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Winter technicolor salad

10 January 2019

Winter bares its teeth, there’s suddenly more of a bite, the chill creeps to the bone and settles. Sometimes this calls for soup. Sometimes, citrus.

I go on — we all go on — about locality and seasonality, and it’s true that you’ll never find a fresh strawberry in our house in October (the children have had to learn the hard way). But, as anyone who studies French will also learn (the hard way), no rule exists without exceptions. And so for these foods we do eat: lemons, avocados, oranges, and grapefruits, especially at this time of year.

Yesterday was such a day. A day of craving bits of sun imported from elsewhere. So I bought things and made lunch, which looked something like this.

Winter technicolor salad

The salad
Endive
Radicchio
Fennel
Avocado
Grapefruit
Blood orange
Walnuts (freshly shelled if possible)

The dressing

Walnut oil
Olive oil
Dark, aged balsamic vinegar
Lemon juice
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional additions to make it into lunch

Smoked trout or mackerel / grilled chicken / feta

Wash the salads and cut into shards or strips, however strikes your fancy. Slice the fennel as thinly as possible, preferably.

Peel and cut the avocado into cubes or spears. Peel the grapefruit and blood orange and cut into chunks.

To make the salad more of a meal, add some cheese or bits of meat. I used smoked mackerel, which happened to be in the fridge, but I suspect smoked trout would be even better. Grilled strips of chicken would definitely be good, or a crumble of feta.

I make the dressing directly over the salad: a thin drizzle of walnut oil, slightly heavier  ribbon of olive oil, a few drops of thick, aged balsamic vinegar, and a few generous squeezes of lemon juice. Salt and pepper.

Elisenlebkuchen

20 December 2018

For years, we had Lebkuchen shipped from Nuremberg to New York in a big, beautifully decorated silver box. Thomas chose that particular company because they had the best Elisenlebkuchen (the flourless kind), and because he and the owner’s children had been childhood friends. They were neighbors, went to the same school, and — I learn just as I  write this, as I ask Thomas and he reminisces — did some pretty foolish things together in their youth. Fraunholz is a family business in the fourth generation, now run by the younger brother.

Ordering them was, every year, in more ways than one, a time-warp experience. In a bite, the cookies propelled the dark, gnarly, sparkly streets of the medieval German city onto our Christmas plate. And, in an age of codes and passwords and multiple proofs of identity, here was a company that took an online order, shipped their wares halfway around the world, and sent a bill to be paid upon receipt. This in itself seemed reason enough to continue the tradition. That, and the added bonus of the ‘Dominosteine’!

I’d like to say that we still receive those big silver boxes every year — but no. After years of hemming and hawing and meaning to and not doing, I have finally started making my own. I thought it would take decades to find and refine the ideal recipe, with much trial and error, but, magically, all the trying and testing has already been done and an impeccable recipe exists! Luisa Weiss’s fantastic Classic German Baking is worth its weight in Lebkuchen, for that recipe alone (though there are many, many more). They are, as Thomas somewhat reluctantly admits, pretty perfect.

The one thing I have changed is the shape. There are, in my opinion, a few reasons to bake Lebkuchen as sheets rather than individual cookies: It is how I discovered them to be sold on the Christmas market in Nuremberg; it makes them so much easier and less fiddly to prepare for baking, and then to glaze; and the absence of individual edges during baking leaves more softness and moistness throughout.

Happy baking and a very merry Christmas!

Elisenlebkuchen from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss
Find the original recipe here

5 eggs
300g (1 1/2 cups) granulated sugar (I reduced the sugar from the original which called for 350g — or 1 3/4 cup)
200g (7 oz) almond paste¹ (see recipe footnote below)
3 Tbsps Lebkuchen spice² (see recipe footnote below)
1/4 tsp salt
Grated peel of 1 untreated lemon
100g (2/3 cup) candied citron peel, finely chopped
100g (2/3 cup) candied orange peel, finely chopped
200g (2 cups) hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and ground
200g (2 cups) ground almonds
100g (2/3 cup) blanched almonds, finely chopped
Wafer sheets

For decoration (optional)
Blanched almonds, split lengthwise
100g (13 Tbsps) confectioner’s sugar
60ml (1/4 cup) water

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) and line one 30cm x 36cm (12″ x 14″) roasting tray with parchment paper.

Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl. Using the large holes of a box grater, grate the almond paste into the eggs and sugar. Whisk briskly for several minutes until the mixture becomes light and frothy. Add the Lebkuchen spice, salt, grated lemon peel, candied citron and orange peels, and all the ground and chopped nuts. Mix well until combined.

Place the wafer sheets onto the baking tray covered with parchment paper, making sure to cover all the way to the edges (if necessary cut the wafers into a patchwork to reach the sides). Scrape out the Lebkuchen dough onto the wafer sheets and spread out with a spatula until smooth and even. If using, place the blanched split almonds, smooth side up, in a pattern at regular intervals onto the dough — they should be spaced withe the view of cutting a lozenge-shaped Lebkuchen around each almond later.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the Lebkuchen tray is puffed and golden.

Meanwhile, to make the glaze, place the confectioner’s sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat and boil down for a few minutes, until the glaze has thickened (stir or swirl the pan occasionally as it will bubble furiously).

As soon as the lebkuchen are out of the oven, glaze generously with a brush, making sure to reach every nook and cranny. Let cool completely before cutting the tray into individual Lebkuchen lozenges. Store in a tin box lined with parchment paper between each layer for up to 4 months.

¹ Almond paste [Marzipanrohmasse]

220g (1 1/2 cups) raw (or blanched) almonds
225g (1 cup and 2 Tbsps) granulated sugar
2 tsps almond extract
1 tsp rum
2 to 4 tsps water
Equipment: food processor

To blanch the almonds (unless using ones that are already blanched), soak them for a few minutes in bowl of boiling water until the peels can easily be squeezed off. Push the skin off each almond and lay them on a clean kitchen towel to dry.

In a food processor, blitz the sugar until powdery. Add the blanched almonds and process until a paste starts to form. This will take a while. Stop the motor occasionally and stir, and take care not to let your food processor overheat (mine did and shut off completely, which thankfully was just a failsafe, and I was able to resume grinding nuts the next morning after the machine had cooled completely).

Add the almond extract and the rum and continue to process, stopping and stirring every so often. Add a teaspoon of water at a time (probably somewhere between 2 and 4 tsps) and continue to process until the paste becomes completely smooth. Scrape the finished paste out of the machine and shape it into a brick, then store it in the refrigetator. The paste will keep for several weeks.

² Lebkuchen spice mix

For a most fragrant mix, the spices (except the ginger) can be freshly ground
30g (5 Tbsps) ground cinnamon
1 1/2 Tbsps ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground mace
3/4 tsp ground aniseed

Stir all the spices together and store in an airtight glass container away from the light. The spice mix will keep for a few months.

The Nettle & Quince Christmas baking page

2 December 2018

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, the time to pause, light a candle, and start baking!

I have created a Nettle & Quince Christmas baking page, where all the Stollen, cookies, and confections can be found.

You can access it by clicking HERE.

A direct link is also always available on the homepage on the right just below ‘Pages.’

Food news | October

30 October 2018

Possibly the biggest news among the food besotted this month was the release on Netflix of Samin Nosrat’s four-part series Salt Fat Acid Heat, and it has become something of phenomenon in our house as well. We began watching casually one rainy Sunday, initially just a taste, to bridge a moment until the last family members gathered to see a film. Mesmerized, we were still hooked two and a half episodes later, when we finally did pause to watch the aforementioned film. We’ve since seen all the episodes and now, every time I cook, Balthasar checks that I’ve considered and included each of the four cardinal components for the perfect dish.

Equally momentous, the legendary Tokyo Tsukiji fish market has closed in order to relocate to a new modern, sanitised facility. Historic, legendary for its tuna auctions, the market was known as possibly the biggest and certainly the best marketplace for seafoood in the world, and had in recent years become a popular tourist destination. Its relocation is mourned and decried by many. In a happy coincidental twist, Tsukiji features briefly in Nosrat’s second episode Salt, set in Japan.

To afford the larger picture and keep historic change in perspective, the NY Times also recently published an article about the changes currently affecting Rungis, the world’s biggest food market, which in 1969 famously and controversially replaced the ‘Belly of Paris‘  — Le Halles in central Paris.

And as we approach the season of vanillekipferl, this thought-provoking insight into the socio-economic implications of vanilla production.

For those of us often irritated but perpetually fascinated by the definitiveness of stars, awards, and ratings, this month saw the publication of the Observer Food Monthly Awards as well as the new Michelin Guide for Great Britain and Ireland.

Finally, when there is barely enough time to read — let alone watch tv — but endless hours walking, this is the best food podcast I have encountered. I came to it by way of Diana Henry’s conversation with Olia Hercules, and every other episode I’ve since listened to has been remarkable.

IN BRIEF

READ:
Tsukiji market in Tokyo closes for relocation
Changes at Rungis food market in France
The socio-economic impact of vanilla production
Observer Food Monthly Awards 2018
Michelin Guide GB and Ireland 2019

LISTEN:
Prince Street podcast

WATCH:
Salt Fat Acid Heat

Notes from the kitchen | Salmon with boiled potatoes and a chard and fava bean stew

3 July 2018

Tonight for dinner I’m looking into my freezer. We are nearing the holidays and it’s time to clean house. I see a dozen chicken sausages and have lentils in mind, but in a crate near the fridge some new potatoes have caught my eye. Immediately my thoughts wander towards the frozen salmon, and I imagine those potatoes boiled until soft and tossed with loads of butter and a handful of torn basil. Suddenly I am raiding the fridge — a bouquet of chard; the fava beans which I received as substitution for a kilo of peas last weekend, accepted, and, predictably, haven’t yet known to use. A quick chard and fava stew.

Prep time 30 min —
Take the salmon out of the freezer.
Peel the potatoes, cut into similar sized pieces, and place in a large bowl of cold water until ready to boil.
Trim off the ends and coarsely chop the chard. Wash and spin dry.
Pod the fava beans, then blanch them in an inch of lightly salted boiling water for about 1 minutes. Drain and immediately cover with cold water. It is now easy to remove the  outer skin. Poke a small incision into the side and squeeze out the bean.

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Cooking time 35 minutes —
To cook the potatoes, place them in a pot, submerged with cold salted water (as salty as seawater), and bring to a boil. Let them boil for about 20 to 25 minutes until an inserted knife encounters no resistance at the center. Drain the water, throw a large pat of butter over the potatoes, and immediately close the lid over the pot. Prepare the basil leaves to be added just before serving.

Once the potatoes are cooked and steaming in their pot, start cooking the rest.

In a cast-iron skillet, heat a generous drizzle of olive oil, throw in the chard, season with salt and the squeezed juice of one lemon. Toss the chard a few times as it ‘melts’ (it will reduce drammatically!) so the leaves underneath don’t burn. Once the chard is cooked (this takes just a few minutes!), add the peeled fava beans. They need only be warmed through with the residual heat from the skillet. Remove the chard and favas and place in a bowl, covered to stay warm.

Turn the heat up under the skillet, add another generous drizzle of olive oil, and once the pan is very hot, place the salmon fillets skin side down. You will be able to see the salmon cooking from the bottom up: after 3 to 5 minutes, once the heat has reached through to about one third, flip the fillets over, leave for 30 seconds and turn off the heat. The salmon will continue to cook just enough while the rest of the food is plated. It should be rare in the middle.

A very decent weeknight family meal, which we then ate in front of the tv watching England beat Columbia in an historic penalty shootout.


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