Hollandaise, Schmollandaise…

April 25, 2010

Yesterday we went to a huge flea market not too far from our home.  To my great joy, I managed to find a fabulous Spargeltopf (asparagus pot) for only 3 euro.  Well, after acquiring such a wonderful item (I’d never even heard of them before), how could I not try it out straight away?

Hollandaise Sauce is to asparagus what chocolate is to Easter.  Seemingly, without the one, the other doesn’t seem to be ‘proper’, many people would probably agree.

But, I don’t know.  There’s something about doing things just because everyone else does them that gets to me sometimes.  I love asparagus.  Why should I have use Hollandaise as a default sauce, just because?

Last night, I decided to be a little rebellious.  Well, not too rebellious.  But just enough to prove a point – there are other sauces out there that can complement Spargel (as it’s known here in Germany) just as well as the traditional choice.

x

INGREDIENTS – 2 oz. of butter, 2 small onions, 1 carrot, 1/2 a small teacupful of flour, 1 pint of new milk, salt and cayenne to taste.

x

This is Mrs Beeton’s recipe for White Sauce (a meat-free version). I figured, it’s still a light-hued, seemingly mild sauce, so it wouldn’t be likely to spoil the taste of the asparagus in any way.

This White Sauce is very easy to make.  Mrs Beeton instructs that the carrot and onion should be chopped “very small”, but I wasn’t exactly sure what ”very small” meant to her in this context.  So I cut them as finely as I could before adding them to the pan.

By the time the sauce was finished (less than 15 minutes, it didn’t take too long to prepare as the recipe has a simple list of ingredients and only a few process steps), and I’d briefly attacked it with a potato masher (the quantity I prepared was too small for a blender), the vegetable content was much finer than to begin with.  Although, for visual effect, it could have been even finer, but oh well.

Both my boyfriend and I liked it.

“It seems very nice,” he commented. (Asparagus is not his favourite vegetable, although he’ll eat it when it’s put in front of him.  “I can’t see why you’re crazy about it.  And I don’t like the smell in the bathroom when you feed me this stuff!”).

x

x

It is, as I predicted, a very mild sauce – not quite bland, but getting there.  It works well with asparagus and is much simpler to prepare than Hollandaise.

Advertisements

Succulently Stewed Carrots

April 22, 2010

Sometimes it’s not easy trying to sneak in a few extra veg here and there, obviously or in disguise.

My boyfriend’s not overly fond of them, as I’ve pointed out many a time before.  It’s very difficult not to look at him sideways as he assesses his dinner plate each night, trying to work out what looks ‘edible’ (according to his somewhat-caveman visual assessment) and what can be safely left aside after claiming “Yes, of course I tried a bit first! (the unspoken end to this sentence being:  “…before I doused it in salt and slid it around my plate without touching it, so it looks eaten!”.

The great thing about Household Management is that there are plenty of simple new ways to prepare side dishes.  Every now and then, one of these slips by the caveman radar without comment, but more often than not the dish is poked with a fork, followed by the inevitable “So, what’s this then?” in a gently accusatory are-you-trying-to-pull-the-carrot-over-my-eyes? manner.

x

INGREDIENTS – 7 or 8 large carrots, 1 teacupful of broth, pepper and salt to taste, 1/2 teacupful of cream, thickening of butter and flour.

x

I like this recipe because it’s easy.  It took a little under 25 minutes from start to finish (not over an hour as was required in Mrs Beeton’s day), with very little intervention from me.

My boyfriend rather liked them, surprisingly.  The carrots were wonderfully tender, more tender than I’ve ever managed to cook them before.  Because of the cream, perhaps?

The only slight disappointment was the vaguely-floury flavour.  Mrs Beeton doesn’t specify the quantity of flour needed, so in my haste to get dinner finished, I guess I overfloured it (and left it on the stove slightly too long, meaning that the liquid had turned to a thickly-coating sauce instead).

But, yummy all the same!

x

Stewed Carrots (Recipe 1102): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1102

Rhubarb, Rhubarb – How Colourful Art Thou Rhubarb

April 19, 2010

The piles of pink-and-green rhubarb at the market are a wonderful sight to be seen.  Nothing trumpets the arrival of spring – real hearty spring, not just the still-frosty beginnings on March 21st, but the cheerily triumphant blast of fine weather that quick-steps its way in during early April – than a fantasia of rainbow-stacked market produce.

In a bid to encourage my boyfriend from consuming enormous quantities of sugar and chocolate throughout the week (how does he stay so lean?  How?  How?), I’ve decided to have the occasional ‘pudding night’ at home.  Although I’m not big into dessert as a regular fixture on household menu, I have no objections to something sweet after dinner once or twice a week.

Thought the recipe for Rhubarb Tart contains that elusive ingredient – moist sugar – I figured that shouldn’t stop me from trying something new.

x

INGREDIENTS – 1/2 lb. of puff-paste No. 1206, about 5 sticks of large rhubarb, 1/4 lb. of moist sugar.

x

Already aware that rhubarb is possibly not my boyfriend’s favourite fruit (“I don’t like rhubarb”), I sense that he would probably enjoy it more if it wasn’t so, well, tart.  This recipe certainly does that.  Why the Victorians liked to consume enormous quantities of sugar (if Mrs Beeton’s recipes are anything to go by) is beyond me.  When I started measuring out the sugar (moist or otherwise), I quickly realised that if I used the full stated quantity, this tart would come out of the oven swimming in sweet sickly liquid.  My boyfriend may revel in that; I do not.  So, I halved the quantity and prayed to the gods of Fussy Boyfriends that this revision would pass muster with my live-in food critic.

“A small quantity of lemon-juice, and a little of the peel minced, are by many persons considered an improvement to the flavour of rhubarb tart”, states Mrs Beeton.  With the help of a garlic mincer (surprisingly, this worked marvellously when mincing small quantities of lemon peel), I added a good teaspoon and stirred it into the fruit and sugar mix.

I cheated somewhat with the puff pastry, in the sense that I already had a pre-made pack in the fridge and thought it best to use this, rather than make some afresh.  (Hey, at least it’s organic).

After a good 30 minutes in the oven, the ‘R’ and ‘C’ on each respective pie looked crispily, cheerily tan.  I whisked them out of the oven and ran for the ice-cream.

Rather to my surprise, the sugar seemed to have been almost completely absorbed by the rhubarb.

“Mmmm, very nice.  I like it,” commented my boyfriend as he downed a spoonful of vanilla ice-cream and rhubarb tart.

“What, really?  I thought you’d hate it?” I confessed with a surprised splutter.

“No, it’s good – nice” he affirmed.

I checked my glass of wine to see if I’d somehow consumed a bottle by accident.  But no.

This is a lovely fresh dessert – especially with a sweetly chilled complement of ice-cream on the side.

x

Rhubarb Tart (Recipe 1339): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html#1339

Asparagus Peas, Yes Please

April 14, 2010

Well, dear reader, I caved.

Unlike the usual stereotype, I’m more into shopping for good food than for clothes or new shoes (don’t get me wrong, though, they have their place in my life).

Once a week, my boyfriend works slightly later than me.  Although I should be taking full advantage of this opportunity to have the apartment to myself without thinking about someone else’s needs, fwooshing out second-hand cigarette smoke, etc., it almost always happens that I use the time to cook – or shop for food to later cook.

I’ve stopped myself a few times these  the last few weeks from buying asparagus.  “Don’t do it, it’s not German, it’s not local, it’s not in season yet, it’s too early,” etc. run the thoughts feverishly through my mind as I force myself to hold back and wait a few more weeks.

I love it.

Germans tend to be more into the thick white asparagus (spargel) than the green variety.  Although I don’t mind it in soups, I’m far more partial to the latter, especially the tender, delectable baby green asparagus.

My boyfriend, however, is not so fond of asparagus.  “Why would I want to have stinky piss?” he invariably remarks with a grimace when I ask if he’d like to try something I’ve made with it.

But, while the cats’ away the mice will play – or the cook will hit the kitchen.

x

INGREDIENTS – 100 heads of asparagus, 2 oz. of butter, a small bunch of parsley, 2 or 3 green onions, flour, 1 lump of sugar, the yolks of 2 eggs, 4 tablespoonfuls of cream, salt.

x

I guessed, since she calls them ‘Asparagus peas‘, that the size I was supposed to cut them to should be of a pea-like consistency.

So, this is what I did.  The recipe also calls for ‘green onions’.  I was puzzled as to what that meant – young white onions, still somewhat green, or did this mean leek, spring onions / shallots?

I opted for leek, as I had a rogue piece lolling about in the fridge, waiting for its turn to be transformed into something tasty.

After the required 10 minutes of cooking the parsley, onion and asparagus in butter, the sauce requires a mere 15 minutes more to thicken and adhere to the asparagus, as it’s supposed to.  Then, once the egg yolk-cream mix is added, the ”peas” (although they were more than mushy by this stage) were ready to be served.

“Yeah, they’re nice, very nice,” my boyfriend miraculously agreed.  “They’ve probably been a bit overdone though – what did you do to them?”

I explained that I’d been busy keeping an eye on other parts of our dinner at the same time, hence the teeny weeny overcooking of the asparagus.  Next time, I’ll plan ahead a little more to avoid such an outcome.

As for me, I also agree this is a pretty nice side dish.  Wonderfully mild and creamy.

I won’t be reporting on the presence or otherwise of any “stinky” side effect to tonight’s dinner, however…

x

Asparagus Peas (Recipe 1088): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1088

Royal Coburg Pudding

April 14, 2010

With a name like that, how could I resist making such a pudding?  The very name conjures up a deliciously rich, creamy and, well, sumptuous dessert fit for a king.

Visions of a pleased grin and hearty thanks from my normally pernickity hausherr spurred me on to try this.

x

INGREDIENTS – 1 pint of new milk, 6 oz. of flour, 6 oz. of sugar, 6 oz. of butter, 6 oz. of currants, 6 eggs, brandy and grated nutmeg to taste.

x

The great thing about this dessert is that it takes almost no time to put together.

And, although it didn’t taste too sweet when I stuck a curious finger into the mix and gave it a quick lick, I figured, what does it matter, this is a royal pudding.

But – what a royal flop.

To be fair, my boyfriend very nicely (he’s still continuing on his reformed path of more diplomatic feedback – I really  hope it lasts) suggested the error was probably on my side.

‘Why did you divide it by 6?  That’s probably what the problem is.”

There’s only the two of us, so I couldn’t justify using up 6 eggs, a pint of milk, etc., all for the sake of a dish that, based on past indications, there was a 86.3% chance of being rejected outright by my boyfriend.  As I’m the one who manages the household accounts, the weekly menu and shopping list, there was no way I was going to take that risk.

Within a few minutes of being in the oven, however, I guessed that something wasn’t quite right.  Namely, the damn thing wasn’t rising.

Why?

Even before they (I’d divided the mix into two pudding dishes) had fully cooked, both the look on my boyfriend’s face and my own gut feeling told me to turn off the oven and not waste any more power on them.

This is what they looked like when I dolefully withdrew them from the oven:

“Never mind,” he consoled me.  “So, is there any ice-cream left in the freezer?”

Normally I don’t eat too much ice-cream, but this was such a disappointment that I joined him in the supermarket-provided dessert.

Ho hum.

xx

Royal Coburg Pudding (Recipe 1260): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html#1260

It’s More Than Just Melted Butter, You Know…

April 11, 2010

Often when I go to the local market, I’m offered a big wad of parsley.

Occasionally, I’m at a loss to know what to do with it.  (Well, it’s not that so much, but I’ve got a fussy boyfriend who has a disconcerting tendency to exclaim ‘What’s that green thing in there?’ with a suspicious furrowing of the brows whenever I use a fresh herb too obviously or abundantly in a dish).

I’m determined not to let another bunch go to withered waste at the bottom of the fridge.

Thanks to Mrs Beeton, I think I may have struck upon a solution.

x

Step 1 – Melted Butter:  INGREDIENTS – 1/4 lb. of butter, a dessertspoonful of flour, 1 wineglassful of water, salt to taste.

x

This is very very easy to put together.  Everything gets added to the saucepan to boil, and stirred until melted and thickened.  4 minutes tops.  Then…

x

Step 2 – Parsley and Butter: 2 tablespoonfuls of minced parsley, 1/2 pint of melted butter No. 376 [i.e. Step 1 recipe].

Well, I’d like to say oh how difficult this was, that it was a terribly complex task requiring dedication, great skill and care, etc., but I’d be lying.  Or still asleep. This is a simple recipe and, what’s more, very speedy on the preparation side, especially when the melted butter mix has been put together and ready to be added.

Once the parsley was boiled (5 minutes), it needed to be finely minced (I took extra care to make sure the herb was very super finely minced with a fork, to avoid my boyfriend pointing out ‘green bits’ when it’s served…) and added to the melted butter mix.

The resulting sauce (I use the word lightly – it’s really just green butter, in my opinion) looks a wonderfully fresh, creamy green flavour enhancer, with no obvious ‘parsley bits’ in sight.

I can see this being great with meat, as well as jacket potatoes.  I’ll give it a try tonight and see how my other half reacts…

My tip: Once the parsley is boiled, keep the left-over green water and use it in a homemade stock or soup.

x

Melted Butter (Recipe 376): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#376

Parsley and Butter (Recipe 493): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#493

What did the Victorians do before Starbucks?

April 5, 2010

So, it was  a long weekend holiday morning and I was longing for something a little stronger than my usual cup of tea.

My boyfriend wasn’t up yet, so I couldn’t quite bring myself to ”borrow” some of the coffee I usually make for him first thing in the morning (we have one of those thermal-keepy-warmy types of coffee pot) before he’d had the chance to get some first.

Oh, how I longed for a latte from Starbucks.  Preferably a low-fat, decaff vanilla latte with no sugar but, as my boyfriend complains when he orders it for me, “That’s not real coffee.  What’s the point?”.  I don’t have them too often, but sometimes, just sometimes, the longing gets too much.

Then, Mrs Beeton came along and rescued me.

x

Sufficient.—6 tablespoonfuls of strong coffee, or 2 tablespoonfuls of the essence, to a breakfast-cupful of milk.

x

I figured that 6 tablespoons of coffee from the coffee pot wouldn’t be noticed by my boyfriend… at least, so I hoped (he loves his morning coffee, down to the very last sugary drop).

In 5 minutes I had myself a lovely hot mug of cafe au lait (latte).  I intended to add cream to the milk mix at first but, as I reached out to pick up the cream, I changed my mind and decided to save myself a few calories for the chocolate cake I intended to eat later.

OK, so it’s never going to be exactly the same as a lovely cup of Starbucks coffee, but Mrs Beeton’s cafe au lait certainly did the trick.  It’s very quick and easy enough to put together – very easy-does-it for a long weekend breakfast.

As I don’t like the taste of strong coffee, I was pleased at how very mild it was (which makes me wonder what coffee was like in those days, given that she had this to say about English coffee-making at the time: “This preparation is infinitely superior to the weak watery coffee so often served at English tables.”

But, as my boyfriend pointed out, perhaps they used a different type of roast back then, or the cups may have been smaller.  Either way, this cafe au lait is light and good.

x

Cafe au Lait (Recipe 1812): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/37-chapter37.html#1812

Mrs Beeton’s Potato Salad

April 5, 2010

I quite often make a Jamie Oliver potato salad, as it’s an easy dish to make in bulk and include in our ‘lunch boxes’ for work.

As an alternative, I thought I’d give Mrs Beeton’s Potato Salad a try, and see how they compare.

x

INGREDIENTS – 10 or 12 cold boiled potatoes, 4 tablespoonfuls of tarragon or plain vinegar, 6 tablespoonfuls of salad-oil, pepper and salt to taste, 1 teaspoonful of minced parsley.

x

My boyfriend loves Jamie Oliver’s version (especially when I add a bit of bacon, which doesn’t happen too often).  His salad can be varied a little, so sometimes I add yoghurt (surprisingly, my boyfriend’s favourite), and other times I stick to oil and vinegar.

I didn’t have any tarragon vinegar to hand, so I made a quick substitute using dried tarragon and white balsamic vinegar.  I think I overdid the dried herb, but this didn’t really affect the outcome too much.  I hope.

This is a nice use of left-over potatoes.  My boyfriend, after eating this salad as a side dish, said that he liked it but prefers Jamie Oliver’s version.  I can see the merits of both – Jamie’s has a nice yoghurty creamy finish, whereas Mrs Beeton’s has a mild tarragon flavour and a bit of a tang.  Both are really quite easy to make, too, and, I think, equally delicious.

I think I’ll vary this dish, so that one week I’ll make Jamie Oliver’s in bulk, and the next I’ll make Mrs Beeton’s.

Variety is the spice of life and all that!

x

Potato Salad (Recipe 1154): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1154

Rich Onion Sauce

April 4, 2010

“I never thought I’d be saying this, but it’s retardedly salty!” commented my volunteer taster and boyfriend.

This, coming from a guy who lives, breathes, heavily ingests and practically has salt blood sloshing through his veins, is rich indeed.

To be honest, the saltiness was my fault entirely, not Mrs Beeton’s.

x

INGREDIENTS – 6 large onions, rather more than 1/2 pint of good gravy, 2 oz. of butter, salt and pepper to taste.

x

As it’s just the two of us (excluding our three cats, who almost always seem to manage to get dinner table scraps off from my boyfriend), I usually reduce large-quantity recipes – in this case, by a third.

Good gravy, I thought.  Hmmm.  Well, I have to say that my homemade (vegetarian) gravy is normally pretty good.

But, knowing that my boyfriend is not overly fond of onions, I was determined to flavour the gravy in such a way as to make both the fried onions and the sauce itself mightily appealing.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, I put too much of a herb salt I’d just bought that day into the bowl.  Or, rather, over-estimated how much herb salt would be needed to match the usual saltiness of plain old sea salt.

We’d just had an argument about his attitude to trying new things, or, to be precise, anything new cooked by me.  So, in the spirit of conciliation, I asked for his opinion about the gravy before finalising the sauce.

The signs weren’t good when he raced to the sink and spat it out, before commenting on its saltiness.

After watering it down somewhat, I put everything back on the stove for one final flick of the wooden spoon before spooning the sauce onto our plates.

“It’s nice.  Better.  Oniony.”  stammered my boyfriend, sensing my eyes unblinkingly focused on his lips in a non-sexual manner.

The final result when making this sauce all depends, as I now know, on the quality of the gravy being used.  Mrs Beeton states a very small quantity of gravy should be added, but I very soon realised that this is not very realistic (the sauce soon turns to nothing but a pile of onion).  Let’s conservatively guestimate that I added approximately double the stated quantity, which still wasn’t enough but at least gave it the appearance of sauce.

It’s a nice sauce.  Just be careful with the gravy and you shouldn’t go too far wrong… unless you reach for the salt!

x

Brown Onion Sauce (Recipe 485): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#485

Rhubarb Jam, Yes Ma’am

April 4, 2010

I love rhubarb.

Not on its own, of course – I find it too tangy for that.  But mixed with something else, and tarted up (so to speak) nicely, it’s a joyous fruit to look forward to each year.  It has the most wonderful hue, too – so rosy and infused with spring-time potential.

The first rhubarb of the southern German season was on sale at the local market yesterday.  What, I wondered, could Mrs Beeton advise me to do with it?

x

INGREDIENTS – To every lb. of rhubarb allow 1 lb. of loaf sugar, the rind of 1/2 lemon.

x

I only used two medium stalks, because I didn’t want to risk using it up on a recipe that might not taste appealing (I’ve never tried, or thought of making, rhubarb jam before).

Unfortunately, I don’t have a grater fine enough to zest a lemon, so I did it the old-fashioned way – by peeling it off with a knife, then cutting it as finely as I could.

Luckily, this jam is a cinch to make.  Within 45 minutes I had myself a small quantity of watermelon-hued jam, slightly tangy and tart, but wonderfully, refreshingly tasty.  Don’t you just love spring and the miracle of produce she brings?

x

“So, what do you think?” I asked my (‘I’m not fussy, I just have simple tastes’) boyfriend, as I handed him a slice.

There’s always a moment of uncertainty when I give him new things to try.  He isn’t, as stated before, a culinary adventurer – preferring, instead, to stick with the familiar climes of fries, schnitzel and chocolate wherever and whenever possible.

He took a few bites and chomped away thoughtfully.

“Hey, what do you think?” I prompted him again, giving him a small punch on the arm.

“I’m eating it aren’t I?” he grinned with a half-full mouth (= in his language “I’m eating it, so that means I like it”).  “It’s a bit lemony, but I like it.”

I really liked it, too.  It takes little time or effort to prepare and once the sugar mix has liquified, it can be left to get on with its simmering with only an occasional stir.

It’s not too tangy, either – the amount of sugar (plus the lemon) manage to balance out the tartness quite nicely.

x

Rhubarb Jam (Recipe 1590): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/31-chapter31.html#1590