Tuesday, 16 December 2008


When I checked my inbox yesterday I had an email from my Mum. She lives in Paris but is originally from Alsace where the food of the region is very Germanic in style and is marked by the use of pork in various forms. Traditional dishes include baeckeoffe, a kind of stew of pork, beef, lamb, potatoes and onion cooked in Alsation white wine (much much much nicer than it sounds); tarte flambée or flammekueche, similar to a pizza base but covered with creme fraiche, onions and bacon (delicious!) and choucroute, sauerkraut prepared with various (surprise) pork sausages and other salted meats and charcuterie, and often potatoes.

The festivities of the year's end involve the production of a variety of biscuits and small cakes called bredele. There are many varieties of bredele, including anisbredela (aniseed), butterbredle (butter), schwowebredle (orange and cinnamon), spritzbredle (almond), small pain d'épices (gingerbread) and spice cakes which are traditionally given to children starting on St Nicholas' Day.

As she does every year, my Mum has made a batch of these bredele, pictured above. My favorite are the owls, hands down. Perhaps it's about time I picked up the mantle and started making these too. It might not hurt to have something homebaked with the M&S feast...


So I was staring blankly at my blog this morning, the irony not escaping me. For one, in my last post I declared that I would next write about something that is not chicken, only to roast a chicken on Sunday evening which resulted in a chicken stock and subsequent chicken soup being made yesterday. Ah.

Also, December is the month in the year when we all go into food overdrive - shopping for it, cooking it, baking it, roasting it, eating it eating it eating it eating it. But while I scour other people's blogs to find them soaking fruit and feeding cakes with brandy and making Christmas preserves and cooking and freezing, I'm, well I'm not. I'm not having any mammoth cook outs, I'm not desperately trying to locate all spice berries, I'm not nervously checking sell by dates and wondering how soon I can start shopping for sprouts.

Last year everyone came to me for Christmas and I made, from scratch:

seared scallops on pea puree with lemon oil and caviar
roasted turkey with chestnut stuffing
a glazed ham
potatoes roasted in goose fat
artichoke gratin
brussel sprouts with chestnuts and pancetta
roasted beetroot
cranberry sauce
bread sauce
gravy made with the turkey giblets

pears poached in mulled wine
calvados-soaked raisin ice cream

We also had flamed plum pudding with brandy butter, the biggest wedge of gorgonzola you've ever seen complete with pate de quince, figs and frozen grapes, and the obligitory twiglets, pretzels and after eights.

In short, the shopping, prepartion and cooking required something akin to military precision and indeed a great deal of the prepartion was done on Christmas eve (that is to say I cooked solidly for twelve hours). The turkey was soaked in a bucket of brine overnight a la Nigella and I can absolutely say that it works - it was the most delicious, juicy, succulent turkey.

However this is not a complaint - on the contrary - I absolutely loved every minute of it. It was an opportunity to cook mountains of extravagant, delicious, festive food and to spend hours on end doing it. I didn't dread it, I looked forward to it, I relished it.

The fact that everyone scuttled off home abruptly early at 11 o'clock clutching their bellies and groaning is by the by.

So by complete contrast, this year we're doing Christmas that good old fashioned, very british, very traditional way. We're getting it all from Marks.

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