nineveh_uk (nineveh_uk) wrote,
nineveh_uk
nineveh_uk

I was the chef at the Café Anglais

Following a request, this is the menu served by Babette at the famous feast in Berlevaag (short story*) and Nørre Vosborg (film), possibly the bleakest place in literature short of Scott's South Pole. We decided that the spirit was what really mattered. I shall spare you the lines from the film uttered at key moments.

***

Turtle soup

Turtle is not available to the UK domestic chef. We therefore cast around for substitutes. Mock turtle soup involves boiling a calf's head. My mother vetoed lobster bisque, which she dislikes (I wish I'd had the chance!). Several people vetoed crab. We therefore compromised on salmon and dill ravioli (purchased). I had a symbolic glass of Amontillado earlier.

Blini Demidoff

Blinis with sour cream and caviar. No, of course it wasn't real sturgeon black caviar!

Caille en Sarcophage

According to people on the internet who know more about French cooking than I, these little boneless quails in pastry baskets are stuffed with foie gras and black truffles, and served with sauce Périgueux. My mother actually has a recipe for sauce Périgueux. We decided, however, that the spirit of the thing required the quails in their baskets, with head, and that the sauce/stuffing was up to the circumstances concerned. We went for boneless quails** stuffed with chestnut, mushroom and bacon stuffing, in a cherry sauce, and I modelled the heads out of shortcrust pastry, observing as I went along how key features like peppercorn eyes make something that looks nothing like a quail's head look exactly like a quail's head. I'd invoke Umberto Eco, but I drove home today.

Chicory and walnut salad

Easy! We also added a second salad, of pomegranate, orange, and walnut.

Cheese and Fruit

Nowadays one can buy tropical fruits in December from Sainsbury's. Though fruit-wise you should probably concentrate on the grapes/dates/fig end of things. Cheese to taste, but do include a blue one.

Savarin

Turns out to be incredibly easy to make, though it helps if your mother doesn't discover that she has lost her debit card as she is in the act of paying for a ring mould at Lakeland. Fortunately it later turned out that she had left it in the machine, which had eaten it, but it rather put paid to our trip to Harrogate. In any case, savarin takes time, as you have to leave the dough to prove twice, but it is easy and looks good filled with unseasonal fruits. In lieu of a rum sauce, which no-one wanted, we had an orange syrup with Malvasia***.

***

So there you go. It took a fair amount of time, but was not otherwise difficult for a family cook who can put Christmas dinner on the table without stressing for the nation of their choice. For one thing, there are relatively few issues of acute timing. We split up the courses between 4 for the sake of not spending all day in the kitchen (it was a surprise for persons 5+6, my sister and brother-in-law who came down that day), and though I wouldn't serve the whole lot up for a dinner party unless I really liked the people involved, none of the individual courses was particularly onerous, at least if, like us, you invoked the spirit and not the vast quantities of truffles. And champagne, which we decided just to have as an apertif. The singing of Danish psalms in their subtitled English versions is optional.

*For anyone who is not familiar with the film: HIRE IT NOW, although not, and I cannot stress this strongly enough for those who live in the USA, in the dubbed version. I have no idea what non-English dubs are like. The film is based on the story by Isak Dinesen first published in the Ladies Home Journal (USA) as Dineksen's response to a bet that she couldn't publish a magazine story on the meaning of art. It was subsequently republished in the collection Anecdotes of Destiny. It is wonderful. It is also responsible for a fondly-remembered moment of classroom triumph on my part, when watching it the week before Christmas in my Danish language class in Odense. As General Löwenhielm gave his speech (in Swedish, we were watching with Danish subtitles) my neighbour turned to me and said, "What is he saying?" My reply: "Mercy and truth are met together. Righteousness and peace are met together. Man, in his weakness and shortsightness, believe he must make a choice here in life". Etc. Cue stunned silence. I had discovered at the start of the film-showing that I had seen it so often I had memorised the subtitles. I admitted this - at the end of the film.

**If you can't get boneless quails locally - central Oxford is light on bakers, but rich in butchers - and I believe that you can bone them yourself. Personally, I'd just leave the bones to the diners.

***Present for parents from Lipari, where there has recently been a murder. Who'd have thought Sicily had a lower murder rate than the Faeroes? I had Baba aux Malavasie from a wonderful cake shop in Lipari town. Actually, I had it twice, as the first time I took a bite and accidentally dropped it in the gutter.
Tags: film, food, real life
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