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.

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
Black pepper

Tomato Soufflé 

5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1.5 cups milk
3/4 cup tomato sauce
3 egg yolks
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

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.


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
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.


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Milkweed flower cordial

Milkweed cordial

Milkweed season approaches. Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) flowers are heavily scented - once you smell their fragrance you'll never forget it. I like preserving the intense perfume of the flowers in a fermented cordial that I often call a fizz. It is delightful. And it turns out to be far more aromatic and flavorful than a syrup involving heat, which was my first attempt at catching this fragrance, in 2011.

If you know a tame farmer who lets you pick the milkweed he is going to rip up in his cow pasture anyway, all the better. You only need need about 15 flower clusters (umbels) for this recipe. Harvest with care - lots of pollinators and monarch larvae depend on milkweeds (all species, not just this one) for sustenance.  I tend to pick one cluster per plant in a large patch.

Common milkweed

It's very simple, and similar to the elderflower cordial I have been making for the three summers. As usual, issues of detonation accompany any fermentation, so please read more on the subject.

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

Milkweed Flower Cordial/Fizz

2.5 cups common milkweed flowers, prepped*
2 cups sugar
6 cups water
Peel of 1 lemon, in long strips

*Discard all the stem parts from the milkweed (they contain sticky latex). Keep only the individual flowers. Scissors perform this job quite quickly.

Combine the flowers, sugar, water and lemon peel in a sterilized 1.5 liter jar. Stir well to dissolve all the sugar.

At this point you can either cover the jar's mouth with a double layer of cheesecloth secured with rubber band or string, or leave the lid on loosely. It needs air at this stage.

Fermentation times will vary according to the moods of the wild yeast gods and temperature. But leave the jar at room temperature for about 3 - 6 days. You may stir daily, or not - both ways have worked, for me. If you keep the lid on tightly you should loosen it once or twice a day to allow any accumulated gas from fermentation to escape (this is called "burping"). For the first day or three you may notice no gas accumulation and wonder what the point is. But it should become obvious by day 4 or 5, when the bubbles will form and hissing heard.

Whatever you do, do not walk away from a sealed jar for a few days, do not go away for the weekend, do not forget about it, or you could have a detonation on your hands.

Elderflower cordial

Once the yeast really gets going the liquid will become gassy and the buoyant solids (the flowers) may rise up and out of the jar (like the elderflower cordial, above): This is when I strain the flowers off, gently strain the liquid a second time through cheesecloth. I have bottled the fizz clean narrow-neck bottles, as well as wire top bottles. Leave more head room (space between liquid and lid) than I did in the picture below. If your liquid is very gassy headroom gives it  a place to go. These bottles were fine, but subsequent ones were very active.

Just-bottled elderflower, milkweed and honeysuckle cordials, 2015

These kept well at room temperature, but other brews have been much more active, as fermentation has not stopped. The safest place to keep them is in the fridge, as the cold retards or stops yeast activity.

The bottle I opened today (May 2016) was bottled last May, and was still delicately effervescent.

Milkweed cordial, 2015 vintage

To drink? Dilute with water, prosecco, gin, or whatever else tickles your fancy. Drizzle over ice cream, or fold into whipped cream for an old fashioned newfangled syllabub. And yes, panna cotta. Totally.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Orange-Spicebush Loaf

I took this loaf cake on a recent forage walk, and none remained, after. So I think the walkers liked it. Loaves are easy to fit into my backpack, and I slice them before wrapping them.

I cook seasonally, and in April in New York the only vaguely seasonal fruit in the hood is citrus from the South or apples from these parts. Citrus pairs beautifully with spicebush (Lindera benzoin).

This recipe is based heavily on the Orange Bar Cake from Lesley Faull's book Bread, Buns, Cakes and Cookies (Howard Timmins, 1970, Cape Town), that fed my childhood. The copy I have is the second edition of 1982 - the original came to some sort of sticky end, the details are vague. My mom baked Ms Faull's cherry cake (my preferred birthday cake) and her chocolate cake ("baked with a man in mind," is its subtitle - the alternate favourite for birthdays), her hot milk sponges, her cookies and scones and maybe some things I have not found in the foxed pages, yet.

The original recipe calls for margarine because in 1970 margarine was cutting edge heart health (I wonder how many people it killed). Use butter. I added the powdered spicebush, tweaked some quantities and also drizzled a syrup over the top, which is pure overkill, so you can leave that out if you like. And if you have no's still a good cake. Just add an extra teaspoon of orange zest.

If you have not foraged your own spicebush berries in late summer, order them dried from Integration Acres, in Ohio (called Appalachian allspice, on their website). The berries freeze well, just grind when you need them. I have also used the spring twigs of spicebush to flavour a jar of fine sugar in the way that you would use a vanilla bean (use 8 twigs per 1 lb of sugar, and scratch them up before inserting them in the jar).

Orange Spicebush Loaf

6 oz unsalted butter
6 oz sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1 Tbsp ground spicebush
3 large eggs
4 oz self raising flour
4 oz cake flour (I use all-purpose, truth be told)
2 Tbsp orange juice

Cream the room temperature butter with the sugar, orange zest and spicebush till light in colour. Gradually add the beaten eggs, with a dusting of flour each time, to prevent separation. Gradually add the flour with the orange juice until well mixed. Pour into a buttered 2-lb loaf tin and bake at 350'F/180'C for 3/4's of an hour or until a sharp skewer inserted comes out clean.

If using the syrup, stab a dozen holes in the loaf with the skewer and drizzle the syrup over while the cake is still in the pan, and warm. When the syrup has been absorbed loosen the cakes around the edges with blunt knife, and remove from the tin onto a wire rack to cool.

Syrup for Drizzling

1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup rye whiskey

Combine the orange juice and sugar and cook over high heat in a small saucepan until reduced in volume by two thirds. Add the rye and cook for another minute, bubbling. Turn off heat and allow to cool. Pour over the loaf when it comes out of the oven.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Fava bean and garlic scape bruschetta

A beautifully green toast topping. While fava beans belong to early summer, I have cheated before with very good frozen Italian fave, from Trader Joe's.

(You could make this with peas, instead, and use ordinary bulb garlic.)

Fava Bean and Garlic Scape Bruschetta - serves 4 as an appetizer

2 cups shelled fava beans
10 garlic scapes, tough ends trimmed off
8 stalks mint
1 head green garlic, peeled
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 slices sourdough, toasted and cut in half
1 clove garlic

Cook the shelled fava beans and scapes with the mint and green garlic in salted, boiling water till barely tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, and discard the mint. Shell a dozen of the favas, leaving the rest intact. Cut the buds with some tender stem from 5 scape stalks for a garnish and reserve.

Combine the fava beans, scapes, green garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, a hefty pinch of salt and pepper to taste in a food processor. Pulse lightly. You want a very rough paste. Taste, and add more salt or lemon if necessary.

Just before serving, rub the toasted sourdough with the garlic clove. Top each piece of toast with a generous spoonful of the bean and scape paste. Arrange the toast pieces on a plate and distribute the reserved peeled fave beans, and garlic scapes over the top. If you're feeling rich drizzle some more EV olive oil over the top.

Stir leftover fava-scape paste into risotto, or pasta.

Or make more toast.
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