Posts Tagged ‘germany’

365 Days Draw to a Close…

December 1, 2010

Although it’s been a little while since I’ve posted (finishing up a job in Germany, moving to Canada, setting up a new business, etc. have kept me rather busy), Mrs Beeton and Household Management are very often in my mind.

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Over the last year, as I’ve tried a multitude of her wonderful (and not so wonderful) recipes and tips, I’ve drawn quite a few conclusions about Victorian England and the art of running a household in general.  Here are a just a few of them:

1. That English food is ‘rubbish’ or ‘sub-standard’ (as many people I’ve spoken to seem to unhesitatingly think, even if they’ve never tried it) is a fallacy.  English cooking often gets bad press, as far as its image goes.  But reputation in this case has very little to do with reality.  Perhaps there was a time when it wasn’t as inspirational or interesting as it could have been (I suspect the 1970s, but I could be wrong), but the lingering perception amongst the general public is really quite unfair when compared to reality.

2. That England has lousy cooks.  Again, I don’t know where this general idea comes from, and nor do people I’ve spoken to when pressed to back up their claim with an example.  If television is anything to go by (in the 21st century alone, think Rick Stein, Keith Floyd, Nigella Lawson, Anthony Worral-Thompson, Delia Smith, Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre-White, Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal, Gary Rhodes, etc. etc. etc.), then the great English cook is alive and lustily kicking.

3. That running a household is something easy and effortless – ‘just a woman’s job’.  If my other half was fond of joking about this a year ago, he certainly isn’t now. What’s more, for those women and men who choose to make housekeeping / home-making a full-time job (and even for those who do it in addition to raising kids and working outside the home), I say ‘bravo’.

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As I finish my year of running my household with the reassuring guidance of Mrs Beeton, I feel I’ve come away from this adventure with a richer kitchen repertoire, a broader range of household tactics, and a whole lot more self-respect for my roles as Head of Finance, Head of Cooking, Head of Cleaning and Head of Procurement.

Thank you, Isabella Beeton.  It’s been an absolute pleasure.

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Queen Cakes, Minus the Final Portrait

July 7, 2010

I’m such a twally sometimes.  I don’t know where my mind was today, but it certainly wasn’t on what I was doing.  I was thinking of the World Cup.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m absolutely not a fan.  I’m not even sure what type of ball they use (it gets confusing – North Americans call football soccer, and the rest of the world, as far as I can tell, calls soccer football).  Added to this my complete lack of interest in any type of sport, and you can understand my problem.

We’re living in Germany at the moment, and as most of the world except me seems to know, Germany’s doing quite well in the current World Cup series.  The reason I was distracted was the overwhelming number of kids dashing around in the park downstairs, blowing those damn vuvuzelas as loud as they can.  I don’t even know how to pronounce the word.  I certainly don’t want to hear them.

So, distracted as I was by dark thoughts about where said vuvuzelas ought to be shoved, I completely forgot to take a final photograph of Mrs Beeton’s Queen Cakes.

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INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of flour, 1/2 lb. of butter, 1/2 lb. of pounded loaf sugar, 3 eggs, 1 teacupful of cream, 1/2 lb. of currants, 1 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, essence of lemon, or almonds to taste.

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I laughed when I saw how many eggs and how much butter were required.  Then I saw the cream – at which, my boyfriend laughed (I don’t usually keep cream, because as soon as I turn my back, it’s down my boyfriend’s throat faster than I can say ‘Where’s the damn cream?”).

I didn’t have lemon essence, but luckily Mrs Beeton advises “Grated lemon-rind may be substituted for the lemon and almond flavouring, which will make the cakes equally nice.”

(Un)fortunately, the recipe doesn’t state how many mini-cakes this recipe produces.  So, (un)fortunately, I reduced the quantity by 2/3rds – more than enough for the two of us, as it turned out.

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The final result is a slightly flat muffin-like patty cake.  I have to admit it, the cream does give it a wonderfully (and naughtily) fluffy texture.

All 12 cakes were gone within 12 hours.  As I only ate 3, I leave you to guess where the rest went, and how much they were liked.

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Queen Cakes (Recipe 1773): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/35-chapter35.html#1773

Apricot Tart with a Shuffle

June 19, 2010

No matter how hard I try, there’s a particularly irritating sound I find very difficult to bite my tongue and ignore.

For anyone who’s gone food shopping with a partner who is not as “into it” as yourself, the hopelessly bored shuffle of unwilling feet behind you as you go about trying to gather everything you need can be a bit of a – now, how can I put this politely? – pain in the posterior.

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There’s not much that I love more than food shopping, especially at the market.  Most of the time I manage just fine getting it all home (with a fair bit of dexterous arrangement) on my bicycle, but occasionally a little help is needed.  On these occasions, I tend to play on the ‘you’ve got such big muscles’ tack, but I think I’m wearing that one out.

But anyway, on to the main theme.

We had friends round for dinner tonight, and of course I leaped at the opportunity to “do something Mrs Beeton-y”.

With a bag of golden-orange apricots in my boyfriend’s unwilling hands (“Can you please go and weigh these?” I directed, hoping to distract him from sighing and twitching desperately behind me.  Off he went, shuffling and sighing forlornly.  Geez and blimey!!!)

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INGREDIENTS – 12 or 14 apricots, sugar to taste, puff-paste or short crust.

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“Sweeten with good moist sugar”, Mrs Beeton advises.  I’ve long been puzzled as to what ‘moist sugar’ is – I’ve been given a few hints about modern equivalents, but I’ve found myself puzzling over the question on occasion for quite a while.  Eventually, after quite a bit of internet research, ‘moist sugar’ in Mrs Beeton’s world was something like Muscovado Sugar (which is not actually moist, but has a higher molasses content, apparently, hence the ‘moist’ – in comparison to other sugars – label).  Off I rushed to hastily grab a box, my poor suffering boyfriend shuffling forsakenly behind me.

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Our friends are German, and they’d never heard of Mrs Beeton.

“She studied in Heidelberg, really?’ one of them cried.  An instant convert was born.

I opted for (shop-bought) puff-paste (pastry) – one of these days I’ve got to give Mrs Beeton’s recipe for this a try.  In the meantime, the pre-made stuff made a very good substitute.

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However, the recipe doesn’t specify clearly whether pastry is meant to form the sides of the tart, or if it’s just to go on top.  After debating it with my boyfriend for a few moments, we figured she meant ‘just on top’.  On it went, over the fresh apricot halves, and popped into the oven.

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Unfortunately, I served the dessert after a rather large dinner and too short a pause between the main and sweet courses.  Politely reluctant looks dressed the faces of our guests as I keenly encouraged them to try a little bit, whilst at the same time deftly putting all the blame on Mrs Beeton should it not be to their taste.

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Thankfully, they really liked it.  I accompanied it with Mrs Beeton’s custard, which I’ve made before (https://mrsbeetonin365days.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/day-91-lemon-brandy-custard/).   This time, unfortunately, I curdled it ever so slightly – but I sploshed enough brandy into it to mask any deficiencies.  I hope.).

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“Mmm, interesting,” one of them commented about the sauce as she took another bite.  Luckily, this sort of custard is not a typically German thing, so I got away with the slight curdling by saying it was an English sauce.  (“Oh, OK then.”)

The fact that there was nothing left is a testament to the simple tastiness of this simple dessert (thank you Mrs Beeton).

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Apricot Tart (Recipe 1239 ): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html#1239

Lemon Brandy Custard (Recipe 404): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/10-chapter10.html#404

Vegetables For Pudding

May 13, 2010

Carrot Cake, OK.  Carrot Jam, well, I was more into it than I thought.  But Carrot Pudding?  Big mental ‘hmms’ as I weighed up the pros and cons of making this recipe.  There was no way I could tell my boyfriend the real name before he tried it… such a foolhardy confession would lead to instant rejection (of the pudding and not, I hope, of me)

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INGREDIENTS – 1/2 lb. of bread crumbs, 4 oz. of suet, 1/4 lb. of stoned raisins, 3/4 lb. of carrot, 1/4 lb. of currants, 3 oz. of sugar, 3 eggs, milk, 1/4 nutmeg.

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The first ingredient that had me hmm-ing was suet.  I’m vego (my boyfriend emphatically isn’t – any attempt to persuade him otherwise would lead to the Common-Law equivalent of divorce), so the idea of using suet (which I had to research on the internet, just to be sure it was what I thought – i.e. hard animal fat) was not exactly appealing.  I know there are vegetarian versions out there.  I’m pretty sure they must sell both types in Germany too, where I’m currently living, but I haven’t a clue what it could be called or where to find it.

So instead, I substituted the suet for butter, reasoning that it was very much the same for the purpose of making a pudding and a whole lot better for my peace of mind.

I didn’t have any currants – but I ingeniously (or so I felt) soaked a double-portion of dried raisins in some fruit drinking syrup and left them to plumpen for 30 minutes.

‘How interesting, a pudding without flour!’ I marvelled as I put it all together.  Only after it was in the oven did I clock that I’d added breadcrumbs = flour. 😉

Not being very familiar with boiling anything pudding-ish other than the Christmas variety, I decided to bake the pudding instead. Household Management doesn’t state how hot the oven should be, but I opted for 190 degrees Celsius for 45 minutes.

It was absolutely delicious.

“Would have been better with ice-cream,” mumbled my boyfriend helpfully as he, despite the lack of ice-cream, cleared his plate in 2 seconds flat.

There was enough left over for us to have it for pudding the next day too, which he again managed to hoover up promptly enough to beat his 2-second record.  Our eldest cat got her paws on a piece – even she approved (but then again, she pretty much eats anything – recently, she leapt onto the table and slyly polished off some asparagus and Hollandaise sauce before we had a chance to react!).

This is a nice, easy pudding – I can see myself making this again in the near future.

With ice-cream, naturally.

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Carrot Pudding (Boiled or Baked) (Recipe 1259): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html#1259

When in France…

May 9, 2010

Well, I was in France yesterday, which is not as far as you might think – from where I’m living in Germany, it’s only 20km or so to the border.  There’s little more exciting on the weekend than ‘going to France’ (which sounds a whole lot better than ‘going 20km across the border’).

I love France.  The sheer marvellous-ness and deliciousness of the food is perfectly true.  Anytime I’m there, I feel a thrill of delight at the endless culinary adventurous-ness my mind and taste buds are inspired to.

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INGREDIENTS – A quart of French beans, 3 oz. of fresh butter, pepper and salt to taste, the juice of 1/2 lemon.

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Unfortunately, I have to confess that the beans I used weren’t French, nor were they the variety known as ‘French beans’.  But that’s OK – German beans are just as good and it’s the method, not necessarily the vegetable, which makes this a ‘French mode’ dish.

This didn’t take long to put together – boil beans, toss them into a fry-pan to drain off the remaining moisture, add the butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice and voila!

My boyfriend, even though I was totally convinced that he’d hate them, really seemed to enjoy this dish.

“Nice and good and lovely.   Lovely, good and nice!”

I’ve never thought of adding lemon juice to beans before, but it worked really well.

I think I overdid it slightly, giving it a bit of an unexpected tang, but it was as “nice, good, lovely” as my boyfriend said it was.

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French Mode of Cooking Beans (Recipe 1091 ): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1091

Almond Paste = Marzipan

May 1, 2010

This is the first time I’ve cooked something from Household Management, thinking, “I really hope this doesn’t kill somebody”.

I wasn’t even intending to cook anything this morning at all.  I’ve long felt guilty about living so close to the famous Schwarzwald (Black Forest) and I’d originally planned to go on a long walk through there with my boyfriend (= dragged-along, kicking and screaming walking companion).  Yesterday afternoon, he commented soberly “They tell me it’s forecast to rain tomorrow”.  I’m not sure if he added “unfortunately” – my memory says yes, but experience advises otherwise.  This morning, I woke up to radiantly blue skies and chirpily mischievous bird twitters outside my window, intermingled with happy snores next to me (was he actually smiling in his sleep?).  The mysterious “They” were wrong.  If it hadn’t subsequently become a little overcast, I would have shaken him.  However, I digress…

As I read through Mrs Beeton’s recipe for Almond Paste, something began to click in my head.  ‘Is this like Marzipan,” I wondered.  I’m not a huge fan of Marzipan, and I have to confess that I’ve never even though where it comes from or how it’s made.  Not that I thought it grew on trees or anything, but I’d have been stumped if pressed to name its constituents.

I looked it up on the internet and was amazed and abashed to discover that Marzipan is merely a combination of sweet and bitter almond, egg whites and sugar.

Bitter almond scares me a little – in its natural state, it’s meant to be poisonous.  A friend recently gave me a small flask of bitter almond aroma, which I’ve occasionally looked at with a mixture of curiosity and trepidation.

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INGREDIENTS – 1 lb. of sweet almonds, 6 bitter ones, 1 lb. of very finely sifted sugar, the whites of 2 eggs.

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I cheated a little – well a lot – by purchasing the almonds pre-ground instead of doing it myself.  After adding it to the mixing bowl, I happened to turn over the packet and read the following advice on the back:

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Great.  Not only am I afraid of poisoning someone, but they might actually end up chomping on “traces of other shell fruits “.

My youngest cat, Jack, got awfully exited at this point. He leapt on the bench with graceful glee and tried to stick his head in the bowl.  I promptly removed him, only for him to leap up again and make a second desperate attempt to be at one with the mixture.  (He’s a fussy little thing but he loves treats, and I think he thought the packet of almonds was a pack of cat treats).

I really wasn’t even sure how much bitter almond extract to use.  On the back of the flask, it said “1/2 bis 1 Fl. für 500g Mehl” (1/2 – 1 Fl. per 500g of flour).  The trouble was, I wasn’t entirely sure if Fl. stood for flasche (bottle, flask) or some other German measurement that I wasn’t familiar with.  Given my concerns about using this stuff in the first place, I did a lot of googling to reassure myself that Fl. does indeed (I hope) stand for bottle / flask.

Mrs Beeton’s recipe is, as so often, precise – but imprecise at the same time.  For example, is ‘finely sifted sugar’ our equivalent of icing sugar, or fine sugar?  I used fine sugar in the end, giving it a thicker consistency that the Marzipan I’ve seen in shops, so I’m wondering now if I should have used icing sugar instead.

The second thing is, is the sugar supposed to melt in the pan, or is it just meant to be combined until relatively dry?  The problem is, the mix at the bottom of the pan began to brown almost immediately, allowing no possibility of leaving it on long enough for the sugar to reduce to liquid form (if that’s what’s meant to happen).

After stirring for a good 10 minutes, I turned the heat off and left the pan to cool, as advised.

But, when I returned to it a little later, there was  no way that mix was going to allow itself to be made “into any shape that fancy may dictate”.  It was a pile of crumbs.  Crumbs!

We’ve got friends coming round for dinner tonight, so I think I’ll use the crumbs on top of a cake or muffins instead and get kudos for doing something different.  If I can only keep Jack out of the kitchen in the meantime, that is…

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Almond Paste (Recipe 1220): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/27-chapter27.html#1220

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.

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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.

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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!”).

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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.

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.

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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.

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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…

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

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?

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

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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?

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“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.

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

Did the French Invent ‘German’ Bratkartoffeln First?

March 27, 2010

It became quickly apparent as soon as the slices of potato were merrily bubbling in a pool of hot oil that something was up with these ‘French-fashion potatoes’.

In my head, I could hear my boyfriend gleefully exclaiming something like, ‘Oh boy, oh boy, Bratkartoffeln?  Something fried?  Oil?  Fat?  Yippee!’.

The poor lad.  It’s tough knowing that I’m continually denying him some of his life’s keenest pleasures – oil, fat, cream, butter, overdoses of sugar and salt, and so forth.  But, as it was a Friday night, I thought well, he deserves a little treat tonight.  Perhaps not the sort of little treat he’d have in mind if I asked him for ideas but, nevertheless, a welcome treat all the same.

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INGREDIENTS – Potatoes, hot butter or clarified dripping, salt.

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The only thing is, this recipe strongly smacks of being eerily similar to a modern German side dish known as Bratkartoffeln (friend potato slices).  My boyfriend loves them, representing, as they do, fat levels suitable for those who really want to have a heart attack at some point in their life.  I don’t mind ‘borrowing’ a few from his plate on occasion if we’re having a bite to eat somewhere, but I can’t say they’re the healthiest side dish to be found in Germany.  Yet they’re very popular, and it’s hard to associate Bratkartoffeln with any other country.  But, it seems, those French got in there first.  Although, the Germans do have a lot more recipes and uses for this dish.

As far as simplicity goes, this one is a non-brainer.  Simply add some hot fat into the frying pan (I usually keep a bottle of sunflower oil for this purpose), heat it up until it begins to crackle, toss in the potatoes, turn them as soon as they begin to brown and get slightly crisp, do the same to the other side, remove and drain (‘Don’t drain them!  They need oil’! my boyfriend would cry, if I had of allowed him into the kitchen at this stage), and serve.

This won’t be making it onto our plates again on a regular basis.  But, as an occasional treat for a poor fat-starved boyfriend, I’ll bear the dish in mind.

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French-Fashion Fried Potatoes:  (Recipe 1142): http://www.mrsbeeton.com/25-chapter25.html#1142