Archive for the ‘Seasonal’ Category

Vin d’orange

2 February 2022

Making apéritif alcohol infusions isn’t the peak or culmination of proficiency and dedication in the kitchen. Just the opposite. Few things are as easy as cutting fruit, scooping sugar, and pouring over some strong alcohol. Everyone should try it, especially anyone who wouldn’t touch a kitchen appliance with a ten-foot pole. Unlike preserving or canning, which usually involves quite a bit of prep, macerating, simmering, and sterilising of jars, not to mention the faintest hovering threat of serious poisoning, here there is no risk attached, the combination of sugar and strong alcohol makes sure of it.

One of my oldest friends, who is probably also the one who cooks the least, has been infusing rum with fruits, spices, herbs — even, I think, vegetables! — for decades. Many start as experiments, none follow a measured recipe. She has a whole trunkful at home, dozens and dozens of bottles. For years, every time we saw her, she also brought along a bottle (or two or three) of prunelle (sloe liqueur), made by her mother, who wasn’t, I understand, a particularly enthusiastic cook either. She had quite a way with prunelle, though.

This is where I got the hint. When I want to make something but have neither much time, nor much patience, I seep fruit in alcohol. And so we have jars of fruit-seeped alcohol — and alcohol-seeped fruit — in every corner of the kitchen. I have now taken up the mantle of prunelle production, I’ve made Seville orange gin, I have a traditional rum pot macerating with summer fruit, and another with dried fruit. I’ve even experimented with quince, though the ratafia needs some fine tuning.

Vin d’orange, a delicately flavoured bitter-orange apéritif originally from the South of France, is just such a project — ridiculously quick and easy. All it needs is a bit of patience (a few weeks at least), and, later, someone with whom to crack open a bottle.

Vin d’orange recipe adapted from Samin Nosrat
I tried a couple of different recipes for vin d’orange last year. I like this one best with just rosé and vodka. I’ve adjusted quantities, the recipe remains pretty much the same.

A large, closeable glass jar with a capacity of 3 litres (and later 3 clean sealable 750ml bottles)

4 Seville oranges
1 orange
1/2 lemon
180g to 200g sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1.5 litres (= 2 bottles) of rosé wine (cheap but drinkable!)
350ml (= half a bottle) of vodka

Wash and dry the jar with a clean cloth.

Rinse all the citrus, cut them it into smallish chunks.

Place all the fruit into the jar. Add the sugar and vanilla bean, and pour in the alcohol. Mix well but gently until the sugar dissolves. Seal tightly and leave in a cool, dark place (or the fridge, if there is room!) for about a month. (Samin Nosrat suggests between 32 and 40 days, but I am pretty sure I left mine quite a bit longer last year. Whatever suits, it’s far from a perfect science!)

After about a month, when the vin d’orange has developed the right orangey and bitter taste, strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth into clean sealable bottles. The vin d’orange is now ready to drink, and will only get better and better.

Serve chilled, with friends.

Our (basic) Thanksgiving menu!

23 November 2021

This week is Thanksgiving, and I have already made cranberry sauce!

Thanksgiving in London isn’t the same. Here, of course, it’s a regular week work/school day, and, more crucially, so is Friday. Living in New York I came to appreciate this time out — outside time — holiday. For four days, everything stops. In London the celebration wedges in between busy schedules as usual. Still, I love this tradition, unique in its celebration of food and togetherness and nothing else. We’ve attempted moving it to the weekend and were sternly rebuffed, ‘it’s not Thanksgiving, it’s just another dinner.’ Which, I must admit, is kinda true.

Our menu varies only slightly from year to year. I understand the temptation to change and imagine new things, but I have become attached to this version of the meal, developed over the years, with only slight tweaks. It anchors and pulls me back to New York, which, without being sentimental, really were the best days of Thanksgiving.

Our basic Thanksgiving menu
I often decide to add things at the last minute, but these are indispensable

Heritage turkey with apple chestnut stuffing (deliciously and accidentally gluten-free!)
Roasted carrots
Celeriac mash with parsley
Sautéed hen of the woods mushrooms
Cranberry sauce

I cook all the savoury parts of dinner, and we ask each guest to bring dessert. The surfeit of sweets is a great way to revive a party that may have become drowsy from all the food. While just one or two pies might be picked at halfheartedly, a table of desserts rekindles the party.

So we have a smorgasbord of pies, cakes, and desserts, brought by our friends. Can’t resist one or two contributions though, probably:

The best, award-winning pumpkin pie usually made by Balthasar
and David Tanis’ cranberry curd tart made by Thomas

Green asparagus with spring onions

10 June 2021

Some dishes are ideas more than recipes, they creep into our lives unawares.

I have had a few favourite asparagus recipes, and written about them, each time touting their priviledged status and every time I was completely sincere. And here I am, with yet another ‘favourite’. Seasons and appetites change, new preferences do not preclude lasting affections.

I made this simple dish last year, probably guided by the entrails of our fridge: asparagus and spring onions being (again this year) our spring staples. It remained etched in the margins of my cook’s memory. This year, it’s all I’ve wanted to do with asparagus.

Perfect company for an easy barbecue, it could also be cooked on the fire, but our balcony-intended cast-iron grill is too small and barely fits steak for six, so I make it in a skillet on the stove.

Asparagus with spring onions recipe

A rule of thumb for quantities is one third spring onions to two thirds asparagus

Asparagus (see note on quantities above)
Spring onion (see note on quantities above)
Olive oil
Soya sauce
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Trim the tough ends of the asparagus stalks; rinse in cold water.

Trim the roots and leaf tips of the spring onions (I like to also remove one layer if it’s starting to wilt). Rinse the onions to remove any grit. With the blunt side of a wide knife, flatten (crush) the spring onions lengthwise.

In a large bowl, combine the asparagus and spring onions with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a discreet splash of soya sauce, pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper. Toss to ‘dress’ the vegetables.

If using a barbecue, grill the vegetables / if using a skillet, add a bit of olive oil and fry over high heat for 5 to 7 minutes until the vegetables are nicely coloured and still firm.


Leek and wild garlic quiche with trout or pancetta

30 March 2021

Spring has sprung and it is time for quiche. ‘Why?’ you ask. I’m not sure, but that is how it works in my mind.

Perhaps it is the still tentative but now perceptible promise of picnics. Maybe the hankering for boisterous post-egg-hunt Easter brunches from another era, which somehow disappeared with the move to London. Or is it just the availability of leeks, to the near exclusion of all else … ?

Well, it is unmistakably spring, and had we no calendar there would be no mistaking it. Magnolias have burst, the daffodils are already waning, wild garlic is abundant.

And so, I’m making quiche.

In addition to the leeks and wild garlic, I’ve used another leaf, erbette spinach (aka erbette chard or perpetual spinach), which adds herbaceousness and really melds everything together. I found it available from my local farm delivery, but it isn’t all that common. Regular spinach or chard leaves would also work well.

I’ve tried versions of this quiche both with pancetta and with trout, and I’m hard pressed to decide which is the better one. I think it depends on the mood, and the availability of one or the other. So this recipe offers both options, I leave it up to your inclination.

Leek and wild garlic quiche recipe

Pastry crust (or store-bought)

4 to 5 leeks (about 750g)
Pat of butter and olive oil

Salt
50g wild garlic
150g erbette (perpetual) spinach (alternatively, spinach or chard leaves)
120g hot smoked trout fillet (alternatively, pancetta)
4 eggs
300g crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated cheese such as Gruyère if using pancetta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F)

Roll out the pastry and transfer it to a buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork, and place it into the refrigerator while preparing the filling for the quiche.

Trim the leeks, wash, slice thinly, and rince again. Drain as much as possible.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy skillet, add the leeks, a generous pinch of salt, and cook over slow to medium heat until softened but if possible not browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and thinly slice the wild garlic into a ‘chiffonade.’ Wash and coarsely chop the erbette (spinach or chard).

When the leeks are softened, add the spinach and wild garlic just for a minute or two, until wilted.

If using pancetta, transfer the leeks etc. to a bowl and set aside, and brown the pancetta to the desired hue in the (wiped) skillet.

In a medium or large bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them well with a fork. Add the cream and mix well. Then stir in the leeks, spinach, and wild garlic, with a generous squeeze of lemon.

Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle the trout or pancetta evenly on the dough. Pour over the egg/cream/vegetable mix. Smooth the top.

Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and grated cheese, if using.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling just set.

Enjoy with a green (or red or yellow) salad.

Pear and apple butter

19 February 2021

Or food like therapy.

I like to think I’m an optimist, try to see the upside, focus on the good bits. I hate to wallow or complain, I have little reason to. This year has tested that.

And, the other day, I sank as far to that bottom as I ever will. I felt very sorry for myself. The UK seemed to be drifting away from the world even farther, with travel restrictions tougher, multiple mandatory tests imposed, hotel quarantines looming, all of which put the possibility of just crossing the water to go ‘home’ — always a basic reassuring given — more and more in question.

When, serendipitously, a friend left a bag with three kilos or pears on our doorstep.

It took me a couple of days to decide what to make of it, until the option presented itself as self-evident: pear and apple butter (I always have lots of apples on hand). I had never made it. I’m not sure I had ever had it. In fact, I sort of thought I was making something else: Apelstroop — or thick apple syrup, which I now realise is something different, made just with apple juice rather than purée.

Making apple butter is at once very easy and very time consuming. It is exactly the type of project to undertake at that moment when there is absolutely nothing to do, and no place to go. It is mindless. Meditative. And smells extremely good.

It was a bit of a springboard. Thanks, Claire!

Pear and apple butter barely adapted from Do Preserve by Anja Dunk, Jen Goss, and Mimi Beaven

2kg pears (it is also possible to use only apples, if that’s what you have)
1.6 kg apples
18 cloves
250ml (1 cup) water
60g sugar
120ml (1/2 cup) maple syrup
Juice from 1 lemon

Wash the fruit and chop it all up into medium chunks, peel, core, and all.

Place the chunks of fruit in a large saucepan with 250ml of water and the cloves. Cook until completely soft, about half an hour, stirring occasionally all the way to the bottom of the pan.

Pass through a food mill to obtain a soft purée.

Return the purée to wide pot, add the sugar, maple syrup, and lemon juice, and cook over low heat, stirring nearly continuously, especially as the purée thickens, For.A.Good.Long.While. A few hours probably, for that quantity, until the purée has become a dark brick spreadable ‘butter’.

Store in sterilised jars and keep in the fridge (Or process the jars for long conservation).


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