26 February 2017

Presidents Day cookery with Thomas Jefferson

My company gives us Presidents Day off, so I decided it would be a good date for the monthly cooking experiment with old recipes.  I picked a book at random, chose some recipes, and made a shopping list.  I had projects around the house and didn't want to waste time on Monday, so I planned to shop ahead and not need to go out for additional items.

Then I thought that since it was Presidents Day, shouldn't I be cooking from a presidential cookbook?  I knew I had one or two someplace, and first looked for Martha Washington's since it's George's birthday after all.  Instead I found this one:
Since Mr. Jefferson was known as a bit of a gourmet, this seemed perfect, especially in light of the recent news about the discovery of Sally Hemmings' room.  The only problem would be to find recipes that would work with what I have in the house, so I didn't have to go out again!

I'd bought chicken (specifically, skinless boneless breasts, in part because they were on sale, and in part because I didn't feel like dealing with waste, and in part because they are most adaptable to all kinds of recipes, and in part because thighs - my usual preference - were not available, at least not at a good price) so I looked for a recipe using that, with other pantry items, and found:
Other than the meat jelly (a thickened, congealed stock used for seasoning), I was set!  Sadly, the book has almost no vegetable recipes - salsify, parsnips, potatoes, and some that look odd to modern eyes: polenta and macaroni, which we would put into a chapter about starches or grains or otherwise.  I thought about doing polenta with the chicken, but the recipe bakes the polenta with cheese and that was more flavours than I felt like mingling.

So I looked for desserts, and when I saw this one I thought it perfect, since Jefferson is credited with having introduced macaroni to the colonies and newly-born USA:
As you can see, I had everything on hand (eggs were in the refrigerator):
Usually I would use fresh cow's milk.  I always have some canned or boxed milk in the pantry in case of emergencies, and on Monday could find only a last container of soymilk from when I used it to bake for a group that contained some lactose- and milk-intolerant persons.  It would have to do.

I halved the amounts, using two large eggs instead of the five indicated, and followed the directions pretty much as written.  First, I simmered the noodles in the milk until done, about twenty minutes:
Then I stirred in the sugar (3/8 cup) and some rosewater. Since that's a tricky flavouring, I erred on the side of not much, and ended up with about 3/4 of a teaspoon, which turned out to be not enough.
Following this I beat the eggs and added them to the noodle mixture.  I did this so I would just have to stir them together, and thus not break up the noodles too much.
After that, into my handy casserole to bake.  Since no temperature was given, I set my oven at about 350(F), reducing it to 300(F) when I started the chicken.  By the way - is anybody else amused when you see those "like if you remember this" memes on Facebook, and it's an item you own and use regularly?  Yep, something close to this showed up recently, and I have several in different sizes.
Going into the oven.
Halfway cooked, still liquid in the center.
After it had baked about a half-hour (righthand picture), I started on the chicken.  Since one of the essays at the front of the cookbook said that Jefferson was interested in the oils used and worked to get olive oil for Monticello's kitchens, that's what I used in the recipe:
By the way, this was one breast from a package of four very large ones, which I cut apart into more manageable pieces.  The other three breasts went into the freezer for future cooking adventures.  Since a whole chicken would weight three to five pounds, but has a lot of not-edible-for-this-purpose portions such as bones and skin, I estimated that a pound of meat would be about half the recipe.

Since I was pantry-scrounging, and don't keep meat jelly in stock, I used twice as much of the cooked-down tomatoes from a package in my freezer.  I have a winter window garden that includes parsley, so that was fresh, but I seem to have used up the last of my garlic bulbs so had to use jarred.  And since I hadn't purchased mushrooms, because they were not needed for the original recipes, I had to use canned ones.  As I'd done last month, I substituted cider vinegar for the (still expensive) lemon, adding a generous tablespoon.
I chopped the larger mushroom pieces.
Ready to simmer.
 I covered the pan and let the ingredients simmer for about twenty minutes, keeping an eye on it in case it dried out and to keep from overcooking the chicken, which is too easy with the boneless, skinless breasts.  I miss-guessed it slightly but the ingredients made enough juice on their own.
When I cook this again I'll use a smaller pan to keep the chicken more immersed in the juices.  I used a large one to make photography easier.  I plated about half the chicken and sauce with about a third of the pudding, once again happy to have oiled the baking pan:

Overall the result was very tasty.  As I said, the chicken was a bit dry, but the sauce fixed that; I added a bit more after taking this picture, since there was plenty in the pan.  It was a tangy sauce because of the vinegar and garlic, but not overwhelmingly so.  A modern cook might simmer down the sauce to make it a bit thicker, and I am considering making polenta to absorb it the next time.  I plan to make this recipe again in the summer with fresh ingredients, and it's likely to go into regular rotation.

The pudding was mild and sweet, definitely not tasting of rosewater except a vague hint now and again.  When I make it again, I plan to use cow milk (the soy taste may have overwhelmed the others) and increase the rosewater to at least a teaspoon per pint of milk, and maybe a bit more.  The cold leftover noodle pudding made a tasty breakfast the next couple of days.

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