“Snowflakes and Schnapps” has some of the most seductive food photography I have ever seen. It’s all candlelit and twinkly, food spread out on charmingly cluttered tables (oh, I’m sorry, did I leave my “War and Peace” and ice skates on here? Silly me…) or across shag rugs in front of roaring fireplaces. The message from Jane Lawson’s cookbook of winter food and Northern climes is clear: Baby, it’s cold outside. Let’s stay in and … gorge ourselves.
The photography does its job. You flip through the book, and you think, oh, yes, I will make this for that guy I always see at the cafe, and then … [scene redacted]. It won’t work in real life, though. By the time you make it through a recipe in this book, you will be frazzled and worn out, your hair a mess and flour scattered over your clothing. And the food is so good, you will go back for seconds, and everyone will be rolling around on the floor, yes, but in an “Oh my God, I will never eat again” way, not in a sexy way.
The food is complicated. All of it. Even the breakfast polenta has you reducing cinnamon syrup and soaking prunes and doing a lot of nonsense. Is it worth it? Oh yes. The food is amazing, and the recipes actually work very well. And let’s face it, it is a book you pull out in the dead of winter when you’re trying to eat your way back to happiness. You’re not going outside anyway, so you might as well spend an hour slowly reducing an entire pot of stock into a gravy. Or poaching veal in a homemade broth. Or shaping your cake into a realistic looking log, however that might be done.
Author Jane Lawson did a great job of scouring the globe for cold weather food. Nordic cuisine is more than creepy pickled fish, as evidenced by the hotpots and flatbreads and mulled wines found here. Her own research through the Baltic states, Russia, Eastern and Central Europe and Scandinavia inspired much of the book, and she rescues their reputations in the process.
Of the recipes I tried out, the Kurnik Chicken Pie was the obvious superstar. It takes an entire day, however, to boil eggs, make stock, assemble the pastry, shred the meat, and on and on and on. By the end of the process I was cursing the day the book ever showed up on my doorstep. Friends had assembled in my kitchen, awaiting a dinner that was running about an hour late, and the gravy would just not thicken no matter how much I boiled and whisked, until I actually put a bite in my mouth, that is. Then the entire day was worth it. I started wondering when I would have the opportunity to make it again.
Truly, it’s a hell of a book, and I’m looking forward to many months of stewed meats, slow cooked beans, roasted root vegetables, and maybe one day I will even splurge for one of the caviar dishes. Even if that also means spending the winter stained, hair askew, not dressed appropriately for company, and yelling at pastry dough.
|Kurnik Chicken Pie
To make the pastry, sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt into a bowl. Make a well in the centre. Combine the melted butter and crème fraîche and pour into the well. Mix with a flat-bladed knife until the mixture comes together in clumps, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a few minutes until smooth. Roll into a ball, flatten slightly into a disc, then cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove from fridge 10 minutes before rolling.
To make the filling, place the chicken in a large saucepan or stockpot and cover with 12 cups (3 litres/105 fl oz) cold water. Add the cloves, peppercorns, celery, and bay leaves. Bring to boil over high heat, then simmer for 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked through. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Leave the pan on the heat and bring the stock back to boil. Cook for 30 – 35 minutes, or until reduced by half, then strain and reserve. Meanwhile, when the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the discard the skin, then pull the meat from the bones. Cut into bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Put one-quarter of the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Saute for 4 – 5 minutes, or until softened, and set aside. Add half of the remaining butter and the onion to the pan and cook, stirring regularly for 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Add the nutmeg and garlic and stir for 30 seconds before returning the mushrooms to the pan. Season with salt and a little white pepper and combine well.
Bring the strained stock to boil again and add the rice. Cook for 10 minutes, or until very tender but not mushy. Strain again, reserving the stock. Mix the rice into the mushroom mixture with the lemon juice. Set aside.
Melt the remaining butter over medium high heat in a saucepan and add the flour. Stir for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in 2 cups of the reserved stock. Slowly bring to boil and cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring regularly until thickened and smooth. Whisk a little of the sauce into the crème fraîche to thin, then tip this mixture back into the saucepan with the eggs, herbs, and reserved chicken. Combine well and season, to taste.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 C/Gas 5). Grease a 12 cup (3 litre/105 fl oz) baking dish, about 2 inches (5 cm) deep, with extra butter. Spread half the rice mixture over the base, then top with half the chicken. Repeat with the remaining rice and chicken and smooth over the top.
Roll the pastry out on a lightly floured sheet of parchment paper until it is just a little larger than the baking dish. Invert the pastry over the dish and peel off the paper. Trim the edges, then make decorations with the pastry scraps. As this pie is traditionally made for festive occasions, particularly Russian weddings, simple flowers are appropriate, but you can decorate however you like — or not at all!
Combine the egg with the extra crème fraîche and whisk to combine. Brush liberally over the top of the pie. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes, or until the top is golden and the filling is heated through. Serve with vegetables or salad.
Note: Smelana is similar to crème fraîche, but much heavier and native to Central and Eastern Europe.
Copyright: Jane Lawson, Murdoch Books, reprinted with permission.