Friday, November 4, 2016

"Churchill's Cookbook" - Pommes de Terre Normande (Potatoes w/onions and leeks) - an accidentally early birthday salute to Winston Churchill!

Date I made this recipe:  October 30, 2016 – a very early birthday celebration for Winston Churchill!

Churchill's Cookbook by Georgina Landemare (Churchill family cook); foreword by Lady Churchill
Published by Imperial War Museums (England)
978-1-904897-73-6; © 2015
Recipe:  Pommes de Terre Normande (Potatoes Normande) – p. 101

Okay, this is a fist.  Months ago, I wrote a note to self in my paper day planner (Yes, paper) for Sunday, October 30 to cook from Churchill's Cookbook to celebrate the man's birthday.  What I didn't see though, was my tiny little notation – "(11/30/1874)" which, as it turns out, is the man's birthday, not October 30th.

So I turned to November 30th and did I put a follow-up note there?  Of course not.

Well this puzzles. 

As you may have noticed in this blog, I try to keep up with observing food holidays and national holidays and international holidays and current events, but there are so many that I am often behind and sometimes have to pass up the opportunity.  Here though, I was ahead of the game.  That has almost never happened.

Perhaps it was my giddiness at finally finding this book which I saw once at Barnes and Noble downtown and then didn't see again at any other store for eons.  And naturally, I didn't get the title right so my search of Barnes online and in other stores yielded nothing.

I bet you some other collector hid it so I couldn't buy it.  (Only slightly kidding.)

And so today, I took to the internet to double-check the birthday information and...what the heck?  November 30?

Well, whatever.

I suppose we should get this out of the way first thing:  you all know who Winston Churchill is/was, don't you?  I imagine some of you are fuzzy on this detail, especially since his claim to fame was for his role as British Prime Minister during WWII, a war that ended 71 years ago.  (Another historical fact:  On December 7, 2016, we will observe the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Yowza.)

I think this calls for a walk down history lane, don't you?

Winston Leonard Churchill was born November (not to be confused with October) 30, 1874, in Blenheim Palace, England to the Lord Randolph Churchill (a son of the Duke of Marlborough), and Jeanette ("Jennie"), Lady Randolph Churchill, nee Jerome. (Per Wikipedia, Jennie would have been called "Lady Randolph," and not Lady Randolph Churchill.  Did we not just have a conversation about how funky the Brits are about titles and whatnot? And although I feel pretty comfortable discussing royal titles, I remain supremely confused about what the Brits call "peerage" i.e. [non-royal] titles.  There are hereditary titles that are passed down and then there are what they call "life peers" which are appointed and cannot be inherited.  Dear God....what, what?  Happily, Wikipedia contains more information about this topic so if it is of interest to you, have at it!)

Jennie Churchill was an American, born and raised in Brooklyn but met her future husband at a sailing regatta and was introduced to him by King Edward (who abdicated the throne to Queen Elizabeth's father).  The palace where Winston was born is now a historic home, is billed as a "country" house.  In the U.S., we'd call it a super mansion.  Oh the Brits—always so understated.

Winston became Britain's Prime Minister in 1940, just after the war started, and served until 1945 when it ended, and then again from 1951-1955.  Called "The Last Lion" (the lion is the national animal of the UK and defender of the realm), he rallied the Brits to victory over the Axis countries (Germany, Italy, etc.) and pretty much bloody well saved the day.

When talking to the nation (on radio) about the upcoming Battle of Britain, he uttered one of his most famous lines:  "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty.  And so bear ourselves that if the British empire and its Commonwealth lasts for a thousand year, men will still say "This was their finest hour."

Historical note: as these things go, this last phrase is oft repeated as "This was England's finest hour" and I have to say, I kind of like this incorrect phrase better than the original but it's a minor detail.  It's the delivery and the subdued passion and fervor that I love.  And is it me, or does anyone else think that Winston sounds an awful lot like fellow Brit, Alfred Hitchcock?

What separated Winston from the rest of the prime minister pack (and Alfred H.) though, was his iron resolve ("We shall never surrender") and his outstanding oratory skills. When he died, he was granted a state funeral, usually reserved for royalty.

The above just scratches the surface but suffice it to say, as a student of history (in high school and college where it was my second minor), I was always fascinated by him.  My husband though, has taken things one step further, has read countless books about the man, and is a font of information.  Biographies are one thing, but this cookbook belongs to my cookbook collection and shall never be surrendered!

As far as I can tell, this cookbook was compiled from the food/recipe diary of Georgina Landemare, the Churchill's long-time personal chef.  The foreword to this book was penned by Winston's wife of 56 years, Lady (Clementine) Churchill, who indicated that Georgina was pretty much indispensable to the family, particularly during his time at 10 Downing Street (or just "Number 10"), home of the British Prime Minister.  She also noted that when Landemare retired in 1954, she was at a loss and I imagine she was; Lady Churchill hailed from a aristocratic family and therefore likely had a [personal] cook her entire life.

In the foreword, Lady Churchill heaps praise on Georgina Landemare, saying her food was "distinguished."  Indeed, almost all the recipes in this book show a French influence, particularly today's dish, "Pommes de Terre Normande," "pommes" being the French word for potatoes.  There are 12 "pommes" recipes in this book, from potatoes with butter to potatoes with rashers (bacon) so have at it.

You probably know that the Brits refer to Dessert as "Puddings" (starting at page 105) and Cookies are "Biscuits" (starting at page 139) and there are plenty of those recipes as well.  Andy loves saying the word "Pudding" (Pink Floyd fans know that it's used in the song "The Wall" – "If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!"), and was very interested in having pudding until he looked at some of the recipes for actual pudding and saw the word "suet."

"SUET???????"  Yes, darling, suet.  Once upon a time, suet was melted and used as the base of puddings and from what I've read it made for a deliciously rich and creamy dessert.  "Tempting" as it was to try it, we passed.  (When I grew up, suet was something we put out for the birds!)

In the end, I just wanted something simple and so we made the potato recipe and it was great—after a fashion.  You'll see below how I tweaked it a bit, not that it would not have been delicious on its own merits but just because I could.  My blog, my rules!

Most of the recipes in this book are simple to make but do know that many recipes lack cooking temperatures and cooking times.  What I would do without the internet, I do not know.

I must say that I am rather disappointed that the book did not contain a "recipe" for a martini, purportedly one of Churchill's favorite drinks – mine, too!  Instead, I will share the story I have heard about Churchill which showcases my own philosophy about what constitutes a great dry martini:  According to legend, Churchill poured the gin and then looked across the room at the vermouth.

For those folks who have not read their martini primer, most martinis are made with gin and vermouth, the amount of which (vermouth) is subject of great, heated debates.  The more vermouth that is added to the gin, the "sweeter" the martini.  If you're like me and like a very dry martini – which is to say without vermouth – then you'll know what I mean when I say that gin is "just a concept."

At any rate, although the only narrative in this book is at the front, I liked paging through this cookbook and catching a glimpse into the dining life of Winston and Clementine Churchill. 

So Happy Early Heavenly Birthday, Dear Winston!

Pommes de Terre Normande – the cookbook version – serving size not listed but even a half a recipe served two generously
6 medium-size potatoes
2 onions
1 leek, white part only
2 oz butter
½ pint milk (1 cup)*
(Left out:  breadcrumbs that are browned in butter)
Ann's Additions:
¼ chicken broth/vegetable broth/water
¼ heavy cream
*1-2 cups milk.  A full recipe calls for ½ pint which is equal to 1 cup.  I made a half recipe which means I should have used ¼ pint or ½ cup milk but that wasn't enough so I used a full cup.

Peel and slice 6 medium-sized potatoes, 2 onions and the white part of a leek.  Melt 2 oz of butter and cook all together, season well, add about ½ pint of milk and transfer to a fireproof dish to finish cooking in the oven.  Finally sprinkle over some breadcrumbs which have been browned in butter.

Okay, I've got to tell you that this itty bitty simplistic-looking recipe was frustrating as hell.  First, "finish cooking in the oven"... at what temperature?  For how long?  I had to Google similar recipes but still ended up guessing, and so I'm going to recommend 40-60 minutes at 350F or, as I did, 40 minutes in the oven, 10 minutes in the microwave.

Second, what is the serving size (besides "a lot")?  A half recipe made an awful lot of potatoes; good thing we liked them.

Next, and in my (uninformed) opinion, the liquid called for in this in this dish (1/2 pint for a full recipe or 1 cup) was insufficient to cook the potatoes and so I made these adjustments.

  • I added about ¼ cup of chicken broth to the mixture while it was cooking in the skillet to keep everything from sticking and to help the potatoes cook faster.  If you don't want to use chicken broth, use vegetable broth or water.  I'm not sure this made a difference, but given that we don't know how long to finish cooking the potatoes in the oven, I wanted to help them along.
  • If you have heavy cream on hand like I did, add about ¼ cup (I loved what this did to the flavor.)
  • As to the milk, I added half a cup to the mixture while on the stove and then the other half to the mixture before I popped it in the oven.  I believe it kept the potatoes moist but I could be wrong on that.

I should note that I almost never futz with recipes, making them as written, but this time around, I just envisioned a mess on my hands if I didn't add some more liquid to the recipe.  I'm glad I did because the result was great – moist and flavorful potatoes that were perfectly cooked (if not a teensy, tiny bit overdone).  The leeks added a lot of flavor to the onions and potatoes, especially when I sautéed the mixture for quite some time before putting it in the oven.  And the cream also added a bit of punch but I added it only because I had it on hand.  Same with the chicken broth.

As to the bread crumbs, I bought one roll from the grocery store, ground it into crumbs in my mini food processor and then added a little over a tablespoon of butter to a sauté pan.  I think the amount it made was perfect for the size of this dish.

All in all, this dish was a winner and I'd make it again.  Maybe on Churchill's actual birthday? ;)

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