Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Manor House Farm and the “Full English” with Baked Bean Stuffed Sausage

Manor House Farm  Prestwood, Staffordshire

When I decided at the last minute to go to England a few weeks ago, the first thing I did was grab my National Trust guide to decide on great houses to visit. With limited time, I had to confine my peregrinations so I wouldn’t spend half my trip in my car. I settled on visiting places in the SW of London and the magnificent Peak District a few hours north of London (driving through Peak District National Park is a vacation all by itself –– the view is a spa-day for a worn and/or rumpled spirit).

Since I was visiting the Peak District once more I tried to stay at the Manor Farm at Dethick again (that I wrote about HERE) but they were booked. Given my druthers, I wanted a place in the country with a good bit of age to the buildings.  I decided to stay at  Manor House Farm Prestwood, Staffordshire after seeing their many hospitality awards and reading the ecstatic guest reviews (thanks to Alistair Sawday’s guide for great suggestions for places to stay).

Manor House Farm was midway between Little Moreton and Hardwick Hall. It was the best choice I could have made (and at a great price as well).


The farm has been in Chris Ball’s family for generations and he and his wife Margaret have burnished the home’s character to a fine sheen. The gardens climb up the hill at the front of the house and are dotted with amusing follies and ancient bits that suit the plantings. Cows and their calves were lowing in the field (well one was sort of bleating earnestly –– seems she was pining for a boyfriend, according to Chris).

Aside from farming and gardening, Chris is a passionate collector of antiques with gorgeous Tudor and Jacobean pieces that look like they have lived there forever. That is really the magic of the place. Unlike many “ye olde” recreations at B&B’s I have seen with polyester floral prints and reproduction furniture, Manor House Farm feels authentic. It’s the perfect country place (as in –– I could live there forever).

In the middle of a hectic schedule, my 2 nights here were like a cool drink of water on a sultry afternoon. My biggest regret was that I hadn’t built a quiet day into my schedule so that I could spend time in the garden, visit with all the animals (especially the 2 spaniels that have very winning personalities) and explore neighboring farms. I won’t make that mistake again.

“Full English” breakfast ingredients, graphic from The Breakfast Bible

The edible highlight of the visit to Manor House Farm was the “Full English” breakfast that was made with products from the farm and neighboring farms –– eggs, bacon, sausage, black or white pudding, tomatoes, beans and toast. It was a great meal in a gorgeous room and it fortified me for the whole day of running around with nary a hunger pain. Somerset Maugham said “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.” –– the English do a great breakfast.

As soon as I got back from my trip, the NYT’s ran a piece on a book that I had to buy the moment I saw it and now want to recommend. It’s called The Breakfast Bible –– talk about perfect timing.

Breakfast Solar System from Breakfast Bible

It’s written by a very funny fellow who writes the blog, The London Review of Breakfasts. The book is full of genius tips for cooking eggs, great anecdotes and recipes for breakfast classics from all over the world. If you eat breakfast, you need this book. If you get invited to weekends in the country,  your hosts will welcome you as an honored guest if you bring this as a house present.

When my cooking group’s topic was “stuffed” this month, I wondered what I could do to my ideal English breakfast to serve something stuffed. I checked out my new Breakfast Bible for inspiration and grabbed their heavenly recipe for eggs titled “Effortless Genius” but there was nothing stuffed about them. Then the idea came into my head to stuff my homemade sausage with baked beans as I perused their sausage section. It’s sort of like a Scotch Egg with beans instead of egg. The idea in my head was that it could make canned beans taste amazing with the juices from the pork flavoring the beans and that it would make great homemade beans taste even better –– it worked.

Ken Albala's toupin-ish pot

Although you can use canned beans, I happened to have some great baked beans in the freezer that I had made a few months ago. My friend, historian and potter Ken Albala had made me a wonderful take on a toupin when I had fallen in love with an antique I’d seen and moaned that I couldn’t find one for less than a few hundred dollars. Although they were originally used for storing milk or infusing teas as far as I can tell, it worked perfectly to make a small batch of fabulous baked beans. You can make my recipe, your own or buy a good can of baked beans if you reduce the liquid in the beans when you used them for stuffing the sausage. My mother used to buy canned beans and "doctor them" by cooking with  additional spices and flavorings –– this works quite well.

A few of the recipes for English sausage used dried rusks instead of breadcrumbs so I threw in a recipe for you.  I read that they soak up more water and make juicier sausage since they are double baked like unflavored biscotti. You know what?  They are right, the sausage was very juicy as promised without tasting bready at all.  Huzzah!

The plate is stuffed to the gills –– that is what I think of when I think of a Full English.  It's rich and abundant and terribly satisfying when you have a full day ahead of you. Since there are so many elements, I think this would be good to expand for a crowd since the work is nearly the same. Those Effortless Genius eggs are divine by the way and nearly as rich as Alice B Toklas Eggs Picabia ––  my only regret was that I forgot to put the bacon on the plate (as if there was room for it!). Let's pretend it's hidden under the sausage, shall we?

Full English for 2

Effortless Genius Eggs

Fried bread

Baked bean stuffed sausage

Bacon (English bacon is like American Canadian Bacon)

White Sausage or pudding (recipe HERE)

Sautéed tomatoes

Fried Mushrooms

Fried Potatoes

Put the eggs on the bread. Lay the bacon and stuffed sausage on the plate. Add the tomatoes, potatoes and mushrooms and serve.

Effortless Genius for 2 (from the Breakfast Bible)

5 large eggs
2 T milk or cream
2 T unsalted butter.
S & P to taste

Break eggs into a bowl but don’t beat them, just add the milk. Melt 2/3 of the butter in a pan on gentle heat. When butter is melted, pour in the eggs and stir, ensuring all the egg yolks break early in the process. Keep stirring and monitoring the mix as it thickens. When the egg whites are just about hardened, stir in the remaining butter. Serve nude or laced with chipped flat-leaf parsley

Fried Bread

2 slices country bread

 Butter the bread and place in the pan and brown 1 side. Turn and brown the other side.

Fried tomatoes

1 or 2 tomatoes
pinch of salt and pepper
1 T butter

Slice the tomatoes in half and sauté in the butter for a few minutes on medium heat. Cover and cook on low heat for a few more minutes

Fried Mushrooms

1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 T butter
pinch of salt and pepper
pinch of thyme
Splash of sherry or madeira

Saute the mushrooms in butter until browned. Sprinkle with salt pepper and thyme and splash the wine. Stir and serve

Fried Potatoes

1 small potatoes, sliced
1 T butter

Melt the butter. Lay the potatoes in the pan and , sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté on medium heat until done.

Baked Bean Stuffed Sausage, makes 4 (enough for 8 with all the other things if you ask me)

4 rounds of sausage
½ c baked beans (if they are canned, reduce the liquid in the beans)

Take the beans and divide them among the 4 rounds of sausage –– around 1 1/2 to 2 T each. Gently enclose the beans with the sausage.

Heat a skillet (cast iron is good for this) and fry the stuffed sausage on a medium low heat until browned on both sides and cooked through.  Slice to serve or serve whole.

Sausage (makes 4 stuffed patties)

¼ lb fatty pork like pork belly, ground (a food processor can do this if you don’t have a grinder)
3 T rusk crumbs* or breadcrumbs
1 t salt
½ t pepper
¼ t nutmeg
¼ t mace
¼ t coriander
generous pinch each of sage, marjoram (chopped fresh should be 2 generous pinches) generous pinch of cayenne pepper
¾ lb ground pork
1 ice cube, smashed

Combine all the ingredients save the ground pork and ice in food processer and pulse a few times to blend.  Add the pork and ice and pulse to blend.  Take a small piece and fry to taste for seasonings (this is such an important sausage step, you can’t add or subtract spice successfully after everything is made). When you are happy, form the sausage into 4 large circles about hand size. Make the outer edges thinner than the middle since you are folding the meat over the beans.

*Rusk (based on a recipe from The Paupered Chef )

2 c flour
½ t teaspoon salt
2 ½ teaspoons Double Acting Baking Powder (I used regular baking powder)
3½ ounces water

Preheat the oven to 450º. Meanwhile, sieve all of the dry ingredients into a large bowl.

Add the water and use your hands to form it into a dough.

Roll out the dough until it is about 1/2" thick. Put butter a baking sheet just the size of the dough.  Transfer it to the baking sheet. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.

Remove the sheet, cut the dough into 1/2" inch strips. Set each strip on its side. Lower the heat to 375º and then return the pan to the oven. Cook for 10 minutes. If the bread is nice and firm, remove and set aside. If it is still soft, then flip all the strips and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. Leave it out to dry, uncovered for a few hours or overnight.

Break them up and put the pieces in the food processor –– let 'er rip.  Making crumbs of this took a bit of doing.  I sort of processed then sifted and processed again.  I ended up with 2 varieties of rusk crumbs.  One was powdery (I used that for the recipe) the other was in small hard crumbs that I'm going to try in a meat loaf or on another batch of sausage to see the difference

My favorite Baked Beans (this is plenty for 6 breakfasts)

1 c beans (soaked overnight in water with 1 t baking soda)
1 strip bacon
¼ c chopped onion
1 T brown sugar
1 T molasses
2 T dark rum
2 T maple syrup
1 t salt
½ t pepper
¼ t allspice
2 cloves
2 small or 1 large dried date, chopped
1 t dry mustard
½ c tomato sauce or canned crushed tomatoes *
1 T cider vinegar

Strain the beans. Sauté bacon till crisp and remove, then add the onion and sauté till onion is soft. Cover beans with water (around 2 c) and cook until they are soft, about one hour. Check the liquid levels while cooking. Drain, reserving some liquid.

Preheat the oven to 300º

Combine the beans and the rest of the ingredients (including the onion and bacon with or without the cooking fat) in an ovenproof pot with a lid. If the mixture looks dry, add a bit of the cooking liquid. If it is not tight fitting, place a piece of foil between the lid and the pot. Cook for 4-5 hours. Check from time to time and add liquid. * I often have extra tomato sauce standing by to add with the bean liquid if it’s dry.

See the Creative Cooking Crew Pinterest Board HERE
and the round up HERE

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I am going to be on a tight schedule writing my first article so will be on a working vacation from the blog for a few weeks.  I'll be back with lots of great English houses and recipes.  Enjoy the summer!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, Extreme Makeovers and Ancient Fish with Berry Sauce

Agamemnon Mask, Tomb V in Mycenae, 16th c BCE found by Schliemann, 1876

A dizzying array of gold, jewels, art, pottery, furniture –– the first stop on my whirlwind of a trip to England was the Ashmolean Museum –– at 330 years the oldest museum in Britain and the oldest university museum in the world (the oldest public museum in the world –– the Capitoline Museums in Rome on the Capitoline Hill was opened in 1471, predating the Ashmolean by 200-odd years).

Elias Ashmole  (1617-92)

In 1677, a celebrated antiquary named Elias Ashmole gave a his cabinet of curiosities, books (including a large section on Alchemy) and botanist John Tradescant’s famed collection to Oxford University on the condition that they give it a suitable home. As it turned out Tradescant’s collection was the larger part of the donation because a fire at the Middle Temple in 1679 destroyed a large part of Ashmole’s own collection.

John Tradescant the Younger,1608-62

The history of Ashmole’s acquisition of Tradescant’s collection is not pretty ––  he looks to have swindled Tradescant’s widow Ester out of her husband’s life’s work. She lost the fight to keep it and ended up drowned in a pond after much legal wrangling over ownership. 

Ester said Ashmole had gotten her husband to sign it over when he was in his cups in 1659.  Ashmole cultivated a close working relationship with Tradescant (or schemed as some have said) as he worked with him to catalogue his collection in 1652.  Ashmole even paid to publish a catalogue of the collection in 1656 and wooed Tradescant with a promise of immortality should he deed the collection to him –– a promise he actually kept. I'm sure her state of mind was not improved by the fact that her tormentor actually moved next door to her to be better able to remove Tradescant's collection.  This ruthlessness doesn't seem out of character, Ashmole set out to marry into money (his wives seemed no better than cash machines to him) and curried favor with those in power quite shamelessly.  

He got what he wanted.

The building of the Ashmolean Museum began in 1678 and was opened by James, Duke of York (later King) in 1683 at an enormous cost for the time,  £4,500.  It was the world's first building made just for the purpose of being a museum. It displayed coins, manuscripts and zoological specimens (including the famous Dodo that was so moth-eaten it was removed in 1755).  It became the Museum of the History of Science when the Ashmole collection was divided in 1894 and houses such wonders as Albert Einstein's blackboard as well as astrolabes, sundials, mathematical equipment and manuscripts.

The new Ashmolean building now houses the art and archaeology collections and was designed and built by architect and archaeologist Charles Cockerell  from 1839-45. In 1908 Oxford's collection of art was combined with the holdings of the Ashmolean.

The 19th century version of the Ashmolean Museum that I remembered was old fashioned with large, classical galleries, lovely wooden floors and thick moldings (you can see the old layout HERE).  Then in 2006, an extensive 3-year renovation took place undertaken by American architect, Rick Mather .  This was an extreme makeover.  All of the detail was stripped from the museum. 

So it went from this sort of thing

Old Ashmolean exhibit

To this, earning the 2010 RIBA award in the process for design.

Ceilings and walls disappeared and new staircases were built.  It now looks like any other museum but the reward for the modernization is that visitors are up exponentially and much more of the vast collection can be displayed instead of languishing in dusty storage rooms.  I do miss the quirk of the old place, but that’s progress.

The whole reason for going was to view the remarkable pottery and artifact collection for a project I’m working on.  It is a treasure trove.  If you read this blog, you know how I love ancient decorative objects and have written about them HERE   and HERE 

From that golden Mask of Agamemnon above...

to pottery of early Iran

Cyclades (3200-2100 BC)

Lovely Greece and Cyprus

You can see the piece in the background in the 'before' photo of the museum

The collection is staggering in its breadth and scope –– I just showed you a tiny taste of the ancient world –– the museum covers many lands and many stops in time. 

The Alfred Jewel inscribed 'Alfred ordered me made', 9th c. one of the most popular objects at the museum
I never cease to be amazed by the powerful shapes and patterns of these ancient artists.  It is more than worth a trip to see the collections if you are in Oxford –– it was the first British museum after all.

So, are you hungry yet?

I thought an ancient recipe would be appropriate and decided on one that I had waited a year to make until mulberries were in season again (don’t worry, blackberries or black raspberries or even blueberries would do).

The recipe is inspired by a few words of Sotades Comicus, quoted by Athenaeus (293AD), COOKS, 459,  THE DEIPNOSOPHISTS,  or Banquet of the Learned, VII:

 “A huge dog-fish is put in my class; I baked the middle slices, but the rest of the stuff I boiled, after making a mulberry sauce" [OR "I boil'd and stufi'd with half-ripe mulberries" in a different translation].

Athenaeus material is full of descriptions for fish preparations.  Although the mulberry fish is just a suggestion of a recipe, others are more involved.  The recipe borrows from various techniques in the work to make a completed dish that is authentic to the period with its use of wine, herbs and spice.

Dogfish or rock eel is in the shark family. I would say shark, mahi mahi, cod or most any light fish would be great with this sauce –– honestly, it would be good with mackerel!

I am using a recipe from my favorite ancient cooking source, The Classical Cookbook. I think the sauce would be great with grilled fish as well, just cook the wine with a bit of fish trimmings and strain for the sauce.

I think you could eat this at any restaurant today and never imagine it was cuisine of the ancient world –– how great is that?

Mahi Mahi with Berry Sauce serves 4

8 oz mulberries or blackberries, black raspberries or blueberries

2/3 c red wine

4 fish steaks (mahi mahi, cod, mako shark or what you will)

bouquet garni of oregano or marjoram and rue (rue is both delicious and beautiful if you can find the plant and grow it) or parsley

2/3 c white wine

2 T Honey

2 T Fish sauce (garum if you have it!)

1 T vinegar

½ t asafoetida powder

Put the fruit in a saucepan with the redwine and cook on medium low for a few minutes.

Poach the fish in the white wine and herbs on low for 10 minutes or until done. Remove.

OR take some trimmings from the fish and poach in the white wine. Remove the fish and add to the berry mixture. Grill the fish portions sprinkled with a bit of salt and olive oil.

Add the honey, fish sauce, vinegar and asafoetida to the poaching wine and add that to the berry mixture. Strain to remove the seeds and reduce a little. Serve with or over the fish.

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