Arm Chair Travel – Huế

Dishes fit for a Emperor

After the formality of a cup of tea we set to work with Madame Hà, her daughter and six assistants. Our job was to create dishes for an Imperial meal for lunch time guests at Tịnh Gia Viên without harming the restaurants reputation!

Fortunately the assistants had already done the elaborate carving that included hollowing out a pineapple to create a lantern, turning pineapples into peacocks, tomatoes into swans and carrots into flowers. Our job was to cook paper-thin duck egg omelettes*, wrap the various force meats we had made in the omelettes, won ton pockets, spring roll wrappers and grape leaves. Deep fry them without burning ourselves and cut various shapes with razor sharp knives without drawing blood.

Again with this particularly arrangement it is not possible to caption the various photos but a left click will take you to a slideshow for a closer look.

Of course you couldn’t serve Emperor Tự Đức plain old springs rolls – they had to be cut into bite size pieces and arranged on the back of a peacock. Fortunately Madame Hà’s assistants provided the dazzle and we the sizzle.

The same applied to the Lantern – beggar’s purses of vegetables, won tons, stuffed grape leaves and French cheeses (!) required artful arrangement before the candle could be lit.

The Dance of the Phoenix – okay that was a bit of work. Omelettes were sliced to form a necklace of feathers on a bed of noddles, pigeon eggs were nestled around the white radish head, fried rolled omelettes stuffed with pork, mushrooms, red pepper and asparagus were cut into pinwheels, and then artfully arranged. Anyone for a dance?

Well that was three down and only forty-seven more to complete the menu for Emperor Tự Đức’s evening meal. And all it took was one master chef, six assistants and two bumbling tourists.

The two Chefs (??) with Madame Hà and their (???) creations.

*Did I mention that Madame Hà said mine were the thinnest and most perfect she’d ever seen in all her years of cooking? Just saying!

The word for September 29th is:
Phoenix /ˈfēniks/: [noun]
A unique bird in classical mythology that lived for five or six centuries in the Arabian desert, after this time burning itself on a funeral pyre and rising from the ashes with renewed youth to live through another cycle.
Old French fenix, via Latin from Greek phoinix ‘Phoenician, reddish purple, or phoenix’. The relationship between the Greek senses is obscure: it could not be ‘the Phoenician bird’ because the legend centres on the temple at Heliopolis in Egypt, where the phoenix is said to have burnt itself on the altar. Perhaps the basic sense is ‘purple’, symbolic of fire and possibly the primary sense of Phoenicia as the purple land (or land of the sunrise).
Isn’t it also the name of a city in the Southwestern US where old people go to burn in the sun?

One Ugly Looking Pie

Both Laurent and I have become addicted to fans of various online cooking sites and find ourselves making some interesting – yes that’s the word interesting – dishes. Some are keepers others weepers!

My attempt at a rhubarb butter tart pie – it won’t win any prizes for looks but taste!!!!!! A winner all the way.

One of the sites I visit fairly regularly is Glen & Friends Cooking which has been on LeGourmetTV for what I assume is a long time. I’ve tried a few of his recipes including a very intriguing Peanut Butter Bread; and I’ve found some winners including this really ugly looking pie.

Unfortunately my pastry was not my best effort – I overworked it and I never find that blind baking works out for me. However that filling more than made up for it. Glen warned us from the outset that it wasn’t going to win any prizes as best looking but that the combination of sour-sweet would be a winner. The only weeping that will be done around here is when it’s all gone.

The word for June 7th is:
Rhubarb /ˈruːbɑːb/: [mass noun]
1. The thick reddish or green leaf stalks of a cultivated plant of the dock family, which are eaten as a fruit after cooking.
2. The large-leaved Eurasian plant Rheum rhabarbarum which produces edible stocks. Originally used for medicinal purposes.
3. The noise made by a group of actors to give the impression of indistinct background conversation, especially by the random repetition of the word ‘rhubarb’.
Late Middle English (denoting the rootstock used medicinally): from Old French reubarbe, from a shortening of medieval Latin rheubarbarum, from Greek rha (also meaning ‘rhubarb’) + barbaros ‘foreign’.

Pâté for Children

Le beurre d’arachide est pâté pour les enfants!
(Peanut butter is pâté for children!)

Brigitte Bardot
A six-year-old Brigitte Bardot but I don’t think that’s the Kraft Peanut Butter Bear.
Uncredited – Elle Magazine

I have seen this sentiment attributed to a few people. However I like to think that as she lolled on the beach in Cannes Brigitte absently sucked on her thumb and forefinger entwined in a wild lock of blond hair and thought wistfully of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

In previous posts I have given laud and glory to the pleasures to be had from the simple turning of the seeds of Arachis hypogaea into a creamy or crunchy goodness that someone once likened unto being kissed by a goddess (the divine Mme Bardot?) under a rainbow. Until I did a bit of Googling I did not know that it was Marcellus Gilmore Edson, a Montréal chemist, who in 1884 patented a process of making a paste the “consistency like that of butter, lard, or ointment” from peanuts. Edson developed the idea of peanut paste as a delicious and nutritious foodstuff for people who had difficulty chewing solid food – an not uncommon complaint in those days. It went on to become a breakfast spread on toast with jam, a lunchtime standby, as a peanut sauce in Pseudo-Asian cooking*, a cookie favourite, a candy filling, and a bread.

The flower of the Ground nut – after it has been pollinated the petals fall off and the ovary or peg turns away from the plant and down into the soil. The embryo turns horizontal and forms into a peanut pod. Planting to harvest takes about four-five months.

Yes I did say “bread” in the previous paragraph. It seems bread making has become the work for idle hands these days. Always on the cutting edge I began making bread at the first sign of winter snow so the smell of a yeasty kitchen has been pretty standard around here at least once a week long before lock-down. Today I thought I’d take a break from my go-to white toast bread and try something that wasn’t quite as kneady and didn’t required three risings.

Here’s the result – Depression era peanut butter bread.

It is delicious – at least to me a peanut butter lover – and it matches perfectly with jam. And the aroma of it cooking filled the kitchen with a rich peanut butter smell sort of like when you open that first Reese’s.

It’s a recipe from a depression era cookbook published by Lake of the Woods Milling, a Canadian company that’s been around since 1888 and produces Five Roses Flour. They began publishing cookbooks in 1913 and it was updated at regular intervals, in both French and English, right up to the beginning of this century. Reading through them it would be possible to trace the baking trends in both English and French households (they were not always the same). This particular recipe from the 1932 edition doesn’t appear in a later English edition but does appear in a French version from roughly the same period.

“A Guide to Good Cooking” is entirely made and printed in Canada – by Canadian paper-makers and printers. Canadian housewives can also help their country by insisting on Canadian-made goods and Canadian-grown foodstuffs.
Written in 1932 but highly applicable today.
Photo by Caribou Collectibles

Being a recipe from the depression it contains very few ingredients and none that couldn’t be found in a ordinary pantry or that would have been costly. There are no eggs, butter or shortening which would have been expensive at the time. It takes 5 minutes to put together, 1 hour to cook, and a leisurely morning with coffee to enjoy.

Peanut Butter Bread

Preheat oven to 325º F
Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup peanut butter

Mix together dry ingredients (I use my mother’s old tin sifter).
Mix in the milk and then the peanut butter.
Scrap into the greased loaf pan.
Bake for 1 hour.
Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes than turn out onto a wire rack to cool further.

The next time I make it – and I will make it again – I may just add a few extra tablespoons of peanut butter. Keep in mind that the type of peanut butter you use will change the flavour. Unfortunately products such as Kraft have more sugar and corn syrup now than it did when this recipe was first published. I used Kirkland Smooth which is almost 100% peanuts but it would be interesting to try with crunchy. And I’m thinking this would make good French Toast.

*No respectable cook in Asia would use peanut butter in their sauce. Peanuts are ground by hand and then cooked with other ingredients to create the sauces for satay and other dishes.

The word for May 26th is:
Bread /bred/ /brɛd/: [1. noun 2. Intransitive verb]
1.1 Food made of a flour, water, and yeast or another leavening agent, mixed together and baked.
1.2 The bread or wafer used in the Eucharist.
1.3 The food that is required for daily life.
1.4 Money – informal use
2. To coat food in a crumbs before cooking
Middle English brēad, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch brood and German Brot.
Before the Norman Invasion the universal word for bread was hlaf, like our modern “loaf.” It is strange that Frenchified Middle English adapted a German word that originally meant morsel or a piece.

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