23 January 2014

Short Reads with MFK Fisher - Random Recipes

                                                                                                                                     Image by: Carla Porter

The tree is on the brush pile and the snow is still coming down

Christmas has come and gone. I am slowly and sparingly working my way through the books that came wrapped in paper and bows. One of them, An Alphabet for Gourmets, has given me small readings that I have enjoyed before bed or first thing in the morning with my hot coffee. Its author, MFK Fisher, led such an interesting life. Fisher, the daughter of a newspaper editor, came to writing early in life and despite forays into writing for her father's paper and trying to write novels, it was her frank, witty, and sometimes sensuous descriptions of food and food culture that brought her fame and a very distinguished circle of culinary friends.

And speaking of culinary friends ....

The Random Recipe challenge this month was to open one of the food-oriented books one received at Christmas and make what one finds. Well, I happened on MFK Fisher's discussion on 'Quantity' - a lesson in discretion. Here, Fisher admonishes cooks to learn the rules before you break them. She pokes fun at her childish attempt to make Hindu Eggs, a warm variation on Deviled Eggs that have the yolk filling flavoured with curry powder. They were perfectly flavoured when she had them made by her mother. When she made them, however, her love of curry powder caused her to think 'more is better'. The lesson here is ... more (curry powder:quantity) is not necessarily better when it comes to spices, sauces, herbs, et cetera. Learning that favorite flavours become 'favorite' because of their nuanced presence in different dishes was a key experience for MFK. Later in life, though, she also learned that once one has made the recipe and perfected technique, one can experiment and she uses the old peasant dish called Roasted Kasha as an example. Her love of the grain and its subtle nuttiness leads her to heighten that flavour by roasting it longer to a nutty brown before adding broth and simmering it to slowly soften it. She loves the combination of nuttiness and butter flavours, so she added far more butter than the traditional preparation recommends. In this case, 'more is better' as far as MFK's concerned.

See the whole groats vs the mid-grind groats? MFK swears by whole groats

Well, let's just see about that! I've made kasha several times using a traditional egg white toss, quick dry roast, chicken broth, and butter pat method. MFK's version varies quite a bit. I plan to add sauteed celery and onion, dried cranberries, and chopped parsley to MFK's kasha. She suggests that kasha works well as poultry stuffing ... so I'm stuffing a fat little capon and roasting it this afternoon. There will be a couple handfuls of garlic cloves added to the roasting pan in my own response to the theme of 'quantity'. My, this house will smell wonderful this evening!

I could bring you along step by step, but really now ... you cook the buckwheat, make a saute of onion and celery, toss in the parsley and dried cranberries, stuff the bird and roast the little plumpy. Let it rest when it comes from the oven and roast some squash. Slurp some wine while you set the table. Then settle down to a warm juicy roast and gobs of warm kasha dressing. Easy, huh? Everything in life should be so easy ... just sayin'.

The steps ARE below, though, for anyone in need.

Chicken with Kasha Stuffing

To see what everyone else is sharing for this month's Random Recipe challenge, head on over to Dom's newly spiffed Belleau Kitchen and check out the other cookbook shares! There's bound to be a smorgasbord of good things for sampling!

Kasha – MFK Fisher’s Way

Serves 4 or enough to stuff a large roasting chicken


1 c. whole buckwheat groats
1 large egg
½ tsp. salt
2½ - 3 c. water or stock (vegetable or meat)
2 tbsp. butter or chicken fat

  1. Place the buckwheat in a heavy skillet and break an egg over it.
  2. Use a fork to toss the egg and buckwheat groats until they are completely coated with egg.
  3. Turn the heat on under the pan and bring it up to medium high, tossing the groats constantly. As the groats begin to stick into clumps, break them up.
  4. When the buckwheat has dried and begins to toast, watch carefully. Keep tossing the groats to toast them to a warm brown. They will begin to smell really nutty.
  5. When the buckwheat is a nice deep brown, add 2 cups of the stock, being careful to pour a little at a time to keep the stock from ‘exploding ‘ into so much steam.
  6. Season with the salt and bring the liquid to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover the pan closely and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Then, taste test for your preferred ‘bite’.
  7. Add extra stock, as needed.
  8. Add any add-ins you like if you want the kasha as a side dish.

If you plan to make a dressing for a roasting chicken, sauté a small onion, two stalks of celery, and a clove of garlic in a knob of butter. Add a good handful of dried cranberries to the softened vegetables. Turn the cooked groats into the mix and toss together. Add a handful of fresh chopped parsley and a generous sprinkle of black pepper. Mix well and stuff a cleaned roasting chicken.

Place the stuffed bird on a bed of roughly chopped onions and about a dozen cloves of garlic (still in their skins). Add the last of the broth  (about ¼ cup). Melt a knob of butter and baste the bird all over. Sprinkle with sweet paprika, black pepper, and thyme flakes.

Place in a preheated oven (400° F). Set the timer for 30 minutes. When the dinger rings, decrease the oven temperature to 325° F and continue roasting until the internal temp is about 175° F. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and cover it for 15 to 20 minutes, while you prepare the juices for a dipping sauce.

Making the Sauce:

Use a potato masher to crush the onions, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves from their skins. Discard the skins. Crush the garlic. Add a bit more broth to the pan and bring everything to a boil, scraping the bits from the pan bottom and edges. Strain the broth, let it sit a few minutes and skim off excess fat. Serve in a gravy boat for pouring over the chicken slices or set a dipping bowl by each plate.


  1. what an interesting book that looks like... I love cook books that are historical and full of facts and tips, this looks brilliant... and as for that chicken... what a glorious bird and stuffed with all those kernals plump with juice... gorgeous stuff, thank you so much for your never ending random recipes presence... it would not be the same without you!

  2. I love how you've really gone into detail the history and little quirky nuggets of information in the book! I'm a bookworm, always love reading about the stories behind a dish- I think this is really what makes a recipe stand out. The chicken looks BEAUTIFUL, good job susan!!


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