Red velvet cake is traditionally prepared as a layer cake topped with cream cheese or cooked roux icing. The cake can be a dark red, bright red or red-brown color. When foods were rationed during World War II, bakers used boiled beet juices to enhance the color of their cakes. Beets are found in some red velvet cake recipes, where they also serve to retain moisture. Traditionally, red velvet cake is iced with a French-style butter roux icing (also called ermine icing), which is very light and fluffy, but time-consuming to prepare. Cream cheese frosting and buttercream frosting are variations which have increased in popularity. The rich red colour of this recipe makes this cake very attractive and well-known around the world.
Eel swim thousands of miles from their birthplace in the Sargasso Sea (off the American coast) to the rivers of Europe. In Italy they are found at the mouth of the river Po, in the Tiber, and in Sicily and Sardinia. A favourite Roman recipe at Christmas is capitone, a mature female eel which is cut into chunks, marinated and cured in oil, vinegar and herbs, then grilled over charcoal. This recipe is using smaller eels and reversing the process, frying the eel chunks first, then marinating them. Marinated fish are popular in Italy and are usually eaten at the start of the meal as an antipasto. Eels are most often sold live, although they are sometimes available as steaks. A live eel is quite something to manage, so ask your fishmonger for advice. There are serious concerns surrounding the sustainability of eels, both wild and farmed (as even these are raised from wild elvers).
Lamb koftas are one of the classics of Indian cuisine, well adopted by Westerners around the world. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced or ground meat—usually beef, chicken, lamb, or pork—mixed with spices and/or onions. In India, vegetarian varieties include koftas made from potato, calabash, paneer, or banana. In Europe, kofta is served as fast food as a type of kebab. Koftas in India are usually served cooked in a spicy curry/gravy and are eaten with boiled rice or a variety of Indian breads. In Bengal, a region of eastern India, koftas are made from prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage or meat, such as minced goat meat. In Kashmir, mutton is often used in the preparation of koftas, as opposed to beef or lamb. These koftas make a very good first course or snack.
The flavours of the Mediterranean simply ooze from this decorative Greek olive bread, speckled with black olives, red onion and herbs. Originally this bread was a Lenten food for the priests of the Eastern Orthodox Church, although now olive bread or elioti is produced all over the country and can be enjoyed at any time of the year. It is generally a white bread, enriched with a little olive oil, flavoured with marjoram or oregano and studded with black olives. Throughout Greece, local bakers produce their own particular bread, which necessarily becomes a favourite with their customers. In the cities, the more enterprising bakeries produce a wide range of breads flavoured with raisins, olives and herbs, but among the islands and in the mountains, most loaves continue to be of the plain, farmhouse variety – large and crusty and sometimes sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Christmas wouldn’t be the same without cranberry sauce to accompany the turkey. But cranberries can be enjoyed year around, in your cooking or as a sauce, jelly or juice. As the landscape of New England in the States takes on the hues of autumn, with rich gold, burnt sienna and terracotta, acres of dazzling scarlet appear. That essential part of Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations – the cranberry – is ready for harvest. Cranberries are one of only three fruits native to North America (the other two are the blueberry and Concord grape), though they also grow wild in the UK, as well as other parts of Europe. And long before the first Pilgrim Fathers arrived in 1620, the American Indians had many uses for the red bitter berry growing among the boggy marshes.