Monday, 24 March 2008

Festive Meals

I'm not a cook. Oh, I can put together a decent meal, but I don't enjoy baking or fussy preparation. For company meals I rely on getting the best ingredients I can afford and cooking them simply and carefully. I still recall with both annoyance and amusement deciding to look up and fuss with a meatless dish when the daughter of some neighbours became vegetarian. I found a fairly simple stuffed red pepper recipe, sweated over it but got it to turn out and presented it to the teenager, only to have her announce that she did not like red peppers, only green ones. The next time her family came to dinner I made sure to have lots of salad and bread and vegetables on the table -- 'But what's for me?' she whined. Her mother gave her The Look, which meant that I did not have to do so.

My husband says that for me gourmet cooking is a new prepackaged mix. True enough to be funny. True enough that I find it most surprising that both my daughters have turned out to be excellent and creative cooks. The YD, especially, is amazing. She invited the family for Easter Dinner, got a recipe for rack of lamb out of a magazine -- one which involved a cooked breading and making the Frenched rack stand up 'guard of honour' style -- and produced a perfect result. First time. She does this fairly often, zooming off to the grocery store with cookbook in hand and pulling it off. I would no more try that than I would enroll in the astronaut program. She also served crème Brule at her Easter dinner party, using her father's propane torch to do the Brule part. It was marvelous.

The ED taught me to use a wok some years ago, and I really rely on my microwave for vegetables and sauces, but other than that I cook a lot like my mother and grandmother cooked (plus mixes; pie crust mix, for one). At Chez G we still eat stuff like meatloaf and Apple Crumble and pork chops with gravy, all either my mother's or JG's mother's recipes. My festive meals often involve roasting something. I am terrified to cook shellfish.

JG's maternal grandfather was a baker and his mother learned the art of cake decoration. My mother always made boiled frosting, which rarely turned out, but Mrs. G produced birthday cakes that were works of art. She once arrived here with such a cake when my parents were also visiting, on the ED's birthday. Not expecting her to have brought a cake, my mother and I had laboured together to produce a sad lumpy specimen which had to have one side propped up with a cookie, a failing which the frosting signally failed to disguise. When Mrs. G swept in and produced her masterpiece, we hid our sugary glob in the back of the pantry and did not bring it out until the other cake was crumbs and memory.

However, my inadequate cakes are now only a memory because I have mastered the art of light, spreadable icing which will disguise almost anything. And, yes, I will share it with you. In honour of the maple syrup season, which has not started yet this year due to the whole county being in a snowed up deep freeze. You see, this recipe takes real maple syrup. No substitute works as well. You need: 6 tablespoons of butter and 6 of maple syrup. Warm to slightly above room temperature and cream them together. Gradually add 2 cups icing sugar. Ice cake while frosting is still a bit warm and chill the iced cake to set it. This frosting will work for piping and lettering too. If you colour it, add another tablespoon of icing sugar. It's sugar and fat content are, um, high.

I learned this out of necessity as Little Stuff has a nut allergy and all festive cakes have to be home made. But it works consistently for me and, believe me, that's amazing. All I have to worry about is getting it onto the table without dropping it or setting Little Stuff on fire.


  1. it is just about sugaring time here, though it is still pretty cold. i'll definitely have to try that recipe--we're HUGE pure maple syrup fan.
    creme brulee totally frightens me.
    Running on empty

  2. You are a great cook (just think of U.J's love of your spaghetti sauce ...) And there is no reason you couldn't follow a recipe - it is you, afer all, that taught me to read! And yes, I remember the cake.

    Everyone try the icing - it is terrific.