Sunday reading | 21.09.2014

21 September 2014

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London in autumn. Fluttering leaves. Children resolutely pacing off to new schools, distracted by little else than conker-strewn sidewalks. Baskets laden with pears and quinces, apples and pumpkins. The golden light of an Indian summer.

No season is a more inspiring time to cook, bake, and preserve. I am thinking of this soup, a cake, plum jams and quick pickles. And green tomato chutney.

To know what to look forward to, in the weeks to come, this clever UK site breaks the year down month by month, and reaches beyond predictable fruit and vegetables to include meat and fish. Very useful! (There is a US sister site, which doesn’t seem as complete.)

Autumn is the time to curl up next to a window, to catch those ever ephemeral rays, with a stack of good books. Here are the two that have recently caught my attention. Bitter: A Taste of the World’s most Dangerous Flavor is Jennifer McLagan’s latest book. After Bones, Fat, and Odd Bits, McLagan delves into the misunderstood world of bitter, “the most interesting taste because we agree on it the least.” I agree. It sounds fascinating, and I love bitter. Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu also sounds like a very interesting read. For anyone who writes about food certainly, and everyone who reads about it.

The wind rouses, the air cools, the park is already full of jackets and scarves. Autumn is irresistible.

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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

A collaboration with Tick Tock and Dragonfly Teas

18 September 2014

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Amid all the end of school mayhem — concerts, plays, graduations, visitors, not to mention tedious driving-test obligations — and just before leaving for a boisterous and fun summer in Brittany, I made cocktails.

I may have mentioned that some years ago, somewhat by chance, I developed a fascination for cocktails. I spent an awful lot of nights in the then very timid cocktail-bar offerings in New York, engaged in earnest conversations with bartenders about obscure drinks, bitters and spirits, latest creations. So when Tick Tock tea company approached me recently to develop tea-based cocktails with their Tick Tock and Dragonfly brews, I was immediately excited. I didn’t expect the process to be quite as fun, engaging, challenging, and, ultimately, rewarding, as it turned out to be.

It is no secret that tea is a choice ingredient for mixologists, most often used to infuse a spirit, usually gin. I used this method in the Moonlight Flight, a riff on the Aviation, which was always one of my favorite cocktails. Dragonfly’s Moonlight Jasmine tea here transforms the austere classic into a delicate, subtly floral drink.

But I also used brewed tea in many mixes, and loved how it not only brightens stiffer drinks into fresher summer mixes, but also imparts layers and complexity.

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The recipes are all on the Tick Tock blog and Dragonfly Tea website. Check them out!

Swirling Mist Julep

Moonlight Flight

Tick Tock Aperol Spritz

Tick Tock Pimm’s

Green Tea Watermelon Cooler

Earl Grey Iced Tea

Super simple summer salads | Green beans and tomato salad with a mustard dressing

16 August 2014

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Most of our summer lunches are leftovers complemented by pâtés, cheeses, bread, and salads. This French classic is one of my favorite. It is also a particularly good companion for grilled pork chops or slow roasted lamb shoulders.

Green beans

Very good tomatoes (preferably heirloom)

Small red onions (fresh if possible)

Fresh mint

Fresh basil

1 Tbsp strong mustard

2 Tbsps red wine vinegar

Pinch sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 Tbsps olive oil

Dash balsamic vinegar

Trim and wash the green beans.

In a large saucepan, bring salted water to boil and cook the beans for 5 to 10 minutes depending on how al dente and crunchy you like them. Plunge the beans in ice water so they stop cooking and retain their color. Let cool completely (they can be kept for a few hours before using).

Wash and cut the tomatoes into wedges of approximately the same size.

Peel and slice the onions crosswise as thinly as possible.

Wash and chop the mint and basil.

Prepare the dressing in a jam jar: first mix the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper. Shake well. Add the olive oil, shake well again. Add the balsamic vinegar, shake again. **This makes a generous quantity of dressing. Use only just enough to coat the beans – they shouldn’t be drenched in the sauce. Keep the rest of the dressing for another salad.**

Dress the beans lightly, toss, and arrange on a plate. Add the tomatoes, onions, and herbs. Toss again gently, and serve.

Related posts

Avocado, cherry tomato, and cucumber salad with red pepper and parsley

Apricots roasted in verbena honey syrup

9 July 2014

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I am completely in love with this dessert.

For years I have in vain chased the apricots of my childhood; intensely ripe, cooked by the provençal sun to a sweet compote in every bite. Nothing comes close, and so year after year I have spurned apricots on every shelf, sighed in resignation.

While I don’t expect to be resuscitate these childhood memories here in London, I have found a recipe to reconcile my love of apricots. the summer gives you apricots.

The original is a recipe for apricots with vanilla and chamomile. I was excited, when I received it from a friend through the unlikely channel of an email recipe exchange, as I had just planted lots of chamomile seeds. But not one of the seeds has grown; a few months later and I don’t have the slightest shadow of a chamomile flower. However I do own a small verbena plant.

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Apricots roasted in verbena honey syrup, adapted from a recipe by Allison Parker

 12 apricots

1 cup (200 g) sugar

1 cup water

3 small twigs fresh verbena

3 Tbsps mild liquid honey (borage honey worked beautifully)

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C)

Wash the apricots, slice them in half, remove the pits.

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to the heat, add the verbena and honey, and simmer gently for about 10 minutes.

Pour the syrup into a pan which will fit all the apricots in one layer. Place the apricots in the syrup, cut side down, and spoon a little syrup over each hump of fruit.

Roast in the oven (rack in the upper third, so the apricots get slightly blushed from the heat) for about 10 minutes. Turn over the apricots, baste with syrup, and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes, until soft.

Let cool and serve at room temperature, with a big dollop of clotted cream, crème fraîche, or thick yogurt.

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