Saturday, July 21, 2012

Recipes: Two from Beeton

I read old cookbooks for the hell of it. That's not quite true. It is interesting to see what writers have to say about the dishes of the time. Sometimes insight is gained into a modern dish by looking at older ones. The other great reason is to resuscitate a "forgotten" dish and remake it into a more "modern" tasting dish.

I finished looking through The Campaign for Domestic Happiness by Isabella Beeton and found two dishes that I plan on trying out to see what can be made of them.

The first is a way of ripening Stilton cheese..."An artificial ripeness in Stilton cheese is sometimes produced by inserting a small piece of decayed Cheshire into an aperture at the top. From 3 weeks to a month is sufficient time to ripen the cheese. An additional flavour may also be obtained by scooping out a piece from the top, and pouring therein port, sherry, Madiera, or old ale, and letting the cheese absorb these for 2 or 3 weeks."  She does go on to say that this might not be the best way but it does leave it open for experimentation.

At our house, invariably, once every few months we run out of milk for morning coffee and tea. It seems that Mrs. Beeton has an excellent solution. Just beat up an egg, put it in the cup and add the hot liquid. A note of caution, add the hot liquid gradually and stir it up.  This is tempering the egg. I have my own method for doing this and next time we run out I will try it.

It's funny. I used to add "raw" egg to my hot chocolate where it added a richness and thickness that was quite decadent. I never thought to add it to coffee.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Beer and Salt

My grandmother used to salt her beer. I wonder what she would make of the plethora of salts available on the market?

There is a vigorous debate between science of cookery guy, Harold McGee and salt aficionado, Mark Bitterman. The whole gamut of salt stuff can be seen found at ciao samin. I tend to follow the science guy. I can only taste a few differences between the salts and attribute that largely to granule size and shape.

This post was going to take the piss out of the beer specialists and the overly delicate gourmet sensibilities but a funny thing happened on the way.

So, you know how salt can intensive flavours. Well, it can do it for beer. I wouldn't recommend salting an already delicious brew but if you are tasting a white or any beer in lager family and finding it a little flat in flavour, then try some salt.

I tried a number of salts and also found something interesting. The flavoured salts (smoked sea salt, salts with herbs, sel gris) can add a punch of flavour. When adding the smoked salt, it gave the faint memory of a rauchbier and the herbs tasted herby.  What else were you expecting?

I am sure there are some beer purists who may be snorting a bit about this but a great beer style, Gose, uses sea water and has a slight sourness to it. To this point, it may be interesting to foul your beer with a few more additives - citric acid, lime, yuzu, blood orange, sour cherry and grapefruit come to mind.

The U-Brew-it, Fermentations, that I frequent isn't keen on bringing in wild yeast for obvious reasons but I love sour beers. This may be a way to use a good Belgian ale base and bring it home for doctoring. Maybe I'll fool around a little bit and write up some of the more interesting experiments.

So, I guessed I learned my lesson. Don't laugh at grandma.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cookbook Review: Buffalo Cake and Indian Pudding

This small 77 page book is part  of the Penguin Great Food series. This one is written by Dr A.W. Chase. While I have read a few titles in this series, this is the first one that I am writing about because it is an older cookbook (1896).  I am quite interested in the evolution and future of cookbooks and I have written a post On Recipes a while back that talks a little about this.

This book has a few sections that open up with some general remarks and comments.  This is the same style that is employed in Joy of Cooking or Fannie Farmer.  If you ever get a chance to get an earlier edition of these two classics, it is helpful to look at them.  The history of entertaining could easily be traced from following these cookbooks notes.  The earlier ones have helpful information on how to dress and cook game. Even though these type of general comments are very helpful, the recipes themselves provide plenty of illumination about cooking around the turn of the previous century.

These recipes are short paragraphs without the current form of ingredients followed by instruction.  Instead they are an interspersion of ingredients with notes and short items to complete the cooking.  Since cooking was often done on wood stoves, the instructions are more vague in a way but more concrete in another.  There is a description of how the recipe should come out including great descriptions of what a final product is.  There is an expectation that the person reading the recipe knows how to cook but not how to do this recipe. Often, there is homespun advice alongside the recipe. For instance;

On St. James' Stale Bread Pudding : "The author feels very sure that you will ask St. James to call again."

On Bread Pudding, Aunt Rachel's : "This is like what my wife used to make, except she used to put the raisins in whole, to which I should never object; nor did I, as above remarked. 'ever see the family taste rebel against it'"

On Apple Fritters: "These instructions are from Miss Arabell, of Knox City, Mo. I say Miss because, as she gives no 'sir' name, I take it for granted she had not found the 'sir.'"

At the end of the pie section: "If this new plan is done carefully you will be pleased with the result. If not, you can take the old crusty, mushy way again; but I know you will not."

There is just such a forcefulness and surety in these comments by the good doctor. The strange thing is that he's right. If you have cooked enough, you will recognize some of these old fashioned hints as being fairly true, even in today's cooking.  The recipes are so plain that they cut to the bone and you can begin to understand how to build and embellish on top of these skeletal recipes.  It does begin to show how many new cookbooks are just flipping in new flavours to old favourites.

After reading and using cookbooks for so long, I feel like Dr. Chase that "I know as quick as I read recipe whether it is reliable or not. At least, for several years past, I have tested but very few recipes which proved a failure; while, in my earlier experience, the failures were frequent. Such I now throw aside on their first reading."

It is refreshing to hear a cookbook say that you are going to fuck up sometimes but it may the recipe.  Just work at it and you'll figure it out. This book is a curiosity for most, an interesting historic document for others.  I am going to read other volumes in the series for the fact that I am intrigued about how food has been written about and thought about. I am sure that if you are an attentive cook that you could even make most of these recipes without too much trouble.  A few may even become instant classics in your household.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

WTF... is a Beer Cocktail?

It's a mixed beer drink, duh. Okay, that is not exactly fair and not really descriptive. In fact, the term has only become a term in my life recently.  While strictly speaking, it should only count for adding distilled spirits, I think that the term is a little more loose.

The earliest beer cocktail is one that my Polish Grandmother would drink. It was considered a ladies' drink and consisted of Canadian lager, tomato juice and salt. Sometimes, if someone was being fancy, they would add Clamato juice. Looking up this classic on the internet shows claims of this being Mexican or some American city. I think that this is probably one of those things that has cropped up in many cultures at once.

The next one that I remember is beer and lemonade or iced tea. Yeah, I know the Coors Light Iced Tea thing has been circulating the internet but it was a thing a long time ago. Call it a shandy.

The next one is one of my favourites. It is a simple addition of Ribena into beer.

I have had fancy ones based on Delerium Tremens and recently been experimenting with whiskeys and ginger beer specifically ryes and bourbons.

The big question is why ruin beer by adding anything?  Well, I suppose there are three reasons to add something to beer.
1. to save a bad or bland beer.  You got a lager you hate or a beer that you are just meh about, then do something. Most beers of this time end up in cooking for me. But like saving wine by turning it into a Sangria, you can always turn beer into a cocktail.
2. to enhance a flavour profile.  Sometimes if an element is added to a drink, it can enhance and lift it up. I find that adding the Ribena to a lager highlights the malty elements and makes lagers make more sense to me. Also, adding salt to a sour beer can make that pucker even more prominent.
3. make a whole new delicious thing.  While I did not entirely enjoy the Delerium Tremens cocktail I had a Le Canard Mort in Toronto, it was a thing unto its own. When tasting one of these concoctions, invariably made by a mixologist, there is a sense of what they were trying to accomplish - normally marrying two main ingredients to lift both sets into something greater.  Reminds me of great cocktails such things as an old fashioned or a sidecar. You can taste something of the original elements but what you have is something better.

Try mixing your own but just remember for every classic there are the B-52s and Blowjobs and tons of justly forgotten shooters and cocktails. Have fun.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Recipe: Whiskey and Ginger Beer

I really battled with the title of this post cause strictly speaking, I am talking about the whiskey family - Rye and Bourbon but whatever. A friend asked me last year if she could do a post on Rye and Ginger. She believed that she had found the perfect ginger ale to go with a perfect whiskey. So, while I am still waiting for that post, we had tried her entry which was Gentleman Jack, a bourbon and Sussex Golden ginger ale from east coast Canada.  I have the leftovers, soooo...

The idea behind this test and drink was to try a dry ginger ale and a traditional ginger ale with bourbon and then try that with an equivalent in ginger beer, actual beer.

Entrants: Canada Dry Ginger Ale, Sussex Golden Ginger Ale, Phillips Ginger Beer, and Crabbie's Ginger Beer.  These were mixed with Gentleman Jack.

Method: A measure of Jack were poured into an old fashioned with chilled entrants. These were tasted and notated.  Then another two measures were added to bring the total to three to one (more or less).  These were then tasted and notated.

Results: Canada Dry, although designed to be a mixer did not fare well with the Jack.  It could be because this is a more mellow and well rounded bourbon that doesn't love the harshness of Canada Dry.  The dark spicy sweetness of Sussex Golden worked well at the three to one mix but didn't seem to do well at the one to one.  Now, mixing the bourbon with the beer was revelatory.

I like me some spicy non-alcoholic ginger beer.  My favourite is the Golden Cockerel Old English Ginger Beer which can be hard to find in Toronto. It is sweet and spicy, more aligned with the Sussex, in terms of flavour profile.  Crabbie's also shared this profile.  It is like drinking a sweet ginger ale.  It goes down smooth.  Unfortunately, at the stronger 1:1 ratio, it the whole drink is too sweet.  At the higher ratio, it tastes like ginger pop and you hardly notice the accents of vanilla or bourbon.  This is a problem.  You could get really zonked on this.  It was enjoyable but did overpower Jack.  It may work with a more prominent Canadian whiskey or harsher bourbon. Hell, beer haters might even like this version.

Phillip's Ginger Beer is more subtle. There is little to no sweetness. The dominant flavour is malt followed with a ginger bite. It is definitely a beer. Because of its subtleness, it would be a great beer for food pairing over Crabbie's. It worked really well at the more alcoholic ratios. The beer notes ran alongside the Jack to win this Kentucky Derby. (Sorry, that was horrible but the drink was good, as long as you like bourbon).  It makes me wonder if Canada Dry has altered its recipe so much that it no longer is as dry as this beer.

I would drink either of these cocktails.  If I was looking for something to go down quickly and didn't have to work the next day, I would do the Crabbie's. It would also work with a more distinct and prominent whiskey or bourbon. If I was looking for a sipping drink to go with food then I would do the Phillip's with a more nuanced bourbon or high end Canadian whiskey.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Restaurant Review: Star of Kingston

The Star of Kingston is just east of Kingston and Woodbine.  It is situated beside a real estate office, convenience store and an architect's office. That is to say, it is a local restaurant.

It is small, literal hole in the wall.  There are very few tables and that seems to discourage people from eating inside.  The kitchen is tiny which means that you can see everything that the ex-Ruth Chris' cook is doing.

Some prep is done by microwaving (rice) and most food has to be preprepared and fired to order.  It is a joy to watch him bang out the dishes as he goes along.  While we were there, 11 orders were done in this small and barely adequate kitchen.

The menu is eclectic and  reaches all over the place from Italy to India to Canada.  The food is way better than it has to be but it can be uneven.  For example we ordered a pizza and the toppings were excellent but the crust was one of the pre-made varieties.  Some of the items such as fries are not great but are done better than most.  There is a mild spicing to most things that underlie the food.  The pastas we have had are all decent pastas with a delicate Indian spicing, and the chicken parm was pounded just before cooking.  I kinda like this place for its hutzpah.

While I have some reservations, it is good to have a varied menu, especially for a restaurant that serves families.  There was a cranky night after many long nights, our one son wanted burgers and the other wanted Indian.  We found a place that did all that and Italian, too.  My only suggestion would to pare down the menu a little bit.  It may be possible to find a way of prepping so that ingredients can serve two purposes such as using the spiced beef as both a burger and a kofta.

It is hard to see someone work so hard and have some of the little things let the menu down.  It would be too much to ask for a place like this to serve homemade.  Because you can see the work that goes into the kitchen and really appreciate the price, it seems unfair to criticize without offering a little bit of support. The Star of Kingston is better than it has to be for the price.  You can see by the menu and the few flashes of really tasty things that this guy has the chops to make a really good menu.  There could be Indian spiced chicken wings, wings with regular sauce, butter chicken with pasta but the restaurant is locked into a struggle between serving the regular customers in the area and shining.

This is the germ of a gem of a restaurant and we will be going back or ordering again.

Star of Kingston on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review: Endless Appetites

Endless Appetites was written by Alan Bjerga.  It is a book about food crisis.  The conceit of the book is that it uses one burning guy instead of what this one guy represents.  This is the one individual that went viral. Bjerga chooses Mohamed Bouazizi rather than any other self immolator. It is useful to make his point but it undermines the reading of the rest of the book for me as it seems to discard this practice as a means of protest.

So, getting my bug out of the way.  I really enjoyed the rest of the book.  Enjoyed might be a bit of wrong word to use but I was informed about how Bjerga sees the unfolding of the commodification of food and some of the impacts.  

In many parts of the world, there is uncertainty over one's next meal.  One of the recurring themes is that growers can't afford their own food.  Think about the current quinoa example. The first world gets its hyper health consciousness raised over the effects of a super grain with a lot of protein and everyone has to have it.  The problem is that for a poor region, the fact that they can grow a grain with... is a survival thing.  It now makes more sense for them to sell their food for profit then eat it, especially if they are part of an organized business.  But they are not able to purchase new food at local prices but rather inflated world prices.  The reasons for that is complicated but it wouldn't be too unfair to point directly to communication and futures markets where every farmer can see what is being traded for what price and act accordingly.

 It is really ironic that even Henry Ford understood the need to ensure that workers afford the goods they are making or in this case, growing. We, the world, have not found a way to address the problem on a global level even though it was Ford and his ilk that started us on this path.  A country should be able to afford its own produce.  Put another way, globalization turns regional problems into global problems.

Bjerga gives a history of Chicago Board of Trade.  It created grading standards for wheat that along with rise of telegraph allowed for communications of standard, prices and arrival dates for wheat.  The world now sees these prices and reacts to them. Chicago kept dominance by; 1. making it easier to do deals on the floor, 2. physical ownership of a good that degraded quickly, 3. Limit of contracts traded by traders were intended to limit speculation.  This kept everything manageable.  

Then in the 1990s brought on the big boys to start trading; Goldman created an index and ways around the limitations of trading started to develop.  They found a way to game the system.  They weren't trading food anymore but had found a way to make money that impacted actual food prices.  Think about fluctuations on the stock market now applied to the stalk market.  

China used to be excluded from analysis as they were largely self sufficient.  Not true anymore. A rise in wheat can cause a rise in rice and the spiral begins. And of course, oil prices affect transportation and therefore food costs.

Local trading networks in places like Ethiopia are falling.  So, instead of buying grain at a reasonable price locally, grain is bought at world market prices that are higher.  People who can grow for themselves start hoarding making local grain much harder to buy.  Many local markets set their prices to the world market (Chicago), the internet and cell phone technology has made this easier.

Higher food prices means an increase in costs for food which means less money to plant crops. This leads to richer countries to buy up land in poor countries to plant, a form of land grab.  So, multinational seeing dollar signs and wanting to ensure that they can continue their food supply begin to own some of the best growing land in the world.

Then the world markets start tightening as supply becomes scarcer.  If countries stop trading, that leaves the market at a deficit, driving prices even higher. Even if the tightening is not based on the reality but rather the perception of what is going on in the market.  If someone thinks that a place like China will be needing more wheat and tries to hold back to get a better price, that could set off this spiral.

Throughout the book, there are small vignettes of people who work - a trader in Chicago, a farmer in Ethiopia, and UN food aid bureaucrats.  These issues transcend the right and left that so mark many of these issues.  It allows for a lot of the high finance bugaboos to be turned into human faces and actions.  All in all, this is a really depressing book.  It is a descriptive one and that means there are some silver linings but I leave the book for you to read to find them.  Hint:  It involves Africa.  

There are case studies of better ways. These include; coffee, banana, and Thai rice.  That brings me to my favourite chapter.  The Price of a Cup of Coffee.  Ethiopia is working to creating a coffee market.  This will likely lead to the increase of the quality of coffee overall but might destroy the specialty coffee market as I know it.  I love some of the special coffees that come from specific plantations but I will gladly give that up, if one of the solutions lead to overall better coffee and better ability for the local markets to create a better living for all farmers. 

I may not have to give up Ethiopian coffees completely as those specialty beans are only 4% of the Ethiopian market.  The Exchange does makes it harder to find the gems of the beans.  However, there are some coffee merchants who will still go all the way to the plantation.  Most other buyers had issues with coffee bean quality but did not have the ability to trace the beans back to the farmer who grew it.  So, many buyers had to forgo the opportunity because of the risks.  This means that sometime soon there will be more Ethiopian beans for the world for a quality that can be trusted and a lesser selection of specialty beans from single source plantations.

Look, this book is definitely worth reading to try and gain an understanding of food riots in Egypt, rising bread costs, and the impact of globalization on food.  It is a fairly equitable tale that didn't hit you over the head with prescription.  This makes it a harder book but a more enlightening one.