Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Daylily and zucchini curry

Sometimes the best meals happen thanks to a chance farmers market encounter. Recently, 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 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, just spoons for scooping the last drops of delicious sauce.

Substitute regular garlic or scallions for green 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.

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

2 tablespoons coconut oil
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
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
2 cups loosely packed tender sweet potato shoots
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.

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.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Perfect cornbread

I forget to make cornbread, despite how nice this one is. Then Thanksgiving happens and I remember. And I ask myself again why I don't bake it more often.

The addition of fluffy egg whites in this version makes it a very light and soft loaf, and nothing like the cornbread bricks I have known. It is the perfect vehicle for slices of leftover ham.

Butter a 9" loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 375'F.

6 oz butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cornflour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, separated, plus 1 extra egg white
1 cup milk, plus extra

Beat the egg whites till gentle peaks form, and set aside.

Cream the butter with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, beating them in. Slowly add the flours, baking powder and salt, with some of the milk if the mixture becomes too thick. Stir int the rest of the milk (add another splash if the mixture feels stiff).

Fold in half the egg whites, incorporating them gently, and then add the second half, mixing quite gently until the mixture is well integrated but not beaten flat.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 35 - 40 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

It is best served with nothing but sweet butter. But it does love that topping of thinly sliced ham.

Make two. This goes fast.

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.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

How to make fir sugar

I first used fir needles in January 2016, after not wanting to lose the delicious scent of our Christmas tree (I also cut the branches to lay on top of pots in the garden, through winter - they are a good mulch).

I first wrote about how to use fir sugar on Gardenista, back in early December. But now that Northern sidewalks are becoming clogged with cast off trees, here is what to do with those fragrant needles before all the dogs in the neighborhood pee on them!

Our tree was from an organic grower (Windswept Farm). Warm soapy water may help in washing off any sprays that are on your tree, but only a lab (scientific, not dog) could you tell you that for sure.

After rinsing and drying the plucked needles, combine a quarter cup of needles with one cup of sugar and process in a spice grinder until very smooth and bright green. (Wash the grinder with hot water immediately after use or its blades will remain gummed up with resin.)

After grinding, transfer the highly aromatic fir sugar concentrate to a large bowl and add another cup of sugar to dilute it, mixing it well with your hands, before bottling and storing. You can make fir salt in exactly the same way. The color will fade with time but the scent will remain strong.

I often dilute this blend with either more sugar or salt when using it for gravlax, cocktails or baking, as it is very strong - but this potent batch is much easier to store. When baking you will notice that your cookies will be less fragile that usual - the resin in the needles makes for more substantial mouthfuls.

Head to Gardenista for the gravlax recipe. It is divine. If I say so myself.,

Monday, November 7, 2016

The best banana bread

I hated banana bread when I was little. I don't know why. My mother made a dense, dark version for my brother Francois, who loved it. Then Alice Wooledge Salmon's House and Garden Cooking with Style arrived in our house and I saw the light.

If you are like me, this will recipe will remain in your repertoire until you are no longer able to bend to shove the bread pan into the hot oven. One can only hope that, when the day arrives, someone else will make it for us. Huh. THAT's why one has children. Oops. Oh well.

This is more cake than bread, if we're being honest. I sometimes put lingonberry jam or rosehip jam (not too sweet) on it.

If you don't have wholewheat flour in the house, use all-white flour. I have substituted pecans and hazelnuts for macadamians, have added cranberries (fresh) or cherries or barberries (dried, soaked for an hour). I have used peaches and blueberries in late summer. I use more sour cream or yogurt than AWS stipulates and the milk is all mine. I also use spicebush instead of coriander, for my forage walk snack.

Otherwise this is the impossibly named lady's recipe. If you can find a copy of the out-of-print book, get it. It's wonderful. Near the top of my list for Save in a Flood.

Banana Macadamia Nut Bread

100 gr/3.5 oz unsalted butter
100 gr/3.5 oz brown sugar
2 eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed or sliced thinly (I slice)*
4 Tbsp/1/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
150 gr/ 5 oz unbleached white flour
150 gr/5 oz wholewheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarb)
pinch of salt
1 tsp toasted and crushed coriander*
1/4 cup (or less) milk
100 gr/3.5 oz macadamia nuts, roasted (substitute pecans or hazelnuts)


1. Instead of coriander use 3 finely chopped dried spicebush (Lindera benzoin) berries.
2. Add 3/4 cup fresh cranberries, dried cherries or barberries.
3. Sliced and diced peaches and blueberries instead of the bananas (1.5 cups, total)

Heat oven to 350'F/180'C.

Slice or roughly chop nuts. Roast them if they are raw. The texture and flavor improve.

Butter a loaf pan.

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl until pale and fluffy. Beat eggs into the mixture and add a little flour if (when!) the mixture separates. Add the bananas, cream/yogurt and lemon juice, mix well. Add the flour, baking powder, bicarb and salt, and mix thoroughly. The dough will be quite stiff. If it is too thick and dry, add the milk (the variable flour one uses makes a big difference: the more wholewheat the stiffer it will be). Finally, add the nuts, stir again, and transfer to the loaf pan, smoothing a slight hollow down the length of the dough.

Baking times vary, but it will be risen, brown and done in about 50 minutes. Use a sharp skewer to test the interior, if uncertain. If it comes out sticky, not done. Turn out of the pan and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Try not to eat it all at once. Fantastic for breakfast with strong coffee.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Basil and lemon curd ice cream

This recipe was given to me by Connie Finnemore. She served a mysterious, green ice cream after dinner one night in Cape Town, and it was - hands down - the best ice cream I have ever tasted (oddly, for a non ice cream eater, I recently made one to rival it: pawpaw, Asimina triloba. But that is another story).

The combination of lemon, basil and gin in cream is intense, refreshing and surprising. The hard liquor stops the cream from setting rock hard and gives it a lovely texture. Even better, this recipe is very easy.

My Thai basil (from Grow Journey seed) is still producing glut-quantities, and it worked very well, here.

I have also substituted mint for the basil, and white rum for the gin. Keep the lemon curd. And I am thinking of a less sweet version to scoop into gazpacho...

If you can't find it locally, here is my lemon curd recipe.

Connie's recipe calls for 3 "tots" -  a British measure. I take a tot to mean 25 ml, or 1 fl oz.

Basil Ice Cream - serves 6  (two scoops each)

1 cup whipping cream
325 grams/11.5 oz lemon curd
30  grams/1 oz fresh basil (stalks removed )
3 fl oz/75 ml gin

In a bowl, whip the cream till soft peaks form. Place the lemon curd, basil and gin in a blender and puree till smooth (you can also combine all ingredients in a blender, but the cream may thicken before the leaves are fine enough).

Fold the whipped cream into the basil mixture.

Freeze in a glass terrine dish or similar receptacle than can hold the mixture to a height of about three inches (for easy scooping).


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