29 February 2016

CCCP Cook Book

Yes, Virginia, we love French cookbooks and Southern cookbooks, but we also have a soft spot for the weird and unusual.  Olga and Pavel Syutkin have hit both of those ideas in the CCCP Cook Book.  Let me clarify that, the book is not weird or unusual if you grew up in the Soviet Union in the 60's, 70's, and 80's. These are dishes that the former Soviet Union loved, while perhaps having no desire to replicate them in any way.

This period in history saw a land that was plagued by food shortages, and long winters.  Faced with few options, creativity was at a premium.  Look at a dish like Okroshka.  The translation means "mystery ingredients." Such a name doesn't inspire culinary confidence. The dish is composed of small cubes of whatever there was.  The authors tell us:
"The reason for its success is simple; it is almost impossible to judge the quality of ingredients such as frankfurters, cucumbers, or radishes when they have been diced into cubes and are floating in a generous portion of kvass and smetana (sour cream)."
Originally, the dish was created with high-end meats and fish, fresh vegetables, and spices.  It was a comforting winter dish that could be served cold in the summer.  As food became more and more scarce, the dish kept its name, but the quality of the ingredients suffered.

Like most cookbooks, CCCP Cook Book offers a glimpse into a particular era of history through its cuisine. Imagine taking those tacky photos from many 60's era cookbooks in America and trying to explain tuna casserole to the rest of the world.

While there was little diversity in the Soviet diet, there was always a desire for their vodka. As with much drinking, snacks are required. Here is a recipe for a popular Soviet appetizer to help soak up the alcohol.


500g pork fatback or belly (with 3-4 cm of fat)
3-4 large cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
3 tbsp coarse sea salt

Cut the fatback or belly of pork into pieces of approximately 10 X 20 cm.
Rub the pieces all over with salt and pepper.
       Slice the garlic and push slices into the meat, roughly 1 cm apart.
Roll in paper and refrigerate for at least 4-5 days.
       Serve as an appetizer.

It may be an old Soviet appetizer, but it looks like the very kind of thing that might just make a comeback.

26 February 2016

Requiescat in Pace -- Sam Beall

We were saddend to learn of the death of Sam Beall. 

He authored one of our favorite cookbooks

He was a Southern gentleman of the truest sense.  He is gone way, way, way too young.

Our thoughts are with his family.

24 February 2016

The Fish and Oyster Book

In the early 20th century, The Hotel Monthly Press printed a series of book designed primarily for hotel staff.  One particular series of recipe books were very plain little volumes designed to fit in a jacket pocket.  They were filled with recipes for vegetables, sauces, pastries, and eggs.  There was also an edition for fish and oysters.   The Fish and Oyster Book was written by Leon Kientz who was the longtime chef at Rector's in Chicago.  The noted fish restaurant made its chef the likely author for this edition.

Like most of these books, The Fish and Oyster Book contains over 400 recipes and nearly 30 menus featuring these recipes.  jammed into a tiny approximately 3 X 7 inch book. No wonder they were wildly popular with chefs and copies are often beaten, stained and well used.

The recipes are straight forward little paragraphs requiring a bit of knowledge to pull off.  Even with sparse instructions, they are often much easier to understand than many a well executed recipe.  For instance this recipe for cod tongues,  Who knew cod had tongue?  Well, I guess most every living thing has a tongue.  But still.  In order to pull off this recipe, one would need to know how to acquire cod tongue, and I don't recall ever seeing them in my grocery.   The recipes says you will need to clean the tongue.  Well, I, for one am stumped.

Let's see where the recipe goes.

Fresh Codfish Tongues, Meunière.

Clean, wash and wipe dry;season with salt and pepper, roll them in flour, and fry in a frying pan in clarified butter to a nice color. When done, place them on a hot platter; besprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon juice; pour over some brown butter (hazelnut color), and serve hot.

Concise and to the point.  Yes, we need to know how and where to get the cod tongues, and we need to know what clarified butter is, but the rest is quite understandable. While we don't know what the "nice" color is for the fried tongues, we do know the color of the brown butter. I think most anyone might just be able to pull of this paragraph of tongues.  Of course, most people wouldn't even try.

A cookbook like this offers up two things.  One, it gives the reader tons of ideas for dishes, many of them, like the cod tongue, one might never have thougth of.  The second is finding really cool new words like "besprinkled."  I love besprinkled and plan to get about besprinkling many items in my cooking repertoire.  And so should you.

22 February 2016

Lost Recipes of Prohibition

The weird thing about blogs is how attached one gets to them.  There is this vicarious living through the exploits of others that is incredibly satisfying. You know what the person likes, loves actually.  You know what they eat and what they are working on, and what you have in common. They teach you new things, and old things, and introduce you to things you might have never heard of. They share your book fetish and encourage you to buy more books.  They make you laugh and think and view the world with wonder.  And for the confirmed introvert, you never have to meet them. 

But even thought your paths has never crossed, you know you would be the best of friends, in your mind you are already the best of friends. Then one day, they stop blogging.  They have a good excuse.  But you feel as though in some way they have died.  You miss them.  Every week you think, what are they doing now.  Sometimes you go back and re-read old blog posts.  It is a very sad realization.

This is how I felt the day I found out the Matthew Rowley was suspending Rowley's Whiskey Forge.  I was so devastated. I lost a friend.  Rowley loved pickles and pie.  He had a library that rivaled mine and he was always suggesting books to add to it.  He loved old drawings, and language and ice cream and he wrote a book about moonshine and waxed poetic about Tiki drinks.

Well, Matthew Rowley is alive and well, even though he's not contributing to my weekly fix of fun facts, he has been busy.  Lost Recipes of Prohibition is one of the reasons he left the forge.  Like much of his work, it is a twisted tale of discovery.  It seems that friend and fellow collector offered up a book that might just be right up Rowley's alley. 

It appeared to be a particular bound book on the outside, but the blank pages within offered up detailed notes from a bootlegger's recipe book. It offered up how to concoct this and that in an era when this and that were illegal.  So Rowley set out not only to find out who the author was, he set out to recreate the manual for the modern day bootlegger, or avid reader of Rowley's Whiskey Forge

To start with, the book is handwritten, so deciphering the notes is not an easy task. The author was knowledgeable in several languages, and had a fondness for jotting notes on scraps of paper. Botanicals and bases from the 1920's are not always the same as they are in today's world so recreate some recipes required advanced chemistry. Matthew Rowley takes us along on his journey  to hunt and cook and distill with fun and flair. 

There are all the instructions one needs to set up a chemistry lab, for those of you so inclined, but there are also nifty drinks to make from your own paltry liquor cabinet. Like this one.

Mary Pickford

2 oz light rum
1 oz fresh pineapple juice
1 tsp grenadine
1 tsp maraschino liqueur
1 brandied cherry

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupe. Garnish with a brandied cherry.
Cocktail enthusiast, book nerd, mystery lover, this book covers a lot of bases. Add Lost Recipes of Prohibition to your collection.  Hey everybody needs another book. 

Did we mention he was a fencer? A fencer.  Of course he was a fencer. Ah Matthew, we hardly knew ye.

10 February 2016

The Southerner's Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories

Recently, one of our favorite Southern magazines, Garden & Gun, published a cookbook.  The Southerner's Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories is a collection of many of the recipes that have appeared in the pages of the magazine. It is a fine cookbook and it saves you the time of trying to find that recipe for chocolate gravy you saw last year, or maybe the year before.

It is a kind of highbrow community cookbook if your community includes Julia Reed, Edward Lee, and Rick Bragg. Not a bad community to live in. You are not going to say, "OMG I never thought of FRYING chicken."  Here is the funny thing about the South (and perhaps regional food in general) everyone knows how to make pemiento cheese because the recipe is the name, but ask 25 Southern cooks for their recipe and you will have 25 different recipes. Same thing with fried chicken, cornbread, babbecue sauce, or shrimp and grits. Everyone has their own tweak and we like that.

One thing that stands out in the South is the absolute ability to celebrate anything. A good example of our zealous celebration is an event like the Kentucky Derby.  The race averages roughly 2 1/2 minutes.  The entire event is said and done in a mere 150 seconds, however, the parties associated with those seconds can last for three weeks. For those mathemeations out there, that is a week of parties for every minute of activitiy.  A week of party per minute of activity is a good ratio for the South.

While some folks need months of preparation for an event, a Southerner can throw together a fantastic party with very little notice. The most mundane items in a pantry can become the stuff that legends are made of. Like bacon crackers. Clearly, this is one of those recipes born out a need to throw and impromptu shotgun wedding reception. Found in many a community cookbook, this particular recipe offers both a sweet and savory option.

Bacon Crackers: Classic, Herbed and Brown Sugar

12 bacon slices (not thick-cut)
48 saltines or buttery crackers, such as Club brand
48 fresh rosemary tips (for Herbed Bacon Crackers)
6 teaspoons dark brown sugar (for Brown Sugar Bacon

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line the bottom of a broiler pan with foil.

Cut bacon slices in half lengthwise and then crosswise to create 4 long strips.

Arrange crackers on a work surface and wrap a bacon strip around each, overlapping the ends on top.

If making Herbed Bacon Crackers, tuck a base of rosemary tips under overlapping ends of bacon. If making Brown Sugar Bacon Crackers, carefully sprinkle 1⁄8 teaspoon brown sugar on the bacon on the top side of each cracker, pressing to help it adhere (avoid getting sugar on the cracker or it will burn."

Set a perforated rack on top of the foil-lined broiler pan and arrange the crackers seam-side-down, 1⁄2 inch apart in a single layer and bake for 1 to 1-1⁄2 hours, until the bacon is your desired level of crispness. Transfer crackers to a cooling rack and cool completely before serving.

If there is something to complain about in this book, we will say we were disappointed not to find the authors of the recipes listed. Garden & Gun presented each of these recipes in articles they published and it seems a shame that authors weren't listed. 

08 February 2016

Jardin de fleurs pour les gourmands

For years I have been enamored with the writing of Alice Caron Lambert.  She is an expert in edible plants and she has written numerous cookbooks featuring lovely ways to incorporate flowers into various dishes.  Of course, I think the desserts are where she and the flowers shine.

I have been hunting for a copy of Jardin de fleurs pour les gourmands for years.  When I found a copy I could get shipped to the US, the book was exorbitant.  When I found a reasonable copy, they would not ship to the US.  I have been determined.

This year for Christmas, Anne managed to get a copy shipped to a friend in France who would be visiting the US.  When she arrived, she had my very own copy of Jardin de fleurs pour les gourmands in tow.  It was a truly glorious present, Anne.  Many a "cooking with flowers" book offers up recipes with flower petals sprinkled about.  While this can be a very beautiful presentation, it is not often the most creative.

It is true that Lambert does have spring salads with flowers tossed in and  directions for candied violets, but she is doesn't simply rest with violets and roses.  There are gardenias, and chrysanthemums, and tulips, oh my!  This wonderful mousse of mango and white lilies features the flower as an ingredient and as the vessel for a beautiful presentation.

Mousse à la mangue mariée au lis

12 fleurs de lis blanc odorant
3 mangues très mûres
1 citron vert
6 feuilles de menthe
150 g de sucre en poudre
4 jaunes d'oeufs
2 blancs d'oeufs

1. Laver les fleurs de Lis, éliminer les pédoncules. Mixer six fleurs sans les étamines.

2. Pelez les mangues. Coupez la chair en lamelles. Réservez quelques petits morceaux réguliers pour la décoration. Mixer la chair.

3. Pressez le citron.

4.  Mélangez les jaunes d'oeufs avec le sucre, le jus de citron, la pulpe de lis et de mangue. Battez en neige les blancs d'oeufs et ajoutez les à la crême. Mettez au réfrigérateur pendant au moins six heures.

5. Disposez des coupes de cristal sur la table ; agencez une fleur de lis dans chaque coupe. Remplissez chaque fleur de mousse glacée. Décorez chaque coupe avec une feuille de menthe et des petits morceaux de mangue.

Mango mousse a la wedding lily 
12 fragrant white lilies
3 very ripe mangoes
1 lime
6 mint leaves
150 g caster sugar
4 egg yolks
2 egg whites

1. Wash lilies, remove stems. In a food processor, chop six flowers without stamens.

2. Peel the mangoes. Cut the flesh into strips. Reserve some regular pieces for decoration. In a food processor, chop the mango.

3. Squeeze the lemon.

4. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar, lemon juice, and pulp from the lilies and mango. In a mixer, beat the egg whites until stiff, then fold in the cream . Refrigerate for at least six hours.

 5. Arrange 6 crystal goblets on the table. Place a lily in each glass. Fill each flower with mousse and garnish with a sprig of mint and and a small piece of mango.

 After all these years, it was well worth the wait. Again, Anne, thank you for the wonderful gift.
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