Posts Tagged ‘recipes’

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.



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’.


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.


Fried Cucumbers?

January 14, 2010

Now for something completely different.

Never in all my life have I heard of fried cucumbers.  Sliced cucumbers, diced cucumbers, grated cucumbers, dressed cucumbers, soggy cucumbers, cucumber salad, cucumber-infused facial toner, cucumber… well, cucumber everything else, yes – but fried cucumbers?

I’ve got to try this one out.  I’m not even going to warn my boyfriend in advance as I often tend to do – there’s no way he’ll guess what it is and wouldn’t try it if I let on before I dish it up on a plate.

So, here goes…


INGREDIENTS – 2 or 3 cucumbers, pepper and salt to taste, flour, oil or butter.

Mode.—Pare the cucumbers and cut them into slices of an equal thickness, commencing to slice from the thick, and not the stalk end of the cucumber. Wipe the slices dry with a cloth, dredge them with flour, and put them into a pan of boiling oil or butter; Keep turning them about until brown; lift them out of the pan, let them drain, and serve, piled lightly in a dish. These will be found a great improvement to rump-steak: they should be placed on a dish with the steak on the top.

Time.—5 minutes.


“What is…?”came the query as soon as I brought out the plates.

”Fried cucumbers!” I blurted out as quickly as I could.  “Just try it – no don’t over-salt it – give it a go… I don’t know… it might be nice,” I hurried on.  Quite why presenting cucumber to a grown man reduces me to a semi-bundle of nerves, I don’t know.

”Not bad,” he replied after I hesitantly asked for his opinion (which actually translates to ”Pretty good” in standard English).

I had assumed (wrongly) that cucumber would be too watery to maintain their crunchy state once fried – how wrong I was.

I can’t say they sell a dish – but, as Isabella Beeton hints, fried cucumbers should enhance a main dish rather than being the centre of attention. And in that respect, this works.

Fried Cucumbers: (Recipe 1113)

Day 41: Champagne Jelly and Ice-cream

December 28, 2009

This is the story of a 2/3rds empty bottle of Champagne (or, to be precise, German Sekt) that was sitting in our fridge until earlier today.

Like all good stories, I won’t reveal if this has a happy or a sad ending for the Sekt until the end of the tale.

Its owner, feeling that too much alcohol imbibed over the course of Christmas festivities surely couldn’t be the best thing for her health or sanity, decided that Something Must Be Done To Get Rid of It In a Satisfactory Way.

The easiest option was, of course, simply to down the rest and be done with it.  Surely that would meet with the approval of its other owner, who has more than once commented that his girlfriend is easier to handle after a glass of vino.  (I don’t necessarily mean physically of course, merely that she’s more likely to agree with whatever he’s saying at the time.  ‘Dragon Age’? Of course you can play it all day and all night!).

However, a long-gone but very persistent author by the name of Isabella Beeton wasn’t going to let the Sekt end its days so ignominiously. The words  ‘Champagne Jelly’ flitted tantalisingly, yet mysteriously, past the girlfriend’s eyes as she scrolled through Household Management’s online version (  And no, I don’t get kick-backs for promoting this site!).

I say mysteriously, because Mrs Beeton gives no recipe for Champagne Jelly, although she mentions it at least twice in her mighty tome.

Using logical deduction and sound reasoning, the girlfriend put two-and-three together and got five.  Or at least, a simple but hopefully accurate recipe.

Champagne Jelly: For every 1 lb of Champagne / Sekt / similar beverage, combine with 3/4 lb sugar.  Simmer both together over a medium-to-low heat until somewhat reduced and thickened (approximately 1 hour).  Chill in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours until set.  Serve.

The clever girlfriend realised that her boyfriend could be persuaded to try this dish if accompanied by something else he simply can’t resist – ice-cream.

She poured a little over the creamy dessert and presented it to him.  With bated breath, she enquired as to his opinion.

“It’s ice-creamy I guess,” he replied.  “It’s good.”  And so thought she.

Although best described as a syrup rather than a jelly, it adds a rather sweet and, well, syrupy, dollop of tastiness to a humble bowl of vanilla ice-cream.

And so they all lived happily ever after.  Except for the 1/3rd bottle of Sekt, of course.

The next post will appear at the beginning of January 2010.

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Day 39: Some Vegetable Soup Please, My Good Man

December 27, 2009

After Christmas comes the traditional I-never-want-to-cook-or-eat-again lull.

It usually passes after a few days, but until then it can be a bit of a challenge to motivate myself into going anywhere near the kitchen.

However, the shops aren’t open until tomorrow and I need to come up with some ways to use up the left-overs and anything else sitting there in the fridge (aside from giving them to our greediest cat, who should have been called Hoover, in my opinion.  She’ll eat pretty much anything).

In the fruit & vegetable drawer I have:  parsley, 1 kilo of bananas, potatoes, onions, carrots, beans, broccoli, the end of a courgette. lemons and clementines.  Plus a small handful of sorry-looking mushrooms.

A soup would seem the most obvious use of some, if not, most, of these ingredients.  The first two recipes I spotted as I skimmed through Household Management are perhaps not the most enticing:

LEEK SOUP:  Ingredients – A sheep’s head…

KALE BROSE (a Scotch Recipe): Ingredients – Half an ox-head or cow-heel

or even

SOUP A LA SOLFERINO (Sardinian Recipe): Ingredients – 4 eggs, 1/2 pint of cream…

After the overwhelming richness of Christmas fare, now’s not the time for culinary extravagance.

Eventually I find a recipe that suits most purposes – Vegetable Soup (Version 3).

INGREDIENTS – 6 potatoes, 4 turnips, or 2 if very large; 2 carrots, 2 onions; if obtainable, 2 mushrooms; 1 head of celery, 1 large slice of bread, 1 small saltspoonful of salt, 1/4 saltspoonful of ground black pepper, 2 teaspoonfuls of Harvey’s sauce, 6 quarts of water.

I didn’t have  any turnip or celery to hand, so I added 1 extra carrot and onion.  As for ‘Harvey’s sauce’, a little research revealed that it is a (by the looks of it) rather strong-tasting condiment used to enhance the base flavour of whatever you’re cooking.  As a very approximate substitute, I also added a marinade of a little mixed garlic, soy sauce, vinegar and paprika to the final soup.

You’re supposed to cook it for 3 hours, but my hungry stomach just couldn’t wait that long.  After 2 hours, I took it off the stove and blended it quickly before serving it up for a simple lunch. Very nice.

Vegetable Soup recipe: (Recipe 159)

Harvey’s Sauce recipe:

Day 31: The Battle of the Hausfraus

December 18, 2009

One of my colleagues told me today about a serious custom linked to this time of year.

Towards Christmas, housewives across Germany battle it out to produce the most applaudable Weihnachts Plätzchen (Christmas biscuits).  They each exchange biscuits with other women and compare their own to everyone else’s.  Reputations are rapidly destroyed or founded over the festive season.

As you can imagine, the competition is intense.  Rivalry is savage.  Reviews can be deadly.

Although I’m nowhere near as established here in Germany yet to even consider taking part in all of this, I thought I’d make my own small contribution by looking into what Mrs Beeton has to offer, biscuit-wise.

I initially thought of making mince pies (OK they’re not biscuits, but they sure are festive – and unknown here in Germany).  But when I saw the amount of prior preparation involved (…“press the whole {mincemeat}into a jar, carefully exclude the air, and the mincemeat will be ready for use in a fortnight”), I opted for something decidedly more convenient.

Lemon Biscuits

Seed Biscuits

Savoy Biscuits

(See recipe links below)

When I was younger, my mother used to subtly hint that I couldn’t bake biscuits to save my life (Mother: ”You can’t bake biscuits to save your life”).  Although I can cook pretty much anything else, successful biscuits in those days often eluded me.  I like to think that I’ve improved over the years, but sometimes it’s still a close call.

Lemon Biscuits: This was the quickest recipe of the 3.  25 minutes passed between getting the mixing bowl out of the drawer and putting the baked biscuits on the cooling rack.  Light, slightly crispy and tasty.

Seed Biscuits: This was also pretty fast.  They have a slighty savoury taste, with the taste of the caraway seeds coming almost as a surprise when you bite into them.  The dough was stiff enough to allow me to use some cutesy animal-shaped biscuit cutters.  If you can’t go a little crazy at Christmas, when can you?

Savoy Biscuits: Or, Savoy Disaster more like.  Before even starting on them, I knew the process wasn’t going to be so easy.  A lot of whisking is required – an automatic whisker would save a lot of trouble, but I decided to do it manually as I had quartered the quantities – not enough for a machine to do.  That was my second mistake (the first was attempting the recipe to begin with, given my track record).  Whisking the mix to a stiff, light froth is key – and I stunningly failed to do, as my arm got tired after 15 minutes of beating and I began to give up.  I then decided to cheat and put the mix (slop) into a small baking dish, as it was too runny to separate into individual biscuits.  I’ll cut it up later, I thought.  Only when it was in the oven did I realise my 3rd mistake – I hadn’t put the flour into the mix.  At that point I completely gave up and switched off the oven.

Sitting here now with some tea and biscuits, I have to say that I’m really quite happy with the first two recipes.  But as for the third – perhaps my mother was right.

Lemon Biscuit. Seed Biscuit and Savoy Biscuit Recipes: (Numbers 1743, 1749 and 1748 respectively)

Day 29: Head Fakery at the Dinner Table

December 16, 2009

Tonight is Vegetarian Night (sorry, ‘’Meat Reduced Night”).

Or, it was supposed to be.

With heavily-sighed reluctance, my boyfriend recently agreed to eat two meat-free meals per week,  so we can eat the same main dish together sometimes.  I use ‘’meat reduced’’ rather than ‘’vegetarian’’ as a bit of a head-fake term.  Not that it fools him much.

I had it all planned out – stuffed Butternut Squash, roast veg and a mushroom sauce on the side.  Usually, if he doesn’t get too involved in the preparation (cue locked kitchen door and refusal to answer any statement starting with ‘What is that…?’ or ‘’Are you going to do it like that?”), then he’ll give most things a try.

Then came the proverbial spanner.

“I’ll be home soon – I finished an hour early,’’ came his unexpected call.

Scheiße (shit).

I was pretty ravenous already and knew he would be too.  Unless I came up with something quickly, I could see myself being persuaded to order a pizza.

I lunged for Household Management and began panic-scanning the soup recipes.

Potato Soup (Version 1)

INGREDIENTS – 4 lbs. of mealy potatoes, boiled or steamed very dry, pepper and salt to taste, 2 quarts of stock (from recipe no. 105).

Luckily I’d sent him on a detour to the local building centre to buy a new kitchen tap and to check out some shelves, gaining me some valuable minutes to get the soup on and rescue  Meat Reduced Night.

Naturally, that ol’ spanner hadn’t yet finished clunking round the works.

B: “Just calling to check how much I should spend on the shelf.”

Me: (gasping slightly as I dashed about the kitchen) “Happy to leave that up to you,” (chopping frantically at the potatoes and shooing away our greedy black cat)

B: “€15 or €17…?” he pressed.

Me: “The cheaper the better.  Up to you.  See you soon!”

Hang up the phone.  Push cat off bench.  Attempt to fill saucepan with water.  Forget tap is broken.  Water sprays out, drenching my face and top.  Cue swearing.  Phone rings.

B: “Wasn’t there something else I was supposed to get?”

Me: “No no,” I trilled with false calm, “I think that’s everything.”

2 minutes later, I got him off the topics of shelf pros and cons and off the phone.

Hasten to finish soup and get the main course on.  Shove cat off bench again.  Open cupboard to get something.  Half the contents crash out.  Cue more swearing.  Forget tap is broken. Again. Water sprays out, drenching my face and top.  Again. Cue swearing.  Again.

Just as his keys were inserted into the key hole, the soup was miraculously done.

Taking inspiration from one of the soup variations listed under the first recipe, I tossed in a piece of wholegrain bread to bulk the soup up and give it a healthy boost.  I told him about it but didn’t give specifics. Another bit of head-fakery on my part, as my boyfriend despises non-white bread (‘’fruity bread’’).  Well, he never asked me what type of bread I put in…

We enjoyed the soup.  Simple and (barring distractions) super quick.  I added some oregano and a dash of cream to finish it off before serving.

As for my boyfriend’s reaction to the main dish, well, you probably don’t want to know.

Potato Soup Recipes: (Recipe 145 – 47)

Day 23: Tea-Cake Salvation

December 10, 2009

Somedays, I just don’t have the energy.

It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, I usually head to the kitchen to restore peace and calm to life.

For the times when you’re feeling tired, grumpy, overwhelmed, overloaded, fed-up / all of the above, when you’re overtaken by culinary laziness, but you still want a little comfort food, go for tea-cakes.

INGREDIENTS – 2 lbs. of flour, 1/2 teaspoonful of salt, 1/4 lb. of butter or lard, 1 egg, a piece of German yeast the size of a walnut, warm milk.

A bit of mixing, a bit of kneading, a bit of waiting, and before you know it, several golden mounds of mouth-watering joy are ready to be taken out of the oven for a little bit of culinary therapy.

When cool, slice, toast and slather with butter (if you can wait that long, that is).

All over, this takes about an hour – with only 5 minutes of this devoted to work.

A sweetly comforting salve for any of life’s trivial woes.

Tea-Cakes: (Recipe 1786)

Day 21: I Can’t Believe It’s (Not) Jam

December 8, 2009

Carrot Jam to Imitate Apricot Preserve

Wouldn’t your attention be laughingly-arrested by this too?

When I came across a recipe for Carrot Jam in Isabella Beeton’s chapter on Preserves, I knew I had to give it a try, despite my instinctive absolutely-no-way-it’ll-taste-even-remotely-edible response.

I knew there was no way it could (I mean, come off it, carrot on toast?!).  But as I’d bought a bottle of Brandy for Friday’s apple-custard tart, I’ll jump at the chance to honourably be done with it as soon as possible.

The last time I (allegedly) partook of this particular beverage was as a baby.  (Allegedly) I was a bit of a lusty, high-pitched wailer, so my war-time nurse of a grandmother (allegedly) prescribed a drop of Brandy in my milk.  Allegedly.  I’ve no idea if it’s actually true (my late grandmother sometimes enjoyed pulling my leg), but an abiding aversion to the smell lingers on.

INGREDIENTS – Carrots; to every lb. of carrot pulp allow 1 lb. of pounded sugar, the grated rind of 1 lemon, the strained juice of 2, 6 chopped bitter almonds, 2 tablespoonfuls of brandy.

It’s an easy recipe, but that still didn’t warm me to the idea of eating carrot on toast.

The most time-consuming part was boiling the thinly-sliced carrots to near-mash, which didn’t take that long at all (35 minutes).

I’ve never heard of bitter almonds and most certainly don’t have any lying around, so 6 regular almonds were pestle-and-mortared into service.

I summoned (begged) my boyfriend into the kitchen to share the moment of tasting with me.

“You’re trying some,” I muttered as he grimaced at the gingery pulp.

I ladled a spoon of carrot onto two very small pieces of bread.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to look at each other as we slowly, with eww-ick expressions, raised the bread to our lips.

Slowly.  Slowly.  Slowly.

We shoved the bread into our mouths and chewed as quickly as our disgust would allow us.

Suddenly, my boyfriend’s face cleared.  Munching carefully, he quietly gave his pronouncement.

“Hmm.  It’s… not… bad.  Not… bad… at… all.’’

My own prior expectation of a loo-dash faded away as my tastebuds assessed the new flavor sensation.  With huge surprise I had to agree– it really was pretty damn good.  Who’d have thought it?

Give it a try for yourself and see what you think.  I was unexpectedly impressed by the lip-lickety sweetness of this surprisingly tasty (not to mention economical) concoction.

Carrot Jam Recipe: (recipe 1525)

A Perfect Weekend Breakfast

November 29, 2009

With my mouth stuffed full of warm bread as I write, I think there can be few other pleasures on a rolling-into-winter Sunday morning than  your own fresh Dampfnudeln.

It was a bit touch-and-go at times, sometimes because a step was missing from the recipe and sometimes for other reasons (including a dinner out at the home of some friends when the dough was rising). But I made it in the end. I did one batch last night and another this morning. Mmmm. Unfortunately, it was too late by that time to post something last night.

Dampfnudeln, or German Puddings

INGREDIENTS: 1 lb. of flour, 1/4 lb. of butter, 5 eggs, 2 small tablespoons of yeast, 2 tablespoons of finely-pounded sugar {regular or icing sugar will do}, milk, a very little salt.

This essentially breaks down into 4 (simple) steps.  The timings given are mostly mine:

1. Let the flour, yeast and milk mix rise for 30 minutes

2. Combine above with the other ingredients and leave to rise in a warm place (I switched the oven on for a minute, let it warm slightly, then turned it off and popped the covered bowl in there) for 45 minutes

3. Roll into chubby 1-inch balls and place (not touching) in a thick-bottomed, butter-slathered dish (I used a glass casserole dish).  Sprinkle with milk, add more milk (see comments below for quantity) and sprinkle with sugar.  Rise 45 minutes

4. Bake in a ‘brisk oven’ (I interpreted this as 200 degrees C) for 25 minutes, or until liquid has just evaporated and the buns are brown.   Gobble down with jam, honey or butter (if you can wait that long)

In the abridged edition, Step 2 is missing from the ‘Time’ information (Isabella’s advice about how long everything should take).  The quantity of milk is also sketchy (1/4 pint is mentioned, and she later mentions ‘a little more warm milk’ (I found this to be up to 2 tablespoons) and later, ‘sufficient milk to cover them’ (see note below).

This may be an editing oversight, but I have a funny feeling that it was missing in the original.  But as long as the instructions are read carefully through first (which, I confess, my eager rush to be baking something means that I don’t do this as often as I ought), then most of this can be figured out.

We were out for several hours between Steps 2 – 3, but fortunately this didn’t affect the dough (in fact, it was enthusiastically marching over the edges and looking to paint the town – or oven – red by the time we got home).

I couldn’t help but edit one step.  Once rolled into balls and placed in the dish, she says to ‘pour over sufficient milk to cover them’ and leave to further rise before baking.  I couldn’t see how this would possibly allow them to brown and the liquid to evaporate in the given space of time, so I just sprinkled them with milk and added just a couple of centimeters to the dish.

It took 25 minutes (not 10 -15) for them to bake.  The outcome is, however, mightily delicious.  I was surprised that, upon further research, the recipe doesn’t significantly differ from the modern German formula.  So she didn’t simplify or modify it for the non-German Victorian housewife.

Its relative simplicity means that I’ll be making this quite often for future weekend breakfasts.

While we were at it, we also pulled out a chilled bottle of the ginger beer last night while the first batch of Dampfnudeln (is ‘Dampfnudeln’ singular and plural?) was in the oven.  I poured two glasses with more than a touch of the jitters (“This better not kill me,” my boyfriend supportively commented).

The lid flipped off with a lustily effervescent ”phwap”, to my delight and probably to that of a Peeping Tom neighbour across the way, who just happens to be out having a smoke on his balcony whenever I’m in the kitchen, with his eyes unblinkingly focused on our kitchen window.  Perhaps he’s a secret foodie.  We’re putting up curtains today.

The ginger beer wasn’t too bad.  (“It’s not too bad,” said my boyfriend).  I couldn’t taste much ginger, more the lemon.  Perhaps I’ll add more ginger next time.  It wasn’t overly exciting, but with a drop of flavoured syrup it really livens up.

Here’s a link I found to a typical (modern) Dampfnudeln recipe for comparison: (it varies very slightly from Isabella Beeton’s, so use whichever version you prefer)

I’m off to make another batch.  Mmmm.

The complete Dampfnudeln recipe by Isabella Beeton can be found at:

What Steamed Noodle?

November 26, 2009

If you don’t know much about Isabella Beeton, besides that she put together a rather weighty niche book, what image leaps to mind when you try to guess what she was like in real life?

a)  A bosomly matron

b) A sweet old dear

c) A bossy housewife who thought she knew it all

d) All of the above

As you probably guessed from the oh-so-cleverly leading examples, none of the above. 

Household Management flickered into volume-by-volume existence in 1861 – although Isabella wrote excerpts for the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine from 1857, when she was no more than 21.  Already by that point she was a wife, running a home and working as a journalist.  When I was 21, my time was invested in obsessing over some guy I was desperate to marry and squeeze 5 kids out of (What was his name again?).  I hadn’t much of a clue about budgeting or housework.  Certainly, anything beyond Vegetable Pasties and (frequently-burnt) biscuits would have had me reaching for a bottle of wine.

Yet by 25, Isabella’s book had been published (after a 4-year slog, amongst everything else the poor girl had on her plate) and she was well on her way to becoming – literally – a household name.

Despite her age, her life experiences seeped into her book in one way or another.  So, if I’m going to spend 365 days in her shoes, I figure I should have more than just a superficial knowledge of what made her tick.

One experience already connects us:  she finished her schooling in a historic town not so far from where I currently live – Heidelberg.

Isabella would probably be completely at home there, even today.  Heidelberg Castle remains mostly an enigmatic, majestic ruin.  A toppled gunpowdered tower here, brick-maker’s stamps  in the moat wall there, the bakeries, the main street, the vineyard-packed hills and market square all retain their familiarity and centrality to the town’s pulse.

It was probably here that she picked up her recipe for Dampfnudeln (a literal translation is ‘steamed noodles’, but in actual fact it’s a steamed bun with a crispy little bottom).

One of my colleagues, with glistening eyes and a dreamy smile transporting him back to his Oma’s kitchen as he spoke, told me that they’re not as easy to make as her recipe in theory implies.  His grandmother’s mouthwateringly enticing Dampfnudeln were produced in a special pan and required a certain knack to get them right.

On Saturday I plan to recreate Isabella’s recipe and compare it to the Dampfnudeln available in 21st century Germany.  She may have adulterated it for the middle-class Victorian kitchen.  Or perhaps she just decided to simply let them have it with the original.  I’ll soon find out.

The ginger beer should be ready by Saturday too.  When I checked on it yesterday, the yeast froth that she says to skim off wasn’t visible.  I’m slightly worried about how it will turn out.

However, I hope that my boyfriend will be the proverbial canary in the mine when the time comes to test them…