Whenever I've been involved in a community house, at the beach, in the mountains, during summer stock, somehow I've always been assigned the cooking. Delighted. At worst, the cook is excused from washing up and at best it's a chance to challenge and amuse one's companions, giving them a change from the routine.
Take this menu, for instance. Beer, sure -- but in soup? Pasta is familiar enough, but what in heaven's name is a hot pasta salad? Game pa te' is more acceptable if thought of as glorified meat loaf (as indeed it is). Only pound cake is standard, and even that is enlivened with tart lemon icing.
Two of these recipes, beer soup and pasta salad, come from Alsace in eastern France and they clearly show the influence of neighboring Germany. Beer soup, flavored with onions and chives, thickened with bread and spiced with nutmeg, is a splendid pick-me-up on a cold night. Alsatian beer is comparatively light, but I've tried this recipe using one of the many imported dark beers now available and found it excellent. Stout, dark ale and porter are all appropriate, or you could try pilsner or lager for a lighter effect.
The pasta salads now sweeping American delicatessens are nothing new. Under the name of totelots, a hot noodle salad has been made in Alsace for generations. The dressing is a simple vinaigrette with shallots, chopped parsley and garlic, with sour cream (in German style) for richness. Salad oil is usual, though you may like to substitute olive oil for more flavor. When totelots are made at home -- fresh pasta is not limited to Italy -- the noodles are often cut in one-inch squares rather than strips. In this recipe I've suggested pasta shells because they absorb the dressing so well, but twistelli, macaroni or just plain noodles will do.
Game pa te' en crou te sounds very grand and it is a dish that would grace any dinner party. However, with the exception of the game, ingredients are commonplace, available at any supermarket. It is their assembly that merits the imposing title. Pa te' en crou te is made by rolling pastry dough to a large rectangle, then setting strips of meat and ham down the middle, all held together by layers of stuffing. For easy slicing the filling is arranged in a loaf shape and the pastry dough is wrapped around like a parcel and glued with egg glaze. The top of the pa te' can be decorated with leaves, flowers or even stars and stripes if you so desire. You will find this pastry recipe, made with sour cream, is particularly easy to work with and holds its shape well.
As for the game, this can be any type -- venison, bear, rabbit, pheasant, wild goose or duck, or squab. Dark meats like venison give a stronger pa te' than light ones such rabbit. For venison, bear and rabbit cut the meat from the bones, discarding fat and sinew; for game birds, cut the meat from the bones, discard the skin and keep the meat in as large pieces as possible. The meat should be weighed after it has been boned and trimmed.
For those who do not have access to game, whether brought home in triumph by the hunter of the family or extracted from the supermarket freezer, this is still a feasible recipe -- the game can be replaced by veal or ham. If you choose the latter, be wary of salt; a mild precooked ham is best and salt may not be needed in the stuffing.
Why do all cooks think they can improve on pound cake -- the rich batter cake made with equal quantities of butter, sugar, flour and whole eggs? When researching this recipe I was astonished to find that Fannie Farmer uses separated eggs and that my edition of "Joy of Cooking" calls for milk and reduces the amount of butter. I had to go back to a 19th-century English book for the method used by the old cook when I was a child. For scrupulous accuracy, she put the eggs (the only variable) on one side of the scale and balanced the other ingredients against them. Such care may no longer be necessary in these days of graded eggs (Grade A large eggs weigh about 2 ounces), but what a pity. As I watched the eggs roll around the scale pan, I always hoped one would fall off.
In this recipe I've baked the batter in a loaf pan so it is easy to slice and store. Like any cake with a high butter content, pound cake keeps well and is more moist after a day or two in an airtight container. The lemon icing is poured over while the cake is still warm so it is slightly absorbed, forming a semitranslucent veil rather than a white coating. The general effect should be homey rather than neat.
Note that, as an old hand, I've chosen this menu not only to be copious at a modest price (if you leave out the game) but also so the work can be done days ahead. Personally I would do most of it at home before the trip. In a ski lodge kitchen you never know what you may or may not find in the way of equipment. TIMETABLE
Thorough planning for this supper means that all major cooking can be done two days or more ahead. Indeed all the main elements could be prepared at home so only last-minute reheating is needed at the lodge. An hour is quite enough time for this last-minute assembly, leaving you time to enjoy the slopes with the best of them.
Up to 3 days ahead: Make pa te' en crou te and keep in refrigerator. Bake lemon pound cake and store in airtight container.
Up to 2 days ahead: Make beer soup but do not add chives and cream; store in refrigerator.
One hour before serving: Cook pasta and keep in warm water; make dressing. Take pa te' from refrigerator; if serving warm, heat oven to 350 degrees. Unwrap lemon pound cake and set on platter.
Thirty minutes before serving: Heat pa te' in oven. Set the table.
Ten minutes before serving: Reheat soup and add chives and cream.
After serving soup: Drain pasta and toss with dressing. Take pa te' from oven and transfer to platter. BEER SOUP (10 servings)
To give this soup plenty of flavor, the onions must be thoroughly browned; however do not allow them to scorch and become bitter. 1/2 cup butter 8 yellow onions (3 pounds), thinly sliced 2 quarts chicken or veal stock 1 quart dark beer 10 slices white bread, diced 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg Salt and pepper to taste 1 cup whipping cream 3 tablespoons chopped chives
In a large saucepan melt butter. Add onions and fry very gently, stirring often, until deep golden brown, 15-20 minutes.
Add stock, beer, bread, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pure'e soup in a food processor or blender and taste for seasoning. The soup can be made up to 48 hours ahead; keep it covered in refrigerator.
Just before serving, bring soup to a boil, stir in cream and chives and taste again for seasoning.
Tip: Bread-thickened soups are surprisingly light in texture. This is one instance in which the blandness of white bread is a plus. GAME PATE EN CROUTE (10 servings)
This pa te' can be served warm or cold and can be made with any kind of game. Sour cream pastry (recipe follows) 1 1/2 pounds game meat 1/2 pound cooked ham, in 1/2-inch slices 2 tablespoons white wine 4 tablespoons brandy 1 egg, beaten to mix with 1/2 teaspoon salt (for glaze) FOR THE STUFFING: 2 pounds ground pork, equal parts of fat and lean 4 ounces chicken livers, very finely chopped 2 eggs, beaten to mix 2 teaspoons ground allspice 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 teaspoon salt, more if needed 1 teaspoon pepper, more if needed
Make sour cream pastry dough and chill 30 minutes.
Cut half of game meat in long 1/2-inch strips; cut remaining game meat in small pieces. Cut ham in long 1/2-inch strips. Put game and ham strips in a shallow dish; pour over white wine and half the brandy. Cover and leave to marinate 30 minutes.
To make the stuffing: Work game meat that was cut in small pieces and pork through fine plate of a grinder into a large bowl. Add chicken livers, remaining brandy, eggs, allspice, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Drain marinade from game strips and add marinade to the mixture. Beat mixture well with a wooden spoon until it comes away from sides of bowl, 2-3 minutes. In a frying pan fry a small piece of stuffing and taste for seasoning; it should be quite spicy. If not add more seasonings.
On a floured work surface roll sour cream pastry dough into a 14-by-20-inch rectangle. Divide game stuffing in quarters. Spread one portion lengthwise on pastry dough in a 4-by-14-inch strip. Top with a layer of half the strips of game. Cover with a second portion of stuffing. Cover with strips of ham and a third layer of stuffing. Cover this with remaining game strips and top with remaining stuffing. Mold filling with your hands so rectangle is as tall and neat as possible.
Cut a 2-inch square from each corner of dough and brush edge of dough with egg glaze. Lift one long edge of dough to top of filling. Fold over opposite edge to enclose it. Fold ends to make a neat package and press gently to seal. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Carelly move pa te' onto baking sheet so seam is underneath.
Brush pa te' with egg glaze. Cut leaves from leftover dough and attach to top of pastry with egg glaze. Brush leaves with glaze also. With a sharp knife, cut 3 holes in top of pa te'. Insert a roll of foil in each hole to form a chimney for steam to escape. Cover and refrigerate until firm, 1/2 to 1 hour.
Bake pa te' in a 400-degree oven until pastry is set and starts to brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until a skewer inserted in center of pa te' is hot to the touch when withdrawn after 30 seconds, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. If pastry browns too quickly during baking, cover it loosely with foil. Let pa te' cool on baking sheet 5 minutes before transferring to a platter.
Pa te' can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. If serving cold, let it come to room temperature. If serving warm, reheat it in a 350-degree oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Cut pa te' in 3/4- to 1-inch slices for serving.
Tip: When cutting leaves for decor work with well-chilled dough. SOUR CREAM PASTRY
Wonderful for hors d'oeuvreswhen filled with brie cheese or ricotta and herbs. 3 1/2 cups flour plus extra for kneading 2 teaspoons salt 3/4 cup butter, softened 2 eggs 1/4 cup sour cream
Sift flour onto work surface with salt and make a large well in the center. Add butter, eggs and sour cream to well and mix with your fingertips until smooth. Using a pastry scraper or metal spatula, draw in flour and continue working mixture to coarse crumbs. Press dough into a ball.
Lightly flour work surface and blend dough by pushing it away with heel of your hand and gathering it up with the scraper. When it peels easily from work surface, press it into a ball, wrap tightly and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. HOT PASTA SALAD (10 servings)
Pasta can be cooked up to an hour ahead and kept in warm water. However, undercook so it does not soften. 1 1/2 pounds shell pasta 1/3 cup vinegar 6 shallots, finely chopped 1/2 cup chopped parsley 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 cup oil 3/4 cup sour cream Salt and pepper 4 tomatoes, sliced (for decoration)
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and simmer, uncovered, until tender but still firm -- 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and rinse with hot water to wash away starch.
Meanwhile in a large pot whisk vinegar, shallots, parsley and garlic. Gradually whisk in oil so dressing thickens slightly. Whisk in sour cream with salt and pepper to taste. Pasta and dressing can be prepared up to 1 hour ahead. Return pasta to pan; half fill it with warm water and leave in a warm place. Leave dressing at room temperature.
Just before serving: Drain pasta thoroughly. Add it to dressing, mix well, and taste for seasoning. Pile salad in a serving bowl and top with slices of tomato. Serve at once.
Tip: This salad can also be served cold. LEMON POUND CAKE (Makes 2 large loaf cakes)
A tart version of the old favorite. 4 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups butter, softened, plus extra for pans 2 1/2 cups sugar Grated zest 3 lemons 8 eggs FOR THE ICING: 2 lemons 2 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
Butter two 9-by-5-by-4-inch loaf pans and line bases with buttered waxed paper.
Sift flour with salt. In a large bowl cream the butter. Add sugar and beat until soft and light, about 5 minutes. Beat in lemon zest. Add eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly between each addition. Fold in flour.
Spoon batter into prepared pans and bake in a 350-degree oven until cakes shrink slightly from sides of pan and a skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 45-55 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans 5 minutes.
Meanwhile make icing: pare zest from lemons with a vegetable peeler and cut in needle-like shreds. Blanch by putting in a pan of cold water, simmering 3-4 minutes and straining. Squeeze juice from lemons. Sift confectioners' sugar into a bowl and beat in enough lemon juice to make a stiff paste. Put bowl in a pan of hot water and heat icing to lukewarm. It should just coat the back of a spoon; if too thick, add more lemon juice and if too thin, beat in more sugar. Stir in lemon zest.
Run a knife around edges of cakes and turn them out onto a rack with a tray underneath to catch drips. Pour warm icing over each loaf, spreading evenly with a metal spatula. Icing should drip down sides of cakes without coating evenly.
Lemon pound cake can be made up to 3 days ahead. Keep it in an airtight container.