Rummaging around in my shed I came across a copy of ‘A La Carte’ magazine from Christmas 1985. In the 80s this title and ‘Taste’ magazine were the big foodie mags and I used to buy them in London to send to my Dad in Lancashire. My Dad loved cooking and had discovered this hobby relatively late in life. He was a cookery book cook and if what he made didn’t look exactly like the picture in the book he considered his efforts a failure. Thankfully food has become a bit more relaxed since then both in preparation and presentation.
Travelling back up north for the festivities, by the time I reached home he would often have saved a job for me to do that for some miguided reason he thought I would relish, usually on the display front. I remember one year he had made a salmon mouse in the shape of a leaping fish which he asked me to complete by surrounding it with dyed aspic. Unfortunately he had been a bit too heavy handed with the blue dye so it looked to be leaping in a municipal swimming pool. Another time he had saved me the job of tying smoked salmon and cream cheese parcels using chives as if they were ribbons - what I learnt from the experience; chives don’t behave like ribbon and do not like to be tied into bows.
Christmas cooking was always accompanied by much huffing, puffing and sighing, swearing under your breath and saying ‘never again’ (until the next time). How ever stressful and seemingly unpleasant those occasions were at the time they are the things I now remember most fondly especially as he’s not here any more to plan these mad meals.
This copy of ‘A La Carte’ was particularly special to us. A feature called ‘Surprise Christmas, it’s all wrapped up!’ was at the time inspired. I now see that Nigel Slater produced the feature (yes I know, that’s what I was thinking, I didn’t know he’d been around that long either!).
All the recipes made food that was gift wrapped. The filo pastry crackers, fabulously innovative at the time, were then copied by other magazines for the next 15 years at least. Me and Dad made them and found a box lined with tissue paper to serve them in.
But my absolute favourite recipe was for chocolate and praline boxes. The chocolate squares you needed to make the boxes weren’t easy to find even then. We had some old family friends over from Australia dining with us and when these little chocolate boxes were served they insisted on being photographed with them.
Here is the recipe. I hope nobody complains about the copyright - it’s Christmas after all and this is in the form of a homage.
Oh and by the way, I managed to buy the chocolate squares last week from an online sweet shop here. I’m going to make the chocolate and praline boxes again as a tribute to my Dad.