Sunday, February 26, 2012

Episode 2 - Murder on the Ballarat Train

Like Cocaine Blues, the menu for Murder on the Ballarat Train is being created in advance of Friday's episode and is somewhat hampered by the fact that I haven't actually read the novel. I won't even attempt to recreate the refreshments, if any, offered by Victoria Railways on the Ballarat train in the 1920s. Instead, I'll turn to the big hotels that accommodated and fed train travellers.

In the 1920s Melbourne's "most modern hotel", the 12-storey Hotel Alexander opposite Phyrne's departure point for Ballarat, Spencer Street station, advertised "200 rooms and 200 bathrooms". The main dining room offered "discriminating travellers who want the best Australia can provide" a 10-course table d'hote menu for 7/6: hors d'oeuvres, potage, poisson, entree, roti, legumes, entremets, savoury, dessert and cafe. The restaurant also had a la carte menu with continuous service through breakfast, morning tea, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner and supper.

After the pallid piece of toast she waved around in Episode 1, I hope the promise of country air will do something to sharpen Phyrne's appetite. 

Tonight's menu is inspired by the Hotel Alexander's table d'hote on 22 February 1928: 

Oysters a la Mornay

Filet de Boeuf Roti

Currant and Apple Tart

Oysters a la Mornay

Like the recipes for oyster cocktails and lobster cutlets, this one comes from the women's page of the Sydney Morning Herald. Readers were told that oysters could be kept fresh in their shells for four or five days by covering them with a brine solution - "four or five ounces of salt to a gallon of water"- and changing it each day. In this recipe the liquor from the freshly shucked oysters is stirred into the mornay sauce. My oysters came opened, rinsed and sitting on a black plastic tray, so I'll discard the shell water and stir a little fresh Sydney tap water and salt into the sauce.

18 oysters
¾ cup grated cheese
Juice of ½ lemon
1 cup milk
30g butter
1 tblsp plain flour
5 teasp Dijon mustard
Fresh breadcrumbs
Salt, Cayenne pepper

Remove the oysters from their shells, and pour off the liquid into a cup. Sprinkle the shells with a little grated cheese and replace the oysters. In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour and cook stirring for a few seconds, then add the milk and oyster liquor, and stir till it boils and thickens. Remove from the stove, and stir in ½ cup of grated cheese, salt, pepper, mustard, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Cover the oysters with the cheese sauce, then sprinkle remaining cheese on top along with a few breadcrumbs. Place under a hot grill till golden brown, and serve immediately garnished with parsley.

Quince Fool

Considered an old-fashioned fruit except, perhaps, in Adelaide, quinces need a lot of sugar to counteract their acidity, but have a deep red colour and dusky flavour. The quinces can be cooked a day or two beforehand, and kept refrigerated. Spices are optional, but I added half a dozen cracked cardamon pods.

3-4 quinces

2 cups sugar

200 ml cream

Spices (optional)

Take the quinces, wipe and quarter them. Place the quinces in a preserving pan with 2 cups of sugar (or to taste), spices in a bag if liked, and 3 cups of water. Bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 3 to 4 hours. Rub the quinces through a sieve and refrigerate the puree until needed.
Put the quince puree in the freezer for 15 minutes before serving. Whip cream with 1 tablespoon sugar, gently fold in the puree and serve in custard glasses or a glass dish.
If I made this again, I'd change the quince puree/whipped cream ratio and use four quinces rather than three.

Sauteed Rabbit in Red Wine with Prunes

This one is from X. Marcel Boulestin's Recipes of Boulestin. I've tried it before with farmed rabbit, but the rabbit-oh shouting his wares on Sydney and Melbourne streets in the 1920s wasn't a hobbyist breeder of big white Angora rabbits. The wild rabbits came from Coles this morning, and they were the smallest two. One big farmed rabbit would substitute.

Two wild rabbits
Knob of butter
12 small onions (ideal), or 3-4 medium onions
2-3 rashers thinly sliced bacon
1 cup red wine
2 tbsp wine vinegar
12 prunes, pitted
Parsley and thyme

Take two wild rabbits, and remove the legs, thighs and saddles. (I'm using the best bits so each serving is a leg and saddle, and reserving the rest for a rabbit ragu.)
In a wide-based pan, saute rabbit pieces in butter with onions and thinly sliced bacon, adding fresh parsley and thyme, salt and pepper. When rabbit is browned, add one cup of red wine and a little vinegar for sharpness, stir and reduce a little. Simmer covered on low heat for 1 hour.
Halfway though, remove bacon, onions and herbs and add a dozen or so pitted prunes. Serve with pureed potato and a green vegetable.

Lobster Cutlets

After paying $52.20 for the lobster, I was in two minds about coating it in what's essentially a form of glue and then frying it. But lobster was popular in the 1920s, so I'll try it another way next time.

One medium-sized eastern rock lobster
30g butter
1 tbsp flour plus extra flour
1 cup milk
1 teasp lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
Fresh breadcrumbs
Oil for shallow frying
Salt, Cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the flour and cook for a few seconds, then pour in the milk and stir until it boils, reduce heat and stir until it thickens, season with salt, cayenne and lemon juice. Add the lobster, which has been cut into small pieces, turn onto a plate to cool.

When cold, divide into equal portions and form into cutlet shapes, then dip in flour, pepper and salt. Glaze with beaten egg, cover in breadcrumbs and fry in boiling fat until light golden brown. Place a small piece of claw in the end of each cutlet.
As it turned out, this was the star dish of the evening. Crumbing the cutlets was the tricky part. I used a tablespoon to shape them, then turned each side in the flour, painted with beaten egg and finally coated with crumbs. In the cooking, the béchamel melted again and the salt, cayenne and lemon juice removed any clagginess. Served plain - the claws looked like orange plastic sticks rather than an organic part of the "cutlet" - they needed only a lemon wedge for garnish.

Waldorf Salad

It wasn't only in America that Waldorf salad was popular. This recipe elevates the Waldorf to a finger food, but it can also be served on lettuce , with a couple of tiny rounds of buttered brown bread on the side, as a part of a sit-down dinner.

Finely chopped celery
Diced red apple
Chopped walnuts
Brown bread and butter
Salt, Cayenne pepper
Take equal quantities of finely chopped celery and crisp apple cut into dice, add a few chopped walnuts and season with salt and cayenne. Spread rounds of brown bread with butter, and on them place cut out rounds of lettuce. Pile up on the lettuce the chopped apple etc and coat with a little mayonnaise.

Oyster Cocktails

The original recipe calls for tomato catsup which may have been less, well, tomatoey, in the 1920s. I'm tempted to dilute today's supermarket variety of tomato sauce with a little water. Other oyster cocktail recipes omit the cream, so it's a fancy - and not necessarily improving - touch. Still others insist on adding the juice from the oyster shells. Rare these days, oyster cocktail glasses are similar to sherry or port glasses, but with a larger bulb and stumpy stem. Six oysters would sit in them nicely. As an alternative I'm trying shallow champagnes glasses of the type supposedly modelled on Marie Antoinette's breasts. The oysters could also be presented on entree plates with the sauce in a shallow dish in the centre. One of the Herald's Household Notes writers, "N.B.", had this to say about drinks: "Stout or water are the best liquids to accompany oysters, and it is important to remember that whisky or brandy should not be taken, as they harden the oysters and make them indigestible; on no account should tea follow oysters." These ones slipped down nicely with a sparking Cloudy Bay Pelorus Brut.

Oyster Cocktails

18 Sydney rock oysters (Pacific oysters did not exist, not in Sydney or Melbourne anyway)
2 tbsp tomato sauce
6 drops Tabasco
1 tbsp lemon juice or white wine vinegar
1 teasp Worchestershire sauce
2 teasp finely chopped celery
1/2 cup cream, whipped (optional)
Cayenne pepper

In a small bowl, mix together the tomato sauce, Tabasco, lemon juice or vinegar, Worchestershire sauce and celery. Add oysters and stir gently, then chill. Season the cream with salt and cayenne pepper. Serve the oysters in cocktail glasses, and force a rose of cream through a forcing pipe on top of each cocktail. Sufficient for three people.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Episode 1 - Cocaine Blues

The five-course menu I created in advance of this episode bears little resemblance to the food and drink actually consumed in it, but you could say it's thematically linked. Phryne drank cosmopolitans, champagne (twice) and tea, but the only food that passed her lips was a piece of plain toast. The murder victim also had toast, with cumquat marmalade, but it was laced with arsenic or strychnine.

Like Phyrne's cosmopolitans and the victim's cumquat marmalade, the menu of oyster cocktails, Waldorf salad, lobster cutlets, sauteed rabbit and quince fool is predominantly red: the tomato in the oyster cocktail, the lobster's flecks of coral, red wine in the rabbit and the blood red of the quinces.

This 1920's menu is anything but bland: Tabasco, Worchestershire and Cayenne add heat, celery lends crispness and colour, and the lemon cuts the oil and flour in the cutlets.