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Friday, October 30, 2009

a spooky halloween party for 20 third graders



when i first came to denmark in the autumn of 1997, there were no signs at all of halloween. i searched high and low and finally found a lone, rather pale pumpkin for 120 kroner (that was about $15 then) in a florist shop. because i was determined to carve a pumpkin, i bought it despite the outrageous price. today, we get them from a local farmer's wagon for 20 kroner apiece.  in the early part of the noughties, i imported quite a lot of pumpkin carving sets from the US for friends and family whenever i was there. but now, you can even buy those here. what a difference a decade makes.

this weekend, we're having sabin's second annual halloween party for her classmates. they're really excited about it. last year, husband got a pig's head to both thrill them and gross them out - they were delighted, even the girls! this year, he tried to get a cow's head, but that didn't prove possible, so it's a pig again (denmark is a pork country, what can i say). we're also making and doing some of the classics--bowls of cold spaghetti and peeled grapes will serve as brains and eyeballs, small sausages with almond "finger nails" in ketchup "blood" and a nasty witches' potion from which that the kids will have to retrieve coins, as well as bobbing for apples and the like.



but all of that activity will make the kids hungry, so, inspired by my self-imposed harry potter reading marathon, i'm going to make some ghoulish treats - butterbeer, cauldron cakes (pancakes made outdoors over a fire), mini dragon eggs (chicken meatballs), trick wands (chocolate-dipped pretzels), spiced pumpkin seeds and some cupcakes with ghosts (not so much harry potter as epicurious-inspired). i'll also serve bread and plenty of veggies and a couple of dips--one creme fraiche and one guacamole-like.

i haven't made it all yet, so i don't have photos of everything, but here are a few of the recipes:

spiced pumpkin seeds

seeds of one large pumpkin
fiesta fajita seasoning
lowry's seasoning salt
3T olive oil

separate the seeds from your pumpkin into a colander as you empty out the seeds and slimy bits. separate as much of the slimy bit out of the seeds as you can and discard. rinse the seeds well under cold running water. ideally, you spread them out on a paper towel to dry for a couple of days, but you can actually roast them immediately.

put the seeds in a plastic bag, put in the olive oil, a generous shake of fajita seasoning and a generous shake of lowry's. i stock up on these spices every time i'm in the US or having visitors from the US. you can no doubt find a seasoning salt in your own grocery store that will work just as well, but i do recommend the fiesta and lowry's if you can get them. my fiesta fajita seasoning is without the salt, if you have the kind with salt, you can skip the lowry's.

shake up the seeds in the plastic bag until they are all coated in the olive oil and seasoning and spread them evenly onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. sprinkle on a bit more seasoning if it looks like they need it. pop them into a 175℃/350℉ oven for approximately 20 minutes. keep an eye on them and stir them at least once. when they go a golden-brown, they're ready. eat them by the handful. they don't need to be separated from the white outer shell, you just eat them as they are, no fuss.

* * *
mini dragon eggs

800 grams ground chicken
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, grated
1 medium zucchini (courgette) grated
2/3 C of breadcrumbs
2 eggs

i let my food processer do the grating work for me, just tossing in the carrots, onion and zucchini. mix it together with the ground chicken, breadcrumbs and 2 eggs. form into small meatballs. i intend these to be finger-food sized, so they're quite small. when i make this for dinner, i make then a bit bigger.

put them into a baking dish with a good glug of olive oil and pop them into a 175℃/350℉ oven to bake (you can also stand over a frying pan and cook them on the stove, but i tend to choose the easiest route). they'll likely need 30 minutes and you might want to check them halfway and turn them, to ensure they're browning evenly. i haven't made the smaller ones yet, so it might be that they require less time.

these can be made with whatever ground meat you'd like. i also use pork or a lovely mixture of pork and veal that we can get here in denmark. this time, i'm making them with chicken, both to be a bit healthier and lighter and also because two of the kids coming to the party are muslim and don't eat pork. with 20 kids and half a dozen adults to serve, i think i'll make a double batch.

* * *
butterbeer

i found a number of recipes for the famous harry potter butterbeer. the books don't actually have a recipe for it, but lots of people have attempted to make one up. if you google it, you'll find lots of those. many of them call for cream sodas or ginger ale and those are both pretty hard to come by where i live. my intuition tells me that if i want the kids to drink it, it should have an apple base. i wanted to make a warming apple cider anyway, so i think i'll do that. it's going to be chilly outside and the kids will need something to warm them.

2 liters apple cider
1 orange, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
5 cloves

heat on the stove until steaming and fragrant.

to make it something special and take it more in the direction of butterbeer, i think i'll combine several of the ideas i came across when i googled butterbeer recipes.

i think i'll put a spoonful of good vanilla ice cream into the warm cider and give it a squeeze of butterscotch topping - the kind for ice cream. i think that, while not actually involving butter, just might do the trick. and for the adults, we'll add a shot of a beautiful cinnamon/vanilla schnapps that we've got lying around. that should make things more pleasant all around.

are you having a halloween party and if so, what are you making?

* * *

for easy conversions, go here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

favorite cookbook: tamasin day-lewis' weekend food



i guess i can't really get off the comfort food track at the moment as i battle the flu that's going around (swine or otherwise, does it really matter?). and the search for comfort food makes me turn to a favorite recipe in tamasin day-lewis' weekend food. it doesn't hurt that the darkness is upon us and a cold rain is spattering against the windows, because that sends me even deeper into nesting mode. so on saturday, i took down tamasin and made her stuffed cabbage in the troo style (p. 17).



it sounds a bit bland, a big pot of sausage and cabbage, but there is magic in the combination. and the simplicity is just the ticket when you're feeling a bit under the weather and just want to get back under the covers with your book.  here's tamasin's original. i'll tell you about my modifications in a minute...

tamasin's

1.4-2kg (3-4 pound) head of cabbage - savoy or dutch
675 (1.5 pounds) of best organic pork sausages.
salt
pepper
butter

preheat the oven to 150℃/300℉. shred the cabbage into thin strips, coring it first, and blanch it in a huge vat of boiling, salted water for five minutes. drain it in a colander and run the cold tap over it to prevent further cooking at this stage. butter an ovenproof pot.

slit the sausage skins and push out all of the sausage meat onto a plate, discarding the skins. place a third of the cabbage in the bottom of the pot and season. place half the sausage meat in a layer over the cabbage. continue with a layer of cabbage and sausage, finishing with a layer of cabbage, seasoning each layer as you go, and dotting the top with butter. cover tightly with a layer of greaseproof (baking) paper and a lid and cook in the oven for 2-2.5 hours.

julie's

1 head savoy or ordinary cabbage
675 grams of ground pork (i get the sausages as she recommends if they're available, but my grocery store doesn't always have good ones)
salt, pepper, butter
handful of thyme, sage, parsley (whatever herbs you have on hand), finely chopped
glug of white wine
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds

core and thinly slice the head of cabbage. i don't bother to blanch it, as i think it gets plenty of time in the oven and doesn't need this fiddly step. mix your ground pork with the chopped herbs in a bowl, salt and pepper to taste.

butter an oven-proof pot with a lid (my orangey red le cruset is perfect for this - it's the ultimate pot, actually, which is why we have two). layer cabbage in the bottom, as tamasin does, then a layer of sausage, followed by a layer of thinly-sliced potatoes. repeat, finishing with a layer of cabbage. place a couple of pats of butter on top and pour over a good glug of white wine. in my view it has a tendency to get a bit dry if you don't add liquid and my liquid of choice is almost always wine. put the lid on and bake for 2 hours. it does seem to help keep it moist if you line the top with baking paper as she suggests.

i used to serve with boiled potatoes, but now that i add the potatoes to the dish itself, i tend to make a simple salad of baby spinach, avocado, orange pepper and a mustard vinaigrette to go with it. i also serve a good cider vinegar together with the dish, as a sprinkling of vinegar gives it a lovely zing that finishes it nicely. i once made it with sauerkraut instead of plain cabbage and my family hated it (i personally didn't mind it, but will admit it was a particularly salty sauerkraut).

tamasin is another of the very real brit cooks. her accent a bit posh and her aga to die for. her only drawback, as far as i'm concerned, is that she seems like a hardcore runner and as one who runs only when chased, i feel a pang of guilt watching the program that accompanies this book and hearing her talk about leaving dough to prove while she goes for a run.

paging through, i realize i have made a lot of the recipes in this cookbook, perhaps more than in any of the favorites i've listed so far. everything from sicilian peppers (i do love a good roasted pepper), to pasta puttanesca (could anything be simpler or more nourishing?) to stewed oxtail with grapes (it really works), to a simple aubergine, feta and mint salad, to cracked wheat and nut salad (i'm a sucker for a pomegranate) to roasted pumpkin and coconut soup, to her chocolate cookies (the only recipe i felt doesn't work--there's not nearly enough sugar in it, which sounds strange because it does call for 450g of sugar, but it's not enough) to her brownies, drenched ginger and lemon cake and homemade bloody marys. except for the cookies, it has been a success, all of it. and with the cabbage in the troo style, i go back again and again. get it, and i'll bet you'll do so too.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Food for comfort



Perhaps it’s a case of “great minds think alike,” but I suspect that is has more to do with cold and flu season. Whatever the case, both Julochka and I had chicken soup on our minds and stovetops this week.


For the past couple of weeks, someone in my family has been coughing, snorting, wheezing, not sleeping well and feeling downright low and lethargic. Although English small-talk usually revolves around the weather, at the moment that perennial topic seems to have been replaced by dissecting the symptoms of what may or may not be swine flu. The problem is that the symptoms are so nonspecific, and resemble every other bad cold: aches, congestion, a streaming nose, a fever, a sharp sinus headache. My workaholic husband rarely gets sick, but on Friday he was home, in his bathrobe, pale and sweaty and downright miserable. Since he can’t abide the dubious saccharine flavored promises of Lemsip, (and doesn’t believe in them, anyway), I had to resort to that oldest and truest of remedies: homemade chicken soup.

In truth, chicken broth is something that I make every week – but I tend to use it for something else: a risotto, or the basis of a soup like Minestrone. Although I’m not the most efficient housewife, I regularly practice one recycling economy: I make a roast chicken, and then I make a broth from its carcass. It’s not a recipe exactly, but more of a method. I have a close friend who always just boiled up the bones with water, but I like to add more flavor and nutrients to my broth.

This is my method:

Remove any skin or fat, and then cover the bones of a chicken with cold water - approximately 3 quarts or 3 litres is usually about right.
Then add a large white onion, cut in half; two or three carrots and the same of celery, also cut into pieces. (I always save the frilly bits of the celery for broth.)
Very importantly, add about a tablespoon of good sea salt and in between 10-20 peppercorns. (I like a lot of pepper.)
If I want the broth for a Mexican soup of some kind, I might also add a clove or two of garlic and a bunch of cilantro.
(I like fresh parsley in a chicken broth, but I always add it at the end – so it retains its flavor and doesn’t get slimy.)
Bring the contents of your soup pot to a boil, and then simmer for at least an hour . . . or as long as you like. The longer you cook it down, the more concentrated the flavor will be – although you will, of course, lose some volume in the process.

After I’ve strained the broth, I tend to add more carrots and celery – cut into small coins and crescents – some chicken, if I have it, and noodles or rice. Let the broth boil, gently, until everything is soft.

The problem with persistent colds it that they tend to make a person feel really low and listless. Although chicken soup does help clear the sinuses, sometimes other comfort food is needed for those feelings of exhaustion and low-grade depression.

Once, when I was a child, my mother made me a homemade vanilla pudding when I had been ill for days and was just regaining my appetite. It was somehow rich and bland, soft and soothing, all at the same time. When I am feeling utterly worn-down, I still crave foods that fall into this category – and for several years now, my favorite has been a rice pudding made like a risotto.

A lot of English people have negative feelings about rice pudding because they associate it with “school food” – and have a horror of its watery lumpiness and the “skin” that forms on the top. A risotto inspired rice pudding is nothing like this, however; it is creamy and luscious. Another advantage it has over traditional rice pudding is its cooking method: instead of taking hours to cook in the oven, you can produce it in about half an hour’s stirring time. The only caveat is that you have to actually stand at the stove and stir it. Unlike a usual risotto, made with a clear broth, this one is made with milk – and milk burns easily. I recommend reading a light paperback while you stir; alternatively, you can have a long phone conversation with someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with for a while.





I got the inspiration for this recipe from my beloved Nigella – in her How to Eat cookbook.


Risotto-Inspired Rice Pudding

Ingredients:
700 ml (or about 24 fluid ounces) of “full-fat” milk*
1 ounce butter
2 heaping tablespoons of sugar**
75 grams (or four heaping tablespoons) of Arborio rice

Method:
Heat the milk to boiling in the microwave. (You can also heat it in a pan on the stovetop, but be vigilant because milk scorches easily and can leave you with horribly burnt pan to clean up.)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan, and stir the sugar into it. When it is bubbling away, add the Arborio rice and stir for a minute or two until the grains are evenly coated.

Slowly, one ladle at a time, add the milk until is all incorporated. Then you need to slowly and methodically stir until all of the milk has transformed your rice into a lovely, creamy pudding.

After 20 minutes you can start tasting it. The rice should be soft, but still have some “shape” to it. (It shouldn’t be hard or grainy, though.)

When it is the right texture, I finish it off in one of several ways:
A handful of raisins
A few shavings of fresh nutmeg
A dab of butter and a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar

Nigella likes to add several tablespoons of double cream at the end, but I don’t like it to be this creamy.

*On the subject of full-fat dairy products, I will confess that I always make this pudding with semi-skimmed or even skimmed milk. Julochka and I differ when it comes to dairy products. I don’t like the overly creamy taste (or fat content) of whole milk; she and Nigella do.

**I always use vanilla sugar when I make this pudding. If you don’t have any, you might want to do some good vanilla essence to the hot milk.

On Friday, I made this lunch for my ailing husband: chicken soup, followed by rice pudding. It was delicious and comforting, and l would like to think that it made both of us feel a little bit better. Of course, you don’t have to be sick or depressed to enjoy this meal . . . but sometime this flu season you will probably have the need of it.   Of course, it would be extra extra-nice if someone would make it FOR you . . . but we can't everything in this life.

Friday, October 23, 2009

the alchemy of comfort food: grandma kate's chicken & noodles



i'll admit it. i watch heston blumenthal's cooking programs (kitchen chemistry) with a mixture of horror and fascination. to make mashed potatoes, he uses a thermometer and keeps them at 70 degrees C for 30 minutes, then immerses them in cold water and adds egg yolks when he begins to mash them. and although that sounds like WAY too much trouble, i am fascinated by the science of it. while i scoff at the extreme pretentiousness of the notion of molecular cooking (all cooking is molecular, right--it's a matter of chemistry), i am at the same time attracted to the alchemy. because cooking is transformative, like alchemy, transforming simple things into something more complex.

but i do wonder what he'd make of my grandmother's chicken soup with homemade noodles. because somehow, i think she got the alchemy just right and she did it quite instinctively, without putting any thought at all into the whole science of it.

grandma kate's homemade noodles




2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
lump of butter (the size of walnut)
3 eggs
2 T. water

mix first three ingredients, stir in egg and mix. only add the water if needed to make it come together into an elastic, golden ball. knead by hand. roll out, allow to dry several hours then slice into thin (1/4 to 3/8" wide) strips. my mom says she dries them on cooling racks. but i can remember that grandma rolled hers out on newspapers (the family ate a ton of ink), then she'd hang noodles over the backs of all her chairs. cut them the length you want or break them up after they are dry.

although i know my grandmother did it all by hand, i'll admit i tossed it all into my kitchen aid foodprocessor and let it do the work for me. the dough is a gorgeous yellow from the eggs and has a lovely elastic consistency. my mom said, "This is the best recipe. They are yellower (eggs) and yummier (butter) than most homemade noodles I have tried."

mom also told me that when grandma made chicken and noodles, it was really just that - chicken and noodles. she didn't put anything else in with the broth (apparently not even an onion!)...she just boiled up a chicken (undoubtedly after butchering it when they lived in the house down the creek), then added the noodles, some salt and pepper and hoped it stretched to feed her family of nine children.



but grandma didn't have the benefit of an organic box of locally-grown veggies being delivered to her door every friday. of course, she probably had a garden full of organic veg just outside her door, long before anyone was talking about organic, but we'll leave that aside. today, my organic box contained all of the ingredients for a lovely chicken soup base, including the chicken!



chicken noodle soup

1 organic chicken*
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large leek, sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and diced
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
2 celery stalks, including leaves, chopped
1 fresh bay leaf (they're so much better fresh, it's incredible)
25 grams salted organic butter
glug of good olive oil
2 liters boiling water from the kettle (to speed things along)
salt & pepper to taste
1 batch of homemade noodles, as above

heat the butter and olive oil in the pan (speaking of alchemy, this is a fantastic combo), add the chopped veggies and sauté until softened. make room in the bottom of the pan, put in a bit more olive oil (if it looks necessary) and place the chicken in the pan. brown for a few minutes, then add the hot water. you can also add cold if you prefer, i just like to speed things up by heating it up with the kettle first.  simmer until the chicken is tender and delicious and falling off the bone. remove the chicken onto a cutting board, cool and separate all of the meat from the bone. chop the larger pieces and put them back in the pot. add a bit more water (if necessary), then heat it up again and add your noodles and more salt and pepper to taste, cook for 15-20 minutes more and serve the alchemic goodness to anyone in the family that's in need to nourishment after (or during) a cold or flu.



my grandma was famous for her chicken and noodles. especially the noodles. she'd make vast batches of them for church bazaars and people would snatch up those plastic bags of homemade goodness faster than you could blink. i remember her kitchen being covered in newspapers with noodles drying on them. sometimes, you could even see a bit of newsprint on the noodles, but she would just say it added to the taste. and it probably did. maybe it contributed to the alchemy of the whole thing. i wonder what heston would say.



* if you saw how they treated the chickens, like i have seen on hugh fearnley-wittingstall's programs about it, you would never buy an ordinary chicken again--better to splurge once in awhile on an expensive organic one that was treated nicely than to have chicken produced the ordinary way every day. plus, the organic ones taste loads better!

EDIT:  although i had a little bit forgotten about the tarragon mustard giveaway, i remembered today and generated a random number. Nimble, you won, so please email me (email address on my profile) with your address and I'll get that little jar of goodness in the mail to you right away!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Favorite Cookbooks: Feast



Before Nigella Lawson was everyone’s domestic goddess – and truly, has there ever been a food writer more pulchritudinous? – I was a devoted admirer of her monthly food column in British Vogue. She has such a strong physical presence now that it is almost funny to look back and remember a time when she was a faceless journalist. Her writing voice was always very particular, though, and full of intelligence and enthusiasm. Each recipe was a personal narrative of sorts, well-peppered with opinions and anecdotes. I liked the way she preached a philosophy of avidity – as opposed to perfection. I also liked her culturally sophisticated approach to food. She could tell you how to do basic things, but she was also well-read and well-travelled, and that was reflected in her food descriptions.


I own all of Nigella’s cookbooks – except, inexplicably, Forever Summer (which happens to be Julochka’s favorite). It is difficult to choose my favorite amongst them, but my top two are definitely How to Eat (her first; and so exhaustive that she must have written it thinking it would be her only) and Feast. The sub-title of Feast is “Food to Celebrate Life,” and really, it does have an especially festive quality. Perhaps I have a soft spot for it because my mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas one year. I spent many happy hours under the duvet, with a mug of tea, poring through the recipes.

Holidays can be fraught for the family cook, but this cookbook gives lots of constructive advice. Nigella will tell you how to make a Christmas dinner from soup to nuts (or gravy to sprouts) – not to mention providing guidance for the more specialized holidays, like Passover or Eid. This book helped me conquer my aversion to Brussels sprouts – de rigueur for a British Christmas, but previously loathed by me. The secret? Pancetta, Marsala wine and lots of chopped parsley. Recipes for Rhubarb Crumble and Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies are now a part of my permanent repertoire, and someday I intend to take on the greater challenges of Hot Cross Buns and a Croque-En-Bouche

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve also been flipping through this book – simultaneously experiencing memories (like the time I made Massacre in a Snowstorm three times over the Christmas season) and desire (for all of the tempting recipes I’ve not yet tried).

Monday, October 19, 2009

comfort food: The Soup



whenever the week gets hectic and we need something hearty and comforting to fall back upon (and last us two days), at our house, i turn to what we affectionately call The Soup. it was great during my Summer of No Kitchen and it's great even if you have an indoor 6-burner 2-oven smeg stove. hearty enough to be a meal in and of itself, it's one of the essential comfort and convenience foods in our home.

The Soup

500 grams (1 pound) ground pork
assorted fresh (or dried) herbs - thyme, sage, oregano, parsley - chopped finely
chili powder to taste (can be left out if children prefer it without)
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 good quality vegetable bouillon cube
1 can good quality tomatoes
1.5 liters of water
4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and grated
1 package frozen spinach
salt & pepper to taste


brown the pork, then add the onions and garlic and continue to sauté until softened and fragrant. add the chopped herbs, chili and the bouillon cube. add the can of tomatoes and the water. i generally boil the kettle and add hot water to speed the cooking process, it also helps to add the grated potato to hot water, as it stops it from going brown. i tend to grate the potatoes directly into the pot, but if you're lucky enough to live a place where you can buy frozen hashbrowns, they're very convenient and you can use them. we just don't happen to have them in denmark, so i grate fresh potatoes. add the frozen spinach. you can also use fresh spinach, but since you're going to simmer for at least an hour, frozen is just as good and a lot less work.

it's ready to eat after about an hour. and we serve it with a good dollop of creme fraiche (sour cream) or thick greek yogurt and a good loaf of bread. it makes a meal. i also add a spoonful of chiu chow chili oil (a chinese condiment which i highly recommend for its heat and slightly smoky flavor - look for it in an asian market) to give it extra kick (especially on the occasions when i leave out the chili for sabin's sake) and because i'm a bit addicted to chili.

i can also see from my photo that i added a can of beans on that occasion to make it even heartier, so you can do that as well, but i don't do it every time, it's really a matter of what you feel like. i've also read that you shouldn't reheat spinach (something about the nitrates), but i'll admit here and now that we reheat it the next day every single time we make the dish and have never had a problem. it tastes even more delicious on the second day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld. it's really the perfect dinner on a busy, autumn day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A is for a lot more apples: Apple Pie



I’m not saying that my family isn’t equal opportunity when it comes to desserts, because we are, but apple pie is definitely one of our very favorite things.

Although apples are available year-round now, we do tend to eat a lot more of them in the autumn . . . just as we gorge ourselves with berries in the summer and crave citrus in the winter. I may not think of making an apple pie for months, but the minute the leaves start changing I crave the crisp, tart taste of apples dusted with cinnamon.

I love the way that the changing seasons can allow us to feel connected – whether we are in England, Denmark, California, Wisconsin or points in between. Julochka’s luscious apple post started me obsessing about apples – and the celebration of the apple has just carried on from there. This week alone, I’ve made two apple pies, apple butter and apple whole wheat muffins. I can’t wait to make Christina’s apple crostata on Saturday night. I’ve no idea why I’m suffering from a cold, because I’ve eaten enough apples to keep the doctor away until January at least!




Although I get inspired by trying new recipes, I found MY true apple pie several years ago in the New York Cookbook. I’ve occasionally made a different apple pie, but my kids always complain when I do. This pie was served at the Algonquin Hotel, famed for its literary “round table.” Algonquin regular Dorothy Parker was known for her tart tongue, and I’ve often wondered if she ate this pie. Somehow I think she had too much gin and black coffee . . . and not nearly enough pie.




The Algonquin’s Famous Apple Pie

Ingredients:

CRUST
2 cups all-purpose or plain flour (note: I find that 2 2/3 cup is better because of the difference in flour here in England)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces butter
4 ounces solid vegetable shortening
a few ounces of ice water

FILLING
8-10 medium apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
4 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ ounces butter, cut into small pieces
Sugar and flour, for dusting the top of the pie

Method:
Start with the crust.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. With a pastry cutter (or the food processor) cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it starts resembling small peas. Add the ice water, a spoonful at a time, and mix as little as possible until the crust comes together into a rough boll.

Divide the crust into two balls and cover them with plastic wrap or wax paper. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

I am tolerant and even supportive of certain shortcuts in cooking, but it really makes a difference if you make your own piecrust. Also, it is NOT that difficult. There are a few tricks, and one of them is to keep all of your ingredients really cold. I put a metal mixing bowl and my pastry cutter in the refrigerator for half an hour or so before I get started. Also, the butter and shortening should be refrigerator temperature. Stick your water in a cup and put it in the freezer until it is really, really cold. Now you’re ready.


This is one of the best pie crusts I’ve ever tasted. Yes, I am prepared to make that statement. The combination of half butter/half shortening gives you great taste and a really flaky, light crust. The dough has a silken texture and is fairly easy to work with. If it is too sticky, add more flour. You may need to experiment a bit because the gluten content in flour can vary. You should only need to lightly flour your rolling pin and your surface (I put down greaseproof paper). If the dough is really sticking, it needs more flour.

When your pie crust is ready to roll out, start preheating your oven to 450F/220 C.

Thinly slice the apples, and then toss them with the lemon zest, sugar and spices. Have them ready in a bowl when you start rolling out your pie crust.

I’ve used all kinds of apples with this pie, but I like cox or gala or braeburn – whatever is in season when you make it, really.

Roll out each ball of dough into an approximately 13 inch circle ¼ inch thick. The dough is easy to “patch” together, so you needn’t worry about perfection. I use a ceramic pie dish that measures 10 inches across the top, and that is a good size for this pie.

When your bottom crust is in place, layer in the apples. Then dot the surface of the apples with an ounce of cut-up butter.

Carefully apply the top crust, and pinch both sides together. Dot the top of the crust with the rest of the butter – about a tablespoon (half an ounce) worth. Then sprinkle lightly with about a small spoonful of flour and sugar.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes at the really hot temperature, and then reduce the oven to 350F/175 C. Cook for 30 more minutes, or until the pasty is light gold in color.

Absolutely delicious hot or cold – and particularly good for breakfast!



Thursday, October 15, 2009

apple crostata - a guest post from christina of soul aperture



Hmm... looks like, Julochka and Bee, left me the keys, to their sweet place, over here... Lets talk food!
Food is glorious! I often compare cooking,to a symphony. A beautiful symphony that starts off slow, and peaks; brilliantly. For me, great food can be a grilled cheese, along side a nice bowl of tomato soup; a warm bacon vinaigrette, tossed over a bed greens, or leftover chicken that is turned into a inviting casserole of chicken and rice. There is no chicken carcass, safe in our home, the possibilities are endless. ; )
I still remember the yellow step stool, my grandmama would let me pull up to the stove, each time she cooked. She was a fabulous cook. My grandmama started off cleaning houses, and ended up catering out of our home. People would literally, change the dates of the their parties, to another, if my grandmama was already booked. This is where my love of cooking began...
Ox tail soup, red beans and rice, with huge shavings of coconut inside the pot,bubbling away, biscuits, dumplings, fried chicken, escovitch, beef patties and curried rice. I can still hear her shouting at me, not to run in the kitchen, while her pineapple cakes, were in the oven.
Do you remember the person, who helped you fall in love, with cooking? Bless their hearts. : )
It's no wonder, I grew up and became a chef. Cooking is deep inside my soul.
No matter where I have cooked, or how fancy the restaurant I have worked, I adore food in in a simple form.
Macaroni and tomato gravy, tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, baked yams topped with butter and fresh ground pepper, yellow cake with thick chocolate frosting.
Thanks to Julochka and Bee, I am honored to be a guest in your kitchen.

Apple Crostata

This apple crostata is easy. Don't feel you have to make your dough from scratch. Go to the store and purchase those refrigerator doughs, that come two in package- throw one on a lined baking sheet and stuff it full, with your apples and pile on the crumble mixture. It is delicious, this way.
Either way, serve this warm and add a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Life is good~

Pastry (makes 2 )
2 cups flour (all purpose)
1/4 cup sugar
2 sticks butter (unsalted and cold) dice into small pieces
1/4 cup ice water ( when ready)

Place flour, sugar, salt into food processor (use your steel blade) pulse a couple of times to combine. Add butter and toss quickly to coat each small cube of butter, with flour. Be careful of those blades. Pulse 25 more times, or until butter is size of peas. With the motor still running add 1/4 cup ice water through feed tube. Pulse a few more times to combine, but stop before dough comes together.

Turn dough out to floured surface and roll out two disks. Seal separately in zip locks and refrigerate dough for at least an hour- or up to 2 days. You can freeze other disk, but I would bake 2 right away. Remember the filling is only to fill one disk.
Roll pastry out to a 11 inch circle on floured surface. Place on baking sheet, lined with parchment. I used a silpat.
OR~ purchase package of dough and skip this part! I dig that too!

Filling (to fill one tart)
1 1/2 pounds of apples (pick your favorites) I don't stick to just baking apples, I use a variety. Macintosh... whatever you like.
1/4 cup all purpose flour
a couple of grates of orange zest, maybe a 1/4 teaspoon. I prefer this over lemon. Please try this step, it will make a huge difference ; )
1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
sprinkle of brown sugar
1/2 stick butter diced

Combine flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and sprinkle of brown sugar, in bowl. Add the butter and cut with fork or whatever until mixture is crumbly. I always use fork ,but you can use food processor, if you like.
Peel core and slice apples (thin slices). I like a combination of small chunks and slices. Toss your apples with that orange zest.
Place apples in center of dough. leaving a 1 1/2 inch border.
Sprinkle your mixture on top of apples in dough( evenly)
Gently fold the border over apples, making pleats as you created a circle, around your apples.
You can brush edges with egg wash, but I don't.
Bake for 20-25 minutes in 425 degree oven.
Check after 10 minutes, if crust in browning too fast you can always place foil around edges.
Enjoy!

* * *

note from julochka & bee: a big thank you to christina for sharing her apple crostata here. please do check out her beautiful, big-hearted blog, soul aperture.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Autumnal salad




My salad days are numbered, in more ways than one.


We are about to sink into months of soup weather, but today – all blue skies and crisp, golden light – has been a reprieve of sorts. As I went on my early morning walk, the rosy leaves put me in mind of red pears – and that reminded me, in turn, of one of my favorite quick salads for this time of year.




Because I work from home, lunch tends to be a solitary and no-nonsense affair. I want to be able to throw something together quickly, but I still want to eat something delicious. (I don’t like to skimp on meals, and by that I mean quantity and quality.) If I’m lucky, I have better-the-next-day leftovers that can be heated up in a minute or two. But if all of the Tupperware is bare, I’d rather spend five minutes composing a salad than being bored by a sandwich.




All you need, really, is four good ingredients:

A ripe pear.
Some creamy blue cheese. (I like dolcelatte, which I happen to have leftover from a dinner party.)
A handful of toasted walnuts.
And mixed salad leaves.


Five minutes is really all it takes (says the person who timed herself just to make sure).






First, toast your walnuts in a small skillet over low heat. Keep one eye on them, as you use your other eye to slice up your pear. Spread a bed of lettuce on your plate, and distribute little gobbets of blue cheese evenly – using a spoon or a knife, depending on your preference. As your walnuts cool, arrange the pear. Then drizzle a good extra-virgin olive oil over the whole. I like to also drizzle a balsamic glaze over my salad – this is just reduced balsamic vinegar, and you can buy it at good grocery stores – but a dash of balsamic vinegar will suffice. Finally, arrange the walnuts on the top, give it a sprinkling of sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and serve (with the best bits of the Sunday newspaper, if you are anything like me).




Tuesday, October 13, 2009

favorite cookbook: nigel slater's real food



nigel slater's real food made a cook of my sister. until that fateful day when she made his fabulously simple pasta with spicy sausage, basil and mustard (p. 118), she didn't think she could cook. it was a transformative recipe for her. and happily, she was at our house at the time, so we got to be there to witness her transformation. and sop up the last of the creamy, mustardy goodness with a crust of garlic bread.

the simple alchemy of a few good sausages, separated from their casings and browned in the pan until they get a bit caramely, a glass of white wine (two if you count the one you get to drink while you make it), a pinch of chili flakes, a good dollop of tangy dijon mustard (we use a fantastic one with tarragon from a local supermarket called Irma*), and a quarter liter of double cream turned together with your favorite pasta is magical. a few fresh basil leaves strewn over the mixture before serving and you've reached nirvana.

this book is full of the kind of cooking that's easy, yet feels luxurious even on an everyday basis. you can do this pasta from start to finish in 20 minutes and it will turn out perfectly every time (if your sausages are good ones - that's key). it's become a standard dish at our house and we eat it pretty much once a week.

the book is divided into eight chapters, each one focusing on the good things in life: potatoes, chicken, sausages, garlic, bread, cheese, ice cream and yes, chocolate. what could be better than that?

another favorite that gets made regularly at our house is nigel's coq au riesling (p. 76)


that's garlic bread - photo merely for the sake of showing the stove where i cooked all last summer

a year ago, when i was without a kitchen all summer and had to do all of my cooking on the old stove above in the middle of our construction site, i made this recipe again and again. it is best slow-cooked for several hours in a big heavy cast iron le cruset pot. it was perfect, as it didn't require me to watch over it the whole time.

here's nigel's original:

50 grams butter
1 tablespoon olive oil (he likes that combo too)
100 grams streaky bacon or pancetta, diced
2 small - medium onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
4 joints of free range chicken on the bone.
200 grams small brown mushrooms, halved
500 ml medium-dry white wine such as riesling
300 ml double cream
3 tablespoons chopped parley

start the bacon in the pan with the butter and olive oil, then add the onions and garlic. remove. then brown the chicken pieces. add the mushrooms, continue browning, then add the bacon and onions back in, then pour in the wine and allow it to simmer.

nigel says to simmer for 25 minutes or so, then remove the chicken pieces and add the cream, cooking the sauce down til it begins to thicken, then add the chicken back in heat to serving temperature.

however, i've never done it like that (i'm no good at following instructions, you see). instead, after browning the chicken, i add the wine and allow it to simmer over the old stove for an hour. i've used chicken thighs. i've used a whole chicken (which i don't bother to brown). i've added potatoes or jerusalem artichokes (i normally don't like those that much, but they're great in this dish so in they go when they come in my organic box). i've generally put in a handful of thyme (it's my favorite with chicken). i don't always put in the mushrooms nigel suggests. sometimes i use a chardonnay not a riesling. i do add the cream in about 30 minutes before serving. and because it has a quite a soup-like consistency, i often serve it in bowls over rice. i've been known to put a few spears of asparagus on top during the last 5 minutes before serving.  it's a versatile dish. i actually made it for blog camp 2.0, so it's even good enough to serve to guests.

these are just two samplings from this wonderful cookbook. it's the second of my top five and one i definitely wouldn't want to be without.

* i'll draw a name next weekend from all who leave a comment on this post and send one of you lucky people a jar of the heavenly tarragon mustard from irma.


* * *

and do be on the lookout for a guest post from the lovely christina later this week! she's so fantastic, we just had to invite her to share some of her deliciousness with all of you. 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Favorite Cookbooks: The New Basics Cookbook



I have been given several cookbooks by famous chefs, but they tend to sit, rather dustily, on the shelf. There are cookbooks that I like to read, and then there are cookbooks that I actually cook from, and restaurant wizardry rarely falls into either category. The New Basics Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, falls into both. My copy has food or wine splatters on many of the pages – always a sign of a well-used cookbook. It is one of my indispensable cookbooks – definitely on my “desert island” short-list -- and it so reliable that I will happily choose untried recipes for important occasions, without suffering from the slightest nervy qualm.

As the title states, you can find basics here: not only classic recipes, but also really thorough information on preparation. And, it is comprehensive in the same way that a Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens cookbook would be – except the recipes are going to be homey and stylish. Although it was first published in 1989, I don’t think the food has dated at all.

I got this cookbook for an engagement present, and its recipes – for classics like carrot cake, beef bourguignon, osso buco and oatmeal cookies – are an integral part of my family’s eating history. Last weekend, when I wanted a good bruschetta recipe, I reached for this cookbook; it never ever lets me down. I like to give this book as a present to English friends; I don’t bother with American friends, though, because they tend to already have it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

seasonal cooking: apples



we have just one small apple tree in our yard, but the apples are crisp and delicious and it has produced enough apples to keep us in apple turnovers and apple crisps and crumbles. plus, sabin has run out and plucked a couple from the tree most mornings to take along to school for a snack. i sure wish i remembered what kind of apples they were. they're crisp and tart and perfect for baking, tho' they also taste good directly from the tree. ingrid maries maybe?

it's been a good year for apples. our neighbors have a couple of trees and have kept us supplied as well. mostly because they know that when we bake something with apples, they get to share in the wealth. i always make a small version of any pie or crisp for them as well, since they are like grandparents to sabin.



now, there are just a few left on the tree and i've been trying to decide which delicious recipe to devote them to. i suppose it will be my mom's apple bars, which are really an apple pie in a shallow baking tray with a bit of simple frosting drizzled over it. delicious.

mom's apple bars

crust:
1 C butter
3 1/2 C flour (my mom's original recipe calls for only 2.5 cups, but i've made this 4-5 times of late and have added at least an additional cup - maybe our flour is different here in denmark, so if you're using american flour, do try it with 2.5 cups and then add more if necessary if your dough is too sticky)
2 TB sugar
1/2 tsp salt
beat 3 egg yolks, put them into a measuring cup and fill with milk to make 2/3 C, then add it to your flour mixture)

apples:
8-10 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1C sugar
1 generous tsp. cinnamon

frosting:
1C powdered sugar
enough milk to create a thin frosting (around 2T)

i throw all of the crust ingredients into my big KitchenAid food processor and let it do the work for me, but mom always mixes it in a big bowl with a mixing spoon. once it's in a nice big lump that's not too sticky to work with, you can wrap it in cling film and put it in the refrigerator while you peel the apples.

peel, core and slice 8-10 apples (depending on the size). to keep them from going brown while you're working on them, squeeze half a lemon into a bowl of water and immerse the apple slices. then pour off the water and add 1C sugar and a generous teaspoon of cinnamon and mix it well.

divide your dough in half and put a lump of it between two sheets of baking paper or waxed paper and roll it out into a size that fits your pan. the pans that came with my stove are the odd size of 33cm x 40cm (13" x 16" approx.), but they work perfectly. i line the bottom of the pan with baking paper and put the rolled out crust onto it, working it into the corners and up against the sides. roll out the other half so it fits over the top.

on the bottom layer, sprinkle a layer of cornflakes or even frosted flakes if your apples are quite tart, then spread the apples and cover with the top crust. poke a few holes with a fork. i often use the odds and ends of leftover crust to make a few leaves to decorate the top. the cornflakes aren't completely necessary, but do add something that sets it apart from a normal apple pie.

bake for 40 min. at 350F or 170C. allow it to cool a bit and then drizzle the frosting over it. if it's still a bit warm when you do this, it will soak in a bit and be even yummier.



lately, for the sake of sabin's lunch packse as we call them at our house (it's a word from when sabin was little), i've done these into little turnovers or "hand pies" as sabin likes to call them. you roll out the dough, cut rounds, pile half with apples, fold over the other half and pinch the edges closed. it makes 12-15 of these, depending how large your circles are. and they're perfect for sticking into a lunch packse for a homemade treat. sometimes i skip the frosting when i do it this way and just sprinkle a bit of sugar on before popping them into the oven. it gives a nice crunch.




* * *



inspired by the river cottage handbook no. 2 by pam corbin i recently made both an apple chutney and an apple butter, using a big bag of apples from my neighbor. the apple butter was dead simple, because you don't have to mess with peeling and coring and slicing.

apple cider butter

1.5 kilos of cooking apples, rinsed and chopped into fairly big pieces.
600ml dry hard cider
600ml water
granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

rinse and roughly chop the apples and put them in a big pan on the stove with the cider and the water, cook them gently until the apples are soft, then set aside to cool. i actually did this before going to bed one night and then did the bit with the sieve in the morning.

push the apple mixture through a sieve (or a mouli if you have one), i used an ordinary sieve and it worked very well. you should stir around with a wooden spoon to ensure you get all of the apple-y goodness out into a large bowl below the sieve.

the river cottage preserves book says to weigh the apple mixture, but i just filled it into measuring cups. add 1.5C sugar for every 2.5 cups of apple mixture you have. put it back in the pan, add the cinnamon and cloves and slowly bring it to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, then boil it rapidly for 10-15 minutes, until it starts to thicken.

when it reaches a state of gorgeous chestnut, cinnamon-flecked thickness that matches how thick you'd like your apple butter, pour it into warm, sterilized jars immediately. use small jars so that it doesn't go bad too quickly after opening (i fear i used jars that were far too large). store it in the fridge after you open it. it's absolutely heavenly on your morning toast.

* * *

also from the river cottage handbook no. 2, i made an apple chutney, using one of those football-sized zucchini that had grown out of control in the garden and a big batch of green tomatoes that were never going to ripen. the sweet vinegary smell filling the house while the chutney bubbles away on the stove will be imprinted on my mind now as the very essence of autumn. it's a great way to use up those giant zucchini, the last of your tomatoes and the last of the not-so-pretty apples.

apple chutney

1 kg. giant zucchini, with the seeds removed, peeled and diced
1 kg. green tomatoes, pelled and diced.
500 grams apples, peeled, cored and diced
500 grams onions, peeled and diced
500 grams sultanas (i used less because we're not THAT fond of raisins around here)
500 grams soft brown sugar
600 ml cider or white wine vinegar
2 tsp. chili flakes if you want it to have a bit of kick
pinch of salt

a spice bag consisting of:
50 g fresh ginger root, roughly chopped
6 cloves
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. coriander seeds
1 tsp. mustard seeds

i cut a square of plain, unbleached muslin cloth, put the spices in and tied it up with another strip of the cloth. that worked really well, but if you live near a posh kitchen store, you can undoubtedly buy fancy little space bags.

throw everything together in a pan and simmer it for 2.5-3 hours, uncovered, keeping an eye on it, stirring occasionally. when it's glossy, thick, reduced and a gorgeous deep brown, it's ready to pack into warm, sterilized jars, tap the jars against the counter to release any air bubbles and seal with a vinegar-proof seal. store in a cool, dark place. it's best to let the flavors meld a couple of months before using it, but if you can't wait, it is delicious (see, we couldn't wait). it's gorgeous with all variety of meats, but somehow seems especially good with slow-roasted pork.

* * *

there's just something so satisfying about laying aside today's bounty for the cold winter months. something i hadn't really done before this year. maybe it's global economic crisis or maybe it's just a good year for apples, but it feels right in these times. i'm looking forward to opening a jar of chutney on a cold, dreary winter day and being transported back to the golden days of autumn when we picked the apples from the tree and that fragrant goodness simmered all evening on the stove.



Wednesday, October 7, 2009

favorite cookbook: jamie oliver's happy days with the naked chef



i think i have most of jamie oliver's cookbooks. i love his easy style and i find him very real and down to earth in the kitchen. i'm charmed by his accent (which i realize may say something about me that i don't care to delve into) and even more by his vocabulary. he makes me want to make meals that are pukka too. his recipes are easy to follow (or deviate from, as the case may be), he focuses on fresh, quality ingredients and he makes you feel like you'd be able to bung that up in no time, no problem.

but, the one of his cookbooks that i return to again and again is happy days with the naked chef. from the classic toad in the hole (p. 25) for a birthday brunch to his pancakes USA stylie (p. 40) on a sunday morning (we don't have bisquick here, after all, so we've got to make them from scratch) to the courgette (zucchini) salad (p. 96) as a side dish when the zucchini are coming out of our ears to the variety of dressings (p. 114-115) that i turn to whenever i'm feeling uninspired for that salad accompanying dinner to his stuffed bread recipe (p. 249) for which i've become mildly famous in our circle of friends...the recipes are delicious and repeatable.  because they're generally made with a few simple, good quality ingredients, they make even everyday meals like a roast chicken feel a bit luxurious, but are also special enough to serve to guests. this cookbook is in my Big Five (the other four coming soon) and is the one i always turn to first.

if you were to buy only one jamie oliver (says the girl whose new jamie america book just arrived), happy days with the naked chef is the one. you won't regret it.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Gingerbread




The thing about seasons is that they renew, continually, our appetite for life.

No matter how much I long for summer, by the end of August its pleasures begin to pall. Instead, I look forward to wet leaves, wood smoke, pumpkins, hot chocolate and the nights drawing in. I want to wear sweaters and coats; to splash in puddles; to walk through forests. I want to curl up in an armchair with my blanket, a book, a cup of tea and a thick slice of gingerbread.

As the years start spinning by more rapidly, I notice how much I look forward to seasonal rituals – especially when it comes to eating. I don’t know when gingerbread became one of my “fall” foods, but as soon as the mornings turn cold and foggy, I start craving its dense sticky texture and spicy sweetness.

I have tried a dozen gingerbread recipes through the years, but have never been satisfied that I have found the perfect, quest-over recipe. I may be close this year. So far, we are on the fourth loaf and we still haven’t tired of it. We can polish off half a loaf before it even cools down entirely. (My children love gingerbread as much as I do.) The first time I made this gingerbread my youngest daughter asked me to wake her up early the next day. When I asked her why, she replied, “So I can eat the last bit of gingerbread for breakfast.”

This recipe comes from one of my best cookbook finds of last year’s Christmas season: Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer. Author Jane Brocket set herself the delicious task of researching the food in beloved children’s books, and the results are completely charming. Although the book is definitely skewed toward the British tradition, I don’t think you need to have grown up on Enid Blyton stories in order to appreciate it. If we can feel nostalgia for what we didn’t actually experience – is there a special word for that? – then this cookbook would prove the case.

The recipe for Aunt Fanny’s Treacly, Sticky Ginger Cake comes from the Tea-Time chapter. After romping or exploring all day, children return to the cozy and civilizing influence of home and hearth. They bring in their red cheeks, cold hands and ravenous appetites and are soothed by the warmth of fire and food.

Really and truly, don’t we all need a bit of that in the autumn?


Ingredients:
(with a few modified measurements and lots of my parenthetical asides for the American cook)

225 g plain flour (or 1 ¾ cup)
1 teaspoon mixed spice (not generally available in the U.S.; you can use a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to make up the teaspoon)
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
10 ounces milk
1 egg
3 ounces unsalted butter
3 ounces black treacle (substitute molasses)
3 ounces golden syrup (substitute Karo syrup)
4 ounces caster sugar

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F.

2. Sift the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl.

3. Measure out the milk in a jug and mix in the egg.

4. Melt the butter, treacle, golden syrup and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Mix thoroughly.

5. Using a wooden spoon, mix the sugar/butter mixture into the flour mixture. Then, incorporate the milk and egg. Beat together until all the ingredients are well-incorporated – but don’t worry about a few lumps!

6. Butter and flour a medium loaf tin – or line with parchment. Pour the mixture into the tin.

7. Bake until the cake feels firm to the touch. The recipe calls for 1 ½ hours, but it only took an hour in my oven. I would advise you to check it after an hour. Because of its long cooking time, this cake is prone to scorching on the top – so don’t have it too close to the oven’s heating element.

8. After it cools for a few minutes, run a knife along the sides, and remove the loaf from its tin. TRY to let the cake cook on a wire rack before you start eating it.



Monday, October 5, 2009

Home Cooking



Right after I graduated from college, I worked at an educational publishing company for a year. At 23, I only knew what I didn’t want to be and what I didn’t want to do. Other than that, I was fuzzy about the specifics. A friend who I met at work gave me the book Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin – and not only did it make me a life-long Colwin fan, but it also gave me a strong sense of the aesthetic direction that I wanted my life to take . . . if not an actual career goal. I already liked to cook, and I already liked to read cookbooks, but this food memoir/cookbook gave me a strong sense of how I feel about food, which in 20 years really hasn’t changed much.

In the foreward of her book, Colwin writes this: One of the delights of life is eating with friends; second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends.

Colwin’s writing has a confiding, friendly quality to it unmatched by any other writer that I can think of. For me, this book – and the follow-up, More Home Cooking – are the ultimate comfort reading. Laurie Colwin is a gingerbread and beef stew sort of person, and so am I. She is also the sort of cookery writer who would title a chapter: Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir. (You’re not going to get that sort of humor in a Martha Stewart cookbook, now are you?) It isn’t for the Heston Blumenthal types out there; it’s for people who want to make delicious, simple food for their friends and family. It’s for people who do most of their socializing from the kitchen.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blackberrying




The ubiquitous hedgerows, which seem to line every road and lane in England, are meant to harbor an astonishing variety of wildlife year-round . . . but there’s a particular moment in September when human foragers can be glimpsed picking their way through the bramble. When the blackberries start to ripen, to change from red to deepest purple, it’s one of those unmistakable signals that the season is about to change. I have this fanciful notion that their sweetness is a concentration of summer sun, because the blackberries begin to shrivel and fade away as the days of long light wane. 

I have an English friend who says that the blackberries disappear with the first frost.  This Indian Summer September has gone on and on, though, and there were still juicy berries for the plucking when we went walking this week.  Perhaps we can gather enough to make one more blackberry crumble before the summer slips entirely away.

Maybe it’s because I had the most suburban of childhoods, but I get an otherwise unaccountable thrill from edibles that come straight from the bush, tree or ground – as opposed to a plastic-wrapped, boxed bundle from the grocery store. There is something about foraged food that is particularly exciting; maybe because it plays on some pioneer fantasy that I had as a child, maybe because it is free!

The first summer that we lived in England, my youngest daughter and I discovered a footpath that climbs from our road to farmland at a higher altitude. At first the path is dark and densely thicketed on both sides, but as you climb the hill it opens up to pasture and cornfields that catch the sun. Occasionally we will run across a dog-walker, but usually we have the place to ourselves, and it has become our tradition to pick blackberries there.



We will fill one silver bowl each, and that is enough for some casual eating plus one large blackberry crumble. Although my daughter will sometimes eat a bowl of blackberries with a bit of sugar and cream, I think that they taste best when subjected to slow heat. After some experimentation, I have arrived at a crumble recipe that seems to bring out all of their best qualities. There are dozens of variations on the crumble -- not to mention the cobbler -- but this one is simple and elegant.  It is easy enough for a child to make, but delicious enough to serve to company. In England, it would traditionally be served after Sunday lunch. (If you are fortunate enough to have leftovers, they are delicious – cold or warmed-up – for breakfast.)


Blackberry Crumble
(slightly adapted from Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible)

Ingredients:
5 to 6 cups of blackberries (ideally, fresh from the hedgerows)
3 to 4 ounces of sugar (depending on how sweet you like them)
2 tablespoons of plain flour

Crumble topping:
8 ounces of flour
3 ounces of sugar
6 ounces unsalted butter

Method:
Preheat an oven to 190C/375 F.

Gently wash your blackberries in a colander. Transfer them to a baking dish – I use an oval corning ware. (The size of your dish is not terribly important for this recipe; the berries should fill it just past half-way.) Sprinkle the berries with the sugar and flour and gently mix through.

For the crumble: you can either go low-tech or high-tech on this one. If you have a food processor, put all of the ingredients in the bowl with the sharp blade and simply pulse until you have a crumbly texture. If you are using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour/sugar mixture with your fingertips. Again, when it achieves a crumbly texture it is ready.

Spread the crumble evenly on top of the prepared berries.
You will bake it for around 40 minutes, or just until the crumble is golden – very, very lightly browned.

The finished crumble should be as light and buttery as shortbread, with juicy, sweet berries underneath.  A blackberry/apple combination is also very nice.  Most people like some ice cream or custard on top, but I like it perfectly plain.


Bee

Friday, October 2, 2009

preserving the last of the summer bounty



when i was growing up, in the late summer my mom canned massive amounts of tomatoes produced by dad's garden full of tomato plants. he always had at least 50 and i seem to recall upwards of 70 plants some years. she canned quart jars of whole, peeled tomatoes and quarts and quarts of luscious, liquid summer, in the form of homemade tomato juice. i remember using the hand-juicer--it was a big funnel-shaped colander with a wooden "bat" that fit perfectly inside of it and we squeezed all the goodness out of the tomatoes, juicing them into a big bowl. i also remember her lifting metal baskets of steaming quarts of ruby goodness out of the big canner and helping her check to see that all of them had sealed properly. i loved hearing the jars making that popping sound as they sealed.

even more, i remember standing at the fridge, drinking directly from the jar that cold beautiful salty tomato juice that tasted of liquid summer even in the midst of the darkest winter day. dad was always cussing us out for drinking the last of it and not putting a new jar in to get cold, but beating him to it was part of the fun.



i think it was with that in mind that i gathered the last of the produce from my little vegetable garden a couple of weeks ago. i wanted to hold onto a bit of summer for the cold, winter months. we have about six tomato plants in our greenhouse (due to our climate, they don't do that well outside of the greenhouse, it's simply never hot enough for tomatoes). i had a couple of plants that seeded themselves in  in my herb bed, due to some dirt from last year that we had removed from the greenhouse that went into that bed. the tomato plants got big and are loaded with green tomatoes that won't ever have a chance to ripen in our short growing season, so i picked the green ones too.



i had green and red tomatoes, several eggplants, several zucchini (courgettes), some zucchini flowers, borlotti beans, some zingy little peppers in black and red and loads of herbs. my herb garden has done very well this year and even the basil we planted in the greenhouse did well. our climate doesn't let us grow basil outside the greenhouse, but thyme, sage, rosemary, tarragon and mint do very well, even into the colder months, due to our relatively mild winters. i had parsley and cilantro both inside the greenhouse and outdoors and they did well too. the parsley is still going, but my cilantro has gone to seed and it's nearly time to harvest those pungent seeds for winter curries.



we've been watching a wonderful cooking program with camilla plum on methods of preservation on DR2. so i was inspired to preserve my mixed veggies in olive oil and a light vinegar for use later this winter, when we need to remember the growing season that was. (note: links are in danish.)

it was very easy to do and it's quite simply difficult to describe how satisfying it was. inspired by camilla's recipe, i did as follows:

2 kg. mixed veggies - you can use whatever you have on hand in your own garden or what you can get in a green market or at the late season farmer's markets. i used:

3 med. zucchini, diced into bite-sized pieces
2 small eggplants, diced into bite-sized pieces
a few small red and green tomatoes, which i left whole
5-6 small red and black chili peppers
6 shallots, peeled and sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 head of garlic, peeled and separated into cloves
1 organic lemon, scrubbed clean and sliced into thin slices
handfuls of herbs - i used thyme, sage, parsley, tarragon and basil
6 zucchini flowers, rinsed carefully (bugs like to hide in them)
6 leaves from the grape plant that's growing in the greenhouse
1 C borlotti beans (happened to be the ones i had in the garden, but any beans will do)

toss the zucchini, eggplant, shallots and garlic together in a collander with a good handful of salt and allow them to drip a bit (any bitterness the eggplant has escapes this way).

heat to a boil:

3 dl of cider vinegar
2 liters of water

dip all of veggies (not the lemons and not the herbs) into the boiling vinegar/water bath for about a minute (the beans need a bit more than that, maybe 3-4 minutes) to blanch them.  i dipped the zucchini flowers, but they really wilted, so i'm not sure i would do that the next time. reserve your vinegar mixture.

remove the hot veggies and put them into your prepared jars - your jars must be sterilized before you begin (you can do it by sending them on a tour in the dishwasher or by rinsing them with boiling water). i laid a lemon disc in the bottom of each jar, both for prettiness and so that the lemon would be able to pervade everything from the bottom up. don't forget to put a few sprigs of the herbs here and there as you layer the veggies into the jars. i tried to make it as pretty as i could as i went along, imagining that some of them might be given as hostess gifts at some point. stick in a zucchini flower on the edge where you can see it. the same with the grape leaves. i also threw 12-15 peppercorns into the bottom of each jar for good measure

once the jars are as full as you'd like them to be, fill up to about 3/4 with the hot vinegar/water mixture you used to blanch the veggies. then fill to the top, so all your veggies are covered, with a good, tasty, high quality extra virgin olive oil. i used a wonderful, very strong organic one called rumi tree from palestinian fair trade. put another slice of lemon at the top and a grape leaf to cover. make sure everything is under the olive oil layer and then close your jar.

it should keep on a shelf in a dry, relatively dark place all winter long. you can eat this with good bread, cheese and sausage on an evening when you don't feel like cooking. it would be lovely in a salad or as a salad on its own.

once you open the jar, if you don't use it all, do refrigerate because of the low salt content and diluted vinegar it won't keep that long after opening if you don't refrigerate.  use a clean utensil to retrieve what you're using from the jar and you'll be fine. the olive oil layer can used for salad dressings or a marinade, as it gets all pervaded with the herbs. delicious. my batch made two of the large-sized jar pictured above and one small. i had enough of the vinegar solution left over to have had one more jar, but ran out of veggies. camilla plum recommends putting in mushrooms as well and i only didn't because i didn't have any on hand and this was at least partially an exercise in using what i had from the garden.


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