Sunday, March 25, 2007


Cookbook Spotlight: Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook

It is with great pleasure that I have been asked by Sara at i like to cook and Mary at The Sour Dough to review this cookery book. Now, I am hardly the sea-faring type, but I have often wondered, all romantic and wide-eyed, what is eaten aboard passenger and cargo vessels. One often hears of the buffets on the liners that hopscotch around the Caribbean islands, but what about the passenger ships and freighters of North America? Not only does Creative Characters Publishing Group's Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook satisfy this curiosity, but it also provides recipes for many notable American dishes, which make the passengers and crew members feel like they are at home no matter where they are.

The Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook is organized into chapters covering currently active tall ships, freighters, coast guard ships, passenger vessels, retired vessels, and a salute to those who have given tirelessly to the men and women who live on the waves of the Great Lakes. The biggest impression I get from this historical parade is the food trends, from contemporary takes on European cuisine, such as marinated focaccia bread sandwiches on the Denis Sullivan (nicknamed "the ship built by a thousand hands and a thousand hearts", p.3), to Americana, like baked beans served on some of the Michigan State car ferries.

What is also interesting to note, as prefaced above, is the difference between what is eaten not only across time but also across class. For example, on the M.T.S. Arcadia, a cruise liner, guests are invited to a Greek Tavern dinner that consists of all sorts of Greek delights: avgolemono (an egg and lemon soup), moussaka, and galaktoboureko (a custard-filled pastry), yet on the M.V. Canadian Miner, a freighter, the crew is served big pot meals: sausage and rice casserole, turkey noodle soup, and beef curry. This distinction clearly underlines the purposes of the people aboard the ships, and it is an interesting commentary on how both sides live - Upstairs Downstairs on the Great Lakes.

Each featured ship is given space to reveal its history, as indicated not only with succinct text but also with black and white photographs. Menus are also provided to give the reader contextual information, adding depth to the recipes selected to represent the stewards' offerings on each ship.

Most important, though, is the recipes. They cover the spectrum of all things American or foreign with crossover American appeal (i.e. that which can be produced with minimum items, minimum fuss, and maximum output to feed an army). I decided on an afternoon tea snack, the freighter ship M.V. Algosoo's coconut pound cake and dinner, lamb pot pie, which was served on the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper (now retired), and baked apple dumplings, served on the S.S. Badger, a passenger vessel. These were not only chosen because they suited my needs but also because some recipes are for very large quantities (and not all worth the effort of scaling down, so they make good suggestions for parties to which a crowd is invited) or because a yield is not given, which is intimidating to the inexperienced cook.

The recipe that I am spotlighting is the lamb pot pie - well, how could I not? I live in New Zealand, after all! The pastry is enough for two crusts, as articulated in the recipe, but one can use a prepared puff pastry from the market if one cannot be bothered making the shortening pastry. The only omission I made was the mushrooms, but I have included them in the rundown of ingredients should you wish to use them. I also have to reveal that the lamb pot pie filling was supposed to require 1/4 cup flour and an additional 1/2 cup vegetable broth or water, but as to when to add them was not indicated in the method, so I didn't add them at all, and this did not negatively impact the result (but it did make for some consternation).

Lamb Pot Pie
(as served on the S.S. Milwaukee Clipper from the Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook)

For the pastry:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup shortening
6 to 7 tablespoons cold water

For the lamb filling:
2 pounds/approx. 1 kg stewing lamb, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small onions, sliced
2 large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 pound/a bit more than 1/5 kg fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cilantro/coriander
1 tablespoon mustard (or 1/2 tablespoon dry mustard)

For the egg wash:
1 egg
4 tablespoons milk (or other liquid, such as water)

To prepare the pastry:
1) Stir flour and salt in a large bowl.
2) Cut in the shortening.
3) Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cold water in pastry mixture and gently toss with a fork. Repeat this step with remaining water until entire pastry mixture is moistened.
4) Divide dough into 2 balls. Roll out 1 ball and line the bottom of a greased and floured pie plate, reserving the remaining ball for the top.

To prepare the filling:
1) Combine vegetable oil and butter in a large pot, and heat together until the butter is melted.
2) Add lamb and brown it on all sides (I did this in two batches so as not to overcrowd the pot and braise the lamb).
3) Add the remaining ingredients, and stir to combine them.
4) Simmer covered for 20 minutes.
5) Uncover and cook for a further 15 minutes, stirring occassionally.

To compile the pie:
1) Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C.
2) Pour filling over bottom crust in the pie plate.
3) Roll out the reserved ball of dough to place over the filling, and crimp the edges to seal in the ingredients and moisture.
4) Cut three small slits in the top to vent.
5) Combine egg wash ingredients together and lightly brush over the top crust.
6) Bake for 20-30 minutes until done (the nose knows!).

I do apologise for the photo, but I had to use a disposable camera (shock horror) as my angelheart Eric has custody of our digital. Aesthetics aside, I have to say that this both smelled and tasted like a pie, which is to say that I would certainly use the recipe again, but I would augment some of the flavors. Perhaps I would add a little brandy or red wine to the simmering filling instead of so much vegetable broth, and I would also include a bouquet garni, so as to enhance the Spring flavors that complement lamb so well.

To me, though, this recipe is typical of most in the book, reinforced by the results of making the coconut pound cake (a standard cake mix to which is added a teaspoon of coconut extract and one cup of dessicated coconut) and baked apple dumplings (peeled and cored apples dusted with a combination of nutmeg and cinnamon, individually wrapped in sweet shortcrust pastry and baked in a sauce of butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar), in that they are mostly traditional, practical, and no-frills in their execution enough to follow for everyday cooking. There is a great degree of honesty in the recipes, some of which are no more than a can of this, a can of that, 1 pound of this, and 2 pounds of that. Not only do such recipes leave you a bit gob-smacked by the sheer quanitity of each ingredient and the indulgence in preserved goods, they educate the reader on the lifestyle of the crew, which is really on board to work and to whom the meals are mostly for sustenance. This not to say the book has no culinary merit, for there are gems within (the Layered Mocha Cream Torte as served on the Denis Sullivan has been bookmarked!) for at home or tailgating use.

The Ships of the Great Lakes Cookbook functions best as a good compendium of American recipes. Of course these recipes have to be standard - for the most part, the objective is to not only make people feel pampered (if they are passengers) but also to make people feel comforted when away from home. This invites you, the home cook and lover of American food, to add your own personal stamp, as I recommend you do.

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Can't wait to see you make the Mocha Cream Torte!
Great to see you back Shaun, hope things are going well for you in NZ and you're not feeling too bad about the separation.
Freya x
Never apologise for your photographs. Mine are almost always terrible, and I have to resist the urge to apologise all the time.

Yours is quite nice, and makes me want to eat it!
Freya - Yes, it has been a while since I did a proper post, but I have not really felt at home in the kitchen - not that my parents make me feel uncomfortable; I'm just used to "our" things. I'm glad to know that you have not forgotten about me...Thanks for all the support.

Scott - You are such a liar because your photographs are usually very lovely! Fortunately, as with most meat pies, it is not the looks that count but the tastes and textures. On those two counts, the pie was a success, and it was my first real pie, too! Thanks for stopping by - I love your blog.
Your pie looks very good. I'm a recent convert to pies, but I'm really keen on them now. The book sounds like so much more than a cookbook!

What a lovely write up of the book Shaun, glad you enjoyed it so much! Hope you are well.
Kelly-Jane - Thanks for the nice comment on the pie; it was the first one I made, so I was happy it turned out - if only I had more photos to choose from but they were all bollocks.

Sara - Had a blast reading the cookery book and finding three recipes to test. It was a really fun exercise, and I am really glad to have been given the opportunity - thanks to you and Breadchick.
Ah, that pie looks delicious, and I'm sure it was. I grew up in Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes, and enjoyed your book review.
Lisa - A very good friend mine is also from Michigan, and she misses it a lot (she now resides in California with her partner and child). The recipes were just as fun to test as the review was to write. I only wish more photos had turned out, but now I know better than to rely on a disposable camera!!
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