Monday, June 22, 2009

Pork Tart

Meat pies are something that is not done enough in the U.S. That's a shame because meat pies are amazing -- rich and filling. And they are really, really easy to make.

I found a really good recipe for pork filling in a book called Curye on Inglysch. The book is a collection of fourteenth century recipes. The pie dough is from Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books. However, these cook books provide two big challenges:
  1. These recipes are written in Middle English. If you read the text aloud, sounding it out exactly as it is spelled, you will understand most of it. You do need a Middle English translation dictionary ( is pretty good).

  2. Like most of the recipes, some key information is missing -- most notably quantities. With a little experimentation, most of the recipes can be worked out.
I got lucky on this one; I got it in the first try!

Pork Filling

Original Recipe
Curye on Inglysch, Page 136, Recipe 172
Tartee. Take pork ysode; hewe it and bray it. Do Þerto ayren, raisouns courauns, sugur and powdour of ginger, powdour douce and smale brides Þeramong, & white grece. Take prunes, safroun, & salt; and make a crust in a trap, & do Þe fars Þerin; & bake it wel & serue it forth.
Explanation in Modern Terms
Tarte. Take boiled pork, chop it and grind it. Add egg, currants, sugar, and ginger powder, powder douce and small birds there-among, and lard. Take prunes, saffron, and salt and make a crust in a trap and put the meat and bake well and serve forth.
I used the Medieval English Dictionary found at, and the translations provided in the index of Curye on Inglysch to translate what the following terms meant.
  • Ysode – to seethe, to boil

  • Bray – to grind or to pound. In this context, to grind the meat made sense.

  • Ayren – eggs

  • Brides – birds

  • Trap – a dish to lay the crust in.
Note that no instructions for the dough that this should be served in is given. I looked at several other recipes of the same time period to find one that would be appropriate.

Pork Filling Recreation
2 lbs Pork
3 Eggs, large
½ cup Currants
1 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Ginger
Powder Douce: (I hand ground these as that is how they were treated in medieval times)
1 stick cinnamon
1/8 nut of nutmeg
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp Salt
1 Cornish Hen
¼ tsp Saffron
1 tbp Bacon fat
Pie Dough (enough for a top and a bottom crust)

Roll pie dough and lay in a dish ~1 inch deep.

Chop the pork into small bits. Debone and chop Cornish hen in small pieces. Mix meats and salt and let sit for 10 minutes. Add egg, currants, spices, and fat and mix.

Put mixture in the pie shell and bake at 350° until done (170° or until the egg has set, approximately 45 minutes to an hour).

Deviations from Original Recipe

I didn’t boil the pork. Often boiling meat leads to a loss of moisture and fat. Since modern pigs are being bred for leanness, I decided not to boil the pork.

Braying in Middle English means to pound or to grind. I decided to chop the pork into small pieces that would provide a firmer texture than a grind might. I thought this would appeal to a more modern sense an appropriate texture of meat.

The recipe only specifies “powder douce” or sweet powder. Some recipes I’ve seen for powder douce (and for powder forte) use upwards of 15 ingredients, including ginger and sugar. Since both are included in the recipe on their own right, I decided to go with a simpler powder douce that would complement the flavor of the pork.

I removed the prunes. I don’t particularly care for their flavor on their own and didn’t think they would complement the meat and spices as well as I would like. In addition, while the medieval palate is for a sweeter, more fruity mix (in part to stretch the number of servings of meat), I prefer less fruit with my meat.

Pie Dough

Original Recipe
Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books, Page 74, sn. Pety Pernantes
Pety Pernantes. Take fair floure, Sugur, Saffron, and salt, and make paast Þer-of; then make small coffins then cast in eche a coffin iij or iiij raw yolkes of egges hole, and ij gobbets or iij of Mary couche Þerin; Þen take powder of ginger, Sugur, Reysons of Corans, and cast above; Þen cover the coffin with a lyd of Þe same paste; then bake hem in a oven, or elles fry hen in fair grece fresh, And then serve hit forthe.

Explanation in Modern Terms
As this recipe is for an egg and meat pie, it is appropriate for the pork pie filling as well. I am only using the pie dough (or paste) from this recipe:
Take fair flour, sugar, saffron, and salt and make paste there of. Then make small coffins…then cover the coffin with a lid of the same paste, then bake them in an oven or else fry them in fresh grease. And then serve it forth.

Note this recipe does not instruct the cook to use water or any other fluid to make the paste. However, fluid must be added to the dry ingredients to get a paste.
Pie Dough Recreation
20 oz Flour
¼ lb Butter (room temperature)
¼ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Saffron
1 tsp Sugar
1 cup Water (plus/minus 2 tsp, depending on the dryness of the flour and the humidity of the air)

Mix the flour and butter together by rubbing it between the hands until the mixture becomes mealy. Mix the remaining dry ingredients together and add to the flour/butter mixture. Add water, starting with ¾ cup and adding in teaspoon increments until the dough forms a ball that is slightly tacky to the touch (like a baby’s bottom).

Roll out the dough to fit the pan. Fill pie with filling and cover with second crust.
Deviations from the Original Recipe
As I stated above, the recipe does not call for any fluids to be added to the dry ingredients; however, you can not make paste from those ingredients without fluid. Therefore I added water.

In addition, the recipe doesn’t call for any fats. However, later period recipes (Markham, 1986, p. 96; Dawson, 1596, p. 11) call for fat (and sometimes eggs) in pie doughs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gluten-free Shortbread

I love to make shortbread. I have an amazing recipe that results in a wonderfully buttery, sweet shortbread. Unfortunately, a dear friend of mine is on a no-gluten, no-potato-starch diet. So I am trying to make shortbread with a gluten-free flour. Unfortunately, the no-potato-starch aspect of the diet has made finding a gluten-free flour difficult as potato starch is a good protein replacement.

Bob's Red Mill has come to my rescue! They make a biscuit and baking mix that is free of both gluten and potato starch.

Gluten-free Shortbread

4 cups gluten-free flour
1-1/4 cups confectioner's or caster sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 pound of unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 325°F (162°C).

Cream the sugar and butter together until light and creamy. Add the flour and salt and knead until combined.

Place in baking pan. The dough should not be more than 1/2 inch thick. I use two round (8-inch and 10-inch) springform pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Decorate if desired. I have been known to use decorator gels and/or colored sugar.

This was a little gritty and dry immediately after baking. The soy flour was definitely there in flavor, but was not overpowering as I had feared.

I took the shortbread to a gaming night a couple of nights later. The moisture levels in the shortbread had equalized nicely. While it was a little more crumbly than I prefer, it was no longer as dry and gritty as it was right after it was baked. And the shortbread tasted better than when it was first out of the oven. I think I want to increase the fat and sugar a little. I want the shortbread a little moister and sweeter, but for those who don't like overly sweet shortbread, this should be just about perfect.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Sauces are something that are too often given too little thought by the home cook. I'm not talking about spaghetti sauce or gravy, but about sauces that garnish the dish and add yet another dimension of flavor. I know a number of cooks who thinks sauces are hard or time-consuming. Not always! I often whip up a quick sauce while the main dish is cooking.

My staple ingredients for many sauces are orange juice, soy sauce, wine, and balsamic vinegar. Some days I'm in the mood for a simple wine or balsamic reduction to go with a vegetable; other days I want something to make a dish sparkle.

Reductions are simple: put your liquid ingredients into a saucier or sauce pan (though a small skillet works well for small amounts of fluid). Simmer on med-low until the sauce has reduced to the consistency you want, usually by at least half. If you are reducing vinegar, make sure you have your exhaust fan going well -- heated vinegar is a bit sharp and will sting your eyes and nose. Once the food is done, drizzle the sauce over it.

These first two recipes work nicely on vegetables. I've used the second two on meat with nice results. I add salt, if necessary, afterwards, because reductions concentrate the flavors.
Orange-Soy Sauce
1/2 cup of orange juice, fresh squeezed is best
1/2 cup of soy sauce or tamari sauce
1/4 teaspoon of microplaned orange zest

Orange-Balsamic Sauce
1/4 cup of orange juice, fresh squeezed is best
1/2 cup of dark balsamic vinegar (I like the thicker vinegar for this)
1 - 1-1/2 teaspoons of honey (depending on how sweet you like it)

Garlic-Wine Reduction
1 cup of wine, red or white depending on what I'm cooking (use something with enough body to stand up to the heat -- merlot, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, or sauvignon blanc)
1 tablespoon of garlic, chopped finely (this will be need to be strained out of the sauce)
I also reduce the marinades I use for meats into a sauce to go over them.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gallo Pinto (Beans and Rice)

Gallo pinto (or just pinto) is a Costa Rican (or Tico) breakfast I was introduced to when I lived down there several years ago. In typical Tico thriftiness, the leftover black or red beans and rice from dinner the night before are mixed together, put in the fridge overnight, and fried in the skillet the next morning. Ticos serve pinto with bistek (a cube steak-like cut of meat), fried plaintains, or a scoop of sour cream; orange juice; and coffee. Tico restaurants serve it as a breakfast meal like American restaurants serve eggs.

I don't quite make it the traditional way, nor do I make it only for breakfast. It's great any time of day.

Gallo Pinto
15 oz of cooked black or red beans (if using canned, drain)
3 cups or so of rice (I like about equal parts rice and beans but the proportions vary based on how much rice I have)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried cilantro (not everyone likes cilantro, so you might want to adjust based on taste)
1 clove garlic chopped
1 tablespoon butter

Melt butter in a skillet on medium-high heat. Put the beans, rice, and spices (except salt and pepper) in the skillet and fry. In Costa Rica, the beans and rice are crisped on the bottom of the pan ; this works best with beans and rice mixed the night before.

Salt and pepper to taste. Ticos don't use a lot of black pepper, so I tend to skip it. Besides I think too many American dishes use pepper as a substitute for real flavor.

Serve with bacon, thinly-sliced beef, fried plantains, eggs, or sour cream.

The first time a Tico suggested adding sour cream, I was skeptical. Then I tried it. The creamy tang of the sour cream really brings out the flavor of the beans and is a nice contrast to the crisped rice.

Pinto works well as a meal for any time of day. In the hot summer months, serve with a side of corn for a full protein and skip the heavy meat.