Saturday, October 15, 2011

Star Struck

Recently spent a few days in Lamar, Colorado.  It’s a small town in southeast Colorado, near the Kansas border. Their main street seems to have reached a new gift shoppe heavy equilibrium, like a lot of old downtowns.  I did find a used book store, crammed with paperbacks and a few local history gems and a several shelves of vintage hardcovers.  I spent a sawbuck on approximately eight pounds worth of books and booklets, one of which was "How to Take a Trick a Day with Bisquick."  (Although the title seems to be setting us up for some sort of bridge themed narrative, I couldn't detect one.)

The picture of Clark Gable looked familiar to me, which meant either that I already owned this, or it had been featured by James Lileks.  At $5.00 it was twenty times more expensive than similar offerings from the Egg Board or Metropolitan Insurance.  Should I take the chance of buying a double? I got my answer when I opened it up to this:

Sigh. I’m such a Dick Powell Fan, that I wouldn't mind having two of these. Isn’t he positively dreamy?  I’d let him wade into my kitchen any day. Seriously, how many men do you know that could pull off that apron over double breasted suit?

One of the odd things about this cook booklet is the way it mixes stars of the silver screen with stars of Home Economics. Here's Mildred Maddocks Bentley. I own one the Delineator Institute’s Cookbooks.  It has excellent diagrams for carving meat.

And although Dorothy Marsh apparently had a face for radio, I couldn’t help but notice she offered a menu “for the business woman who entertains.” Somehow the 1935 way of describing a working woman trying to get food on the table sounds more glamorous. But she's still just serving tuna casserole.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Incredible, Edible

Like many a better blogger, I find that I have taken an unplanned hiatus lately.  Rest assured, I was up to many important and fascinating things. I even wrote a piece or two for this space. Alas, they were rather too long and in need of ruthless editing, which I have yet to do.

But I recently had a rarebit epiphany, and was thus reminded of my duty to the rarebit devotees who follow these chronicles.  

A few weeks ago, Matt suggested an evening of black and white movies and rarebit, and I was only happy to agree.  He got a movie ready [Laura with Dana Andrews] and I got the chafing dish out.

While I have the general outlines of a platonic form of rarebit in my mind, I find it’s a good idea to check my proportions and pick out some good seasonings before melting the cheddar.  Also, I just like using my cookbooks.

I grabbed a random chafing dish cookery book from my shelf, and looked for Welsh Rarebit.  The lack of an index made it a bit of a hunt.  When I found it, it was one of those milquetoast versions made with milk instead of beer.  Pfui!  I grabbed the next chafing dish cookery book.  This one had an index, but again with the milk!  Oho!  A few pages away was the variation “Welsh rarebit with beer.”   Now we’re cooking with gas.

This one called for ¾ pounds cheddar and ¾ cup ale.  Also butter, salt, pepper, dry mustard (I’d get to use the mortar and pestle! Score!) and      . . . an egg?

True confession:  over the years, Matt and I have chortled away many a pleasant hour, each armed with a cookbook, trying to top each other for the most ridiculous recipe.  A surprising number of them were beverages involving raw egg.   The Boston Sour I made last November was my only foray into eggy cocktails and I have not been tempted to repeat the excursion.

At least this one wouldn’t be exactly raw.  But then again, not exactly cooked.  Like spaghetti carbonara, maybe.

I had to decide whether to include or omit.  Had I omitted, I would not be writing this.  In it went, under the whisk.

The resulting rarebit was silky smooth— none of that grittiness that Matthew despises.  It was incredibly rich and decadent.  Each mouthful had sharp cheddar and porter flavor, but with a luxurious, melting texture. In a word: magnificent!

Of course, we had to make sure this was not fluke.  We had it again the very next weekend. (I'd never do that with fondue: it takes nearly a week of soaking to clean the pot.) This time with To Have and Have Not.  Again: magnificence on toast.  

Lauren Bacall wasn’t bad either.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ten, Nine, Eight . . .

With our annual Christmas Party coming up in a little over a week, it's time to get serious about planning the menu.  Some things are a given.  Fondue: yes.  Aspic: no. Champagne: Lots.

Usually, about this time of year, every canapé recipe I see looks good (with a few exceptions.  See: Aspic, above) and I want to make them all. But, like every other hostess, my time and budget are limited. Of tantamount importance,  the guests appetites and patience and palates must be considered.  (Inviting a Hindu man to a beef fondue extravaganza was not one of my triumphs.)

I think I'd like to make tiramisu in my single serving trifle glasses. But then, some sort of layered Jello confection would look amazing. There's no rule against repeating an old favorite,  like coffee ice cream with candied bacon.   

Luckily, I've still got a little time to decide.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Don't Let The Turkeys Get You Down

Tomorrow is the Feast of Thanksgiving, a day when retro cookery is too new-fangled.  

I don’t mean to write about it since it is a subject well covered elsewhere, but it is because tomorrow is Thanksgiving that tonight found me in the kitchen making mashed potatoes and listening to a recording of Jean Shepherd’s radio broadcast from Thanksgiving Day 1968. You may be familiar with Jean Shepherd from the movie A Christmas Story in which the hapless Ralphie yearns for a BB gun.  The movie was based on the short stories of Mr. Shepherd and he narrated the film.  I have enjoyed reading and re-reading collections of his work, and whenever I flash back to my first job at the Johnstown Public Library I picture the lurid seventies typography that graced the spine of his book Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Stories because it caught my eye whenever I was shelving in the last row of fiction. I must have passed that book a thousand times before I ever thought of reading it.

In any case, though this wasn't the first time I've listened to him tell the story of being caught between two herds of turkeys, I laughed plenty while I was making the potatoes.  I used a recipe for mashed potatoes that is designed to be made ahead of time and then reheated in a crock-pot, which should suit nicely for our dinner at our friends’ house where we will be dining in the garage since it will be a crowd of 15 or so.  The oddest ingredient on the list was two egg whites.  I assumed they were to stabilize the potatoes or something and dutifully separated the yolks out.  (The dog got the yolks: they’ll give him a shiny coat!)

But then I was done with the potatoes and there was the bowl of whites still on the counter.  Ooops!  Maybe I should have been paying more attention to the recipe and less to Shep’s witticisms. Well, I can’t imagine it will make that much difference.  I mean if I’ve never heard of adding egg whites to mashed potatoes, how much harm can it be to leave them out?

I was about to slip the whites to the dog, when Matt looked significantly at the bottle of Scotch on the counter.

Whenever we dip into my collection of vintage cooking and entertaining guides, one thing that never fails to amuse is the inclusion of a raw egg in a cocktail recipe. We have read about ever so many!  Apparently cocktail people of yore found nothing much unusual about imbibing raw eggs.  Even my latest issue of ReadyMade (Arts and crafts for the tragically hip.  I’m a subscriber, I should know.) includes a scotch and egg white cocktail.

In the interests of reanimating classic recipes/jumping on the retro bandwagon, how could I not put those egg whites in a cocktail shaker? I’m pretty sure Matt’s thing was to stick it to The Man; ever since he’d read about New York City  banning raw eggs in drinks, he's harbored a secret desire to drink a raw egg cocktail.  Whatever the motive, fifteen minutes later I was pouring a frothy mix of egg white, lemon juice, sugar and scotch into some cocktail glasses.  The Boston Sour!  To Thanksgiving!

The egg whites do add a bit of silkiness to the drink, and the froth is a nice touch, but unless I need to bulk up for a title bout, I think I’ll leave the eggs in the fridge next time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beef Wellington

My past few Sunday dinners have been basic chicken breast + rice+ frozen peas, so I figured it was time for something with a bit more panache.  Plus we got our grocery store rebate, so I had $18.02 extra to spend.  (Fred Meyer keeps track of what you spend and four times a year sends you a rebate card.  Even though Matt does almost all of the grocery shopping, he hates using coupons or cards of any sort, so when it comes I usually use the rebate on something extravagant.)

Tonight we had Beef Wellington: filet mignon topped with potted mushrooms and draped in puff pastry. 
The New Basics Cookbook I was working from comments that twenty years ago, “every dinner party was built around Beef Wellington” but now “beef is one the menu far less often”.  Of course the book is twenty years old, so I guess that means forty years ago.  Now, dinner parties are on the menu far less often. 

Alas, I cannot say that my rendition was a complete success. I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. I realize now I should have had a hotter oven, to cook the pastry quicker and thus the beef a bit less. But still, three star Beef Wellington beats five star braunschweiger.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Good to the Last Slice

I’m pretty sure the first baked good I made that did not involve reading the directions on the back of a package was a pound cake.  It might have been biscuits, but knowing me, it was a pound cake. The utter simplicity of this old fashioned cake made it a good choice for a first try at mixless baking. 

These days, while I haven’t gone much further as a baker, I do enjoy an occasional pound cake.  I don’t use a full pound of butter/eggs/flour/sugar, but it still is a cake of abundance.  Since there are only two people in the house, one of whom doesn’t much like cake, I can’t really justify making it that often.  When I made one a few weeks ago, I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have to toss a good portion of it.

In the meantime, though, I’d enjoy a slice every other evening or so.  I’d set the slice to warm up in the toaster oven while I brewed the tea and then take them both and settle in to read.  The very essence of contentment.

The other night as I was in the middle of this ritual of preparation Matt wandered through the kitchen and asked: “How long does pound cake last?”  Realizing that it had been weeks and the cake had no trace of staleness, I had to tell him I had no idea, but it looked like I wouldn’t find out with this cake. 

Which was true.  I had the last piece this morning with a cup of coffee while I read my new issue of ReadyMade and it was just as lovely as the first piece.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Sandwich as a Still Life

It’s October.  Time to start thinking about Holiday entertaining.  Not that I do much of it, but I like to think about it. I like to imagine myself offering my carefully chosen guests a platter like this:

This is from a section of Snacks & Sandwiches entitled The Sandwich as a Still Life. Which reminds me that the French refer to a still life as a nature morte.

My eye is drawn first of all to the raft of pâté coming into a beach of diced aspic. As I can see from the ‘making of’ photo, that slice of pâté is at least a centimeter thick.  Also, you are supposed to have made your own loaf of pâté and diced your own aspic.  What richness! What textures!  

Then there’s the swirling mound of shrimp. I generally find that one shrimp at a time is luxury enough and I wonder: Would it be possible not to get three shrimps per bite?  

Finally, wonders of prune stuffed pork and herring with beet salad aside, we come to the lower left hand corner.  What do we have here?

If you’re thinking that that big yellow yolk is a bit off-putting, and you’re not sure you like the idea of raw egg, just remember what caviar is. Me, I was more concerned about the shell.