And Now For Something Completely Different
I am so immature. This thought occurred to me as I watched the magnificent series The Tudors. Mind you, I really try to pursue scholarly subjects with a somewhat sophisticated attitude. But my brain resists, taking an unprovoked right turn at the crossroads of mature intellectual pursuits and Monty Python. The fact is I was born laughing. Let’s look at my puerile sense of humour.
Katherine Howard was the doomed fifth wife of Henry the VIII. If we are to believe The Tudors (and why wouldn’t we believe Hollywood?), Katherine Howard was a bright-eyed Lolita with a dash of Hannah Montana and a soupçon of Disney princess sprinkled in. Today, she would snag a starring role in a TV series. Back then, she earned a one-way trip to the chopping block. Now, let’s face it, I should be overcome with empathy for milady. But every time the poor queen discusses the loftiness of the Howard name, I can’t help but summon the Three Stooges into the fray by shouting, “but what about your brothers Moe, Curly and Shemp, Miss Howard?”In the first season of The Tudors, Lord Buckingham’s woes bring to mind the pop group of the late 1960s who rode the British Wave via Chicago. When Buckingham complains he is the rightful heir to the throne I blurt out, “Kind of a Drag, eh Buckingham?” And then the poor fool is sent to his death by King Henry (a prettily pouting Jonny Rhys Meyers — yes, I have a teenybopper crush — but as I said, I’m immature). Anyhow, when the poor fool is just about to get the old melon chopped off, instead of gasping in horror, I’m driven to yell another of The Buckinghams’ erstwhile hits: “Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!” (Which, by the way, was composed by a desperate Lord Cromwell in a letter he penned to the King just before his own pumpkin hit the deck).
I love the scene where Henry lays eyes on Anne of Cleves ‘The Flanders Mare’ (Joss Stone’s ravishing beauty not being fully appreciated in the 16th century). Henry runs from the room shouting, “I like her not!” Am I wrong to think the scene would have worked more effectively had King Henry delivered the line a la Wayne’s World? (I like her… NOT!) In that same scene, despite Henry’s obvious agitation, he is clear-headed enough to grab back the gift he’d intended for his bride. Apparently the furs he’d planned to drape on the Mare were not needed, since after all, she had her own coat of fur.
But enough of the 16th century, let’s dish about 18th century France! I am fascinated by the era, and most particularly by Madame Vigée-Lebrun, an artist who painted her way through Europe while back home, the fishmongers’ wives were filching her masterpieces from Versailles. Madame writes a most delicious memoir that dissolves me into gales of laughter and frankly, makes me kind of hungry. Really, what am I to make of this: “I spent the day with my dear friend Chateaubriand. Later that evening, I enjoyed a delightful dinner with Count Stroganov. Afterwards, we attended the opera where Tetrazzini was at her finest. Tomorrow I daresay I shall paint Count Chocula.” Yes … pray tell … what am I to make of this? How about these recipes …
Makes 4 servings
You can make this dish with top sirloin but it’s sublime when made with beef tenderloin. Some chefs will cook the meat just until medium rare and while I like my steaks that way, in this dish I cook the meat until it’s no longer pink. It’s your choice.
1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, sliced into strips
3 tbsp butter, divided
2 tbsp flour
1 cup beef stock
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces (250 g) sour cream
Broad egg noodles, cooked & buttered
In a saucepan, melt 2 tbsp butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the beef stock and simmer, stirring, until thickened. Set aside.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp butter with 1 tbsp olive oil. Add mushrooms, onion and garlic. Cook until tender. Remove from skillet and set aside.
Add beef to skillet. Cook over high heat until just cooked through. Return mushroom mixture to skillet.
Meanwhile, whisk the sour cream into the beef stock mixture and add to skillet. Heat gently over low heat. Do not boil. Add more broth if sauce is too thick.
Serve over buttered egg noodles.
I love Châteauneuf-du-Pape with this dish, or you could open a Grenache.
Salisbury Steaks with Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Makes 4 servings
You can’t throw a stick at British history without hitting a Salisbury in the head. Although the Salisbury steak was created by a 19th century doctor, during Henry VIII’s reign the Salisbury family became a thorn in the Tudor Rose’s side. My grandkids (aka the Prince & Princess) love my Salisbury steaks, which I keep very simple for their young palates. This recipe also makes delicious meatballs that can be browned on a baking sheet in the oven and then transferred to a baking dish and baked, covered, with gravy or tomato sauce for 40 minutes.
1 lb meat loaf mixture (or a combination of ground beef, pork and veal)
1/3 cup dry Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 jar good quality brown gravy (I sometimes use gravy made with water & Bisto)
Heat oven to 350˚F.
In a large bowl, gently mix meat, bread crumbs, egg, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Shape into 4 oval patties, each about an inch thick.
In a large skillet, heat olive oil. Add patties and brown on each side over medium heat.
Arrange patties in baking dish. Pour gravy over patties. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes or until patties are cooked through. Serve with mashed potatoes.
Mmmmm Mashed Potatoes
Makes 6 servings
To me, mashed potatoes are the Holy Grail, and the restaurant that serves real mashed potatoes is worth its weight in gold. Therefore I’m always surprised by home cooks who say they never make mashed potatoes at home. I am going to give you a few culinary secrets that will put mashed potatoes on your table once and for all:
• Always use baking potatoes! I don’t care what they say about red or yellow potatoes — starchy baking potatoes turn out the best mash.
• Do not use a vegetable peeler — it takes forever! Instead, place newspaper in your sink, pare away the skin with a small knife and let the peels drop onto the paper. Gather up the paper and throw it away.
• Give each potato a quick rinse before chopping into quarters.
• Don’t cut potatoes smaller than quarters or overcook, as they will turn to mush in the pot.
• For mashing, many recipes call for heated milk – I use cold milk because it’s just too much trouble otherwise.
5 lb russet or baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 tsp salt
Milk, butter, salt & pepper
Partially fill a large Dutch oven with cold water. Add peeled and chopped potatoes. Water should cover potatoes. Place over high heat and bring to a boil.
Add salt and turn down the heat to simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender, uncovered, about 25 to 30 minutes. Use a fork to test the potatoes. There should be no resistance and they should be tender all the way through. Drain in colander. Do not rinse!
Place potatoes back in Dutch oven. Add about 1/4 cup milk and a tbsp of butter. With hand mixer, whip potatoes until creamy. Texture is a matter of preference, so leave some lumps if you like lumps. Add more milk or butter if you like your potatoes creamier. Season with salt and pepper and a dollop of butter.
Serve Salisbury Steaks and Mashed Potatoes with a Zinfandel or Beaujolais unless of course the grandchildren are involved and then it’s grape juice all around.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
This is one of the first recipes I learned to make when I was a young blushing bride, much like Katherine Howard. For the record, Luisa Tetrazzini was not a contemporary of Vigee-Lebrun; I made that up. But she was a great opera singer and this is her dish. You can substitute chicken for the turkey.
250 g chopped mushrooms, sautéed until tender
250 g spaghetti, cooked and drained
2 1/2 cups cooked turkey or chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 3/4 cups turkey or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp dry sherry
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Fresh or dry bread crumbs tossed with grated Parmesan cheese and minced fresh parsley
Heat oven to 350˚F.
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add broth, milk and cream. Cook, stirring, until thick and bubbly.
Add mushrooms, turkey or chicken, sherry, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add spaghetti, stirring gently to coat.
Transfer mixture to a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture and bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until bubbly.
This creamy, classic dish calls out for a crisp California Chardonnay.
German Pancake with Cinnamon Apples
Makes 6 to 8 servings
Three cheers for the Flanders Mare who kept her head just by being herself. You gotta admire a gurrrrl for that! This pancake is yummy for breakfast, brunch or dessert. Suggested music: The Soul Sessions by Joss Stone.
1 tsp Canola oil
2 large eggs
3 large egg whites
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp butter
1 tbsp butter
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into thick slices
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup apple juice or water
1 tsp cinnamon
Vanilla yogurt or ice cream
Heat oven to 450˚F.
Pour oil into a 9-inch pie pan. Heat in oven 5 minutes.
In food processor, process eggs, egg whites, flour, milk and butter until well blended.
Pour batter into hot pan and bake 20 minutes. Do not open door. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and bake 10 minutes longer or until pancake is puffed.
Prepare apples: In large skillet, melt butter. Add apples, sugar, apple juice or water and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 10 to 12 minutes or until apples are tender.
Cut pancake into 6 to 8 wedges. Top with apples. Dust with icing sugar. Serve with vanilla yogurt or ice cream.
Great with a German Riesling.