Category Archives: Cooking

Red Wine Hot Chocolate = Syllabub

The problem with red wine syllabub, as opposed to the more stealthy white wine syllabub, was always the visual impact. Most modern people are not open to drinking dark red or pink milk. Also, it is more difficult for milk or even eggnog to balance the strong taste of red wine.

So I fully support the addition of cocoa powder and sugar to the classic taste of syllabub.* (Which is warming your milk or eggnog to cow temperature, adding it to wine, and watching the nifty bubbles appear in the mixture as it clabbers quickly, rather than curdling. Syllabub is cool to watch!)

Here’s what Hannah Glasse said about it, in The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1758):

“Make your Syllabub of either Cyder or Wine, sweeten it pretty sweet, and grate Nutmeg in, then milk the Milk into the Liquor.. You may make this Syllabub at home, only have new Milk; make it as hot as Milk from the Cow, and out of a Tea-pot, or any such thing, pour it in holding your Hand very high….”

Of course, she then advocates adding a bunch of cream on top, so apparently she was into adding a little bit of extra stuff.

But using condensed milk in any kind of hot chocolate or syllabub is definitely overkill. Also, you can make hot chocolate or classic syllabub in your microwave without nearly as much danger of scalding the milk, so I don’t get the idea of putting it in a pot on your stove.

Also I never got the point of whipped syllabub or cold syllabub (the later stage of the dessert, which English people never dropped and contemporary US chefs are reviving), but I guess some people really like overkill in their desserts and drinks.

(Of course, if somebody else wants to whip the egg whites and steep the thing overnight with various flavorsome substances, I’d be fine with eating it. Feed me, English people!)

I should mention that, since it’s the acidic qualities of wine that make the bubble clabbering happen, you can make non-alcoholic syllabubs of all kinds by using acidic juices. Here’s a pretty example if you would like to try it.

*  Actually, the “classic syllabub” is also known as a posset, if you heat up the wine and the whole thing ends up hotter than the cow.  Not so much on the bubble-clabbering, but tasty. So actually, I should have said that red wine hot chocolate = chocolate wine posset. But chocolate/wine bubbles would be so cool….

Beer/ale possets are not terribly popular outside of Eastern Europe, but you can do them too. Ditto sherry, hard cider, whisky, rum, etc. But that’s where you start to run into toddy and White Russian territory.

Anyway, possets do make you feel good when you are sick. And hot milky chai tea with whisky is technically a posset, too!

UPDATE: Post backdated to Wednesday, to keep The Sculpted Ship up top.

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A Connacht Prayer for Breadmaking

Paidir le Radh ag Deanamh Arain.

Rath De agus bail Padraig
ar a bhfeicfear me agus ar a nglacfas me.
An rath do chuir Dia
ar na cuig arain agus ar an da iasg
go gcuiridh Se ar an bheatha go e.

The abundance of God and the prosperity of Patrick
on all that I shall see, and on all that I shall take.
The abundance that God put
upon the five loaves and two fishes –
may He put it upon this sustenance.

Pretty good prayer, huh?

“Paidir” originally meant the Our Father, but in this case it’s used as a generic word for a prayer. (There are a lot of Irish terms for prayers.)

Anyway, this comes from V0lume II of The Religious Songs of Connacht (Abhrain Diadha chuige Connacht), collected and translated by Douglas Hyde, 1906.

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Corned Beef and Cabbage Is Too a Traditional Irish Dish!

I’ve been reading Traditional Irish Cooking by Darina Allen. (It’s on sale at Half-Price Books right now, in their St. Patrick’s Day display, and it includes tons of really useful information, both historical and modern, as well as scrumptious recipes and pictures.) She’s a famous Irish chef and runs a cooking school.

She says, on page 111:

“Corned Beef with Cabbage.

“Although this dish is eaten less frequently nowadays in Ireland, for Irish expatriates it conjures up powerful nostalgic images of a rural Irish past. Originally it was a traditional Easter Sunday dinner. The beef, killed before the winter, would have been salted and could now be eaten after the long Lenten fast, with fresh green cabbage and floury potatoes. Our local butcher corns beef in the slow old-fashioned way that, alas, is nowadays more the exception than the norm.”

Elsewhere on the page, she gives the procedure for corning beef. She also mentions the (delicious) existence of corned mutton on one of the mutton recipe pages.

So the next time some Irish guy on the Internet says that the Irish didn’t eat corned beef and cabbage, you can know that he’s just being ignorant about his ancestors (or other people’s rural ancestors).

Allen also says, elsewhere in the book, that other popular traditional Easter Sunday dinners included roast lamb and roast kid (especially in the Burren, where there were free feral goats to catch and eat). It probably depended on what was being raised and grown in what area of Ireland, and what a family could therefore afford.

Allen also gives a recipe for a dish more commonly eaten in modern times: Bacon and Cabbage. You boil a big old shoulder or loin of bacon (20 minutes for every pound), quarter some cabbage, and then add the cabbage to the boiling bacon about 30 minutes before the bacon should be done. She also includes a 19th century recipe for curing bacon the Irish way. (I told you that it’s a very thorough book. There’s a huge section on how to cook bits of animal organs and make sausages, including how to make goose blood sausage in the neck left over from a goose – might work with turkey.)

Oh, and if you make soda bread and don’t use it all up, you can fry any stale bread for breakfast, to go along with your bacon and eggs.

The weirdest bit is finding out that the Irish scorn soft potatoes as “waxy”, and want dry potatoes that split their skins when they’re done cooking. To me, a potato is a potato, so this strikes me as weird.


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Lenten Food: Stuffed Mirlitons/Chayote Squash

One of the local grocery stores had a bag of five chayote squash sitting on their “clearance veggies that are just about to go bad” trays. They looked un-rotten and felt firm, so I took them home. I figured they must be good, because I’d vaguely heard of them.

Fortunately, I looked them up all over the cooking parts of the Internet, and not just on Wikipedia. The Wikipedia entry lacks some important facts.

SAFETY WARNING: Chayote squash have an itch-causing juice that lies just underneath the peel. If you peel them, or even if your fingernail just happens to break the skin a bit while you’re removing the grocery stickers, your fingers will itch and all the skin can come off by the next day. (I grabbed my jewelweed soap and washed thoroughly several times, on the theory that anything that beats poison ivy can beat a chayote rash. It worked, but my thumbs itched for at least two hours.) So wear gloves, or cut out the grocery stickers without ever touching the squash. The juice’s itchiness breaks down completely when exposed to heat, and then the entire squash is edible, including the nutty-tasting seed.

Now to the more fun parts. Chayote squash comes from Central America, but it’s so tasty and hardy that it is now grown all over the world and has tons of different names. It’s big in southwestern US cooking. People in Louisiana call it “mirliton,” and they also have lots of tasty things they make with it (many invented by Canary Islanders who settled in Louisiana). One of the tastiest is stuffed mirlitons, which are baked as a sort of casserole. These are almost entirely unlike stuffed peppers. Like stuffed peppers, though, you can just make the stuffing and eat it by itself, or you can use it with other things that are easier to find (like bell peppers).

First bit: the mirlitons.

Get a big pot. Put water in it. Put salt in it. Put the mirlitons in it. Boil water. Once the water gets to a boil, cover the pot and turn the pot down a little (but keep the water boiling). Boil the mirlitons until they are “fork-tender.” This will take forty minutes or maybe a bit more.

Put the mirlitons in a colander or on a rack and let them cool off and drain a bit.

Cut the mirlitons lengthwise and scoop out the pulp in the middle. (If there are any icky bits on the skin, you can cut them out now.)

Keep the pulp. Chop it up into small pieces and set it in the colander to drain. You can even squeeze or press the pulp to get some of the water out, if you feel like it.

Preheat your oven to 350 or 375 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on how fast you want this cooked.

Second bit: the yummy stuffing.

Get crab and shrimp, or get fake crab that’s already cooked. Chop it up. Season it with Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, or whatever you like.

Chop up onions. Saute them in a large saucepan. I mean large.

Dump in a bag of frozen Cajun mirepoix, or a bag of frozen veggie soup mix. Saute that with the onions.

Dump in the mirliton pulp. Saute that.

Dump in breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs. Saute that.

Dump in the shrimp, crab, or fake crab. Saute that.

Dump in an egg. Saute that.

Your stuffing is now done.

Third bit: the casserole.

Put your cut mirlitons in a greased baking dish. Pile the stuffing on top of the mirlitons.

Dump the stuffing on top. It’s okay to pile it high.

Cook that sucker for forty minutes to an hour, depending on how hot your oven is.


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Lent Food: Okonomiyaki

If you adjust the ingredients or preparation, even people following the no-milk, no-eggs version of the Lenten fast can use okonomiyaki as a Lenten food. If you can use eggs, it’s even easier!

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese way of having pancakes for dinner. The basics of it are super-simple. Even doing it more elaborately just means dumping in a few more ingredients. Okonomiyaki means “whatever you (honorably) like” (o + konomi) plus “cooked on a grill/griddle/with dry heat” (yaki). So you can use whatever ingredients are laying around. When you’re not abstaining, obviously this can involve meat, since it’s a savory pancake, but a lot of times it’s just vegetables.

How do you make it?

The basic okonomiyaki mix is a batter of wheat flour and water. Two parts flour to one part water is pretty standard, but people adjust this as they like, too. Some people include milk; some people use dashi (fish stock) instead of water.

But yeah, if you’re making it for two adult people, 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup water will be plenty. With more people, make more batter! All-purpose flour is traditional, although the most frou-frou okonomiyaki restaurants use cake flour. (You can also buy okonomiyaki mix in some Japanese grocery stores, and then you can ignore the next paragraph. Using regular American pancake mix would probably also take care of stickiness, but I’ve never tried it.)

Next, you contemplate what to use to hold it together. One or two eggs is usual, but real traditionalists use a gooey starchy vegetable called yamaimo (mountain yam) or powdered yamaimo, instead of eggs. This makes it a little “bouncy”. Westerners can also just use grated potato, or some kind of starch, like corn or potato starch, or even rice flour.

Then you have your ingredients. The usual main ingredient is chopped up cabbage. You chop or grate half a head of some slaw-suitable cabbage but you don’t use any dressing on it. (And maybe you chop it up into smaller pieces after grating it. The finer, the better it cooks.) Any vegetables around the house that you think will work are fair game. Canned, fresh, leftovers in your fridge… whatever. You can include both raw and pre-cooked ingredients in your pancakes. Canned corn is pretty typical for Japanese, although if you do that it will end up tasting like a Japanese version of Kentucky spoon bread. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) I have also used sauerkraut instead of grated cabbage. The Japanese often dump cooked noodles (like yakisoba) into the batter, or they put fried eggs on top. It all works.

Get your ingredients ready, and then fold them into your pancake batter, or pour the pancake batter into the ingredient bowl. It works either way.

The texture you want is for the batter to be COATING your ingredients, but not covering them up. You want your mass of ingredients visible. If you have too much batter, the pancakes will take forever to cook; and the insides won’t be cooked at all before the outside starts burning.

Thoroughly grease your square griddle, frying pan, etc. Use olive oil, because you are going to turn the heat up pretty high for pancakes, and butter tends to burn, so when you have to cook these things a little longer than standard pancakes, you’ll even have to watch the olive oil!

Let your griddle heat up to pancake temperature, or at least to medium heat. (Different recipes give different temps, depending on how much stuff you’re cooking. A relatively thin pancake can be cooked faster at higher temps, but a relatively thick one needs time and hence lower heat. Adjust your heat to suit.)

Pour a good helping of your okonomiyaki batter. Wait until one side is cooked enough to flip, then flip the pancake. Cook the other side, then serve.

(The Japanese like okonomiyaki to be just about plate-sized, or a little smaller. You can make them whatever size you like. Smaller pancakes are easier to flip, but if people have to wait fourteen to twenty minutes for a really thick pancake, you’d better have enough for everyone to eat at once. You can also make them into cute shapes, just like pancakes.)

What do you put on an okonomiyaki pancake?

The Japanese like okonomi sauce (a sort of mixture of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and honey) and mayonnaise (Japanese “Kewpie”-brand mayonnaise is basically Southern US-style mayonnaise). Since Japanese mayo comes in a squeeze bottle, they often use it to draw designs on their food. Ketchup by itself is pretty good, though. The Japanese also like using that red sushi ginger; and they usually use bonito flakes, since the heat of the pancake makes them “dance” and they like the salt fish thing. But of course, you don’t have to use sauce or toppings at all. Heck, you could put butter on ’em if you wanted. It’s your okonomiyaki; do “whatever you like.”

Leftover okonomiyaki freezes well, so don’t let any go to waste!

I like okonomiyaki! Try it as a Lenten recipe, and you’ll like it too!

Pictures of okonomiyaki ingredients and sauces, for us foreigners, as well as a simple recipe for okonomi sauce. Here’s their recipes for Osaka-style okonomiyaki (with pictures and substitution amounts) and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (sometimes called “Japanese pizza”).

Osaka-Style Okonomiyaki explains the whole yamaimo thing, with pictures. This lady steams her pancakes as she is griddling them on medium-low, which probably makes them moister. (But it obviously takes a bit longer.)

Easy Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, from another Japanese grocery over the Internet. This recipe is on medium heat, so again it takes a while.

Tess’s Japanese Kitchen explains how much potato starch to use, if you’re using it as your binder.

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The Other German Animals That Brought Eggs

I’ve been reading Georg Franck of Franckenau’s essay from the 1600’s, “De Ova Paschalia” (On Easter Eggs). In it, he says that the Easter Hare actually stole eggs from the hens, then magically dyed them and hid them as mischief. The kids were then charged with finding and bringing them back.

This article makes an interesting point, linking the Easter Hare or Easter Bunny to an old motif found around the world, but in Germany used as related to the Trinity. It’s a motif where three rabbits were drawn in a circle so that all three rabbits had two ears each, but there were only three ears drawn in all. This is called the “Dreihasenbildes” or Three Hares motif. Apparently it was very common to draw the Dreihasenbildes on Easter eggs, often with each hare in a different primary color.

Medieval Jews have a similar motif in their synagogues, but there it represents the people of God as weak but protected by God, based on earlier translations of Prov. 30:26 (“The bunnies are a weak people who make their bed in the rock”) and Ps. 103:18/104:18 (“The high hills are a refuge for the harts, the rock for the bunnies.”) Christians interpreted these verses similarly, but regarded Jesus as the Rock.

The same article says that there was also a group of more benign animals who delivered eggs: the Easter hen (in the Tyrol), the Easter rooster (Upper Bavaria, Thuringia, Schleswig-Holstein, and Austria), the Easter fox (Hannover), the Easter stork or Easterbird (near the Netherlands), the cuckoo (in parts of Switzerland), and the Easter lamb (some parts of Upper Bavaria).

But in Vosges and Carinthia, the church bells fly around bringing Easter eggs! From Rome!

“When the bells fall silent on Holy Thursday, the bells fly to Rome to fetch the eggs. When they return on Holy Saturday, as they fly over they throw eggs into the grass, where the children have to look for them.”

This article talks a lot about various German customs like egg-tapping, and about the eggs that the hens laid on Holy Thursday being seen as particularly blessed.

St. Ephrem of Syria sang in one of his rhythms about the return to life of many of the saints in Jerusalem on the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection, “… the tombs were broken open like an egg, and the entombed bodies rose and came to life….”

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This Is Why We Don’t Let Jesuit Theologians Draw on Easter Eggs

Back in the 1600’s, Fr. Georg Stengel, S.J., joined the crowd of intellectuals who were designing “emblem books.” He decided to do an emblem book of Easter egg designs, which the unartistic could contemplate and the artistic could copy and use. It’s called Ova Paschalia sacro emblemate.

And this is one of the 100 Easter egg pictures he designed:


“Emblem 3: Divine Wisdom investigating. His Eye sees all things; God is witness to all.”

Most of his pictures are pretty complicated, but most of them aren’t nearly this… er… striking.

We also have a depiction of two good-for-nothings egging somebody’s house:


“Emblem 10: The propensity of humans for sinning is declared through egg-throwing. Those who do not know an art often err by throwing it down.”


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