Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lemon curd



Desperate for lemon curd to make a killer basil ice cream for a weekend away recently,  I realized I would have to make my own. Ain't no lemon curd in my part of Brooklyn. I scanned the web. Butter! Eggs! Lemons! In the end I hybridized several recipes.

Lemon curd is easy to make and keeps for just a couple of weeks in the fridge. The basil ice cream uses up one whole batch. and I now make double quantities, so that there is one pot to eat.

Meyer lemons are deliciously aromatic but regular lemons are very good too, and even more acidic (which I like).

Some recipes call for double boilers or for pots poised over hot water baths. But as long as you do not turn your back on the cooking curd on the stove none of that is necessary. Just keep whisking (if you've seen Finding Nemo, think Dory: "Keep whisking, keep whisking.")

What not to do: boil. Do not let it boil or it will separate.



This will make one medium jar of curd, about 300 grams (10.5 ounces). Doubling the recipe works well.

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
zest of one lemon
3 large egg yolks
1 large egg
200 gr/7 oz sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up

Combine all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, whisking to blend the ingredients and to dissolve the sugar. Keep whisking. Once the butter has melted turn the heat to medium-low. Keep whisking. After 6-8 minutes you'll notice the mixture growing thicker and if you tip the pot to one side it will be coating the bottom. Keep whisking. After a couple more minutes when it is quite thick (it will never be stiff) remove it from the heat.

Push through a fine mesh sieve* into a bowl and transfer into a clean jar. Cool and refrigerate.

How to use lemon curd: spread on hot toasted English muffins, as a cake filling for sponge cakes, as a filling for small pastry shells, as a filling for Graham Cracker pie crusts, mixed with cream and frozen, stirred into Greek yogurt.

* I make a cocktail -  a jumped up Caipirinha - with the concentrated citrusy bits that are left in the sieve. Shaken up with cachaça, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and poured over ice.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Peach soup - cold and spicy


If you like gazpacho, you will like peach soup. I created this recipe for a Gardenista story about peaches, but landed up publishing a peach bruschetta recipe, instead. So here it is.

Late summer, and basil and peaches are a surprisingly good combination. And perilla, while a weed in some parts, but also a prime ingredient in Japanese kitchens, adds a rose-petal flavor. If you do not have perilla, use mint (different, but compatible).

Apart from being delicious, this as is also self righteously healthy.

Cold Peach Soup - serves four as an appetizer

3 ripe yellow freestone peaches, skinned and pit removed
1 cup cucumber (peeled and seeded if fat, entire if Persian)
1 jalapeno, seeded or not (your call)
2 scallions, cut into chuncks
6 perilla leaves
16 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
lime juice

Pack it all into a blender. Whizz in stages, pushing down periodically to encourage the bottom bits to juicify. Puree till very smooth. Taste. Add a squeeze of lime juice if it seems too sweet. Pour into a jug or carafe, and chill.

Just before serving, stir the soup, as the solids may have separated a little from the juice.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Stuffed tomatoes


Made for August.

It may seem - it is - counter intuitive to turn on a hot oven on a hot day but for 40 minutes I grin and bear it. The result is worth it. If you are clever, make more than you need: These tomatoes are also very good cold, for a picnic or a cool supper, later in the week. Or a hungry neighbour, for that matter. Vegans, venture near: No animal was involved in this dinner.

This is fragrant, filling, quite addictive. 

4 large or 6-7 medium tomatoes
Salt
1 medium onion
3/4 cup of basmati rice
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup olive oil
5 allspice berries
8 black peppercorns
3/4 cup water
2 Tbsp chopped mint
4 Tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp brown sugar

Cut the tomato tops off to have a  lid. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon - chop it and reserve in a bowl. Salt the insides of the tomatoes. Chop the onion finely and saute in half the olive oil over medium-high heat till golden. Add the rice and stir till glistening. Add the chopped flesh of the tomatoes, the juice from their bowl and 3/4 of a cup of water to the rice with another - generous - pinch of salt, peppercorns and allspice.

Cover and cook slowly until liquid is absorbed (I bring the liquid to a boil and then turn the heat off, and wait about 12 minutes). Add the chopped dill and mint and mix well with a fork. Taste for salt and add a little more if necessary. Stuff the tomatoes. Place in a baking dish and pour the remaining olive oil over so that some of it goes into the tomatoes. Now lock and load them (put on their lids). Distribute any leftover rice mixture between the tomatoes in the dish. Sprinkle the sugar about. Cook in a 400' oven till the tops begin to brown.





Very nice additions/variations:

Per my friend Mr Christie: 2 tablespoons of currants (tiny raisins) and 2 tablespoons of pine nuts*. Toast the pine nuts with the rice and add the currants with the liquid to the rice. 

*I avoid Chinese nuts as I have an inexplicable reaction to them, known as pine nut mouth.


Or, per me: dried barberries instead of currants, and urfa biber ( a dark Turkish chile pepper) instead of black pepper.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Cherry Pie


I have always made apple pie, but other fruit pies seldom appealed, perhaps because I have eaten one too many that is gloopy, starchy and oversweet.

I love fruit, though, and have now discovered - perhaps addictively - the unctuous, deeply compelling flavour of warm cherries. And this is really only cherries, with some sugar. There is no thickening, and no overcooking. I think the result is simple, and fresh.

Cherry pie filling

2 1/2 pounds of sweet, firm black cherries
1/3 cup of brown sugar

Rinse and de-stem the cherries, and pit. Add them to a saucepan with the sugar and heat very slowly, covered. As juice starts to be released from the cherries, increase the heat. Simmer until the cherries are just cooked - about 8 minutes. Pour off and keep the juice. When it is cool, bottle and refrigerate it for using in drinks, and pouring over ice cream. Let the cherries cool a little.

Make the pastry.

I stick to my favourite pastry recipe, known as "Molly Bolt's" in my house. It has homely feel that feels right for all pie.

175 gr/6 oz butter
75 gr/2.5 oz sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
300 grams/ 10.5 oz flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt

Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy. Add the egg. Beat again, adding a little flour if it separates. Gradually beat in the flour, baking powder and salt. shape into two balls, one larger than the other (1/3 and 2/3 of the pastry, respectively). Flatten each ball. The pastry does not need to chill.

Roll the larger ball out thinly into a circle that will cover the bottom and sides* of a buttered, spring form cake tin (wrap the pastry around your rolling pin for the transfer from board to cake tin). Patch any breaks or tears with extra pastry - it's a forgiving recipe.

Fill with the cooled cherry filling.

* If this seems like way too much work skip the step of lining a tin with pastry and simply put the cherry filling into a pie dish and proceed as below.

Roll and cut out a pastry disk to cover the top*, crimping the edges in the way you know best. Make a few slits for steam, and bake in a 350'F/180'C oven till the pastry is pale golden and crisp. Baking time varies, but it is in the realm of 30-35-40 minutes.
Eat.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Elderflower cordial


I love elderflower cordial. I used to settle for commercial versions (some very good). But in June 2014 I walked into a grove of elderbushes in bloom and struck white umbel nirvana. I picked till I was drunk. Then I began to read.

The manymany cordial recipes I researched were very similar, though some use even more sugar, and about half called for citric acid.


Having made several batches over three summers, I know now that fermentation speeds vary. My recipe below calls for 4 days, but I have made a batch that I bottled only after 8 days, because it started out so slowly (I picked the flowers after rain, which I think affected the yeast) and then remained very active. Please do more reading on your own.

I recommend Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation (Chelsea Green, 2012). Pay special attention to Page 91.

Wild yeast fermentation is not - in my experience - a precise science. These bugs are alive, and they behave according to the wiles of weather and sugar and temperature and plant. I do realize that the more sugar I use the more volatile the fizz - yeast feeds on sugar and burps carbon dioxide, which causes carbonation. By all means, experiment with less sugar. Some botanicals are more active than others. Flowers are fastest, they seem to hold the most yeast.


Elderflower Cordial - a fizz

(I use the same method for common milkweed flowers, but with half the lemon juice)

6 oz / or approx. 30 elderflower umbels
1 lb sugar/450 grams sugar
1.5 liters /52 fluid oz/6 cups water
1/2 cup (about 3-4 lemons-worth) fresh lemon juice
Zest of 4 lemons, peeled in strips, without pith

Don't wash the flowers. Instead, shake them upside down over a cloth to evict any small insects. Strip the tiny white flowers from the green stems, using your fingers. Discard as much green as possible (in any plant it will add a tannic note, but with elderflowers the green is toxic). Weigh the flowers, if weighing, and pack them lightly into a large mason jar (I use a 1.5 liter capacity jar). Dump the sugar on top of them.

Add the cool water, the lemon juice and the zest, stir well, and screw the lid on loosely. In a wire top jar either burp daily or secure double layers of muslin over the top of the open jar with a rubber band. At this stage the ferment actually needs air.

Leave the jar at room temperature for 4-ish days. Stirring helps, but you don't have to, as elderflowers seem particularly active.

Whatever you do, don't walk away from a sealed jar and forget about it for days or you could have an elderflower detonation on your hands...

After Day 4 (-ish), or when you notice the elderflowers rising and pushing up out of the jar (that's carbonation happening) strain through a fine mesh strainer and then again through cheesecloth. Bottle, and keep in the fridge for peace of mind.  You can keep it in a cool cupboard, but you should check it and burp it (open the lid slowly) daily to allow accumulated gas to escape.

Plastic bottles safer if you are nervous about possible explosions - the plastic bulges out when over-carbonated, giving you a very good clue that it wants to blow. Open over a sink, or outside.


To drink, dilute with sparkling water, add to a gin and tonic, or to shaken cocktails (like this one, with vermouth, or this one, with hyssop, or this one, with mint and gin), or simply splash into a glass of prosecco or Champagne.

Good luck not finishing this in a week, flat.

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Rhubarb fizz


It's hard to ignore beautiful rhubarb. So, when I found some, I chopped it up, covered it in sugar and water, and waited. Then I found some spruce tips (whose flavor is very lemony) and I added a few. 

My aim with these fizzes (milkweed, honeysuckle, elderflower, pine tip, autumn olive flower - the list is growing) is to make a concentrated drink that will be diluted, later, with water, seltzer, gin, Tequila - you name it. The fizz is a mixer, a messenger from a moment in a season, caught in a bottle. 


For a week after combining my rhubarb and water and sugar, nothing happened. I was disappointed (I was probably not airing it often enough - you can stir it daily). I added the spruce tips. Another few days went by. No fizzing. It still smelled good (your nose is a very good ally, with fermentation), and the taste, when I dipped a clean spoon into it, was very appealing, 

I decided to strain and bottle it, fizzless, with a teaspoon of lemon salt (citric acid). Then, about two weeks later, on a routine check of all my bottles, it fizzed when I eased open the wire top cap. 

Wild yeast fermentation is not - in my experience - a precise science; at least, without equipment to measure every stage, it is not. These bugs be alive, and they behave according to the wiles of weather and sugar and temperature. I do realize that the more sugar I use the more volatile the fizz - yeast feeds on sugar and burps carbon dioxide. By all means, experiment with less sugar. Some botanicals are more active than others. Flowers are fastest, they seem to hold the most yeast.


Here is the recipe.

Rhubarb Fizz

Be clean. Clean hands, clean equipment.

2 lbs sliced rhubarb stalks (do not peel, you want the color, and it's best if they are unwashed - wipe the stalks clean)
3 cups sugar
5 cups water, plus some more
20 spruce tips, optional
1-2 teaspoons citric acid

Put the raw, sliced rhubarb into clean glass jars (I used screw-top jars with an 8-cup capacity). Add the sugar, and cover with water. Screw the lid on tightly. Gently tip the jar back and forth until the sugar has dissolved. Loosen the lid again, and leave at room temperature. Check on it every day, stirring it with a clean, long spoon. Do not seal tightly. Screw the lid on loosely, or in a wire top jar either burp daily or secure double layers of muslin over the top of the open jar with a rubber band (to allow air in and keep fruit flies out). At this stage the ferment actually needs air.

Yours may begin to ferment before mine did.* I added the spruce tips after about 4 days. But when it is deep pink, after about 6-9 days, strain through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Strain the liquid again through double-folded cheesecloth. Stir in 1 teaspoon of citric soda for every liter of pop. Decant into a clean bottle. I use a wire top bottle with 1 liter capacity. Plastic is safer if you are nervous about possible explosions - the plastic bulges out when overcarbonated, giving you a very good clue that it wants to blow.

* I have also kick-started fizzless infusions with a slurp from an active ferment (I find any flower infusions to be very active) - but that assumes you have another one on the go at the same time.

Store in a cool cupboard, OR the fridge (this is the safest, in terms of slowing carbonation down, but most space-consuming). If not in the fridge, check the bottle once a day by easing the lid open. As I learned (from Pascal Baudar) after an autumn olive flower eruption, you keep the left hand very firmly on the wire top lid, while easing the wire stopper loose with your right. This way you will hear the hiss - if there is one - very soon. If it hisses, allow the gas to escape very slowly by keeping your left hand firmly on the lid and releasing gas very slowly. Keep an eye on the bubbles. If they threaten to froth out, clamp the lid down tightly until they subside. Then begin again until no more gas escapes.

It's tense, and better than TV.

Repeat daily. If you keep the bottles in the fridge this process is greatly slowed down. But who has the space? Still, peace of mind and all. An exploding glass bottle is potentially disfiguring.

Many of my other fizzes have kept well at room temperature for a year or more, sans burping, without accident, but before, I used less sugar. More sugar means more concentration, for me, and more dilution. So more mixing power. But more carbonation.

The journey continues.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Rolled Tomato Soufflé



It might seem perverse to make a soufflé only to roll it into a sausage. Trust me.

This is a divine make-ahead snack for a picnic. I take it on my wild foods walks, pre-sliced and well-wrapped. Everyone wants the recipe, so here it is. You can make it the night before you need it.

In spring I use canned tomato sauce and invasive garlic mustard for the pesto. In summer I use fresh tomatoes, with basil in the pesto. And for garlic mustard I prefer pecan nuts; pine nuts for the basil.

(If using home-canned or bought tomato sauce, you need 3/4's of a cup.)

Tomato Sauce

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, finely sliced
5 medium, very ripe tomatoes
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt
Black pepper

Tomato Soufflé 

5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1.5 cups milk
3/4 cup tomato sauce
3 egg yolks
Salt
Pepper
3/4 cup Emmenthaler cheese
5 egg whites

Garlic Mustard or Basil Pesto

4 cups tightly packed garlic mustard leave and flowers, or basil leaves
1/2 cup pecans or pine nuts
1 clove garlic, crushed (omit if using garlic mustard)
1 cup grated parmesan
1/3 cup EV olive oil
Salt

For the tomato sauce: Cut a cross at the top of each tomato. In a bowl, cover the tomatoes with boiling water for 1 minute. Remove them, peel off their skins, and core the tough stem ends. Chop them roughly, saving the juice.

Sauté the onion and garlic in a large pan over medium heat, covered, for about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, and the sugar. Cook at a simmer for 30 minutes, stirring. Taste and add salt and pepper. Allow the sauce to cool, then puree in a blender. (You'll have more than you need.)

For the tomato soufflé: Preheat the oven to 375'F. Line a 9" x 15" jelly roll pan with oiled parchment paper cut to extend above the sides of the pan.

Put the flour in a large round-bottomed saucepan and slowly add the milk, beating with a spoon or whisk till perfectly smooth. Place the saucepan over low heat and and keep stirring the mixture till thick, letting it boil for 60 seconds, still beating. Remove from the heat and stir in the tomato sauce. Allow to cool, and stir in the egg yolks. Add the cheese. Taste, and season heavily with salt and pepper (the egg whites will dilute the seasoning). Whisk the egg whites to peaks. Fold half the egg whites into the cool tomato mixture, then incorporate the second half, using a light hand.

Gently pour the soufflé mixture into the prepared pan and smooth it into the corners. Bake for 40-45 minutes - it will rise and the top will brown. A skewer should come out clean, when you test it.

Moisten a clean kitchen towel and wring it out (if it is not moist the souffle will stick). Remove the soufflé from the oven. Place the moist towel over a plastic chopping board and place the board towel-side down over the soufflé. Deftly invert, and remove the pan from the upside-down soufflé. Carefully peel off the parchment paper. Cover till you are ready to spread the pesto.


For the pesto: (You can make this well in advance, but bring to room temperature before using. You will need about 1/3 cup for the souffle. Freeze the rest.) Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse till it forms a rough paste. Scrape the sides down, add a large pinch of salt and repeat. If the mixture is too stiff, add a little more olive oil.

To assemble: Gently spread a layer over pesto over the whole souffle. Standing at one end, use the damp towel to roll the soufflé over on itself. Once it is in a log shape remove the towel gently and transfer the rolled soufflé to a flat plate or board and cover well in clingwrap till needed.

To serve, cut into slices. It's good with some extra, fresh tomato sauce poured over.

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Fava bean and knotweed meatballs


I love meatballs. I love fava beans. And then there is the edible invasive weed element.

This recipe is inspired by dishes with a heavy Middle Eastern spin, unapologetic with the spices and herbs.

The Frenchman wolfed these. I only told him he was eating weeds halfway through. That's how you reel them in.

You may know the knotweed story by now. Here it is on some detail, if you don't.

Japanese knotweed hails from Asia, as its common name suggests, where it has natural pests and competition. But Polygonum cuspidatum (its other botanical names are still floating about: Reynoutria japonica, Fallopia japonica) is highly invasive in parts of North America and Europe (the UK has an annual budget in the millions to combat it).

And it happens to be a really good vegetable in the springtime, when it is tender. Most people do not know that. It is also packed with anti inflammatory resveratrol, which has been cited in treatments for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and diabetes.


I just like the taste. I have still not run out of ways to use it.



Serves Four

Adding breadcrumbs to meatballs makes them wonderfully tender. The dill and cumin reward you with a fragrant puff of flavor when you bite into them. Dill works well with tart flavors, and sorrel-tart is what Japanese knotweed is all about.

(If you don't have Japanese knotweed, increase the lemon juice to 3 Tablespoons, and add a cup of peas to the fava beans.)

For the Meatballs

1.5 lbs grassfed lamb
1/2 cup Panko breadcrums (or homemade, coarsely ground bread crumbs)
1 cup finely sliced scallions
1/2 cup chopped dill
3 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pepper
1 happy hen egg
2 Tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

For the Sauce

2 cups fava beans, shelled
1 cup tender Japanese knotweed tips
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup chicken broth
20 mint leaves, torn up
1 Tablespoon olive oil

In a large bowl combine all the meatball ingredients and mix well. (You could do this the day before and leave, covered, in the fridge.)

Form the mixture into golfball-sized meatballs. It helps to wet the palms of your hands every now and then, to keep the mixture from sticking. Put aside on a plate (this can also be done the day before, and left covered in the fridge.)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large pan. When it is hot add about 8 meatballs, brown them on two sides; remove to a plate and brown the next batch (they should not be cooked though). Once they have all been browned return them to the pan, and add the fava beans, the lemon juice, and the cup of chicken broth. Over high heat shake the pan to get the beans in touch with the hot liquid. They will begin to lose its fresh green color. After 5 minutes add the knotweed (or peas) and continue cooking until they are tender.


Taste the pan juices, and add salt and pepper. Just before removing the pan from the heat drizzle the tablespoon of olive oil over everything and add the torn up mint leaves. Stir to allow the oil to emulsify, and serve at once, in bowls.

Good with buttered basmati and dilled yogurt.

* Pick knotweed only where you see the previous season's canes growing above the shoots. This indicates that no weedkiller (usually Roundup) has been sprayed there.



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