George Rector: M.F.K. Fisher’s Dirty Old Uncle

rector
We struck gold in the depths of the library the other day when I dug up Dine at Home with Rector: A book on what men like, why they like it, and how to cook it, by George Rector, c.1937.

Rector (1878-1947) was a restaurateur and popular author. This book is ostensibly a cookbook–I don’t know what else it would be–but it doesn’t have recipes per se. Instead, he just mentions how to cook things as he’s steaming along. I’m in love with the hardboiled yet strangely comforting prose (though I do have to ignore the casual sexism and racism of the period).

Seems most cookbooks these days range from bland to, at best, passionately sincere. Old George is just in it for the fun. The pleasure of reading him is filed in my brain alongside the pleasure of reading M.F.K. Fisher, though he’s more like her dirty old uncle. Which is to say you’d happily read either them even if you have no intention of ever cooking anything ever again.

Speaking of casual sexism, I’m particularly fond of the chapter titled “When the Wife’s Away”, which steps befuddled menfolk from the basics of grilling a steak (“Steak is a good thing to begin on; don’t be scared off because it’s one of the aristocrats of the cow kingdom…”), to how to scramble eggs over a double boiler (“that’s the dingus Junior’s cereal is cooked in…”) to making “that noble experiment known as Rum-Tum Ditty” for the boys when they come over for cards. Rum-Tum-Ditty, I have to say, defies explanation. Let’s just say the ingredients include whipped egg whites, a pound of cheese and a can of tomato soup.

Speaking of befuddled menfolk, Erik is quite fond of this passage about making Hollandaise sauce (from the chapter titled “A Touch of Eggomania”), not least because it has introduced the term “hen fruit” into our lives:

For eggs Benedict, you need Hollandaise sauce, an additional contribution of the hen fruit to the pleasures of the palate, and to the confusion of cooks. Hold on to your hats and we’ll round that curve. Add four egg yolks, beaten to the thick, lemon-colored point, to half a cup of butter melted in a double boiler. Stir as you add the eggs and keep stirring–stir with the calm and temperate perseverance of the mine mule making his millionth trip down the gallery. That’s the secret–that and getting the water in the bottom hot as blazes without ever letting it come to a boil. Just before the mixture gets thick–timing again–put in a tablespoon of lemon juice and cayenne pepper to taste, and I hope and believe you’ll have a crackajack Hollandaise. Which is something to have, because it’s cantankerous stuff, as the tears shed by millions of cooks down the ages all testify.

Easy Scandinavian-Style Bread

bread loaf

I really like the dense, hearty whole grain loaves which are popular in Germany and Scandinavia and other points north, but which are difficult to find in the U.S.  I’ve come to like these better than the airy kind of bread, as a matter of fact. Fluffy bread doesn’t really seem like real food to me anymore, and white fluffy bread tastes like cotton candy.

Of course, I’m spoiled because Erik is a baker, so he makes me delicious, black hole-dense loaves of sourdough rye. Or at least, he used to. Now he’s on crutches, trying to recover from a bad case of Plantar fasciitis. This means he’s not doing anything in the kitchen anymore, and my bread supply is gone.

Sure, I could wake up his sourdough starter, take on the mantle (or apron?) of Household Baker, and start making these loaves myself, but I’m already taking on extra chores with him off his feet, so I’m not inclined to take up this one as well. Yet we can’t live two months without good bread. What to do?

Fortunately, I’ve found a solution to our bread crisis: a perfectly good yeasted recipe which makes a dense whole grain loaf with minimal effort. No starter. No kneading. No rise time, even. It’s a quick bread, essentially. It takes 5 minutes to mix up, then you plop it into a loaf pan and put it in the oven for 1 1/2 hours. That’s it.

It lacks the sour flavor and chewiness you get from developed loaves, true, as well as the health benefits/improved digestibility that comes from the fermentation process. But you know, it’s still very good. And it’s 100% whole grain and packed with healthful seeds. And for a yeasted bread, it keeps well. Our loaves have been lasting at least three days on the counter top, unwrapped.

This isn’t a bread for soaking up sauce, or making fancy sandwiches, because it’s not springy. Instead, it’s a bread for layering with cheese or lox or slices of cucumber and salt. It’s also great toasted. But mostly I’ve just been eating it slathered with that fancy cultured butter that Trader Joe’s has started selling lately.

Now that I’ve got you all excited, I’m not going to write the recipe here, because I’m using it exactly as I found it on The Transplanted Baker. I have nothing to add or change, or any excuse at all to claim it as my own. She calls her version of this recipe (which originated with Nigella Lawson) “Lazy Man’s Bread.” I’ll have to call this blog entry “Lazy Man’s Post.”

See: Lazy Man’s Bread at The Transplanted Baker

How to make hot sauce

hot sauce

I’ve noticed we sort of drift in and out of some habits, or practices, or hobbies… or whatever you want to call them. In theory I’m big on all sorts of DIY, especially in the kitchen, because making staples at home can really help save packaging, money and food–and condiments, like mustard, mayo and hot sauce, are easy to make.

However, it’s also really easy to fall to temptation and just buy a bottle of something at the store. So here’s a confession: we’ve fallen into sin around here, and haven’t made our own hot sauce in a good while.  We dodge the homemade when we know better. We know a thousand times better. And yet it happens. The jar ends up in the cart, and then in the fridge, and then in the back of the fridge, and eventually in the garbage.

What is appealing about the jar on the shelf? Why does our hand drift toward it? Perhaps we are enchanted by the evil hot sauce rooster.

Anyway, I just remedied the hot sauce omission. I made a chunky, fresh and not very hot sauce which brightens anything we slather it on, and I want to share the happiness.

Hot sauce is easy to make,  yet it can be controversial. I actually hesitated to post this, because I didn’t want to step into the hot sauce minefield. People are passionate about their hot sauce, about what constitutes “real” hot sauce, and can be more than a little insistent that their way is the True Way of the Sauce.

For some people, it’s all about the heat, and the provenance of the peppers used. For others, the sauce must be made only of peppers, for others, it needs the earthy notes of onion and carrot and garlic and even tomatoes. For some it is fermented, for others, stewed, and for some, raw. For some, sugar is a necessity, for others, a blasphemy.

The basic technique I’m going to describe makes a simple sauce with nothing in it but peppers, vinegar and salt, and it is fermented to bring out the flavor. I don’t subscribe to any particular school of sauce, but this is the easiest sauce to make for my purposes.

The outcome of the recipe depends mostly on your choice of pepper, but also a bit on how much vinegar you put in it, and what type of vinegar, and whether you strain it or leave it chunky.

We used fresh red peppers labeled Anaheim peppers (kind of like a red New Mexico chile), which are mild, and also some dried California peppers, which are also mild, but a little smokey. These peppers make your tongue tingle–they don’t burn. Our sauce is more like a mild salsa–enjoyable on everything, by everyone.  Later this summer if I get my hands on some good hot chiles, I’ll make a hot batch. Regardless of the heat, the technique is the same.

Hot sauce is improvisational and hard to mess up. I’d recommend not over-thinking it, but rather just throwing it together with whatever you have on hand, however it comes together. Trust me, it will be pretty good no matter what you do. It’s smart to take notes, though, so you replicate your successes.

(Root) Simple Hot Sauce

Makes about about 2 cups.

Takes up to a week to make, but only five or ten minutes of actual effort.

You’ll need:

  • About 1 lb of fresh chiles of any sort, or the same weight in re-hydrated dried chiles, or a mix of the two, stemmed and roughly chopped. (Rehydrate dried chiles by soaking them in hot water for 10 min.) Keep the seeds, unless you want to decrease the heat.
  • 2 tablespoons of kosher salt or sea salt–salt without additives
  • About 1 cup of vinegar. Many people use distilled white vinegar, because the flavor is not intrusive. Some people don’t trust white vinegar, thinking it far too industrial a product. I’d say just know your brand–they do vary. If you prefer to use another type of vinegar, just factor in how the flavor will effect the sauce.

First ferment:

Mix your chopped chiles with the salt in a covered jar or bowl and let it sit out at room temperature for about 12 hours to soften and ferment–being a ferment, it doesn’t have to be precisely 12 hours. Leave it out “a good while.”

Add the vinegar and blend:

Add your vinegar to the peppers and blend using a blender, food processor, stick blender or a mortar and pestle. Here’s where the art comes in!

Add the vinegar sparingly as you mix, watching for the texture you want and well as the flavor. (Flavor is a little hard to judge, though, because it has more developing to do.) There’s no right or wrong texture.

Remember, you can always add more vinegar later if the sauce needs to be thinner, or more vinegar-y.

I like thick hot sauce. Some people like it thin. If you like it very thin, you can strain out all of the solids after the second ferment.

Second ferment:

Put the newly vinegar-ed sauce in very clean jar, put on loose lid on it, or rubberband some muslin over the mouth, and leave it to sit out for a few more days–and again, this timing is pretty flexible and will depend a lot on personal preference and ambient temperature.  Two days is probably the minimum amount of time you should give it, and you could let it sit out for as long as a week.

(BTW, I used our fermenting jar for this project–as I do for all our ferments. )

Just taste it now and then, and when you like the way it tastes, stop the ferment by putting it in the fridge.

At this point you can also make all your last minute adjustments, such as adding more vinegar, or salt, or (gasp!) sugar, or blending the sauce more, or putting it in a strainer and taking out all of the solids.

Note that your sauce may separate after sitting for a while, because it doesn’t have stabilizers or thickeners added to it. This doesn’t mean it has spoiled. Just shake it before using.

Keep it in the fridge, and use it up within a couple of months.

What to do with not-so-good tomatoes

tomatoesbefore

As we wait eagerly for tomato season to commence, or for our homegrown tomatoes to come in, we might find ourselves buying grocery store tomatoes out of desperation and then–inevitably- being disappointed.

Usually I try to avoid store-bought tomatoes all together, using canned when good fresh tomatoes are not available, but sometimes canned tomatoes just aren’t what you need, so you have to wait for summer… or suffer bad tomatoes. Now there’s a middle way. Grocery store tomatoes can be reformed.

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Coffee and Tahini Date Balls

date balls

In a nutshell:

We’ve posted about this sort of thing before, and I know many of you already make fruit/nut balls and bars as healthy treats. So all you folks need to know is that these days we’re really liking the flavor combo of dates and tahini, rolled in a 50/50 blend of ground coffee and cacao nibs (these are the dark ones in the pic above). If you don’t have the nibs, you can just roll them in straight coffee–fresh ground espresso is best.

Give it a try. It’s super easy, and super tasty for the adult palate–and if you eat enough of them, you get a caffeine buzz as a well as a sugar buzz!

The recipe:

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