28 November 2012

My Squirrel Rant

This morning my inbox was stuffed with copies of the Washington Post article entitled, Squirrel: It’s What’s for Dinner in Romney,W.Va.    The article is a rather thoughtful look at an annual squirrel dinner organized in the area.  Not everyone who sent it to me meant it to be received in such a thoughtful manner.  So you must bear with me while I rant a bit, both here and at my other blog…

I’ve eaten squirrel since I was a child.  My first encounter with squirrel came when I was about 4 years old.  My great aunt was very excited that she was going to make squirrel dumplings.  My four-year-old self herd squirldumplin’s run together with Aunt Ruth’s Southern accent and thought it sounded magical.    After being cautioned by the adults at the table, Aunt Ruth gave me a little spoon full of fluffy dumpling, thick cream and flecks of dark, rich meat.   Then she gave another little spoon full and I wanted more.  The third time she dipped her silver spoon into the bowl she went deep and as the gravy flowed off the spoon it reveal something unusual.  With a big smile on her face Aunt Ruth said, “Look, Baby, you got the teeth.”She proceeded to set a perfect set of tiny dentures on the edge of my plate.  At that moment, I realized that dinner was Squirrel Dumplings.  Two distinct and less than magical ingredients.    As an aside, I will confess that I was nearly 13 before I realized that Astaire was Fred’s last name.  I thought Fredastaire was like Liberace or Madonna, but I digress...

My friend, Ann, was coming out for Thanksgiving and given the traffic and afore mentioned Ruby Slippers, I had no idea when she might arrive.  I thought a nice ragu could simmer for hours and be ready at anytime, so it became my Wednesday night menu item.  I went to Kroger’s, the large grocery chain, intent on buying some stew meat for the ragu.   I picked up a small package of stew meat and it was $12.  It was stew meat!  Not strip, not rib eye -- stew meat.  I finally found a package just north of $7 that contained 8 cubes of meat.  
The American Farm Bureau Federation released figures stating that a 2012 Thanksgiving Dinner for 10 people would run the average family $49.48.  I would like to know where they shop. 

Which brings us back to squirrel.   I have spent my life around hunters.  Hunting is one of those topics one should not discuss in polite company.   While there is a fringe of rich old white guys who pay a lot of money to shot fish-in–a-barrel, most people actually hunt to feed their family.  I won’t lie to you, there is ritual and sport in the whole endeavor, but in the end, the animals killed are eaten.  Thankfully, I don’t have to try to feed 10 people for $50.  Thankfully, I can afford $7 stew meat.  There are far more people than one could possibly imagine who can’t feed their family.

As might be expected, the few comments about the West Virginia Squirrel Fest, were of the why-eat-those-little-garden-creatures-hunting-is-so-bad-yuch-nasty vein, with the exception of the people from WV.  While there haven’t been a lot of comments on this story per se, they are the kind of reactions one always gets from these stories.

The same people who are happy to call poor white Southerners eating squirrel "nasty" would never in a million years think of making disparaging remarks about African- Americans eating watermelon, or Hispanic being beaner.  They would be appalled; shocked and appalled. Yet, it seems to be perfectly fine to demean Appalachian Southerners. Ask yourself if Honey Boo Boo would be on television if the child was black.

On Thanksgiving Day, I butchered a deer.  While there may be sport in hunting, actually butchering an animal is hard work; messy, and tough, and at times, disgusting.   You actually look into the eyes of the animal that gave up its life so you could eat.  

 I can honestly say that I am glad I was not at the first Thanksgiving.   While my friends decided that they would definitely want to be in my group during the zombie apocalypse, I am sure we would starve, the same way we would have starved at the first Thanksgiving.  

Which brings us back to Per Se.  If Thomas Keller put squirrel on the menu at Per Se, all the food blogger would be so enamored of the idea.  We would see squirrel recipes on all the food blogs and it would be the “it” thing to eat in Food & Wine and the foodie hipsters would be so excited and telling their buddies that they were the first ones to eat  Keller's Squirrel Dumplings. 

I am a committed carnivore.  I also know where my food comes from.  The next time you eat meat, think about that animal that gave its life for your ragu.

The next time you blog about the $225 tasting menu at José Andrés’ Minibar, remember that there are untold families who don’t have $225 to spend on food for the month.

Next time you go into Whole Foods for $7 of stew meat,  add a bag of groceries to the food bank basket.

And the next time you want to make fun of someone, make fun of yourself…
...seriously, I really thought his name was like  --  Fredastaire Smith. 

27 November 2012

Giving Tuesday

It's Giving Tuesday.  I'm not sure that Giving Tuesday should be stuck behind Thanksgiving Dinner, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday!  Who would have any leftover MONEY.   But it is a great idea.  

Harry, like many people who have ever given a dollar, gets tons of requests for charity.  So many we never know which one to give to.  When you give once, it seems they send a notice every other week.   (And I think that makes money for the company that is SENDING the requests and not the actual charity...but I digress.)  To combat this excess, we set aside Harry's birthday as the one day of the year to make ALL his charitable contributions. That way, we know who we have given to and we can throw away all those repetitious mailers. 

As for Giving Tuesday, you are probably broke, but here is my favorite charity:  Heifer International

In a survey 79% of Americans would rather have a charitable donation made in their name than to receive a gift they wouldn't use.   Make someone you love or like or whose name you got in the Secret Santa drawing HAPPY by donating to a good cause like Heifer International.

19 November 2012


There are some people who can wax poetic about a leafy green salad.   






mix them with mint, coriander, chive, and parsley.  Yeah, yeah yeah… but me, give me a dirty old root anyway.

Roots are my favorite, so you cannot imagine how happy I was to grab a copy of Diane Morgan’s Roots.  

If you are thinking potatoes and carrots, well you are right but there is so much more.   Take the wonderful rutabagas.   How often do I see folks stroll right past this titanic taproot without ever giving it a second look?  I admit, the rutabaga is a bit hard to peel and in order to keep the root moist for travel; it has to be coated in paraffin so it doesn’t dry out.  And we call it a rutabaga instead of the more friendly British “swede.”  Rutabaga is named from the Swedish rota bagge or “root bag” but since it is from Sweden, it is called a swede or a neep in Scotland.  Frankly I believe more people would eat rutabagas if we called them swedes, but I digress…

The rutabaga is a true root, a taproot like the carrot, and turnips and radishes and salsify.  There are tuberous roots like sweet potatoes and yuca.  There are rhizomes like ginseng and ginger.  Corms like water chestnuts and taro. And finally stem tubers like the great potato.  Yes, Virginia, root veggies are a complicated matter and Diane Morgan is more than happy to explain it all to us.

Roots is both a detailed examination into the history and botany of root vegetables, but more importantly, a collection of more than 225 recipes for great main dishes and glorious sides.  Really, you can’t beat a big old pan of roasted root vegetables, but they are ever so versatile.  The book is filled with salads and gratin, pickles and biscuits and my favorite parsnip cake (a carrot cake with grated parsnips instead of carrots). 

Roots gives the respect and admiration to the root, which is a kitchen workhorse and now, the star of the show.  As a root lover, even I was impressed with the amazing versatility of roots.  Not wanting to overwhelm you, but being very desirous that you grab up a big old rutabaga on your next shopping trip, here is a simple and tasty root bag of goodness.

Honey-braised Rutabagas

3 tbsp unsalted butter
2 lb rutabagas, ends trimmed, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
2 cups homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
3 tbsp honey
1 tsp kosher salt or fine seas salt
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
1.  In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and swirl to coat the pan bottom.  Add the rutabagas, stock, honey, and salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat so the liquid just simmers, cover and cook, stiffing occasionally, until the rutabagas are fork-tender but not falling apart, about 20 minutes.

2. Uncover the pan, increase the heat to high, and boil the braising liquid, stirring occasionally, until it reduces to a syrup consistency and coats the rutabagas, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg and season with pepper.  Serve immediately.

Go ahead, tell your family that swedes are on the menu.  The sweetness of this recipe will counteract the spiciness of the rutabaga.  Who knows, this just might become your go-to tuber; and face it, everyone needs a go-to tuber.

16 November 2012


I didn’t want to do it.  Yes I love “entertaining” books but I didn’t think I could bear to buy the Pippa Middleton book.  Of course, I couldn’t NOT buy it, I mean really, Pippa Middleton.  Her Mum and Dad made a fortune selling party goods – paper napkins and balloons – a fortune!!  He sister married well.  She has an extraordinary ass (you can judge yourself, but commentators were quite struck by it during the royal wedding).  

Not just a pretty ass face, Pippa has had a rather prosperous career as a party planner/organizer for high-end corporate and luxury brand events, i.e. she packed the boxes of napkins they ordered, but still…

So it would only seen fair that she should write of book on how to celebrate:  Celebrate: A Year of Festivities for Families and Friends.

Do I sound a bit snarky?  Well yes I do and so does Pippa.  Just read the introduction:

“It’s a bit startling to achieve global recognition (if that’s the right word) before the age of thirty, on account of your sister, your brother-in-law and your bottom.”


Clearly, Middleton understands that most people who grab up this book are doing so because they remember her from her sister’s wedding.  But she does know something about the party business, so let’s jump right in.

First and foremost, there are almost as many photos as there are words in the book.  Food, flowers, decorations, drinks, parties, and dishes are all well documented.   One reviewer remarked that all the pictures were “nauseatingly middle class.” 

There is Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter, but also Boxing Day and a great Burns Night.  Middleton states in her introduction, “While some of the events, crafts and dishes may be unfamiliar to an American audience, I am thrilled to share my favorite British traditions and hope you’ll find them as lovely as I do.”

And while Burns Night is typically Scottish, the British still consider all the colonies “British”, even I think, the old US of A, just the northeast, but still…  And I must say, Pippa has an astonishing array of usages for haggis.  Who knew?

Celebrate is a good collection of food and fun for anyone. There are lovely macaroons (which Pippa tells us are difficult to make, so buy them) to Rice Crispy treats that you can make yourself.  There are decked halls, steaming fish pie, and instructions for a tug-of-war.  Celebrate is jam-packed and action filled.  And while there are indeed Rice Crispy Treats, there is also a recipe for Millionaire’s Shortbread.

Millionaire’s Shortbread

Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 9 X 13 oblong jelly roll pan.

For the shortbread base, place 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1/2-cup superfine sugar and 2 sticks of unsalted butter in a food processor and blend together to form a smooth dough.  Press the mixture into the base of the pan and prick with a fork.  Chill for 15 minutes before baking in the over for 25 to 30 minutes until golden and firm.  Set aside to cool.

To make the topping, place 13/4 sticks of unsalted butter, I cup superfine sugar, 3 tablespoons golden syrup or honey and a 14-ounce can of condensed milk in a saucepan and stir over low heat until the butter melts.  Turn the heat up to medium, bring to a boil then cook the mixture gently for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until thick and golden brown.  Pour evenly over the cold shortbread and leave to cool.  Melt 7 ounces of chopped dark chocolate in a bowl over simmering water.  Pour the chocolate over the cooled toffee and place in the fridge to set.  Remove from the pan and carefully cut into squares.

I admit I was skeptical.  The book has been thoroughly panned in England with the most damning criticism being that the book is just to simple.  Well, it was never touted as an elaborate guide to party planning, it was written as a way to make celebrating with family and friends easy.  Seriously, the family fortune is based on selling matching paper cups and streamers, what did they think she was going to write about?  But you know the British press, they are much more snaky than I. I can tell you, if Pippa asks me to a party, I would go, as simply middle class as it might be… and don't lie, so would you!

15 November 2012


 We do love a good Thanksgiving cookbook and this year we have found a doozy!   Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well by Sam Sifton is just a great little how-to manual for the holiday season.

Having grown up in the South, Thanksgiving was a kind of competitive cooking extravaganza, resulting in too much food.  You were commanded to try EVERYTHING;  everybody's congealed salad, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, three different greens... by the time you got ready to eat, your plate looked more of compost than dinner.   When I became the chief Thanksgiving cook, the meal was pared down to a "meat and three" with dessert.  But enough about me...

Cooking for Thanksgiving can be a daunting prospect.  But now, the novice Thanksgiving preparer has Sam Sifton on their side.  First and foremost, Sifton is a writer of some note, in fact (if one is impressed by such), Sifton was the restaurant critic for the New York Times and now serves as its national editor.   He is practical and funny.

"It is best never to call giblet gravy "giblet gravy," but simply gravy.  Giblets are mysterious things, terrifying to many in theory..."

After having a glorious fried turkey, Sifton try to replicate the recipe and meets  his future wife:

"...we burned the turkey badly and managed somehow to pierce the bottom of the pot while doing so, igniting the oil and starting a fire that nearly engulfed a woman dressed in white Daisy Dukes who would later become my wife."

Yes, Virginia, those Allstate commercials are true, each year several dozen people burn large swaths of land and the occasional house trying to deep fry a turkey.  But if you are so inclined (to cook one not to burn down the house) Sifton gives you all the sound advice that should keep you relatively safe.

Sifton is quick to tell you the screw-ups and how to avoid them.  Remember, it takes several days for a frozen turkey to defrost.  A frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning means pizza for Thanksgiving.

My favorite Thanksgiving accoutrement is dressing.  Again, being from the South we are not big on stuffing things into our bird, probably because there is no bird out there with a cavity large enough to hold our favorite dressing.   Also, we are not fond of large chunks of dry bread being passed off as stuffing.  Magazines love to show a stuffing that looks like a big bag of croutons.  Please!

Here is on of Sifton's dressing recipes.   He also has a recipe for cornbread which incorporates the dreaded SUGAR, but we will forgive the Yankee boy who got his cornbread recipe from a guy in Boston.  Horror!

Three-Pepper Sausage Cornbread Dressing

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds andouille sausage, or fresh chorizo or hot Italian sausage
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, cleaned and diced
2 red or orange bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
2 poblano or Anaheim peppers, seeded and diced
2 serrano or jalapeño peppers, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, cleaned and roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock (if using store-bought, use low sodium variety)
1 pan cornbread, cut into cubes

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Heat olive oil in large flat-bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat. Add sausage and sauté until browned, approximately 10 minutes. Remove to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Add onion to the pan and reduce heat to medium, then sauté until onion begins to turn clear and soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add celery and peppers and continue cooking until peppers begin to soften, approximately 10 minutes.
4. Pour vegetable mixture into bowl with sausage, add chopped cilantro, salt and pepper to taste, and toss to mix.
5. Return pan to heat and deglaze with a splash of chicken stock, then scrape contents into bowl with sausage and vegetable mixture.
6. Pour mixture into a large roasting pan and add cubed cornbread, mixing by hand. Add chicken stock to moisten, cover with aluminum foil, and place in oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until it is soft and the flavors well incorporated. If you desire a crunchy top, remove foil for final 10 minutes of cooking. (Dressing can be made ahead of time and reheated when needed. If dry upon reheating, add additional chicken stock) 

While this book will be a God-send for the novice Thanksgiving cook, it is a delight for those of us who have cooked Thanksgiving dinner for years.  An if you are invited to some else's house for dinner, forget the wine and take them a copy of Thanksgiving; they will be forever thankful.

13 November 2012

From A Southern Oven

Jean Anderson has written numerous cookbooks, but this might just be my favorite.  From a Southern Oven: The Savories, The Sweets is a book full of baked things.  Lord knows Southerners love some baked things almost as much as they love fried things.

What I love about From a Southern Oven is the stories that accompany each and every recipe. A great collector of old comb-bound community recipe books; Anderson has gleaned many recipes from this study of local foodways.  One must remember that food is not just sustenance but a history and Anderson uses this history to illuminate each recipe.  Here a few examples:

Lafayette Gingerbread is actually Mary Washington’s gingerbread.  In 1784 when the Marquis de Lafayette visited America he visited Washington’s mother.  She gave him a mint julep and a slice of gingerbread.  From then on it was called Lafayette Gingerbread.

Confederate Corn and Chicken Pie came from a small cookbook by the North Carolina Federation of Home Demonstration Clubs.  An old Alabama favorite of the mother of Mr. J. W. Roberts of Barbour County, Alabama, who fought in the War Between the States, returned to the Old Roberts Plantation and lived to a ripe old age.

Chesapeake Deviled Crab ponders the question; does every cook have a favorite recipe for deviled crab, perhaps a cherished family one handed down the generations?

Osgood Pie is a little known pie said to have come from Arkansas and named for one of the Osgood’s or perhaps it is a contraction of Oh So Good. 

And on and on…

This recipe is from a Virginia church cookbook from 125 years ago.   It is a casserole of Guinea squash or…

Eggplant Gratin

1 medium eggplant
1 large egg
3/4 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground hot red pepper
1 cup coarsely grated sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup moderately fine soda cracker crumbs tossed with 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spritz 5-cup au gratin pan or shallow casserole with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

2. Peel eggplant, cut in 1/2 to 3/4 inch dice, and place in ungreased 2-quart casserole that has a tight fitting lid.  Add enough boiling water to cover the eggplant, put a lid on the casserole, slide into the middle oven shelf and bake about 20 minutes until the eggplant is tender.  Drain very well.

3. Whisk egg until frothy in medium-sized bowl.  Whisk in half-and-half, slat, black pepper, and cayenne.  Fold in drained eggplant and half of cheese.  Transfer to au gratin pan, spreading to edge, and top with remaining cheese.  Sprinkle Topping evenly over all.

4. Bake uncovered in upper third of oven 20 to 25 minutes until center is set and crumbs are nicely browned.

5.  Serve oven-hot as an accompaniment to roast beef, lamb, veal, or pork.  Good, too, with roast turkey or chicken.

From a Southern Oven is filled with delightful anecdotes as well as tasty recipes wrenched from a rich past.  Even if you don’t own a Southern oven or even a microwave, this book is a great read.

12 November 2012

You’re All Invited

Well known chef and Nose-To-Tail enthusiast, Fergus Henderson has always had a secret weapon, his wife Margot.  While Henderson was out front founding restaurants and promoting offal, Margot Henderson helping out while running a successful catering business and feeding their growing family.  

A New Zealander by birth, Henderson has the central casting look of an Irish cook – pale, ginger-haired, and solid.  She looks for all the world like the one person who could remain calm during a massive kitchen fire, getting the people and pets out safely and grabbing a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and a bottle wine in the process.  Form everything that has been written about her, her personality matches her looks.  She likes the word “chaos.”

 “We’re a one-course-and-cheese family.  I like organized chaos when entertaining…and I think people are more relaxed, if things aren’t too formal: relaxed chaos.”

The way to relaxed chaos is careful planning.  Low flowers, the same with candles; a flowered tablecloth, a good drink and familiar food.

There is polenta and pasta and Brussels sprouts.  There is pork belly and lamb shank and roasted bird of every size and shape.  Finish it off with something chocolate, lemony, and fruit tarty… and some cheese.

Truth be told, there is probably not a single recipe in You’re All Invited that you have never heard of.  You have heard of them all, you have probably eaten them all, but gathered together; they are like family – comforting, inviting, and rich in every sense of the word.

This may well be the most “exotic” of Henderson’s recipes due to the inclusion of feijoa, a fig-like fruit often grown New Zealand. 

Feijoa Ice Cream

400g ripe feijoa
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon vodka
1 tablespoon Cointreau
175g caster sugar
250ml double cream
250ml whole cream

Trim the feijoas top and bottom, then halve or quarter them.  Put them in a food processor with the lemon juice, vodka, Cointreau and sugar and whiz into a puree.  Stir in the cream and milk, then put in an ice cream freezer and churn.  Once slightly frozen, transfer to a plastic container and put into the freezer for at least 4 hours.

In the back of the book, Henderson lists a series of events that she has catered and the numbers of people attending.  She then provides the menu for each. You may not have 80 for a gallery opening or 240 for dinner, but the menus offer up the same planned chaos that have made Margot Henderson’s cooking a treasure.

06 November 2012

Not A Cookbook -- An Auction


Food related news.  Charlie Trotter is selling off the wine collecting from his namesake Charlie Trotter's.  The 4000 bottles are expected to fetch a cool million.   I say we buy the entire collection and party like it's 1999 or 2009.
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