Archive | February, 2012

Roasted Sunchoke Soup with Caramelized Pears

27 Feb

Although sunchokes are originally from America, French explorer Samuel de Champlain brought from Cape Cod to Europe in the 17th century, so they’ve grown in Britain for some time. They’re sometimes called Jerusalem artichokes or earth apples, and are tubers that look a bit like ginger (see above). In this soup, I roast the sunchokes for a sweeter flavor that brings out the earthiness.

One thing to keep in mind – when you’re preparing the sunchokes, if you peel them, they’ll oxidize and turn pinkish. You can avoid that if you pop them in water with a splash of lemon juice once you’ve peeled them.

Roasted Sunchoke Soup with Caramelized Pears

5 Servings

3 1/3 pounds sunchokes, carefully scrubbed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon drippings or vegetable oil
Vegetable broth
1 splash Sherry vinegar

For each serving:
1/4 strip bacon, small diced
1/8 Bosc pear, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine the sunchokes, salt and pepper and vegetable oil or drippings. Toss thoroughly and turn the mixture onto a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast in the oven until tender, then remove from the oven. I like to keep the skin on my sunchokes – if you do this, you’ll need to make sure the skin is very, very clean before roasting. If you prefer to peel the sunchokes, do it now (the soup will be a little paler if you peel them). Turn the roasted sunchokes into a food processor in 2 batches and blend to a purée. Add vegetable broth as necessary to help blending, and finally, add the splash of Sherry vinegar. Render the bacon, reserving the drippings for another recipe. Add the pear slices to the pan and brown them on both sides. Serve the soup topped with the pear and bacon


Day 31: Bacon confited-Guinea Fowl Heart with Brussels Sprouts and Blackcurrant Preserves

23 Feb

Yesterday I put the liver saved from a whole roasted guinea fowl (guinea hen) to good use. Today I’ll be using the heart. Heart is a bit tricky, since it’s a tough little muscle, and cooking it over a high heat can give it an elastic band consistency. Slow cooking it in fat is a good way around this. I got the idea from a meal a couple of year’s ago at DC’s pig-centric restaurant Eola. Chef Daniel Singhofen served Confited Pork Heart with Mashed Turnip, Brandied Cherries, Pecans, and Bronze Fennel as an hors d’oeuvres, to get his diners to give offal a shot. It’s worth giving a whirl – it’s free since a lot of whole birds come with it in the cavity. Heart’s pretty healthy too – it does contain some cholesterol, like most animal proteins, but it’s also packed with Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, Iron and Zinc.

Bacon confited-Guinea Fowl Heart with Brussels Sprouts and Blackcurrant Preserves

1/4 strip bacon
1 Guinea Fowl heart
1/2 Brussels sprout, cut in half
1 tablespoon vegetable broth
1 demitasse spoonful blackcurrant preserves

Slice the bacon very thinly then render it in a non-stick pan. When the bacon is crispy, use a slotted spoon to remove it to a plate. Pour the bacon into a boiled egg cup. Allow the bacon fat to cool slightly, then add the heart. Put the egg cup in the microwave and set to “keep warm” for 2 to 5 minutes, or until the heart is cooked through. Heart gets tough very easily, so it’s important not to cook the heart on high. Sear the cut sides of the Brussels sprout quarters in the hot pan, and season with salt. Add the vegetable broth and simmer until the broth has evaporated. Slice the heart very thinly and reserve the bacon fat for another use. Serve the heart garnished with Brussels sprouts, reserved bacon, and blackcurrant preserves.

Day 30: Guinea Fowl Liver with Apple, Rhubarb-Apple Preserves, and Walnuts

23 Feb

We’re 30 days into The Ration Diaries now – thanks for reading! You now have a month’s worth of recipes at your disposal. I’m working on dividing them into a more user-friendly database, so stay tuned for more in the coming month.

Reach into the cavity of any whole bird, whether it’s a chicken, turkey, or guinea fowl (guinea hen), and you’ll usually find some of the offal, wrapped together. These usually include the neck, which can be added to the roasting pan towards the end to add to the pan drippings, and occasionally the heart and liver. If you buy a lot of whole birds over a month (they tend to be cheaper in the long run), you can save and freeze the livers to make a mousse, but during the war, my Granny didn’t have a freezer, of course. I thought I’d use the guinea fowl liver saved from making cinnamon-roasted guinea fowl for a little pre-dinner nibble, on this dinky little Steelite pedestal plate. It took me all of 5 minutes, since I just seared the liver and served it with some rhubarb-apple preserves, fresh apple and walnuts. Although it does contain some cholesterol, liver is rich in Thiamin, Zinc and Manganese, and is a great source of cheap protein, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Vitamins A, C, B6 and B12, so it’s worth serving it to your family. I find children pick up on grown ups’ sense of disgust for certain foods, so if you don’t make an “ew” face in front of them, they’ll probably at least try liver. In other cultures, offal and what some American or English kids would deem “gross” are actually favored. For example, Eskimo children used to fight over the eyeballs of fish, which used to be sort of like candy for them – a treat. So if you serve the liver with something sweet like fruit, which balances the strong flavor, and don’t make a big deal about it, it might become a family favorite!

Even though my Granny raised chickens, meat was still a scarcity in World War II Britain. The English in the 1940s were virulently of the offal-is-awful camp, so the liver, hearts and other innards were sometimes given to the cat in Granny’s family. A few people, like my Grandfather, ate liver with the traditional bacon and onions on toast.

Guinea Fowl Liver with Apple, Rhubarb-Apple Preserves, and Walnuts

2 hors d’oeuvres servings

1 teaspoon drippings
1 Guinea Fowl liver, cleaned
6 slices apple
1 demitasse spoonful Rhubarb-Apple Preserves
1 walnut, toasted and quartered
2 sprigs watercress

Heat the drippings and sear the guinea fowl on both sides. Season well with salt. Slice the liver on a bias. Plate half the liver on a spoon or small plate. Top with 3 of the apple slices, 1/2 demitasse spoon of the preserves and 1/2 walnut. Garnish with a sprig of watercress. Repeat for the other serving.

Day 29: Happy Pancake Day!

21 Feb

In England, Shrove Tuesday is Pancake Day – the day when you use up all the ingredients you can’t have during Lent. English pancakes are a little different than American ones. American pancakes are fat and fluffy. English pancakes are more like thick crêpes, and we top them with freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar, instead of maple syrup. They’re also delicious with cinnamon sugar. Today, though, I decided to go with an old favorite, apricot and lemon. I tossed lemon zest into the batter to make them extra fragrant, and drizzled the prepared pancakes with warm apricot jam.

Lemon-Scented English Pancakes with Apricot Jam

Yield: 12 small pancakes – 4 Servings

2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon melted butter
Non-stick spray
1/4 cup apricot jam, warmed

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the salt and mix. Make a well in the center of the flour and break the egg into the well. Whisk the flour and egg together and slowly add the milk, to prevent lumps. Whisk in the water and then finally the melted butter. Heat a non-stick pan over a high heat. When very hot, spray with non-stick spray and reduce the heat. Ladle 2 ounces of batter into the pan and when the pancake starts to bubble in the middle, flip it carefully over and cook the other side briefly. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Serve the pancakes with the apricot jam drizzled over the top.

Day 28: Cinnamon-roasted Guinea Fowl with Pears

21 Feb

The season in the UK for guinea fowl is just ending (that’s guinea hen to you Americans) It makes for a great roast when paired with warm spices and fruit. I went with a smoky cinnamon-pear combo in this recipe. This flavor profile also works well for other game birds (squab, partridge or pheasant).

Shot for game birds was fairly limited during the war since Brits were asked to donate guns and ammunition to the war effort or UK-based forces like The Home Guard (Local Defence Volunteers or LDV). The image of hunters in our minds tends to be the tweed-coated aristocrats out for sport (think most recent episode of Downton Abbey), but hunting and fishing was also a vital food source if you happened to live in a rural area and were from a low income family. If you happened to have a gun still, which was rare, you could shoot your own game.

Cinnamon-roasted Guinea Fowl with Pears

1 2-pound guinea fowl (guinea hen in the US)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cinnamon sticks
Non-stick spray
3 Anjou pears or other thin-skinned pears, halved, stickers removed
Ground cinnamon
1/2 cup to 1 cup vegetable broth

Preheat a convection oven to 400°F. Remove any giblets from the guinea fowl and reserve in the fridge – hearts and livers can be used for another recipe, and neck can be used for a pan gravy. Pat the bird dry, then season with salt and pepper, including inside the cavity. Insert the cinnamon sticks into the cavity and tie the legs together if desired. Spray a foil-lined baking sheet tray with nonstick spray where you are going to put the guinea fowl, then put the guinea fowl on the baking sheet. Roast the bird for about 1/2 hour, then sprinkle the pear halves with salt and ground cinnamon.

Spray with a little non-stick spray, then add them to the bird with the neck, if available, and roast for another 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the bird.

A thermometer inserted into the thigh joint should read 160°F. You should allow about 20 minutes per pound of guinea hen, total cooking time. Guinea fowl meat is naturally darker than chicken so don’t worry if there’s a pink tinge to the meat – it will all look like “dark meat.” Rest the guinea fowl for about 15 minutes before carving and serving with the pears.

If you like, you can add vegetable broth to the baking sheet to deglaze, then reduce the vegetable broth for a quick jus.

Day 27: Rhubarb-Apple Preserves

17 Feb

England’s known for its berries. As a kid, I’d visit my Granny and we’d go strawberry picking in the summer in farms near her house in Kent. It’s an area where a lot of the strawberries served at Wimbledon’s tennis tournaments in the heat of the English summer are grown. We’d go to pick-your-own farms, get our little baskets to put them in and invariably end up sucking down about half of the berries before they ever made it to the baskets. Granny used to make jams and bitter orange marmalades every year. She never made these rhubarb-apple preserves, as far as I know, but she did make rhubarb-apple crumbles a good deal.

During the war, sugar was fairly heavily rationed after 1941 – 8 ounces only per week for an adult! But you did get 1/2 pound jam per month, which meant you had a sugary treat of sorts fairly readily available, if in limited quantities. For this compote recipe, I used a mixture of sugar and English strawberry jam, to add to the rhubarb’s natural redness for a prettier result. I ended up blending only half of the mixture, so a few chunks of rhubarb and apple remain for texture. This smells like heaven when it’s cooking, but don’t be tempted to dip into it when hot as scalding hot jam is like lava and you’ll burn yourself quite badly.

Rhubarb-Apple Preserves

Yield: 2 regular-sized jam jars

3 stalks rhubarb, unpeeled, roughly chopped
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup strawberry jam

Put the rhubarb and apple in a medium pot with about 1 cup tap water. Add the sugar and jam and stir thoroughly. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes. The rhubarb pieces should not be breaking down, but should be cooked through. Remove from the heat and put 1/2 of the compote in a tall container. Blend with a stick blender, or if you don’t have one, process in a food processor or regular blender until smooth. Add the blended half to the unblended. Seal in sterilized jam jars and allow to cool to room temperature. Keep in the refrigerator. This is lovely on toast, toasted English muffins, or hot crumpets. Tea is obligatory.

Day 26: Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb

15 Feb

Rhubarb is sort of like prune – it’s a very old-fashioned flavor, since it’s sort of what most folks’ grandparents had in desserts or pastries when they were kids. The first two grocery stores on my hunt for rhubarb basically laughed at me when I asked if they had rhubarb. One manager looked at me with one eyebrow cocked and said “You know, it’s not very popular.” Um beg to differ. It’s extremely popular – with me! In case you haven’t cooked rhubarb before, it looks like big, red-skinned celery. It’s sort of a vegetable-fruit in that way. And it’s delicious with strawberries and/or ginger. Sometimes it comes with leaves attached – they shouldn’t be eaten at all, since they contain oxalates, which are mildly toxic when eaten in large quantities. Just so you’re aware, DO NOT eat the stems raw, as they also contain the same substance when uncooked. Not that you’d want to, since rhubarb is pretty tart and stringy when it’s raw. But some folks grew up eating it raw and dipping it in sugar.

Although it was fairly popular in the UK during the war since it’s a prolific grower (it’s like the bunny of the produce world), it’s actually become quite trendy in the US recently. My Granny used to make rhubarb crumble for me when I came to stay with her as a child and I’ve loved it ever since. Pickled rhubarb is a great addition to savory salads, but you could also add it to a panna cotta, custard or other layered dessert. Since rhubarb can get fairly mushy when cooked, it’s a good candidate for pickling. I like to use Sherry vinegar and vanilla when I pickle rhubarb, so it has a tart-sweet balance. has a bunch of great rhubarb recipes – my favorite is actually a tequila-rhubarb cocktail called the Rhuby Red.

Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb

2 stalks rhubarb
1 cup Sherry vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

Peel the tough stringy parts of the rhubarb. Trim the ends and then cut into 2-inch long pieces. Cut each piece into 3 or 4, depending how big they are. Clean them very thoroughly, then put them in a sterilized mason jar. Bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to the boil in a pot. In case you’re the type who likes to smell things when they’re cooking, this will NOT be pleasant to put near your face, as hot vinegar is a big like breathing around lots of undiluted bleach – not fun. Pour the vinegar mixture over the rhubarb and add the vanilla. Seal with plastic wrap. Allow to cool to room temperature. The rhubarb is now pickled. This is great in a spinach salad with some sliced strawberries and goat cheese. Try it in a savory Asian dish, or chop it finely and eat it with very sweet vanilla pudding with berries, to add a crunch and savory balance to desserts.

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