This post was inspired by the bi-monthly foodie book club - Cook the Books - to which I belong. Claudia of Honey from Rock is hosting and asked us to read The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan. Read Claudia's invitation here. And you still have plenty of time to join the fun if you care to join us. The posts aren't due till the end of March.
On the Page
Two years into World War II, in an effort to help housewives cook under the restrictions of food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest. Contestants need to create an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert using their ration books and things that they can easily forage or find. While the food is both interesting and awful - I mean, think cake without sugar or eggs. Ugh. - it's the contestants and their relationships that are the star of this book. All need to win the contest for different, yet equally compelling reasons.
We meet Audrey, a young widow with three sons, who is struggling to pay off her husband's debts. Gwendoline, Audrey's estranged sister, is married to a lord and resides in a manor, but her privilege is only rivaled by her unhappiness. Nell is a kitchen maid in Gwendoline's estate and hopes to win the contest to better her station in life and earn her freedom. Lastly, there's Zelda, a professional chef, who is hiding in the town so that no one in London learns she is unmarried and pregnant.
There were so many foods mentioned in this book. So many foods that I would never want to try.
"'The dish makes the best use of one of our wartime staples: tinned sardines. The big surprise bonus of this recipe is that you use the oil from the tinned sardines to make the pastry, thus not using a single ounce of your precious butter rations. The pastry can taste a little salty due to the fish, which is why I added chopped, cooked vegetables—in this case a carrot, a leek, and a potato.' The audience sat in awed silence."
"A few Spam recipe leaflets issued by the Ministry of Food sat on the table beside her, and she began to flick through them, passing instantly on Spam Fritters, Spam Hash, and Spam and Mushroom Pie."
"'A bread omelet,' Ambrose Hart on the wireless explained, 'will stretch a single egg to feed a hungry family of four for breakfast. Soak two capfuls of breadcrumbs in milk made from powder for ten minutes, stir them into a beaten egg—or the equivalent in egg powder—and then cook as usual.' ...'A bread omelet,' Ambrose Hart on the wireless explained, 'will stretch a single egg to feed a hungry family of four for breakfast. Soak two capfuls of breadcrumbs in milk made from powder for ten minutes, stir them into a beaten egg—or the equivalent in egg powder—and then cook as usual.'"
There are a few that I have made before - including Sole Véronique - and a couple that I plan to make soon. I can't believe that I have never made Chicken Cacciatore. I look forward to making Paolo's version in the not too distant future. Stay tuned. Here are a few others that I have served, including my offering for this event.
"'Why, that’s incredible.' He turned to the audience, regaining his composure. 'Croquembouche, for those unfamiliar with this wonderful old French recipe, takes its name from the French term "croquet," which means crunch, with the word "bouche," which means mouth. It’s popular for banquets and weddings in France, but I can’t understand how you can make it under the wartime rationing restrictions. Could you clarify?'"
Yeah, I don't see how to make this recipe without eggs, butter, cream, and sugar. We have made many versions. Here's one version, it's the photograph on the right.
Zelda made this gratinéed scallops by sourcing the scallops on the Black Market. That is clearly beyond the scope of the Kitchen Front competition. She regretted it and, when she made them again, she used scrod cut into circles.
I will be sharing this recipe soon for an upcoming wine event. But I have made another version before.
Cream of Mushroom Soup
I was inspired into the kitchen based on the passage when Audrey offered her version of a mushroom soup.
“Can you tell us why you chose this dish?” Ambrose asked. “Wild mushrooms are free for collection, from any wood, field, or hill,” Audrey muttered without aplomb.
While I didn't collect these mushrooms, I did make the soup with various mushrooms.
4 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 cup diced onions
5 to 6 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
2 pound mushrooms (I used a combination of cremini, maitake, shiitake, and buna shimeji)
4 teaspoons chopped herbs plus more for serving
1/2 cup sherry (or any other wine that you already have open, but sherry is my favorite
6 Tablespoons flour
6 cups chicken stock or broth
1 to 2 teaspoons salt, adjust to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pepper, adjust to taste
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
Also needed: blender; toasted bread for serving
Melt butter in oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onions until softened, approximately 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.
Add mushrooms and 2 teaspoons herbs, cook for 5 minutes. Pour in sherry and allow to simmer for 3 minutes or until the strong alcohol smell dissipates.
Sprinkle mushrooms with flour, stir until flour is completely absorbed, and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes until thickened.
Reduce heat to low, stir in cream or half and half. Allow to simmer to warm through but do not boil or it will curdle. Adjust salt and pepper to your taste.
Mix in remaining herbs. Set aside 1 cup mushrooms for garnish. Then blend the soup in batches until desired consistency. We prefer ours to have a few mushroom chunks for texture. To serve, ladle into individual serving bowls. Float a piece of toast in the middle and spoon some of the mushrooms on top of the toast. Serve with a nice glass of sherry.
I would not be up for the kitchen front challenge. Well, I wouldn't want to cook under such restrictions of ingredients. But, I suppose, if I had to, then, of course, I would adjust. I hope never have to do so.
In addition to sharing this with our Cook the Books group,