"Why didn't you invite me, Ratty?" Illustration by Tasha Tudor
I recently reread Kenneth Grahame's classic novel, The Wind in the Willows, concerning a collection of rather well-to-do animals at times skittering about, languidly discussing ideas, or extolling the virtues of nature. Such wonder! There's a grandiose, preposterous (while still quite amiable in his delusions) toad on the wrong side of the law, a couple of critters who nearly succumb to the sea in response to the siren song of the Sea Rat and his wayfaring ways. And also, lovingly wrapped in the pages--a pausing meditation on dawn.
And boy, do the little fellows love to eat! They rarely ever stop--if not eating, they're talking about eating, or talking about food while eating! I was enamored of the fat, wicker luncheon basket that the Water Rat and Mole share, its contents including, "cold tongue cold ham cold beef pickled gherkins salad french rolls cress sandwidges potted meat ginger beer lemonade soda water..."
We had a few friends over and I served such things as these one entirely civilized afternoon. Perhaps I skipped the tongue and potted meat and watercress but the package of DAK boiled ham, Pillsbury crescent rolls, thinly sliced cucumbers on buttered white bread, bread and butter pickle coins and figgy orange jam stepped in nimbly and rose most admirably! Pink fizzy lemonade, fruity seltzer water and an excellent chilled white Chardonnay-Viognier refreshed the gathering.
I also happened to find an absolutely charming copy of The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook (pub. 1983) on ebay, with recipes by Arabella Boxer and fine illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. Contents reveal FOOD FOR varying occasions such as, "...staying at home...excursions...the storage cupboard..." I found a recipe for Refrigerator Cookies from the latter section while perusing other things such as Snowfalls in Dark Woods, Leafy Summer Lettuce Snacks and Very Easy Flapjacks.
A guideline for Refrigerator Cookies may be found here thanks to allrecipes.com. However, the recipe in The Wind in the Willows Country Cookbook simply deals with 6 TB butter, 1/2 cup superfine sugar, 1 egg, 1 1/2 cups self-rising flower and a pinch of salt--dispensing with the cinnamon, walnuts, baking soda and cream of tartar called for on allrecipes.com.
"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats..." And eating, apparently! Do enjoy!
It seems like whenever Jackpot wants to assist in the kitchen (ie. chew on a beef jerky and look at me periodically from her dog bed) there are always spoons she isn't allowed to lick, forks to test or batter-splattered bowls to run a lazy finger through. For example, she, and dogs in general, can't eat the avocados (due to all sorts of upsets) included in a recent post. In this particular scrumptious case, the raisins involved aren't great for her kidneys. I didn't mean to torment her but here was the issue: I recently had people over and apparently they didn't think chilled bottles of Woodchuck pear cider were as good an idea as I did, so what to do with all this cider! I remembered a cider cake at April Bloomfield's Spotted Pig restaurant and while I couldn't readily find that recipe, I gladly thank idmuchratherbakethan.blogspot.com for her Apple Cider Pecan Cake--although my creation resembled more of a torte. Link here! Also, below are my conversions. Only one bottle of cider is called for and I bought some snack bags of pre-sliced apples (did not grate, as recipe suggests) and sort of broke the pecans in half with my hands (didn't chop) before tossing them into the batter. I thought it was a riot, and felt like a hearty pilgrim tearing things up, mixing a rustic cake for the feast of the equinox--or setting a simple table to have a few folks over coffee, or tea. Jacks is invited too, of course.
Apple Cider Pecan Cake
Approx 330 ml cider (1 regular bottle)
150g butter, melted (1 stick, plus 2 TB)
4 apples, peeled, cored and grated
2 large eggs
150g soft brown sugar (1/2 cup)
300g plain flour (1 ½ cups)
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
0.25 tsp nutmeg
200g raisins or sultanas (1 cup)
100g pecans, roughly chopped (1/2 cup)
1. Pour the cider into a saucepan and bring to the boil then
lower the heat to a simmer and reduced to approximately 100 ml (1/2 cup,
reduction took a long time in an otherwise very quick recipe!). Pour into a
bowl with the melted butter to cool slightly.
2. Once the cider and butter are just warm set the oven to
180 C/160 C (350 degrees) and grease/line a 8" diameter, loose bottomed
3. Mix the eggs and sugar into the apples followed by the
melted butter and cider. Sift in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices then
stir in. Finally stir in the raisins or sultanas and pecans.
4. Pour the mixture into the cake tin and level the top then
create a slight dip in the centre with a spoon - this helps the cake to rise
evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 1 hour (check at 50 minutes)
or until a cake tester inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. Leave the cake to cool on a wire rack for at least 15
mins then carefully turn out of the tin and cool completely. Dust with a little
sugar if you wish.
As much as I like to linger in the kitchen, I simply didn't have much time this year to make a languorous celebratory cassoulet and thereby mark the seventh anniversary of my blog, eveningswithpeter.com! I couldn't help but think of Arlene Dahl's culinary epic No Time for Cookingas I set out to make Jacques Pepin's 30-Minute Cassoulet. I'll be perfectly frank--it didn't work out, at first. Entre nous, and with all due respect to the great chef, Pepin's cassoulet was more like a 90-minute 30-minute cassoulet. As presented, the recipe made little sense and nothing was fully cooked at the 30-minute mark. Was the Le Creuset skillet I used at fault? Was it not roomy enough for all the ingredients? I can't say for sure but after I fiddled with it for an additional hour, my cassoulet ended up being quite tasty. This may be served straightaway but the most important thing I've learned about cassoulet over the years--let it cool before sticking it in the refrigerator overnight and then reheating the next day to release the full flavor.
Let's go through this together, shall we?
1) Everything mostly goes into the pan in parts, starting with browning the ham (rolled shoulder ham a.k.a. daisy ham or Boston Butt) and Italian sausage and then cook covered for 7-8 minutes. Fine.
2) Add bratwurst, mushrooms, onion, garlic, thyme and bay, cook for another 5-6 minutes. Add canned cannellini beans, tomato, water (only a mere 1/2 cup!) and pepper to things, return to boil then reduce for 5 minutes.
And that's it.
So what to do with a bowl of under-cooked nothing with next to no soupy-like liquid for dipping a grilled, olive oil-slathered slice of country bread? I removed the bratwurst and mushrooms from the pale disaster in a skillet and browned them in a separate pan with the onions. I added two cups of water and a porcini mushroom cube and some tomato juice (from the can of already diced tomatoes I used) to make stock. The bratwurst mixture went back in to the skillet. I let this simmer for about a half hour (toward the end, uncovered) to reduce the liquid.
About here it began to resemble cassoulet--and cooked at that! The lesson here? Flip this recipe around a bit and remember it is not a race to achieve a great cassoulet--cook onions and mushrooms first and brown all the meat! Double the amount of liquid at least and simmer down! Let all the ingredients cordially greet one another in the refrigerator overnight and served with grilled country bread!
I had appropriated the Betty Crocker's Cake and Frosting Mix Cookbook ("featuring more than 300 recipes for every occasion") years ago from my parents' basement but it was only recently when thumbing through the candy-colored pages filled with rainbow nonpareils, glaceed cherries, and sparkling sugar that I pointed out the "Choo Choo" Birthday Train to Baby. He was immediately taken by it, remembering the sweet embrace he felt as a child when his mother made it once for him. So I thought, what a wonderful surprise if I created a special train for him--what a charming dessert with a cargo of Sweetheart candies and jelly beans for a transporting Valentine's Day! It was all really quite simple to put together and such a beautiful laugh riot--Baby's eyes became moist as the cake itself! Great for a little one's surprise party or anytime for inspiring the child in all of us. So find the recipe below and climb aboard!
Outfitted on a rustic wood slab cutting board and a pitcher of two dozen roses as back drop. The marshmallows dipped in cocoa powder with mini-marshmallows were my idea, suggestive of snow covered boulders. The wheels are peppermints but Lifesavers would certainly do, carting the sparkling sugar dusted cargo of Jelly Belly mixed jelly beans and those Sweethearts with little Valentine's Day messages on them! A Twizzler is the smokestack and string licorice made tracks.
An aerial view!
"Choo Choo" Birthday Train
(My notes in italics)
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour six small loaf pans (I only used two, it was only for the two of us!), and an extra pan (for the batter that doesn't fit in the 'cars'). Prepare Betty Crocker Devils Food cake mix (yellow was Baby's preference) as directed on package. Fill each loaf pan half full of batter and pour remaining batter into the extra pan. Bake loaves 20 to 25 minutes. Cool.
Prepare Betty Crocker chocolate fudge frosting mix as directed on package (I used a can of B.C. classic chocolate frosting). Place each small loaf upside down on individual aluminium foil "plates" or large serving tray. Frost sides and tops of loaves. Decorate with hard candy circle mints for wheels and candleholders (no candles here), red 1-inch gumdrop for smokestack. Use candles on engine and first car. "Fill" each additional car with one of these: red cinnamon candies, nonpareils, peanuts, and colored decorator's sugar.
Place in line down center of table. Serve on aluminum foil "plates," one for each child, or cut in half to serve two. Little balloons, sparklers, plastic grass or wrapped, beribboned candy crackers for additional display at your discretion!
A quick stop into where to eat with Pete!
Pull up a stool and possibly a few childhood memories at a new soda luncheonette in the West Village.
The mere mention of old soda fountain notions such as fizzes, ice cream sodas, sundaes, and rickeys always gets me terribly excited. How wonderful to discover that the sun-filled Hamilton's serves up these staggering delights alongside old mainstays such as juicy burgers and hot dogs. We pulled up to the marble counter although there are about 20 small tables as well. The joyful step back into a fanciful candy land from a simpler time has yet to be fully realized--I don't mean the staff needed to sport colorfully striped uniforms necessarily but I do wish the backbone of shelves offered by way of design were flooded with jars of practically glowing candy, the sound system provided a mellow, jazzy score and that there were more decorative vintage advertisements proffering sweet treats such as those surely posted in the shops of yesteryear. But the boxes of fresh ice cream, actual soda fountains and vats of malt powder on display were still quite irrepressible!
The Quick Bites:
Scrumptious black & white malt;
Refreshing chocolate phosphate, a "straight soda with a dash of acid phosphate" made me long for a lazy summer day or a good dash of spring as well;
Sturdy hearts of pale romaine (for our greens!) dressed with perfectly pungent, chunky blue cheese and shards of crispy bacon;
Hamilton double patty classic, medium rare with American cheese, drive-in approved, served with a bright dilly of a pickle and side of golden delicious fried onion rings;
Super tasty reuben sandwich corned beef sized just right for easy manageability so as not to create much of a fussy mess;
A snowball of pistachio ice cream scooped out of an old time cardboard box from Jane's in Astoria;
Butterscotch high ball shake brought out syrupy sweet childhood memories enveloped in rich vanilla ice cream!
Until Next Time:
The list goes on! Grilled cheese and tomato soup, a tuna melt, any of the "take out TV dinners" that include macaroni and cheese with green beans and stuffing.
Hamilton's is located at 51 Bank St, New York, NY, 212-661-1515, hamiltonsoda.com.
Jackpot took a moment to pose for me but was otherwise ensconced in her doggie bed while I prepared an osso buco courtesy of Emeril with Creole seasonings! Two veal shank pieces (roughly 8 oz. each) is an ample portion for two, when served with a heaping side of rice and a salad dressed perhaps spiked with a shallot vinaigrette, sumptuous mushrooms and crisped pancetta. If you don't happen to have something like Zatarain's around for the seasoning, a recipe easily created from items most likely found in your spice cabinet may also be found here. What's best is that the meat simmers for about two hours, so guests enter to a wildly fragrant aroma--and then the dish finishes cooking while you're chatting over hors d'oeuvres and wine! Sit down and serve!
I veered from this recipe with highly satisfactory results. Since I have a most confounding, irritating allergy to tomatoes, I pureed a can of cannellini beans with some water as a substitute for the red devils (or for a great tomato-less marinara to be used, click here). I also cracked open a bottle of a hearty beer instead of opening up a whole bottle of red wine (course an opened bottle of wine rarely lingers). The result was truly an impressive, really easy rustic delight! Now, make sure you serve with tiny spoons to scoop up all the delicious marrow from the bones!
After weathering a soul-shredding career as a theatrical agent that lasted entirely too long, Mr. Sherwood left his stable of actors from the stage and screen and went on to pursue his literary aspirations. He is currently the dining editor for Next magazine (nextmagazine.com) where he writes a weekly restaurant review column which also features Manhattan's best food and drink recipes from the finest chef's and bartenders on the island. In 2010 he was published in Foodista’s Best of Food Blogs Cookbook. He toiled as web editor for industry leader Interior Design magazine for several years and has also written for New York magazine, Travel & Leisure and Woman’s Day.
A proud graduate of the University of New Hampshire, one of the nation’s top drinking schools, Mr. Sherwood also studied voice and theater abroad at Regent’s College, in London’s historic Regent’s Park, and at the Royal Academy of Music. He spent a year at Hunter College in Manhattan.
Mr. Sherwood recently published his first novel, the pale of memory, available on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and iUniverse.com. He is in the midst of writing a second.
Twitter/tweet/twat him @kaleidabox