Sunday, March 25, 2007


Cookbook Spotlight: Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook

It is with great pleasure that I have been asked by Sara at i like to cook and Mary at The Sour Dough to review this cookery book. Now, I am hardly the sea-faring type, but I have often wondered, all romantic and wide-eyed, what is eaten aboard passenger and cargo vessels. One often hears of the buffets on the liners that hopscotch around the Caribbean islands, but what about the passenger ships and freighters of North America? Not only does Creative Characters Publishing Group's Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook satisfy this curiosity, but it also provides recipes for many notable American dishes, which make the passengers and crew members feel like they are at home no matter where they are.

The Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook is organized into chapters covering currently active tall ships, freighters, coast guard ships, passenger vessels, retired vessels, and a salute to those who have given tirelessly to the men and women who live on the waves of the Great Lakes. The biggest impression I get from this historical parade is the food trends, from contemporary takes on European cuisine, such as marinated focaccia bread sandwiches on the Denis Sullivan (nicknamed "the ship built by a thousand hands and a thousand hearts", p.3), to Americana, like baked beans served on some of the Michigan State car ferries.

What is also interesting to note, as prefaced above, is the difference between what is eaten not only across time but also across class. For example, on the M.T.S. Arcadia, a cruise liner, guests are invited to a Greek Tavern dinner that consists of all sorts of Greek delights: avgolemono (an egg and lemon soup), moussaka, and galaktoboureko (a custard-filled pastry), yet on the M.V. Canadian Miner, a freighter, the crew is served big pot meals: sausage and rice casserole, turkey noodle soup, and beef curry. This distinction clearly underlines the purposes of the people aboard the ships, and it is an interesting commentary on how both sides live - Upstairs Downstairs on the Great Lakes.

Each featured ship is given space to reveal its history, as indicated not only with succinct text but also with black and white photographs. Menus are also provided to give the reader contextual information, adding depth to the recipes selected to represent the stewards' offerings on each ship.

Most important, though, is the recipes. They cover the spectrum of all things American or foreign with crossover American appeal (i.e. that which can be produced with minimum items, minimum fuss, and maximum output to feed an army). I decided on an afternoon tea snack, the freighter ship M.V. Algosoo's coconut pound cake and dinner, lamb pot pie, which was served on the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper (now retired), and baked apple dumplings, served on the S.S. Badger, a passenger vessel. These were not only chosen because they suited my needs but also because some recipes are for very large quantities (and not all worth the effort of scaling down, so they make good suggestions for parties to which a crowd is invited) or because a yield is not given, which is intimidating to the inexperienced cook.

The recipe that I am spotlighting is the lamb pot pie - well, how could I not? I live in New Zealand, after all! The pastry is enough for two crusts, as articulated in the recipe, but one can use a prepared puff pastry from the market if one cannot be bothered making the shortening pastry. The only omission I made was the mushrooms, but I have included them in the rundown of ingredients should you wish to use them. I also have to reveal that the lamb pot pie filling was supposed to require 1/4 cup flour and an additional 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water, but as to when to add them was not indicated in the method, so I didn't add them at all, and this did not negatively impact the result (but it did make for some consternation).

Lamb Pot Pie
(as served on the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper from the Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook)

For the pastry:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
6 to 7 tablespoons cold water

For the lamb filling:
2 pounds/approx. 1 kg stewing lamb, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small onions, sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 pound/a bit more than 1/5 kg fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cilantro/coriander
1 tablespoon mustard (or 1/2 tablespoon dry mustard)

For the egg wash:
1 egg
4 tablespoons milk (or other liquid, such as water)

To prepare the pastry:
1) Stir flour and salt in a large bowl.
2) Cut in the shortening.
3) Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cold water in pastry mixture and gently toss with a fork. Repeat this step with remaining water until entire pastry mixture is moistened.
4) Divide dough into 2 balls. Roll out 1 ball and line the bottom of a greased and floured pie plate, reserving the remaining ball for the top.

To prepare the filling:
1) Combine vegetable oil and butter in a large pot, and heat together until the butter is melted.
2) Add lamb and brown it on all sides (I did this in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pot and braise the lamb).
3) Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine them.
4) Simmer covered for 20 minutes.
5) Uncover and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occassionally.

To compile the pie:
1) Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C.
2) Pour filling over bottom crust in the pie plate.
3) Roll out the reserved ball of dough to place over the filling, and crimp the edges to seal in the ingredients and moisture.
4) Cut three small slits in the top to vent.
5) Combine egg wash ingredients together and lightly brush over the top crust.
6) Bake for 20-30 minutes until done (the nose knows!).

I do apologise for the photo, but I had to use a disposable camera (shock horror) as my angelheart Eric has custody of our digital. Aesthetics aside, I have to say that this both smelled and tasted like a pie, which is to say that I would certainly use the recipe again, but I would augment some of the flavors. Perhaps I would add a little brandy or red wine to the simmering filling instead of so much vegetable broth, and I would also include a bouquet garni, so as to enhance the Spring flavors that complement lamb so well.

To me, though, this recipe is typical of most in the book, reinforced by the results of making the coconut pound cake (a standard cake mix to which is added a teaspoon of coconut extract and one cup of dessicated coconut) and baked apple dumplings (peeled and cored apples dusted with a combination of nutmeg and cinnamon, individually wrapped in sweet shortcrust pastry and baked in a sauce of butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar), in that they are mostly traditional, practical, and no-frills in their execution enough to follow for everyday cooking. There is a great degree of honesty in the recipes, some of which are no more than a can of this, a can of that, 1 pound of this, and 2 pounds of that. Not only do such recipes leave you a bit gob-smacked by the sheer quanitity of each ingredient and the indulgence in preserved goods, they educate the reader on the lifestyle of the crew, which is really on board to work and to whom the meals are mostly for sustenance. This not to say the book has no culinary merit, for there are gems within (the Layered Mocha Cream Torte as served on the Denis Sullivan has been bookmarked!) for at home or tailgating use.

The Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook functions best as a good compendium of American recipes. Of course these recipes have to be standard - for the most part, the objective is to not only make people feel pampered (if they are passengers) but also to make people feel comforted when away from home. This invites you, the home cook and lover of American food, to add your own personal stamp, as I recommend you do.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


A Meme: 5 Things You Didn't Know About Me

Friends really are the best, especially when supplemented by the one I am fortunate enough to call a partner. Since my return to New Zealand, I have been speaking with my angelheart Eric on a daily basis so as to minimize the heart-breaking distance, and I have also received buckets of love from my Kiwi friends and from those abroad.

On her first visit to see me, the sassy Sauciere Queen Lily presented armfuls of gorgeous, golden peaches, a perfect summery gift that was hoovered down in all its fuzzy and juicy deliciousness, probably as quickly as the peaches were lovingly pulled from the tree.

Paul, darling Freya's husband, sent me a Meme. This is indeed a kind gesture from the gorgeous couple, reminding me that I have friends in the two of them who want to help me through the hardship of being separated from my loved one.

This particular Meme that Paul sent, 5 Things You Didn't Know About Me, worries me a little. I mean, who cares? Do you really want to know me that well? How confessional should I be? Should this be really food-related, though I know others aren't? In any event, I have decided to do it because it assists me out of my seclusion and back into the blogosphere.

1) As a child I was allergic to cabbage, yet I loved it. My mother often recounts a particular snippet of my past in which my paternal grandmother looked after me one night and fed me cabbage, even though my mother had warned her against it. What loving and doting grandmother ever refuses her grandchild, especially if he wants vegetables? She gave me little by little, seeing no adverse reaction, until suddenly, and after wolfing down a rather large quantity, I became violently ill. I'm happy to say that I seem to have no reaction these days, though my love for cabbage has been relegated to the "it's ok" category along the spectrum of my food preferences.

2) A double-pronged offer: Though I have an intense love for figs (I), and though I have been known to not watch the bank balance when it comes to spending on groceries (I'm not an over-spender, mind you...but maybe you should speak to my angelheart Eric for verification), I refused to pay NZ$2.50 per fig at a local greengrocers (II). Who pays that? Why does anyone think these are worthy of importing at that price? In this case, the little greengrocer that we're encouraged to support is no better than the supermarket. More effort should be focused on working with local farmers, so that we take full advantage of produce when they are bountiful and in season. We sometimes forget that even the greengrocers are "in it" to profit - after all, people, it is a business - but there seems to be a lack of common sense. This gets me to thinking about having my own plot of land and garden so I can undercut such price gauging altogether, but that will have to wait until I have completed my studies (this is my final year) and have a proper job ($ ka-ching $).

3) I have bought 50, maybe 60, cookery books in the space of two years. Admittedly I have not paid full price for 95% of them, scrounging around various websites selling them at bargain basement prices, but it is still a shocking display of conspicuous consumption. I have to say, though it probably goes without saying, that these cookery books give me inordinate pleasure by providing me with a constant learning experience and allowing me to put good food on the table for my angelheart Eric.

4) I have been to Paris twice, but never to the capital of my own country, Wellington, which is only 7 or so hours' drive away. I do promise to change that this year.

5) This one is very topical: I am going to have a root canal next week. There is nothing like a really severe tooth ache. Go see a dentist for an exam if you have not had one for a while because the pain is not worth it. Also, if decay is spotted early, small fillings are cheaper than big ones!

The tradition of these Memes is to pass the baton, and I have chosen the following four, should they wish to divulge:

Tim of Take 3 Eggs
Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict
Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything At Least Once
Cenk of Cafe Fernando

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