Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Wonderful Time with Slim Aarons' Beautiful People and The Colony's Eggs in Artichoke Hearts

Slim Aaron’s 1958 photo of Truman Capote at home in Brooklyn

While slaving away at the film factory this summer, I came across this photo of Truman Capote from an exhibition of the work of the late society photographer Slim Aarons.  While Aarons was known for shooting “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places’ –– this was so much more.

The 1958 photo made the rounds of the art department and the opinion was universal –– it’s remarkable. The styling was so divinely odd –– the then-adorable Capote surrounded by curious cat porcelains, Japanese textiles draped and pillowed and hung in very idiosyncratic ways and the lone scraggly potted lemon tree like a poor relation at his elbow. In the midst of it all Truman –– looking like a little lost boy about to receive the Mad Hatter for tea.

Slim Aarons loved capturing the rich being rich in a slightly odd, tongue-in-cheek way. Aaron’s charm was so potent that the subjects seemingly didn’t recognize they were being sent up a bit – there’s the teeniest touch of Diane Arbus in some of the portraits.

Mr. John, 57th Street celebrity ‘hatter’, 1960

Even the mortals who serve the rich were not spared from the insouciant eye of Mr, Aarons.

Clark Gable, Van Heflin, Gary Cooper & James Stewart, 1957 New Years

He did iconic candid portraits of the stars, capturing them at ease with him and his camera (it was said Stewart’s Rear Window apartment was based on Aaron’s NYC apartment and Stewart often told people who thought they recognized him that he was Slim Aarons, not Jimmy Stewart).

Marilyn Monroe with fan mail, 1952

He could also change gears and do ravishing glamour shots of Monroe in her prime and decidedly un-candid.

Joan Collins with a pink poodle, 1955

There are quite a few of Aaron’s books on the market like Slim Aarons: Once Upon A Time or, if you don’t feel like hauling a hard copy around, enjoy the many wonderful online articles on Slim's work and life on your device –– a zillion more fun photographs to peruse for a delicious escape from the steamy summer  into a never-neverland that is gone forever.

Aaron’s 1974 book

Early in his career, Truman Capote supplied some trenchant dialogue for John Huston’s film Beat the Devil, "Time, time, what is time? The Swiss manufacture it. The French hoard it. The Italians squander it. The Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. You know what I say? I say time is a crook." Capote would grow old, as would all the beautiful people in Aarons’ richly upholstered world –– no matter how much they struggled against it –– but within the pages of Aarons books, his beautiful people never age. It’s fun to visit them in their native habitats ––  forever rich and beautiful.

Renata Boeck at the Regency Hotel in NYC

What to eat? Gosh, I haven’t written that in months, have I? I wanted something that would have appealed to Capote, Aarons and their crowd and returned to my little Colony Restaurant book (I wrote about the Colony playground HERE). Since I found myself with so many lovely eggs from my farm supplier, I just had to make an egg dish since the Colony was known for their egg dishes –– perfect for the late-to-bed-late-to-rise crowd, sometimes delivered to them in their Park Avenue palaces! Hells bells, I wanted something to pamper me after a grueling few months! This one is simple and divine –– poached egg on an artichoke heart with Parmesan-glazed artichoke puree on top. It takes a few minutes to scrape the artichoke leaves but is so worth it. They are just coming into season and are so good. Put on your monocle, pick up your pink poodle and enjoy your Oeufs au Fonds d’Artichauts Colony in your beautiful boudoir.

Oeufs au Fonds d’Artichauts Colony (original recipe)

After boiling the artichokes remove the leaves and the chokes, leaving only the fonds. Scrape the edible part of the leaves with a silver knife, and make into a paste with butter, pepper and salt.

Poach as many eggs as are required, and very carefully lay each egg on a fond of artichoke.

Lay the paste already prepared on the eggs, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, put a tiny piece of butter on each, and serve very hot.

Eggs in Artichoke Hearts Colony for 4 (easy to make for 1 as well)

4 artichokes
salt and pepper to taste
4 poached eggs
3-5 T butter (or less if you want to hold the calories)
1T + 2 t lemon juice plus lemon halves for steaming
3 - 4 T Parmesan

Steam the artichokes in salted water with lemon halves (left from squeezing juice) for about 25-30 minutes (or until the leaves pull out easily). Let cool a bit then pull out the leaves and scoop out the choke. Cover the hearts while you scrape the pulp from the leaves. This takes a bit of time but can be done beforehand. Do not scrape the fibrous dark part. Put the pulp in a blender with butter and puree with 1 T lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You can put it through a sieve if you want to get rid of any extra fibers.  I had 1/4 of puree from a large artichoke.

Poach your eggs to taste (I like mine with a runny center) and heat the broiler. Steam the hearts till warmed through. Sprinkle a bit of lemon on the artichoke heart and spread a bit of puree on the bottom. Put under the broiler for a minute or two to warm.

Take out of the broiler and place an egg on each heart and top with the puree. Then sprinkle with Parmesan. Run under the broiler for a few minutes till hot and serve on its own or on toast.

Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.
Truman Capote

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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Meg Dod's Cookery Book and Pork Chops with Redgill's Sauce with Port

Meg Dod, Illustration from Walter Scott’s St. Ronan’s Well, Book spine - Jings and Things 

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1834)

In 1824 Sir Walter Scott published St. Ronan’s Well  –– his only modern novel.

The story takes place at the fictional Cleikum Inn run by the culinary artist Mrs. Dods, whose talents Scott reveals through his character,  the estimable world traveler Mr. Touchwood, “…Cleikum Inn... where Mrs. Dods is at this moment busy in making ready such a dinner as your learning has seldom seen....” Touchwood held her talent in such high regard that when he “ bustled in and out of the kitchen, till Mrs. Dods lost patience, and threatened to pin the dishclout to his tail…” he took no umbrage, it was “a menace which he pardoned, in consideration, that in all the countries which he had visited, which are sufficiently civilized to boast of cooks, these artists, toiling in the fiery element, have a privilege to be testy and impatient.”

The richness of the character and her popularity did not go unnoticed. Soon, Christian Isobel Johnstone, a female romance novelist and journalist (the first female editor of a publication in England) took the character to heart and tailored a cookbook, The Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Margaret Dods around her –– it was to remain popular for 100 years (this link is to a free online copy of the book).

Even Walter Scott approved of Johnstone’s treatment of his quirky, beloved character. University of St.Andrews Library discovered that Scott, in his 1832 edition of St Ronan’s Well declares that Meg Dods ‘… has produced herself of late from obscurity as authoress of a work on Cookery… in bearing this testimony, we protest that we are in no way biased by the receipt of two bottles of excellent sauce for cold meat, which were sent to us by the said Mrs. Dods, as a mark of her respect and regard.”

The cookbook is unusual as it opens with a short story that imagines the meeting of a gourmet club at the Cleikum Inn, bringing back many characters from Scott’s novel. It’s full of witty banter and a lively discussion of the art of the table –– more importantly, her book was also the first to seriously codify Scotland’s iconic cuisine. As for the fiction, some are of the opinion that Scott himself wrote the effervescent introduction.

The book is chockfull of hundreds of Scottish recipes with colorful names like Cock-A-Leekie, Cabbie Claw, Inky Pinky and Howtowdie. There are chapters on housekeeping, medicine making as well as very detailed chapters on frying, roasting and baking. It is well and thoroughly done.

1815-30, Ashmolean

Mr. Touchwood returns as a character in Meg’s book and he’s joined by the “celebrated churchman and gourmand, Dr Redgill”. Redgill makes an appearance both in the story and as a contributor to the recipe section with sauces and preparations named in his honor. From his first sniff, he held Meg’s cooking skills in high regard, “ the savory steams now issuing from Meg’s kitchen, “that might have created a stomach under the ribs of death,” rendered irresistibly seductive. With a decent show of hesitation, he yielded; and, snuffing up the incense-breathing vapours which ascended the stair, followed the Nabob to a private parlour, where an old rich china basin, filed with the balmy and ambrosial fluid, was twice replenished for his solace; first however, improved by a pin’s-point of crystals of Cayenne from a silver pocket-case of essence vials, which had luckily escaped the taint of the stove.” A man who carries his own special spices with him is a man after my own heart!

Although the gourmands bemoan the sorry state of current cuisine they feel it is alive at the Cleikum.“Scotland has absolutely retrograded in gastronomy; yet she saw a better day, the memory of which is savory in our nostrils yet, Doctor. In old Jacobite families, and in the neighborhood of decayed monasteries, in such houses as this, for instance, where long succeeding generations have followed the trade of victuallers, a few relics may still be found. It is for this reason I fix my scene of experiment at the Cleikum, and choose my notable hostess as high priestess of the mysteries.”

The author goes so far as to explain the advance of civilization is pegged on the quality of its food. These are serious eaters.

" Gentlemen, — Man is a cooking animal; and in whatever situation he is found, it may be assumed as an axiom, that his progress in civilization has kept exact pace with the degree of refinement he has attained in the science of gastronomy. From the hairy man of the woods, gentlemen, digging his roots with his claws, to the refined banquet of the Greek, or the sumptuous entertainment of the Roman; from the ferocious hunter, gnawing the half-broiled bloody col- lop, torn from the still reeking carcass, to the modern gourmet, apportioning his ingredients, and blending his essences, the chain is complete!"

1815-30 Ashmolean

It is obvious that the authoress had a great good time writing the book because there is a sense of fun thoughout but there is also thoughtful domestic science and a celebration of the national cuisine. Johnstone proudly states, “The best private sources of culinary knowledge have been applied to, and the most esteemed modern works on Cookery diligently compared and consulted; and every hint has been adopted which promised either to increase the mass of information or the practical utility of the volume, — whether economical or culinary.”

Mrs. Johnstone (1781-1857) was an interesting character. She had been married and divorced before meeting Mr Johnstone. At that time it made her something of a pariah. Through work and talent she became a fine writer and an esteemed editor. No less than Thomas De Quincey called her “the Mrs. Jameson of Scotland… cultivating the profession of authorship with no… loss of femininity.’ After her death, her accomplishments became much admired and she was seen as a trailblazer for successive generations of female writers and editors.

Scallops with cucumber ketchup, roasted cucumber and borage from I hate spuds 

Meg/Mrs Johnstone is still working her magic on today's kitchens. Our old friend Heston Blumenthal has embraced Meg’s cuisine at his London restaurant Dinner. He uses her brilliant Cucumber ketchup on scallops:

“Cucumber Catsup. — Take large old cucumbers and pare them, cut them in slices, and break them to a mash, which must be sprinkled with salt and covered with a cloth. Keep in all the seeds. Next day, set the vessel aslant to drain off the juice, and do this till no more can be obtained. Strain it, and boil it up with a seasoning of white pepper, sliced ginger, black pepper, sliced shalot, and a little horse radish. When cold pick out the shalot and horse radish, and bottle the catsup, which is an excellent preparation for flavouring sauces for boiled fowls, dishes of veal, rabbits, or the more in sipid meats.” [I made this with 2 English cucumbers, chopped in processor with 2 t salt.  I let it sit overnight then pureed it, strained it pressing hard on the solids and cooked it with 3 T grated horseradish, 2 T grated ginger, 1 chopped shallot, lots of pepper for about 5 minutes and let it cool then strained it -- it tastes refreshing and is delicious -- like a Japanese slurpy]

I decided to go for Dr. Redgills Sauce because it just sounded so good and for pork chops because I had some beautiful Bershire Milanese chops from D'Artagnan AND because I loved Mrs. Johnstone’s rather perverse notes on them:

“Pork Chops is a dish rarely seen In Scotland; it formed the appropriate supper of Thurtell and his associates, on the night of the murder of Weare, at the Gill's Hill Lane Cottage.

HenryFuseli and his Nightmare

“It is related that Fuseli, the celebrated artist, when he wished to summon Night-mare, and bid her sit for her picture, or any other grotesque or horrible imaginings, wont to prime himself for the feat by supping on about three pounds of half-dressed pork chops.

“Though that accommodating Prince, Richard Coeur de Lion, could, as has been seen, eat any thing, all being fish that came in the net when he was hungry, he had, like other epicures, his favourite dish, and this was Porkified Saracen, Curried. On recovering in Syria from an ague, his first violent longing was for pork, which is said to approach nearer to human flesh than any other sort of meat. Pork is indeed a " passionate" food. It tolerates no medium. It must be idolized or detested, whether as flitch or gammon, souse or sausage, brawn or griskin.”

The D'Artagnan pork chops are so flavorful and juicy -- nothing like well-raised Berkshire pork with a richly flavored port wine sauce.

Redgill's Sauce for Stubble Goose, Roasted Pork, or Pork Chops, commonly called Dr Hunter's Sauce. — Make a quarter pint, or rather more, of savoury brown gravy, or melted butter very hot. Thicken it with a little browned flour, and put to it a large glass of claret or port wine, a large teaspoonful of made mustard, a little salt, pepper, and Cayenne. Simmer it a few minutes, and serve it very hot. Observations. — The wine may be supplied by mushroom, or walnut pickle occasionally, and a little chopped green sage may be added. Hard yolks of eggs rubbed smooth make a good variety of the above.

To Broil Pork Chops. Pork chops are cut from the neck or loin, and re quire a great deal of the fire. They must be served broiling hot, and a little gravy with a tea-spoonful of made mustard, and a little dry sage pulverized may be added. Redgill sauce possesses still more gusto for pork eaters.

Pork Chops with Redgill's Sauce

2  Bershire Milanese chops from D'Artagnan
1 T butter

1 T Butter
1 T flour
1/2 c D'Artagnan Demi-glace
1/2 c port
1 t mustard
1/4 t cayenne
1 T mushroom ketchup or salt to taste
1 sage leaf finely chopped or 1/2 t dry sage crumbled

steamed Cabbage and Brussel sprouts, salted and tossed with a bit of butter

Allow the chops to come to room temperature.  Salt and pepper them and butter the pan.  Fry the chops on medium heat for about 10 minutes or until done (145º is recommended, I like them a bit pink).

While this is cooking, prepare the sauce.

Melt the butter and add the flour, stirring.  Add the demi-glace slowly, stirring all the while.  Add the port slowly.  Cook for a few minutes to thicken.  Add the spices and mushroom ketchup  or salt and sage.

Serve the chops with  the vegetables and sauce.

I am on a bit of a hiatus doing a film with no food scenes.  I'll be back in late June!!

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Royal Marriage Secrets of England and Leche Lumbarde (spiced ground pork)

Richard III Richard III (reconstruction from found scull) 

Last year, thanks to years of meticulous research, a group of passionate history nerds discovered the long-lost body of Richard III.

Much maligned in art and historical texts, I remember reading that his deformity had been created as part of a smear campaign to justify the rise of the House of Tudor.

Body of Richard III as found under a parking lot

NYT’s photo

Truth be told, the deformity was the detail that virtually assured the diggers that they had found the right remains –– there was an obvious curvature of the spine in the skeleton (DNA tests using a direct descendant proved it was Richard's bones). Although he might not have been as dastardly as the brilliant monster of Shakespeare’s Richard III, he did have a hunchback, was killed in battle and had his body cruelly abused before being shoved, unceremoniously, in an un-marked trench.

Much of the material that led to the discovery of Richard III's body came from John Ashdown-Hill. Ashdown-Hill has written volumes on the comings and goings of the English royals during the Middle Ages.

The history of the British monarchy is not a smooth, straight line of succession as Richard III’s rise and fall attests. Far from it –– more accurately it flows over many families and countries and is full of explosive changes, intrigue and legitimate and illegitimate claims to the throne. For centuries there were no pieces of paper to refer to when it was necessary to establish hereditary rights. There were no Prince Charles and Lady Di ceremonies to remember.

Henry I (1068 – 1135) and his wife, Matilda of Scotland

Ashdown-Hill’s latest book,  Royal Marriage Secrets: Consorts & Concubines, Bigamists & Bastardsis a great read that attempts to spin the connecting thread of the Royal and not so royal alliances that have maintained the British monarchy for these many centuries. The book is full of fun arcane facts. For instance, for a great many years, marriage had no contract, and often no ceremony in England. Words were exchanged between 2 people but could be and were often broken just as easily as they were spoken –– whether children had come from the marriage or no.

When a new, more politically advantageous union was required, the vows were nullified. Also, for the same reasons, a union could be dissolved when it came to the church’s attention that close cousins married or brother’s wives were married. The ‘too-close-for-comfort’ marriages to close cousins could just as easily be disregarded by the church if permission was requested and granted –– whichever judgment was needed at the time. Let’s just say it was a very flexible system. One of the few marriage documents of the Middle Ages was Henry I to Matilda in 1100 – not that it did much for Matilda, Henry was a world class adulterer with many mistresses and bastards (9 sons and 13 daughters). Registering marriages was not law until 1538 – 2 years after Anne Boleyn lost her head.

From the secret royal marriage of Edward the Black Prince, Edward the IV to Henry VIII, royal couplings were in constant flux with the monarchy often in peril of being lost for lack of heirs or a surplus of them.

Catharine of Valois (1401-37)

The book is illuminating as well as fun.  I did not know that the Tudors did not start calling themselves Tudors till Elizabeth’s reign –– reason being that Owen Tudor was probably NOT the father of Edmond Tudor. Tudor did marry Henry V’s widow, Catherine of Valois after creating quite an impression as her handsome major domo (it was said she caught him bathing in the nude and fell hard for him). They had 4-5 children together but Henry VI (her son by Henry V), never sanctioned their marriage. Probably because of the Queen's dalliance with Tudor, it had been recently decreed that the King must agree to the unions of the widows of English kings. The queen was to have married Edmond Beaufort but went for Tudor instead. Something tells me there was a murky fact that has been lost in time that made crowing about the connection less than appropriate for a few generations of Tudors.

King Henry VIII, c.1535, Joos van Cleve.

Of course, you can’t write about consorts, bigamists and bastards without a chapter on one of the most famous Tudors, Henry VIII (1491-1547). The book reveals that Henry VIII only had 2 legal wives, not 6 and that he spent most of his adult life married to his first wife – longer than all the others combined. If not for the lack of sons and his obsession with Anne Boleyn, he may have stayed married to her – she was quite a dame.

Henry’s own daughter, Elizabeth owed much to Catharine of Aragon as she started the style for educating women and having them take leadership roles in government. It’s sad that Ann Boleyn upstaged her, Catharine was really a fine woman and great queen.

Catharine of Aragon 1502, Michael Sittow

Henry married Catherine of Aragon in 1509. She was fair, beautiful and served as the first female ambassador in Europe. She served as regent when Henry was in France in 1513. She was brilliant, highly educated, much admired and reigned till 1533. On the whole, Henry VIII’s story is much less salacious than the television program The Tudors painted it.

Although Ashdown-Hill’s specialty is the middle ages, he takes the marriage story through the 19th century with chapters on Queen Victoria and her notorious relationship with Mr. Brown (a workman at the Balmoral estate) and even a bit of speculation about Jack the Ripper and the idea that the royal family might have had some inside knowledge of his identity. By the 19th century, marriages were grand and heavily documented -- things had changed much since the early days of clandestine, private vows.

Henry IV (1367-1413), (drawn 1445-50)

One of the royals in the book is Henry IV (1367-1413). Nearly forgotten today, he was an interesting character and elected to be King by Parliament after Richard II was forced to abdicate –– even though the Mortimer family was closer in line to the throne. Henry IV had royal blood from Henry III.

         Henry IV of England, Mary de Bohun and Joanna of Navarre

 He was married to Mary de Bohun until her death without too much drama and many children (she died giving birth to her last child). He then married Joanna of Navarre for love –– he met her when he was exiled in France and fell in love with her. She became his Queen on February 7, 1403

The relationship with Henry IV was a happy one and Joanna got along well with her stepson, Henry V, when he was young. Later, she was accused of trying to poison Henry V and use her witchly ways upon him. She was convicted and whisked away to Pevensey Castle for punishment, but released when Henry V was dying and was buried with Henry IV in the end. Sadly, she was always to be remembered as the Witch Queen for what may have been innocent herbalism.

When I needed to decide what to make to give you a taste of royal dishes, I went to my pal, Janet Clarkson, who writes the delightful blog, The Old Foodie, She also penned  Menus from History. In it, famous menus throughout history cover 365 days of the year. Henry IV’s October 13th, 1399 feast was one of them.

Not much is known about the celebrations for either of his marriages but his coronation celebration was well documented. Coming after the excesses and fine culinary ways of Richard II, the food is simple but interesting. I have written a good deal about Richard II's cookbook, The Forme of Cury and this menu is not far from those recipes and meal combinations.  Henry IV's menu is full of lots of simple roasted food that was popular with the ruling class at the time. It is mostly in English with some French dishes mentioned.

Coronation of Henry IV, Jean Froissart (late 15th c)

Last year, when I wrote about Heston Blumenthal and his penchant for odd old dishes,  I was delighted with his famous meat fruit ––  a chicken liver mousse disguised to look like an orange. Truth be told, this was a terribly popular conceit in Henry IV’s day. Chefs loved to color and disguise dishes to delight royal patrons and their guests. This is true for a few of the dishes on Henry's menu.
Heston Blumenthal’s Meat Fruit (chicken liver mousse in Mandarin jelly)

When I saw Leche Lombarde I knew this was the meat masquerade I wanted to make. I found 2 recipes, one from Forme of Cury and the other from a Medieval manuscript. In one, the meat is colored green and yellow, in the other it is formed like a pea pod. Almonds play an important role in the flavor as do other rich spices like saffron, cinnamon and cloves but also dried dates, raisins and currants are part of the mix. It makes a wonderful fun presentation with a magnificent sauce.

Leche Lumbarde

DESCRIPTION: Meat Loaf "Pea Pod" with Raisin Almond Milk Sauce


Take rawe pork and pulle of the skyn, and pyke out the synewes, and bray the pork in a morter with ayron rawe. Do therto sugur, salt, raysouns coraunce, dates mynced, and powdour of peper, powdour gylofre; & do it in a bladder, and lat it seeth til it be ynowhgh. And whan it is ynowh, kerf it; leshe it in liknesse of a peskodde; and take grete raysouns and grynde hem in a morter. Drawe hem vp with rede wyne. Do therto mylke of almaundes. Colour it with saundres & safroun, and do therto powdour of peper & of gilofre and boile it. And whan it is iboiled, tale powdour canel and gynger and temper it vp with wyne, and do alle thise thynges togyder, and loke that it be rennyng; and lat it not seeth after that it is cast togyder, & serue it forth.

- Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.

Leche Lumbarde (recipe based on one from Gode Cookery)

1½ pounds ground pork
2 eggs
½ c each currants and pitted dates, chopped fine
2 t sugar
¼ tsp each black pepper, cinnamon, powdered ginger
1/8 t cloves
1½ tsp salt


½ c red wine
½ c raisins
¼ c red wine(if necessary)
1 ½ c almond milk *
¼ tsp each black pepper, cinnamon, powdered ginger
1/8 t cloves
2 t powdered sandalwood, optional (available here)
1/8 tsp saffron
diced parsley

Mash the raisins to paste (I put them in a processor with some of the wine).

Combine raisin paste and the rest of the half cup of wine, blending thoroughly.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine almond milk, raisin and wine mixture, and pepper, rosemary and saffron. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring constantly for ten minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cinnamon and ginger. I strained the solids and put them in the blender to puree them.  Blend this with the remaining liquid.  Add the saffron.  Let it cool  -- it will plump up and get thick.  This is best done an hour or more before you make the pork

If sauce is too thick, stir in more wine.  Set aside.

 Preheat oven to 350°

 In a bowl, thoroughly mix together ground pork, eggs, sugar, spices and salt.

Divide the mixture into quarters, and put 3/4 in a shallow roasting pan, and mold it into a long, narrow shape, pointed at the end. Put a grove down the center large enough to hold the meatballs. Take the remaining 1/4 of the ground pork mixture and mold it into meatballs about the size of large marbles, and put them in the groove so it resembles peas in a pod.

Cover the meat loaf with aluminum foil, put it in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the meat is cooked through.

9. Remove meat loaf from oven and allow to cool for a while. Then remove aluminum foil and, with a knife, trim the edges of the loaf to give it a smooth outline. Clean up the spaces around the balls that and sprinkle with parsley.  Warm the sauce gently.

10. Place the meat loaf on a serving platter, and serve the sauce in a bowl along side.

Serves six to eight. Yields one and a half cups of sauce.

Almond Milk

1 c almonds, ground finely
2 c boiling water

Put them together and sit for a few hours.  Use with almonds or strain.

Doctor Lostpast fell and had a severe head trauma.  He is moving to a great rehab facility and I hope he will recover. It takes time.

Thanks to everyone for all the good wishes via Facebook.  I have not been visiting you all as much as I would like, now you know why.

My first article is appearing in the magazine  SaudiAramcoWorld this month (it has great food history articles going back decades).   Mine's about chiliewith a fun video on merguez in NYC that I made with my friend, filmmaker Kathy Dougherty.  Do visit, won't you??

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

New York’s Old Soho and Soho Chicken Salad

Soho, 1970’s (photo from Soho Memory Project)

A few weeks ago I went to Red Hook, Brooklyn to visit a wonderful new restaurant called Grindhaus (*featured in my merguez film). In the quiet weekday streets,  ancient businesses stand cheek to jowl with new galleries and restaurants and remind me of the ‘vibe’ (how’s that for a throwback word?) of Soho back-in-the-day (sans the cast-iron fronts, of course).

(photo from Soho Memory Project)

Like the Soho of yore, Red Hook has a strong sense of community. Although prices are rising, it's still possible to live there without a trustfund. The restaurant works with a sausage maker down the block to store their meats – neighbors have big parties and everyone brings things they made to the event from food to art.  Grindhaus began because the owner found a giant sausage maker in a building basement and had a sausage party for hundreds of neighbors that was such a huge success that everyone urged her to open a restaurant. Hard to believe but that’s what Soho was once like.

Davidovitch photo, 1975 Soho –“raw space” on move-in day (photo from Soho Memory Project)

Years ago, when visiting a pal in California’s Marin County, I met a whole cadre of Soho expats who were reminiscing about 5000 sq. ft. Soho lofts that they rented for $65 a month. Whole buildings sold for $20G. Sadly, few could come up with even that tariff –– they were starving artists, after all (an investment that would be worth tens of millions today, canny artist Donald Judd kept his building that is now his museum). In the 60’s, there was always room for newly arrived artful types from all parts of the world to crash in these vast spaces . Parties went on from floor to floor for days with everyone bringing what they had as they wandered in and out.

David Armstrong photo of my lovely former neighbor, jewelry designer Maripol (left) at the Mudd Club, 1979

Whilst skipping down Soho’s memory lane, I came across a great blog, The Soho Memory Project , run by a lady named Yukie who grew up there in the 70’s (her father was an artist/pioneer). She doesn't just cover the familiar territory of the drug-fueled hijinks at the Mudd Club or the creative crucible that was The Kitchen or swoon over all the barely legal holes-in-the-wall selling local artist’s work for a few bucks that became grand galleries selling multi-million dollar works by some of the same no-longer-starving local artists.

Headline warning of Soho gentrification (photo from Soho Memory Project)

Crosby Street & Spring Street, 1978 (Photo by Thomas Struth from Soho Memory Project)

No, The Soho Memory Project is about the early Soho-ites and the great diversity of lives lived there from the 60’s through the 70’s when Soho ejected most of the 'pioneers' and was transformed into a playground for the rich.  Those $65 lofts now go for $20 million.  Starving artists had to move to the East Village then the Lower East Side then Williamsburg then Long Island City then Red Hook then Bushwick then Jersey City… and on and on it goes as each generation of starving artists finds their own big cheap place to do what they do only to be displaced and pushed to a new location as the moneyed class discover a new cool. Such is the way of New York. I think you’ll enjoy visiting the blog if you’ve spent any time there.  It's a great read with amazing photos.

It wasn’t just the similar Soho ‘vibe’ that brought me back when I visited Red Hook,  Grindhaus had a marvelous dish that rang a flavor bell for me.

Cappellacci pasta stuffed with merguez with chickpeas, fritters and purée at Grindhaus

Their beautifully seasoned pasta dish with a rich chickpea sauce** reminded me of a great favorite recipe from a famous Soho artist's kitchen –– a chicken dish with a smooth tahini cloak that I have enjoyed for eons (albeit slightly evolved from the original after decades of making it).

All of these memories coalesced when The Creative Cooking Crew asked for a perfect bite for the challenge this month. To me, a perfect bite is one that hits all the sense receptors.  This dish has a touch of sweet, savory (the demi-glace adds a brilliant dark rich note), sour, creamy, crunchy, spicy and cold.  It's a perfect bite. No wonder it’s been one of my favorites for so long. It would be a hit at a Soho soirée, then and now.  It wouldn't be out of place in Red Hook either –– perfect bites never go out of style.

Soho Chinese Chicken Salad serves 2-4 (depending on size of chicken breast)

1 or 2 Chinese dried peppers(between 2-4" long)
2 T mild oil
2 chicken breasts, cubed
1 T D'Artagnan demi glace or Knorr chicken bouillon cube
2 T soy sauce
1 T sesame oil
2 T sesame paste
1 T rice vinegar
1 T sugar
2 T chopped scallion
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 t of ground coriander seed
pinch of sumac (optional)
Chinese cabbage, about 5 c sliced or chopped (reserve some unchopped for decoration)
small bunch coriander/cilantro, whole leaves or chopped (about 1 loose cup)
Sesame seeds for garnish

Sauté the pepper in the oil at medium heat for a few minutes until fragrant and remove. Salt and pepper the chicken. Sauté the chicken in the same oil. When cooked, toss in the demi glace or cube and combine. Remove the chicken and cool, reserving the oil.

In a blender, combine the reserved pepper oil, soy, sesame oil and paste and rice vinegar, sugar and scallion, garlic and spices. Blend. Taste. You may want to add more vinegar if you want more tang. If you like it spicy you can crumble the dried pepper you had toasted in the oil into the mix and blend. Toss the sauce with the chicken and whatever juices have accumulated with it.

This can all be done in advance and reserved.  The salad get's soggy once you blend it so you should wait till just before serving OR combine the sauce and the chicken and serve separately with the cabbage and coriander so it is combined on the plate or serve as a true 'bite',  the chicken individually placed in cabbage and enjoyed one bite at a time.

I line a bowl (or spoon) with cabbage leaves to serve and sprinkled with sesame seeds.  I love this with peppery papadams when I have them on hand.

** Grindhaus changes their menu all the time so this dish is not always available.

*sorry for another shameless plug but....

My first article is appearing in the magazine  SaudiAramcoWorld this month (it has great food history articles going back decades).   Mine's about chiliewith a fun video on merguez in NYC that I made with my friend, filmmaker Kathy Dougherty.  Do visit, won't you??

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