31 March 2014

The Modern Peasant

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

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

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

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

Honey Flapjacks

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

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

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

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

26 March 2014

Preserving by the Pint

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marinated Sugar Snap Peas with Ginger and Mint

Makes 1 (1 quart/1 liter) jar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 March 2014

A Handbook of Cookery For A Small House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pigeons with Carrots

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

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

19 March 2014

The New Southern Table

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted Okra with Olive Oil, Lemon, and Sea Salt

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

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

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

17 March 2014

Requiescat in pace -- Clarissa Dickson Wright

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

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

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

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

Mitton of Pork

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

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

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

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

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

03 March 2014


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

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

The drinks are good.

The drinks are fun.

The drinks are easy.

The instructions are way cool.

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

The L Train

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

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

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

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

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

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