Thursday, May 31, 2012

Paris, Berthillon,and Robin Weir's Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream

For me, Memorial Day weekend is best when spent with my friends, Kath and Trev up in Vermont on their farm.  We garden and cook and eat and cook and eat and … you get the idea. When we are not making food we are usually discussing itDuring one exuberant conversation about Paris, the topic of ice cream came up (we make a lot of ice cream and sorbets there –– they have an enormous machine that makes perfect ices like blackberry, mango, and my own recipe for madeira vanilla).

When you talk about ice cream and Paris, you talk about Berthillon.  Since 1954, the shop on the Ile Saint-Louis has been the destination for ice cream lovers operated by the Chauvin family (non-stop lines snake out along the street –– a pretty good indicator of the glories that await within the shop).  All the ingredients are the finest to be had –– seasonal fruit  comes from local suppliers at Rungis, exotics are relentlessly sourced until the best is obtained (chocolate, vanilla, etc).  I read on Yelp that a local once said the ice cream at Berthillon tasted like children’s laughter –– does it get better than that?

Knowing the wonders of Berthillon first hand, when I saw the recipe for the Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream that purported to be as good as Bertillon, I had to try it.

I found it in a charming book called Frozen Desserts: The Definitive Guide to Making Ice Creams, Ices, Sorbets, Gelati, and Other Frozen Delights by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir.  I met Robin at the Oxford Symposium last year when he decorated an ice cream tree in July before an audience with enormous panache.  Such courage is impressive (ice cream molds in July, terrifying!) but then Weir is obsessed with all things ice cream.  His collection of ice cream molds was dizzying… all of the fruit shapes and colors made for a very splendid tree (a tree frame was hung with multiples of 10 or 12 different fruit ice creams in the shape and color of many fruits –– terribly charming.

Weir began his ice cream odyssey in the 1980s when he was horrified at the ingredient list in a tub of ice cream he inspected in his grocery cart ––you know, emulsifiers, stabilizers, dextrose etc.  It was scary stuff that had nothing to do with pure, simple ice cream.  He began looking into the roots of ice cream and the beauty of fresh ingredients and came up with a stellar book.  Not to rest on his laurels, 12 years and  “millions of calories later",  he went on to write another great book and best seller  that came out last year, ICE CREAMS, SORBETS AND GELATI: The Definitive Guide, filled with 400 recipes for all skill levels as well as more glorious history of ices from all over England and Europe and even America (the older book I have is also full of wonderful stories and great recipes).  I recommend his books… they are indispensable when you are in the mood for the best ice cream ever.  This is killer chocolate and the trick with the cocoa is genius.  For it to be as good as Berthillon, it would have to be eaten in Paris (location, location, location).  Absent that –– this is great chocolate –– one of the best I've had.

The Ultimate Chocolate Ice Cream inspired by Bertillon, Paris from Robin Weir

5 T Dutch Processed Cocoa Powder (alkalized)
½ C minus 1 T sugar
1 ½ c milk
5 ¼ oz semi-sweet chocolate
3 egg yolks
1 t vanilla extract
1 t instant espresso granules (recipe called for coffee granules, I like the darkness of espresso)
¼ c sugar syrup*
1 c whipping cream (36% fat)
1-2 t of Armagnac, cognac or rum (optional)
rose geranium leaves for garnish (they taste great with chocolate, mint would work too)

*½ c water + 5/8 c sugar, heated till sugar dissolves.  This will make you more than you need.

Combine the cocoa and ½ the sugar.  Pour in enough milk to make a paste and then bring the rest of the milk to a boil.  Pour the hot milk into the cocoa mixture then return all to the pan under very low heat (Weir recommends a heat diffuser for this).  Simmer very, very slowly for 6 minutes stirring constantly. Liddell/Weir say this is what rids the cocoa of its powdery flavor.  Remove from the heat and add chopped chocolate.

Whisk eggs and the rest of the sugar till pale.  Then pour the chocolate into the mix and return to the pan. Stir till it slowly reaches 185º.    Add sugar syrup and coffee and liquor and put mixture over an ice bowl until cooled.  Strain and put in fridge.  Add the cream to the mix and use the ice cream machine.  When ready, put into container.  Top with plastic and cover.  Serve after 2 hours or remove from freezer 20-25 minutes before serving.  This ice cream is best and most flavorful when it is soft ––I think most ice creams are.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Toots Shor, Chicken Hash with Hearts of Palm and a Caesar Salad "Cocktail"

Toots Shor, 1903-77

A few weeks ago I was noodling around the dial (ok, that’s an anachronism –– er,  channel surfing) –– and came upon the end of a documentary on Toots Shore,  Toots,  done by his grand daughter, Kristi Jacobson. I was engrossed in half a minute and terribly sad I had missed most of it.  God bless Netflix, I rented it to watch it again and was so glad I did.

Until recently,  Toots Shor was long forgotten by most   –– now a whole new generation is discovering NYC’s legendary “saloon” thanks to Mad Men.  The Mad Men design team even built a virtual Toots Shor set (where Don and Betty drank martinis and ate their famous Caesar Salad prepared at tableside) and sparked a renewed interest in the style of the period.  The original was a bar/restaurant in NYC that thrived in the 40s and 50s  –– a place where actors, writers, singers, journalists and sports figures came to play. In its heyday, it was the place to go, located at 51 w 51st Street from 1940 to 1959 (after that it moved around the corner to 52nd Street).  The ringmaster was Toots Shore.

In the documentary,  NYC writer Gay Talese talked about the allure of Toots Shor, person and place:

"A restaurant man could have a tremendous impact on one's life that has little if anything to do with food.  Restaurants are not about food, they're about endorsing character, they're about giving people a sense of who they are.  Toots Shore was a master at this."

Toots Shor hailed from Philadelphia but came to NYC in 1930.  He got his start in the bar business as bouncer for speakeasies (he was a big, burly guy) and that proved to be lucrative both financially and for the connections he made with influential people (the underworld as well as the elite and famous).

By the end of 30’s he had risen from bouncer to management and finally to his own place in 1940.  Toots Shor was a place where everyone went to drink –– a lot.  When I say everyone was there, I wasn't kidding –– Walter Cronkite, Mike Wallace, Joe Dimaggio, Frank Gifford, Don Ameche, Marilyn Monroe, Joe Louis, Frank Sinatra, Babe Ruth, Ernest Hemingway, Yogi Berra and Orson Welles, to name a few of the varied clientele (Chief Justice Earl Warren would sit across the bar from gangster Frank Costello –– it was that kind of place).

Jackie Gleason was one of the inner-circle and great friend of Toots who would drink in the afternoon, rest, and go back at dinner to drink some more.

He and Toots once had a drinking contest and Gleason lost (Gleason drank J&B scotch and Toots brandy and soda).  Gleason passed out "sunnyside up"  right in the entrance of the restaurant after hours of heavy drinking and Toots let him lay there for a few hours till he finally said "OK, pick the bum up and get him back here" and hauled him back in the place (Toots had no patience for me who couldn't hold their liquor –– even after an heroic battle of the booze).

I heard a great story from DrLostPast (that was also in the documentary) that Gleason and Toots argued about who could run faster.  They decided to have a race around the block.  They were both “large’ individuals, so this was a serious challenge.  It was decided they would run in opposite directions around the block so as not to draw a crowd.  They took off, but at the corner, Gleason called a cab and got back in a snap.  When Toots arrived huffing and puffing, he found Gleason with a cocktail waiting for him.  Toots was a great sport when everyone broke out laughing at the prank... he even paid Gleason the $1000 bet (Toots liked to gamble, he once lost $100G on the Joe Louis-Billy Conn fight).

Toots became famous in his own right appearing on What’s My Line and This is Your Life television shows in the 1950s.  He was much loved, and much hated because, as he admitted, he thought he was always right and sometimes didn't have an edit button in his head.  He would say what he felt.  It was well known if he liked you, he would do anything for you and had helped many many people out many many of jams. He wouldn't speak to you if he didn't like you.

When the world changed in the 60's (the “Rat Pack” was out and the Beatles were in), the place wasn’t as popular as it had been. This was compounded by the fact that the original place was small and intimate and the new place was too big (the original Shor's space had been bought out to build an office tower).  Toots Shor was losing money (he had always given away nearly as many drinks as he sold) and on top of it he was in a mess with the IRS.

Frank Sinatra shelled out $50G all by himself  (quietly, in an envelope) when Toots turned down his offer to do benefit shows with Dean Martin for 3 weeks for him at the restaurant.  Although a lot was raised at a benefit dinner, it wasn’t enough to erase the IRS debt so Toots Shor closed (the guest list for this was a who’s who of NY journalists, artists and sports figures).

There had been a choice. The government had offered to forgive the whole debt if Toots would install listening devices in the place (there were many underworld figures who hung out there regularly).  Toots wouldn’t do it, even to save his beloved saloon. He wouldn't rat out a guy for any reason.  He took care of the wise guys and they took care of him.  Toots said in an interview just before his death "In fact I said to my children,  if your father told half the stories he knows, it would make The Godfather look like a fairytale." The wise guys knew the secrets were safe with Toots.

He died of cancer a few years after the restaurant closed  –– loosing the restaurant took all the life out of him.  To the end he believed being a saloonkeeper was the best job in the world.

1943 Menue from Toots Shor (NYPL Collection)

It was well known that Toots Shor was a place to go for drinks, it wasn’t known for its “nuttin fancy” food. But “nuttin fancy” can be really good.

Evidently his Caesar was a favorite of many patrons (like the fictional Don Draper).  I thought I would make it into a Caesar "Cocktail" after I read it might have started out as romaine dunked in dressing when it was first invented in Mexico/California.  The bread batons are delicious. I love the croutons in Caesar salads and dunking the oversized croutons,  lettuce and tomatoes in the fabulous dressing is a fun way to eat salad and easy to snack on while you are drinking your real cocktails.

The Chicken Hash au Gratin with Hearts of Palm sounded awfully good.  I couldn’t find a recipe for it but did find one for a lobster version from Emeril. I made a few changes and voila… chicken it was and delicious it was.  The hearts of palm add a wonderful tang to the rich creamy sauce. Certainly the hash is the perfect kind of dish to fortify your stomach for a serious night of drinking.

Speaking of drinks, Lesley Jacobs Solmonson over at 12 Bottle Bar has a new book out on gin ––  Gin: A Global History.  I have now done a few combination posts with 12 Bottle Bar and they are always a blast to do –– I always learn so much!

A virtual visit to a legendary ‘saloon’ (as Toots called his place) should get you in the right mood for an introduction to this great little book.  The pictures are wonderful and it is beautifully written.  This is no surprise considering 12 Bottle Bar is my favorite cocktail blog (one of my favorites, PERIOD!).  The stories are fun and the history goes down like a cool drink on a hot day.

It’s a perfect book to stash in your bag for a summer read since it’s about the size of an iPad (just a little thicker!).  It will definitely inspire your cocktails.

What better person to ask than Lesley about beverage fashion during the glory days at Toots –– she knew the score in spades:

"Like the first season of the series "Mad Men" suggests, people were more than a little uptight in the 1950s.  Versions of the Martini date back to the late 1800s and, in fact, the Martini was the "it" drink of the 50s, its no-nonsense ingredients and lack of fruity fanfare emblematic of an equally no-nonsense generation. "

"When we flash back to the '50s, we return to simplicity, cleanness, and, above all, pragmatism.  The drinks of choice followed suit -- in terms of gin, there was the the Martini, of course, as well as the Gimlet (gin and, classically, the slightly sweetened Rose's Lime Cordial).  At this time, when you asked for "gin", you meant London Dry and nothing else.  The brands of choice -- Gordon's, Seagram's, Gilbey's -- are names still familiar today. 

Other spirits, too, had their followers.  Like Don Draper, many folks drank their liquor straight or on the rocks with a water back.  Other popular cocktails included the classics of the Golden Age of cocktail culture, such as the Old Fashioned (Bourbon, sugar, bitters, lemon garnish) and the Manhattan (rye, sweet vermouth, bitters, cherry/orange peel garnish).

In the early 50's, vodka was slowly making its way into the drink culture too.  In 1955, the "vodka-tini" officially entered the drink lexicon, thanks in no small part to an aggressive advertising push by a then little-known company called Smirnoff. Their "It leaves you breathless" campaign was just what the doctor ordered:  A spirit that had little to no flavor and couldn't be smelled on the breath.  It gave new "meaning to the term "three-Martini lunch"."

Got your cocktail ready?  Let's eat.

Caesar Salad Cocktail

16 hearts of romaine leaves
12 cherry tomatoes
8 bread batons (sautéed in 2 T olive oil)
Herbed oil (2 T olive oil, 1 t mashed garlic, pinch of salt, pinch of pepper, pinch of thyme)

1 recipe my favorite Caesar Dressing (based on a recipe from the old City restaurant in L.A.)

After sauteéing the batons, brush them with the herbed oil if you would like. Pour the dressing in the bottom of the glass and add the romaine, tomatoes and batons.  Dunk and enjoy!

Favorite Caesar Dressing based on one from City Restaurant, L.A.

3 anchovies
1/2 t cracked pepper
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c grated parmesan
1 egg
3 T red wine vinegar
2 T lemon juice
1T pureed garlic
2 t dry mustard
1 t celery salt
3 dashes Tabasco
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce (I usually use more)

Boil water and put an egg in the boiling water for 1 ½ minutes then remove.  Run under cool water.  Put the anchovies and oil and parmesan in the blender and blend for a few minutes. Then add the egg (scraping the shell to get all the egg).  Add the rest of the ingredients and blend.  Taste for salt (you probably won’t need it) and refrigerate.

Chicken Hash au Gratin with Hearts of Palm inspired by Toots Shore (with a little help from Emeril) serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main dish

5 tablespoons butter
2 (14-ounce) cans hearts of palm, drained
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons white pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
½ cup cream (you can skip the cream and just use milk if you want it lighter)
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ t nutmeg
1-2 T sherry or madeira
pinch paprika
1 tablespoon chopped chives
2/3 pound cooked cubed chicken
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, toasted and processed to make fresh bread crumbs or use about 1/3 cup of dried breadcrumbs
2 T parmesan
Herbs for garnish

Preheat oven to 375º.
In a skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the hearts of palm, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper and sauté until the hearts of palm are golden, about 3 minutes. Arrange the cooked hearts of palm in a layer on the bottom of a gratin dish or 4 -6 mini cast iron skillets (I love these little babies ).
In the same skillet you cooked the hearts of palm in, melt 2 more tablespoons of the butter. Add the shallots and garlic until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the flour, and cook for 2 minutes, being careful not to let it brown. Whisk in the milk and heavy cream slowly, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a gentle boil. Cook until the floury taste is gone and sauce is smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice, chives, spices and madeira and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and remaining 1-teaspoon of pepper. Add the chicken, and stir well.
In a small saucepan melt the remaining tablespoon of the butter and remove from heat. Add the breadcrumbs and toss to thoroughly combine. Pour the chicken mixture over the hearts of palm (but don't overfill or the crumbs won't crisp) and spread the breadcrumbs evenly on top, sprinkle with parmesan. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes.

Thanks again to my friend Linda at Statewide Marble in Jersey City for the gorgeous piece of onyx!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Henri-Paul Pellaprat, a Great Cookbook you may not know, and Sole Colbert

Julia Child with teacher Max Bugnard, Cordon-Bleu School, Paris 1950

If you saw the film Julie and Julia, you might have the idea that there had never been a comprehensive book on French Cuisine until Julia Child and Simone Beck wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking 
in 1960.

Craig Claiborne called Mastering the Art of French Cooking a “most comprehensive, laudable and monumental work” that would “remain as the definitive work for non-professionals…. It is written in the simplest terms possible…without compromise or condescension.  The recipes are glorious.” Amen, but….

Not long before Julia and Simone created their masterpiece, Henri-Paul Pelleprat released Modern culinary art –– L’art culinaire modern –– that first appeared in France in the 1930’s and then was translated into English in 1950 with 3500 recipes –– it too is a masterpiece and they are related –– in more than a 6-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way. 

I can’t imagine that Pellaprat’s book didn’t influence the ladies as they wrote their magnum opus since Julia and Simca both went to the school he had been associated with for decades –– L’ École de Cuisine du Cordon-Bleu in Paris.  The book was already a huge hit in France when the ladies were attending the school.

Simca Beck

Child went to L’ École de Cuisine du Cordon-Bleu to learn how to cook proper French food when she moved to France (a California class she had taken made hollandaise with lard –– can you imagine?). After her Cordon-Bleu classes she got her teacher, Max Bugnard (who had worked under Escoffier) to give her private lessons. Simca Beck, her partner in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, thought along the same lines and actually had Pellaprat as her private tutor after her initial class training (she attended a few years before Child).

Marthe Distel, 1896  Ecole de Cuisine du Cordon-Bleu

1896 collection of La Cuisiniére Cordon–Bleu.

The school had a rather interesting beginning that I never knew about.  It was begun by a journalist named Marthe Distel and grew from a popular magazine, La Cuisiniére Cordon-Bleu. The magazine,  full of chefs talking about food and restaurants and recipes,  had such a loyal following that Distel decided to reward her subscribers with free cooking classes in 1896.  The rest is history.  From those free classes grew a school with paying students in classes taught by well-known chefs.  The school still exists today. By Julia Child’s time in the 1950’s, Distel had passed away (in the 1930s) and the tyrannical (at least by Child’s reckoning) Madame Bressart had been in charge since 1945.  She stayed for nearly 50 years.

Henri-Paul Pellaprat was one of the early teachers there and quite a catch for the new school.  Born in 1869, he had worked at legendary Parisian restaurants like Café de la Paix and La Maison Dorée with Casimir Moisson (that I wrote about HERE).  He wrote his Modern Cuisine over 30 years of teaching at the school, perhaps inspired by his friend and mentor Escoffier who wrote the original encyclopedia for French cuisine, the enormous Le Guide Culinaire –– The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery: For Connoisseurs, Chefs, Epicures in 1903.

As Claiborne had said, Child’s book broke down recipes in a clear, concise way that hadn’t been seen before (Escoffier’s book was for chefs, not for home cooks), but both the Escoffier and Pellaprat books cover enormous ground with thousands of recipes and techniques that are not really difficult to follow.  The concept of “mother sauces”  (that are the basis of hundreds of other sauces) first appears in Escoffier’s book (although Careme was the first to mention 4 foundational sauces).  Pellaprat covers them methodically and well. His book does assume a level of proficiency that Child’s book does not.

When you think about classic French recipes, you think butter and cream and more cream and more butter but that really isn’t always the case  –– they also used demi-glace.  Demi-glace, a thick stock reduction, was used in so many sauces then, and should be now, if you ask me.

In my mind, it is terribly underused today and that is a crime.  I used it a few weeks ago with the Chicken bordelaise recipe.  The flavor was through the roof with the addition of that rich tasting, but low-caloried, demi-glace.


I had discovered Modern Cuisine when working on the chicken bordelaise recipe and simply HAD to get one for myself after reading about it.  When the enormous tome arrived at my door I was stunned.  Full of hundreds of illustrations (oh, how food presentation has changed –– these are just a few of the fish illustrations, don't you love the way he used lobster legs?) and 3500 recipes, it really gave me a better understanding of this type of culinary art (I got the 1950 version, there is also a 1968 version with different food photos).  The other thing it did was interest me in trying more recipes with demi-glace. 

Today we rarely think of fish with a meat-glaze.  Big mistake. As I was looking through Pellaprat’s book, I read “Sole Colbert” and that little light bulb came on above my head (couldn’t remember what Colbert was –– thought of the Colbert Report and smiled –– how does my mind work?) –– I stopped to read about it.

What is Sole Colbert?  Well, it was named after Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Minister of Finance to Louis XIV in late 17th century (no, nothing to do with Stephen Colbert!). The recipe uses Colbert butter that is made with the better-known base of lemony Maître d’ hotel butter to which demi-glace and tarragon are added.  

Sole Colbert was made by putting the gorgeous hybrid compound butter between soft, pillowy layers of sole, surrounded by a crisp, bread crumbed-crust (fried in lard in the 19th c … strange today but boy, what a combo).  The butter perfumes the flesh, the demi-glace adds a dark umami to the lemony butter… it is fast and terribly delicious. This is like a Chicken Kiev in a way… the hot butter oozes from the crispy fish brilliantly. 

The original would have used a whole, boned fish, with the butter inserted after cooking where the backbone had been … I used filets but followed the rest of the preparation fairly closely.

The original recipe for Colbert Sole in the book:

"Remove the black skin and scale the white. Then, on the skinned side, lightly lift the fillets without completely removing them.  Break the backbone in 2 places so that it may easily be removed after cooking.  Dip the sole in milk, flour, egg and bread crumbs.  Fry and when well cooked, remove the bone carefully so as not to break the fish.  Fill the space with Colbert Butter. "

Here is the recipe for Colbert butter in the book:

 "Add to Maître d' Hôtel butter* a heaping tablespoon of melted meat glaze"

*Maître d' Hôtel butter: Knead 3 1/2 oz of soft butter, Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon, salt pepper and chopped parsley

 You can use packaged demi-glace (my friends at D’Artagnan make a fabulous version of duck and veal) that makes preparing this dish a snap to make and is remarkably cost and time effective –– OR you can make a good cheat yourself –– it takes a lot of time but very little effort.  Make a rich stock with the bones and veggies, strain, de-fat and reduce –– it doesn't have the veal in it but is great with most things.  A gallon makes a cup, but what a cup, and it’s a 12-hour process –– like I say, the purchased demi-glace is easier and not that expensive.    

The dish takes less than a ½ hour to do if you have the demi-glace (all that flavor takes up very little space in the freezer).

This is delicious with cucumbers gently sautéed in butter with a pinch of sea salt and nutmeg.  I couldn't help using herbs from my new potted herb garden... the borage flowers taste of cucumbers and the golden flowers of Texas tarragon are delicious.

Sole Colbert  (based on recipes by  Pelleprat and Soyer) serves 4

1 pound sole filets (I used Dover Sole)
1 1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 c flour (seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika)
2 eggs
2 c breadcrumbs
1/3 c fat for frying plus more if needed –– don't skimp  when you flip the fish ( I used a bit of lard and olive oil)

Sauteed cucumbers (with butter and a pinch of salt and nutmeg and a scattering of fresh herbs)

Soak the sole in milk for 1 or 2 hours, then discard the milk (this is an old trick of my grandmother –– she said it made the fish taste sweet).

Place 2 slices together (this will form a pocket for the butter) and dredge the sole pairs in salt and peppered-flour with a pinch of paprika.

Whip egg plus 2 t water till combined.

Coat the sole with the egg

Dredge the sole in breadcrumbs and refrigerate.

Fry the fish in 1/2 of your fat over medium heat, flip when one side is done, adding more of your fat/oil/butter till crisp and done –– don’t overcook. Place on a warm platter.

Gently insert a few tablespoons of the Colbert butter between the fish pieces and put back in the pan, cover and heat for a few minutes over a low flame. Remove and serve with lemon slices and any extra butter you may have.


You can put the chilled butter between the 2 layers of fish as you put it together and fry it with the butter inside -- use a bit of the flour to stick them together. 

To make the Colbert Butter

1 stick butter
2 T lemon juice
1 T finely chopped parsley
½ t salt and ¼ t pepper (do this to taste)
¼ c de-frosted demi-glace -  D'Artagnan Duck and Veal is a great choice (the original called for 2 T)
1 t chopped tarragon

I couldn’t get the lemon to bond with the butter the way the original recipe instructed so I softened it to about ¾ melted in the microwave and then stirred the lemon into it easily (don't overheat, start with a few seconds).  I added the salt and pepper, parsley to make the Maître d’ hotel butter base.  

Combine the nearly liquified butter with demi-glace (I used more than the original), 1 t chopped tarragon and reserve. Refrigerate to get it back to a solid form, it will still be easy to work with. I poured it in a deep, flat plate. If you do this the night before making the dish takes no time at all.
This will make more than you need... but it is great with everything and freezes well.

Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Lotos Club, Great Menus and Neapolitan Ice Cream

I celebrated my first blog-versary at the end of 2010 with a 2-part recreation of a dinner that was given for Mark Twain at the Player’s Club in NYC in 1906 (you can see it HERE and HERE  ).

It seemed the right thing to do since it was the Player’s Club’s menus that started me writing the blog in the first place and it coincided with the release of the Autobiography of Mark Twain.  All the stars aligned. Discovering the crumpled folder filled with 100-odd years of menus that had been languishing in a file cabinet for decades was a huge thrill for me –– like buried treasure.  I just had to do something with them –– that’s how Lost Past Remembered was born.

It’s no secret that I love old menus.  Beyond the fact that many of them are works of art with strikingly beautiful drawings and graphics, they give a solid connection to the cuisine of the times and in some cases, have the added benefit of having an attachment to history and its major players as well. All this from what were supposed to be ephemeral trifles –– only meant to exist for a brief moment in time.  Lucky for us, some were saved.

That brings me to one of my favorite blogs that belongs to collector and culinary historian Henry Voight, The American Menu .  The brilliant former-NYTimes critic William Grimes was generous enough to introduce me to Henry and for that I am eternally grateful.  Henry has one of the great menu collections that rivals the Buttolph at the NYPLibrary in its quality and scope. In the blog, he tantalizes as he lets us see a menu or 2 and then fills out the history with an infectious exuberance for his subject (backed up by laudable scholarship).  I can’t wait for each new release –– they are always such a treat.

When it comes to the art of menus, many of my favorites come from New York City’s Lotos Club –– they had some of the best in the period around the turn of the 20th century. Although some are available online, I got a masterpiece from Henry’s collection when I asked him about them (he has 15 Lotos Club menus in his collection ranging from 1876 to 1983).
Lotus Club Bookplate from the Brooklyn Historical Society

Visiting the Lotos Club when I first came to the city provided me with an early introduction into NYC’s old art club society (The Players, The Salmagundi, The National Arts Club) that I came to love and admire –– they are “history on the hoof”.  I still remember the custom Egyptian cigarettes that they had there in a remarkably elegant lidded box with the Lotos Club symbol engraved on the lid (bet those are long gone in this non-smoking city). 

The name for the club came from an Alfred Lord Tennyson poem called “The Lotos Eaters” as does the club motto: “In the afternoon they came unto a land In which it seemed always afternoon”.  Mark Twain was one of its founding members, calling it the “Ace of Clubs” and remained fond of it, saying: “There's the Lotos - the first New York club I was ever a member of - my earliest love in that line.”

The Lotos Club was founded by a group of prominent artists, writers, scholars and journalists in 1870.  In its 140 years it has moved continually uptown from its first digs on Irving Place to 149 5th Avenue, then to 556 Fifth Avenue in 1892 and 110 w 57th in 1909. 

In 1947 it moved to its current location at 5 E 66th Street.

Its objectives are written in its constitution:

“The objectives of this institution shall be to promote and develop literature, art, sculpture, music, architecture, journalism, drama, science, education and the learned professions, and to that end to encourage authors, artists, sculptors, architects, journalists, educators, scientists and members of the musical, dramatic, and learned professions in their work, and for these purposes to provide a place of assembly for them and other persons interested in and sympathetic to them, and their objectives, effort and work.”

As a result of its commitment to promoting the arts, it has seen many art exhibits over its long history,  and at one point maintained a very large collection of art of its members (sadly much has been dispersed but some fine works remain).

Perhaps the menus are so remarkable because of the large representation of the art community in its membership.

Many of the names on these historical menus –– so famous then ––are unknown or barely known today. Some of musicians, like Paderewski and writers like Mark Twain are still well known, but other names need a Google visit to find who they were. Some of the names names are vaguely familiar –– you just needed a nudge to remember them .

Ignacy Jan Paderewski –– pianist, composer, Politician and 2nd Prime Minister of Poland, Library of Congress

Whitelaw Reid, Editor of the New York Tribune and Ambassador to France and England, Library of Congress

The Egyptian themed menu for publisher and Ambassador to France, Whitelaw Reid –– is a great favorite of mine.  I was unfamiliar, however, with Whitelaw Reid.  It turns out he was a very important figure in politics in the 19th century and at the time of the dinner –– running for Vice President with Benjamin Harrison (they lost to Grover Cleveland).  One wonders how well our famous men will fare in 100 years… will anyone know who Rupert Murdoch was in 2100, or Mark Zuckerberg? Do you remember who invented the gasoline-powered automobile (Karl Benz snagged the patent in 1886)?

Perhaps then-ambassador Reid had a liking for the style (Egyptian style had been in fashion on and off since the time of Napoleon) but his diplomatic posts were to France and England, not Egypt –– no matter, the wonderful colors and graphics on the menu are arresting.  The food was not Egyptian, but rather classic food of New York at the end of the 19th century. 

I can imagine dinners in the 5th Avenue iteration of the club ––  wine-red, tasseled, gilded, and dripping with crystal –– very Victorian.  The dishes on menu are fairly recognizable today.  The green turtle soup and clams (or oysters) seemed to begin many club meals.  The Penobscot is an Atlantic salmon from the cold waters of Maine’s Penobscot river would have been baked or sautéed with a sauce.  Potatoes Parisienne are tiny potato balls, sautéed in butter then glazed with a meat glaze (made these, they are terrible good).  Bouchees of Game are cut up bits of cooked game in a game sauce seasoned with salt and pinch of sugar and placed into small cooked puff pastry shells (these would be only around 2 ½” so quite small),  small enough to pop into your mouth and great for an hors d’oeuvre.   Beef a la Richelieu is fairly straightforward –– a demi glace is poured over a tenderloin and, at least at Delmonicos Restaurant,  it was served with braised celery, stuffed tomatoes and glazed lettuce on a bed of rice with simple potatoes and a madeira sauce.  Kirsch punch is a refreshing alcoholic slushy and palate cleanser that would be delicious with almonds to snack on.  This was followed by Mallard Duck and a simple salad.  Ice cream was the usual finish to meals at the Lotos Club with the ubiquitous cheese and crackers and coffee at the end. 

Enrico Caruso from the Collection of Henry Voight

You don’t need any memory refreshment for Caruso–– he was the greatest opera singer of the 20th century… perhaps ever.  As in the first Twain menu, the Caruso menu (courtesy of the Voight Collection of menus) is fraught with difficulties when attempting a culinary translation.  The menu follows the traditional pattern of the other club menus you see here but the dishes are named for Caruso’s triumphs.  Henry told me that what I thought was odd phrasing “dinner to” was short for “dinner tendered to” and was commonly used at that time.  The list of dishes includes oysters and soups and fish and filets and squab with ices and cakes, but only the lucky attendees would know the particulars of the courses.  There’s no way to know what Samson Squab or Radames Filet or Nemorino Ices may be.  Still, it is a glorious engraving, isn’t it?  The characters, the poses… it is a treasure… even signed by Caruso himself (this is not unusual, it was a fashion in the day that attendees would sign the menu) –– the mystery of the courses is part of its charm.

All the Lotos Club menus I’ve seen do follow well-worn paths when you put them together.  Usually oysters or clams to start, then a turtle soup, then a sauced fish, a sauced meat, some vegetables and salads along the way with a wild bird flying in from time to time after a refreshing punch.  Then ice cream is offered, in one form or another–– Lotos Club Ice Creams are seen most often followed in popularity by Nesselrode pudding (I wrote about that HERE –– it’s another ice cream but a complicated mix of chestnut ice cream, liqueurs and fruits).  Sometimes there were cakes or petit fours.

Walter Damrosch, Conductor of the NY Symphony Orchestra, Library of Congress

The name Walter Damrosch might ring a bell if you are a classical music buff–– he was the director of the New York Symphony orchestra (he was the first conductor of George Cershwin’s American in Paris) as well as a composer through the 1930’s –– he died in 1950). The Damrosch menu had Neapolitan Ice for dessert instead of straight ice cream or Nesselrode pudding and that encouraged some investigation –– I wasn’t sure I knew what that was –– because the Neapolitan Ice Cream I had as a kid was nothing to write home about. 

Not to worry, Neapolitan Ice is a classy version of the Neapolitan ice cream of my youth (whew).  It was a tri-colored (supposedly after the Italian flag) ice cream molded into a layered loaf that often had a fruit sorbet decoration.  I used pistachio, strawberry and vanilla,  (pistachio, not chocolate as became the later fashion, but the combination is up to you ––use your favorites).    I wanted to make it as soon as I read about its original recipe... kind of an iced, edible Spring with fruit, nuts and soft colors.

One of my biggest food heroes, Ivan Day, showed a gorgeous tin mold that included 3 roses atop the rectangular container that were made with sorbet on his website, Historic Food.  The mold was from the same period as the Damrosch dinner.  I don’t have that mold, but I do have a rose mold so I can make something like it. If you don’t have an ice cream mold you could use a rose cupcake mold or just a scoop… the flavors are amazing together. I made mine with raspberry and Aftelier's Rose Absolute (again not an historical recipe but delicious), the result was one of the most magical things I ever tasted... pure raspberry flavor and rose that melts in your mouth will have you melting with pleasure! This is definitely the best sorbet I've ever made.

You can make your base from scratch and that is the best way of course –– OR –– you can use a favorite cheat of mine that I started using when I wanted lemon ice cream in a pinch years ago. Buy a quart of vanilla, let it soften and add your fresh flavorings.  In this case, divide it into 3rds and add strawberry puree to one, pistachio to the other ( I used my favorite pistachio ice cream recipe with exotic flavorings that is not a 19th century recipe but so delicious) and leave the vanilla more or less on its own (I added madeira).  Layer it in a mold, re-freeze and you have your dessert.  The sorbet can be purchased or you can make it yourself.  If you buy the basics you can make it in a snap, if you do it from scratch it still isn’t a huge effort and wow, what a dessert!  PERFECT FOR MOTHER'S DAY!!!

Neapolitan Ice

Vanilla base

8 egg yolks
½ c sugar

2 c cream
2 c milk
½ t salt
1 t vanilla

Cream the egg yolks and sugar.   Scald the milk and cream and add it slowly to the eggs, whisking all the while. Put it back in the cooled saucepan.  Bring it up to 170º slowly, stirring all the time.  Add the salt and vanilla and strain.  Put in a bowl over a bowl of ice to cool down then put in the fridge covered.   When chilled for a few hours, put in your ice cream maker and then make your ice cream blends.


1 Quart premium vanilla ice cream (I usually use Ben & Jerrys)

Raspberry sorbet (based on Saveur recipe)

2 c raspberries
3/4 c sugar
2 t lemon juice
1 drop Aftelier Rose Absolute or to taste (it is very powerful so add it lightly, too much overwhelms, just the right amount and you have heaven) OR add rosewater to taste –– up to 1 T.

Boil 1 c water and sugar to dissolve.  Simmer for 5 minutes.  Pour into a container and freeze for 15 minutes.

Purée the raspberries with the syrup and process till well blended.  Scrape through a fine sieve and toss the seeds.  Add lemon juice and rose to the purée and put in an ice cream freezer.  Fill the flower molds with the mixture if you have them and freeze. I used 2 small molds, one raspberry rose for each),


Use premium raspberry sorbet and add the  Rose Absolute or the rosewater to taste

Strawberry Ice Cream

1/3 of your vanilla ice cream
1 c strawberries
2 T sugar
¼ t lemon zest
2 t lemon juice
1 T cassis (optional)

Mash or blend the strawberries, sugar, lemon and cassis and let sit for 1 hour.  At this point you can add the mixture to your ice cream to taste (you may want to add more or less) and put in a cold bag in the freezer –– you don’t want it to harden or you won’t be able to spread the layer well.

Pistachio Ice Cream

1/3 of your vanilla ice cream (if you are doing this from scratch, use 1/3 of the mix before freezing)
¼ c pistachios, chopped
1 T jaggery sugar or light brown sugar
¼ t garam masala
1 pinch good sea salt (optional)

Grind the pistachios, sugar and spice to a crumble of pepper-sized pieces. If you are making your own ice cream, this would be the one to do separately.  If so, let the pistachio mixture steep with the cooling ice cream mixture then refrigerate.  Strain before putting the mixture in the ice cream maker (if you don’t strain the pistachios, your ice cream will be grainy… your choice).  If you are using vanilla ice cream, combine with the ice cream in a food processor, then strain, pressing hard on the solids.  If you want it a little greener you can add a tiny dot of green and yellow food coloring… but seriously TINY dots. I put mine in some of the melted ice cream and then added a few drops of that to get a very delicate green –– you don’t want it to be blue/green.  For me, the gold of the eggs in the ice cream made it the perfect pistachio color. Refreeze for an hour, stirring it from time to time. 

Vanilla Ice Cream with Madeira

1/3  vanilla ice cream
1 T madeira from Rare Wine Company- Boston Bual would be perfect but an older madeira is heaven ( I used a 1920 Barbieto Malvesia Favilla Vieira that rocked my world)

Stir the madeira and salt into the vanilla ice cream. Place in the cold bag in the freezer to keep it softened to spread.

To Make the Neapolitan Ice:

Take a rectangular mold (use 2 small or one large) and lay one layer of pistachio ice cream on the bottom and freeze till firmed somewhat.  I put the other 2 ice creams in a freezer bag in the freezer so they would stay loose.  Then add one layer of vanilla and top and freeze (make sure you stir the ice cream before spreading so there is an even consistency).  Make sure you check for bubbles on the side which would spoil the clean look. Finish with one layer of strawberry when the vanilla has hardened enough to spoon on the strawberry –– you don't want to disturb the layers.  Fill 2 rose molds with the sorbet if you have them.

Unmold the ice cream and top with the roses.  If you don’t have the roses, top each slice with a small scoop of sorbet

For all of you who ever thought of writing a cookbook, visit Justin at Just Cook NYC, he has some great advice. He should know, he edits them!

Thanks to  The Kitchn for posting my Neapolitan Ice