Thursday, 31 March 2016

Korean Cucumber Salad

This one couldn't be simpler! Depending on how much red chile pepper you put in, it can also be quite spicy! I did not have access to gochugaru (we are in the boonies here, as I keep lamenting) and so I used my own home-grown Aleppo pepper. Without testing them side by side, my impression is that the heat level is pretty similar.

I only used 1/4 teaspoon as I was serving it to my Mom, and so I added a bit of my own home grown paprika for a bit more of a red colour. I'm emphasizing the home grown bit, because they were also (coarsely) home ground, and tended to clump up. Tasted fine, if slightly uneven.

4 servings
10 minutes prep time
1 hour marinade time

Korean Cucumber Salad

3 small greenhouse cucumbers
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1 teaspoon ground Korean red chile (gochugaru)

Wash, trim, and slice the cucumbers. Put them in a coverable container with the remaining ingredients, and gently mix. Cover and let rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Korean Bean Sprout Salad

When we go to a Korean restaurant for a meal, we generally enjoy the main dish, but the really fun part is all the little banchan that come with it; anywhere from just a couple to 6 or 8 little side dishes. Are they salads? Pickles?  Often slightly pickle-y salads, but we've had bits of pancake, and fishy things, and, well, you just never know quite what will turn up!

Oh, that's not completely true. This one almost always turns up, as does kim-chee. This dish is milder than most, and mostly provides a nice juicy, crunchy texture that's very refreshing.

This recipe is essentially from Maangchi's food blog.

4 servings
10 minutes prep time; 1 hour rest time

Korean Bean Sprout Salad

350 grams (12 ounces) bean sprouts
1 green onion
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons fish sauce (or soy sauce)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons sesame seeds

Wash and pick over the bean sprouts. Bring a pot of about a litre of water to a boil, and boil the sprouts for 1 minute, then immediately drain them and rinse them in cold water to stop them cooking further. Drain them well and put them in a mixing bowl.

Wash, trim and chop the green onion finely. Peel and mince the garlic. Add them to the sprouts with the remaining ingredients. Toss them in, then let rest (in the fridge) for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

A Basic Korean Style Marinade

So I looked around at some of the ingredients I had on hand, and said, "It's Korean week!" And so it was. This marinade was milder than I expected, given the list of ingredients, and the long marinade was important to actually impart the flavour. I used tofu, as the picture shows, and no doubt that contributed to the mildness of the dish. It was good though; and I served it with a few little banchan (side dishes) that provided more in the way of oomph.

I based the recipe on the one I found here, taking into consideration the comments as well. Nobody said it, but I can see this being very good with chicken too.

It's still winter cooking, but I managed to scrounge a little green onion from the garden. In between snow storms, gahhhhh.

enough marinade for 4 servings
15 minutes prep time
24 to 48 hours marinade time
15 minutes cooking time

Grilled Tofu in Korean Marinade

1 apple
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons thinly sliced, peeled ginger
3 to 5 cloves of garlic
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 green onions
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Peel and core the apple, and put it in a blender or food processor with the other ingredients, except the green onions and sesame seeds. Process until smooth.

Use this to marinate about 500 grams (1 pound) of thinly sliced beef (beef ribs are traditional) or tofu. Add the trimmed and very thinly sliced green onions. Marinate the meat or tofu in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours before lifting it out of the marinade and grilling it in a hot pan with a little oil. It will cook quite quickly (I suspect the tofu actually took longer to get a nice crust than it would have taken beef to cook) and pouring anywhere between a quarter cup and all of the marinade into the pan for the last few minutes of cooking, then continue until it cooks down and basically disappears.

Serve with rice.

Last year at this time I made Lion's Head Cabbage Rolls.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Dutch Beef & Onion Hachée

I didn't even think as I was making this that it is yet again a meat stew or braise with fruit and vinegar; but what can I say? Obviously I like such things very much. This one is quite dissimilar from the Guinea Fowl with Carrots & Prunes, being beef with onions, mostly, and spiced quite differently.

My beef was not ideal for this; my local grocery did not appear to have any stewing beef - WHAT, SERIOUSLY? - and I had to make do with a not-quite-right steak that I cut up. You should have a good tough but marbled stewing cut with lots of gelatinous bits to dissolve and leave your meat in delicious shreds. Goddamn, people; there's lots of that on a cow. Where is it? It's still very much stew season after all and even if it wasn't, there's still lots of that on a cow.

Ahem. Anyway, this was still very good! This mainstay of Dutch home cooking, like a lot of meat, vinegar and fruit based dishes, has medieval roots. The sweet note to balance the vinegar may come from apple, as I've done, or the addition of gingersnaps or mild Dutch molasses. I thought I would stick to the apple theme, and threw in a little apple butter instead. The spicing is unusual, but fairly subtle. We served it with mashed potatoes, which is traditional. So is some form of red cabbage. Since everything else was soft and cooked, I served it as a Red Cabbage & Parsley Coleslaw - an excellent choice.

3 or 4 servings
2 to 2 1/2 hours; 1/2 hour prep time

Dutch Beef & Onion Hachée

2 large onions
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon rubbed rosemary

500 grams (1 pound) stewing beef
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups unsalted beef or chicken broth,
OR combination broth and hard cider or red wine (1/2 & 1/2)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 or 3 whole cloves
1" piece cinnamon stick
6 to 8 juniper berries
1 medium rather soft apple
1 tablespoon apple butter

Peel and chop your onions.

Mix the flour, salt, pepper, and rosemary in a bowl large enough to hold the beef. Make sure the beef is well trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks, then toss it with the flour, etc.

Heat the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. As soon as it is hot and foaming, toss in the beef with its flour coating. Cook, turning regularly, until browned all over. Add the onions and continue to cook and stir  until they are quite soft and slightly browned as well.

Add the broth or broth and cider/wine. Add the vinegar and bay leaves. Add the cloves, cinnamon, and juniper berries in a tea-ball or tied up in a bit of cheesecloth. Stir well and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender and falling apart.

Meanwhile, peel and chop the apple, and add it, with the apple butter, when the dish has simmered for about half an hour. Mix in well.

This can be made in advance, and re-heats well, as do most stews. It is traditionally served over mashed potatoes, maybe with a carrot added to them. On which note, Clapshot would also work very well. As the descendant of both Dutch and Scottish people I think this a perfectly reasonable idea.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Red Cabbage & Parsley Slaw

I thought this would be a bit ho-hum, but it was actually delightful! Maybe it was just that it used the first bits of parsley that I was able to scrounge out of the garden in between snow squalls, along with a parsnip so fresh and alive it didn't even know it was out of the garden; but mixed in with (someone else's, alas) good red cabbage, this was so tangy and crunchy and lively and exactly what I was craving.

I'd have liked lemon juice on it but what I had was some good white wine vinegar, and it was better than fine. The sunflower seed oil was a cold-pressed unrefined one from a farm near Ottawa, and it was perfect for this. You could toss in a few toasted sunflower seeds, or walnut bits if you had them and wanted them, but I liked this perfectly well without them. 

4 servings
15 minutes prep time

Red Cabbage & Parsley Slaw

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup finely chopped or grated parsnip (1 medium small)
OR same of celeriac
1 cup finely grated red cabbage
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar OR lemon juice
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash and pick over the parsley, removing any tough stems and yellowed or wilted leaves. Chop it finely. Scrub or peel and grate the parsnip, or peel and grate the celeriac. Trim and grate the cabbage. Toss them in a small salad bowl with the vinegar or lemon juice, sunflower seed oil, and a bit of salt and pepper... that's it!

This can be made a little before mealtime, and leftovers, if covered well, don't actually keep too badly for a day or so in the fridge. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Baked Spring Rolls (or, as it turns out, Egg Rolls)

You know me - I don't fry things, if I can help it. It's been quite a while since I made these, and the last time I did I was living in a larger community and I was able to find spring roll wrappers. I was only able to get egg roll wrappers  here, so egg rolls it had to be. They turned out - well, you can see how they turned out. They were okay, but I really recommend the spring roll wrappers if you can find them. They crisp up much better under this treatment.

Do not be tempted to skimp with the oil. Otherwise, they will hard and crunchy and not in a good way. The oil is what makes them crispy; a small but significant difference.

You can use prepared plum sauce with these, or whip up your own sweet-sour-spicy dipping sauce. I used apple butter mixed with hot Cayenne jelly. It would have been better with a spoonful of vinegar in it to tone down the sweetness, I suspect; but I noticed it all got used nevertheless. 

18 spring rolls
1 hour - 30 minutes prep time

3 cups finely shredded Savoy cabbage
1 medium carrot
2 cups bean sprouts
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablepoons mild vegetable oil

3 tablespoons soy sauce
350 grams (12 ounces) ground chicken, turkey OR very lean pork
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
454 grams (1 pound) spring roll wrapper OR egg roll wrappers
1/4 to 1/3 cup mild vegetable oil

Peel and shred the cabbage. Peel and grate the carrot. Rinse the bean sprouts and drain them well. Peel and finely grate the ginger.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the cabbage and carrots, along with the soy sauce and  tablespoon or two of water. Cook until the vegetables just begin to wilt, then add the meat. Cook, stirring and breaking up the meat, until almost all signs of pink are gone from it. Add the bean sprouts and the sesame oil and continue cooking and stirring for just a minute or two more, until the bean sprouts are slightly wilted. Remove from the heat at once.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Line a large cookie tray with parchment paper. Lay out 4 spring (or egg) roll wrappers, brush them lightly but thoroughly with oil, using a pastry brush, and flip them over. Place 2 heaped tablespoons (or a quite scant 1/4 cup) of filling slightly lower then the middle of a wrapper, and spread it out a little from side to side. Fold the edges in, just up over the filling, then roll it up into a neat, sealed, cylinder. Place it to one corner of the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining wraps.

Once they are all made, bake them at 350°F for 30 minutes, until browned and a just a tad crunchy. Serve them, if you are so inclined, with plum sauce. I didn't have plum sauce; I mixed about half apple butter with half cayenne pepper jelly, and we used that. It was good, but a bit sweet. Of course, so is plum sauce.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Braised Guinea Fowl with Carrots & Prunes

I can't believe I've had this blog for mumble, mumble years, and this is the first time I have cooked a Guinea fowl recipe. Okay, I'm going to have to admit it: this is the first time I have cooked a Guinea fowl! What is it they say? Tastes like chicken!

They are not the easiest things to get hold of, but I think they are becoming more available. I got mine at Cirrus Hill Farm, where I was assured they cook exactly like a chicken. So you can use Guinea fowl in any chicken recipe you like, or if you can't get Guinea fowl, you can use chicken in a Guinea fowl recipe. The meat is perhaps a little gamier than chicken. It looks quite dark when raw, but it cooked to look very much like chicken, except for some darker patches of skin. My bird was not quite as plump, especially in the breast and thighs, as I would have expected in a chicken, and on that note I would say there was a fair bit less fat too - this was a very lean bird.

This recipe is exactly what you can expect from me for winter meat cooking; with all my favourite elements of braising, vinegar, root vegetables, and - less usual - prunes and a little honey to mellow it. Serve it with polenta, mashed potatoes, pasta, rice, quinoa; whatever you like. We had ours with mashed potatoes and peas.

4 to 6 servings
3 hours - 1 hour prep time

Braised Guinea Fowl with Carrots & Prunes

1 1.5 to 2 kg (3.5 to 4 pound) guinea fowl or roasting chicken
2 medium carrots (2 cups diced)
1 cup diced celeriac, rutabaga, OR parsnip
2 medium onions OR 1 large leek
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
3 tablespoons bacon fat, chicken fat, or mild vegetable oil
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup broth or water
2 or 3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup pitted prunes

Cut the guinea fowl into pieces; remove the legs and joint them into thigh and drumstick; cut the wings off and remove the tips from them; and carve the breasts off in one piece from each side. Set these pieces aside, apart from the wing tips which should go into a 2 litre (quart) pot with the rest of the carcass, broken into 3 pieces, and along with the neck if you have it. Cover the bones with a generous litre of water, and set to simmer on the stove.

Peel and cut the carrots into small chunks. Peel and cut the celeriac, rutabaga or parsnip into small chunks. You can add some of the peelings to the broth pot if you like. Peel and coarsely chop the onions or wash, trim and chop the leek, and peel and slice the garlic.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the fat in a large skillet and brown the carrot and celeriac, rutabaga or parsnip pieces. When they begin to show brown spits, add the onion or leek. When they are all nicely browned, put the vegetables into a large stew pot, with the apple cider vinegar and the broth. You can dip it out of the pot of simmering bones. Add the bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Bring it all to a simmer.

Add another tablespoon of fat to the skillet and brown the guinea fowl pieces on each side. Add them to the stew pot with the vegetables, cover, and simmer gently for 1 hour.

Remove the pieces of fowl from the pot, along with the bay leaves. Discard the bay leaves. Mash the vegetables well, then add the fowl pieces back into the pot, along with the honey, vinegar and prunes. Simmer for another half hour, then serve.

p.s. I didn't say what to do with the pot of broth, did I? Well, when it's done, you strain it. And it's broth. Use it for something else. If you don't have an immediate use for it, it will freeze well. 

Last year at this time I made Meyer's Lemon Curd Cake Roll. This year I only have 2 lemons and they are not quite ripe yet!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Rutabaga with Parmesan & Rosemary

This is a nice simple side dish, if a little richer than the usual. It should go well as part of a vegetarian ensemble or with meats that are not too fatty; chicken or fish for example. You will also need an hour to make it, but only because rutabaga does persist in taking a while to cook. It just needs 10 minutes of attention at the end to finish it.

Still working on the last of the storage vegetables, and looking forward to spring vegetables...

2 servings
1 hour - 20 minutes prep time

2 cups peeled, diced rutabaga
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- plus 2 tablespoons to finish
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon rubbed dry rosemary
salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel and cut the rutabaga into about 1 cm dice. Put them in a pot with water to cover them well, and bring them to a boil. Boil them for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender but still with a bit of firmness.

Meanwhile, grate the cheese. When the rutabaga is ready, drain it but leave it in the pot and return it to the stove. Add the butter, the rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Remember the cheese will supply a fair bit of salt, so go lightly. Mix and continue to cook the rutabaga over medium heat, until the butter is melted and absorbed, and the rutabaga perhaps even very slightly browned. Mix in the 1/4 cup of Parmesan and turn it out into a serving dish immediately. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top.

Last year at this time I made Maafe; African Peanut Stew.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Cheese & Carrot Barley Casserole

I enjoyed this very much. Mr. Ferdzy thought it was too "vegetarian". Huh? He used to be a vegetarian... and mostly liked it, as far as I can tell. What he meant, I decided, is that he doesn't love barley or cooked carrots. Fair enough. I'll be perfectly happy to eat his share.

As usual with this kind of thing, the left-overs hold together better than the first serving. It keeps and reheats reasonably well. There's a nice balance between the cheesy richness and the barley and veggies. I thought the tomato sauce was a good addition; it made it a bit like a more restrained version of lasagne, but I can also see this with Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy.

4 to 6 servings
1 hour 15 minutes - 15 minutes prep time
not including cooking the barley

Cheese & Carrot Barley Casserole

Cook the Barley:
1/2 cup pot or pearl barley
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

Everything into the rice-cooker; turn on; wait. Or, into a pot and brought to a boil, then reduced to a low temperature and simmered until the barley is tender; about 45 minutes. This can be done the day before. 

Make the Casserole:
1 large or 2 medium carrots (2 cups grated)
1 large or 2 medium  onions (1 cup chopped)
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon rubbed savory
1 teaspoon rubbed basil
250 grams (1/2 pound) ricotta cheese
1 cup grated old Cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
a dab of butter

 Peel and grate the carrot. Peel and chop the onion. Heat the oil in a medium skillet and cook the vegetables, with the seasonings, until softened and the onions are translucent. Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Mix in the cooked, at least somewhat cooled, barley. Mix in the ricotta and Cheddar cheeses. Break the eggs in, and blend them in well. Mix in the milk.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9" pie plate or shallow 2 quart casserole dish. Scrape the mixture into the dish and spread it out evenly and firmly. Bake for 45 minutes, until lightly browned.

Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving, with a little tomato sauce poured over it, if liked.

Last year at this time I made Welsh Rabbit.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Return of the Red Winged Blackbirds

I was lying in bed half awake at about 4:30 this morning, when I thought - Was that a red winged blackbird I heard? No, I decided. It's too early, surely. But when I woke up again at 8:00 they were in full reedy warble outside my window. 

This is the 8th March I've had this blog, and in 6 of those years I have recorded the day the red winged blackbirds return. To me they are the moment winter turns the corner into spring, and unlike as with many birds, there is rarely any question about it. They must come up in big flocks, because one day they are not here and the next day they are all over. It's not necessarily the end of bad weather, but I always feel the worst is over once they are here. And I have to say, looking at the forecast, that I think this year the worst is over. In fact I'm a bit afraid it's going to get hot, fast.

Two days ago we still had a foot of snow lingering from our last (only, really) big snowfall of the year. Now it is just patches on the bare ground.

This is indeed the earliest I have ever recorded the red winged blackbirds coming back; the next earliest being March 15th in 2015, and the latest being March 30th in 2014. This is a little misleading though; for some reason I did not record their return in 2012, and that was the year it was so warm we planted peas on March 19th. They would have been back well before then, I would think. I also didn't record their return in 2013, as we were away in Turkey until well into March. Otherwise, the idea I have in my head that their average return date is March 17th holds up fairly well.

In 5 days we are going to start our onions, leeks, celery, celeriac, and peppers; a week later the tomatoes will be started. The new gardening season is upon us!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A Late Winter Salad with Avocado

Oh, wasn't this nice! It's been too long since I've made a good, green, crunchy salad. Since we've so gotten out of the habit of buying any vegetables, I've kind of forgotten to get greenhouse veggies for salads in the late winter and early spring. But it is possible to make a good green salad at this time of year.

In addition to the lovely colours this had such a great blend of crispy, crunchy, and smooth; sweet, tart, and bitter. The apple I used was a Red Prince; a wise choice this late in the season. So good!

If you are treating this as 2 servings; i.e. a meal for 2 people, you may want to be a little skimpy with the ingredients and supplement it with a couple of chopped boiled eggs. Otherwise, it should serve 4 to 6 as a side salad. 

2 to 6 servings
20 minutes prep time

A Late Winter Salad with Avocado

Make the Dressing:
the juice of 1 large lime
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
a little salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons sunflower or olive oil

Squeeze the lime for the juice; whisk or shake all the ingredients in a small bowl or jar. 

Make the Salad:
1 head hydroponic lettuce
1 large or 2 small heads Belgian endive
1 large or 2 small greenhouse baby cucumbers
1 large or 2 small apples
4 to 6 button mushrooms
1 medium avocado

Cut the lettuce from the roots. Tear or chop it up into bite-sized pieces, give it a quick rinse, and drain very well. Trim the endive and cut it in half lengthwise. If the core is large, cut it out. Cut the halves into 1 cm strips widthwise. Wash the cucumber and trim the ends; cut it in half lengthwise and into small pieces widthwise. Wash, core, and chop the apple. Clean and slice the mushrooms.

Toss all the above prepared ingredients together, and put the salad into the serving bowl. Cut the avocado in half, and cut each half into slices (I use a sharp-edged large shallow spoon to remove slices from the skin.) Lay them on top of the salad, and drizzle over the salad dressing.

Last year at this time I made Tomato & Celery Barley Soup.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Buffalo Tofu "Wings"

In my early 20s I had a job as late-night cook at a bar, where I was horrified to discover that the "recipe" for Buffalo chicken wings consisted of throwing them in the deep fryer then tossing them with a mixture of butter and hot sauce. What do you want with that? Cheese-based dressing, of course! Yikes.

I'm not sure this is a lot healthier, but it turned out to be surprisingly tasty. While this is a very simple recipe, I'm afraid it is not quick - there is a lot of waiting around for things to happen. The final prep is simple though, so it would be a good party dish.

The two of us ate this for lunch. It's a bit large for just two servings, but we persevered. It would also make a nice appetizer for a larger gathering. Could have been a little crisper -I'm calling for you to broil it slightly longer than I actually did - but we found it very enjoyable anyway.

2 to 6 servings

3 hours or more - about 15 minutes prep time and 30 minutes cook time

Weight & Marinate the Tofu:
420 grams (1 pound) firm tofu
1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
3 tbsps apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 to 3 tablespoons Tabasco, Franks, or other thin fermented hot sauce

Drain the tofu and wrap it in a layer or two of sturdy paper towel. Place it on a plate, with another plate on top, and add a weight on top. It should look a little stressed but in no danger of crumbling. Drain for about 1 hour, or a bit longer if you can swing it.

Remove the tofu from the plates and unwrap it, discarding the liquid and the paper towel. Cut the tofu into slices about 1 cm thick, then cut each slice in half at a slight angle to give the visual representation of chicken wings. (Or not,  if you don't care.)

Mix the marinade ingredients together. Layer the tofu pieces in a container, starting with a drizzle of the marinade, and putting some in between each layer. Cover and return to the fridge to marinate for at least an hour.  

Make the Dressing:
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise (light is fine)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
black pepper and salt to taste
2 tablespoons finely minced chives (optional)

Grate the Parmesan and crumble the blue cheese into a small bowl. Mix in the mayonnaise, buttermilk and mustard. You may wish to add a little more buttermilk, if it seems too thick. Season with a good grind of black pepper. I didn't put in any salt; the two cheeses will bring quite a lot, but you may wish to add a tiny sprinkle.

Coat & Broil the Tofu; Serve:
2/3 to 1 cup nutritional yeast
raw vegetables peeled and cut into sticks
          such as celery, carrots, rutabaga, zucchini

Line a shallow baking pan with parchment paper. Turn on the broiler. Put the nutritional yeast in a shallow bowl. Lift the tofu pieces from the marinade, and dredge them in the nutritional yeast, then place them on the prepared pan. When they are all coated, broil them for about 15 minutes, then turn and broil for 15 minutes on the other side.

Serve at once with the vegetable sticks; about 1 stick per tofu "wing", and with the blue cheese dressing.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Some Comments on Potatoes from 1796

Well, I haven't been doing any cooking. We're still up to our eyebrows in cataloguing license plates, although progress is being made. (Did I mention my father collected license plates? Looks like the total final count will be a bit over 4,000.)

So to keep you entertained until something not pertaining to license plates happens around here, I thought I would share this quote on potatoes with you. It comes from a reprint I have of "Mrs. Whiting's Domestic Cookery" (that's actually only part of the title), and dated 1819. However, Mrs. Whiting, whoever she may have been, was as blatant a plagiariser as ever plagiarised; the book is straight up "American Cookery" (title also abbreviated) by Amelia Simmons, originally printed in 1796. Apparently the title (and "author") were the only things that changed.

To make it even odder, the bit I'm quoting was apparently not written by Amelia Simmons, but included in her book without her permission, to her intense rage. Of course, the final twist is that Amelia also plagiarised an earlier cookbook.

Anyway; you all know, I think, how keen I have become on potatoes and their history. Whoever wrote this bit, it is full of interesting information:

" POTATOES take rank for universal use, profit and easy acquirement. The smooth skin, known by the name of How's potatoe, is the most mealy and richest flavoured; the yellow rusticoat next best; the red and red rusticoat are tolerable; and the yellow Spanish have their value. Those cultivated from imported seed, on sandy or dry loamy lands, are best for table use, though the red or either will produce more in rich, loamy, highly manured garden grounds; new lands and a sandy soil, afford the richest flavoured and most mealy potatoe. Much depends on the ground on which they grow, more on the species of potatoe planted, and still more from foreign seeds, and each may be known by attention to connoisseurs; for a good potatoe comes  up in many branches of cookery, as herein after prescribed. All potatoes should be dug before the rainy seasons in the fall, well dried in the sun, kept from frost and dampness during the winter, in the spring removed from the cellar to a dry loft, and spread thin, and frequently stirred and dried, or they will grow and be thereby injured for cookery.

A roast potatoe is brought on with roast beef, a steak, a chop, or fricassee; good boiled with a boiled dish; make an excellent stuffing for a turkey, water, or wild fowl; make a good pie, and a good starch for many uses.

It would swell this treatise too much to say every thing that is useful to prepare a good table, but I may be pardoned for observing, that the Irish have preserved a genuine mealy rich potatoe, for a century, which takes rank of any other known in any other kingdom; and I have heard that they renew their seed by planting and cultivating the SEED BALL, which grows on the tine. The manner of their managing it to keep up the excellence of that root would better suit a treatise on agriculture and gardening than this, and be inserted in a book which would be read by the farmer, instead of his amiable daughter. "
Allrighty, then! Firstly; it is unlikely any of the potatoes described yet survive, the ravages of time and late blight have taken their toll. Rusticoat, I assume, has evolved over the years to become the word russet.

Note the phrase,  "best for table use." What other use is there for potatoes, you may ask, but in fact, like many root vegetables, potatoes were grown for use as a winter animal feed. The use of large tracts of land to grow food for animals is not a new phenomenon at all.

The comments about the kind of soil best for potatoes, their harvesting and storage, are still perfectly useful; but I confess I wonder at the insistence on "foreign" seed. The subsequent comments on the Irish and their SEED BALLS make it clear that seed potatoes, not true potato seed, is meant. I wish whoever wrote this bit had said more but it seems he* didn't know much more; plainly growing potatoes from the seed balls was fairly arcane even then.

* He? Who knows; but somehow I am left with that impression.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Ham & Cheese French Toast

I bought some cheese bread from the day-old rack, then had to think of something to do with it. This was nice! It's basically your good old Monte Cristo sandwich, with cheese bread and a few mushrooms on the side. Keeping the 2 sides of the sandwich as one piece of bread makes it easier to keep it neat and together, but isn't strictly required. Serve this as a substantial breakfast or brunch dish.

2 servings
20 minutes prep time

Ham & Cheese French Toast

2 pieces from an unsliced loaf of cheese bread
2 slices old Cheddar cheese
2 slices ham
a little mustard
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
salt & pepper
a grate of nutmeg
a little oil to fry
6 or 8 button mushrooms

Slice from your loaf of bread 2 slices, each equal to 2 fairly thin regular slices - each about 3cm or 1 1/2 inches wide, say. Cut each fat slice into 2 from the bottom, but not cutting through any of the other 3 sides, to create a pocket from your piece of bread.

Stuff each piece with a slice each of ham and cheese, cut to fit and with a little mustard spread between them, if you like.

Whisk the egg, milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a deep plate or shallow bowl. Dip the 2 sandwiches into it, turning to ensure even coverage, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. It may take 10 minutes for that to happen, so be prepared to just let them sit for a little bit.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook each sandwich for about 5 minutes on each side, until well browned. While that happens, clean and slice the mushrooms, and throw them in to cook around the sandwiches - stir them regularly. Serve the sandwiches with the mushrooms over them once they are nicely browned and the cheese in the middle is melted.