Iceland Excursion

Recently I spent a few days in the incredible country of Iceland. I explored Reykjavik for a day- what a beautiful city! Intense wind and cold notwithstanding, my day in the city was wonderful. I tasted the local cuisine, which is obviously heavily fish based. As an island, Iceland relies upon their fishing industry in large part. With the relatively recent trade and commerce available to the country, its cuisine still reflects a dependence upon preserved foods. Arnfríður, who lives in Reykjavik but grew up on a farm to the north, was lovely enough to take me to Cafe Loki, a cafe that specializes in traditional Icelandic cuisine. I had a baked gratinated fish dish, which was creamy and delicious, paired with Icelandic rye bread - traditionally baked in empty milk cartons at a low temperature for many hours, and is often buried in the ground near hot springs and left to cook.  Cafe Loki Hakarl

Yes, I did try the national dish, hákarl, fermented shark. It was very sharp, with a dense but fatty texture. Arnfríður told me that the hákarl I tried wasn't as pungent as it usually is- apparently when a proper batch is served, everyone in the room can smell it. 

Dinner

I also had the exceptional opportunity to spend the weekend with a group of locals. Despite having to remind them that I can't understand Icelandic a few times, they were all incredibly hospitable and welcoming. We shared a meal together, and the cook used  a few recipes from my cookbook, A Feast of Ice and Fire. I'm always happy to see that the recipes can be followed successfully. He even had a set of US measuring cups and spoons!

The weekend was spent in an Icelandic summer house about 90 minutes outside of Reykjavik, so I was able to take in a bit of countryside. I was accosted by a couple mannerless Icelandic ponies, battered about by intense winds, ate harðfiskur (fish jerky) made by a fisherman at sea, and drank many a beer in the hot tub with good conversation and even better new friends.

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Bread and Butter Pickles

B&B Pickels I grew up on a small horse farm in Connecticut, in an agricultural town. I loved it. The smells of small town New England - leather, silage, and manure - make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. We were lucky enough to live just a ten minute drive from my maternal grandmother, Mémère, and her husband Steve. I spent many a day exploring the woods with Steve, "hunting for snipe" with their massive German Shepherd, Sheba.  My dad has been in a tennis league on Tuesday nights for as long as I can remember, so Tuesday's were the nights we visited Mémère and Steve's for dinner. One of my fondest memories of these dinners is never leaving her kitchen without a paper cup filled with bread and butter pickles, Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese, and Wheat Thins.

Paper Cup

There were times, in my broke, post-university years, that I lived off of essentially the same things. But is wasn't till last summer that I tried my hand at making pickles of my own. After a half batch as a test run, my first full jar went straight to my Mémère for taste testing. I was tickled to hear that not only were they edible, but they taste exactly like her mother, my Grand-Mémère used to make. I was born on my Grand-Mémère's birthday, and am named after her, so already feel a great affinity toward her. Knowing that my own culinary skills are even remotely in the same league as hers makes me incredibly proud.

Pickles

Ingredients for 1 quart:

  • 1 lb pickling cucumbers, sliced
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 T mustard seeds
  • 1 T coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp celery seeds

Mix the cucumbers, onions and salt together, place in a colander and cover with ice. Let stand in sink for two hours.

In a saucepan, bring the sugar, vinegar, and spices to a boil. Pack the cucumbers and onions into a properly sterilized 1 quart canning jar and cover with the vinegar mixture.

From here, you can either keep the pickles as they are in the refrigerator for up to a week, or you can continue the canning process for long term storage. To complete the canning, place the sealed jar in a pot of boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely. These can now be stored indefinitely.

Helen Browning Organics

For those unaware, I've traveled across land and sea to spend a month with the lovely folks here at Helen Browning Organics, at her pub, The Royal Oak, and her organic farm, Eastbrook. Most of my time has been spent in the kitchen, where head chef Rikki McCowen has graciously put up with my ineptitudes and lack of commercial kitchen experience. After one week, I've already learned loads and hopefully the kitchen staff find me a bit more useful than when I started.

  

Tim Finney, pub proprietor, and the lovely man that made this adventure possible, allowed me the pleasure of visiting the farm's butcher in Laverstoke yesterday. Two pig carcasses from the farm awaited us, and the butcher assisted us in cutting it up to saleable parts, which we weighed and recorded.  It's bloody cold in a butcher's, but it's made up for by the wonderful blue coat, booties, and cap I got to wear.

Eastbrook farm is an incredible organic operation on gorgeous premises. The Royal Oak serves pork and beef reared on the farm, as well as locally grown seasonal produce. Come visit the farm and pub while I'm here in Wiltshire, it's a lovely location, great real ales, and wonderful food. Bring a copy of A Feast of Ice and Fire, and I'll sign it for you! More updates on my explorations and misadventures in Bishopstone to come...

Indian Pudding

Indian pudding is another American favorite descended from medieval British staple food. Hasty pudding, a dish dating back to at least the 16th century, is essentially wheat flour in boiling milk, similar to what we know as cream of wheat. It is cooked at a low heat till it reaches a thicker consistency, rather like oatmeal. As with a number of traditional British foods that made the long trip across the Atlantic, once it arrived on our shores, cooks adopted the local available ingredients and it became something quintessentially New England, the Indian pudding.

Cooks made the swap from wheat flour to cornmeal, utilising a new, widely available grain, and sweetened the dish with molasses (made available through the Triangle Trade) or maple syrup. The typical spice profile found in a number of New England desserts- cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and mace- were added to the pudding. The dish continued to evolve and began appearing in American cookbooks in the late 18th century. The recipe below, which I have redacted and used, is from an 1840 cookbook. "The Practical Farmer, Gardener and Housewife," written by Edward James Hooper. In addition to the baked pudding recipe I have chosen to use, Hooper also offers a boiled variety, hearkening back to the British affinity for boiled puds.

Now wholly associated with New England autumn and Thanksgiving, there was a time in the 1700's, at the height of the Triangle Trade, when there was an Indian pudding recipe in every American cookbook. As tastes, trade routes, and fashions changed, the dish was embraced by New England and forgotten by most. Perfect for the early days of autumn, when the weather starts to cool and the leaves begin to turn. Best served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and a snifter of brandy. Many thanks to Trevor for his indispensable knowledge on the subject of molasses volume.

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 ½ cups milk
  • ½ cup finely ground cornmeal
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 300 F. In a heavy bottomed saucepan, scald the milk, but do not boil. Whisk in cornmeal and stir till the milk is absorbed. Stir in molasses, sugar, salt, and spices. Butter a baking dish and pour the cornmeal mixture in. Bake for about 2 ½ hours, or until set. Allow to cool slightly, then serve with ice cream.

Harper's Retreat

I (relatively) recently had the opportunity to attend an SCA camping even with a friend who loves historical authenticity as much as I do, if not more. As part of our weekend, we planned to cook our meals from entirely period sources. A number of the dishes were from Libro de Cucina, written by an "Anonymous Venetian" somewhere around the 14th century. While the entire weekend was done in medieval style, Sunday dinner was our high point.

My favorite part of cooking from historical cookbooks is the implied knowledge; at the time of writing, so much more was expected of a cook in the kitchen. There are largely no measurements, cooking times, or temperatures, and it's up to the cook to determine the best combination of the above. This is where I thrive. Despite being a cookbook author, actually following recipes is not my forte. In fact, my tendency to not measure things was my downfall when adjusting recipes for Feast. Cooking is undeniably an art, and those of us that cannot follow modern recipes are simply a bit...erm...more free handed in our composition.

Our meal included roasted sweet and sour pork, tredura, sprouts of life/health, bread, and candied nuts. I was a bit nervous about the pork, as it called for egg as a thickening agent and I wasn't sure how that would work out. Turned our phenomenal, and I will absolutely be using the recipe again. The tredura was amazing, as anything cooked in bacon grease is wont to be. I do love a good chopped leek. We did well getting our greens in, a problem I usually encounter whilst camping.

We clearly made far too much food for the two of us, and certainly had to share. We brought our candied nuts to court (ahem), and they were a big hit. This is probably the recipe that I most heavily redacted, as the recipe described a very in-depth and long process. I was personally tickled by the recipe's use of "six Our Fathers" as a length of time. Find my redaction after the jump.

CXXVII To candy fresh almonds, peaches, walnuts that are perfect, neither too hard nor too soft etc. Take the said items, peel them and put holes in them, the walnuts want six holes each, the peach pits six, the almonds four.  These should be put in water, the water should be changed every day until the nuts are sweet, then boil them in water, the walnuts should be boiled for half an hour, the peach pits and almonds from when they start to boil for a quarter of an hour.  Then put them to dry in the shade and in the wind in a fruit basket under a lattice for three days, the peach pits and the almonds for two.  Then fill each hole with gloves, cinnamon and ginger.  Then let them boil in honey for the time it takes to recite six "Our Fathers".  Take them out of this honey and boil them in fresh honey until that honey is cooked.  Then powder fine spices above the honey and put them in a closed pharmacy pot in the sun for the space of five days.  The peach pits should be made the same way except that they should be boiled in the first honey until it is cooked, there is no need to change them to fresh.  Note that the almonds will not last past the middle of April in a hot location, because their skin will become too hard.  -Libro di Cucina, Anonimo Veneziano (translated by Louise Smithson)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • Cinnamon and ginger to coat

In a non-stick saucepan, combine the almonds, sugar, and honey before the pan is put onto the heat. Turn heat to medium and stir constantly until he sugar melts and coats the almonds. Cook till the sugar turn amber, but does not burn. Remove from heat and spread on parchment paper or a silpat. Let cool and coat with the cinnamon and ginger mixture.

Summer Pudding

Two book signings and 5 exhausting days at San Diego Comic Con promoting A Feast of Ice and Fire later, we've made it back to the east coast filled with oysters, avocados, and convention center pretzels. Craving something sweet, summery, and easy to make, I headed to the kitchen. Enter summer pudding.

Summer pudding is a perfect way to use the overflowing bounty of summer berries in your yard (or local fruit stand if you live in the city like I do!). It is a popular misconception that summer pudding used to be called 'hydropathic pudding' and was served in health spas. In actuality, the mostly raw fruit contained in summer pudding was considered extremely unhealthy till the mid 20th century, at which time summer pudding as we know it was developed.

The earliest recipe that resembles a summer pudding was published in 1902 by S. Beaty-Pownall in the Sweets No. 6 cookery book, however it still calls for hot stewed fruit. John Ayto tells us that it wasn't until the 1930's that the dessert was dubbed 'summer pudding.'

In the summer months the traditional fruits in the pudding include currants, raspberries, black currants, and occasionally a few strawberries. Blackberries are often added closer to autumn, and they, as well as blueberries, create a more purple hue than the traditional appearance. Whether a red or purple pudding is your plan, be sure to use day-old sliced bread. As in making bread pudding, the slightly stale bread absorbs the berry juice much better, creating a more vibrant presentation.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint red currants
  • 1 pint raspberries
  • 1 pint black currants, blueberries or blackberries (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 slices of white bread, slightly stale

Lightly oil your pudding basin with olive and paper towel. Slice any crusts off the bread, and line the pudding basin, overlapping each edge to prevent the insides from oozing out. You won't be able to make it perfect until the filling is poured in, but have a go. Cut one or two pieces big enough to fill the circumference of the basin.

To make the filling, pour the sugar and fruit into a saucepan, and heat over a medium flame just until the sugar has dissolved. In my experience, the raspberries tend to  mostly break up during this step, so set some fresh ones aside to add later. Pour all but a half cup of the filling into the bread lined pudding basin, and top with the round cut pieces of bread. Cover with parchment paper, and place a saucer or plate that just fits into the basin. Place weights on top of the saucer and let sit for at least 24 hours.

Turn out the pudding onto a serving platter, and top with the reserved filling. Be sure to cover any part of the bread that did not soak up the beautiful color. Serve with plenty of cream - heavy, whipped or clotted. Enjoy!

The Extent of My Patriotism

Anyone who knows me is aware of my complete lack of patriotism and love for the United States. By no means does my indifference constitute hatred, more so an inability to connect with the history of the country and "what it means to be American." My love for apple pie notwithstanding, I also find myself with no particular affinity toward the culinary history of the US. This may be because the country is so young, and is, though the phrase is quite hackneyed, a melting pot of its immigrant cultures. My own wandering nationalism aside, I do enjoy a proper picnic, and the Fourth of July is a perfect holiday to enjoy the company of friends, family, and good food.

Loathe to miss an opportunity to cook something with a pinch of history, I chose to whip up a custard tart - decorated, of course, in stars and stripes. Egg custard tarts are actually a quintessentially British dish. In fact, it was chosen as the dessert in the Queen's 80th birthday baquet six years back. Known as doucettes or daryoles in Medieval times, they were also served at the coronation feast of Henry the IV. The recipes often included mutton and bone marrow, combining sweet and savoury in a distinctly medieval way. Milk was also swapped for almond milk to make the tarts permissible during Lent. Egg custards stuck in the culinary culture of East Anglia in particular, and have evolved only slightly from their ancient recipes. As in my tart, many egg custard tarts now have elaborate fruit toppings, often glazed with sugar, showing the influence that French patisserie had and has on modern cuisine.

Happy Fourth, dear readers. Here's a picture of Ronald Reagan on a velociraptor to celebrate. Find the recipe after the jump.

Bad. Ass. Mofo.

Ingredients:

For crust

  • 250g flour
  • 150g butter
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 egg yolks
  • Zest of 1lemon

For the custard

  • 125 g  sugar
  • 1 pint milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 250 ml whipping cream
  • Fruit and confectioners sugar for topping

To make the shortcrust:

In a large bowl, mix the flour and sugar, and rub in the butter. When completely worked in, add the egg yolks and zest and mix till combined. Add enough ice water to just bring the dough together, and shape into a disc. Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate at least 30 minutes

When chilled, roll out and line a tart pan. Blind bake for 15 minutes or till golden brown.

To make the filling:

Bring the milk to a gentle boil in a heavy bottomed saucepan, then remove from heat. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar until it is a light yellow color. Add the flour and mix well. Slowly add the scalded milk, whisking continuously. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water, as a double boiler, and stir continuously till the custard becomes thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool, covering the surface with clingfilm.

To assemble the tart:

Whip the whipping cream to create whipped cream and fold into the cooled custard. Fill the crust with the custard cream mixture, and top with fruit and confectioners sugar. Serve immediately.

Eccles Cakes

Eccles cakes, a close cousin of the Banbury cake, originated in Eccles, now part of Salford, Greater Manchester, UK. Like so many geographical dishes, the exact origin or original recipe is unknown. In fact, every family and bake shop in Eccles appears to have their own secret recipe, which they are loathe to share with anyone. Some culinary historians think that Mrs Elizabeth Raffald's recipe for Sweet Patties, from her book "The Experienced English Housekeeper" was the basis for the Eccles cake. Mrs Raffald's cookery book was published in 1769, the recipe in question can be seen below.

           

In 1793, James Birch opened the doors of his Vicarage Road bake shop, serving up what we now know as Eccles cakes. He was the first person to commercialise their production and sales, and after 17 years of success, he relocated his shop to a space across the street; his second shop can be seen above. Unlike the Cornish clotted cream I previously covered on this blog, the Eccles cake does not benefit from Protected Geographical Status. Therefore, despite not being baked in Eccles, the cakes can still be labeled as Eccles cakes.

Every generation, family, and bake shop has their own recipe for the cakes, and have done since before James Birch opened his doors. Amazingly, the recipe was not memorialised in a cookbook till the 19th century. Today, they are enjoying a revival, riding the coattails of the culinary world's movement towards traditional and historical foods. St John's Restaurant, run by architect-turned-chef, and one of my personal heroes, Fergus Henderson, has Eccles cakes on the menu. I highly recommend Henderson's cookbooks, "Nose to Tail Eating," and "Beyond Nose to Tail."

Puff Pastry Ingredients:

  • 1 lb butter, chilled in the fridge
  • 500g flour
  • pinch of salt
  • cold water

*Puff pastry is a  pain to make. I told myself I had to make it once, and did for this recipe. But I will never be making it again! Store bought puff is interchangeable in this recipe, and for most*

Filling Ingredients:

  • 150g currants, soaked overnight in enough brandy to cover
  • 50g butter
  • 150g brown sugar
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp allspice

Glaze:

  • 1 egg white
  • turbinado sugar

You may want to make your puff pastry the day before you plan on baking, as it is a lengthy process. Rub 125g of the cold butter into the flour till it resembles bread crumbs. Mix in the salt, and add water till it just forms dough. Shape into a square, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour.

After an hour, roll out the dough into a rectangle at 1/4" thickness. Pound out the remaining cold butter between pieces of parchment paper till is is just smaller than half of the dough rectangle. Place the butter on one half of the dough, and fold the other half over the butter, folding up the sides and creating a butter package. Shape into a square, wrap in clingfilm, and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

The following steps you will repeat three times, they are called turns. Roll out the chilled dough into a rectangle of 1/2" thickness, in the opposite direction of the initial fold. Fold the dough like a letter- fold one end to the mid line, and fold the other end over it. Shape into a square, wrap in clingfilm, and let rest in the fridge for 15 minutes. After it is chilled, roll out the dough again in the same fashion, but in the opposite direction. Complete the turn as before. You should complete three turns, then chill the dough for at least an hour.

For the filling, melt the butter in a saucepan, mix in the remaining ingredients, and allow to cool.

Roll out the puff pastry to 1/4", and cut into 4" rounds. Spoon a tablespoon of filling onto half of the rounds. Wet the edges of the filled rounds using your finger, then pinch the empty rounds over the filling. Flatten the filling without bursting the sides of the cake. and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with egg white, sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and slash three times.

Bake at 375 F for 15 minutes, or till golden. Remove to a baking rack and allow to cool before serving.

Treacle Tart

Children this side of the pond grow up woefully ignorant of the wonders of treacle. Our refined sugar byproducts are generally confined to molasses, and our inverted sugar usually takes the form of corn syrup. Little do American sweet teeth know that our British cousins have mastered the procurement, production, and preparation of treacle, the finest of sugar byproducts.

Anyone who's read the Harry Potter books has wondered or imagined what their ultimate treacle tart would look, smell and taste like. Americans may be familiar with the Pennsylvania Dutch shoo fly pie, which is made with molasses. Treacle tarts are similar in that they are a historically inexpensive recipe that calls for the use of the resultant byproducts of sugar production.

                        

Treacle tarts can be traced back to Ancient Greece, when honey was used to make the filling. Once the refining of sugar began to take off in 17th century, the treacle tart wrapped its sticky fingers round the heart of Britain and never let go. In my house, we love to pair this tart with vanilla ice cream and a good moscato.

Fun fact: "Treacle tart" is Cockney rhyming slang for "sweetheart."

Filling Ingredients:

  • 400g/1 1/4 cup golden syrup
  • 150 mL heavy cream
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 11g cake crumbs
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Sweet Crust Pastry Ingredients:

  • 85g unsalted butter, softened
  • 50g confectioners sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 200g flour

To make the pastry, cream the butter in a bowl till soft. Stir in the confectioners sugar and beat till fluffy. Add egg yolk and beat till evenly combined. Pour in all the flour, and stir till just combined. Form a disk with the dough, wrap in cling film and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. 

Butter a 9" tart pan, and roll out the pasty dough to 3/4". Line the tart pan with the dough, and trim the edges, leaving a bit hanging over the edge of the pan to prevent slumping. Place the fridge while preparing the filling.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the golden syrup and our into a large bowl. Whisk in the cream and the beaten egg. Mix in the cake crumbs, ground almonds, lemon zest, and juice.

Brush the refrigerated pastry with butter, and line it with parchment paper. Fill with pie weights or beans, and blind back in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove the weights and paper and pop back int the oven for 5 minutes, or till it just starts to darken. Remove from the oven and pour the treacle filling into the pie shell. Bake for between 35 and 40 minutes or until the filling is set and the pastry edges have turned golden.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before serving.

Clotted Cream

Clotted cream is one of those beautiful, unadulterated foods of pure joy. A component of the unsurpassed cream tea, clotted, or clouted cream is the perfect accompaniment for a scone, some homemade jam, and a nice cuppa. It's roots are buried deep in the farming communities out South West England, and we know the products best as Devon cream, and Cornish clotted cream.  Cornish clotted cream, in particular, is such an important part of local culture, that it was awarded a Protected Designation of Origin by the EU in 1998. To be labeled as such, the Cornish cream must be made with milk produced in Cornwall. And, in fact, it's not difficult to determine this post-production, as cattle grazed in Cornwall produce a cream with a slight yellow color due to the carotene levels in the local grass.

Mentions of clotted cream are littered throughout the folklore of South West England. In one tale, Jenny enticed a Blunderbore by feeding him clotted cream, and eventually married him. In myth from Dartmoor, a princess bathed in clotted cream in order to marry an elven prince, thus thwarting an evil witch's efforts to stop the marriage by souring her previously attempted cream baths. She was unable to sour the clotted cream and the princess happily married the elven prince. Today the production of clotted cream remains largely a cottage industry, with farms and dairies producing for local outlets.

Above is Mrs. Beeton's Victorian-era recipe for clouted cream. The recipe I use is not far off from her's, the key being the milk should never boil, but be slowly cooked at a low temperature till the cream rises to the top and solidifies. Due to the low milk fat percentage of commercially available milk here in the US, heavy cream is the best option for homemade clotted cream. Ultimately, the butter fat percentage of the clotted cream should be above 55%, at an average of about 64%. This recipe does take over a day to complete, so start Friday evening for a perfect Sunday breakfast. The paired scone recipe pairs wonderfully, using the leftover milk/cream.

Ingredients:

  • 2 pints heavy cream
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

To make the clotted cream, pour the cream into a dutch oven or casserole dish, and place in a 180 F oven. Bake for between 8 and 12 hours. I bake mine overnight, with a note on the oven letting the housemates know that the oven is supposed to be on. Remove the cream from the oven, allow to come down to room temperature, then refrigerate for 8 hours. Remove from the fridge, and skim the clotted cream off the top. Reserve the remaining cream for use in the scones.

To make the scones, mix all the dry ingredients together, and add 1 pint (2 cups) of the reserved cream. Pat into a circle on a greased backing sheet to a roughly 10" round. Cut the round into 8 wedges, and place into a 400 F degree oven. Bake for around 15 minutes, or until the scones bounce back when you press a finger into them.

Serve the scones warm with clotted cream, preserves, and a cup of tea to complete your proper cream tea.

Mint Julep

Derby Saturday was, and is, always a special day in my house. Being the first weekend in May, we are usually blessed with  beautiful weather. A day spent outside, working in our own barn under the sun, and at just about five o'clock we tromp back into the coolness of the house, and get ready for the race.

We love the exposées on the trainers, and the owners, and the jockeys, but the horses are the stars. I can count on my fingers the number of American traditions I've embraced and am culturally proud of, and the Kentucky Derby is high on that list. This year marks the 138th Run for the Roses, making the Derby the longest running american sporting event.

The Mint Julep was first promoted by Churchill Downs in relation to the Derby in 1938. A drink long associated with the American south, a proper julep is made with just four ingredients: sugar, water, spearmint, and Kentucky bourbon whiskey. Churchill Downs serves almost 120,000 mint juleps during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby, most served in a commemorative glass.

Serves 8 spectators.

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped mint (spearmint if you're being traditional)
  • 32 oz. Kentucky bourbon of your choice
  • mint sprigs for garnish

In a small saucepan, heat the water, sugar, and chopped mint. Bring to a gentle boil, allowing all the sugar to dissolve. Remove from heat and allow to cool for an hour. Strain syrup and refrigerate.

To serve, fill a julep cup or other glass with crushed ice, and pour 4 oz. of bourbon, and 1/4 cup syrup in each. Top with a mint sprig and straw and serve at post-time!

Cucumber Ginger Fizz

                       Mamma Ginger threw a garden party that I catered for, and I absolutely fell in love with this cocktail when I made it. The flavors and the fizz create a delightfully seasonal beverage, perfect for sipping on a sunny spring day. And the best part? The harshness of the vodka is softened by the cucumber, leaving the wonderful combination of sweet ginger and cucumber to play in the fizz.

  • 750 mL vodka
  • 1 cucumber
  • bottle of sparkling water
  • 4 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced in thin rounds
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 lime, sliced in wedges

To make the ginger syrup, add the sugar and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the ginger and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain and refrigerate.

To mix the cocktail, pour 1 tablespoon of ginger syrup in a glass. Add a shot of vodka, squeeze of lime, some ice, and top with sparkling water. Stir and garnish with a cucumber wedge or twist.

Huevos Haminados

I'm visiting my parents for Passover this weekend, with about 12 other relatives. Needless to say, I've been recruited to help in the kitchen - not that I mind, but I've decided to expand my Passover cooking horizons this year, and branch out by including some traditional Sephardic Jewish Passover recipes as well. These eggs were the first round of culinary exploration.

Eggs are a traditional part of the Passover table, in fact there is one on the  seder plate. The roundness of the egg symbolises the circle of life, and the recurring seasons. These eggs, with their greenery imprinted on them, are a perfect symbol of Spring and the renewal of life. And they taste pretty darn good, too.

The recipe I used can be found here. It is traditionally slow cooking dish, to allow preparation before, and cooking during the Shabbat. However, if you would like these to be ready for your seder tonight, simply replace the baking with low heat simmering for as long as desired. I simmered these eggs, and they came out beautifully. I also cut a number  of ingredients, and ended up simmering the eggs with just onion skins and peppercorns.

Happy Passover!

Corned Beef and Cabbage

Americans seem to flip flop between their belief that corned beef and cabbage is an actual Irish dish. It has certainly become the iconic dish to serve on St. Patrick's day this side of the pond, and has been adulterated time and time again by overrun Irish bars serving "authentic Irish fare" to the drunk masses, paired with equally as blasphemous Black and Tans. -------  

First, corned beef and cabbage is Irish, however it's not associated with St. Patrick, or even served as a holiday meal at all. And second, it can be an absolutely wonderful dish when prepared correctly. Fun fact: "corned" beef is beef prepared in a brine, and refers to the texture of the meat.

My recipe was handed down to me from my Memere, to which I made very few changes. Serve hot with a side of colcannon, a strong stone ground mustard, and pint of Guinness.

  • 4 lbs corned beef, seasoned
  • 6 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, peeled and whole
  • 1 head of cabbage, quartered

Place the beef in a dutch oven or large pot, cover with water, and boil, covered,  for one hour. After one hour, top up the water to cover the beef and bring back to a boil for an additional hour. At the beginning of hour three, add the onions and carrots. After 20 minutes, add the cabbage, and boil cabbage for a total of three hours. Serve hot.

White Soda Bread

Arán Sóide

Soda bread evolved after the introduction of baking soda in the 1800's. The use of a leavening agent that isn't as temperature sensitive as yeast eliminated the need for ovens to cook bread, allowing for nearly every household to have the means to make bread. Instead, soda bread was cooked in cast iron dutch ovens, called bastibles, placed directly over hot coals.

Traditional Irish soda bread does not include what we in America have come to expect - the currants, raisins, nuts, and peel that we find in any number of store bought soda breads. Brown soda bread, made with wholemeal, was and still is the every day table bread in Ireland. Most meals are served with a loaf and plenty of butter to slather over it. On special occasions and holidays, the soda bread is made with the more expensive and refined white flour.

Slashing a cross into the bread, or "letting the devil out of the bread," helps the dense middle section of the loaf to cook. In a Catholic country such as Ireland, the people obviously drew the connection with the cruciform shape and the act of blessing the bread, further encouraging the recognizable marking on the loaves.

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The recipe I used is based on that of Darina Allen, a goddess of traditional Irish cooking. Her cookbook, Forgotten Skills of Cooking, is a fantastic handbook to traditional methods and recipes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb white flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. Create a well in the middle, and pour in 3/4 of the buttermilk. Mix the flour into the buttermilk from the edge of the bowl inward, using one hand to mix and the other to turn the bowl. Add just enough buttermilk for the dough to come together. Form into a round and place on a greased baking sheet or in a greased dutch oven. Slice a deep cross into the top of the loaf, being sure to go over the sides. Cover, if cooking in a dutch oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 F and bake for an additional 30 minute. To check if your soda bread is done, turn it over and rap your knuckles on the bottom. You should hear a hollow sound.

Serve with plenty of butter!