Shrimp in Cream with Hominy (1958)

Joseph B. Platt pondering a glass vase he designed, 1940. Image by Luís Lemus for House & Garden.

Joseph B. Platt and his wife, June, were one of the American design world’s golden couples for a good portion of the mid-twentieth century, though their names are barely recalled today. An interior designer and art director who decorated sets for Broadway plays and Hollywood films — among them Gone With the Wind, Rebecca, and Portrait of Jennie — Platt (1895-1968) also was responsible for outstanding public and private interiors, including a chic 1950s Chinese restaurant called Gold Coin and a wonderful pair of trompe l’oeil painted chests of drawers he created for a house in Jamaica decorated by Ruby Ross Wood. He served as style director for Marshall Field’s too. The artist he married in 1919, and with whom he had two sons, was a daughter of prominent sculptor Rudulph Evans, famous for the 10,000-pound bronze statue of Thomas Jefferson that stands at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington.

Golden glow aside, Mr and Mrs Platt were testy people with what outsiders might consider a complicated marriage, an artist who knew the couple well told me a few weeks ago. “Mean-spirited” Joseph was an enthusiastic social climber with an appreciative eye for manly good looks, while the fragile-looking, well-connected June was a “snob of the first order.” In the 1920s, the couple relocated to the highly social French commune of Senlis, north of Paris, where Platt worked as a correspondent for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and House & Garden. They also hoped to become leaders of the vibrant expat community, but that plan didn’t take, it seems — nobody much liked them, it seems — so the Platts returned to New York City and took up where they left off.

June Platt, circa 1958, in a photograph by Wilbur Pippin.

For June Platt (1898-1977), this meant designing home furnishings under her husband’s name, from wallpaper to rugs, as well as collaborating with him on murals. A particularly grand example, depicting the history of the region, wraps the dining room at the Country Club of Detroit, in Grosse Point Farms, Michigan. She also wrote about food and entertaining for House & Garden and produced several cookery books, including The June Platt Cook Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1959). The copy on my shelf belonged to James Beard and bears his bookplate. I have never used it, to be honest. I bought the volume solely for the graphic yellow-and-blue jacket and the charming photograph of June Platt by Wilbur T. Pippin, who deserves to be studied more closely. (His distinctive portraits of Beat writer Jack Kerouac and decorator-dealer Rose Cumming are justifiably admired.) On Sunday morning, however, I decided to make a late lunch from its pages. After all, didn’t Beard praise June Platt as “a great authority on food” and “an incomparable and creative cook,” compliments echoed by industrial designer Raymond Loewy (her recipes, he wrote, “combine subtlety with lightness”) and actress Ilka Chase (the daughter of Vogue editor in chief Edna Woolman Chase called Platt “not only the prettiest cook I have ever known, but one of the most expert”)?

Our daughter requested a meal centered on her favorite crustacean, so June Platt’s Shrimp in Cream with Hominy (page 105) was the recipe we all agreed upon. Flavor-wise it is related to a dish we feasted upon several months ago at a friend’s house in Cooperstown, New York. Prepared by an amazing cook named Liz, who hails from Alabama, that particular main course was rib-sticking comfort food from the American South, delicate pink shrimp and pale yellow grits swirled together with melted cheese and kept warm in a chafing dish on the sideboard. Platt’s version has no cheese, however, while the shrimp — cooked first in homemade boullion and then in butter and cream spiked with black pepper — is spooned over steaming hominy grits. Even with the proportions reduced for a family of three and some minor adjustments (noted below), Platt’s recipe is as tasty as its Cooperstown cousin. Just don’t tell Liz.

A hearty serving of June Platt's Shrimp in Cream with Hominy, with slight recipe revisions, ready to be transported to the table. The china is Gien's Crème de Riz creamware.

SHRIMP IN CREAM WITH HOMINY

SOURCE: The June Platt Cook Book (Alfred A. Knopf, 1958)

SERVES 6-8

INGREDIENTS

2 quarts water

1 onion [peeled and cut in half]

1 clove garlic [peeled]

1 bay leaf

Pinch of thyme [NOTE: I used dried thyme]

1/2 red-pepper pod [NOTE: I used a whole dried habañero, plus one dried chile guajillo]

2 stalks celery [snapped in half]

2 tablespoons salt [NOTE: I used Reese’s coarse sea salt]

3 to 4 pounds shrimp [NOTE: I used shelled frozen, thawed in warm water, tails removed]

3 to 4 tablespoons [unsalted] butter

2 to 3 cups heavy cream

Salt [to taste]

Freshly ground black pepper

2 strips lemon peel

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Hominy grits [NOTE: I reheated leftover polenta]

DIRECTIONS

1. Make a boullion by simmering together for 15 minutes the water, onion, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, red-pepper pod, celery, and 2 tablespoons salt.

2. Add the well-washed shrimp and simmer for 10 minutes. Let the shrimp cool in the boullion, then shell them, and remove the black veins. [NOTE: Thawed frozen shrimp, already shelled, allows you to skip most of this direction. Also be sure to strain and save the boullion, freezing it to use later as a restorative broth to sip during cold weather or incorporated into risotto or as a base for soup.]

3. Put the shrimp in a saucepan with 3 to 4 tablespoons butter. Heat until the butter has melted; add 2 to 3 cups heavy cream, a little salt, and plenty of fresh, coarsely ground black pepper. Add lemon peel. Simmer for 4 minutes and add lemon juice.

4. When the mixture boils up once, [remove from the heat and] serve in a hot dish [or tureen]. Serve in [warm] soup plates over a bed of steaming hominy grits.

Veal Stew, Venetian Style

Today's family luncheon: Veal stew with peas and polenta from "Venetian Cooking" (Macmillan, 1973).

It is a sunny but snowy day in our obscure corner of upstate New York. The ground is blanketed with the white stuff, though these freezing conditions do not seem to inconvenience our chickens, guinea fowl, or turkeys, all of whom are strutting around and scratching, seemingly with enthusiasm. Our 1801 Federal house, alas uninsulated, is a bit chilly, however, so a warm, filling lunch seemed in order, namely spezatino de vedeo in tecia coi bisi, or veal stew with peas, from the pages of Venetian Cooking by H. F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973).

It is a dish the authors calls “quite substantial but with excellent flavor that invites one to drink a good glass of red wine. After eating, however, it is advisable to take a long walk.” That dispiriting caveat taken under consideration — honestly, such brown-cloud observations make one wonder if Messrs. Bruning and Bullo secretly loathe Venetian cuisine — I turned on Radio Deluxe, one of our nine-year-old daughter’s favorite radio programs, broke out an ancient cast-iron pot, and got busy in the kitchen.

Few recipes could be easier than this. Or more welcome on a cold day or so economical. The veal cost $10.13, while the remainder of the ingredients was only a couple of dollars more, and despite my husband taking seconds, we have leftovers for dinner tomorrow. The completed stew was spooned into pink-rimmed white-ironstone plates over beds of buttery golden polenta made from Bob’s Red Mill Corn Grits. The recipe went beautifully with a couple of glasses of Rex-Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon, a rather hearty red.

So what was the verdict of the pint-size member of our family? Our somewhat precocious daughter said, the stew “made me think of Italy, where we went when I was five. The veal was chewy, delicious, and moist. The sauce was comme ci comme ça. And you know I hate peas. But I would have it again.”

Yes, she actually said “comme ci comme ça.”

SPEZATINO DE VEDEO IN TECIA COI BISI

(Veal Stew with Peas)

SOURCE: Venetian Cooking by H. F. Bruning Jr and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973)

INGREDIENTS

1-1/3 pounds lean veal, suitable for stewing

1.5 pounds fresh peas in the pod or 1/2-pound frozen peas

1/3 cup olive oil

4 tablespoons butter

2 ribs celery, finely diced

1 small onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, finely diced

1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

6 tablespoons tomato sauce

1 cup veal or chicken broth or good dry white wine, or a mixture

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

1.  Cut the meat into 1.5-inch cubes. Trim off any fat.

2.   Shell or defrost the peas. Do not use canned peas.

3.  Place a pot containing the olive oil, butter, celery, onion, carrot, and parsley over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion becomes translucent, about 5 minutes.

4. Add the veal and turn it until lightly browned. [NOTE: I browned the veal before adding it at this point, to ensure the veal truly was browned the way my husband and child prefer. Once I added the browned veal to the pot, I let it cook for a minute or two then proceeded to Step 5.]

5. Add the peas, tomato sauce, broth, or wine, and some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently. At the end of cooking the sauce should be very thick, so cook uncovered, being careful that the sauce does not stick. If it becomes too thick add a little water, broth, or wine. Simmer the meat until tender, 1 to 1.25 hours for the better cuts of veal, as long as 1.75 hours or perhaps slightly longer for more economical cuts. [NOTE: I simmered the stew for a full hour and a half, and could probably have continued for another 15 minutes to further reduce the sauce.] The meat should be very tender when tested with a fork, but it should not be completely falling apart.

6.  Serve on warmed plates, accompanied by lots of polenta.

Grant Achatz: Culinary Daredevil

A 1903 August Escoffier recipe, Suprême de Pigeonneaux à la Saint-Clair, as fantastically interpreted as a baroque tartlet by the awardwinning chef Grant Achatz. His next restaurant, called Next, will open in February 2011 and will have a century-spanning menu. Image by Martha Camarillo from the 20 December 2010 Time article "The Miracle Worker."

The Aesthete Cooks isn’t the only foodie fascinated by historical cuisine. As Joel Stein explains in the 20 December 2010 issue of Time magazine, daredevil young chef Grant Achatz — whose career nearly derailed when he developed tongue cancer — is launching a new restaurant with a past-perfect attitude. Read the terrific article here.

As Time explains, Next, which will be located in Chicago, where Achatz already runs Alinea, “will have a different menu every three months, pegged to a particular place and time. He’s starting with Paris in 1906 and then moving on to such pairing as Sicily in 1949, Thailand in the future and so on.” My dream would be for Achatz to conjure a menu based on London in the 1920s, with inspired adaptations of the influential recipes of chef-restaurateur Marcel Boulestin.

Make reservations ASAP if you can because Next is sure to be the hottest ticket in the Windy City: It opens on 1 February 2011.

Grant Achatz’s memoir, Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat (Gotham Books) is being published in March 2011. Pre-order a copy from Amazon right now.

If you’re interested, the dish shown in the photograph is Achatz’s spirited take on a 1903 recipe by the great Auguste Escoffier (1846 — 1935): Suprêmes de Pigeonneaux à la Saint-Clair, or Breasts of Squab Saint Clair. Escoffier’s directions are printed below. His classic cookery book did not offer lists of ingredients or detailed instructions, so have fun. Whether you want to add a cooked bird claw as a panache, as Achatz does, is up to you. Squab can be ordered online from D’Artagnan; click here.

SUPREMES DE PIGEONNEAUX A LA SAINT-CLAIR

(Breasts of Squab Saint Clair)

SOURCE: Le Guide Culinaire by Auguste Escoffier (1903)

DIRECTIONS

With the meat of the legs prepare a mousseline forcemeat, and, with the latter, make some quenelles the size of small olives, and set them to poach. Poële the breasts, without coloration, on a thick litter of sliced onions, and keep them underdone. Add a little velouté to the onions; rub them through a tammy, and put the quenelles in this sauce.

In the middle of a shallow croustade, set a pyramid of cèpes tossed in butter. Raise the fillets; skin them, and set them on the cèpes; coat them with the prepared sauce; surround with a thread of meat glaze, and place the quenelles all around.

 

 

Calf’s Liver, Venetian Style (1973)

Venetian-style liver with Brussels sprouts on the side.

Europeans tend to be more creative with organ meats than we Americans. Tripe, for instance, shows up frequently in old-guard European cookery books, ditto sweetbreads, tongue, kidneys, and, of course, brains. (My husband, Matthew, remembers being served a tongue sandwich on Sabena Airlines, Belgian’s national carrier, back in the 1980s; he disturbingly describes the meat as “bologna with tastebuds.”) As a child, however, only three organ meats passed my lips: liver (which I adored) and chicken hearts and chicken gizzards that had been breaded and fried by my paternal grandmother (neither of them made much of an impression on me).

I still love liver in its various forms, including pâté de fois gras, and was pleased to see a recipe for liver in the book currently distracting me in the kitchen: Venetian Cooking: 200 Authentic Recipes Adapted for American Cooks by H. F. Bruning Jr and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo (Macmillan, 1973). The recipe is not, however, the liver I remember from childhood, meaning great lobes of liver sauteéd with onions. Nor is it the impossibly good liver with parsley I devoured every Wednesday for several years at Bagatelle, a late, lamented French restaurant in Marrakech, Morocco. Instead this particular Venetian dish, figa à la veneziana, is calf’s liver sliced thinly into small pieces which are then gently and quickly cooked with olive oil and previously reduced onions.

My husband pronounced the figa à la veneziana delicious indeed, the onions making an unctuous sauce that went well with the richness of the meat, which we served with Brussels sprouts fresh from our garden. (The writers of the cookery book suggest polenta as a side dish but I wanted to make it from scratch and didn’t have sufficient time.) “I love liver and would be happy to eat it every couple of weeks,” he explained. “But at the grocer it’s so gross looking that I’m intimidated by it.” Then he added that when he was a foreign-exchange student in Turkey during high school, he often ate a similarly prepared liver dish — his host family used sheep’s liver — and wondered if there was a connection between the Venetian and Ottoman versions, given the cultural cross-currents between those two places at the time. Our daughter, on the other hand, took one bite of her dinner and shook her head in quiet disapproval. The musky flavor of the meat, she pointed out, was odd, which I have to admit is true; liver is an acquired taste for many people, and she wasn’t fond of looks of the noble organ when it was raw and waiting to be sliced on the cutting board. “You know me, Papa,” she said. “If it’s something unusual, don’t tell me what it really is. It’s better just to call it meat, and then I’ll probably eat it.”

FIGA A LA VENEZIANA

(Calf’s Liver Venetian Style)

4 Servings

INGREDIENTS

1 pound calf’s liver

6 ounces butter

3/4 cup olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

One pound of calf's liver, sliced and ready to be turned into figa à la veneziana. Disgusting, no?

1. Cut the liver in to thin bite-size slices, 1/8-inch thick maximum.

Onions cooking in butter and olive oil.

2. Place the butter, olive oil, and onion in a frying pan over medium heat. Add some salt and pepper. Stir frequently while cooking until the smallest pieces of onion just begin to take on a golden color.

Sliced liver browning with the cooked onions.

3. Add the liver to the onions and brown it, turning constantly. This should take no more than 4 minutes, probably less, depending upon the thickness of the slices. Test a piece after 2 minutes. It should have just barely lost its red color and should be firm but not tough. Do not overcook the liver for it will quickly become too chewy and lose its flavor.

4. Serve the liver and onion and a goodly amount of the sauce onto warmed plates, with lots of polenta.

Cabbage, Venetian Style

My husband often regales me with tales of his youth, especially college; suffice it to say that his experiences were more adventuresome than mine. His first two years at university, for instance, were spent in Switzerland, and many weekends he and his international band of classmates descended their particular alpine slope and hopped the next train to Venice, stopping in Geneva and Milan before disembarking outside that romantic city of canals and hidden gardens and walking from the Santa Lucia train station across the Ponte degli Scalzi and into La Serenissima. As photographs attest, Venice was where my spouse ruined his first white linen suit by falling into a canal (I thought that sort of thing only happened in the movies, namely to Katharine Hepburn), and where he developed a taste for the city’s famously rich cuisine.

H. F. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo's "Venetian Cooking" (Macmillan, 1973), a recent find at a secondhand bookshop.

Bearing that in mind we recently acquired a copy of Venetian Cooking: 200 Authentic Recipes Adapted for American Cooks (New York: Macmillan, 1973), which critic Mimi Sheraton praised in New York magazine as “esoteric” but “interesting” soon after it was published. The authors, H. R. Bruning Jr. and Cavaliere Umberto Bullo, plainly adore Venetian food but they are strangely brutal about its qualities, cautioning readers with such curious caveats as “a plate so heavy it is not suitable for delicate stomachs” (braised eel) and “after eating, however, it is advisable to take a long walk” (Venetian-style goulash). If one only read the introductions to the two hundred recipes one would imagine Venice populated only by brave souls with a lifetime supply of Pept0-Bismol. Warnings aside we were anxious to try some of the recipes so last night decided to concoct Verze Sofegae, or Braised Savoy Cabbage, which Messrs Bruning and Bullo describe as “a filling dish … [perfect] for cool weather when we have more desire to eat.”

A serving of Verze Sofegae co le Costesine de Porseo on its way to the table.

First of all let me assure you that the Verze Sofegae I made is more that just cabbage. It is finely sliced cabbage leaves cooked for about an hour with minced bacon and meaty spareribs; this main-course version bears the lengthy name of Verze Sofegae co le Costesine de Porseo. Last night’s preparation was also the first time I handed our nine-year-old daughter a sharp knife and sent up a silent prayer. She insisted on helping so I handed over the onions for chopping and then the cabbage leaves, one by one, carefully slicing them into strips measuring about one-quarter-inch wide.

Our daughter, carefully chopping onions for the recipe.

“Don’t be such a scaredy-cat, Papa,” she said after I advised her, once again, to be careful not to cut her fingers. She was indeed observant and very meticulous, though she stated that she had no plans to make a career as a chef. As for the succulent dish we made together, she pronounced it good — truly it was enormously tasty — though the spareribs weren’t cooked to her liking. She prefers them quite brown, even a bit caramelized, so perhaps we’ll adjust Bruning and Bullo’s recipe to reflect that preference in future.

VERZE SOFEGAE CO LE COSTESINE DE PORSEO

(Braised Savoy Cabbage with Spareribs)

SERVES 4

INGREDIENTS

2.5 pounds Savoy cabbage

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 ounces bacon, finely minced or ground

2 pounds spareribs

1/2 medium onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup water (optional)

 

DIRECTIONS

1. Remove and discard the first few outer cabbage leaves. Continue removing the leaves and place them in a sink full of cold water. [NOTE: I MERELY RINSED THEM IN A COLANDER.] Wash well and shake off as much water as possible and then cut the cabbage into strips about 1/4-inch wide. Cut ACROSS the stem, not parallel to it.

Cabbage added to the spareribs and bacon and ready to wilt and caramelize over a medium flame.

2. Use a very large frying pan or casserole, or if need be a pot. It must have a cover. Place the olive oil, bacon, and spareribs in the cooking vessel and put it over medium heat. When the bacon is sizzling nicely and looks as if it may start to brown, add the onion and a little salt and lots of pepper. When the onion becomes translucent, add the cabbage and mix well. Cover, but uncover and stir after a couple of minutes. If the cabbage does not start to give up some liquids at this point, add about 1/4 cup of water to create a little steam in order to get the cabbage started. For the first hour keep covered except when stirring. You should stir every 10 minutes or so after the cabbage has wilted completely, but more often before that time. If after an hour there seems to be a lot of liquid, cook with the pan partially uncovered. If after 1.5 hours you still have puddles of water, cook completely uncovered until the cabbage turns a pale shade of brown. [NOTE: I TOOK THE POT OFF THE HEAT WHEN THE CABBAGE WAS UTTERLY LIMP AND BEGINNING TO DARKEN.]

3. Serve immediately or place in a casserole or other ovenware and reheat later in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven. Polenta is popular [as a side] with this dish.

Crayfish Gloucester (1934)

A tasty luncheon dish of crayfish and lobster, courtesy of "Elsie de Wolfe's Recipes for Successful Dining".

The most wonderful thing about reading old cookery books is the social-history aspect. One learns so much about other times: how people lived, how they dined, how they entertained. And very often one comes across a name that is half-forgotten now, at least in some circles, especially so in books peppered with recipes submitted by the author’s friends. Elsie de Wolfe’s Recipes for Successful Dining, published in 1934, is rich with names, from titled European aristocrats to obscure American socialites, names that will send you straight to Google to learn more. Such as Henry Davis Sleeper.

The Golden Step Room at Beauport, in Gloucester Massachusetts, the summer home of Henry Davis Sleeper.

Not long ago my husband and I decided to delve once again into de Wolfe’s famous compendium, and we chose to try Crayfish Gloucester, a recipe given her by Sleeper, who lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The name of this influential bachelor aesthete is little know today outside of design-groupie circles but Sleeper (1878—1934) was an antiquarian extraordinaire and an adventuresome decorator to boot, a man whose passion for historic design and architecture informed Beauport, the eccentric and inspiring 56-room house he built on Boston’s North Shore in increasingly elaborate stages between 1907 and 1929. After serving as director of the Paris office of American Field Service during World War One, the energetic Sleeper returned to the United States and became an integral part of the burgeoning historic-preservation movement, advising on landmark sites as well as decorating for clients passionate about America’s past, including museum founder Henry Francis du Pont, millionaire F. Frazier Jelke, and chemicals magnate R. T. Vanderbilt. Sleeper’s incredible story has not been told at book length, however, and further complicating matters is the discreet veil that has been drawn over his personal life. Only last fall, for example, has his homosexuality become part of the public-tour narrative at Beauport. Luckily Philip A. Hayden, an architectural historian and independent scholar, has been labouring away on the first-ever Sleeper biography, a book whose publication I await with bated breath. Until then, click here to read more about Sleeper, his life, and his extraordinary residence.

An oil portrait of Henry Davis Sleeper.

In addition to creating inventive rooms out of recycled materials saved from historic houses slated for demolition, Sleeper was a terrific host, and Crayfish Gloucester was a dish he served frequently at Beauport, where the guest list included Elsie de Wolfe, artist Cecilia Beaux, inventor John Hays Hammond, King Gustav of Sweden, and the redoubtable art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. It’s easy to see why that particular recipe was popular in Sleeper’s household—it’s creamy, spicy, and refreshingly cool. Unfortunately the recipe is frustratingly vague when it comes to proportions, so you’ll just have to do a bit of guesswork like we did to determine the per-person proportions. The effort will be worth it. FYI: You can also use frozen or otherwise prepared lobster meat to make the preparation easier.

CRAYFISH GLOUCESTER

SOURCE: Elsie de Wolfe’s Recipes for Successful Dining (1934)

DIRECTIONS

Cook crayfish in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Cook small lobsters in a court bouillon for 12 to 15 minutes or a large one for 25 minutes. When cold cut the lobster meat into pieces and mix with the meat of the crayfish and a mayonnaise dressing to which have been added a teaspoonful of chili sauce and a dash of paprika. Serve in crystal cups garnishing with a circle of lettuce leaves. Decorate the top with the red portions of the crayfish. Serve very cold.

Expert Advice: Judith Choate

Last week-end I attended a cookery class at The Black Cat Café & Bakery, a popular spot in the village of Sharon Springs, New York. Owner Tony Daou recently remodelled the café’s second floor, adding a professional kitchen for classes as well as walls sheathed in a swell hand-blocked wallpaper by Adelphi Paper Hangings, another local business. (The custom-colour pattern is Spiral Willow, a 1920s French design you can see on the company’s website.) The teacher of the class was Judith Choate, author of more than 60 cookery books, everything from a primer on pastry-making to a soul-food collaboration with Patti LaBelle. She and her husband spend week-ends in the area and are Black Cat patrons. And though “The Aesthete Cooks” focusses on explorations of vintage cookery books, ie usually those published prior to 1970, I found the brochure Judith Choate handed out before the class to be so incredibly practical that its contents should be shared.

The class was entitled “Eat Better, Spend Less” and needs no more explanation than that. But her discussion of how to shop in order to make the most of your food budget was valuable. Here are Choate’s eight smart suggestions. Some you likely already know; others might come as a surprise; all should be tacked up in the kitchen as a daily guide.

1. Make-ahead meals.

Make-ahead meals are simply the most economical way to feed your family and to minimize kitchen time for the cook. They require purchasing in bulk and creating a number of meals out of one main ingredient. This is an especially great tactic when the main ingredient is purchased on sale or discounted at a big box store.

2. Think seasonally and locally.

Almost all produce is less expensive when purchased during its season, particularly when found at local markets or farm stands. As well, many chain supermarkets now feature homegrown products as a way to support community farmers, cheese maker, bakers, and so forth. Many meat products are also less expensive during a particular season; think of lamb in the spring or turkey around the fall and winter holidays.

3. Think outside the normal dinner box.

You don’t have to have the traditional protein, starch, and veggie on every plate every night. Think about a nutritious frittata, a mixed-up salad, unusual grains tossed with legumes or vegetables. And what about breakfast for dinner? Multigrain waffles with sautéed mushrooms instead of sweet waffles with maple syrup—although when I was a child sweet waffles were my special dinner treat and there’s no reason they still can’t be.

4. Use less animal protein.

If you have a family of meat eaters begin to, at the least, serve smaller portions. Introduce ethnic meals that use less meal with wonderfully tasty success. I’m not a great lover of tofu, but have learned to like it well enough to use it often in place of meat. There are a multitude of ways to heighten flavour and satisfy the palate without piling on animal-based proteins.

5. Never throw food away.

As soon as your meal is over, prepare any leftovers for use in another meal, even if it’s just a few vegetables that can be tossed into tomorrow’s salad or a bit of meat that can be chopped up to make a sandwich. It takes just a moment to do—the same time it takes to scrape the plate into the garbage.

6. Keep a well-stocked pantry.

This is probably one of the most important aids to saving money while preparing great meals. … A well-stocked pantry eliminates last-minute, impulse shopping as well as gives you the ingredients to make the most with what you have on hand.

7. Prepare foods you enjoy.

Although it always makes sense to begin with ingredients and dishes you and your family enjoy, sneak new, interesting and cost-effective ingredients into the norm as a way of expanding your opportunities to create less expensive meals.

8. Do peruse local newspaper ads.

Although you may not have the time to cut coupons or go from store to store on a bargain hunt, do check supermarket ads as many stores will often feature the same “specials” which will help trigger some plan-ahead ideas for the week’s or month’s meals.

A Hint, Not a Recipe

One of the least desirable household chores around our place is polishing copper pots. We possess about a dozen, from mignon to massive, and use them constantly. We’re a little lazy, however, when it comes to breaking out the Brasso Multipurpose Metal Polish. Polishing is hard, dirty, and arm-aching. And no matter how diligently we work at the task, the pots never take on a perfect shine. Well here’s a hint my husband discovered over the week-end: use common white vinegar rather than metal polish. No, not for rubbing; for boiling!

Onto the stove he placed a very large, very deep enamelled metal pot, the kind most people would use to make, say, industrial-strength-size amounts of soup or stew. Then he set one of our tarnished copper pots inside it, poured a gallon of white vinegar over it and added enough water until the pot was thoroughly covered with liquid. After that he turned on the stove, allowing the vinegar-and-water mixture to come to a merry boil until the tarnish came off, along with any grease deposits hidden in the joints of the handle, et cetera. As the liquid boiled down he simply added more water until the pot shone like a new penny and was ready to be rinsed and dried. He reused the vinegar-water mixture for every successive pot.

Of course when I got home the kitchen smelled like he had been canning pickles all day, but every one of those tarnished pots sparkled (a sampling is shown above). If you plan to do this, however, I’d advise opening a window.

NOTE: I discovered this nearly identical make-do copper-polishing solution online this afternoon at the Do It Yourself website: “If copper is tarnished, boil article in a pot of water with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup white vinegar for several hours. Wash with soap in hot water. Rinse and dry.”

Strawberry Tart (1964)


Life has been a little hectic on our blustery hilltop of late, which explains for the recent paucity of posts. My apologies for that, and I’ll try to do better.

Now that the apologies are out of the way, might I tempt you with some fragrant strawberries? I know they’re not in season right now and the department-store variety can be imperfect but my husband recently came across a recipe for a strawberry tart in one of our favourite vintage cookery books and couldn’t help making it for dessert a few days ago. Having been educated in France and Switzerland he has a weakness for Gallic culinary delights and often turns to La Cuisine de France by Mapie, Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion Press, 1964). I think it’s likely his favourite cookery book. The dessert section is quite tempting, filled with all manner of delicious possibilities. Strawberry Meringue Tart, or Tarte aux fraises meringuées, is very easy to make, and it includes a step—the arrangement of the strawberries—with which our daughter, Catherine, could help. She’s pretty good in the kitchen, though she claims she most enjoys washing dishes. The tart was incredibly good, and the next morning, I even had a slice with breakfast.

TARTE AUX FRAISES MERINGUEES

SOURCE: La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion, 1964)

SERVES 8

STEP ONE: TART PASTRY

INGREDIENTS

2 cups sifted flour

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour

2-1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

9 tablespoons butter, slightly softened

DIRECTIONS

Heap the well-mixed flours on a working surface and fashion a well in the center. Into the well put the sugar, salt, egg, and slightly softened butter cut in small pieces. With your fingers gradually work the flour toward the center and add just enough water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you have a very smooth and shiny ball of pastry. The pastry has to be kneaded slightly, but do it no longer than necessary. Let this pastry rest for several hours before using.

STEP TWO: THE FILLING

1-1/2 pints strawberries

2 egg whites

4 tablespoons sugar

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Roll out the pastry and line a [well-]buttered tart tin with it. Prick well with a fork and bake 10 minutes. [After removing from the oven, reduce heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.]

Arrange the strawberries, pointed side up, in the tart. Beat the egg whites stiff and fold in the sugar. Spread the meringue over the berries [evenly] and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes or until the meringue is lightly browned.