Cookbook Review: Home Made Winter

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Brisk mornings, windy afternoons, cold dark nights: short of living with a cat on your lap, is there a better place to stay warm in the winter than in the kitchen? Especially since, unlike our shivering, snowed-in brethren in the Midwest and Northeast, we still have an abundance of gorgeous fresh, local produce in our markets, from avocados and clementines to kale, lettuce and those fabulous watermelon radishes.

Home Made WinterMy latest inspiration for cold-day cooking (before our early-arriving spring banishes the chill) is Home Made Winter by Yvette van Boven, an Irish-born cook, food stylist, and writer who divides her time between Amsterdam (where she and her cousin run a restaurant and catering business) and Paris. Oof Verschuren, her photographer husband, took the pictures, which range from luscious but reassuringly unfussy food shots to misty, atmospheric photos of bare branches, shaggy ponies, winding lanes and lichen-splotched stones, in cool earth tones or snowy black and white.

A sequel to her first book Home Made, this is a charmingly stylish book, loose-limbed and deliciously idiosyncratic. As she writes in the introduction, "When I finished writing Home Made, I realized that I actually wasn't quite done. There were still heaps of recipes, waiting wistfully, and every day new ones were added." Lucky for us, van Boven has turned those heaps into a pair of new books--the warm-weather, French-inspired Home Made Summer comes out this spring.

Yvette van Boven. Photo: Oof Verschuren
Yvette van Boven. Photo: Oof Verschuren

Who wouldn't love a cookbook that puts a little illustration and recipe for a bubbly, ruby "welcome cocktail" (1 part cranberry juice, 1 part ginger ale, 1 part vodka) right there on the copyright page, across from a drawing of a little green dog wearing a collar and a chef's hat, saying "Hey! There you are." Paging through this book is the next best thing to hanging out with van Boven and her pals, who, as evidenced by Verschuren's pictures, look like fun, gregarious, artsy people who bundle up in big scarves and like to eat and drink a lot.

The chapters meander, pleasantly, throughout the day, from Breakfast, Brunch, & Lunch to tea-time Cakes. Then, all of sudden, it's late afternoon, early darkness, the streetlights are on, and it's cocktail hour and time for Drinks. Little snacky things--homemade Salt and Vinegar Crisps (potato chips), Popcorn Rocks (with maple syrup, cinnamon, and hot pepper flakes), Beet Blini with Salmon--show up To Start, then it's time to pull up a chair and dig into Main Courses and Dessert. Scattered throughout are hand-drawn illustrations and hand-written recipes, plus lots of DIY projects--homemade butter, yogurt and cheese, beef sausage, a sweet-spiced hazelnut-almond-peanut butter, Irish cream liqueur--and little sidetracks into holiday musings and recipes, in no particular order. In this book, Halloween (Oct 31) runs into Epiphany (Jan 6), followed by a skip back to St Nicholas Eve (Dec 5), then a leap forward to St Patrick's Day (March 17), back to Christmas (Dec 25), and finally a grand, sparkly blowout on New Year's Eve (Dec 31).

Illustration by Yvette van Boven
Illustration by Yvette van Boven

This is Northern European food, the wintery dishes of her Irish and Dutch homelands, not stolid but not lacking in potatoes, butter, and cream, either. There's the dish she's dubbed Dublin Lawyer ("Because lawyers from Dublin are fat, rich, and always drunk..."), made with lobster meat bathed in a rich sauce of butter, whiskey, and cream and served in a split-open lobster shell. There's a Duck and Sage Terrine sealed with melted butter and a white-on-white Tartiflette that uses cod instead of bacon to liven up this cheese-rich potato casserole from the French Alps. Tall, quiche-like Fluffy Pies have a secret, shared by a French cook: "Less egg, more cream". There are inventive fondues, a nouvelle-cuisine-ish Turbot Tower with Cabbage and Vanilla Beurre Blanc, and cut-out Christmas Sintercookies spiced, surprisingly, with Chinese five-spice powder and anise seeds.


Also, there are a lot of wonderful drinks, some refreshing, most warming, from van Boven's favorite Winter Tea simmered with fresh ginger, licorice root, cinnamon stick, orange zest, and cloves to a Mulled Wine spiked with a shot of gin. (If you didn't already suspect there was nothing good for you in that oh-so-yummy bottle of Bailey's, here's where you learn that the homemade version is put together with heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, coffee powder, whiskey, and chocolate syrup.) You can wake up with a nippy fresh Pineapple-Ginger Juice, toast with a convivial Clementine Negroni, or celebrate with a Winter Cocktail of vodka, cranberry juice, and orange zest shaken with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, about which van Boven writes, "Snow and cranberries in a glass. It doesn't get any more wintery than this."

 Illustration by Yvette van Boven
Illustration by Yvette van Boven

There's plenty of meat to keep you warm, too. Pulled Pork is deconstructed, step by step, the how-to topped with a happy pig reassuring you that "This ridiculously delicious meal takes time, but NO effort." Leek and quinoa salad is larded with bacon; goat cheese salad uses slices of blood sausage as croutons. There's Steak and Kidney Pie, Oxtail Stew with Beluga Lentils, Beef Brisket and more, often balanced with tangy-tart fruit chutneys and relishes made from the winter fruit larder of pears, apples, citrus, and cranberries. And look closer at that picture of what appears, at first glance, to be a simple roast chicken. In fact, it's something closer to a Dutch turducken, deboned and stuffed with a football's worth of veal and pork sausage, then roasted.

Not that there aren't plenty of simple, healthy, mostly vegetarian soups, too: Spelt and Mushroom Soup, with woodsy dried porcini; Chickpea Soup with Sweet Potato and Feta Crackers; Creme of White Beans and Celeriac with Chile Oil; A Gentle Soup of Leeks and Chestnuts; Split Pea Soup with Squash and Yogurt. The vegetarian main courses are equally cozy, including Risotto with Cauliflower, a star-topped puff-pastry pie filled with celeriac and wild mushrooms, even a very British Toad-in-the-Hole whose pastry is wrapped around a roasted red onion instead of the typical sausage.

It can take some paging back and forth to find what you want (see "deliciously idiosyncratic," above), since the recipe organization is whimsical at best, and you're as likely to find a photograph of a contemplative rooster or a dog in the snow as a recipe for Irish Stew.

A few tips for American readers might have been helpful. Van Boven frequently calls for self-rising flour, a European staple that's hard to find in the U.S., at least around here. (It's more common in the biscuit-loving South.) She doesn't give a replacement, but it's easy to do: For each cup of self-rising flour, sift 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. As for those sachets of vanilla sugar, another European mainstay, just substitute 2 teaspoons granulated sugar plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract for each sachet called for.

Any of my fellow stay-at-home/work-from-home brethren should memorize the recipe for van Boven's Sticky Chocolate Cake in Your Coffee Mug in 3 Minutes, which she recommends for "when you're home alone and you suddenly have an irresistible craving for chocolate but don't feel like doing much work," which I think anyone working in close conjunction with a deadline or a small child would agree is pretty much all the time. Whipping up Late Night Easy Cocoa Cake, my usual go-to, is like making Thanksgiving dinner by comparison: This one is mixed up right in the mug, then microwaved (although she does give conventional oven directions as well).

That one's for home noshing; when company's expected, put together the cover beauty shot, a buttery cardamom pound cake with whole pears baked right in the cake. It's no more work than poaching pears and serving them alongside a slice of cake, but the payoff--how did you do that?--is much more satisfying.

Sticky Chocolate Cake in Your Coffee Mug in 3 Minutes. Photo: Oof Verschuren
Sticky Chocolate Cake in Your Coffee Mug in 3 Minutes. Photo: Oof Verschuren

Sticky Chocolate Cake in Your Coffee Mug in 3 Minutes

Yes, for real! This is ready in three minutes. I don’t like to cook in the microwave, but in this case it’s very appealing. Especially when you’re home alone and you suddenly have an irresistible craving for chocolate but don’t feel like doing much work.

I can imagine, however, that some of you might have trouble with the idea of making a cake in a microwave. If you prefer to use a conventional oven, use self-rising flour instead of all-purpose flour and bake at 350°F (180°C) in a greased ovenproof cup for about 20 minutes.

Recipe adapted and reprinted with permission from Home Made Winter by Yvette van Boven, copyright 2012. Published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang.

Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 1 mug-sized cake

3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 sachet (2 tsp) vanilla sugar (see note)
1 egg
3 tbsp milk
3 tbsp sunflower oil
If you wish:
3 tbsp chocolate chips or grated chocolate
3 tbsp raisins
Sugar syrup, appelstroop (Dutch apple syrup), golden syrup, a dash of liqueur, or vanilla ice cream

1. Mix the dry ingredients in the coffee mug. Add the egg and whisk with a fork. Add the milk and oil and whisk some more.
Then stir in the chocolate chips or raisins, if desired.

2. Place the mug in the microwave and “bake” the batter for 3 minutes on high. The cake will rise above the rim of the mug, but that’s fine! Let it cool for a bit.

3. If you wish, add any syrup, a dash of liqueur, or serve with vanilla ice cream.

Note: If you don't have vanilla sugar, use 2 teaspoons granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Cardamom Cake with Whole Pears & White Chocolate. Photo: Oof Verschuren
Cardamom Cake with Whole Pears & White Chocolate. Photo: Oof Verschuren

Cardamom Cake with Whole Pears & White Chocolate

This recipe has been published all over in magazines and newspapers, but I really don’t care; since it’s so good and it looks so cool, it belongs in this collection.

Make it, and you’re sold.

Recipe adapted and reprinted with permission from Home Made Winter by Yvette van Boven, copyright 2012. Published by Stewart, Tabori, & Chang.

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes, plus cooling time
Yield: 1 loaf cake (8-10 servings)

For the pears:
3 medium-sized crisp, firm pears (such as Bosc), peeled but whole, with the stem left on
1 (750-ml) bottle dry white wine
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 cloves
3 star anise pods
8 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
For the cake:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) plus 2 tbsp butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour (see note)
1 generous tbsp ground cardamom
pinch of salt
And further:
3 oz white chocolate, in chunks

1. Poach the pears: In a large saucepan, combine the pears, wine, sugar, cloves, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon and poach for 30 minutes over low heat.

2. Take the pears out of the liquid and set aside to cool. Add 2 1/2 cups (500 ml) water to the poaching liquid and boil to reduce the liquid by half. Let cool.

3. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.

4. Using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a large bowl until creamy. Beat in the eggs one at the time. Don’t add a new egg until the previous one is incorporated. Sift the flour, cardamom, and salt over the batter and fold it in.

6. Spoon the batter into the pan. Press the pears in, stem end up. Bake for 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the cake part comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan, then gently remove the cake from the pan to a rack to cool completely.

7. Very carefully melt the chocolate: Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir the chocolate in the bowl until melted. Using a spoon, drizzle the chocolate over the cake and create nice stripes on top.

8. Let the chocolate dry for a bit and serve the cake in thick slices, with the reduced pear syrup poured on top.


Note: If using all-purpose flour, add 2 1/4 tsp baking powder and 1 1/2 tsp salt.