I am taking the easy option for the remainder of this holiday week, and staying with Dinners of the Day, (London, 1899) by ‘A Careful Cook (Mrs. Charles Praga.) I hope you enjoyed her Seaside Cookery yesterday, and that you also have fun with her ideas on Emergency Meals.
We all know the kind of husband who, though perfect in every other respect, yet has an unpleasant little habit of coming home, not unaccompanied, with a greeting like this : “Where are you, dear ? Oh, in the drawing-room ! I’ve just brought in Jones for a bit of dinner — anything you’ve got in the house, you know, dear — told him he must take pot luck.” Perhaps there doesn’t happen to be anything in the house — sufficient for three people, that is. Yet, in spite of that, the unfortunate wife has to go forward with a smiling face and pleasant greeting for the guest, who, in such a case as this, cannot be described as exactly a welcome one. It is all very well to say, “Oh, one person does not make so much difference as all that. What will feed one will feed two.” This, I believe, is generally the husband’s argument. Perhaps. But, paradoxical as it may seem, what will feed two will not always feed three. The half-pint of consomme left from yesterday’s dinner, the small slip-sole just enough for two, and the dainty mince of chicken, to be followed by a small artichoke and a couple of glasses of vanilla custard or ice-cream, though providing an ample meal for Mr. and Mrs. Smith, are yet not elastic, and absolutely no amount of taking thought will induce them to stretch so far as to do useful duty when Mr. Jones makes his entree in the unexpected manner described above. What, then, is to be done? “Send to the local restaurant,” suggests the husband, shamefacedly, producing a handful of silver, and all the while uncomfortably aware of his share in the transaction. This may hold good in certain cases; but how if there should be no local restaurant, or if its cooking should be of so greasy a nature as to render it almost, if not quite, untenable? Mary Jane, invaluable girl! suggests pancakes. Very good, but you cannot give a guest a dinner consisting exclusively of pancakes while partaking of consomme, fried sole, minced chicken, and artichoke yourselves. It is in these moments, or their like, that the true beauties of the well-stocked store cupboard, the possession of which I advocated in a former chapter, shine forth with greater splendour than usual ; and when, moreover, the stock-pot, as an institution, is for once appreciated at its true value.
In such a dilemma as this, then, let me advise the distracted housewife to proceed as follows: The consommé must be dispensed with. Save it for tomorrow
if you will. Any way, relegate it to the larder. Take from the stock-pot about a pint and a half or a quart of stock, made in the first instance according to directions
which have appeared in a foregoing chapter. not already flavoured, add salt and pepper to suit your own individual taste. Next take half an ounce of vermicelli and parboil it in boiling water for a minute, add it to the stock, make very hot, and when quite cooked serve immediately. Now we will suppose that the only fish available is the aforesaid slip-sole, already fried — for inconsiderate husbands like Mr. Smith never by any chance make their appearance until the last minute. To turn this into a dish capable of presenting a generous front to the world is no easy matter, perhaps, nevertheless we will essay it. Boil three eggs till very hard, then throw them into cold water for a few seconds, and take off the shells. Have ready half a pint of well-flavoured white sauce, which can be made in a few minutes by following the directions given in a former chapter; “flake ’’ the fried sole, utilising every possible scrap of skin, etc., make the eggs hot in the white sauce, then take them out and place on a hot fireproof china dish, arrange the flaked fish on top of the eggs, pour over the white sauce, scatter grated cheese on top, garnish round the base with fried croutons, and place upon each a smoked Norwegian sardine — these must have previously been made hot in the oven in a little of their own oil. Place in a very quick oven for five minutes, and serve immediately.
The mince of chicken, since it would be too insignificant to serve au naturel, we will treat as follows: If three chops are obtainable, let them form the pièce de résistance, egg, bread-crumb, fry, and serve them with tomato sauce. Fill three little paper cases with the mince of chicken, scatter fried bread-crumbs on top of each, place in a very hot oven for two or three minutes, and serve as an entree. If, however, butcher’s meat in any shape or form is not to be had for love or money, as sometimes happens, on early closing days for instance, your one hope, if you wish to present that mince to Mr. Jones in such a way as will suggest to him that a whole pullet is awaiting further orders in the kitchen, is to proceed thus: Take a bottle of green peas, drain off their liquor, and sautée them for a few minutes in a little oiled butter; add a pinch of sifted sugar, salt to taste, and a couple of drops of tabasco; mash the potatoes originally intended for serving with the mince with a little milk, a bit of butter the size of a walnut, the yolk of an egg, and a liberal dust of white pepper. Make very hot, and use to form a wall round a hot dish, pour the mince of chicken into the centre, garnish with the sautéed peas, and serve as hot as possible; should the mince seem somewhat dry, or the gravy at all reduced, if no more gravy is at hand, add a little well-salted milk.
The next dish figuring upon our menu is the boiled artichoke. Unless this should be of a very small size it can perhaps be made to do duty for three; if not,
better dispense with it altogether, and serve in its stead one of the many delicious and easily prepared vegetable entrees, made from any bottled vegetables. For a
sweet, if bananas are obtainable, banana cream takes but live minutes to prepare, and is invariably appreciated. Omelette sucrée is also quickly made, or perhaps a little more boiled custard can be prepared and added to that which is already made. If not, try fruit salad, and serve whipped cream with it, handed, of course, separately. But if none of these dishes are feasible, then the best advice I can offer you is to have resource to any of the bottled fruits you may happen to have “in stock” served à l’Italienne; if, however, you are fortunate enough to have somewhat more time at your disposal than I have here supposed, try junket, which takes but half an hour to prepare. Should it so happen that, saving the small sweet, just sufficient for two, already prepared for your own dinners, you have absolutely nothing in the store cupboard or house which can be utilised for an entremet, it will be better to dispense with the sweet course also rather than serve a skimped dish, which will tell the guest far more plainly than any mere words would do that he is not exactly welcome. You can substitute in its stead a savoury. Many of the less elaborate recipes take at the outside but four or five minutes to prepare. For instance, savoury biscuits will always find favour with most men, and they can be varied and improved upon, as I have before suggested, by the addition of any paste, such as bloater, lobster, or anchovy, or by being spread with luxette, or, if you wish to be extravagant, with pate de foie gras or caviar. All these things appeal essentially to the masculine palate, and if you have followed out the advice given in the chapter entitled “Dainty Dinner Tables” you will, in a sense, be prepared for guests. It stands to reason that a dinner perfectly served upon a table whose appointments, though not costly, are well chosen and in good taste, the flowers fresh and daintily arranged, not limp and pining for water, the silver and glass clean and well polished, will taste far better and be more enjoyed by those partaking of it, even though the courses may not be unduly plentiful, than would a more elaborate meal if served in a slovenly fashion.