Monday, February 09, 2009

Thoughts on Heirloom Cooking

Much of the food I have made lately I would consider heirloom cooking; dishes and items that harken back to the day when things were done by hand, meat was slow cooked, and the time and preparation for a meal went beyond 10 minutes. Part of this would be considered slow cooking, with some comfort food thrown in. But that is not all that defines heirloom cooking to me. Like the fact that I am using an ancient Five Roses Cookbook that was published in 1915. Passed down from my nana, this is true "heir" cooking.

I must confess that at times I am stymied by the directions in old cookbooks like these, and can be daunted by recipes with more than 10 ingredients or that take more than 3 hours, but my heart wants to be there – trying those things. I feel it is important to do so. The food itself feels healthier and at times I can, much like Carla on Top Chef, "feel the love" tucked into a dish.

I'm lucky, I work at home and my office is next to the kitchen. I can start a complicated dish and go to work, without worrying about stirring or checking the oven. It can be easily done as I pound away at the keyboard, all the while smelling the goodness flowing out of the kitchen. The other benefit of this type of cooking is that the wonderful aromas last for hours, not minutes, and permeate the house for most of the day. Makes it hard not to sneak a taste here or there.

Not all my attempts have been successes. I'm never sure what a "moderate" oven is or how big a "coffee cup" of milk is. Some of the biscuits and breadstuffs have been less than stellar; sometimes my pasta doesn't feel as light as it should. But I do keep trying.

Yesterday I made a long-braised pork dish, Smoky Pork Pappardelle, that I found in Food & Wine magazine. The recipe takes about 4 hours from start to finish, but I got the pork roast for about $2/pound, so it was worth the time. Of course, you can't spend 4 hours on the meat and use store-bought pasta, so I also spent some additional time making my own pappardelle.

I'm thinking that the secret to making a better pasta is sifting the flour first, and using about 1/3 less flour than the recipe calls for. I took my time kneading the pasta, letting it rest, and then putting it through the pasta roller. Slow and steady seems to be the approach. I hand cut the noodles, as my pasta maker doesn't have a wide enough roller, but my granny had taught me how to do this years ago, and really is easy.

The smoky pork was a hit with the family, but I have to say that we could not taste the smoky flavor at all, despite using a good alderwood smoked salt, as directed. Nonetheless, the meat shredded easily, and paired nicely with the wide noodles. The addition of the apple and honey gave the sauce a slightly sweeter taste, and despite my concern about this, didn't extract a negative comment from any of the hearty eaters at my Sunday table.

As a bonus, I got to use my new Adorama Photo Studio Kit for the first time, a holiday gift from my dear friend Tea. It's going to take some experimentation, as instructions were not included. But dutiful daughter and I futzed around with it, taking some experimental shots, and then she patiently showed me how to change out the background, should I be so inclined. I think I'll be inclined another day…..

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