Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Snowflakes and Schnapps - Jane Lawson
If the stark white, cold imagery on the front of the book isn't a big enough hint, the blurb on the back will immediately set the scene :"Join Jane Lawson as she takes you on a culinary journey through the magnificent cold-climate cuisines of the snow-cloaked regions of Northern, Central and Eastern Europe ... Celebrate the season of winter !" As you turn the page and see the closeup photo of thick, luscious red shagpile carpet, you feel all warm and snuggly and know you're in for some serious comfort-food that will warm the cockles of your heart, and your belly !
The author, Jane Lawson, sounds like a bit of an anomaly ! She is Australian but has a passion for cold weather and wintry snowscapes, linking back to her possible European ancestry. Before perusing the table of contents, I tried to guess what I'd find and some of the classic, predictable dishes are there : potato flatbreads with smoked salmon and a side serving of pickled cucumber. It's the stereotype of a Nordic lunch ! But other classic dishes are given a slight tweak to make them more interesting - such as goulash soup with caraway dumplings.
As I continued to turn the pages, the mouth-watering photography and the author's way of making authentic recipes accessible by proposing alternatives for hard-to-come-by ingredients, won me over and I soaked up the unusual and sometimes surprising recipes. The Karelian open pies - salmon or ham, with a creamy cheese sauce, in a rye crust - are unique and unlike anything I've ever seen before. Gingerbread-spice coffee and mulled wine transport me mentally to snowy Christmas markets. Exotic ingredients that sound like they should exist in fairytales make me wonder what the food would taste like - cloudberries, honeycake snowballs ...
A lot of the recipes are very surprising and I can't decide whether or not the author is audacious and adventurous or just a total gastro-lunatic ! I've never seen so many contrasting flavours coming together in one recipe since watching Celebrity Masterchef ! Liquorice custards with coconut-lime macaroons and plums. Grilled oysters with cauliflower custard and caviar. Coriander roast chicken with walnut sauce. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating for these and other mind-boggling creations. Other recipes use more homely ingredients but still come up with surprising combinations : Pork in milk with a polenta crust. Pork and cabbage cakes with sweet-onion relish.
This is as much a coffee-table book as a recipe book, guaranteeing armchair travelling and tingling tastebuds without ever setting foot in the kitchen let alone outside of your front door. It is a weighty, luxurious, artistically-presented tome which justifies the hefty £25 price tag.
star rating : 4.5/5
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Murdoch Books (7 Sep 2009)