Eat Me. Drink Me.

Why We Eat. Why We Drink. Why We Write.

Category: Cook Books

The Man for Me (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

“An ox tongue in brine […] or a bucket of cabbage salting in the corner of your kitchen, what could be more reassuring?” says Fergus Henderson, author of The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating.  My new culinary grail is a celebration of all those animal bits that are so often overlooked in the western kitchen like tripe, ears, feet, tongue, and brains.  Seeing as unusual cuts of meat have been on my mind lately and since they are so conveniently sold at my local grocery store (and my new best friend the butcher’s place), this book came along at a time in my life when there were too many trotters and not enough recipes for them.

I never read recipes.  This has gotten me into a lot of trouble on occasion.  For instance, when halfway through making dinner, I get to the part of the recipe that says, “chill overnight.”  Or when I’m canning zucchini and see the words “mix” and “rest for ten hours,” I assume, foolishly, that the recipe means mix all the ingredients and not just the zucchini and salt, at which point I must cancel dinner with my friends to make zucchini relish out of a bowl of sloppy zucchini mess.  Even when I read through my food magazines, I read the headnotes to recipes but leave the recipe to skim only if I end up cooking the dish.  Reading recipes seems so boring.

But not with Fergus.

With Fergus, each recipe is lovingly related, as if we were old friends cooking side by side in a small, stone kitchen somewhere in the English countryside.  For example, in his recipe for Saddle of Rabbit, he writes:  “Serve the rolls with a salad that captures the spirit of the garden, made up from, for example, scallions, baby carrots, radishes, peas, fava beans (if in season), rocket (arugula), and chopped parsley (and a subliminal caper if you feel so inclined—I do!).  dress with Vinaigrette and eat with the succulent rabbit.”

This excerpt also happens to capture the other thing I love about Fergus, namely the lack of prescription in his recipes.  For Fergus, there are no absolutes.  Cooking is about taste and feeling and improvisation.  In a recipe for Salt Cod, Potato, and Tomato, he asks you to cook potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic until they’re “ready.”  Or in this recipe for Stake, Capers, and Bread: “Add the lemon juice, allow it to sizzle and turn brown, and add the capers.  At the last minute add the parsley and straightaway pour over the fish.”  There’s something refreshing about a recipe that doesn’t rely on minutes, but on the senses.  And learning to rely on yourself rather than a “rule” in a book is what turns a competent cook into an intuitive one.

My first foray into The Whole Beast was a recipe for Boiled Belly and Lentils, whose headnote reads: “This dish celebrates the not quite meat, not quite fat, quality of pork belly.  There’s nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves.”  The recipe calls for brining a slab of pork belly for ten days, then cooking it slowly over low heat in a broth of vegetables and pepper and serving it with garlickly lentils.

Ten days is a long time to prepare for a dish.  It’s a long time to be unsure about whether or not you’ve brined something correctly – whether the piece of pork belly you got from your local butcher (the store is called “Meats” with Bushwick’s usual candor) is even good – and whether it’s going to matter that you couldn’t find juniper berries and caster sugar.  (The story with the caster sugar:  In the ingredients list, Fergus calls for “2 cups superfine (caster) sugar (many suggest brown sugar, but not me),” so I figured that the mere mention of the possibility of using brown sugar was really his backhanded way of saying, “If you must, you can use brown sugar,” which I proceeded to do.)

For ten days, as I prepared other dinners, I had my brining pork belly in my mind.  Every time I opened the fridge, I wondered what magic was happening in that lidded Tupperware.  And on the tenth day, I rinsed the residual salt from my brined belly and put it in a pot to cook.  A beatific moment to be sure.

Nothing was quite so nice as to slice up chunks of pork belly, the salty, rich meat complimented by fat so tender it absolutely melted in my mouth.  Of my own volition, I would never have eaten the fat, but Fergus, dear Fergus said, “Encourage your dining companions to eat the fat and all.”  And I thank him for that, because I would have missed a most amazing thing.  Pork belly fat doesn’t taste like other fat, which can be chewy and leave a behind terrible residue.  Brined pork belly fat, especially with a spoonful of staid lentils, is soft and flavorful and wonderful to eat.

Even after cutting the recipe in half, I still had belly and lentils for a few days afterward, but it’s just one of those things that keeps getting better with time.  I guess, when food sits in brine for ten days, it learns patience.  It learns to not reveal its secrets too soon, to wait until its “ready.”

What’s next for me and Fergus?  Bone marrow?  Blood cakes?  I don’t know what it will be, but I think I’ll know when the time is right.

Boiled Belly and Lentils (adapted from The Whole Beast)
Serves 2 (with lentils left over for days)
Fergus has this to say about pork belly:  “Pork belly is a wonderful thing.  It’s onomatopoeic, belly is like it sounds – reassuring, steadying, and splendid to cook due to its fatty nature.  It’s not a cut of meat to rush; with that, a certain calm is imbued in the belly.”  I’m not sure how verbatim I can copy this recipe, but I’ll try to leave as much Fergus in there as I can.  Quantities are adjusted to the amounts I used and I’ve mentioned some of my techniques.  But I think Fergus would be ok with a little improvisation.

The Brine
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups coarse sea salt
8 cloves
8 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 quarts of water (enough to cover the belly)

The Boiled Belly
2 lb piece of pork belly with skin and bones
1 carrot, peeled
1 onion, peeled and stuck with 8 cloves
1 leek, cleaned
1 stalk celery
1 head garlic, skin on
dried thyme and rosemary
black peppercorns

The Lentils
Extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped into thin slices
1 leek, cleaned and chopped into thin slices
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 pound lentils
bundle of thyme and parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
handful of chopped curly parsley

Combine all the brine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil so the sugar and salt melt.  Decant into your brining pot (made of a non-corrodible material – I used a large Tupperware container with a lid, Fergus recommends a bucket) and cool.  When cold, add meat and leave it in the fridge for “a nice 10 days.”

Remove and rinse your meat.  Place the pork belly and all other ingredients in a pan and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, skim (if any fat rises to the surface), reduce to a gentle simmer with the water barely moving, and cook for three and a half hours, “until the flesh is soft and giving, but not collapsing.”

While your belly is cooking, start on the lentils.  Cover the bottom of a large pan with olive oil and sweat the chopped vegetables.  When they have just started to soften, but not color, add the lentils and stir for a few minutes to coat.  Cover with water and “nestle in the thyme and parsley bundle.”  Reduce the heat to low and stir infrequently.  “You want the lentils soft but not squidgy, so that they have reserved their lentil integrity, but are not still individual hard nuts.”  The cook time should be about forty minutes – add more water if they start to dry out but are not done.

“Now season, which, particularly with lentils, is a very exciting moment.  It is amazing what simple salt and pepper do to the flavor of lentils – they make lentils of them.”  Stir in chopped parsley and a splash of olive oil just before serving, which will “give a shine to your lentils, as they can veer to the dull side.”

Remove the pork belly from the water, slice, and serve with lentils.  “Encourage your dining companions to eat the fat and all.  With the rich and fatty belly you want quite dour lentils.”

A Family History (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

The other day, as I was looking through my mom’s collection of cookbooks, searching for some recipes to deal with our cash crop of zucchinis, I stumbled upon a blue binder clasping thick, yellowed pages and stuffed with wrinkled clippings.  I quickly leafed through the clippings and turned to the first page.  “Fern Eunice (6/22/1905 – 7/25/1977) m. Joseph Welle” ran across the top in my grandmother’s all-caps handwriting and below that a list of names, Marguerite, Sharon, Barbara Jo, Kenneth, Scott, Douglass.  It seemed to be a family tree of sorts, though its logic was obtuse and the family members obscure.   As I flipped the page, I realized what I held; it was the Davis Family Cook Book, inscribed by my grandmother, “With family love and tradition to my daughter Lauri, Mother 1979.”

The Davis Family Cook Book says a lot about my family—and about 1979.  For instance, here’s the order of the table of contents.  Appetizers, Beverages, Candy, Desserts and Breads, Meats and Main Dishes, Salads, Relishes and Preserves, Soups, and Vegetables.  Clearly, there’s a sweet tooth running through my family tree.  Not to mention that there are thirty pages of desserts, yet only ten sorry pages devoted to main dishes.

I love the titles of these recipes, like the opening one for “Truly Different Cheese Ball.”  What, I wonder, makes one cheese ball different from another, and what makes this one truly different?  “Sure Thing Roll Out Cookies” is quaint, and you know “Everybody’s Favorite Cheese Spread” must be good.

The salad section makes me nostalgic for a church potluck in the Midwest, where my grandmother’s family comes from.  There are layered salads, a few recipes for coleslaw, some fruit salads, and of course, Jello salad.  In fact, there are eleven recipes for some sort of Jello salad, though my favorite horror is this recipe for “Pineapple Salad,” which calls for pineapple tidbits, miniature marshmallows, and Velveeta cheese.

Casseroles, also, were then at their peak of fashion, and recipes abound.  There are six for broccoli casserole alone in the, as I’ve mentioned before, relatively brief savory food section.  There’s even one for “Casserole Bread,” a mix of bread stuffed with cottage cheese, minced onions, and dill.

My Aunt Lynda’s contributions, however, are my favorite.  My aunt, in 1979, was twenty-five years old, and her recipes, like “Lynda’s Health Drink,” which calls for banana, strawberries, apple juice, and ice, or “Graham Cracker Crisp,” whose ingredients are a box of graham crackers, butter, brown sugar and chopped nuts, hardly warrant being written down.  There’s something endearing, however, about my twenty-five year old aunt and her “Whip Cream Delight Cake,” especially because she’s a central cook in the family now.

What I love about this cookbook is this frozen glimpse of my family thirty years ago.  I can hear my aunt reading aloud her instructions to “Lynda’s 7 Day Sweet Pickles”: “Slice cucumbers real thin.”  My mother’s contribution of “Heidelburg Cake” is clearly a result of her recent study abroad experience, and my grandmother’s recipes for icings hint at her soon-to-be profession as a cake maker.  The recipe for “Springerle (Anise Cookie),” which my mother still makes at Christmastime every year, was first written down here.

I haven’t made any of these recipes.  The Velveeta and Jello seem dated for our modern palates.  So I won’t leave you with one of those, though I know you were probably tempted by the “Truly Different Cheese Ball.”  So what I will leave you with is the recipe for Bagna Cauda, a dish I thought my family invented (and which I also thought was spelled “banyacotta”), until I saw it one day in The Joy of Cooking.  This recipe is a staple at family gatherings and also the reason why we plan family gatherings around not having to speak with other people any time soon (garlic, anchovies—need I say more?).  So here, in my Aunt Lynda’s words, is the recipe for Bagna Cauda:

Bagna Cauda

Get an electric skillet, put it on medium heat.  Not too hot or it will burn your garlic.

A LOT of garlic…you can cheat and buy the chopped (NOT MINCED) garlic but it doesn’t have the same flavor, not as good.  If you do buy fresh, you need to chop it not mince.

Melt butter, sautéing the garlic half way golden brown, then add more butter (I use only Land o Lakes – not salted).  Then add your anchovies, about six cans (I drain the liquid off of them first).  Add more butter, stir constantly.

Let the mixture cook down.  It will get like a crust around the edges of the skillet, just push it down and stir more.

6 – 7 cans of flat anchovies (drained)
3 – 4 boxes of Land o Lakes unsalted butter
Garlic, 10-12 bulbs chopped or garlic pre-chopped
Fresh Italian bread to catch drippings
Chinese cabbage

(And a side note from me: you dip the cabbage and bread into the Bagna Cauda to eat it.)

Bless Your Good Corn Bread (a post by Josh)

by lyzpfister

It’s funny how, despite my multiple heritages, I claim certain aspects more. For example – I claim my Polish heritage more than anything else. But when asked where I’m from in the States, I say the South nine times out of ten.

It is true, I am from the South. I was born in Virginia and now live in North Carolina. But for my more formative years (ages 4 – 18) I lived in New York. I guess my nomadic lifestyle has allowed me to claim the best of either of the worlds.

Easter is the perfect example of my picking and choosing of my heritages. When it comes to Easter, I think of two things: chocolate and ham. Those years I was a vegetarian, I would think: chocolate and yam. Almost ham, but not quite. It’s a joke, roll with it.

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And What a Joy It Is (a post by Lyz)

by lyzpfister

Let me paint a picture for you: I’m standing in a cramped kitchen with a dripping, raw chicken cradled in one hand and a giant knife in the other. I am about to cut up said chicken, when I realize that I actually have no clue what cutting up a chicken entails. “Somebody grab The Joy of Cooking,” I yell, growing frantic with the weight of the chicken in my hand. (Chickens, although small, are deceptively heavy, and I did start lifting weights after this incident).

The Joy of Cooking, my kitchen bible, is procured, and with reassurance, the voice of Irma Rombauer tells me, “With a little practice and a sharp knife, you can easily cut a whole chicken, duck, turkey, or goose into serving pieces.” Thanks, Irma.

First published in 1931 as a coping mechanism for dealing with her husband’s suicide, The Joy of Cooking was Irma Rombauer’s first foray into helping cooks everywhere keep their households happy. Joy was a departure from other era cookbooks written mostly by cooking schools or dieticians. “Talking about ridiculous cookbooks,” said M. F. K. Fisher about her generation’s offerings, “One, lavishly larded with instructive photographs, illustrates the correct way to serve dinner rolls, each tied with satin ribbon and a red, red rose!”

Instead of such impractical or hard to follow instructions, Rombauer offered recipes suited for day to day life and included basic instructions for commonly used cooking techniques. After hitting on the action method–working the ingredients list into the directions–she republished the book in 1936 with Bobbs-Merrill and began a family-run cookbook empire.

Joy has undergone a number of reprints since then–not all of them lauded. It has tried to move with changing attitudes toward food, substituting unrationed substances for costlier commodities during WWII, adapting to post-war appliances like freezers in the home, and expanding to include international recipes when it appeared that there was a demand for them. However, some of Joy‘s attempts at modernization were less well-received, like the 1997 version which eliminated the conversational tone of the instructions and removed the sections on ice cream preparation and home canning. Even the newest 2006 edition that I love so much has been criticized for use of ingredients like Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and what the New York Times calls, “a cloying coat of nostalgia.”

While not every recipe of the 4,500 included in the book is quality, what keeps bringing me back to The Joy of Cooking is the simply-expressed, yet encyclopedic range of knowledge contained between those thousand-odd pages. Joy assumes you have never cooked before in your life and walks you all the way from cleaning salad greens to making homemade marshmallows and smattering juicy tid-bits about everything you’ve ever wanted to know about what you eat in between.

Here’s one of my favorite recipes from The Joy of Cooking:


This dish is sometimes served as is, with bowls of garnishes such as grated cheese, shredded lettuce, guacamole, and chopped tomatoes on the side. It is also a tasty filling for tortillas–enchiladas, tacos, tostados–as well as a stuffing for chile peppers.

Cook in a large skillet, mashing down to crumble the meat, until the beef starts to brown:

1 pound ground beef
1 cup fresh chorizo

If a lot of fat is released, drain the meat on paper towels and return to the pan. Add:

1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced

Cook for a few minutes, then add:

1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of ground cloves
1 bay leaf

Simmer, covered for 30 minutes. Add:

½ cup raisins (I prefer golden raisins)
½ cup slivered blanched almonds
½ cup pitted black olives, chopped

Cook, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes. Remove bay leaf before serving. (I recommend this dish with warmed tortillas, lettuce, tomato, shredded cheddar cheese, and avocado.)