Monday, 21 October 2013

21 January 1893 - A Model Menu for February, by Phillis Browne

The Girl's Own Annual vol.XIV features a monthly 'Model Menu'. As I am not transcribing articles in any kind of order (although there is an index for articles by subject heading if you glance to the right of the screen), here is the suggested menu for February.

White Soup
John Dory, or Whiting
Kidneys and Mushrooms
Braised Leg of mutton
Potato Puff - White Haricots
Baked Cabinet Pudding
Orange Souffle

Turkish Soup:- If there is any white stock in the house, or the liquor in which chickens, mutton, or bacon have been boiled, a delicious and somewhat uncommon soup can be made of it which is known to the initiated as Turkish Soup. Stock in which rabbits or bacon have been boiled is particularly excellent for this soup, because the flavour imparted by these meats is just what is wanted; though, indeed, rabbit stock and bacon stock are valuable for almost all soups. Should there be no white stock in the house it is allowable to use water for this soup, and the eggs and cream introduced into it will make it sufficiently nutritious without stock. It is always to be remembered that in these days soups that are somewhat of a light character are preferred to soups that constitute a meal in themselves. Water will at least possess the virtue of not spoiling the colour of the soup. It may be added that white soup should be made in an enamelled or earthenware pan, never in an iron one.

To make the soup, put a quart of white stock into a stewpan with two tablespoonfuls of whole rice, and boil for about 20 minutes or till the rice is tender. If the stock is not already flavoured with bacon, stew with the rice some strips of bacon-rind which have been thoroughly well scalded and scraped, and throw them away when done with. Rub the rice through a sieve, mix the stock in which it was boiled smoothly with it, and put it again in the pan. Mix in a basin the yolks of two eggs, and two tablespoonfuls of cream. If the last-named ingredient is not obtainable, a gill of milk may be used. Pour on the boiling stock gradually and stir the soup over the fire for about two minutes, that is till it thickens, but does not boil. If the soup boil after the eggs are put with it, it will curdle. Have ready two ounces of macaroni which has been boiled separately, and cut into inch lengths. Last thing add the macaroni to the soup with a little cayenne and two tablespoonfuls of grated Parmesan. Serve very hot.

John Dory, or Whiting:- by people who are acquainted with it John Dory is considered as delicious in taste as it is ugly in appearance. Yet if intrinsic worth is of more importance than mere looks, this fish ought to be honoured. Unfortunately it is not often to be had; it is only occasionally brought to market. February, however, is the month when it is in perfection, and is most frequently seen; therefore in February it ought not to be forgotten.

The dory may readily be known by its very ugly head, its yellow-grey colour and the long filaments on its back. The fish which are thickest across the shoulders are the best. Cleanse it carefully and cut off the fins, and lower it into boiling salted water and simmer gently till cooked. The time required must be determined by the size and thickness of the fish. A dory of average size would need to simmer from twenty to thirty minutes. Drain well, lay on a dish covered with a napkin, and garnish with plenty of parsley and slices of lemon or chilli pods. Remember to mass the garnish about the head to hide its shape. The sauce made as follows may be served in a tureen:-

Melt an ounce of butter in a small stewpan and mix half an ounce of flour smoothly with it; add half a pint of water and a pinch of salt, and stir the sauce till it boils. Beat an egg in a basin. Let the sauce cool half a minute, then mix it gradually with the egg and stir over the fire once more, just long enough to cook the egg a little without allowing it to boil. When poured into the tureen add a dessertspoonful of chopped capers and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Dorys are not always to be had, but whiting are generally available, and in February they are in perfection. They may be made into a very simple and excellent dish if cooked as follows:-

Fillet the fish in the usual way, passing the knife from the tail to the head and lifting the flesh from the bones on both sides. Divide each side in two, trim the fillets into a good shape, pepper and salt them, and boil them in salted water to which a few drops of lemon juice have been added. Let them simmer gently for a few minutes till cooked through, but they must not be overcooked. Take up carefully with a slice, dish prettily, pour oiled butter over and sprinkle chopped parsley on the top. Treated thus the dish will be so easily made ready, that housewives may be inclined to despise it. It will, however, be excellent if only it is served hot, and if everything about it is hot. If it is half cold it will not be worth eating.

Whiting is an exceedingly delicate fish and very easily to digest. It is called the chicken of the sea. It is not appreciated as it deserves to be, because it so often happens that inexperienced housekeepers buy inferior fish such as codling and Pollock under the impression that they are buying the true silver whiting, when they are doing nothing of the kind; then they wonder that so much is said in praise of food which they do not find to be at all extraordinary. It sounds rather contradictory, but it is nevertheless true that “when whiting is bad it is pretty sure not to be whiting”. Authorities tell us that in England there are hundreds of thousands of small fish sold as whiting which are something else. It is, however, fairly easy to know true whiting when we see it if we are on the lookout for certain marks. Thus codlings and haddock have a barbel, that is a short fleshy cord hanging from the lower jaw; whiting have none. Pollock, which is a fish declared by some to be identical with whiting, but which is of a different taste, has the under jaw projecting beyond the upper jaw. Whiting has the upper jaw projecting beyond the lower jaw. To these remarks we may add that although it is unquestionably true that “white fish boiled is generally insipid”, we can still confidently recommend this dish as very good.

Oiled Butter:- When all other sauces fail, oiled butter can be made ready in a minute. It is simply plain fresh butter which has been melted without being browned. The butter when melted ought to be skimmed and poured away from the milky sediment which settles at the bottom. Also it should be salted before being poured over the fish.

Kidneys and Mushrooms:- Forced mushrooms are to be had all the year round, but they are believed to be at their best in February. Fresh mutton kidneys and mushrooms daintily cooked together make a very appetising little entree. The dish is often spoilt because the kidneys are tough. They will be tender if cooked as follows:

Skin and core three sheep’s kidneys and cut into dice. Skin and trim a dozen fresh button mushrooms, or two dozen champignons. Melt a slice of butter in a small stewpan and throw in the mushrooms. Let them simmer, stirring constantly for ten minutes, then add the kidneys, a piece of glaze about the size of a hazelnut, and half a gill of stock. Simmer again, but on no account quite boil, for another eight minutes; add a teaspoonful of flour and half a teaspoonful of chopped parsley, and serve hot. Garnish with fried bread cut into fancy shapes. When preparing this dish the point to remember is to stew the mushrooms in butter longer than the kidneys.

Braised Leg of Mutton:- This dish is very tasty and delicious hot, and it is very good cold; but it will not be satisfactory if warmed up. Therefore when we intend to prepare it we should do well to buy a small plump leg of Welsh mutton, have the bone removed as far as the first joint, and fill the space with forcemeat strongly flavoured with shallot. If we cannot get a small leg we might buy a larger leg, have about three inches of the shank end cut off, and also a piece cut slantwise from the top of the mutton through the bone. This would give us a piece of mutton shaped like a fillet of veal, and if the bone were taken from it, the forcemeat might be put in quite easily. The pieces cut off might be made into Navarin or Irish stew for dinner another day.

Whether however the mutton is cut to form a fillet or whether it is left whole, the process is the same. Sew up the joint and place it in a braising pan or ham-kettle nearly of its own size, with slices of fat bacon bound round it, two or three onions, four or five carrots, two bay leaves, a bunch of savoury herbs, with a few bones or odds and ends – if there are any in the house – to help make the gravy good. Add also a little salt, two cloves, a teaspoonful of whole pepper, half a blade of mace, a sprig of celery, and about three quarters of a pint of stock. If there is any garlic in the store cupboard it will be well to rub the bottom of the stewpan sharply across once with garlic before putting in the meat. Cover the pan closely, and bring the stock gently to the point of boiling. As soon as it begins to boil draw it quite to the side and let it simmer as softly as possible, but without ceasing, for about four hours, turning it once when about half done. Keep the lid closed and shake the pan now and again. At the end of the time lift the mutton out, strain the gravy, free it from fat (this detail is of importance), brown it a little, pour two tablespoonfuls or so into the dish with the meat, and send the rest to table in a tureen.

As all housewives know, braising proper is carried on in a stewpan which admits of live embers being placed on the lid, and thus cooking is carried on above as well as below. Stewpans of this description however are not often found in England. But it is quite possible to obtain nearly as good a result in a stewpan which has a closely fitting lid, provided always that the simmering is gentle and continuous, and that the vessel is about the size of the joint that is to be cooked in it. To prevent the escape of steam it is advisable to keep a wet cloth round the lid of the pan. Some housewives prefer to lute the edges of the vessel with coarse flour and water paste, but the wet cloth answers the same purpose, and it is less troublesome. The object aimed at is to cook the meat in the vapour of the combined ingredients stewed with it, so that it may become impregnated therewith. Meat braised in this way is really very easily prepared. The one point of importance belonging to it is that it should be gently simmered. If it boils it will be ragged, and if it becomes dry it has boiled too fast; if it stops simmering it will be spoilt, but if successfully managed it will be succulent and exceedingly tender, therefore particularly suited to the needs of individuals whose teeth are not good. It makes a pleasant change from the ordinary

Potato Puff:- (An American way of preparing potatoes.) Peel and boil about six large potatoes. When soft and dry, beat them briskly with a little salt and two tablespoonfuls of butter till white and creamy. Now add the yolks of two eggs well beaten, and two tablespoonfuls of cream or milk. Almost twenty minutes before the potato is wanted, whisk the whites of the two eggs to a firm froth, mix them lightly with the mashed potato, turn into a deep dish, and bake in a quick oven till brown. If successfully managed, the potato will be light, puffy and delicious.

White Haricots:- White haricots are not appreciated in this country as they deserve to be. They constitute most valuable food, and when well cooked they are very appetising and enjoyable; they also form a most excellent accompaniment to braised leg of mutton. The reason why they are not liked more is than they are is that they are frequently not well cooked. They ought to be quite tender, yet whole, when brought to table; yet too often they are either hard, or broken and watery, and the cause of their being a failure is that the time required for cooking them depends on their age and condition. When we buy beans we never can tell whether they are over-dry or more than a year old; therefore we cannot say how long they should be boiled. The only thing we can do is to try a few beforehand, and then we need have no fear of mistake. At any rate, we may be quite sure that unless the beans are quite tender they will not be approved.

Soak a cupful of white haricots overnight. Next day put them to boil in plenty of cold water, and throw in a little salt when the water boils. Boil steadily until they will crush between the finger and thumb, while remaining whole. Shake the pan now and then that the beans may be equally cooked. Drain them and take care of their liquor. Put a slice of sweet dripping into a stewpan. When it is melted throw in the beans, add a pinch of salt, a little pepper, and the strained juice of a lemon. Shake the pan over the fire to mix thoroughly, and serve very hot.

It must never be forgotten that most nourishing and valuable soup may be made of the water in which haricot beans are boiled, therefore the liquor should never be thrown away, although it is scarcely advisable to serve the soup and the beans on the same day, because there would be too much similarity between them. To make the soup, melt a slice of butter in a stewpan, and throw in one large onion cut in slices. Cover closely, and let the onion “sweat” for half an hour; then add the bean broth gradually, also one potato, a good-sized piece of stale bread – if there is such a thing in the house – and one or two strips of bacon-rind scalded and scraped. Let the whole simmer for about an hour; press through a sieve, squeezing as much onion through as possible; boil once more, add pepper and salt if necessary, and serve very hot. If too thick, a little boiling milk may be added. The soup should be of the consistency of cream. No one who tasted this soup for the first time, and who did not know what it was made of, would believe, when realising its savouriness and excellence, that it was concocted from such homely and inexpensive material.

Baked Cabinet Pudding:- Baked bread and butter pudding is generally considered very humble fare. If prepared as follows, however, it may be dubbed Baked Cabinet Pudding, and will be quite superior. Butter the inside of a shallow dish well – this is important. Three parts fill it with layers of rather thin bread and butter, interspersed with one penny sponge-cake broken up. Make a custard of as much milk as will fill the dish, boiling the milk with either thin lemon-rind or stick cinnamon to flavour it. Sweeten it well, and allow one egg for each half-pint of milk. Pour the custard gradually over the bread, and let it soak for at least half an hour. Bake about an hour in a moderately hot oven, and when it looks done pass a knife between the pudding and the dish to ascertain if it is firm. If it is, take it out and let it stand three or four minutes that it may shrink, then turn it out carefully; put a little jam made hot on the top, and pile four penny-worth of cream whipped upon this.

Cold Souffle Pudding:- Soak a quarter of an ounce of gelatine in water. Make a custard with the juice of four oranges, two or three ounces of sugar, according to acidity, and three yolks of eggs. Put the custard in a jug with boiling water, and stir it till it thickens. Let it cool a little, then mix in the gelatine, dissolved. Beat the whites of the eggs till stiff, and dash the foam lightly in. Mould when the preparation is beginning to set. Sprinkle desiccated cocoa-nut and pistachio-kernels on the surface. When a second pudding is wanted, this one will be found convenient because it sets quickly.

It is just possible that after reading the menu for this month the housewife will remark that there are a good many boiled things in it, and she will, perhaps, wonder if her stove will admit of so many stewpans being placed upon it all at one time. If, however, she will cast her eye over it a second time, she will see that the difficulty is more apparent than real. The leg of mutton, for instance, will have to be made ready five hours before it is wanted. When once started it can be put quite at the back of the stove and will very nearly cook itself. So also with the haricots; they must be boiled at least three hours before dinner time. The fish will not need to simmer longer than five or six minutes; and the mushrooms and kidneys will not be to the fire longer than half an hour. Therefore, it is believed that with the closed stoves, which are now so usual in our kitchens, there will not really be any awkwardness.

Yet it must never be forgotten that in carrying out this menu, or any menu, the great thing is to begin to make dinner ready in plenty of time and to prepare as much as possible beforehand. Every detail which can be set in order beforehand is so much to the good.  It is a good plan for the mistress of a household to plan her dinners one day in advance, so that she may give the order if special material has to be obtained, or if special preparation is required. When such a dish as white haricots is to be served, for example, the one day in advance is not only desirable, it is necessary in order that the beans may be soaked over-night.

The mistress who forms a habit of planning her dinners in advance will also find it an advantage to make it a practice to write out the menu every day clearly and legibly, with the courses in the order in which they are to be served; and with the et-ceteras, the sauces, and little condiments in a line with the dishes to which they belong, a thick ruled line dividing the courses. A paper of this description should be in the cook’s hand quite early every morning when a dinner is to be cooked. Then she can make herself familiar with its details and arrange for them betimes. Especially should she make ready and put close to hand the trifles intended for garnishing the dishes. Many a faux pas has been brought about, and many a dinner which would otherwise have been pronounced a success has gone wrong and been called a failure, because the parsley was not chopped beforehand, or the cream was not whipped at leisure. It is never safe to leave the preparation of accompaniments till they are wanted.

In drawing up the order of dinner for the use of the cook, the housewife would do well also to write down in large letters the words Hot or Cold in connection with each course. Already warned, the cook will understand that these words refer to the plates. Even at the most costly dinners it very rarely happens that the plates maintain their condition of perfection all the way through.  It is annoying to have to discuss a dainty morsel which ought to be “hot and hot” on a cold plate, or to receive another one which ought to be served cold on a plate which is lukewarm, suggesting the idea that it has been washed in a hurry. Yet mischances of the sort can easily be prevented if the thought of the plates is kept well in the cook’s mind.

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