Archive for the ‘Basic’ Category

Clafoutis de Lily

1 July 2014

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There are two schools when it comes to cherry clafoutis. Those who pit the cherries, and those who don’t. I like not to, because it allows the clafoutis to be ready for the oven in just a few minutes, because the pits reputedly impart flavor, and because I don’t mind removing the pits with each mouthful. It prolongs the enjoyment.

Thomas, on the other hand, is adamantly against pits. Indignant. How can I? Never mind that a clafoutis has miraculously materialized within the 15-minute half-time break of Brazil vs Chile. Still, he insists, had he known, he himself would have pitted the cherries.

Pits are polarizing. The good news is, one way or another, at the end of the day, there is cake — who is to complain? Certainly not the one who surreptitiously finished the last remaining piece to which I had been looking forward throughout all of Colombia vs Uruguay.

Practically any fruit can go into a clafoutis, but for me the craving springs with the seasons’ first cherries. Sour cherries even better. But no matter the fruit.

Pulling up in her ageless navy blue Renault 4L, my father’s fairy godmother Lily never arrived with fewer than one or two cakes, crates of homemade jams, and, always, little boxes of cotignac. But ask anyone in the family, Lily is practically synonymous with clafoutis. And, many years ago, she gave me the recipe!

Fruit
2 spoonfuls flour
5 spoonfuls sugar
3 eggs
2 glasses milk
Salt
Whiskey

Beat the ingredients together and pour over the fruit in an ovenproof dish.
(Some fruit – apples, pears, apricots – should first be allowed to brown in butter and sugar)

As far as I remember, Lily always left the cherry pits. Perhaps that is why, to me, clafoutis if foremost cherry, with pits.

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Clafoutis de Lily
I have tried to leave the recipe, in its masterful simplicity, intact, but I’ve translated to more precise measurements and added my two cents in parentheses.

About 1 kg fruit
2 Tbsps flour (or 1 Tbsp flour and 2 Tbsps ground almonds) plus one for dusting the fruit
3 eggs
4 Tbsps sugar plus one for dusting the clafoutis
250 ml (1 cup) milk
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp whiskey (or kirsch if using cherries)

Preheat oven to 375°F (200°C).

If using apples, pears, apricots, plums, or peaches: brown the washed or pealed, cored, and quartered fruit in a large skillet with a generous pad of butter and sprinkling of sugar until golden brown. Set aside. If using cherries, pit them. Or not.

Butter an ovenproof that will fit all the fruit snugly in double layers.

Place the fruit in the dish, sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, and toss gently to dust the fruit.

In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar until frothy. Add the milk, then the flour, salt, and whiskey (or kirsch).

Pour the batter over the fruit and slip into the oven.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the batter is set and the top nicely golden. In the last 5 or 10 minutes of cooking sprinkle a spoonful of sugar over the clafoutis.

Let cool.

(I much prefer clafoutis to be completely cool, though some like it lukewarm. Like the the question of pits or no pits, it is entirely up to you.)

Rhubarb rosemary jam

7 June 2014

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This is me realizing that jam need not be a well planned out, day-long project. It can be, of course, and should, on occasion, because is there a better way to spend a day than whiling away the hours hunched over bubbling vats of sugared fruit? This is not about those days. This is about how making jam can be an afterthought, as easy as clearing out the fridge before a week-long holiday.

I was the first to consider jam making an incredibly laborious process. Carefully timed trips to the market to grab the last of the season’s fruit at an unbeatable bargain, endless kilos of berries to cut and trim and wash, giant jam pans boiling furiously for hours… I didn’t make jam very often. For one, market vendors in New York don’t usually sell off fruits for a good bargain, even as they pack up to leave  (I’ve tried); second, fruit at home often disappears so quickly I need to hide it to keep it safe (and I have); third, I don’t own a jam pan, giant or otherwise.

So I don’t (didn’t) make much jam. There were exceptions, naturally, few and far between, so noteworthy I usually recorded them, here, and here.

A few years ago my mother gave me Christine Ferber’s book (available only in French). Christine Ferber is a world re-known Frenchwoman from Alsace, widely described as the ‘fée des confitures’ (jam fairy). I’ve never actually eaten from one of her jars, but I have read so many tantalizing descriptions that I feel I might have. Taken literally, her technique is quite time-consuming, but using her inspiration, some latitude, and a little improvisation (she would be appalled), I’ve realized that making jam can actually fit quite snugly into my life.

Key is that the process in divided into two parts. In the evening, prep the fruit, mix it with sugar and lemon juice, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next day, cook the jam. Chances are, it’s easier to find 15 quick minutes in the evening and another 45 of mostly cooking time the next day, than scheduling a full long slot for the entire process.

Emboldened by this realization, last week I made jam, the easiest thing I found to save a few remaining bunches of rhubarb.

Rhubarb jam recipe

1 kg rhubarb

1 kg sugar

Juice from one lemon

Few sprigs rosemary

Wash the rhubarb, trim the ends, and chop the stalks into 1/2 inch (1 cm) pieces.

In a saucepan, mix the rhubarb, sugar, and lemon juice.

Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

The next morning, cook the jam. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for approximately 30 minutes. At first it will bubble furiously, but as the jam jells it thickens, the bubbles slow down and burst at a more leisurely pace. To check whether the juice has “gelled,” take out a small spoonful and let it cool. Once cold, the juice should have thickened in the spoon, and when you try to pour it the drip is not liquid but heavy, as though it was sticking to the spoon. Cook longer if necessary and check again.

Meanwhile, sterilize the jars in boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes.

Once the jam is ready, stir in the rosemary to steep for about 5 minutes. Remove. Pour into sterilized jars and close tightly.

Jam is best stored for a few weeks (and up to a year at least) before eating.

 

 

A good steak with anchovy and herb butters and shallot confit

15 May 2014

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Key, of course, is the quality of the meat. Beef should be grass-fed and dry-aged. To say I choose my homes according to their proximity to a good butcher is exaggerated, but we’ve been lucky for a while now, with, for years, excellent meat just a few blocks away. There was Ottomanelli in the West Village, Harlem Shambles uptown, and, here in London, we live close to another great butcher, Godfreys.

The cut is important, too. Meat on the bone is typically more flavorful, and thick cuts (an inch and a half at least) are much easier to cook to perfection: very brown and crisp on the outside but perfectly rare in the center.

There are debates over whether steaks should be seasoned early or whether salt left on the meat absorbs some of the moisture. I’ve decided to settle into the camp that favors early seasoning, allowing the salt to seep into the cut. Since meat should be brought to room temperature before cooking, I take the steaks out of the refrigerator about one hour before dinner, season them generously with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, and let them sit a while.

It is useless to try to give a cooking time. Every steak is different, depending on the cut, its thickness, its initial temperature. I’ve found that a cast-iron skillet works best, and it should be very hot before the meat is added. A combination of butter and olive oil in the pan is good, as the butter is delicious and won’t burn as quickly together with the olive oil. Ideally one could add herbs to the rendered fat and baste the steak as it cooks.

Sear the meat on very high heat, turning it over once the first side is evenly brown. The steak is perfect when the outside is brown and crisp, like a crust, and the meat has contracted, but just barely. Not too much or it is overcooked.

Like all meat, steak needs to relax a little before being cut; about ten minutes, just the time needed to get the rest of the meal on the table.

Serve the steak with the butters, shallot confit, and some strong mustard.

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Herb and anchovy butter
These must be made a least an hour ahead, and easily the day before.
I make one butter with anchovies, parsley, and basil, and the other with just herbs and sea salt.

250g good unsalted butter

A generous handful of parsley

Small bunches each of basil and chives

A dozen anchovies in oil

1/2 teaspoon coarse grey sea salt

Cut the butter into two equal parts, place each in a small bowl, and let sit at room temperature until it becomes soft and easy to work with (probably about an hour).

Wash and shake the herbs dry. Pick the parsley and basil leaves from the stems.

Separate the herbs into two groups: one with half the parsley and a few basil leaves, the other with approximately equal amounts of parsley, basil, and chives.

Finely chop each group of herbs.

Drain as much oil from the anchovies as possible, and chop finely.

Using a fork, mix one of the softened butter with the anchovies, parsley, basil; the other with the parsley, basil, and chives, and the salt. Mix each well until the butter is homogeneously speckled with the herbs.

Transfer each piece of butter into a small serving bowl, even out the surface, and let cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The butter will keep for a while, though it will be best for a couple of days.

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Shallot confit

3-4 large shallots

Olive oil

Small sprig fresh thyme

Small sprig fresh rosemary

One bay leaf

Sea salt

Peel and slice the shallots into thin-ish slices. (The shallots can be cut either crosswise or lengthwise.)

Place in a very small saucepan with enough olive oil to comfortably blanket the bottom of the pan. Add the herbs and a good pinch of salt.

Cook on very low heat, staying close and stirring regularly, until the shallots are a deep golden. **In case the bottom does burn, quickly transfer the rest of the shallots to a different pan so the burnt flavor doesn’t tarnish the confit.**

Let cool a little and remove the herb stalks before serving.

The confit can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator but must be slightly reheated before serving, just beyond the point where the oil isn’t congealed to awaken the flavors.

Winter cabbage slaw with miso ginger dressing

1 February 2013

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Where has January gone? It disappeared in a few flurries of snow that sprinkled the city white and pretty and were swept away in a wink. It was devoured by raclettes and tagines, spicy lentil soups, and the best chocolate brownies.

And so, suddenly, hello February. Today you are my favorite month. After a couple of unnaturally warm days the cold is back, which is as it should be.

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It seems I wouldn’t make a very good Texan, because I prefer slaw without mayonnaise, This isn’t to say that I don’t like slaw with mayonnaise, I love coleslaw in general, even the limp overdressed versions of average diners. But, given the choice, I prefer a citrus-y, Asian-inflected variant. This miso ginger dressing is adapted from the beautiful blog 101 Cookbooks. I added fresh grated ginger, lime juice, and reduced the sweetness for something more assertive.

Winter slaw

1/2 small red cabbage

1/2 small white cabbage

1 fennel bulb

2 or 3 celery stalks

Fresh parsley leaves

Slice all the vegetables very thinly, using a food processor, a mandolin, or a very sharp knife.

Miso ginger dressing

A 1/2 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated

2 Tbsps white miso paste

1/2 tsp strong Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp mild runny honey

Juice from 1 lime

1/4 (60 ml) cup rice vinegar

1/3 (100 ml) cup olive oil

Mix together the grated ginger, miso paste, mustard, and honey until they are all well combined into a smooth paste.

Add the lime juice and rice vinegar, stir well, and finally the olive oil.

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Fettucini with immediate tomato sauce

4 October 2012

The last of the summer’s ripe tomatoes may be a little soft, a little blemished, they may not warrant much attention as heads will be turned by the arrival of bright yellow squash and orange pumpkins. What these tomatoes want is this sauce exactly. It is so quick, so easy that it will barely distract from the anticipation of slow roasts and apple pies. It is so good that those blemished tomatoes may soon be missed, as the creeping cold leaves heaps of unripened green tomatoes in its wake, with no better prospect but to be transfigured into chutney.

The sauce sort of made itself one night, and I was taken aback by how easy it was to create such a good sauce in so little time. I’d always supposed that good tomato sauce needs to simmer gently and reduce patiently. On that evening there was no time and, temptingly, in the kitchen, some good fettucini and a few roma tomatoes.

All I did was cut the tomatoes lengthwise in sixths, slice a few garlic cloves, heat some olive oil in a large skillet, throw in the garlic for barely a minute, add the tomatoes, and wait until most of the juice had evaporated and the tomatoes hinged on golden and in some places brown. It took perhaps 10 minutes, just about the time to boil the pasta.

***

For two

5 ripe tomatoes

2 cloves garlic

Good olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

200 g good fettucini

Really good olive oil

Parmigiano-reggiano

Few basil leaves

*

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil for the pasta.

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise then in half in thirds. Peel and thinly slice the garlic.

Carefully slide in the fettucini. Cook in a heavy boil.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large heavy skillet. **The skillet should be large enough so the tomatoes are in one layer only.** Cook the garlic for barely a minute over medium to high heat, until translucent, then add the tomatoes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook the tomatoes over high heat until a lot of the juice has evaporated and they start turning brown.

Start checking the pasta regularly after about 8 minutes (by carefully taking one out and eating it). Drain quickly in a colander as soon as the pasta is just al dente (or to desired consistency) and return immediately to the pot used for boiling the pasta (one could use another pot but it’s much simpler this way). **It is important not to overdrain the pasta. If it is too dry it will become sticky.** Quickly drizzle generously with good olive oil so the pasta doesn’t stick.

Transfer the pasta to individual bowls. Spoon over the tomatoes, add a drizzle of very good olive oil, tear up a few leaves of basil on each bowl, and grate some parmigiano to finish.


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