Notes from the kitchen | Spring ‘Croque’

6 March 2019

My ‘croque’ is not really a croque at all: it isn’t a sandwich, since there is only one slice of bread, and has no béchamel, in case that is what distinguishes a croque from a toastie. My croque is a grilled tartine; a quick Sunday lunch when it is nearly two pm, there are four children to feed, and this is what can be found in the fridge.

The secret weapon here is a bunch of early wild garlic. I have nothing against plain ham and cheese, but will always try to add something: tomatoes roasted with garlic (even better than fresh), grilled fennel, kimchi (!!) if I had any.

Add an egg and it becomes ‘Madame’ — I have always found the rationale for this nomenclature slightly dubious, but the egg does make it better, and more of a complete lunch. Twenty minutes tops.

Spring croque recipe
Quantities to be multiplied as needed

Slice of bread
Strong mustard
Ham, cooked or dry-cured
Olive oil
A few leaves of wild garlic
Cheese, preferably Gruyère
Egg (optional)

Turn on the oven grill.

Toast the bread (I used a toaster, but this can also be done in the oven). Smear a very thin layer of mustard over the bread, place a slice of ham on top.

In a small frying pan, briefly ‘wilt’ the wild garlic in a drop of oil.

Place the cooked wild garlic over the ham. Scatter generously with grated cheese.

Place under the grill in the oven and cook until the cheese is melted, bubbly, and golden.

Optionally, fry an egg in the pan in which you cooked the garlic, until the white is just set and crispy at the edges, yolk still runny. Slide the egg on top of the melted cheese.

Serve immediately with a green salad.

Kiwi, lemon, and grapefruit jam

2 March 2019

My grandmother had a pair of kiwi trees slendering across the walls of her house near Paris (female kiwis need a male pollinator to bear fruit). In the winter, when they ripened — typically around November, after which they keep for weeks if properly stored — she made jars of jam from the glut of small, elongated fuzzy fruit. Ever since, I’ve ruminated over the idea.

This year, like each year, the darkest winter months brought an urge to make jam. While usually there are mostly citrus: all manner of oranges, grapefruits, and clementines, which lend themselves to proper, protracted, labour-of-love marmalade weekends, or quick ones ‘in an instant‘, this time I also had a few too many kiwis, a little past their best. The occasion seemed propitious. Irresistably, one lone grapefruit called from the fridge, to add its acerbic touch. As usual I improvised.

I like this combination a lot. Is it kiwi jam with grapefruit, or grapefruit jam with kiwi? Neither takes precedence, lemon creates the balance. They dance together as distinct individuals, in step.

1 untreated grapefruit (about 300g)
400g ripe kiwis
1 untreated lemon
700g sugar

Place the grapefruit in a small saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for about one hour. Remove the grapefruit from the saucepan, place on a board to cool.

Peel the kiwi, remove the woody bit at one end, and cut the fruit in half lengthwise. Cut each half again, and each quarter crossways into chunks.

Wash the lemon, cut it in half, remove the pips, cut each half into thirds lengthwise, and then each wedge into very thin strips crosswise.

Once the grapefruit has cooled enough to handle, cut it in half, remove any pips, then cut each half again into thin wedges, and these crosswise into thin chunks.

Place the fruit and sugar in a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for 20 minutes to half an hour. Check whether the jam is ‘gelling’ by placing a  small amount in the fridge to see whether it sets once cooled.

Meanwhile, sterilize some jars by boiling in water for 5 minutes.

Fill the jars immediately and seal chut.

Jam always settles into itself after a few weeks so it is best to wait, if possible, before opening a jar.

Blood orange and clementine salad

13 February 2019

Sunday 10 February. Old friends are coming for brunch and I’ve changed my mind at the last minute. I was planning to make green shakshuka, which I had recently at Honey & Co, and which has serendipitously just been published in the Observer 20 Best Egg Recipes. To say I organized brunch just to make this dish is barely an exaggeration.

Woken up at dawn by a toddling gobelin, Sunday morning rolls in with a dinner-party induced sleep deficit, and rather than setting out to trim and wash kilos of leeks, spinach, and herbs (who ever thought of making shakshuka for twelve?), I’ve gone back to bed.

Now brunch will be the easily assembled kind: soft-boiled eggs, ham and cheeses, a spare jar of chicken liver mousse I ingeniously hid from the children. I have some good sourdough and homemade jams. — Of course, the cook in me feels guilty. I harbor a fantasy of being the kind of person who bakes cinnamon buns for her friends on the weekend. My reality is orange clementine salad. Our spread lacked something sweet, and the season called out.

I hadn’t made this salad in such a long time. It is a classic which bears remembering.

Blood orange and clementine salad with dates and mint

Blood oranges and clementines (easy peelers)
2 or 3 dates
A few sprigs of fresh mint
Orange flower water

To peel the oranges and clementines: cut off a thin slice at each extremity, place on one of the cut sides, then slice off the peel in strips, from top to bottom, making sure to remove all the white pith. Once peeled, cut each citrus into slices crosswise. Make sure to save the juice that escapes while cutting the oranges and clementines, and pour it onto the salad as you go.

Place the orange and clementine slices on a serving dish.

Pit the dates, cut in half and slice very thinly lengthwise. Scatter over the citrus.

Wash the mint, cut off the leaves, and slice thinly. Scatter over the salad.

Sprinkle a few drops of orange flower water evenly over the salad, no more than about one teaspoon for eight to ten oranges and clementines — the orange flower water should be quite subtle and bring out the citrus flavor without being overpowering.

 

 

Blood orange ‘marmalade’ cake

31 January 2019

A winter cake, maleable for all occasions: dinner with friends to ward off the bleak midwinter; an icy afternoon post-park playdate ‘coffee and cake’ — Kaffee und Kuchen; for brunch, when the cold bites and snowflakes flutter promisingly. This cake is so easy and it is so good. It was a friend who, at first bite, dubbed it ‘marmalade cake’ — an enthusiastic endorsement, an exclamation (!), with a Paddington-esque gleam of recognition in his eye.

I wrote about this cake six years ago when a(nother) friend wrote the recipe as a comment on these pages. I have since learned that it is by Claudia Roden, featured in her New Book of Middle Eastern Food. The cake doesn’t call for actual marmalade, rather whole oranges simmered until soft then blitzed and added to the batter, which lends the characteristic, bitter, ‘marmalade’ touch.

Marmalade cake aka Claudia Roden’s genius orange and almond cake
The cake can be made with blood oranges (use 3), or regular oranges (2 large ones), and most probably also with clementines (use 4 or 5)

3 untreated blood oranges (or 2 large untreated oranges)
6 large eggs
250 g (1 1/4 cups) sugar
250 g (2 generous cups) ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder

Candied orange slices for decoration (optional):
1 untreated blood orange
200 g (1 cup) sugar

*

Place the whole oranges in a small saucepan, cover with water, and simmer slowly for 1 1/2 hours, adding water if necessary.

Remove the oranges from the water and let cool. Cut the oranges in half, then each half again in two. Remove the pips if necessary. Purée the oranges in a food processor. (The orange purée can be made a day in advance and kept in the refrigerator.)

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and line a 24 cm (9 inch) baking tin with parchment paper that should be buttered generously.

In a large bowl, mix the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the orange purée, the ground almonds, and the baking powder. Mix well until thoroughly combined.

Pour the batter into the tin, slide into to oven, and bake for 1 hour, until a knife or skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

For the candied orange slices (optional):
Note: The candied oranges are not in the original recipe, but they add a little something. However, since the cake is very soft it is difficult to slice through them. The best thing is to cut them on a side board as the cake is being served.

In a small saucepan, make a sugar syrup with 200g (1 cup) sugar and 250 ml (1 cup) water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the orange as thinly as possible. Add the slices to the syrup, and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the slices carefully one by one, and place them on a rack or parchment paper to dry for about half an hour. Return the orange slices to the syrup, and simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes. Let the slices dry for at least 1/2 hour. Reduce the syrup on a low simmer until it thickens (about 5 to 10 minutes). Place a few candied orange slices on top of the cake and drizzle with the syrup.

**The cake gets even better after a day or two, so it should ideally be made in advance.**

Short ribs

24 January 2019

Deep in the month of marmalade (also here) and technicolor salads, when food, like a peacock, flashes its most vivid plumage, sometimes what the stomach craves is discreet, familiar, tender, and brown. Hopefully on that day (or rather a few days prior), I’ve stumbled into the butcher’s and summoned up the courage — and mental timetable — for short ribs. I’m making it sound like a burden, which is a bit how I saw it until I finally, over a few years of vastly interspersed attempts, refined and streamlined this recipe.

These short ribs are based on a recipe by the chef (now head of a restaurant and small food media empire) David Chang in his 2009 cookbook Momofuku. It needed some adaptation as I have no interest in sous-vide cooking, and even the book acknowledges that the 48-hour recipe is not one of those designed to be recreated at home. What caught my eye is the marinade, allegedly based on Chang’s mother’s kalbi recipe. It needed some tweaking — less sugar, a bit more depth to compensate for the more assertive braising method. And so, after a few attempts over many years and two continents, I believe I’ve got it.

Momofuku-inspired short ribs recipe

Like most slow cooked dishes, the ribs need to relax in the refrigerator for a night (or two) for optimum tenderness. This isn’t more work, but requires a little foresight.

6 meaty short ribs
Coarse sea salt
1 onion
1 carrot
3-4 scallions (spring onions)
3 garlic cloves
1 inch (2.5 cm) piece of fresh ginger
3 cups water
1/4 cup light soy sauce
3 Tbsps apple juice
3 Tbsps pear juice (or all apple juice)
3 Tbsps mirin (or 1 1/2 Tbsp japanese brown rice vinegar)
1 Tbsp sesame oil
4 Tbsps coconut palm sugar

Preheat the oven to 125°C (250°F).

Salt the ribs on all sides with coarse sea salt and allow them to come to room temperature.

Prepare the vegetables: Peel and coarsely chop the onion, carrot, and scallions. Peel and smash the garlic cloves. Peel and cut the ginger into matchsticks.

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients for the marinade: the vegetables, water, soy sauce, juice, mirin, sesame oil, and coconut palm sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely, so the flavors continue to infuse.

Meanwhile, in a heavy frying pan, sear the pieces of meat on all sides until nicely brown. Work in batches — the meat should not be crowded in the pan (the pieces shouldn’t touch) otherwise the meat will stew rather than brown.

Transfer the browned ribs to a heavy oven-proof dish with a lid (alternatively, use aluminum foil to create a tight seal). The meat should fit very snugly, in this manner the marinade will cover the ribs. Pour the marinade to cover the ribs completely. (In case the liquid doesn’t cover all the meat, adjust the pieces of meat a few times during the cooking process, moving them around so each bit spends some time submerged in the liquid).

Put the sealed dish in the oven for 3 to 4 hours. After about half an hour, check to adjust the temperature if necessary: the liquid should be bubbling very gently. If it is boiling heavily, reduce the heat, if it is placid, increase it a little.

Remove the ribs from the oven, let cool completely, and place in the refrigerator overnight (or two). When ready to eat, take the ribs out of the refrigerator and let the meat come to room temperature for half an hour to an hour (If there is a layer of congealed fat on top, it can easily be removed.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (375°F), slide the ribs inside, and reheat for 30 to 45 minutes (it’s worth checking that the meat is heated through and completely tender).

The ribs are delicious as is, but one could also do the following:

Take the ribs out of the liquid and brown them again in a heavy frying pan. Meanwhile, reduce the liquid until it thickens a little before serving.


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