Monday, 28 September 2009

Snow Flakes and Schnapps - A Review.

Now that it's Autumn, with the nights drawing in and the weather getting a bit cooler, my foodie thought processes are slowly turning towards hearty winter grub, stews, casseroles and the like. The sort of food our distant cousins on the continent do so well in the more snow laden, fairytale parts of mainland Europe, so imagine how pleased I was to be sent 'Snow Flakes and Schnapps' by Jane Lawson to review.

So, first impressions....
This is an incredibly well made book, coffee table food porn of the highest order. Beautiful food photography, an obviously expensive tactile dustcover with raised 'bumps' on, which I can't stop running my fingertips over.....maddeningly addictive. Its heavy and luxurious - so much so, in fact, that if I'd paid for it I'd think twice about actually cooking from it. What a shame to cover it with the collateral damage of grease spatters and stains that my cookbooks normally succumb to.
So, we've established, it's an absolute looker of a cookbook.....and that's all well and good, but what are the recipes like?

There's a whole collection of recipes spanning Northern, Central and Eastern Europe including the traditional fare of Scandinavia, Germany and Russia, to name but a few. That's not to say the recipes themselves are traditional, the author freely admits to having experimented to obtain the 'finest versions of each'. But they're all here, your Stollen's, your fondue's, your schnitzel's...

Obviously you can't review a recipe book without actually cooking something from it, and after a flick through I decided on the suitably exotic sounding Meatballs with Vodka Dill Cream sauce. The recipe was well written and easy to follow, and the results were pretty nice. I'm not entirely convinced by the vodka dill cream sauce, it was extremely rich, but the meatballs were lovely. Here's the recipe so you can have a go at this yourself:-

Meatballs with vodka Dill Cream Sauce.
Serves 4-6

You'll Need:-
160g Fresh White Breadcrumbs
186ml whipping cream
350g Minced Beef
350g Minced Pork
1 Large Egg
1 Onion, finely chopped
1/4 Tsp freshly grated nutmeg
a pinch of ground allspice
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
2 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Oil
1 Tbs Plain Flour
435Ml Hot Beef Stock
1 1/2 Tbs chopped Dill (plus extra to garnish).
80ml Vodka
Lingonberry preserves to serve.

Combine the breadcrumbs and 125ml of the cream, and leave to sit until the breadcrumbs have absorbed all the liquid. Add the Beef and Pork mince, egg, onion, nutmeg, allspice, salt and white pepper and combine well. Roll the mixture into 3cm balls and place in a single layer on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours to allow the flavours to develop.

When ready to cook, heat half of the butter with the oil in a large heavy based frying pan over a medium-high heat (do not use a non-stick pan). Cook the meatballs in batches , for 4-6 minutes each, or until browned all over. Remove and set aside.
Add the remaining butter and the flour to the pan and stir. Gradually whisk in the hot stock and the remaining cream, scraping up any cooked-on bits. Add the dill and 3 tablespoons of the vodka, and bring to the boil, whisking continously until smooth and thickened slightly. Return the meatballs to the pan along with any resting juices, and cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Stir through the remaining Vodka and season to taste. Garnish with the fresh dill and serve with Lingonberry preserves as a condiment.

Tip: Serve the meatballs over some sauteed or mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, with the Lingonberry preserves on the side as a condiment. A shot of Vodka is a must!

(Just like to point out, I served with Cranberry standing in as a stunt double for Lingonberry which I had trouble sourcing at short notice, and I declined the suggested 'must have' vodka shot, reasoning that my poor liver gets a battering enough as it is, without startling it with an unexpected dousing of vodka at mealtimes).

So that's the good, what about the bad and the ugly?
Well - the chapter headings are incredibly 'camp' and I don't mean in an alpine yodellers tent kind of way. Particularly the chapter titled 'Diamonds and Fur', slightly tacky to say the least. The recipes, throughout, although for the most part excellent have no accompanying notes explaining where exactly the dishes originate from, which country or region eats this food, no sense of the history or tradition behind the cooking and I think it's a real glaring omission, because that's exactly the sort of thing I want to know and something that may draw me to a recipe - the knowledge that I'm eating Russian Peasant food or cooking a traditional meal cooked by farmers in Bavaria really appeals to me.

For all that, it's a beautiful book with some very intriguing recipes, ('Molten Black Forest Puddings with Cherry Compote and Kirsh Cream' I'm looking at you). I'm not sure I'd buy it at the full price competing as it is with my very full Amazon wishlist. It's good, but the previously mentioned lack of basic information concerning the origin of the dishes, for me stops it attaining 'must have' status.
But of course, this is just my opinion, so I suggest you peruse 'Snow Flakes and Schnapps' in a bookshop, if only to feel what a truly quality recipe book should feel like. Rub the tactile cover and groan to yourself quietly, then flick through the recipes, if it speaks to you buy it.

Many thanks to Murdoch Books for the review copy.

Snowflakes and Schnapps is available for £12.50 from Amazon


Marcus Shingler said...

I agree with you that part of the fun is knowing you are cooking Bulgarian peasant food so indeed, a glaring omission. I was reading the recipe above thinking yes, but where's it from? Now I know why you didn't say.

Graphic Foodie said...

Meatballs look delicious.

Nice to know that people appreciate the finer points of print. Debossing / embossing...Dan you have exquisite taste!

They seem to have missed the point with the explanations and food heritage which is a shame. Most of this food is er, foreign to me so I would like to know its origins too. Most foodies are total geeks on this stuff.

Nice design and colour palette, very Scandinavian.

"'camp' and I don't mean in an alpine yodellers tent kind of way" - LOL

meemalee said...

You and your balls, Dan. I don't know.

Dan said...

Marcus, thanks for the comment - really missed a trick not to explain where the dish originates.

Fran - Thanks for the meatball praise, they were pretty damn nice. And yes, agreed I do indeed have exquisite taste. *snigger*
The good thing was, this recipe inspired me to experiment- I had the same meatballs the next night but swapped the vodka for whisky and the dill for thyme, added a bit of honey as it was quite sour. Wasn't bad at all.

Meemalee - I know, think I've got as much mileage as I'm going to get out of the 'my balls' jokes, milked it as it were..errrr..I'll stop now.

Anonymous said...

Those meatballs look delectable. I've just had my lunch but just looking at that photo is making me hungry very yum!

The Ample Cook said...

Oooh matron, gorgeous looking balls!

Seriously, an unctuous looking dish Dan. I love meat balls and this mixture of beef and pork mince is spot on.

Do you think that the book is maybe a little 'style over substance'? I'm always a little suspicious of cook books that have lots of lovely photos look good on the coffee table. Don't get me wrong I really like there to be plenty of photos but narrative and background to a recipe is essential. Well, for me anyway.

A good review. Are you tempted by any other recipes?

Helen @ World Foodie Guide said...

It seems your opinion of the book was quite similar to mine (I made Janssen's Temptation). I think I wrote that I could imagine the dishes in restaurants but that many were too long and complicated to replicate at home. The meatballs did look tempting though!

goodshoeday said...

Its a real shame that there are no explanations of the dishes. In the UK we've looked to the Mediterranean so long we might know our pistou from our pesto but we aren't so knowledgeable when it comes to our northern and eastern neighbours. The lack of explanation almost makes you think the dishes have been tweaked so much they no longer come from anywhere but are simply inspired by... and thats fine, they might still be great dishes but I think we'd all like to know where and what they were inspired by.
Thanks for a balanced review that helps people decide on whether its a hit or miss for them.

Dan said...

Reg- thanks.

Jan - Style over substance, there is an element of that with the lack of background info on the recipes, but there are loads of them, they're interesting and it is a beautifully made book, in fact probably the best looking cookery book I own, and I own loads.
Recipes I like the look of....flicking through the book, these appeal to me:-

Molten Black Forest Puddings with Cherry Compote and Kirsh Cream

Goulash soup with caraway dumplings

spiced wheat beer and bread soup with garlic cream

slow-baked brown beans with spice-roasted bacon

warm chocolate and walnut pancake torte

Bigos Hunters Stew

Apple Oliebollen with buttermilk nutmeg ice-cream

Helen, I read your review previously and seems we both picked up on the lack of background information concerning the origin of the recipes. I agree entirely - some of the recipes are pretty complicated to re-produce at home, more suited to dinner party dining perhaps where that extra effort is put in. Certainly not everyday cooking.

Linda - exactly, I can have a pretty good stab at where most of the dishes originate from - but some leave me mystified, and I want to know the background of what I'm cooking. Such a shame some more info wasn't provided, even if it was just footnotes.

fran39 said...

Great review, Dan - but what was the GF score?? That's always a crucial component of your cooking :))
What a shame about the lack of context for the recipes: like you, I think that's a large part of the joy of cookery books.

Gourmet Chick said...

I have a copy of this and I agree it is a beautiful book - cooking my first thing from it this week

Dan said...

Fran - Thanks. hahaha the GF score on the meatballs was 8 and a half - pretty respectable.

GourmetChick - Excellent, I'll be very interested to read your review and see what you cooked.

Helen said...

Those meatballs do look tasty. I understand completely your reasoning for passing on the vodka. When I ate at the Danish Club for Eating Eurovision, we were served a glass of aquavit with our platters of loads of smoked fish, eggs and pickles. It was hard to get through. I mean, I like a drink but can you imagine that incredibly strong alcohol mixing with smoked, fish and eggs in the stomach?

Dan said...

Helen - Very sensible indeed. What a combination, strong booze, smoked fish and eggs.....I dread to imagine the hangover from that lot!

Anonymous said...

If I had to describe this book with just one word, that word would be "impractical".
Initially, I was very excited to discover this book: books dedicated to Scandinavian and Northern European/Slavic recipes are not too common. And as a person who lived in most of the countries the author travelled to, I was very keen on a book like this. Unfortunately, the book, has a few flaws that could make it impractical for many readers:
1. The recipes have no information as to where they originated from. Often, there is just an anglicised name for the dish, without any descriptions or explanations. For example, how many people know that "kasha" means "porridge" in Russian?
2. The names for the chapters are fancy rather than meaningful. One has to read an elaborate paragraph of pale-colured, background-blended all-capitalised text to figure out that by "Baby it's cold outside" the author meant small meals.
3. Some recipes have no photos. Not that the publishers were short of space or photographer hours: there are many pages of photos of unrelated "things" - candles, kitchen objects, furniture... The absence of a meal photo, for a person who has never seen that dish before, may make it hard to imagine what it is like. And because the book is divided into themed sections rather than types of dishes or ingredients, one has to read the list of the ingredients and often the whole recipe to figure out what the dish is at all.
Some recipes have photos a few pages before or after the recipe, which, again, can be confusing for a person who doesn't know what the dish is like.
4. The names of the recipes are written in capitalised font, which makes it less convenient to read quickly. The recipes themselves are in grey font placed over a background of pale grey smudges - very inconvenient for reading and totally unnecessary for design purposes.
5. Some recipes are unnecessary complicated. The original traditional recipes are often much easier to cook, yet they still taste divine.
5.5. Though the author is Australian (so am I), there is no need to use fake snow. Plenty of real snow in our country, or think of photo setups without show. Otherwise it's "SnowFakes and a bit Schnapps".

Unfortunately, I had to admit that this book isn't amongst my best purchases. It doesn't do justice to such practical people as the traditional inhabitants of Northern countries.