3 Best pancake recipes to celebrate Shrove Tuesday

The best pancake recipes for breakfast on pancake day

Last week, I tried to explain to my American roommates what Shrove Tuesday is and why we should be excited about it. A transcript of that conversation might look something like this:

Me: Guys, next Tuesday is Shrove Tuesday!
Guys: What’s Shrove Tuesday?
Me: Pancake Day!
Guys: What’s Pancake Day?
Me: The day before the start of Lent.
Guys: What’s Lent?
Me: The 40-day fast from Shrove Tuesday until Easter. You know what Easter is, right?

(They did.)

In fact, they do celebrate Shrove Tuesday here in the USA; they just know it by a different name. In hindsight, I now realise that I should have opened with “Guys, next Tuesday is Mardi Gras!” But whatever name you know it by, tomorrow is the day when Christian families traditionally use up all of the sinfully delicious foods in their houses, so as to spare them the temptation to break their fast of penance. This fast, also known as Lent, lasts from Ash Wednesday all the way through to Good Friday (which falls on 14 April this year), when many Christian faiths begin their celebration of the resurrection of Christ. So you can see why it might be a good idea to use up all the sugar and fat in the house before you embark on your 40 days of self-denial. (Lent is considered to last 40 days, rather than the 47 calendar days it actually comprises, because you get Sundays off.)

Ingredients for honey cloud pancakes by Things We Make: fresh fruit, honey, eggs, milk and flour.
Get all those sweet and fatty foods out of sight and out of mind!

Each country, and indeed each family, will mark the lead-up to Easter in a slightly different way. You will most likely have heard of the famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and the Venetian masquerade celebration, both of which celebrate the last week in which they are allowed to enjoy the carnal pleasure of a rich and indulgent diet, making tomorrow the last day of festivities. In the UK, only Pancake Tuesday itself is celebrated: and yes, you guessed it, all we do is make and eat an ungodly amount of pancakes. In my household, growing up, we tended to stick to the same tradition every year: my mother, who seemed to hold the firm belief that her ability to provide the pancakes on Pancake Day was a direct reflection of her success as a mother, would come home from work and fire up the stove while we looked on in anticipation. In this entirely pressure-free environment, she would then begin her attempt to produce pancakes, instantly become frustrated when the first one inevitably turned out less than perfect, then try to compensate by adjusting the heat settings, which would result in the second pancake also being sub-par, thus commencing the vicious cycle of descent into despair and, ultimately, anger. At around the fourth pancake, I would usually take over in an attempt to alleviate her stress, only to find that she had finally perfected the stove settings and the rest of the pancakes turned out beautifully, thereby giving me unearned credit for her work and increasing her own false sense of failure as a mother.

And so I made a mental note that if I was going to perfect one single recipe in my life, it would be pancakes: I never wanted to experience the shame and self-loathing that my mother’s relative lack of pancake-making abilities subjected her to on a yearly basis. In fact, I’ve come across a few practically fool-proof pancake recipes, and I plan to make all three of them tomorrow: partly because I’d like to challenge myself and impress my roommates, and partly because that way I have two failsafes in case I really balls it up. If you try out any of the recipes below, don’t forget to comment and report back! Either way, the single most important thing to bear in mind when making pancakes is that the first one is always a dud: whatever you do, don’t let it make you second-guess yourself!

French crêpe recipe from BBC Good Food (UK):
https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3374/perfect-pancakes

Fluffy, American-style pancakes, also from BBC Food (UK):
http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/fluffyamericanpancak_74828

Honey cloud pancakes from Things We Make (US):
https://thingswemake.co.uk/2012/02/11/honey-cloud-pancakes/

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Red + white = rosé? 3 methods of rosé wine production

How rosé wine compares to white and red wine production

A few years ago at a bar in Sarajevo, a glass of white wine was served to me in an unwashed glass that had previously contained red wine. When I pointed out the discolouration at the bottom of the glass, the surly bartender merely shrugged and said “rosé”. Now, I may not have known quite as much about wine back then as I do now, but something told me that this was not the traditional method of rosé production. Fast forward to yesterday, when I was working on a short translation on the three actual methods of producing this not-quite-white, not-quite-red wine. In their own way, all of these methods lie somewhere in between the principles of red wine production and white wine production: let’s see how.

Rosé wine production method 1: maceration

The most common method for still rosé wines is maceration. These rosés are made from red wine grapes such as pinot noir, grenache or zinfandel, which have red skins and white flesh. If they were to be made into red wine, these grapes would be crushed and then left to macerate with their skins and seeds for several days or up to several weeks, giving the wine a dark red colour and tannic flavour. If they were to be made into white wine (yes, red grapes can produce white wine!), the juice would be extracted very gently and immediately separated from the skins to prevent any pigment from transferring to the juice. For rosé, the process is somewhere in between: the grape juice is left in contact with the red skins for a short time, in many cases for a matter of hours, giving it just a slight blush of red and a less tannic flavour that’s much closer to white wine than red.

Rosé production method 2: saignée.

So the maceration method can be described as a kind of red wine production ‘lite’, and in many ways the saignée method or “bleeding off” is very similar. Saignée can be used in various ways and for various reasons, but here we’ll discuss its use in rosé production. It begins with a vat of grapes destined for red wine production, but some of the juice is siphoned or “bled” off prematurely from the bottom of the vat while the rest is left to macerate longer. So this method relies on the same physical principles as maceration, because the juice is, technically, macerated for a short time in the same way. However, from the winemaker’s and wine drinker’s perspective, these two types of rosé are very different. You see, rather than an attempt to produce an excellent rosé, the decision to bleed off some juice from the vat is usually a strategic decision in the production of the red wine left behind: it provides a higher skin-to-juice ratio, so the grape must will soak up more pigment and tannins, and the wine will be deeper, darker and bolder. This method is popular in regions that pride themselves on the intensity of their red wines, such as Napa and Sonoma. So while the rosé that’s been bled off is still sold and may still be very tasty, in many cases it hasn’t been designed with a beautifully-balanced rosé in mind, and is more of a by-product of red wine production. This is why many connoisseurs (not to mention dedicated rosé winemakers) consider it inferior to rosés that have been conceived and crafted as rosés from start to finish, although this is not unanimous and, like so much of winemaking, very much a matter of opinion.

Rosé wine production method 3: blending white wine with red wine

Now, if I were to tell you that some rosés really are just red and white wines mixed together, you might think that those would be the least prestigious type of rosé of the three. And if they’re mixed together at the point of sale, for example in a dusty Bosnian bar, you might be right. But in fact, this is actually the most common method of producing rosé Champagne. The méthode traditionnelle that all Champagnes must follow involves a second fermentation in which yeast and sugar are added in the bottle to produce carbon dioxide. Before this second fermentation takes place, a small amount (generally 5-15%) of still red wine such as pinot noir is added to the still white wine. For example, Domaine Carneros’ Brut Rosé sparkling wine is composed of 41% pinot noir and 59% chardonnay, with “part of the pinot noir juice” being converted to red wine early in the winemaking process, while the remainder is separated from the skins immediately, so the wine stays white. What’s more, many white Champagnes also incorporate (or are made entirely from) the red grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier: the only difference is that none of the juices will macerate in their skins at all. So while the blending method is looked down upon in still rosés has even been prohibited in certain regions, it’s actually the preferred method in the production of sparkling rosés and can produce excellent results.

So any way you cut it, rosé wine does fall somewhere in between red and white wine, whether it’s by a short maceration as opposed to longer or no maceration, or, yes, by straight-up combining red with white. Of course, any of these three methods can produce good or poor wines, but it’s always good to be clued in to what you’re drinking so you can identify your own preferences.

Spotlight on: Croquettes

Cuisinology takes a look at a globalised French delicacy: the croquette

The humble croquette: a concept so simple and delicious that it has traversed the globe and embedded itself in the food cultures of countless nations. Its origin is French, from the verb croquer (to crunch or be crunchy), and the concept is simple: a filling of your choice, sometimes bound together with béchamel sauce, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried in plenty of oil.

So what is it about this delicacy that gives it its international appeal, allowing it to conquer the world? Well, first of all, it’s a cinch to prepare: just take any kind of food, mix it to a paste with béchamel sauce, coat it in egg and breadcrumbs and fry in scorching hot oil until crisp. So unless you live in a place where flour, eggs, bread, and oil are hard to come by; or you don’t know how to mix ingredients together, dip ingredients into other ingredients, and fry stuff; you should be able to whip up a batch of these satisfying bites in no time.

Home-made ham and blue cheese croquettes
I whipped up these ham and blue cheese croquettes while living in Madrid. Riquísimas!

Secondly, although French in origin, the croquette is versatile: it can be made with all kinds of local delicacies, thus blending in and becoming part of the national cuisine. The croquetas that appear on Spanish menus are typically filled with jamón (cured ham), bacalao (salt cod), or morcilla (Spanish blood sausage). In Italy, potato and mozzarella crocchette are popular, while another version containing aubergine is more commonly known as polpette. In South Korea, a goroke (고로케) or keuroket (크로켓)* might well contain japchae, kimchi or bulgogi, while seafood is a popular ingredient in the Japanese korokke. Potatoes are the staple ingredient in German, Austrian and Swiss Kroketten, as well as Irish and British croquettes.

* The Korean word for croquette is slightly less recognisable than the others because the language does not support consonant clusters, so the ‘c’ and ‘r’ have to be separated by a vowel: keuroket or goroke.

So the croquette has the unusual ability to insinuate itself into the hearts, minds and bellies of the locals, wherever it goes. But the fact that it can be made with almost any filling also makes them very practical: the leftovers of most meals can be scooped up into lozenges and made into croquettes for a convenient appetiser or finger food the next day. I’ve made croquettes with leftover mince, mashed potato, mushroom risotto, and even haggis! It’s a fool-proof way of re-styling your leftovers with ingredients you probably have in your pantry.

For a basic potato croquette recipe, click here (USA) or here (UK). Martha Stewart has a recipe for Spanish-style croquettes with Serrano ham and Manchego cheese here. If you’d like to give it a shot with leftover risotto, try Epicurious’ version here. Once you get the hang of the process, the sky is the limit! I’m currently working on a way to croquettise the leftover chilli from the Superbowl last night: I’ll let you know how it goes…

A Traditional Scottish Burns’ Night Supper

A Traditional Scottish Burns' Night Supper

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit Scotland in late January, you’ll know that Burns’ Night, celebrated on the 25th, is a very special day for the nation: bigger even than St. Andrew’s Day on 30 November, which honours the national patron saint. Burns’ Night (or Burns Night, but never, ever Burn’s Night!) marks the birth of Scotland’s national poet, Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns. Writing in English, Scots, and occasionally in a ‘gentle’ or ‘watered-down’ version of Scots that was accessible to English-speakers around the globe, he put Scotland on the literary map and had a far-reaching influence on arts and culture in many countries.

His poem To a Mouse is said to contain the inspiration for John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men (“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley”), while his song A Red, Red Rose has been covered by a number of artists, and Bob Dylan has said that its lyrics were the single biggest influence on his music. Finally, Auld Lang Syne has become synonymous with New Year celebrations all over the Western Hemisphere.

You might think that one of these famous writings would feature in the traditional Burns’ Supper, but in fact the festivities are centred around a different poem, less well known outside of Scotland: Address to a Haggis. We know that Rabbie Burns was passionate about his nation, its language and culture, so it stands to reason that this would extend to Scotland’s national dish, to which Burns dedicated the eight-stanza poem in 1786. Every 25th of January, Scottish communities around the world make a toast to this meaty, savoury pudding as part of a three-course meal which also often includes the smoked fish stew cullen skink as an appetiser, mashed neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) with whisky sauce to accompany the haggis itself, and cranachan, a cream and raspberry trifle, for dessert.

A traditional Scottish Burns' Night Supper with haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The poem begins by praising the humble but beloved haggis, building up to the third stanza, in which the haggis is ceremoniously sliced open, allowing the filling to spill out from its casing in a dramatic burst of steam and aroma.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

While the haggis is dished up and doused in whisky sauce to be served to the guests, the poem goes on to describe the Scottish feast that will ensue, comparing it to finer French and Italian dishes with no small amount of scorn and presenting haggis as the wholesome fuel of Scotland’s warriors.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis.

In some Burns’ Night celebrations, the food (supper) is the main attraction; however, in many, it is simply a precursor to the evening’s entertainment: a traditional Scottish cèilidh, in which a live band plays while the guests perform the scripted steps they all learned in school, dancing in pairs or sets, skipping and whirling around in a dizzying display until they might begin to regret filling their bellies quite so full of haggis, beer and whisky. Even if you’re not brave enough (or too sensible!) to visit Scotland in January, make sure you find yourself a cèilidh to go to: you won’t regret it.

Global Food Trends in 2017

Global food trends for 2017

This month, I’ve been reading all kinds of predictions about what will be the Next Big Thing in 2017, from individual ingredients to overarching shifts in the way we purchase and consume food. Given the variation in food culture between countries, one would expect trends to vary just as widely; and while certain dishes and cooking styles are more popular in some countries than others, I was surprised to discover that many of the same tendencies do appear in French and Spanish publications as well as British and American ones. I think it’s safe to attribute this to the influence of the Internet, perhaps especially English-language content, on what is trending in other nations. Today’s post will take an overall view of the predicted food trends for 2017 that are cropping up everywhere.

  1. Conscious consumerism

While every nation has their own concerns and preoccupations, we can’t deny that many of the geopolitical issues currently facing us are global in nature: the increasing population, climate change, and the depletion of natural resources affect us all. So it’s not surprising that consumers are responding to these global issues in a similar fashion, regardless of where they are: using their purchasing power to reject practices they don’t agree with, and support those they do. Whether it’s by choosing a vegetarian, vegan or ‘flexitarian’ diet, by opting for sustainable or organic choices, or by buying local to reduce carbon footprints and support local communities, people across the world seem to be becoming more conscientious as far as their food choices are concerned, and calling for more transparency in the supply chain so that they can make more informed and responsible choices.

  1. Health and wellbeing

Being responsible doesn’t stop at our impact on the planet. 2017 is also set to see people paying more attention to their own health and well-being, with a whole-lifestyle approach rather than dieting. Veganism and vegetarianism are relevant here too, as they’re often perceived as a healthier alternative to meat-based diets; meanwhile, the popularity of organic foods continues to grow, the home-made trend expands into pickling and fermenting home-grown produce, and alcohol consumption is tending towards a ‘less but better’ model. Many millennials are cutting out alcohol completely from their diets, while others are drinking less frequently, or less in each sitting, but opting for higher quality or more expensive tipples such as craft cocktails, aged or small-batch spirits, or top-shelf wines; and the market is responding with the opening of more and more craft distilleries, a variety of sophisticated non-alcoholic beverages, and tasting menus offering non-alcoholic pairings.

  1. Changing consumption methods

Dining has always been a social phenomenon, but the word ‘social’ has acquired a new meaning in recent years. More and more people are prioritising convenience: dining out more, ordering in more, or subscribing to meal kits delivered to their door. At the same time, the social aspect of eating is no longer restricted to those we share our meals with: there is no sign that the #instafood trend will slow down in 2017, and restaurants and bars are even beginning to adapt to the younger generation’s obsession with the instaworthiness of their meals: tweaking their lighting and interiors, amping up the garnishes and even releasing new products with ‘viral’ potential.

  1. New technologies

With the growing interest in convenience comes an onslaught of new technologies ready to oblige. Technology is intervening more and more in all aspects of our lives, and food is no exception. It’s there in our homes, automating our kitchen routines to reduce our hands-on time or allowing us to prepare more elaborate dishes that were once only possible in a commercial kitchen. It’s there in restaurants and supermarkets, making ordering and paying a smoother and interaction-free experience. It’s there in our delivery services, with research underway into self-driving cars and delivery by drone. It’s even there behind the scenes, allowing the people who produce, process and package our food to do so more hygienically or efficiently.

All of these trends are happening internationally: they may express themselves differently depending on the country, local demand and national regulations, but they reveal a fundamental shift in the way that humans are interacting with food. It’s an exciting time for food, and I’m excited to see how these trends evolve throughout the year.

Capitalising Wine Names: Part 2

When should the names of grape and wine names have capitals?

First things first: a very happy new year to all of my readers! I hope 2017 will be filled with wonderful new culinary discoveries.

As promised, I’ve dug a little deeper into the etymologies of some of the most common grape varieties and wine blends to bring you this quick-reference capitalisation chart. This chart shows which wine grapes and styles should take a capital letter, according to the article by William Safire that I linked to in my last post. This is only one of many valid approaches to capitalisation in wine, and it’s by no means the simplest. But if its Google ranking and the prestige of the publication are anything to go by, it’s certainly one of the most popular approaches, so I’ve decided to expand on it with the chart and explanation below.

PDO wines like Champagne and Rioja must take a capital letter. Other grape varieties like merlot, and styles such as crémant, don't need a capital.

As you can see, most grape varieties and styles are named descriptively, not after a proper noun, and don’t need the upper case. Merlot, for example, is thought to come from the French merle, meaning blackbird: no reason to capitalise there. Sangiovese derives from the Italian for ‘the blood of Jove’ – and while Jove is a proper noun, blood (sangue) is not, so it’s sangiovese, not Sangiovese. Even when speaking of styles of wine such as crémant, the name comes from a mere description of the texture of the wine, and is no more deserving of a capital letter than the word ‘sparkling’ is.

Then there are the wines that are named after geographical locations. This is a slightly greyer area, and I determined three ways in which the name of a wine can coincide with a geographical region.

The first is when the wine itself is named after the same region where it was produced: this is the case for wines such as Champagne, Côtes du Rhône and Rioja. No wine can be described as Champagne unless it comes from Champagne, meaning that there is a clear connection with the proper noun and it should never be written in lower case.

Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône blends are also named after their origins, but these have since travelled the world and it’s possible to find bordeaux blends coming out of California. This is the second possible relationship between geography and wine: the word does refer to the wine region, but its meaning has expanded to refer more generally to the mixture of grape varieties (merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec). For this reason, I’ve placed Bordeaux, Burgundy/Bourgogne and Rhône in the centre column; unless the wine in question really does come from its namesake, it’s up to you whether to capitalise or not.

The third category is when a grape is named after the region it comes from, but wines made from this grape can be produced anywhere in the world: this is true of the grapes shiraz, chardonnay and valpolicella. Shiraz, for example, is the name of a town in Iran, and the grape was named after this town (the variant Syrah is simply the French name for the same town). But for the most part, when we refer to a wine as ‘shiraz’, we don’t mean that it came from Shiraz – we mean that it is made from the shiraz grape. In this case, I would argue that it should take a lower case letter, unless it happens to be an Iranian shiraz from Shiraz…

A bit of a minefield then, that’s for sure. It’s worth noting, though, that neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor the Chicago Style Manual has published any hard and fast rules on how to approach capitalisation in wine. Perhaps one day they will, but until then, it seems every publication and every writer does it differently. This approach makes the most sense to me, but you do you: as long as you are consistent and can justify your use of capitals, I’m sure the grammar police (or Grammar Police?) will leave you in peace. 😉

4 Jan 2017: Edited to correct the origin of Chianti wine (it is named after the region and should always be capitalised) and to clarify the aim of this article: to explain one possible approach to capitalisation in wine, not to maintain that it is the only correct one.

Capitalising wine names: bordeaux or Bordeaux?

When should the names of grape and wine names have capitals?

My last two articles involved quite a lot of wine terminology, and while writing them, I realised that I’m never sure how and when to use the upper case. I would write ‘Pinot Noir’ in the middle of a sentence, and the capitals seemed out of place; then I would switch to lower case, but then ‘champagne’ and ‘burgundy’ looked all wrong. So, when writing about wine grapes, blends and styles, should we use capitals or not?

This post by William Safire for the New York Times goes into great depth on this topic and confirms what my inner grammatical compass was trying to tell me: the names of some grapes and wines should be capitalised, while others should not, and it all depends on where the name comes from. Below, I’ve boiled down the information from Safire’s insightful article into a handy decision-making tool: if you spend a lot of time writing about wines, feel free to download this resource for future reference.

Use upper case for proper nouns - brands and geographical locations
How to decide when to capitalise wine and grape names – a flow chart

Not every publisher follows these rules: The Guardian uses lower case for all wines and grapes, while De Long opts for capitalisation in every instance. But in most sentences (lists, wine labels and other fragments don’t follow the same grammatical rules), all proper nouns should be capitalised, including geographical locations and branded product names, while other nouns should use the lower case.

Of course, this only works if you happen to know the etymology of every grape variety there is… So I’ll be back soon with a list of the most common wine types and how they should be handled, according to this chart.