Archive for the ‘Seasonal’ Category

Edible gifts | Christine Ferber’s Christmas jam

29 November 2018

In her book Mes Confitures, Christine Ferber writes that her Christmas jam pays tribute to the tradition of berawecka, a fruit bread traditional in Alsace and neighboring German speaking countries during the holidays. It gives pride of place to the dried pears of the region and includes a plethora of other dried and candied fruits, nuts, and spices.

Indeed, this jam has no fewer than 21 ingredients! A fact that would ordinarily have me fleeing it like the plague. But in some instances, particularly around Christmas, my disposition mellows and I might find myself uncharacteristically drawn to somewhat tedious, day-long cooking challenges.

The reward, of course, is an unusual gift that unfurls in every bite, layer after layer, one fragrance after another, and which will hopefully, in an explosion of taste, convey all the affection (and time!) folded lovingly into each little jar.

Christine Ferber’s Christmas jam
Warning: this jam not only has 21 ingredients, it also takes 2 days to make!

1.7 kg quinces
1.7 kg (170 cl) water
1 kg caster sugar
200 g dried pears, very finely sliced
200 g dried figs
100 g dates
100 g prunes
200 g dried apricots
100 g raisins
50 g candied lemon peel
50 g candied orange peel
50 g candied angelica, optional (I wasn’t able to find angelica and I like to think it did not affect the end result too much)
Juice from 1 untreated orange
3-4 pinches finely grated zest from an untreated orange
Juice from 2 untreated lemons
3-4 pinches finely grated zest from an untreated lemon
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cardamon
5 g aniseed
150 g shelled walnuts
150 g blanched almonds

Wipe the quinces to remove all fuzz. Rince the fruit with water, remove the stalk and flower, and cut into quarters (do not peel or core the quince).

Place the quince quarters into a large (jam) pan and cover with 1.7 kg (170 cl) water.

Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour, stirring the quince around occasionally. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to gather 1.3 kg of juice.

Slice the dried pears very thinly and let them soak in the quince juice overnight.

The next day, pit and cut all the dried fruit as thinly as possible: figs, dates, prunes, and apricots. Finely dice the candied lemon and orange peel. Finely cut the angelica if using. Chop the walnuts and almonds.

Pour the quince juice and marinated pears back into the jam pan (or large heavy-bottomed saucepan). Add the sugar, and all the dried fruits (figs, dates, prunes, apricots, raisins), candied fruits (lemon and orange and angelica), citrus juices and zests, and spices.

Bring the jam to a boil, stirring continuously. Skim any foam that comes to the surface. Leave at a lively boil for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring continuously and skimming if necessary. **Do not overcook! 5 to 10 minutes is sufficient. My batch was a bit too thick, I will be wary next time.** Add the walnuts and almonds and cook for another 5 minutes. Check that the jam is setting (place a spoonful of juice in the fridge and, once cold, check that the juice has ‘gelled’).

Sterilize the jars for 5 minutes in a pan of boiling water. Fill the jars immediately and seal tightly.

Notes from the kitchen | Monday chicken legs with spring onions and ginger

15 November 2018

Monday night. Eternal, tedious, domestic conundrum — what to make for dinner? Feeding six requires labour, always. The simplest thing — grating cheese for all the pasta — takes a while.

Forever torn between fantasies of heady stews and lack of time, I go into the butcher’s dreaming of oxtail and grab chicken legs instead. It’s the quickest path to a braised (style) dish. It requires little foresight or planning, barely a thought. There will at the very least be garlic and lemon in the house.

As it happens, today we also have spring onions and celery, ginger and tamari. What began as a resignation, an easy way to finish odds and ends at the bottom of the fridge, has become a legitimate meal, an instant favourite. And with Balthasar’s retro / disco playlist in the background, there may even have been some dancing around the kitchen table.

Chicken legs with spring onions and ginger
Serves 6

6 chicken legs (whole or separated into thighs and drumsticks)
A large chunk of ginger
One bunch — 6 or 7 — spring onions (scallions)
4 or 5 celery stalks
1 small lemon or lime
1 whole head of garlic
Neutral flavored oil
Toasted sesame seed oil
Light soy sauce (or salt)
Tamari soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator so it has time to come to room temperature.

Prepare the ‘vegetables’:
Peel the ginger and slice it into matchsticks.

For the spring onions, cut off the ends, remove one outer layer, wash, and cut into three.

Top and tail the celery stalks, wash, and cut into pieces of similar length to the spring onions.

Wash, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice the lemon (or lime) into half moons.

Smash the head of garlic with your palm to open it up. Crush each clove with the side of a large knife and remove the skin, which will come off easily.

Roasting:
Pour some oil at the bottom of an oven dish large enough to fit all the pieces of chicken with space to spare. *The pieces should not be too crowded or the skin wil not become crispy.* Scatter all the vegetables at the bottom of the pan, toss with a little oil, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Coat the chicken legs with sesame sauce.

Once the vegetables have been roasting for about 15 minutes, add the chicken legs to the pan and season everything with a few hits each of light soy sauce, tamari, and rice vinegar.

Roast the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the juice, until brown and crispy on the outside and fully cooked (i.e. juices run clear) inside.

If possible, let the chicken sit for a few minutes. Serve with rice.

Creamy spiced lentil soup

8 November 2018

Balthasar and I bonded over soup.

It was an inset day, which means no school, and after a sunny autumnal swim in the nearby lido — outdoor swimming pool in British lingo, in this case heated year-round to a luxurious 25°C — we went to reap our effort’s reward: e5 Bakehouse. Breakfast was over, we shared a spicy lentil soup with mustard seeds (and cake, but it was the soup that caught our attention). We vowed to recreate it, paying particular heed to the mustard, and, in an emphatic move against Thomas’s tyranny of chunky soups, solemnly swore to blitz it to a creamy smoothness.

It was practically a random recreation, with the available bits and pieces in the fridge. It was practically perfect.

Creamy spiced lentil soup

4 to 5 small onions
1 whole head of garlic
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
Sea salt
3 leeks
5 or 6 carrots
1 kg potatoes
3/4 of a large acorn squash
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock — or just water
175 g red lentils
A large handful of kale
Finishing touches: yogurt mixed with toasted ground cumin and fennel and lemon juice; a sliver of olive oil or chili infused oil; if available, black lava salt

Toast the mustard, cumin, and fennel seeds in a small pan until they start becoming fragrant (this takes a few minutes only). Grind and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables —
Chop the onions.
Smash and peel the garlic.
Peel, thoroughly wash to remove all grit, and chop the leeks.
Peel and chop the carrots.
Peel and wash the potatoes and the acorn squash and cut them into small chunks.
Remove the kale’s tough stalks, wash thoroughly, and chop into strips.
Note: The size of the vegetable chunks is not crucial as the soup will be puréed, but the pieces should be fairlyhomogeneous in order to cook at a similar rate, and — if time is of the essence — the smaller or finer the pieces, the faster they will cook.

Cook the soup —
Brown the onions in lots of olive oil. Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring continuously, for a few minutes. Season with salt.

Add the leeks, cover the pan, and let them cook for a few minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, and squash. Season.

Add the stock and/or water so that the vegetables are covered generously and floating around comfortably when stirred.

After about half an hour of a gentle and constant simmer, add the lentils. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, checking on the level of liquid and adding some if necessary.

Check that the vegetables and lentils are cooked through, then add the kale and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes more until it has softened too.

Blend/purée the soup in batches until very smooth.

Serve immediately with one or all of the finishing touches.

Illustrious plum torte

6 October 2018

I buy plums because how can I not, in the momentary season that will soon give way to an endless monotonous expanse of apples and pears?

Five days later they are still on the kitchen counter and, miraculously, apparently intact, without the dispiriting tinge of fermentation that has all too often come to taunt me with an accusatory waft of neglect.

It is high time to use them up, and I am hesitating between jams and quick compotes, just as a friend writes to say she is coming to London and can she stay with us. Of course, as always. And so it will be cake.

I could have made either of the ones already on these pages (here and here), but my attention is turned elsewhere. I want to bake Marian Burros’ illustrious plum torte, which I’ve heard about and read about for years and decades, but, just as those impulsively purchased plums, neglected too often, too long.

The recipe* was first published in the New York Times in 1983, and every fall thereafter, during peak plum season, for the next twelve years. When they decided to stop publishing it, with the last printing in extra large type ‘with a broken line border to encourage clipping,’ the paper was nonetheless assailed by angry letters. It is said to be the most requested and most often published recipe in the newspaper’s archives, and is usually described as famous, iconic, one of the newspaper’s most popular recipes.

It could seem difficult to come on the trail of so much lore, but astoundingly, after all those years, the cake lives up to its reputation. I won’t regret that I hadn’t made it before, I’m just glad it has become part of my dream plum life.

*The recipe was allegedly given to Burros by Lois Levine, her co-author on the 1960 Elegant But Easy Cookbook.

Marian Burros’ plum torte (<— click link to the original recipe)
I have doubled the recipe and substituted ground almonds for some of the flour. I preferred to omit the cinnamon.

250g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter
210g (1 1/2 cups) flour
75g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
15 to 20 plums
Brown sugar and juice from 1/2 a lemon for topping (and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamon, why not?)

Heat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter a springform pan about 25cm (10″) in diameter.

Leave the butter to soften at room temperatire until easy to mix.

Wash and cut the plums in half lengthwise, removing the stones.

Beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, paking powder, salt, and eggs and stir well.

Spoon the batter into the dish. Place the plum halves skin side up all over the batter so they fit snugly. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice (and a spice if using).

Bake for about an hour until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out fairly clean (the cake will remain moist from the plum juices). Cool before eating. As with most cakes, it will taste even better the next day, covered and left at room temperature.

Classic French tomato tarte with mustard

20 September 2018

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From memory, it was in Elle magazine; one of a sweeping collection of recipe cards, cut out along the dotted line, neatly organized, in a couple of bright orange bakelite boxes, color-coded and arranged by dish — starter, meat, dessert, etc. — most probably from the nineteen eighties. My mom’s.

This, at least, is how I remember it. Neither my mother nor my sister can recall where the recipe for this tarte — the clever combination of tomatoes with sharp mustard which mellows as it cooks — really comes from. In fact, it seems to be part of the French subconscious. As I was trying to corroborate the recipe’s origin I realized that according to the usual web search engines, in France ‘tarte à la tomate’ automatically defaults to ‘et à la moutarde.’

Regardless of whether it actually did once appear in Elle, there is no doubt that it is a French classic, and in my view firmly anchored in the 1980s. There are tomatoes, Emmental, mustard, a sprinkling of dried thyme at most. No fancy flours in the crust, no fresh herb flourishes.

I break these rules sometimes and add a few cut herbs, or substitute Comté for Emmental. But at heart the combination of tomatoes, mustard, and cheese remains. Its simplicity is testament to a recipe classic.

We make versions of it every summer, often on days when there isn’t a plan but always an enormous stash of tomatoes at different levels of tenderness that need rapid eating.

Tomato tarte with mustard

One uncooked savory pie pastry (see recipe below)
Strong Dijon mustard
Hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté, grated
Tomatoes, sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dried or fresh thyme (also oregano, basil)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

Roll out the pie crust and carefully transfer to a well-buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork (so it won’t puff up as it bakes).

Spread a generous amount of mustard over the crust (like a shmear of cream cheese, the sharpness will mellow as it cooks). Sprinkle the grated cheese all over the crust. Arrange the tomato slices on top. Season with salt and pepper and thyme (or other herb).

Slide into the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden, the tomatoes cooked, and the juices bubbling.

Serve immediately.

***

Quick savory pie pastry

200g cold butter
200g flour
A pinch of salt
A little ice-cold water

Cut the butter into 1/2 inch (1 cm) chunks.

Prepare the flour and salt in a large bowl. Mix in the butter with your fingertips, crumbling the butter and flour together until most of the butter chunks have become grains, but other larger bits remain. Add a little ice water, just enough to gather the crust into a smooth ball. (It’s important not to overhandle the dough, which will ensure that it remains flaky when cooked.)

Let the rest dough rest, covered, in the refrigerator, for at least one and up to 24 hours.

If the dough has been in the refrigerator for a few hours, allow a little time for it to soften before rolling it out.


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