Penguin Books For Cooks Four

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I am slipping up. When it came to posting a recipe a day for a year, it seems that the ridiculous pressure spurred me on and I posted daily, without fail. Each day a Plain Kitchen recipe popped (slightly annoyingly, it must be said) into your inboxes at 10 am sharp. My promise to you this year was to provide you with a post every Monday, reviewing lovely old cookbooks, inspired by my Penguin Box Set of Cookbook Covers. It’s Tuesday, and I’m only posting this now- and, shock horror, it will in fact only appear in inboxes on Wednesday. It seems that I have become a little more relaxed with this new idea of mine. Never mind, at least it’s here, and at least I am still managing to adhere to the weekly part of the promise. I so enjoy the research that it feels like a bit of a luxury to read up and write about the books- I suppose that’s why I feel a little indulgent with this year’s task; I simply enjoy it far too much.

Today’s books have two beautifully illustrated covers: Harriet Hands’ More Taste Than Money: Fine Foods for Lean Budgets, published in 1975, is, for someone inspired by kitchenalia, a total dream. Anne Mason’s Swiss Cooking, published in 1964 is a pretty little thing: all pinks and powder blue pastels, pen and ink lines and curlicued typography- I just adore it.

I hope you enjoy today’s musings.

More Taste Than Money: Fine Food for Lean Budgets, Harriet Hands, Published 1975. Designer: Marty Lehtola/Designworks (Little, Brown and Company, Hachette Book group, Inc.)

Harriet Hands was born in 1914 and died in 2005. A lover of fine food, Harriet was food editor of The Patent Trader newspaper of Mount Kisco, NY, and wrote a popular weekly food column for over 17 years. In 1975, due to the ripples inflation was causing on household budgets, the Little Brown Publishing Company began searching for a cookbook that would offer excellent recipes while helping households with, as Kirkus Reviews put it, “a thin purse”. This led to the publishing of Hands’ 328 page book, which includes many family favourites along with humorous anecdotes with each recipe. The magic ingredients in Harriet’s recipes are time and effort, not money. The little entry on the book from the Kirkus website explains a little further:

“The dishes in here are mainly classics or standbys depending on how you think of them-pot roast, brisket, chicken fricassee, stuffed eggplant. The preparation is not exotic or international or even particularly adventurous. She uses a limited number of spices, and these sparingly, but always there is fresh ground pepper, real lemon juice, a little wine, a little cream. One warning: she tends to forego shortcuts and the recipes, some of them, will take two, three, four hours. The book includes all the good homemade extras like jams, pickles, relishes and a lavish assortment of pies, and it’s definitely aimed at the full-time homemaker, not the working girl.”

Hector and Haddock Print Kitchenalia

What fascinates me most about this title, is, of course, the cover: although designed in 1975, it has a contemporary aesthetic which would not look out of place on a 2017 title: the silhouettes of our trusted utensils need no other detail: their outlines and curves are enough for us to know their invaluable uses and importance in the kitchen. Some of you may be aware that I designed a range of little kitchenalia linocuts years ago- the individual ones are available on Hector and Haddock, and then I decided to pop my 8 favourites onto a teatowel and screenprint. My linocut outlines are reminiscent of the ones of Harriet’s book but I have to admit to preferring Marty Lehtola’s.

Linocut hector and Haddock

Linoprint Hector and Haddock

Swiss Cooking, Anne Mason, 1964, illustrated by Shirley Lawn (Andre Deutsch Ltd, Carlton Books)

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 I have this first edition in my collection. It seemed an appropriate purchase for me, as my very good friend Ali lives in Switzerland and, over the last 17 years that she has been living there (we went to school together in South Africa), I have visited her on numerous occasions. Ali and her family have treated me to the most wonderful Swiss food: from traditional dishes at home, to fine dining in beautiful restaurants overlooking Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), I have been lucky enough to sample a great deal of delicious Swiss cuisine. Ali is Swiss-French, and lives in a little village near Lausanne. Of course, there are three main cuisines which dominate Swiss cooking, namely German, French and Italian, depending on what part of Switzerland one finds oneself in, so the dishes I am most used to are the Swiss-French ones.

I love grocery shopping in Switzerland. From visiting the exquisite and plentiful Globus food emporiums, to shopping at the larger more mainstream supermarkets and the little village stores, there is one common and welcome theme among all outlets: the distinct lack of processed food, ready-meals and often obscene excess that can dominate our British supermarket shelves. Shopping is, as a result of this dearth, a far easier and more pleasurable experience. What food shopping in Switzerland isn’t, however, is cheap. Groceries, as with most purchases in Switzerland are very expensive if one is purchasing them on the British pound. Farmers are valued more than they are here, and all jobs, generally, are well paid: a system that works and one that we would do well to learn from.

Back to the book in hand. Thankfully, Anne Mason has written not only of Raclette and Fondue, but of hundreds of other Swiss dishes, from Schwyz Cheese Pie (a dish of utter wonder and indulgence, dominated by cheese, cream, butter, eggs and potatoes) to lighter dishes such as Swiss Crest Salad (a popular dish from the Valais region) and one of my favourites to eat when I am visiting, Perch á la Ouchy; perch being fish caught from Lac Léman. Sweeter dishes include, of course, many Kirsch infused creations, along with a predictable dominance of chestnuts, apples, almonds and buttery pastry. Interestingly, there seems to be a lack of chocolate recipes, however I think I know the reason for this. Swiss homecooks think nothing of buying their bread and patisserie from their local village stores; and for good reason. There is not much use in making your own bread, or in fact cakes, when fresh and exquisitely made versions are literally on your doorstep. And of course, the Swiss support independent businesses: they feel it is their duty to buy from the local Boulangerie or Patisserie. Perhaps the same goes for chocolate: not only can you buy prettily boxed confections from your local Patisserie, but there is an abundance of Chocolatiers on most high streets. I am all for making things at home, as you all know, but really, when you can buy such creations in every village or town, why would one bother?

The Plain Kitchen Food Blog

Anne Mason was born in Australia, and she and her husband John emigrated to England in 1963. They settled in Maidstone, Kent, and she became an editor at the Kent Messenger, writing columns well into her 70s. She and John established themselves as a husband and wife traveling duo, publishing books and articles on almost all of Europe, and many other places too. Sadly, for me at least, these books are purely travel based- if only Anne had written individual Cook Books for each country visited, along the lines of Swiss Cooking: can you image how wonderful that would have been?

The cover is a delight. Illustrated by Shirley Lawn, it is a triumph of pastels and pen and ink: A Swiss Window and its shutters open onto the Alps and a traditional chalet, while in the foreground we see the traditions of a Swiss table set out before us: a Fondue set, a bottle of Kirsch, apples, Swiss wine and of course a round of Emmental. I love it for its simple naïveté and flat design, and of course for the liberal use of the heart shape- a most pleasing little form.

Have a wonderful week, everyone.

Cauliflower Puffs

The plain kitchen cauliflower puffs

As you know, I have a few of my mother’s recipe books: she was a meticulous organiser, and also enjoyed cooking a great deal. It certainly was the norm in those days to handwrite your favourite recipes in your notebooks, or, as my mum also did, cut out the exotic sounding ones from magazines and the newspaper, and then, using sticky-tape, pop them into an A4 ring bound scrap book of sorts. I do love looking at these, although these days I have to be very careful with them: they’re quite fragile, and the little cut-out recipe squares now slip from the pages, leaving yellowed strips where the tape once was. What mum also did, of course, was name the recipes using the name of whoever had given it to her: so, we have “Rose’s Trifle” and “Kinky’s Date Pudding” (yes, Kinky and Des were our next door neighbours in Cape Town…), and “Patti’s Paella”, and so on- a wonderful testament to my mum’s wide circle of friends.

Sometimes, the friend in question would be asked to write the recipe in mum’s book: and so it was with Granny Sue’s Blomkool Poffertjies. Granny Sue wasn’t our Granny: rather, she was the mother of one of my mum’s best friends, but we called her Granny Sue. Sue and mum were very close, and mum adored her. Sue even travelled across South Africa all the way from Cape Town when we moved to Kwa-Zulu Natal, and came to stay with us on the farm. I remember her with great affection. Sue was Afrikaans, so all of her recipes were written in Afrikaans too. When it came to translating the Cauliflower Puffs, I was terrified to realise that my Afrikaans is more than a bit rusty- I was once a fluent speaker, and in fact trained to become an Afrikaans teacher many years ago. I suppose if I were to be immersed in it for a few months, it’d all come back quite easily, however, reading Granny Sue’s entries in mum’s book did take a little decoding!

It’s a really easy recipe, and I have altered the original quantities a little. We had these as little starters before Sunday lunch, and I made a very quick dipping sauce of Greek Yoghurt mixed with a little Sriracha. They were utterly delicious- Barnaby wolfed them down, and I think they would make an excellent light supper for small children too. These are, as Granny Sue said of all her recipes, written in capital letters at the end, “Heerlik!”

Serves 4 as a snack

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, stem removed and broken into small florets

250ml full cream milk

2 eggs

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp table salt

Pinch white pepper

Good grinding black pepper

1 ½ cups finely grated cheddar cheese

8 tbsp plain flour

500ml sunflower or other flavourless oil, for deep frying

Maldon salt for serving

Method:

Steam the cauliflower on a fast steam for 2 minutes- no longer. Mix all of the ingredients for the batter well- I use a little whisk for this. Heat the oil in a shallow saucepan or frying pan: you do want at least 7-10 cm oil at the bottom, so that the florets will fry quickly and evenly. Heat the oil until it is at hot frying stage: test a little piece of battered cauliflower first: it should puff up and brown instantly. Place the florets in the batter, and using your hands, coat them well. Then very carefully, place the florets, a few at a time into the hot oil. Fry for a minute or so on one side, then using tongs, turn the, until golden brown on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper, and sprinkle with Maldon salt. Continue until all the florets are done.

Serve immediately.

And, because I am feeling super organised myself today, here’s another little recipe for you all: I came up with it last week, and it’s perfect stuff for the chill we are having: spicy, warm and so full of magic, golden turmeric that it really makes you feel better even just by looking at the golden bowl of goodness.

Cauliflower, Turmeric & Chilli Soup

IMG_0412

Serves 2, generously for lunch, or 4 as a starter

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, chopped up into smallish pieces

50g salted butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium white onion, chopped

1/2 stick celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, microplaned

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 tsp turmeric

2 tsp Maldon salt

Pinch white pepper

2 tsp red miso paste

600-700ml full cream milk

Coriander to serve

Method:

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute the celery, onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter for about 8 minutes or so. Don’t let it brown or catch. Add the cauliflower, and the spices and seasoning. Keep sautéing on a medium heat, stirring constantly to ensure the cauliflower becomes coated with the buttery spices. Pop the lid on the saucepan, and allow to cook on a medium heat for another 10 minutes, but: and heres the trick: every minute, remove the lid, and give it a good stir. Then pop the lid back on again, and repeat. You’re ensuring the cauliflower cooks well, and creates a good steam in the pot, but you are also ensuring it doesn’t brown too much. After ten minutes of doing this, pierce the cauliflower with a knife- it should be soft and giving, and if not, cook for a few minutes longer. Turn the heat down, add the milk, and stir slowly until steaming- it mustn’t boil or bubble other wise the milk will curdle. Once the soup is steaming, remove from the heat, and whizz until smooth using  hand held blender. Taste for seasoning- it will need more salt- and serve with chopped coriander and many slices of hot, buttered toast.

Penguin Books for Cooks, Two

DSC_0059Another Monday, which means another installment of Penguin Books For Cooks, and I am particularly enamoured with today’s titles. I have recently bought a few little numbers from Ebay and the like, even though, as I wrote in last week’s post, I feel using the site is cheating a little. Sometimes, if you come across something online that is a really wonderful little bargain, you just have to nab it while you can. But, not so with today’s post, one of which was given to me. The Mary Norwak I don’t have in my collection, but I am lucky enough to have the Patience Gray & Primrose Boyd in my possession- again, like last week, not an Ebay purchase but a gift from our lovely friends the Carpenters (they do know me rather well, don’t they?). I have always admired Plats du Jour or Foreign Food, by Boyd and Gray for years- it’s been in other people’s collections, I’ve leafed through the little paperback on shelves in secondhand bookshops, and it has a visual immediacy which draws one in. You may wonder why I talk about finding books with such love and longing, and then don’t actually buy them myself when I come upon them. Well, can you just imagine? I have such a huge range of interests, I am a person obsessed with so many different things, that if I were to buy every book that took my fancy I would, in fact, be unable to pay the mortgage or buy Barnaby new school shoes. And, as much as I adore books, I do have priorities, thank you very much. Thank heavens for friends like Chip, Helen and Kitty then, who bought me Plats du Jour from a “dusty old bookshop”. I was in raptures receiving it and still am.

So, on that rapturous note, let’s get started, shall we?

Plats du Jour Penguin Books

Plats du Jour or Foreign Food, A Penguin Handbook, by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd, illustrated by David Gentleman

David Gentleman Plats du Jour

Of course we all adore Elizabeth David, and she is often championed as the sole cook and writer who transformed English middle class eating habits. However, what is oft overlooked is that it was only in the 1960s that David began to become a recognised symbol of this transformation, and in fact Plats du Jour, the handbook written by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd, was published in 1957- and, here’s the rub: it sold over 50, 000 copies in the first few months after publication. That’s massive- and testament to the huge impact this book had on households at that time- an impact felt, a lot of people believe, before David’s influence. The recipes in Plats du Jour are derived mostly from books and home experiment, are surprisingly detailed, beautifully worded and, particularly with the absence of images, they are hugely evocative. I identified immediately with the writing: unpretentious, and unselfconscious, and brimming with love for ingredients and food. I cannot do with writing which turns in on itself: you know the type, I am sure. Like a person who adopts a tone so far removed from himself it jars and shudders, a writer who convolutes sentences and is a lexical show off- I cannot be doing with this. Say what you mean to say, for God’s sake, and let’s get on with it. In this world of contrived EVERYTHING, let us remember that there’s beauty in honesty and simplicity. I love too, that Plats du Jour was one of Jane Grigson’s favourite books- apparently if ever she saw one in a jumble sale, she bought it as a present for friends (Helen, you’re in good company).

David gentleman plats du jour

Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd met while working on the 1951 Festival of Britain, and David Gentleman, (more about him a little later) who was just finishing his studies, designed the cover and illustrated the book. Patience Gray went on to write Honey from a Weed (1986), a hugely successful publication, and she also (I love this bit) beat thousands of applicants for the job of women’s page editor at The Observer. As Tom Jaine, who wrote her obituary in 2005 said, “To the end, she rampaged against the polluters and destroyers”. She was a culinary hero in years gone by- and one for our times, too.

David Gentleman Plats du Jour

Now, I know I am all about the cooking, but as you know I am all about the illustration & design too. You are probably looking at the front cover of Plats du Jour, and feeling that the illustrations have an immediacy and relevance to them, and you’d be right. David Gentleman, born in 1930, now 86 years of age, trained under John Nash and Edward Bawden. He has illustrated almost everything, from greeting cards, to early Penguins, posters for Transport of London, illustrations for Lawrence Durrell, John Betjeman and EM Forster. He has designed stamps, coins, and daring environmental posters. David Gentleman is the quiet voice of our time: and, in a world obsessed with midcentury design, clean lines and nostalgic homages to woodcuts, Gentleman’s work engages us and holds our attention. What very many of you will be familiar with, however, perhaps without knowing it, are Gentleman’s designs at Charing Cross tube station- he was commissioned in the 1970s to make a 100m mural to commemorate the making of the first Charing Cross. Take a look next time you are there: it shows as a strip cartoon how the medieval workforce built the original cross. Of course, on closer analysis, the engravings, swishing by as the tube speeds through and stops at the station, mirror the lives of our 21st century commuters: a contemporary reflection in an ancient depiction.

The Plain Kitchen penguin books

The Plats du Jour cover delights and comforts: a gathering sits around a table, children, and adults together, and napkins are readied for the enjoyment which is to follow. A cat is cuddled in the arms of a contented woman, and bottles of wine are opened in preparation for conviviality. Of course, we do not quite get to see what this happy gathering will be eating- for of course, it will be the words and depictions inside the book that we will all truly feast on once we open the little Penguin. And, continuing my perhaps overly analytical interpretation, once Plats du Jour has been finished, and the reader has reached the end  of the feast, the platters and plates are almost empty, the wine has been enjoyed, and the cat still curls quietly on a chair, indicative of the literary and culinary journey complete.

David Gentleman Plats du Jour

Plats du Jour has been reprinted, and is available now from Persephone Books: for a mere £12. All images in this post have been photographed by me, from my original copy of the book.

The 5 o clock Cook Book, A Collection of Family Recipes for Tea-Time, Mary Norwak

My mum had a few of the Mary Norwak titles: was it Crockpot Cooking? Or The Farmhouse Kitchen? I cannot remember, and that’s the thing with Norwak: very many of us grew up with her books on our shelves; our mothers  making her reliable and trusted recipes: but we may not be able to remember exactly when and where we discovered her. And I love her for this. Norwak influenced British kitchens in a huge way- but in an understated one. A self taught cook, Norwak described herself as “not a cook who writes but a writer who cooks”. Now, if any of you are familiar with the divine Nigel Slater (who, perhaps more than any other cook, has influenced my way of thinking about life, grief, writing and cooking), Nigel describes himself as a “Cook who writes”. I’d love to know if he had Norwak’s description in mind when he thought of that.

Suet, butter, treacle and cream; apples, brawn, bannocks and baps: this is what Norwak was about. No new fangled foreign Mediterranean ingredients, thank you very much: our great British produce had everything to offer us. Norwak, it may not surprise you to discover, wrote for The Lady  and The Farmers Weekly. Of course, Norwak was also stalwart of the WI: it goes without saying, doesn’t it? She combined a fascination with social history, eating, kitchenalia and British lifestyle, and with her expansive knowledge of cooking and household management, she produced hugely popular domestic titles. If any of you are interested in traditional British cookery- from preserves, to eating in the seasons, to game, to appropriate kitchenalia: give Norwak a whirl. Start with The Farmhouse Kitchen (1975) , move swiftly on to From Garden To Table (1977), and follow that up with The Book of Preserves (1986). It may give you an unfettered, unfussy flavour of her wonderful output.

Back to the title in question. I love this particular cover for a variety of reasons. As a South African, there were rather a few dialectical choices we had to get to grips with when we moved to England, and of course one of them was “tea”. To us, tea was simply a cup of tea and perhaps a slice of cake (if you were lucky)- not an early evening meal. That, to me, has always been supper. Of course, now that we have Barnaby, we often have friends for tea, or he visits friends for a playdate and tea- and, like pronouncing things in an English accent just to make myself understood, I have become accustomed to this word. I still don’t use it myself though, weirdly. I still say lunch for a midday meal, and supper for a later one. And I reckon I always will- but I love this book, for its idea of supper-tea, the steam rising from the teacup which unfurls into a number 5, the hand drawn letters, and their rather elaborate swishes (I love them more, knowing that Norwak was rather a conventional, non-elaborate type). My most favourite thing, however, are the green and cream dusty looking squares, the chequerboard background of the title. Why? Because it reminds me of vinyl kitchen floor tiles, “Marley tiles” as they were known when I was growing up in South Africa, and in the 1970s, along with cork tiles, were considered the height of sophistication. I still think these tiles are a much underrated floor covering: in our search for cool country-chic and magazine-spread kitchens, we have created floors of cold slate and reclaimed flagstones, which are utterly freezing underfoot and unforgiving on a dropped teacup, Arcoroc-bounce or not. A little bit of linoleum wouldn’t go amiss these days, I can tell you that now.

On that warm note, everyone, farewell, and I look forward to next week’s third installment.

 

Penguin Books For Cooks

Penguin Books the plain kitchen

As promised a few months ago, part of The Plain Kitchen’s posts will also focus on my collection of cookery books, recipe leaflets and pamphlets, and also on all things food ephemera related. I am kicking things off by examining two Penguin paperbacks- in fact, one of them I do own (The Penguin Cookery Book) but the other I sadly don’t have in my collection. I do however have the box set collection of 100 Cookery Postcards from Penguin, a gift from a friend which brings me great joy. I know they are meant to be postcards, but quite frankly I cant bear to scribble all over them and hand them over to Royal Mail, so they have formed the basis for my research into the collection of books- and an exciting little project it has been. The weekly #penguinbooksforcooks post will occur every Monday, and I’ll post updates on Instagram (@justine_wall) too, so you don’t miss them. I hope you enjoy these little forays into our culinary literary past as much as I have enjoyed researching the books. If you’re an Instagram user, why not post your images and Penguin books under the hashtag too? It would be great to see what everyone around the world has in their collections!

American Dishes for English Tables, Ambrose Heath

Of course, you will be familiar with Heath- if not for his food writing, then for the Ravilious and Bawden illustrations and covers which adorn most of his books. If I could amass the entire Ambrose Heath collection I’d be a very happy woman indeed: I adore Heath’s writing, more for his tone and no nonsense approach than anything else. In Open Sesame, 1979, he wrote “The super-snob is the gastronomic snob. One of his greatest affections is to despise tinned food”, and of course, Heath is right. A good tin of tuna is possibly one of modern life’s greatest inventions, sardines are even better, and tinned artichokes, as I have mentioned before, are far superior to those nasty rancid oiled ones in jars sold for an astronomic mark-up, and don’t even get me started on the wonders of tinned tomatoes. My grocery cupboard always has a large selection of tins in it, from the pedestrian to the rather peculiar- and I am very wary of any cook who feigns great distaste at the use of tins. I believe these sorts of people to be attempting to be something they are not: that, or they are just telling great big fibs.

Back to Heath: this particular little Penguin was published in 1939 and illustrated by James Arnold. Heath was a prolific food writer: particularly in the 1930s and during the Second World War He always championed “good food”- and British ingredients, but despaired that many British households had forgotten proper cooking skills. During the war years, Heath advised the population on how to make generally inadequate food supplies meet demands. Even though Heath played a huge advisory part in the wartime years, he actually isn’t that well remembered or as revered as he should have been. His work spans so much: he was a journalist, and wrote and translated over 100 works on food, including The Good Cook in Wartime, The Country Life Cookery Book, and, of course, Good Dishes From Tinned Foods.

James Arnold, unlike Ravilious and Bawden, did not enjoy great fame. He illustrated posters for London Transport (1950) and had his The Farm Wagons of England and Wales published in 1969: beautiful, bucolic interpretations of England’s green and pleasant land. I love the cover of American Dishes for English Tables, and this is what attracted me to this particular Penguin from the postcard collection: I love the Pop-Art aspect of it, even though of course it was designed way, way before the Pop Art movement. I love the hand drawn immediacy of the flag- the non-uniform stars in particular. And, I love the central title: the linked parentheses, which almost double up as slight comic-book speech bubbles, and remind me, in turn, of my beloved Roy Rogers Annuals. I am sure James Arnold did not think of this at all when he designed the cover- I am notorious for looking too deeply into things, but it’s how I like to think of it.

I don’t have this one in my collection: I know there are some out there, but I like to “come across” books, as it gives me great pleasure to do so. Sometimes, of course, I will buy online from Abebooks or Ebay, but rather infrequently it must be said. A charity shop find, or a gift from a friend always holds far greater meaning for me.

The Penguin Cookery Book, Bee Nilson

The Penguin Cookery Book Bee Nilson

Now, this is one I do have in my collection: given to me by our dear friends the Carpenters. It was first published in 1952, and my edition is the 1954 edition. Bee Nilson writes, “This is a general cookery book designed for the busy woman who wants to serve good food, but who has only a limited time to spend in the kitchen”. The word “housewife” is, of course, also used in the introduction, as it was in most cookbooks of this time.

Bee Nilson was born and educated in New Zealand, came to England in 1935 and settled in London. During the war she was with the Ministry of Food and compiled their ABC of Cookery. She felt that her interest in the good food of other countries was due to her husband who travelled throughout Europe on business, and collected many of the foreign recipes and ideas in her book.

Of course, many of the recipes in the book are simply ideas: for Beetroot and Mint Salad, Nilson writes, “Make individual nests of lettuce leaves or line a salad bowl with them. In the centre, arrange thin slices of beetroot. Sprinkle with finely chopped mint and serve with French Dressing”. Other recipes are more traditional in length and layout. Nilson, like Heath, was a great admirer of the tin: lots of canned herring, pilchards, oysters and mussels appear in her recipes, which provide such nostalgia for me. As a young girl, I ate a great deal of fresh seafood, particularly octopus and mussels, but it was always the tinned smoked mussels which held my fancy: I loved the ring pull on the tin, the amber oil in which the mussels lay, and of course, the overpowering smokiness of the little morsels. We would eat them from the tin with a toothpick, and, like most delicacies, they were rationed in our house, so I was always left wanting more. Nilson’s little entries remind me of those childhood days in South Africa. How lovely that a little book can stir up such wonderful memories!

Towards the end of the book, in “Planning and Preparing Meals”, Nilson lists food groups, and, as I am sitting here at my desk shivering, hot water bottle on my lap, I have had a little giggle: under “Foods For Warmth and Energy”, she writes: “These are all the fats and oils, the sugars and sweets, bread, flour, cakes and biscuits, oatmeal, rice, semolina and breakfast cereals.” Sounds just perfect!

The Plain Kitchen

The illustrations are thin on the ground, but beautiful: in later editions, the cover included photographs, and I of course prefer the original, although I do not know who illustrated it- and I can’t seem to find out either. My copy is so delicate, that often, turning the pages causes the paper to crack and flake off, so I tend not to use it. I have to be very careful when doing so, and I certainly keep it well away from the actual kitchen area: I am a messy cook- and I’d hate to damage my beautiful little edition.

Penguin Books for Cooks

Until next Monday’s installment of Penguin Books for Cooks: goodbye, and have a wonderful week, whatever you may be doing.

 

The Last Hurrah

The Plain Kitchen Party Food

I am prone to make rash decisions when I’ve had a few too many glasses of wine- I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Luckily, my impromptu decisions are usually very upbeat and happy ones, and so it was on Saturday night. On New Year’s Eve, returning home early from a lovely party at a friend’s house, our neighbour popped round to wish us Happy New Year- we were all full of New Year’s spirits, and I decided then and there, at 12 o clock at night (loudly, enthusiastically, and gesticulating like only the sozzled can do), that they were to all come round the next day to ours, for drinks and snacks, following their New Year’s day pub lunch. I decided this in full knowledge that I’d not been to the supermarket for six days post the huge Christmas shop, and yet I happily offered to feed and entertain 8 adults and 6 children for a few hours. In my over-excited state I saw an almost empty grocery cupboard and fridge not, of course, as an obstacle, but as a tiny challenge which I could of course quite easily overcome. The Plain Kitchen food blog

Sunday dawned, with, strangely no headache, but quite a large amount of exhaustion. After a few breakfasts (we eat rather a lot in our house) I began tackling the food scenario- what the hell I was going to feed my friends? As you by now may have guessed, the little foraging mission was quite a success- so much so that I decided to write a little bit about what I got up to, and what I made, which I hope will inspire you: proof that one really can make do and be inventive when one has made huge promises to people while under the influence of a lot of wine. Here goes…

The Plain Kitchen Justine WallChicory & Gem with Bacon & Walnuts

Look, the best-by date on the leaves had of course gone over a while back, but, once the outer leaves were discarded and the funny bits removed, I was left with a perfectly acceptable platter of crisp green boats. I decided I’d do the usual, a bit of blue cheese, bacon and walnuts, but upon opening the fridge, a rather hirsute Gorgonzola greeted me. If it were just me tucking into my canapés, I would have probably shaved the fur off the cheese and risked this, but I didn’t want my guests to- so I sadly discarded the forlorn bit of blue. What to do? I arrived at the ingenious solution of mixing soft cream cheese, with a little finely chopped basil and parsley, a little lemon zest and a good dollop of smoked paprika together. I popped a little of this at the ends of the gem and chicory, and topped with very crispy bacon and toasted pecans (yes, yes, the idea was walnuts, but I couldn’t find those…)

Lemon Artichokes

Well, I’ve posted the recipe for these before and they are quite the easiest things in the world to make, and, I think, utterly delicious. Always keep tins of artichoke hearts in your cupboards- they are just the most versatile things, for using in bakes, on top of pizzas, whizzing into dips, and, of course, for eating on their own. The recipe for the artichokes is here– you’ll need garlic, lemon juice, parsley, salt and black pepper and very good grassy olive oil.

Chorizo Tarts

I always have a pack of ready rolled puff pastry or shortcrust pastry to hand, and those who know me well know that cheese nut garlic puff things are my usual offering, either at our home, or taken as a little gift when we visit others. So, it was with great relief that I found the shortcrust pastry lurking in the fridge: I cut little circles from the pastry, popped these discs into a shallow fairycake type of tin, and then topped each disc with my chorizo mix- again, this is an old reliable mix and does very well for any sort of pastry canapé. Saute a small, finely chopped red onion with a large microplaned clove of garlic in olive oil, add finely chopped chorizo, then, after 10 minutes or so, remove from the heat and stir through an egg yolk, a good dollop of sour cream or soft cream cheese, black pepper, and finely chopped parsley. Dollop a teaspoonful onto each disc as I said- and grate over a little hard cheese- whatever you have to hand. Bake at 180 for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling on top.

Jalapeno Baba Ghanoush and Pastry Nut Sticks

I am laughing at my ridiculous descriptions here: apologies. These are more ideas of what to do, than exact, refined recipes- I do hope you find them helpful!

The aubergines in the fruit bowl were not looking their glossy rotund best, it had to be said, but I soldiered on, and removed the rather unappealing bits. I made a mix of olive oil, garlic, dried chillis, salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, and paprika, scored the aubergines, rubbed the mix into them and roasted them on a high heat for a good 45 minutes. I had leftover pastry remaining from the little chorizo tarts, and I didn’t want this to go to waste, so I toasted some pecan nuts, garlic and olive oil, and mixed this garlicky nutty mix, along with salt and pepper, into the pastry. I made funny, knobbly looking sticks and baked these until golden brown. Once the aubergine was done, I scraped out the spicy flesh, and whizzed it up with lemon juice, jalapenos, olive oil and a little more garlic.

Blinis

Well, these are a doddle aren’t they? I had made lots for Christmas, and still had salmon leftover, a forlorn bunch of rather withered dill, and, of course, there was a tub of everlasting sour cream in the fridge. In fact, one of our lovely friends Carly brought over a pack of salmon too- so we ended up using hers for this particular platter! I chopped the dill finely instead of using the individual feathers, as they really were rather sad: and a little dollop of that ersatz caviar we all buy at Christmas time ensured that these looked acceptably pretty. Sadly I left the platter of unadorned blinis on top of the warm Stanley, so when served were slightly crispier than they perhaps should have been!

Rum Cocktails

Everyone was feeling a little fragile, and we all admitted we were a bit over the wine scenario. I don’t generally make cocktails, and, as I said, I hadn’t been to the shops for a good week or so, so I really had to make do with what I had to hand. I boiled soft brown sugar and a large knob of ginger down to a syrup (caster would’ve been my choice, but we were out of that). The cocktails were simply a tablespoon of syrup, good squeeze of lime, shot of rum and topped with ice and fizzy water and another wedge of lime.

The children snuck what they liked from the snacks (mostly the salmon), but I ensured they didn’t kill each other by making plates of little cheese and ham sandwiches (the ham that kept on giving- it truly was like Button Soup!). There was no bread in the house- but we do have a breadmaker- which comes into its own at times like these. Children do eat a lot- and I always ensure there is more than enough for them to tuck into.

It was a really last minute, cobbled together affair, but worth it to see 2017 in with good friends, before we all went our separate ways to early beds, and promises of a healthier start to the rest of the year. And it made me think that even those of us who love order, planning, and control would do well to be a little more spontaneous at times: as long as you’ve a tin of artichokes in the cupboard and some ready rolled pastry in the fridge, that is. dsc_0045-1