23 February 2015

Catering to Charleston

On this cold and gloomy day the mind wanders to the warn, ocean blown streets of Charleston and the gentility that comes to mind.  Frances Hamby was the premiere caterer in Charleston, South Carolina.  Hamby Catering is still the cater to call for everything from bridge luncheons to elegant weddings.

Since Hamby catered most Charleston events, it has been said that more than one dowager existed almost exclusively on Hamby's food.  The menus are so ubiquitous that walking into an event, most women can tell which catering plan the hostess had opted to order.

Fran Hamby began in the "business" when she catered her daughter's wedding reception.  It was so successful that the elite of Charleston began to call Mrs. Hamby wherever they needed a party.  The rest, as they say, is history.

After years of being "The" caterer to Charleston, Mrs. Hamby collected her recipes in Catering to Charleston.   The book is filled with recipes and tips for successful events.  It is interspersed with poems and recollections from Elizabeth Bullock Godfrey, a close friend and lifelong Charlestonian.  Both food and history fall off the pages and while it is true that most every kitchen in Charleston has a copy of Catering to Charleston most people in Charleston simply call up Hamby.

Sadly, we are not in Charleston.  If there is a quintessential Hamby recipe, it might just be the shrimp paste.  We admit that the term "shrimp paste" seems a tad unappealing, but it is quite magical.  While the recipe suggests serving with crackers, it is the essential ingredient in shrimp sandwiches.  A thin layer on very white bread that has been denuded of any speck of crust and cut into a three bite serving.   Dowagers aside, this is a diet we would be happy to live on.

Mrs. Patrick's Shrimp Paste

1 pound medium sized shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon minced onions
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise or more to bind mixture
Assorted mild crackers

In a food processor, coarsely chop shrimp.  Combine together shrimp, salt, celery seeds, onions, juice and Tabasco.  Add mayonnaise and store until mixture holds together.  Cover and refrigerate.  Serve with mild crackers.

Ah to be in Charleston.

20 February 2015

Cakes and Ale

Today's cookbook is a bit more on the essay side the the actual cooking side.  Cakes and Ale by Edward Spencer is a varied collection of recollections, meals, menus and haphazard recipes collected and published in 1897.  Spencer has an amazing turn of phrase and one cannot ope this book to any page without being thoroughly delighted at the banter.

Wholesome British food is usually sufficient for the ordinary British appetite, without such surroundings as marble pillars.

(But marble pillars are soooo nice.)

Let your sideboard -- it is assumed you have a sideboard -- sigh and lament its hard lot under its weight of cold joints, game and pies.

(Well, of course we have a sideboard!)

Clam Chowder is an acquired one, nor will stewed tortoise ever rank with thick turtle in British estimation.

(We are willing to acquire a taste for clam chowder if we could just get someone to make it for us.)

Spencer goes on and on...

Here is his recipe for a hot-pot, a casserole of epic proportion.

Lancashire Hot-Pot

Place a layer of mutton cutlets, with most of the fat and tails trimmed off, at the bottom of a deep earthenware stewpan.  Then a layer of chopped sheep's kidneys, an onion cut in thin slices, half a dozen oysters, and some sliced potatoes.  Sprinkle over a little salt and pepper and a teaspoonful of curry powder.  Then start again with the cutlets, and keep adding layers of the different ingredients until the dish be full.  Whole potatoes atop of all, and pour in the oyster liquor and some good gravy.  Mare gravy just before the dish is served.

Not too fierce and oven, just fierce enough to brown the top potatoes.

I long for a cookbook that calls for a "fierce" oven!

Clearly, one won't be doing a lot of cooking from Cakes and Ale, but it is a glorious read.  Troll the Internet and a digital copy may be found.

09 February 2015

My Beverly Hills Kitchen

Alex Hitz's book, My Beverly Hills Kitchen has that "old school" feel to it without being the least bit stuffy or dated.  It has that Craig Claiborne, James Villas, and Lee Bailey feel about it and rightly so.  Hitz has that erudite, well-travel, socially connected vibe about him, but whether in Paris, London, or Timbuktu, one can take the boy out of the South but one can never take the South out of the boy!

Seriously, who doesn't love a book featuring a big platter of fried chicken next to grand mama's silver? We would definitely party with this guy.  And we would have a good time, too. The book is a perfect storm of Southern classics like shrimp and grits with some biscuits thrown in along side some very French cooking things like a hollandaise from Escoffier.  Hitz likes to name drop, but rarely gives much detail other than he got this recipe from so and so  or he ate this dish with at her house.

His Osso Buco is one such dish.  He mentions that several years ago in LA.  (Los Angeles and not Lower Alabama) EVERYONE served osso buco.  He served it a dinner party, Betsy Bloomingdale served it and Prince and Princess Rupert Lowenstein served it at lunch.  He is somehow connected to the Rolling Stones which gives us an extra name or tow to drop.  And still, it is a fine recipe.

Osso Buco

3 pounds veal shanks with bones
1 teaspoon salt, divided
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, divided
5 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons salted butter, divided
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cups chopped onion
1 cup sliced onions
½ cup diced carrots
½ cup diced celery
2¼ cups red wine
3½ cups chicken stock
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Gremolata (recipe follows)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season both sides of the veal shanks with ½ teaspoon of the salt and ¼ teaspoon of the ground black pepper.

Place the flour in a medium mixing bowl and toss the seasoned shanks in the flour until they are coated. Shake off the excess flour and reserve the ribs.

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter with the oil. When the foaming has subsided, add the shanks to the skillet.

This is the most crucial step: Brown, and I mean brown, the shanks in the butter and oil on all sides until they are crusty, about 15-20 minutes. You may have to do this in batches. Do not crowd the pan, or you will steam the meat instead of browning it. Pay attention, as this is truly the most important part of this recipe. Transfer the browned shanks to a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish and let them cool.

Remove the burned oil and butter from the skillet, and let the skillet cool slightly.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in the skillet over low heat, but do not let the butter burn. The skillet will be very hot.

When the foaming has subsided, add both the sliced and chopped onions and sauté for about 2 minutes, until just slightly translucent, and then add the carrots and celery. Sauté for 10 to 12 minutes until the vegetables are just barely soft.

Transfer the cooked vegetables to the baking dish with the shanks, and then pour in the wine and stock. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and the thyme. Top the dish with a bay leaf in the middle.

Cover the baking dish tightly and bake it for 2½ hours.

Remove it from the oven, uncover it, and remove the bay leaf. Remove the meat and pour the liquid and vegetables into a heavy medium saucepan. Place the saucepan in the freezer for about 20 minutes and then skim off the excess fat. Reduce the oven heat to 300° F.

After you have skimmed the fat, place the saucepan on the stove over high heat and boil it until the sauce thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the parsley.

Put the shanks back in the baking dish and pour half the thickened sauce over them. Cover the dish tightly and put it in the oven again for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the shanks and uncover them. They should be falling off the bone by now. Heat the rest of the sauce in a heavy saucepan over a medium heat.

Turn to oven to broil. Broil the shanks for 5 to 7 minutes, until they are caramelized, and then let them rest for about 5 minutes before serving. Top with gremolata, and pass the remaining sauce with the shanks.

NOTE These are infinitely better if all the steps through the baking are done the day before serving.


2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, peeled
4 sprigs parsley
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process all the ingredients until a paste forms. Serve the Gremolata on top of the Osso Bucco.

Recently Hitz has been adding his recipes to the pages of House Beautiful, not to mention they ran a spread on his beautiful house.  Do check him out.
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