Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

My Year in Food: 2021

Jerry Stratton, February 9, 2022

2021: A Year in Food

This post is a little late for very good reasons: I had a great year in food. The hardest part of any writing is what gets cut, and it was difficult to cut everything down to fit a blog post. I considered breaking travel out from cooking, but that’s too many year in… posts. While I use personal experiences regularly to inform and inspire my blog posts, this is not a blog of personal experiences. It’s meant to be useful.

In truth, what is enticingly set before you is nothing other than ingredients and a recipe. And at one point in his life, the chap who cooked it for you could not have boiled an egg. — John Varnom (French Bistro Cooking)

I started my year with Amaretto Cheesecake. That’s a great way to start the year. Even better, it was a great way to get my New Year’s resolutions started. My first resolution was to make the Enchanted Broccoli Forest amaretto cheesecake for New Year’s Day. The more I use this book, the more I like it. I promise to bring you another recipe from it on Hallowe’en.

Almost immediately after my New Year’s Day cheesecake, I flew to Washington DC1, wandering from bookstore to restaurant. I didn’t find much in the way of books2 because many bookstores were long boarded up against the summer riots and shutdowns.

I did have some great food, however, starting with Atlantic oysters at King Street Oysters and ending with great Laotian food at Laos in Town.

King Street Oyster Bar

Oysters in DC.

Ladurée salmon croissant

A salmon croissant really takes the edge off of walking ten miles.

My next trip after DC was St. Augustine. I was inspired to visit this historic city by Chef Walter Staib’s A Taste of History episode, America’s Oldest City. St. Augustine was both a lot of fun and a disappointment; the old town appears to have degenerated into a sort of mini Fort Lauderdale.3 But the old Spanish fort is amazing, and gigantic, and worth seeing. The Lightner Museum is fascinating, a very eclectic collection of artifacts—and one of the good places to eat.

The best place I ate was… more oysters, at the St. Augustine Fish Company. I spent the beginning of the year eating oysters up and down the Atlantic coast. Which is nothing to complain about.

One of the most amazing food items I picked up in St. Augustine, however, was a cookbook. In order to eat all of this amazing food I try to walk everywhere, and I was walking to the Oyster Company when I passed a thrift store and stopped in. Among all of the modern cookbooks in the book section was Home Cooking Secrets of Charlotte. It’s a cookbook from 1957 or 1958, by the Charlotte chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star.

This is an amazing cookbook. It convinced me to enjoy sweet potatoes, twice. It’s got a great melt-in-your-mouth nut cookie, the kind that are mostly flour and butter and dusted in powdered sugar. Walnut crispy puffs that are almost meringue-like. And an applesauce cake with caramel icing that I need to make again right now just thinking about it.

St. Augustine Oyster Company oysters

Oysters in Florida.

Different applesauce cake

Charlotte, North Carolina, Different Applesauce Cake, with caramel frosting from the same book.

For Christmas, I received Claire Saffitz’s Dessert Person as a gift. Besides introducing me to her video series, it’s a great baking book with a great philosophy.

This book is a defense of baking… I am a dessert person, and we are all dessert people.

Her poppy seed almond cake, her pistachio Linzer tart, and her molasses cookies are all best in class.

Claire Saffitz’s poppy seed almond cake

An amazing glazed poppy seed almond cake.

Claire Saffitz’s pistachio linzer tart

Pistachio linzer tart with berry jam.

Claire Saffitz’s chewy molasses cookies

I made these molasses cookies for Christmas gifts, and had to restrain myself from eating them all.

I also decided this year to re-open a cookbook I’ve had for a long time. Like many cookbooks I bought long ago, I read John Varnom’s French Bistro Cooking once, enjoyed it, and then never had time to use it to its potential. Whenever I roasted chicken, I used the recipe from this book, and that was it. This year, I cracked it open for amazing French omelets, rice with peas and ham, scallops gratinée, and lentil stew.

French Bistro ham, rice, and peas

French Bistro ham, rice, and peas.

French Bistro scallops gratinée

Scallops gratinée, easy and quickly French Bistro style.

French Bistro omelet

A French omelet with herbs from your own plants is extra special.

John Varnom’s stated goal was a book of simple, great, recipes, of the kind you’d have at a Paris bistro. I have never visited Paris, and it’s looking like I never will, but he nails simple and great. The biggest complaint about this cookbook I’ve seen online is that the recipes are too short: they leave a lot of whitespace on each page.

That, as they say in my profession, is a feature, not a bug. I made a lot of omelets this year using his recipe, with all sorts of fillings.

Continuing my search for interesting day trips in Texas, I went east on Highway 290 through Elgin, Giddings, and Brenham. I had good food at Smitty’s Cafe and Weikel’s Bakery, but the prize of the drive was Put Some Kraut in Your Life, a ca. 1970 cookbook from the National Kraut Packers Association. I bought it solely for the cover, thinking I might give it as a joke gift. But I made the mistake of trying a few recipes first.

Kraut Conquers All chocolate cake

Kraut Conquers All Chocolate Cake. It is at least as good as it looks.

Tuna melt on sauerkraut rye bread

Tuna melt on sauerkraut rye. Who knew sauerkraut was such a versatile ingredient? The National Kraut Packer’s Association.

Sauerkraut ice cream and chocolate cake

Sauerkraut chocolate cake with lemony sauerkraut ice cream.

I kept the book.

Driving to Fort Worth for a gaming convention, I stopped at an antique store and found a community cookbook from Australia. The community was the Royal Australian Air Force Women’s Association. After deciphering a new language—Australian English is very different from American English when it comes to cooking, especially the size of tablespoons4—I’m glad I picked this one up, too.

Jet Age peanut crisp

Down under peanut crisps with chocolate topping.

Jet Age tantalizing pie

A tantalizing ham pie from Australia.

Jet Age tomato relish

Tomato relish from an Australian cookbook. I’ve used it on sandwiches, burgers, eggs, and meat.

This may be the first savory pie I’ve made, and it inspired me to use another recipe from a White Cloud, Michigan community cookbook I found over Thanksgiving, a similar “pie” with a much fluffier top crust that comes from separating the egg yolk and white before mixing in.

Chicken pie with mole sauce

White Cloud leftover turkey pie, with mole sauce on the side.

White Cloud peanut butter fudge

The best peanut butter fudge I’ve ever made.

Fremont library cherry walnut bars

A shortbread crust with a cherry-walnut “filling”, and a cherry-meringue top.

Those are all home-town recipes, from White Cloud and Fremont.

My other big convention, a Tennessee science fiction convention, was canceled for a second year, but several diehards put on their own convention in the same area, so I was able to have another of Zarzour’s amazing lemon icebox pies. I also pigged out on Cupcake Kitchen cupcakes. And I bought a magic cookbook.

Zarzour’s Lemon Icebox Pie

Zarzour’s is one of the best dive restaurants in the country. If they have lemon pie, get it.

Borden sweetened condensed milk cookbooks

How could I possibly turn down such an amazing cover as that?

Cupcake Kitchen cupcakes

The original plan was to have one for breakfast for the next four days. That plan did not last beyond encounter with the evening.

As I said in the review, sweetened condensed milk really is a magic ingredient. Earlier in 2021 I’d found The Artist in the Kitchen and one of the recipes I made was a flourless brownie, made with sweetened condensed milk. It was so good that when I saw these two sweetened condensed milk cookbooks en route to Tennessee I couldn’t resist. The same brownie recipe is in 70 Magic Recipes, as well as recipes for Spanish cream, date/nut rolls, and fudge oatmeal cookies. The newer Dessert Lovers Handbook has magic cookie bars that are truly magical, chocolate peanut clusters, and a very sweet maple fondant.

Borden magic coconut bars

Just sprinkle everything in the pan, pour sweetened condensed milk on top, and, magically delicious coconut bars come out of the oven!

Spanish cream with mango and cookie

Sweetened condensed milk Spanish cream, with mango and a lemon-caraway cookie.

Borden fudge oatmeal cookies

Oatmeal cookies from chocolate and sweetened condensed milk.

Two of my favorite library book sales reopened this year, too. At the Temple sale I picked up a cool, and apparently desirable, book from Garvin County, Oklahoma. At New Braunfels I bought the Pillsbury’s Bake Off Cookie Book and a replacement for my sun-faded cooking for consciousness.

Bicentennial coconut orange pie

This fluffy pie combines two bicentennial cookbooks: a coconut crust from Garvin County Oklahoma, and a gelatin-whipped cream orange filling from Fruitport, Michigan.

Pillsbury peanut butter oatmeal fudge

The original recipe used flour. Ground oatmeal makes it an order of magnitude better.

Cooking for Consciousness’s zinnamaroon

Frozen bananas, blended together with berries, for a beautiful ice-creamy breakfast or dessert.

On a couple of non-food-related trips to San Diego and to Michigan, I still managed to find fascinating cookbooks. They seem to lie in wait, ready to ambush me from every corner. In San Diego, I picked up The ABC of Wine Cookery. Its recipe for “z” is zabaglione. It’s rapidly become, along with the French Bistro Cookbook omelet, one of my go-to breakfasts if I need something quick to make.

Zabaglione

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Port

Steps

  1. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
  2. Beat the yolks slightly with the sugar and Port.
  3. Place the yolks in a double boiler over boiling water. Stir constantly until the yolks thicken.
  4. Remove from heat and quickly stir in the beaten egg whites.
  5. Serve immediately in dessert glasses, cups, or bowls.
  6. You can replace the ¼ cup Port with 1 tbsp flavored liqueur or 1 tsp flavored extract.

In Michigan for the summer, I found John Humphries’s Saffron Companion, and among the unique recipes in it is one for saffron ice cream. Also, in a basket in the back of a tiny antiques store, the Michigan Bean Commission’s Beans: grown in Michigan, enjoyed the world over. It’s filled with recipes for homemade baked beans, bean soups, and bean everything.

Smoky bean omelet

Smoky baked beans in a French omelet.

ABC of Wine zabaglione

The most elegant quick breakfast you can make with eggs. A quick flavored custard mixed with whipped egg white and served warm.

Essential Saffron ice cream

Saffron ice cream. Saffron ice cream. SAFFRON ICE CREAM.

The ice cream from the saffron book doesn’t require an ice cream maker. Neither does the lemony ice cream from the sauerkraut book. It turns out you don’t need any special equipment to make great ice cream. Back in March I’d picked up Montgomery Ward’s 1942 Cold Cooking. On the way back from Michigan I found the 1947 Norge Cold Cookery and Recipe Digest. They’re manuals for refrigerators, and they include recipes for ice creams, all of which have been great so far.

Norge cherry-almond ice cream

Whipped egg whites instead of an egg yolk custard makes for a very delicate flavor.

Cold Cooking maple ice cream

Ice cream made with maple syrup. It is the perfect ice cream.

Cold Cooking bonbon chocolate ice cream

Chopped chocolate chips mixed in with homemade ice cream. Sometimes it seems as if there is no such thing as bad homemade ice cream.

The cherry-almond cream and the bon-bon chocolate ice cream are from the Norge book; the maple ice cream is from the Montgomery Ward book. The steps are, basically, mix the ingredients, partially freeze them, mix again, and then freeze overnight. The ease of homemade ice cream may be my most amazing discovery of 2021.

Essential Saffron ice cream

Saffron Ice Cream

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 24 hours

Ingredients

  • 2-½ cups whole milk
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 20 saffron filaments
  • 5 egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar

Steps

  1. Bring the milk and the cream to a boil. Add the saffron, remove from heat, and let sit overnight in the refrigerator to infuse.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and sugar until smooth and pale. Pour in a half cup of the milk infusion and continue beating until well-blended.
  3. Mix the egg yolks and the rest of the milk in a double boiler, mixing over low heat until thickened enough to coat a spoon.
  4. Allow the mixture to cool. When cold, beat well, place in a freezer, and beat again every hour until it sets.

To eat is to live, to live is to be happy, and why not let the world know it? — Vincent Price (A Treasury of Great Recipes)

In response to Years in Food: Almost as important as the Year in Books is the Year in Food. Both feed the soul as well as the body.

  1. Yes, I was in DC for the rally. It’s hard to sugarcoat the media insanity over January 6. I walked an average of over ten miles a day each day for three days, from Capitol and NOMA to Harbor and Georgetown, and the only remnants of violence were long-boarded windows and shuttered businesses, leftovers from the summer of real riots and DC’s COVID shutdown. In stark contrast to the summer’s “protests”, the only people to die because of the January 6 protests were two protestors killed by the police, Ashli Babbitt and Roseanne Boyland.

  2. A copy of Prague Cemetery and Heartbreak Ridge.

  3. Caveat: I have never been to Fort Lauderdale except at its airport, so don’t know how big Fort Lauderdale is.

  4. Australia’s teaspoons are the same as ours. But their tablespoons are four teaspoons, not three.

  1. <- 2020 in Food