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Monday, December 27, 2010

State Dinner at the Dolmabahçe

The Dolmabahçe is a beautiful palace in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople), Turkey. Home to sultans from its construction until the abolition of the Caliphate, the Dolmabahçe is an excellent example of in-period cultural fusion. From Wikipedia:
The Dolmabahçe Palace
The Dolmabahçe Palace was ordered by the Empire's 31st Sultan, Abdülmecid I, and built between the years 1843 and 1856. [...] The construction works cost five million Ottoman mecidiye gold coins, the equivalent of 35 tonnes of gold. Fourteen tonnes of gold in the form of gold leaf were used to gild the ceilings of the [...] palace.
The design contains eclectic elements from the Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical styles, blended with traditional Ottoman architecture to create a new synthesis. The palace layout and décor reflect the increasing influence of European styles and standards on Ottoman culture and art during the Tanzimat period. Functionally, on the other hand, it retains elements of traditional Ottoman palace life, and also features of traditional Turkish homes.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Braised Brisket with Caramelized Onions

Brisket is a cut of meat that crops up often in Jewish cooking. There's many reasons for this, both economic and cultural.
Brisket is cut from the foresaddle of beef—meaning that it comes from the front half of the cow. It's typically a rather tough cut, because of being the cow's well-used pectoral muscles—this also, however, gives the meat more flavor than, say, the tenderloin, which is minimally worked, and therefore very tender and flavorless. In Kosher law, all sciatic nerve tissue must be removed from meat to make it Kosher. Because the sciatic nerve is very difficult to remove, meat from the hindsaddle (back half of the cow) was often not used by kosher households, to stay on the safe side of Kashrus. The "low quality" of the brisket and its kosher status (being from the foresaddle) made it a very common choice in the poor Eastern European Jewish households that developed what we today consider "Jewish Food."

Because it is so tough, brisket is usually subjected to some form of long cooking, whether braising as a pot roast or simmering as a corned beef/pastrami, or Barbecuing in the American tradition—which I highly recommend and will likely discuss at a later date. In many Jewish households, the idea of slow, long cooking was particularly suitable for Sabbath meals, where you could begin cooking something on Friday before sundown, and without adjusting or tweaking, allow it to cook all day Saturday until sundown, when the prohibition on work (which includes many cooking procedures) expired. A good hot meal on Saturday was the goal of most Jewish mothers, and so Brisket became prominent as a dish for Shabbes, and from there for other holidays where large groups would be fed, like Passover or Rosh Hashanah.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Squash Salad, Turkish Style

I'm going to be honest and tell you that I am completely uncertain why this is named "Turkish Style." I suspect that in 1919, that was code for "not the normal way we'd make it," but it may be honestly derived from a period recipe. The world may never know.

The original I found in an old Jewish cookbook, and reads thus:
To me, sautéed squash is not a salad, but a vegetable side dish, so I made a few adjustments. Instead of using simply zucchini or marrow squash, I used zucchini and summer squash, and left the peels on—I see no need to remove them, as I never do in any of my other cooking endeavors. Had they been marrow squash, I might have—the skin is a little tougher. I reduced the dressing to olive oil and red wine vinegar, with salt and pepper (the old standby from Italian cooking) and placed the sautéed and dressed squash on a bed of greens, butter lettuce and red oak lettuce.
Simple, but Tasty.
It's an admittedly simple presentation and it wouldn't pass muster in any of the banquets I've put on in a more formal setting, but as a simple between-courses palate cleanser, I think it worked.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Latkes and Applesauce

Latke, Bourek, Applesauce (on plate.)
As mentioned before, Hanukkah is a holiday about Oil, and so one of the most well-known and traditional of Hanukkah dishes is the latke, also known as the potato pancake. There's many different styles of latke, but in general, they all contain potatoes, onions, matzo meal, and are all shallow-fried in oil of some variety, usually a neutral- or lightly-flavored oil like rapeseed, vegetable, or corn oil. Developing after the age of exploration, our modern potato latkes are a very Germanic/Eastern European—and therefore Ashkenazic—Jewish concept.

Modern Sufganiyot
In the Israeli Jewish tradition, doughnuts called sufganiyot—very similar to paczki—are served. Elsewhere, deep- or shallow-fried cheese is served. (Thus, breaded and fried mozzarella sticks could be considered hanukkah food, if you wished...) The common denominator is frying in oil, of course, and it's quite possible that prior to the introduction of the potato, other starchy vegetables, or indeed other non-starchy vegetables, could have been used in the same fashion, to create similar items. Perhaps this merits some exploration and experimentation when there's more time at hand.

In my family, latkes usually get served with sour cream and applesauce on the side, which encompass the two ways that potato pancakes seem to be served wherever they appear—that is to say, sweet and savory.

My friend Red, who hosted the Hanukkah dinner, made our latkes, and will be shortly putting up a post over at Miss Kagashi's blog, and that is at this very location.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spinach-Feta Bourekas with Zchug

Bourekas, I am informed by Wikipedia, are a savory pastry popular across the Middle East. They vary greatly by region, from fried items in Turkey to baked items resembling turnovers in Israel. The article is worth a read just to gain an appreciation of the sheer variety of food items we as a species have come up with. For the Steampunk Hanukkah dinner, we're using Israeli-style Bourekas as an appetizer, filled with a spinach-cheese mixture.

They will be served with Zchug (there's a lot of spellings, considering that it's a non-English name,) which is a spicy pepper-based sauce popular in North Africa. The recipe I use for Zchug is from a cookbook called Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler. It's one of the bargain books that you can find at Border's or Barnes and Noble here in the US, but it's a great resource for a wide variety of styles. She says:
This is the Yemenite chilli sauce that has become Israel's national seasoning. It is hot with chillies, pungent with garlic, and fragrant with exotic cardamom. Eat it with rice, couscous, soup, chicken, or other meats.
Sounds good to me.

How are these dishes Steampunk, you ask? In a purely pedantic sense, puff pastry is leavened by steam, so I find that appropriate, but I think that these fall under the "multicultural co-mingling" area of Steampunk—these are being served in a dinner that contains items from around the world and from different traditions, harmoniously combined into something very Victorian in style—a multi-course dinner to serve a multitude. Bourekas come from a Turkish/Greek/Balkan background, Zchug from a Yemenite tradition, and they harmonize into something very unique and delicious.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chicken Schnitzel with Zigeuner Sauce

Radetzky, maybe responsible for Schnitzel.
Perhaps, as a young English-speaking child, you snickered at the name "Wiener Schnitzel." I probably did too, but now I've come to appreciate this dish. What is Schnitzel? The story goes that Schnitzel, as a concept, was introduced to Austria sometime between 1500 and 1900 by someone. (Awful vague, right? It's hard to answer questions like this, honestly.) Most likely, it came from Italy, where you find veal and chicken scaloppini served on a regular basis—these are cutlets of the meat, pounded thin to cook quickly. Schnitzel bears a strong resemblance to the preparation for the classic Chicken (or Veal) Parmesan dish, where a piece of meat is breaded and cooked under marinara, mozzarella, and Parmesan cheese. I like (mostly because I love the music named after him) the theory that credits Marshal Radetzky with bringing the dish to Vienna in 1857 or so, upon his return from fighting in Italy. Other theories include Italian or German soldiers bringing it over to Austria during the 17th century. Regardless, it's become a classic dish in Austria and the world over, to the point that Austria protects the identity of Wiener Schnitzel by legislation. Now that's dedication.

Veal has typically been a somewhat expensive meat, and one with equal amounts of cachet and controversy. I won't touch on that here, because that's not my purview; the point is, however, that nowadays it's common to find schnitzel made from pork and chicken alongside the traditional veal. For many Jews in Europe during the Victorian era, veal was an unattainable luxury, something eaten very rarely, and so chicken schnitzel became a popular replacement. My grandmother, a Viennese woman, made chicken schnitzel often when I was a child.

Schnitzel is a dish that begs for a sauce. Traditionally, it is served with nothing more than a wedge of lemon (and this is how my mother eats it to this day,) but I crave more moisture and flavor on my plate. For this presentation, I will use a German sauce called Zigeunersauce, which is a sauce made with bell peppers, mushrooms, paprika, and tomatoes. (Thanks to a commenter for prompting me to add this:) Zigeuner is a German word referring to the Romani. I'm not certain if this sauce originated with the Romani people, if it is merely named after them for its colorful look, or if it is so called as a nod to its Eastern European origins (where the Romani clearly came from, or settled, or belonged—depending on who you asked in the Victorian era.) I'm going to make my version of Zigeunersauce a little more refined than the traditional version, with smaller cut items, but otherwise will stick to the recipes that I've found.
The finished plate—braised red cabbage, Chicken Schnitzel, and Zigeunersauce

(Please, to any of my German readers, if you have a different recipe than me, feel free to post it in the comments. Hopefully what I've found approximates what you know. I wish I'd been able to get the recipes from my grandmother when she was still alive.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Prepare Yourselves

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Blogosphere: I am preparing to do the Hanukkah Dinner tonight. This next few days will be a series of posts about each course, the preparation thereof, and so on. Be prepared.

Previous posts about a course from this meal include:

Curried Carrot Soup
Earl Gray Panna Cotta

Some changes will be made to the recipes, I suspect. I'll note that in a final write-up some time next week.

Until we meet again, cook well.



Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Good Cause

So, I usually talk about eating animals, right? I'm a carnivore, I like roast meats, and I like butchering meat as well—we'll get into that soon enough on this blog, I'm sure.

Tonight, however, I'm going to talk about something different. Most of you probably read Miss Kagashi's blog over at The Steamer's Trunk/Multiculturalism For Steampunk. For those of you who don't, 1.) you should and 2.) you should also consider chipping in via the widget at the bottom of this post to her charity drive.

Miss Kagashi has decided to support Heifer International, and specifically to raise money towards purchasing a Gift Ark, which includes a mated pair of several animals, plus instruction on their care, feeding, raising, and so forth—a laudable goal if I ever heard one.

So, if you haven't already done so, please consider throwing a few bucks the way of this charity drive during this holiday season. Animals are a gift that keeps on giving, and they can be essential to the survival and improvement of an impoverished community.

On a blog where I celebrate excess—through culinary endeavors and through a healthy love of the Victorian era and its excesses—I would like to exhort you all to give to those who cannot afford the excess.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Earl Grey Panna Cotta

Tea, and especially Earl Grey, has become inextricably linked with steampunk. Professor Elemental serenaded it in "Cup of Brown Joy," and many Steampunks enjoy sitting back with a hot pot of tannic liquid. Panna Cotta is an older dessert that's come back of late as American tastes stray towards the gourmet. A combination of the two seems perfectly logical—creamy, delightful, and full of bergamot flavor.

Typically, panna cotta uses milk, cream, and sugar, which is then combined with gelatin. The flavoring is often simply that of the milk products, but additional flavorings are possible; I have made a blood orange panna cotta using blood orange purée, and I have eaten raspberry- and strawberry-flavored versions as well.

Here we are going to apply the tea to the dessert via a direct addition; another way could be to use a method described by my good friends at TeaHaus.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tea for Ten

Cranberry-Orange Scones
My services were engaged this past weekend, to produce tea service for 10 on Sunday. While I did not make everything completely from scratch, there's a fair bit of this that I produced myself, and I thought I might as well document it here for your edification and information.

Scones - Plain and Orange-Cranberry, with Clotted Cream

Tea Sandwiches - Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese; Prosciutto, Arugula and Boursin; Roasted Red Pepper, Portobello, and Chive Cream Cheese.

A Fruit Platter and A Cheese Platter

Chocolate Mousse and Palmiers

Proceed for pictures, recipes, and presentations.

Monthly Steampunk Feast No. 1

Hello, visitors from StumbleUpon! Welcome. Check out the main page or some recipes, why don't you?

The banquet requires one large staff.
A local bookstore has asked me to start offering monthly meals with a steampunk theme, and so for the first endeavor I have decided to go forth, full steam ahead, with no reservations.

The goal here is to fuse modern techniques and culinary understanding with an older approach to food and service—so, hopefully I will be able to engage enough people to have Russian Service and a respectable kitchen brigade. I won't deign to wear the round toque, but at least I'll cook well and have fun.

I shall either sink or swim on the merits of the following menu:

Monday, December 13, 2010


Delightful. By Thomas Hawk.
I have been gifted in this auspicious season of holidays and birthdays with a book called Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, by Ted Haigh (the illustrious Dr. Cocktail.) The contents of the book vary from mid-Victorian drinks to things created in the 1950s that have since faded from our drinking culture.

Dr. Cocktail discusses in his introduction the first bartender's guide published in the United States—The Bar-Tender's Guide, or a Bon-Vivant's Companion. There's some reprints available, as well as a web-based version at The Art of Drink.

As I am a man who likes his drink—as I mentioned previously in this post—this book, and the world it has opened up, is fascinating. I suspect I'll have more things to show you in due course.

In the meantime, here's a recipe from Jerry Thomas, author of the 1862 Bar-Tender's guide, for the Blue Blazer:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Service Amounts

One of the main challenges of non-plated service (i.e. family-style or carved items) is determining just how much of a given dish to make and present. When you're serving individual steaks, it's obviously simple—10 people get 10 steaks—for our purposes nobody is vegetarian in the group—, but when you have a soup served in a tureen to a table, how much to make—and how to offer a variety of items—becomes more difficult.

So, I present to you today, from the Hand-Book of Practical Cookery (1868), "the following table [which] shows how many dishes of each kind are to be served at dinner to a certain number of persons:"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Steampunk Hanukkah Dinner

Shortly, some friends and I are getting together to celebrate Hanukkah. It'll be a little late to fall during the actual holiday (which runs from December 1 to December 8 this year,) but the spirit will pervade our every action. We're hoping for a large banquet—at the moment we stand about 14 confirmed guests—and to that end we've decided to go for the gusto and produce a multi-course meal, somewhat taking our inspiration from Victorian menus (though with much less food served per course.)

Cooking for Hannukah has a theme to it—oil and cheese. The miracle of Hanukkah involves oil miraculously burning for 8 days, and so in remembrance of that, things are fried. Lots of things are fried. Cheese comes from an adjunct historical piece, the story of Judith and Holofernes. We've decided to take a multinational, multicultural, historical, Jewish approach to the meal, combining recipes from an old Jewish cookbook, from our family traditions, from our cultural backgrounds, and from our imaginations—the sort of thing that Steampunk is all about.

The menu, which will begin to be linked to recipe posts, is below.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Supersizers go Victorian

This was pointed out to me in relation to my post of "A Useful Soup for Benevolent Purposes" and I have come across it now—

The Supersizers go Victorian, presented in parts.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Curried Carrot Soup

To make nutritious, healthful and palatable soup, with flavors properly commingled, is an art which requires study and practice, but it is surprising from what a scant allotment of material a delicate and appetizing dish may be produced.
Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877

Carrots are a lovely thing, of great use in the kitchen. They can fit in all of the traditional courses in some manner or another, and can be consumed raw or cooked, spiced and seasoned 'til barely recognizable or plain and delightful. Carrot soup is a poorly-used part of the recipe book, in that I've only seen it once or twice in my travels through the culinary world; I find it in many older cookbooks, and encountered a Soupe aux Carottes Nivernais in a French cookbook once. I see carrot purées appearing on plates as a sauce a lot more recently, but it seems odd that nobody has moved the carrot back to the soup bowl where it once resided alone.

In the aforementioned Buckeye Cookery, the following recipe appears:
Put in a soup kettle a knuckle of veal, three or four quarts cold water, a quart finely-sliced carrots, one head celery; boil two and a half hours, add a handful rice, and boil an hour longer; season with pepper (or a bit of red pepper pod) and salt, and serve. —Mrs. Eliza T. Carson
Old recipes have an accessibility issue due to ingredients (this one, fortunately, contains no ingredients which have since gone extinct, changed name, or are no longer considered healthy) and language—it's rare to see recipes in prose nowadays—, and they suffer from an accuracy issue: there's a difference between 3 and 4 quarts of, well, one whole quart. Further, a handful for me, a handful for my friend Miss Kagashi, and a handful for you are all different amounts—and my handfuls can vary amongst themselves, as well.

Carrot soups appear in almost every period cookbook I have examined, and they all follow more or less the same pattern; some involve puréeing the soup by passing it through a tamis/sieve, others (like the one above) are more rough and brothy. To my mind, the carrot soup ought to be puréed, otherwise it becomes a vegetable broth soup that's missing... the rest of the vegetables.

I've spoken before about fusion foods, and about marrying differing countries' cuisines. In this recipe, I am going to do a small bit of fusion and make a curried  puréed carrot soup, nice and spicy, with some added cream to enrich the soup, provide some body, and also to help smooth the curry spice slightly. Additionally, there's no reason to put meat in this soup, so I'm going to omit the veal knuckle—besides, I missed my chance to hit up the butcher shop.

Therefore, having now rambled on for quite a bit, today I present to you a simple Curried Carrot Soup, for your enjoyment.