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Austerity Era Dining

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(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Another long weekend in London, another little trip to Persephone Books. This time I returned home with a selection of cookery-themed books from the 1930s and 40s. I say ‘cookery-themed’  because they are a little more than just recipe books. Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll, for example, is full of entertaining and slightly satirical commentary.

For example:

Your spinster aunt will certainly accuse you of undue extravagance after she has partaken freely of your [Gigot de Six Heures].

Complaints of the difficulties one can have when one’s cook, “whose mothers so often specialize in sudden and disastrous illnesses” during the holiday season, leave and one is faced with an unexpected emergency. i.e. having to cook!

The recipes themselves are curious indeed, looking at them with a 21st century eye.  Gelee Creme de Menthe begins

Make a quart of good lemon jelly in the approved way, preferably with calves’ feet…

or shopping lists for the butcher that read

half a pound calf’s liver, half a pound veal cutlet, 1 sweetbread, 2 kidneys and a set of brains

So one book is rather liberally peppered with French recipe names – Potage a la Ecossaise? – well that’ll be Scotch Broth then – giving it a sense of belonging to the more privileged classes.

The other book is more prosaic. A wartime ‘make do and mend’ handbook for cheap and cheery, easy to cook, food. Although still with curiously named dishes like Jugged Hare or Junket and Cream. 

So this is my latest plan. Age of Austerity Dinner Parties. I will head down to Findlay’s in Portobello with my shopping list of liver, calves’ feet, kidneys and brains, guests should all come in frippery-free, 1940s style clothing, preferably with some homemade stout or equivalent – and we can all explore together, the joys of 101 things to put in aspic.

Followed by tinned peaches and a milk pudding.

p.s. photo was taken in Shakespeare and Co, Paris not Persephone Books, London

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Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile

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I knew I was going to love this place way before I’d even stepped through the door.

It’s not quite a restaurant and is rarely open, it’s quite difficult to find and even more difficult to make a booking. You are heavily vetted by the owner on the telephone before you are allowed to reserve a table, required to arrive at exactly the specified time, to an unmarked, unlit building and who tells you, when you ask for directions, that if you’re not clever enough to find his place then perhaps you’re not the sort of guests he’d want after all.

Because guests you are indeed. In the home of a curious and fascinating and, as it turns out,  perfectly hospitable Armenian. There’s no heating, barely any lighting but there is a never-ending banquet of homely and hearty Armenian food delivered to your table, a limited but sufficient supply of wine and the invitation to join in some very interesting Armenian dancing – sort like the Hokey Cokey mixed with some high kicking and free-style breakdancing.

For a highly unusual and very memorable eating experience, Aghtamar Lake Van Monastery in Exile will be hard to beat.

If you can find it.

Eat ‘English’

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This just proves what contrary individuals we really are. After weeks, (and I do, literally mean weeks!) of eating the healthiest of healthy, homemade granola, religiously, every morning, with a cup of Detox tea to boot.

I awoke on Thursday morning to a radio report that said ‘Eat like the English and we could save 4,000 lives in Scotland, Wales and Ireland’.

I heard it. I sat up in bed. I thought about granola and rice milk and then I had what I can only describe as an epiphanic moment.

‘Jesus, I need a bacon roll’.

Yes, with butter. Yes, with ketchup. Maximum lard. Maximum satisfaction.

Loved every bite.

 

 

 

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November 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Saint Nectaire

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A rare glimmer of sunshine in an otherwise rain soaked overnight stay in Saint Nectaire.

We got to see Saint Nectaire cheese being made though which was really fascinating, although I think a cheese factory might be the second most honking food-related workplace in the world after a fishmongers.

“Mmm darling, you’re wearing your eau de sour milk again!”


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August 13, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Fruits de Mer

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A big part of any holiday for me is the food, especially in France, where even a service station sandwich has a degree of love and care put into it that puts our rubber cheese and cheap bread affairs to shame.

A new discovery for me this year was Sea Snails (thank you J & L for introducing me to them!). I had already decided I didn’t like snails after trying them for the first time recently at a restaurant in Edinburgh (yep, grass flavoured rubber snot – not that bothered, to be honest), but I even had my mind changed about them too this trip after trying them for the second time. Turns out, you’re wrong Gordon Ramsey, soaked in garlic butter IS the only way to go when it comes to snails.

But Sea Snails. They are something different. Sweet like lobster, texture like calamari, I really, really liked them. Here’s a pic of the fabulous Fruits de Mer we had with J & L, washed down with a delightful bottle of the best French champagne.

That’s the life, innit?

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August 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Lamb Chops with Capers and Garlic

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Lamb Chops with Capers and Garlic

Lamb Chops with Capers and Garlic

This is another Hugh Fairly-Longname recipe. My addition was to marinade the lamb chops in Pomegranate Molasses for about an hour before cooking which makes them sticky, sweet and shiny when cooked.

Firebomb a pan with as much garlic as you can find (well a whole bulb). Brown the lamb chops in the same pan. Put lamb and garlic in a dish that’s been heated up in a 200 degree c oven. Add two tablespoons of capers, large amounts of Rosemary and Thyme (preferably fresh from the allotment or stolen from a hedgerow).  Add a glass of white wine to the pan that you browned the lamb in and reduce. Chuck on top of the lamb and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Totally delicious.

Written by Spiller

April 17, 2011 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Food and Drink, Photography

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Crab Cakes with Horseradish Mayo

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Crab Cakes

Crab Cakes with Horseradish Mayo

This recipe really belongs to Hugh Fairly-Longname but due to a slight over supply of some ingredients and under supply of others I think I can legitimately stake a claim to calling it my own. Over supply of allotment chives and parsley and under supply of crab meat means these should really be called Herby Crab and Potato cakes (and the addition of potato makes mine the recession version!).

So here’s my contribution to the ‘Big Society’, Thrifty British Crab Cakes – makes about 8:

Mix the following in a bowl and leave to chill in the fridge for an hour (to make them truly Big Society and Thrifty Britain, you should really try stealing most of the ingredients from Samantha Cameron’s shopping basket)

1 dressed crab – white and brown meat mixed
1 large potato, boiled and mashed
zest of 1 lemon
2 large tablespoons of creme fraiche
generous handfuls of flat leaf parsley and chives
salt and pepper

after chilling make them into smallish patties, cover first with flour, then with egg, then with breadcrumbs. Heat oil and butter in a pan then add the crab cakes. Cook for about 3 mins on each side.

Hugh recommended garlic crushed in mayo, but given that I was about to firebomb the main course with about 30 cloves of garlic, I thought it prudent to omit it from the starter. So I mixed horseradish sauce to the mayo instead and served the crab cakes with a dollop of that, a couple of lemon wedges and some rocket for accompaniment.

Written by Spiller

April 17, 2011 at 6:59 pm

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