Friday, December 30, 2011

Salsa de Venas (or Are You Gonna Eat Them Chile Veins, Buddy?)

Detail of Salsa de Venas
by Michel Zabé
Common directions for cooking with chiles — from simple roasted bell peppers to the hundreds of chiles rellenos varieties — call for cutting away and discarding the seeds and ribs or veins that anchor them to the fruit’s interior. The rationale is twofold:
  1. Discarding seeds and veins makes a more texturally refined dish
  2. Seeds and veins tend to contain larger concentrations of capsaicin, the compound that makes hot chiles hot. Discarding them helps to temper that heat and let the flavor of the flesh become more apparent.
Removing chile veins from some dishes is all well and good, but discarding them? That’s just wasteful. Just as you can save shrimp shells for stock, collect pineapple trimmings for vinegar, or skim delicious cracklin’s from a batch of home-rendered lard, you can put those veins to good use.

Patricia Quintana does just that. In her 2005 book, Mulli: el libro de los moles, she details about a hundred salsas, moles, adobos, and pipianes that draw on Mexico’s culinary history from pre-Colombian times. From the Valle de Toluca (an area west and slightly south of Mexico City), she pulls a roasted tomato table salsa that’s heavily laced with those veins we’re supposed to throw away.

This isn’t an incendiary salsa, but neither is it for milquetoasts. Don’t spring it on your family or friends if they don’t like a bit of heat. Here’ s my translation of Quintana:
Toluca Valley-style Salsa de Venas

1 cup of veins from pasilla, negro, guajillo, or ancho chiles cleaned and dry-roasted
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled, roasted
½ medium onion, roasted
4 medium tomatoes, roasted
½ cup of water or to taste
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt or to taste

To prepare the salsa:
Rinse and dry the chile veins. Preheat a comal or skillet and cook until toasted, but not burned. Roast the garlic too, onion, and tomatoes in the same pan until they turn dark. Allow to cool. In a molcajete or food processor, grind the chile veins with the salt and garlic, regrinding it all well. Add the onion and continue grinding. Add the tomatoes and grind until the sauce thickens,then add the water and re-season.

Serve in a mortar and pestle or in a sauce boat. Serve with fried charales [tiny, tiny fish] and freshly made tortillas.
Quintana's original directions:
Salsa de venas estilo Valle de Toluca

1 taza de venas de chile pasilla, negro o guajillo, o de chile ancho limpias, secas, tostadas
4 dientes de ajo medianos, sin piel, asados
½ cebolla mediana, asada
4 jitomates medianos, asados
½ taza de agua o al gusto
1½ cucharaditas de sal gruesa o al gusto

para preparar la salsa:

Lave las venas de los chiles y séquelas. Precaliente un comal o una sartén y aselas hasta que estén tostadas, sin quemarlas. Ase también los dientes de ajo, la cebolla y los jitomates hasta que tomen un color oscuro. Deje enfriar. En un molcajete o procesador, muela las venas de los chiles con la sal y el ajo, remuela bien. Incorpore la cebolla y continúe moliéndolas. Anada los jitomates y muelalos hasta que quede una salsa semiespesa; incorpore el agua y vuelva a sazonar.


Sírvala en un molcajete o en una salsera. Acompane con charales fritos y tortillas recien hechas.

Patricia Quintana (2005)
Photos by Michel Zabé
Mulli: el libro de los moles
Editorial Oceano de Mexico
288 pages (paperback)
ISBN: 9707770953

Goes well with:

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Dad's Onion Rye Bread

Butter is not optional.
For as long as I can remember, my father has made onion rye bread, three loaves at a time, mostly in cold months. The first loaf we eat while it’s almost too hot to handle, rivulets of melted butter besmearing our hands; the second is half gone before it cools to room temperature; and the third, more often than not, is deployed in ham sandwiches. With 24 hours, not a crumb or crust remains.

Not long ago, I jumped at the chance to bake a few of these dense, moist loaves with him. Since snow recently had fallen, we cooled a pot of hot milk and sugar in the white stuff while the yeast proofed in the warm kitchen. Turning one’s back porch into an extension of the freezer is perhaps the only part of Winter I truly miss.

Cooling hot milk in the snow
When it came time to pull the ingredients together, I was amused that he regards aromatic elements in recipes — even his own — as I do. Only three tablespoons of caraway seeds in the recipe? Meh, sprinkle in some more until it looks right. One cup of chopped onions? We could probably put in a bit more without upsetting anyone.

Slightly misshapen, but so damn good.
Mind you, we both inflate the volume of those kinds of ingredients in the first place when we transcribe  recipes, so we might easily end up using twice the spices and aromatics as whatever the recipe called for before it got to us. The ingredients below are what’re on his written directions. If you want more onions or caraway, then you’ve got a baseline.

Our family isn’t shy about slathering butter on almost every slice. You shouldn’t be, either. Because the tops of these loaves are strewn with coarse salt before baking, though, stick with unsalted butter.

Onion Rye Bread

2 cups milk
¼ cup sugar
4 tsp salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
6 cups all purpose white flour
3 Tbl caraway seeds
1 cup chopped onions
2.5 cups rye flour
Corn meal
q.s. cream
q.s. coarse salt

Scald milk; stir in the sugar, salt, and oil. Cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in the warm water and when it’s foamy, add this yeast mixture to the lukewarm milk.

Blend in all of the all purpose flour, mixing well. Add caraway seeds, onions, and 2 cups of the rye flour.

Sprinkle the remaining rye flour on a board or counter and knead the dough until it’s smooth. Put the smooth dough into greased bowl, cover, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch down and fold dough from edges to center.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the mass rise again until doubled. Divide into three equal loaves. Put each into a greased pan sprinkled with corn meal. Brush the tops of the loaves with cream, then strew liberally with coarse salt. Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise again until doubled in size.

Bake at 350ºF/175ºC for 45 to 60 minutes. Remove from pans when they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on wire racks (unless you plan to tear into them right away, then just grab a board, a knife, and a boatload of butter).

Monday, December 26, 2011

I’ve Never Eaten Paw Paw

I wrestle daily with a neurological disorder called aphasia and, despite my best intentions, the utterances that spill from my lips are not always what I intend. Though individual words or short phrases may elude me, I do weigh my sentences before speaking aloud. The same cannot be said of all my friends.

John Audubon's 1820's depiction of
yellow-billed cuckoos and paw paws
[Note: If you’re offended by crudeness, I suggest you move on to other, more anodyne stories, perhaps about black-crusted chocolate pie or old-timey boiled cider.]

A few nights ago, a mixed group of friends gathered at our new house. When my family moved in, we inherited a dozen or so large trees that aren’t particularly interesting, well tended, or useful. Over drinks, the group kicked around ideas for replacing them.

Lemon, lime, and orange trees were obvious choices, given our climate and weakness for cocktails with a hit of citrus. I’m partial to the old idea of a gentleman’s orchard, one that holds fruit trees grown because they are exotic, unusual, or noteworthy for the region rather than strictly utilitarian. So we talked about Mexican and kaffir limes, Meyer and oily Femminello St. Teresa lemons, bergamot, Buddha’s hand citron, grapefruit, medlars, sour cherries, quince, guava, figs, and more. These are all just ideas at this point, nothing like an actual plan. When I threw out paw paw as a possibility — a venerable fruit tree of my native Missouri — one of the drinkers asked “Isn’t that the tree that smells like jizz?”

Frankly, I’d forgotten that aspect of the tree. I hemmed a bit. “Well, yes...I...I suppose it does. A bit.” I was trying to be diplomatic; the thing reeks of semen.

“Really?” another asked and then joked. “Does it taste like jizz, too?”

“I don’t know,” the first quickly answered. “I’ve never eaten paw paw.”

Three achingly full seconds passed in gravid silence before the room exploded into a pandemonium of howls while the blush of the paw paw virgin glowed like a California wildfire.

My friends are loyal, smart, kind, and funny, I wouldn’t trade them for the world. But, lord almighty, they can be lascivious.

[Edit 29 December 2011: Prompted by emails from concerned friends, I should clarify that I myself have eaten paw paw. The fruit itself carries none of the aroma supra and, in fact, is a mild, soft and inoffensive fruit, similar in texture to the local cherimoyas. It can also, according to one old report, be fermented and distilled into a brandy. While this doesn't surprise me one whit, I've yet to have any paw paw brandy. Let's see if that changes in 2012.]

Goes well with:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Snapdragon: Playing with Fire

If you live in a hoary northern clime and it comforts you to think that those who move to sunny San Diego somehow miss the cold, then, by all means, wrap yourself warmly in that mantle of delusion. We don’t.

Though I had a deft hand at cold weather cooking and drinking, hot punch, mulled wine, and various toddies just don’t carry the restorative powers that they seem to in the darker months of those places plagued with “four distinct seasons.”

from Robert Chambers' (1879) Book of Days
But add a little fire to the booze rather than just warming it? Well, even self-satisfied San Diegans don’t turn our noses up at that. From the simply flamed orange peel over a cocktail to more elaborate preparations among the tiki crowd, the blazing romance of flames and alcohol is nothing new. In fact, one venerable bit of flaming foodways plays well in both temperate and more frosty climes — snapdragon.

Known to Charles Dickens, Samuel Johnson, and even further back to seventeenth century, the eating/drinking game snapdragon (or snap-dragon or occasionally flapdragon) has largely died out.

Let's walk through it and you'll understand why: First, kill the lights. Next, two to three raisins per person are placed in a broad, shallow dish. Warmed brandy is then poured over them — just enough to come up to their collars — and set alight. As blue and orange flames dance over the surface of the brandy and scamper across the raisins, guests take turns snatching single flaming raisins from the mix and popping them into their mouths, extinguishing the fire-robed fruit.

Around the time of the American Civil War, Anthony Trollope writes of the game in his novel Orley Farm:
'And now for snap-dragon,' said Marian.

'Exactly as you predicted, Mr. Graham,' said Madeline: 'blindman's buff at a quarter past three, and snap-dragon at five.'

'I revoke every word that I uttered, for I was never more amused in my life.'

'And you will be prepared to endure the wine and sweet cake when they come.'

'Prepared to endure anything, and go through everything. We shall be allowed candles now, I suppose.'

'Oh, no, by no means. Snap-dragon by candlelight! Who ever heard of such a thing? It would wash all the dragon out of it, and leave nothing but the snap. It is a necessity of the game that it should be played in the dark—or rather by its own lurid light.'
So, yes, darkness is essential, but speed is the real name of the game. For one, fire is hot and the faster you take your turn, the less chance of sustaining a burn. Second, the brandy won’t flame forever. The alcohol doesn’t burn off entirely (an old wives tale, a cooks’ inside joke), but it does burn until the proof lowers so much that it can’t sustain a flame.

You can understand why today’s safety-conscious parents would shut down a game of snapdragon before it ever began. Burned fingers, singed hair, booze for kids (yes, it was popularly, if not exclusively, a children’s game), burned table linens, and scorched floors get one reported to the authorities for child abuse. God forbid some antic soul should knock over accidentally a bowl of flaming alcohol onto the carpet, a pet, or another person and do some real damage.

Fortunately, I have no children. I do have raisins, however, a broad granite counter., and friends expected Christmas day. Brandy? You know I’ve plenty of brandy.

For obvious reasons, I suggest you not play snapdragon this winter. It died out for a number of reasons, not the least of which is safety. If my knuckles are bereft of hair the day after Christmas, though, you know what we’ve been up to over at the Whiskey Forge.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Drinking Advocaat

I think it is better always 
to have a drink before people arrive 
and that way, 
you’re just a bit more mellow...

~ Nigella Lawson

Now that we’ve established some semblance of a nomenclature and etymology for the egg liqueur advocaat, three questions arise:
  1. Who makes the stuff?
  2. Once you’ve got it, what do you do with it?
  3. If you can’t find it, is there an easy way to make it at home?
Last things first: yes, there’s an easy way to make advocaat at home. My own recipe with fresh eggs and VSOP brandy makes 1.4 liters of about 37-proof egg liqueur (see below).

If you’re put off by the prospect of making your own, though, three main brands are common enough to find on the shelf at your local boozery or through online vendors ; Bols (from Holland), Verpoorten (Germany), and Warninks (made by DeKuyper Royal Distillers in Holland). A bottle of any of these is readily available for $17-28.

Just as eggnog and even bourbon find their ways into a variety of desserts from cookies to cake, so, too, does advocaat. Most simply, it’s drizzled over ice cream. It’s also incorporated into cream fillings for cakes and pastries, sauce (just add it to vanilla sauce), folded into tiramisu, paired with baked fruit, and hundreds of other desserts.

In its drinking form (rather than the thicker, slightly cooked, incarnation), advocaat is indistinguishable from German eierlikör. One could easily slap alternate labels on the same product for different markets. Our European colleagues have been guzzling the infamous Snowball made with these egg liqueurs for some time. Popular — or at least well-known — in the UK, it’s simply one part advocaat to two parts lemonade (British lemonade, i.e., Sprite, 7-Up, or bitter lemon soda). Here, Nigella Lawson bangs one out:

Recipes for homemade advocaat typically call for anywhere from half to a full liter of alcohol per dozen eggs. I take a middle path with slightly fewer eggs and split the difference on the booze. The result? More boozy than some, not as much as others.

Here’s how we make drinking advocaat around these parts. For a thicker, spoonable, version, use whole eggs, ditch the milk, and heat the mixture in a double boiler.

The sweetened condensed milk is not traditional — or even strictly necessary — but it does creep up in some Dutch recipes. I like the additional smoothness and slightly cooked taste it lends to the finished drink, but feel free to omit it. Should you do so, add up to an additional ¾ cup of sugar. Likewise, if you just can’t get enough liquor inside you, this recipe will easily admit another 250ml/1 cup of 40% abv alcohol.

Rowley’s Authentic San Diego Advocaat

10 egg yolks
250g/1.25 c sugar
3-4 gratings of fresh nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
750ml brandy, neutral grain spirits, or vodka

Strain the egg yolks through a medium sieve into a large mixing bowl to remove the chalazae (those repugnant, curled little white cords that attach the yolk to the shell). Add the sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Whisk gently to combine.

Stir in the vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk and alcohol. Whisk vigorously, then pour into sterilized bottles. Seal. It's drinkable now, but better after two weeks in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1400ml of 18% abv advocaat.

  • Clear spirits such as vodka or NGS will not affect the color of the drink noticeably. Many people prefer them for this reason. I use aged brandy which lends a slightly darker cast to the drink.
  • Hold me in contempt if you will, but I use Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP for this. Best brandy in the world? No, of course not. One of the best you'll ever get for under $10 per bottle, though. Recently, I scored a 750ml bottle at a local pharmacy for $8. Love those Christmas liquor sales...
  • Clean egg yolks and whites off kitchen and cocktail gear with an initial rinse of cool water. Hot water can cook the stuff and make it much harder to remove.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Throat-Rippers, Neck Oil, and a Dose of Advocaat

This time last year, I wrote about three drinks that meld booze and eggs; Elise Hannemann’s 1904 eierpunsch, William Verpoorten’s modern-day eierlikör, and — from the pages of Playboy magazine — Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s eggnog.

One drink I didn’t get to at the time was advocaat, a venerable Dutch egg liqueur that's not dissimilar to eierlikör, but which comes in two forms. The first, more familiar to Americans, Britons, and others outside the Netherlands, is a pourable, eggnog-like drink. Such “drinking” advocaat is for the export market and would not pass muster among old-timers in Amsterdam, Groningen, or Delft. On the contrary, domestic Dutch advocaat traditionally has been a boozy, custardlike concoction served in small cups and eaten with spoons. Both, however, have their devotees.

The domestic stuff, made with egg yolks and whites, is sometimes called dikke advocaat (“thick” advocaat) in Holland while the version we're more likely to encounter abroad is variously known as dunne (“thin”) advocaat or schenkadvocaat (“pouradvocaat”) or drinkadvocaat, made with the yolks only. Just to confuse things, most people who drink/eat the stuff call it all just “advocaat” without modifiers.

The word itself in Dutch means “attorney” or “lawyer” but there’s no obvious connection to the legal profession at all. It is also so similar to adpokat, an Indonesian word for avocado, that two rival modern explanations for this egg-and-liquor concoction’s name have arisen.

Dropping Dutch anchor in Indonesian waters, 1669
The first is that the name somehow refers to a booze-and-avocado tipple created or adapted by the globe-trotting merchants of the VOC (the United East Indies Company) during its 17th century heyday. Irishman Philip Duff is a long-time resident of the Netherlands, a vocal proponent of its distilling traditions, and an internationally known bar and beverage consultant. He gets asked about this lawyer/avocado thing a lot.

Duff — along with many other knowledgeable souls — feel that the word's origins are well and truly lost. In an email to me, he admits, however, that he favors the avocado angle as a result of the VOC’s voyages abroad and dominance of Indonesia in particular:
The likelihood of there being a booze of some sort made, flavoured or mixed with avocado pulp is more than even, and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine this evolving into something with eggs back in Holland, eggs having both a bit of the colour and texture of avocados. Or...
The word "abocado" crops up in Spanish and Portuguese and refers to smoothness, mellowness, sweetness - opening the door to the possibility that an eggs-and-booze drink originated in south/central America and was named there, then the name was bastardised when it was brought back to Holland.
Not everyone buys this, though. When I asked Amsterdam culinary journalist and historian Johannes van Dam about the origin of the word, he wrote:
Personally I do not think the name of the drink comes from avocado, because that fruit was not really known here when the drink was already known by that name.
This in and of itself would seem to put an end to the avocado argument. Van Dam prefers another explanation: that the word is meant to evoke a soothing throat lubrication, such as might be required for attorneys.

Katadreuffe and De Gankelaar prepare for court battle  in Mike van Diem's 1997 Character

The popular rationale for the attorney angle goes like this: In the course of their work, attorneys must speak often and eloquently. Such a rich alcoholic drink — so the thinking goes — would both soothe their throats and relax the nervous among them to better prepare them for their loquacious undertakings.

Writing in 2006, Dutch linguistic journalist Ewoud Sanders examined various origin theories offered over the last century for the word. There's no clear winner, but he offered a convincing explanation for the side of the attorneys:
For now the battle for the origin of a little advocaat is undecided, but personally I think most of the oldest theory, that advocaat is a drink for the lawyer to keep his throat lubricated. Not so much because I think many lawyers are useful speakers, but because [in calling it that] you’re naming this motif (as linguists call it) that can also found in other drink names. Thus, a glass of genever is a keelsmeerdertje [throat lubricator] or smeerolie [lubricating oil], and the Germans know designations for spirits including Gurgelwasser [garglewater], Halsöl [neck oil] (also for beer), Rachenputzer [throat polisher] and, as other extreme, Rachenreißer [throat ripper].
Considering that opera singers have been known to gargle and swallow olive oil to soothe their throats, that in many parts of the US I've heard alcohol dubbed "throat oil," and that even Mississippi state representative Noah "Soggy" Sweats, Jr. referred to alcohol in his famous 1950's Whiskey Speech as the "oil of conversation" — well, the idea of calling alcohol as lubricant (even if it's a tongue-in-cheek circumlocution) is compelling.

Until proven otherwise, I'm betting on the lawyers. Linguistics aside — and more pressing — how do we make the stuff? Next up: advocaat recipes.

Goes well with:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Blow to Craft Distilling

A decade ago, fewer than one hundred legal distilleries operated in the United States. Today, it’s four times that number as new American distilleries have leapt from success to success. But in Washington State, a hotbed of craft distilling, there’s a real fear that this burgeoning industry just suffered a crippling setback.

Initiative 1183 passed last month with the dual intent of closing state-run liquor stores and allowing private retailers to sell spirits. The tax benefits were projected into the tens of millions of dollars. But its recent interpretation by the Washington Liquor Control Board has left some distillers wondering, rightly, whether their businesses will survive.

Writing in Monday’s, Josh Kerns reports
Initiative 1183 adds a new 27 percent tax on liquor in addition to the current state liquor taxes of 20.5 percent, plus $3.77 per liter, according to [Orlin Sorenson co-founder of Woodinville Whiskey Co.].

Those new taxes include a 10 percent distributor fee and 17 percent retailer fee, which "result in one of the highest liquor taxes in the country," says Sorensen. "That's virtually our entire profit margin."
Sorensen has put it to his fellow distillers in the Washington Distillers Guild that they “need to remind the liquor control board that the voter's intent of 1183 was to privatize liquor, not raise taxes and fees on craft distillers and handcuff them from doing business in the state.”

Please, Washingtonians, raise a ruckus. Now. Today. Call your representatives, write letters and emails. Let them know that in misinterpreting this act, the Washington Liquor Control Board has set the stage to kill jobs and crush local businesses under tax schemes that were never the intent of Initiative 1183.

For more details from Kerns, see his original article here.

Keep tabs on developments in the forums of the Washington Distillers Guild here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Settled in the New Digs

After months of drinking down the liquor cabinets, weeks of packing thousands of cookbooks, and a three-hour flurry of actual moving, we're settled into the new house. Just shy of half the library's up. Most of the liquor is still boxed. The kitchen is almost up and running as I want it. The place didn't fully feel like home, though, until I brought over my knives. With my knives in hand, I can make nearly any house feel like home.

Salt-glazed syrup jug from potter  Sid Luck gracing the mantel
I'm keeping a low profile for a while; there's a floor to lay in the attic, shelves to build and fill, and some plumbing work that makes me glad I'm not a complete novice working with copper. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, that pig roasting in the oven craves my attention.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Pumpkin and Ginger Doughnuts

I’ve been making booze since I was too young to buy it. But I’ve been making doughnuts and fritters even longer than that.

When I was very young, my mother taught me how to make a cheaty sort of doughnut (or, if that’s the way you roll, donut) from uncooked biscuit dough, the commercial stuff that came in a tube. Although I was barely able to tie my own shoes at that age, my siblings were all teenagers and slept in until unfathomable hours on weekends while my father golfed. If Mom was in the mood, we got doughnuts — all to ourselves.

While she handled the hot oil, it was my duty to lay out the dough, cut out shapes with an upturned glass, and then toss those sizzling fried gobs into a brown paper bag, coating them with sugar and cinnamon. They were still so hot when we tore into them that fingers of steam curled up from every bite.

With no kids of my own, it’s no longer the kind of cooking I’m likely to do. But homemade doughnuts have been a bit of an obsession ever since those early days. On a recent trip to Chicago, I idly picked up Allegra McEvedy's recent book Bought, Borrowed & Stolen where I found her recipe for pumpkin and ginger doughnuts.

With a fat ribbed pumpkin on the counter and a drive to eat up as much as is reasonable before we move, it was a simple matter of time before I succumbed to that Autumnal allure of hot pumpkin and spice. Do as you like, but swapping out an ounce of dark rum for an ounce of milk in the glaze is not the worst thing you could do this week.

From the Guardian UK, here’s McEvedy frying up a batch. Recipe follows the video.

Pumpkin and Ginger Doughnuts

150ml / ¼ pint whole milk
5 teaspoons (15g / ½oz) fast-acting dried yeast
100g / 3½oz sugar, plus 1 teaspoon extra
1kg / 2lb plain flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling
1 tin (460g / 14¾oz or thereabouts) of mashed pumpkin (or make your own by roasting 650g (1¼ lb) peeled pumpkin or squash, foiled, in a medium oven for 40 minutes, then mashing it)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons plain oil [peanut, vegetable, canola]
1-1.5 litres (1¾ – 2½ pints) oil, for frying

For the glaze:
a knob (around 1 teaspoon) butter
75ml / 3fl oz milk
175g / 6oz icing sugar
1½ teaspoons ground ginger
75g / 3oz ginger, washed and unpeeled
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the milk gently until it's just warm to the touch, then whisk in the yeast and the 1 teaspoon of sugar and leave to stand for 20 minutes, until frothy.

In a large bowl mix the flour, pumpkin (or squash), cinnamon, salt and sugar, then pour in the yeast mixture, beaten egg, melted butter and the oil then bring it all together to make a soft dough. Turn out on to a well-floured surface and knead with floured hands for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as necessary so that it doesn't stick to you or the surface.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 2cm / ¾ inch and use two circular cutters, one with a diameter of 8cm / 3½ inches and one with a diameter of 4cm / 1¾ inches, to make your rings. Use the trimmings to re-roll, then leave them to rise for 30 minutes.
Knock up the glaze by melting the butter in the milk and whisking in the icing sugar, ground ginger and vanilla extract. Coarsely grate the ginger root and squeeze the juice into it too – you can re-use the fibres for tea / hot toddies.

Pour the oil into a wide, thick-bottomed pan to a depth of about 2.5-3cm / 1–1¼ inches. Heat it up until hot but not nearly smoking, then turn the heat down to medium. Slide one of the doughnuts in first, just to check the temperature is right: it should fizzle and float up to the surface, very gently bubbling away. Cook them in batches for 5-7 minutes total, turning halfway through so they are evenly golden brown all over, then take them out with tongs or a slotted spoon and put them on a wire rack.

When they're cool enough to pick up, dip them into the glaze on both sides and tuck in not long after: there's not many ills in the world that can't be cured with a warm doughnut.

Allegra McEvedy (2011)
Bought, Borrowed & Stolen: Recipes and Knives from a Traveling Chef
224 pages (hardback)
ISBN: 1840915773

Goes well with:
  • Ginger pie. I can't help it. I'm a sucker for ginger in all forms and ginger pie in particular.
  • We often have pumpkins around the house. Sometimes, they even get turned into tiki-style jack o'lanterns.
  • Half-Slab Pumpkin, a recipe I outright stole from British writer Nigel Slater and then let mutate into something entirely new.
  • Doughnuts aren't the only fritters on offer. How about some lovely brain fritters or the New Orleans rice cakes called calas?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Moon Shines on the Moonshine

Preparations for our move continue. As I go through cabinets and drawers deciding what to take and what to jettison, I stumble upon across occasional little gems. I broke out into a smile when I found nearly hundred year old sheet music for The Moon Shines on the Moonshine.

Published in 1920, the song was already a popular tune as sung by Vaudeville comedian Bert Williams — an African-American who, in one of the bizzare twists of minstrelsy, regularly performed in blackface. He wasn’t the only one. But he was the only one WC Fields is said to have called “the funniest man I ever saw.”

Lyrics by Francis de Witt — just slightly different from the recording — follow.

The Moon Shines on the Moonshine

The mahogany is dusty,
All the pipes are very rusty,
And the good, old-fashioned musty
Doesn't musty anymore.

All the stuff's got bum and bummer,
from the middle of the Summer.
Now the bar is on the hummer,
and "For Rent" is on the door.

How sad and still tonight,
by the old distillery,
And how the cob-webs cob,
in the old machinery!

But in the mountain tops,
far from the eyes of cops,
Oh how the moon shines on
the moonshine, so merrily!
How sad and merrily!

Goodness me, how misery doubles,
Ain't one thing to use for bubbles,
For to drive away your troubles,
Now the tide has gone and went.

Days and nights are getting bleaker,
shivering for an old-time sneaker,
Even water's getting weaker,
'Bout one tenth of one per cent.

How sad and still tonight,
by the old distillery,
And how the mourners mourn,
Bt the Lager Brewery!

So, mister, if you please,
Don't let nobody sneeze,
Up where the moon shines
On the moonshine, so still-ily
How sad and still-ily!