Archive for the ‘Homemade and preserves’ Category

Damson and Victoria plum jam with lemon and ginger

4 October 2014

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Because, since I discovered how conveniently jam can be coaxed to fit into a schedule not wholly devoted to making jam, I am unstoppable. And plums are irresistible, come fall.

For this jam I used two varieties common in England: sweet, plump Victorias and austere Damsons. The Damson’s astringency smoothed by the honeyed Victorias, together they dance in perfect plum harmony, with a zing.

Damson plums are a bit finicky to pit, until you realize that using a cherry pitter — which I do own but, until now, used only very rarely, since I don’t usually pit the cherries for my clafoutis — a cherry pitter works a charm. And as a bonus I was happy to discover a second use for that woefully underutilized kitchen gadget.

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900 g Damson plums (to yield 700g once pitted)

800 g Victoria plums (to yield 700g once pitted)

1 kg sugar

Juice and rind from 1 lemon

1-inch piece of fresh ginger

Wash and pit the plums. Put them in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice and leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

When ready to cook the jam, transfer to a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add a ribbon of lemon rind and the ginger, peeled and cut into coin-size pieces.

Bring the fruit to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. After about 20 minutes, check regularly whether the jam begins to jell. A good way to do this is to scoop a spoonful of jam into a small bowl or ramekin, place it in the refrigerator so it cools quickly, and check whether it solidifies.

Meanwhile, sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 minutes.

As soon as the jam is ready, remove it from the stove, take out the lemon rind and pieces of ginger, and transfer the hot jam into the jars. Seal tightly, and, as usual, store for a few weeks at least before opening.

Wild food | Two recipes for a blackberry bounty

19 September 2014

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Purple smiles and ‘bloody’ hands.

One two three four — how many more? — gleeful children, laden arms outstretched, offering, loaded, big bowls of bouncing blackberries. The kitchen crowded with their relentless harvest.

It has been an exceptional summer for wild fruit. Not only in Brittany; British hedgerows are weighted with fruit.

And so we pick and pick. And now?

Blackberry pies, of course, and cakes brimming with blackberries.

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And these to capture summer’s flavor, puckery sweet, for more wintry days.

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Crème de mûre (Blackberry liqueur)
Makes about 3 bottles

1.2 kg just-picked blackberries

1 bottle pinot noir

800 g sugar

1 bottle eau de vie (fruit brandy)

Gently wash the blackberries over running water.

In a bowl, preferably high and deep, coarsely crush the berries with a pestle or masher. Pour the wine over the berries, cover tightly, and and let steep for 48 hours.

Pour the berries into a large saucepan. Add the sugar. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

Strain the juice through a fine mesh sieve.

Measure the volume and add the eau de vie at a ratio of 1/3 eau de vie to 2/3 blackberry juice.

Using a funnel, pour the liqueur into (clean) bottles, seal tightly, and store in a cool dark place. Let the liqueur sit for at least a month before using for the flavors to develop beautifully.

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Blackberry and lemon jam

1.6 kg just-picked blackberries plus 400 g

1.4 kg sugar

3 untreated lemons

Gently wash the blackberries under running water.

Using a small, sharp knife, cut a long ribbon of zest from one of the lemons.

In a large heavy saucepan, mix 1.6 kg of blackberries with the sugar, ribbon of zest and juice from one lemon. Let sit for a few hours or overnight, as convenient.

Later (or the next day), add the other two, very thinly sliced lemons. Bring the fruit/sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat and let the jam bubble away for about 20 to 30 minutes. The boiling bubbles will become less vivacious as the temperature rises to the point where the jam will set. As the boil becomes more leisurely, the jam ready to set, add the remaining 400 g of blackberries. Cook for another 10 minutes.

Sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 minutes, transfer the hot jam into the jars, seal tightly, and store for a few weeks at least before opening!

Related posts

Plum jam with candied ginger

Rhubarb rosemary jam

Rhubarb rosemary syrup

Chive blossom vinegar

Rhubarb rosemary jam

7 June 2014

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This is me realizing that jam need not be a well planned out, day-long project. It can be, of course, and should, on occasion, because is there a better way to spend a day than whiling away the hours hunched over bubbling vats of sugared fruit? This is not about those days. This is about how making jam can be an afterthought, as easy as clearing out the fridge before a week-long holiday.

I was the first to consider jam making an incredibly laborious process. Carefully timed trips to the market to grab the last of the season’s fruit at an unbeatable bargain, endless kilos of berries to cut and trim and wash, giant jam pans boiling furiously for hours… I didn’t make jam very often. For one, market vendors in New York don’t usually sell off fruits for a good bargain, even as they pack up to leave  (I’ve tried); second, fruit at home often disappears so quickly I need to hide it to keep it safe (and I have); third, I don’t own a jam pan, giant or otherwise.

So I don’t (didn’t) make much jam. There were exceptions, naturally, few and far between, so noteworthy I usually recorded them, here, and here.

A few years ago my mother gave me Christine Ferber’s book (available only in French). Christine Ferber is a world re-known Frenchwoman from Alsace, widely described as the ‘fée des confitures’ (jam fairy). I’ve never actually eaten from one of her jars, but I have read so many tantalizing descriptions that I feel I might have. Taken literally, her technique is quite time-consuming, but using her inspiration, some latitude, and a little improvisation (she would be appalled), I’ve realized that making jam can actually fit quite snugly into my life.

Key is that the process in divided into two parts. In the evening, prep the fruit, mix it with sugar and lemon juice, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, cook the jam. Chances are, it’s easier to find 15 quick minutes in the evening and another 45 of mostly cooking time the next day, than scheduling a full long slot for the entire process.

Emboldened by this realization, last week I made jam, the easiest thing I found to save a few remaining bunches of rhubarb.

Rhubarb jam recipe

1 kg rhubarb

1 kg sugar

Juice from one lemon

Few sprigs rosemary

Wash the rhubarb, trim the ends, and chop the stalks into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces.

In a saucepan, mix the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice.

Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, cook the jam. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for approximately 30 minutes. At first it will bubble furiously, but as the jam jells it thickens, the bubbles slow down and burst at a more leisurely pace. To check whether the juice has “gelled,” take out a small spoonful and let it cool. Once cold, the juice should have thickened in the spoon, and when you try to pour it the drip is not liquid but heavy, as though it was sticking to the spoon. Cook longer if necessary and check again.

Meanwhile, sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the jam is ready, stir in the rosemary to steep for about 5 minutes. Remove. Pour into sterilized jars and close tightly.

Jam is best stored for a few weeks (and up to a year at least) before eating.

 

 

A good steak with anchovy and herb butters and shallot confit

15 May 2014

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Key, of course, is the quality of the meat. Beef should be grass-fed and dry-aged. To say I choose my homes according to their proximity to a good butcher is exaggerated, but we’ve been lucky for a while now, with, for years, excellent meat just a few blocks away. There was Ottomanelli in the West Village, Harlem Shambles uptown, and, here in London, we live close to another great butcher, Godfreys.

The cut is important, too. Meat on the bone is typically more flavorful, and thick cuts (an inch and a half at least) are much easier to cook to perfection: very brown and crisp on the outside but perfectly rare in the center.

There are debates over whether steaks should be seasoned early or whether salt left on the meat absorbs some of the moisture. I’ve decided to settle into the camp that favors early seasoning, allowing the salt to seep into the cut. Since meat should be brought to room temperature before cooking, I take the steaks out of the refrigerator about one hour before dinner, season them generously with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, and let them sit a while.

It is useless to try to give a cooking time. Every steak is different, depending on the cut, its thickness, its initial temperature. I’ve found that a cast-iron skillet works best, and it should be very hot before the meat is added. A combination of butter and olive oil in the pan is good, as the butter is delicious and won’t burn as quickly together with the olive oil. Ideally one could add herbs to the rendered fat and baste the steak as it cooks.

Sear the meat on very high heat, turning it over once the first side is evenly brown. The steak is perfect when the outside is brown and crisp, like a crust, and the meat has contracted, but just barely. Not too much or it is overcooked.

Like all meat, steak needs to relax a little before being cut; about ten minutes, just the time needed to get the rest of the meal on the table.

Serve the steak with the butters, shallot confit, and some strong mustard.

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Herb and anchovy butter
These must be made a least an hour ahead, and easily the day before.
I make one butter with anchovies, parsley, and basil, and the other with just herbs and sea salt.

250g good unsalted butter

A generous handful of parsley

Small bunches each of basil and chives

A dozen anchovies in oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse grey sea salt

Cut the butter into two equal parts, place each in a small bowl, and let sit at room temperature until it becomes soft and easy to work with (probably about an hour).

Wash and shake the herbs dry. Pick the parsley and basil leaves from the stems.

Separate the herbs into two groups: one with half the parsley and a few basil leaves, the other with approximately equal amounts of parsley, basil, and chives.

Finely chop each group of herbs.

Drain as much oil from the anchovies as possible, and chop finely.

Using a fork, mix one of the softened butter with the anchovies, parsley, basil; the other with the parsley, basil, and chives, and the salt. Mix each well until the butter is homogeneously speckled with the herbs.

Transfer each piece of butter into a small serving bowl, even out the surface, and let cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The butter will keep for a while, though it will be best for a couple of days.

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Shallot confit

3-4 large shallots

Olive oil

Small sprig fresh thyme

Small sprig fresh rosemary

One bay leaf

Sea salt

Peel and slice the shallots into thin-ish slices. (The shallots can be cut either crosswise or lengthwise.)

Place in a very small saucepan with enough olive oil to comfortably blanket the bottom of the pan. Add the herbs and a good pinch of salt.

Cook on very low heat, staying close and stirring regularly, until the shallots are a deep golden. **In case the bottom does burn, quickly transfer the rest of the shallots to a different pan so the burnt flavor doesn’t tarnish the confit.**

Let cool a little and remove the herb stalks before serving.

The confit can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator but must be slightly reheated before serving, just beyond the point where the oil isn’t congealed to awaken the flavors.

Cheat’s potted crab

7 April 2014

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I’ve been dreaming of potted crab since last October, when we left London for a few days during the fall vacation and drove South, on a pilgrimage of sorts, to places I’d often been as a child. We drove toward the sea through the meandering countryside, over detours of Ashdown Forest to my old school, our old house. In Brighton I couldn’t recall the fish and chips shop we always stopped at, though I remember the soggy chips, the flaky fish, the newspaper package sticky with vinegar and sea air, the grinding stones underfoot. The shop probably doesn’t exist anymore anyway.

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Later we walked across the Seven Sisters, but in between we stayed in what must indeed be one of the prettiest villages in Sussex. In that village there was a pub. And in that pub there was potted crab. I ordered it only once, but each subsequent night I bit my lips at not having asked for it again. It was the best thing they served, or rather, it was just plain great, without qualifiers.

Potted crab is characteristic of the kind of British food that I love. It is simple, traditional, and, at its best, stellar. It’s ideal pub fare, picnic food, and perfect for an apéro.

‘Potting’ is a preservation technique, that derives from medieval pies. Meats and fish were initially baked in crusts as a means of conservation (apparently a fairly coarse crust, not intended as part of the delicacy). Once cooked, the pocket of air left between the filling and crust was filled with a sealing layer of fat poured through a hole in the crust. Later, crusts were dispensed of completely by using reusable pots.

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Since that crab in the pub in the village in Sussex I’ve wanted to make it. It has taken me all these months and a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision to make it. I cheated because I bought the crab meat. I have a very good fishmonger close by and as I mentioned, it was a last minute decision. Still, it was very good.

Cheat’s potted crab

250g butter

1 bay leaf

300g cooked crab meat (about 2/3 white meat, 1/3 dark meat)

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Pinch sea salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

Chives

Melt the the butter slowly in a small saucepan with the bay leaf.

Place the crab meat in a medium sized bowl, add the lemon zest and juice, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour most of the melted butter into the crab meat, reserving about one quarter. Mix well.

Transfer the crab mixture to a bowl or glass terrine without packing it too much, smooth over the top. Coarsely cut a small handfull of chives over the crab and pour the remaining melted butter to seal (without the bay leaf). Keep in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 2 days.

Remove from the refrigerator about half an hour before using and serve with delicious bread.

It’s that easy!


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