BEANZ DOESN’T ALWAYS MEAN HEINZ

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Good day to all readers. I hope that your Easter has fulfilled your needs for physical and spiritual refreshment and that you are now standing by your stove ready to try another of old Patrick’s recommendations!

You have proposals to make your own baked beans this week, because I have been indulging myself in my third-favourite pastime: reading about how, why and when we humans like to feed ourselves. One essay in this excellent collection of food writing from the “New York Times” concerns the preparation of canned baked beans in their millions and concludes with

the recipe making Boston Baked Beans at home. With the many varieties of dried beans available to us in Cyprus, dishes like this are easy to make and I find the results more enjoyable than the canned baked beans, which are a but too sweetened for my taste.

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    “Eat, Memory”, 200 page paperback, US$15.95 from Amazon.

I didn’t eat beans on the one occasion when I visited Boston. I flew up from New York to meet an old friend. He was a Lebanon-born Catholic priest, with a parish in a suburb of the city. He took me to a Syrian restaurant for lunch. The food was good, we ate excellent lamb–stuffed sweet peppers, but wine was not really on their agenda. When asked, the proprietor said: “I think we gotta a bottle somewhere in back”. I went with him and, sure enough, lying on the floor behind a huge refrigerator was a bottle of German white wine. He picked up, blew the dust off and put it in the freezer.

Fifteen minutes or so later, with our plates of Boston pork and beans, the wine was uncorked and poured. For one that had lain in very warm place for heaven knows how long and then cooled in a freezer it was actually drinkable.

My other memory of that lunch was of a local politician, campaigning for re-election who came in shaking hands and seeking assurance of support at the polling booth. As he put out his hand to shake mine someone said I was a visiting Brit. from London. The hand was quickly re-directed to someone who had a vote.

BOSTON BAKED BEANS

The trick to good baked beans is cooking them very slowly with indirect heat. This recipe by James Beard calls for baking them in a tightly sealed casserole in an oven barely hot enough to toast bread. As the hours pass, the beans drink up a broth flavored with brown sugar (or molasses), mustard and pepper. The gentle cook­ing prevents the beans from breaking up and becoming mushy. By the time they’re done, the pork is- falling off its bones and the beans are the classic rusty brown. Be sure to season them amply with salt so the sweetness has a sturdy counterpart.

Beard’s recipe calls for dark brown sugar. The alternative is to use molasses, which will render a final

flavour and colour more familiar to canned-bean devotees. The recipe itself requires no great cooking skills, but it will easily take up an afternoon. Best to plan it for a day when you’re at home.

Ingredients for 6 Servings

185 g / 6 oz / 2 cups of dried white beans some call them Lima beans, others Navy beans) 1 scant teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 medium onion, peeled

4 pork spare-ribs, or 8 baby back ribs

90g / 3 oz /1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar or molasses

2 teaspoons dry mustard

I teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

1. In a large bowl, soak the beans in 2 litres of water for 6 hours.

2. Drain the beans and put them in a large pot.

3. Add the salt and enough cool water to generously cover the beans.

4. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently, stirring occasionally,

until the beans are just barely tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Drain well.

5. Bring another pot of water to a boil.

6. Preheat the oven to 130ºC / 250ºF

7. In the bottom of a large casserole with a tight-fitting lid, place the whole peeled onion

and spareribs (or baby back ribs).

8. Spread the beans on top.

9. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar (or molasses), mustard and black pep­per

and add this to the beans and pork. 10 Pour in just enough boiling water to cover the beans, put the lid on and bake,

occa­sionally adding more boiling water to keep the beans covered, until they are tender

but not falling apart, 4 to 5 hours.

11 Remove the casserole from the oven. 12 Season the beans with salt.

13 Pull the meat from the ribs. Discard the bones and excess fat and stir the meat back into the

beans.

14 With the lid off, return the casserole to the oven and let the beans finish cooking, uncov­ered and

without additional water, until the sauce has thickened and is nicely caramelized on top, about 45

minutes more.

Adapted from The James Beard Cook Book, by James Beard.

MEMORY LANE …. The Hotel de la Poste, Swavesey

Having enjoyed, in my time, thousands of meals (most of them good I am happy to say) it is hard to select one or a few that stand out. Sometimes one remembers only other diners … or one plate … the chef …. The proprietor, but seldom the whole deal. This is one of them.

It was a wonderful English summer Sunday, when my wife and I were driving back to our south-east home from the north. We stopped at a restaurant which was in the top ten of the British Good Food Guide, situated in a country house in a village near Cambridge, the Hotel de la Poste.

It possessed a Michelin Star in 1973, and was run by an irascible eccentric French-Algerian, André Amara, who put his estate car on the ferry to France once a week and brought back vegetables, charcuterie, cheese and the pike from which he made his specialité ‘Quenelles de Brochet’.(*) The like of those quenelles I have yet to find equalled. Of them, Monsieur Amara modestly said “If God made quenelles, he could not make them better”. My picture showing where his restaurant was located also doesn’t find him wanting in self-esteem. Note the price, too!

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After a meal that still stands tall in my memory we departed. Le Patron stood by the gate. He embraced my wife, rather effusively, I thought, and presented her with a large red rose. “And for monsieur”, he concluded, taking a courgette of quite suggestive dimensions from behind his back and giving it to me. Very replete and after the Kir Royale, the Burgundy and a large digestif, I should not have been driving – and indeed after a few minutes on the country road we spied a field with an open gate. We parked the car, put a rug on the ground, lay down and slept soundly until sunset and a distinct chill in the air woke us up.

The Bill came to something like St£12.00, which seems little now, but in fact would be the equivalent of more than £100.00 today. Alas, M. Amara is long gone to the great Auberge in the sky.

The extract from the menu shows the classic and simple French cuisine on offer at what was then one of the best restaurants in England. Difficult to find its like today.

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(*) Note: Quenelles are round or cylindrical dumplings made from very finely ground meat or fish, blended with cream, eggs, flavours and seasoning and simmered in stock. “Brochet” is French for Pike, a freshwater fish whose flesh is most suitable for the fine mincing (or pestle and mortaring) this dish requires. Otherwise it is not highly regarded.

GOOD BOOKS, A CURRENT TART AND A DESERT MEMORY

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A cook book I was browsing yesterday, purchased from a company specializing in “remaindered” items (i.e. publishers’ unsold stock and therefore at a “bargain” price) jogged my Mid-east memory cells and I thought, “Yes, there’s an idea here for this week’s column”.

It was in the 1960s. I was in a car on with no air-conditioning on a very hot July day climbing eastwards up the mountains of Lebanon on the busy, windy road to Damascus, the capital of Syria, and onwards to Amman, Jordan. It was exciting, because it was my first such trip (my second was also exciting – see Note) An older book about Lebanese cooking, some years in my possession and a great favourite, describes this journey with the stunning view as you breast the ridge of the hills much better than I can…

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“A few miles beyond the lovely tree-lined main avenue of Sofar, the highway reaches its summit at the 5,000-foot-high Dahr al-Baidar pass, which on winter weekends would be alive with skiers and fun-loving Lebanese out for an excursion in the snow. After Dahr al-Baidar the road descends abruptly into the peaceful Bekaa Valley, but not before one is rewarded with an unforgettable view of its long patchwork quilt of colorful square fields nestled between the protecting ranges of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon.

The excitement engendered in us by this majestic sight was due partly to our now being only a few minutes from our destination, for as soon as we came down into the valley we would be in Shtora. With its invigorating climate and pleasant surroundings, the town was a popular health resort and a favorite haven for honeymooners. Situated at nearly the midpoint between Beirut and Damascus, it had long been an ideal resting place for travelers”. From “Recipes and Remembrances”, which is still available on-line. It is one of just a few books I read, re-read and follow recipes from regularly.

Most obligingly, Ms Uvezian then offers a regional recipe, which I cook now and then and love dearly.

Ground Meat Kebabs with Sour Cherry Sauce

Kabab bi Karaz Hamud

Variations of this dish are to be found all over Lebanon and Syria, especially around Aleppo. This recipe comes Sonia Uvezian’s Shtora kitchen, where she used to make it with tart, juicy, black cherries from the family orchards and serve it with warm flatbread, plain or saffron rice, or bulgur pilaf.

Ingredients for 4 – 6 servings

700 g /1½ pounds lean boneless lamb or beef, ground (minced) twice

1 medium onion, grated

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 scallions, finely chopped

Fresh coriander or spearmint sprigs

Sour Cherry Sauce (see below)

Method

Ideally this is cooked on an outdoor charcoal grill. But under your gas or electric grill will be good, too.

1. In a bowl combine the lamb or beef, onion, cinnamon, and salt and pepper and knead the mixture vigorously until it is well blended and smooth.

2. Cover and chill for one hour.

3. If using, prepare charcoal grill.

4. Divide the meat mixture into 36 balls.

5. Moisten your hands with cold water and form the balls into 4 cms/1½-inch-long sausages around flat-bladed metal skewers, pressing and molding the meat mixture to the skewers and leaving about 5cm / ¼ inch between each sau­sage.

6. Grill the meat on an oiled rack set 2 to 3 inches above glowing coals, turning frequently, 10 to 12 minutes or until it is evenly browned on all sides and cooked through. Alternatively, the meat may be broiled (grilled.)

7. With the side of a knife or fork, carefully slide the kebabs off the skewers onto heated individual plates.

8. Sprinkle with the scallions and garnish with the coriander or spearmint sprigs.

9. Serve at once with the Sour Cherry Sauce.

VARIATIONS:

Add 2 tablespoons pine nuts to the meat mixture.

When the kebabs are done, remove them from the skewers and add them to the Sour Cherry Sauce. Cook gently about 5 minutes and stir in the scallions, if desired. Omit the coriander sprigs. Serve over a bed of pilaf or pieces of warm flatbread.

Sour Cherry Sauce

Salsat al-Karaz al-Hamud

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

pounds sour cherries, stemmed and pitted

½ cup water

3 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Salt to taste

Method

1. In a medium enameled or stainless steel saucepan melt the butter over moderate heat.

2. Add the cherries and cook, stirring, about i minute. Add the water and bring to a boil.

3. Cook the mixture, uncovered, a few minutes or until the cherries have softened and given off most of their liquid.

4. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens.

5. Season with the salt. Serve hot with ground lamb or kibbeh kebabs or with poultry or game birds.

6. Makes about 1¾ cups

Note: If sour cherries are unavailable, substitute ripe fresh cherries, pitted and add ¼ cup freshly squeezed and strained lemon or lime juice along with the sugar and cinnamon. Do not use canned cherries for this recipe.

Lamb and Tomato Tarts

To serve six

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ABOVE: Not Elizabeth David’s “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine”, but a Lebanese Pastry and a glass of Arak, which is anise flavoured and similar to Greek or Cyprus Ouzo, but a lot stronger. As with Ouzo it turns white when water is added. It is a splendid aperitif and with water a most suitable companion for Arab food.

Ingredients

400g plain white flour 1 teaspoon caster sugar 1 sachet baker’s yeast Half teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

Filling

200g minced lamb

250g tomatoes

1 small onion

A few drops of pomegranate molasses, or juice.

Salt and pepper

To accompany: natural yogurt (“Strangato”)

PASTRY METHOD

1. Dissolve the yeast in 250ml warm water.

2. Place the flour, sugar, oil, salt and yeast mixture in a food processor.

3. Pulse slowly for a couple of minutes. The dough should come away from the sides; if it does not, add 1 tablespoon flour.

4. Take the dough out of the processor, sprinkle with a little flour to stop it sticking to your hands, place on a work surface, divide into 6 equal parts, cover

and leave to rise for at least 30 minutes.

5. Generously flour-She work surface. Flatten the 6 dough balls by hand, turn over and flatten again with a rolling pin. Cut out 6 circles, 8cm in diameter,

and lay on a baking tray covered in greaseproof paper.

6. Leave for 15 minutes.

FILLING AND BAKING

7. Preheat the oven to 200°C (gas mark 6-7)

8. Blend the tomatoes and the onion with salt and pepper, add a few drops of the pomegranate.

9. With a fork or pestle, combine with the minced meat.

10. Divide the filling among the pastry circles and spread evenly.

11. Cook in oven for 7 minutes.

12. Serve with yogurt.

NOTE – “Royal Wings and a Royal Roller”

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A few months after my car trip from Beirut to Amman, I had occasion to make the trip again. That time, I flew; on a “Caravelle” jet of Royal Jordanian Airlines, a pretty aeroplane like the one pictured above. Security was always noticeable at Beirut airport, but it was extra heavy. After take-off we knew why, when this announcement came from the flight deck in Arabic, French and English: “Good Evening ladies and gentlemen. This is the captain speaking. Tonight I have the honour to tell you that my co-pilot is His Majesty King Hussein, who will be flying us to Amman” His Majesty made a good landing.

A week or so later, I was returning from Jerusalem to Amman (this was before the 1967 “6-day War”) in a somewhat ramshackle taxi. It was about 50 miles, across a mostly flat, sandy terrain. About half way, we encountered a dusty Rolls-Royce coupé, stopped at the road-side. Sitting on the lowered canopy was the sole occupant, H.M. King Hussein, chatting to a desert Bedouin, whose camel was a few metres away trying to sniff out something to eat from the sand.

Greetings and chat were exchanged. Security? Who needed it then?

FAY-VRITS

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When Mary and I ran the Cyprus Donkey Sanctuary, after a lot of hard work, we found ourselves with reasonable funds to look after our then 30+ animals. So, we were able to hire the very necessary services of a proper professional farrier, who came every Thursday to look after the feet of eventually houses […]

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IN AN IRISH STEW

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In the “old days” (say fifty years and before) farmers used to keep a proportion of the flocks of their sheep for several years. They would produce several lambs in this time. After which they would be killed and eaten as “Mutton” (any animal of more than one year qualifies for this definition). This was […]

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FRANCE IS GREAT… What, again?

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     Inspired by my recent purchase of a big book of French recipes called “SIMPLISSIME”, I have been (figuratively speaking) wearing my big French Toque on a daily basis. Aspects of France – and the French – may annoy us, but it has to be generally agreed that they are very good at the cooking. […]

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At Last! Cyprus Wine on the Web

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Many years have elapsed before Cyprus wines have become properly represented on the Internet. It doesn’t seem long – a few months, perhaps – since I searched the Web and there was not a definitive source of information about the vines, wines and winemakers of Cyprus. Looking recently I found one. It is called Cyprus […]

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