Monthly Archives: November 2009

Stir-Up Sunday

In England, the last Sunday before Advent is known as Stir-Up Sunday in the Christian Calendar. Traditionally, this is the day when families gather together to give Christmas puddings a customary stir before storing the cake in a dark cupboard where it ages for several weeks.

While Christmas puddings are widely available commercially and recipes now allow for making last minute puddings, conventionally this process takes a full month so flavours can fully develop and deepen. In fact, some believe that you should allow the pudding to sit for a full year in order to achieve optimal results. So if you’re feeling nostalgic for the culinary past, why not start making 2010’s pudding! (Click here for some recipe ideas).

The history of Christmas pudding is quite colourful, with records dating back to 14 th century England indicating that Christmas Porridge (as it was originally called) was typically made by incorporating beef and mutton, prunes, various spices and wine. In 1664 the pudding was banned by Oliver Cromwell, an English military and political leader who believed its consumption was “a lewd custom inappropriate for people who followed God.” However, this resilient pudding was reintroduced into society by King George I in 1714, with its more familiar incarnation of dried fruit and nuts being popularized Prince Albert in the 19th century.

The name Stir-Up Sunday originates from a 16th century prayer, which today has been adapted by the Church of England and is used as the prayer after that day’s communion:

Stir-up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After Church services, families would return home where each member would take a turn stirring the pudding. This was always done in an East to West direction in honour of the Three Kings. While stirring, everyone would make a wish and then deposit various trinkets into the batter. Each item held significance for the finder, with a coin indicating wealth, a mini horseshoe for good luck, and a ring representing marriage in the coming year.

Today, many people still believe nothing signifies the start of the holiday season better than a traditional Christmas pudding, steaming and covered in a decadent brandy sauce. If you plan on making this desert, be sure to start now so that you have several weeks to feed it with rum or brandy to plump the fruit and heighten the spices. Good luck!

CookThatBook is now an Amazon Associate!

I am happy to announce that our website has been approved to become an official Amazon Associate! As part of our new relationship with Amazon, CookThatBook now has its own online store where you can purchase books reviewed by our site. Also, (drum roll please!) our store has a special section – “Mr. Spock’s Toolbox” – where you are able to purchase kitchen supplies deemed necessary by our beloved Mr. Spock!

Any revenue generated through our site means that CookThatBook will receive a percentage from all sales. So if you normally shop online with Amazon, be sure to enter their site through our blog so we can receive a kickback.

There – all done. Sales pitch over!

The End of an Era

As some of you may have heard, after nearly seven decades Gourmet Magazine has ceased publication as of their November issue. This magazine has long been considered to be one of the food guru’s bibles, and the fact that it will no longer be in print has shocked foodies across the globe. The failure of Gourmet has been met with sadness at the end of an era and the loss of high-quality culinary journalism and outstanding recipes for which the magazine was renowned. But there has also been a considerable amount of anger as people search for the culprit behind the downfall of one of the food industry’s most celebrated magazines.

Some people are blaming the demise of Gourmet (and the world of food in general) on shortcut cooks like Rachel Ray’s “30 Minute Meals” and Sandra Lee’s “Semi-Homemade Cooking”, which are based on the idea of making meals using prepared ingredients in the name of convenience. They believe the overall concept of fast meals encourages an interest in a style of cooking to which Gourmet did not closely follow, one which destroys people’s desire to pursue new cooking techniques in the kitchen, explore new foods, and investigate more deeply the overall culture, history and evolution of food. Limited time in the day for cooking and enjoying a meal together, has enabled the general population to create a relationship to food based on the belief that the quicker a meal can be prepared the sooner you will be able to get back to your over scheduled lives.

Other people are busy pointing fingers at the continued rise in popularity of food related television shows and the Internet as the main culprits in the death of Gourmet. They warn that if we are not careful and do not start regulating the large number of websites polluting the food world that we will seal our fate as a society that exists on substandard food.

A recent article in the New York Times by journalist Christopher Kimball, received a hailstorm of criticism for his condemnation of bloggers who he believes are defiling the world of food journalism by daring to have an opinion and share it with the general populace, thus leaving no room for what he considers professional media (such as Gourmet).

“The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up.” (Click here to read the entire article).

The belief that we are being bombarded by the uneducated opinions of bloggers and Tweeters who pollute the online world of food with their non-professional recipes and misguided rants, is obviously one to which I do not subscribe. Perhaps I am being naive, but if you don’t like what a website has to offer STOP READING!

Previously published by Condé Nast Publications, Gourmet was the first glossy food and wine magazine to be printed in the United States. After its first issue came out in 1941, the magazine quickly established itself as a culinary icon. With an initial focus on the European and New York food scenes, Gourmet definitely catered to the upscale cook. Often publishing recipes well beyond the means (and budget) of the average home cook, this magazine has often been criticized for pandering their pages to the upper class.

At its time of death, Gourmet Magazine had an impressive circulation of close to a million people yet even these numbers were not enough to save the publication from decreased advertising sales along with what company officials are calling changing food interests amongst its readers. It is this unwillingness to change with the times that many people believe is the main cause for the magazine’s failure. With so many options now existing for people looking for a more approachable take on food, we are seeing other food magazines like Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food continue to do very well in the same market where Gourmet failed.

Apparently the Gourmet brand itself will continue to exist in the form of television shows such as “Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth” (hosted by the magazine’s previous Editor in Chief, Ruth Reichl) as well as through the Internet via where recipes will be posted at least for the time being. But all arguments aside, I for one will miss the magazine. I subscribed to Gourmet for many years, and each month would eagerly devour the beautiful photographs, thought provoking editorials and colourful commentary contained within every issue. Often intimated by strange lists of ingredients and unfamiliar techniques, I would rarely attempt recipes contained within its glossy pages. But the ones that I did venture to try always turned out great and have since become some of my favourites.

Thank You!

It has been two weeks since I officially launched my blog, and so far the response has been overwhelming and way beyond my expectation! With close to 5,000 page views the interest generated has been so inspiring and I would like to take a moment to thank all of the amazing people in my life who have showered me with love and support for my new endeavour. THANK YOU!

Reading your posted comments has been so encouraging, and I love how within my personal community the conversation of food and cooking and cookbooks has now busted wide open! I’ve received many emails from people looking for menu suggestions for upcoming dinner parties, wanting recommendations for speciality food places in the Vancouver area, questions about my favourite cookbook of all time (I realized it’s too hard to pick just one!), foodies who as new parents are wanting quick and easy meal ideas that don’t have them sacrificing their previous culinary glories, and new cooks wanting to introduce themselves to their kitchens for the first time.

Friends that I have known for years are suddenly revealing their inner cookbook fanatic, and I find myself engaging in food related conversations with them in an entirely new way as we share how our PVRs are filled with cooking shows and the stack of books we keep by the side of our bed are culinary. One person even went so far as to describe the Foodnetwork as “soft porn” (and she wasn’t just commenting on Nigella’s programme!)

Some of the best emails I’ve received have been from people listing the most influential cookbooks in their lives, many of which were unfamiliar to me but have since been added to my list of books for future review. I love learning about other people’s cookbook collection and garnering the titles of new books and authors to explore.

I have also received a number of requests from people wanting copies of the recipes mentioned on my blog that are not taken from reviewed cookbooks. In particular, my sister-in-law’s famous Christmas Morning Wifesaver (click here for the recipe) and Mr. Spock’s favourite pancakes of all time (click here for the recipe).

Originally I was only going to post recipes from tested cookbooks, but due to popular demand (how cool do I feel saying that?!) the recipe section will be expanded to include some of my family’s favourites.

On a final note, I have also been asked how frequently I will be posting new material, and it is my hope to have new posts every two weeks (depending on the current demands of life). Be sure to sign-up to receive email notifications whenever a post is made!