Books and winter go hand in hand. I was planning to stick to library books for inspiration but a few purchases have crept through the door. The cost of a good second hand cookbook is usually less than half the price of a new magazine. Savers second hand store provides most of my cheap finds, while the Book Grocer is a great source of remaindered books.
Many species of fish are at their peak in winter. The snapper were almost jumping at the Preston market last week, along with a winter specialty, a rare item, small gutted cuttlefish. I bought one large snapper carcass to make fish stock to freeze, one snapper to bake, and 1/2 kilo of cuttle fish to freeze. Five fishy meals for $19. I was very happy with this baked snapper recipe from Neil Perry. We devoured young Roger the Snapper with gusto.
Every now and then, I cook a few meat dishes for the ‘export market’, reverting to retro classics, given that they freeze well and make for simple and nourishing meals that can be reheated easily. I am more than happy to cook meat for others, especially if the recipient is ill or otherwise disinclined to cook.
Searching the shelves, (and not the internet) for something French, a Chicken Chasseur perhaps, I noticed a big black French culinary hole in my cookbook collection: probably because the cuisine of France tends to be very meat focussed. On the top shelf I keep some much treasured ‘collector’ cookbooks, purchased from second hand shops and read for amusement. ‘The Art of Cuisine’ by Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant is one of these. And very French it is!
There is a story behind this book. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant had been friends since childhood. Joyant was the executor of Lautrec’s will and created the Musée Toulouse- Lautrec at Albi. The two friends had a mutual love of food which was the true daily link between these men.
‘In the last years of his own life, Joyant collected the recipes invented in Lautrec’s company and combined them with the recipes that he and Lautrec had garnered throughout their years of companionship. He embellished the text with Lautrec drawings …….The book was published in a limited edition, and was conceived by Joyant as a work of art and as a tribute.’
My copy is a new – 1966- copy of the original work, ( which was most likely published in the 1920s) translated by Margery Weiner. The only modifications are a few culinary notes, added in bold at the end of the recipes. The book includes fabulous coloured plates of Lautrec’s art, including many sketches he designed for menus.
Toulouse Lautrec’s ‘Chicken Marengo’
Put in a saucepan some olive oil, a crushed clove of garlic; heat and brown pieces of chicken. When these pieces are a good golden colour, take them out and make a roux with a spoon of flour.
When the roux is well browned, moisten with good bouillon, put back the pieces of chicken, salt and pepper, and let simmer on a low flame.
Half an hour before serving, add some sautéed mushrooms, a few spoons of tomato puree, and pitted olives. Just as you serve, sprinkle with croutons of bread fried in butter.
1966 culinary notes by Barbara Kafka
2 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs flour, 1 cup chicken stock, 1/2 lb mushroom sliced and heated in 2 Tbls butter, 2 Tbs tomato puree and 1/4 cup black olives.
My notes, 2014.
1 kilo free range chicken thigh fillets, cut into thirds, 2 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/4 cup white wine, a slurp of brandy, 3 cloves of garlic, smashed, plain flour to dredge the chicken pieces, 1 cup of stock, salt and pepper, 2 Tbs tomato paste, 300 grs mushrooms, quartered. No olives and no croutons.
Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, fry till golden in oil and butter in a heavy based pan, making sure you don’t crowd the pan. Remove pieces when done, then add the garlic to the pan and cook briefly, then the cognac and wine. On high heat scrape the stuck bits on the base, reduce a little, then add the stock and tomato paste. Put the chicken pieces back into the pan, add salt and pepper to taste,and cook on very low flame. Add the mushrooms towards the end of cooking. Add more stock as needed. Total cooking time, around 30 minutes.
My version uses chicken thigh pieces as it is much faster to cook and easier to box up for the ‘export market’. The boxes will contain a side of fettucine.
And as for the word Marengo? Check here for a little Napoleonic history.
For my granddaughter, Mischa Belle, who is a French speaker but not yet a cook, and also for Deb of My Kitchen Witch, who would love this book I am sure.
The sad part about returning home after a long journey is the absence of decent ‘hired help’. Where’s the menu? Who will make my bed? Reality is slowly setting in as the mess, the half unpacked suitcase, and the washing pile begin to annoy me. The weeds in the garden can wait. It’s 3 degrees celsius outside and the blanketing fog looks like it has set in for the day.
On the other hand, there’s the tempting stash of DVDs from Bali, bundles of TV series to lure me to the couch, as well as a big stack of new books, some purchased, others from the library, winter’s little helpers and further reason to remain in holiday mode by the fire. Some of my friends are still loitering in Ubud, Bali and all I can say is, life is tough!
I am attempting to revitalise my interest in cooking by borrowing some cookbooks from the library. One of these is Neil Perry’s ‘The Food I Love‘ which is featured on Leah’s TheCookbook Guru this month. I was hoping to be coaxed away from my indolence. Instead it has turned out to be another great read, in bed and on the couch. Most of the food is simple and non chefy, Mod Oz Mediterranean, and homely. For example, the breakfast section looks at Bircher Meusli, fruit smoothies and various classic egg dishes. The pasta pages list the usual suspects. The fish chapter along with the”Sauces and More” chapter are both excellent and I wish someone would deliver some nice flathead. Better still, just deliver Neil Perry.
What makes the book a good read is that Perry, a renowned Australian chef, considers quality ingredients as his major inspiration for cooking as well as sound technique. In the opening chapter, Neil mentions his commitment to “sourcing the finest ingredients”, the importance of “mise en place” ( as discussed by Leah earlier) and seasoning.
“By seasoning I mean salting……… When seasoning, think about this: salting heightens the natural flavours of food. If I salt a dish at the beginning of cooking, the food end up tasting of its natural self rather than if I add it at the end, when it tastes like salt on the food”
Neil also has a preference for white peppercorn and discusses the difference in flavour and drying techniques. It is more intense in flavour. Most Asian cuisines use white pepper and I have the same preference since cooking with Banardi in Java last January. When buying spices, Neil advises,
“buy only a small quantity at a time and use it quickly. Spices taste the strongest when they are fresh. Also buy from a spice merchant, you won’t believe the difference in quality”
All very sensible and a reason not to buy that monster bag of turmeric or garam masala on special in the Asian groceries for $2.00.
As we have an abundance of broccoli in the garden, I am listing this simple little recipe to mark my re- entry into the world of cooking. Neil has used Broccolini, although Cima di Rapa would work very well too.
Broccolini ( or Broccoli) with Garlic and Chilli.
two small, very fresh broccoli heads, cut into narrow trees. ( see pic above)
EV olive oil
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add enough sea salt to make it taste like the sea, and cook the broccoli at a rapid boil for two minutes. Drain and add to a saute pan with the oil, sea salt, chilli flakes and toss about for 1 minute, then add the garlic and toss for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and serve.
This makes a bright and robust contorno or side dish to go with fish. Today I am serving it with my favourite smoked fish cakes for lunch. Leftovers might be tossed about with some orecchiette this evening ( along with added anchovies) or enclosed in a simple omelette.
Do you collect cookbooks? Do you ever refer to them or rush to the internet when the need for a recipe arises? This is the modern dilemma: too much information, not so much inspiration. I must admit, I have a foot in both camps. I have far too many cookbooks, and will probably acquire some more soon, especially if they turn up cheaply in my favourite second-hand store. I also find recipes on the internet and print them, thinking that I will make them soon. ( I rarely do). Most of my cooking is driven by the ingredients on hand, meaning those in my pantry, fridge or garden. My best meals are spontaneous and intuitive and rarely come from the printed word. So what are all those cookbooks doing on my shelves and why do I find the need to acquire more?
I love books and the texture of them, their smell, and the care taken in producing them. I like to hold them, turn the pages, and bookmark them, take them to bed. I find them comforting in the world of transitory information – instagram, tweeting and other forms of one second grabs of hollow information.
Here is my question for cookbook collectors. How do you organise your collection? By cuisine? Height? Colour? Nationality?
Marcella Hazan, who passed away on September 29, was my cooking muse. I feel that I knew her well. She fulfilled the role of Italian aunt, she was my Zia from Venice and Florida.Her voice was often bossy but sensible. In the late 1980’s, I owned two small cookbooks by Marcella, all text, no glossy pictures, with recipe titles and indexing in Italian before English (unlike her modern editions). Some of my favourite recipes came from these two volumes and they have become part of my extended family‘s repertoire too. Young chef Daisy can smell Zuppa di bietola e fagioli bianchi as soon as she walks in the door. Marcella not only taught me how to cook down to earth Italian food, but also my first Italian words, soffrito and battuto. No Ciao bella and Va bene for me– it was always about the cooking. From this little beginning, came a degree in Italian, some translating, lots of travelling to Italy, and Italian friends. Marcella completely changed my life. Although sadly I no longer own the modest dark green and maroon cookbooks, my versions of her recipes live on.
Marcella advised, in a forthright manner, on the importance of using salt, so I dedicate my little Italian salt container to the memory of Marcella.