Monday, January 7, 2013

Festive tables 2012

 Dinner at home on Christmas Eve. Nine of us for aperos, five at the table. A Quebecois-French menu of corn bisque, tourtière, and bûche de Noêl (that's the scrumptious traditional Christmas dessert that looks like a log). Cooking notes: I'd forgotten that ground pork is so much leaner here in France (and much more roughly chopped) than in Canada. A buzz or two in the Moulinex did the trick. I'd also forgotten that lard is hard to find (in the end I cheated and used all-butter in the pastry). I forgot the tomatillos in the freezer that I'd planned to make chutney from, thinking that their acidity would temper the rich pork pie. Still, it was all good.
   A day later, an incredible feast at friends John and Lee-anne's on Christmas Day. In true traditional style, we began with oysters, foie gras, prawns and smoked salmon...
   Fourteen of us all together. We're now into some serious eating...roasts of turkey, capon and pork...we began at 1 p.m. and ended many hours later. Our contribution was cauliflower gratin, red cabbage, and a classic English trifle.
   No problem finding the sponge cake to spread with jam to line the bottom of the bowl. Easy to find tinned apricots to go under the top layer of whipped cream. I even got my hands on some angelica as the rather naff, but definitely traditional, garnish.
  What I had a real problem making was the layer of custard. Our local supermarkets all have shelves dedicated to "British" groceries. Tinned steak-and-kidney pie, Branston pickle, Heinz Baked Beanz, that kind of thing. I assumed that's where the Bird's Custard Powder would be. Not in Intermarché, and--surprisingly--not in SuperU in Mirepoix which, on Christmas Eve, was so jammed with customers that the queue of cars trying to park stretched back beyond the roundabout.
   Thinking hard, I decided that crème Anglaise would work if I thickened it. I checked the bakery products shelf. Uh-uh. I looked along the coolers, thinking maybe it would be among the tubs of crème fraiche. Nope.
   Flailing around for ideas, I ran into a friend and told him the whole sad story. He led me over to the shelves of UHT milk, UHT cream and there it was--a contained of crème Anglaise. Why there? Good question. Long story short, back home, I tipped out the contents into a saucepan, added two, and then three, beaten eggs and ended up with lovely thick yellow English custard.
   Finally, our usual family Christmas breakfast of smoked salmon, caviar, scrambled eggs and bubbly made festively red with raspberry juice. Eaten on Boxing Day this year because we'd got up very late on The Day and realized that a big breakfast a couple of hours before a big lunch wasn't a bright idea.

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