Archive for the ‘Seasonal’ Category

Eggnog from another era

26 December 2014

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Berlin, 1945. Somewhere on the streets of Dahlem, a dashing US officer accosts a long-legged 19-year-old, demurely asking for directions to a place he has traveled a dozens times before. They are swept off their feet. One out of an ill-fated, fading marriage, the other from the rubble of war and desolation. They moved to Maryland. So goes our family mythology.

My grandmother always told us the same handful of war stories. Stories for small children, about young children in the war. She told of the day the war broke out while she was at summer camp, how she spent all her pocket money to buy her favorite hazelnut-studded chocolate (it is something little German girls knew in 1939 — that in times of war, chocolate becomes scarce), only to discover, too late, that the nuts were full of worms. She told how her parents had once asked her to watch over the cooking of a duck, a unique feast bartered by my great-grand father against school lessons. How else to know when it was done, other than to try it, just a little piece? Starving, she ate the entire thing. She told of her encounter with the Russian soldier reeking of alcohol who tried to steal her bicycle — unexpectedly pelted by a spew of Russian swear words from the long-legged German girl, he lost countenance just long enough for my grandmother to speed away, back the way she had come. She told us how she met our grandfather on a street corner in Dahlem.

When she married my grandfather, my grandmother became fiercely American; though they soon moved back to Europe she fully embraced an American expat life. But she also remained proudly German, and nurtured German traditions, especially around Christmas. We laid out milk and cookies for St Nikolaus on December 6th, we baked, we opened presents on Christmas eve, we lit our tree with candles.

So today, amid the wreaths and advent calendars, among the candles and the singing, the oysters and the cookies, there are two traditions that I hold dearest. They connect me to my grandmother, and in one grand sweep I like to think they link me not only to our family story but to Europe’s history too. The two recipes that my grandmother sent me, once upon a time, handwritten, slipped inside the letters she wrote regularly: Stollen and eggnog.

Sweet Stollen, a long, patient, and tedious process, which ultimately brings the reward of nibbled bites that taste of the promise of sheltered German childhoods. Boozy eggnogg, the stuff of joyful parties, the mirth-filled evenings of a war-less era.

My grandmother was an elegant, modern, impeccable hostess. Though she was a very good cook, she much preferred to delegate kitchen duties and sit on the sidelines with a glass of champagne and a cigarette. She loved company, and she loved parties. Every 26th of December, my grandparents hosted an eggnog party, to celebrate their anniversary. This is their recipe. In loving memory.

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Leonine eggnog recipe, verbatim, probably from the 1950s
(See further below for a slightly adapted recipe. I use a third of the bourbon and it is plenty. But feel free to add much more!)

12 eggs, from Mrs. Cluck

12 level Tbsps granulated sugar

3 pints bouquet bourbon or rye

1 quart milk

1 pint heavy cream

Nutmeg

Crack eggs, separating yolks from whites. Setting latter aside for the nonce, go at yolks with an eggbeater, plying in furiously. Gradually add the sugar, beating it until entirely dissolved. Now enters the whiskey, poured slowly and stirred, its action on yolks being equivalent to a gentle cooking. Then milk, followed by cream (whipped cream if you prefer extra richness), likewise stirred in. Clean off eggbeater and tackle the whites till they stand without flinching. Fold them into the general mixture. Stir in one grated nutmeg. Will serve 12 people (or more). If it’s the whipped cream version, they’ll need spoons.

Merry Xmas!

Eggnog recipe adapted for 2014
Serves 12

12 eggs

12 Tbsps sugar

1 pint (500 ml) good bourbon or rye whiskey

1 quart (1 l) whole milk

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream

Nutmeg

Separate the egg yolks from the whites, which are set aside for later. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks thoroughly, gradually adding the sugar while continuing to beat firmly. Then slowly pour in the whiskey, still stirring more gently but constantly. Now add the milk, then the cream.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until very firm (until the peaks hold without moving). Gently fold the whipped whites into the rest of the egg/whiskey/cream mixture.

Garnish generously with freshly grated nutmeg.

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Brilliant spiced cauliflower

11 December 2014

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A recipe to arouse the taste buds amid the cloying seasonal onslaught of cookies and chocolate, Glühwein and Christmas punch. Cauliflower is a demure vegetable, and this method teases it from fading bystander to zesty leading lady.

I first tasted this elegantly spiced cauliflower at Newman Street Tavern a few weeks ago. It was so good, so unexpectedly addictive, that we asked for the recipe. More precisely, my friend asked, I didn’t exactly dare. What’s more, it wasn’t the first time that evening — the server had just brought from the kitchen the handwritten instructions for an incredible fennel and watercress soup. Asking for another recipe from that delicious meal was pushing it a bit far, surely? Or perhaps not. It was of course, evidence of our appreciation.

Brilliant spiced cauliflower, adapted from Newman Street Tavern, with thanks
I had to extrapolate a little, especially for the spice mix, as there were no measurements. I’ve tested the recipe a couple of times and I believe this version comes close.

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 star anise

2 tsps sweet paprika

1 1/2 tsp turmeric

1 pinch saffron threads

3 cloves garlic

3-inch piece of fresh ginger

Sea salt

Olive oil

1 medium onion

3 small tender celery stalks

1 cauliflower

Freshly ground black pepper

Sherry vinegar

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Fresh dill and/or cilantro leaves

In a small skillet, gently toast the cumin, anise, coriander, fennel. Just enough to coax out the aroma (be careful not to burn the spices!). In a small blender, grind to a fine powder together with the turmeric, paprika, and saffron.

Crush the garlic and grate the ginger and mix into a paste with one teaspoon salt.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Cut the celery stalks into paper thin slices.

Wash and cut the cauliflower into small florets.

In a skillet large enough to fit all the cauliflower florets in one layer, heat enough olive oil to generously coat the pan. Throw in the spice mix and stir for a few seconds, then very quickly add the garlic/ginger paste. Cook for barely a minute then add the onion and celery. Add a little oil if necessary. **Again, be very careful not to burn the spices!**

Fry the onion and celery until translucent then add the cauliflower florets with a splash of water.

Cook for just a few minutes, until al dente.

To finish the dish, season with salt and pepper, a splash of sherry vinegar and squeeze of lemon juice. Garnish with plenty of dill and/or cilantro leaves.

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.

A tian of rainbow chard, zucchini, tomatoes, mozarella

1 October 2014

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For a while I forgot about tian.

Despite childhood summers spent in the hills outside Aix-en-Provence, tians came into my life quite by happenstance in my early twenties, during a holiday with university friends. Someone made tian, and it was the best gratin I had ever tasted.

A tian is a shallow, ovenproof earthenware vessel from Provence, which has given its name to the gratin-style dishes cooked in them. That initial auspicious tian was probably not very traditional, with its dubious slices of very un-Provençal mozzarella. But in this case I am happy to forgo authenticity, because the mozzarella is what makes it so special.

It is the recipe I had been recreating since: vertically arranged slices of zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, interlaced with mozzarella and Mediterranean herbs. Flavors meld into a heavenly mess akin to creamy gratinéed ratatouille.

For years I forgot about tians, but then the other day, finding these late-summer vegetables in my kitchen and, more crucially, a few balls of mozzarella, a tian propitiously came to mind. Dare I say that this adapted version is even better than the ‘original’?

Tian recipe
Regarding quantities: there should be a similar proportion of each vegetable and plenty of mazzarella, but the dish is unfussy and very adaptable. The important thing is that the vegetables squeeze snugly into the dish.

Rainbow chard

Zucchini

Tomatoes

Mozzarella (I prefer buffalo mozzarella which is extra creamy)

Garlic clove

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fresh basil and/or thyme

Parmigiano

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

Prepare the vegetables:

Wash the chard leaves, trim and discard only the end of the stems, then cut the leaves (with stems) into approximately 1/2 inch (1 cm) ribbons.

Wash, trim ends, (optionally partially peel), and slice the courgettes into disks approximately 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick.

Wash and slice the tomatoes, also into 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) disks.

Slice  or tear the mozzarella into pieces of a similar size.

Rub the ovenproof dish all over with the garlic clove to impart a subtle aroma. Drizzle a little olive oil all over the bottom of the dish.

Arrange the vegetables and mozzarella in a nice, regular, vertical pattern inside the dish. It’s a bit finicky with the chard but well worth it!

Wash and pick the herbs, chop the basil.

Season the tian with salt, pepper, and herbs, and sprinkle with plenty of freshly grated parmiggiano.

Pop into the oven for a good 35 to 45 minutes, until the dish is beautifully golden and bubbly. Mmmm.

The best (roasted) leeks

23 September 2014

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Leeks are in season again. After a long bountiful summer of tomatoes, zucchini, artichoke, beans and tomatoes, more tomatoes — fall vegetables are back at the markets and it’s the time to start roasting.

This is not only my favorite way to prepare leeks, it’s one of my favorite ways to prepare vegetables, period, and leeks are incredibly versatile and always a hit.

They are a stellar companion alongside simply grilled fish and lentils. Or together with braised carrots and a roast chicken. I make them with a good steak and very crispy roasted potatoes. The possibilities are endless.

Roasted leeks
This method is inspired by the wood-roasted vegetables from The River Cafe Cookbook Two (yellow). It is not exactly a recipe, and can be adapted to other vegetables and modified using different vinegars (apple cider, sherry) or perhaps lemon juice, and an array of herbs (rosemary, sage, marjoram, chillies…) depending on the mood. It is especially important to use very good quality ingredients.

Leeks

Balsamic vinegar

Red wine vinegar

Garlic cloves

Olive oil

Fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC).

To clean the leeks, trim the roots at one end and darker leaves at the other, peel off the tough outer leaves, keeping only the tender green and white hearts, and thoroughly wash of any grit. Cut the stalks into 2-inch (5cm) pieces, then halve each of these lengthwise.

In a large bowl, create a dressing of sorts with the vinegars, crushed garlic, olive oil, and picked thyme leaves. As in a vinaigrette, the proportions should be approximately two thirds olive oil, one third vinegar(s). In this case I would do half balsamic/half red wine.

Toss the leeks in the dressing until well coated. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place the leeks in an oven-proof dish large enough to fit them in one layer. Slide the dish into the oven and roast for a good hour. Every 20 minutes approximately, gently toss the leeks. The leeks should be well caramelized and meltingly tender. Don’t hesitate to leave them in the oven a little longer than you think.


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