A lesson in breakfast family history

I spent Sunday morning at my Dad's house in Indiana helping him make his signature dish, Goetta.  It's my first of many personal food interviews/cooking sessions that I hope to conduct with a variety of people in my life and share here.  What better place to start than with family?  This hearty breakfast dish means many things to him, and in turn, to me.

There are two things you need to know about my Dad before we continue: he is a breakfast and grill man.  He loves breakfast and has quite a large repertoire, Goetta being at the forefront of his portfolio.  He is also deftly skilled on the grill with all types of meats.  Summer weekends at my house growing up consisted of my Dad at the grill with a martini and my sister, Mom and I shucking fresh farmer's market Indiana sweet corn- the white stuff.  God's food in my opinion. 

I have many food memories that surround my Dad and I love the fact that he's focused all of his culinary skills on two key areas, although occasionally he'll go on a run of soup-making.  He's also known for standing at the open refrigerator with spoon in hand, eating the last of any containers of cottage cheese or leftovers before they go bad.  He hates seeing things go bad.  I also remember him drinking milk with ice cubes which is very, very wrong in my book.  Then again, so is eating whole sugar cubes and butter straight from the dish, but he enjoys doing both of these things.

Back to the Goetta.  Upon delving further into why my Dad loves goetta so much, I uncovered several little gems that are really the reason why I'm writing this blog.  I've eaten this dish so many times and only ever knew half the story.  In fact it's the first time I've seen him make it and because I don't own a pressure cooker, and I've never attempted it myself. 

My Dad's family is from German descent, which is where Goetta comes from.  It is apparently very popular in Cincinnati among the German community and there is even a Goettafest that I am seriously considering adding to my summer festival schedule.  This particular recipe can be traced back to my Dad's paternal Grandmother, Frances Fry.  While we were researching the recipe's history, we got out the old family bible that had all of our family's births and deaths recorded dating back to the 1800's.  It included an original photo of my Great-Great Grandparents, Bernard and Elizabeth Fye before our name was changed to Fry.  This really is a family recipe and my Dad has fond memories of his own mother, Betty, making this for him and his sisters during the winter.

Today, my Dad spends most of his winters making continuous batches of Goetta in his pressure cooker.  Then he freezes it and takes it up to our place in Michigan or kindly delivers a large tupperware container of it to me and my sister when visiting Chicago.  I knew there was a reason I moved back to the US.

Tom's Goetta

5 lb pork shoulder (loin)
2 1/2 cups steel cut oats
2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole black peppercorn
1 tsp whole allspice
1 onion finely chopped
1 bay leaf
pinch of thyme
7 cups of water

Salt & pepper the meat.  Add a small amount of cooking oil in a pressure cooker and brown the meat on all sides.  If your pork shoulder is too large, I would suggest doing this in another pan so you can get all sides browned, but just make sure you add all of the juiced from that pan to the pressure cooker. 

Add 5 cups of water (which should cover the meat), all the spices and the chopped onion.  Pressure cook for 1 1/2 ours.  Release the pressure immediately.  You can cool the pressure cooker by running it under cool water if neeed.  Remove the meat leaving all of the stock in the pressure cooker.

Add remaining 2 cups of water to the stock along with the oats. Stir and cook over medium-high heat with the pressure cooker lid off for 20 minutes.  

While the oats are cooking, remove the pork from the bone.  It should pull away easily.  Cut the meat into small pieces with kitchen shears.

When the oats are done, it will be the consistency of oatmeal.  At this point, add the pork and stir together.

It's best if this is left to sit overnight in the fridge to allow the flavors to develop.  You can then freeze it if you're not going to cook it straight away.

When you're ready to cook it, heat a non-stick skillet and melt 1 tbsp of butter in the pan.  Add the Goetta in spoonfuls and flatten with a spatula.  Allow it to brown on one side before flipping it over to make it golden and crispy.

Serve with fried eggs and toast for a very hearty breakfast.  Having just eaten this over the weekend, I would suggest a long walk or some type of outdoor activity, such as chopping wood, to work this off the gut.


Simple pleasures

Whilst trying to deny that we were on the brink of recession and ignoring the sensible thoughts going on my brain, I didn't think twice to shouting "YES" to join friends for dinner at famed Chicago restaurant, Alinea earlier this winter.  I guiltily ate all ten courses... almost licked each plate. Drinking an aperitif of Champagne, Pineau des Charentes and Campari, I felt that they had mixed it just for me.  Did someone tell them that Campari was my mother's favorite?  How did they know Pineau des Charantes takes me back to summers in France? 

So I ate a dish served on a pillow of smoke that smelled of autumn leaves (enough said) and drank an heavenly Pinot Noir I know I'd never be able to afford in a bottle.  Sure I felt pretentious, but I couldn't help enjoy every minute of it.  I'll never be able to re-create the frozen mozzarella thingy that was mind boggling, or the smoke... and I guess that's the point. 

When it comes to what gives us true, consistent pleasure, it's the simple things.  Simple tastes, well seasoned, that when put together and perfected, can be just as memorable, if not more.  A plate of sliced garden tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper is how I'll always remember my grandfather.  Every summer lunch was always a buffet of cold-cuts, pickles and cottage cheese, tomatoes and pumpernickel bread.  

An omelet is another one of those basic dishes that I can have any time of the day.  With a glass of wine, it is one of my favorite suppers.   An omelet always seems a bit fancy to me... romantic even. I can't resist the scene from one of my favorite films and two of my favorite actors, "Something's Gotta Give", with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton, where they are eating an omelet straight from the pan with wine by candlelight.

In fact, it's the omelet that many cooks are measured by.  I've recently watched Gordon Ramsey barking at the poor presenters of the Today Show in New York as he heaves their eggs into a nearby bush.  I love watching the You Tube clip of Julia Child making an omelet.  She'll take you through every step, including how to hold the pan  in order to get it on the plate properly, which is hilarious.

If you're going to be serious about an omelet, and I am,  then there's no better place to start than the truly amazing Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking... she even wrote a book called An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.   

Anyways, I digress.  I'm rambling on about eggs, and they are a part of another easy supper that has it's own history: fish cakes- a real tradition in England that started out as a humble left-over dish.  You can make these with any kind of fish you want- salmon, cod, crab, smoked fish... anything really.  You can leave the capers out, you can add dill, lemon juice, horseradish, finely chopped chilies, Tabasco.  Go on, experiment.  

I'll be honest, I've tried a ton of different recipes.  I do like a Thai version of these, but this recipe is classic and delicious.  I always find it a challenge not to have fish cakes fall apart on me, so I think the key is to put them in the fridge for a while.  The fine breadcrumbs in this recipe also helps with the binding.

I see a theme coming on, but this recipe is again from a London restaurant.  Hold tight readers and I will vary in the very near future.  It's another from the Books for Cooks Favourite Recipes collection- something I've been cooking a lot from lately.  Quaglino's isn't a place I'd rave about, but it's a London institution in its own right... a little 90's for my taste.  But they do make a damn fine fish cake.

Fish Cakes with Creme Fraiche Tartare Sauce
Adapted from Quaglino's: The Cookbook by Richard Whittington and Martin Webb

For the fishcakes:
1 1/4 cups milk
8 oz of smoked or fresh or mixture of haddock fillets 
8 oz of potatoes, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp capers, rinsed and chopped
2 hard-boiled free range eggs
2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp flour
1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp milk
1 cup fine breadcrumbs
2 tbsp sunflower oil

For the tartare sauce:
1 tbsp capers, drained and finely chopped
1 tbsp cornichons, drained and finely chopped
a few sprigs of tarragon, leaves stripped and finely chopped
1 tsp creamy Dijon mustard
2/3 cup creme fraiche
salt, black pepper
lemon wedges to serve

Put the milk in a shallow pan, bring just to boil and add the fish.  Simmer gently for 5 minutes.  Take the fish out and flake the flesh.  Add the potatoes and onions to the milk and boil until the potatoes are soft.  Drain the potatoes and onions and put back into the pan over a low heat to dry out before mashing.  Mix the mashed potatoes, onion, garlic, flaked fish, chopped parsley, capers, chopped egg and season with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and nutmeg.

Mix the tartare sauce by adding all ingredients together.  Season to taste.

Divide fish-potato mixture into flour, roll into balls with floured hands and flatten into cakes.  

At this point, I would definitely recommend putting them on some parchment paper on a baking tray in the fridge for at least an hour... even over night.  It makes them not fall apart so easily.

When ready to cook, dip each cake in flour, then beaten egg-milk, then breadcrumbs.  Heat the sunflower oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat.  Fry the cakes until golden, about 5 minutes each side.  Serve immediately with the tartare sauce.  

Serve with lemon wedges and a simple salad.... and of course, a glass of wine.


Wake and bake

I wake up most Sundays feeling the need to bake.  Anything that I can take my time making whilst pottering around the kitchen with a cup of coffee in hand.  Something that will taste good in front of the telly later that night or the following morning.  

If it's cake, it normally doesn't last.  Unfortunately, by Monday, it's rare if a piece actually makes it to a plate.  Guilty little forkfuls are shoveled into mouths as we pass by, quickly replacing the cover as if it never happened.  Tuesday usually results in me feeling the need to give the cake to anyone who will take it, as long as it's out of the house.  Even the dog gets a nibble.  

The cake below is particularly nice with a morning cup of coffee.  It's lemony and delicious and I love the way the polenta makes it crumbly.  Some may scoff at eating cake first thing in the morning.  My mother was the queen of cake & coffee for breakfast, so I'll follow her lead.

A note on polenta:  it's used as an ingredient for this cake, but there are so many ways I love to eat it, especially with roast chicken or game.  I'll have to do a future post devoted entirely to it.  The polenta served at one of my favorite restaurants here in Chicago, Terragusto on Addison, is so buttery and creamy that it's worth going there for it alone.

This recipe comes from The River Cafe in London.  Owners Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers are cooking royalty in Britain, and Jamie Oliver spent his formative years with them.  Their restaurant is right on the River Thames and is gorgeous in the summer.  Who am I kidding?? Any time of year is perfect.  Their menu for March makes me want to book a flight back, pick up a friend on the way from the airport, and head straight there.

Their ever-changing, seasonal menu, with it's  beautifully fresh ingredients, make this Italian restaurant truly special. 


Lemon Polenta Cake
Adapted from  The River Cafe Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers

Serves 6-8

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
1 cup of sugar
grated zest of 2 organic lemons (wash and scrub well if not organic)
2 cups ground almonds
1 tsp natural vanilla essence
3 free range, organic eggs, beaten
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup of polenta
1 tsp baking powder
good pinch of salt

Heat the oven to 325 F.  Butter a 9 1/2 inch spring form cake tin and line the base with baking parchment. 

Beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest until white and fluffy.  Stir in the almonds and vanilla.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly before adding the next one.  Fold in the lemon juice, polenta, baking powder and salt.

Spoon the cake mixture into the buttered cake tin and bake until the sides of the cake have shrunk slightly away from the tin and the top is golden- about 50 minutes.

This is wonderful served as is.  I'm sure you can top it with your favorite form of cream, but I'm not a cream kinda lady.  I'd also suggest letting it cool completely before diving in.  It's crumbly, but it seems to fall apart if you're greedy like me and try to cut a piece too soon.


Spring is such a tease

One day I'm having lunch on my little deck and the next I'm wrapped in my Eskimo coat dreading the walk with my dog around the neighborhood.  I'm dreaming of short sleeves, bare feet, barbecues and iced tea, and the beautiful way my window looks when the tree outside is filled with leaves and playful squirrels.

When the weather seems like it's about to turn from tundra to sweet spring, I want something that's colorful and vibrant on my plate.  As soon as spring sprang in London, a walk through a market was the first thing on my agenda.

I have spent many an afternoon on Blenheim Crescent -particularly at The Spice Shop and Books for Cooks in Notting Hill.  As much as people have inspired me to cook, so have many places, and Books for Cooks is one of them.  The little bookstore is near Portobello Road and although the market is fabulous, I had a hard time not making a bee line for this place.  It is crammed with cook books from all over the world and I have found some of my most cherished books here.  Best of all, the aroma wafting from their tiny test kitchen at the back of the store is unavoidable.  Beautiful cakes, tarts, muffins, and an ever changing lunch menu are all tried, tested and served to anxious locals and tourists alike.  

The entire place is cozy and intimate.  Upstairs is a demonstration area where I have taken many classes, coming away with ideas directly from the chefs whose books I've poured over.  Sitting there, with the sunshine streaming in from the 2nd story windows, students are able to interact with the chef and really understand the techniques they share.  As soon as I finished a class, I'd run straight over the The Spice Shop to pick up whatever I needed to start creating in my own kitchen.

Books for Cooks has published a series of cook books from their own test kitchen. The Donna Hay recipe below is in  Favourite Recipes from Books for Cooks Volume 1, 2 & 3.  Donna is a wonderful Australian food editor and cook book author.  Her food is clean, refreshing and simple and I am in envy of her beautiful food photography.  I'm often envious of living in Australia, but that's another story.
I've cooked this chicken dish below many times and the tangy flavors get even better the day after, in fact you can make the whole thing the day before and just make the rice when you're ready to serve.  Although some of the Asian ingredients may be a little difficult to find, it's a simple recipe and easy to prepare ahead. 

Lime & Lemon Grass Chicken 
Adapted from Donna Hay's At My Table

Serves 4
8 organic/free range chicken thighs, boned, skinned and cut in half
2 tsp sesame oil
grated zest of 2 limes
2 large fresh red chilies, seeded and finely chopped
2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced (if you can't find them, add a little extra lime zest)
2 lemon grass stalks, finely chopped
1 tbsp palm or brown sugar
2 inch piece of fresh ginger or galangal, grated 
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp tamarind paste
1 cup coconut milk (shake the can well before opening)
1 cup chicken stock 
For the Salsa
1 ripe mango or papaya (I prefer mango for this)
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar

Greek yogurt to serve

Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat and when hot, throw in the chicken pieces.  Stir-fry until golden brown on both sides, 5-10 minutes.  Take the chicken out of the pan and set aside.

Combine together lime zest, chili, lime leaves, lemon grass, sugar, galangal or ginger, cumin, lime juice and tamarind to the wok and stir-fry for 2 minutes.  It should all smell overwhelmingly delicious.  

Put the chicken back into the pan, stirring to coat thoroughly with the flavorings, and pour in the coconut milk and stock.  Simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid is reduced a little, about 30.  There should still be plenty of tangy sauce.  Taste to check the seasoning and add a little fish sauce if it needs salt.  
Make the salsa by combining the mango, onion, mint, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar.

Serve with the salsa, yogurt and rice.  I like Basmati or Thai fragrant rice.  When using Basmati, crush 2 cardamom pods in with the rice at the beginning and fish them out before serving.


Walking before running

Wow.  I made it.  Some would call me a old-fashioned.  I prefer a hand-written thank you note sent by post, a nice new pen and paper to jot down my thoughts...I'm a moleskine fanatic.  So it's with great anticipation and trepidation that I begin this blog.  

I want to start as I mean to go on, and I always have high hopes and expectations.  This is my personal mission:

For now, I will be happy to write often, to cook often and of course, eat often.  Furthermore, I will continue to discuss food with my friends, family and any stranger who will listen or tell me what it is about food that inspires them.  I've been asking people for years what they cook at home and what their mother made them growing up.  "What does your family make for special occasions, holidays, celebrations?  Have you got a recipe to share?"  Let me scribble that down.  Answers to these questions have given me true insight into people's lives, and made me want to cook. I want to hear it all, except this time, I'll be writing it down and sharing it with you.

It seems you have to take something pretty seriously in order to write about it all the time.  So I'll start by sharing a dirty little secret with you:  I've always got food on the brain- it's an obsession.  My husband is always amused by the amount of planning that goes into even the most modest of mid-week meals.  Nothing's ever perfect, but it's from the freshest ingredients I can get my hands on and I'm passionate about where my food comes from.  I promise to share all of this- even the disasters. 

I've just returned to the US after 10 years in London, to Chicago, the land of hot dogs and Budweiser...or so I thought.  The more I dig, the more culinary delights I find in this town.  I spent my decade in London cooking, traveling, and learning about the food that surrounded me.  I single-handedly converted a man (who I later married) from eating beans on toast to trying (and loving) anything I put in front of him.  I make a mean cup of "proper" English tea with one sugar and biscuits that stand up to dunking.  More on that later.

I love Marmite, Coleman's mustard, English ale and Sunday roasts, and I've got the dual-passport to prove it (see more in About Me).  Unknown to many Americans, England boasts some of the freshest, most local ingredients I have ever found.  Time spent across Europe and Asia only opened my eyes further.  

My sister affectionately calls me Brittiana...a Brit from Indiana, with a mixed up vocabulary of cockney and manc.  I'll take it.  I'll never stop using the word rubbish.  My love for all things Americana never died... and now that I'm back in Chicago, I hope to share my love of all the foods and people I encountered in England, through all my travels along the way, and what I find back here in the mid-west.

So, here goes.