Now that it's Autumn, with the nights drawing in and the weather getting a bit cooler, my foodie thought processes are slowly turning towards hearty winter grub, stews, casseroles and the like. The sort of food our distant cousins on the continent do so well in the more snow laden, fairytale parts of mainland Europe, so imagine how pleased I was to be sent 'Snow Flakes and Schnapps' by Jane Lawson to review.
So, first impressions....
This is an incredibly well made book, coffee table food porn of the highest order. Beautiful food photography, an obviously expensive tactile dustcover with raised 'bumps' on, which I can't stop running my fingertips over.....maddeningly addictive. Its heavy and luxurious - so much so, in fact, that if I'd paid for it I'd think twice about actually cooking from it. What a shame to cover it with the collateral damage of grease spatters and stains that my cookbooks normally succumb to.
So, we've established, it's an absolute looker of a cookbook.....and that's all well and good, but what are the recipes like?
There's a whole collection of recipes spanning Northern, Central and Eastern Europe including the traditional fare of Scandinavia, Germany and Russia, to name but a few. That's not to say the recipes themselves are traditional, the author freely admits to having experimented to obtain the 'finest versions of each'. But they're all here, your Stollen's, your fondue's, your schnitzel's...
Obviously you can't review a recipe book without actually cooking something from it, and after a flick through I decided on the suitably exotic sounding Meatballs with Vodka Dill Cream sauce. The recipe was well written and easy to follow, and the results were pretty nice. I'm not entirely convinced by the vodka dill cream sauce, it was extremely rich, but the meatballs were lovely. Here's the recipe so you can have a go at this yourself:-
Meatballs with vodka Dill Cream Sauce.
160g Fresh White Breadcrumbs
186ml whipping cream
350g Minced Beef
350g Minced Pork
1 Large Egg
1 Onion, finely chopped
1/4 Tsp freshly grated nutmeg
a pinch of ground allspice
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Oil
1 Tbs Plain Flour
435Ml Hot Beef Stock
1 1/2 Tbs chopped Dill (plus extra to garnish).
Lingonberry preserves to serve.
Combine the breadcrumbs and 125ml of the cream, and leave to sit until the breadcrumbs have absorbed all the liquid. Add the Beef and Pork mince, egg, onion, nutmeg, allspice, salt and white pepper and combine well. Roll the mixture into 3cm balls and place in a single layer on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours to allow the flavours to develop.
When ready to cook, heat half of the butter with the oil in a large heavy based frying pan over a medium-high heat (do not use a non-stick pan). Cook the meatballs in batches , for 4-6 minutes each, or until browned all over. Remove and set aside.
Add the remaining butter and the flour to the pan and stir. Gradually whisk in the hot stock and the remaining cream, scraping up any cooked-on bits. Add the dill and 3 tablespoons of the vodka, and bring to the boil, whisking continously until smooth and thickened slightly. Return the meatballs to the pan along with any resting juices, and cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Stir through the remaining Vodka and season to taste. Garnish with the fresh dill and serve with Lingonberry preserves as a condiment.
Tip: Serve the meatballs over some sauteed or mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, with the Lingonberry preserves on the side as a condiment. A shot of Vodka is a must!
(Just like to point out, I served with Cranberry standing in as a stunt double for Lingonberry which I had trouble sourcing at short notice, and I declined the suggested 'must have' vodka shot, reasoning that my poor liver gets a battering enough as it is, without startling it with an unexpected dousing of vodka at mealtimes).
So that's the good, what about the bad and the ugly?
Well - the chapter headings are incredibly 'camp' and I don't mean in an alpine yodellers tent kind of way. Particularly the chapter titled 'Diamonds and Fur', slightly tacky to say the least. The recipes, throughout, although for the most part excellent have no accompanying notes explaining where exactly the dishes originate from, which country or region eats this food, no sense of the history or tradition behind the cooking and I think it's a real glaring omission, because that's exactly the sort of thing I want to know and something that may draw me to a recipe - the knowledge that I'm eating Russian Peasant food or cooking a traditional meal cooked by farmers in Bavaria really appeals to me.
For all that, it's a beautiful book with some very intriguing recipes, ('Molten Black Forest Puddings with Cherry Compote and Kirsh Cream' I'm looking at you). I'm not sure I'd buy it at the full price competing as it is with my very full Amazon wishlist. It's good, but the previously mentioned lack of basic information concerning the origin of the dishes, for me stops it attaining 'must have' status.
But of course, this is just my opinion, so I suggest you peruse 'Snow Flakes and Schnapps' in a bookshop, if only to feel what a truly quality recipe book should feel like. Rub the tactile cover and groan to yourself quietly, then flick through the recipes, if it speaks to you buy it.
Many thanks to Murdoch Books for the review copy.
Snowflakes and Schnapps is available for £12.50 from Amazon