Cranberry lemon squares for a singular Thanksgiving

26 November 2020

This year I wasn’t sure about Thanksgiving. Many things felt uncertain just a few weeks ago, and wouldn’t a celebration without friends bring more acutely to the fore the limitations of these times? Better perhaps to stick our heads into the soggy English soil and push on to Christmas. All around us decorations are already going up.

Impossible. Not with children in the house who have never known a year without turkey, they were appalled. And, things started to look up. First in the news, then on a more personal note. The arc had begun to shift. And who am I to deprive my children of Thanksgiving, especially if they start baking pumpkin pie?

In this singular predicament where less time was needed preparing today, I suddenly had time to bake things, to give to friends. So I made pecan bars, which are probably my favourite and will endure some more tweaking before I’m entirely satisfied. And also these ridiculously delicious Cranberry Lemon Bars. The season will undoubtedly be different, but it stubbornly refuses to be swept under the carpet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry lemon squares adapted from the NY Times Genevieve Ko’s Cranberry Lemon Bars
I have slightly modified each component. The shortbread comes from Alice Medrich’s book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, it has a little bit less butter which, shocking as it may seems, works better here I find. I have increased the quantity of lemon curd, which in the original seemed just barely enough to cover the whole surface. You can find the original recipe here.

Note about the pan size: The quantity fits a 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan, but any rectangular cake pans or loaf tins can be used — once the shortbread is pressed (as thinly as possible, about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick), if it doesn’t cover the whole surface of the pan just create a ‘rim’ by folding the aluminium foil where the dough ends.

First, make the cranberry sauce

340g cranberries
150g sugar
150ml (2/3 cup) water
Zest from 2 lemons

Wash and pick through the cranberries to remove any soft or discoloured ones. In a medium saucepan, mix the cranberries, sugar, water, and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Cook over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries burst and take on the consistency of jam. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Now prepare the shortbread
(Note: this shortbread is different to the one in the original recipe)

250g butter (+ plus a small knob for buttering the pan)
100g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
310g flour

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and position the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt all the butter and let it cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a high rim 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan with aluminum foil and brush it generously with some of the melted butter, making sure to go up the sides.

In a medium bowl, mix the warm butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt until the melted butter has been completely incorporated. Add the flour and mix just enough to combine into a smooth dough (it will be quite soft and oily).

Press the dough into the prepared pan to achieve a smooth, even layer as thin as possible, about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the sides barely start to turn golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon layer

260g caster sugar
30g flour
Pinch of sea salt
4 eggs
200ml lemon juice (using the zested lemons plus 1 or 2 besides)
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the eggs and stir gently to combine without over-whisking. Finally, gently whisk in the lemon juice until smooth.

Let the shortbread cool for about 5 minutes and spread the cranberry sauce over it in an even layer. Carefully pour the lemon mixture over the cranberries. Return to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the top layer is set (it shouldn’t jiggle).

Let cool completely then place the tray in the refrigerator for at least two hours until cold and set. Slice into bite-size squares and, if desired, dust with icing sugar before serving.

Leek and lemongrass trout

19 November 2020

Saturday came on the heels of a rather glum Friday when our predicament and the ever-encroaching mid-afternoon twilight seemed to suck most of the bounce out of my step. In which moment it is good to spend most of the drizzly weekend day on the sofa finishing a book.

When, wholly unexpectedly, a friend drops by unannounced bearing an enormous trout that he just caught in Walthamstow reservoirs. The mood was lastingly shifted. It’s ok to wallow for a day; tomorrow, often, things will look up!

Leek and lemongrass trout

One or two trout(s) depending on the size
4 leeks
5 or 6 spring onions
2 lemongrass stalks
1 or 2 fresh chillis
Half a lime
A small piece of ginger
Sunflower oil
Rice wine vinegar
Light soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

To gut the trout (unless the fishmonger has done it), cut a slit through half of the fish’s belly up to its head and pull out all the insides.

To prepare the leeks: cut off the ends, remove any tough outer leaves, wash any obvious soil/grit, then slice very thinly and wash again in a bowl of cold water. Drain well.

To prepare the spring onions: cut off the ends and remove the outer layer of green. Rinse briefly under running water. Slice the stalks at a slant into disks. Use the same method to prepare the lemongrass.

Rinse, cut open and remove the seeds, and thinly slice the chillis into rings.

Cut the lime into half moons. Peel and slice the piece of ginger.

Drizzle a little oil all over an oven dish. Scatter the leeks in a long oval where the trout will lie. Toss with about a teaspoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of soya sauce. Place the trout on top of the seasoned leeks. Stuff the trout’s cavity with the lime and ginger. Scatter the lemongrass, spring onions, and chillis over the trout. Drizzle again with about one teaspoon rice vinegar and one tablespoon soya sauce.

Place in the oven and bake for 12 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the trout(s). (With fish I prefer to be extra careful and err on the side of underbaking, and if necessary putting the fish back into the oven for a few minutes.)

Related post:

Trout in a paper package

Chicken liver mousse

13 November 2020

It used to be perfect for apéro, and since those days are on pause I’ve started making it regularly, for no particular reason. Every few weeks recently, so that it can be there for a quick lunch or ‘Abendbrot’ dinner (German for bread and cheese and cold cuts, in this house usually also with soup or salad), or even breakfast. It has become part of a rhythm, like my weekly bread.

Chicken livers in any form is one of my favourite things, and this has become indispensable. It’s always devoured and often fought over in this house. So easy to make (thirty minutes) and completely addictive.

Chicken liver mousse
This is very similar to my chicken liver terrine from ten years ago, but processed into an unctuous mousse. So in the absence of a food processor, the livers can be chopped by hand.

600g chicken livers
300g butter + Olive oil
3 shallots or small onions, thinly chopped
Fresh sage and/or thyme
Brandy and port (or marsala or Madeira, whatever is open and on hand)
Salt and pepper

‘Trim’ the chicken livers, meaning cut off the sinew and carefully remove any green (it’s the gallbladder which is bitter).

Melt the butter in small saucepan, reserving a large tablespoon to cook the livers. Once melted, remove from the heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large frying pan with the reserved tablespoon of butter and a little olive oil. Add the shallots (or onions) and cook gently until translucent and just barely starting to brown.

Turn up the heat and add the livers, drained of any excess liquid (otherwise they will stew rather than brown). Cook over high heat, turning over once, for 3 to 4 minutes, until starting to brown.

Lower the heat to medium, add the herbs and give them a swirl in the pan to meld the aromas. Now add a few glugs of alcohol, about two tablespoons each of the sherry and marsala (or port).

Continue cooking for a minute or two until the livers are just cooked through (cut one open to check — it should be pink).

Transfer the livers and onions (take out the herbs) to a food processor. Process until blended. Add about 250g of the melted butter gradually to whip up a mousse. [=> Reserve just enough butter to cover the mousse with a layer of fat at the end.] Taste. Season generously with salt and pepper. Taste again.

Transfer the mousse to a bowl or terrine, cover with the remaining melted butter. Let cool before transferring to the fridge for a few hours at least.

The mousse keeps for a couple of days.

Autumn soups

9 November 2020

Occasionally (or, possibly, fairly often), I binge-buy vegetables. Last Wednesday was such a day. Whatever the reason — (ir)rational distractedness? — I apparently ordered, from our London supplier of local British produce Farm Direct, carrots, cauliflowers, broccoli, leeks, turnips, kohlrabi, pumpkin, celery stalks and root, onions, peppers… I may be forgetting something? — Mushrooms!

I rarely buy food with the intention of a specific recipe. Usually, especially with produce, it’s what looks good and is available, and since the season has changed there was exaggerated enthusiasm about all the new things. Which doesn’t solve the problem of what I will be doing with all of this, but an easy guess would be: soup!

Here are a few autumnal soups that I like going back to, over the years.

Creamy spiced lentil soup

A soup in shades of green

Spicy lentil and red kuri squash soup

Parsnip and butternut squash soup with sage

Soba noodle soup with meatballs and bok choy

Cream of cauliflower soup with salmon roe

Five-ingredient pumpkin leek soup

Halloween charcoal cookies

30 October 2020

There may not be much of a Halloween celebration this year, and I nearly didn’t find pumpkins to carve as our corner grocer and prime purveyor sold out two days ago (to quote her: ‘I don’t know, I think people must just be so bored’), but I did manage to make these black cookies, naturally coloured with activated charcoal powder, and that makes me happy.

Charcoal crackers are quite common here in Britain, often to be paired with cheese, which gave me the idea for the colouring. I adapted a recipe from our home cookie bible, Alice Medrich‘s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy — while I’m not much of a cookie baker, the children use it all the time. The vanilla cream cheese sandwich version of the sugar cookies proved to be the perfect recipe, to which I simply added a hefty dose of charcoal powder to achieve the deepest black.

Charcoal cookies after a sugar cookie recipe from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich

380g (3 cups) flour
2 tsps cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
225g (1 stick) butter, softened
300g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
2 Tbsps milk
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
3 Tbsps activated charcoal powder

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt, and mix thoroughly.

In a large bowl, beat the softened butter with the sugar until smooth and creamy. Beat in the milk, vanilla, and charcoal powder. Add the flour mixture and stir to thoroughly combine.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces, and roll each onto parchment paper into thin sheets approximately 1/3 cm (1/8 inch) thick. Place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Make a stencil for a bat (or rat, or cat, or any other shape).

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Cut out the dough along the stencil shapes, using up the leftover bits and pieces as you go by kneading them together just enough to form a smooth dough and rolling it out again.

Transfer the shapes to a baking sheet lightly dusted with sugar and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.


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