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.

‘Pain perdu’ is ‘lost bread’ is French toast

16 January 2019

A sign of the times, my grand old age, or a big sister’s indefatigable propaganda, I’ve become much better at not throwing food away. No doubt the most common victim of under-consumption (or, rather, over-acquisition) in our house is bread. Pain perdu is my favorite recycling method.

‘Pain perdu‘ is French toast, though it isn’t specifically French. Its French name means ‘lost bread,’ though it may not always have been about saving stale bread.

Historical references date back to a Roman cookbook, Apicius de re Coquinariawhose exact date and origins are imprecise though probably from the third century: white bread soaked in milk and beaten egg, fried, and drizzled with honey. One of many aliter dulcia (‘other sweet dish’).

Later references to bread soaked, spiced, and cooked span countries and centuries, and has assumed many names. ‘Eggy toast’ and ‘German bread,’ ‘poor knights of Windsor’ in English, Arme Ritter in German. English references from the 17th century describe a bread soaked in wine rather than milk — the origin of its now most common epithet?

Pointing to the use of brioche and spices, both the Oxford Food Dictionary and Larousse Gastronomique suggest a dish too precious, historically, to be a recipe about stale bread. But is there necessarily a contradiction — even a royal kitchen will have had ways to reuse old bread.

My method is to cut the pieces of bread into small chunks, creating a Kaiserschmarrnstyle French toast.

‘Pain perdu’ recipe
Quantities for about 3 cups of cubed bread

About 3 cups of cubed stale bread
Whole milk (at least 2 cups)
3 eggs
2 Tbsps sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Small handful of raisins
Apple or pear
Unsalted butter or clarified butter, which is less prone to burning
Maple syrup to serve. Also, optionally berries or a fruit compote.

Place the cubed bread in a large bowl and pour just enough milk over the bread for it to be absorbed. Let this sit, tossing occasionally, until the bread is moistened. This can take anywhere from about 5 to 20 minutes, depending on the type of bread and how hard it is (beware not to let the bread soak for too long, the pieces of bread should be wet through but not become crumbly and disintegrate).

In a smaller bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and add another 250 ml (1 cup) of milk, the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. Beat well to combine and pour the egg/milk mixture over the bread. The bread should absorb the liquid with a bit left over. If it is too dry, add some milk. If it’s too ‘liquidy,’ don’t pour all of the liquid into the cooking pan (otherwise it won’t brown, it will become a soggy omelet).

Peel, core, and cut the fruit into quarters and then eights.

Heat a heavy cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium to high heat. Melt a generous pat of butter in the skillet, and when hot, pour in the wet bread/egg mixture. Let it brown for a good few minutes before stirring. If using apple, add it now. Cook and stir until all the pieces of bread are golden (occasionally, if necessary, I add more butter).

Serve with maple syrup or accompanied with berries or a fruit compote.

Winter technicolor salad

10 January 2019

Winter bares its teeth, there’s suddenly more of a bite, the chill creeps to the bone and settles. Sometimes this calls for soup. Sometimes, citrus.

I go on — we all go on — about locality and seasonality, and it’s true that you’ll never find a fresh strawberry in our house in October (the children have had to learn the hard way). But, as anyone who studies French will also learn (the hard way), no rule exists without exceptions. And so for these foods we do eat: lemons, avocados, oranges, and grapefruits, especially at this time of year.

Yesterday was such a day. A day of craving bits of sun imported from elsewhere. So I bought things and made lunch, which looked something like this.

Winter technicolor salad

The salad
Endive
Radicchio
Fennel
Avocado
Grapefruit
Blood orange
Walnuts (freshly shelled if possible)

The dressing

Walnut oil
Olive oil
Dark, aged balsamic vinegar
Lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional additions to make it into lunch

Smoked trout or mackerel / grilled chicken / feta

Wash the salads and cut into shards or strips, however strikes your fancy. Slice the fennel as thinly as possible, preferably.

Peel and cut the avocado into cubes or spears. Peel the grapefruit and blood orange and cut into chunks.

To make the salad more of a meal, add some cheese or bits of meat. I used smoked mackerel, which happened to be in the fridge, but I suspect smoked trout would be even better. Grilled strips of chicken would definitely be good, or a crumble of feta.

I make the dressing directly over the salad: a thin drizzle of walnut oil, slightly heavier  ribbon of olive oil, a few drops of thick, aged balsamic vinegar, and a few generous squeezes of lemon juice. Salt and pepper.


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