26 March 2010

Famous Food Friday -- Len Deighton

As you know, I love the incredible, edible egg. I was flipping through an omelette book the other day and this clipping from London's The Observer fell out. I love finding things in old books. Well, Len Deighton, the famous mystery writer was also a bit of a cooking expert and a mighty fine illustrator. So, long before there were "graphic novels" Deighton did a graphic cookbook. Well, two actually, based on his cook strips for The Observer.

That's it.

Wait, actually, his most famous of these "cook strip" collection, Action Cook Book, has been reprinted in England. Perhaps it will soon be available in the U.S.

22 March 2010

Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook

I am having company from the great unwashed North tomorrow. Actually, from from the snowbound state of Vermont. My job is to provide a gigantic feast as they head west to Colorado. I am cooking up some seafood and as I told them... If I knew you were comin' I'd a baked a cake... since I did know they were comin' I asked for cake suggestions and Southern won out. so I am baking a red velvet cake. There are numerous recipes all basically the same, but I knew one of the best was in Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook.

Sylvia Woods grew up in Hemingway, South Carolina. In the early sixties, she and her husband opened a small diner in Harlem. Not to be cliché but the rest is history. Reading Syvia's cookbook is like being in big friendly kitchen. There's Bedelia's Oven-Fried Chicken, Bert's Catfish Stew, Kenneth's Honey Lemon Tilefish and of course Sylvia's Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet Cake


2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 ounces red food coloring
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1 pound box confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 (9-inch) cake pans. In a medium bowl or on a piece of waxed paper, sift together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter. Beat in eggs one at a time.

Alternately add flour mixture and buttermilk. Beat in food coloring and vinegar, then add vanilla. Spread the batter evenly in the pans. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Turn out onto a rack to cool.

For the frosting:

In a large bowl, cream the cream cheese and butter. Beat in confectioners sugar until fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Stir in pecans. Use frosting to fill and ice cake. Slice and serve on individual plates.

OK, here's the deal. I don;t like nuts so I don't use them. I know it makes the cake pretty. The other alternative is to take a the crumbs of the cake you get when you slice off a bit of the tops to make the cake sit evenly and crumble those up to place on the sides. Of course my other alternative so that NO cake shows through -- make extra frosting. Works for me.

19 March 2010

Grace at Charleston

For more than fifty years, Grace Higgens worked at Charleston. She began as a housemaid for Vanessa Bell in 1920 and soon became angelica Bell's nursemaid. By 1935 she was housekeeper and cook. While she finally had enough money to purchase her parents house in 1959, she remained at Charleston with Vanessa Bell and then Duncan Grant. A collection of her recipes form a small booklet entitled Grace at Charleston.

Interior with Housemaid by Vanessa Bell, 1939

Higgens traveled frequently to France with the Bell's and it was there that she began to shine as a cook. Even Virginia Woolf once tried to steal her away from Vanessa. Alison Light wrote a wonderful book about domestic life in Bloomsbury entitled, Mrs. Woolf and the Servants. Check out the post over at Lucindaville.

Grace Higgens' recipes are simple and straightforward. steamed fish, chops and sausages and a sweet here and there. Here are just a couple.

Eggs Chasseur

Fry two or three chicken livers in butter with a dozen sliced mushrooms and a small piece of chopped shallot, salt and pepper. When the mixture has been well fried, set it round four eggs which have been well cooked, on an egg dish and serve it in the same dish.

Sausages in Sweet and Sour Sauce

1lb Pork sausages fried well. Add celery, onions, apples and carrots cut into pieces. cook slowly until soft, add 2 teaspoons cornflour, 2 teaspoons Worcester sauce and 1/2 pint stock.

Grace at Charleston, though small, is the closest thing to a Bloomsbury cookbook there is, an I find it to be a treasure.

17 March 2010

A Taste of Ireland

Kiss me! I'm not the least bit Irish. But I am Southern and we will celebrate ANYTHING! So here's to all you Irish folk out there. Rumor has it you saved civilization, so grab a pint of Guinness for your trouble.

A Taste of Ireland is one of those small, specific books we love. A few recipes a lot of pictures and the author has a great name, Biddy White Lennon. Who wouldn't just love someone named Biddy White Lennon.

According to Biddy White Lennon, this is a favorite dish of Jonathan Swift, who was Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral (the one in Dublin) and a writer... what was that book?? Gulliver's Travels.

Jonathan Swift by Charles Jervas

So here's a little something for St. Patty's Day...

Dublin Coddle

450 g/1 lb bacon bits*, or a streaky bacon joint, cubed
450 g/1 lb good quality (meaty) Irish breakfast sausages
3 large onions, peeled, and chopped
1¼ kg/3 lb floury potatoes, peeled
6 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
freshly ground black pepper to taste
500 ml/16 fl oz/2 cups water

*Bacon ‘bits’ are off-cuts from various types of bacon (both smoked and pale) and are sold cheaply in Dublin pork butchers’ shops specially for coddle. Normally they contain a fairly even mixture of fat and lean. Streaky bacon also works well; keep the skin on for more flavour.

Cut the potatoes into fairly large pieces (leave them whole if small). Chop the fresh parsley. Choose a heavy pot with a really tight-fitting lid. Put a generous layer of chopped onions on the bottom and then layer the other ingredients, giving each layer a generous twist of pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cover very tightly. Cook for 2–5 hours! The longer and slower the cooking, the better this dish will be. It cannot come to any harm providing the lid is really tight. A very low oven is best, set at 120°C/250°F/Gas ½.

This dish is a famous Irish "funeral food" as you can stick it in an oven and basically cook it for hours without much harm.

Now get out there and start drinking! Éirinn go brách!

12 March 2010

In an Eighteenth Century Kitchen

In our ongoing desire to do as little work as possible, we are offering up Famous Food Friday from Lucindaville. But you know that by now! Today's Famous Food Friday has a good bit of gardening involved as we are featuring Beverley Nichols. This is also a bit of a departure as Beverley Nichols didn't actually write his cookbook, he merely found it. Still we are giving him a pass because we like him. (Also we have been working on a gigantic "Brideshead" post and Beverly Nichols knew Evelyn Waugh whom he often refered to as "The Waugh of the Poses" because he believed Waugh to be a bigger poseur than he was!. Seriously, how can you not like someone that funny, but I digress...)

Beverly Nichols is often thought of as a “garden writer” but he was so much more. Nichols was a prolific writer, a novelist, a composer and yes, a gardener. Osbert Sitwell described Beverley Nichols as the original "bright young thing." He “ghosted’ the famous diva Nellie Melba’s memoirs. He wrote a series of detective novels, several books about cats, and even some children’s books. Still, he is best know for his book Down The Garden Path which has been in print for over 75 years.

Beverly Nichols believed he had found a dream garden at a Tudor cottage in Glatton, Cambridgeshire. He knew of his reputation as an urbane and witty aesthete and he calculated that writing a book on gardening would appeal to the masses. Ironically, this calculation would begin his reign as a “garden” writer.

Nichol's "dream" garden before...

Nichols dream garden was a nightmare, but his vision remained in tact and as he wrote about his adventures, which he found as easy to write as years of readers have found it easy to read.

...and after

Down the Garden Path would be followed by A Thatched Roof and finally A Village in a Valley.

The Thatched Cottage

He changed the name of Glatton to Allways, a play on the popular Irving Berlin song, Always. In A Thatched Roof, Nichols writes of finding a cookbook tucked in a cupboard:

“Eagerly we leant over that book in the fading light – a golden October sunset that flooded onto the yellowing paper – yellow to yellow, with the grave black letters dancing before our eyes, as thought they were overjoyed to be read again. As we tuned the pages it seemed that there was a scent in the old room of ghastly sweetmeats; there drifted back to us the perfume of curious country wines, the aroma of forgotten preserves, the bitter-sweet flavor of kitchens which have long crumbled to dust.”

Nichols kept the book for thirty years before turning it over to Dr. Dennis Rhodes who meticulously researched the cookbook. The manuscript was printed on paper watermarked with a coat of arms and sometimes the word “Company”. That would suggest the paper itself came fro the Company of White Paper Makers whose main activity was between 1686 and 1698. In 1968, Cecil and Amelia Woolf published the manuscript. In an Eighteenth Century Kitchen featured illustrations by Duncan Grant.

To Preserve Damsons

Take a pound of sugar & Clarifie it & boy it to a full syrup & put a pound of yo Damsons into it & lett them boyl very leasurely till they are very tender yn set them to coole & 3 day after pour ye sirrup from them and put half a pint of Apple water into it & boyl it’s self till it is boyled to a quacking jelly & take ye scum off from it yn put it to yor Dansoms again boyling hot & so keep them for your use.

Spring is in the air and it is a great time to drag out your Beverley Nichol's books and give them a second look. Not to mention that there have recently been several nice reprints of his works.

10 March 2010

The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook

Last year we did a post featuring a cookbook for you lovely cats. My friend Ann read it and being a big “dog” person decided I needed a dog cookbook and she finally found one she liked.

It seems these two rational humans, Jessica Disbrow Talley and her husband Eric decided to start a dog bakery. Hey, this is America, if you want to start a dog bakery, you go right ahead. So they did and the Bubba Rose Biscuit Company was born. Judging from their successes, there are lots and lots of people who desperately wanted to take their dogs to a bakery and buy them treats. That was 2006 and 2 years later they published a cookbook. The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook came equipped with its own bone-shaped biscuit cutter.

So I began to find a recipe to cook for Ann’s dogs, Penny and Boomer. They were banned from Doe Run Farm several years back due to an unfortunate chicken killing incident. Well, they were bread to be bird dogs, so I don’t fully blame Boomer. He was kind of like Lennie in Of Mice and Men. He just wanted to make friends with a chicken and play with her. Alas, Boomer weighs in at 80 pounds and the chicken weighed in at 3 pounds so it wasn’t a fair play date.

Penny under the watchful eye of Djuna

Anyway, I decided to make some organic dog biscuits since Ann sent me the cookbook and the nifty bone-cutter. First, let me say, these recipes are long and dogs evidently have delicate little constitution and they can’t eat wheat and they can’t eat chocolate and they can’t eat macadamia nuts and they can’t eat raisins and they are allergic to soy and corn and wheat. Seriously, get a cat!! But I digress…

Actually, dogs CAN eat all those things, but they MAY not because they will get all sick and if they don’t die they will incur copious vet bills. My cats have a $300 limit on vet bills and they are way too smart to eat chocolate covered raisin/macadamia nut clusters.

Here is a recipe for some plain cheese biscuits.

Cheese, Please

1 1/2 c. oat flour
1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1 c. shredded cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 egg
1 c. water

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly until dough forms. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4” thickness. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet (they can be close together as they don’t spread much while cooking).

Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

The good news is, if your dog won’t eat them, you can. Go ahead, eat up, you will need your strength when you go out to adopt your cat.

P.S. I know YOUR dog is god’s gift to canineness, so don’t be offended by my clear feline bias.

09 March 2010

The White House Family Cookbook

My fried Anne got an e-mail from a friend way across the pond asking about an old White House cookbook they used to cook from. Alas, they had no title,no author, no real remembrance of the cover, but they did remember that it had menus and was early 20th century.

Anne asked me if I had any such White house cookbook, and though I didn't it got me thinking about the ones I did have. I read recently that Henry Haller has updated his White House Family Cookbook to include more current presidential families. I don't mind the old White House families.

Here is a classic from the past. It's not hard to think of poor Pat Nixon being stuck in tricky Dick's kitchen making him a meatloaf.

Pat Nixon's Meat Loaf

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon salt
4 twists freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

1. Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

2. Melt butter in a saute pan, add onions and garlic and saute until just golden. (Do not brown.) Let cool.

3. Dice bread and soak it in milk.

4. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed vegetables and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

5. Turn into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off.

6. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate and to firm up the loaf.

7. Preheat the oven to 375 F.

8. Bake on lower shelf of preheated oven for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat several times while baking and after meat is fully cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.

I don't know about you, but this meatloaf is about the best thing from the Nixon administration!

05 March 2010

Alfred Lunt's Cookbook

"Every time I was visiting with the Lunts in
Genesee Depot I was in a sort of daze of
wonder...the dining room, the table, the
china, the silver, the food,the
extraordinary care and beauty and taste...
a sort of dream, a vision."

Katherine Hepburn

Today's cookbook is stolen from Lucindaville's Famous Food Friday post. This cookbook is written by none other than that famous Broadway star, Alfred Lunt. When Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne retired from the stage they moved to an estate in Wisconsin to become gentlepeople farmers.

Lunt and Fontanne were married for 55 years. Alfred died in 1977 at age 84 and six years later Lynn died at age 95. Their estate Ten Chimneys was dangerously close to being bulldozed and developed when a group of civic leaders gathered together and saved Ten Chimneys and set up a foundation to restore the property. (Bless their hearts!)

In the process of restoration they found Alfred Lunt's hand-typed cookbook pages tucked in a closet. After writing several Famous Food Fridays, I can assure you that Famous Foodies fall into basically three categories:

The Famous who produce a cookbook with recipes they EATS, but the cook cooks

The Famous who are talented amateur cooks


The Famous who are famous and also trained cooks

Alfred Lunt falls into the last category. At age 65 and needing a new career path, Lunt enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu and graduated as Lynn Fontanne would say, "with flying saucepans." Lunt seriously considered writing a cookbook but it never saw the light of day until the recipes were discovered and the Ten Chimneys Foundation published them. This edition is artfully titled the "tester's" edition as the recipes were published as found. The Foundation encourages anyone who gives the recipes a try to sent them feedback. In the meantime, it is worth checking out their site and if you are in the Wisconsin area, tours of the property are available. You can also purchase a copy of the cookbook on the website to add to your collection.

Recently, my friend Harry Lowe and I were talking about eating salmon croquettes when we were little. Harry Lowe decided he was going to try and recreate his mother's recipe. I was thinking of those salmon croquettes when I saw this recipe. It is for a salmon mousse. I still have my mother's goofy fish mold that saw more than its share of fishy mousses. I always remember them as being graciously complicated and fussy. Alfred Lunt seems to have eliminated such fuss.

Alfred's Canned Salmon Mousse

1 pound tin salmon, drained, skinned, and boned
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 heaping Tbsp. mayonnaise
3 heaping Tbsp, heavy cream
1 packet plain gelatin, dissolved in 1/2 cup water
fresh dill, minced, to taste

Put all ingredients in blender. Mix well, pour into serving dish, refrigerate at least four hours. It is better made the day before. This recipe, doubled, feeds six.

If my mother had used this recipe, she could have spent more time indulging in cocktails!

I am definitely dragging out the fish tin.

02 March 2010

The Omelette Book

Narcissa Chamberlain and her husband, Samuel, wrote many classic cookbooks. As you know of our love for "egg" books, it is no wonder the The Omelette Book is one of our favorites.

In doing some research, I found this article from none other than Sports Illustrated from 23 March 1959 with a dashing Aly Khan on the cover. Sports Illustrated is probably the last place I would have looked for great omelette recipes!

How To Make A Perfect Omelet

Mary Frost Mabon

Because a lot of people don't seem to know how to beat an egg, I decided to write a book on omelets," said Narcissa Chamberlain. We were sitting, on a winter's day in Marblehead, Mass., before one of the six fireplaces that issue into a central chimney in the enchanting 17th century house which is called home by the much-traveled Chamberlains. The walls of every room, or so it seemed, were lined right up to the low ceilings with books—innumerable books, many of them cookbooks, ancient and modern. For the writings of erudite, gifted Samuel Chamberlain combine history and travel with lore about food and restaurants in many countries of the world.

His wife Narcissa and daughter Narcisse make their contribution in the kitchen, testing his discoveries and adapting exotic recipes for American use. The mother-daughter team also is responsible for the charming Chamberlain Calendar of French Cooking, published every year by Hastings House. But The Omelette Book, first published in 1955 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and reprinted last year, is the creation of Narcissa Chamberlain alone. An English edition has appeared, and Das Omelett Buch is making her famous in West Germany. The book contains nearly 300 recipes for omelets, with a choice of Spanish, Italian, Russian and Chinese versions, besides many variations of the classic French dish.

But where does one begin? I asked Mrs. Chamberlain to describe the essential steps in preparing the basic French omelette. The first requirement, she specified, is the selection of impeccably fresh eggs and the best butter. From that point on, here are the important things to know and do:

The pan should be the shape of a frying pan, but rounded inside, with "sloping shoulders"; it can be of heavyweight aluminum or of heavyweight French steel. It should be reserved for omelets only, and kept oiled, so as always to be "slidy"; wiped out with oil and soft paper before and after use, but never washed. (Adhering particles of egg may be removed with coarse salt and oil.) A new pan must be seasoned by heating oil in it very slowly. Use a pan about 10 inches in top diameter for a 5- or 6-egg omelet for 4 people; for a larger number of people, cook several omelets successively.

Beating the eggs: The eggs, broken in a bowl, with salt and pepper and half a teaspoon of water per egg (milk makes an omelet tough), should never be beaten with an egg beater as this thins them—"takes all the joy out of them," Mrs. Chamberlain said, "unless they are beaten for a very long time." She continued: "I use only a fork, and beat towards me. I beat the eggs for just 30 seconds or a few seconds more, but I beat very, very vigorously; 45 seconds is probably about right for most people."

Cooking the omelet: "The place where many cooks go wrong is in heating the pan too fast. Warm it slowly over medium heat; it is at the right temperature when a tiny bit of butter sizzles but does not turn brown. Now add a few drops of oil to keep the pan 'slidy,' together with the amount of butter required (a generous tablespoon for a 6-egg omelet). Tilt and turn the pan to coat its surface; cook on moderate heat till the frothing bubbles of butter have subsided. Now, in go the seasoned eggs. Stir around with the flat of a fork a couple of times, tilt the pan, and shake back and forth as the eggs set, to keep the omelet slipping and free. Lift edges here and there to let the liquid part run under."

To fold and turn out: "While the surface of the eggs is still soft, grasp the handle of the pan with your left hand from underneath (see picture opposite), and with a rubber spatula or scraper held in the right hand fold the omelet over from left side to center. Tilt the pan so that the omelet slips to the edge of the pan. Now, discarding the spatula, hold a platter with your right hand close up to the omelet pan, and with your left hand turn the pan completely over on it. The omelet, neatly folded, should then be in position on the platter."

Once these instructions for the plain omelet have been mastered, there are many exciting changes to be tried—the addition of fresh herbs or grated cheese in the omelet itself, or of delicate vegetables such as okra or fresh asparagus tips in a slit made lengthwise in the top surface, or the swathing of the omelet in a rich sauce. Here, from Narcissa Chamberlain, is one example of the possibilities:


(A savory sauce for an omelet serving 4)

4 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons grated raw carrot
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/2 teaspoon fine-chopped parsley
small piece celery with leaves, chopped fine
half a bay leaf
small pinch marjoram
small pinch thyme
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup clear chicken broth
1 teaspoon brandy
1/2 cup diced cooked shrimp

Melt butter in a small, heavy pan. Add minced vegetables, herbs and seasoning, and sauté 6 to 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, white wine, chicken broth and brandy. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until reduced by one third. Add diced shrimp and continue over fire until these are well heated. Spoon half the sauce over center of a 6-egg omelet before folding; pour rest of sauce over folded omelet on platter.

Here's a really great veggie omelette. I would have never thought of a corn omelette. This post has just been full of surprises.

Creamed Corn Omelette

Scrape the kernels from 2 ears of cold, boiled sweet corn and combine with about 1/4 cup rich cream sauce, or just enough to give a nice consistency. Reheat, season well, and fold into the center of a 6-egg omelette.

Honestly, I am thinking about going out and getting a subscription to SI. Well, probably not.

01 March 2010

Sad Food News...

March begins with sad news from the world of food. Rose Gray died on February 28.

Along with Ruth Rogers, Gray opened one of the most iconic restaurants in recent history, The River Cafe. Cookbooks and television followed and along the way, some of the best chefs in Britain worked in The River Cafe, Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Allegra McEvedy, Sam and Sam Clark, and April Bloomfield.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who was famously fired from The River Cafe, said of Gray, "I learned more from Rose than from anyone I have ever cooked with."

My absolute favorite recipe from The River Cafe is the Chocolate Nemesis cake. I believe it gets its name because it is a real nemesis to cook. With only a hand full of ingredients it seems so easy and yet it can be a bear to get to come out right. Still, it is well worth the effort. Check out the recipe in our Italian Easy post.

New York Times Obituary: Rose Gray
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