Monday, 30 November 2009
The cheese originally comes from the Emme valley in the canton of Bern in Switzerland but France also makes Emmental de Savoie, from Savoy and Emmental Français est-Central from Franche-Comté, France and also has PGI status.
Friday, 27 November 2009
The Swiss claim that the French usurped the name from the region of Gruyère. Not so, say the French. In the Middle Ages, an officer of the French government called a “gruyer” presided over forest lands and collected taxes — in the form of cheese. It is this gruyer that their cheese is named after, claim the French, and they can show tax records that date back to the 1100s to prove it.
However in Roman times the Jura region was the homeland of an ethnic group called the Sequanes and Roman texts dated from 40 B.C. describe the cheese process used in Sequany — which is the same as that used in the making of Gruyère. So if you want to be pedantic Gruyère was acttually invented by the Romans.
After decades of fighting over the name, cheese makers in the Franche-Comté region decided that protecting the name “Gruyère” was hopeless and applied for an appellation under the name “Comté.” Savoy, too, renamed their cheese “Beaufort”. If you have a Gruyère style cheese and do not know its origins then there is one general rule of thumb - French Gruyère-style cheeses must have holes according to French agricultural law, whereas holes are usually not present in Swiss Gruyère.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
The word fondue is a derivative of the French word, fondre, which means "to melt" – and there is some debate as to whether fondue originated as a Swiss or a French dish. Most people credit the Swiss for inventing the fondue but in the medieval vineyards of Burgundy meat fondues were cooked when workers had to harvest grapes quickly with no time for a noon meal. They heated oil right there in the countryside and dunked pieces of meat into it for a quick bite.
In Switzerland, fondue emerged as a cooking method in the early 1800s and the French gastronome Brillat-Savarin mentioned fondue in his 19th century writings. Savarin is credited with introducing the dish to America when he left France just ahead of the French Revolution. He wrote three cookbooks that included fondue au fromage, which was slightly different from the Swiss peasant food because it included butter and cream.
Traditional fondue is made with a mixture of Emmenthal and/or Gruyére cheese and wine, melted in a communal pot. Cherry brandy is sometimes added to the melted mixture, which becomes a dip for pieces of stale bread and crusts. Today's Meat fondues have extended to encompass beef, boneless skinless breast of chicken, prawns, scallops, and even salmon. The diner sits at a pot of either oil or broth as the meats are brought out raw, with an assortment of sauces for dipping. Dessert fondues emerged in the 1960s and 70s and involve dipping pieces of cake and fruit into warmed chocolate or caramel sauces.
12 oz shredded Emmental cheese
12 oz shredded Gruyére
12 oz Tomme or Beaufort cheese, shredded
6 glasses dry white wine
½ glass of Kirsch liqueur
1 clove garlic peeled and crushed
Cube the bread the day before you wish to make the fondue and leave to dry.
Rub the sides of a heavy saucepan with the clove of garlic, pour in the wine and bring to the boil. Add the cheese and stir slowly with a wooden spoon. Before the cheese is all melted, remove the pan from the stove and place on a lighted fondue burner. Season with pepper and add the kirsch whilst stirring. Once the cheese has entirely melted, serve with bread and fondue forks. If the cheese bubbles reduce the heat immediately. When the cheese is almost gone (less than a cupful left), break the raw egg into the pot and stir rapidly with cheese. After one minute add the remaining bread into the pot and stir together. Turn off the burner and enjoy what is left!
4 cups of cooking oil
salt and pepper
sauces of your choice
Cut the beef into 1 inch cubes. Season with salt and pepper and arrange in individual serving dishes. Heat oil in the fondue pot, then spear beef cubes using your fondue fork, and cook until done.
Serve with different kinds of dipping sauces on the side. For the sauces, you can use curry, bearnaise, tartar, or cocktail sauces. To make curry sauce, simply mix together some mayonnaise and curry powder. To make Sauce Andalouse, mix together a cup of mayonnaise with a teaspoon of paprika and a tablespoon of tomato paste.
Friday, 20 November 2009
In the 1800s German Lutherans would mark the 24 days of Advent by drawing a chalk line on the door each day, beginning on December 1st Some families had more elaborate means of marking the days, such as lighting a new candle or hanging a little religious picture on the wall each day. The 24 candles might also be placed on a structure, which was known as an "Advent clock".
The first known Advent calendar was handmade in 1851 but Gerhard Lang, was responsible for what we know as an Advent Calendar today. When he was a child his mother made him an Advent Calendar with 24 little sweets which were stuck onto cardboard. He used this idea to create an Advent calendar when he was a printer in the firm Reichhold & Lang of Munich in 1908 and created 24 little coloured pictures that could be affixed to a piece of cardboard. Several years later, he introduced a calendar with 24 little doors.
Thursday, 19 November 2009
Smith marketed the bon-bons in time for Christmas, and they were an instant success but he noticed that sales slumped after the festive season. His first tactic to increase sales was to insert mottos into the wrappers of the sweets (like those in fortune cookies), but this had only limited success.
However the story goes that he was inspired to add the "crackle" element when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on the fire. A small strip of saltpetre, still familiar in today's crackers, was pasted to two strips of thin card. As each side was pulled, the friction created a crack and a spark. With too much, they burst into flames, too little and the crack was inaudible. So in 1860 Tom Smith's 'Bangs of Expectation' were launched containing a sweet which was later dropped in favour of a small gift.
In those early days, the crackers were still quite small, about 6 inches long, and fairly plain. They were known as 'Cosaques' because the noise they made reminded people of the cracking of the Cossack's whips as they rode through Paris during the Franco-Prussian wars.
If you want to make your own crackers visit www.oldenglishcrackers.com and you can use the recipes for Christmas Sweets and Treats in the Wine and Christmas category of my blog (you will find a recipe for sugared almonds there too).
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Peppermint is actually a cross between the Watermint and Spearmint and grows throughout Europe. The Greeks believed mints could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology and according to legend - "Minthe" was originally a nymph, and beloved by Pluto. Persephone, Pluto's wife, in a fit of rage turned Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Minthe a sweet scent which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on - the aromatic herb Mint.
White from one large egg
8 oz icing sugar
Peppermint essence or peppermint oil
Beat the egg white in a bowl with a fork and sieve in 6 oz of icing sugar. Mix well with a wooden spoon and slowly sieve in more icing sugar, half a tablespoon at a time until you have made a stiff paste. Shake a little icing sugar on the work surface and empty the paste onto this. Add 3-4 drops of peppermint essence or oil and gently knead it together with your fingers until you have a smooth paste. Have a taste of a small piece and if the flavour is not strong enough, add a few more drops of the peppermint.
Rub icing sugar on a rolling pin and roll the paste to quarter of an inch (0.5cm) thick. Cut out individual peppermint creams with a cutter - a round one or any other shape you have handy. Cover a plate with greaseproof paper and place the peppermint shapes on the paper. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave overnight in a cool place (but not the fridge). Store in small paper cases in an airtight tin.
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Marzipan is mentioned in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights and became a specialty of the Baltic Sea region of Germany. In particular, the city of Lübeck has a proud tradition of Marzipan manufacture.
Marzipan fruits are easy to make and you can use the leftover trimmings from the Christmas cake. I thought that making Marzipan Grapes would be rather suitable this year and this is how you go about it:
Roll the Marzipan into small balls for each cluster. Brush the balls with food colouring and let them dry. Make vine leaves from rolled out Marzipan (use a wooden toothpick to mark out the leaf indentations. Coat the balls with beaten egg white – this helps them stick together - and shape balls into clusters. For each cluster, brush egg white on the end of 2 leaves; attach to back of each cluster, pressing gently to make grapes and leaves adhere to each other. Allow to dry. You can brush your finished grapes with glaze made from a sugar syrup if you want a shiney effect.
Friday, 6 November 2009
The difference between a chestnut and a marron has been a subject of discussion - especially at commercial level. Often marron is used to define very large chestnuts or, as in the case of the French, used to classify chestnuts which do not have signs of the pellicle (membrane) which covers the seed in the kernel or which have a low division percentage. After thousands of years of breeding many varieties are also sweeter. These are the material for Marrons Glacés which are three or four times more expensive than the chestnut (châtaigne in French) because they also have a lower yield. In Italy marron means a particular Castanea sativa cultivar of excellent quality. Of oblong shape, with a reddish coloured epicarp (skin) that is shiny with dense, often with raised stripes.
2 lbs chestnuts, shells removed
2 lbs sugar
2 ½ cups water
1 vanilla bean
In a large saucepan, cover chestnuts with water. Bring to a boil. Boil for 8 minutes. Discard liquid. Drain. Using a kitchen towel, rub off the brown inner skins. In a large saucepan, cook sugar, water and vanilla bean over low heat. Stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes. Add chestnuts. Increase heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Remove vanilla bean. Pour syrup and nuts into a large bowl. Let stand 12 hours. Return to pan. Boil for 1 minute. Return to bowl. Let stand 24 hours. Repeat process 3 times until syrup has been absorbed.Preheat oven to 150ºF. Place chestnuts on wire rack. Bake in preheated oven with oven door open 2 hours or until firm. Remove from oven. Cool. Store in a container lined with waxed paper. Will keep for up to 2 weeks.
The sparkling wines of Alsace are a great choice when looking for something special to pair with sweetmeats. The Adam Crémant d'Alsace Chardonnay Extra Brut (£12.49) is a dazzling wine with a fine mousse of creamy bubbles. It has notes of melon, lemon, ripe pear and toast and is crisp and effervescent. It is a medium weighted sparkling wine with a dry, robust finish and although excellent as an aperitif it can accompany rich and sweet dishes. This Crémant d'Alsace comes from the House of Jean-Baptiste Adam, founded in 1614, in the Alsace village of Ammerschwihr. There are few families that can take advantage of 4 centuries of passion for wine and this has been carried through to recent times with bio dynamic policies being practised in the vineyards since 2003.
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
The story behind the origins of Turkish Delight claims that it was invented in the late 1700s, when Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, confectioner to the imperial court in Istanbul, was commanded to create a soft sweet by the Sultan. It was named Rahat Lokum which means "comfortable morsel" and is nowadays called simply Lokum. You can still buy Lokum at Ali Muhiddin's shop in Eminönü today, almost 250 years since the intrepid confectioner created his masterpiece for the Sultan.
Lokum originally had honey and molasses as sweeteners, with water and flour as binding agents. The recipe as we know it today, using the new ingredients of sugar and starch, was invented and popularized by the Haci Bekir company during the 19th century.
9 cups icing sugar
3 pints water
6 tbsp corn flour
¾ pint cold water
rose water (you can find this in the Health food shop)
Make a syrup of the icing sugar and 3 pints of water by boiling together in a heavy pan. Mix the corn flour with the ¾ pint of cold water, making sure that the corn flour is completely dissolved. Add the corn flour mix very carefully to the boiling syrup and continue boiling until reduced by about two thirds. The mixture will become very thick and stringy.
Remove from heat. Pour half into another saucepan. Flavour one half with lemon and the other with rose water. Pour into two dishes greased with almond oil. When set turn both onto a board dredged with icing sugar. Use kitchen paper to absorb any excess almond oil which was used to grease the two dishes. Cut Turkish Delight into cubes and roll in icing sugar. Store in a dry place.
Champagne is a great pairing with sweet dishes (think how well it goes down with a slice of wedding cake for example). However it pays to choose what type of Champagne to drink with a sweet as sugary as Turkish Delight. I'd recommend Seconde Collard Blanc de Noirs (£16.13) which is made purely from red grapes as opposed to Blanc de Blanc which is made from white grapes. It is a fruity Champagne with the scents of spices, wheat, fresh flowers, plums, peaches and pears.