26 June 2015

Feeding the Lions

 In 1942, Frank Case wrote a cookbook entitled, Feeding The Lions. It is filled with recipes from the Algonquin Hotel kitchen alongside pithy favorites from famous Algonquin diners.
The hotel was made famous by the gatherings of a witty group of writers, editors, and actors who came each day for lunch. They became known as the Algonquin Round Table or as they might tell you, the Vicious Circle.

Case managed the Algonquin, buying it in 1927.  It is Case who is credited with the first "round" table.  In the beginning, the group dined in what would become known as the Oak Room and they were seated at conventional tables as if they were any diners. As the group grew, the rectangle table became increasingly cumbersome and the the group was moved to the Rose Room where Case installed a round table.

"A Vicious Circle" by Natalie Ascencios
Natalie Ascencios' "A Vicious Circle" features many of the key players in the what has been dubbed the Algonquin Round Table.  In this illustration you will find: Robert Benchley, Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Sherwood, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, (seated) Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun. This lively group, supplemented by the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Alice Duer Miller, and Donald Ogden Stewart, held court from 1919 to 1929 at Algonquin Hotel.

They began meeting after John Peter Toohey, a theatrical agent, became angry at Alexander Woollcott for refusing to write about Eugene O'Neill, one of Toohey's clients. Toohey decided to invite Woollcott to lunch as a "thank you" while secretly planning on having Woollcott made fun of.  Of course, Woollcott loved it and began regular lunch meetings that became daily events.

Case oversaw the kitchen and collected the recipes in Feeding the Lions. He attributes the title to Edna Ferber.  Ferber writes in the cookbook:
"Highly spiced dishes happen to be my particular weakness and, at the same time, on my dietary taboo list. I manage to be stern with myself, except on those occasions when I lunch at the Algonquin. After looking at all the dishes that I might and should order,I take those curried shrimps with rice that the Algonquin chef does so tantalizingly."
Curry of Fresh Shrimp

2 lbs. raw shrimp (or 1lb. cooked, shelled shrimp)
2 tablespoons butter
1 1.2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups rich cream sauce

Prepare 3 cups rich cream sauce, using half cream and half milk.

Boil the raw shrimp in salted water for 5 minutes and allow them to cool. Peel and remove the dark intestinal tract.

Saute them for 5 minutes in 2 tablespoons butter, add the curry powder and the wine and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add to the cream sauce, mix thoroughly and cook for 5 minutes.

Taste for seasoning.

Serve with rice pilaf and chutney.  Grated fresh coconut and chopped toasted almonds are traditional accompaniments.

In 1987, Aviva Slesin won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for The Ten-Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table.  Unfortunately, it has been out of print for years, but recently turned up on YouTube. The Alan Ruldoph film, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is a pretty good fictional depiction of the era, and an excellent look at the evolving "round" table of Frank Case.

In 1998, The Algonquin received a much needed face-lift and the Rose Room was eliminated. In 2005 the Algonquin produced a new menu incorporating many of the favorites in Frank Case's cookbook.

In this day and age one might ponder if the round table seated a truly vicious circle.  Groucho Marx, brother of regular Harpo, was never comfortable with the luncheon regulars.  A quick wit who possessed his own biting repartee, Groucho Marx said of the Round Table, "The price of admission is a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto."

24 June 2015

Honey & Jam

In our ongoing disdain for desserts that resemble compost, we have found another ally, Hannah Queen. He lovely new book, Honey & Jam is a tribute to dessert and to baking in particular.  Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Queen picked up a cupcake cookbook when she was 16 and she never looked back. She began blogging as Honey & Jam and it quickly became a "go to" site for bakers.

The obsession, or lack there of, of "deconstructed" dessert is not born out of a desire to relegate dessert to the land of Betty Crocker, but rather from a place of craft and precision. Grind up enough cake, cookie, meringue and scatter it about with jam, coils, jelly, mousse, foam and a sprinkling of herbs and chances are one bite of it will be decent. But take a cake. It is a thing that every child knows. It is vanilla or chocolate. It is predictable...except when it isn't.

The recipes in Honey & Jam are anything but predictable.  Open the book to any page and you will be able to say: Cake! Pie! Cupcake!  But delve into the flavor profile and you find something completely modern. Butter is browned and bourboned. Vegetables take their place with seasonal fruits. Crumbles are enriched with herbs. The result is a collection of recipes that will elevate your baking to a new level.

One of our favorite types of cakes to bake are those that are baked in a single layer and require not frosting.  This is a great example.

Cherry-Almond Brown Butter Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick/115 g) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups (170 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (70 g) almond flour
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) whole milk, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup (80 g) pitted whole fresh cherries
1/4 cup (30 g) slivered almonds
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until it turns golden brown and nutty scented. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, almond flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and the browned butter.

Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, stirring to combine. Stir in the cherries.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and sprinkle it with the almonds. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan before turning it onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust the cake with powdered sugar before serving.

 Honey & Jam is the perfect blend of old-fashioned baking and thoroughly modern flavor profiles. It is quite literally, the best of both worlds.  Betty Crocker is turning over in her grave.

17 June 2015

The Broad Fork

We have posted a lot about Hugh Acheson’s The Broad Fork on our Facebook page, but it seems time to write about the book here. So here goes.  The Broad Fork grew out of a conversation with a fellow CSA member who asked a simple question: “What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?”

Indeed.  We learn to cook because someone taught us how, and we cook foods that we are familiar with, and if not, we learn to cook foods that we like and want to make at home.  So, what the hell does one do with kohlrabi?  

Our “what the hell” is artichokes. Don’t have them in the garden, don’t like to clean them, don’t like to eat them, don’t want them in my CSA!  Hey everyone has a veggie they hate!  Truth of the matter is, there are tons of vegetables out there that have very creative uses without boiling them in some salted water and slathering them with butter.

Hugh Acheson sets out to give the reader a look at many creative ways to showcase vegetables or a showcase for many creative vegetables.  The book is helpful, insightful, and never makes you feel like you are getting a lecture about not eating more vegetables.  He is funny, giving the impression that he would never come into your to kitchen and shout obscenities at you for minor kitchen infractions. In fact, he writes like he is exactly the kind of person you would want to let into your kitchen. 

Acheson would, as he does in this cookbook, make fun of you for having a refrigerator door with, “stuff in there from the 1990’s.”  For his Tatsoi Salad he will tell you, “No tatsoi? No problem. Use spinach or bok choy.”  But he will also tell you that tatsoi is “resplendent” so get some for your salads.  The first restaurant he worked in featured fried zucchini with, “the tenderness and attention to detail of a drunken sailor,” and from that experience he fries up green beans. Funny and helpful.

So how does Hugh Acheson answer the question: “What the hell do I do with kohlrabi?” 

Kohlrabi Puree
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 pound kohlrabi, peeled and chopped, greens and stems reserved for garnish
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 sprig fresh thyme
Kosher salt

1. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter.  Add the onion and then the kohlrabi. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables to coat them with the butter. Then add the chicken stock and the thyme sprig. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat then turn back down to simmer.  Place a round of parchment paper on top of the mixture, and simmer until the kohlrabi is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

2. Transfer the mixture to a blender, add the remaining tablespoon of butter, and puree until smooth. Season with kosher salt to taste. Serve alongside finely sliced reserved kohlrabi stems and greens.

Pureed kohlrabi is the perfect side dish for a big ol’ steak, not to mention at least two folks at the table will ask you,  “What the hell did you do to the potatoes?”

15 June 2015

The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits

After watching The Lee Bros.' new show Southern Uncovered, set this week in Charleston, we were kind of in a Charleston mood, so we pulled out The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits.  Though it may not seem exactly self-explanatory, the book is really a jam packed recipe book with etiquette tips interspersed.  Suzanne Pollak and Lee Manigault have put together a great collection of recipes and some tips on just how easy entertaining can be. They do not always agree with each other, which is a refreshing.  Many books that purport to be about entertaining give the impression that there is only one way to go...the authors often choose differing paths such as where one places one's dessert cutlery.

Now we just love "entertaining" books ; in fact, we would probably rather read entertaining books than actually entertain, but if need be, we are good to go for most any occasion.  No matter how much one entertain, however, there is that moment when you think, "What am I going to do?" This is the perfect book to pull off the shelf.  It is familiar enough to ease you into that party planning mode with recipes for spicy nuts, deviled eggs, angels on horseback, and a fine old-fashioned. 

On the other hand, there is the element of surprise, that item one would never think of as entertaining fare that will leave your guests blown away, like my fave, oxtail. There are also sautéed carrots and peaches, crunchy shallots, and ginger cheesecake for an unforgettable dinner party.

Here is a piece of advice we can get behind: "Two or three bacon appetizers are not overkill."

Candied Bacon

1/2 pound of your favorite sliced bacon
Turbinado sugar or light brown sugar
Freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Halve the bacon slices crosswise and arrange on parchment lined baking sheets so that the pieces don't touch. Sprinkle the sugar liberally on top to cover the bacon; season with black pepper and cayenne to taste. Bake, rotating once, until the sugar is caramelized, about 20 minutes.

There were a couple of reviews that implied this book was a bit old fashioned or that it was geared to wealthy housewives, like only rich people cared about such things as etiquette and entertaining.  Yes, for years we have been told, politely that one should chew with ones mouth closed and still, go to any fine dining establishment and you are likely to find a gentleman who wants you to remember him for his $10,000 Rolex, but all you will remember is seeing the food in his mouth!  Truth be told, one does not need a Victorian townhouse in Charleston, grandmama's collection of Francis 1 silverware, nor a Viking stove to host an elegant dinner party.  Even the girls down at the trailer park can tell you which side of the plate the fork goes on! 

Everyone can benefit from a little guidance on the domestic sciences.  The world is a better place with manners and a good candied bacon. The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits is a fine place to get your party started.

13 June 2015

Pure Pork Awesomeness

Kevin Gillespie is the brother, son, guy-next-door(who owns a really big grill) that I have always envisioned.  I loved him the first time I saw him on TV and have followed his career since then.  Let's just get it out of the way: most of the really talented, on-TV, own-my-own-restaurant(s), James Beard Blah-Blah-Blah appear to be a-holes! (Hey, you know it's true and you know which one you want to slap!) Lord knows, Kevin Gillespie's momma and grandma raised him right!  And who doesn't love a guy who puts a Ray Stevens epigraph in his cookbook?

Pure Pork Awesomeness is a love letter to the pig. It is also a love letter to the world.  Lest one think for a moment that Pure Pork Awesomeness is simply a barbecue book, it is not.  It is exactly what the title conveys, a look at the pure awesomeness of pork that is not relegated simply to the South, nor to America, but to the world, where pork is a staple in many languages. 

Don't worry, Granny's Ham and Navy Bean Soup is in there along side Brunswick Stew, and Deep Fried Baby-Back Ribs.  You will also find Pork Pho, Sichuan-Style Twice-Cooked Pork Belly, Lemon-Ricotta Tortellini in Ham Broth, Zigeunerschnitzel, even tacos.

Tacos al Pastor

1 pineapple, peeled, cored, cut into 1-inch cubes, about 2 cups, or 1 (20-oz.) can unsweetened pineapple chunks, drained 
1 medium Vidalia onion, cut into rough chunks  
10 cloves garlic, peeled 
2 tablespoons ancho chili powder  
1 tablespoons cumin seeds 
1 tablespoons dried oregano  
1 tablespoons kosher salt 
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes  
1 pound lean pork shoulder, cut into 3/4-inch chunks (see Worth Knowing)
3 teaspoon grapeseed oil or canola oil  
8 fresh corn tortillas 
1/2 cup sour cream  
1 lime 
1 bunch cilantro  

Reserve 1/2 cup pineapple chunks and onion and refrigerate for later use. Combine the remaining pineapple, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and red pepper flakes in a blender and blend to a paste. Place the meat and marinade in a gallon-size zip-top bag, squeeze out excess air, and zip closed. Refrigerate overnight.

Strain the pork and discard the marinade.

Heat a sauté pan over high heat. Add just enough of the oil to the pan for a thin coating and heat until the oil just starts to smoke. Working in batches, add the tortillas in a single layer and heat just until starting to char, about 1 minute per side, then flip and cook for another minute. Wrap in aluminum foil to keep warm.

Add just enough of the oil to cover the pan, swirl to coat, and heat until smoking. Add the pork and reserved pineapple and cook for 1 minute, or until browned. Shake the pan to flip the meat and cook until the pork is cooked through and the pan juices have cooked dry, about 7 minutes, shaking the pan frequently.

In a small bowl, combine the sour cream with the juice of 1/2 lime and whisk until smooth. Cut the remaining 1/2 lime into 4 wedges.

 Coarsely chop 1/2 cup cilantro leaves. Reserve 4 sprigs.

Serve the tortillas topped with the meat and pineapple mixture, reserved onion, chopped cilantro, a drizzle of the lime sour cream, a lime wedge, and whole sprig of cilantro.

Worth Knowing
Look for a lean shoulder roast for this recipe. It will be a piece of a boneless Boston butt. Get the smallest and leanest roast you can find, which will probably be 2 to 3 pounds. If you get a piece with excess fat, just trim it away before cutting the meat into chunks. 

Not only do we love this cookbook, but we were huge fans of his first book, Fire In My Belly.  If Kevin Gillespie were our father, we would give him a copy of both books for Father's Day.  Of course, that would be really stupid as he wrote them, but we would give him a big, ol' pork butt and hope that he invited us over! Really, nothing says "I Love You" more than a pork butt and Father's Day is approaching.

04 June 2015

Southern Made Fresh

We were so happy to find that Tasia Malakasis was not a one-hit cookbook wonder!  We loved her first book, Tasia's Table, and we were delighted to find that there was a companion book, Southern Made Fresh.

Since her last book she has been selected as one of the 50 people changing the South, she's built a new creamery, and put Elkmont, Alabama on the map, and she still had time to write another cookbook!  Just writing about it exhausts me. We were beyond bummed that our last (and first) trip to Elkmont was on a Sunday when Belle Cheve was closed. We simply must plan better on the next trip.

Southern Made Fresh is at the same time familiarly Southern and wonderfully contemporary. There are tea sandwiches, fried green tomatoes and deviled eggs but one will also find a chicken posole, vegetable soup with pecan pesto and a summer corn risotto.  Yes, there are peach fried pies, and there are also apple phyllo hand pies, and a sausage and sweet potato pie, too.

Her lemonade has a jalapeño bite, the iced tea features bourbon, and her moonshine is peachy.  Vegetables seem to stand out and the recipes appear to be plucked straight form the garden.  It's no wonder people want to party with Malakasis! 

Here is a recipe we love. And while it is true that we would eat gigantic bowls of rice every single day, this is the kind of recipe that would have us eating out of two bowls!
Cajun Dirty Rice

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 oz. chicken livers
4 oz. ground pork
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. chili powder
1½ cups chicken broth, divided
1 small onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
2 tsp. dried oregano
3 cups cooked long-grain rice
⅔ cup chopped green onions
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Garnish: celery leaves

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken livers; cook 3 minutes or until browned. Remove chicken livers from skillet. Let stand until cool enough to handle; chop.

2. Add pork to skillet; cook, stirring to crumble, 4 minutes or just until beginning to brown. Stir in chopped chicken livers, salt, pepper, and chili powder; cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.

3. Add ¼ cup chicken broth, and cook 3 minutes or until broth evaporates and meat mixture is browned, crusty, and slightly sticks to skillet. Add onion and next 4 ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, 7 minutes or until vegetables are browned, crusty, and slightly stick to skillet.

4. Add rice, green onions, parsley, and remaining 1¼ cups broth. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is thoroughly heated.
 Is it too early to be on the look out for book number three?
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