Zucchini chicken; or, things to do with chicken that doesn’t involve marzipan

It’s time for something very different this week – although I’m not sure I can get much different than the chicken and marzipan pie. But I digress. This blog is essentially about recreating old recipes, but I also collect a different type of recipe book, and now we are going to venture into movie star territory with one of my many cookbooks written by actors.

I was delighted to notice, this passing week, that a remake is in the works of “The Magnificent Seven“. The original is a personal favourite of mine, partly because it stars the late great Yul Brynner.

Proving once and for all that toupées are for chumps.

In between starring in a range of excellent movies and playing the King of Siam 4625 times on stage (for the musical The King and I), Brynner penned a cookbook. He called it “Food Fit For the King and You”, because of course he did. The book was published in 1983 and was a collaboration between Brynner and Susan Reed(1).

Brynner’s family background was a mixture of Swiss, German, Russian and Mongolian culture. During his formative years he lived in Russia, China and Paris, as well as on the road with Romani people in France, before emigrating to the USA at the age of 20. All of this gave him a hard-to-pin-down accent and a range of interesting recipes to put down in his book. Brynner’s cookbook has chapters for Russian, Japanese, Gypsy, Swiss, Chinese and French cuisine to reflect his background, and a final chapter on Thai food because playing the King of Thailand in 4625 performance had to have an impact.

Today’s recipe is from the chapter on Gypsy food: zucchini chicken.

image

I made a double serving, so this is really twice what you need.

image

I had to start by figuring out what a broiler was in this context – I just knew it was a sort of chicken. But it turns out a broiler is also called a salamander, and my oven is equipped with one. I’ve even used it a few times. So start by spicing and broiling your chicken. I had a bit too much chicken to get it all done evenly, but a bit of turning and shifting of chicken breasts did the trick. While the chicken is broiling, chop the vegetables.

image

Don’t throw onion peel away – you can dye yarn with it! Better yet, bring it to me so I can dye yarn with it.

image

This recipe is chock-full of healthy vegetables! It makes up for all the butter and sugar I use while baking.

Spread the vegetables over the chicken, pour over some chicken stock, and pop it back in the oven, heated to 175 C. The recipe says one hour, but I forgot it in there for a bit longer. Not to worry, the finished product was very pretty, especially after I sprinkled some more fresh oregano on it. It was all worth it to hear my older daughter exclaim, “But moooom, I HATE zucchini!”

image

“All that’s what’s on top. What’s underneath?”

I opted not to make gravy, although there would have been plenty of liquid to work with. Instead we just ate it with some cooked barley. Appropriately enough, we watched “The Magnificent Seven” with dinner.

(1) Susan Reed is a common enough name and I found at least a singer and a US district attorney by that name. Goodreads lists several books by Susan Reed. I’m going to go ahead and assume that she also wrote “Delicious Recipes: 55 Cast Iron Cooking Recipes For Healthy and Hearty Meals”, but probably not “The Body Snatchers: A Real Alien Conspiracy”. Although now I want to read that cook book.

Kermakakku; or, Cream cake

To continue my slight journalistic theme from the last post, today’s recipe comes from a book called “Good food. A cookbook for modest households”, though the book is in Finnish so obviously the name is too. The original was published in 1910 by major Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat as a “present book”, probably a freebie to those who subscribed to the newspaper. The cover of the book says it’s a modified translation, but I couldn’t find information about what language it was translated from, and who may have originally written it.

Based on the recipes in the book, a modest household 100 years ago could expect to cook with a variety of meats and vegetables, as well as mushrooms and berries. Many recipes, including the one I try here, calls for jam. Indeed, the book contains more recipes for jams, jellies and preserves than it does for meat or fish. Finland has a strong tradition of foraging, and jams and jellies would have been the preferred method of storing produce before freezers showed up to help.

My lovely, lovely roleplaying group was coming over for a game, and since one player had his birthday I decided to try my hand at a 100-year-old cake. Recipe. 100-year-old cake recipe.

image

Cream cake

Ingredients:
4 dl cream or sour cream
3 eggs
The rind of 1/4 lemon
2 tblsp powdered sugar
3 sweet and 2 bitter almonds
1 1/2 dl fine wheat flour(1)

Whisk yolks with sugar for 20 minutes. Whisk cream and add to batter with the lemon rind, peeled and ground almonds and flour. Whisk the egg whites until they are hard and add to the batter. Butter a mold and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Pour the batter into the mold and bake in a good warm oven for 30-40 minutes. Serve warm with jam.

(1) Interesting side-note: the Finnish original uses a now-obsolete word for wheat, “nisu”. It seems, though, that “nisu” is also Estonian for wheat.

image

Here’s what you need. Bitter almonds are not easy to find, so I substituted more sweet almonds, and a few drops of essence of bitter almonds.

image

I started by doing a whole lot of whisking. One hundred years ago I would either have had some impressive whisking muscles, or, if my household wasn’t too modest, a maid with some impressive whisking muscles. As it is, I have an electric whisk. With impressive muscles.

What interested me in this recipe was the tiny amount of both sugar and flour – not that I object to either, it was just non-professional curiosity. There was an awful lot of cream in comparison to other ingredients.

So anyway, whisk away and mix the batter, finishing off with the beaten egg-whites. When beating egg-whites, make sure all your utensils are clean and dry, and be advised that you’ll get a better result if you use a metallic mixing bowl rather than a plastic one. There’s some sort of chemistry involved, I don’t quite know, I’m not that sort of scientist.

In this cake, it’s the egg-whites that are supposed to make it fluffy, so be sure to carefully fold them into the batter, and when you place your cake mold in the oven do so gently so you don’t jostle the mold and don’t slam the oven door. When you take all these precautions into account, your cake will, like mine, look wonderfully fluffy when it’s baking, and then immediately fall flat when you pull it out.

image

No butter and bread crumbs in my cake mold, I use a silicon one.

No, seriously, Mrs. Hindle can not make a egg-white-fluff cake to save her life. But that will not stand in the way of continued efforts! Especially since, despite a certain deflatedness, this cake turned out very tasty indeed. Not overly sweet, since there was so little sugar, with a nice flavour of bitter almond. Perfect when served warm with jam.

image

The birthday hero wasn’t actually going to join us, but then I sent him this picture of the cake and he jumped in the car and showed up.

Spanish toast; or, Rôtis à l’Espagnole

A “picayune” was a small Spanish coin, now obviously obsolete. Between 1793 and 1857 it was legal tender in the USA, worth about 6 cents. The coin lent its name to a newspaper published in New Orleans from 1837 to the present day – a newspaper which obviously originally cost one picayune.

At the turn of the century (the 19th to the 20th, that is), the Picayune newspaper published its own collection of New Orleans cuisine, “The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book” (1900). The work was inspired by the thought that traditional creole cookery, a combination of French and Spanish tradition, was disappearing – “soon will the last of the olden negro cooks of ante-bellum days have passed”, the introduction lamented. The book was popular and a second edition, which I am using a reprinted copy of, was published in 1901. The author of the work is never mentioned.

“The Creole Cook Book” is a wonderful repository of recipes and cultural anecdotes and I will certainly be returning to it. This time around, due to a late night with friends and a somewhat shaky day after, I chose to cook something hangover-friendly. Spanish toast is essentially French toast, but with one important difference:

image

You can’t go wrong with rum.

image

Here’s what you need.

The recipe calls for one cup (2½ dl) milk and one gill (1,4 dl) rum. Now, I know I just said you can’t go wrong with rum, but you can go wrong with too much rum, so I reduced the amount to about a third of the recommended dosage.

It was perfect. Mix the ingredients and soak your bread slices in the mixture. Unless you really do use stale bread you shouldn’t soak for quite so long. We were starving so we didn’t dry the toast, either, we just sprinkled on some cinnamon and nutmeg and ate it.

image

It was good.

Tourte de blanc de Chapon; or, Suspicious pie

We change continents for a moment for good old Europe, specifically France. We also change centuries, to the reign of Louis XV (ruled 1715-1774). In 1767 one of the royal chefs, possibly a man by the name of Moutier (or possibly someone else), had his notes on cooking published in Paris as “Dictionnaire Portatif de Cuisine, D’Office, et de Distillation”. Since I unfortunately do not speak French, I am working with an abridged Finnish translation of said opus.

Louis XV, in stark contrast to his predecessor Louis XIV, preferred to eat simple meals in relatively restricted company. The book is directed to a wealthy clientelle, but emphasises simplicity and healthiness in the recipes offered. The book also contains “doctor’s recommendations” on various foods. Cockerel, the main ingredient in my dish, is recommended as “delicious, tasty, healthy, light and easy to digest” and therefore “suitable for convalescents when they are permitted solid food.”

I chose a somewhat unusual recipe as my first effort from this book, as you’ll notice in a moment. A translation of the recipe goes thus: “Loosen the breast meat and mince it fine with preserved lemon peel and marzipan. Add two yolks and some orange-blossom water and spread the filling onto a thin short pastry. Cook uncovered in the oven and glaze with regular sugar. When serving, sprinkle with some more orange-flower water.”

image

That made you raise an eyebrow, didn’t it? It made me raise an eyebrow, and I decided it had to be done. At least once.

image

What you need. I replaced preserved lemon peel with fresh grated peel.

I used about 400g of chicken (alas, no cockerel to be had at the shop, just broiler), 150g marzipan, the peel from one lemon, and about 2 tablespoons of orange-flower water – although I must admit I just poured some in until I though it smelled strong enough. I put the meat and other ingredients through a blender. I assume you would originally have used a mortar and pestle, but that’s not going to happen in my kitchen. Anyway, I then made the mistake of sniffing the product. Not good. The mixture of raw chicken and orange-blossom water (which gave me a very strong Eau-de-Cologne-flashback) was not pleasant.

But I soldiered on!

image

It wasn’t easy.

I spread the meaty filling onto some short pastry, as instructed, and popped it into an oven pre-heated to 220 degrees C. About 20 minutes in I sprinkled the pie liberally with sugar and popped it under the grill for a few minutes to melt the sugar nicely. I’m not sure what the original recipe refers to when it speaks of glazing with sugar, but this was my interpretation and it certainly gave the pie a pretty crust.

image

If you squint, you can almost pretend it’s not suspicious.

The finished product smelled quite nice, and I felt momentarily heartened. I splashed some more orange-blossom water onto it and served it up.

We were having a little litterary soiré that evening and I decided to subject my innocent guests to this monstrosity without actually telling them what was in it (apart from warning the vegetarians not to touch it). Many guests commented on the discrepancy between taste and texture. The pie tasted like a sweet pie, although one guest added “more sugar would help“, and many complimented the pleasant cooperation between marzipan and orange-blossom water. The texture, though, was definitely chicken, and more than a little unnerving. Opinions were divided – I couldn’t stomach the pie at all, but others found it “weird and suspicous, but goooood” or at least “not terrible, but still…

Now, Louis XV may well have dined on this. He may have shared a piece with Madame du Barry (probably not Madame Pompadour, she died many years before the book was published). If you want to try making it, you can at least say you’ve eaten something fit for a king. But I wouldn’t recommend it. If I ever revisit this recipe, I’ll be replacing the chicken with something else. I don’t know what. Anything else. The only thing worth salvaging is the orange-blossom-marzipan combo.

I’ll let the final word go to this commentator: “A vivacious clash of flavours with a picaresque [roguish] aftertaste which truly invokes the political cynicism of Antoinette-era France.

 ***

Ingredients:

Short pastry

400 g chicken breast

150 g marzipan

The grated peel of one lemon

2 tbsp orange-blossom water, plus some to serve

2 egg yolks

4 tbsp sugar