Archive for the ‘Aperitif / Tapas’ Category

Fig leaf wine apéritif

1 September 2018

Some people will consider this the first weekend of autumn, but, succomb as I may to those plums and first apples, I am holding on firmly to summer for a few more weeks if I can.

I prepared this fig leaf apéritif about a week ago. As it only takes a few days to infuse, now is still the time to make a bottle for those last late summer evenings. There won’t be much of a thematic clash, September is fig season after all.

This recipe is particularly exciting for those of us who live in the North, as it just uses fig leaves. For all optimistic boreal gardeners and green city dwellers (many London gardens have a fig tree stretching its branches above the fence within reach of the sidewalk…), who monitor those trees with anxiety and trepidation, monitoring the evolution of each fruit, this is the solution.

Even if the figs never ripen there is a path straight to Provence with this apéritif.

The recipe comes from Thom Eagle via Diana Henry about two years ago. It bears repeating every year.

Fig leaf wine

10 fig leaves
One bottle (75 cl) dry white wine
160 g sugar
One giant glug of vodka

Crumple the fig leaves and place them in a clean jar with the white wine, sugar, and vodka. Stir or shake well, and leave to infuse for 3 to 5 days.

Strain out the leaves and pour into a bottle with a tight lid.

Serve over ice.

Quail eggs with cumin salt

22 June 2017

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Since we’re talking about apéros, here is one of my favorite things to accompany those pre-dinner drinks.

The idea is from Moro The Cookbook, which I talked about in detail some time ago. Re-reading now what I wrote then has inspired me to delve back in, because in the intervening years the only things I’ve made from the book were the Pimentón roasted almonds and these quail eggs; there is so much more!

It’s hard to overstate the simplicity: Boil the eggs — four minutes. Run them under cold water. Toast the cumin seeds lightly, grind them with some sea salt.

It can be made ahead. It’s so simple, so pretty, and so good! And now that we’ve all stopped smoking, we need something to occupy idle hands while drinking our negronis.

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Quail eggs with cumin salt recipe from Moro The Cookbook

Quail eggs (a dozen serves about 4)
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 tsp sea salt

Boil the quail eggs in a gentle simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from heat, run under cold water, let cool.

In a small saucepan, roast the cumin seeds on low until just beginning to change color, about 2 to 3 minutes.

In a mortar, grind the cumin seeds with the sea salt. Transfer to a small serving bowl.

To eat, peel each egg and dip it in the cumin salt for every mouthful.

L’Apéro

19 June 2017

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Summer is around the corner and the weather isn’t lying. One gloriously sunny day succeeds the next; pale limbs are bared, the parks have erupted in green, speckled with readers and sunbathers, the odd spot of color. There is no place like London at this time of year — the air is impossibly mild, fragrant. ‘Tis the season for ‘apéros,’ or better still, ‘apéros longs.’

The apéro — short for apéritif — is the cultural habit any visitor to France will learn. It is the first insight young French children have into the mysterious interactions of the adult world; that fleeting moment, saying hello to the guests before being sent off to bed. — For a French child, staying up through an apéro marks the stages of growing as assuredly as notches on the kitchen door.

‘C’est l’heure de l’apéro’! A tray is pulled, the bright clinking of glasses, a bottle or two, a bowl of ice, some olives, nuts, saucisson — the basics.

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The hallowed French tradition of apéros is ubiquitous; a pastis in the South, a beer in Paris; after work during the week, on holiday after an afternoon at the beach. It is the unwinding at the end of the day, the coming together before dinner. The apéro might include a bowl of peas to shell, some vegetables to chop. The evening could continue together, or everyone is free to go on to other occupations.

And in the middle, there are ‘apéros longs.‘ Here, the casual early evening drink morphs more or less intentionally into an informal dinner, a leisurely succession of bite-sized food and drink, that evolves organically into elastic evenings.

I’m a fan, especially when time is constricted by the other stuff of life.

Dinners are time-consuming and can be constraining, even for someone who loves to cook. ‘Apéros longs‘ are less pressure. The food must be forthcoming, and I like to bring different elements out in stages, rather than everything at once, to create a rhythm, give the evening some punctuation. But it can all be extremely simple. Starting with  olives, nuts, saucisson; continuing into a platter of prosciutto, mozarella, and basil; always some vegetables — tomatoes, fennel, radishes; cheeses. All of this only requires assembling, no cooking involved.

But of course, one could cook. Lightly charred padrón peppers, chicken liver terrine or pork rillettes, potted crab, quiches, asparagus with burrata! Things to make ahead or last-minute improvisations. And, always, something sweet at the end, even if it is just a bowl of cherries or a few squares of chocolate.

Listen to the call. Apéros longs are the siren songs of elongated summer evenings.

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Simple things | Radishes with butter and salt

24 April 2015

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Pleasures of spring. The weather entices away from kitchen and stoves. Eating becomes simpler. Food speaks for itself, cooking takes a sidestep.

This could be breakfast; an afternoon snack; apéro bites; the start of dinner. With a slice of good bread.

It’s just a reminder.

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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 using a third of the bourbon, which is plenty.)

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
(I use a third of the bourbon stipulated in the original and it is perfect, but feel free to add much more!)

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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