Swiss new year

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

Yikes, we’re well into February, it’s almost the half-term holiday and I still haven’t written-up our New Year meal. It’s high time I put this right. We’ve been doing the new year thing since the big millennium celebration in 2000 and have taken turns hosting along with Neal & Shelley and Mike & Janet.

It fell to us to host this year and it occurred to me that despite my enthusiasm for all things Alpine I’d never yet chosen a Swiss theme. The challenge would be to avoid as many Swiss clichés as possible – cheese, chocolate, cowbells, cuckoo clocks and similar tat, and to keep the dishes relatively light so we’d all make it into 2012 feeling fit and raring to go.

Here’s the menu I came up with. You’ll see I didn’t entirely succeed with no cheese/light cuisine idea as the Malakoffs – deep-fried battered chunks of gruyère sound like the (Scottish?) first cousin of the deep fried Mars bar, but I couldn’t resist:

Canapés

(i) Bundnerfleisch (thin slices of air-dried cured beef)wrapped around celeriac remoulade; and (ii) Malakoffs – deep fried gruyère sticks

First course

Hay soup -light chicken/vegetable cream soup infused with meadow hay

Second course

Individual Luzerner Chugelipastete – puff pastry dome filled with braised veal pieces in cream and saffron sauce

Main course

Venison medallions with preiselbeer sauce, rösti and braised red cabbage

Salad

Lambs’ lettuce (the cutely named Nüsslisalat in German)

Pudding

Walnut and cinnamon parfait with mulled prune sauce and Zimtsternen – cinnamon star biscuits

Cheese

Vacherin Mont d’Or

Menu decided, next step was to set the scene. There’s never time to sort out a table centrepiece when you’re preparing a meal so I called in professional help in the form of Vicky Clements’ magnificent Swiss flag inspired floral arrangement in red and whie, a veritable alp in miniature (see her contact details below if you’re in or around S Manchester/Cheshire):

Vicky was responsible for the fairy-lit hearts too. Sehr gemütlich, Ja?

I dusted down my piping skills to write dinner guests’ names on an experimental batch of moulded biscuits using my newly acquired Swiss Springerle moulds. They were a little involved to make but I was quite pleased with these as my first attempt. My piping is rusty though and it took a few attempts to steady the hands and create something legible:

Air dried beef is usually served as part of a large platter of cured meats and cheeses in Switzerland. We chose to roll the beef around celeriac remoulade which created a light and fresh-tasting canapé packed with flavour. Janet made the celeriac – very simply made by mixing raw grated celeriac into a Greek yoghurt, lemon and parsley dressing – and assembled the canapés and very pretty they looked too. Celeriac makes a fantastic winter salad and we’ve eaten it several times already since then:

The doyennes of cookery and entertaining always tell you not to try out new recipes on your guests don’t they? Well, I think rules like this are meant to be broken, but sometimes minor disasters will ensue. I think it’s fair to say that the malakoffs didn’t work. Tim was banished to the garage to deep fry these battered cheese parcels. I can’t abide the smell of deep-frying fat in the house, so our deep-fat fryer lives very happily in the garage which means that, with the assistance of the barbecue it’s pretty easy to rustle up a mean steak and chips for al fresco consumption in the summer.

I thought we’d followed the malakoff instructions on the Swiss food blog http://www.fxcuisine.com to the letter. Maybe the batter was too light, maybe the oil was too hot, maybe we cooked them for too long, but when we came to consume the malakoffs, they turned out to be hollow as all the molten cheese had leaked out into the frying oil creating an unholy mess (which I have yet to properly clean up I’m ashamed to say). The fritters looked the part and retained enough of the ghost of a flavour of cheese to allow you to imagine how delicious a correctly cooked malakoff might be. Another time…

We began the meal proper with an unusual hay soup, expertly prepared by Shelley. This is a traditional Swiss soup, different versions of which come from the mountainous cantons of Valais and Graubünden. I’d tasted this in Klosters a couple of winters ago, and it looked so pretty presented on its bed of hay and garnished with dried meadow flowers that I had to put it on our menu.

I couldn’t find a definitive recipe but found several different versions by searching under “Heusuppe Rezept”. Our version used a hay-infused light stock, a flavour base of sweated vegetables and a little pearl barley to thicken. I think I’d like to try out the other versions before publishing a definitive recipe.

Sourcing the hay proved to be harder than I’d thought. I scoured farms in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales for an elusive handful of local organic meadow hay but without success – all I was offered was silage which I don’t think would make a very pleasant tasting soup. In the end, The Hay Experts (see contact details below) came to my rescue. They really do know their hays (even if the end consumer is usually a pet rabbit) and despatched just what I needed very promptly.

Our next course was a miniature version of the Luzerner Chugelipastete – an exuberant puff pastry dome filled with braised veal and veal sausagemeat in a creamy saffron flavoured sauce. In order to cut down on the pastry, I made pastry lids to cover the braised veal which was served in individual ramekins.
I posted last year on the subject of this dish:
https://rhubarbfool.co.uk/2011/03/03/lunch-in-lucerne/

I used a couple of cheat steps when I made the miniature version of the dish. Short of time, I used Dorset all-butter puff pastry – reliably good if you don’t have time to make your own. Instead of veal forcemeat balls made from scratch I used a pack of veal meatballs from Waitrose. These are made from ethically sourced British rosé veal and are delicious and versatile. Actually, I didn’t follow the Marian Kaltenbach recipe for the sauce which I’ve quoted before at all. I flash fried strips of veal tenderloin, combined them with the cooked veal meatballs, added a little stock and cream, reduced the whole lot down to make a sauce and added grapes macerated in a Swiss grappa type schnapps to finish. I was reasonably happy with the end result:

We were now well set up for the main event, a fabulous-looking venison tenderloin supplied from The Blackface Meat Company who are based up near Dumfries in Scotland. I’ve used them a couple of times before for game and rare breed meat. They may be a little expensive but they supply top quality meat, expertly butchered and delivered promptly and efficiently to your door.

I did try and obtain some local venison from Dunham Massey. Each year, the deer are culled and just a few of the younger deer are butchered and sold to the public via a local farm shop. Unfortunately because of problems with poaching this year I didn’t know if my tenderloin was going to turn up on time. When finally I did get the call that the venison was available, I was a little disappointed with what the butcher had done as this tenderloin was nowhere near as expertly trimmed as the Blackhouse meat. So Dunham’s answer to Bambi is in the freezer ready for a future Sunday lunch.

The Blackhouse website lists useful recipes and I followed chef Mark Hix’s instructions for marinading the venison in red wine before flash-frying and serving with a red wine reduction. Not an authentic Swiss recipe but very Swiss in character as you’ll find lots of robust game dishes cooked with red wine in restaurants during the autumn and winter hunting season.

The venison was expertly cooked by Janet and was served with everyone’s favourite Swiss dish, potato rösti,braised red cabbage and a spoonful of Preiselbeer sauce. The Preiselbeer is a smaller, tastier European relative of the more familiar North American cranberry. It’s also known as the lingonberry in Swedish and here in England it’s known as the cowberry but is not a popular forager’s fruit as yet.

Sorry my pictures of the finished dish are too dark to be meaningful, but here are photos of the meat bathing in its marinade, the same meat cooked and carved, and a jar of the Preiselbeer sauce brought back from a little shop in Klosters:

Avoiding the temptations of triple Toblerone chocolate mousse and the like, I chose a simple walnut and honey parfait for pudding served with prunes cooked in red wine and spices to give a delicious festive mulled-wine flavour. Alongside the parfait and prunes I served a traditional Swiss/German advent biscuit, the Zimtstern – a cinnamon flavoured dough made like a macaroon from ground nuts, sugar and whisked egg whites, topped with a crisp meringue icing. These are nutty, chewy and delicious and a tad difficult to make. I’ve not given the recipe in this post as frankly it’s too long already, and they merit a post all of their own.

To conclude the meal as we approached midnight, a superb Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese from the Jura region of Switzerland, one of my favourite cheeses. It’s soft and creamy and can be spooned out of its wooden box when properly mature and ready to eat. It’s only available during the winter months. Ours came from the Duty Free shop at Zürich airport, but you can find it over here sometimes either in a specialist cheese shop or occasionally in Waitrose. If you find one, grab it, you won’t regret it.

I couldn’t possibly list all the evening’s recipes in a single post – in fact to help with the preparations, I photocopied and printed them all out and have enough material for a small cookery book!

I’m just going to give two recipes, both straightforward and both now in my regular repertoire.

Recipe for celeriac remoulade

My lighter, fresher version of this bistro classic, replacing the usual mayo with Greek yoghurt.

Serves 4 or more as part of a selection of salads

Ingredients

1 small or half a medium celeriac grated in a food processor
juice of half a lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons thick Greek yoghurt
2 tablespoons half fat crème fraîche
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped flatleaf parsley

Grate the celeriac quite finely (easiest to do this in a food processor) and in a medium bowl mix thoroughly with the lemon juice to stop the celeriac turning brown. You can prepare the celeriac to this stage then refrigerate it several hours ahead of time and it will still be fine. When you’re ready to serve, add the other ingredients to the bowl and stir to combine.

Recipe for walnut parfaits with mulled prunes

Translated from the German and adapted from a little Swiss cookbook called “Geliebte Schweizer Küche”.

Serves 6

Ingredients

For the mulled prunes

1 bottle fruity red wine
200g prunes
2 cinnamon sticks
1 vanilla pod
2 cloves
1 large piece of peel from an unwaxed orange

For the parfait

2 eggs
2 dessertspoons runny honey
1 pinch powdered cinnamon
1 dessertspoon Grand Marnier
180ml whipping cream
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped

Begin by making the mulled prunes the day before you plan to serve the dish. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to the boil then leave to cool and infuse overnight.

Next make the parfait. You can make this a couple of days ahead of time as it’s frozen. Mix the eggs, honey, powdered cinnamon and Grand Marnier together in a bowl. Using an electric whisk, beat together until the mixture is light and foamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the cream to the soft peak stage and combine with the egg mixture and chopped walnuts. Divide the mixture between 6 or more small moulds (china teacups or ramekins are fine) and freeze for at least four hours.

When you are ready to serve, dip the moulds briefly into hot water, loosen with a knife if necessary and invert onto individual serving plates. Spoon the prunes and red wine sauce around and serve.

Contact details

Vicky Clements – “Inside Out” flowers and gardening, Bowdon, Cheshire
Mobile 07762 387 372

The Hay Experts – suppliers of organic and other hays
http://www.thehayexperts.co.uk/

The Blackface Meat Company – suppliers of rare breed meat and game
http://www.blackface.co.uk/

Searching for the perfect Pinte

August 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

No, not another piece enthusing about English beer but a story of trying to find something simple to eat in Vevey, a market town on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) in the Swiss canton of Vaud.

During our summer tour of Switzerland I decided it was time to revisit some of my old haunts. Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I spent 4 winters in Vevey working in the offices of a certain international food company. There was a whole team of us out there (referred to unimaginatively as the Equipe) and we must have dined at pretty much every half-decent restaurant within a 15 mile radius of the town.

Back then, the gastronomical heights were occupied by the legendary Frédy Girardet in his restaurant in Crissier above Lausanne. Just about everywhere else was readily accessible and welcoming, serving up generous portions of Suisse Romande cuisine. It was here that I first encountered the Swiss custom of the deuxième service: finish one plate of steak, potatoes, vegetables or whatever and it is whisked away and replaced with an identical one! A blessing or a curse, depending on your point of view.

Something has happened in Vevey in the last 25 years. It’s come out in a rash of Michelin stars and Gault Millau points. For example, I remember Brent as a sleepy little village just above Vevey’s brash neighbour Montreux. It’s now home to Le Pont de Brent, celebrity chef Gérard Rabaey’s 3 Michelin star 19 Gault Millau points restaurant.

Vevey itself is home to Switzerland’s answer to Heston Blumenthal, Denis Martin, whose 2 Michelin star 18 Gault Millau point restaurant is in the Rue du Château, close to the swanky lakeside Trois Couronnes hotel.

With 2 boys in tow (one teenage and one nearly so), we weren’t really in the market for a lengthy candlelit molecular gastronomy session. We were looking for something simpler, a pinte Vaudoise in fact.

What’s a pinte Vaudoise I hear you ask. This is what the official website of the Office of Vaudois Wines www.vins-vaudois.com has to say:

“A recommended pinte vaudoise is a public establishment, all or part of which constitutes a welcoming village inn where you can have wine and a meal. Its primary purpose is to feature Vaudois terroirs, food specialties and A.O.C. wines. Their managers pay great attention to welcoming guests and training their staff to be Vaudois terroir experts. Recommended pintes vaudoises are friendly, so that guests feel like coming back and recommending them to friends.”

Talking of local wines and vineyards, even these have moved upmarket with the intricately terraced Lavaux vineyards becoming a UNESCO world heritage site in 2007. The Lavaux is the 30 km long lakeside strip of land running from the picturesque Château de Chillon in the East to the outskirts of Lausanne in the West.

Scanning the list of pintes available both from the tourist office and the Office of Vaudois wines website, we discovered that we were in luck. Included was the restaurant of our hotel, the Hôtellerie de Châtonneyre, right in the middle of the wine village of Corseaux. The Chât, as we English had christened the hotel, hadn’t changed a bit in 25 odd years. As far as décor and plumbing went, this was not necessarily a good thing, but it was good to see the menu just as I remember it. For a first night in Vevey, there was only one thing to order: Filets de perche, frais du lac:

These small lake fish are found on most of the local restaurant menus. There was only one option to drink with them, a bottle of crisp white Chardonne from grapes grown on the hillside beneath which we were sitting on our sunny terrace.

The boys both ordered duck breast with potato galettes, equally delicious. Pudding was a rather wonderful gratin of raspberries (sabayon poured over fresh raspberries then the dish flashed under the grill to brown and caramelise just a little) served with a melon sorbet.

The next even we decided to visit another old haunt, the Auberge de l’Onde in the neighbouring wine village of St Saphorin. The lakeside village with traditional buildings and narrow winding streets is impossibly picturesque but not designed for the modern motor car as we discovered in an a frank exchange of views with a German registered SUV. You can sit outside on warm evenings:

We opted for the cosy dark wood panelled pinte dining room. It had about as much in common with a true traditional pinte as Heston Blumenthal’s pub does to a traditional British boozer. Why so? With the arrival of ambitious chef Patrick Zimmerman, the Auberge has been taken relentlessly upmarket and has gained a Michelin star and 15 Gault Millau points along the way. This means you won’t find many horny-handed locals supping here. On the night we dined, pretty much all the clientele were, like ourselves, tourists, from the UK, US and Italy.

Although the place felt rather precious, food and service were top class. I opted for the good value Menu du Jour featuring more lake fish, this time the féra (as far as I know unknown in the UK, Latin name Coregonus fera). This is a larger fish than the perch with firm white delicate tasting fillets, just right with the braised leeks, steamed potatoes and beurre blank type sauce with which it was served.

All well and good, but not truly authentic. It was not until we went back to the village of Chardonne where I rented apartment within the village house of Clos Jean-Louis that I spotted what I’d been looking for all along, the unassuming Café au Bon Vin. The menu features typical Vaudois dishes including the mysterious Malakoff. Apparently you can have two of these as a main course and if you like, a third in place of pudding. What were these things?

Thanks to the rather wonderful Swiss-authored food blog www.fxcuisine.com I discovered both that a malakoff is a deep-fried cheese stick and also found detailed instructions, photos and a recipe for whipping some up back home. I commend the blog to you.

Sadly, our discovery of the Café au Bon Vin was too late. We didn’t have time to try it out as we were en route to our mountaintop Mongolian yurt experience…

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