|Snowflakes and Schnapps|
|Publisher: Murdoch Books, Country: AU|
|ISBN: 9781921259029, Year: 2009|
|BUY ONLINE (click on flag)
|This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.|
The front cover of “Snowflakes and Schnapps” shows a dinner table with a white painted antler in the middle of it. On first impressions it looks very stylish. But then you ask yourself, “Why is it there? Is there a purpose to it? Won’t it get in the way?” Look at the photo a bit longer, and the realisation hits that there is no food on the table. This book is like the photograph. There’s lots of style, with food almost as a secondary consideration.
Despite the glossy magazine feel of the book, and the expectation that it’s destined for the coffee table rather than the kitchen bench, it does contain recipes that would tempt even the most experienced of home cooks. A very impressive winter dinner could be built upon the offerings in this book.
“Snowflakes and Schnapps” will certainly satisfy those looking for a gift and many who are looking for a good cookbook. However, anyone who wants a more detailed and authentic look at the winter foods of Europe would be best advised to look elsewhere.
Structure of the book
The book starts with an introduction by the author, followed by four chapters of recipes. The titles are “Baby It’s Cold Outside” (36 recipes based around small dishes, soups, and drinks), “Warmed To The Core” (34 recipes covering breakfast and slow cooked dishes), “Diamonds And Fur” (25 recipes for special occasions), and “Dreaming Of A White Christmas” (20 recipes for Christmas celebrations). The book concludes with an acknowledgements page and an index. Recipe titles and the ingredients are listed on the edge of the page, and the instructions are given on the spine side. Almost all of the recipes also come with pictures of the final dish. The instructions are written in a conversational manner and are very thorough.
About the author
Jane Lawson is an Australian born chef and author. Her previous books include Grub, Cocina Neuva, Yoshoku, and A Little Taste of Japan.
How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?
Lawson’s aim is to present a range of winter foods from Europe, but with her own modern twists. The dishes range from France (pot au feu) to Russia (borscht with horseradish cream), from Austria (cherry strudel) to Scandinavia (Nordic seafood hotpot). An example of her tweaks include adding parmesan into the crust of a Beef Wellington and serving Bircher Muesli in the form of a pancake.
The recipes are built upon easily found ingredients, and any confident cook will find the methods straightforward. Every so often, an exotic ingredient does appear, but substitutes are suggested. Still, it would have been interesting to learn more about items like quark (a soft white cheese), bärenjäger (a honey liqueur), and Riga black balsam (a herbal liqueur). It’s the all too rare mention of these items that can give you a feeling of a European winter.
Of particular interest are the drinks at the end of the first chapter. An elderflower, gin, and lemon sipper or a honey and saffron liqueur sound like perfect companions for a winter’s day. The photographs and the flavour combinations make these drinks very enticing. There are recipes that grab your attention, and I would be keen to try the balsamic glazed veal sweetbreads and the slow baked brown beans with spice roasted bacon. One very good thing about the recipes is that many of the dinner dishes are meals in themselves, with the meat based main show well supported by vegetable accompaniments.
However, the most startling aspect of the book are its production values. In an effort to develop a wintery feel, white is the dominating colour in the book. The dust jacket is textured, the photograph is of a high standard, and the pages use very good quality paper.
What problems/flaws are there?
Lawson’s aim is to take us on a journey, and we end up going nowhere. She takes recipes from a wide area, but the origins of the dish are not noted anywhere. Another issue is that she puts her own spin on each dish, thus removing them further from their origins. In her introduction, she says that she does this to “raise the bar” and concedes that purists “would never appreciate such meddling”. However, in terms of food education, and considering the regions she has travelled are not as well served in books as others, it may have been better to use a high quality, authentic recipe.
In attempting to get you in the mood for each chapter’s recipes, Lawson pens a few words to set the scene. Unfortunately, her writing is about the same standard as breathless advertising prose (“Dust off the fur coat and conjure up an imaginary private jet ride with friends to an exclusive Alpine chalet beside the piste, lit only by twinkling lanterns and the reflections of an oversized moon.”). It would have been better if she had related the recipes to her own personal experiences as she has done in her previous books, rather than providing contextless, uncommented recipes.
There seems to be little logic behind the order of the recipes. For example, the first chapter opens with a finger food recipe, then a substantial soup, followed by a fondue, more finger food, and then another soup. Another curiosity is the book includes three variations of roast pork (caraway roast pork rack, crisp roast pork, and rolled pistachio-stuffed pork loin bake), which may be a good thing for a pork lover like myself, but still seems to be a bit of overkill.
Some of the recipe titles raise an eyebrow. For instance, why isn’t the rich onion soup with cheese toasts simply called French onion soup? Or the beef fillet in parmesan pastry with truffle butter sauce a Beef Wellington? And yet, with other recipes, she uses traditional names like sauerbraten, frikadeller, and piroshki. It’s a strange combination of being sophisticated and simplified at the same time.
Who might enjoy/use this book most?
While this book seems to promote style over substance, thankfully very few of its flaws are about the recipes. There are plenty of dishes in this book that I would happily cook, with enough choice for either a dinner party or a family meal. It does cover an area of cooking that is poorly represented compared to French, Spanish, and Italian food. Sadly, it doesn’t do a great job of it, despite being an attractive work. People looking for a gift and cooks who are willing to overlook the lack of informative context will enjoy the book. But those who want to learn more about European winter food should look elsewhere.
|: 3. Recommended – some flaws
: Likely to be strongly appreciated
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