Monday, July 29, 2019

Daylily and zucchini curry

(First published 3 July 2018)

Sometimes the best meals happen thanks to a chance farmers market encounter. When I spotted perfect little courgettes (zucchini) with their flowers still attached at our tiny local Sunday greenmarket in Carroll Gardens, I pounced. And in the garden at home daylilies are prolific, my sweet potatoes are rampant (their tender green leaves and stems are edible), rows of green garlic are ready for pulling, and the Thai limes and basil are flourishing in pots. And so this summer curry happened. It was fantastic.

Day-old, wilted daylilies add a tangle of silky texture to moist dishes, while their firm buds and fresh flowers provide more body and a unique flavor - somewhere between a sweetly cooked leek and...well, a daylily. They have been eaten as a vegetable in China for eons.

This is a Southeast Asian-style curry, with ginger and garlic offering a substantial but bright body of flavor for the other vegetables. We ate it straight up, no rice (since we gave up rice), just spoons for scooping the last drops of delicious sauce.

Substitute regular garlic or scallions if you don't have green (very young) garlic and its leaves, and wing it with dried turmeric if you don't have the fresh rhizomes. No Thai lime leaf? Grate in some lime zest. Sweet potato shoots? Substitute your favorite leafy green. Vegan? - substitute soy for fish sauce.

Serves 2 as an entrée or 4 as part of a meal

2 tablespoons oil ( I use avocado)
3 tablespoons microplaned or very finely chopped fresh ginger
2 heads green garlic, cloves separated
3 mature garlic cloves, crushed fine
1 can (398 ml) coconut milk
2 – 3 tablespoons fish sauce (or soy)
1 lime’s juice (about 2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh curcumin (turmeric)
1/2 cup chopped green garlic leaves
2 lbs baby zucchini, whole or cut into large chunks
1 1/2  cups cubed (1/4”) butternut squash
8 dry (wilted) daylily flowers
4 fresh daylily flowers, anthers and pistil removed
8 daylily buds
1 makrut/Thai lime leaf, sliced thinly
1 teaspoon chile flakes or a large fresh chile, chopped
2 cups loosely packed tender sweet potato shoots (or another leafy green)
4 - 6 sprigs Thai basil

In a wide skillet that can accommodate the zucchini in a single layer, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and all the garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring so it doesn't stick. Add the coconut milk, the fish sauce, lime juice, curcumin, green garlic leaves and wilted daylily flowers. Increase the heat to high. When the liquid boils add the zucchini and enough water to bring the liquid just over the vegetables. Cook covered, at a simmer, for 10 minutes.

Remove the lid, and add the butternut, the rest of the daylilies, the lime leaf and the chile. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid, increase the heat and cook at a gentle boil for 10 - 15 more minutes - the sauce will reduce and concentrate in flavor. Taste for seasoning and add a little more fish sauce or lime if necessary. Stir in the Thai basil and the tender sweet potato shoots and cook until they have wilted into the sauce, about 3 minutes.

Serve in shallow bowls.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Pine Cone Jam

May was pine cone jam month, in my kitchen.

Russians like it. Eastern Europeans like it. Turks seem to like it. Pine cone jam (sometimes the resulting syrup is referred to as pine honey) is considered both treat and medicine. Used for coughs. The flavor is tartly sweet and lightly resinous. It's hard to imagine that these hard little cones become soft and chewable after cooking, but they do.

A traditional Caucasian and Russian way to enjoy them is a medicinal spoonful stirred into hot black tea. I like them on crunchy toast, or cooked with pan-seared pork chops, in the pan where a duck breast cooked (deglazed with some bourbon or fruity vinegar), or for dessert, mixed with macerating strawberries. There is always ice cream! To make pine syrup gin or vodka, add a quarter cup of the syrup with cones to 2 cups of the liquor. Leave for a day, shaking now and then, until the syrup has dissolved. Strain and bottle.

The pines I collect from are mostly exotic Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), popular in  local seashore landscape and park plantings because of their salt-tolerance. Native pitch pine (Pinus rigida) occurs, too, and its little cones are very sharp and rough on the fingers. The black pine cones are much easier to gather.

You want immature, very small cones, green inside; they are already about a year old by the time we harvest them (the current year's cones form on the tips of the growing pine "candles"in late spring and early summer - I find those just disintegrate when cooked).

It helps to have rubbing alcohol handy: Your fingers get very sticky, and the alcohol is very effective in dissolving the resin. For clean up after cooking, use rubbing alcohol, again - to dissolve the very tenacious resin residue on the edges of your pot and any implements you use. Wipe it onto your pot after it has cooled.

In research mode I searched my old Russian cookbooks for recipes, but came up with nothing. Online was one recipe that claimed Georgian heritage. I experimented with five batches. For the first three I boiled the cones in water, then three times in syrup, in the tradition of Russian varenya, where entire fruit (or pine cones) are cooked and cooled - important -  multiple times in syrup. I also boiled four times, and for the last batch made the jam without the water bath, and using honey instead of sugar. That last version was more resinous. But I liked them all.

For three medium jars of pine cone jam you need:

8 oz (about 2.25 cups) finger-nail-sized immature pine cones
2.5 cups sugar
2.5 cups water

Fill a stainless steel pot (easier to clean, later) with water and pine cones and bring to a boil. Cook at a gentle boil for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off. A layer of resin will collect on the surface like a little oil slick - carefully pour this layer off, tilting the pot gently over the sink. (And do yourself a favor: do not dump it through a sieve - the resin will stick the cones again and when cool will clog the mesh unless you boil the sieve!). Tilt it off.

Once all the water is poured off, add the sugar and water to the pot with the boiled cones. Return to the stove and and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and cool completely. Bring to a boil again. Turn off at once and cool (it it cooks too long you will lose too much moisture). Bring to a boil for a third time, turn off the heat, then cool again. One more time: bring to a boil and allow to cool for a fourth time.*

* When  boiling three times the syrup remains stickily runny.  Four boils (above) results in a taffy-like texture once cooled, but this melts again, in heat. Up to you. Play.

Ladle the cones and their warm syrup into sterilized glass jars. When cool screw on the lids.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Peach soup - cold and spicy

(First posted September 2016)

Refreshing and raw and alive with basil. 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).

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, roughly chopped
6 perilla leaves
16 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lime juice

Pack it all into a blender and purée till very smooth. Taste. Add the lime juice in stages until the sweet and sour are in harmony. Pour into a jug or carafe, and chill.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Tomato stuffed with chanterelles

(First published 22 August 2010)

This was the other day's tomato, at Union Square. I bought it. It became my tomato. Last night I sliced its top off and scooped out its insides, which tasted very good. I reserved most of them, and lots of juice for Tomatinis.

I bought a punnet of chanterelles from an uncommunicative dude in black leather and shiny sunglasses who had an ice chest full of them.

When I tipped them out of their brown paper bag, at home, this walked out of their accompanying pine needles:

Spiders for supper. My favourite.

After I'd calmed down I chopped some scallions/green onions, parsley, and cubes of slab bacon I had baked last weekend, Hussar-style (long story), and sautéed these along with about a quarter of the tomato's insides. In went the sliced chanterelles. Then added some basmati rice cooked in chicken stock with a squeeze of lemon and tiny bit of brown sugar. I stuffed this all into the empty tomato. Baked for about 3/4's of an hour at 350'F adding a little red wine now and then.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Tuna mousse

(Originally posted August 27th, 2012)

It wobbles, it jiggles, it's straight off the buffet tables of the 50's, 60's, and hangover 70's. It's wonderful.

Wrong... But wonderful.

Please make a point of looking for sustainably sourced tuna. American Tuna, Wild Planet, or Whole Foods 365 brand are good choices. Walk past the Starkist. Seriously. You are better than Starkist.

Here is a Tuna Shopping Guide to help explain.

2 cans sustainably harvested (pole caught)* tuna drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ketchup
4 cornichons (tiny cucumber pickles)
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons lime juice

Whizz in a food processor till smooth.

1/3 cup very hot water
1 packet (1/2 oz/1 tablespoon) gelatin

Dissolve the gelatin in the very hot water. Add to the tuna mixture and whizz again.

Taste. Assess salt vs pepper vs lemon juice. Adjust.

Pour tuna mousse-y mixture into a small bowl or mould. Chill for at least 2 hours. Slide a blunt knife dipped in hot water around its edges and tip out onto a serving plate.

Blipprrrrblblrblrbrlrblrblblblb. It wobbles. See?

Eat with good bread or crisp cucumber, or celery sticks. Or crackers. Or a spoon. Or on your own, with no one else watching.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Old Fashioned Raisin Bars

It has been 10 - gasp - 10 years since I first posted this recipe. Because they are so good, I thought it was time to revisit these deliciously moist, spiced cookies. I made a batch yesterday, to satisfy a craving.

When I was a little girl in Bloemfontein, there were two big glass cookie jars near the kitchen door. Every now and then you heard ke-chink, as a lid was lifted and replaced, very quietly, triggering my mother to yell from the other end of the house, down the passage, "Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeil!!!" as our swift, light-fingered, chubby and always-hungry young neighbour from across the road made off with his haul... The door was always open. And Neil always came back. Can't blame him.

You need:

5 1/2 oz (160 g) raisins or currants
1 cup (250 ml)  water
1/2 cup  (125 ml) sunflower or vegetable oil
7 oz (200 g) sugar
1 lightly beaten large egg
 8 oz (220 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice*
1/4 teaspoon cloves*
2 1/2 oz (70 g) chopped pecans

* Forager's alternative: skip the allspice and the cloves (keep the cinnamon) and use 2 teaspoons of ground spicebush (Lindera benzoin), instead.

Preheat the oven to 375'F (190'C). Oil a 9 1/2 x 12 inch cookie sheet with low sides.

Combine the raisins or currants with the water in a small saucepan  and heat to boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the sugar and the egg (if it is still too hot the egg will scramble).

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir. Add the nuts.

At this point my mother's handwritten recipe says, "Pour into a greased Swiss roll tin." This is sweet. I don't know if people would know them as Swiss roll tins, anymore. Except perhaps in the Midwest, or Martha-world? We knew them, because we were fed freshly-made Swiss rolls stuffed with apricot jam and sugary on the outside, then, for special dessert. Those were in the days of sit-down lunches. Father in suit, home from chambers, children in school uniforms, home from school. Doris Day singing in the kitchen. Milk to drink, from a jug on the table. MILK!!!

White South Africa.

Don't worry, it all fell apart, later. Not the country - it was already burning - the family idyll.

Back to the cookies. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 12-15 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Loosen the edges and flip the sheet of cookies over onto a wire rack to cool.

When cool, frost with confectioners sugar mixed with lemon juice. This is important - the tartness provides a beautiful edge. After this icing has set, slice into squares.

Try not to eat them all at once. They are good for everything. Stress, sadness, loss, or an excess of anything.

And brilliant for breakfast with a cup of strong coffee.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Elderflower Cordial

[I repost this recipe annually.]

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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

King Cake, but French

A couple of years ago I was asked to test half a dozen pastry and cake recipes for a South African magazine, Food and Home Entertaining. It was a lot of fun, because I baked things I would not ordinarily choose. I think the Frenchman and I also put on some weight. This easy-to-make, rustic puff pastry confection was delicious, filled with a frangipane. I cheated and used a high quality pre-made puff pastry - one day I suppose I'll make it at home again (not hard, but time consuming).

Galette des Rois is eaten in January for Epiphany, but since it is still a king cake, I have no problem rolling it out after Mardi Gras. This is not a religious household, so eat away, Lent or no Lent.

Galette des Rois

3.5 oz (100 gr) butter, softened
3.5 oz (100 gr) fine sugar
1 large egg
2 oz (60 gr) ground almonds
2 oz (60 gr) nibbed almonds*
2 Tablespoons (30 ml) rum
2 x 8 oz (230 gr) rolls ready-made puff pastry
2 Tablespoons jam of your choice, heated
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoons water

*Or use almond slivers and pulse them in a food processor for a couple of seconds to chop up.

Preheat the oven to 400’F.

In a large bowl beat the butter and fine sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and beat in. Add the nuts and rum and mix well.

Roll out one puff pastry disc a floured work surface and cut out a disc 9 inches wide. Place onto a buttered baking sheet. Brush a layer of jam all over the disc, leaving a jamless ¼ inch gap around the edge.

Place the second roll of pastry on the floured work surface and cut a 10 inch wide disc (the larger circle will accommodate the filling). Reserve.

Spread the nut mixture on top of the jam on the first pastry layer. Brush the jamless edges lightly with water. Place the second layer of pastry over the first the nuts and jam. Trim if necessary. Crimp the edges to seal. Score the top of the pastry gently, making sure not to cut all the way through.

Whisk the egg yolk and water together in a small bowl to make an egg wash. Brush the pastry with the egg wash (the cake pictured had no egg wash - too pale).

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until the pastry has puffed and is golden brown.


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