'll eat at Terré's tavern
  In that one dish of bouillabaisse.

The famous bouillabaisse is indeed as Thackeray describes it, a sort of fish chowder, but it is seldom contains all the ingredients he mentions.  It may be made with four pounds of fresh cod, two onions, a clove of garlic, one peppercorn, two stalks of celery, a quart of white potatoes cut in small pieces, salt, pepper, and a quarter of a pound of salt pork, cut in slices. Put all the ingredients together in a granite kettle and stew slowly in water enough to cover them for three to four hours. Just before serving add 1 quart of hot milk.

I wonder what cod would look like after being cooked for four hours?  After four hours that cod and potatoes would probably be cooked down to a soup, more of a broth or slurry than a stew one might imagine.  It might be more productive to read the entire Thackeray poem and seek out a different bouillabaisse recipe.  Or simply cook the salt pork for and hour or two and add the veggies and fish during the last half hour of cooking.  You are more inclined to have a fish stew that way.

31 March 2014

The Modern Peasant

Patience Gray may not be a household name, but to many cooking enthusiasts, she is a god. In 1957 she wrote her first cookbook, Plats du Jour with Primrose Boyd.  She wrote a collection of recipes for the Blue Funnel Shipping Line, which was published posthumously in 2005 as The Centaur's Kitchen. Her most famous cookbook, Honey from a Weed, was one of the most influential and beloved cookbooks of the last century.  Gray fell in love with the Belgian artist and sculptor Norman Mommens and the pair set off touring the Mediterranean.  They settled in Puglia in southern Italy in 1970.   Their farmhouse, Spigolizzi, was famous for what it did not have; no refrigerator, no telephone, no electricity.  Yet Gray produced the most wonderful food -- seasonal, farm-to-table when farm-to-table was called simply, dinner.  It was rustic and self-sufficient and intoxicating.

Jojo Tulloh was intoxicated and she happened to know Patience Gray's son, Nick.  Before long, she had arranged a visit -- more of a pilgrimage to Spigolizzi. When Nick and his wife arrived to care for Gray in her last years, they had the sheer audacity to add electricity for lights and refrigerator, though they never installed hot water.  Tulloh was granted the gift of cooking in Patience Gray's kitchen.  She was transformed.  She returned to England with Gray's mantra of "eat more weeds" directing her.  While she would not give up her refrigerator nor her electricity, Tulloch set out to embrace the peasant within and learn to forage and ferment and can and cook  and bake and smoke with the same passion that Patience Gray wrote about.  The Modern Peasant: Adventures in City Food is the accounting of her quest.

The Modern Peasant is a fine DIY book.  It is not some sort of definitive "survivalist" tome to keep you going in the remote regions of the world, but rather a way to put bread and yogurt  on the table, especially if you live in a city. You won't learn butcher a whole hog, but you will be able to turn out a fine sausage.  The most important thing you will get from the book is a new way to look at the food around us.  A willingness to pay a bit more for a handcrafted loaf of bread.  A hesitation at throwing away scraps that can go in a stock.  A joy in growing vegetables.  Not everyone is going to travel the Mediterranean with a sculptor and cook on an open fire, but there are so many things that can be done every day to live like a peasant. I came to this book as a fan of Patience Gray but I stayed because Tulloh's journey was a common one, told in beautiful prose.

Tulloh admits that she is not much of a baker.  She does love to make these honey flapjacks, a sort of granola bar that is a great way to use up a crystallized honey.

Honey Flapjacks

3 tbsp honey
150g butter
a pinch of sea salt
75g unbleached granulated sugar
250g porridge oats

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Line a 20 x 25cm tin with baking parchment; or use a circular tin, if that's what you have to hand.

Place a small, heavy -based pan over a medium heat and melt the honey, butter, salt and sugar together until bubbling.  Pour the mixture into a bowl with the oats and stir well, until the whole mass is well amalgamated. Tip it into the prepared tin and, using a spatula,  press the mixture down quite hard, until flat and smooth.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned at the edges -- a good flapjacky smell will probably alert you to this moment.   Using  a  sharp knife, score the flapjack into squares or rectangles in the tin, but leave until cool before turning out.  They keep well in a cake tin for several days.
Your very own honey from the weeds in your cupboard.

26 March 2014

Preserving by the Pint

 Marisa McClellan's blog, Food In Jars has spawned its second cookbook, Preserving by the Pint.  If you read McClellan's blog, you know she cans in a very small kitchen.  She is great at taking a handful of ingredients and turning them into a couple of jars of jam.  When introducing this book she wrote:

All the recipes start with either a pint, a quart, or a pound (or two) because those are the units of measure that so many of us end up with after a trip to the green market, grocery store, or farm share pick-up.

We often lament the fact that we are not endowed with friends who have Meyer lemon trees in the back yard, or fig trees, or gigantic tomato patches.  We are often in the produce section facing 3 quince, a pound of Meyer lemons, or 6 blood oranges.  Most folks don't look at these tiny bounties and think -- marmalade!  Well you should.  Preserving by the Pint will be just the inspiration you will need.

We are notorious for buying EVERY canning, confiture, preserving book out there.  Yes, the repetition is astounding.  So picking up Preserving by the Pint was truly a joy as there are many recipes that seem familiar, but offer up a unique twist -- other than being calibrated to cook up a pint!

For years, when I thought of pickles, I would see my great-aunts with gigantic quart-sized jars, laboring away.  Frankly, I always thought buying them at the store was easier.  Then I realized one didn't have to "put up" forty quarts to get pickles.  But just try to find a recipe that makes one quart.  Well now you have a place to turn.  I was also weighted down by the notion that pickles had to be processed, yet hardly a meal went by that we didn't have some sort of refrigerator pickle that was made the night before.

Here is a a fine recipe for a quart of sugar snap peas.  You may find a really lovely mess of these peas at the store and think, "How could I use these?"  Well make these pickles. 

Marinated Sugar Snap Peas with Ginger and Mint

Makes 1 (1 quart/1 liter) jar

11⁄2 cups/360 ml unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon finely milled sea salt
1 pound/460 g sugar snap peas
1 green onion
1 sprig fresh mint
3 thin slices fresh ginger

In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, honey, and salt. Heat until the honey and
salt are entirely dissolved.

Wash the sugar snap peas well. Using a knife, trim both ends and remove the
tough string that runs along the back of the peas. Cut the green onion into 2 or 3 segments,
so that they fit the jar. Stand them up in a clean 1-quart/1-liter jar, along with
the mint sprig and the ginger slices.

Pack the prepared sugar snaps into the jar. If they don’t all fit, set them aside. You
may be able to sneak them in once the pickling liquid is poured.

Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the sugar snaps. Tap the jar gently on the counter
to remove any air bubbles. If you had any remaining peas, try to pack them into the jar
at this time.

Place a lid on the jar and let the jar rest until it has cooled to room temperature.
Refrigerate. Let these pickles sit in the vinegar for at least 24 hours before eating.
They will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Note: Make sure to use the freshest sugar snap peas you can find. No pickling
brine can restore crunch to a pea that’s lost it to age. If you can’t find sugar snaps,
this recipe works equally well with crisp snow peas.

You know you have a saucepan, a jar, and a refrigerator.  Go forth and preserve!

21 March 2014

A Handbook of Cookery For A Small House

I say, "Joseph Conrad" and you say,  "Lord Jim or Heart of Darkness."  You probably don't say, "He wrote a cookbook preface."  But if you did, you would be correct.  Mr. Heart of Darkness wrote the preface to his wife, Jessie's cookbook.  Conrad writes:

"Of all the books produced since the most remote ages by human talents and industry those only that treat of cooking are, from a moral point of view, above suspicion.  The intention of every other piece of prose may be discussed and even mistrusted; but the purpose of a cookery book is one and unmistakable.  Its object can conceivably be no other than to increase the happiness of mankind."

Doesn't that just make you want to hurry out to the nearest bouquiniste and grab up all his books?  Basically Ol' Joe wants you to know that cookbooks make you happy.  On that, we agree!

In A Handbook of Cookery For A Small House Jessie Conrad opens with "A Few Introductory Words" to set out simple instructions for the home cook.

"Cooking ought not to take too much of one's time.  One hour and a half to two hours for lunch, and two and a half for dinner is sufficient, providing the the servant knows how to make up the fire in order to get the stove ready for use."

Face it, if you were married to Joseph Conrad you would want to spend at least five hours in the kitchen!  As one might guess, Conrad's recipes are rather straight forward, meat and potatoes fare.  There are sausages, kidneys, steak, mutton, fish, and fowl of various varieties.  There are potatoes in many forms and most dessert involves the stewing of fruit.  Frankly, it would seem that bangers and mash and some stewed rhubarb would come together in under three hours even if you had to light the stove, yourself.

Here is an example of a dish Jessie would have served Joseph for his luncheon.

Pigeons with Carrots

Split the roasted pigeons in halves and lay cut side down in a stone saucepan with half a claret glass of white wine, pepper and salt, with four carrots cut lengthwise, each into eight pieces then cut across.  Add a little meat juice.  Put enough water to just cover the pigeons.  Stew gently for three-quarters of an hour.  Thicken with a little flour and water and serve in the stone saucepan, or a deep dish.

I doubt you will want to grab a copy of this to make your dinner, but as a literary tie-in, it is quite fun.  If you do see a copy, you might just want to grab it as they are getting scarce and expensive.

19 March 2014

The New Southern Table

We have been waiting for Brys Stephens The New Southern Table and it finally arrived.  We know what you are thinking:  "There is nothing "new" in Southern."  Well, we would have to say you are so wrong.  Look at that big red "NEW" in title and we will tell you how it applies.

When you say "Southern" food we think, collards, crowder peas, okra, sweet potatoes, peaches, lima beans...and so does Stephens.  Southern cuisine is built on the ingredients that come form the ground.  If Southern cooks have a fault, it would be taking these ingredients and cooking them the same way week in and week out.  We cook them the same way mama cooked them.  Mama cooked them the same way her mama cooked them.  And so it goes.

Check out the Piggly Wiggly.  They will have okra, sweet potatoes, and lima beans just like mama's did.  But check again.  They will have coconut milk, fish sauce, habaneros, pomegranate, and on and on.   Brys Stephens has spent a lot of time roaming those grocery isles and thinking of ways to make the familiar, new.  He has done a great job.

Take a look at okra.  My mama grew up in Alabama and spent much of her adult life in the cold, dark North.  She would beg grocers to get in a mess of okra.  Often when she did get it, it was a mess, but she was undeterred.  After all that effort, she made okra two ways.  Sliced and fried into chewy almost black rounds and steamed on top of field peas into a slimy mush.  Needless to say, okra was never a favorite.  Then one day, we saw an okra recipe from Africa.  The recipe kept the stem end in tact and thinly sliced the pod in long vertical strips.  When fried it resembles calamari.  A simple variation in slicing made all the difference.

Flip through The New Southern Table and you find recipe after recipe of the familiar turned on its head.  There is perloo with quinoa, purple hull tabouleh, and watermelon pudding Sicilian style to name a few.  And what about the okra?  According to Stephens this recipe is simple and concentrates the flavor.  It sure beats those little blackened nuggets.

Roasted Okra with Olive Oil, Lemon, and Sea Salt

2 pounds okra, any tough stem ends trimmed away and discarded
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt
Lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450F.  In a bowl, toss the okra with the olive oil to coat.  Arrange the okra in a single layer on a large sheet pan.  Roast 8 to 10 minutes, or until bright green, barley tender, and brown in spots.  Serve immediately with sea salt and lemon wedges.

Those who believe they just know it all about Southern cooking, be prepared to be wrong. 
 The New Southern Table will make you a rock star in the kitchen from Alabama to South Carolina and all those Yankee states out there, too.

17 March 2014

Requiescat in pace -- Clarissa Dickson Wright

Sad to report that Clarissa Dickson Wright , the remaining one of the Two Fat Ladies, died. 
Read Wright's amusing account of shooting the neighbor's peacock and serving it to them.  After all, who in their wright mind would waste a perfectly good peacock.

While best known for her stint as the side-car riding half of the Two Fat Ladies, Wright wrote numerous food books, including a wonderful book on game and tiny tome on the beloved haggis.  After Jennifer Patterson died, Wright teamed up with childhood friend, Johnny Scott for a British "countryside" show, Clarissa and the Countryman.

In recent years, she wrote a series of autobiographies detailing her rather wild and drunken youth.  After surviving a hard-fought struggle with alcoholism, Wright spent many years working in a cookbook store.  She was "discovered" by the legendary cooking producer, Patricia Llewellyn who teamed her with Patterson, and the rest was rollicking road trip. 

My particular favorite recipe from Wright was her Mitton of Pork, a large ball of terrine filled with bacon and pork with a bit of stuffing to bind it together. 

Mitton of Pork

8 ounces rashers streaky bacon
1 1/2 pounds pork fillet. thinly sliced
6 ounces sage and onion stuffing (not from a packet)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground mace

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 7-inch pudding basin with most of the bacon rasher, reserving a few for the top. Put in a layer of pork, then stuffing, season with salt, pepper and mace. Continue this layering process until the basin is full, finishing with the reserved bacon. Press down well, then cover tightly. Stand the basin in a baking pan to catch drips. Bake the oven for 1 hour. Place a weighted board over the pudding and leave until completely cold. Turn out the mitton and slice to serve.

 The dish was featured in the Picnic episode of The Two Fat Ladies.  I am pulling out the DVD's and spending the afternoon with dynamic duo.  No doubt Jennifer Patterson was waiting at the pearly gates with bottle of champagne, caviar and a cigarette asking what the hell Wright was doing there so soon.

 Clarissa Dickson Wright will be missed. The Guardian obituary: bit.ly/NmVV6o

03 March 2014


Our favorite bar item is our Mason Jar Shaker.  Excellent use of the tried and true Mason jar.  Lord knows the Mason jar has been the leading conveyer of alcohol from here to there or from there to your lips.  When Eric Prum and Josh Williams got together and gave the jar a fancy strainer top well, you know, the rest is history.

So we were thrilled to find that the duo was giving it another shake and writing a drink book.  What do you think they would call such a book?  Shake. Shake: A New Perspective on Cocktails is the perfect companion to the Mason Jar Shaker.  Actually, it is the perfect companion to any drinker’s arsenal of books.  Here's why...

The drinks are good.

The drinks are fun.

The drinks are easy.

The instructions are way cool.

The drink recipes have the ingredients laid out on a table, so there is no doubt that you are doing things right.  Once you can see what you will need, the actual assembly is a snap.   Here is the easy way to take the L Train. One recipe makes two drinks.

The L Train

2 Shots Gin
1 Shot St-Germain
½ Shot Fresh Lemon Juice
2 Sprigs of Lavender (plus 2 to garnish)

i.  Add the Gin, St-Germain, Lemon Juice and Lavender to the shaker.

ii.  Add ice to above the level of the liquid and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.

iii.  Strain the mixture into chilled Coupes and top with Seltzer. Garnish with the remaining Lavender sprigs.

Think about it.  Gin.  St-Germain.  How can you loose?  Shake is a great cocktail compendium.  Sure you can use a plain old shaker but go ahead and splurge on a Mason Jar Shaker.

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