Odd Old Recipes

August 11, 2014


Roaming around a used book sale this weekend, I came upon this irresistible tome:



First printed in 1986, the edition I have is from 1999; it's the 28th printing!

It's filled with all manner of wonderful information, like how to make Grit Wurst out of a hog's head, cream-fry a squirrel, and roast an antelope. There must be a dozen different recipes for kraut.  I particularly like instructions for a "chemical garden" made of coal, to replace the flowers you can no longer afford for your table.  ("Into a nice large glass bowl put 2 or 3 piece of good sized coal. Pour 2 T. each of water, bluing and salt over it.  Let stand a day and then add 2 more T. salt and water; add 3 drops of mercurochrome on each lump.  It will form interesting growth formations both attractive and colorful.")

Can you still buy mercurochrome?

I keep leafing through the book, fascinated by these recipes; there are so many I've never seen before, like "Dandelion Dinner," and "Grot." (Grot is essentially a very thinned out Bechamel, served in big bowls as a soup supper.)

But the recipe I couldn't resist was this one:

Xtra Light Beer Muffins

2 cups sifted flour

3 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

4 T cold shortening, cut into the above

3 T sugar

1 can beer, can be warm and stale. 

Drop in muffin tins or roll out, knead and cut.  Bake at 375 until browned.

(The batter was fairly loose, and it's hard to see how it could possible be made into biscuits without adding considerably more flour.  The recipe makes a dozen muffins, which I baked for about 25 minutes.)

I used dark beer, which is what I had on hand.  The flavor is pleasantly malty, a lovely contrast to the apricot jam I spread on the warm muffins. 

I've certainly encountered better muffins, but I don't think I've ever met a lighter one. And they're certainly simple to make: I threw them together in less than five minutes. 






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A Note on Aging Beef

August 10, 2014

I really love the taste of aged beef. I recently ordered dry-aged ground beef from the wholesale butcher, DeBragga (they sell meat to the likes of Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges and Tom Colicchio), and it made the most wonderful burgers. They had that deeply complex, funky flavor you only get when beef is beautifully aged. 

The problem: Dry-aging beef is extremely expensive. Unlike wet-aged beef (which is aged in cryovac), air-drying shrinks the beef, leaving the butcher with less to sell. And because they have to cut off the outside of the meat, there’s a serious amount of waste. 

So when I read Nathan Mhyrvold’s trick for aging steak at home, I had to try it. 

The method is simple: you buy a couple of inexpensive (not prime, not aged), boneless rib eye steaks, about 3/4 of a pound each, cut an inch thick.  You put the steaks in a plastic bag, add a tablespoon and a half of Thai fish sauce, squeeze out the air, and put the packages in the refrigerator. 

Three days later you remove the meat from the bag, wrap each steak in a double layer of cheesecloth (I actually used a single layer of a thicker Japanese cloth intended for marination), put the wrapped steaks on a rack and leave them in the refrigerator for 3 more days.

When I took the steaks out of their bloody wrappers they were enormously changed. They were dryer, denser and darker.  I let them sit for half an hour, sprinkled them with salt, then cooked them in a very hot cast iron pan for three minutes a side (leave them another minute a side if you like your meat medium-rare).  I put them on a cutting board, left them to rest for five minutes, and took them to the table. 

They were, without any doubt, the best cheap steaks I’ve ever cooked. The process had drawn the liquid from the meat, and concentrated the flesh.  They cooked beautifully, with a terrific sear.

But they did not taste like aged meat; they had none of that rich almost nutty flavor you get from meat that’s been left to hang.  My guess is that there’s just no way to cheat the process.

Will I do this again?  Definitely.  Will I continue to splurge – every once in a while – on well-aged beef?  Definitely.  



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Things I Love

August 9, 2014

I'm always looking for great hot sauces, but this one….. is really wonderful. It's becoming so popular that the hand-made sauce is increasingly hard to find in stores. Fortunately, you can order Piri Piri sauce directly from the maker.

Piri is the swahili word for pepper, in this case, an African bird's eye chili.

Aged in old whisky barrels, Piri Piri is lightly smoky, incredibly complex, with a nice lemony brightness. I end up using it on every savory thing. It's fantastic splashed onto eggs, and stirred into mayonnaise it makes every sandwich better.  I love it in black beans. And as a marinade… well, try it for yourself.



A Few Gems from Old Gourmet, Circa 1941

August 6, 2014

Reading old magazines is so endlessly fascinating, I can't help passing some of this on.  These nuggets (some truly appalling), are from the first six issues of Gourmet.

In some cases the articles speak to how openminded Americans were when it came to what they considered edible back in the forties. They were happily devouring offal and foraged foods – and they were crazy for turtle. On the other hand, their appreciation of foods eaten in any continent other than Europe and America was almost nonexistent.  The Japanese admiration for raw fish, for example, was considered a "curse."  As for women… well, read on. 


January 1941

Introducing the magazine:

“The art of being a gourmet has nothing to do with age, money, fame or country. It can be found in a thrifty French housewife with her pot-au-feu or in a white-capped chef in a skyscraper note.  But wherever it exists, the practitioner of this art will have the eye of an artist, the imagination of a poet, the rhythm of a musician, and the breadth of a sculptor.  That is the subtle amalgam of which the true gourmet is compounded.” 


February 1941

The Last Touch - French sauces

“The trouble with giving advice about sauce-making is that every experienced cook is likely to have his or her own special difficult. Your own sauce weakness may be injecting the right delicate seasoning, somebody else may fall down in consistency, while another poor wretch is always having his or her sauces curdle. How is even the best-intentioned advice-giver going to find one piece of wisdom that will cover all these emergencies? It’s like trying to tell a hundred homely girls in one sentence what’s the matter with them and what they had better do about it.”


March 1941

“Terrapin comeback” 

“The first way is to kill the terrapin by giving it a blow on the head, then chop off the head and suspend the turtle to let it bleed. Scald the whole turtle in a kettle of boiling water for about 5 minutes.  Now remove the outer scales, and the dark skin of the fleshy parts. Then turn the terrapin on its back and cut down the center of the undersell. Discard entrails, heart, sandbag, gall, head, and the nails from the feet.”


April 1941

Food Flashes

…a new egg noodle maker in the E. 50s, a cheese biscuit maker with a small factory in Forest Hills, Long Island duck farms, a new store selling British dried herbs and teas, a delicious canned tripe available on Lexington in the 70s, a fine-grained Polish-style ham being made in Chicago, and (amazing) frozen cocktail sandwiches.

The Last Touch 

Talks about how men have a keener sense of smell than women: “They make, therefore, the best chefs.  They know taste, and taste’s the thing in sauce-making.” 


May 1941 

Eating around the world

“The principal curse of the Japanese diet, after the incessant rice, is the raw fish which is an alleged national delicacy.  One final horror remains. It is the rice wine of the country, sake, a stomach-curdling stuff which I always found unpalatable and indigestible.”

“The Arabs of Northern Africa have a similar dish, made, however, with sheep or goat.  They wrap the chunks of meat in a cooked porridge of wheat or millet, and eat the entire mess with their fingers. As I recall it, this not altogether aesthetic arrangement is labeled couscous."

Food Flashes

“Fiddlehead, a common colonial day pot herb and still a favorite green in the kitchens of Maine, is being given a second year trial this month in markets and hotel dining rooms of New York City. Though Maine housewives will pickle fiddleheads, Gourmet recommends serving them ala hotel chefs on toast with brown butter sauce."

“Paradise nuts from the Amazon Valley are for sale in Grand Central Terminal.  We tried one on a favorite squirrel in Central Park.  He had never met a paradise nut, but he knew what to do with it.” 


June 1941

Food Flashes

Smoked turkeys, more American cheeses, bottled cocktails so that women can impress their men by “making cocktails,” a business that will send your soldier a coconut cake and a whole roasted chicken, pheasant from Oregon, different Virginia hams.

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Beautiful Cold Soup

August 5, 2014

Now that we’re in cold soup season, everyone’s throwing gazpacho ideas around.  In the mood for something different, I began thinking about the borscht my Russian grandfather was addicted to.  He liked it hot, but wouldn’t it be great – and gorgeous – served cold?

This is everything you want in a cold soup: slightly sweet and lightly sour, it has a sturdy simplicity. There are so few ingredients that the flavor of the beets comes singing through. It feels great in your mouth, and when you top this beautiful soup with soft chunks of lightly boiled eggs and crisp cubes of cucumber, you get a whole new range of textures. I can’t think of a more appealing summer lunch.


Cold Borscht for Six 

4 medium-sized beets, peeled and quartered

1 or 2 medium waxy potatoes, roughly diced

juice of 1 1/2 lemons

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar




diced cucumber

2-3 hardboiled eggs


Sour cream 

Bring ten cups of water to a boil. 

Peel and quarter 4 fresh beets (wear rubber gloves if you don’t want your hands to glow for the rest of the day), and add them to the pot.  When the water comes back to a boil, turn down the flame and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, or until a fork can easily pierce a beet’s surface.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the beets from the pot.  Wearing your rubber gloves, shred them on the large holes of a grater and put them back into the pot along with the diced potatoes. Cook for another 12 minutes over medium low heat, until the potatoes are just lightly toothsome. 

Add the lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Allow the soup to cool, then put into the refrigerator for several hours to allow the flavors to mingle and get to know each other. 

Serve garnished with cucumber, freshly chopped dill, pieces of hardboiled egg and dollops of sour cream. 

If you stir the sour cream completely in, you get this vivid sunset of a soup.



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