29 December 2015

Christmas Haul

Reviews to come. Hope your holidays were happy...and you too, got cookbooks.

21 December 2015

The Groundnut Cookbook



When Duval Timothy, Jacob Fodio Todd, and Folayemi Brown found themselves in London and homesick for the foods of their native Africa they did the logical thing -- they got together and cooked. Then they invited friends over, and the friends wanted to invite their friends. In 2012, they acquiesced and began a bi-monthly supper club to bring the African foods their mothers cooked to a wider audience.  Needless to say, it was a hit.


The Groundnut supper club continues to sell out and offer up authentic African food. The project not only brings new converts to the foods of Africa, but for the authors, it has also brought them back to family and tradition.

The Groundnut has a waiting list, so the next best thing to actually being there is to grab a copy of The Groundnut Cookbook.

One of our favorite recipes is a sweet potato cake. We have several recipes in our baking bag. Recently we made a cake from ube sweet potatoes from the Philippines. Now we are on the hunt for Puna yams!

Puna Yam Cake

450g fresh puna yam (peeled weight)
2 small eggs
50g golden caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
100ml condensed milk
150ml coconut milk
50g coconut oil (plus extra for oiling)
50g unsweetened desiccated coconut (to garnish)

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Peel the fresh yam, then finely grate it. Whisk the eggs, then set aside. Melt the coconut oil (if solid). Add the sugar and whisk well together. Combine all the ingredients (except for the desiccated coconut) and mix well.

Thoroughly oil a 450g loaf tin, or a circular tin with 23cm diameter. Add the mixture and then bake on the central shelf for one hour.

Leave the cake to cool, then garnish it with the desiccated coconut. 

Yes,we love French cookbooks, but sometimes one needs to expand their geography.  The Groundnut Cookbook is a great place to start.

09 December 2015

Honey & Co. The Baking Book

Every time someone posts a photo of Honey & Co. in London, we just drool. Even crappy photographers can't diminish the warmth and charm of Sarit Packer & Itamar Srulovich's eatery/shop. Their first book, Honey & Co. has become a classic. They followed it up with Honey & Co. The Baking Book, named the Sunday Times Food Book of the Year and the Fortnum & Mason Cookery Book of the Year.  Yes, it is that good.

Drawing on their Israeli backgrounds, the couple offers up cakes and bread full of color and spice. there is plenty of honey and nuts and more than a few cereals. Sweet pastries are just a fraction of the story.

There is a large chapter on jams and preserves that could be expanded into a whole other book. Many of the photos at Honey & Co. feature shelves of preserves, so the sampling in the book is clearly the tip of a sweet and runny iceberg.

The stand outs are the many savory pastries that grace the pages of this book. It is not often that one finds a baking book with so many wonderful pastries that are not sweet.  Case in point. Cauliflower is our favorite vegetable. We have done almost everything one could possibly imagine with this cruciferous bundle of joy.  But this was a new one.

Spiced Cauliflower Muffins

1 small head of cauliflower
700g/ml water
1 tsp table salt

For the muffin batter

175g plain flour
40g caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp salt
4 eggs
150g unsalted butter, melted

for topping (if you like)


3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese



Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure there are at least six large "trees". (You will most likely have more than six; cook them all and save the unused flowerets to eat another time.)  Put the water and salt into a large pan and boil the cauliflower until soft (this will take  5-10 minutes). Check to see whether it is done by inserting a knife tip into the stem; it should penetrate without resistance. Drain well and set aside.

Preheat your oven to 190C/ 170C fan/gas mark 5 and butter six muffin moulds. Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together.  Add the eggs and use a spoon or spatula to mix until combined, then slowly mix in the melted butter and fold in until it has all been incorporated.

Place a spoonful of batter in the center of each mould and then stand a whole floret stem down in each.  Cover with batter to fill the moulds to the top. Mix the pumpkin seeds and cheese, if using, sprinkle on top of the muffins and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from tin and eat while still warm --they are the best this way.
We will never look at cauliflower in the same way. Honey & Co. The Baking Book is a real eye opener.

07 December 2015

Brown Sugar

Way back when, we wrote about a guy named Nick Fauchald who decided to do a series of small, single topic cookbooks. The idea was a big hit and we wrote about their very first book, Eggs by Ian Knauer.  Like many good ideas, the daily grind of such endeavors often get the better of the creator (hey, we used to post EVERY day!) but lucky for us Fauchald's Short Stack Series is still growing strong.

Here is one of our favorites, Brown Sugar by Libbie Summers.  We love Summers' books.  Sweet & Vicious is a go to baking book and we don't know why we never wrote about The Whole Hog Cookbook.  (It is a common problem here, we become convinced that we have written about cookbooks that we haven't.  We are working to rectify that oversight.)

Short Stack Editions are small, hand sewn cook booklets printed on electric-colored paper. Brown Sugar has internal pages of shocking pink! It is well balanced in terms of recipes, as most people think of brown sugar as a cookie ingredient, Summers offers up appetizers, vegetables, salads, main dishes and a dessert or two featuring that muddy sugar stuck in the back of the pantry.

Drag that bag out front! Better still, by a new bag if it was tucked way, way back in the corner. Yes, there are caramelized potatoes, brined salmon, and even cookies, but there is also a really cool drink or two.  Our favorite has a bit of alcohol in it.

The James Brown Sugar

1 1/4 ounce bourbon
3/4 ounce Cointreau
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Juice of 1 orange (about 2 ounces)
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 ounce)
Dash Angostura bitters
Dash blood orange bitters
1 orange twist

Fill a pint-sized canning jar with ice and add all the ingredients except the orange twist. Screw on the lid and shake well. Remove the lid and twist the orange peel over a glass and drop into the drink. Add a straw and serve.

Rumor has it, the drink was christened by another name, but after a party-goer had a few and a few more, he began working the event as a business venture. The cocktail was renamed for the hardest working man in show biz!  Actually, a fitting cocktail for the hardest working Libbie Summers.

Looking for a quick gift, look no further that a Short Stack Edition.

04 December 2015

The Jemima Code

I love Toni Tipton-Martin. She is a kindred soul, a cookbook collector.  I read that she keeps many of her cookbooks in a gun safe! A true collector would appreciate such care. Frankly, more gun safes should be stuffed with cookbooks...but I digress.

If you are a cookbook collector, and if you collect a lot of old Southern cookbooks, there is one thing that often stands out in older books. The "author" of said cookbook would thank her own cook. Why? Well generally, because the recipes came from the cook, not the author. News flash...if you watch someone make cornbread, ask questions, then write down the recipe, it is not your recipe, it is your transcription.

Toni Tipton-Martin has amassed a huge collection of cookbooks by African American authors. She has made it a calling to highlight the accomplishments of theses often overlooked culinary pioneers.  In The Jemima Code, she highlights many of the books from her collection. While there are several recipes, the book is more of a history than an actual cookbook. Her cookbook is forthcoming! To understand the hypothesis of this book, the best description comes from the author, herself:

"Black codes once defined legal place for former slaves. Historically, the Jemima code was an arrangement of words and images synchronized to classify the character and life’s work of our nation’s black cooks as insignificant. The encoded message assumes that black chefs, cooks and cookbook authors — by virtue of their race and gender — are simply born with good kitchen instincts. It diminishes the knowledge, skills and abilities involved in their work and portrays them as passive and ignorant laborers incapable of creative culinary artistry.

Throughout the 20th century, the Aunt Jemima advertising trademark and the mythical mammy figure in Southern literature provided a shorthand translation for a subtle message: “If slaves can cook, you can, too,” or “Buy this flour and you’ll cook with the same black magic that Jemima put into her pancakes.” In short: a sham."
Here is a simple recipe from Katharin Bell's Mammy.  In the self-published text from 1927, Bell fully credits her cook, Sallie Miller. Bell can see that there is great genius in Miller's recipes and approaches them in a reverent manner.  As one often sees in early Twentieth century cookbooks, the instructions are a bit sketchy.

Shrimp and Tomato Salad

Chop shrimps and tomatoes together with a little celery and mayonnaise and serve on lettuce leaves.

Basically, this is exactly how I make shrimp salad, with the addition of scallions!  Does one need more.

If you care about food, Southern food, history, or cookbooks, Toni Tipton-Martin's The Jemima Code is a must have.

TWO FOOTNOTES

I know we all love online shopping and it has its advantages. When I ordered The Jemima Code, I rather expected a regular, lackluster, university press book.  I was surprised!  It is big, beautiful, and wonderful.  Now, I would have purchased this book no matter what.  But coming across this book in an actual store, seeing it, picking it up, flipping through it...this act holds the potential to sell more books that simply seeing its flat image on a cell phone screen. Bookstores DO matter.

The second thing is purely personal.  Screw you Toni Tipton-Martin!  It is hard enough to locate these books as it is.  Now you just made everyone want to find these old gems and the prices are going to out of control, and I am never going to find reasonable copies of books I have been looking for forever. But I forgive you....


 

30 October 2015

The Ballet Cook Book

Tanaquil Le Clercq is a legend. Not in the modern sense of "legend" but in that old-world, truly remarkable, lager than life, sadder than death, extraordinarily gorgeous, muse to many kind of legend.

First, and foremost, she was a dancer.  An extraordinary, ethereal dancer.  At the age of 12, she was offered a scholarship to the School of American Ballet by George Balanchine.  At 17, she would help launch the Ballet Society that would later become the New York City Ballet. At 23, she would become Balachine's fourth or fifth wife, depending on who's counting. 

When Le Clercq was 15, Balanchine asked her to be his partner in a dance he created entitled "Resurgence" for a March of Dimes charity benefit. He would play the role of Polio and she would be his tragic victim, paralyzed by the dreaded affliction. The dance might hardly be remembered if not for its prophetic nature.

In 1956, at the height of career, Tanaquil Le Clercq contracted polio and was paralysed.  She was 27- years-old.
Tanaquil Le Clercq 
with Corrado Cagli, Vittorio Rieti, and 
George Balanchine, by Irving Penn photo ©
Jerome Robbins choreographed one his most famous ballet's for Le Clercq. Afternoon of a Faun, taken from a Debussy prelude, is still being preformed. In 2013, Nancy Buirski completed a documentary Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq. It is one of the best sources for footage of Le Clercq dancing.

After her paralysis, she became an author penning the autobiography of Mourka, a cat Balanchine taught to "dance." 
In 1966 she compiled The Ballet Cook Book featuring stories and recipes featuring a who's who of the world of ballet from Sir Frederick Ashton to Vera Zorina. It has become one of the most collectible cookbooks on the market. Always a holiday treat, here is Le Clercq's family recipe for eggnog.



Great-Great-Grandmother Blackwell’s Eggnog 

12 egg yolks
1/2
cup sugar
1 1/2
cups bourbon whisky

3/4 cup St. Croix rum
1 quart heavy cream, whipped


Beat egg yolks and sugar until light and sugar has melted completely. Add whisky and rum and continue beating 3–4 minutes. Stir in the whipped cream and mix thoroughly. Place in refrigerator and chill until ready to serve.
Even the poet, Frank O'Hara found Le Clercq to be a muse.

 Ode To Tanaquil LeClercq
 

smiling through my own memories of painful excitement your wide eyes
stare
        and narrow like a lost forest of childhood stolen from gypsies
two eyes that are the sunset of
                                             two knees
                                                            two wrists
                                                                            two minds
and the extended philosophical column, when they conducted the dialogues
                in distant Athens, rests on your two ribbon-wrapped hearts, white
         credibly agile
                            flashing
                                        scimitars of a city-state

where in the innocence of my watching had those ribbons become entangled
        dragging me upward into lilac-colored ozone where I gasped
                 and you continued to smile as you dropped the bloody scarf of my life
                                                 from way up there, my neck hurt

            you were always changing into something else
            and always will be
            always plumage, perfection's broken heart, wings

            and wide eyes in which everything you do
            repeats yourself simultaneously and simply
                                            as a window "gives" on something

it seems sometimes as if you were only breathing
       and everything happened around you
because when you disappeared in the wings nothing was there
       but the motion of some extraordinary happening I hadn't understood
the superb arc of a question, of a decision about death

          because you are beautiful you are hunted
                 and with the courage of a vase
                         you refuse to become a deer or a tree
                 and the world holds its breath
                         to see if you are there, and safe

                                                  are you?
                     

Cats, cookbooks, ballet, poetry -- who could go wrong. If you are fond of ballet, do check out Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq.   PBS ran it several years ago and I think it might still be out there to download. I suggest making a big bowl of eggnog and gathering for a screening.

20 October 2015

The Complete Jam Cupboard

We are a little behind on cookbooks because we have been making jam! That our excuse and we are sticking with it!

While jamming, we have been pawing through old books and this is one of our favorites.  The Complete Jam Cupboard by Mrs. C.F. Leyel, Hilda to her friends. She was quite the lady, writing a series of cookbook and becoming a preeminent herbalist of her day.  She founded the Society of Herbalists in England in 1927.  She ran a chain of herbalist shoppes named after that founding herbalist, Culpeper.

He series of slight cookbooks turned the head of one of our favorite cookbook authors and writers, Elizabeth David who turned the head of Alice Waters.  Mrs. Leyel received a mention in one of the best modern preserving book, Saving the Season by Kevin West.  West came to Leyel from the David, Waters cookbook tree. In Saving the Season, West sets out to replicate one of the recipes for an apple jam with little success.  He ponders many reasons.  One he doesn't mention is the type of apple.  Leyel suggests "cooking" apples, but in today's marketplace, the range of cooking apples is slim.

My first attempt at a very generic family recipe for Pear Jam is a similar case in point. My great aunts used pears from an old, gnarled tree of questionable origin.  The pears, when fully ripened, were the shape and consistency of racked pool balls.  Standing under the tree could be quite dangerous. I set out to duplicate the recipe with Bartlett pears. Big, fat, soft, mushy, Bartlett pears. Needless to say, my pear jam bore no resemblance to my great aunts.

Therein lies one of the problems in cooking from old cookbooks. There is very little detail, and they assume that the reader understands how to cook, how to operate a wood stove, what the produce in a particular area might be, and a dozen other things you will not think of! In the end, after failing at Mrs. Leyel's recipe, Kevin West found his own recipe with a spark of inspiration from Mrs. Leyel.

In the end, that is what a great cookbook does, it provides a spark. Rhubarb is not a fan favorite here, but this recipe gives you a sense of what might be expected of your cooking skills in the 1920's.


Rhubarb and Fig Jam

Cut up a pound of figs for each seven pounds of rhubarb, and shred them finely, and cut the rhubarb into small pieces.

Put it all into an earthenware jar with five pounds of sugar for every seven pounds of rhubarb. Let it stand all night.

The next day boil it all together for over an hour, and add to it, before it is taken off the fire a quarter pound of chopped candied peel for each seven pounds of rhubarb.
As someone who makes jam on a regular basis, this recipe is scary.  Imagine what it looks like to someone who has never made jam. Who has an earthenware container that would hold eight pounds of fruit and five pounds of sugar, not to mention, what would one cook it in?  And what temperature does one cook it at and when, exactly in that over an hour cooking time does one add the candied peel?

Ah the joys of old cookbooks...

05 October 2015

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook

Everyone is sooooo sick of all that farm-to-table crap.  It is too easy in this day and age to make fun of the simple concept, especially when some people have eaten food from their gardens for years...decades...generations!

When Chris Fischer set out to write a cookbook about his farm, he showed serious chops. You see, Beetlebung Farm has been in his family for years...decades...generations -- 12 generations to be exact. So if you are really committed to farm-to-table and not just trying to hang with your pretentious food friends, then The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook for you. Not only did Chris Fischer come to the farm with family history, he also came with quite a bit of kitchen history having worked at Babbo, St. John Bread &Wine, and The River Cafe.  (If you read this blog you know that many of our favorite chefs have spent time in the kitchen of The River Cafe.) 

So we have generational family farm, excellent chef history...did we mention the farm was on Martha's Vineyard?  Because we feel that if one is going to be a farmer, one might as well do it on Martha's Vineyard. And so The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook was born.

Fischer learned a lot from the gals at  River Cafe. They have always had a way of taking the raw ingredients and letting them shine. There was never too much mucking about with truly great product and Fischer shares this aesthetic. What transpires is great ingredients turned into great food.

Recently there has been much written both good and snarky about toast. In fact there have even been cookbooks written about toast.  Yes, it is pretty funny that you need someone to tell you how to make toast.  Still, it is one of those very elemental and very rewarding foods that can move us from childhood and beyond. 

 Here is Fischer's fabulous toast.

Asparagus on Toast

For the Gribiche:

2  eggs
1  bunch fresh parsley, leaves picked and chopped
6 Tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt, to taste
3  scallions, finely chopped
pickled carrot, chopped, to taste
1 Tablespoon  pickling liquid

For the asparagus and toast:

16  thin asparagus spears, trimmed
2 Tablespoons  butter
1/2  lemon
kosher salt, to taste
4  slices sandwich bread, toasted

Make the gribiche.

Bring a pot of water to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and cook for 8 minutes. Drain, run under cold water, and peel. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the yolks to set. 

Mix together the parsley and olive oil in a medium bowl. Generously season with salt. Add the scallions, pickled carrot, and pickling liquid. Chop the eggs, stir into the gribiche, and season to taste with salt. (Makes about 1 cup.) Keep the gribiche in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve. Use any leftover on crostini, sandwiches, or salads or as a sauce for poached fish.

For the asparagus and toast:

Prepare the asparagus and toast. Cut the asparagus spears into 3-inch lengths. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the butter. When it’smelted, add the asparagus and cook, turning the spears in the butter until they are bright green and just tender but not yet soft, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with lemon and salt. 

Place the asparagus on the pieces of toast, top with the gribiche, and serve.

Yes, it's toast, but just think how happy you would be if you had this on a plate right this second!

29 September 2015

Yogurt Culture

 We have never been big on milk around here, so yogurt was never at the top of our list of fave foods or ingredients for that matter.  But we have come around. While we still shy away from pulling a container out of the fridge and snacking away, we are growing partial to it.

One problem is the yogurt one finds in the grocery store. Until very recently, much of that stuff in those little containers was so filled with sugars and artificial crap that it was crime to even refer to it as yogurt.  A recent commercial for a gigantic "yogurt" producer praised themselves for removing high fructose corn syrup from their yogurt.  If it had high fructose corn syrup in it, was it really yogurt?  Is yogurt milk with a bit of culture added?  Does yogurt really need a candy topping? Enough said.

It is now possible to find an actual yogurt on the market, though one must wade through a sea of brightly colored, sugar filled, cookie infused impostors.

Cheryl Sternman Rule published Yogurt Culture: A Global Look at How to Make, Bake, Sip, and Chill the World's Healthiest Food.  She also tells you how to dip, lick, dine, and slurp, but clearly that would have made the title way too long. It will give you an idea of how the book is divided to make your yogurt consumption easier.

Sometimes yogurt is the star as in smoothies,soups, and sauces. Other times it is an unseen ingredient as in cakes and breads.  Sometimes it is a supporting character, as a pillowy base for compotes. And sometimes, it is as its best just slightly dressed, like this.

Greek Yogurt with Lemon Vinaigrette

2 cups plain Greek yogurt, preferably whole milk
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
¼ teaspoon za’atar*, or few leaves of fresh parsley, chopped
Warm whole-wheat pita triangles for serving

 *Za’atar is a type of wild thyme often mixed with sumac (a brick-red, sour spice), salt, and sesame seeds. Look for it in Middle Eastern markets.

In a large bowl, beat the yogurt until light and smooth. Scrape it into a shallow, wide serving bowl. And smooth with the back of a spoon to create a wide indentation.In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk the oil and lemon juice until emulsified; season well with salt and pepper. Pour the vinaigrette over the yogurt so it floods the indentation. Sprinkle with pine nuts and za’atar or parsley. Taste, adding a bit more salt, if desired. Serve with warm pita.

Now that's a fine appetizer with little fuss and big rewards.

If you are terrible ambitious, there are several recipes to make your own yogurt, so you can skip that tutti frutti isle at the grocery.  Either way, yogurt might just be the most versatile ingredient in your kitchen and Rule can show you some of the best ways to use it.

25 September 2015

Dinner With Jackson Pollock

When I think of Jackson Pollock, I rarely think of food.  It's funny, but I don't think of artists as being great cooks. Maybe it is the paint-stained hands, or the chemicals, or just some weird bias on my part. Writer in the kitchen seems right but artists.... Needless to say when I saw Robyn Lea's book, Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature, I was intrigued.

Turns out that after a busy day of splatter painting, Jackson headed into the kitchen.

number 14 (Gray), 1948 by Jackson Pollock

Who knew?


The cookbook features recipes from Pollock, Lee Krasner, and various artist friends who hung out in the Hamptons. (The pre-99% Hamptons where struggling artists could still find a home.) Pollock and Krasner took advantage of the seafood and local produce. Much of what the pair knew of cooking came from their parents. Pollock's taste ran to the Midwestern fare ate at his mother's table. While they often hosted other artists, Stella made several appearances in the kitchen.

Lee Krasner, Stella Pollock, and Jackson Pollock.
One of the most charming items uncovered by Lea was Stella Pollock's handwritten recipe book.  A familiar site in many family kitchens. Her son built on her recipes in an attempt to become a better cook.
 
 

His biggest culinary passion was baking. Given Pollock's reputation for being erratic and boisterous, it is interesting to think that his kitchen exploits gravitate to the precision and patience required for baking. His signature baking accomplishment was his apple pie.  It won first prize at the Fisherman's Fair. It became so popular that every year, people bid to buy his pie site unseen. The recipe for the crust was written out by Stella on the back of a recipe book.

Jackson’s Prize-Winning Apple Pie

FOR THE FILLING

4 pounds granny smith apples, or any combination of tart apples
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar, or less if desired
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, sifted

FOR THE CRUST

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1 level teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups cold butter
2 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg for egg wash
½ cup cold milk, plus more as needed

To prepare the filling: Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Stew apples in a pot with the water (add enough to cover the fruit), plus the sugar and spices, until just cooked. Chill the apples in a little of the juice. When cold, sift the flour over the apples and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450°F. To make the pie crust: Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until mixture is crumbly. Add egg yolks and mix with enough milk to make a dough. Roll out dough lightly. Place the pastry in a greased 10-inch round pie dish, allowing pastry to overhang the edge of the pan by about 1 inch; trim away excess dough, roll it into a ball, and set aside to make the top crust. Be sure there are no cracks in the bottom crust; seal them by pressing edges together with fingers. Pour the apple mixture into the pie shell and distribute evenly.

For a simple top crust, roll out the remaining dough, slide the pastry sheet onto the rolling pin, and unroll it on top of the apple pie filling. Allow top crust to overhang the edge of the pan by about 1 inch; trim away excess dough, then pinch the top and bottom crusts together all around the rim to seal the pie. Prick the top crust with a fork in about a dozen places, or slice a few small openings with a knife, to allow steam to escape. Brush the top pastry with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with a pinch or two of sugar. 

For a more elaborate lattice-style top, roll out the remaining dough, cut into ½-inch strips, and weave strips across the top of the filling. Brush the lattice strips with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with a pinch or two of sugar.
 
Place the pie in the center of oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 325°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes more.

Funny how something as simple as an apple pie can change the way you look at art.  Thanks to Robyn Lea, I will never look at Jackson Pollock the same way. Art and recipes! What a combo.

24 September 2015

Collards: A Southern Tradition From Seed to Table

We love esoteric, scholarly books. And cookbooks. So when we find a scholarly, esoteric book about one of our favorite food; a book that has recipes, too...we are plum ecstatic!

Edward H. Davis and John T. Morgan have written the definitive book on the history of collards in Collards: A Southern Tradition From Seed to Table. The journey they take is part mystery, part geography, part horticulture, part folklore, and great recipes.

Now if you are like most people, you think of the collard as a Southern dish. As with many Southern dishes, like rice, okra, and watermelon, one might think that the collards origin is from Africa. One of the most fascinating finds in Collards is that the Southern collard is most probably not from Africa but from jolly old England. I, too, was surprised.

As the plant was dying out in England in favor of cabbage, it was finding new life in the old South. Davis, who writes about collards on his blog, Collard Geography, inaugurates it with this personal tale:
"I grew up without collards because my mother (Lucy Claytor Davis) hated (and still refuses) to cook them. It is the smell, of course.  In fact she won’t allow anyone else to cook them in the house.  Instead, she offered me many kinds of green vegetables – peas, green beans, lettuce, broccoli… But I was worse than your typical child on this subject – In spite of persistent nudges (in fact, daily doses – it seemed like medicine to me) I would not allow anything green into my mouth. "

Collards got a bad rap from their rather pungent smell during cooking. Some people, like Davis' mother, simply refuse to cook them in their house. One also runs into the socioeconomic stigma of collards -- they are the food the poor folks ate. The section on collards in the history of cookbooks is an area we were drawn to.  The earliest cookbook by and African American woman, What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, by Abby fisher contain not a single recipe for collards.  

Mary Stuart Smith's Virginia Cookery-Book doesn't contain collards either and even cabbage gets a short shrift.  
"This vegetable, so staple and article of food among out-of-door workers, has fallen into general disuse with the upper classes on account of the disagreeable odor it emits, permeating every corner of an ordinary constructed house from garret to cellar."

 It wasn't till the early 1970's that Southern Living published a recipe for collards. It was the first big wave of Southern cooking going mainstream in the form of Soul food which, "members of the jet set ...have discovered." 

Fresh Greens

1/4 pound salt pork
1 large bunch turnip, mustard, or collard greens
1/2 cup boiling water
Salt to taste

Cook the salt pork in the water for 10 minutes, add washed greens, and cook until tender. Salt to taste. Don't overcook. Serve with vinegar.

Not much water if you want a lot of potlikker, but it was a start. And now, you can't trow a stick at Southern Living without hitting a recipe for greens.  Collards, not just our favorite side dish, but a book whose time has come.




 



22 September 2015

Kitchenette Cookery

From 1917, Anna Merritt East's Kitchenette Cookery. Perhaps what we like most about this little book is the "kitchenette" on the cover. It has that walk-in closet feel and in an age when we see the entire first floor of many houses as an extension of the kitchen, seeing one that could be easily shut away behind doors is kind of nice.

East states:

"...I offer this little book to you, friends of the business world, who must needs eat and mayhap, too, love to cook rather than sit forever around a boarding-house table."

Two things strike me from this beginning of the introduction.

1. The way that rents are rising, I am not sure that boarding houses shouldn't make a big comeback.

2. I am quite sure that "mayhap" should be resurrected into modern language.   Its definition from the Urban Dictionary:
A term combining the best qualities of the terms "maybe" and "perhaps" into a single superior word. Often used when planning something mischievous or pretending to be British.
"mayhaps I'll go get fucked up instead of writing this paper"
 or
"care for a spot of tea?"
"mayhaps a bit later" 
But I digress... 

East offers up a list of the modern conveniences that one would want in their kitchenette and some rather enlightening prices such as:

1 gas stove                                $28.00
2 asbestos mats                              .10
2 anti-splashers for faucets             .05
Vacuum ice-cream freezer            2.50
10-piece earthenware set               .85

While I am pretty sure they no longer make asbestos mats, I want a pair of anti-splashers!
East has an entire chapter devoted food that comes in a can. While she advocates the use of canned foods, she finds that cooking a whole can of any one item is simply too much food for one person to consume.  Her chapter is aptly named  "Half-a-can Recipes." Using the "saved" half-a-can for a salad later in the week is her favorite trick.  One can then look forward to lima beans and corn in a French dressing. Or asparagus and pimientos in a French dressing. Or beets stuffed with cream cheese in a French dressing.  Clearly, French dressing is a favorite.

Her recipes for midnight snacks are included in the chapter, "A Bite to Eat at Bedtime." She will include a half-a-can here and there for bedtime included in several rather complicated dishes. This one takes at least 30 minutes to prepare and could offer up some intense dreams.

Shrimp Wiggle
1/2 cupful cooked rice
1/2 can of peas
1 can shrimp
1 onion
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cupful cream
1/2 teaspoonful salt
1/4 teaspoonful paprika
Brown the sliced onion in the butter;add the cream, rice, and peas; let cook up, and add the shrimp, salt,  and paprika; simmer over hot water for fifteen minutes, and serve on crackers.
i don't know about the shrimp, but I am sure if you eat this right before bed, you will be the one wiggling! 




10 September 2015

Eating Appalachia





In an era when we talk extensively about "American" food, it is funny that much of what in on the plate is not American at all. Where is that food that is indigenous to our country. Darrin Nordahl set out to find some of that food in his book Eating Appalachia.

As you know, I live in Appalachia, so I don't find these ingredients to be quite as mysterious as Nordahl does. It is funny, when someone makes a big fuss over something you have eaten all your life.

Look at ramps, for instance.  A favorite anecdote during ramp season in West Virginia says that children were sent home from school because they reeked of ramps. Nordahl states that the Smithsonian (Full Disclosure--an organization I often work for) blames Martha Stewart on the proliferation of ramps into mainstream culture.  When she included a ramp recipe in a 1996 Martha Stewart Living, ramps became a thing. Now those poor kids in Appalachia could barely afford ramps as most of them are shipped off to New York City! Damn you, Martha.

While the ramp might be the golden goose of Appalachian produce, there are many others that Nordahl features. There are paw paws, persimmons, and various nuts.  The butternut is the bane of my tire's existence. When one says, "it is a tough nut to crack," they have no doubt tried to crack the butternut. Why don't we see more of these American beauties? As Nordahl will tell you, "Because they are a bitch to crack..." Yes, they are. Everyone in West Virginia has a sure fire way to crack them that they learned from their granddaddy. These are family secrets. Trust me, you will never go into any one's home and find a big bowl of butternuts sitting on the table.

If you can find a way to extract the sweetmeats inside, this is a good way to use them.


American Indian Cream of Butternut Soup

3/4 cup finely ground butternuts
2 cups chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the ground butternuts and chicken stock in a saucepan and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, heat another pan over medium heat, add the butter, and saute the onion and celery for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the sauteed vegetables and milk, salt, and pepper to the simmering butternut stock and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and serve. 


With no television, iPads, nor video games, American Indians of yore had lots of time to crack those devilish butternuts for soup. If you keep up with food trends, you know that Appalachian cuisine is going to be the next "BIG" thing. Eating Appalachia is a good primer.


31 August 2015

The Good Cook

Mary Norwak published over 100 cookbooks in her lifetime. Her most enduring might be her book of English puddings, recently republished.  Our favorite, however, is The Good Cook. It combines two of our favorite things, a cookbook and an abecedery. 

From allspice to yoghurt and some very British items in between; like brown bread ice cream, eel pie, medlar jelly, and potted partridge. Norwak's idea was a simple one.  Create a cookbook much like a dictionary that was filled with simple recipes that were easily found. Need to make a marmalade?  There is a plain orange marmalade and several ways one could use the marmalade including cake and ice cream. Have a glut of cucumbers? There is a soup, a salad, and a sauce.


Norwak was a home cook who firmly espoused English cooking. She believed it to be more than just a fine treacle pudding. There is probably no better example of a genuine English dish than toad in a hole.

Sausage Toad in the Hole

1 lb/450 g pork sausage
4 oz/100 g/1 cup plain flour
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/2 pint/300 ml/1 1/4 cup milk

Prick the sausages lightly and put in a baking tin. Bake at 400F/200C/Gas mark 6 for 10 minutes. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl and work in the egg and milk. Beat well and pour over the sausage. Bake for 25 minutes and serve at once.

When you are out digging in old book stores, don't pass up one of Mary Norwak's books.


26 August 2015

The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook


Most of our experience with Connecticut is to drive through it.  We know they filmed Mystic Pizza, it's where you live if you go to Yale, and Martha Stewart lived there for many years.  When Tracey Medeiros sent us a copy of The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook we told her we knew nothing about Connecticut but we are fond of tables, so we gave it a look.

We loved her book, The Vermont Farm Table Cookbook. In The Connecticut Farm Table Cookbook Medeiros teams up with Christy Colasurdo and they follows a similar format.  They  introduce us to farmers who are providing ingredients to restaurants in the area who use the farm's bounty in their recipes. There is an inherent problem with cookbooks like these. Farmers produce these exquisite fruits, vegetables, animals, herbs, eggs, and other goodies. We see them on the page. The chef takes the ingredients and turns out beautiful restaurant fare.

Here is the problem. You want to pull that tomato off the page, slice it and eat it. You want to poach a single egg right in front of the chicken that laid it. You want eat those berries one at a time. The farmer's fare is so wonderful that the thought of doing much to it seems sad. On the other hand, you have trained chefs who see that produce as one step in an elaborate recipe. At some point you want to scream, "Stop tarting up those carrots and let me eat them!" Medeiros and Colasurdo do a good job at crossing the divide with the stories of both sides.

The most interesting thing about a book like this is the diversity.  Today, it is virtually impossible to stand in any geographic spot in America and not find excellent dinning within a stones throw. Yes, Virginia, there is pizza in Mystic, but there is also soup with pistou, eggplant chutney, onion and kale frittatas, gazpacho, pear smoothies, and more Southern recipes, than in most cookbooks. If one looked only at the table of contents and then asked to name the state these recipes come from, most people would head south of the Mason-Dixon.  Like this offering from Dish Bar & Grill.  The tomatoes are from farmer David Zemelsky, of Starlight Gardens, Durham.
Heirloom Tomato Pie
Tomatoes

5 medium-large mixed heirloom tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), tough cores removed and cut into 1/2-inch slices
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Crust

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into small cues
4 tablespoons ice water or as needed

Filling

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
1 1/2 cups (about 5 ounces) shredded Fontina cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method
 
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line one or two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. To make the tomatoes: Place the tomatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with oil and salt to taste, and bake for 2 hours. Set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, to make the crust: Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or fork, cut the butter into the flour until just crumbly. Add the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until the dough just comes together. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and form into a disk. Wrap the disk in a plastic wrap and refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the disk into a 12-inch round. Transfer to a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate or 9-inch tart pan with 2-inch sides and removable bottom. Using your fingers, press back into the crust any pieces of dough that have fallen off. Trim the excess dough just at the level of the edge of the pie plate. With a fork, pierce the bottom of the crust. Place the crust in the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the piecrust on a baking sheet, line the dough with foil, and fill with dried beans. Bake the crust until the edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and continue to bake until the crust is golden brow all over, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

6. To add the fillings: Increase the temperature to 375°F. Gently pat the tomatoes dry with paper towels. Arrange a layer of the tomato slices, overlapping as needed, in the bottom of the pie shell. Spread a think, even layer of the mayonnaise over the top; the sprinkle evenly with about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the basil and about 1/2 cup of the cheese. Repeat the layering with the remaining ingredients, ending with any leftover cheese.

7. Bake until the tomatoes, cheese, and the crust are golden brown, about 1 hour. Let rest for 1 hour. Garnish with basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cut into slices and serve warm.

Note: This pie can also be made using a double crust.

As you can see, this, like many of the recipes are a bit "chefy" but then the recipes come from restaurant chefs, so how else would they be? What is truly wonderful about this cookbook is seeing the quality of cooking that takes place in towns big and small across Connecticut, like much of America.  Too often the media would lead us to believe that truly great chefs and restaurants are located in New York or California and yet there are amazing restaurants and produce providers tucked into little hamlets everywhere.  That bodes well for our culinary appetite.

Don't let "Connecticut" in the title discourage you from buying this book if you are living in California, or Kentucky, or anyplace else. Oliver Parini's photographs are stunning, the stories are universal, and the food is great!
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