26 December, 2011

Three good things to do with mincemeat

I made my mincemeat this year according to Delia’s recipe, adapted to local circumstances (mine included chopped dried figs and apricots, and dried cranberries, as well as glacé cherries, raisins and sultanas). I used most of the first jar to make some common-or-garden mince pies, but was not satisfied with the results, so I hunted around for alternatives. Here are three other ways of using mincemeat.

1. The simplest: mincemeat palmiers

Buy a block of ready-made puff pastry and roll it out thinly into an oblong. Spread thinly all over with mincemeat, then starting from a short side, roll up the pastry like a Swiss roll. Cut into slices about 2 cm thick, and lay them on a non-stick baking tray (or a tray lined with silicone/baking parchment). Put in the fridge for half an hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Put the tray in and cook for about 10 minutes, till the pastry is golden. Remove and cool to lukewarm before sprinkling with icing sugar and serving. This is a great and easy alternative to conventional mince pies.

2. Classic and luxurious: almond paste mince pies

I used this recipe; I don’t know why it’s called “almond paste” because there are no almonds in it, only almond essence. I was very pleased with these; the pastry was crisp and golden, and the “almond” paste makes for a lighter topping than pastry. Delicious. I didn’t have a piping bag so I just rolled the paste into small balls, flattened them and placed them on top of the mincemeat. So they looked a lot less elegant, but still tasted good. If, or rather when, I make these again, I’ll substitute ground almonds for some of the flour in the paste though!

3. Comfort food: Eliza Acton’s mincemeat pudding

I loved this; it was my favourite of the three, although it’s a pudding rather than a teatime treat. I’d happily eat it instead of Christmas pudding. It’s basically bread and butter pudding with mincemeat in it. I found the recipe in Elizabeth David’s Christmas; the original is from Eliza Acton‘s Modern Cookery, and is labelled “Author’s Receipt”.
Recipe for Three good things to do with mincemeat »

2 December, 2011

Elizabeth David’s Christmas: potato, tomato and celery soup

An Elizabeth David book in the reserve collection? Yes, really! This was a Christmas present a few years ago, and I confess I’d forgotten I had it, so I pounced on it with a cry of delight. It was actually published posthumously; in her preface her editor Jill Norman says they’d discussed the concept off and on for years, but it never came to anything, so after Elizabeth’s death she was surprised to find a box with a pile of notes and clippings for the book, and even an introduction. So she pulled the material together and published it.

Many of the recipes are from ED’s other books, but it’s nice to have all these seasonal recipes in one place. Not that ED was much of a fan of the traditional British Christmas. She got bombarded with calls from friends and family asking how long to to cook the turkey or the pudding, or saying they’d lost the recipe for Cumberland sauce so could she give it them again — to the point where she printed a pamphlet of the most popular recipes and handed it out to them. Classic ED:

If I had my way — and I shan’t — my Christmas Day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette and cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunchtime, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening.

What frenetic cook preparing for a family Christmas can’t empathise with that in the days leading up to “the Great Too Long”? It certainly makes a refreshing change from other Christmas cookbooks.

That being said, although there are token recipes for traditional Christmas food like mincemeat and Christmas pudding, much of the focus of this book is on simple but impressive small dishes that can be prepared ahead, pâtés and terrines that can be kept in the fridge for nibbling, and better-than-average ways of using leftovers (including one of my all-time favourite leftover dishes, émincé de volaille au fromage). And like all of ED’s books it is designed to be read for pleasure, not just to cook from. I happily spent an afternoon lounging on the sofa by the fire reading it while my untended bread dough bubbled over the edge of the pan.

Happily, the organic veg box provided all I needed for a simple soup of tomato, leek and celery. She writes “This is one of the most subtly flavoured of all these vegetable soups … a good soup with which to start the Christmas dinner.” It was indeed. Celery is something I don’t like as a vegetable, but as a herb it adds a nice peppery edge to soups and stews. My tail-end-of-season tomatoes weren’t the best, but they did the job — if I make it again at Christmas I’ll use tinned ones in preference to tasteless fresh ones (one day I’m going to start a campaign to ban the sale of fresh tomatoes between October and May).

Unfortunately, the box also contained parsnips, for the third week in a row. So I decided to give her cream of parsnips and ginger with eggs a go. I got as far as cooking and mouli-ing the parsnips and adding the ginger, and the result tasted so unutterably foul that I almost threw it straight in the bin. We just had soup and cheese and biscuits that evening. I don’t think I can blame Elizabeth David for this though — I just don’t like parsnips, and somehow mashing them makes them taste more parsnippy than just roasting would.

This book will definitely stay in my collection. And it’s a good Christmas gift for foodies as well, a reminder of how truly good food writing is impervious to fashion. So much so that the modish soft-focus photos that the publishers obviously felt had to be in any modern cookbook are entirely superfluous. Elizabeth David’s words are enough
Recipe for Elizabeth David’s Christmas: potato, tomato and celery soup »

6 February, 2010

Vintage feasts: Spices, salts and aromatics in the English kitchen

Elizabeth David: Spices, salts and aromatics in the English kitchen

After last month’s blandfest, it seemed apposite to turn to Elizabeth David’s Spices, Salts and Aromatics in the English Kitchen, published in 1970, for this month’s cookbook challenge. She points out that England has a long history in the spice trade, reflected in cooking from the Middle Ages onwards: “we took to spiced food with an enthusiasm which seems to have been almost equal to that shown by the Romans at the height of their preoccupation with the luxuries of living. A study of English recipes of the fifteenth century leaves one with the impression that to the cook the spices were a good deal more important than the food itself.”

First a word about the book. I am a huge fan of Elizabeth David, no matter how unfashionable she has become, and practically every modern British cookery writer owes a debt to her (often uncknowledged). Her French Provincial Cooking is required reading for any English speaker who wants to learn to cook classic French food. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and she happily assumes intelligence and competence on the part of her readers. But Spices, Salt and Aromatics… is not one of her best books. It’s bitty, parts of it cobbled together from a number of previously published articles, and not very coherent as a result. It’s hard to figure out, for example, what a recipe for paella is doing in a book ostensibly about English food! But that being said, this is Elizabeth David. Of course there are good things here, and masses of interesting snippets of information. The chapter on spices and condiments is inimitable David: a combination of the academic and the personal. Using old recipe books as sources, she dragged many worthwhile recipes from oblivion and played her part in making people realise that English food was not without its own merits. Like all her books, it’s one you can read for pleasure as well as cook from.

Oh, and the cover art is gorgeous! The back cover tells us:

De Heem’s painting shows a seventeenth-century version of a Lombard crustade or pie, a survival from the fourteenth century, when such pies were common to the tables of the rich in Italy, France, England, the Low Countries, and Germany. This one, as the artist made plain by placing a dish of prawns in the foreground of his composition, was a fish day pie. The medley of dried and fresh fruit, almonds and pine kernels, probably concealed the main filling of fish, perhaps salmon and eel, or haddock and codling, ground to a paste with apples and pears, and ginger, cinnamon, cloves and mace.

When the pie was baked the top crust was lifted, a mixture of cream and egg yolks, or for fish days a cream of almonds, was poured in. The cover was then replaced and, surmounted with its decorative cluster of pears, cored, filled with sugar and sweet spices, the pie was returned to the oven until the custard or cream had thickened.

Recipes for Lombard or “lumber” pies survived in English cookery books, virtually unchanged, until well into the eighteenth century.

Everything about these paragraphs, the precision, the careful use of phrasing and detail, the casual erudition, tells me they were written by Elizabeth David herself, not some Penguin editor.
Recipe for Vintage feasts: Spices, salts and aromatics in the English kitchen »

21 February, 2007

Potage Bonne Femme

A classic French soup … delicious if carefully made.

Recipe for Potage Bonne Femme »

21 February, 2007

Mushroom soup

An Elizabeth David mushroom soup. It doesn’t sound terribly exciting but it preserves all the flavour of the mushrooms — whether they are humble champignons de Paris or rustic cèpes.

Recipe for Mushroom soup »

21 February, 2007

Tomates à la crème

From Edouard de Pomiane via Elizabeth David, who says it ‘makes tomatoes taste startlingly unlike any other dish of cooked tomatoes’.

We had it as a starter but we reckoned it would be fab with some nice fillet steak – or with roast/grilled lamb.

Recipe for Tomates à la crème »

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