The menu at my last workshop of the season (Keep Calm…Carry on Cooking) took us around the world, starting in Alsace with little charlottes of fresh choucroute with smoked salmon turned out over a lamb’s lettuce salad and surrounded with avocado segments. Next we headed for Morocco with some cigar-sized crispy brik pastry parcels filled with duck and citron confit with a harissa-spicy dipping sauce – great finger food for parties or just while you’re waiting for the main event. We also did a Spanish soup of fennel and veg. with mussels and saffron, while the main course was full-on Mexican – Aztec pie with layers of tortillas, cooked turkey (great home for leftovers), tomato sauce, peppers and chiles poblanos, and sweetcorn. A salad of kohlrabi with shaved apples and a lime dressing made a good, sharp, crunchy counterpoint and we finished in Italy with a limoncello tiramisu – just had to try that one out after tasting one down on the Amalfi Coast in October.
The tips and tricks to take the pressure off harried holiday cooks were fun too, and formed the backbone of my once-monthly foodie chat on last Tuesday’s English Show on Radio X Basel (94.5FM in the Basel region, podcast here). Here’s a selection of ideas that should help anyone here in the Dreiländereck (and further afield) with their holiday planning.
1) In this part of the world, most people – especially new arrivals – completely lose it when told that the shops will actually be closed FOR TWO WHOLE DAYS (25 and 26 December). The sense of panic is compounded by the fact that most fridges around here are about the size of a rather small bathroom medicine cabinet, if you’re lucky. Think laterally…use a frost-free terrace, patio or garage to store vegetables, fruit and anything that doesn’t really, really need refrigeration.
2) Visit Picard in Hésingue and load the freezer with all kinds of yummy and useful stuff like mixed shellfish, grilled veggies, broad beans, artichoke hearts, ready-to-bake croissants, macarons and desserts to die for.
3) Avocados and mangoes: buy at least a week ahead, wrap in newspaper and store in a cool dark place till ripe – check daily. Once ripe, store in the fridge and they’ll then keep for another few days.
4) Mini-flammekueche to go with drinks: buy a round of puff pastry, stamp out shapes (Xmas cookie cutters are fun), smear with fromage blanc,scatter tiny bacon bits and chopped onion on top and bake at 200C for about 10 minutes or until golden and puffed.
5) In the midst of all that mega-feasting, you need to have up your (ample) sleeve a few simple, speedy lunch/supper dishes:
- Quesadillas: buy flour tortillas (not the corn/maize ones, which are inedible), some smoked salmon slices and light cream cheese (St. Moret or similar). Sandwich pairs of tortillas with cream cheese and smoked salmon and heat in a frying pan (no oil) till nicely hot through. Serve topped with salad or guacamole.
- Strata: don’t throw away stale bread, cut about 300g of it in chunks or slices, whisk together 3 eggs + 300ml milk + 200ml light cream + salt and pepper + 1 teaspoon mustard and soak the bread in it. Butter an ovenproof dish and layer the eggy bread with about 300g of something interesting – those artichoke hearts from Picard, for instance, or sun-dried toms, or cooked mushrooms, or sundry veg. with sweetcorn and bacon. Top with grated Parmesan and bake @ 200C for about 25 minutes till golden.
- Quiche (my go-to for leftovers). For 4: a round of ready-rolled puff pastry (230g), 300g leftover vegetables/meat/fish + 3 eggs + 300ml mixed cream and milk, salt and pepper, grated cheese for the top. For 6: a round of ready-rolled puff pastry (230g), 400g leftovers + 4 eggs + 400ml mixed cream and milk, salt and pepper, grated cheese for the top. Unroll pastry and ease it into a quiche tin (26-cm for 4 people, 30-cm for 6), scatter filling in the bottom, pour on custard, sprinkle grated cheese on top and bake @ 180C for about 45 minutes or until puffy and the pastry golden.
- Vacherin Mont d’Or baked in its box: Remove any plastic covering, take off the lid and put it underneath the box to prevent any spillage. With a small knife cut slits in the top and insert some garlic slivers. Sprinkle with 2-3 tablespoons white wine. Set the cheese in its box on a piece of foil and bring the foil up the sides to enclose (but don’t cover the cheese). Bake @ 200C for 20-25 minutes or until the cheese yields gently when pressed in the centre. Serve the molten cheese spooned out over potatoes boiled in their skins, with pickles and smoked ham on the side if wished.
- Vinaigrette – make a bunch while you’re at it, you’ll be needing lots of salad to keep things on the move. Blend together (with a stalk blender) 300ml olive oil, 100ml vinegar or lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar until emulsified. Keep in the fridge (or garage/terrace/patio) till needed.
Don’t forget to have fun over the holidays, put your feet up whenever you get the change – and above all keep calm and carry on :o)