Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Dinner Party

Tomorrow I am cooking a meal for all at the lab. Because there are so many of us (nine!) it is being hosted at my friends and bosses Dave and Joan’s house. Here’s the menu, it is very English of course:

…and for dessert
I do love cooking for a dinner party. You can I have been paid! If you don’t know what Guard of Honour, dulse or Eton Mess are, you will do soon when I post the recipes on this or the other blog.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Introducing... Blog #2

For some crazy reason I have started a second food blog, and I thought you might like to know! It is called British Food: A History. Surely this blog covers alot of that suject, you say. And you would be right. It is somewhat restricted by the recipes in the book English Food. Granted there are a total of 449 recipes to cook for the blog, so it is not exactly non-comprehensive, but there are so many recipes not in the book at all. There is no jam roly-poly or beef Wellington! Major oversights by Griggers there. Also there are recipes she unfortunately never got to see flourish. Chicken tikka masala, anyone? I have been compiling a list on a spreadsheet for a while now. I originally intended to do an English Food Part II or something, but found there are lots to write about other than the recipes and the stories and factoids behind them. I also realized that it’s not just England, but Britain that should be represented as well as the countries that have influenced it the most like Ireland, France and countries of the ex-empire such as India and China.

So it won’t just be recipes but any interesting nuggets I find plus the best of the recipes from English Food and the blog. I always said that I would never go back and alter any posts, and some of the early ones are pretty bad, so I will tart some of them up and add them. It’s amazing how my writing has developed since those early days of the blog. But don’t worry, Neil Cooks Grigson shall not suffer! I just need somewhere to put all the stuff that doesn’t quite fit.

It is very early days for the blog, but do have a look at it – I would be very grateful. Perhaps become a follower. In fact, I know that there are a few food bloggers (and would-be bloggers?) that have a look on here from time to time that might like to post on it, so if interested let me know as I would love it if several people contributed.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I have made babies!

My little winter savory seeds have hatched. I am a Dad!

The lamb's head in brain sauce may just be weeks away! (Assuming I can find a lamb's head...)

However, in the chervil department, I am rather more barren, but there's still time yet for those little seeeds to hatch...

Monday, July 25, 2011

#304 Water-Souchy

"And lo, Jesus said,
'Hurry up lads, I am champing at the bit here.'"

There have been plenty of recipes in English Food that have seemed so unappealing on paper, but have turned out good. This one certainly didn’t sound good – a fish stew made from freshwater fish, a few basic vegetables and water. I think it’s the name that did it for me I think – I imagined a thin, watery, muddy-tasting soup. However, every recipe must be cooked and freshwater fish is a bit of a speciality in America, seeing as most of it is far away from the oceans. It would have been a tricky one to do in England without spending a fortune getting a variety of freshwater fish from the fishmonger, or going out and fishing for the buggers yourself. Here, you can just go to the supermarket and choose from a range.

So, water-souchy is a very rustic fish stew made from whatever the angler in the family brought home after a session in his or her waders in an idyllic stream in rural England. Obviously, I am not in England anymore, so I wanted the fish to reflect what I might have caught here on the Mississippi River if I could be arsed to fish there. I had a look in Seafood City, an Asian supermarket on Olive Boulevard in St Louis and bought myself some good fresh carp and catfish. Five pounds of fish are required, and cost me the princely sum of $7.50. Pretty good, I reckon, seeing as I’m rather poor at the moment.

Water-souchy became popular in the seventeenth century and remains so, at least in fishing circles. The word comes from the Dutch waterzootje, and has been described as the bouillabaisse of the Northern Latitudes. According to certain George Augustus Sala, writing in 1895 in Thorough Good Cook, 'You rarely get it good, save at Greenwich. Why I cannot say'. Well, it may be to do with the freshness of the fish, says Griggers, the quality of your water-souchy will be diminished if your fish is not perfectly fresh.

To make this simple stew, start off with five pounds of very fresh scaled and cleaned freshwater fish and cut them up into big chunks – no need to bone or fillet, for it is the bones that produce the stock and flavour the dish. Jane suggests perch or a mixture of fish such as perch, carp, eel &c. In a large saucepan, spread three ounces of butter over the base and cover that with the vegetables and herbs: two cleaned and chopped leeks, two chopped celery sticks, two tablespoons of chopped parsley and a bouquet garni. My bouquet garni was made up of a bay leaf, some parsley stalks, three fronds of dill and a crushed garlic clove all tied up in a bunch.

Season these well with salt and pepper and then place the chunks of fish on top. Season those too. Cover with water, bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on for about twenty minutes until the fish is cooked.

Serve in bowls, sprinkled with some croutons of bread fried in butter. I used stale sourdough bread for this, and they were very good, even if I do say so myself. ‘One eats water souchy with spoon and fork’, according to Mr Robert Pierpoint, writing in 1908. It’s the only way you can eat it really.

#304 Water-Souchy. Well as per usual the bad sounding recipe turns out to not be a dud at all. The stew was well-flavoured with the vegetables, herbs and the fish itself. It is really important to choose a pungent and tart herb like dill for something very simple like this I think as it livens things up no end. The fish was very moist, but the thing we all found a little off-putting was the bones. We are too used to eating neat steaks and filleted pieces of fish, I think; so the best way to improve this recipe, we decided, would be to fillet the fish and use the bones, and herbs to make a stock first, drain it, and then cook the vegetables and fish in the clear broth. Indeed, Eliza Acton suggests the same method in Modern cookery, in all its branches (1845). A good stew scoring 6/10 from me, but I think it could easily upped with some minor changes.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The blog might have been quiet, but I have not…

Ey-up, Grigsoners! I’ve not posted for a while on the blog because I have simply run out of money this month. The move up has been pretty expensive and I only had two week’s pay to last me the whole month. Most of this has gone on petrol and boring moving things. However, I have been getting to explore the city and I’ve managed to find an excellent little farmers’ market very close to me. Tower Grove Farmers’ Market is small yet perfectly formed and has plenty of stalls to keep me busy.

I have found suppliers for Guinea fowl, wild rabbit, marrow bones and all-sorts of tricky to find poultry and meat-cuts.

There’s also a lovely English lady called Jane who has an English bakery stall, plus a great tea stall too. I am looking forward to getting to know these people. I also went to St Louis’s most popular farmers’ market at Soulard last week. This one was rather disappointing as it wasn’t really a farmers’ market, just a huge normal food market really. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; I’m sure I’ll frequent it for fruit and vegetables, and there was a few good proper farmer-run stalls there, but no meat or fish really.

Talking of fish there are two great places for that kind of thing here – Bob’s Seafood sells a good range of sea fish and will order fish in for you too, plus they’ll portion the stuff as you request. Should be good to get the usually tricky-to-find mackerel and herring. There is also a huge Asian supermarket called Seafood City which is quite an experience; there’s a host of live fresh and seawater fish and crustaceans including eel. There’s also live turtle, which I actually found a little disturbing. Many of the species are killed in-store which is a bit gruesome. The killings only seem to occur once a week. Go on a Saturday and there fresh fish a-plenty. Go on a Thursday and it is a sorry site

One of my best friends of the blog is, of course, the internet and have found that of all places has an excellent grocery department. I have managed to get preserved ginger – a favourite ingredient of mine and never seen by me anywhere in a grocery store in the USA thus far. I’ve also managed to get some seaweed, not a thing really associated with English food anymore, though still popular in Wales and Ireland.

Lastly, I have also been attemping to flex my green fingers. Some herbs and vegetables are simply unavailable – both sides of the pond. I have therefore got hold of some heirloom seeds and have planted some winter savory (required for the lamb’s head in brain sauce recipe!) and chervil.

I’ve also bought a mint and a marjoram plant. I don’t want to get too cocky, so I am sticking with these four for now and I shall see how I get on. I am a terrible gardener so I won’t get too excited about it yet; my mint plant is already riddled with some kind of powdery mildew, though some chervil seeds have germinated, so you take the rough with the smooth. The aim is to get a full herb garden growing. We shall about that one…

Friday, July 15, 2011

#303 Cornish Charter Pie

In Jane Grigson's book Good Things, she quotes from the diary of a Parson Woodforde, a Norfolk clergyman who obviously liked his food. He wrote in his dairy on the 13th of July that "[we] had for Dinner some Pyke and fried Soals, a nice Piece of boiled Beef, Ham and a Couple of Fowls, Peas and Beans, a green Goose rosted, Gooseberry Pies, Currant Tarts, the Charter, hung Beef scraped &c…". All recognisable as nice food typical of the British Isles at that time, except, that is, for The Charter. "Was it [a] sweet or [a] savoury? Was it in fact even food at all?" she asks. Then, apparently on another occasion at the Parson's brother's, an incident occurred where a very naughty dog snook into the cellar and snarfed down The Charter all to itself. It was, at least, food, but dogs will eat pretty much anything, so the type of food isn't possible to deduce.

My friend Katie has a dog that ate an entire chocolate cake once – fully iced as well. What happened to that cheeky dog's bowels is not fit for a description in a food blog.

Parson Woodforde 1740-1803

Anyways, the editor of the Parson's diary assumed it was some kind of custard. It wasn't until Griggers stumbled upon the book A few choice recipes by Sarah Lindsay (a Lady) from 1883, who gives a recipe for a Charter Pie, saying it is a Cornish recipe and the filling is of chicken in cream. It's a shame that Jane had no internet in her time; it would have made her life so much easier as I found this little fact on GoogleBooks pretty quick-smart.
Upon doing a quick recipe search on the internet, I found a few versions of the recipe, but they didn't really give any more background to the pie. I did notice that one website listed it as American cuisine, so it must've been taken over the Atlantic at some point and survived there for a good few generations.

Anyways, I thought this pie would go down for my dinner party-cum-buffet that I had last weekend. The Meat Pies & Puddings section of the book has been rather hit and miss, so I did worry that would be a bit crap. Jane does big it up, and it does appear also in Good Things, so for it to occur twice in her writing, it must be good…

The recipe asks for two three pound chickens that have been jointed, so you can imagine that it is a decent sized pie, so make sure that you make enough shortcrust pastry to cover a large, shallow pie dish. The recipe specifies a rich shortcrust pastry too, so make it with at least five ounces of salted butter (and therefore ten ounces of plain flour), an egg yolk and some ice-cold water to bind.

Whilst your pastry is resting in the fridge, chop a large onion and soften it in two ounces of butter. Remove the onions from the pan and spread them on the base of a wide, shallow pie dish or tray. Toss your chicken pieces in seasoned flour, turn up the heat in your pan, add a two more ounces of butter and fry the chicken pieces until they are a nice golden brown. Do not crowd the pan, so cook in two or three batches if you need to. Arrange the chicken pieces tightly together in a single layer on top of the onions.

Next, chop a leek or six spring onions alongside a nice large bunch of parsley. Place in a saucepan and cover with a quarter of a pint each of milk and single cream (that's coffee cream for any Americans). Bring to a boil and simmer for two or three minutes. Pour this mixture over the chicken and season very, very well with salt and pepper.

Roll out your pastry and cover the pie, using some beaten egg as a seal. Make a hole in the centre of the pie large enough to fit a kitchen funnel. Jane then asks us to make a pastry rose to fit on top of it that also has a hole (so the steam can still escape). Decorate with more pastry if you like. Brush the pastry with more beaten egg. Bake at 220-230°C (425-450°F) for the first twenty minutes and then lower the heat to 180°C (350°F) for the remainder of the cooking time – an hour should do it.

Just before the pie is ready, bring half a pint of double cream to the boil, so that when it is cooked, you can take the pie from out of the oven, remove the pastry rose and pour in, with the aid of your funnel, the hot cream. Then replace your rose.

The pastry is good hot or cold, says Jane. It went for just warm so that the sauce would thicken almost becoming jelly (a benefit of using chicken on the bone, rather than just the meat cut into pieces).

This is perhaps a good point to mention the proper English way of serving up a pie like this. Using a knife, cut away the piece of pastry you would like to serve and place it on the side of the pie. Next, spoon out the filling onto the plate and perch the pastry on top of it. Do not go digging straight in there with your spoon messing up the pastry and getting all mixed up with the filling. This is a deadly sin at the Buttery residence and you will be thrown out should you attempt it.

#303 Cornish Charter Pie. What a great pie! The ingredients made a thick creamy chicken soup that is delicious in itself and the chicken was wonderfully tender from being cooked in all that milk and cream. Much better than the last chicken pie from the book, which was insipid by comparison. This will be my staple recipe for chicken pie in the future (unless anyone has one that can beat it). 8.5/10.

Monday, July 11, 2011

#302 Caveach of Sole

I decided that I needed to get back into doing some proper cooking now that I have a new stove in my new apartment. I invited some people around from work and their various spouses and kids. It is pretty hot here in St Louis at the moment so I needed to choose a recipe that was nice and summery and not all hot and stodgy. It needed to be buffet-style as there would be eight of us in all and I can only fit four around my little table. It also needed to be one that is prepared in advance so I wouldn't be rushing around in the 35°C heat on the day. I don't ask for much do I? Oh, and it also couldn't be weird. My options for this kind of food are rather limited in the book now, but I happily found this one that seemed fresh and clean and rather Mediterranean in style.

The sole lies on its side on the sea bed to camouflage itself.
Over time, natural selection has reacted to this by moving one eye
so that they both sit on one side of the head.

The word caveach refers to a method of preserving fish by cooking and then pickling it and comes from the Spanish escabeche. I did a little research on the preservation method and could only find books from the early-to-mid nineteenth century that mention it in any detail; though it seemed popular in both Britain and America at that time. The recipe below is more of a dinner party adaptation where the fish is only left for a few hours to pickle and isn't intended as a preservation method at all. You can caveach any fish you like – the most popular seemed to be mackerel, herring and sardine, presumable because they were the cheapest and most common seafish at that time.

It is also nice to cook a receipt from the Seawater Fish section of the book – options are limited in America because there are different species of fish found commonly in their waters compared to European waters. However there is some common ground and the newly-discovered and very excellent grocery store Straub's has a great selection of fish and meat as well as some other tricky-to-find ingredients, so I'll be using them quite frequently during my time here in Missouri.

First of all prepare your sole fillets – you'll need eight in all. Flatten them a little with a rolling pin, season with salt and pepper and fry them quickly in a little olive oil so that they brown a little. Cut them into thirds and arrange the pieces on a serving dish. Slice a medium red onion thinly and scatter over the fish along with the thinly sliced pared rind of a lemon and a couple of bay leaves cut in two. Next mix together seven fluid ounces of olive oil with three tablespoons of white wine vinegar and pour over the fish. Season again with salt, pepper and some Cayenne pepper too. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, but preferable over night. When it is time to serve, scatter over some chopped herbsparsley, coriander or chervil are suggested by Griggers. I went with coriander. Serve with bread and butter and a salad.

#302 Caveach of Sole. This was everything I had hoped it would be – fresh, clean and slightly piquant. The delicately flavoured sole was not overwhelmed at all by the onions and the mild seasoning. A very good recipe this one – and simple too. I think I am going to try it with other, cheaper fish in the USA like tilapia or catfish. Any fish would work I reckon. A dinner-party stalwart this one will be, I feel. 8/10.

Monday, July 4, 2011

#301 Yorkshire Curd Tart

Hello there! I'm still not up and running in St Louis with blog recipes just yet as I am still getting the apartment sorted and using spare time to explore this amazing city. However, rain has stopped play for Dr Buttery and there is a raging thunderstorm happening outside so this is the perfect opportunity to fill you in on the final recipe I made in Houston.

When I was packing up my stuff in the old apartment I noticed I had all the ingredients for a Yorkshire curd tart just lying about, so I thought I'd conjure one up to take into work for us all to eat whilst we were packing up the laboratory, which also had to move from Texas to Missouri as well as us. I reckoned it would go down well as it is essentially a sort of cheesecake, and cheesecakes are loved all across America. I find it strange that the English too love cheesecake, and yet ignore the ones that come from their own country. We are such weirdoes.

Nobody had heard of this tart at work, but that is no surprise, as most people outside of Yorkshire haven't heard of it either which I think of strange as it is my favourite sweet tart of all time. I had never made one however, as it is very difficult to get your hands on curd cheese these days – and cottage cheese or cream cheese WILL NOT DO, says Griggers. Luckily I had some essence of rennet that I used many moons ago to make the Devonshire junket. I had brought it back with me on my last visit to England at Eastertime. Always thinking, is I.

Woman Milking a Cow by Karel Dujardin

Anyways, if you are to make a proper curd tart, you need to make your curds from the freshly calved mother cow's first milk – called colostrum – which is extra-creamy. Unless you have your own cows, this isn't really practical, so to emulate this use Jersey milk. What I did was use normal whole milk and mixed it with some of the half-and-half I had left over from making the trifle. (Brits: half-and-half is the closest to single cream I can find). Also, proper curd tart should be spiced with allspice (called pimento, I think, in the USA). Here's a little quote that Griggers uses in her introduction to the recipe, though she doesn't source it:

'In this part of Yorkshire, what is called "clove pepper" and known to the southerners as "all-spice" is still largely used to flavour cheesecakes.'

To make the curds, warm the milk and creams, if using, in a pan to 37°C (97°F).

I used around two pints to get just over eight ounces of curds. Take off the heat. Follow the instructions on your rennet and add the appropriate amount to the milk. You can also add a couple of tablespoons of buttermilk too if you have some, though it is not necessary. Leave the curds to develop for a few hours and when they have set pour the lot into some double-layered muslin (cheesecloth), or you could use a clean pillowcase too (as I did). Allow to drip overnight at room temperature. If things are a little blocked up, give the whole thing a stir and a scrape with a plastic spatula.

The curds should also take on a pleasing fresh, mild cheesy smell. Once it is properly drained, put the curds in a dish and refrigerate.

Now you have made the curds, you can make the tart filling…
First of all line an 8-10 inch tart tin with shortcrust pastry. Next cream together 4 ounces of butter and 2 ounces of sugar in a bowl before stirring in 8 ounces of your curd cheese, 4 ounces of raisins or currants, a rounded tablespoon of wholemeal breadcrumbs, a pinch of salt, two beaten eggs and a good amount of allspice or nutmeg. Pour this into your pastry case and bake in the oven at 220°C (425°F) for 20 to 30 minutes. Easy!

#301 Yorkshire Curd Tart. This transported me straight back to Yorkshire and my childhood! This recipe is amazing, and I am so glad I made it. I wonder why it took me so long to get around to making it? The centre was moist and sweetened by the dried fruit rather than copious sugar. It is the "clove-pepper" that is the secret ingredient of course; be bold with it, you need at least a good half-teaspoon. A delicious tart that is going into my repertoire! 9.5/10.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Thank You!

Just a quick message to say thanks to everyone who looks at the blog – I had a record number of viewings in June. I'm going to be back doing the blog very soon once I am settled in Saint Louis; the move from Houston has been total chaos. I promise I'll be adding some posts in the coming week or two….